Monday, March 19, 2012

In Memory



My father, Robert Francis Galluzzo, passed away on January 2, 2012, at just 64 years old. He was my hero. I will forever love you, dad.

351. Hardwick: Patrill Hollow Preserve


And so it came to this: when you start in Dighton, you end in Hardwick. That's just the way it goes.

On the 341st day of the year, I hit the 351st town, and I just let it fly. The rain was coming down in buckets. I got lost on the trails, but I didn't care. At one point, I found my way out of the woods only to find an unfamiliar road. I ducked back in, laughing. I walked and walked and walked. I eventually found my car.

Back when I had taken my last steps in my 2009 project, in which I walked every single day of the year for at least a half an hour (save for 5 days with pneumonia in October), I realized that when people said to me, "Do you remember that day back in 2009...?" I could inevitably say, "Sure, I remember it well. I went for a walk that day."

Now, just short of two years later, if someone said to me, "Well, I'm from a little town out in central Massachusetts, you've probably never heard of it," I could honestly say, "I'll bet I have."

The sadness of it all, of course, was that I was reching a personal goal that I wanted to share with my dad, but he couldn't hear me. I wanted to let him know that I had struck a chord for open space. I'd set out to prove that no matter where you lived in Massachusetts, a nature walk, or a nature experience was not that far away. But he was still clinging to life, and there was still hope. Maybe someday I'd be able to tell him.

I looked south to Rhode Island and wondered. There were only 39 towns in that state, and I had three weeks. I'd already walked New Shoreham. Thirty-eight towns? That was a long weekend for me. But I wanted to be ready to fly to my dad's side at a moment's notice, and decided to hold off.

In the meantime, eight words would ring through my head: "I came, I saw, I kicked its Mass!"

Final Interlude: The Towns Massachusetts Forgot



Before I could get there, I had one stop left.

Back in the 1930s, Massachusetts gave up on four towns, for the sake of the rest. The Swift River Valley towns - Dana, Enfield, Prescott and Greenwich - were flooded to create a vast drinking water reservoir, purported to hold 412 billion gallons of water. There were villages as well, seen by some historians as parts of the towns, by others as independent communities. Yet, whatever they were, they are no more.

Houses were moved, less important buildings destroyed in place. The flood waters rushed in and took the towns, and their physical history. From a plane, if one looks closely, roadways can still be seen beneath the water's surface.

But the most sacred items of all, the bodies of the residents of the communities who had gone before, were not left behind. I walked among them in their "new" cemetery, on land just outside the main entrance to the reservation.

I wanted to ask them about their hometowns, the four Massachusetts towns I could not walk.

349, 350: Belchertown and Ware: Quabbin



And so on my final day I finally reached the Quabbin Reservoir. It was funny how it went. I started in the east, finished in the middle. Who'da thunk it.

The Quabbin turned out to be a vast playground I wished I had seen before, that whole college days thing again. Oh, in the past, I'd gone birding with a friend through some of the famed gates, but I had never driven the main roads through the reservation. I'd never seen the monuments. Never visited the tower.

I spent more than its share of allotted time, and why the hell not? It was mid-morning, and ambition aside, I had only one town to go when I was done. I could spend hours if I wanted to. It was an interesting, unfamiliar thought.

I walked trails, I stopped at the spillway. I climbed Quabbin Hill to find American tree sparrows. Amazing, on the final day of the project, I was still finding new species of birds for my list. I stood at the Enfield Overlook and thought about what had been lost.

And I realized I had one town left.

348. Palmer: Burleigh Park



Onto brigther thoughts, despite the weather. I was the only person at Burleigh Park, unsurprisingly. I'll bet, though, that in the right weather, in the right season, this place rocks with human activity.

There was a baseball field, and there were horseshoe pits. The road at the far end had been completely blocked by downed trees, but I could see juncos and sparrows hopping around inside the new digs. A shelter sported a totem, and from there I wandered up a trail into the woods, along a brook. Blue jays heralded my appearance.

Back by the main entrance, I checked my olfactory senses again. Did I really smell apple cider when I first walked in? I thought, in the tangle, I could see apple trees, so yes, what I was picking up was fermenting apples, like an apple vinegar.

I've smelled worse, both personally and with my nose.

347. Brimfield: Brimfield State Forest



I hit Brimfield, and was blown away, no pun intended. I drove down a road into the state forest and finally saw what was taking so long. Holy crap.

There weren't just trees down, there were forests down. Entire communitoes of trees had been mowed down by the storms earlier in the year. I had stood in the aftermaths of two major forest fires, one in Montana, one in California, but I had never seen anything like this scene. Perhaps it was a factor of the season. In both previous instances, I had seen the areas at least one spring into the future. Life was greening, the forests were regenerating. But here, in the rain, mist and fog, a few months removed from the damaging wainds, all was gray.

I rode out to Dean Pond through another such meteorological battlefield. Hills were bald. A single house stood in the midst of a complete blowdown. How the hell did it survive? Where did the mammals, the amphibians, the birds, the butterflies go?

346. Warren: Pine Grove Cemetery



This was it, the final day. I was about to make personal history. And, of course, it was raining. Why not? Why break with tradition?

I started in the Pine Grove and St.Paul's Cemeteries in Warren (on December 7), taking note of the many large branches that had come down across the burial grounds. They were the final vestigaes of the storms that had hit western Mass, a theme I'd been running into for months.

I got to thinking about the stones and sometimes columns I was seeing throughout the graveyards. It finally struck me that capitalism never dies. It continues into death, where those who can afford to be are buried under markers taller than the people who were beneath them in economic standing in life.

