Afoot in Connecticut by Eric D. Lehman, is a love letter to this often overlooked region of America, an inspirational story that will have you taking to the trails and the greenways, along the beaches and mountaintops, and into a land full of transformation, of beauty, and of strength.
It is a memoir about erasing the tracks of the past and starting a new life, and it is an investigation of local ecology, geography, and natural history. It is both a call for preservation and a moving love story. It proposes that the answer to the question who am I cannot be answered without asking where am I?
This preview is an excerpt from Chapter Eight, Heart of the Giant.
Jeff, Jerry, Russ, and I returned the next Friday, with my new rope and more flashlights. Jeff had admitted to the rest of us that he was deathly afraid of spiders, and I hoped we wouldn’t find the place crawling with them. Or snakes. I hadn’t smelled the usual musk of other animals or seen droppings the last time we came up, so I was fairly sure we wouldn’t run into anything larger. Jeff had seen two particularly large and hairy spiders when he was peering over the edge last week, which is why he balked at going down. I had desisted for a more subtle reason.
At the entrance, I found a suitable rock formation and tied the rope perfectly. Jeff commented on the knot and I mock-snorted. “Some eagle scout you are!”
“Knots weren’t my strong point.” He shrugged, laughing.
I tested the climber’s knot and then carried the loop with me into the wedge of the first passage. The others followed. At the lip of the drop, I tossed the coil into the darkness. “All right.”
“Put your foot on that log.” Jeff pointed past my shoulder at the opposite wall.
“Right.” I put my flashlight in my pocket and gingerly stretched my left leg to the wood, while Jeff and Jerry used their flashlights to maximum effect. My left hand clutched the slippery wall. As I got my balance between the ledge and log, I could see a ledge that had been hidden until now, complete with an ancient candle. I slid my left foot down the log and reached the ledge. “No problem!” I glanced back at my students. My right foot swung off the drop and to the new source of support. I was easily able to slide myself down the steep wall and put a foot on a rock near the floor.
The new passage doubled back below and parallel to the first one. However, the dank corridor was much smaller and continued to narrow until it reached a black hole in the stone. Ignoring that for the moment, I pulled out my lighter and lit the candle. Then, I helped Jeff find the secret ledge and we slid down this second channel one by one. As I was pushed towards the black hole, I found another candle in a niche and lit it. Then, I pointed my flash into the hole. The floor of the cave below looked far. This would be the real challenge.
“This is a bit scary, guys.”
“No, I mean this just drops off into nothing.”
I threw the glowing coil of rope down and it hit the floor. Maybe it wasn’t that far. I couldn’t see enough and I was going to have to pocket the flashlight again. Damn. All right. I reached out and held onto the ledge to my right and put my left hand forward. I realized I couldn’t get my feet down this way, because the ceiling was preventing me from moving up. So, I had to push back. “Hold on, guys, I have to switch.” I worked myself around and put my feet on the log instead. Then, it was a matter of dipping myself into the unknown. I lowered myself into the spidery darkness. My feet touched a pointed piece of stone. I twisted my arms down, balancing on the only wall near enough. Then I stepped off this lucky rock and onto the floor below. I immediately pulled the flashlight out of my pocket and searched the dense darkness. The cave was the size of a small room, with a spearhead of rock on the roof dividing it into two.
I helped my students down one by one, then lit a candle and set it on a small rock. The four of us crouched in the empty space inside the hill, looking around in wonder. Spray-paint from years past tattooed the walls. Who knows how many explorers, children, and madmen have delved into this niche in the mountain? But it was not the unknown that brought us here. The discoveries we were here to make were of another sort….