Monday, March 30, 2009

March 30, 2009 - Boundary Pond, Wompatuck State Park, Hingham, Massachusetts

I understand why we have to have rain. I understand that April showers bring May flowers, and all that jazz. I'm even willing to give my meteorologist friends breaks once in a while when they call for sun, but get rain. Like today.

Don't worry. There's no "but" coming.

It's the Pisces in me. I love moving water. Plunk me down beside a running brook on a summer's day. Drop me in the deepest depths of the ocean among the sightless fish (just give me a flashlight and I'll be good for hours). Set me off on a rainy day through a dense pine forest, where the mosses glisten their shiny greens. In any of these places, I'm home.

I was there today. The sun was never close to coming out, yet the moderate temperatures promised a true spring experience. The rain tapped at the leaves and the occasional wind gust blew, but none of it ever reached me, as the canopy sheltered me from it all. There was not much to see, but that wasn't the point anyway. A single chickadee sounded in the woods. A northern flicker picked at bugs in the South Field. At the spot on the map that read "Cow Pond," there was no pond, and there certainly was no cow. But I bet I can figure out what happened there in the past.

If nothing else, it was a day a frog could love. In my little corner of the world today, there were about thirty of them experiencing such amorous feelings. They were at either end of the sound spectrum. The wood frogs clucked like chickens with sore throats. The spring peepers peeped, like, well, like baby chickens. I may as well have been in a barnyard.

Time: 99 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on today: finished graphic design with my coauthor Don on a new book, and submitted cover photo choices to the publisher; bought a book for my wife; signed some paperwork accepting a $5000 grant to write yet another book (now I just have to write it!) and create a traveling exhibit with a partner; planned the next few articles I'm going to write for South Shore Living magazine with the editor; wrote an article for the Captain's Guide magazines; booked a hotel room for an upcoming trip to Pennsylvania.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

March 29, 2009 - Watson Park, Braintree, Massachusetts

It wasn't raining too hard when I started walking this morning. Note the phrase "when I started."

I knew it had to be a quick one today, as deadlines were looming and Michelle and I had plans for lunch. I chose a nearby spot and threw on a raincoat. Thank you, L.L. Bean.

I've never spent much time at Watson Park. I've driven by it on numerous occasions, visited the Braintree Historical Society museum at the head of the park, even given a lecture down the street at the Metropolitan Yacht Club. The park, today, is home to Braintree's youth athletes, with baseball and softball fields lining the banks of the workmanlike Fore River. These banks aren't defined, here, anyway, with soft, lush meadows. There are warehouses pushed right to the edge, signs that nearby Weymouth Landing was once a place of heavy industry.

But these very fields have more to tell than just outrageously inflated Little League scores and today, of a community clean-up in anticipation of a summer of sporting fun. Years ago, ships were launched from this spot. Beginning in 1899, Thomas Watson - yes, as in Thomas Edison saying, "Watson, come here, I need you" through the world's first operating telephone - built ships here, large and small, including the world's only seven-masted schooner, the Thomas W. Lawson. The business later migrated downriver to become the Fore River Shipyard. This was big-time, world-renowned industry.

I wonder if the robins and starlings playing the infield grasses had any idea of those days. As I meandered to Smith's Beach, adjacent to the park, I wondered if the Canada geese in the outfield (insert World Baseball Classic joke here) ever find any remnants of those days as they munch the grass down to bare earth. I wondered, at that moment, why it had to start raining harder when I was as far from my car as I was going to be today.

Time: 30 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: lunch with Michelle, our baby boy, and my mom; submitted an article on Coast Guard history to The Keeper; more magazine and book work.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

March 28, 2009 - Negas Road, Myles Standish State Forest, Plymouth, Massachusetts

I used to take great pride in a clean driveway. As I walked the paved trail that led to the deeper, more natural woods of Myles Standish today I took note of the proliferation of pitch pine needles underfoot and had flashbacks to my landscaping days as a teenager. It was the last thing we did at every house. Mow, weedwhack, and blow. We used backpack blowers, an obnoxious whirlwind of sound and movement, blasted the driveways and walkways clear, and then we were gone. I have one, sitting in my garage, but I rarely use it. I've grown to dislike the noise pollution, and only fire it up it for my one-day fall cleanup.

The sky was slate gray today, but the temperatures were fair enough. I was off on another trek through woods that were new to me, old to many others. I took side trails and main trails, narrow paths that caused low-growing plants to grab at my jeans and ancient roads wide enough for a horse-drawn wagon. I found old posts that once defined wood lots and tiny kettlehole ponds so tucked into the dense brush that only the sounds of splashing and honking Canada geese gave them away.

On one side trail I stopped to listen to a beautiful song. I could not figure out to whom it belonged. At that point, I'd heard everything there is to hear in my neck of the woods, or so I thought at that moment. I couldn't figure it out. I could audio-locate it to a white pine, but could not see the bird. It sounded like a drop of water melodically splashing into a bucket, followed by three or four sweetly sung notes. Frustrated after a few minutes, I decided to make it change it's tune. I did a soft screech owl call. It changed to basic calling. Cowbird. Ugh.

On one small pond four buffleheads, two pairs, frolicked. As I walked away, a shadow streaked across the trail in front of me, followed by a loud splash. A female hooded merganser had joined the fun.

I picked up a leaf I couldn't identify, and placed it in the oak family. Turned out to be a bear oak, or what we call a scrub oak, a post-burning emergent tree that eventually gets overwheled by the larger oaks and pines that dominate these woods. At New Long Pond my shoulder brushed against a pitch pine, releasing thousands of midges. I walked upwind and let the breeze carry them away.

Near the parking lot, I met a father and his two daughters. The older one, perhaps three, met me on the trail and held out a small white pine branch, staring at it as she offered it for my viewing pleasure. I hope my son shares the same sense of wonder when it comes time for his first walks with his dad.

Time: 138 minutes.

New species: Amphibians: red-backed salamanders, spring peepers (3).

Stranger hellos: 3 (152).

What else is going on: Worked a full day, including running a woodcock program called "Timberdoodles and Tapas" with my friends Matt and Ellen; organized my tree swallow box data for this year's new NestWatch program; created my osprey monitoring database and entered the year's first sightings from the monitors around the region; checked one group of my salamander coverboards and found 5 redbacks (4 red, one "leadback") under just ten boards; played Wii darts with my father-in-law.

Friday, March 27, 2009

March 27, 2009 - Black Pond Nature Preserve, Norwell, Massachusetts

I never met William Gould Vinal, and for that fact I am very sorry. I get the feeling that he and I would have had a lot of positive things to say to each other.

I'll never reach the heights that he did in his chosen field, as an educator. I'm working hard at it every day, creating new avenues for learners to travel. I try to share the knowledge I have, the perspectives I brainstorm, with any people who want to spend time with me.

But Captain Bill had a knack that no one else did. I once read about another nature educator of the 1960s, named Buzzy Bussewitz, that "he could make poison ivy seem friendly." Neat trick. Captain Bill could do that, and with a prose that rivaled the great writers of his time. He died in 1973. I was born in 1971.

When I walk places like Black Pond Bog and meander through the Atlantic white cedar swamp, search for residue from last year's insectivorous plants and tap on trees that might contain flying squirrels, I think of people like Captain Bill. He grew up in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early days of the twentieth at places like this one. Nature was his playground, and back then, there was a whole lot more of it about. He inherently understood the value of a swamp, the importance of a sassafrass tree, the beauty of a pickerel frog.

