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Today’s Berkshire Eagle carried a curious story about an unhappy boyfriend who spray-painted unflattering messages about his ex-girlfriend on trees, rocks, and in the restrooms at the October Mountain State Forest. Breaking up is hard, but this guy’s reaction is tough to figure out.

To begin with, this was no out-of-control teenager whose brain hasn’t fully developed and maybe had a bad experience with a tree at summer camp.

According to the news story, this 46-year-old man was in Central Berkshire District Court yesterday facing charges of vandalizing property and malicious destruction of property.

Okay, so maybe he was upset and didn’t use his best judgment. Except that the spray-painting has been going on for a year. What did he think he was accomplishing?

Credit for the arrest goes to the local environmental police officer who finally tracked him down, using fingerprints, tire tracks, and “other evidence.” At some point he figured out who the graffiti was being directed at, and linked that to the defendant. At one point, he even came across the defendant in the woods, who claimed to be out picking mushrooms. After he left, more fresh graffiti was discovered.

Wandering around the woods, it’s not unusual to stumble on a campsite. Beer cans, liquor bottles, and other litter indicate either a teenage party spot or some alcoholic’s hideaway. But lately I’ve been coming across campsites that tell a different story, like the one I saw yesterday.

It was surprisingly close to downtown Fitchburg, in some woods, not too far off a popular trail. I happened on it because I heard a Barred Owl calling out from somewhere nearby , and wanted to try to find it. I came up over a small rise, and there on a flat shelf of land was a small tent, and a few things stacked around it. I debated whether to go closer or not, not so much from a sense of danger – there was nothing threatening about the place – as from not wanting to intrude.

I didn’t hear or see any movement, so finally I went for a closer look. A trash bag hung down from a tree. A small campfire pit had been dug out and ringed with stones. Two stumps served for seats in front of the campfire. There were a few pots and pans, clean, piled nearby. A sleeping bag in the tent had been rolled up and tucked to one side. There was no loose trash or litter.

This wasn’t a party spot. Someone lived here. Someone who didn’t have anyplace else to go. Up to now, whenever anyone was identified as homeless they were also labeled as mentally ill, addicted, or otherwise dysfunctional.

This wasn’t the campsite of someone dysfunctional.

It was yet another sign of the times.

Nature's starting to take over at the Steamline Trail

There’s no other way to describe the short length of trail that runs upstream along the Nashua River from the old Central Steam Plant in West Fitchburg before ending abruptly at a stone overpass. Mixed in with wildflowers and other lush vegetation bordering the rejuvenated river is the detritus of the Industrial Age – rusting pipes and girders, boarded up brick factory buildings.

It’s the antithesis of a place like the Lowell National Historical Park, where the old mills along the Merrimack have been carefully cleaned, painted, and polished to present a sanitized version of the Industrial Revolution.

This was like visiting a ghost town.

For someone who grew up near these mills and remembers when they ran three shifts a day every day, it comes as a bit of a shock to see these once busy buildings standing abandoned, victimized by the elements and vandals.

I remember coming down to these same mills once, with a friend whose father worked there. It was all noise and confusion – trucks coming and going, machinery running, smoke and dust everywhere, men loading and unloading things. Everything was running, everyone was busy. No one believed it could ever end.

Now there are just neatly printed information boards along the way, describing the city’s era of prosperity and the contribution these mills to that prosperity. The buildings are sturdy, built for the ages. They had to be, to support all that heavy machinery. But the industries they housed weren’t, and one by one they closed up or left town. The city never quite recovered.

On the bright side, nature here is gradually making a comeback. The river is clean. A great blue heron flew overhead as I walked there. Lily pads and pickerel weed line a small cove.

It’s an interesting place to visit, both beautiful and haunting.

The trail starts at a small parking area along Westminster Street, just across from a playground and variety store, near the intersection of Route 2A and Route 31.

This shrub was just standing out by itself at the edge of a field at Holdenwood

I came across this shrub the other day as I was walking around the Holdenwood estate in Shirley. I don’t recall seeing one quite like it before. It was about 6 feet tall, with a sturdy trunk, about 4 inches in diameter, hidden in the middle of all those leaves. The branches were thin and vine-like, spraying out from the top of the trunk.

The leaves were a dark olive-green on one side, slightly yellow-green on the underside, and had a very rubbery feel to them. The veins were very pronounced, showing almost reddish on the underside. It looks like some type of gum tree, like a tupelo, only more of a shrub.

The old landfill in Lunenburg, soon to be a solar farm

For years, old capped landfills have stood as scars on the landscape, good for nothing, reminders of the bad old days of free-for-all waste disposal.

Now, they’re enjoying a renewed sense of purpose as more and more communities are looking to put up windmills or solar panels on these otherwise useless parcels.

Here in central Massachusetts, Lunenburg and Lancaster are both pursuing the idea. In Lunenburg, the plan is to build a solar farm that will generate 1.5 mega-watts of electricity at the old landfill off Youngs Road.

While developing more solar energy facilities is a worthy undertaking, not all sites may be appropriate.

A proposal in Charlton is especially troubling.

At issue is the 65-acre Fay Mountain Farm, purchased in part with a state grant intended to preserve agricultural land. The original intent was to run it as a model farm, to educate people about farming, and to keep the unfarmed acreage as conservation land. The Mid-State trail runs through one corner of it.

The farming idea did not succeed, but it has become a popular area for hikers and nature lovers. Developing it as a solar farm would destroy that. Surely there must be a better place in town to build one.

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RSS The Ecocryptic

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RSS Martin Laine – Digital Journal

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