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Today’s Nashua Telegraph carries a story about an 18-year-old in Hollis, NH, who was driving home the other night when an owl crashed into his windshield. The story could have ended there.

Instead, he went home, told his mother about it, and they set out to try to find the bird. They eventually found it, stunned by the side of the road. But it’s late on a Saturday night, so now what? What else? They call 911. An officer responded, and after some consultation with the police dispatcher, they figured out what to do.

The police dispatcher contacted a wildlife rehabilitator over in Temple, NH, a ways down the road, as they say here. The owl – which turned out to be a Barred Owl about a year old – spent the night at the Hollis police station before being brought to the Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Temple.

The owl was lucky. It had no broken bones, or other serious injuries, so after a few days of nursing, it was released back to the wild at the Beaver Brook Sanctuary in Hollis, not far from where the accident happened.

Scars remain from last winter's ice storm

The Flat Rock Wildlife Sanctuary is a favorite place of mine, one that I haven’t been to in a while and so decided that today was as good a day as any. The sanctuary itself covers about 340 acres, but it is also bounded by an extensive watershed protection area and a conservation area. It’s not surprising that in addition to the wildlife you would expect to find – deer, fox, coyote – you might also find traces of Canada lynx, moose, and black bear. What makes that remarkable is that it’s all within walking distance of downtown Fitchburg, Mass.

There is a slight snow cover today, not enough for snowshoes or skis. The forest here took a big hit during last winter’s ice storm. The trails have been cleared, but the woods are still littered with fallen trees and limbs. I went in mid-afternoon, so I wasn’t expecting much bird or animal activity. There are a pair of barred owls that frequent the eastern end of the sanctuary. I sometimes amuse myself and practice my barred owl call. I’ve gotten a response, and once one of them came to a tree not too far from me. The curiosity must have gotten the better of him.

The main entrance is off Ashburnham Hill Road, but today I decided to come from the opposite side, from behind what used to be known as Burbank Hospital. It’s a curious trail, originally laid out as a road, carved into the side of a rocky hill, with elaborate stonework drains. The workmanship was good, because the road is still intact, and makes for easy travel. But who built it? And why? It leads to nowhere, and hasn’t for a long time.

A history of the city mentions a colonial-era plan to build a road to Canada. Could this have been it? It goes in a generally northerly direction. There are other interesting bits of history here … stone markers engraved with numbers along the remains of red-brick road. The ruins of a sluiceway. What’s left of small pumphouse. Even an old neglected cemetery. A few old cellar holes.

Every once in awhile I stop, trying to imagine what it was like, people going about their business up here. The only one here now is me, and the only traffic is a distant hum coming from down below somewhere.

The Trail to Spirit Falls

Today I decided to head out to a place I haven’t been to in quite a while, the area north of Quabbin Reservoir. Between the reservoir and the New Hampshire state line lie a cluster of small, nearly forgotten towns. Places like Wendell, Royalston, and Baldwinville, don’t have a lot of people, they’re not on any major highway, but tucked in there are miles of trails and beautiful scenery.

Jacobs Hill is about a mile west of Royalston Common. The trailhead is at a small parking lot off Route 68. The area is managed by the Trustees of Reservations, and the short leisurely climb to an overlook is worth it, especially on a day like today.

My real goal was Spirit Falls, a bit south of the Jacobs Hill Overlook. In the spring, when the brook is full, the falls are a dramatic cascade down a nearly 1,000-foot drop. This time, the falls were more audible than visible. I could hear the water rushing underneath, but all that I could see were outcroppings of ice poking through the snow. Still, there was a quiet beauty all its own.

I wasn’t the only one who had taken advantage of the spot. Most of the other human tracks I saw just went to the overlook and back to the parking lot. I was the first one to plunge on ahead to the falls. The only other visitor ahead of me was a single otter who had take the long slide down. The telltale marks looked reasonably fresh, so I’m thinking maybe it was last night sometime.

I made a loop back to the parking lot, just enjoying the day and the woods. The trees were mostly eastern hemlock, with a scattering of ash, oak, maple, and beech thrown in for good measure. There were plenty of deer tracks, and coyote, too.

All in all, a perfect day that helped remind me how much I enjoy this part of Massachusetts.

The last time this happened was on August 31, 1380. Not that I was there, mind you, and I could well be wrong. I dislike numbers intensely. For the moment, it’s the only one I can think of.

I’m talking about today’s date January 2, 2010, for those places that put the month ahead of the day, numerically it can be rendered 0102-2010. Behold the palindrome, something that can be read backwards and forwards.

I don’t know of any cultures that attach any importance to this. It’s not like a solstice or an equinox, or even Groundhog Day. Candlemas it’s called in some places. And depending on where you are, if certain animals appear or see their shadows or not it forecasts the weather for the immediate future. Unfortunately, I can never remember which way it goes. But at least the choice of days is interesting – the day that’s exactly in the middle between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox.

I’ve never thought much about our New Year’s stuff. There’s just nothing to hang my hat on. It’s just another day. The only significance it has is to remind me I haven’t bought a new calendar yet. Maybe it’s a sign of the recession, but no one has sent me a free calendar. In the past I used to have a stack of them to choose from. Has anyone reported massive layoffs in the calendar printing industry?

Anyway, if you missed this palindrome, don’t fret. There’s another one coming up next year. On November 2. [1102-2011].

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