If you don't believe me about Captain Bill, ask his most famous disciple and fellow townsman: Jeff Corwin.

Today on the land that Captain Bill loved, I wandered to the bog and up Cuffey Hill. So many memories around here, of birds, of dragonflies and more. Someone has built a cairn. Rock-balancing used to be just for daymarks for fishermen, but it's become an artform on beaches and, apparently, in the woods. The woods themselves are composed primarily of beech trees, giving the forest a whiteness that today shone in the sun.

Yes, the sun. It wasn't out this morning, when we really could have used it, but it showed itself for the bulk of the afternoon. And it felt good. It felt damn good.

Time: 37 minutes.

New species: eastern phoebe (129).

Stranger hellos: None.

The rest of my day: led my regular 3 1/2 hour Friday Morning Birding trip in Marshfield and Duxbury; cleaned up the garage a little; dinner out with Michelle and our baby boy; magazine work.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

March 26, 2009 - Cohasset Center, Cohasset, Massachusetts

I had a little time to walk today, and a little time to think before the British arrived. Specifically, I had time to think about what I was going to say to them.

I know Cohasset history, at least enough to get by in a situation like this. Much of it stands out. The town green is as quaint as any in New England, anchored by the church that helped establish the town. Cohasset broke away from Hingham as a separate incorporated town in 1770, after a hundred years of being the "second parish" of that community. The town center is wrapped around a huge outcropping of rock, which is just perfect. "Conihasset" means "the long rocky place" in the Algonquian tongue of its original residents. The town is rife with it.

The historical society has two historic houses downtown, one of which belonged to a sea captain. Cohasset has a lighthouse, one of the most famous in America. It has a small beach, and it has its share of bona fide celebrities and families of note. Witches of Eastwick and Housesitters were filmed here. It has its quiet dignity, in places, for example, where its veterans are remembered. And it has its sadness, like in the shadow of the Celtic cross memorializing the loss of 100 Irish immigrants in the harbor in 1849. Henry David Thoreau walked the beach in the aftermath, watching the hasty construction of coffins.

In the end, it turned out I had plenty to say to my new British friends. Their bus pulled up, and I stepped on. I had to be on my game. When they got home, they would be writing - for magazines, newspapers and websites - about their trip. They were travel writers on a familiarization or "FAM" trip, hoping to find reasons to send their countrymen to the South Shore of Boston. As the bus pulled away, I did my best to make Cohasset look good.

Time: 45 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 2 (149)

What else is happening: full day at work; broke down and played some Aerosmith Guitar Hero; magazine work.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

March 25, 2009 - Mt. Vernon Cemetery, Abington, Massachusetts

I apparently worked the hell out of my boots over the weekend. I slipped them on today and it felt like I was wearing two burlap sacks. No arch support. No horizontal stability. My friend David has always said that my right boot squeaks, but I've never believed him. After today, he'll never be able to tease me again, as I think they're through.

There's a secret to Mt. Vernon Cemetery, one that only Abingtonians would really have any reason to know. There's a path that runs along the western side of the cemetery, behind a ridge, out of view of the main burial ground and along the mighty Shumatuscacant River. It winds through woodlands, to a point where the river is damned behind the town high school athletic facilities. Tennis is in full swing, or maybe somebody who plays here just has terrible skills. A dozen tennis balls rested in the river today, pinned to the banks by branches and other, unnatural debris. The path continues nearly to the Central Street entrance to the cemetery.

There are even a few headstones back here, in places no one would imagine. It's another garden cemetery, like the two in Hanson and Kingston I walked earlier this year. Working with the landscape, rather than flattening it out.

Strangely, because I know a little Abington history, I now can see that there's a hierarchy to the cemetery. There are hillocks and valleys. The rises are covered by the prominent families. I would then assume that some of the names I don't know must belong to families that worked in the local shoe factories rather than owned them. Moses Arnold and his family - shoemakers extraordinaire - have a beautiful sylvan high spot at the northwestern end, near a small pond.

The most prominent marker is a mausoleum, belonging to the family of A.W. Perry. Perry was an Abington shoemaker - who wasn't in those days? - who became the second largest real estate owner in Boston. He had a good life, and it shows.
And David was right. It does squeak.

Time: 41 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 2 (147).

What else is happening: submitted a month's worth of my weekly column to the Hull Times; worked with a coauthor, laying out 60% of a new pictorial history; fought off a migraine; started reading Jumbo: This Being the True Story of The Greatest Elephant in the World by Paul Chambers; other writing work; rebuilt my old computer.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March 24, 2009 - Winthrop Square, Boston, Massachusetts

Life's twists and turns continue to thrust me down unexpected paths. I planned on today being a day at home, time to unwind from the recent Nantucket trip. A simple phone call changed all that, sending me into the city of Boston to find an historic building on the 5th floor of which would be two gentleman waiting to discuss a future project with me.

I emerged from South Station with Michelle and our friend Jamie, and we made our way into the city's heart. Michelle works near Faneuil Hall, not too far from where I had to be. This was one of my first true commuting experiences. I've always had jobs in places that allow me to oppose the flow of traffic; when most people head north and choke the main highways into Boston, I've wandered south along the back roads of the seacoast. It was nice to see how the other nine-tenths lived for once.

The streets around South Station get swarmed with pedestrians when the trains empty. It's amazing how akin the herd movement is to bird flocks or wildebeest migrations. Michelle related it to lemmings. Somewhere at the front of the pack someone makes a decision on street crossings. The rest follow. We joked that it's safer to stay in the middle of the group, and not get picked off the back. That's an old gene pool improvement trick of nature. The wolves always get the slowest, weakest deer. That way, those slow, weak genes are not passed on, strengthening the herd by subtraction.

Jamie bailed first, heading for her office. I said goodbye to Michelle as she headed for hers, and peeled off for my destination. I arrived to find one of the odd little urban sanctuaries Boston is famous for, a confluence of roads that forms a triangle, perfect for a pocket park. This one, at the meeting of Franklin and Otis, is known as Winthrop Square. The Winthrop part, well, that made sense. Governor John was one of the state's first. But what significance did the statue of Scottish poet Robby Burns have?

None, apparently. It was placed in the Fens, unveiled on New Year's Day, 1920 - significant, as Burns wrote Auld Lang Syne - by then-Governor Calvin Coolidge. It was moved here in 1975, with no real significance of place, as far as I know. But there he was, book in one hand, hat in the other, walking with his collie Luath. I suppose it's a destination for Scotsmen visiting the city. And it's not a bad walk at all.

Time: 40 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

The rest of today: rode the commuter rail; finished reading Inside Gitmo by Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu, posting a review of it on Amazon; picked up Michelle at the train station; dinner with Michelle's parents; had a meeting on a potential future book project; book, magazine and newspaper writing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

March 23, 2009 - Proprietors' Woods, Marshfield, Massachusetts

Hay bales. It struck me as so strange, when I really put some thought into it. It was the third of three thoughts that hit me sideways as I walked in the chilling winds today through what will some day be a completed development.

So, let's start with number one. Proprietors' Woods is a residential development twinned with a commercial one. Although neither one is completed yet, many of the houses on the residential side have cars parked in the driveways. The "woods" are what's left of part of an early land grant that was used mostly for timber for home construction. And in fact, when one looks at a Google map of the area, the impact of the development on the nature of the area is quite minimal. But it's still impact.

