Conservation Land Feed

Battle Road - Minute Man Historical Park

Visiting a place like Gettysburg is powerful, not for what you see, but for the experience of being in the very place where world changing events took place.  Touching the mundane reality of the place, the roll of the earth, the slant of the sun, the birds that swoop across the sky, helps turn the people who fought there from story characters to flesh and bone people, with lives that stretched beyond that moment in history. 

Liberty flag 040712
I think that's why any day when the sun shines bright, you're sure to see visitors at the site of Paul Revere's capture along what's now known as Battle Road in Minute Man Historical Park.  There's little to see.  It's a small field split by busy route 2A.  There's a stone circle, where parents and children, Boy Scout troops and folks walking their dogs, all stop to read the inscription and learn of how Revere was taken into custody, but Prescott bolted into the woods and evaded pursuit.  It's just a field, like a hundred others, but there's magic in imagining what that field looked like in the predawn hours of April 19, 1775.  What amazes me the most is that Revere was taken unharmed, and according to his own account willingly answered the soldiers' questions about his intentions that night.   

It's these little additions, to a story I thought I knew, which made me glad I decided to walk the length of the park last weekend.  Prior to that I'd visited several parts of the park, trying with nominal success to understand what people saw in it.  Based on these visits I'd concluded visitors were either tourists looking for a bit of history or locals who appreciated the wide, well maintained paths, six parking lots and proximity to Rt 2A.  It was really because I write this blog and Patriot's Day is the biggest event of the year around here, that I decided to give it one more shot.

Battle road marker 040612
The park stretches across three towns: Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord.  Parts of the park (The Wayside and the North Bridge) are satellites, unconnected to the main Battle Road Section.  I opted to start my walk not far from the Lexington Battle Green, where the first shot was fired, a couple miles from the actual park.  You can view the route at GMap if you like. 

Fiske home 040712

When I set out for the walk I figured it would be good exercise and I'd finally be able to cross this blog post idea off my To Do list.  My expectations were not especially high, but then I arrived at the eastern edge of the park, the Ebenezer Fiske house site, a place I'd never been.  I know it doesn't look like much, but these stones put a smile on my face.  Here's a place where you can step into history.  Walk over the doorway and notice just how small the house's footprint is.   From that front step look to the right where a small orchard still exists and imagine the family gathering its fruit.  Out behind the house see where the Fiskes dug into the hillside to house their animals, and reinforced that structure with stones so heavy that they stand to this day (look near the treeline in the photo). 

It was through this yard that British soldiers and the local militia continued the battle that had begun four hours and many miles earlier.  Just steps from the house, there's a well where it's said that two opposing fighters met, one told the other that he was about to die, the other said, you are too and they shot each other at point blank range. The British soldier lived for some time and was taken in and cared for by the Fiske family.  A reminder that the colonists were still part of the British Empire and that not everyone in New England saw the King's Regulars as the enemy. 

Let me take a moment to set the scene.   The British had set out from Boston under cover of darkness, to capture the militia's arms supply in Concord, some twenty miles away.  Nothing went according to plan.  They left late, their approach was announced well in advance and when 77 militia formed a line in Lexington "to make a display of patriot resolve" (park map), someone fired on them.  By the time the British got to Concord and started searching houses for arms news had spread, more shots were fired and the British had to fight their way back across the 20 miles they'd just hiked. 

The bluff 0400712
There are many points along the trail devoted to the fighting of that day.  Along with the stone markers there are also signs which depict the route, the number of troops on both sides at that point.  In addition there's an audio tour available via cell phone.  I'd never run into one of these before and I was impressed.  You can take a listen right now, wherever you are by dialing (978) 224-4505. 

Thorning boulder sign 040712

To be continued...

