posts tagged with 'hiking'

our first mountain

We've done lots of hiking this year—or walking in the woods, at least—but we haven't gone up any mountains. We usually save mountain climbing for our annual Maine vacation, but of course that didn't happen this summer. And anyways those are kind of mini-mountains: some fun and challenging climbs and impressive views, but not too much actual altitude (of course, when you're starting from sea level it all counts, but still). So when I heard from a neighbor that his fourth- and first-graders were climbing local mountains this fall I thought right away that it was something we might try too. Last week we started with the littlest closest one, Mount Wachusett.

the boys resting on a rock on the way up Mt Wachusett

mountaineers

Not having done anything like this before, I spent hours pouring over maps and guidebooks—or the online version, at least. I love OpenStreetMaps, but it doesn't have any context for the trails it shows, and it's terrible at locating parking. So I also used the official Massachusetts State Parks page, plus some guidance from other websites with details about particular trails. Nobody writes that kind of thing about places like the October Farm Riverfront (they should! I should!) but it turns out that lots of people like talking about climbing mountains. It made me much more confident in setting out last Thursday morning bright and early for the hour-long trip to the base of the mighty peak.

We got a new audiobook for the drive—The House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones—so the trip went quickly. When we reached it we marveled at the ski slopes as we drove by, then stopped briefly at the visitor center to pick up a trail map in case I didn't have cell service for at any point on the trip. It would have been less brief but the visitor center was closed—even the portapotties!—so we piled back in the car for the two minute drive to the parking lot at the trailhead where we wanted to go up.

My thought was to go up the steepest trail on the mountain, because Lijah likes mountain climbing quite a bit more than hiking, at least when he's primed with the expectation of being on an actual mountain. But I wanted to do a loop down (especially since that steepest way is only half a mile to the top!), and I didn't want to get up to the top right away and then have a long walk to finish off. So even through there's a lot at the bottom of the steep trail, we parked about a mile away and started off with a walk on a trail parallel to the road. Judging by the map I had thought it would be pretty flat, but it actually went up a fair grade, in addition to being made of boulders for much of the route. It felt delightfully mountainy! After that, though, the turn onto the steep path up was something of a disappointment when we saw that it was all stairs. At least for the second half the woods thinned out a bit and we could chose to walk on the bare rocks beside the stairs—which of course we did.

There was some disappointment at the summit too: even though I'd told them what to expect, the boys were a little dismayed to see the parking lot and the observation tower and all the people—yes, even on a weekday morning the top of Wachusett was a little crowded. But when we started to pay attention to the views I finally got the kids to understand that they were actually up higher than they had ever been before in their lives. That was cool in its own right, and it also meant that we could see pretty far (even though it was frustratingly hazy for October). There were four signs around the observation deck with labeled pictures of the landmarks you could see in each direction; spotting the tall buildings way off in Boston was pretty cool, but the massing mountains of Vermont were the most exciting. We could see Vermont! A magical place that they'd barely ever thought about before! Then we found a quiet spot to have lunch. Quiet in that is was out of the way of people, that is; the wind was plenty loud! Oh yeah, I forgot to say that whatever other ways it was lacking as a mountaintop Wachusett certainly provided an appropriate amount of summit wind.

the boys walking on rocks through a sun-dappled pine wood

the path down

The way down was longer than the way up, and more interesting. If I were to do the mountain again—which frankly I can't imagine doing, unless friends want to go with us—I'd definitely go up that way and down yet another way. We passed through different types of woods and one small meadow orchard, and took a little detour to visit the grandly named Echo Lake (pretty, but smaller than most ponds we know). Then it was an easy walk back to the car. The whole thing was far from the longest hike we've ever done, even outside of camping, and when after looking at the clearing haze I jokingly suggested going back up to take another look at the distant hills Harvey was ready to go for it. Really, we all could have made it back to the summit pretty easily a second time. But we did have obligations for later in the afternoon, and the audiobook was calling, so we were all happy enough to head for home... thinking about the next mountain we might climb. "How much higher is Mount Washington?" Harvey wanted to know.

distant Mt Monadnock from the summit of Wachusett

looking away to Mt Monadnock... a more realistic next goal!