But here's the thought. I came across a "Lot for Sale" sign that was nailed onto a snag. Just ten feet above the sign on that same snag was a freshly excavated woodpecker nesting cavity. I hope that the drilling came long after the nailing up of the sign. If not, it reflects very poorly on the developer.

Thought number two came a few minutes after I saw that image. I was walking through the streets - Old Wood Lot Lane, Seth Sprague Drive, etc., ringing with historic overtones - with a furrowed brow and a mild boil of the blood building, when I saw a tennis ball on the side of the road. It coincided with the arrival of an elementary school bus. I suddenly had an image of a child and a dog playing on the grass, the dog fetching the ball. I had to rethink for a moment. Isn't this part of what I'm campaigning about? Kids returning to nature, growing up outdoors like I did? Here, more so than in many neighborhoods, kids have a chance to do just that. The woods still surround these homes, unlike the reach-out-the-window-and-touch-your-neighbor's-house neighborhoods that overpopulate the region. Maybe this place isn't as bad as I've made it out to seem in my mind.

As I returned to the car, the hay bales appeared. What a dichotomy they are. They're a symbol of where we are in American history. Hay is being baled locally. I know that for a fact; I stack several hundred bales each summer as part of my full-time job. But the farms just aren't here any more. We don't bale the hay for cows to eat; we sell it to contractors to use as roadside runoff protection on construction sites, paving the way to more development. The four bales I saw today? I may have stacked them on a haywagon last summer.

And so we move forward.

Time: 57 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 1 (145).

What else is going on: catching up after a weekend away; recorded a PSA at a radio station for the Hull Boosters Club; more reading, writing, blogging, tweeting.

March 22, 2009 - Nantucket State Forest, Nantucket, Massachusetts

Sleep? Who needs sleep, as the Barenaked Ladies once said? Our annual Nantucket trip is one of early, pre-dawn morning excursions, all-day nature exploration and late night group dinners. I had four hours of sleep on Friday night and five on Saturday night, and still woke up before my alarm sounded on Sunday morning.

We go to the state forest on Nantucket for one reason. A secretive little owl has been less than timidly staking out his place there for years, or we assume that it's the same one. Last year we heard him deep in the woods and chased his sound to a tiny copse of trees in the heart of the storm-damaged woods. We never saw him, but certainly delighted in his call and the fact that we were so close to such an elusive little character. This year, he threw us a curveball, one that would have made Greg Maddux proud.

As we stepped out of our vans in the parking area, he called. But we weren't ready for it. As we put on gloves, adjusted hats, checked binoculars and fumbled with flashlights, we mentally pointed fingers at each other. I thought it was Kirk doing his northern saw-whet owl imitation. He thought it was me with the company's birdsong-loaded iPod. But no, it was the real thing.

We chased the sound into the forest. Finding the place he had holed up last year, but didn't find him there. We walked several different trails, calling at different stops. We even returned to the scene of the first call, but we never found him again.

The sun rises quickly on Nantucket. The highest point on the island is only 104 feet above sea level. Once that sun hits the horizon, it's up. First light was 6:15 a.m., but bright light was 6:16, or so it felt. But all was not a loss. It never is when you get outdoors. The wildlife kept coming, despite the fact - or perhaps because of the fact - that the owls had gone into hiding for the day. A gray squirrel, a relatively new species for the island (no idea how they got here from the mainland in the last few years, but they're here now), raced up a tree at our approach. Three species of woodpeckers worked the trees in an open area, while a red-breasted nuthatch sang out for a mate.

We were the early birds today, little knowing what the rest of the day had in store. It was just the first stop in an unexpectedly long day.

Time: 81 minutes.

New species: osprey, Virginia rail, piping plover, northern saw-whet owl (128).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else took place: visited Low Beach, Polpis Road marsh, Jetties Beach; learned that our 11:30 a.m. ferry was "broken" and we might not get off the island; lunch at Easy Street Cantina; visited Hummock Pond and Clark Cove, Bartlett Farm and Miacomet Pond; walked Sanford Farm and Ram Pasture; caught the 5:30 p.m. ferry for home; hugged my baby boy for the first time since Friday morning.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March 21, 2009 - Smith's Point, Nantucket, Massachusetts

Smith's Point is an annual migration for me, as part of a trip I lead to Nantucket, but one with ever-diminishing returns. Two years ago, we walked the entire distance, to the inlet that separates the mainland from Tuckernuck Island. Last year, we found that was impossible. A new break, a short way down the beach from the last houses at Madaket, had made the point an island unto itself. That cut has not closed over the past twelve months.

We started before dawn. Nantucket is known as the greatest wintering spot in America for long-tailed ducks. When they lift off in the morning, by the thousands, they fill the sky. But that's at the old Smith's Point, not the stub that today uses the name.

It was cold on the walk out, but I've had much worse this year. It was windy, though, which added to the craziness of the surf and the movements of the birds, but also made it hard to look through a scope. My tear ducts work too well.

There was a peregrine falcon across the cut. There were thousands of gulls. From their midst I pulled out a single glaucous gull. There were oystercatchers. There were savannah sparrows. And there were a few hundred, not a few thousand, long-tailed ducks.

The sand had a few more stories to tell. A harbor seal had dragged itself ashore from the sea side and paddled its way across the peninsula. It had reached a dune it could not climb, turned left and headed for Madaket Harbor. I followed the trail right back down into the water.

When we returned to the vans, we were surprised by a merlin diving on an American goldfinch. The goldfinch pressed itself against a cottage window (Mr. Rogers' Crooked House is nearby - yes, that Mr. Rogers) as the merlin flew to a nearby wire. The hunter eventually gave in as we lingered, and the goldfinch lived for a few more moments, anyway.

The walk wasn't what it was two years ago, but it was a great way to start a new day.

Time: 81 minutes.

New species: Birds: black-bellied plover, Iceland gull, ring-necked pheasant (124); Mammals: gray seal (13).

Stranger hellos: None.

The rest of the day: walked to Eel Point; visited Long, Miacomet and Sesachacha Ponds; visited Jackson Point, Jetties Beach, 'Sconset, Low Beach, Sankaty Head and Altar Rock; brunch at the Hen House; dinner at the Fog Bound Cafe.

Friday, March 20, 2009

March 20, 2009 - Nantucket, Massachusetts

It was only a two-hour ferry ride, but it's a world away. And that's how the Native Americans knew it, as the word Nantucket means "the faraway island." Here, in a world of natural-shingled houses surrounded by latticework, arbors and trellises, of cobblestone sreets, of salmon-colored pants known as "Nantucket Reds," life just developed differently.

Nantucketers - the native folk, not the wannabes - are New Englanders. In fact, because of their isolation, they perhaps hold more of the old New Engand sensibilities than those of us on the mainland. We've blended too much into the great American melting pot. Thank you Schoolhouse Rock.

The streets here are quiet right now, and we - my friends Matt and Ellen were with me - walked straight down the middle of them without reservation. Our route was completely random. If we saw something down a street we wanted to see - an antique car, an interesting looking house, a view of the harbor - we went and saw it. I couldn't even start to plot our route on a map. All I know is we ended up on Fair Street for quite a while, as many of the houses bore the word "Fair" in their titles.

And that's another rampant Nantucket fad, naming houses. Every cottage bears a plaque, each more creative than the last. It adds a fun layer of identification when searching for a friend's place, especially where the homes all look so much alike. The town is famous for its strict historic district standards, frowning on audacity, excessive individuality and diversion from the island's historical character. "Don't worry, you can't miss it. Just look for the Fair Isle."

Time: 46 minutes.

