Sunday, September 27, 2009

September 27, 2009 - Nut Island, Quincy, Massachusetts

It smelled like fish, but that's cool.

Nut Island has seen many lives, and the faint whiff of fish guts at the end of the pier where fishermen apparently regularly tie into a few stripers was probably the best historic smell that the place has ever had, at least since the Native Americans used it hundreds of years ago as a seasonal destination. Of course, they probably used it for fishing, too.

The earliest colonists used it to graze their cattle, back before there was causeway connecting it to the mainland at all tides. Don't need to tell you what it smelled like back then. Years later, a munitions developer needed room to test his guns, and moved out of Boston to Nut, from which he could use the sandy bluff of Prince's Head on Peddock's Island as a natural target and convenient scoreboard. A shell that never quite made it is arranged as a memorial to those days in the park today.

Then came the sewer treatment plants. Enough said. Although I should add that when Boston Harbor was at its worst the sludge from the various treatment plants shifted the fish populations from stripers and blues to flounders. My first fish, caught as a little guy at the Pemberton Pier in Hull, was a flounder. I haven't seen one since.

The pier, and the nearness of Peddock's, makes one feel as if they're standing in the heart of the harbor. Lobster pot buoys float on the surface, mimicking the sea ducks that will soon be among them. Familiar landmarks abound and surround. Excellent - though worn - informational panels guide one around a paved trail loop, with everything from mockingbirds and cedar waxwings to asters and even a few small trees.

Nope, the fishy smell wasn't bothersome in the least.

Time: 36 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: walk in Germantown got cancelled due to rain; picked up brake fluid and windshield washer fluid (with de-icer, incredulously); lots of time rolling around the floor with my baby boy; dinner with Michelle's parents.

September 26, 2009 - Farm Day, Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield, Massachusetts

Once a year we convert the sanctuary from a wildland to a fairground. Even before the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuay was a sanctuary, Farm Day was a reality. In fact, the celebration now known as Farm Day was once a fundraiser for the moeny that eventually went to purchase the Dwyer Farm in anticipation of making it a sanctuary. Farm Day started out as "Save Dwyer Farm Day."

But there's a functional disconnect on my end as far as Farm Day is concerned. I'm the adult educator for our sanctuary, and the citizen science coordinator. That leaves me with not much to do at a heavily family-oriented event. I'm just a square peg hanging around a round hole. But I got on my feet at 8 a.m. and did not sit down again until 5 p.m., 9 full hours of walking. I knew that as the day played out, I would find things to do.

So what did I do? I delivered ice. I put up caution tape around the munchkin maze. I emptied trash barrels, dozens of them. I aided at the admissions booths. I delivered chocolate milk from the Hornstra Farm truck to the cotton candy and popcorn makers. I ran lunches to the haywagon drivers and the craft tent volunteers. I gave my bug spray to the musicians, Johnny Carlevale and his Band of Allstars. I found a lost child and helped reunite her with her mother. I found a volunteer to help at the face painting station. And I did so much more.

In the end, I picked up pizza and delivered it to the after-Farm Day gathering of the staff. By that time, we were cooked, tired, exhilirated. We didn't save any land today - directly - but we certainly took another step in perpetuating the 25-year history of the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary.

Time: 540 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 72 (636).

What else is going on: Not possible!

September 25, 2009 - Friday Morning Birding on Duxbury Beach, Duxbury, Massachusetts

We know where the natural pockets are on the South Shore, the places where birds might be. We add weather, wind, season and temperature and divide that answer by habitat, then take our best guess. Sometimes we do well, sometimes we strike out. Our chases sometimes turn out to be just that: chases.

We started today at Couch Memorial Cemetery in Marshfield, and hit a double, but we had to slide into second to beat the throw. There were some unexpected species there, but nothing that would win us the game. At our next stop, at Mounce's Meadow, we popped out to the catcher. Very quiet.

I figured that we needed a change of habitat. With a runner on second and nobody out, we swung blindly, visiting the High Pines section of Duxbury Beach. When I saw a dark-eyed junco on a post, I knew that migration was indeed taking place. A junco's a sure sign of fall on the South Shore of Massachusetts. As we turned the corner and saw a flurry of tiny birds, we knew we had connected.

Home run.

We'd found warbler migration, or at least one happy little corner of it. Yellow-rumps, or "butter-butts," as they're called, were ubiquitous. White-throated sparrows and palm warblers, bobbing their tails, came next in number. As our group crept closer, the activity increased. An orange-crowned warbler, very early in its movement south, surprised us, as a Tennessee warbler and a Nashville warbler shared a feeding area with a black-throated green warbler. All went well until someone yelled out "Cape May warbler!" We'd hit the Nirvana vein of the bird world.

But it's not as easy as it looks. The warblers moving through now are either not-yet-fully-developed youngsters or adults moving out of breeding plumage. What we get are "confusing fall warblers," which make identification very troublesome. We could have stayed there all day, enjoying the field study, but the clock kept ticking. I called the troops to order, and we boarded the vans for home.

Time: 43 minutes.

New species: (Birds) Cape May warbler, orange-crowned warbler, American pipt (287).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: Full day at work, including picking up two cotton candy machines for Farm Day.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

September 24, 2009 - Vernal Pool Loop, Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Sharon, Massachusetts

Walking scat. Now I've seen it all.

I was on the esker, on the way to the Vernal Pool Loop, when it moved. I looked down, incredulous. Deer droppings were walking across the trail.

I knew, of course, that it had to be something underneath it, and eventually the little beetle trying to make off with its haul stopped and poked its head out, as if to get its bearings. I stepped aside and let it have its fun. I suppose I could have taken a picture, but I had higher hopes for this day.