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multimodal exploration of Fairhaven Bay

A week or two ago we set out to explore a new bit of land, spanning Concord and Sudbury between Walden Pond and the river. We started out by visiting Mount Misery, as described here; that was fun, but we didn't actually make it into Adams Woods or Wright Woods, where I had actually thought of visiting. So I searched for an alternative entrance to the Wright Woods and found a closer way in, off of Sudbury Rd in Concord. Our first trip there turned into an epic two-hour walk around Fairhaven Hill, with many delightful sights along the way.

Blue looking out at Fairhaven Bay from by the boathouse

Blue looks at the Bay

One highlight was Fairhaven Bay, and the old boathouse looking out over this unexpected stretch of open water in the middle of the Sudbury River. The path went by an old boathouse, which was a lovely place to stop for a snack; we only we could have found some way to get into it! We also enjoyed climbing on an old ruined chimney (pictured here) and scrambling on some rocky cliffs above the river.

Harvey and Elijah on rocks above a steep hillside

cliffs are hard to photograph

Writing on the internet suggested there were some cliffy trails to explore, but even though we walked for a while we didn't find them. A long while, actually: doing a loop all around Fairhaven Hill was maybe a bit much. We've been doing lots of hiking lately, though, so we all survived.

Harvey carrying Elijah piggypack in the woods

kind brother

A couple days later we revisited the woods, this time by water. We put the canoe in at a launch near Mount Misery (which required paddling through a very shallow, algae-infested channel) and headed downstream into Fairhaven Bay. On the way we passed by the beach where Zion swam on our first visit; it was even more fun reaching it by boat. Even though the weather was sunnier we were all happy enough to be on the water that nobody felt like it was necessary to go in it.

the canoe pulled up on a beach on the Sudbury River

beached

There was enough breeze to make paddling across the middle of Fairhaven Bay exciting; you don't expect waves like that on a river trip! It was a beautiful sparkling day though, and it felt absolutely delightful to be out on the water. We saw just one other group paddling, in a pair of canoes, and we greeted each other enthusiastically—just knowing we were both doing the loveliest possible thing at that particular moment.

Zion paddling the canoe in the middle of Fairhaven Bay

just the best

At the other side of the bay we reached the boathouse. I only wish there was a little more water, though, since right now the river is too low to get into it. The little streams coming out of the Adams woods were also impassible due to low water, but around them we saw lots of interesting birds.

cormorants, one spreading its wings, standing on the mud

there were also geese and swans

But while the boating was fun, it didn't get us any nearer to finding the big cliffs. And nobody wanted to walk all that way again. So this past Sunday we went back with bikes. And it turns out that the Wright Woods is great for cycling, with trails that are smooth enough for even Lijah's 16-inch wheels (though his fearlessness in attacking obstacles did lead to some nervous moments for me!) and plenty of fun downhill segments. And the cliffs! Approaching them we were forced off the bikes in short order.

the boys pushing their bikes up a steep hill

push!

That may not look all that steep in the picture, but I assure you that even at that point it was just about unrideable. And it got crazier! The scramble up the last bit was a challenge even on foot!

the boys scrambling up a steep gorge

we can do it!

Disappointingly, the top was a rich person's yard. They did have a very cool boat-shaped observation platform and a nice firepit, but it wasn't really a place for us to linger (though of course we did pause for water and snacks just below the top). Still, we felt like we had conquered a real climb!

distant hills as seen through trees from atop Fairhaven Hill

the view from the top

After all those trips, we now feel like those woods have been pretty comprehensively explored. But that doesn't mean that we're done there: now that we know the place, we're ready to go back and have some fun!

