Sunday, February 27, 2011

64. Dennis: Indian Lands

At first, I was starting to get upset. Very upset. It just didn't seem fair.

I set off down the trail for Indian Lands, accessible from the town hall in Dennis, and found that even after five or six minutes I was walking on a utility line trail. Next to me were railroad tracks, grown over and unused for years. Indian Lands? Really?

I guess when I set off down the trail, I was hoping for something more than overhead phone lines and rusty rails. I thought that if we were going to memorialize this land's first inhabitants, that perhaps we could have done it in some better way.

Then, I realized I was simply on a feeder trail. A second set of signs - second set because the state and town each had their own signs, despite the fact they both celebrated it as a joint project - led to the entrance to the Indian Lands. Once inside, on the Ladyslipper Trail, the magic began. Indian Lands is a stunningly beautiful place, my thoughts apparently shared by a great blue heron in the marsh alongside the Bass River. I'm no anthropologist, but I could see in my mind's eye the warm days of summer when the local tribes would move to the water's edges to find food. It felt like a Native American place.

But my imagination should not stereotype the place or the people. Either way, it is still a piece of property in a heavily developed part of the country that is almost exactly as the early Natives saw it. I thank Dennis and the state of Massachusetts for it, but have to admit that I'm still not sold on the name, if for only one question: weren't they all?

63. Brewster: Nickerson State Park

To misquote a character from one of my favorite movies of all-time, Johnny Dangerously, I will say this: I once saw two yellow-bellied woodpeckers on the same tree at Nickerson State Park in Brewster.


Today I was not so lucky, but a dearth of birdlife does not make for a bad day. I had already walked for two full hours on Cape Cod by the time that I reached Brewster, had given a lecture in Duxbury in the morning and had another one ready for the Cape Cod Postcard Collectors' Club in Dennis later that night. It was already an exhilirating day, and there was more to come.

So my wandering at Nickerson took me past a frozen pond and out onto pine-needle laden trails. I found a giant glacial erratic boulder that when viewed three-dimensionally looked like a big stony catcher's mitt. I had the urge to sit on it, where the ginat rock baseball would sit, and set my camera up to take a picture. Then I thought of a new blog, I could go all over the planet and have my picture taken on the famous rocks of the world.

Did I mention that I had already been walking for two hours?

62. Yarmouth: Old Yarmouth Historical Society Nature Trail

Now we're talking.

One of the biggest problems facing the preservation world today is specialization. Land conservancies buy land that include historic buildings, but aren't interested in saving them, as it doesn't fit their mission. Historical societies have opportunities to purchase lands, but don't because there are no extant buildings on them to interpret local history. It's time the two came together.

Yarmouth has it right. The two can coexist. And there's a whole layer of interpretation that a historical society can give to a piece of land that many land conservancies never even think about. Let's face it - is there any square foot of Massachusetts land left untrammeled by man? If white Europeans haven't been there, there's a damn good chance that the land's first inhabitants, the Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years, had.

I often think in human terms when I walk a trail. Sure, I bring it all in, the full natural picture of the woods, the wildlife, the flora, the way weather affects and changes it all. But what, for instance, do the rhododendrons on the main trail here in Yarmouth say about the land? Since they're ornamental, transplanted from elsewhere, they speak of prior land usage. Today, with their big flower buds just aching to burst and their leaves only partially rolled up, they also spoke of a pending spring.

It was obvious, too, that the historical society had created a walking brochure for the trails. Either that or I had mistakenly stumbled onto a coincidentally perfectly arranged number of numerically-marked stones. I'm sure they were waymarkers that told bits of local history.

I watched a brown creeper slink its way up a tree, and wonder how many of the land's "owners" over time have had the same experience.

61b. Barnstable: Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary

Elsewhere in Barnstable, within full view of Sandy Neck Lighthouse, I started on the Long Pasture Trail. I had heard a rumor that a rehabilitated barred owl had been released recently and was being seen around the property, specifically in a grove of cedar trees. I just had to check.

Instead, I found turkeys. Not the reintroduced wild turkeys that we see walking up to cars and pecking at their own reflections, thinking they're their evil twins, but white, domesticated turkeys. They were sharing space with guinea fowl, goats and sheep. It was one big, happy farmyard family, the kind that I read to my son about in his board books.

