Friday, July 29, 2011

218. Lancaster: Blood Town Forest

And then there was one...for today, anyway.

As I entered the Blood Town Forest I expected a lot of things. The trash in the parking lot told me it was a party spot. OK, blind eye to that; see through it to the natural beauty of the forest, I said in my usual mantra.

I expected the eastern wood-pewees. They've been singing all over the state for the past three months. And so it was in Lancaster. I expected American goldfinches. Ditto.

But there were things I wasn't expecting, pleasant surprises. There was the great blue heron that I spooked from its hiding spot into a tree. It led me away, flying a few more feet ahead, stopping, turning back to see me, lather, rinse, repeat. It led me back to the parking area. Perhaps it knew something.

I met a small, older woman there, with her hair pulled back in a bun. She was loading her big van with trash. The garbage, she had explained with a wide smile on her face, had come from the woods. People had left it there, but she felt that her fellow townsfolk shouldn't have to see it, so she collected it and disposed of it. She did this every few days as necessary.

Humanity that day got a big boost in my eyes.

217. Leominster: Lincoln Woods Wildlife Sanctuary

My fourth Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary of the day brought me into a nearly urban setting, in Leominster. I parked the car, learned a little bit about the woman who donated the land for nature study for the kids of the community, and moved into the woods to work on some of my own questions.

Then, I threw them all out of the window, despite the fact I was standing outside.

There had been a fire. A couple of trees rested in their death poses on the ground, blackened by the experience. Arson? Maybe. Lightning? Much more likely. Me, detective? Ha!

The burned area proved to be more extensive than I first thought, as I wound slowly down the trail. Patches of earth were scorched, but as far as I could deduce, they were in connection with the fallen trees, as if the trees were hit, fell to the ground burning, and set the ground around them ablaze. Yet it was remarkably controlled. Perhaps the fire department responded quickly? Perhaps the rain was enough to put it out?

I got in close enough to take a photo of the burned bark of one of the trees and nothing else. It was superficial. Between the cracks I could see the brown of life. The tree was prematurely dead, like a man in a coffin before he was completely dead. It stared out at me as if asking for help. I felt useless.

216. Sterling: WMA

Nameless, faceless. That's how this place will always be to me. I was heading for another map-bound green blob when I struck dirt parking lot. Sometimes they turn out simply to be turn-offs, but this one was different. It had a kiosk.

Still, that kiosk gave up no secrets, like a name. I walked down a slight hill and hit a macadamized road. Ahh, human history, in the woods again. All I knew was I was walking on a state wildlife management area.

It went straight, and for a very long, long time. It was obviously an old passageway for vehicles, but to what? And from what? I would never find out, as no matter how far I walked, it continued. Without even a clue as to what was nearby, without a foundation to be found, without a name to which I could attach a legend, I retreated.

On the way out, I found lilies. For whom were they planted, I wondered? Someone long gone, no doubt.

215. Princeton: Wachuset Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary

My memories at Wachuset Meadow go back beyond my earliest days. Don't get me wrong, I only started visiting here in 2004. But the connection I feel to this land is remarkable and stretches back through time.

It was one of my earliest targeted Mass Audubon sanctuaries, when I was writing my book on their history. I met the director, shared a UMASS bonding moment, climbed Little Wachuset Mountain, and more. In the years since I've walked in search of butterflies, tracked fishers and porcupines, worked on winter tree identification in the dead of winter and sat in the barn just inches from the door as torrential rain poured outside.

But it's the history that gets me, the Goodnows, the carriage line that ran past the front door, the Crocker maple, the award-winning cattle. It's all here, if you care to close your eyes and see it.

It didn't matter what trail I walked today, it would mean something special to me. And it always will, even long after I'm gone.

214. Westminster: Leominster State Forest

Do deer flies call ahead?

I'm serious about this. I left Hubbardston with a wave - not to a friend or a stranger, but at a deer fly that was trying its damnedest to get into my car with me. As I walked in the Lemo State Forest, it took mere seconds before the first deer flies came at me.

And they don't stop at just coming at you. They hit you. They ping off your head like someone's throwing large pebbles at your skull. My defense, when bug spray has stopped working? Well, first, I go with the righthand whatever-I-have-in-my-pocket swing. In most cases, that's a bird list, a small, white piece of card stock. I can hear the stupid things smacking into the card, but they keep coming back for more. Next, two arms, in throwing motions, waving them away from my ears, forward.

Having pitched as a baseball player through high school, my right arm knows the motion well. My left, not so much. Either way, if things keep going at this pace, I'll definitely need double rotator cuff surgery by the beginning of next spring training.

I got back to the car noticing two things: the laurel blooms had fallen away, and I hadn't noticed a single bird call, the first town in 214 for which I would not be making a visit to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's ebird website.

Wait, was that a chickadee...?


213. Hubbardston: Hubbardston State Forest

I paid for my dalliances at Flat Rock with this visit to Hubbardston. While I climbed the trail to the Bald, I always knew that in the end, I would be coming down, like the "Spinning Wheel" that Blood, Sweat and Tears sung about. In Hubbardston, things were excactly the opposite. It was the Flat Rock Bizarro World.

Down, down, down I went...

The breeze certainly helped as the mid-day heat threatened to bake me. It's not easy working both the sun and mosquito protections at the same time. With coatings of both on at the same time I feel like my skin can't breathe, that I'm sealed in a light film of my own devising. But it's better than the alternative, sunburned mosquito bites.

Great spangled frittilary! A new butterfly species for 2011 drifted on past, and made me take notice of something below, a partially consumed russula mushroom. I usually start looking for mushrooms in September, after the heat is gone and the rains have given them a chance to sprout, but it seems those days are gone, that they start early every year now.

Up, up, up I trudged...

212. Templeton: Templeton State Forest

In the end, I never got in. I circled the forest by car, got out and walked along its edges for more than my slotted half hour trying to find an opening, but I never did.

I retreated to statuary.

Near a town center I found the World War I memorial, and what a sight it was. A doughboy - and let's stop right there. Where did that term come from? We know that World War I soldiers bore that mantle, but why? In fact, rumors say it goes back to the Mexican War of 1848 during which many soldiers found themselves covered in the dust of Northern Mexico, like they were covered in dough. Yet we don't refer to Civil War soldiers as doughboys...hmm, a mystery.

Anyway, this doughboy was being as symbolic as possible. He's in the act of laying down his gun, while leaning over the makeshift grave of what I'm interpreting as a a fallen brother. In his free hand, a sheath of wheat. Take that as you may - peace, the harvest, the fall, time to rest.

Well done, Templeton.