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visiting all the woods

This week we visited two new-to-us forest areas (so far!). On Wednesday we went to Wilderness Park Conservation Area for a quick walk; it's right here in Bedford, adjacent to Fawn Lake, but somehow we've never been there before. It's a nice little woods, with lots of interesting glacial rocks and a good-sized stream, Fawn Brook (well, it would be good-sized in a regular year; this month it's dry like everything else). We walked a loop counterclockwise, which was a good call because the first third of the walk was closed in with marshy brush and not particularly interesting—until we came on a wasp nest right in the path and Harvey and the dogs got stung. We detoured around it and in a little while reached some more fun, varied trails over on the other side.

Elijah looking down from a little bridge among rocks

we wish there was water!

Then yesterday we traveled to Lincoln with the intention of exploring the Adams Woods Conservation Land. At the suggestion of the Lincoln Conservation website we parked at the Mount Misery parking lot on Route 117, which meant of course that we had to climb it before we left that bit of land! It was appropriately steep, at least the way we chose to ascend, and there was a delightful shelter of sticks on the summit.

Elijah visible inside a teepee made of sticks

there are three boys and two dogs in there!

Besides the Mount, the woods there also had their own delightful streams (dry) and bridges, along with a few ponds and some steep ridges (all apparently part of the glacier-created kettle landscape, which we learned some about this morning). Half of the woods was remarkably open, with nothing but white pines every 20 feet or so but with canopies big enough to touch and leave the pine needly forest floor in shadow. It made us want to build some bike trails in there.

Harvey and Zion on a bigger bridge

plenty of points of interest

Like I said, my hope was to walk through the Mount Misery area to access Adams Woods, but that turns out to have been overly ambitious. It's actually kind of a trek. Even worse, the dogs had to be leashed for lots of the way, and that's no fun for anyone. So we turned back short of the goal. That was ok, because on the way back we went a different way that passed by the biggest kettle hole, and we also had time for a short detour to the Sudbury River. Three of us were too tired to engage much with it, but the dogs are always game for a swim; their example encouraged Zion to take off enough clothes to really get in and enjoy the water.

Zion almost submerged in the Sudbury River

how's the water?

Then on the short walk back to the car we talked about what, besides towels, would be useful to include in an emergency pack that we could bring everywhere with us. It was an exciting enough discussion that we're all ready to tackle another new woods soon... with better supplies!

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what I did on my summer vacation

We spent four days on the Cape last week and, while we didn't do everything we hoped to, we certainly hit the high points! The main things we were looking forward to in a vacation was going to the beach and spending lots of time sitting around reading and playing games, and the weather cooperated perfectly, with two rainy afternoons for curling up and warm enough weather that we could swim any time we wanted to. Including once in the rain!

We left home right on time on Tuesday before lunch, and had a quick and easy drive all the way to Truro. On the way we listened to Diana Wynne Jones' The Year of the Griffin, our current vacation audiobook; it was little hard to remember what was happening since last time we heard the story, on the way home from camping more than a year ago, but we put it together somehow. When we arrived it wasn't long before everyone was in the water!

the boys in the water with Grandpa, Leah walking to join them

this is what we've been waiting for!

Well, almost everyone: it took the dogs a little while to get used to the idea of waves, even the little waves on the bay side beach that we could walk to from where we were staying at Leah's parents' house. They had it figured out by the end of the day when we took an evening walk on the beach, as pictured at the end of this post. It was hard for everyone to go to sleep in a new place, but eventually we managed it; one of the boys even fell asleep in the bed assigned to him!

The next day dawned cooler and overcast, and with rain forecast for the afternoon we scheduled some essential outdoor activities for the morning hours. The boys went to play tennis with Leah and Grandpa—he's an skilled player, and provided both slightly-larger kid model tennis balls and mostly patient expert instruction. I took a bike ride.

my road bike by the shore of a little pond

seeing the sights

In the afternoon the rain seemed to be holding off, so everybody except me went out for a walk on the beach. Of course, it started raining mere moments after they left, but that didn't faze them. In fact, Harvey and Zion took the opportunity for a rainy day dip in the ocean, never mind that they were wearing their clothes. One advantage of this sort of vacation over camping is that laundry facilities are easily accessible! When they got back (and put their clothes in the dryer) we settled down to some card-playing and reading.