2012 - My Conservation Land Year

One of my very first posts on this blog explained that I had stopped making resolutions and had replaced them with a "wanna" list.  That little change in wording felt right, and it turns out that even without the force of a word like "resolution",  I did some of the things on the list.  I also lost interest in others and forgot about them.  And then there was one that started off strong and then went into hibernation.  It's time for that idea to wake up.  

Entrance sign

By the end of 2012 I will complete my plan to walk all 26 conservation areas in town that have trails.  The timing is fortuitous because the Lexington Conservation Stewards have completed a major effort to update all the trail maps.  These maps have been tested by volunteers and I'm eager to give them a try.  The old maps gave a general idea of where you were, but the print was so small and blurry that even if you used a magnifying glass it was illegible.   I'm hoping that these new maps will also make it much clearer where the entrances are to the trails; I've walked through more people's yards than I'd like to admit in search of a trail head.

Hidden trail

I know I work best with deadlines and To Do lists, so I've added a list of the Lexington Conservation Lands (with trails) in the side bar.  If you mouse over the list and a blog post title pops up, it's a place I've visited and written about.  Clicking on the name will bring you to that post.  I'm hoping that the list will be helpful for anyone who is local or visiting the area. 

Sun in trees Parker
When I realized that I'd originally made this resolution two years ago, I was a bit upset with myself.  So much for setting a goal and sticking to it, I thought.  And then I remembered a  quote my dad had at the bottom of his outgoing email for years; "Persistence prevails when all else fails".   

I may be slow, but I'm certainly persistent.



A Step in the Right Direction

Have you ever noticed how when you buy a new car, suddenly you notice that car everywhere?  And if you or someone you know has an ailment, it seems to be the topic of every news report and article out there.  I've been experiencing something similar since writing my last post, the one about choosing an uplifting quote to focus on while walking.  Suddenly I'm aware of just how frequently the image of walking is used in speech.  I've started a list, though I'm sure there are more. 

  1. take baby steps
  2. step in time / step in
  3. one step at a time
  4. walk the line
  5. spring in your step
  6. a step in the right direction
  7. step out of line
  8. step/go out on a limb
  9. march to the beat of your own drum
  10. one foot in front of the other (one of my favorites & quite seasonally appropriate)
  11. step out of ones comfort zone

I've had a little experience with that last one recently.  In late August a friend told me about a photography contest, where the winning photos would appear in a calendar to raise money for the Lincoln Land Conservation Trust.  If you've been reading this blog for any time, you've surely heard about or seen photos of Lincoln.  The town is a living postcard of rural New England, and one of my favorite places to go walking.   

Lincoln road 050611
My first reaction to the idea was "You're crazy".  I've never studied photography.  I take my photos with a Cannon Powershot, a cheap point-and-shoot.  There was no way that I was qualified.  But the more I thought about all the reasons I couldn't do it, the louder my gut asked "Why not?"  So I decided to submit a photo,

or two,

or eight.

About a month ago I learned that some of my photos had made it through the first cut.  I didn't know how many or which ones, but I decided that just getting that far counted as a success. 

Then just this week I learned that TWO of my photos had made it into the calendar!  Yes, I admit I did a happy dance, which may or may not have startled the birds on my windowsill at the time.  And today when I actually saw the finished calendar and my photos among the work of such talented photographers, let's just say Christmas came early. 

Here are my winning photos.  (That's really fun to say).


Winter won't quit"Winter won't Quit" 

If you'd like to own your own copy of the calendar and see a bit of the real New England (rather than the same old over-photographed spots that  appear in most calendars) they can be purchased through the LLCT for just $15 plus shipping.  The profits go to preserving open space in the town, maintaining Lincoln's rural character and caring for the 375 acres already in conservation.  Part of that mission is maintenance of the miles and miles of public trails that crisscross the town.