I made a point of keeping my eyes on the ground. I heard a noise that was comfortingly familiar, but unfortunately elusive to my memory. I thought about the sound as I walked, and realized what I'd heard was a pine warbler. It's amazing how compartmentalized my thoughts can be. A pine warbler's trill is a spring sound, a May song. My head is now wrapped around mushrooms, the science of foliage, soaring, migrating raptors, the problems of the Patriots' offense, the Red Sox's starting rotation for the playoffs and every historical tidbit I can devour on any topic. I wasn't planning on thinking about pine warblers again for months.

Vernal pools were off my radar screen as well, but I knew that if was to see any of their denizens on a fall day, it would be a wood frog. No sooner had I thought that then I had to extend my step in order not to kill one. Something tiny hopped from the trail to the spot where my foot was about to come down. I lurched, stopped and looked. It hopped again.

I watched as it hopped away from my presence. I couldn't imagine that life. Leaping several times its own body length both vertically and forward, the wood frog popped a long distance into the air and landed wherever it landed. How can one go through life not knowing where they're going to end up? And how does this little critter find its was back to the pool in which it was born nearly a year later, after hopping around the forest with such reckless abandon?

So glad I'm not a frog. Of course, if I was, I wouldn't have to worry about unfair taxation. Or plantar fasciitis. Or Tom Brady's shoulder.

Time: 54 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 12 (564).

What else is going on: meeting in Attleboro in the morning; full day at work; dinner with Michelle's friend Alison and Anthony's friend Layla.

September 23, 2009 - Allerton Hill, Hull, Massachusetts

The Pilgrim story pops up in the most unexpected places on the South Shore. Or, should I say, the story of the "First Comers." The word "pilrgrim" wasn't really used unto the 1800s in reference to the residents of the Plimoth settlement.

Although there were just more than 100 passengers on the Mayflower, and half of them died during that first, horrible winter, there are homesteads, markers and other references to them all up and down the South Shore. Even in Hull, the First Comers left their mark.

It happened long after that first winter, when they set out to explore the coastline north of Plimoth. They reached the headland at the northern end of the Hull peninsula (then known as "Nantasket" by the local Native Americans) and stepped ashore. Isaac Allerton commented that he liked the look of a bluff, and, as it did not have an anglicized name as yet, the party decided to call it "Allerton Hill." Around the corner, in the harbor, a group of rocky islands were given the name "Brewster," for Elder William.

A nice, quaint little story. But there is more where Hull is concerned. A few years later, it became a refuge for three men kicked out of the Plimoth settlement. John Lyford (a holy man who pretended to be of the separatists' faith, but who really wasn't) and John Oldham (who once held Myles Standish at knifepoint and called him a "beggarly rascal") were caught sending seditious letters back to England, hinting at an overthrow of the ruling system. Roger Conant was tossed out with them and together they retreated to the tiny fishing station that had been established at Hull. There they all stayed for a very brief period of time.

The story gets stranger. Lyford, who had been chased out of England for forcing himself onto a young woman who had come to him for premarital advice, moved to Virginia and died there. His widow moved back to Hingham and the family became intertwined with the Lincoln family - what would eventually be the Abraham Lincoln family. A waterway off the Weir River still holds his name, Lyford's Liking. John Oldham was found floating dead in a canoe in Rhode Island in 1636, a factor in the commencement in the Pequot War. Roger Conant? Hero. He went on to Naumkeag, or Salem, and became its leading citizen.

A lot to read from a single marker, I know. And we didn't even get into Myles Standish's trading post. Or the saga of the fallacy that there's a piece of Plymouth Rock in Hull.

Time: 30 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: worked from home all day; dinner with Michelle at P.F. Chang's in Boston; took Michelle to Blue Man Group for her birthday at the Charles Playhouse, where I was singled out for ridicule by the LED display writer.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

September 22, 2009 - Union Street Bridge, Marshfield and Norwell, Massachusetts

It's done!

I am the last person on earth that has the right to complain about his commute. I wind through the heart of quaint little Norwell Center and then have my choice: down Neal Gate Street, past the blueberry farm and the garden center, or across the North River, up and over the rolling hills of North Marshfield, past the bubbling spring, and up to the wildlife sanctuary.

No, I cannot complain.

But for a long time, now, I've had no options. The bridge has been undergoing necessary repair and upgrading. It's been all Neal Gate, all the time. But get this: the bridge was completed early and under budget. Hallelujah!

It's long been an important crossing for Marshfield and South Scituate, what you twenty-first century types call Norwell (I sometimes live in the past). It started out as a toll bridge, as all our river crossings on the South Shore did, until the towns bought out the corporation collecting the tolls. Elisha Bisbee started ferrying people across the river at this point in 1644, and the bridge opened in 1801, made free to cross in 1850. In 1894 the North River Boat Club opened its doors on the Norwell side, but was quickly inundated and left useless by the Portland Gale of 1898. The following year the bridge was repaired. It was repaired again in 1917, and again in 1958.

On the Marshfield side, a hidden pocket park remains to tell the story of the Brooks-Tilden shipyard, which operated from 1701 to 1848. But those days are gone.

Today, though, I, for once, let history be. I got my options back.

Time: 31 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: Full day at work; dinner with Michelle's parents, my mother and sister to celebrate Michelle's birthday!

September 21, 2009 - Derby Street Shoppes, Hingham, Massachusetts

I walked out of the pharmacy after picking out a birthday card, and a thought suddenly hit me. The shops at Derby Street are relatively new, probably older than I think they are. They feel like they've only been here for three years, but it's probably been closer to ten.

The thing is, I know what used to be here, but what used to, used to be here? I checked my watch, which doubles as my cell phone, and realized I had time to wander and ponder.