New species: northern gannet, Bonaparte's gull, American oystercatcher, peregrine falcon (121).

Stranger hellos: None.

Elsewhere today: Led a walk at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary; took the ferry to Nantucket from Hyannis; dinner at the Brotherhood of Thieves; caught up with a Nantucket native friend.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March 19, 2009 - Fireworks Area, Hanover, Massachusetts

Way down in the southwest corner of Hanover, near the Hanson, Pembroke and Rockland lines, there's a history like none other on the South Shore. It's the history of explosions, of explosives and a dangerous, sometimes deadly industry.

The National Fireworks company once held about 450 acres here, including their own airport. Today's conservation area is about a third of that size, concentrating on the Drinkwater River and Factory Pond. The miles of barbed wire-topped fence the company put up still stands for much of its length, although weak roots and high winds have caused more than a dozen large trees to fall on it, one every few hundred feet. In most cases, the trees have won the brief battles.

Within these fences there once stood about sixty small buildings in which men manufactured fireworks and, during the world wars, ammunition. The company learned early in their history that to lessen the scale of explosive disasters, of which there were certainly a few, it was best to spread the work buildings out. In one 1905 explosion, about 10 buildings blew up, injuring several workers, but things could have been much worse if this strategy had not been used. I found one foundation with thick concrete walls that made me pause - was this part of the complex? If so, where was the next nearest building?

The 1905 explosion could be heard for 20 miles, according to those folks who were nearby. This afternoon, the only consistent sounds were those of northern flickers, wood ducks and Canada geese. Just twelve minutes into my walk, I flushed an American woodcock from its daytime hiding place in a swampy area, in a place I would never have expected one to be. Woodcocks have their own sound, the unmistakable whistling of their wings when they fly, usually heard over grasslands at sundown. It just seemed so out of place so deep in the woods. The next conservation parcel, though, right across the street, is a perfect field for a woodcock display flight. I guess my "well duh" lesson for today was that everything has to be somewhere.

The greatest concern here, of course, is the contamination of the waters. We didn't think too hard about how and where we dumped our trash a half century ago; imagine the waste that came from a munitions factory. "Drinkwater" is probably not the best name for this waterway. It's high in mercury. Yet life goes on for the wildlife here. The last sound I heard was the cluck of a lone wood frog. In the next week or two, male and female wood frogs will take to the vernal pools, grasp each other in amplexis, leave egg masses behind, and disappear back in to the woods. If I miss that show, I at least heard this guy today.

Time: 81 minutes.

New species: Wood frog (first amphibian for the year).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else: Where do I begin? taxes; nonprofit work; submitted an article to the Plymouth County Business Review; packed for the weekend; banks; post office; food shopping; more.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March 18, 2009 - Grandview Avenue, Marshfield, Massachusetts

I can't quite tell what it was in the air, but the mammals were out in full force as I hit the trail this morning. I found two deer in an open field, one of them lowering his head and bucking like a bronco. Squirrels? Well they were just everywhere. Rabbits? Yup, saw several of them, too.

But alas, my most memorable moment of the morning had nothing to do with any of the critters listed above. As I stepped into the Ferry Hill Thicket, a conservation area just down the street from the Marshfield YWCA, it hit me. The stink. The smell. The stench. The odoriferousness of a skunk.

It wasn't there at the moment, but it had been there very recently. Very, very recently. My nose hairs were singed. And it had been digging, leaving the path torn up like only a skunk can. Skunks dig with both front paws, and when they are searching for, say, grub larvae in a lawn, they create conical shaped holes. Crows will dig from them, too, but instead of digging neat little holes, they'll tear up the grass and fling it aside, leaving divots.

Although I didn't see the stinky little monster, for the fourth day in a row, I was in the immediate presence of a Cooper's hawk. This one was sitting in a tree dodging American crow charges, ignoring a clucking squirrel. As I stepped back onto the road, it took off towards the South River Marsh.

And therein lies the grand view of Grandview. Humarock rests to the northeast and the river runs right past. Parallel to the avenue is Little's Creek, one of the feeder streams that adds to the power of the river. The marsh view is astounding.

What's more amazing to me, though, is the number of homes on this short road that are abandoned and overgrown. How have these properties not been scooped up, with their stunning views? Ah, to be filthy rich and free to dabble in real estate. There are at least three fixer-uppers on Grandview, each of which would drag in a pretty penny if spruced up and placed on the market, current economy notwithstanding.

Time: 35 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

The rest of the day: 8 busy hours at work; started reading Inside Gitmo by Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu; quality time with my baby boy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 17, 2009 - Furnace Brook Watershed Area, Marshfield, Massachusetts

There's nothing subtle about the moment that a gathering of white-tailed deer decides they have to run away from you in the woods. Even a gray squirrel makes some noise. Deer are so big that if you don't hear their hooves thumping the ground, you hear the branches breaking in their path.

And there's nothing subtle about stumb ling across an owl's favorite digestion spot in the woods. In fact, if you know what you're looking for, it's actually quite amazing how often you find them. The "whitewash" on a tree or concentrated splats on the ground and the gray, fuzzy, regurgitated pellets they leave behind reveal the species of the owl, and even what it recently had for dinner.

Yup, I was in the forest today.

To carry a name like Furnace Brook, a stream needs a human story. This particular Furnace Brook did what it implies: powered a furnace. The valley I walked today was once rife with bog iron ore, enough so that some early entrepreneurs harnessed the brook's power to begin smelting iron. Talk about useful. To the first settlers, there was nothing so needed as iron tools. They had what they brought with them from Europe, but if those tools failed, there were no ready replacements. Imagine life without even just saws and hammers. We take it all for granted today.

The sounds of spring continue to increase in volume and diversity. I know that in a month's time I'll have to do some brushing up. It's not easy keeping the spring songs of several hundred birds in your head all throughout the year, when you only hear them for a few weeks. I had a stumper today, but finally figured it out. I had to go back to North Carolina in my mind to do it, though. Carolina wrens have a familiar song: tea kettle, tea kettle, tea kettle, tea! It's usually sung very, very quickly. But once in a while you find a bird that hasn't figured it out yet, or is simply at the bottom of the wren gene pool. This guy was pronouncing each syllable individually - all in the right order, all in the right tones, but so slowly they could be heard as single notes. The last time I heard this rendition was near Southport, North Carolina, last spring. Makes you wonder if he gets the girls or not. If so, will others start to sing like him?

Ah, the wonders of nature.

Time: 86 minutes.

New Species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: eight hours at work; some light magazine work at night.

Monday, March 16, 2009

March 16, 2009 - Beechwood Street, Wompatuck State Park, Hingham and Cohasset, Massachusetts

1770. That's when Cohasset broke away from Hingham. By that time, Beechwood Street had already been established, offering the people of Hingham Center something they had wanted for a long time: direct access to the Atlantic Ocean, not via thew channel into Boston Harbor. But you can 't get there from here anymore.

The Beechwood area was settled in the 1670s, divvied up between several landowners. Beechwood Street transected private properties on its way to Cohasset Harbor. That part that is now in Wompatuck State Park, beyond the granite marker indicating the town boundary (with a big "C" and the year 1829 carved into it), comes to a halt at the edge of the Aaron River Reservoir. It picks up again beyond the reservior and continues into the heart of the town of Cohasset.

The reservoir is only 31 years old, meaning it wasn't even here when the adjoining lands were acquired to become the state park, and obviously not created by the time the Hingham Naval Annex was opened in World War II. Back then it was mostly a sandpit with a few meandering streams.