The next day was warmer but just as overcast, with the addition of fog and possible thunderstorms. Leah and I are limited in our ability to sit still in a place where we don't have chores to do, so soon after breakfast we packed the boys up for a hike. We went to Great Island in Welfleet, which, as the most promising hike within range of Truro, we've attempted before. The last two times we defeated—or at least kept from doing any "hiking"—by hot sun, gnats, and sandy trails that are just about like walking on a beach, so we figured a day where the fog was coming in ever-thicker would be perfect for another try.

Leah and the boys hiking among the marsh grass at Great Island

the island looming through the fog

We did get farther than we ever have, but once again detoured to the beach before we reached Great Island proper. It's just as well; not only do I learn that dogs aren't allowed on the island, the beach was empty and beautiful. The humans collected lots of rocks and shells, the dogs collected gross dead birds, and the boys and dogs enjoyed the water (one of those groups wished they had brought their swimsuits).

the boys and dogs wading in the ocean in the fog

the ocean is irresistible

After we had enough (and conveniently just as other people started to fill in) we headed just down the road to Welfleet Harbor. Leah and the dogs took a rest in the car while the boys and I played on the playground, walked on the town beach, and ordered some take-out fried food for lunch, which we brought back to the house. We were disappointed of our thunderstorms, but it did start raining right on time just after noon, so we settled in for another round of games. "Code Names" was very engaging for everyone but Elijah.

Leah and her mom thinking hard about Code Names

intense competition

We originally planned to stay through Saturday morning, but we missed our house and decided to leave Friday evening. Before we took off, though, the boys and I needed to do the most important adventure of the vacation: the bike ride to the ocean beach with the big waves! They did not disappoint.

Lijah looking at a crashing wave

crash!

After the beach we stopped for ice cream on the way back to the house. Now that's vacation! Grandpa very kindly prepared us a take-out order of hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, so as we made our weary way home even our dinner on the road was still vacationy. It was all lovely. We'll be ready to do it again in a year or so.

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in the woods

Without scheduled Zoom activities this week the boys and I have had more time for outings, and we've taken some good ones! On Tuesday we took the dogs to woods between the airport and the Reformatory Branch trail (which go by many names; in less than two hours of walking we passed through three or possibly four conservation areas). We took a route we'd never explored before, and in fact passed through some areas that are usually so wet as to be impassible. The one upside of the drought—though even then there was still enough mud that Harvey got covered nearly up to his knees chasing frogs. We weren't even trying to do anything more than walk the dogs, but it ended up feeling pretty epic!

the boys and dogs atop a big rock in the woods

co-kings of the world

Then yesterday we set out to have a little bit more of an adventure in a new-to-us woods, the October Farm Riverfront in Concord: maybe half a mile as the crow flies from where we were the day before, but five or miles away by road. Because the river! We were delighted to find a varied landscape of steep hills, marshes, and vernal pools—and, of course, the river.

the boys playing in the trees along the shores of the Concord River

river work

Actually, Lijah wasn't delighted at first—he was cold. The day was fall-like and he regretted his shorts and sandals. Running up and down the hills helped a little, and then it warmed up and he got distracted by fun things to explore and climb on, like this mysterious structure built into the side of the hill.

Elijah atop a stone shed dug into a hill, Zion at the base

what is it for? who knows, let's climb on it!

Plus there were all the things to notice and pick up: oak galls, mussel shells, blue jay feathers. Frogs—not that they had any luck with the river frogs, but they sure had fun trying! Toads are easier game, we find. The other day a friend who runs a leadership consulting business offered the idea of "forest bathing" in his weekly email; the idea is that the "sounds of the forest, the scent of the trees, the sunlight playing through the leaves, the fresh, clean air—these things give us a sense of comfort." I'm not sure if we were doing it right, but it sure did feel good to spend some hours and miles out in the woods!

