Monday, January 31, 2011

Snowshoeing Harry's Way and Otter Alley


Late this morning I returned to the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge to enjoy more snowshoeing. Entering from White Pond Road in Maynard brought me to a parking area near the junction of three trails/routes: White Pond Road, Patrol Road, and Taylor Way. I followed White Pond Rd. to Harry's Way and after about a mile reached the junction pictured above. Looming under the pines, near this spot, is one of the remaining ammunition bunkers...

It serves as a reminder that this land was the site of a large U.S. Military ammunition depot built in 1942.  During World War II there were approximately 50 such bunkers served by railroad tracks.  Munitions were stored here before being shipped by rail to the Boston Port of Embarkation.  A book published by the Boston and Maine Railroad Historical Society, Inc., The Central Mass. provides much useful information on the site and the vital role it played during WW II. 

Returning to the trail junction, I opted to head down Otter Alley.  Looking at the trail ahead, it was obvious that there had been near equal use by both cross-country skiers and snowshoers in recent days.  At several spots the two different paths criss-crossed reminding me of a slot-car racing track...  

While I saw no otters, I did see this work crew and their all-terrain vehicle working out on a bog that is connected to Puffer Pond...
At the end of Otter Alley, I began the trip back towards my starting point on Taylor Way which, appropriately,  follows the course of Taylor Brook.  In one small bog I saw a great blue heron who apparently decided to winter over.  Hopefully, he'll find enough open water where he can continue to fish.  Where Taylor Brook passes under the trail there were these signs of another critter fond of fish...
The hole in the ice and belly tracks in the snow leave me thinking it was an otter.  Another possibility might be a mink.  His size might be indicated by where he elected to pass under the security fence...
Not long after this stream crossing I reached the trailhead and my car.  Total distance covered was about 2.7 miles.  Today's little jaunt was a nice way to send-off the month of January. 
Prior to leaving home this morning, I noticed that someone had commented on having read a post of mine from August 15, 2009.  I revisited the post and, while reading, remembered it as having been a perfect summer's day.  On a scale of 1 to 10 it was a 25!  Here is a link if you wish to visit the summer side of life.  Thanks Anonymous for reminding me of warmer times.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Snowy Walk in Assabet Woods

 Somewhere under that white expanse sleeps the Assabet River.  Also sleeping under the blanket of snow and ice is any trash.  So, late this morning, after driving to one of my usual launch locations, I strapped on my snowshoes and headed into the forest not far from the Assabet River Rail Trail on the Maynard/Stow line.  I followed the faint depressions in the snow left by one who had visited these woods before the most recent foot of snow.  After a steady climb, I began to approach a small clearing.... 
I was struck by just how quiet the woods can be after a snowstorm.  My eyes swept the surrounding trees and soon met those of this owl presiding over the serenity...
My guess is a barred owl.
Eventually, I made my way towards the rail trail and came upon this humble abode that clearly has seen better days...
Before leaving the area, I followed White Pond Road, by foot, further to the south and entered the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge provides 15 miles of trails open to the public and encompasses 2,300 acres of land, overall.  Today, it looked to be a paradise for those who snowshoe or cross-country ski.  You can learn more about this great resource by visiting this web site.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another Surreal Pre-Dawn Journey

It was cold, dark, snowy, and windy at 5:15 am.  Much of the overnight snowfall had yet to be plowed from roads and intersections.  My faithful compact car 'Yaris' and I would struggle to first descend into the Assabet River valley and shortly thereafter struggle to climb the incline leading out of it. Stop signs and red lights were our enemies.  The big "Mo" as in momentum was our friend.
As we surmounted one obstacle after another, the sound of my car's radio provided some company.  The radio station I usually listen to was dead as a doornail this morning so I switched to an AM station and listened to the long list of school and college closings.  What caught my ear was the large number of Native American names/words being recited.  It ocurred to me that, on this day, a long dormant language was coming back to life.  The words seemed to roll off the announcers lips:
Acushnet, Agawam, Algonquin, Apponequat, Assabet, Assawompset, Chicopee, Hobomock, Massasoit, Masconomet, Mashpee, Mattahunt, Mattapan, Merrimac, Minnechaug, Mohawk, Montachusett, Nabnasset, Nantucket, Narragansett, Nashoba, Naquag, Nauset, Nipmuc, Nissitissit, Pakachoag, Pawtucket, Pentucket, Pompositticut, Quabog, Quashet, Quinsigamond, Samoset, Seekonk, Shawsheen, Sippican, Squannacook, Squantum, Tahanto, Tantasqua, Tatnuck, Wachusett, Wahconah, Wampatuck, Wamsutta, Wawecus, Wessagusset.
Driving through Old Man Winter's drastically altered landscape and hearing all these Algonkian words struck me as surreal.  I wonder how it would seem to one of Native American heritage.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Nothing Like a First-Hand Account/Real Alien Abductions