This is all a long-winded way to get to this point. There's an old foundation at the Wompatuck end of Beechwood Street. It's an amazing site. This family chose to build their home - the central chimney, front door, back door, cellar window (probably for a coal chute) and other features are plainly discernible - directly next to a large glacial erratic. Today, it looks as if it must have been absolutely idyllic. The door would have opened directly onto the water. Except for one thing. There was no water there in those days. It opened into the woods, perhaps near a stream.

Elsewhere, history has been changed in other ways. The ammunition storage bunkers I knew so well as a child have been closed off and filled in. Oh, I still can tell where they are. As I said a few days ago, there are no straight lines in nature, but there are in these woods.

As I was leaving the woods today, they shook. The pileated woodpecker that has been inhabitaing these lands for a few years was trying to attract a mate, drumming so loudly that it echoed throughout the forest. I stumbled across a tree he had decimated, stripping it in three-to-four-inch splinters, but never got closer than that to a visual identification. But there's no mistaking its audio offerings.

Time: 108 minutes.

New species: pileated woodpecker (117).

Stranger hellos: 1 (144).

What else happened: picked up some blocks to cap my driveway wall; worked on an article for Plymouth County Business Review; Tweeted a bit; more nonprofit work.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

March 15, 2009 - Dreamwold, Scituate, Massachusetts

Dreamwold no longer exists, at least not as one complete entity. A hundred years ago it was in its heyday, the sprawling and rambling private estate owned by one man with a dream and a humongous pile of money.

Tom Lawson was a classic self-made man of the nineteenth century. His father died of wounds received in the Civil War when Tom was a young boy. He dropped out of school to work in a bank, and by the time he was 30 years old he was making millions. At his richest, estimates say he would have been worth as much as $1.2 billion in today's money. He was Ted Turner. He was Vince McMahon.

His estate is in pieces today. The brilliance that drove the creation of his fortune was itself driven by cantankerousness and intractability. In the end, that's what tore it apart. His stubbornness forced him to sell his massive property in lots, breaking apart the estate he had built and marketed to the world as the breeding place of champion horses and dogs.

The kennel stands today, down Bossy Lane, past the Lawson Gates. There's supposedly a giraffe buried in the backyard, a remnant from the days of the wild animal farm that briefly inhabited the land after Lawson was gone. Today, a Cooper's hawk watched over the area.

Many of the original houses from the estate still stand - the homes he gave to his daughters, the manager's house, the Nest (the home he built as a getaway from the manor house), all noticeable for their Dutch gambrel style roofs. There's even a remnant of the five-mile run of Kentucky fencing he put up to mark his boundaries. The water tower he built looks down on the rear of the manor house.

There's even an audio echo from the days of Lawson. The recent re-opening of the Greenbush train line, which ran alongside his estate - in those days, quick access to the rail was an indication of opulence - brings back the days of the Lawson Flyer, the train that he paid to whisk him directly into Boston from his estate in 37 minutes. The Greenbush line roared by today, but did not stop to pick up the man once known as the Copper King. He's been gone a long time.

Time: 40 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 2 (143).

And the rest of the day: gave a lecture on conservation as part of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church mass; took a long walk with Michelle and our baby boy; magazine and nonprofit work.

March 14, 2009 - Evergreen Cemetery, Kingston, Massachusetts

A few years ago I found an orange jelly on a stump in this cemetery. Sounds weird, doesn't it? But that's actually the name of the fungus. Not orange jelly mushroom, just orange jelly. Like you could buy it in a jar. I didn't find it today. There's a peanut butter joke in here somewhere.

But as I walked I did find a peacful few moments between the public programs I was running today. Evergreen Cemetery was designed for walking in peace and quiet, and, if you're so inclined, solitude. It's a classic example of the Romantic era garden cemetery, working with nature, not flattening it out.

The earliest burial areas here are wrapped around natural features, like the many drooping, venerable Norway spruces that seemingly weep as they throw shade over the ancient lichen-covered stones. The stones are arranged in half-circles, or whatever positioning the landscape calls for. Straight lines are hard to find, as rare as they are in nature.

At the heart of the cemetery is a heart. When the burial ground was consecrated a century and a half ago, the designers placed a heart-shaped pond in the lowest grove. The rest of the burial ground radiates out from there. It was still mostly frozen today.

Most of us are running out of chances of being interred in a place like this. Our burial grounds are filling up, and land is running short. Each year, they're coming closer to being finalized, which is a strange concept to fathom, a "complete" cemetery. In a way, it's very sad. Families have been interred in common plots for centuries, like the Drews, Fullers, Holmes' and others here. But is that the future? We're so transient now, much more so than our forbears, that the chances of ending our lives within twenty-five miles of where we started them can be pretty slim.

My mind obviously wandered a bit today. When I realized it, I backed off and enjoyed the scenery.

Time: 40 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 1 (141).

What else happened: gave a talk for the Kingston Garden Club on native planting to attract birds to the backyard; led the Drumlin Farm Young Birders Club on a walk at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield; walked Teke Sherman Park in Scitutae; turned 38.

Friday, March 13, 2009

March 13, 2009 - Scituate Town Forest, Scituate, Massachusetts

Back during World War II, we had no problem calling the War Department the War Department. Then, somewhere along the way, we decided that "war" was too offensive a term, literally. It became the Department of Defense. Strange thing is the Department of Defense always seems to be on the offensive.

Developers have done the same thing. Can we really call the desecration of pristine natural habitat and the placement of McMansions where thousands of individual critters and plants used to live "development"? Try walking the main trail at the Scituate Town Forest and see what you think. The trail is fully exposed to the west to a "development." The contractor didn't even have the decency to consider a buffer zone of trees. Instead, when people walk their town forest in future years, they'll be staring into backyards.

Luckily, though, the development ends where wet ground begins. The mature pines give way to marshland with emerging skunk cabbages, silver birches and moss-covered rocks. The trail is not well developed, mostly just noticeable through a series of spray-painted marks on trees. It crosses a brook and cricles right back around again.

The crossing, well, that's a challenge. As I stated, the rocks are are smothered with green moss. They can be hopped on, from rock to rock, to the other side. But there are also logs with the same moss that turn to mush when stepped on. I tested each step before I put any weight down, not wanting to destroy the fabric of the place. I reached out for a tree at one point, and then immediately pulled my hand back - poison ivy. At another crossing, I held onto another tree only to notice that a small branch right below where I grabbed had been snapped off. Someone had been here before me. I felt like I should just sit down here and wait until mid-May when the northern waterthrushes would be sure to arrive.

When I looked down at the rocks, I noticed a pattern. Here, in the swampiest place I've been this year, were the remains of - you guessed it - another stonewall. A long time ago, this place had monetary value to someone. Today, it has spiritual value to hundreds more.

Time: 31 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: co-led my typical 3-1/2 hour Friday morning bird walk, in Pembroke and Marshfield; posted a review on Amazon; big dinner wth the family at Michelle's parents house; sent an article to South Shore Living magazine.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

March 12, 2009 - Duxbury Bogs Conservation Area, Duxbury, Massachusetts

Say hello to my little friend.

With all the things that went on today, on one of the busiest days in recent memory, the moment that brought the biggest smile to my face was the sighting of the first two painted turtles of the season, sunning themselves on logs. It's another piece of the puzzle, another link in the chain. Spring!

