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Friday, February 27, 2009

Finding the Way

By far the most rewarding surprise relating to my change in employment status (aside from this blog) is how much I enjoy the walking. On my first day at home I stood shivering in the cold house, peering out to the ice covered gardens in my backyard, wondering how I would get through the winter. Walking has been a fair weather sport for me thus far. But when I commented on this to a friend, she said: “Go anyway. Dress warm, wrap up and walk, that’s what I do.” Her comment that day brought on an “I should have had a V-8” moment. After all, I did attend college in Vermont and the weather there never stopped us. Notwithstanding that I was a lot younger back then; the temperatures up north are significantly colder. So, to my way of thinking, that pretty much evens things up. Taking her advice, most days I’ve been out there.

Other than my Abominable Snow Man walking outfit which stays the same, I’ve mixed up the walks a bit. On sunny days, I power stroll by the ocean, inhaling the briny air as sleepy waves pummel the shore, then hiss as they crash into themselves on their way back to sea. When the wind was too strong last week, a friend’s neighborhood was the route of choice, 8/10 of a mile around the block, three times past expansive capes and Paul Revere colonials.

Twice this week though, I’ve been gifted with a walk that has opened my eyes and taken me to new places.

The Whitney Woods nature reserve, located a ways down at the bottom of my street, contains miles of trails though heavily forested second growth. Located off of a two lane highway, as you drive down the rutted road to the entrance, the traffic sounds dissipate and you stumble upon another century. The last time we tried to walk there as a family, our daughter was little, it was late spring and mosquitoes chased us out of the forest before we’d walked fifty yards. But a friend is reintroducing me.

Vermont experience or not, I would never have considered Whitney Woods at this time of year. With the winter we’ve had, snow upon snow followed by rain turning to ice, the going is treacherous at best. But my friend has crampons, spiked metal contraptions you pull over boots to prevent slipping on ice, which she kindly shares with me while introducing me to the colors of winter. Instead of picking our way across the ice covered trails, we stroll summarily through the woods, and she points out features. “Look at that vernal pool over there; you won’t be able to see that when the leaves are on the trees,” and “You can tell by the bark on this tree that there was a fire in here at some point.”

According to the literature on the website, the park used to be “‘Common Lands of the Hingham Planters,’ referring to the colonists who settled the area beginning around 1634.” It’s the same topography that exists beyond the boundary markers of my own backyard—forested hills and channels marked with immense boulders deposited by prehistoric glaciers. Marveling at everything my friend points out, in addition I see other pictures. Erase the pines, oaks and birches that tower over tumbling stone walls, and imagine rocky fields full of cattle grazing. I visualize a nineteenth century farmer, striding to his herd on a late afternoon, while a teenage rider in homespun breeches disdains the dirt roads and jumps the walls lining the fields. And somewhere there’s a farmhouse where a woman in long skirts stirs a pot bubbling on a cast iron stove.

It’s beauty and it’s history and it’s been all around me but I haven’t made time to see. I take a deep breath and smile as, surefooted in our crampons; we climb up a snow crusted slope.
Whitney Woods

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