211. Winchendon: Fern Glenn Conservation Area

I took the turn into the drive like the website told me to. Depsite the fact that it didn't look like a road, I kept going, like the website told me to. And when I got to the end, I found the open area in which to park, like the website told me I would. From there, it was into the woods, where, among other things, I found loppers and gloves, signs of recent trail work.

I drove away. Near the end of the drive I ran into two people on foot, one of whom looked slightly nonplussed by my vehicular appearance. "I did what the website told me to," I said. He admitted that he had not been on the site, and trusted me, though he was surprised to see me coming out this way by car. He said he worked for the town and was helping with the preservation of this precious open space.

His friend, in the meantime, had retreated to move her car so I could get out. "Wendy!" he called when she reappeared, "This is John, he's working on the bird survey, too."

"Wait...John Galluzzo?" she asked as she saw me.

"Yes," I said. She obviously knew my name from the state Breeding Bird Atlas II project, for which I'm a regional coordinator.

"This is John Galluzzo!" she said with a flourish, turning to her friend. "He's famous!"

Oh, oh my God, I'm going to faint, I thought, as all the blood in my body rushed straight to my ego. If I wasn't already sitting down, I would have needed to sit down.

210. Gardner: Lake Wampanoag Wildlife Sanctuary

Well, if the world was all painted turtles and colorful butterflies, Lake Wampanoag Wildlife Sanctuary would be the poster child for the earth. That, of course, makes no sense, but, warped by thousands of advertisements in your life like I have been, I'm sure you understand my meaning.

The fields were in their splendor, dragonflies abuzz. I walked a short loop past a small pond - Lake Wampanoag is not on the property, but nearby - and a ruby meadowhawk landed on my arm. I watched as a blue dragonfly, possibly known as the blue dasher, hopped from plant to plant. I'd been trying to photograph one for days! I froze and waited, and the moment came. Got it!

As I walked, dozens of butterflies rose from the trail just ahead of me. I walked in a flutter of wings under the smooth blue sky. It was almost too idyllic, too good to be true, but Mother Nature doesn't deal in falseness. Except when it comes to camouflage. Or a caterpillar that has spots on its tail that look like eyes to trick a predator. Or a mockingbird that can make you think you're hearing another species when it sings.

OK, Mother Nature is full of it. But how fun would life be if everything was exactly what you thought it was?

209. Ashburnham: Mid-State Trail

This was a toughee, or a tuffy, depending on your particular spelling. I found the Mid-State Trail, but was unable to crack much of it. The pathway wound into the woods next to a mobile office for a failed development project. The problem was that the trail had been neglected for far, far too long to be very passable. There was a dumpster and a big sign that said, in good old-fashioned stenciling (a lost art, if you ask me), "HIKERS WELCOME PLEASE STAY ON TRAIL." What trail?

I puttered around for a half an hour with the goldfinches, chipping sparrows and black-capped chickadees.

But something felt terribly familiar about Ashburnham. I started to remember a birding trip with a friend on which we stopped into a sub shop, grabbed sandwiches and sat down to eat in an old cemetery. I drove back to the center of town, if I remember correctly, there was a statue of...yes, there it was! Johnny Appleseed!

This time, I actually got out of the car long enough to read the sign about...The Schoolboy of 1850? Argh, foiled again!

208. Fitchburg: Flat Rock Wildlife Sanctuary

Flat Rock Wildlife Sanctuary, a Mass Audubon property, has long been on my list. It's now off the list, and on another one: places I want to visit again.

Up the trail I went. Apparently I never read the brochure. Up, up, was fantastic. I've got low-level mountain climber fever. I see a hill, I want to climb it. Having visited the Rockies this year and planning on visiting Glacier National Park, I've realized I have a limit. I hit 12,000 feet in Colorado, but watched people get out of their cars with snowboards and start hiking up to 13,000. The urge to tag along was there, but faint. Maybe it was altitude sickness.

I needn't have worried about that at Flat Rock. I soon reached the final stretch to the top, the Flat Rock Road. So cool! It's not an actual road, but a long stretch of exposed bedrock in a generally straight line that looks like a road. It leads to a spot atop the hill called "the Bald." And you can thank the sheep for all if this, I believe. Mid-19th century herders kept their sheep in places like this until they ate the plants down to the soil that blew and washed away, leaving these hills bald; they then moved to greener pastures in Ohio and environs.

But at the Bald I found what I figured had to be a pestle, a carved round depression in the rock that I imagined was used for grinding corn or other grains long, long ago. Now I'm no fancy-pants archaeologist or even some high-fallutin' big-city anthropologist, but I do have one hell of an imagination.

Heck, I thought I even smelled bread baking...

207. Lunenburg: Cowdrey Nature Center

So I strolled out of the woods of Shirley into the woods of Lunenberg. I still stand behind my decision. Had I done things in reverse, and walked the woods in the winter, I would have been spending my summer trying to walk the seashore towns, among the thousands of sun worshippers at the beaches...I shudder at the thought. Give me a quiet forest path any day, even in the height of summer.

With every stop, I'm vindicated. A gravelly brook meandered under a wooden bridge here at Cowdrey, where I was, according to the parking lot, anyway, alone. My only friends were the hermit and wood thrushes, the scarlet tanagers and a belted kingfisher working the brook.

I stopped on the Mayflower Trail while heading for Tall Timber, names which, of course, meant nothing and everything to me. I noted big chunks of overturned mushrooms in the trail, but something more. Newts! Red-spotted newts, to be specific, two of them, were munching on the mushrooms, standing over them as if protecting them like a 3-year-old with his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine toy screaming "Mine!" after he'd banged it into a table leg too many times and was told to stop or he'd lose his toy privileges. Not that I've gone through that recently.

Well, I, for one, was not going to be the one to take the mushrooms from the newts. Mangia, mi goombahs.

206. Shirley: Mulpus Brook Wildlife Management Area

I got to Shirley early, and not just for the rhyming, although I will admit that was a very big part of it. I had a wonderful day planned (on July 27).

Of course, nature had its own plans, complete with heat and humidity. Yet other factors would quickly make Mulpus Brook a forgotten adventure for me. It was overgrown, which to me was just fine. As a wildlife management area and not a state park, it was designed for heavy usage by wildlife and little impact by humans. Go to it, friends!

But with the good side of nature comes the bad. I was guarding against ticks, so wasn't worried about that, but there, in the early dawn, as the sun slipped sideways through the trees, the mosquitoes began their work. I Offed up.

But it did not matter. My hands and lower legs were exposed, but the former were slimed in bug spray and the latter were so toughened by a summer of thorns, barbs and bites that I barely felt anything down there at all any more. No, they weren't the problem. The mosquitoes were bypassing open skin and biting me directly through my shirt.