Walking Willards Woods

Winter sports look so graceful and effortless.  The skater slides and spins across the ice; the skier pours over moguls, knees adjusting like well greased pistons; the snowboarder cuts from edge to edge with the most minute muscular adjustments, and the child squeals with joy as she flies down the side of a hill.  Even something as exhausting as cross-country skiing appears relaxing.  When I think of these sports, I always manage to forget the falls, the bruises, the toes gone numb with cold, the  muscles shaking with exhaustion, the long trudge back up the hill pulling an unwieldy sled behind me.  And so I was surprised, and then not so surprised to find that snowshoeing is much more of a work out than Grizzly Adams ever made it appear.   

Last Wednesday we got somewhere between 1.5 and 2 feet of snow.  That evening, once the winds had let up and the shoveling was done, I finally got to try out my new snowshoes! 


These are Yukon Charlie's, 825 series, and yes those are pajama bottoms I'm wearing.  They were the warmest, dry pair of pants I had at the moment. 

It wasn't until I had gotten outside that I realized I hadn't read anything about how to put on or adjust the snowshoes.  Thankfully the toe straps worked just like the bindings on my snowboard, but I did manage to put them on the wrong feet (the straps should point to the outside of the foot).  I felt some doubt as I looked at the wall of snow in front of me and considered stepping out onto it.  Would I just sink down and get mired in the snow like a toddler? 


That first experience was not all that I'd hoped it would be.  I sunk about half way to the ground with each step.  Somehow I'd imagined I would only sink and inch or two, not that I'd based this idea on any research of any kind.  With each step I banged the rear end of the shoes together and  there was a lag between when my foot started to lift and when the shoe followed it (my straps were too loose).  I went in feeling tired and a bit let down. 

After applying the H.A.L.T. rule to that first snowshoeing experience, I decided I better give it another try.  The HALT rule says that you should never make any decisions or trust your impressions when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.  I was certainly tired the night I tried out my snowshoes.  So yesterday I gathered up my gear and headed to the closest place I could think of that would have open snowy areas, ideal for a newbie, and a plowed parking lot.  That place was Willards Woods.   


Willards Woods is one of the larger and better know conservation areas in Lexington.  Long before I'd ever been there, I knew of its existence through seeing "Save Willards Woods" bumper stickers.  I think those stickers may have been part of a debate over whether or not people should be allowed to let their dogs roam free over the 100 acres.  In the end a compromise was reached, with leashes being optional on certain days of the week. 

As I left the parking lot and entered the old orchard area, I was excited to see snowshoe tracks and pole marks running parallel to the trail walkers had packed into the snow.  I looked out at the field of mainly unbroken snow, and thought this is what I'd imagined.  

I roamed like a puppy, following whatever caught my eye.

Tree bird 011511

A stump that looks like a heron wading in the shallows.

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Evidence of squirrels commuting between the woods and a lone, tall pine tree in the field.

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The ripples of a stream caught in ice, resulting in lace-like forms.

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And the always awe inspiring peace of the woods in winter.

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Leaning tree 011511

That morning I'd found a quote from Kurt Vonnegut on our refrigerator, placed there in the night by my partner Z.  It said “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is'."

After 40 minutes of snowshoeing I was sweaty and exhausted, but it had sure been nice. 

Beech tree 011511

Walking in a Cloud

A week ago New England (along with the rest of the Atlantic Coast) was preparing for the blizzard of 2010.  I suppose when there's only a week of the year left, you can be pretty certain a blizzard is "the" blizzard of the season.  My corner of the world was  expected to receive 12"-18" of snow, and we most certainly did.  

Framed tree Dec2009

All week the weather grew progressively nicer.  The snow stopped falling, the winds died down, a tiny spot of blue appeared between the clouds, the gray storm clouds were relaced by the cotton ball variety and so it continued until yesterday when temps reached the high 40s and the hush of snow was replaced by a chorus of dripping.  From blizzard to no jacket required (yes, we are quick to ditch layers at the first sign of a break in the weather) in one week.  After that, very little weatherwise would have surprised me.

Of course, it's not every day I awake inside a cloud. 