I have long been fascinated by reading the first-hand accounts of those who "discovered" North America.  This frigid morning, with the temperature outside being -8 degrees, I found myself wandering the Internet in search of information regarding Giovanni da Verrazano and his 1524 voyage to North America. Many of the references I found alluded to his not having got a fair shake by history.  As I proceeded in my search I began to find mention of a letter containing a written account of this voyage.  Ultimately, I stumbled upon this link containing a translation of a letter written by Verrazano to his patron, Francis 1, King of France, July 8th, 1524.   The letter was translated by Susan Tarrow of the Cellere Codex in Rome. The authenticiy of the letter was apparently in doubt until fairly recently when a letter written by King Francis 1 was found and made mention of it.
Verrazano's account captivated me as he described his encounters with coastal Native Americans from the present-day Carolinas to Maine.  Particularly interesting were his observations regarding the natives' physical appearance.  At one point he describes an encounter where the rough surf prevented his men from landing their boat on the beach to present gifts to the natives.  One young sailor was asked to swim closer to the beach and throw the trinkets to the natives gathered there.  In doing so, he was overcome by the waves and washed-up on the sand.  Both the young sailor and his shipmates feared for his safety when he was carried off by the natives.  That fear turned to terror when they saw the natives building a fire and thought the plan was to roast him for food.  Of course the fire was meant only to warm the young man to the point where he could swim back out to his mates, and he soon did so.  The natives' only intention was to help him.   Verrazano referred to this act as "a magnificent deed, as Your Majesty will hear." 
I was beginning to hold Mr. Verrazano in high regard but only a few paragraphs later, he let me down.  His ship had sailed north about 50 leagues from the "magnificent deed" location to a forested area where Verrazano decided to explore inland.  He writes "We anchored there, and with 20 men we penetrated about 2 leagues inland, to find that the people had fled in terror into the forests.  Searching everywhere, we met with a very old woman and a young girl of 18 or 20 years, who had hidden in the grass in fear.  The old woman had two little girls whom she carried on her shoulders, and clinging to her neck a boy --they were all about eight years old.  The young woman also had three children, but all girls.  When we met them, they began to shout.  The old woman made signs to us that the men had fled to the woods.  We gave her some of our food to eat, which she accepted with great pleasure; the young woman refused everything and threw it angrily to the ground.  We took the boy from the old woman to carry back to France, and we wanted to take the young woman, who was very beautiful and tall, but it was impossible to take her to the sea because of the loud cries she uttered.  And as we were a long way from the ship and had to pass through several woods, we decided to leave her behind, and took only the boy."
This is where I have great difficulty in understanding the mindset of many European explorers.  One of his men had just been rescued from a vulnerable position by natives who could have taken advantage of the situation.  Instead they performed an act of kindness.  Now, Verrazano stumbles upon natives in a vulnerable position and he proceeds to kidnap an eight year old boy.
From here the rest of his account provides good reading as he coasts to the north entering present day New York Harbor and, later, Narragansett Bay where he enjoys 15 days of rest and relaxation amongst the native population.
When he reaches the area of present day Maine, he finds the natives to be much less friendly.."We found no courtesy in them, and when we had nothing more to exchange and left them, the men made all the signs of scorn and shame that any brute creature would make [GV footnote: such as showing their buttocks and laughing.]"
I suspect that these natives had already experienced European contact and were very guarded in their dealings with visitors.
Verrazano left this area and coasted further north and east before deciding the welcome mat was nowhere to be found..."We made no contact with the people and we think they were, like the others, devoid of manners and humanity."  He then returned to France but would later make 2 other journeys to the Americas.  Ironically, it is said that he perished on the last of these journeys when he rowed ashore from his anchored fleet in the Lesser Antilles.  While his shipmates, including his brother, watched with horror, he was killed, cooked, and eaten by the native Carib inhabitants.  His crew, having remained aboard ship, were unable to help as they were beyond gunshot range and, most likely, outnumbered.  I think there's a lesson here.