I can still see it all. The back wall of the shops, where Barnes & Noble now stands, was a Building #19. I remember a good friend loved to get his coffee there. Good grounds cheap. In the far right corner was Bradlees. Good old Mrs. B. On the lefthand side was a supermarket, a dress store and a pharmacy. There was nothing standing where the middle, freestanding block of stores and restaurants now stands.

But it hit me that as much as I know about what it is now, and what it was when I was a kid, it's always been paved, always been a mall in my lifetime. Most of the suburban American malls were built in the last fifty years, so that means that not that long ago, this area meant something else entirely. To the library! Ok, as I own practically every book written on Hingham history, I didn't have to go far.

The answer is forest. As late as 1830, the Mast Swamp, as this area of South Hingham was known stretched from Whiting Street to the border. Derby Street was just a dream. By 1879, boith Derby and Abington Streets had been cut through the woods. Houses would eventually line the road. It wasn't until 1961 that a developer began work on what would become Hingham Plaza, slashing deeply into the hemlock forest that stood so quietly for so long.

So that was it. Woods. I should have known. It probably looked a lot like the densest portions of Wompatuck State Park.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: recovered after the trip, doing some follow-up work; worked on nonprofit tasks; book project.

Monday, September 21, 2009

September 20, 2009 - Cylburn Arboretum, Baltimore, Maryland

Here's a secret: the final itinerary for Birding and Baseball looked absolutely nothing like what we had planned in our first, second, or even third drafts. In the final days leading up to take-off from Logan and Manchester, I completely blew up the plan and started from scratch.

It was easy. I finally thought to myself that if I wanted to find out where the birds would be in the Baltimore area, I should see where the birders would be. I tapped into the local bird club's events pages, and fit the pieces into place.

I have to admit, though, that the Cylburn Arboretum was always on the top of the list. I had no idea what the true history of the place was, but I saw pictures of a high Victorian Italianate mansion and lush, colorful flowers, bushes and trees, and knew we had to work our way in. Unfortunately, the grounds were closed for the construction of a new education center by the city. But Scott, my co-leader, worked some magic on the phone, and got us permission to enter the arboretum.

Jesse Tyson once owned the land and house, building the latter tall enough to be able to see Baltimore Harbor on a good day. In classic Victorian fashion, he planned for two things: to see and be seen. That's what they loved, the ability to keep up on their neighbors, and to let their neighbors enjoy the privilege of being insanely jealous of what the Tysons had.

But the Tysons died, and the property fell to the city. It lived several lives until finally becoming an arboretum and nature center. There's statuary, there are looping trails and there are gardens of various varieties. They're all somewhat disrupted at the moment, but that did not stop the birds from passing through. On the ground, under logs, red-backed salamanders enjoyed the moistness. In the trees, a young chestnut-sided warbler and his friends flitted through. High above, in the skies, a kettle of broad-winged hawks moved south in migration.

Cylburn was our final stop on this newly-designed trip, and will certainly be a part of the next edition of it. After all, with loads of both nature and history, it's my kind of place.

Time: 99 minutes.

New species: (Mushroom) jack-o-lantern, gem-studded puffbal (47).

Stranger hellos: 1 (552).

What else is happening: flew back from Baltimore to Boston (57 minutes in the air) and drove home to Weymouth (1 hour, 4o minutes on Routes 93 and 3, 20 miles).

September 19, 2009 - North Point State Park, Baltimore, Maryland

In its day, it must have been something to see. North Point State Park was once a seaside retreat from the city, Bay Shore Amusement Park, which probably had access by land and by water. A jetty sticking out into the bay might have accepted passengers from steamboats; the restored troilley station shelter, which still has a path cut through its center where tracks once ran, absolutely welcomed summer revelers. From both, it was just a short walk to a beautiful small fountain.

The park opened in 1906. It didn't take much to entertain us in those days. Victrolas brought music into our homes, but not in the way that radio eventually would. Movies? Well, Edison had been working on a few things. Television? Pipe dream. Internet? Well, that was just crazy talk.

No, back then, a well-laid out garden with fragrant flowers and shady trees, meandering paths and intersections that led to potential flirtations between dapper gentlemen and proper ladies. Pocket watches and parasols ruled the day.

But nature has returned to claim the land. As we walked the trails, we were buzzed by hummingbirds and swarmed by warblers. Caspian terns dove with ospreys in the bay, and a gray fox sat in a field and watched our van drive by. Our flirtations were with Canada warblers and Carolina wrens, though I suspect that had we stayed longer, the inherent romance of the place may have wooed us into more.

Time: 92 minutes.

New species: (Mammals) gray fox (33).

Stranger hellos: 2 (551).

What else is happening: visited the National Wildlife Center at Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge outside Laurel, Maryland; toured Oriole Park at Camden Yards; walked to the Inner Harbor; attended the Red Sox-Orioles game; shared an after-game serving of appetizers with friends at Ruby Tuesday until after midnight.

September 18, 2009 - Sudlersville, Maryland

We were on our way to a full day of nature exploration in Delaware. We crossed the Bay Bridge, ran past Kent Narrows and eventually crawled into a little Eastern Shore crossroads town, where Routes 300 and 313 meet alongside an old rail line. I pointed to a statue of a baseball player, finding it funny that on a birding and baseball trip, we would stumble upon such a memorial while on the way to focus heavily on the birding side of the trip.

But there we were in Sudlersville, home of Jimmy Foxx. So not only were we finding baseball history, we were finding Red Sox history. "The Beast," or "Double XX," as he was known, was one of the most feared righthanded hitters of his day, hitting as many as 58 home runs in a season in the homer-happy 1930s. Over the course of his career he hit more than 500, was named American League Most Valuable Player three times, and was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 1951. I photographed his plaque a few weeks ago.

