Wednesday, January 7, 2009

January 7, 2009 - Wheelwright Park, Cohasset, Massachusetts

My plan was to avoid the coast, or any other open spaces. My plan was that the canopy of the trees would temper the amount of freezing rain that would reach me down below. My plan took me into the woods. But just thirty minutes in, I balled my fists for warmth and found that when I did, my gloves released water as if I had been squeezing a wet sponge. My plan failed miserably.

But at least I was among friends. Wheelwright Park is where I lead a portion of my annual Wicked Big Rock Walk, a search for glacial erratic boulders that have specific stories to tell. Here are Big Tippling Rock, Little Tippling, Split Rock and the Devil's Chair. Here there's a skating pond carved out of the forest floor adjacent to a stiff cliff of upward-thrusting bedrock. Here are groves of holly trees and stands of white pine. I renewed acquaintances with them all.

The Devil's Chair was first on the trail, and it was covered in snow. There was a joke there about Hell freezing over, but I decided then and there that I would never use it. Little Tippling came next, still precariously dangling over the edge of a small ravine as it has been since we first met a decade ago. A white pine next to it sported the whitewash of an owl that had recently enjoyed a good meal.

Split Rock, perfectly named except for the fact that it's now two rocks, is evidence of the power of the glaciers. Carried by the enormous ice monster for who knows how long, this erratic took a fall and when it landed, split almost precisely in half. What amount of force was needed to cause such a break? As with most of geology, the math involved is mind-boggling.

I sloshed through the slush, finally understanding why those two words sound so much alike. It was a great day for tracking, despite the ongoing rain. The snow that came last night before the rain was wet through. When a step was taken by man or beast, the foot left a gray imprint surrounded by the white of the snow. Two dog walkers had been here before me, but so had a fox and at least one white-tailed deer.

The park is hilly, undulatingly so. On the downslopes, the water rushed in sheets. Where footsteps had been taken, water pooled in the prints, which splashed loudly as I walked.

Thirty-seven minutes into the walk, I took a trail I had never walked previously. I was soon surprised to find myself leaving Wheelwright Park and entering Holly Hill Farm's White Woods. Once in the Woods I quickly found an ice pond, that today, at least, lived up to its name. Just beyond the pond, I saw the ghost-like flash of a white-tailed deer spiritng away from my approach. I lost it to the forest, but confirmed its presence by its tracks, punctuated by two thoroughly disturbed prints from which it had launched itself in its haste to get away.

Before long, I realized that I, too, was lost to the forest. For the next few minutes, I followed my instincts and my internal compass to retrace my way through the woods. It turned out to be a temporary event, but I relished every moment. I knew I was okay when I found my own unmistakable uphill prints in the snow: left foot straight ahead, right foot turned at a sixty degree angle. The fibrula and tibia of my left leg are fused together by scar tissue thanks to a childhood injury, leaving me with a knee that doesn't turn. On slopes, I overcompensate with my right, pushing off as if I'm on skates. I reached a familiar intersection and made a decision. Rain or no, I would head for the last of my old friends, Big Tippling.

With the precipitation on the increase, walking became unsteady on the upwards slope. It took me longer than I thought it would, but I got there and offered my salutations. And as usual, there was a reward for sticking it out. On the way back I noticed a small brown bird lifting off from a recently fallen tree. I fumbled for my binoculars to barely discern through foggy lenses the markings of a very wet hermit thrush, another new species for 2009.

Time: 59 minutes

New sightings: white-tailed deer (second mammal of 2009); hermit thrush (55).

Stranger hellos: 1 (7)

What else is happening: doctor's appointment (stress fracture in my left foot); more writing; finished reading The Great Gypsy Moth War.

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