Monday, August 15, 2011

223 & 224. Andover and North Andover: Harold Parker State Forest

I still don't think I truly know what all the sounds are that comes from the trees in Massachusetts in summer. There's a single daytime sound that you can't miss that I guess I've just taken for granted. It's a long, metallic buzz that has a slightly musical quality to it. It rings out loud and proud.

I was always told that it was a beetle. More specifically, I was told that it was a beetle burning in the heat. Like so much else about the natural world in my youth, I socked that info away into the deep, dark recesses of my mind and just let it fester, right next to the cobwebs and the pictures of girls in bikinis that take up most of my brain matter.

Yet here it was again in Andover and North Andvor, a full hour of it playing over the sound of a single eastern wood-pewee. My mind dropped the bikinis for a second (haha) and came out of its fog long enough to take note, and get frustrated. What? Me, not know something? Impossible!

I will get to the bottom of this, if it's the last thing I do.

222. Middleton: Aunt Betts Pond

Lush, lush, lush (the boys are mar-ching!). Wow, is the world green right now.

Aunt Betts Pond was a tough nut to crack. From what I could see it used to be an open pond, but has closed in. At least to the naked eye looking at it sideways, which is the least optimal way to see a pond - it's like looking at a flat piece of paper at table level - it was hard to discern.

But that just meant that there was a lot going on there nature-wise, and you know my vote on that. Leave the dead trees be; the woodpeckers will love them. Let them fall when their time comes for the insects and mushrooms to eat. Let the thickets grow fat with catbirds! May you always be surrounded by house wrens, and may the forest be with you.

I walked the access road along Aunt Betts Pond, my head turned to the right. I was passed by a man on a scooter with a teddy bear, or vice versa, I'm not sure. I found the remains of old walls - wouldn't an archaeological map of post-1620 structures in Massachusetts be just so cool? - and let my mind play in the playground of history.

221: Danvers: Proctor Farm

I started to worry a bit on my way to the main field of Proctor Farm. The pathway to it is a nightmare of phragmites, but saved by the presence of boardwalks, bridges and a neat little picnic area unexpectedly tucked into the woods.

It was the lack of color. After spending a week in Montana, I was used to the bright yellows of the glacier lilies, but then, the brief Montana spring was just beginning in late July. The colors of the woodland plants were just gone in Massachusetts. I had made a trade-off, a little Massachusetts for a little Montana.

But once in the field, it all came back to me; to find the color in Massachusetts in August, you have to go to the fields. There was the jewelweed, the Joe pye-weed, the milkweed. I felt better as I entered the woods on the far side of the field, squeezed through the trees to meet the witch hazel, the sassafras and the stonewalls once again. And the slug. We cannot forget the small yellow slug that stopped me at the bridge like a troll waiting for a bribe. I left a $50 bill and moved on.

And if you believe that...

220. Beverly: Sally Milligan Park

Hmm, I thought to myself, it seems all just a little too easy. And perhaps it was.

The water spots at Sally Milligan just seemed to me to be too...formalized, like perhaps someone had dug them purposely as wayside attractions. Not that there's anything wrong with that - some of my best friends are way too formalized.

After thinking through that one, I bitch-slapped myself. If that's my biggest problem today, a gorgeous summer's day on the North Shore of Boston, then I needed a dose of reallity, 500 ccs, please, and stat.

This place was a home to rocks and dells, to trees and mud, apparently to some kids that liked to make false houses in the woods. Bring it on! Let's not lose touch with our inner cavemen. Embrace the earth, sometimes literally if you have to to get the point.

Sally never walked here, but that's not unusual. There are plenty of places in Massachusetts named for people who never saw them. It's the spirit that counts. Sally walked the woods of the Berkshires as a kid, and went west to the Ohio Valley from there. She knew what it was all about, and hopefully her spirit is sharing that knowledge today with the kids of Beverly.

219. Salem: Salem Willows

Wow, it's been so long since I really thought about weeping willow trees. I see them every year in their splendor on the Finger Lakes in New York, but seem to overlook them here at home in Massachusetts. Well, not today (August 10).

There was my youth, standing right in front of me. We had a weeping willow, right in my backyard in Hull. It was everything - shade, a place to build forts, hang pinatas, and most importantly, it was second base. The roots were, anyway. And any ball hit into the tree was in play. We - Charlie, Danny, Jimmy and I, the longstanding executive committee members of the Backyard Baseball League (with occasional appearances by J.P., Mark and others), became experts at tracking tennis balls smacked into the upper branches, and catching them before they hit the ground. Freddie Lynn (you're still my hero!), eat your heart out.

But Hurricane Gloria took that all away in 1985, when I was just fourteen, and at the height of what should have been my wiffle-ball-bat-and-tennis-ball stardom. I slowly forgot about weeping willows.

But this place today, it brought it all back. I remember a rumor from my youth, that a ship carrying the seeds of the weeping willow trees wrecked off Boston, and cast the seeds ashore, where they planted themselves and gave us places like Salem Willows. Of course, I later heard the same legend about rosa rugosa. Whether it's true or not, it's a beautiful story. Of the spread of invasive species!

Turning the Corner for Home