Imagine the rush that must have come to nineteenth century residents of the South Shore of Massachusetts when a railroad line announced it would be coming into their neighborhood. Your entire life you've walked, ridden horses, been pulled in carriages. Most of the world's places were accessible only in novels or sensationalist magazines, or had to be worth a jostling, uncomfortable and potentially unhealthy stagecoach ride. Then, suddenly, the mechanized glory of a locomotive appeared on the horizon. Think of the commercial impact for a small community; contemplate the tourism potential.
This morning I walked a bit of that dream. The people of Marshfield once hoped for such advantages, and in the end paid dearly for it. The Greenbush line, recently re-established, once continued across the North River into Marshfield to help make Brant Rock an accessible summer tourist destination for the people of Boston. Today, part of that old line is a newly-established open space trail off Scituate's Driftway.
It's shorter than I thought. I covered my mouth when the blowing diesel fumes of the trucks warming up to my right overtook me, paused to see the replicated saltmarsh to the left and braced myself when I reached the lonely windrow of cedar trees just before the marsh opened up before me. In just nine minutes, I stood at the end of the trail, watching a northern harrier hunt over the grasses. The westerly winds did their best to blow me seaward as I watched the railbed disappear into the distance. Before me, the ancient piles of a small bridge that once supported the train stood crookedly; to my right, the remains of an old hay dock lined the inside of a trench cut to establish ownership rights of the valuable saltmarsh. Nine minutes later, I was back at the parking lot. I turned and headed up the Driftway.
There's so much history here. The Clapp family cemetery is now visible from the street, something that would never have happened were Dorothy Clapp Langley still around. She protected the family legacy with ferociousness that bordered on bullyism. But she's gone now, and there it sits, a victim of clear-cutting "development." Across the way was the old Boston Sand and Gravel Company. How much Scituate sand today supports Logan Airport? Colman's Heights stand nearby, the site of a ridiculously perched hotel. Even the dump has significance: circular-scarred bones discovered here a decade ago supported the belief that the building that is now the Scituate Maritime & Irish Mossing Museum once served as a smallpox hospital. And the museum has a new lawn ornament, Lucien Rousseau's old moss-flipping tractor, parked out front during the mossers' reunion last year, and not moved since. While standing next to the tractor, I ran into an old friend. No stranger hellos today, but one acquaintance renewed.
I drifted back to the car in the wind and reflected on the changes. I sure hope someone is writing it all down.
Time: 39 minutes
New species for 2009: Northern harrier (56)
What else is happening: took some pictures for a magazine article I'm submitting this weekend; ran my natural history book club on The Great Gypsy Moth War; had friends over for Chinese food.