The thickets surrounding the pens were alive with chattering birds, white-throated sparrows, northern cardinals and even a gray catbird. That bird is supposed to be down south, staying warm until migration. Either it jumped the gun or it spent the winter on the Cape. Occasionally that happens. I saw one in Dighton on New Year's Day, so why not Barnstable on February 24?

I searched the cedars, unsuccessfully, and came out the other side, beyond the Button Bush Swamp and near the Butterfly Mosaic Garden. Then I heard something I hadn't heard for months. It was the slithering of a snake. I peeked and peered into the thickets but couldn't come up with anything. It seemed impossible that it was a snake, but weirder things have happened this year already in regard to the animal world, from northern invaders like redpolls overwhelming Massachusetts feeders to southern birds like black vultures soaring over Cape Cod in the middle of winter.

As I walked back into the trees, I saw a gray squirrel with a mouthful of dry leaves, scurrying up a tree. It was a mom, building a nest.


61a. Barnstable: Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary

I ran into my own best laid plans today. I promised myself that I would walk every publicly-accessible Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary this year, even if it meant walking in two places in one town. For the second time so far, I came across that situation.

Barnstable, though, is an odd duck, as far as towns in Massachusetts go. It's actually seven commmunities that are better known on their own than as individuals. Take Hyannis, for instance. It's as recognizable a village as any in Massachusetts, and probably more well-known than some towns. Yet, when you look at a map of Cape Cod, Barnstable is the town, and Hyannis, West Barnstable, Centerville and all the rest are swallowed up by the whole.

So here, in Osterville, I walked the Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary. The river is not the main feature of the sanctuary, at least to the trail walker. Nope, it's the pond, West Pond, to be precise. And today, the main feature on that pond was an odd duck, a northern pintail. The pond was being used as a feeding ground by several dabblers, including green-winged teals, American black ducks, hooded mergansers and a mallard. I saw them from every angle as I circumnavigated the pond, without even breaking out my sextant.

In all, I counted 11 species of birds on my walk, which wasn't bad for a cold, windy day in February. It's always good to have company on the trails.

60. Mashpee: Mashpee River Reservation

I had heard about places like this one, in legend and song, sung by bards throwing their melodic words to the four winds. I had read about it in books, in dusty old tomes that told tales of the way life used to be. Finally, I had found my Nirvana.

I realized when I stepped onto the trail (on February 24) that as far as my eyes could see, there was absolutely, positively, not even the slightest hint of snow!

For the first time in 2011, I walked on bare ground. In ways, it was a truly strange sensation, knowing that there was no chance of slipping and sliding on the trail, that I could plant my foot with that old confidence that brought me through 360 days of trail walking in 2009 (I had pneumonia for the other five). Then I hit the mud.

Still, I didn't care. I slid, stretched out an inner leg muscle I didn't even know I had, but stayed on my feet. And I was glad I did, for there was plenty to see. Ospreys nest on a powerline pole crossbar here, and their nest awaits their return in a month or so. There's a tree that grew a limb that decided to hug the ground for a while and take a 90 degree turn into the sky. The trail goes right between it and the main trunk. There's a big holly tree at the river's edge. While standing there examining it, I realized I was hearing something I've only heard one other time this year: nothing.

I stood as still as possible, watching the water roll past. I thought back to a visit to Townsend early this year, and how close I had come to complete silence. This spot was almost there. If not for the tiniest drone, the smallest hum of traffic on Route 28, I might have found it, but no luck.

Still, standing there, no hats, no gloves and no snow, I was in heaven.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

59. Carver: Myles Standish State Forest

The snow couldn't save me, though, at Myles Standish. The trails around the East Head Reservoir were just too icy. I even caught myself sliding backwards at one point. No matter how hard I tried to move forward, I could make no advancement. I felt like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.

On the flatter surfaces, where the new snow still sat, I caught the trail of a fisher. There's been lots of talk about them around me recently, as folks seem to be seeing them more than usual. At the sanctuary where I work, we even found drag marks, where one pulled prey through the woods to a dining spot. Another - we think - has been hanging out by a collection of feeders.