Harvey holding a tiny toad

the one that didn't get away (until he let it)

a river mussel shell

fresh-water mussel

a great blue heron on the other side of the river

can you see the heron?

a red and white mushroom

we watched to see if smurfs would come out

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hiking and swimming

the boys splashing in Berry Pond

splish splash

We had a flexible morning yesterday. We woke up thinking we were going to meet friends at Walden Pond at 10, but we learned before breakfast that they weren't actually able to make it. Then a different friend invited us to Berry Pond, only to cancel at the last minute (with justification: she was going into labor!). At that point we were already in the car, so we headed off to the pond by ourselves. It wasn't easy to get there: the storm the day before hit the towns to the north of us pretty hard, and not only did we need to take a detour for a crew clearing a downed tree, there was another detour on our detour! But we got there eventually, to find that we had the place entirely to ourselves.

Because now we weren't meeting a nine-months pregnant mama with a kid in a stroller, we got warmed up for our beach time with a little hike. Berry Pond is in Harold Parker State Forest—tucked up at the edge of the sprawling preserve—and the forest is just packed with trails. We followed one pretty much at random, and while there was some nervousness from some of the party about just how long our loop would be, it ended up being a beautiful hike.

the boys hiking a trail along the side of a hill among evergreens

adventurous terrain

When we got back to the pond it was still empty, and we were hot and sweaty enough to appreciate the chilliness of the water. Berry Pond is smaller than Walden and the water isn't as clear, but despite being in a pretty regular suburban town it feels much more like a backwoods mountain swimming hole. If it weren't for the ropes restricting swimming to just a tiny area around the beach, it would be amazing. Just look at those rocks on the other side! No swimming there, sadly.

Harvey and Zion playing by the ropes in the otherwise empty Berry Pond

the beautiful waters

As we ate lunch the beach started to fill up—by which I mean three or four other groups arrived. No worries, there was still plenty of space for us to make an epic sand castle city. It was a good warm up for our planned trip to the Cape next week, because there were no waves or tide to threaten our city walls; except when someone splashed too close, that is. We lost the lighthouse on the point that way, but never mind, we quickly rebuilt it.

Lijah putting the finishing touches on a big sand city

finishing touches

While we would have loved to spend some quality time swimming with friends, it was also nice to have an quiet outing just with us boys. We're trying to collect our thoughts as we get ready to head into the new "school year" and the way everything played out was just fine for an easy and relaxing outing. We'll take it.

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we do this for fun?

Yesterday and today there's a high heat warning out. The Bedford Citizen tells us that the heat index will be 104° and warns that we should stay inside, in air conditioning. Well, we don't have air conditioning, so instead yesterday afternoon we went for a hike. It was very hot.

Zion with a sweat-beaded face

this is what it was like

But amazingly enough, we survived! And we even had fun... a certain kind of fun, anyway. We found some places to put our feet in the water, and the dogs went swimming. The boys played in the root cellar cave we passed along the way. We got plenty of time to talk to each other as we moved along. And when we got home, our house felt pretty cool in comparison! I think sometimes our culture tries to define "hard" as the opposite of "fun"—or maybe the other way around. But that's silly: just about everything that's fun is actually hard too. Certainly exercise is always challenging. I'm not much of a gamer, but I understand that video games involve a fair amount of grinding. Sitting on the couch watching TV? Maybe that's not hard. But that's not an option for us, so I guess we have to hike!

Mama, boys, and puppies wading in a pond along Nashoba Brook

not so hot here!

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with friends

I've been feeling pretty lonely lately. My family is wonderful and I'm super grateful to get to spend so much time with them, but they've got their own stuff going on and and it's not fair to ask them to fulfill all my emotional needs. So while I admit it does make me a little nervous, I'm happy that we're starting to be able to get out and do things with other people. Yesterday we took a hike with some homeschool co-op friends who we'd missed so much over the past three months, and it was delightful!

the boys with their feet in a marshy river

in Nashoba Brook

We walked in the Nashoba Brook Conservation Area; we'd never been there before but will definitely be going back. The river itself is the best part, with bridges and rocky pools and marshy segments making the walk along it endlessly interesting. But it had some competition in a man-made cave. I would have guessed it was a root cellar, except it was a little more complicated than you would really need for that; I understand that it has a mysterious reputation in local lore. In any case we had fun exploring it.

the boys shielding their eyes from the camera flash in a root cellar cave

the only time I'll ever use a flash is in a cave

The whole family came along—a pandemic bonus! Leah enjoyed talking with Kelley, but not as much as Scout and Blue liked playing with our friends' dog. We walked two miles; the three dogs must have covered five or six.