29 minutes, 58 second...29 minutes, 59 seconds...30 minutes. Bye, Shirley! I know it's not your fault.

Monday, July 25, 2011

205. Wenham: Wenham Lake and Cemetery

You just can't go to Wenham and not take a look at the lake. It's sacrilege.

Unfortunately, it's cutoff from access, so it has to be seen from afar. I started in the cemetery and moved my way across.

But the cemetery was a study unto itself, a collection of Perkinses, Conants, Peabodys, Dodges, all the names that make the North Shore famous. Wenham has done well in memorializing its fallen soldiers, firemen and policemen, and even has a stone dedicated to the town founders and "Sons of the Revolution Now Buried in Unmarked Graves."

Future historians will have no way of capturing this following tale in its entirety, but it's as much a moment as any political election or natural disaster. There, at the back of the cemetery, was the grave of a U.S. Marine at rest. He was obviously a dad, and I say that without really knowing, but the grave decorations tell me all I need to know.

In 2004, Boston Red Sox fans who watched their team win the World Series for the first time in 86 years moved en masse to local cemeteries, bringing word of the championship to their lost fathers, uncles and grandfathers, and even mothers, aunts and grandmothers. Baseball is in the New England blood. Here, though, in 2011, a whole different fan base had reason to celebrate. The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup! Bruins fans, perhaps due to the nature of the sport, are even more diehard than Red Sox fans. There, in a banner and even a puck, was a son telling a dad (again, assumptions) that their common dream had come true.

The emotion was palpable. What else would you travel to a grave to tell a lost family member? A birth, a death? The Bruins winning the Cup ranks right up there with life's most important moments.

Lake? What lake?

204. Manchester-by-the-Sea: Agassiz Rock

I guess I learned a lot about myself on this one. When presented with the choice of Big Agassiz versus Little Agassiz, I didn't even hesitate. I went big.

That meant descending from the hill on which I was walking and finding what looked like a huge slab of bedrock, although I wonder now if it was an erratic. I would hope so. I'd hate to think that one of the greatest naturalists in Massachusetts history would have lent his name to such a basic feature of the landscape. Does that make me a geo-snob? So be it.

I was much more impressed - after scaling the rest of the loop trail in the now oppressive humidity - with Little Agassiz. One problem: I couldn't tell which one it was. There were two, side-by-each, as Rhode Islanders say, ginormous erratic boulders standing atop a hill.

I swear I have no idea where this uncomfortable and unnatural love of erratic boulders comes from, but I think I need to start keeping a checklist. That, or regular appointments with a therapist.

203. Essex: Athletic Fields

I could have walked the extensive marshes in the northern part of town, but I had two reasons for avoiding them. First, I prefer them with snowy owls in them. Second, in a particularly buggy week, when deer flies and mosquitoes had already done their damage, I, in no way, wanted to add greenheads into the mix.

Instead, it was the enchantment of the old town hall and library that brought me to a halt on Main Street. What a fantastic old building! Behind it were youth athletic fields which even had tarps over the pitcher's mound and home plate, keeping them somewhat dry for upcoming games. Behind the fields were a part of the marsh system that dominates the rest of Essex. I'll bet the kids who played ball here learned how to time the onset of greenhead season.

I stopped to photograph the Civil War memorial. The base was unique, but the statue part came out of a catalogue. And why not? While practically every town needed a monument - Essex sent "186 Loyal Sons" to fight in the war, for instance - not every town could afford to commission a statue. Some entrepreneur somewhere figured out how to mass market his Union soldier sculpture and made a fortune, though I'll be there's a warehouse still full of them somewhere out in Indiana.

But it's all in the sentiment, and Essex did the right thing by their Union men.

202. Hamilton: Bradley Palmer State Park

With rain still coming down, and more thunder rocking the sky, I stuck to the main road of the state park, passing two women with the only dog I have met in 2012 that did not treat me like a milkbone.

The air had grown terribly thick, and I wondered how far the fumes would travel from the fuel truck rollover that had closed Route 1 for the weekend.

A big boom sent my heart fluttering a bit, and I considered retreating to the car, but I stuck it out. The rain, which was falling steadily but not heavily any more, had not penetrated certain places. The multiple-canopied trees along the roadway had dry spots under them, which seemed impossible. I found a couple of side trails, but refrained from taking them, unsure of how unstable the weather truly was.

On my return trip, two men stopped me and asked me if I had the key to the gate to the road on which I was walking. I must have looked official. I said no and accepted their frowns in the manner in which they were intended.

201. Topsfield: Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

Rain? Are you kidding me? The forecast had called for hot and dry today (July 23), yet here I was, standing near the Rockery in heavy rain. Eh, why fight it?

I ran into a photographer who had arrived a few minutes before me and set up shop in the one dry spot on the boardwalk. Two great blue herons flew by as we spoke, while a third stood silently in the marsh. I promised to do my best not to spook it as I walked past, and my promise held.

A green frog croaked at 8:17. I add it here only for dramatic effect.

I walked through the Rockery itself, thinking back on my research for my Mass Audubon book from years ago. Thomas Proctor, who owned the land, had paid a lot of men a lot of money over a lot of years to create this marvel, and today it's entirely enshrouded by nature, probably not his original vision for it, but who can tell with early twentieth century millionaires?

Another green frog, 8:27. The drama grew.

Thunder boomed, somewhat softly, as I retreated up the Innermost Trail, with the deer flies rhytmically tapping my head. By the time I reached the parking lot the sky had turned steel gray and was shaking its first menacingly at me.

I shook mine back. Rain wasn't going to ruin my day.

200. Bellingham: Center Cemetery

BAM! 200. Or should I say "Ding"? World of Warcraft popularized the ding as the audio symbol of level advancement in their massive multi-player online world. But "bam" feels much more forceful when reaching a milestone in the real world.

I haven't, of course. Two hundred is just a nice round number and not significant in any way to 351. It falls just short of meaning that I've walked in 4 out of every 7 towns in Massachusetts, and that I still have 3 out of those 7 to go. And they keep getting farther and farther away.

With no other open space to speak of, this tiny cemetery was it for Bellingham. I had to walk slowly.

There are a lot of Bates buried here, a name I associate strongly with the South Shore, like the famous War of 1812 keeper of Scituate Light, but they obviously moved west at some point, as there are just Bates everywhere.

Two Greek families had recently gone with the new fad, color photographs inserted into their stones. Cemeteries are getting a whole lot spookier now that the dead can gaze back at us in color, instead of in the bas-relief way they used to on occasional memorials. What picture would you choose? College graduation? Driver's license? Mug shot? Which one will I choose?

Ugh, I don't want to think about it. Besides, BAM! My day was done.