Finding one after discovering tracks is near impossible, though. They're constantly on the move, and very quickly, dashing forward looking for prey. Unless you're on an intersecting path with one, you're not likely to catch up with one. Especially if you're running the Red Queen's race (that's an Isaac Asimov reference, for Sci Fi fans out there).

I never found it, of course, which is a shame. I've only ever seen one, and would love to add another.

Probably have to go for a walk outside somewhere to do that.

58. Wareham: Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary

At first, I thought the snow would be a hindrance today (February 22), but it turned out to be a savior. Considering the site's history, it was quite fitting.

Mass Audubon's Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary is comprised of land connected to the nearby Sacred Heart retreat center. And there's a lot to be said about the connections between nature and religion, the healing power of a walk in the woods, the rejuvenating feelings that come with the sound of a singing bird, or a glimpse of a distant fox darting through the trees. In short, it's a good fit.

The snow, although there was just about an inch of it, saved me today. Beneath it on the trails rested a solid layer of ice. The snow gave my poor, old, worn-out boots enough traction to keep me from slipping and sliding. I still had to watch my feet most of the time, or the ground just in front of them, meaning I probably missed a lot of the scenery.

My only companion on the trail today - the Huckleberry Loop and the Old Pasture Trail - was a hairy woodpecker. It dawned on me as I listened to its chirp that I couldn't tell anyone what a huckleberry looks like, not even remotely. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, sure, even mulberries. My grandfather had a mulberry bush at the top of his garden and we waited until they were sweet enough to pick and eat on the spot. We'd gop running through the garden like dogs on a fox hunt in England. But I guess I've just never been a huckleberry hound.

Did I go too far for that joke?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

57. Waltham: Prospect Hill Park

Whoa! Crossbill!

The last time I heard a white-winged crossbill singing was at West Quoddy State Park in Lubec, Maine, three years ago. Yet here one was, right in the parking lot of Prospect Hill Park. You just never know what you'e going to find when you step outdoors.

I headed up the hill on the plowed road, which made me think of one thing: water tanks. I seem to be hot on their trail this winter. But if they were there, I'd have other guardians to pass first. Glacial erratic boulders, including one called Dinosaur Rock, mark the way up the hill. I diverted from the main trail for a brief moment to take a footpath, the Boy Scout Trail, and was stumped. I couldn't figure out what it was I was seeing. It looked like two stone shelters of some kind, with, maybe, a fire pit? I pushed on, scratching my head.

The Boy Scout Trail proved only to be a connector between sections of the roadway, Glen Road. Then, it happened. Water tanks. Two of them. But they weren't at the crest of the hill. I kept climbing.

At the top, I was stumped again. I found a structure that looked like the base of a satellite dish with antennae fixed onto where the dish formerly was. At least, that's the best my little pea brain could come up with. I could have been way off.

I shook my fist at Waltham with a promise to return. I'll figure this place out yet!

56. Belmont: Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary

I guess I underestimated the warming powers of the sea. While the snow has dissipated quite substantially on the South Shore recently, it seems that just a bit inland, just to the west of Boston, the cold is holding firm. There was more snow in Belmont today (February 17) than I would have guessed.

Crunch, crunch, crunch...behind me a jogger started his approach. Good thing he wasn't trying to sneak up on me. To get out of his way, I headed for a patch of birch trees, then turned onto the Red Pine Trail. Guess what I found. Let's just say that when I found the entrance to the Red Maple Trail, I knew exactly what to expect.

Somehow I met the jogger again, despite my circuitous, wandering route. Crunch, crunch, crunch. My guess is he knew where he was going, which made our run-ins so funny. One shooting star, one bouncing moth.

I finally found my way back toward the parking lot after passing a sugar maple with a bucket on it. Yes, even here in Massachusetts, sap runs. Climate controls how much and how fast, and what grade syrup it makes. After this winter, it'll be interesting to see what the harvest brings.

Crunch, crunch, crunch...I hopped into my car and drove off. I think that guy was following me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

55. Gloucester: Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary

We ended our North Shore escape in Gloucester, scanning the waters from the Elks Club on Atlantic Avenue, examining the harbor from the Jodrey Fish Pier, and watching the fishermen return to the harbor from Eastern Point.

