Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 21, 2009 - Cow Tent Hill Preserve, Duxbury, Massachusetts


I wasn't the only one who heard it. Two gray squirrels stopped what they were doing - quarreling - and pinned themselves against the side of a white pine. That wasn't strange at all. What was odd was that they did it on the side of the tree facing me, knowing full well that I was there. Squirrels prone to spooking at the sight of humans always retreat to the far side of a tree and keep themselves out of sight. But they knew that whatever was out there was more of a threat to them than I was.


I heard it again. Hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo. A great horned owl. Yes, I would run, too, if I was a squirrel.


Cow Tent Hill is one of the smallest walkable pieces of open land around, with probably the name most likely to induce head scratching. It's like Lisa Simpson said when she saw a movie theater marquee in Australia with the words "Yahoo Serious Festival." I recoginze all the words in Cow Tent Hill, but what the heck are they doing together?


The old rusty fence around the property gives the first clue, running along the edge of one of the two streams that form the Back River to the northeast. There's the cow part. This ridiculously steep hill was used as pasturage. The hill part is obvious as well. But what of the tent?


Well, that takes some digging. Most farmers, the good ones, anyway, know that every open field needs a good shade tree for their cows. No such tree apparently existed on this piece of land, so instead, the local farmer built a tent at the apex out of brush for the cows to hide under in periods of hot sun - cow, tent, hill.


It's such a small property that I had to walk it twice, which turned out to be quite eye-opening. On the way back to the crest of the hill I found that a large branch had fallen in the six minutes between visits, smack in the middle of the trail. And I didn't hear a thing. The squirrels had gotten back into their jawing match, clucking at each other in the same pine. And pines, by the way, are by far the dominant tree species here today. Oaks and maples are trying, but they're fighting an uphill battle.
Oh, that was bad.

Time: 31 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

The rest of my Saturday: Eight hours of work, including leading a snowy owl prowl on Duxbury Beach (successful); finished reading Jim Claflin's Surfside Life-Saving Station, and posted a review of it on Amazon; read Images of America: Maryland's Lighthouses by Cathy Taylor and posted its review; attended a 70th birthday party.

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