Blue Ribbon Trail

by Laura Bloch Bourque


I guess it’s time to re-mark the blue ribbon trail. It’s been a long time since my young son helped me tie the half-inch-wide blue satin ribbon to the tree branches of the front woods of what had just become our new home in New Hampshire. He was just seven years old and still feeling the shock of being uprooted from suburban Connecticut by a friendly, but necessary, divorce.

That same boy leaves tomorrow for an urban university dorm room. While walking back up our long, dirt driveway with the mail today I found myself veering into the woods where we tied those ribbons more than a decade ago, first roots in a new land.

The move to such a wild and remote place was venturesome; huge change was part of the plan to heal from the divorce, something I felt sure would benefit us both. One of my first memories in our new home was my son asking if it was all right to go outside without me. On our former corner lot in the suburbs we had stranger-danger and speeding cars to worry about, so he’d been trained to ask permission before going out the door into a fenced-in backyard.

“Aaron, because there are no cars or people this far from the road you can go outside without me, as long as you don’t go too far.”

“Where am I allowed to go?”

“Anywhere you’d like, as long as you keep the house in view.” This seemed a good boundary, reasoning that I should be able to see him as long as he could see me. Just like our formerly indoor-only cats, Aaron was initially very cautious with this new expansion of territory. At first, his big thrill was being able to go out any door, front, back or side. But once outside, the entertaining elements of nature were boundless for his curious mind.

Together we explored the front woods between our house and the sparsely traveled road, keeping the same route every time to disrupt the wildlife as little as possible. After a few excursions Aaron began to take the lead with some confidence, so when he asked to take my mother out for a walk in the front woods during a family gathering I didn’t hesitate. They were gone for over an hour and I figured that they were having fun checking out all the different kinds of moss and the many animal markings that Aaron and I had discovered. When they emerged from the woods my mother looked harried and tired. She said they’d been wandering in circles, unable to find their way back to the house.

The next day I took some blue ribbon I’d had hanging around, and Aaron and I marked a trail so it would never happen again. I didn’t expected the color to last through more than a couple of seasons once exposed to the harsh New England weather; by then, I figured, we’d have worn a path in the thick carpet of decaying leaves and pine needles.

The details of that day are so crisp that the sun’s lacy patterns on the forest floor still dance in my mind’s eye. As we tied our bits of blue we spoke of Hansel and Gretel’s folly of using edible crumbs and of early explorers, hunters and trappers who “blazed” their trails with ax notched trees, broken branches or piled rocks – whatever it took to find the way home.

Since that day every young visitor gets a chance to follow the blueribbon trail. We let newcomers lead the search for the bits of blue among the earth tones of the dark, moist, hemlock forest. Through Swamp Land and Marshmallow Land where mounds of waterlogged moss give the sensation of walking on over-stuffed pillows, past Woodpecker Tree and onto the Big Boulder that shadows Moss Rock. Many a birthday treasure hunt ended here, in the eerie Haunted Black Forest. Once party guests had reasoned their way there through a series of fire-singed parchment clues, they would descend like pirates? on the unearthed wooden treasure chest – well earned booty before cake and ice-cream.

Another son, from a second marriage, was born in this house and has shared in the richness of our evergreen fantasy land. He is credited with the discovery of Rock and Moss Mansion where we’ve spent many hours of imaginative fun. At nine years old, not quite ready to venture far without an adult, yet needing to feel independent, he and his friends can stay comfortably in touch with me via walkie-talkie or cell phone as they discover the enchantments of a snow-muffled wood, or float boats in the winding rivulets of spring runoff.

On my walk today I counted just three remaining, tattered pieces of ribbon. They’ve been pecked at and chewed with hungry curiosity that has dulled the sheen but the vibrant blue hasn’t faded. Many of the branches we marked have rotted and broken; the ribbon carried away, I like to imagine, by nest-building wildlife.

I’ll admit that I shed a few tears as I followed the trail, with thoughts of driving my first-born off to his new life; but they weren’t tears of loss as much as bewilderment at the passage of years. There are so many memories glistening among these now familiar trees, clinging like dew drops to the edges of present time and reflecting ahead to my children’s children following the trail to Moss Rock.

I came across the leftover blue ribbon in the basement just last week, originally purchased more than thirty years ago for some long forgotten craft project. I know I’ll be out there soon, tying a few more bits of blue confidence to point the way for future adventures.


Photograph by Laura Bloch Bourque
Photograph by Laura Bloch Bourque


Laura Bloch Bourque lives in Peterborough New Hampshire where, after 20 years as a graphic designer and several as a NYC nightclub owner (Wetlands Preserve, 1989-2001), she earned a BA in journalism and writes for publication.

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