Foggy horse
For the first time in weeks I kept my resolution to take a morning walk.  I didn't even eat breakfast out of fear that the temperature would dip and the fog disapear before I had a chance to get out in it. 

On the Minuteman Bike Trail figures emerged from nowhere and disapeared just as fast.  I jumped when one jogger appeared out of the fog just ahead of me and wished me a good morning.   

Bike trail fog
The fog seemed to play tricks with sound as well.  Maybe it was just that I couldn't synch what I was hearing with what I was seeing, but I had the sense of sound being muffled.  As I entered Parker Meadow Conservation area I saw out of the corner of my eye something glide out of the meadow and into the trees.  Could it be a deer?  A second later I realized it was a fellow walker, taking in the spectacle of the transformed landscape.  Something about the unearthlines of the scene called for solitude, so I went the other way around the pond.


Ice had formed on the pond before the blizzard; I could see where someone had crossed it on skis.  But this morning it looked more soupy than stable, a lot like the pond we used to dare each other as kids to walk through in March.  Whoever went the farthest past the ice and into the slushy water had bragging rights, at least until the next day's attempt. 

I circled the pond, visiting the place where I'd watched tadpoles surface last spring and later photographed frogs the size of my fist.  Today the idea of any life, much less something as vulnerable as an amphibian ever being in that habitat seemed impossible.

Tadpole 100609 Tadpole surfacing

  Big guy 061710

Even today there were signs of life, like these spider web strands.  At first glance they appeared to be a fishing line tangled in the branches.  Once I noticed them I saw the strands on several trees around me, even stretching across the stream that feeds the pond.  It was like no spider web I'd ever seen before.  The strands were so far apart it seemed improbable that a bug would be unable to avoid them.  How could they possibly be effective?  Maybe it was the moisture of the fog that had rendered them visible.  I've certainly had the experience of walking through the woods and feeling (rather than seeing) spider webs break across my face.

Spider web
It's funny how in winter it's impossible to imagine the world ever being anything other than a watercolor painted entirely in neutrals, and in the summer it's unfathomable that the world could ever be so bare.  To illustrate my point, here's a picture of a path from Parker Meadow to the bike trail taken this morning.

Foggy trail

And here's the same trail (from the opposite direction) taken in July. 

Parker Meadow 061710
I've seen this seasonal transformation every year of my life, and yet it still amazes me.  The scene around us appears so set, so permanent, but in reality the only thing that can be counted on is change.  That idea scared me to the core the first time I heard it, but I've learned to see hope and freedom in it.  For no matter how bad (or good) a situation is, it won't last forever, no matter what I do.  That's liberating.  It doesn't mean I should just sit back and wait for the universe to make things happen.  Instead it reduces my responsibility to taking the next right-for-me step, which this morning meant heading home for a hot breakfast.  

On the way I heard birds above me; more birds than I've seen or heard in over a month.  

  Their chattering put a smile on my face, and I sang all the way home.



Harvest Time at Drumlin Farm

As Thanksgiving approached this year, I thought for the millionth time just how out of place a celebration of bounty feels in late November.  The leaves are bare.  Whatever crops remain on the vine are rotten and bloated.  Yards have been winterized.  There are brightly colored poles to guide plowmen down driveways and the fragile plants have been  swaddled in burlap.

Wrapped trees 022210

Apparently I'm not alone in thinking this way.  I heard a librarian comment on how much better it would be to celebrate Thanksgiving in October, like the Canadians do.  The patron she was talking to pointed out that Canada's October is probably much like our November.  After a pause he added that in an agrarian society there would be no time for celebration until the harvest was in and the work was done.  Isn't it frustrating when logic trumps sentiment?

Since  it doesn't look like Thanksgiving will be moved to a more bountiful time of year any time soon, let's go back and remind ourselves how golden and verdant the landscape was just a couple months ago.