But onto the story of my walk. You know how you're blasting down Route 3 South, heading for Plymouth or Cape Cod, and you get to that stretch between between exits twelve and eleven and you look to the right and you see a big, wide open body of fresh water, usually with a few swans floating along on it? No? You're not from around here? Well, trust me, it's a beautiful sight.

Anyway, that body of water, Golden Reservoir, is part of the Duxbury Bogs Conservation Area. The main trail there runs through a series of active cranberry bogs, along the reservoir and into the woods. It's a place of multiple habitats, with chances for a great diversity of wildlife. At the far end of the reserve there's a pumphouse fed by a man-dug canal. The water there was so still today that the early morning reflection of the trees lining its far bank were picture perfect, an undisturbed mirror. Even the virtual chickadees looked like their real counterparts on the branches above.

The oddest sight today was a young white pine that had one of the best years ever recorded for white pines in the history of the world. Or something hyperbolic like that. White pines reveal their year-to-year history in their limb whorls. If you look at a young white pine closely, you'll see that the limbs form on an even plane around the tree - that's a year's contriubtion. The difference between one year and the next can be seen in the distance between the whorls; a short distance means it was a tough year, perhaps a drought, while a long distance means that the tree had no problem getting water. This baby had a year like I've never seen before. But it made no sense. It's on a sandy slope. How did it get so much water? Runoff? And why weren't the first years of its life as good? Guess I'll have to come back next year and see how it does. I wished it well and moved on.

Time: 40 minutes.

New species: Reptiles: painted turtle (1).

Stranger hellos: 1 (140).

The rest of my day: led a training session for our waterfowl survey at North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Duxbury, and recorded the year's first data; gave a lecture on Irish mossing at the Duxbury Senior Center; led a walk at the North River WIldlife Sanctuary in Marshfield; led a walk at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield; read Monkeys are Made of Chocolate by Jack Ewing; led my book club discussion on the same book.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

March 11, 2009 - Southern Half of Willow Brook Farm Preserve, Pembroke, Massachusetts

Well, I found them again. I found four more deer. I was just about to leave the Willow Brook property when I caught one out of the corner of my eye, fifteen feet away, through the bushes. They stared. I slowly moved for my camera. One lifted its front left leg and then placed it back down again slowly. I snapped a picture, a close-up portrait. Then, they snapped. They bolted away into the woods. I'm getting to the point where I'm starting to wonder if I should be tallying deer sightings at the bottom of this blog along with stranger greetings.

Nah, that would be obsessive.

It was a wet morning, completely clouded over, with steel gray skies. That usually throws the crepuscular species off a bit, as the sun doesn't truly rise as dramatically as it would on a dry day. They seem to linger, thinking the nighttime is doing the same.

Most of the songbirds, though, know the difference between night and day, or so it seems. On one muddy trail as I spun past a moss-covered stonewall - and everything here is covered in moss, making one feel like they're on the coast of Maine - a white-breasted nuthatch sang from atop an oak tree. When I stopped momentarily, I heard a second one in the distance. They were communicating. The trail took me past the second one, and I then realized that there was a third one to the south! Had I stumbled onto a secret white-breasted nuthatch telegraph system? How far did this thing stretch? Was I in any danger of being swarmed? Silly thoughts, of course, but fun to explore.

The trails here, old farm roads and paths, lead downwards through oaks, cedars and pines into a red maple swamp and eventually to the banks of a feeder brook of the North River. There's an observation tower there I plan to stand on one day as the sun comes up, to see what moves along the water's edge. Today, three mallards flew high across the sky, but little else was happening.

In a great marketing move, the Wildlands Trust has left an old footbridge directly next to a new boardwalk: the old and the new. They must have known I was coming, and would be bursting with prosaic inspiration at its sight.

I'll be back here to finish the rest of the sanctuary later this summer, when I come to see my friends the Allegheny mound ants. Oh, didn't I mention them?

Stay tuned.

Time: 75 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else in happening: meeting in Lincoln about the upcoming statewide Bird-A-Thon event; gave a quick history of the North River Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield to a group of budding naturalist volunteers, all part of an eight-hour work day; prepared to give three lectures in the next four days.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March 10, 2009 - Cedar Trail, Nickerson State Park, Brewster, Massachusetts

I had a meeting on Cape Cod today at the Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary in Barnstable, but decided to save that walk for another day. Instead, when the last item was sufficiently discussed and I was free to go, I headed just a bit further east for Nickerson State Park.

After twenty minutes, I had a decision to make. Was I more interested in the Deer Trail or the Cedar Trail? Deer? I've seen a few dozen this year. Cedars? More than that. But the map showed a cedar swamp, which probably meant wood ducks. I chose correctly. The park was already buzzing with spring activity, including a pair of chattering yellow-bellied sapsuckers and the rat-a-tatting of three other species of drumming woodpeckers. As expected, the male wood ducks called their plaintive calls from among the drowned cedars. In the woods nearby, a red-tailed hawk flew from one tree to the next.

So I kept walking. Nickerson stands upon the same sandy substrate that reaches from Provincetown to the Myles Standish State Forest and shares the same plant diversity. The same kettle hole style ponds dot the landscape, with the names Flax, Keeler's and Triangle where I walked today. They were surprisingly quiet, but I kept looking to them for signs of life. It just felt like the turtles should have emerged today, but perhaps they know better than I do what's good for them. There was not a single one sunning itself on a log on any of the ponds I visited. Hooded mergansers filled the void for me, paddling along with a family of mallards.

I was just about to step back into my car when I heard six little musical notes that I knew by heart. But I wanted to make sure my skills weren't rusty. After all, spring mating songs only happen over the course of a month or two, and when you have more than 300 species of birds that either breed or pass through the state, there's always a chance that you might forget or misinterpret one.

Not this time. It was a brown creeper, just as my instincts told me it would be. They sing their sweet little songs for just a few weeks each spring, and then remain silent for the rest of the calendar year. I may not hear one again in 2009. Guess I was just in the right place at the right time today.

Time: 72 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 2 (139).

What else got done: One meeting in Barnstable on some summer program planning; worked eight full hours; one meeting in Hull regarding the upcoming induction ceremony of the Hull High School Athletic Hall of Fame; another meeting for the Green Hull association; magazine article work into the wee hours.

Monday, March 9, 2009

March 9, 2009 - South Pleasant Street, Wompatuck State Park, Hingham, Massachusetts

Today had to be a quickie, for several reasons. We had a financial stab at our heart on Friday, and today we're scrambling to make things right. Damn economy.

I visited another known eastern phoebe spot today, figuring there was little chance of seeing one, thanks to the wind, snow and freezing rain. It wasn't a good day to be outdoors at all. But I've set my course, and I'm not wavering from it. Phoebes, on the other hand, are apparently more flexible.

South Pleasant Street is another of the enigmas of the world of open space. Today, half of it's a trail, gated off as part of Wompatuck State Park. We wouldn't consider driving a car down here today, but a map of Hingham in 1879 clearly shows South Pleasant intersecting with Union Street, the main road through what is today the park. Union Street once "unionized" Hingham Center with South Scituate, now known as Norwell. Today, Wompatuck is a huge roadblock we have to circumvent in circuitous ways. But I'm not complaining.

Before the Navy took these lands by eminent domain at the start of World War II, they were known as the Wood Lots, a place from which to collect the wood needed for home building and hearth warming. There were scattered homes on South Pleasant Street, but as of 1879, the map only shows one, outside of the park, belonging to Miss McKenna Cushing.