Sudlersville is a study in the impact of trains on American geographical history. A small farming town with historical references stretching back to 1740, the town only had 10 houses in the 1850s. The railroad, which came in the next decade, sped things up, as peaches and apples shipped away to Baltimore and points beyond brought back minor prosperity, and a mini-explosion in home building. Soon, those railroads carried people to faraway places, and others from faraway places to Sudlersville. But by 1939, when cars were finally established as America's prime source of transportation for both long and short distances, the railroad service was discontinued through Sudlersville, and the town returned to its quiet normalcy.

But the roads that formed Sudler's Crossing still meet. And right there at that crossing stands a memorial to the town's most famous citizen. Jimmy Foxx is buried elsewhere, a victim of bad investments late in life, rarely returning to his hometown. In 1997, though, his presence, and the community's reverence and pride, became permanent with the erection of the statue.

Good thing one of our participants had to pee, or I might never have stopped the van to take this walk.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: (Birds) American bittern, American avocet, blue grosbeak (lifebird!), Forster's tern (284); (Butterflies) American snout, orange suplhur (18); (Amphibians) New Jersey chorus frog (15).

Stranger hellos: 2 (549).

What else is happening: full day birding at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Smyrna, Delaware; attended the Red Sox-Orioles game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

September 17, 2009 - Robert E. Lee Memorial Park, Baltimore, Maryland

I had a plan.

I had to convince myself that it would work before we made the leap, though. I gambled that among the thousands of birders in Massachusetts there had to be at least 100 that were also Red Sox fans, and that of those 100 at least 10 would join me on a birding trip to Baltimore if that trip included tickets to a game. I told my friend and co-worker Scott of the idea, and we decided to go for it. After landing at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Robert E. Lee Memorial Park was the first stop on the itinerary of Birding and Baseball in Baltimore.

Maryland was a swing state, of course, during the Civil War, with torn allegiance, so I guess it wasn't that strange that there would be a memorial park named in honor of the Confederacy's top general in Baltimore. But that was just a name. The function of the land - and the water running through it - was more important. At one point, Lake Roland, as the park's pooled body of water is known, once supplied all of the drinking water to the city. But that was a long time ago.

Our first sighting today, behind the porcelain berries, was a great blue heron. Then came a great egret and three black-crowned night herons. Then, finally, we reached the entrance to the park.

Yup, it was going to be a good trip.

Time: 93 minutes.

New species: (Birds) Carolina chickadee (280); (Mushrooms) chanterelle waxy cap, orange mycena (45).

Stranger hellos: 6 (547).

What else is happening: walked Cromwell Valley Park; dinner with Chris and Anne; crashed at the Microtel in Linthicum.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

September 16, 2009 - Braintree Town Forest, Braintree, Massachusetts

I finished the red loop and thought to myself, "Is that really it? Well, that was nice. I guess I'll take that little spur trail before I go."

As my old boss Rick would say (and probably still does), "Hey now!"

The red loop took me over little bumpy hills and alongside a small stream that leads to Cranberry Pond. I could see a bench sitting on a rise across the stream, but could not find a safe, easy way to cross to it. The trails were wide open, pine needle based, and generally soothing, but not very exciting.

But it was the blue trail that got me going. Immediately, it was more dense. The ferns and highbush blueberries crowded the trail as it wound ever downward toward groves of witch hazel trees. Wide, scattered patches of rocks, some covered in moss, some not, lurked in the woods, awaiting the fall and winter dieback to fully emerge into view. Some of the ferns stood at perfect attention, despite the fact that they had already started to lose their greenness. Apart from a single red maple that I found, they were alone in their surrender to the approach of autumn.

Today felt like fall. Overcast the entire day, never really crossing 60 degrees, with cooling winds, it was the latest day that I said to myself really felt like proof the seasons were changing. There'll be another day next week, and another one after that.

The only problem with the blue trail was that it ended, and did so quite a distance from where I was parked. I had to retrace my steps, but it gave me a fun opportunity to see the same path from the opposite perspective. I found one tree that had wrapped its roots around the base of another, a true tree hugger. I found a rock that looked like a loaf of sliced bread slumping onto a plate. And I found a healthy group of honey mushrooms I had missed on the way out.

After 260 walks this year, I wonder what else I've missed.

Time: 64 minutes.

New species: (Mushrooms) smooth parasol (43).

Stranger hellos: None.

The rest of the day: worked from home for about six hours; received a copy of Sea History magazine with a flattering review of my recent book on the history of the U.S. Life-Saving Service in it; received a copy of the new Northeast Boating magazine with a short article I wrote on some Coast Guard responses in New England waters over the summer; dinner with Michelle's parents.

September 15, 2009 - Camp Wildwood, Rindge, New Hampshire

A one-day foray into New Hampshire for fun and recognition. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, we were in the car twice as long as we were in the woods.

The camp is on a lake, and the lake is in a town I had a brief flirtation with two decades ago. It was almost my college town. I actually reported for orientation at Franklin Pierce College in September of 1988, but I quickly realized I was too young to be in college. I just wasn't ready. I had skipped second grade and was a year ahead of the rest of the kids my age, but socially, I was a mess. I went home, then headed for UMASS Amherst a year later.

But I didn't leave before finding out one important fact. The water in Rindge, when it came out of showerheads at the college, was green. The upperclassmen called it the "Rindge Tinge."

I've since returned several times for Mass Audubon purposes, undergoing training, leading training, and today being recognized for five years of service. That was the furthest thing from my mind in 1988, I can assure you of that. The walk through the woods gave me time to reflect on the passage of time, and the oddness of the multiple meanings one place can have for an individual in a single lifetime.