Pansy pumpkin 111510
For years a friend told me that I should visit Drumlin Farm in Lincoln MA.  She brought her son there all the time and she'd tell me things like "it's a great place for a picnic", or "they have animals you can pet" and "it's so much fun".   When she mentioned animals and petting in the same breath, all I could imagine was a terrifying experience I had as a 5 year old at York's Wild Kingdom.  Tiny child + carton of animal kibble + excited goats = crying child being pulled out from under goat mosh pit by mother.  Even as an adult, I wasn't eager to go near a petting zoo again. 

Fortunately, another friend invited me for a walk one day without telling me where we were headed.  I'm sure you can guess where we went.  It wasn't at all what I had imagined.  First, it's a real farm.  You can pet the animals if you want to, but there are signs strictly prohibiting their feeding.  The farm is run by Mass Audubon, so the focus is on preservation through education.  There are of course the traditional farm animals: chickens, cows, sheep, goats and pigs.

If you visit and spot a sheep with a blue back side, it's not the work of rural graffiti artists, just a sign that the ewe has been mated.

Drumlin pig 092310

I'm always surprised at just how much character the pigs have.  I remember one litter which definitely had a bully.  He truly knew how to push his weight around to get what he wanted.  He gave his siblings no rest until they gave up their ball or the prime scratching spot (the doorway to the yard).  The pig shed is also fun to visit because of the pig scale. Along with the traditional numbers, the scale is split into the life stages of pigs.  It's fun to watch a group of kids clamber on in an effort weigh more than "piglet". 

Drumlin pig 073010
 In addition to the typical barnyard creatures,  there is an assortment of rescues, animals that have been injured and would no longer survive in the wild.  Within a square mile (or less) you can see a turkey vulture, several kinds of owls, a kestrel, a partridge (beware, during mating season he/she has a startlingly loud call), red tailed hawks, several deer, an opossum, a skunk (minus scent gland) and two foxes (whose urine smells like diluted skunk musk, so don't be alarmed).  One of the foxes has extra pigment so it actually appears to be black with touches of silver. And though he isn't as rare as many of the animals, a visit wouldn't be the same without the gregarious crow on Bird Hill, who can often be seen conversing with his cronies in nearby trees. 

I've now been to the farm in every season, and I'd be hard pressed to choose a favorite.  In the winter there are few visitors and the snugness of the barns and greenhouse come as a nice surprise after the cold of the wind.  Of course the spring means babies - piglets, chirping chicks and adorable bounding lambs.

The summer is great for visiting the actual farm and seeing just what all those veggies we're used to buying wrapped in plastic actually look like when they're growing.  It was a volunteer docent at Drumlin who first told me that broccoli is actually a flower and that carrots are related to the flower Queen Anne's Lace. 

And then there's the fall.  If I were pushed to choose a favorite time to visit Drumlin, that would probably be it.  The place is bedecked in hilarious scarecrows.  There are scare-couples with arms interlocked and others wearing lays and outrageous hats.  There are hayrides and carved pumpkins (see my earlier post The Frost is on the Pumpkin). 

The fall is certainly my favorite time for investigating the non-animal portions of Drumlin.  There's a surprising variety of trails, each with its own character and terrain.  Whether it's geographically true or not, I tend to think of Boyce Field as the hub of the trail system (see above link for a map).  Boyce is ideal for a late afternoon stroll.  The "golden hour" light that artists talk about adds magic to the simple scene of produce rising from the earth.  

Swiss chard 100310

     Chard stems 100310 Suddenly you're not just looking at food, you're looking at art.  The swiss chard rows resemble intricate stained glass.  Even the most humble vegetables gain new stature when seen as examples of chiaroscuro, the interplay of sun and shadow. 

Greens 100310
My favorite example of this transformation is the rutabaga plant.  The very word makes my spine tighten; it all goes back to the pasty, a handheld meatpie that originated in Cornwall.  Immigrants introduced it to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where it now has almost a cult following. My grandmother used to tell us about how she and her mother made pasties from whatever bits of meat and veg they had on hand, so her brothers could bring them (wrapped in newspaper) into the mines for lunch.  The exact recipe would vary, but the hearty rutabaga was a staple. 

