The Value of Ignorance
Thoreau once wrote, “A man’s ignorance can be a useful, even a beautiful thing.” One day last summer I experienced the truth of this first-hand. For some time I had noticed a small new sign on the east side of Route 6, shortly before the Truro Center exit that said “Conservation Trails.” So I decided to check it out. I pulled off the highway into a small parking lot, where a map identified the area as the ANSEL CHAPLIN AND DAVID KUECHLE CONSERVATION AREA, owned and maintained jointly by the Truro Conservation Trust and the Town of Truro.
It’s a modest-sized area, but it abuts the National Seashore. It contains two loop trails, the longer of which is less than a mile in length. An arrow on the map marked the highest point on the trail – a dizzying 124 feet above sea level – where it promises a “View of Atlantic.” I didn’t need that extra enticement to explore the property, but it added to my anticipation. I soon learned, however, that anticipation is not necessarily what you get, or even what you can possibly anticipate.
I set off on the trail to my right that winds through familiar stands of oak and pine. No surprises there. After a pleasant, gentle fifteen-minute walk I came to the summit of the property, where a bench had been recently installed. Here was where the map had promised a “View of the Atlantic.” It could more accurately be called a “peek” at the Atlantic, for it was just that: a narrow sliver of sea-blue water already nearly obscured by the surrounding pines. And even this “peek” had been created by the Trust where three or four sizable pines had been cut down in front of the bench.
I started back on the northern section of the trail, and as I did, I noticed some buildings through the woods, which I took to be private homes. The trail continued gently down until all of a sudden on my right I saw what looked like an open meadow rising gently up for several hundred feet to a barn-like structure. The trail passed within a few yards of this meadow, so I went off it briefly to have a look. As I did, I was startled to see two figures: life-size sculptures of a man and a woman in the posture of striding towards one another. They were constructed of a mixture of wooden strips, stakes, wires, steel rods, re-bars, and a stiff plaster-like substance. The figures had a deliberately shredded look, with only half the face here, have a hand there. They reminded me of nothing so much the Army of the Dead, the half-eaten-away zombies in the HBO series, Game of Thrones. Their bizarre appearance here in a benign meadow next to a small conservation area was unnerving, to say the least, but also eerily appropriate for a world shredded by COVID-19. I stood gazing at them for a long, long time.
The mystery was explained when I got back to the parking lot and took another look at the map. This time I saw that the conservation area abutted the new campus of the Castle Hill Center for the Arts, which had been closed by the pandemic, and I realized that the eerie sculptures were in all likelihood the creations of the Center’s staff or students. Yet I could hardly regret not knowing their origin before I began my walk, for how much less rich and strange the whole experience would have been if I had not been ignorant of what I would see.