199. Holliston: Brentwood Conservation Lands

It took a while to find it, but once I stepped into the Brentwood property, I was entranced.

Sand. Why was there sand underfoot this far inland? I think I need a geology lesson, as being from the water's edge, I tend to associate sand solely with the beaches, yet here it was. I guess a refresher couldn't hurt.

The sandy section quickly gave way to a swamp that looked like it belonged in Louisiana. I felt that at any moment an ivory-billed woodpecker would soar through the trees, but that, as we know, is now impossible. Or is it? Yes, it is.

Or is it?

I spent a good solid two minutes attempting to photograph a blue dragonfly, but never got it in focus. Maybe that was the problem, as comedian Mitch Hedberg quipped about Bigfoot. Maybe it was just blurry. "There is a large, out-of-focus monster roaming the countryside," he said, "and that is extra scary to me."

Ehh, I rolled onto my final stop of the day, dragonflyless.

198. Shrewsbury: Dean Park

Decisions, decisions. Which park to choose? The first one looked nice, but the second one has the General Artemus Ward House directly across the street from it.

So call me a history slut.

The temperature had climbed well into the 90s by the time I reached Shrewsbury, and I was beginning to really feel it after three hours of walking. But the show had to go on. First things first, I photographed the house. Ward was one of those Revolutionary War heroes who survives more on a local level, partially on a regional, than national. Think of him like Henry "The Ox" Knox, though one wonders if he would have retained that nickname with the surname McGuillicuddy or Tannenbaum. History might never remember a Henry "The Ox" Patterson.

I swept past the pond and took note of a sign that said that the fountains installed therein had been the gift of residents in honor of a family member. I couldn't see any fountains and moved on. Then they erupted, shooting water into the air, a feature unique to my travels this year. I rushed back to the water's edge to photograph them, not knowing when they might quit. Well done, Shrewsbury. Bravo.

I commiserated with a camp counselor shutting down her position for the day, telling her to stay cool. It was becoming a day unfit for man or beast, or, like me, both.

197. Boylston: Wachusett Reservoir

I respect "No Trespassing" signs, and as such was ready to go elsewhere, until I found a publicly accessible section of the Wachusett Reservoir. It's a biggee, more than 4,000 acres of fresh water, all dammed up over a twelve-year period at the beginning of the twentieth century (remember that?). Some of the water seen at the reservoir will someday soon be in the stomachs of people in Boston. Weird thought.

A few small islands escaped the damming of the Nashua River, and the trees still stand thereon, although it seemed to me that the water level was quite low comparative to recent weeks. Still, it was a spectacular scape across which to gaze.

Wildlife here was nearly nonexistent, a chickadee here, a towhee there. It should be the kind of place where wildlife thrives, as the sign at the entrance to the trail showed that there were a couple dozen things you can't do when you enter the park. Of course, when read properly, the sign says thatthe following things are prohibited: not swimminig, not walking your dog, not horseback riding...

I'm not sure, but I think I was in violation of a whole mess of rules.

196. Clinton: Rauscher Farm

Big maps, easy-to-reach and read handouts, accessible parking - now this is my kind of open space.

The walk was dominated by a wide-spreading pond and today thankfully by two species of flycatchers, although I wish they'd develop more of a taste for mosquitoes. At this point in the year they almost have all of my blood. I'm trying to save the last few drops so I can play with my son from time to time, but mosquitoes apparently have no such paternal instincts. "MUST DRAIN HUMANS..."

I found a beaver-chewed tree and thought that judging by the age of the damage, there had to have been beavers here within the past decade. Then I turned the corner and was met with a massive beaver lodge, the biggest one I've ever seen in person. I mean, this thing could be rented out by a family of five unworried about getting a little wet on their summer vaca. I'm sure this one is about average, but it struck me as larger than normal.

Stepping back, I realized that there were in fact dozens of recently chewed trees, and that the beavers had been active not that long ago. Who knows what goes through their minds? I've heard stories of how someone can destroy their dams in one day, then come back the next day and see them already rebuilt. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology chose beavers as their mascot a century ago, for their industriousness in engineering; they couldn't have made a better selection.

195. Hudson: Danforth Falls

Well, if you want proof of my visit to Danforth Falls, check the police log.

I walked the trails in quietude, not even the Danforth Creek providing enough of a rush to make a noise, until I smelled smoke. It was pretty overpowering, making me wonder if there had been a recent forest fire. I reached the falls, which were not moving, and the source of the smoke, a grill.

Oh, big no-no.

I decided that when I got back to the car I would call the local fire department and tell them that it looked under control, but that there was a fire in the woods, even if it was in a backyard barbecue set-up. But then, the oddest sight I've ever seen in the woods happened upon me: a policeman in full uniform walking the trail. Seconds later, a fireman followed, also in uniform. So incongruous.

I reached the parking lot and was glad to see that despite the presence of one fire truck and two cop cars, I was not blocked in. No idea how bad the busting was, but somebody did get busted that morning.

193 and 194. Framingham and Marlborough: Raymond J. Callahan State Park

I smelled the wild raspberries before I saw them, and they brought me back to my grandfather's garden in Hingham thirty-five years ago. It's amazing what the olfactory senses can do.

The trail surprised me as it opened onto a wide open field, sloped down the side of a hill. I found a bench at the top, but bypassed it, as I was intrigued by what was in store. I took a trail to the right, and climbed a hill in Framingham. I descended and swooped down to a pond in Marlborough, all the while listening to two women ahead of me chattering incessantly. We never actually saw each other, and I doubt they even knew I was there. I hope the one on the left gets that toe looked at.

I never found the powerline referenced in a note on the fence when I came in. The sign was apologizing for the unsightly condition of the cut, apparently bushwacked back in August 2010, and promised that the plants there would regenerate. In fact, if it wasn't for powerline cuts and their landscape maintenance, several species of birds and butterflies might just give up on Massachusetts altogether. No need to apologize, if you ask me. Cutting the powerlines back provides habitat diversity and therefore wildlife diversity.

Circling the pond I found the human history I just knew had to be there, from barbed wire to stonewalls to a free standing chimney. Painted turtles slid off logs at my approach.

Of course, none of this matters in the face of milkweed beetle sex. Just can't get enough of that.

192. Natick: Hunnewell Town Forest

So anyway, back to the story. When I walked Dover-Sherborn and then double-dipped on Dover, I mistakenly skipped Natick, which I thought I had walked. So here we are at the Hunnewell Forest (on July 20). Got it?

At first, I thought, it was more wetland than forest, but then the magnificence of the tall pines struck me. I was also presented with a choice: tower, memorial or woodland loop? OK, I've had more than my fair share of water towers this year, so that was out. Nature or history?

