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While it’s always fun to find a new trail, explore a place I haven’t been to, there’s a certain comfort in returning to a favorite walk every now and then. The Mass. Audubon sanctuary at Flat Rock in Fitchburg is one of those places. My family used to take walks and picnics there when I was young, long before it became a sanctuary.

A week or so ago I took the main trail that starts out behind the old Burbank Hospital. At some point in history this was meant to be a main road – there are culverts and ditches lined with stone. It’s on the east side of the hill and the woods are noticeably cooler there.

I was walking along thinking that not much has changed over the years. Then the clusters of red berries shown in the picture caught my eye. I’ve walked past that spot hundreds of times, and I’ve never seen them there before.

My first thought was it was a mountain ash. When we first moved this house in 1960, my father tried planting a mountain ash in the backyard. It didn’t make it. It’s too sunny and the soil is all wrong. When I looked at this sapling more closely, I realized it wasn’t a mountain ash, but a very similar tree, the red-berried elder.

Both trees are common farther north, but somewhat rare down here. There were two or three of these saplings fairly close to each other, but I didn’t see any others anywhere nearby. Which makes me wonder how they got there.


One of the few blossoms remaining

Mount Monadnock from Little Monadnock




I spent yesterday morning at the Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.

The park gets its name from a 16-acre stand of rhododendrons which, when they are at their blossoming peak, can be spectacular. I had the good fortune some years ago to see them at their peak. The blossoms were so large and white it looked like there had been a mid-summer snowfall.

Not so this year. Usually the rhododendrons up there bloom mid- to late-July, but they were two weeks early this year. Except for a few late-bloomers, the others were done and gone.

The day was hardly a waste. The morning was sunny and bright, the humidity of the past several days was gone – a perfect day. From the parking area I took the Little Monadnock Trail which leads to the summit of Little Monadnock, where it connects to the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, and offers a fine view of Mount Monadnock.

There is an old cottage on the property, built by one of the region’s original settlers, dating back 200 years, which at one time had belonged to the Appalachian Mountain Club. It had served as a hostel for hikers of the M-M trail. In 1946 the AMC deeded the property to the state of New Hampshire. The park is now designated as that state’s only “botanical park.”

I also took the short, pleasant, half-mile Rhododendron Loop which quite literally tunnels through the large overhanging Rhododendrons.  The winding trail through the spindly twisting branches give the walk an other-worldly feel.

This time around there was another interesting feature along the Little Monadnock Trail. As part of a forest management program, there were several small areas where there had been logging carried out. It opens up parts of the forest to allow selected trees to grow and new growth to establish itself. It also provides new habitat for a wider variety of species. From what I could see, this kind of limited controlled clear-cutting did not impact at all on the visual pleasure of the hike.

Massachusetts has experimented with this on state-owned land. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been properly supervised and there have been several instances where loggers have “inadvertently” logged many more acres than they were permitted, or “accidentally” logged in areas where they weren’t supposed to be logging at all.



During the winter, when food is scarce, I maintain several birdfeeders around my house and yard. My “season” somewhat arbitrarily runs from November 1 to April 1. Then I take most of them down, because there’s plenty of food available and I don’t want to encourage a bird population larger than the neighborhood can naturally sustain.

Since my feeder season coincides with the school year, I make my rounds checking and refilling the feeders early each morning before I leave for school.

I do leave one feeder up year-round – a small platform feeder attached to my kitchen window, which attracts a nice sampling of the birds around the house. But since my schedule is a lot more leisurely now, so’s my feeder schedule – pretty much whenever I get around to it. This does not sit well with my feathered friends.

The other morning I was reading the paper when I kept hearing a fluttering and rapping noise coming from the kitchen. When I went to check, I was confronted by about a half-dozen sparrows on, in, and around the now-empty feeder staring into the kitchen, glaring at me. Just to make sure I got the message, one of the bolder ones rapped on the window with his beak, then tapped down on the feeder as if to make the point that the feeder was empty.

Talk about a sense of entitlement!

It worked, though. I went and refilled the feeder for them. I didn’t notice any great clapping of wings or other show of gratitude.

It reminded me of an incident many years ago when a certain colleague of mine, who shall remain nameless, thought it would be nice to put a birdfeeder outside her classroom. It was winter, I think the weather was quite cold, when I pointed out the feeder was empty. She said she hadn’t gotten around to filling it.

I couldn’t resist giving her the lecture on how birds have to eat huge amounts during the winter to maintain their body heat and energy level. I scolded her for first creating a dependence, and then not fulfilling her obligation. I drew her a picture of local birds fainting from hunger. By that time, she was nearly in tears, and as I recall, promised to fill it as soon as she got more birdseed.

This is what passes for my sense of humor, and by now she’s accustomed to it. But I’ll bet she’s probably never put up a birdfeeder since.

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