Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 25, 2009 - More-Brewer Park, Hingham, Massachusetts

I miss frogs. I really do. And turtles and snakes. Bugs, not so much. As I walked around More-Brewer today, I passed by some pretty swampy areas - more on that later - and got to thinking of the sounds I've been missing: spring peepers peeping, green frogs startlingly chirping before jumping into ponds, and toads croaking the day away.

Instead, as I started out today, I found sledders, dads and kids. I thought about the frog gap that must exist between them. My guess is that the little guys have been introduced to frogs and are excited by them, but have temporarily left them off their list of stuff that's cool with all the snow around, and that the dads are so busy with their lives they hardly think about them at all. I hope the kids will reintroduce their parents to the wonderful world of amphibians through their schools and camps, and that they act as a gateway to nature for them all.

More-Brewer is a treasure to me. It's nearby my home, and has abundances of both history and nature, more than 150 acres of nineteenth century farmland. The Brewer family's legacy in Hingham is open space. They owned this place as well as the land that is now World's End Reservation. As I walked I pondered the stonewalls that once formed the foundation of what must have been a huge barn. The nearby fields once fed the sheep that were raised here. And, no doubt, some of the younger woods here were once fields as well.

I made a mistake today. I've stated before that I tend to walk trails in familiar places in consistent patterns. Today, I bucked that trend and went left where I usually go right. All of the intersections were backwards to me, and soon I found myself in a place I had never been before, Bear Swamp. And I mean that literally.

I found a footbridge I had never seen, and of course, had to cross it. A cross country skier had done so before me, so I figured all was good. Apparently that was awhile ago, though, as I scared up two flocks of black ducks, a total of 18 birds. They took off so quickly and vertically that I could hear branches breaking in the trees above as they fled. Sorry, gang.

The brush got thick, and I could see that the skier had turned around. No worries, a snowshoer had been here as well. I followed the big footprints forward over two more bridges, one made of pressure-treated lumber, and another from logs as natural as anything standing nearby.

I suddenly reached a divide in the trail. I could see that the snowhoer had come in on one set of tracks and walked out of the woods on the other. I chose the set moving forward and found myself on a beautiful oak hummock with a flock of chickadees. But I was entirely lost.

I could hear the commuter rail in the distance, so I knew that was to the west. I could see a few hills and guessed at their placement on the map. I stepped off the trail and started to walk toward what I thought was the exit. But I came to a stream. I couldn't discern its width and moved forward slowly. I knew I had to cross it one way or another, and looked around for a fordable spot.

In a blink, the ice broke beneath me and my left leg sunk into the freezing cold water up to my thigh. As I hadn't hit any bottom with my foot I fell backwards just as my right leg broke through, to try to redistribute my weight. As I landed, my right arm hit a small tree, which I grabbed onto and pulled myself backwards, out of the water.

I stood up and resigned myself to backtracking. I re-crossed a bridge and notcied that in the distance there was a heavier one. It wasn't the way I had come, but that bridge could carry a car if needed. It had to be a main trail. Past the tracks of a running fox, through some briars that tore at my jeans and overstepping a pile of deer scat, I made it to the trail. I still had no idea where I was, but using my internal compass, I turned left. After three minutes, I noticed a distant bank of rhododendrons, and knew exactly where I was.

I followed that trail to the nearest cup of hot chocolate I could find.

Time: 75 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else got done: my baby boy's laundry; lots of nonprofit work; preparation for a hectic week ahead; heard the sad news that a friend, possibly the greatest U.S. Coast Guardsman of all time, passed away in his sleep last night in Melbourne, Florida.

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