... shedding pounds at one mile per hour ...
THERE BEFORE YOU is the great city of Boston, the gem of the east coast, the hub of the universe. The view from Boojun Rock is enthralling and is only ten minutes off the parking area on the new Jerry Jingle.
The conversation went something like this:
"Let's take a walk Monday afternoon." This was from Lorry, my wife. She was smarting over some remark I had made over the fact that we had both gained seven pounds during our recent two-months retirement vacation through the southern states.
"Okay", I said, "but let's make it interesting. Let's do another trail over in the Middlesex Fells Reservation. That last one we took along the cliffs was a doozy."
Thus determined to lose all seven pounds in one outing, we locked the car in a designated woodland spot at 1:20 this afternoon, threw our digital camera, a compass, compact binoculars and a can of Pepsi in our nylon shoulder pack, and off we went. Two and a half hours later we emerged from woods, having traveled something less than two miles.
That's less than a mile an hour.
Sample with relish the well-worn trails that hardly ever run flat.
But I swear 90 percent of it was uphill, and the rest were cliffs. We were drenched in sweat when we got back to the car, yet the temperature was only 55.
You have to realize that our Middlesex Fells is a vertical place. It is an ancient fold in the earth's crust, possibly augmented by volcanoes, certainly chopped down to its 300-foot peaks by several ice ages that have passed over New England in the past two million years. In fact, it was only a mere ten thousand years ago that the ice on this very spot was well over a mile thick, and it would be probably another two thousand years before a human foot tread here for the first time.
It is a wooded place with scarcely any level ground, yet it is located plunk dab in the metropolitan Boston area, a rocky retreat guarded jealously by an entity of government called the Metropolitan District Commission. And since the MDC has been shorn of many of its duties over the past few decades, it makes sure that its reservation lands are kept clean and pristine, accessible to all. They do a creditable job.
There are only a few places we had to scramble on all fours, and this was one of them.
A mile an hour. But these are rugged trails, and the White Trail which we took today leads from peak to peak to peak. For a couple of 69 year olds, it is a fun outing and about all we can take by way of mountain climbing. There are cliffs, there are short near-vertical places, and above all, it appears magically to be all UPHILL.
But the views! The scenery of civilization, the skyscrapers of Boston, the sprawl of suburbia, of the place were land and sea come together -- is a course in history itself. On a previous trek through this area, we hiked along a different section of the White Trail, that one that runs north-south along the rim that makes our city of Melrose a valley. The views there of the town and the hills on the far side are gorgeous, often breath-taking. But here, today, is Boston, laid out before us in a rich, hazy silhouette.
This leg of the White Trail is along the south border of the Fells, where it goes east and west, along the highest peaks -- almost 300 feet. Some are a brief but grueling climb -- although we did pass one other hiker, a 35 year old man in shorts who was running the trail we had just taken two hours to accomplish. Running it! He was running!
Anyway, the White Trail (recently named "Rock Circuit") on the Malden (south) side takes you to the highest peaks, which are vast outcroppings of barren, scoured rock -- and which provide an unimpeded view of Boston, the Blue Hills, Boston Harbor, the Airport, all to the south, Revere and the Ocean to the east, and the high ridge that appears to circle Boston 15 miles out -- creating what is called the Boston Basin, to those who study geology.
It is spectacular. The heights provide a view as if you were on the 20th floor of a skyscraper. We broke out the binoculars and began identifying places that heretofore we had only seen from ground level -- usually looking up. Several miles to the southwest was Tufts University, on it's hill between Medford and Somerville; it is my alma mater.
Leisurely paces in quiet places. Off to the left is the view of Boston, while a half mile ahead is the thunder of I-93.
We could spot the operations tower at Logan Airport, and at one time a huge lumbering cargo plane made its approach too high, and was waved off. It took ten minutes for it to get into the pattern and circle again to make its southern approach, and came in okay on its second pass. We wondered what went wrong and kept making up scenarios about engine trouble, a sick pilot, or some other calamity.
We named most of the prominent skyscrapers along the Boston skyline, which lined up with the hazy cobalt blue of the Blue Hills, beyond the city. We picked out Arlington Heights to the west, and could spot patches of the Charles River as it flowed through the city.
Ancient rocks become so much dust and sand by eons of wind, rain and freezing temperatures.
Two hundred feet below us was suburbia and the city of Malden. A colonial road through that town, heading north and called the Jerry Jingle, wound its way up the mountain (such as it is at 300 feet) and passed on a sweeping curve around our position. We could hear the cars more than we could see them. We imagine the path of the original Jerry Jingle came straight through these hills, and after attaining the plateau, skirted Spot Pond and headed north into the villages of Stoneham and Reading. The road is still there, still dirt.
Most noticeable from our summit perch was construction noise of some huge pile driver in the distance. It is unlikely that it could be coming from the Big Dig in Boston, five miles away, but that was our only explanation.
Part of the trail system through the Fells were colonial roads -- dirt roads that wound through the canyons of the Fellsland, up to the summit where there was, long ago, some small mining operations. Most of the northbound traffic out of Boston was through the valleys, including Main Street of Melrose, which was also the Main Street of Everett, Malden and Wakefield, and gave access to the farms of New Hampshire.
Ironically, in a 1928 report of the Melrose Planning Board, the city fathers complained bitterly about the heavy traffic along Main Street (just a mile east of our Fellsland perch). They called for a radical widening of what had become one of the key thoroughfares to New Hampshire. Yet today Main Street is exactly as it was those 72 years ago.
The whole of the Fells Reservation was at one time the property of one man, who bequeathed it to the people of the Commonwealth. But that's another story.
An anomaly in this beautiful forest, this repeater tower can be seen from most of Melrose. The view here is looking east, back toward Melrose.
In the meantime, our journey took us by the high reservoir of the Fells, which we had never seen in our half century in Melrose. It was a momentous occasion -- except that the MDC and the state water commission recently completed covering the entire reservoir! It must have been a beautiful kettle pond, but again, that is another story.
The trails in the Fells are beautiful, winter or summer. There are high swamps, an ancient brook called Shilly Shalley that provides an attractive waterfall into Melrose, there are rocky summits, old wagon roads, and history all around you. It is a beautiful place, and it is serene amidst the hustle and bustle of Boston.
If you are interested in walking for nature or exercise, this is the place to go. The headquarters on Woodland Road will sell you a very good topographic map, and even provides a small library on the history of the reservation. And now, in summer, it is possible to rent a canoe or rowboat on the main reservoir, called Spot Pond.
It is a gem of a place. Go for a walk. See it. Enjoy it.
Public works reign as the open reservoir atop this range is now covered. It is changed forever.
July 7, 2000