Sunday, January 4, 2009

January 4, 2009 - Ames Nowell State Park, Abington, Massachusetts

With every step I took, I dropped my foot as flatly onto the snow as I would on dry pavement. But the heavily trodden path had been disrupted by people and animals of many sizes, and my boots twisted and turned until they found their purchase. It's at this moment that I realize how happy I am to have ankles. But my glutes will surely be sore tomorrow.

Ice fishermen were apparently the first to get here this morning. They staked out their spots on Cleveland Pond, augered their holes, and a pair even started themselves a small fire in the brush just onshore. I can't imagine that's legal, but in this economy my guess is that a Department of Conservation and Recreation official will be hard to find.

Across the dam at the sounth end of the pond the trail climbs a slight hill, wide enough that in the old days it could have supported an ox cart. It winds through new woods, where fire has obviously struck in recent years. Highbush blueberries are the dominant plant in the underbrush, a good indication of that fiery past that has left this oak-pine forest to short. Stonewalls mark farm boundaries as well, meaning that this may have been pastureland that is still returning to forest. Speaking of oaks, I stumbled across the gnarliset oak burl I've ever seen, nearly twice the width of the tree from which it sprung. I know a woodturner or two who would love to have this raw material.

I crossed beneath some power lines and was temporarily flummoxed by a stream crossing. Thanks to the snow I couldn't tell where the dry land ended and the water began. A female hairy woodpecker goaded me forward, or cautioned me to retrace my steps, I couldn't tell which. Let's just say I'm glad I wore my waterproof boots today.

And I'm glad I crossed the stream. No one else had, and the trail was pristinely clean. Deer tracks crossed back and forth, and even mice had left their marks, tiny trails that led to underground burrows. Here, for a few days, at least, the woods had been untrammeled by man, and nature had taken its own pre-planned course.

On the way back, I found that my granola bar was frozen. But my crackers were still edible, so all was not lost. The number of nests in the trees made me think forward to spring and the state's Breeding Bird Atlas project. I wondered who is tasked with scouting these woods. I promised myself I'd look that up when I get home.

A glacial erratic boulder loomed just off the path, and as I stared at it I realized that although I had been on the trail for an hour, I had not seen a single new species of wildlife today, the first time this year. But I did add to my "stranger hellos" list, with three today. That's just as good to me.

Time: 73 minutes

Stranger hellos: 3 (for a total of 6 this year)

New wildlife: Nothing.

What else I got done on this sub-freezing day: wrote another chapter in the book, read fifty more page in The Great Gypsy Moth War and tackled a pile of nonprofit work awaiting my attention for far too long.

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