posts tagged with 'outing'

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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our school at home

The Monday after Labor Day seems like as fine a day as any to kick off our fall season of school at home, so that's what we did today. Not that you'd notice, necessarily, if you didn't know us and just happened to pop in. We started things off after breakfast with a chat about what learning means, and what school means, and how there's lots of learning outside of a teacher-student relationship, and how it's also sometimes good to do some formal study and practice. You know, to lay the groundwork. Then we went outside to see if we could spot any signs of monarch butterflies on our milkweed plants. We found plenty of chewed-on leaves and one egg, but no caterpillars. We also observed various other flowers around the yard and thought about how much butterflies might like different types (we noticed that, this morning at least, many many bumblebees were enjoying the goldenrod). We made a yellow and purple bouquet to bring inside.

Then I had a Zoom meeting for work to attend, and the boys did a little writing and drawing. Bedford schools aren't in session yet so before long a friend stopped by, and they went out to play for a while. After lunch we did a little cleaning, then we headed of for our first homeschool co-op outing of the fall: a hike at the October Farm Riverfront (I wanted to do something with people today, since yesterday marked six months since Covid shut down our co-op in the spring). Not everybody is ready to do that sort of thing yet, though, and even those who are aren't really organized yet. So only one other family joined us. Never mind, we had a great time playing in the river and the mud and on the hills, and noticing grasshoppers, stick insects, poison ivy, frogs, and oak galls (and collecting, temporarily, examples of all of those except poison ivy). We also brought home rocks, sticks, mussel shells, and broken glass; we saw racoon tracks, but couldn't think how to collect them short of photographing them. Oh, and we also saw herons and egrets. No attempt was made at capturing either.

Nowhere in there did we do any math, despite it being the top-listed attraction of school at home for two of the three boys (Harvey said he was most interested in music learning). So there's still plenty to look forward to for tomorrow!

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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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finally the ocean

We're not a big beach family generally—that is, you're not usually going to find us heading out to spend a day by the ocean with an umbrella and cooler and frisbee and things like that. But we do love being by the water, and we've hardly even seen the ocean this summer. So now that we have a car that works—more on that later—I thought it was past time to take an adventure to somewhere where we could smell the salt water and feel the ocean breezes blow. Like Rockport!

the boys walking on the beach with their backpacks on

adventurers on the march! (on the beach)

The boys have some memories of the last couple times we visited the Cape Ann peninsula, and were excited to revisit some of their favorite spots. There was one difference this time though: it was mid August under a heat index warning. So while the town itself was less busy than usual for a summer day, there were plenty of people on the beach. Not what they were expecting! Never mind, we still managed to have a great time, and even found some new favorites spots.

Elijah looking down from some rocks on to a crowded beach

too many people

People who go to the beach probably aim to park near it. Not us! One great thing about Rockport is that there is always free parking available. It just meant we got to walk a bit. To the pier in the center of town, where happily the the public bathrooms were open, and down to the end of Bearskin Neck to see the breakwater. But only briefly: the beach was calling! When we got there, though, there was some dismay at the crowd—the crowd, and the presence of a lifeguard. To show you what our usual beach experience is like, we were kind of expecting to be able to change into our swimsuits in an out of the way corner. That was not possible, but no worries, there was another open bathroom. Once changed the boys chose more yet walking in order to try out Back Beach, slightly further away and slightly less sandy. It was a good call, and we were able to get in to the water with no other people within 20 or 30 yards.

Harvey and Zion swimming off the beach with no people in sight

an ocean of their own

Although, "getting into the water" wasn't as easy as all that: it was COLD! Harvey asked if it was colder than the ocean usually is, which of course it wasn't... in retrospect I think it was the contrast with the sweltering air that made it a little shocking. We did get used to it, but it was also nice to take breaks out of the water, making sandcastles to try and hold back the oncoming tide.

the boys making sand walls among beach rocks

earthworks

mounded sand houses atop a rock

the king's palace

The children might never have moved from that spot, but I felt a little nervous about sun exposure and wanted to get us somewhere with some shade for lunch. It wasn't too hard a sell—back in May of last year we'd been frustrated by construction keeping us out of a park behind Front Beach, so when I let them know the park was probably open by now they were happy to give it a try. I don't what the park looked like before the excavators went to work on it, but it's fantastic now: it's a beautiful setting for the little stream that runs from a millpond above it down through a culvert under the road into the ocean. There's a playground there too, but who needs that in a park full of beautifully-landscaped rewilded brook?! After we ate lunch in the shade we played hide-and-seek.