Time: 30 minutes.

New species: (Mushrooms) bitter bolete (42).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is shakin': finished reading Penikese: Island of Hope by I. Thomas Buckley; nonprofit work.

Monday, September 14, 2009

September 14, 2009 - Abigail Adams Birthplace, Weymouth, Massachusetts

Abigail Adams is certainly Weymouth's favorite daughter, but I suspect that if it doesn't change with time, she'll eventually have some company in that line.

It's one thing for men. Men have always been allowed notoriety. Women have not always been so blessed. And that, of course, is because of the men. Abigail Adams most likely lived alongside some truly heroic, exceptionally intelligent and women who otherwise could have made great impacts on American history. The fact that while they were silenced, she shined, speaks volumes about her. Now that women have "the vote," among other things, greater accomplishments are on the horizon for the women of Weymouth, or one hopes. It'd be interesting to see where Abigail rates three more centuries removed from her birth.

Her birthplace is preserved in North Weymouth, an incongruous little Cape jammed between a hectic rotary and an ancient cemetery. Some of the stones in the cemetery definitely date back to the Revolution and earlier. It must have been strange for a young girl to grow up with her dead ancestors in her backyard.

I never visited this place as a youngster, but I know for a fact that the Weymouth kids do, or did. I know one person who was so excited as an elementary schoolgirl about the concept of time capsules, like the one buried at the Adams birthplace, that she went home and buried pennies throughout her backyard in those little plastic bubbles that supply toys through gumball machines in the entry areas of grocery stores.

Silly girl.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: gave a talk at the Duxbury Senior Center on Abington history; conducted the North Hill Marsh waterfowl survey; did some needed shopping; picked up a part for the car; put up a baby gate; took out the air conditioners; visited with a coauthor to strategize.

September 13, 2009 - Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts

It's now automatic. After four summers of leading trips to Cuttyhunk, the words come flooding back into my mind as we tie up to the dock. I know what I'm going to say, and I know where we're going to go.

We start there at the dock, and since the women on the trip would typically rather not use the onboard "head," we spend the first fifteen minutes waiting for the long line at the landside restroom to peter out, which also gives me time to collect my thoughts. And then, we're off.

I co-lead the trip with friend and colleague Ian. We head for Barges Beach, the story of the Hurricane of 1938 and the buried barges used by the islanders to shore up the beach after the storm. Then it's off to the Anglers Club, where Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft once tied into a few striped bass. We glance at Avalon House and Winter House and head for the center of town.

We pass the historical society, the church, the school, the library and the town hall, all within whistling distance of each other. Then we head up the long, sad road to Tower Hill. The walls that line the road were built by William Madison Wood in anticipation of building a home for his son at the top of the hill. But his son never made it; he died in a car accident, and his father never finished the project.

For us, it's all downhill from there to the boat.

Time: 163 minutes.

New species: (Butterflies) wood nymph (16).

Stranger hellos: 6 (541).

What else is going on: also led the same group on a tour of Penikese Island; dinner with Michelle's parents.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

September 12, 2009 - Gaffield Park, Norwell, Massachusetts

There were no great Playground Wars in the Middle Ages, nor any serious Playground Debates of the Rennaissance. The concept of setting aside land on which children may play freely is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Playgrounds have always been a part of my life. Some of my favorite times were spent at Kenberma Park, L Street, the Jacobs School or other playground areas in Hull. I bounced on the springy things, swung on the swingy things, cut myself, bruised myself, ate sand and drank in the experience of being a kid.

Turn the clock back a century. Young children were crammed into factories and mines. Labor laws were just being laid out to prevent - or put limits on - such abuses. Spin back a century more. Children were tied to the farm fields across America. Seasonal school sessions were arranged so that kids could be home to help with the harvests. Play time certainly existed, for children will be children, but it had its serious restraints. Teddy Roosevelt was one of their first advocates, calling for a playground to be designed within walking distance of every child in every American city.

Today, we've swung too far the other way. We let kids play, but we constrain, define and design the time too much. A true educational and exploratory childhood needs spontaneity and freedom to roam. Gaffield Park is a great step in that direction. Started as a tot lot by an Eagle Scout that has since passed away, it's now a full-blown playground with extra amenities, a community effort. A nature trail winds up through the woods, perfect for log rolling and close observation of bugs, salamanders and other critters. A matted down section of trail is an obvious sledding area in winter. Parents can stand or sit nearby and let the adventures unfold as they will in a safe, natural area.

Good job, moms and dads of Norwell. Now, if you could just get it to stop raining, I'd be really happy.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: full day at work; led a walk at Foundry Pond in Hingham.

September 11, 2009 - Miller Wood, Norwell, Massachusetts

Two trails diverged in Miller Wood. I took both.

Unfortunately, I didn't take a much easier path, the one that includes me checking out the radar map on and gauging just how much time I had to walk before the rain started. By the time I began ambling down the loop trail, the bucket brigade had begun. I had a rain coat stashed away in the car, as I always do, but it was little consolation in teh face of the pools of water gathering at my feet.

No worries. The ferns in the New England forests take on a heightened vivacity in the rain, as if their light greens are enhanced with a natural hi-liter. But then, so does my car. It sometimes takes a good soaking to make us remember what the natural colors of the world really are, instead of the sun-baked, dust-covered shades we get when we've been dry for several days in a row.

Here, as elsewhere on the South Shore of Boston, white wood-aster has taken firm hold of the forest floor, especially at the edges of trails. It's everywhere. And Indian pipes have made a second strong showing, popping out of the ground in tight bunches.