One look at the ground here explains why farming never hit this specific area. It's a glacial debris field. It would have required an enormous expense of sweat to clear the fields for cattle or sheep, and an even larger one for crops. Yet stonewalls run through these acres as they do everywhere else on the South Shore of Boston.

I like to think that if I had the opportunity back in the 17th century I would have been intrepid enough to make my way in the New World like the early settlers here did. I'd like to think, too, that I would have been quite entrepreneurial, maybe a leader among the first settlers.

Yeah, I'd like to think that.

Time: 30 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is taking place: worked on the military history book with my coauthor; more magazine work; posted a review on Amazon; dinner with Michelle's parents.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

March 8, 2009 - South River Marsh, Marshfield, Massachusetts

Last year a pair of eastern phoebes built a nest and raised their young under the Francis Keville Footbridge. Marsh wrens sang from the nearby phragmites. These things will happen again soon.

Today was a day for the red-winged blackbirds, calling out their conk-a-reeeees! It was a day for the song sparrows who have been here all winter, mostly silently keeping themselves alive on remnant seeds. It was a day for the chickadees and titmice to sing their spring songs and let everybody know that it's time for them to start gathering nesting material and bring the next generation of songbirds into the world.

A look upriver revealed a red-tailed hawk sitting in a tree, drying out its wings. The sun was so beautiful and pervasive today that I'd forgotten it'd rained overnight. Soon, she started to call to her mate. Within a few minutes, he joined her on the tree.

Beyond the marsh, the trail continues on an old railroad bed into the woods abutting the Marshfield Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds today were quiet, but the woods were noisy with the sounds of spring. Today there were blue jays, but soon there will be pine warblers. Soon, the Baltimore orioles will build their swinging nests from the trees along the trail. Today, the northern cardinals sang their songs.

The final piece in the spring puzzle today came from the nasal call of a fish crow. There are two definite signs of spring in Marshfield: the return of the fish crows and the day that Dairy Queen re-opens for the year. Well, we're halfway there anyway.

Time: 50 minutes,.
New species: None.
Stranger hellos: None.
What else is happening: work on a book manuscript; stopped into the office to complete a few small tasks; mom brought dinner for Michelle, her parents and me.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

March 7, 2009 - Three-Cornered Pond, Myles Standish State Forest, Plymouth, Massachusetts

There were times today when I caught myself spreading my arms out wide and arching my back to take the sunshine into a grand embrace. A week or so ago I was happy with 40 degrees. Today hit 60. A week ago, 40 was spirit-lifting; today, 60 was heavenly.

There was a weird mix of people on the trails today. Dog walkers crisscrossed with snowmobilers, who rode slowly past men on horseback. I even met two hunters who apparently thought the ruffed grouse they killed was worth nothing more than the fun of shooting it. After their pick-up truck pulled away, its remains laid limp and lifeless, twisted on the ground. A mourning dove cooed from a nearby pitch pine, somberly sounding a funeral dirge.

At 15,000 acres, Myles Standish is the largest state forest in Massachusetts. It's also the third largest stretch of pine barrens in the world. It's part of a large swath of coastal land run over by the glaciers 11,000 years ago that today is highlighted by sandy substrate and kettle hole ponds. It was worth nothing to the Pilgrims as farmland, but plenty to both them and the natives as hunting grounds. The proliferation of pitch pines is believed to be due to controlled burns by Native Americans, nature's way of adapting to the practices of humans. The woods are mono-croppish, if that's a word. That means there's a certain lack of diversity in the wildlife as well.

Three-Cornered Pond is exactly what it sounds like. And the ducks take it seriously. I felt like an old-time boxing announcer as I walked past. Each corner had its own species, buffleheads, ring-necked ducks and mallards."In this corner, weighing in at 13 ounces, the Bufflehead! And in this cormer..."

The snow melted at a frantic pace today, and tomorrow should bring more of the same. I can't wait to get back outdoors!

Time: 77 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 4 (137).

The rest of the day: Searched, unsuccessfully, for the story of a historic Plymouth character; worked on magzine articles.

Friday, March 6, 2009

March 6, 2009 - The Holly Grove, Whitney/Thayer Woods, Hingham, Massachusetts

I know, for a fact, that there is a screech owl living in these woods. I saw it last Saturday night. I also know, also for a fact, that there is also a holly grove in these woods. I've seen it before.

There's no mistaking it when one stumbles upon it. In a world of slopes and ravines, trickling brooks and white-tailed deer hoofprints, the grove lurches suddenly into view. The path winds directly through it. On a day like today, it was easy to wander around inside of it. Like the snowshoers had.

American holly trees hit their natural northern limit right about here, in Hingham. I'm not sure where the northernmost natural native holly is, but it seems to me that these trees must be fairly close.

Snow fleas found fun here today. And so did the deer who left the prints. I saw them deep in the woods, through the thickets. When they saw me, they bolted. One went left, one went right. They looked like wide receivers on opposite sides of a football field running a crossing pattern. They passed each other and kept running. But they didn't get far. On my way back out, I found them together again.

The blue jays, on the other hand, wanted to be heard. When one blue jay calls in the woods, that's no big deal. But when ten are screaming at once in a concentrated area, there's danger afoot, at least if you're a bird. I never found out what the ruckus was about.

Probably just an owl.

Time: 40 minutes.

New species: Wood duck, turkey vulture (116).

Stranger hellos: 1 (133).

What else is going on: Led my regular Friday morning bird walk; four more hours of work; more magazine work; finished reading Top of the World by Peter May.

March 5, 2009 - Gate 2, Wompatuck State Park, Hingham, Massachusetts

I fell asleep last night with a book in my hands around 11:30, and woke up at 5:30 when the baby started to cry. I left the house early to get a haircut before my first appointment of the day, forgetting to eat breakfast, and forgetting to pack lunch. By the time I hit the trail in midafternoon, my blood sugar was so low I was shaking, and I was ravenously hungry. I never gave myself a chance to enjoy my walk.

Although I was thinking through my stomach with every step, I still found I could at least tangentially focus all of my senses on the world around me. This trail was another first-time walk for me, just a short turn through the woods, one I'll probably use to get deeper into the park this summer.

I'm also finding that I'm getting to the point where I can tell what types of trees I can expect to find when I step into any patch of woods in the area. As I started to descend toward the stream flowing out of Triphammer Pond to the north, I began to look for American hornbeam trees, or ironwood or musclewood. They're rare, but grow in our wet areas. Within a few minutes, I'd found one.

I turned the corner from a woodland trail to an old road, no doubt from the park's former life as a naval ammunition depot. It was lined on both sides with ornamental trees, obviously planted. But why? Was this the route to the base HQ, gussied up to impress visiting dignitaries? I realized then that I've never seen a map of the Wompatuck lands when they were in military hands. I'd love to see that layout.

As I neared the end of my walk, two snowmobilers blasted by me. I thought to myself that it would be nice to have solid footing, walking where they had just flattened the snow. But then the exhaust fumes hit me. And lingered to choke the air. They stuck with me the rest of the way back to my car. I can't imagine what an unnatural invader like that does to the trees.

I fought through 40 minutes, frustrated with myself for not planning my day better than I had. But tomorrow will be another day, and there are more beautiful days ahead.