Zion looking at a beautifully landscaped pond

green and shady

Before we left home Zion had suggested maybe a one-hour stay at the ocean; he had plans for things to do at home. Of course those plans were had to keep in mind in the salt air. Even worries about crowds melted away after lunch, and the boys spent the next hour playing happily in and around the busy waters of Front Beach.

the boys playing in the wet sand at the edge of the water

playing together

Eventually I dragged them away to do what I wanted to do: climb on the rocks that give Rockport its name! Those were over on the other side of town, back where we parked the car. There was some small unhappiness about the hot walk on the sidewalk, but those stresses of civilization were deemed worth it after we stopped in a candy store for a half-pound of fudge and a couple bottles of cold water (the only way the pandemic affected our trip? all the drinking fountains were closed). And of course the rocks were lovely as always.

Zion climbing ocean-side cliffs

Rockport climbing

And the best part of it all? Nobody got heat exhaustion!

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an out-of-state house tour

Saturday afternoon we took a trip to southern New Hampshire to visit a friend of Leah's who had never met any of the rest of us. It was exciting to leave the state for the first time in months, even if only by two towns! And the house was super fun to visit too. Starting with an 18th-century farmhouse, the current owners added a big addition in the Adirondack Camp style (with ornamental work made of unpeeled logs and branches like in this picture). Inside was just as charming and unique, with antiques and tons of taxidermy: the usual deer heads and bear rugs, but also more individualistic pieces like a family of mice in a chandelier. And there was a spiral staircase! I wish I had taken pictures. It would have felt a little strange to, since it was of course someone's house; but the way they were showing it off makes me think in retrospect that they probably wouldn't have minded! Of course, we did have to take pictures of the boys playing with their brand-new kittens.

Besides the amazing house they have lots of land, and we took a fine walk around their yard and gardens. They've got a couple of ponds that we thought we might be able to swim in, but in these drought conditions they were a little too murky for anyone to want to try. Then while the mature people sat on the porch to talk Lijah, Zion, and I played croquet golf up and down their hill. The dogs came along on the trip, of course, and added an extra challenge to the game by picking up our balls and running with them; instead of "fore" there were lots of calls of "drop!" Of course, we had to play it where it lay! Even though their participation was a little annoying I still felt bad when I his Scout on the chin with one particularly strong shot (maybe we should teach him "fore"?).

Of course, as obsessed as I am my favorite part of the tour was the gardens. With all the space they have available they have a blueberry orchard, a small field of corn, and about an acre of squash plants. Plus a regular garden about twice as big as ours. And the most amazing thing about it was they don't need fences! Apparently they have more coyotes (and bears!) than deer and squirrels, so they can grow things out in the open. I'm jealous: we can't even keep the animals out of our crops when we cover them completely! Happily they took pity on us and sent us home with a giant sack of greens and cucumbers. It was a great visit!

Leah appreciating the garden

appreciating the kale

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an outing unphotographed

Yesterday we took a trip to the Harold Parker State Forest. It took us an hour of driving (round trip) for an hour of pond and forest fun—maybe we would have done things differently had we planned it from the beginning—but never mind, it was was totally worth it! The adventure was conceived around 3:30 in the afternoon: we were all stultified by the heat, but Leah had enough brainpower left to suggest a swimming trip. Of course Walden Pond was closed—and while eastern Massachusetts is studded with ponds, most of them are either private or poisonous. So our next best option was a half-hour drive away.

After packing everything up—including a picnic supper—we hit the road at quarter past four and got out of the car a few minutes before five. The gate to the parking lot closes at 6:00, so we had a hard stop. Leah and the boys went straight to the pond, where they swam and chased fish, and Lijah practiced going underwater. I brought my bike to ride some of the many miles of trails the forest offers, with the idea that I'd get back in time for the picnic—maybe even in time to take a quick dip in the pond. And take some pictures! Of course, I should have known that wouldn't happen. I always lose track of time when I'm riding, and on top of that I took a wrong turn when I did decide to head back and spent a little too long riding fast in the wrong direction. In retrospect I should have left the car keys with Leah so if necessary she could have waited for me outside the gate—the park doesn't close, just the parking. But I didn't, so I just rode faster and got back to the lot at 5:58. Phew!

Everybody had a great time: my stress was balanced out by the fun of the ride and all the great exercise. And my family saved me some food! Still, next time we head that way we'll budget a little more of the day for the outing. And take some pictures.

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our six-hour pond visit

Even though it got us all sick our outing a week ago was pretty fantastic, so I wanted to note some its positive aspects. Because there's not much better than boating with friends!

the view from our canoe to our friends' kayak on Walden Pond

delightful

Even though there was no forward planning—I just thought of the outing that morning and invited our friends at around 7:00—we were able to throw things together in time to meet at the pond at 8:30 (we had to make sure to get in before it closed!). We took a leisurely paddle across, and all around, the pond, then set up camp at a nice spot to swim. Of course, when there are boats pulled up on the shore they exert a powerful pull, and before too long the swimming was well-mixed with boating. Left on shore without a boat I could only hope they would come back! (Of course they would: I had the lunches!)

kids and boats out in the pond

can you spot them all?