One final time, during this, the 150th anniversary of teh Civil War, I looked for Grand Army men, and found Oliver, Almon and W.L. Switzer. I thanked them, waved goodbye, and rolled on.

345. Whately: Great Swamp Wildlife Management Area



With the sky still brooding in a steel gray, having forgotten that sunny breakthrough in Sunderland so many hours ago, I meandered down into the Great Swamp Wildlife Management Area, or, should I say, right to its very edge.

A hawk called above, of the red-shouldered variety. I had become an expert on their vocalizations during my atlasing trips into Bristol County during the past few years. But below me, at the level of my feet as I climbed down the slope, I could see smaller birds, moving in and out of the thickety growth.

They were juncos, of the dark-eyed variety, a harbinger of winter if there ever was one, for Massachusetts' lower elevations. It was, after all, December 6.

Six. The number had huge meaning at that moment, for it was the number of towns I had left to conquer.

344. Ashfield: Chapel Brook Reservation



I read a sign on my way to Chapel Brook that stated that since the 1970s, the bear population in this part of Massachusetts had gone from 100 to 3000. If that's not evidence of returning forests, I'll steal a pic-a-nic basket and cause fits for Ranger Smith.

Of course, once I reached the falls, I was speechless. The last smart-alecky remark had slipped from my body as I descended the trail to find not one, not two, but three falls on the same stretch of water. I think I finally beat the Bear's Den for the day, but, in all honestly, who was really counting? Sure, they weren't the Victoria Falls of Zambia or the Birdwoman Falls of Glacier National Park, but they were more than enough for me.

I'm lucky I no longer work in 35 millimeter film, else I'd have run out that day. And I had one stop to go to finish off my trip.

343. Hawley: Kenneth M. Dubuque Memorial State Forest



I stood at a back entrance to the Dubuque forest, incredulous. What the hell was taking so long?

For months, while planning my westward forays, I would stare at a warning on the DCR's website. The forest, like the one in Brimfield, was closed due to storm damage. OK, so there were several places across western Mass showing the same issues, but for the most part, they had one-by-one re-opened.

I finally ran out of time, and had to see for myself whether or not the Dubuque forest was open and the website had just not been updated, or the damage was so bad they really hadn't finished cleaning up yet. As far as I could look into the forest, things looked great, but the sign said "Closed." What the heck?

Again, I respected the landowner, even if in this case it was me (and all other Massachusetts taxpayers). After all, if you don't respect yourself...

So I settled for wandering the road leading up to the sign - which was in the same woods anyway, just outside the jurisdiction of the state. By this time, you know me. I found plenty to do.


342. Buckland: Mary Lyon Church Cemetery



Up yonder by the Deerfield River there lies a little town once known simply as "No Town." There, on a hill, lies a collection of interesting sites, all gathered together in one place.

I walked the Mary Lyon Church cemetery without really making the connection, at first, Then it struck me - "Wait! Mary Lyon! The founder of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary!" My foray into that realm, now known as Mount Holyoke College, was a single dance in college in which I was too embarrassed to talk to any of the girls. Shyness was once my way of life.

But this arena, what I was seeing on that day, was what my life had become. While old stone after old stone enticed me to draw nearer, I was eventually pulled across the street to the stark and austere memorials to Buckland's fallen military men, on the grounds of the Buckland Historical Society. The building itself had dual entrances, dating back to a time when men and women entered meetinghouses separately.

Fewer than 2000 people lived in Buckland as of the last census, a population that had doubled since 1850, with ebbs and flows. It had incorporated in search of its own church in 1779. The residents felt that rather than move to be nearer to a local church in Charlemont or Ashfield, they should build their own and take on the responsibility of town government.

That's how much they liked the place. I could see why.

341. Conway: Conway Hills Wildlife Sanctuary



Was this it? Had I reached the final Mass Audubon sanctuary? Was I about to walk the last loop in the system? Yes!

I examined the trail map and figured that, if nothing else, I had to find the wolf tree. I had no preconceived notion about finding wolves anywhere nearby, or in that tree's particular past, but wanted to see it just for what it was.

It stood, and stands, for our state's now long-dormant-to-dead agricultural history. We still have farms and agriculture, but nothing to the extent of what once was. The presence of a thick-trunked, wide-crowned tree in the heart of a forest speaks of ancient pasture, and a time when that tree stood alone. The first one I recognized, when I started to really look at individual trees in the forest, was at the Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharon.

I found this one, and it came as advertised, up on a ridge, overlooking the forest. I could see, with my historical eye, cows resting beneath its shade in nineteenth century noontime sunshine. With my other eye, I could see a black squirrel. Cool.

340. Deerfield: Mt. Sugarloaf State Reservation



Crossing the Connecticut River, I began the long steep ascent up Mt. Sugarloaf. The sun had retreated and fog closed in. I think the wildlife was confused as to what to do. I heard seven species of songbirds, but never saw a single one.

I know now that I didn't fully understand the climb. I saw a trail through the woods that looked too vertical for my tastes - I still had 5 towns to go for the day - and decided to take the "easy"
route up the road, trying to avoid the wet patches of slippery leaves that could easily turn the mountain into a waterslide for me.

Um, yeah...

I actually had to pause a few times. Wearing my winter coat, I was overheating, but didn't want to lose that extra layer and expose my now sweaty self to the cool-but-not-cold air. Decisions, decisions.

But I reached the top, only to find that the tower, at 652 feet, was completely socked in. If there was a view, I was not to have it. Frustrated, I leaned back into the hill and John Cleese silly-walked my way back down.