As a child, I hated rutabagas.  I say "as a child" but in truth I haven't tried one since I was old enough to have a say in what I eat.  My mother and grandmother tried convincing me rutabaga had no taste, and if it had a taste it was the same as potato.  I figured years of drinking black coffee had destroyed their taste buds.  In the end my mother resigned herself to making a special pasty for me with just meat, potatoes and carrots.  She made the vent holes on top in the shape of a T so I'd know which one was mine; and I loved every delicious bite.

So I had to smile when walking in Boyce Field I saw a root vegetable the size of a football with a beautiful tangle of stalks rising up from it, and realized it was a rutabaga.  

Rhutebaga 100310

That's what I love about walking.  Even if you've been to a place a hundred times, walking can always present you with a new perspective.  As for rutabaga, I'll keep to my original plan of abstinence... to ensure there's enough for the rest of you to enjoy, of course.


  • I will be revisiting Drumlin's trail system in future posts.  There's still a lot to share.
  • You can find a recipe for pasties through Real Simple magazine.   
  • If you're in the area and would like to visit Drumlin Farm, be aware it's closed most Mondays and that there is an entrance fee.  Many local libraries have reduced price tickets available for patrons, so it's worth doing a little footwork first.

McClennen Park Daybreak

Driving away from Whipple Hill a massive pterodactyl-like form flew out of the trees and disappeared into the woods on the other side of the road.  In the suburban northeast, you don't encounter many large, wild animals, which makes the sight of a heron in flight all the more special.  When I'm lucky enough to see one, I typically stop and stare with the sort of grin that ought to be reserved for seeing reindeer fly.

I had a feeling I might know where that heron was coming from, so I decided to make a little detour before heading home.  Lace McClennan Park 071810  

McClennen Park on Summer St. in Arlington, MA is a great example of government listening to the needs of a community while still retaining natural spaces.  A couple years ago it underwent a major face-lift and since then, it has been a selling tool for developers in the area. 

I have to admit that up until this summer, I only knew the park for what can be seen from the road: a fenced baseball diamond, a skate park (really) and a  colorful, jungle gym structure guaranteed to make little ones desperate to get at it.  But a few weeks ago a friend invited me to go walking with her there, and I got to see a whole different side. Pods 071810

At the center of the park is a massive, grassy hill. It rises up from the surrounding field at an improbable angle.  It has the same look as those hills that are built on top of landfills.  Considering it's located in the middle of a residential area, I'm sure that's not the case, but that is what it looks like. That hill is the reason that McClennen Park feels like two separate parks.  A paved walkway starts near the parking lot by the jungle gym, goes around the base of the mystery hill and disappears into a shady lane lined by milkweed, queen anne's lace, and raspberry bushes.

As a kid I can remember using the brown, end of season milkweed pods in countless Sunday School projects.  A couple remain intact after all this time, tiny winter diaramas that leave a trail of glitter as they travel from a storage box to the Christmas tree each year.  Milkweed pods also played a major role in elementary school earth science.  Our school was near a marsh, so in the fall our teachers would bring us out for a walk and let us pluck the downy insides and toss them (seeds in tow) into the wind.  For the rest of the day we'd pick bits of feathery white from each others' sweaters and hair. 

But this year, is the first time I've seen milkweed before it takes on its papery brown autumn skin.  The pods remind me of fuzzy spring lambs.  The underside of the leaves have a similar fuzzy texture, on a much smaller scale.

Getting back to the trail.  It's a simple loop, with the occasional offshoot connecting to a residential street.  It's a park designed to be used by the people around it, just as parks should be.  The back side of the hill is a sea of wildflowers, a haven for butterflies that completely blocks your view of the man made portions of the park.  There are trees filled with robins and even the occasional oriole.  Benches are placed along the path, so you can sit and watch the creatures who are drawn to the pond nestled in this side of the park.  It's all a wonderful surprise, a hidden gem you'd never expect based on what you can see from the road. 