So I set out for the memorial. I stepped past even more wetlands, marveling at the nest boxes on the water, which ran from brand new to heavily-used. At one point I paused to pay homage to an unborn robin, finding a striking blue egg on the ground, in the heart of the trail. A wood duck blasted out of the reeds with its wistful cry. Who said nature and history don't mix?

I found the memorial and snapped a pic, to join the hundreds I've taken of other similar stones in the past. Thank heavens for digital storage. I do have to admit, though, that Hunnewell certainly sounds like my kind of guy, a man who strove to enrich his hometown with "the beauty of trees and the spaciousness of parks."

See? Moe Howard was right. The big solution to life? "Spread out!"

191. Ashland: Ashland State Park

The sign up front said it all. The state couldn't afford to staff the park. Pride? gone.

A group - two moms and a bevy of kids - walked ahead of me in bathing suits, so I knew the pond I saw on the map wouldn't have much wildlife on it, which was just fine. I'm, certainly learning the distinction between "state park" and "state forest" in Massachusetts as I walk it from end to end.

The main road into the park, which was cut off from the start, leads to two completely unused parking lots, a damn shame considering the temperature and the relief the pond could provide. Perhaps the state should consider how much less electricity is consumed when options like this one are utilized rather than air conditioning, and figure that into the budget. But I'm not going to bang my head against that wall any more than I just have.

At the lake there was light activity, a man walking two yellow labs, a father teaching his son to cast his fishing line, and a handful of swimmers, soon joined by my fellow walkers. I found a shady area overlooking the pond, and took advantage of it. Four hours of walking had scorched me, physically, but invigorated me spiritually. Time for a break. I was off to downeast Maine for the next four days. Hmm, Half an Hour a Day Across the Pine Tree State: 433 Towns in 365 Days...better start at the northern border. Don't want to be up there when the snow flies. No suh, don't want that.

190. Hopkinton: Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary

The drive into the parking lot, between two about-one-car-width-apart trees reminded me of walking the Polar Caves in New Hampshire as a kid, squeezing through sets of rocks that never intended for human intervention.

From there, I hit the buggy trail, and by that I don't mean horse-and, but swat-and-run-as-fast-as-you-can buggy. I took the Pitch Pine Trail for starters, which was probably a mistake, but eventually popped out onto a body of freshwater to a familiar sound: ospreys.

I've become quite used to the sounds of ospreys defending their territories over the past few years, and though I was several hundred feet from their nest, they wanted me to know I was too close for their comfort.

But look at that! The nest was not on a manmade platform. For the first time ever, I was looking directly at an osprey nest built on a dead tree, as nature intended. To me, this symbolized a triumphant moment in the life of the osprey in Massachusetts. Nearly extirpated during the 1960s and '70s, here was a pair that had foregone human help, had not even chosen a cell tower, but instead selected what their great-great-great-grandparents had chosen ages ago, a prime real estate spot in a completely natural setting.

For one brief moment, I was universally proud of the Bay State.

189. Upton: Upton State Forest

I've been boxed.

I love boxer puppies. Young dogs, in general, are full of so much spunk that it's hard for me to dislike any of them, but I'm definitely not into the little nervous yippy types. An old friend had two boxers, and I had a fantastic time walking and taking care of them from time to time.

But they come with a punch. Boxer pups have a tendency to stand on their hind legs and jab a paw directly into your midsection (if you're lucky), and if you're not braced for it, man, do you feel it. One such creature happily and slobberingly charged me on the CCC road at Upton State Forest, and although I knew it was coming I stood there and took the jabbing. OOF! Ah, that brings back memories...

Apart from the obvious and ubiquitous Civilian Conservation Corps history, I found stonewalls and cellar holes. The more that I do, all across Massachusetts, the more I want to travel back in time to see the homes that once stood in these woods. Maybe it's the constant chomp of the research bug, but I always yearn to know more every time I see stones piled up in unnatural ways.

Come on science, get with the program and get the time machine done! After all, it's been more than a century since H.G. Wells came up with it. On second thought, I think I could become obsessed with it, and might never spend much time in the present. My wife would constantly be telling people, "Sorry, he's not here - he's in 9th century England watching Alfred the Great fight off the Danish invasions. But I'm sure he'll be back before he leaves for the Renaissance."

188. Milford: Upper Charles Trail

Sometimes it's nice to just stare straight ahead at a wide open trail and hoof it.

And I did just that until I came across an opening to a small section of woods...sigh. I just couldn't help myself. The Centennial Park diversion from the trail was certainly interesting, with lots of wildlife and infrastructure to draw water from the river for town purposes. A dozen chimney swifts loomed overhead, most of them youngsters, chittering away behind mom and dad in search of food.

Back on the main trail, I passed more roller bladers than I had seen in years. I, once, was a member of that fraternity. But my hometown, Hull, was so sandy, that it was a cost-intensive proposition. Sand and ball bearings aren't supposed to mix, but they do.

As I neared my turn back into the parking lot, I noticed a bald man with a saggy, shirtless body pumping the pedals on an old bike that looked like all it was missing was a handlebar basket, and I thought to myself, "Oops, should get out of the way so the old-timer can come through." But when he turned the corner, he stood up on those pedals and blasted past me with a brisk "Good morning!" I recognized the tats on his forearms and knew: ex-military. That discipline never goes away.

187. Hopedale: Hopedale Parklands

A kayak class was forming as I set foot on the trail, in the shadow of the giant factory for which the river had been damned to form the pond that now shines as the centerpiece of the Hopedale Parklands.

Other than that, it was pretty quiet, just how I like it. I shared the start of the trail with a woman with a very small dog, knowing I'd most likely see her again on my way out. I walked along the water as closely as I could, which meant that at one point I diverted from the old macadam road that probably came with the dedication of the park more than a century ago. I also found the stone dedicating the nature trails to Willard W. Taft, "For his many years of dedication in preserving this special landscape for the enjoyment of all." An appropriate quote from Henry David Thoreau followed: "If the fairest features of the landscape are to be named after men, let them be the noblest and worthiest men alone." Sadly, he probably meant men, specifically. When asked about his friend and fellow writer Margaret Fuller, he once replied that she was an amazing woman, she almost had the intellect of a man.

I stopped on the macadam on the way back when the tiniest of critters, even smaller than my co-walker's dog, caught my eye. A miniscule wood frog hopped once, then posed for my camera, wether it knew it or not.

Gotcha, froggy!

186. Mendon: Veterans Park

I find it hard to believe I visited Mendon, New York, before Mendon, Massachusetts, yet here we are.