Nonetheless,  some eighty or so years later another voyage of discovery found Europeans behaving badly once again and carrying out very real alien abductions.
The first-hand account of James Rosier relates the voyage of the Archangell in 1605.  I originally came across Rosier's account while on vacation in Maine several years ago.  Reading it prompted me to visit some of the mentioned locations and later write about my experience in an article which appeared in Atlantic Coastal Kayaker magazine (March/April 2008).  Since getting out on the water today is out of the question, I'll copy and paste the article here:
                                                                        A Book and a Paddle
                by Al Peirce

Did you ever wish you could go back in time and see and feel coastal New England the way the first Europeans did? I sure do. During the summer of 2006, I found myself visiting the Muscongus Bay area for the first time and had a case of “paddler’s block”. I had the right boat, the right gear, and the right charts. What I didn’t have was a destination. Being very aware of my vacation time sliding into the bottom half of the hour glass, I found my salvation on the shelf of a Rockland bookstore. What provided me a very nice paddling destination was a book: The Voyage of the Archangell, James Rosier’s Account of the Waymouth Voyage of 1605, A True Relation, annotated by David C. Morey.

The Book:

In this book, Morey gives us Rosier’s account of this very early voyage of an English ship to the Maine coast just as it was first published in 1606. Because it is presented just as Rosier wrote it, the different spellings and usage of words takes a little getting used to, but I felt it well worth it for the authenticity it provided. Morey allows the reader to see the actual script and then with his annotations Morey provides his own interpretations. The reader is left to decide if he agrees or disagrees.

It is the story of 29 Englishmen, aboard a 250 ton floating village, that were blown hundreds of miles north after nearly running aground on the Nantucket Shoals. Instead of reaching their intended destination, believed to have been Narragansett Bay, they now found themselves looking at Monhegan Island. After replenishing much needed firewood and fresh water, the ship’s Captain, Waymouth, believing his anchorage near Monhegan was too exposed, decides to seek a more protected harbor. To the north, they could see other islands and mountains further off in the distance. The chief mate, Thomas Cam, guided the ship’s row boat into the area between Burnt Island and Allen Island, sounding the bottom along the way. Arriving at a spot between Little Burnt Island and the northern ends of Allen and Burnt Islands, they declared the area a safe harbor for their ship and proclaimed it “Pentecost Harbor” in reference to their having left England on Easter day. There the Archangell is anchored and moored and the story begins to unfold. From Rosier’s telling, one can get a sense of the typical 15th century Englishmen’s mindset. It helps to explain the roles fear and mistrust would play in their encounters with the Native Americans. It also gives the reader an idea of just how arrogant these guys could be. Little wonder that they did not have anything close to the success the French had in trading with the Natives. Other than occasional forays on shore for assembling their pre-fab ‘pinnesse’ (a shallow draft boat for river exploration), or the gathering of fresh water and wood, these Englishmen preferred the safety and security of their ship or their ‘pinnesse’ referred to by the crew as their “light horseman”.

Ten days after their arrival, Rosier is describing the approach of Native Americans paddling canoes from behind the north end of Allen Island and the awkward attempts at communication and trade between two very disparate peoples commences. At the time of the Indians approach, about half the ship’s men were off exploring in the ‘light horsemen’. Upon their return, they announced the finding of a great river. This is where historians disagree as to what river the voyagers had entered. Some believe it was the St. George which runs up to Thomaston, others say it was the Kennebec. Morey, however, makes a convincing case that it was the Penobscot and that they ultimately journeyed as far as Brewer. Rosier is deliberately vague as to the exact coordinates as the voyages benefactor’s were concerned the information would fall into the hands of either the French or Spanish.

I found Rosier’s account to be fascinating, and enjoyed the insight it provided to the thought process of the English at the time. These were arrogant people with little regard for cultures different from their own. They ultimately decide to kidnap five Indians and bring them against their will to England, and they have absolutely no trouble reasoning this away. They have little success in trading with the Indians mostly because of their inability to trust them. They always seem to ascribe their own dastardly motives to the Indians for no good reason. Oddly enough, Samuel Champlain visited this same area within months of the Archangell and had no problem trading with the Indians.

After finishing the book on a rainy Thursday afternoon, I studied my charts of the area that evening. My destination: Pentecost Harbor.

