It’s that time of the year when the spiders sneak into the cottage, the roses bloom a last hurrah, and the cashmere sweaters show up on the Rehoboth cocktail circuit.
Me, I’m still wearing shorts and spending as much time out of doors as I can, for nothing stirs my creativity or makes me flex my muscles so much as Autumn does. It sends me into a Walt Whitman frame of mind where I do things like split wood, plant bulbs, wear flannel, quit shaving, and walk in the woods. Okay, so maybe the flannel is underneath the cashmere…
One of my favorite Autumnal walks is around Gordon’s Pond. Please note that I said “walk” and not “cruise.” Actually, hike might be a better word for the two and a half hour trek around the entirety of the pond, up over the pine dunes to Herring Point and then back down the beach.
The first part of the walk is the easiest and the most popular with joggers and bicyclists. Starting at the parking lot up at Gordon’s Pond, follow the hard gravel path until you reach the observation deck. It’s three quarters of a mile and it takes about 15 minutes at a good walking pace. Don’t be surprised if you see deer, wading birds, or perhaps a snake or two along the way.
From atop the observation deck you get a panoramic view of the entire pond and all sorts of birds. The pond is a stop on the great Atlantic flyway, one of the main migratory routes for birds flying north and south with the seasons – Marsh Wrens, Blue Herons, White Egrets, Ospreys, and American Black Ducks. Occasionally around sunset, you’ll spot a Sapsucker in the bushes.
Most people turn back here because the path forward isn’t a well-groomed one. Bicycles and dogs are prohibited; ticks and poison ivy are plentiful, so say the signs. But fear not, the path forward is safe. In about ten minutes you arrive in the heart of the salt pond surrounded by tall grasses and the occasional dead standing trees. They’re called snags and they provide food and housing for woodpeckers, bats, tree frogs, and beetles. The pond was once an ancient bog. You can see the ditches that were dug to drain it a bit and get the water moving in an effort to control the mosquitoes.
It looks pretty primal still and you quickly forget you’re just beyond the reaches of housing developments and outlet malls in one of the East Coast’s fastest growing counties. Back here the path is wet and muddy, despite the drought, but not for long. The pine forest returns and then the dunes, the point in the hike where somebody always wishes aloud how nice it’d be if there was a table of refreshing cocktails waiting. Just like on one of those high-end safaris.
Follow the white poles up the dunes and you come upon a ridge looking east over a desert-like landscape towards the sea. The dunes here are the largest between Kitty Hawk and Cape Cod and they have this outdoorsy, masculine smell that I can only describe as salt, sweat, and pine. It’s what I imagine Tom Brady tastes like.
A little further — an hour and a half since starting out – and you arrive at Herring Point high on a bluff above the ocean. Here are the remains of Fort Miles, built to protect Delaware Bay shipping routes from Nazi submarines. There’s a sweeping view of the entire Cape Henlopen shoreline up to Lewes and down to Rehoboth and across the water to Cape May. Down on the beach the surfers in their black wetsuits look like seals at play. The bluff, however, is slowly crumbling. Fifteen feet were lost in 2006 and the state is trying to figure out what to do about it. Whatever they decide, you can bet it’ll be expensive and it won’t work in the long run.
The walk back down the mostly deserted beach is quick and easy. Walt Whitman, it’s been said, was fond of stripping off all his clothes and running on the beach while yelling his poetry to the wind. This certainly would be the place to do it, I think, but you’d need to avoid all the horseshoe crabs. After a big storm the beach is littered with them due to Hurricane Noel. So too with plastic sunglasses. Yep, you heard me right. Plastic sunglasses. Dozens of ‘em. Pink ones, red ones, white ones, black ones. Some with mirrored shades, most without lenses. None are stylish. Seeing them makes me wonder what all is out there beyond the surf. I marvel at how nature finds a way to persevere despite our propensity to trash things up.
So that’s it for my nature story. If you’re interested in taking this walk and seeing for yourself this different side of Rehoboth, you need to go between now and March first. For during the spring and summer, the trail beyond the observation deck is closed, as are stretches of the beach, in order to protect certain endangered nesting birds – something Walt Whitman would have liked, I think.