339. Sunderland: Mt. Toby State Forest



December 6, and a jogger passed me in shorts. Sheesh.

The rain had let up as I entered the Mt. Toby State Forest, with a lot on my mind. Soon, the sun emerged, to my relief.

I encountered signs along the way and learned of the role that my alma mater - I think that's the first time I've ever used those words publicly, though I've had one for nearly twenty years - plays in the forest. It's a teaching forest, where college students learn about forestry, soil types, injurious insects and more. It was quite a learning experience for me, personally, as I walked.

Raccoon! Sorry. Nature sometimes hits in mid-thought.

The combination of notions of UMASS Amherst, Sunderland and my dad lying in his hospital room brought on another memory. I had a wonderful professor while studying history at school, R. Dean Ware, a resident of Sunderland, and he had recently passed away. I had nothing but fond recollections of him. He was my mentor as I wound my way into the world of history, a medievalist with a remarkable sense of humor. In between classes, I'd stop by his office and grill him on etymology questions that bugged the hell out of me. "Why do we pronounce 'one' and 'two' the way we do? Why does 'one' have a 'w' sound, and 'two' doesn't?" He loved languages. Once, in class, a student haughtily said he wouldn't be studying anything in Europe, that he would focus solely on the history of the United States. "What's that," Professor Ware asked, "three hundred years? in one language?"

I needed one final credit to graduate after undergoing reconstructive ankle surgery, and he got me over the top by allowing me into a graduate seminar on technical chronology. I focused on "Technical Chronology in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle during the Danish Invasions under the Reign of King Alfred the Great." Great stuff. Professor Ware and I kept in touch over the years. Every time the history department called and asked me to speak to the undergrads about life with a history degree, I always asked if he'd be around. Every time, he met me for dinner.

He was a father figure, there's no doubt about that. I'd lost him, and now I flet like I was losing my own dad.

Ugh. I closed my eyes and let the sun cleanse me a bit.

338. Leverett: Metacomet-Monadnock Trail



I walked up the hill, quite a way, dodging tangles of trees that had hit the forest floor. The rain continued.

I heard chickadees, but nothing more.

Trail signs indicated that I had found the M-M, or Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, which runs from the Connecticut-Massachusetts line to Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. It's supposed to be about 114 miles, but there are problems. More than once, in just that short section of the trail, I ran into signs stating that sections were closed due to private landowners requesting diversions. It must be frustrating trying to not only walk the trail from end to end, but organize and maintain the trail, which the Appalachian Mountain Club does.

As I walked, I found it a bit on the boring side, but let me qualify that statement. Boring in nature to me is still better than exciting on a city street. It was beautiful, but static, bland. But that, I would think, is not the point on a long trail. Not every step can be met with a scenic vista. I'd been lucky as I walked Massachusetts throughout the year, to take in 338 different views to that point. Had I taken one long walk, it might have been different. That walk may be in my future.

But I did, and always do, respect private landowners' wishes. 

337. Shutesbury: Lake Wyola State Park



The mist intensified into a full rain shower as I stepped back to 1987. What was this place?

I can understand old buildings. They're usually economic indicators. Times go bad, people can't afford to build new homes, so the old ones stay. If they stay long enough and are reasonably maintained, they become part of the local charm, classified as historic and eventually museums.

But this place had not only an old home, but an old barn. Even more of a story there. Barns were, and are, utilitarian. When they fall down, we throw up a new one more easily than we can a home, which requires lighting, insulation, etc. A historic barn is a treasure, like an old shipbuilder's shack or a backyard shoe shop.

And I could understand the golden lion I photographed. The house, a big one right on the lake, probably had a person with some money behind it. A guardian standing outside the door, a bit of sculpture to add to the scenery, was certainly within the realm of plausibility.

But how the hell do you explain the NYNEX phone booth? NYNEX? That company was bought by Bell Atlantic in 1987, 24 years in the past. I felt that if I stepped inside and dropped a dime I could call my high school girlfriend and ask her to meet me at the mall for a New Coke.

Oh well, back to the future.

336. New Salem: Bear's Den


I spoke to my dad. He came out of his coma, briefly, on Saturday, December 3. We chatted for a few brief minutes before he lost the strength to speak and had to hand the phone back to my sister. I made plans to fly down as soon as I could, but within hours, he was back under again. I kept my cell phone charged and hit the trail (on December 6), a complete bundle of nerves.

An old road and a curving stream met me in New Salem, back in bear country, a big switch from my visit to the Vineyard. An old cellarhole right on the banks of that stream told a tale of I don't know what, but would love to know someday.

There was more to the Bear's Den story than what I was seeing, though, through the drizzle of the early morning. I could hear its pages turning.

I followed a trail toward the sound and struck grotto and waterfall. Once again, Massachusetts, you've shocked me. It was a moment when, yet again, I wished I was a better photographer. I knew I could never do justice to this spot with my point-and-shoot, but then, nor could I with $5000 worth of gear. It's a poor craftsman who blames his tools. But I had to do something, so in the low level light, I snapped the falls, and wondered if I'd hit the highlight of the day.

335. Tisbury: Tashmoo Overlook



Yes, even here on Martha's Vineyard, turkeys have returned. Not only that, this year they've survived Thanksgiving. I found a flock as I pulled up to the Tashmoo Overlook, feeding and scratching in the waning hours of sunlight.

I reached the final stop of the day. I had taken some diversions to see some historic sights, inlcuding stops at the East Chop and West Chop Lighthouses, the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society, a cemetery or two, even Edgartown Harbor, to look across the passage to Chappaquiddick Island.

