Ah, fall, when the leaves are forgetting themselves and showing their true colors, the red squirrels are fighting over the last few pinecones and the air feels like it is wagging its tail. In the backyard of campus, namely the 300 acres of woods and fields we call home, the air is ringing with the sound of machetes and crosscut saws, thanks to the venerable tradition of “trail stewards.” I’m not talking about the kind of stewards that bring you a thimble-full of ginger ale and five peanuts on your typical $300 airplane ride. These stewards are a much better deal. I mean, they maintain Marlboro’s 17 miles of trails for nothing more than the thrill of walking through the woods with sharp implements.
This year is special though, as I learned when I joined them on one of their weekly forays earlier this week. The current trail stewards, junior Andrew Shough and freshman Peter Pugh, are working alongside their esteemed predecessors from days of yore, Ashley Bies ’05 and Adam Katrick ’07. These guys essentially got the trail steward thing going, and between them they could probably chop down the tallest tree in the forest with a butter knife. Ashley blazed the now-popular Ridge Trail faster than you can say “transcendental idealism,” and Adam built the “stone circle” where everyone goes to sacrifice grilled cheese sandwiches and perform other druidic ceremonies.
Okay, here’s the thing about these guys, though. This was not your usual stroll-through-the-woods-to-smell-the-ferns-and-maybe-glimpse-a-golden-crowned-kinglet kind of hike. These guys walk fast. They walk like their camo pants are on fire, like they are being chased by a bear and a hive of yellow jackets, like they had three of Ritchie’s famous brownies for lunch. They walk fast enough that I had to sort of jog to keep up with them, and I wasn’t swinging a machete around and constantly whacking branches that encroached on the trail. Seriously, this is not a pruning shear crowd. In a very short time, faster than you can say, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” we had given the Ridge Trail a close shave. This week they are getting all the trails in shape for this weekend’s “run, longer run, ultra run” sponsored by the Outdoor Program, a 10-mile loop over trails and dirt roads that people are encouraged to repeat as needed. No machetes required, thanks to the trail stewards.