Thursday, December 21, 2006

Home Ground

Here on the first day of Winter, it’s nice to think of the warmth and promise of Spring, even if just for a few moments. Winter does have its charms, but Spring…I was looking through a few pictures I had taken this last April in a local park I often visit, and thinking about how nice it is to have a place nearby that you visit frequently, that you know well, that comforts you and surprises you in the ways that an old and good friend or family member will.
Having been somewhat unsettled through much of my adult life, there’s no place I go now that I’ve known intimately for all that many years. Many people talk of the relationships they’ve had with places throughout their entire lives, or throughout large chunks of their adult lives, but I just don’t really have that. However, for the last three years, since moving to Newton, I have had Hammond Pond.
Hammond Pond, and the adjoining Webster Conservation Area, is a wonderful and surprisingly wild and varied park in central Newton, straddling both sides of the Hammond Pond Parkway, just north of two separate mall complexes in Chestnut Hill. Though I’ve explored both sides, the east side that includes Hammond Pond itself is the place I usually go. It’s on my way to work, and easy to stop off at for a few minutes (or few hours, if I get up early enough) of birding and tramping about before clocking in. The pond itself, which borders the mall parking lot on the south and an inaccessible red maple swamp to the north, often harbors surprises for those who take the time to scan the water and the trees bordering this small lake. The water is often full of ducks, geese and gulls; in the Spring wood ducks are always present paddling and dabbling along the western shore, and can often be found sitting in nearby trees as well. Before and after ice out there are usually numerous hooded mergansers diving for fish. Two weeks ago I saw one struggling with a sunfish as big as its head; as if that wasn’t enough trouble it was soon attacked by a herring gull which forced it to dive again and again, always resurfacing with the fish still in its beak. Eventually it made its way over to the water’s edge; the gull gave up as it hid itself in the overhanging brush there and finally consumed its enormous meal. Great blue herons are often seen here, ospreys not so often but on a few occasions.
Entering the woods you quickly pass beautifully sculpted cliffs of Roxbury pebblestone that sometimes hold climbers on the weekends. When the palm warblers arrive, usually among the first warblers to do so, they jam this stretch of trees in considerable numbers and think nothing about going about their business not ten feet away, singing their feeble trill and constantly flicking their tail as they forage in the low, open undergrowth.
Just a few minutes of walking brings you to a short dip down into the Webster Conservation area, where a small, clear brook babbles along into a wetland area, a peat bog. Skunk cabbage abounds, and this is usually the first place I spot migrating hermit thrushes, hiding in plain sight in their peculiar and endearing manner. This wetland appears wildly different at different times of year, or even from day to day according to the amount of rain we've been getting. Sometimes it is lush and picturesque, full of frogs and swimming ducks, herons and kingfishers. Other times it is a dank mudpit, and sometimes it appears as a dry, stubbly field bunched with clumps of brown marsh grass along its margins. Once again wood ducks are dependable if there is water to be found. There are always song sparrows, but that is no surprise. I have seen, twice, a coyote trotting along the train tracks on the far side. And some incredible, unseeable species of frog makes the most amazing, bubbling, endless trill in the early mornings, one frog harmonizing with another at strange, jarring intervals.

Moving along, before I cross the train tracks there is a little spot up from the wetland where I look and usually find an ovenbird skulking about the logs and leaf duff in early May. Crossing the tracks finds me in the Houghton Gardens, a more manicured garden area with benches, carefully placed stone steps and small arched bridges over narrow, shallow waterways. Warblers are plentiful here.

Coming back, I skip the wetland and instead head up along a back trail to the top of the bluffs we passed earlier, finding myself in perhaps the most surprising place of all, a rolling open shelf of rock and thick, verdant moss, with views over the high ledges to the pond and swamp below. This place never fails to thrill me with its fragile beauty and unexpected character; the dense heterogeneity of this entire property is a marvel, surrounded by residential neighborhoods, highways and shopping malls, five miles down the road from Boston.

1 comment:

Esme said...

That Flower is so beautiful such a pretty pink. Love, Esme