In the late afternoon walkers abound, but at daybreak, I had it all to myself.  Well, aside from the heron fishing for breakfast, the reclusive duck family and the chorus of frog that is.  I captured the sounds of the morning in a short video.

Heron McClennan Pk 071810

I know the quality on the video is pretty poor; it was shot with my digital camera, but it does capture the music of the morning well.  Here's a better shot of the heron. 

As I watched, the heron stealthfully stretched out its neck, pointed its need-like beak toward the water and rested in that strained position for an impossibly long time.  I tried not to blink out of fear I'd miss the heron's strike.  Fortunately it was morning and the bird was hungry, so I had the chance to watch him repeat the performance over and over.  Step forward, stretch, point, hold, hold, hold, strike!  Come up with a tiny fish wriggling in its beak.  A shake of the head and a visible swallow and the fish was gone.  After each fish, the heron decorously took a sip of water - to wash it down I suppose.    

The heron appeared utterly uninterested in my presence, even when I jumped to avoid stepping in dog poo.  I suppose the heron is used to having an audience in such a central watering hole.  It's not at all like the elusive White Heron in Sarah Orne Jewett's short story of the same name.  In the story a shy young girl befriends an ornithologist and then has to decide whether or not to show him the heron he seeks to add to his collection.  My description doesn't do the story justice.  You can read the story online or listen to it through the Craftlit podcast. Sarah Orne Jewett lived just over the border in Maine, and I always consider her short story collection The Country of the Pointed Firs, the epitome of what summer in New England is about, even if the stories are set over 100 years ago.  

As I finished the loop around the park, I saw a couple juvenile red-winged blackbirds teetering on the top of cattails and answering the calls of a nearby adult.  These are some of my favorite birds. I know a lot of people associate robins with spring, but plenty of robins decide to stay put and weather the winter.  The cry of the red-winged blackbird however, is a sure sign of spring.  A Canadian friend told me that in Nova Scotia the red-winged blackbird is a bit like that forecasting groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil.  When these birds arrive locals know there's just one more snowfall before spring.

Heading back to the parking lot I saw a dog park of sorts.  Three or four people stood companionably around home plate as their dogs ran free inside the fenced baseball area.  I like the idea of dogs much more than the reality and I become really annoyed by people who ignore leash laws, but the sight of a golden running at full tilt to catch the ball its owner had thrown, was beautiful.  As I watched the dogs romp, an older woman shuffled up the path with two miniature dogs pulling her along.  Once inside the fence, the tiniest of the dogs ran right up to a huge furry beast with hair over its eyes and started a conversation.  In seconds the two were playfully chasing each other.  I heard their happy barks all the way back to my car.  I smiled at the thought of this little scene being played out day after day, before most people are even up.  McClennen Park is well used, and I mean that in every sense.

Whipple Hill Sunrise

A couple years ago I stopped making New Year's Resolutions, and started making a "Wanna" list, as in,

This year I "wanna":

  • visit Acadia National Park
  • make bagels
  • see the sunrise
  • figure out the logic of knitting sock heels
  • give blood often
  • join a book club
  • explore all of Lexington's conservation land

Today I crossed an item off the list, one that I've been thinking about for ages, and as is so often the case, it was so easy I don't know why I didn't do it earlier. 

Sunday is typically the one day each week that I don't wake to the sound of my alarm, but today I was actually awake before it went off at 4:45 a.m.  The world was much lighter than I'd expected.  Had the sun already risen?  I'd gone to sleep the night before imagining making my way up the trail to Lexington's highest point by flashlight, and shivering in the darkness until the first rays reached out over the horizon.  The dusty blue reality of predawn light and temps in the high 70s did not fit my expectations at all.