I exercised my legs one more time, but used it more for reflection on the gloriuos day I'd just spent than anything else. As I understood it, the view I was taking in from the overlook itself, ostensibly of Lake Tashmoo, was supposed to be better than it was. Nature, in its way, had blocked the view by doing what it does, taking advantage of soil, sun and water, and growing. In this case, willow trees were the culprit. The private land owners wanted the trees to stay, others wanted them down. I hoped it would get resolved without too much ill will besmirching the beautiful island.

Time to hit that ferry. Looking to the mainland, I could see the end of the road.

334. Oak Bluffs: Pulpit Rock



This locale was a tip-off from a friend and colleague, Suzan, at the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, and locatable thanks to that trusty Land Bank map I now clutch to my chest, all hunched over, eyes shifting left and right, lest anyone try to steal it from me.

The story of the Pulpit Rock area on Farm Neck, on the opposite side of Sengekontacket Pond from Felix Neck, is one of religion. Some of it's historical, some legendary. John Saunders, an escaped slave, arrived on the island from Virginia and began preaching Methodism. Bringing a new religion to an unsuspecting populace can be risky; Saunders eventually, apparently, lost his life for it.

Before that happened, though, he spread his word liberally. One of the local legends says that he stood on a big rock at the end of Farm Neck and preached to the African-Americans willing to hear his exhortations. I say "legend" only because there is no firm documentation that it was a specific rock on Farm Neck, and other rocks in the area have been identified as "the" rock. There's no doubt he spread the word. It's just a matter of where.

In any case, it's a cool story. The escape from Virginia itself was quite a tale. John and his wife Priscilla were buried in corn aboard a ship headed for "Holmes Hole," the old name for Vineyard Haven, and ended up emerging from that hold to contribute a significant chapter to the fascinating history of African-Americans on Martha's Vineyard.

333. West Tisbury: Long Point Wildlife Refuge



Down a long dirt road to find another dirt road. The wind was at its howling best when I started at Long Point, and somewhere in the distance I knew I'd find the ocean churning and crashing.

Immediately I could see buffleheads and white-winged scoters on Tisbury Great Pond, by the hundreds. I walked quite a distance when I opted to return to the car for a spotting scope. All that proved to do was bring the buffs and coots in closer. It didn't reveal any new species.

Still playing with time, hedging my bets against missing the boat home, I decided to walk the length of the trail toward the beach. I passed an old duck blind, still perfectly situated at about the spot that was closest to the mixed flocks on the big pond. Beyond that point the trail curled around toward Long Cove Pond, where a great blue heron tucked his head down and held fast against the wind.

On the dune, I looked southward for Bermuda, even using the scope and squinting really hard, but the earth was too round. The waves charged up the shore at me, but gave up when their energy ran out. I could also see the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's Martha's Vineyard Coastal Observatory tower about a mile offshore, measuring the air, the sea and the sea floor all at once.

I returned the way I came, but swung by the ancient Scrubby Neck Schoolhouse for a peek at the very end. Cute. Quaint. History.

Love it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

332. Edgartown: Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary


I found my friends at the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, and got my copy of the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank map. The island suddenly looked much different to me.

I headed out toward Sengekontacket Pond, remembering visiting Gus Ben David, the legendary first director of the wildlife sanctuary, on a previous trip. Then we discussed the old landowners, from Felix Kuttashumaquat to one boy named Walter who spent his days skipping school by digging out subterranean houses on the property and playing cards with his friends until sundown.

Hunters were in full, cacophonous force as I walked on this day, letting fly a constant chain of "booms" across the pond. As a friend said, it was getting late in the morning, and there was a good chance some frustrated hunters were simply popping their guns for the sake of it.

I found a dead tadpole on the shore, turned as if ready to find his way back to the water, but it wasn't happening. A flock of mourning doves burst from branches, hidden from my sight as I approached. I followed some small tracks in the sand that reminded me of a mink.

Could have stayed all day. Had to keep moving. Story of my life in 2011.

331. Chilmark: Menemsha Hills Reservation


Menemsha Hills came recommended by a friend, so I decided to walk it in its entirety.

I crossed paths with some hunters in a pick-up truck as they trundled down a road I had to pass over to stay on my trail to the sea. I reached one overlook, then another, and unwittingly found a quest box. From atop Prospect Hill - yes, yet another one - I could look back and see Aquinnah.

I wandered down the long path to the beach, noticing the walls closing in on me. A sandy valley formed around my shoulders, in my estimation formed by water runoff down the hill, but what do I know. At the end of that valley, the beach appeared, with its battered lobster traps.

The birdlife continued: 2 northern flickers, a low-flying turkey vulture, white-winged scoters on the sea. The wind was not letting up.

I retreated up the path, through the moss-covered trees, past the singing Carolina wrens, glad I had taken my friend's advice. Four to go on the island. Twenty to go for the year.

330. Aquinnah: Gay Head


I awoke on November 30 well before the sun, and I headed south. It was Vinyid time.

Parking in the dark I boarded an early cross-sound ferry, then moved west down island, until I could go west no more. I reached Aquinnah, Gay Head, the lighthouse, the cliffs. I was almost blown away by the cold wind.

I stood my ground, with a spotting scope, so I could take a peek at what was offshore. It was, I believe, the best nature sighting stop of the year: northern gannets, gliding over the wavetops; harlequin ducks, hugging the shore; horned grebes, red-breasted mergansers, common eiders and more filling the gaps in between. The seabirds were in constant motion. The surf pounded relentlessly below me.

In the distance I could see Noman's. I could also make out the Elizabeth Islands, where I had walked Gosnold back in August. It was getting to the point where there were few places in Massachusetts I could stand where I hadn't walked in 2011.