Veterans Park is one of those multi-use green blobs, playground, sports fields and short walk through the woods all rolled into one. Thankfully no baseball was being played today, due to the excessive heat. I remember those days as a kid in my Corkin Lumber uniform for the Hull Little League. Sure, the Alice blue uniforms reflected most of the sunlight, but there was nothing like baking on a hard dirt surface for two hours while your pitcher struggled to throw strikes, and there were perfectly good episodes of Hulk Hogan's Rock'n' Wrestling and Dungeons & Dragons on TV, not to mention a perfectly cool ocean two blocks away.

The local killdeers had taken to the field, despite the heat. It looked like mom was playing second base while the kids overloaded the left side of the infield. They could never defend against a bunt that way, but who's counting.

In the woods, I found (well, a baseball, which I high-tossed back to the field) the answer to a question that has always bothered me. It's beetles! I found several sassafras trees with pockmarked holes on their leaves, and found two Japanese beetles munching away. I remember now that my dad had a coffee can with a little bit of kerosene in it in the garage, into which he dropped them to kill them after picking them off plants in the garden. Talk about invasive species. They came in around 1912 in Riverton, New Jersey, and have since spread from Minnesota to Florida to Maine.

Persistent little buggers.

185. Millville: Millville Lock

And when your town is named Millville, well, I guess there's no escaping that past either.

My planned green-blob-on-the-map visit fell through as I could find no access to the parcel I had chosen. Instead, I followed signs to historic sites, figuring that if all else failed, I'd walk downtown Millville. That's when I tripped over the Millville Lock.

At least I found the entrance to the trail to main trail that leads to the spur trail to the lock. But do you think that I could find the lock itself? Grr...

And it's a damn shame that I couldn't. It has statistics. I dig historical stats. Of the 49 locks that once defined the Blackstone River, this one is the best preserved, or so they tell me. Looking at the map now, I see that I apparently walked right past the spur trail off the old railroad bed on which I trod for nearly an hour.

Perspective time. There are a lot of bad things happening in the world right now, and me not being able to embrace a bit of history is not one of them.

Serenity now! I'll go back someday.

184. Blackstone: Blackstone Gorge

Living on the South Shore for most of my life, I was shielded from the harsher realities of life. Let's face it, when you grow up in Hull you think hard work is defined by how many times you have to run the carousel during the day or how many cotton candy cones you have to spin. That's not to discount the work the lobstermen do, or the firefighters or the Coast Guard, but Hull was just never a great center of manufacturing. It never went through the Industrial Revolution mill phase that many other towns did.

Blackstone was all mills, even before its incorporation in 1845. The grandest evidence of its heyday stands today in the form of the Blackstone, Roaring or Rolling Dam, constructed in 1886 to harness the power of nature for the betterment of society, or at least the financial benefit of the Blackstone Manufacturing Company.

The path from the dam leads to a gorge. Following the trail, suddenly the walker finds himself 100 feet above the water, a neat trick. As I walked, it was strangely silent. On a beautiful day like this (July 13), in a gorgeous natural setting like this, there should have been birdsong...

Finally, I found the gang, cardinals, titmice, chickadees, blue jays, red-eyed vireos, even a wood thrush. I also found the spot from whicgh the recent Fourth of July fireworks had been launched, and probably the Fifth of July and the Sixth of July as well. Independence rocks on in the American soul, as does the desire to hear things go "boom."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

183. Norwood: Highland Cemetery and Shattuck Woods

I'd really have to have a low opinion of you to think I could honestly tell you I walked for a full half hour in Shattuck Woods. But I think more of you than that.

I walked it, for certain, but it lasted a few mere minutes. I knew I had to extend my stay in Norwood, and so took to the neighboring cemetery.

And what a place it is! There'a s burial chapel with stained glass, gargoyles and a plaque that mentions that it was dedicated in MDCCCCIIII, which was...a wicked long time ago. There's a beautiful memorial - if you can find beauty in ancient artillery - to the men of Company I, 35th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. As with many towns in Massachusetts, the post-Civil War years were supremely important to the history of Norwood, or as it was known until 1872, South Dedham.

Work crews were spread throughout the cemetery, cutting grass in the bright, blazing sunshine. I kept them at a distance, in my ongoing quest for noise mitigation, and enjoyed the shadier trees whenever I could. All in all, the cemetery was impressive, from its war memorials to its civil servants' memorials to its intriguing names, like Olmsted. It may not have been the Olmsted, but fame by association can be a cool thing.

Oops! Dover: Noanet Woods

Well, it was bound to happen. When you have to coordinate 351 towns, 351 spots on a map, 351 open spaces, there's at least a slight chance that even the brightest mind will mistakenly double-up on a community. So imagine how easy it was for me to do it.

But in my defense, it's my friend Joy's fault. She works at the Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, which is in Dover, Sherborn and Natick. When I walked there...whenever the hell that was...I walked two of the three towns, Dover and Sherborn. Although I recorded all of that in a blog entry soon thereafter, in my head - that dark, dank, scary place, full of roller coasters, 1970s television commercial jingles, M*A*S*H quotes, century-old baseball statistics, Mike Tyson's Punchout codes...I could go on - I had walked Natick and Sherborn. So I walked Dover again. I have no idea why it's Joy's fault, but you have to blame somebody. It's the American way.

Well, it was fun anyway. There were grand old wooden farm gates, a beautiful walk to the crest of mighty Noanet Peak (387 feet - about a tenth of Greylock!) and strange black feathers with white circles on them on the trail. There was an odd screaming at one point, and I finally realized I had stumbled upon helmeted guinea fowl, which completely explained the feathers.

Back to work.

182. Walpole: Walpole Town Forest

Eww, dead raccoon.

I stepped past it (on July 6) and rolled into the forest. Actually, I rolled through a short section of woods and into a big open area with a path leading directly to a reservoir. The main path was manmade, but it was pretty obvious that deer had made the rest. And where there are deer, there are deer ticks. I found out just how uncomfortable it is to walk through tall grass while constantly looking at your shins.

The woods were nearby, but I decided to stick to the open grasslands and the view of the water. A mother and father mute swan were herding their only cygnet - probably a sign of snapping turtles, perhaps some local coyotes, as swans produce much larger broods - while a gray catbird resonated in the woods with an eerie echo. Typically, the catbirds I meet are in my face, a few feet away in the thickets, and don't get the chance to play with things like reverberation, at least in my ears.

Other, closer, sounds, though, had my attention, as buzzing insects dominated the grasses around me. Oddly, I couldn't see any of them. That pleasure was left solely to the dragonflies, which were out in force in the bright sunshine.

As was I...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Aww Yeah...

181. Burlington: Mill Pond

I was starting to get a little worried that I'd have to write about frogs again. I don't want this to turn into a Frog Blog. Or do I...

