An old stone foundation along the Nashua River

It’s been way too long since I’ve been able to take a good long walk out in the woods. So today I put my tasks behind me and headed for a trail I haven’t been on in quite some time. Years, in fact.

Cook’s Conservation Area in Lancaster, Mass., is part of the Nashua River Greenway, a loosely connected network of trails that follow along the different branches of the river, in this case the North Branch.

It’s a bit of a challenge to find. The access point is on the west side of Route 70, about a mile south of Route2, or 1.7 miles north of Route 117, depending on which way you come. The only sign is a faded wooden one, well below the height of the road shoulder. The only thing to mark it is a break in the guard rail.

The main trail is an old cart path. It’s an easy walk, the scenery beautiful, perfect for a late November afternoon. The river here is narrow and fast, popular with kayakers.

I came across some old stone ruins. On two sides of the river, what’s left of a bridge abutments, but then something larger – what seems to be the foundation of an old mill, maybe a sawmill. A grist mill would have required a little more intricate stonework. A narrow channel runs off the river and through the stonework, in what was probably a sluiceway.

Sitting there as the sun was beginning to set, far from the nearest modern roadway and traffic noise, it was difficult to imagine a time when this would have been a bustling intersection. What would they have been doing today? The harvest would already have been in. Getting ready for winter? Would they be worrying if they had enough to carry them through a harsh winter? Would they have had taken the time to pause, and enjoy the last few hours of sunlight?