I could afford to be leisurely, as I had just six towns to do on Martha's Vineyard, though I had friends to meet, too. I lingered for a while in Aquinnah to ponder the Wampanoags, beach erosion, shipwrecks, heroes, cranberries and the red flash of the lighthouse, then moved on.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

329. Pelham: Cadwell Memorial Forest


The sun never came out  the entire day, and in one way, that was a good thing. A lot of walking in the sun in fall can mean a lot of roasting, totally dependent on the number of layers you wear. There were days when I got home from these excursions basted like a turkey, a nice film of slime covering my body. I don't even want to mention my feet. I was already on pair of boots number 3 for the year.

With a cellarhole, a swishing brook and an old abandonded roadway at Cadwell Memorial Forest, I finished my second of back-to-back big days. I lamented the lack of trail maps of the forest, but then, it seemed that at the end of November I should have understood that trail map season had run out. Besides, my collection was certainly big enough after all the walking I'd done to that point in the year.

It had been 21 towns in two days. There had been no change with my dad down in Florida. We were at the point of monitoring specific levels of bodily functions; this was up, that was down. Either way, he was still in a coma, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to change that fact.

I focused on the project. I had 22 towns to go, and the whole month of December to do them in.

But November wasn't over yet.


328. Amherst: Holyoke Range State Park


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I couldn't take the Robert Frost trail due to storm damage.

So I took the Laurel Loop. Who's counting?

For the most part, the trail I walked was on an old trolley line, the great regional people mover of the nineteenth century. I often try to put myself on trains of old, and wonder what it must have been like to ride through the New England woods from town to town. The growth of the New England tourism economy rode on them, steam engines, steamboats and electric streetcars, before the mass switch to the automoblile.

But what I thought about most as I walked in Amherst was what a fool I had been during my four years at UMASS. The inward pains that haunted me in Northampton stabbed at me again. This place was here all along, idiot. Had you just discovered your love of nature earlier, all this could have been yours. But no, you had to be interested in cheeseburgers and history lectures and college girls and John Wayne westerns and college girls and The Legend of Zelda on Nintendo and college girls.

OK, so everything has its place. I just wish that this place had been mine when I was enjoying those magnificent days of my youth.


327. Chesterfield: Chesterfield Gorge



When all is said and done with this project, I'll have a list of places that I want to see again, and will want to bring others to see as well.

I can't describe Chesterfield Gorge, other than to say it looks like one in a series of nineteenth century romantic sketches intended to capture the grandeur of  the New England landscape. Something that Isaac Spargue may have drawn in the White Mountains, or Bill Tague photographed in the Berkshires.

The power of the rushing water drowned out all else that was going on, as it squeezed its way through the corridor of rock. As I strode along the well-trammeled walkway, I thought of the etymological origins of "gorge" and "gorgeous," as it seemed so natural to put the words together. I wondered if there was a relation.

It may be possible. Both words are found in Old French. The former meant bosom, or throat, or perhaps even something adorning the throat. Gorgeous meant showy, as in a necklace worn around the throat. I needed to find an Old Frenchman to confirm my suspicions, but, alas, as usual, I was all alone.


326. Worthington: Road's End Wildlife Sanctuary


For some reason, this time the notion of bears unnerved me.

It made no sense. I had spent 8 days in Glacier National Park with bear mace on my hip earlier in the year, and there, the problem was grizzlies, the baddest mamajamas on the continent.

I think it was the mention in the literature at the trailhead of scratches on trees at the first intersection. Black bears play hierarchy games. Whichever bear scratches highest on the trees wins. It's as simple as that. All other fall in line. While I knew the old standards rang true - they're more wary of you than you of them, be careful especially around mothers and cubs - and I had certainly walked in many potentially bear-ridden sites during the year, for some reason my head was on a swivel as I trudged through the rain at Road's End.

Nothing happened, of course.

I did manage to note a few things: old car parts that remained from an old farm; another peaceful, gurgling brook; more chainsaws splitting the distant silence; and a nesting box for an American kestrel pair. I wondered if it had been used. That species is vanishing so quickly in Massachusetts, it needs all the help it can get.

Bears or no, I walked the whole property, and loved every step.

325. Cummington: William Cullen Bryant Homestead



Now here's a character for you. William Cullen Bryant and his family moved to Cummington when he was a boy. When he grew up, he went into law, and walked seven miles to his firm in Plainfield every work day. I have no idea if he stopped at the beach.

Along the way one day, he watched a duck flying overhead, and his poetic side shined through, in "To a Waterfowl":

Whither, 'midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?

Eventually, sickened by the court system, he moved onto newspaper editing, becoming the editor-in-chief of the New York Evening Post for 50 years. The city named a street corner after him, and then even a school. That's impact.

I wandered his property in the rain, mostly getting soaked in the open field, but wanting to know more, so much more about this interesting man.


324. Williamsburg: Graves Farm Wildlife Sanctuary


And, boom goes the rain. For the most part, I'd been dealing with fog as the day rolled on, but once I got into the woods at Graves Farm, the rain, and then the snow, took their turns. They bursted, and then ebbed.

The trail system at Graves Farm was laid out in two loops, and since it was a Mass Audubon site, I decided to walk it in total. A quaint crossing of Nonnie Day Brook was the first highlight. I'd say the drumming pileated woodpecker was the second.

But a problem developed as I walked in the wet air. I grew a nose whistle. At first I thought I was hearing distant songbird chirps, but then zoned in on my own face. Yup, it was me. I had nothing to wipe my nose with, so, being alone in the woods, I opted for the pick and flick. I then got worried that a squirrel might find the discarded item and think it was food, so I tracked it down and put it in my pocket.