Clouds 071810

With one eye on the sky and the other taking in the phenomenon of Main Street without a single car in sight,  I hurried over to Whipple Hill Conservation Area.  Along the way I had one of those "if a tree falls in the forest" moments and wondered if traffic laws still applied when you're the only person on the streets.  Feeling a little foolish, I dutifully stopped at the red light and waited for it to turn.  

Whipple sign 071810

The trails of Whipple Hill are popular with dog walkers, so as I made my way up the short ascent, I half expected an off-leash dog to come bounding out of the semi darkness and knock me over.  Happily, the only sounds I heard were the wind in the leaves and a few drowsy birds. 

When I got to the highest point, just 374 feet above sea level, expectations were trumped by reality again.  The last time I'd been to Whipple Hill was in the spring.  Back then, it had been possible to make out the sky scrapers of Boston.  Now the height of summer, the trees had filled in and blocked a lot of the view from the top.

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Fortunately, by retracing my steps a little way, I was able to find a view out to the horizon. 

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At 5:28 a.m. a faint glimmer of something bright flickered on the horizon.  It was so thin that I thought my eyes might be fooling me; a picture provided a second opinion. 

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That tiny glimmer was the actual sun.  As I watched it grow on the horizon I had for probably the first time in my life, a sense of the Earth as a moving object.  That moment brought life to countless diagrams in musty science text books.  Instead of knowing in a cerebral way that it was true, I felt it!  From that moment, I was tempted to keep my finger on the shutter button so I wouldn't miss a thing.  Even the birds stopped to take notice of the rising sun.  For a short while, the birds and I were the only living things in creation, and this show was just for us. 

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How is it possible I sleep through this every day?  Even as the thought formed in my mind, I knew that my alarm would be back to its regular time the next day, but for now I would soak in every bit of it.

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I sat down to watch the sun's glow stretch over the landscape and enjoy some breakfast.  I'd brought cold water and Zucchini Carrot bread, my variation on a recipe I found through the Simply Recipes blog. It's an incredibly easy recipe, it freezes well, and unlike many fruit breads, a slice holds its shape well enough that it can easily be eaten on the go.  I like to walk first thing in the morning, so I'm always on the lookout for healthy breakfast options I can take with me.  In my version I add three or four grated carrots and decrease the butter to 1/2 a cup (the recipe makes two loaves).

As the sun rose, the number of birds singing did too.  I heard a Mourning Dove low and far away, the baby-like chirps of a Nuthatch and everywhere the animated chatter of Chickadees (checkout the links to hear examples of their calls).  Soon all the trees around my little clearing were filled with Chickadees, bobbing from branch to branch, landing for just a moment then on the move again. 

Standing on my parents' dresser to see the Chickadees at the backyard feeder is one of my earliest memories.  My brother has always sworn that he trained Chickadees to eat from his hand when he was around 11.  Being the younger sibling, and never having seen the trick, I'm highly doubtful.  Still, I often wonder when I see a Chickadee sitting just out of reach, if he might be telling the truth. 

Today, the tables were turned and the Chickadees' antics lead me to an early crop of wild blueberries.  I'm not a fruit fan, but I love wild berries.  The ones in stores are always too plump and too mushy (otherwise known by fruit lovers as "juicy").  Wild berries on the other hand are small with one sweet splash of juice snuggled inside their sun-warmed flesh.  Of course, the thrill of finding edible food in the woods and snacking on it like a frontiersman, is one of the best garnishes there is.

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Just be sure the berries are high enough or far enough back from the trail that they are unlikely to have been "watered" by passing dogs.  

With a hand full of berry perfection, and plenty of sun shine to light my way, I started down the path to the tiny parking lot.  I'll be back to see the sun rise again, in the autumn when the leaves have fallen.  Of course a winter visit has the advantage of happening much later in the morning.  I think I see a new tradition starting. Sunlight trail 071810