The Paddle:

Friday morning found me launching my kayak during a light rain at Mosquito Cove. Once on the water, I settled on a compass heading and began veering away from the Marshall Point lighthouse. A bald eagle flew over me and I watched it disappear over Hupper Island. Can’t ask for a better omen than that! The light rain stopped as I reached the Georges Islands and I continued paddling until I reached the south end of Allen Island. I sat riding the swells with my kayak pointing out to Monhegan Island which was the last piece of land before the open ocean to Europe. I paddled out a little ways, then turned and looked now at Allen and Burnt Islands and the inviting area between them. The first thing that struck me was how little the view has changed some 401 years later, and it wasn’t too hard to imagine the Archangell following the first mate as he guided them into the narrow passageway. Within the confines of their very small ‘Pentecost Harbor’, the Archangell would have loomed large to the natives that paddled their birch bark canoes out from the North end of Allen Island. Where had the canoes been launched from? How far did they paddle to get here? Were they in awe of the Archangell? Or, had they seen European ships before? If they hadn’t, it may have been like the very powerful opening scene to the movie “The New World”. I guess that is what intrigues me as I sit bobbing in my own little craft. The only thing separating me from those pivotal events is the passage of time. The book mentions that one of the five natives kidnapped and brought to England was a man named Amoret and Morey speculates that this man may later have played a pivotal role in the Plymouth settlement in Massachusetts when he was referred to as Samoset. One only has to read Nathaniel Philbrick’s latest novel Mayflower to find mention of Samoset and also the fact that he was from this area of Maine. How ironic that it should be this same man who confidently strode into the Plymouth settlement and stunned the Pilgrims with the words “Welcome Englishmen”.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Greeting the Nearly-Full "Wolf Moon"

Late this afternoon, I ventured away from the comfort of my hot stove in hopes of greeting the "Wolf Moon", second of the three tough winter moons, as it climbed above the eastern horizon.  Thoughts of folks struggling to make it through a northern winter in days past came to mind.  Before calendars, each full moon served as a timepost in the seasonal circle.  This moon finds us deep in winter's grip, but we can look forward to knowing we are halfway through the toughest stretch when we say "goodbye" to it next week.  The second photo shows the "Wolf Moon" as it appeared while looking up through a grove of pines, about an hour later... 
I heard no howling and resisted any such urges! 
While any thoughts of paddling are on hold for the foreseeable future, this does make a good time of year for spreading out maps on the kitchen table and reflecting on previous years' voyages.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Alongside the Assabet River in Stow

The view downriver from the bridge at Whitman's Crossing looked inviting this afternoon.  However, my boat remained at home today out of deference to Old Man Winter's tightening icy grip.  The view below shows some of his recent accomplishments near where my boat might, otherwise, have been launched...
The reason I visited this spot was to collect the site's coordinates for entry into my recently started gps databank of launchsites.  Before I knew it, I was putting on my hiking boots, grabbing some gloves and a dry bag and then following the old railway grade that runs closely along the riverbank.   After travelling about a quarter-mile, I came to the end of the line, terrestrially speaking anyways, and my bag spilled forth these 20 pieces of trash...
This modest haul was composed of 15 recyclable containers (12 redeemable) and 5 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish such as plastic bags and a bait tub.  My YTD total stands at 84.
I believe the majority of today's trash wouldn't have been visible to the average eye.  However, I'm beginning to realize that my eyes have become well trained in seeing trash, that previously, I'd have walked past unaware.  Whether or not this is a good skill to have, I'm not sure.
Because all of today's trash was within a few feet of the river, there's a good chance that with the coming spring's higher water levels this gang would have gone "floatabout".  So, in a sense, this was a small scale preemptive raid substituting for my usual on-water patrols.   For the time being, raids such as this will have to suffice.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Assabet River - Egg Rock to Nashoba Brook & Back

Since it was still relatively mild this morning, another trash patrol was quickly put together and it is only by coincidence that I seem to be patrolling Massachusett's rivers in alphabetical order. 
Upon launching near Egg Rock I soon found that yesterday's 'heat wave' had cleared the majority of ice from my local rivers but left remnants of it hanging in the air as fog and this resulted in a surreal effect.
Between Willow Island and Spencer Brook, I encountered a dancing vole on a shelf of ice.  He kept making the same tight circle over and over again and seemed unconcerned with my nearby presence...  