(Sigh.) What I won't do for nature.

Graves Farm has, on the Graves Brothers Loop, a few trees that stand out, and that's saying something, considering how many of them there are in the forest. My favorite was the grand white birch, but there was another one that looked like it was ready to walk away. Its roots had been so exposed over the years that they looked like spider's legs ready to go for a stroll.

Too bad it didn't. I would have enjoyed the companionship on the trail.

323. Plainfield: The Beach


So I hate this about myself. I grew up in Hull, a beach town. Scratch that - a beach. Three and a half miles of sand, bastion against the encroaching ocean, doomed to be gone in a hundred years if the climate continues to warm. I know beaches.

As I headed for the Dubuque State Forest, knowing that access would be most likely impossible due to storm damage, I saw a sign saying "Beach Ahead." I instinctively laughed.

Argh! I'm a beach snob, I find. It's completely unfair of me to laugh at what others consider a beach just because I grew up on a sizable one, one, in fact, that residents of the Caribbean or Florida would consider puny.

Then I think about how it must be nice to have a place like this to which one could escape in summer, and I get all paternalistic. I go all noblesse oblige, if you know what I mean. "It's nice the little people can have their beaches." Then I get mad at myself all over again.

Grr.

While stopping in Plainfield in the rain, I did find that there was a Mass Audubon sanctuary there, but not accessible to the public. Phew! I thought I missed one.

322. Goshen: D.A.R. State Forest



Uh-oh. Fog. Can rain be far behind? AGAIN?

As soon as I set foot outside my car at D.A.R., I transported back to a 1950s movie about the 1930s. It was spooky. Through the fog, I could hear whistling, and occasional singing. But the air was so thick, I couldn't see the source of the sounds. More than spooky, it was ghostly.

I finally wound my way towards the pond, echolocating, and there, in the distance, silhouetted by the fog, was a man fishing. He was fishing in the rain. Whistling in the rain. Singing in the rain. And not like Gene Kelly. He looked like a 1930s drifter, finding sustenance at the height of the Depression. I snapped my pic and kept my distance.

I thought about the Daughters of the American Revolution and their many good works. In the past, I've covered local scholarship award ceremonies for high school super-achievers for newspapers. Their past is grounded in an anti-immigration search for Americanness, but they've moved on from that. Let's face it, at the end of the nineteenth century, the United States was changing. Some folks felt they had to prove their American roots, which, of course, when examined juxtaposed to the descendants of the Native Americans - keyword "native" - was a pretty silly concept. Today, rather than a badge of nationalistic purity, I would think being able to trace one's roots to the Revolution would be a cool thing. I'm Italian. I can barely trace mine past the beginning of the twentieth century in America. After that, it's all written in Italian, which is all Greek to me.

I wondered how far back the drifter could go.

321. Hatfield: Cemetery-Old Mill Site



Onto town number 2. I had no idea what I would find for open space in Hatfield, as the spot I picked was chosen for its name more than anything: "Old Mill Site." Well, ya I wanna see an old mill site!

I parked at the back of the cemetery and walked downhill. Whoa! Let's just say that if you live in Hatfield and have no idea where your 13-year-olds are after school, I found their hiding place. The kids had carved up a section of the woods to become BMX trails, a complete course with jumps and turns and I'm sure the occasional crash or two. Here and there stood artistically inspired rusted metal sculptures, made from parts from bikes gone by.

Richard Louv argues in Last Child in the Woods that we need to let kids explore their outdoor world more. This was it in spades. Give kids the space and time and freedom to create, and they'll come up with treehouses, design their own worlds of adventure, and, most importantly, understand what dirt and trees and plants and wildlife are.

For, despite the slight disturbance to the undergrowth in the one sloped corner of the woods, wildlife rumbled on. Juncos, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, blue jays, Carolina wrens and goldfinches all greeted me as I explored BMX Land. Down the hill and not far away a belted kingfisher rattled its call as it flew.

Let the children play outdoors. Remember what we had when we were young. Take it from the Big Child in the Woods.

320. Granby: Dufresne Recreational Park


I awoke the next morning (Tuesday, November 29) feeling both tired and refreshed. My legs hurt, but like the cowboy in the old Far Side cartoon said, it was a good kinda hurt.

Under yet another overcast sky I popped into Granby's Dufresne Park to find that it had become, in the wake of all the year's storms, the town brush pile. The wood was separated into think limbs, small logs and wood that could be split. A man driving a tractor was pushing against the tide, doing his best to tighten up the piles.

Beyond that scene played out a woodsy one-act play. Squirrels cached nuts in the overpowering scent of pine, moss-covered rocks and false turkey tail mushrooms stared blandly up at me as blue jays screeched their famous call. I walked through it all on a nicely laid out trail. I even found some snow.

Yup, a good kinda hurt.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

319. Montague: Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area


I reached the end of the road, town number 11 for the day. It had been a soul-saving journey.

As I wandered the Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area, I stopped focusing on the specifics. Oh, things caught my eye, like smashed pumpkins, things that would have made me stop and think earlier in the day. About Halloween, juvenile delinquents and how the orange innards ended up on the ground.

I stopped to photograph the cleanly broken and recently exposed interior of a tree, to capture its story. It's easier to read from the top down, or the bottom up, even though I'm by no means a trained dendrochronologist. But I could see good years and bad years, lots of water, little water. I could see life.

I widened my personal lens, and saw the forest, and not just the tree. No matter what happened with my dad, I knew that this was a normal process. It made sense he would, should go before me. We'd had a wonderful life together, and I loved him like no one else.