The loop trail ends at a picnic area. It's strange how much picnic tables seem almost to fit in the woods, as if they grow there. All I needed was a red and white checkered tablecloth, a big wooden pic-a-nic basket, a roaring fire to toast my soggy feet and a small house to duck into to avoid the rest of the rain.

Time: 48 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) Japanese knotweed - boo!, joe-pye weed (128).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: full day at work including leading our regular Friday morning bird walk and transporting a sick friend home.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 10, 2009 - The Closed Area, Wompatuck State Park, Hingham, Massachusetts

No, I didn't go in. Let's get that out of the way right away. The map says it's closed, the gate says it's closed. Vandals have obviously been inside, but I wasn't going there. I may be a bounder, a scoundrel and a cad, but I'm no trespasser. And as for those vandals, it's a good thing they're not the vandals with a capital "V" like the Romans had to deal with, or I would have had to keep looking over my shoulders for Goths, Visigoths and perhaps even a few Huns.

But I did stand at the gate and peek. There are few buildings still standing in Wompatuck, and many of them are within the bounds of the famous "closed area." The big question is, of course, why? After all, this was a munitions storage facility. I've heard the word "experimental" thrown around. And I'm pretty sure the word "nuclear" is definitely tied to this particular place.

This section of the park is much rockier than the rest, obviously more in tune with the great Hingham-Weymouth-Cohasset glacial field than the rest of the area. It's almost spooky walking these trails when mentally comparing them to the rest of the park. The rock comes out of the ground in steep cliff faces, and piles up on the roadsides in jumbled confusion. That, of course, was the work of the military. Between them and the farmers, I had to wonder just how much history of this land has been scraped away forever.

The old railroad spur runs through this end of the park, just a month's worth of brush-cutting and readjusting from re-opening. But it would be a ghost train riding through a ghost town, a place where life once ran rampant, now hides in the shadows.

Time: 100 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) white snakeroot, white wood aster (126).

Stranger hellos: 2 (535).

What else is going on: full day at work; helped transplant two bushes in anticipation of the setting up of our new PV array at work.

September 9, 2009 - Willow Street Trail, Hanover, Massachusetts

Bingo! Old house site.

I spend a lot of time wandering in search of tiny things: dragonflies, lichens, spiders. When I find a chimney lying on its side, well then I've hit the jackpot.

But that was my third big discovery of the day. The first wasn't much on the excitement meter, more a curiosity. The trail is obviously an old road. It's wide enough, and is even worn down in ruts. I would find out later that it led to what I believe was an old cranberry bog, if I'm reading my landscape right. But I had no idea, when I started, that I would be finding fern-shrouded fire hydrants in these woods.

My second discovery was a patch of orange, finger-like mushrooms with red tips. There are all sorts of coral mushrooms in the world, and they can surprise one walking through the woods. This little patch turned out to be spindle-shaped yellow coral, according to my trusty mushroom guide. Man, I love that thing.

Finally, I hit the home site. I obviously was not the first to find it, judging by the beer cans and fire pit, but it was certainly a personal discovery. So many questions. Who? When? How?

Will I ever know?

Time: 49 minutes.

New species: (Mushrooms) spindle-shaped yellow coral (41).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: spent the entire day preparing a mass mailing for a nonprofit.

September 8, 2009 - French's Stream Trail, Hanover, Massachusetts

A return to former glories! My whole baseball thing is grounded in some deep roots. I had the luck today to slip into a parking lot at an old haunt, a baseball field where I had the best game of my life, between my thirteenth and fourtheenth birthdays. A grand slam, a two-run shot and a three-inning perfect game with seven strikeouts, before the coach yanked me so the other kids could hit.

Good times.

I had no idea at that time, a quarter century ago, that I would someday turn back down this road in search of open spaces worthy of a half an hour's amble. But today, there I was.

The French family looms large in Rockland history, not far from the Hanover line. In fact, the Hanover to Rockland migration was one of the movements that founded the town of East Abington. Joseph E. French made shoes, as did most businessmen in the new town in those days. This brook must have helped run part of the machinery.

The trail winds through the woods, shady and dark, a great place for mushrooms and ferns, until boom, it opens onto a powerline trail. But hmm, problem. The trail has not been kept open all year and the plants have been growing towards it, over it and across it. The goldenrod was just waiting for me. Normally, I wouldn't care, but this particular morning was heavy in dew. If I walked through that patch, I would have a miserable day at work. I cut my losses. I could not move forward through the meadow.

But that didn't mean I couldn't just stand there and enjoy it for a moment.

Time: 47 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: full day at work.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September 7, 2009 - Downtown Cooperstown, New York


I've visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame on two previous occasions, once with my family, once with my two best friends. Each experience has been an adventure.

On the first one, two moms, mine and a neighbor named Anna (may she rest in peace), crammed four of us into the back seat and drove all night to get us there, or so it seemed. We probably just left very early in the morning. I remember waking up in the car with the sunrise. The strange thing is that I barely remember the hall. I remember the flies on my food at the Shortstop Cafe. We stopped at Howe Caverns as well, where a tour guide there told me that my friends and I should try playing Dungeons and Dragons, that we would love it. A few years later, we absolutely did.

On the second trip, I went with one baseball nut, and one friend who just wanted to hang on for the ride. The funny thing is that he, today, is as big a Red Sox fan as anybody I know. Back then, all he cared about was rest stops, souvenirs and fast food lunches, just to be part of a road trip with his friends. I miss those days. My single memento from that trip is a copy of Mike Sowell's The Pitch That Killed, about the day that a Carl Mays fastball killed Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman.