Perhaps it was his "January Thaw" dance.
Other wildlife seen today were numerous mallard ducks, Canada geese, Muscovy ducks, a mink, and a musquash.
When I reached my turnaround point at Nashoba Brook the fog began to lift...
But then, after a brief shower, it settled in once again.  The journey back to my takeout location was swift and monitored by my new GPS unit, which I'm trying to get the hang of.  It is a basic (minimalist) device that lacks many of the bells and whistles the pricier units have.  However, it's supposed to make up for any shortcomings by being rugged, waterproof, and floatable.  It is meant for boating and therefore has a "man overboard" feature which quickly fixes a location and later guides you back to that very spot.  Simple enough even for me!  So, once properly notified we had returned to the very spot of the unfortunate incident, all hands went ashore and the day's catch, numbering 45, assembled on the ice at water's edge...
It was a motley looking bunch comprised of 16 recyclable containers (1 redeemable) and 28 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish such as styrofoam items, numerous remnants of plastic bags, a child's baseball bat, and plastic pail.  My YTD total stands at 64.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Annisquam River - Dunfudgin to Wigwam Point & Back

After 2 weeks of providing day shift coverage at a seafood processing plant, I thought it only appropriate to kick-off the 2011 trashpaddling season with a salt water patrol.  Of course, the fact that most of my local freshwater rivers are choked with ice had a little to do with this decision.  After launching at Dunfudgin Landing in Gloucester, I closed my eyes and drank-in the salt air, warm breeze, and cries of seagulls.  Was this just a pleasant dream?  When I opened my eyes again and looked upriver to the north (photo at left), I realized that someway, somehow, the spell had been broken and a spectacular day had been sent my way.  My 11am launching had me riding an outgoing tide as I headed towards Ipswich Bay.  Along the way, I encountered numerous sea and bay ducks such as buffleheads, long-tailed ducks (formerly known as oldsquaws),  and common eiders.  The long-tailed ducks were the most vocal of the bunch.  This one allowed me to get close enough for a photo...
    Also encountered along the way was this fellow boater...
He was also looking for ducks.  Black ducks and mallards were his prey.  He said he didn't hunt the sea ducks as he felt they were best enjoyed with the eyes.  His set-up looked to be perfect for getting him into the marshy areas unseen.  Once in shallow water, his engine was cut-off and tilted and he sculled his boat along with a small oar that protruded out the boat's stern.  Regretfully I didn't get his name as he was most helpful in identifying some of the ducks I'd seen.
Beyond a small point of land with cedar trees, I came upon the remains of what may have been a houseboat...
I think it might be the same houseboat I photographed last March in my "Annisquam River was the Antidote" post.  Sad to see it in this state.
It was also in the "Annisquam River was the Antidote" post that I first encountered "Lucky" the seagull and sure enough, here he was again directing river traffic from his very lucky abode...
After the lobster boat passed, I was instructed to wait until this large group of common eider ducks crossed the channel...
I then headed a little ways past Annisquam Light and looked out upon a very flat Ipswich Bay.  When I turned around and began the trip back, I could see kids sledding down a snow-covered slope behind Wigwam Point while, across the river, other folks were enjoying a New Year's Day walk on Wingaersheek Beach.
My trip back was pleasant and included a brief beaching where a lunch of PB and J was enjoyed.  My choice of beverage was influenced by PenobscotPaddles recent post  "Ginger Season".  I went with the Goslings ginger beer and it complimented the meal nicely!
All too soon, I found myself back at Dunfudgin Landing and my modest trash haul and I disembarked.  The first trash haul of 2011 paused long enough for me to get a quick photo...
There were 19 pieces of trash: 6 recyclable containers (3 redeemable) and 13 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish such as styrofoam, plastic bags, and aluminum foil.  YTD total stands at 19.
So, 2011 got off to a great start in my opinion.  Maybe today's respite from winter weather bodes well for the year ahead.  Could this be the year the Massachusetts bottle bill is finally expanded to cover non-carbonated beverages?  I sure hope so.  I also hope the economy finally gets back on solid ground.
Throw in with that a paddling/camping trip up north and possibly linking-up with Erik of "Open Boat, Moving Water" for a joint trash patrol.  Erik uses a combination of video and narration on his blog to take folks along with him as he paddles and poles numerous waterways in Rhode Island.