Eastern Point is a Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, a next-door neighbor to the Coast Guard's property at Eastern Point Lighthouse. It's a place where, two weeks ago, a common murre took a brief rest along the breakwater. I happened to see it while participating in a fundraiser for the local Mass Audubon sanctuary. Of course, I couldn't help myself. Although the bird had been there two weeks in the past, I immediately rushed to the spot to see if it was there. It's a malady all birders suffer from eventually. It's called historical birding.

By the early afternoon, David and I had lost our hats and gloves. The promised warmth had arrived. It made for a lot of slush on the road, but who cares? Our winter thaw, usually a late January event, had begun. Temperatures were supposed to dip back down overnight, but then rise again for Thursday and Friday. What's one more cold night at this point?

I snapped a picture of the lighthouse complex and we headed for Woodworkers Warehouse in Woburn. Onto the next project!

54. Rockport: Loblolly Cove

The North Shore has always been known for its rugged scenery, as a place where the ocean meets the rocky shore. South of Boston, on the Cape and even the islands, the story has more to do with sand.

Loblolly Cove is one of those places where the romance of that never-ending collision of nature's most dynamic feature and its most immovable object reigns. Turning the corner on Penzance Road to find the cove, one's breath is taken away. Add man's engineering touch, the twin lighthouses of Thacher's Island, just out in the distance, and that swelling in the chest grows just a little bit more.

For birders, this year, there's even more. A Barrow's goldeneye, a rare cousin of the common goldeneye (rare, at least, on the Massachusetts coast), has taken up winter residence at the cove, an easy checkmark on hundreds of lists across the state. Closer to shore, among the many ducks, an Iceland gull, another winter visitor, sat quietly wondering whether or not the season was coming to an end.

The snowmelt around mid-day told us that we had reached the 50-degree mark. For a brief moment, Valentine's Day had a brush with a Massachusetts spring.

53. Salisbury: Salisbury Beach State Reservation

From Plum Island, we took a brief diversion northward, crossing the Newbuyrport Turnpike Bridge to find Salisbury. The town is as New Hampshire as Massachusetts gets. It simply feels like crossing the Merrimack River you've crossed state lines, but it isn't so. For some reason, boundaries were set to give Massachusetts just a few more miles to the north when it would seem the natural line of the river should have been used all the way to the sea.

The state reservation in Salisbury is now quiet, but dozens of snow-covered picnic tables just dare you to say that in six months' time. I couldn't hear the music playing or the children laughing, but I could feel their echoes as we walked toward the boat ramp.

From that boat ramp we spotted a bald eagle sitting in the saltmarsh. We knew it was there even before we left Newburyport. I had seen a cloud of ducks - that's a technical term for "wicked lots of ducks" in Massachusetts speak - lift off together. To my experience, that means a predator is around, and nothing makes a duck, or a gull, jump like a bald eagle.

It was surprising, today, to see how many people were at the reservation, dodging the huge piles of snow and driving over the thick, intermittent ice. Perhaps the allure of a 50-degree day had coaxed them out. Some sat in cars reading newspapers and smoking cigarettes, while others walked dogs on the beach. I think we're all ready to break out of this slumber we've been forced into.

52. Newburyport: Plum Island

At the northern end of Plum Island - an island shared by four communities - sits a lighthouse and an old Coast Guard boathouse, built in the 1930s, now in sad disrepair. I say "sad" because of my side job. I work to save historic Coast Guard buildings across the country for a nonprofit organization.

From that northern point, though, is a beautiful view of the Merrimack River. We stood with our backs to the boathouse and looked to the flowing waters to find, among many other things, a thick-billed murre, a northern visitor who may be the same individual critter who spent a few weeks in Gloucester Harbor, to the south, earlier this year. We'll never know for sure, of course.

The northern end of the peninsula, while now silent save for the sounds of a dump truck hauling away a heavy load of snow and ice, just oozes thoughts of summer, of fried clams, sandy feet, bikinis and sunblock. It's places like this one I'm getting out of the way now. I don't want to be at seashore hotspots at the height of summer, for parking reasons alone. I'll bet Newburyport is a blast in July and August, but this year I've got bigger fish to fry.