Today, though, had very special meaning for me. Thew last of my childhood baseball heroes was enshrined earlier this year and were it not for a late change in a magazine assignment, I would have been there for the ceremony. I had my hotel room and everything. But Jim Rice was installed as a member of the hall in Cooperstown in July, and I was in a kayak in Plymouth.

Michelle and I wandered through the hall to find Jim Ed alongside the rest of the Red Sox greats - Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Carl Yastrzemski, Bobby Doerr, Carlton Fisk, Joe Cronin, Dennis Eckersley, Wade Boggs and so on. And there was more, bits of memorabilia rich in historicity.
There, for instance, was the rosin bag that was on the mound the moment that Ralph Branca threw the fastball to Bobby Thomson which he hit over the left field wall to take the 1951 National League Pennant for his Giants, from the Dodgers. I paused to take a picture of Curt Schilling's 1997 Phillies hat, the one he wore when he set the record for strikeouts by a righthander in the National League in the 20th century. I will always, for personal reasons, have great respect for Curt and the work he does privately for charity. There is so much more to him than is presented in public.

After leaving the hall, Michelle and I sought the statue of James Fenimore Cooper. This land, the Leatherstocking Region, is known as the birthplace of the American novel, where Cooper wrote of Mohicans and Natty Bumpus and the early frontier. I could write another blog entry just on that story. We had to get home, though, so I didn't let myself think about it.


Time: 140 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: drove home; dinner with Michelle's parents.

September 6, 2009 - Hartwick Seminary Cemetery, Cooperstown, New York

I've come to realize that no matter how much I think I know about the history of our country, cemeteries everywhere cosnpire to tell me I don't know as much as I think I do. With every graveyard I walk, I meet new, dead people, people who lived lives, some long, some short, that told their own unique stories. And it's more than the dead people. There are the people being born right now that I will never know anything about. Not to mention the ones being born right now.

And now.

There are, though, similarities and coincidences. For instance, this little burial ground, with its Norway spruces and backdrop of corn, goldenrod, the Susquehanna River and the rolling foothills of the northern portions of the Catskills, is the final resting place of several people named Converse. Harry Converse, the most famous of them all, of the Boston Rubber Shoe Manufacturing Company, was once a member of the Hull Yacht Club, in my hometown. I wonder if they were connected.

The seminary, too, had me thinking. I've been working on the story of the La Salette Seminary in Attleboro, so I was tuned in. But alas, I had little time to wander, little chance to explore. The Otesaga beckoned. Wedding bells were ringing, and I was an invited guest.

Time: 40 minutes.
New species: None.
Stranger hellos: None.
What else is happening: attended a wedding for the evening at a fantastic 1909 hotel.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

September 5, 2009 - South Shore Park, Hingham, Massachusetts

It's not the kind of park I've walked all year long, if that's what you're thinking. Instead, it's a study in spatial organization and regional planning.

In the old days, the factories were in the cities. They belched smoke into the main streets, made life miserable for those who lived nearby. Boston was one of the hubs of such American industry through the first three decades of the twentieth century. The city economy thrived on factories moving goods to trains and ships.

But things changed, as they are wont to do. The industries - mostly concerning shoes - died. Infrastructure crumbled, and Boston fell on very bad times. New industries arose in the 1950s, mostly technological. Their champions saw derelict buildings and high tax rates in Boston and decided to head for Route 128. They could feel the pulse of the city, but would not be part of it. In the 1950s and '60s, Boston tried to win them back with new construction and favorable tax codes. The financial district was born, new, tall buildings scraped the sky, starting with the Prudential tower, and other sections of the city were reborn as well.

But transportation is still an ongoing concern in and through the city, and sometimes, the best bet for a business tied to Boston but not one hundred percent dependent on it is to be elsewhere. Enter the world of the suburban "industrial park."

South Shore Park does not have the word industrial tied to it, and for good reason. As a marketing tool, the word "industrial" is limiting to the management agency trying to fill the buildings. There is an Industrial Park Road, but there's also Research Road, and Commerce Road. And there's Pond Park Way. For companies working out of there, the most important road runs alongside it: Route 3 South. On off-peak traffic hours, Boston is but twenty minutes away.

Such parks are good and bad. The negative is habitat fragmentation. While the buildings in the park are separated by groups of trees, small portions of woods, those stands of forest are not big enough to support much wildlife. There's even a pond here, which is not surprising. The land was once part of Lot Phillips' box factory; in the 1800s, factory meant "mill"; and mills were driven by pent up streams, pooled as ponds, released to run the machinery.

It's not complete habitat loss, but it's not that far behind. Positives? The concentration of businesses that don't need downtown office space - lots of trucks for delivery, construction, moving, etc. - means less congestion in shopping districts, and more attractive downtown areas that help drive local economies. It also means that there is less pressure to build multiple, individual industrial sites, meaning a greater potential of saving open space elsewhere.

I see it both ways on this one.

Time: 61 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: full day at work, leading free nature walks in Hingham and Hull; finished the lawn and other miscellaneous outdoors chores; lots of nonprofit work.

September 4, 2009 - The Dike, Green Harbor, Marshfield, Massachusetts

We stop at the dike several times a year, but mostly just during the late summer. It's then that the black-crowned night herons have fledged and are roosting on the small island at the mouth of the Green Harbor River. Today, there was a yellow-crowned night heron among them, a little bit rarer than his cousins.

The dike has quite a history, and it's all tied into the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary. Years, decades, a century and a half, if you must know, ago, the fishermen and farmers were at war in Marshfield. The land that is now the sanctuary flooded at high tide. It's a polder - below water level when the Green Harbor River reached its peak depths. The fishermen loved it. The farmers hated it. They saw good arable land covered by water twice a day, and won the vote at town meeting to have the river diked, and the land mostly dried out.

