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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    The hills are alive with the sound of music

    Maria Shaw plays a hang drum on Mount Higby, near the Meriden/Middlefield border. (Steve Fagin)
    An overhang protrudes from a cliff on Mount Higby. (Steve Fagin)
    A traprock quarry on Chauncey Peak is visible from Mount Higby. (Steve Fagin)
    The Metacomet Ridge is known as The Spine of Connecticut. (Steve Fagin)

    While my son Tom and I scrambled up a steep slope toward Mount Higby’s summit the other day, a mellifluous sound rose above the whistling wind, stopping us in our tracks.

    “Is that music?” I asked.

    We followed a rhythmic melody to a precipitous ledge, where a young woman perched cross-legged, perilously close to the edge, and gently tapped a metal percussion instrument that was balanced on her lap.

    The notes seemed to drift through the air as Tom and I gazed at sweeping views that extended south toward Sleeping Giant Mountain in Hamden to the New Haven skyline. Meriden’s four Hanging Hills, East Peak’s Castle Craig and Lamentation Mountain spread out closer to the west.

    Maria Shaw, who had strapped the manhole cover-size drum to her back while hiking up the mountain with her husband, Sal Clarino, said the setting was ideal for a musical interlude.

    “It’s a beautiful spot,” she said.

    After enjoying the al fresco performance, Tom and I resumed our ascent along a traprock ridge that runs from Long Island Sound through the Connecticut River Valley, all the way to the Massachusetts/Vermont border. This distinctive geologic formation, created some 200 million years ago, is often called The Spine of Connecticut.

    Our four-mile, out-and-back route covered a section of the blue-blazed Mattabesett Trail, which is part of the England National Scenic Trail that meanders for 235 miles through Connecticut and Massachusetts.

    After setting out from a parking lot on the west side of Route 66, a short distance from Guida’s Dairy Bar, we first crested Mount Higby’s 828-foot south summit, called The Pinnacle. On this clear, sunny day, we were able to see across the sound to Long Island, a distance of about 40 miles.

    The rugged terrain then dipped about 200 feet to a valley called Preston Notch, passing through a forest dominated by oak, hickory and red cedar. Barely visible were the remnants of a coach road that more than a century ago connected Middletown and Meriden.

    The trail hugged the edge of a sheer cliff for more than a mile, providing one of the most dramatic ridgelines in Connecticut. Not to quibble, but some of the scenery far below and across the valley was less than inspiring – traffic on I-91; commercial and industrial development; an enormous traprock quarry that has slowly been eating away at the east side of Chauncey Peak; and the State Police Training Academy, which was conducting a shooting drill that drowned out all other sounds for several minutes.

    I was grateful that this cacophonous fusillade hadn’t interrupted Maria’s impromptu concert earlier.

    From the notch, we climbed up and down several false summits before finally reaching the mossy high point, Mount Higby’s 892-foot north summit. An extensive swath of scrub oak spread out east of the cliff, surrounded by patches of bearberry. In fall, this groundcover will produce clusters of tiny, bright red fruit that will feed birds, squirrels and other animals all winter.

    Tom and I brought our own snacks, but later sampled wild ramps that were growing not far from the trail, an ephemeral delicacy that pops up in spring.

    On the return trip to the parking lot, we passed the ledge where Maria had played her hang drum. She and Sal were gone, but when I closed my eyes, I could still hear her enchanting tune fill the air.

    Maps of Mount Higby and nearby Beseck Mountain are available at https://meridenlandtrust.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/higby_beseck_tri.pdf.

    More information is available from the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, ctwoodlands.org.

    Book talk Tuesday

    I’ll be visiting the Groton Public Library on Route 117 at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to talk about and sign copies of a new edition of the hiking guidebook I edited and revised, “AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut & Rhode Island,” published by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Hope to see you there.

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