Hmm, change that. I don't eat fish. No need to kill them just for my benefit.

50 and 51. Newbury and Rowley: Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

With a day off after a long weekend of work, my friend David and I decided to explore the North Shore, starting our day at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge shortly after dawn.

It was a slow start, as the icy conditions continue to smother the northeast, but we were looking forward to a day supposed to hit 50 degrees. Fifty! Anything above 35 has been a dream for two months, yet here we were excitedly chattering about 50.

This being a birding outing, we were looking I need to say it? In the cold, with a slight wind blowing, the birds were all hunkered down save for the blue jays and the Canada geese. We walked out to the Hellcat Observation Area (in Rowley), only to find a wide stretch of chunky ice. In the far distance, we could see that the river itself was sporting open water, but signs of life were thin.

The gate beyond Hellcat, guarding the gravel road ultimately leading to Sandy Point State Park, was closed, so our trip would be cut short this time around. We retreated back up the peninsula to find four snow buntings and an out-of-season wood duck. What it was doing there and then, we will never understand. Hunters like to say that wood ducks "don't like cold feet," and fly south at the first sign of ice forming on local ponds in the fall. They return with the earliest migrants in spring, but there is no way in hell any duck in the world would consider what we have now as spring. Yet here was a male wood duck, plain as could be, fifty yards offshore.

Back at the first parking lot (in Newbury), we walked the long boardwalk to the beach, scoping the sea and chatting with another birder. As we returned to the car, a peregrine falcon shot across the saltmarsh. I got a good view, but David didn't. We agreed to chase another one elsewhere in the region by the end of the day.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

49. Plymouth: Ellisville Harbor State Park

A little further up the coast, I poked into Ellisville Harbor State Park. After all, where does one go in Plymouth if he's only one trail to walk? The choices are endless. At 134 square miles, Plymouth is the largest community in Massachusetts. It looks nice on the map I'm keeping of towns I've visited, but in the end, it only counts for one out of 351.

The harbor, as it's called, is really a saltmarsh, and at the moment, it's frozen. Or at least the water is. The grasses themselves are actually exposed, uncovered by snow, and that's a good thing if you're a Canada goose. They were spread out across the marsh today, pecking away for food.

Not much else was interested in being exposed to the air today, though, aside for a few more robins. And they were lucky, too, that they had no need to walk the trails. I found the icy trails an interesting challenge on the upslope; I didn't even want to think about the return trip on the downslope.

In fact, I found a separate trail, an access road, to take back, and all went well until I hit its shadier sections. There the road turned to a smoother, cleaner, slicker style of ice than I had encountered on the regular walking trail. When I could, I cut across a field studded with cedar trees and went back to the lesser of today's two evils.

I just don't see how the Pilgrims did it. Or the Ellises.

48. Sandwich: Scusset Beach Reservation

Still alongside the canal at my next stop, I decided to get out of the wind. I ducked into the woods and headed for the Sagamore Hill Historic Site.

The return to the woods meant a return to snow and ice. The trail along the canal had been scoured clean, giving me a nice easy path to follow. Here in the woods, though, there had been no such actions. Ice ruled the walk, and as such, I spent more time staring at it and figuring out how to deal with it than truly enjoying the experience.

But I have no fear that this is the last time I will walk this trail. I walk it at least once a year during the Christmas Bird Count season. The thickets here have produced the only yellow-breasted chats I've ever seen, an occasional fox sparrow, a more-regular hermit thrush. Today, it boasted robins, which have otherwise been among the missing this winter in Massachusetts.

The viewpoint from atop Sagamore Hill brought to mind a startling thought. In this age of GPS and other long distance tracking devices, it's kind of scary to think that just seventy years ago, in my grandfather's time, we stood atop hills and looked as far as we could onto the horizon to find our enemies. Imagine! Safety from surprise attack was dependent on a powerful pair of binoculars. Our whole coastal defense system was designed around it. Planes, blimps and soon helicopters changed all that, but until that time, we were trapped by the capabilities of our own bodies.

I descended the hill and got back to the ice.

47. Bourne: Cape Cod Canal Trail

I examined my options in Bourne and made my choice. This wasn't it.