They planted their crops, and loved their new find. The fishermen were not so happy. They stood on the dike and saw lost revenue, lost livelihood. They acted.

In the middle of the night, a man with a carriage full of dynamite headed for the dike. Before he could unleash his diabolical plan, though, he was found out. The dike was saved, but the feud raged on.

Things have tempered since then. But the question of at least opening the dike a bit more has arisen. An influx of saltwater could do wonders at invasive species eradication. The phragmites doesn't know it, but its days are numbered.

I say we go find the dynamite. That'll teach those phragmites to not muscle out our native grasses.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: (Birds) yellow-crowned night heron, marbled godwit (279).

Stranger hellos: 3 (533).

What else is happening: full day at work, including the regular 3 1/2 hour birding walk; more nonprofit and book work.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

September 3, 2009 - Linden Street, Rockland, Massachusetts

Linden Street is not a one way, which is certainly significant. If it was, there would be a lot of cars piled up at the far end of it, since it's a dead end.

But regardless of orientation, Linden Street is Rockland in a nutshell: a few quaint residential homes, some older, business-zoned storefronts, now closed up, that once took advantage of close proximity to the Union Square train station, and a gateway to the inner beauty of the town. Walking to the end of the street, one is met with a sign that warns away after-dark trespassers and beyond that, a double row of beautiful old trees. The road and then the path parallel the defunct railbed, together reveling in the good old days of a century ago.

The path leads out behind Rockland's Memorial Stadium, a baseball and football field dedicated for the veterans of World War I. With Bulldog football season gearing up, the high school's maintenance staff was out manicuring the grass. On another nearby field a flag football game kicked off the first gym classes of the new school year.

I walked around the perimeter of the school complex, finding a small hidden brook along the way. Then there came a quiet patch of pine trees, with a small field of late purple asters, and finally a return to the pavement. Through a silent neighborhood I strolled, past the high school's practice track, past the McKinley School, the high school and back to the bustle of Union Street.

I stopped in front of the old home of Herbert G. Perry, a major player in a book I'm writing on Rockland history, and retreated to the head of Linden Street. A long way to go to snap one picture, I know, but the sunshine made me do it.

Time: 63 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) late purple aster, tansy (124).

Stranger hellos: 2 (530).

What else is happening: went into Boston to do some research and unwittingly drove through the preparation for mob boss Gennaro Angiulo's funeral in the North End; lunch with Michelle in town; closed the pool with Michelle's dad, mowed part of the lawn; gave a talk in Braintree for the Landfall Sailing Club on the history of the U.S. Life-Saving Service.

September 2, 2009 - Linden Street, Reading, Massachusetts

Linden Street is a one way. I don't know if that's significant or not.

What I do know is that my first meander around Reading was a positively enjoyable one. I was there to give a lecture on lighthouses for the Reading College Club at an old fire station, and arrived an hour early. So, you know me. I hit the pavement.

I started right there in the downtown area, taking in the architecture. It was at that point that I came up with a theory. There are only so many words used to describe our ancient churches in New England, but by using the right combination of First, Second, Third, Old, North, South, Congregational, Unitarian, Universalist, Methodist and Episcopalian we can make them all sound unique. Note that you never hear of East or West churches. For some reason we think in terms of north and south first.

Behind the church is Laurel Hill Cemetery, a beautiful old burial ground, where Sweetsers, Pratts, Lovejoys, Parkers and more rest under rolling hills peaked with purplish glacial erratic boulders. As I reached the crest of one small hill, staring at the grave of a Civil War veteran named Noble Bunker, I found myself three feet away from a tiny red fox, which scurried off into the underbrush of an abutting backyard. A few minutes later, I found the memorial stone for a man named Henry Deadman. Good God! How did he go through life knowing that even after he was buried, the jokes would never, ever stop? My bet is that he was a mortician. Hingham once had a doctor named Robert Treat Paine Fiske.

A walk down Linden Street brought me past the Old Schoolhouse Condominiums and down to the public library. Back up Main Street, I took in the excellent recent street renewal projects, new brick walkways, new curbing, everything. I even found a young Gingko tree planted on a sidewalk. The town has even placed historic markers in the sidewalk denoting important moments in Reading's past.
A sign above town hall boasted that a business journal had chosen Reading as the most affordable suburb in Massachusetts. Whether that is true or not, my first impression of the place was pretty damned good.
Time: 58 minutes.
New species: None.
Stranger hellos: 6 (528).
What else is going on: doctor's appointment to put three new holes in my arms; got pics taken for Northeast Boating magazine; bank, post office, other errands; nonprofit work.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September 1, 2009 - Knapp Trail, North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Duxbury, Massachusetts

I could have added two species to my "creatures I almost stepped on" list today, but I don't have one.

I returned to North Hill Marsh for the first time since May, to pick up on the first installment of the fall 2009 edition of the waterfowl survey I've been conducting for two years. It was an inauspicious start to the season. Four wood ducks, three Canada geese. But it certainly is early in the season for duck migration.

It felt good to hit the old trail again. After conducting my two point counts, I took some small trails I had never traversed before. On the first, I barely missed a warty toad. On the second, I heard a garter snake slither before I saw it.

The mushrooms, though, did not make any sounds. Thank God for that. I don't know what I would have done if they did. They were everywhere. It seems that all the spring and early summer rains had their benefit after all. Mushrooms are here, they're early and they're healthy. In fact, several of the species I saw today I've never seen before. I wonder if some are more reliant on heavy precipitation than others.

Ah, something else to lazily ponder in the sunshine.

Time: 54 minutes.

New species: (Mushrooms) common earthball, wood clitocybe, grisette, destroying angel (40).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: full day at work; started to close the pool; magazine and book work; newspaper work.