The trees are tall and the foliage is thick in these woods.
Shards of sunbeams break through the canopy of oaks, scattering light on the dense underbrush below. Ferns sprout up among huckleberry, blueberry and sassafras, hiding an occasional lady's slipper orchid. An old, winding foot path rises to the north beyond deer thickets, frog ponds and beech tree groves. Catbirds and dragonflies patrol the skies, and except for a slight breeze and the distant rumble of an approaching storm beyond Vineyard Sound, it is quiet.
This is the 21-acre property off Middle Line Road in Chilmark where the town will build its first affordable housing development.
On Tuesday afternoon this week, an oppressive early summer heat wave settles in and the woods are thick with humidity. The forest is a blanket of pollen and mosquitoes are out in force. A distant thunderstorm moving in from across the Elizabeth Islands utters a low rumble.
The stone wall that runs along Middle Line Road marks the southern boundary of the town-owned property. It is cut in half by Holman's trail, a walking path that bisects the property from the southeast. Another stone wall delineates the opposite boundary in the northwest corner.
Holman's trail is well-worn and ancient, like the giant boulders that dot the land around it. The path is carpeted with a thick layer of lichen and moss. It winds north and then northwest, rising slightly before descending down a short hill in the property's northwest corner.
When houses are built here, the access road will cut across a small portion of the trail. Except for that, the ancient way will remain unspoiled.
Numerous natural landmarks line the path. An old, bare oak looks ready to fall, its bark stripped and trunk chaffed from the deer that have used it to sharpen their antlers. Farther up the trail, a towering forked white pine stands sentinel over a crook in the path, one of only several pine trees on the entire property. Suddenly the pungent smell of pine needles and sap fill the humid air.
Mushrooms sprout alongside rotting tree trunks. Caterpillars nibble on leaves. High above, an oak tree hosts an abandoned nest of leaves and twigs. Below, among the ferns and huckleberries, delicate pink lady's slippers appear.
Off the trail you will find Middle Line's secrets. Scattered among the oaks, large boulders covered in lichen pop out from the ground. A long, massive slab of granite just to the right of Holman's path looks like a giant, ancient tombstone that has fallen on its side. Now it lies flat, like a bed made of moss.
To the left of the trail, up a slight rise in the southwestern corner, a grove of beech trees offers even more shade from the sun and a respite from the huckleberry and thorn bramble thickets. It is one of the only spots where there is no understory. Dried beech leaves blanket the ground between the trees' twisted, gnarled roots. It feels like some ancient meeting place - dark, but dappled with light.
The beech grove will also be preserved.
The land rises gradually to the right of Holman's path, with the land's highest point in the northeast corner. Swales and valleys roll along the the eastern boundary, rising to the higher ground.
There are wetlands. Small ponds form in two clay pits in the north of the property. The trail climbs on the approach to the first pit, a deep depression to the left. Three separate pools hide below. The water is black and still, and a thick layer of pollen drifts on the surface. Frogs croak, keeping an eye on the dragonflies buzzing above them.
Beyond the first clay pit, the land dips, and the woods on each side of the trail grow thick with blueberry bushes and sassafras shoots. Approaching the end of the property, a narrower trail splits off into the woods on the left. Holman's trail continues downhill, past more clay pit depressions and toward another pond on the right just beyond the property's northern boundary.
The thunderstorm moves closer. The sky grows darker by the minute. A loud clap of thunder startles a young fawn that has stopped to eat leaves along the trail. The fawn darts into the thicket. The air stirs; trees rustle.
Rain is coming.