I wanted to walk at Sacrifice Rock Woods, just for the name. I figured there had to be a story. But when I got there, I found I was too late. A developer got his hands on it last year and permanently ruined the land for open space seekers.

So I retreated to the old Bourne standby, a walk along the edge of the Cape Cod Canal. I walked west, toward the Buzzards Bay end, away from the Sagamore Bridge. The wind worked against me, and even if I couldn't, for some reason, feel it stinging my face, I could tell which way it was blowing by looking at the ducks. They face into the wind, to allow the streamlining of their feathers to keep the cold away from their skin. Their bills all pointed to the west, and I marched that way under their orders.

The access road that acts as a trail along the canal is straight, flat and wide, and today it was used by only a handful of us. The portion of it I walked today contains a herring run, with signs strictly forbidding the taking of the small endangered creature. We used to take them by the thousands, but now they're just about gone. It's just amazing, the impact we've had on this part of the planet.

Anyway, by walking the canal, I now have the right to use some alliteration at the end of this project. The day I visit the last town in the state, I'll write, in my best FDR voice, "From the Berkshires to Boston, from Provincetown to Pepperell to Petersham, from the Connecticut River to the Cape Cod Canal..."

Crap! I just used it. Oh well, might as well have fun with the voice. "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself! Today, December 7, 1941, is a day which will live in infamy! Eleanor, bring me my long cigarette holder!" (That latter one is from a very obscure tape recording that doesn't exist.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

46. Randolph: Great Pond

The time has come.

I got a great set of snowshoes for Christmas, but to this point in the winter, I've picked my spots well. I've walked 45 trails, most well-trammeled, others relatively close to that description. Today, I met my match. There was no way I could get far at all at Great Pond without christening the Red Feathers.

Snowshoeing is new to my arsenal. I spent my youth on skates, and my teen years on skis, but it was only last year that a friend put me on a pair of snowshoes. I'm still awkward on them, but I'll get the hang of it. It's mostly the stance. You have to be sure to have a wider gait than normal, ever so slightly, to accommodate the shoes. As such, you use a slightly different set of muscles. My glutes will be ringing in the morning.

Only one fox had passed this way in recent weeks, and nothing else. Not a single person had left tracks since the last storm, and only the faintest hint of a trail existed. But the snow wasn't quite perfect for what I was doing. Softened by two days of above-freezing temperatures the snow was deceivingly mushy, to use the proper hydrology term. I sunk with every step, but knew that I did so less than I would have without the shoes on.

The snow was perfect for one thing today, though. All along the trail trees were being held captive. Birches, in particular, were bent to the ground and their tops encased in the snow. I freed them where I could, but finally came across a group that together were bowing in the same direction. They looked like a giant, furry-legged spider. And they were buried deep.

I don't mind telling you I worked up quite a sweat on the walk today. I never even got to the pond.

45. Braintree: Pond Meadow

Sounds delightful, doesn't it?

I may be the only person around these days who thinks about the ages of ponds on a daily basis. There are so few that are truly ancient in Massachusetts. Kettlehole ponds in Plymouth and on Cape Cod, well, for sure, they're old. The glaciers did a number on those areas during their big scouring project 11,000 years ago. But pretty much everything else in Massachusetts is manmade.

That includes the pond of Pond Meadow. Only, there's a slight difference here. Most of the other ponds in the state were millponds, meaning their outflows were dammed between 150 and 400 years ago. They powered small, sinigle turbine or overshot wheel sawmills, and eventually larger, more industrious factories. They served their purpose and left us behind a quandary.

Dams have altered our natural order. Fish that once spawned upstream can't get to their ancestral grounds any more. Yet, we now have homes on lakes and ponds we consider to be worth a lot of money partly because of their proximity to that water. Because of our relatively short-term need for whatever it is we derive from a house on a lake, the long-term need of fish like the herring that once spawned in Massachusetts in huge numbers has gone by the wayside. We won't remove ancient dams, and because of it, the fish are dying.

Pond Meadow, though, is a new pond. It traces its existence back less than forty years, a public water supply project that has had direct benefits to the people of Braintree. Water is life, and with increasing populations, it will become more and more precious. Secondly, the pond itself, made from the damming of the Monatiquot River, is now surrounded by walking trails. I've never seen so many smiles as I do when I walk Pond Meadow.