As the end of the day came, I knew I had made the right decision to walk. I feared I was becoming a transcendetalist, a Thoreau in waiting. I let nature wash over me, take control of all my senses. I celebrated all life, while quietly, fervently hoping my father could reclaim his.

And I couldn't wait to tell him all the stories of my adventures.

318. Greenfield: Temple Woods


Another hill, another tower. I don't think I'll ever get tired of that combo. Of course, I can't speak for my legs.

As the day began to fold in on itself, I climbed one last time. Atop the hill I found the Poet's Seat. The tower was dedicated in the memory of the many poets who had taken the same walk to gain the same perspective in ages past. I'll bet theirs was much nicer, which is not a knock on Greenfield itself. I'm just saying the Greenfield of farms and fields and open spaces, the one that Frederick Goddard Tuckerman saw in the early 1800s, was probably more inspiring than city streets, automobile exhaust fumes...but again, it's not Greenfield's fault. Life moves on.

I climbed the tower, of course. Even in town number 10 for the day, I could not pass it up. When I reached the viewing platform, I went from window to window, and finally was inspired to write a poem of my own.

Why, oh, why,
From the corner of my eye,
Do I suddenly see
Undies hanging in that tree?

See? Tuckerman knew what he was talking about.

Friday, March 9, 2012

317. Shelburne: High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary


The fog that had bothered me early in the day was not present in the extreme western towns of my journey, but returned toward the end of the day as I headed back east.

As for High Ledges, it was a return to Nirvana. Years ago, a friend turned me onto it, and we made several daylong explorations of its sprawling acreage. I still have dreams of chestnut-sided warblers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers, of grape ferns (all seven Massachusetts varieties can be seen here), salamanders, dragonflies and singing dark-eyes juncos on roasting summer days. I've even read Dutch Barney's book, In a Wild Place.

But, with only a half an hour to walk, my scope for the day was limited. I walked up the main trail, but knew I would never reach the overlook where Dutch Barney's house once stood (I got to see the chimney before it came down, but now the spot is bare). Instead, I savored. I walked slowly and took in what I could around me.

The last time David and I left High Ledges, we had spent a rough June night sleeping in Rindge, New Hampshire, after giving a dragonfly identification class for Mass Audubon camp counselors. Unbearably hot, we tossed and turned in our cabin bunks until the thunderstorms started. They shook the building, violently. When the rain stopped around 4:30 in the morning, the robins started singing. We got up and said, "That's it!" and stormed off ourselves. We spent the morning at High Ledges, then got on the highway to go home around 1 p.m. A black bear ran across the road in front of my car.

High Ledges hasn't seen the last of me, and vice versa.

316. Charlemont: Hail to the Sunrise Park


I found the roadblock on Route 2. Luckily, it was just beyond Hail to the Sunrise.

I needn't wax philosophic about our state and country's legacy with the Native Americans. I think I stated my case clearly back in Dennis, many months ago.

This place caught me. I wandered in circles around the monument, taking in the names of all the fraternal orders and tribes that were represented. There was a time when claiming Native American ancestry through the "Red Men" organizations was a point of pride. The term has been eliminated, of course, with the rise of political correctness, and so it should have been.

The fact is that we will never know the full story of "prehistory," itself an obnoxious term. I often lament stories being taken to the grave. I think of all the people who die every day who have tales to tell who either, A) were reluctant to talk, or B) were never asked about their lives. We get the filtered version of our planet's history, what we can glean from scraps of paper left behind, from photographs.

But who chronicled the lives of the Native Americans? Their oral tradition is wonderful, but do we know the full story of Mohawk life in pre-Charlemont, along pre-Route 2?

More importantly, do we even deserve to?

315. Monroe: Dunbar Brook


It's a good thing I did the Berkshires when I did. It had been one hell of a year for western Massachusetts. First, the tornadoes that touched down in Monson and the Springfield area in June were damaging enough. Then, at the end of August, the region got walloped by one of the most bizarre of episodes, the tropical storm that decides to go up the Connecticut River rather than go out to sea. Remember Irene? And I haven't even talked about this, because I never encountered its after-effects, the freak Halloween snowstorm that left folks without power for days. I won't even mention the earthquake, which was extremely minor, but nonetheless which I felt in Marshfield. It was quite a year for the weather.

Monroe, it turns out, was about as far west as I could get on this day, which was fortuitous for me. Route 2 had sustained major washout damage during the tropical storm, and three months later repairs were still underway. In fact, I couldn't even get to my first chosen hiking spot. But Monroe had haunted me since my Berkshire County trip, tucked way up there in the northwest, saying, "You ain't done 'til you got me."

I found Dunbar Brook and a hydroelectric dam site, now being operated by a Canadian company. I watched as two young men in hardhats poked, pulled and cut up branches blocking up the dam. Then I walked, and walked, and walked, high above the river, through the pines.

When I got back to the trailhead, I climbed one final small hill. Looking down again, I could see a tiny burial ground. Like I could let that pass, even though technically it was outside of Monroe? I visited with Lawson Legate and his family. 

I concluded that there was nothing like the combination of fresh air and lactic acid. What a great day.

314. Rowe: Pelham Lake Park


The ground underfoot was spongy, and when I looked down, I got retroactive vertigo. I had been here before.

Not here, of course, this was my first visit to Rowe. But the habitat, that was where things were familiar. The ground was mossy, the hemlocks almost palatable. I was back on the Bold Coast, walking to Boot Cove in downeast Maine.