I found another good one while on the main trail into Mill Pond (on June 29) , took another pic, and kept moving. Soon, though, the stories started to unfold: the powerline, the pond, the four guys, two girls, a radio and a rope swing.

I heard the voices first - after hearing the yellow-billed cuckoo calling from the trees, of course - and was unsure of what I would be stumbling upon. After the chatter came the splash, and it was a good one. I found a break in the treeline and watched as one after another the kids climbed onto a sawhorse well up the little island, held on for dear life, timed their releases and crashed into the cool water. Good for them. And it wasn't the least bit obnoxious, which was amazing. Imagine that - music kept low, just enjoying the outdoors, with a touch of daredeviltry.

My next encounter was with a garter snake. Typically when I run across them, they slither away and keep going. This guy, maybe a foot and a half long, turned and tried to take me on, staring me down and flicking its tongue angrily. I had no beef. I moved on.

180. Easthampton: Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary

I'll admit it, I stumbled to this finish line. More than once during the trip, I found that extra reserve of energy, the one that propelled me over yet another finish line. But this was nearly my fortieth sanctuary visit in three days. I was cooked.

I let the mosquitoes have at me as I walked the trail to my favorite overlook on the oxbow, the tower that shows the heights of the historical floods of the region. This is another place I know too well for the purposes of this blog. I know the story of the land owner who experimented with bird boxes on his property, inviting outside guests to visit his land an experience the wonder of nature. I know how he sold it to Mr. Chafee, who wanted to turn it over to Mass Audubon in honor of his son, dead at a tragically young age. I know about the old tobacco barns, the corduroy road, the raccoon that raised her young in that very observation tower overlooking the marsh.

When I emerged from the trails, drenched in mid-day humidity sweat, Mt. Tom stared me down. "Come on, you know you wanna!" it teased, "I'm in another town, one you haven't walked this year." It wasn't easy, but I blew it off with a quick turn of my head.

I'll get you, Mt. Tom. I'll get you if it's the last thing I do.

179. Westhampton: Lynes Wildlife Sanctuary

With about an hour of walking left in me for the day, I visited Westhampton and Easthampton. You know, the Hamptons.

After I walked here at Lynes, I met a friend of the donor who gave the land to Mass Audubon who said that the former owners believed there were places on the sanctuary where no human being had ever walked. I could see that, with dense swamps that held no attraction for any man. But, I thought, one must be careful with such thoughts. For a millenium, at least, man has walked this land. And man has many reasons to run and hide, from animals and other human beings. A deterrant swamp might be just the perfect hiding place.

My walk today would be a tough one, as the trails here had not yet been plowed down or cut back. The first field, in particular, was almost impassable because I simply couldn't see the trail. Luckily, someone recently through - and that last someone may have been on a horse, judging by the droppings - had placed a marker at the first main intersection, giving me guidance.

Not far beyond that, I was looking at a wildflower when I noticed a purely white spider crawling on it. It ducked underneath a petal when it sensed me, but I partially caught it with my camera before I moved on. I don't know enough about arachnids to be either scared or not, but I was smart enough to know not to mess with it.

I entered the woods and was about to emerge onto another old field when I heard...wait, could it be?, that couldn't be right. It's an endangered species, extremely rare. There's just no way, although the habitat is perfect...

178. Huntington: Huntington State Forest

Another dirt road, another metal state forest gate, another immersion into the wonderful woods of western Mass. I figure if I'm not tired of it by now, I never will be.

The most interesting facet of this particular state forest, though, had to do with what was just outside of it. A stoic old farm building, in deep-shaded shingles, stood guard over the entrance. Standing alone, it was in an era all its own, a sight unlike anything I had ever seen.

I could see the old farmer with a horse drawn wagon, driving it over the craggy road. I could see him in the woods with a saw and perhaps a son or a farmhand, taking down a tree to be cut up for firewood, to heat the old building in winter.

I could see his wife in her apron, and his granddaughters running in the yard among the dandelions, very Little House on the Prairie-ish, I guess. But it's all there in my mind.

My last thought here was about the state and its overreaching conservation plans. Is this it for this forest? No signage, no real trail maintenance? I know, from working with the state in the past as the head of a nonprofit "Friends" group that Massachusetts has more land than it can currently deal with. I hope it's not always the case. I hope this land is forever protected in Huntington.

177. Middlefield: Glendale Falls

The smell of the stream hit me square in the face. It probably was more the smell of the stagnant pools that formed off to the sides of the Glendale Falls, but it certainly reminded me of every pond and stream I'd ever had the privilege of getting to know in Massachusetts. It evoked primal memories, physical more than mental.

But it was hard to focus on anything not moving in the din of the falling water. And it made me backtrack a bit, to the top of the trail, where the water was still in stream mode and not falls mode. It was a little mindbending to consider that the sam water that was trickling along here just a few feet down the trail would roar, simply by the addition of a touch more gravitational pull.

It made sense. I'd make a lot more noise if I suddenly started to fall off the side of a hill.

There was a single couple here to enjoy this moment with me, New Yorkers. The guy had a mustache, but didn't seem like a mustache guy. I had to look for a few seconds to try and figure out what he would look like without it. I shook my head to clear it like an Etch-A-Sketch and went back to the falls.

176. Peru: Dorothy Frances Rice Sanctuary

If ever I saw moose country, this was it. Yet I did not see a moose. I did, though, have a perfect viewing of a white admiral butterfly, and unlike my earlier encounter on the trip, this time my camera was at the ready.

Technically, I had already seen and photographed this butterfly earlier this year under its other guise, the red-spotted purple. Oddly, the Limenitis arthemis has two widely variant forms, one without the white band, one with. Now I can claim both for 2011.

I took the main trail into the sanctuary and swatted at the mass of deer flies that slurped and salivated at my arrival. There was no doubt I was still in Berkshire County, as the bird sounds were all the same, but something in the air was different. Perhaps I had lost a base altitude, or perhaps it was simply delusionality on my part. Either way, one fact was definitely true. As I walked back off the trail past the same butterfly still clinging to the same plant on which I had left it thirty minutes earlier next to the pond, about ten feet from the dead meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) in the center of the trail, I had finished another county's worth of walking for 2011.

Berkshire County - Galluzzo out.

175. Windsor: Windsor State Forest

For all intents and purposes, not to mention intensive porpoises, I was at the halfway point of the year when I emerged from Windsor State Forest.


I would officially be there fifteen minutes into my next walk, but that number 175 was a blessing to see on my list. It would all be downhill from here.

Now, the question is, do I really have enough stories in me to keep you interested for another 175 journal entries? The challenge is on. So here's one for you.