Time: 40 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 2 (132)

My other accomplishments and happenings: haircut; I had the privilege of speaking about writing to the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders at the Sacred Heart Elementary School in Weymouth and the 3rd and 4th graders at the Jacobs Elementary School in Hull as part of Read Across America Week; dinner with Michelle and our friends Jamie and Shaun (thanks guys!).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March 4, 2009 - Scituate Center, Scituate, Massachusetts

Today's concept of a town center just isn't what it used to be. In a way, that's a real shame. We've drifted apart as communities, and while cell phones and emails may be shrinking space and time, they can never replace face-to-face interaction.

A hundred years ago, the crossing of Country Way and First Parish Road in Scituate brought together everything the community needed. Sure, there were other neighborhoods - the West End, Greenbush, North Scituate, Humarock, the Harbor, etc. - but this was the town seat. The town hall was here, until it was torn down for the new one out on Route 3A. The first high school in town, now behind the Gates School, was on First Parish. Sprinkle in a couple of churches to add religion to education and government. Then, on Country Way, the meeting places, the Masonic Lodge and the Grand Army Hall, which became a community gathering place. All within walking distance of each other. All the communal buildings of the town. Even Country Way has significance, or did back then. It was the "country way" to Boston.

Anybody hoping to get anything done in town walked these streets, or clip-clopped by on horse and carriage, to pay taxes, attend a minstrel show or drop a few nickels in the collection plate. Today, I didn't see a single sole on foot. And I think you know how many carriages I waved to.

Today, Scituate Center boasts another treasure, the historic Cudworth House complex. The house was built by Zephaniah Cudworth in 1797. You can tell it's definitely old. After all, how many two-year-old Zephaniahs do you know? The barn came from Norwell. And the cattle pound is as it should be: horse high, hog tight and bull strong. Just don't try to keep sheep in there. The historical society found out a few years ago that "horse high" does not necessarily translate into "sheep high." The annual Heritage Days celebration has never been so raucous since.

But the Cudworth complex has one more oddity to share. Out the front door, standing in the snow and now just waiting for the chance to pop its leaves is a ginkgo tree, one of the oldest species of trees we'll ever see. It's not supposed to be here, planted long ago by someone who had the cash and will to import it from China. But in a world of pines, oaks and maples, it sure made for an interesting change in scenery on this unseasonably cold late winter's day. I just wish someone was there to see it with me.

Time: 48 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: Worked with a coauthor on a book all morning; four hours at work; worked on a magazine article at night.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

March 3, 2009 - Insurance Point, North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Duxbury, Massachusetts

It's good to be the first man into the woods. Several people, including one cross country skier, had hit the trails at North Hill Marsh today, as the marks in the freshly fallen snow indicated, but nobody had walked to Insurance Point. I was the first man in.

Second guy in is not as good. It's no big accomplishment being first, but it gives one a sense of intrepidity, of going where no man has gone before, or at least not for twenty-four hours or so. Third man in? I think that's a game misconduct. At least it is in the National Hockey League.

I had an official title today walking into these woods. I was supposed to start the 2009 version of the North Hill Marsh waterfowl survey. I was going to re-don my hat as a Citizen Scientist. I had high hopes when I was walking the trail in. My friend Evan had been here a few days ago and mentioned three snow geese in amongst hundreds of Canada geese. We're lucky if we see one a year on the South Shore, and in all of the surveying I had done in 2008, there had not been a single one. There could be only one stumbling block to the day's plans: ice. If the ice had reformed, there wouldn't be a single duck or goose to be seen. But if the pond had been open just a few days ago, and there had been all those geese on it, they may have helped to keep it open until the snowstorm ended.


All I had today was a strenuous walk through deep snow to look at a snow-covered, gooseless pond. I took off my Citizen Scientist hat and put on my go-back-to-work-and-sit-at-my-desk hat.

Time: 38 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 1 (130)

What else is happening: eight hours at work; dinner with Michelle's parents to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday (Happy Birthday, Daddy-o!).

Monday, March 2, 2009

March 2, 2009 - My Neighborhood, Weymouth, Massachusetts

New Englanders are always thinking about winter, whether they realize it or not. We know that even if the calendar says March, April, October or November. there's no guarantee that we're free of the potential for snow. We can tell you exactly where we were when the big, 27-inch April 1st snowstorm hit in 1997. And summertime? Well, when a tree falls during a hurricane, our first thought is to find out who has a chainsaw so we can cut it up for the fireplace, or for the uncle and aunt who have a wood stove. Winter lingers in our minds at all times.

Therefore, it wasn't surprising this morning to wake up and see a foot of snow on the ground. It's March. It's cold. That's why the Red Sox are in Florida, and not at Fenway.

It took me two full hours to shovel the cars free today, and with the roads in the condition they were, I knew I had no choice but to start out on foot from the house. It's a walk I'd been saving for a snowy day.

My current neighborhood is not the one I grew up in. I've found that it's transitory in nature. Familes seem to be moving in and out at a rapid pace. At one point, all four of the houses nearest to us were vacant. They're now full. But that doesn't mean we know anybody very well. We all work so much, and all commute to do so, that we rarely see each other in daylight. Lots of waves and smiles, but no real conversation. That's why the stranger hellos were so fun today. I actually got to talk to three of my neighbors. I also got to see how many people have better snowblowers than me. Everybody.
Time: 33 minutes.
New species: None.
Stranger hellos: 3 (129).
What else is happening: Turned in a chapter in the major book project I'm working on; two hours of shoveling snow; dislodged an engorged dog tick from my back, always lots of fun; more magazine and nonprofit work.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

March 1, 2009 - Iron Hill, Weymouth, Massachusetts

It's an odd thing, seeing a herring run right in the heart of a residential and commercial section of a highly developed suburban community. And I would never have known it was there if not for the lack of leaves on the trees. See, winter is good for more than that for which we give it credit.

Snow has returned, or was just beginning to as I was walking up Iron Hill Road. A mallard leaving Whitman's Pond fought its way through the snow, closing its eyes as it paddled its orange feet, visible below the water's surface. I don't know how ducks communicate penidng weather patterns to each other, but I hope this guy has a good system. Maybe an arthritic wing that aches when the air pressure drops or something. This storm, my meteorologist says, is just the first of two, and definitely the weaker one.

I couldn't tear my eyes away from the herring run. Where the heck have I been for the past 37 years? I've passed these streets innumerable times, visiting relatives, picking up dates, even getting psychic readings done nearby, but I never knew it was here. Every spring of my life, bluebacks and alewives have been scaling this ladder, heading for their spawning grounds in Whitman's Pond.

I wish I was anadromous, able to live in both fresh and salt water. But humans can't even breathe in a second atmosphere, let alone live in water. We're not quite eurythermal, bound by what we consider to be extreme temperatures on either end of the thermometer. We can't even stand dramatic differences in pressure, whether at altitude or in the sea. We're stuck. River herring, though, can make the switch. No, I'm not the Incredible Mr. Limpet, wishing I was a fish. I just feel bound by what my body can tolerate.

Iron Hill Road is advertised as a dead end, but that's only if you're in a car. Sure, the road ends at the shore of Whitman's Pond, but just before that end there's a footbridge across the canal that leads to the run. The bridge links Iron Hill to Lake Street, making it possible for the Iron Hill residents to quickly get to Denly's, a neighborhood pizza place since 1933. I'm sure there are other reasons, but I can't think of any.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of today's walk was the proliferation of United States Geological Survey water quality monitoring equipment tucked into these streets. Do they think that the water quality has something to do with the plummetting herring stocks? I hope they find the answer.
Time: 30 minutes.
New species: None.
Stranger hellos: 1 (126).
What else is going on: Lots of book, magazine and nonprofit work; getting the snowblower ready for the morning.