Leah with the dogs on river rocks

getting some training in while we stop to play

The kids got plenty of exercise too: when he has friends to run with, even Lijah can cover some distance without complaining! And I exercised my socialization muscles. A great morning all around.

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vernal equinox, observed

We learned this evening that the equinox was actually a couple days ago; never mind, we celebrated it today. The 19th was rainy, anyway! Today was beautiful, if chilly, and a Saturday without much in the way of obligations gave us lots of time to welcome the summer half of the year in the proper fashion: by getting outside!

Zion and Lijah looking down a steep grassy slope in the woods

wide vistas

To make the day extra special we took a trip in the car—the first in eight days!—to Concord's Estabrook Woods, which we last visited just under a year ago. It was a great choice—despite a startling number of cars at the trailhead the woods are big enough that we barely saw anyone, and we spent two and a half lovely hours exploring a very steep hill, vernal pools and a real pond, a couple of streams—one with a spillway waterfall. The best part was the sunny spot we found by the pond for our picnic lunch. We haven't been feeling particularly cabin-fevery, but still it is nice to get out a bit.

Harvey and Zion crossing a stream on rocks

active explorers

There was lots of playing outside in the afternoon, then towards evening we built a fire. After it had done its part cooking our supper it transitioned into a (very small) bonfire to greet the spring and roast us some marshmallows. We burned the wreath that adorned the front of our house for three months; more because we needed kindling than for ceremonial purposes, but it still seemed nicely symbolic.

Zion roasting a marshmallow over our fire

vernal marshmallow

Of course, the coming of astronomical summer doesn't mean the weather automatically turns lovely. There's cold rain in the forecast for much of the coming week—and you know we're not getting out of the house to any indoor activities. So it's a good thing we got as much outsiding as we did today!

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Wednesday in the woods

Wednesdays are usually home days for us, but we can never say no to a walk in the woods, so when the invitation came yesterday we headed off to Carlisle for a hike with members of the Greater Lowell Homeschoolers facebook group (including a significant overlap with our own co-op). That we'd never been to the Towle Land town forest made it even more enticing! Because we're getting good at this we were the first ones there, but it wasn't long before everyone gathered—a pretty good group, with six or seven adults and uncountable numbers of kids. It was good there wasn't much of a wait, because it was hard to hold the kids back from the trail.

kids standing on a rock in the woods

kids in the woods!

Towle Land is a lovely woods: there are plenty of ups and downs on the trail, but nothing too steep, a generously-flowing stream, and plenty of vernal pool hollows still filled with water and ice this strange wet winter. Plus some awesome rocks to climb on!

Zion climbing on a cliffy rock

rocks are fun

With all the fun terrain we didn't just hike on through. In fact, I don't think we ever went farther than a couple hundred yards before we stopped to play on something or other. That's the way to make a mile-long hike take two hours! Two hours for us, at least; the group had varied levels of woods experience, so other people were done sooner. Especially the ones who didn't bring any food (you know we never make that mistake!). Also the ones who fell in puddles playing on the ice.

I enjoyed interacting with the (slightly) wider homeschool community, and meeting some new people. The boys were fine with it, but they were happiest when everyone else had headed home and they were free to play with their good friends from co-op. They can never get enough time with them. "Why can't they come over to our house after?!" is the constant refrain. Because everybody has lives to live! But don't worry: we've got full days of co-op fun with them today and tomorrow. Living the homeschooling dream!

Zion and Lijah posing with friends on a horizontal tree trunk, Harvey photobombing

best hiking buddies

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