The birds, though, were not the same. Had it been Maine, it would have been all boreal chickadees and spruce grouses. In Rowe, it was black-capped chickadees and golden-crowned kinglets. The one oddity was a single pine siskin, a winter bird that hits us in occasional waves in Massachusetts. One chickadee even posed for me.

I stopped along the way to read every sign about the different tree species in the woods. When I got back to the lake itself I watched several common mergansers gliding along peacefully, a mountain looming over them in a fatherly, doting manner in the background. I didn't want to leave.

313. Heath: Warren W. Smith Memorial Forest


Time for me to put on my know-it-all hat.

I found this place by accident, a New England Foresty Foundation parcel. The foundation believes in the practice in its name, in periodically thinning the woods to foster growth. It's a different approach than many other land conservancies, who just want their properties to remain forever wild, lowly-impacted by human traffic. A sign here at Warren Smith noted that the forest had last been harvested in 2004.

An old farm road ran along a stonewall downhill, and I followed that road. I noticed that every few feet, I found a large white, quartz or limestone-like stone tucked into the wall. Decorative? Hardly.

Sit right here on my knee and let me tell you a story. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Scituate had a copper magnate, a guy named Thomas W. Lawson. When Lawson's wife died, young, he buried her in a spot he called "The Rest," directly behind the cottage they used as their escape from the nonstop social responsibilities of the grand Dreamwold estate. They had called that cottage "The Nest."

On of the first things Lawson did in the days after her death was to walk down to the beach and find as many white stones as he could. He placed them along the path between the main house and the Nest. When he wanted to visit her late at night, and the moon was shining brightly, the white stones lit up the path.

I have no doubt this farmer did the same thing. Coming in from the field, from a town meeting, whetever it may have been, late at night, if the moon was cooperating, he had his own runway lights.

I'll take off my hat now.

312. Colrain: First Meetinghouse Site


The weirdest thing happened as I was on my way to the Catamount State Forest. I passed by a historic site marker and a humongous magnet came out from the side of the road, dragged my car into the parking lot and sucked me into the woods.

First, it drew me through the Chandler Hill Cemetery, where I learned the story of the first settlement of Colrain in 1738. Then, I climbed the hill and found the marker for the first meetinghouse, a small granite post surrounded by stonewalls. I noticed that there were trails beyond it and walked on, giving a wide berth to the guys working on the antenna building behind the historic marker.

I got to thinking about catamounts, once I got the history bug out of my system. They don't exist, or that's the prevailing theory. Let me correct that. They exist in human basketball form at the University of Vermont, but claims of sightings of the legendary big cat of the mountains have been dubious. The last famous Vermont "catamount" - a puma, mountain lion or cougar - was shot in 1881. Since that time, numerous sightings have been reported. And while I state definitively, tongue firmly planted in cheek, that there are none now in Vermont, I, of course, have no way of knowing. Vermont was practically treeless when the last catamount was shot, and it's now reforested. The habitat that harbored them has returned.

Wolves had been extirpated from Massachusetts 160 years in the past when one appeared in Shelburne in 2008. Nature can do amazing things, when we let it runs its course. Catamounts? In some way shape or form, I wouldn't be surprised to find big cats in Vermont, New Hampshire, even the deep woods of central and western Massachsuetts.

311. Leyden: West Leyden Cemetery


I could see the Leyden State Forest in the distance, from atop of high, open-sky road, but couldn't see how to access it. I saw cows, an old dog, and a farmer on a tractor in the fog. I loved it.

Finally, in West Leyden, I found the small local cemetery. Blissful! It was across the street from an apple orchard, and the birdlife was in a whirl. It was an all-American crowd: American robins, American crows and American goldfinches. Then - WHOOSH! - they arrived.

Cedar waxwings move in large flocks in winter, operating under the time-tested theory of "if one finds food, they all find food." The back wall of trees was suddenly overwhelmed with them. At that point in the year, and in that portion of the state, it was imperative to stop and look for the oddball, the Bohemian waxwing, but, alas, he was not there this time around. Too bad, it would have been a lifer for me.

Instead, I "settled" for 61 cedar waxwings. In typical fashion, they ate the place clean. If you've ever had a fruiting bush in your yard and had it attacked by waxwings, you know what I'm talking about. And just like that (and just as it should have been), they vanished.

Time for me to do the same.

310. Bernardston: Satan's Kingdom Wildlife Management Area


Onto Bernardston! And back to Satan's Kingdom? Had I examined my map more carefully the first time around, I might have knocked this town off the list already. {Tapping finger on the side of my head} Brains!

My best nature sighting in weeks materialized as I turned the corner to find my trailhead. Five ring-necked pheasants wandered the roads! Probably not a rare occurrence out there, but in eastern Massachusetts, good luck finding even a single one. It's a strange, double-sided coin, pheasants in the Bay State. We can thank Mr. Sullivan Forehand of Worcester for bringing them into the state in 1894, introducing a non-native species to be bred in Winchester for hunting. But they've been overhunted, and they're hard to come by now. Should we care?

Either way, I found a snowmobile trail that crossed onto a farmer's land, and some horse droppings. Chickadees flitted alongside me as I walked, keeping pace with my movements as I did my best to obey the local "Respect Land Owner" signs.

For more on that topic, read A Rambler's Lease by Bradford Torrey of Weymouth. It takes a lot, especially these days, for a landowner to open land to the public, and we should be grateful and respectful, lest we lose the privilege. Torrey argues that in the end, he felt he had a wanderer's spiritual ownership of local farmers' lands, and I couldn't agree with him more in that sentiment. After all, I've been known to wander myself, and know of which he speaks.