When I was growing up in S. Florida, we read Jack London’s short story, “To Build a Fire,” which left a lasting impression on me. I can still picture a lone man in the wilderness, struggling against the elements, fingers so cold he failed to hold onto precious matches, which were dropped, useless, into the wet snow. It’s been bitterly cold in New England, in the minus digits, something I associate with Alaskan, or Yukon Territories sort of locale, not New England. Whenever it gets this cold my thought go back to the reading of this classic story, and I want only to stay inside, sheltered and warm.
And yet, after a day or two, the cold relents, and the urge to get outside takes over. This afternoon it was a balmy 23 degrees F, so we ventured to a nearby trail I hadn’t visited in a long while, conservation land off North Maple Street in Bellingham, MA. My last visit had been in the spring, and walking then was difficult. Along the way various marshy streams head toward the Upper Charles River, and finding a path between these streams through the woods was difficult. The frozen landscape of winter makes crossing these wet areas much easier.
We spotted only coyote tracks as we made our way through the woods. A foot of snow covered the ground, the stone walls throughout the woods standing in sharp relief against the white backdrop. Farming along the banks of the river made a lot of sense to the farmers of yesteryear.
Although our walk took us quite close to Route 495, I was impressed with the quiet. We heard very little traffic noise, mostly the squeak of boots on cold, dry snow. The shopping center where Whole Foods draws people from around the area is on the other side of the river, yet most shoppers have no idea of the quiet beauty of this forgotten landscape and the river that flows so quietly nearby. There is a sign at the trailhead noting the property is conservation land, but little else invites others to come enjoy the views along the river.
The down side of walking where others haven’t been is that fallen branches litter the trail. I tripped several times,tumbling into soft, forgiving snow. Getting up each time was difficult, the muscles in my right leg don’t take kindly to helping me get upright. Once I simply lost my focus, entranced by the river flowing past; the snow that covered me when I fell was dry and brushed off easily. Following our tracks backward to the trailhead, I was alert, watching for the branches that tripped me up; I arrived back at the trailhead in one piece and happy. We headed back to the car just as the first flakes of another snowstorm began to fall.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! New England Regional Chair for the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com