As I stood staring at the particular wildflower shown here, I realized that I was probably staring at a math lesson. There is a peculiar growth pattern in nature that affects not only flowers but seashells, broken down by the concept of Fibonacci numbers.

Take a line and divide it at the point where the ratio of the whole to the greater portion is equal to the ratio of the greater portion to the smaller, and you have the Golden Ratio, or Phi, or about 1.6. Now imagine you've got a rectangle using the same theory. Draw a line across the width of the rectangle at that point, and you have another perfectly Phi-primed rectangle. Draw a line where the Golden Ratio manifests itself in that smaller rectangle, and you start to get a spiraling effect.

That effect is exactly what you see in this picture. The Golden Ratio, a number that has baffled mathematicians, historians and scientists alike for millenia, arises naturally in the woods and on the beaches.

Did that do it? Onto the next lesson, class.

174. Hinsdale: Ashmere Lake State Park

Are you kidding me? Of all the things I expected to see in Hinsdale - to be honest, a small list as I barely knew anything about the place before I arrived - an osprey was on the absolute bottom rung of the ladder.

This is not me just being a coast-dwelling chauvinist pig. I know for a fact that ospreys are everywhere, on all continents save for Antarctica (and who could blame them), but the Massachusetts story is well documented. Practically extirpated during the Silent Spring era, when our free and rampant use of chemicals that escaped into the landscape was driving them to extinction, ospreys clung to a Massachusetts in the Westport area. A champion, Gil Fernandez, rose and began building nesting platforms for the birds, and soon they were on their way back. In fact, on June 30 and July 1 I would be visiting about a dozen nests on the South Shore in order to help band this year's youngsters. Ospreys are here and thriving, a true success story in the face of overwhelming odds, given an assist by human hands.

But Hinsdale? In my mind, it was far too west. Yes, I had seen them in central New York State, but it didn't click that I might find them in between there and the coast. But I did, and gleefully so.

173. Dalton: Wahconah Falls State Park

Berkshire County, Day Three, June 28. Twenty-eight towns down, four to go. I'd be done before lunchtime. And that meant I could do some more damage to the map as well, as I could split the long ride home into shorter treks with interspersed walks along the way east.

I'm glad to say that I'm not the type that gets tired of waterfalls. Each year I lead a trip to the Finger Lakes that features two visits to falls. Whenever I visit the Poconos, I take in my favorites on my way through the Delaware Water Gap. And now, heading west across Massachusetts, I've got a punch list of favorites just within the Bay State.

There's not much more for me to say about them, though, that I haven't said before. I'm silenced by them, which is just a Pisces thing. Put us near running water of any kind and we get all dreamy and wussy. Maybe it's the inner fish pining for release and return to the wild. Whatever it is, it's internally reactionary, nothing I can control.

In all, Dalton wasn't a bad way to start the day.

171. & 172. Florida and Savoy: Savoy Mountain State Forest

The sunblock had worked, that was for sure, and the bug spray I had added on top of it had certainly done its job as well. Luckily I didn't need to talk to any more people for the next day or so, as I don't think I'd have been very good-smelling company.

But, as Emilia said in Othello, that 'tis neither here nor there.

I was surprised to find bathers in North Pond when I arrived in the northwest corner of Savoy Mountain State Forest, but they, like me, were wrapping up their day. It wasn't quite time to start listening for owls, but it was late by swimming standards and the sun was giving up its struggle against the horizon, as it does every single day. Quitter.

As they moved on, so did I, to other parts of the forest, down dirt roads into deep woods and finding an odd grassland near the top of the mountain. A Cooper's hawk flew out from the field, one of the few, rare raptors I had seen in the Berkshires, a complete surprise to me. A raven, though, did add its spookiness to the surroundings. They always seem to be just distant enough to be background noise, like in a suspense film from the 1950s.

I wound down the mountain, then wound down in general. It was a remarkable day, and I had just a few towns to go before I'd finish Berkshire County for the year. A good night's rest would be unavoidable, and I was thankful for that.

170. Clarksburg: Clarksburg State Park

In one of my few human interactions of my Berkshire County trip, I met two young men working on Mauserts Pond. From what the park ranger had told me, there was an issue with invasives in the pond, caused by Canada geese. He said there was "removal" going on, and I wanted to see it.

The pond is obviously a beach-type oasis in summer, but late on a Monday afternoon there wasn't bound to be much activity.

The pond itself averages only six feet in depth, with an eight-foot deep trench running through it at one point, and that can be a problem. If an invasive plant species gloms on to the pond floor, where sunlight easily reaches, it quickly can spread. Such an event can easily occur when a bird species flies from one place and drops the seeds in the new place. If the conditions are right, it spreads like Skippy peanut butter on a nice slice of Wonder Bread. Yum!

Sorry, all this walking has me hungry.

I asked the guys working on the pond what they were removing, and they said they didn't know. They just were removing, and that was just fine. The pond obviously needed a fresh start, and they were giving it the chance to be natural again. They boarded their sidewheel barges, dropped their rakes and hit the next section.

Which was exactly what I needed to do, make one more stop before declaring it a successful day.

165, 166, 167, 168, & 169: Adams, North Adams, Cheshire, Williamstown, and New Ashford: Mt. Greylock State Park

Well, the time had come. Despite creeping fatigue, a tiring back, weakening quads and mental droopage, to coin my own new term, it was time to scale Greylock. I had about three hours and wanted to be true to my plan - a half an hour in each town - so I picked my trails accordingly.

That didn't matter one damn bit. This whole place was outrageously beautiful. I found plenty that made me smile, but only one thing that made me laugh out loud, a sign that said "Entering War Memorial Area - No Firearms."

I found the white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos I'd lost at the end of winter in eastern Mass. Most fly north, some just fly up, right up the sides of mountains in western Mass. For some it's not a latitude thing, but an altitude thing.

I found the story of the CCC boys told once again, this time in the main road running across the spine of the mountain, and I resolved then and there that someday I would do more for them, after all they've done for me. Their legacy of open space creation in Massachusetts is unparalleled. Here I am eighty years later enjoying the fruits of their work, and until I started this project, I didn't even know it.

I found that when I reached the pinnacle and the state's war memorial, I was not alone. It was slightly jolting to see how many cars were at the top, after having passed but a handful of people on the various trails. This had happened to me before. I took a young woman to see the Anne of Green Gables historic site on Prince Edward Island, leaving forlornly desolate roads to find a parking lot overflowing with Japanese tourists. How did they all get there?

Three hours wasn't enough, and I made myself late for my last few rounds of the day, but as you probably know by now, it didn't bother me in the slightest. I'll always have time for the next adventure.