As the morning wore on our beachy spot got a little crowded, so we re-loaded the boats and headed to another cove which, besides being less occupied, gave us a chance to swim in the shade! It was also right by the rail line, and we were lucky enough to be by the tracks right as a train went by. I should have shot a video!

Zion and Lijah holding their ears as a train roars by ten feet away

whoooooosh

Soon afterwards our friends needed to head home. We saw them off, stopped by the bathroom, then re-embarked to find a quiet spot to have lunch. People definitely spread out more at Walden now than they did pre-Covid, so it took us a while to find a private space—we never would have managed it without a boat! After lunch I tried to nap while the boys swam, then I joined them for some water play. Then finally it was time to leave—not to go home, but to visit the Farmers Market in Lexington. What a full day!

Lijah sleeping in his car seat

zzz

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stress, relief

It remains hot here, so we want to be swimming. But there's also this virus thing that makes it a little more complicated and stressful. Our favorite swimming hole is Walden Pond, but even when we're not in the midst of a pandemic going there can be complicated, because there's a limit to how many people they let in before they close the gates until the crowd thins out. In ordinary years it's to keep the beach and trails from eroding too badly; now, obviously, it's to help us all socially distance. And of course the capacity is smaller that usual. That's all to set the scene for Saturday morning, when we planned on getting an early start, bringing the canoe and a lunch to the pond, and spending some hours there. Only "early" is relative, because when I checked at quarter past eight I found that it had already closed. At 7:36.

That was a blow, but we didn't despair: almost certainly it would reopen before lunchtime. So we started packing up, in between all the other work of the morning. Laundry and things. I was only checking Twitter—where the closings and openings are posted by @waldenpondstate—every fifteen minutes or so, so it wasn't until 10:20 that I saw that they'd reopened all the way back at 10:07! Luckily we've gotten somewhat better at getting out the door since back in June, and we were on our way in moments. We made it to the boat launch parking lot at 10:39, and were able to squeeze into what I was sure was the last parking spot available (no: one more family, better still at squeezing, came in after us). There was still lots to do before we could jump in the water—getting the boat off the car, changing into swimsuits, getting lifejackets and picnic supplies together—but we could take our time on all that. The stress and hurry was over!

It may seem silly to endure so much stress in search of relaxation, but I think it's worth it. After all, it's not like there's anywhere else we could go that would be much easier. Certainly nowhere closer! And once we were there, our stress—mine, anyways—just melted away. I enjoyed a leisurely conversation with the actual last family into the lot, who reported a very similar morning to ours; we paddled slowly across the pond and our boat didn't leak at all (unlike last time); we swam and floated and ate a peaceful lunch. I got to do some quiet reading, and even read aloud a little from our chapter book to the boys as they sat in the shallows (a first, for sure!). Harvey and Zion even piloted the canoe back across when it was time to go home, while I loafed in the bottom not even looking where we were going. It was a good time. We may even do it again one day.

Zion eating a sandwich sitting in the canoe

boat lunch

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celebrating midsummer

Since Harvey's birthday took up the solstice proper, we've had to celebrate midsummer across some other days too. Thursday was beautifully summery. We took a family woods outing.

Harvey and Zion eating lunch by a stream

real summer lunch

With a goal of finding a place with water, not too many people, and a relaxed policy on off-leash dogs, we header to the Hapgood Wright Town Forest in Concord (or Fairlyland Pond forest, as we call it!). It was a good choice—because it meets all those criteria and because it was beautifully cool and shady on a hot day.

Harvey walking up a woods path, Elijah and the dogs a bit ahead

deep cool woods

Well, most of it was cool and shady. We also explored a section that had been cleared or burned, and was a little meadow and a lot of quickly recovering forest. Concord folks had adorned the trails there with Thoreau quotes about new-grown woods on pieces of stone stuck into the ground, and a charming granite monument to Dr Seuss's The Lorax.

Lijah sitting on a Lorax monument, the dogs looking up at him

remembering the Lorax

Fairyland Pond itself is easily accessible from the main trailhead, but we took the long way around so we would get to it and lunch time, and properly hot and tired. Many of us were happy to take to the water.

Harvey and Zion out in the pond with Blue, Scout watching from the shore

pond days

Not Scout, though! You'll notice there that he isn't sure about water yet, which lets Blue tease him unmercifully by running back and forth along the shore just deep enough to be out of reach. For his part, Blue went all the way underwater for the first time—and then the second, third, and a great many more. He was the most enthusiastic about the pond and stream by a little bit; Zion probably came in second.

Zion splashing more than waist deep in the pond

splash!

It was wonderfully summery. And then in the evening we topped off the day with a socially distant ice cream social with friends. For them it was a celebration of the last day of school; that doesn't apply to us, but summer by itself is plenty to celebrate!

Elijah licking a chocolate ice cream cone

yum.

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