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Social distance files: Westwood’s Sen-Ki

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

“Why isn’t there anyone here?”

This was my first thought about a half hour into checking out the Hale Reservation’s Sen-Ki trail, when I hadn’t run into anyone despite it being late on a Thursday afternoon when everyone in the state had nowhere to go.

See, I drove to the Hale Reservation’s main campus first, and couldn’t believe how many cars were in the parking lot. Looking to socially distance themselves but desperate to get out of the house, people have begun flocking to parks and nature trails to look at something other than their living room walls while remaining clear of people who could potentially infect them. 

After realizing I needed to be at Sen-Ki, I headed over to the parking lot, noting how many houses backed up to what was once the Holbrook Farm. I assumed the almost thirty acres of woods would be full of teenagers, families, and bored seniors.

But there was nobody in the woods. And there were no signs of people.

It doesn’t take much to ruin the illusion that you’re deep in the untamed forest, miles away from civilization. Usually, it’s a neglected Gatorade bottle, a plastic bag half buried under a pile of leaves, or sometimes, a ton of old beer cans left by illicit partiers from long ago. But in Sen-Ki, there was nothing: no beer cans, no graffiti on the rocks, no carvings on the trees. Nothing. While I wasn’t going to get more than twenty feet from a person, I begun to get annoyed at how pristine these woods were, despite running concurrently to suburban backyards. After checking a few small ponds for turtles and seeing if there was anything hibernating in the small, cavelike crevices of the rocks, I needed to find signs that people had been in these woods. 

Luckily, I’ve watched hours of “Mantracker," an admittedly terrible Canadian reality show in which a man who tracks people in the wilderness for a living (less escaped fugitives, more lost hikers), tried to track down a pair of contestants tying to evade him, while running from one point in the wilderness to another.

I was proud to have noticed some bicycle tracks printed onto the moss of a rock in the idle of a trail, a piece of metal that had been slung around an old boulder, and an empty backpack lodged onto a stump.

Eventually, I ran into a family with one child going for a walk (they bumped into me while I was sitting on a rock, winded; I wasn’t tracking them) and asked, since they said they lived nearby, if they’d dealt with littering or kids partying in the woods. They told me no, and said the only people they’d seen all day in the woods were me and a couple mountain bikers.

“It’s a weekday, though. There would probably be people if you came back on Sunday,” the woman told me.

“Maybe,” the man differed “but these days, every day is kind of like a Sunday.”

There’s no worse community journalism cliché than the “hidden gem.” I’m from a town of around 30,000 people. Not only are there no restaurants I don’t know, but there are no restaurants where I don’t know one of the workers. Yet, my local paper refuses to stop calling well-known places “hidden gems.”

So, while I won’t call Sen-Ki a hidden gem, I will say that it has two different trails of varying levels of difficulty, little ponds filled with wildlife, cliffs to climb if you’re into that sort of thing, and plenty of social distancing opportunities, since you may well be the only person in those woods.

Unless, that is, someone's hot on your heels tracking your every move.

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