That was the case today, as I slid on the slippery snow. Luckily, there was a sign in place to point me to what I had come to see.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

44. Norwell: Norris Reservation

It wouldn't get me this time.

The last time I walked at Norris Reservation, I made a grave error. It was a day like this one (February 5), ice-covered and gloomy, and I thought I was smarter than I was. I went right, when I should have gone left.

I've fallen into predictable patterns at my favorite walking spots. When I get to Norris, I typically take the left hand trail after crossing the mill dam and head for the open house on the North River. Last time, I went right. I didn't recognize my intersections, and I got temporarily lost. Not this time.

I went left, and I walked through the familiar trails, meeting the familiar crossings. The path was only one person wide, and as such, I stepped aside numerous times to accommodate oncoming walkers from the other direction. It meant knee-deep snow at some points, but I had good boots on. No idea how much longer they'll last, though. They've had a worse winter than any of my other shoes.

At the house on the river, I stood and watched the bend. Small chunks of ice slid around the corner where shipbuilders at the Tilden Yard once launched their vessels. Occasionally, a small floe would meet an immovable rock - this section of the river was once known as Rocky Reach - and a slow, unyielding, swoosh signaled the end of that floe's slushy life. It was a sound that predates us all, and amazing to think about.

Friday, February 4, 2011

43. Pembroke: Willow Brook Farm Conservation Area

With one last scrape of the ice off the car this morning (February 3), the great two-day storm came to an end. I shoveled snow for 8 of 20 hours, and watched the piles in my yard grow to the point that I doubt I can make them grow any more. You can only throw a shovel full of snow so high.

As an escape, I visited an old favorite, Willow Brook Farm, after giving a lecture at a local retirement community. I had spoken about my walking project of two years ago, Half an Hour a Day on Foot, hoping to instill some inspiration in the audience to get out and walk as soon as they could. But wow, is it icy in eastern Massachusetts right now.

But I personally couldn't take being cooped up like a chicken any longer. With uneven steps I pushed down the main trail, knowing I wouldn't get very far in a half hour's time. In a way, this was a walk I had mentally saved for spring, when the Baltimore orioles arrived, and when the mound ants began shaking off their torpor and scurrying about again. But a hairy woodpecker chirping loudly to my left made me think another way.

I walk here in spring every year. I see those Baltimore orioles and silvery blue butterflies every year. I take pictures of those ants in the summer sunshine every year. I've never walked here in winter. In my never-ending quest for new experiences, I was having one, without even realizing it.

At my turnaround point, I was about to leave when a robin clucked overhead. I gave it a glance, then spun my head down and around to find the trail, when something else caught my eye, a set of coyote tracks. He or she had loped by the very spot on which I stood just a few hours prior to my arrival. It made me wish I had a motion-activated camera to mount on the robin's tree, so I could find out what else I miss when I'm not walking in places I think I know so well.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

42. Kingston: Bay Farm Conservation Area

They've stopped talking about inches, and now they're onto feet. The forecast I heard today (on February 1) called for around two feet of snow. That's supposed to land on top of the several feet already covering the area. The mantra is now the same everywhere: where am I supposed to put it? Mine became "where and when am I suppoed to go for a walk?!"

In my desire - nay, need - to get out and walk somewhere, knowing the next two days are also going to be lost to Mother Nature's wrath, I finished delivering my lecture in Duxbury and headed south to Kingston and the blowing snow. Bay Farm is a place for tree swallows and bobolinks in summer, but when covered in snow, it's simply an open vista, a sheet of white interrupted at its edges by trees. That open vista today meant one thing: snow in my face, everywhere I turned. As soon as I could, I ducked into the cedar stand.

The side trails eventually lead to a small woodland overlooking Kingston Bay, but today, with visibility at about thirty feet, there was nothing to see. Canada geese honked in the wintry fog, but I never saw one.

In the woods, though, where the snow was wetter than in the field, I watched with curiosity as a downy woodpecker moved through the trees. It was obvious she was no dummy. She landed on the lee, or clean side of every maple, never subjecting herself to the snow blowing in her face.

Well, don't I feel stupid.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011