Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Exploring a New Urban Wild Place

Did a little "wilderness" exploration today.

Although Brockton, Massachusetts is a city, and a fairly old one, it still has considerable green space.  I'll bet other cities do, too.  Of course, there is D.W. Field Park only a half-mile walk north of me, a beautiful place designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (a father of landscape design who also laid out NYC's Central Park among others).  Brockton is proud of this park and rightly so.  I have walked its roads and paths less and less often over the years.  Although green, D.W. Field is certainly not a Wild Place, save in neglected corners.  Of course the municipal golf course isn't even in contention. 

The best way I know to find a Wild Place is Google Earth.  If you haven't got this software, get it now.  The free version is so wonderful that I'm not seriously tempted to pay for the fancy version.  Google Earth cleverly and almost seamlessly integrates satellite photos into a globe that allows you to zoom-in anywhere on the planet and explore.  Over the US, the resolution of the photos is good enough to spot cars on the street, though seeing pedestrians is a challenge.  You can do many other cool things, from seeing street-level views taken by ground cameras to exploring the ocean floor, but the most important features, for today's purpose, is the ability to overlay the satellite images with map information, and the ability to work backwards and forwards among views photographed at different times and seasons, going back years. 

First I let the whole city fill the screen so I could easily see the green spaces.  The biggest of these--at about 40 acres--looked like a great place to explore.  Next I needed access to it without attracting attention from neighbors.  Zooming in on this space and overlaying streets and their names, I found some likely access points.   Then, since the canopies of trees obscured the view too much, I worked backwards until I found a view taken in early spring, when most trees were leafless.  This showed me areas where the woods came right to the street, so I wouldn't have to trespass on someone's lawn to get in.  I saved this view as an image file, printed it, and tucked it in my pocket along with camera and binoculars, then set out by car in the sunny warmth of late morning. 

I have no idea who owns this land, so I would have to be discreet.

The nearest of my possible points of entry turned out to be in a neighborhood marked by a "luxury homes" sign.  I "cased" the entry briefly, then parked my car a few dozen yards away across from a newly-built house with a "for sale" sign in the yard.  Then I walked in, whistling a happy tune, trying not to look like a suspicious person, and noting which nearby driveways had cars indicating likely people at home.  

It was late morning, so most people should be in school or at work.  Even so, I tried to balance moving quickly to get out of sight of houses against moving unobtrusively through the bushes and brambles.  In a few minutes I was fairly well-obscured, though there was almost nowhere during my walk I was truly in the clear.  Next time I will leave the car at home to be more unobtrusive still, seclusion will be much more convincing after the trees leaf out.

Mind you, I don't think of myself as the criminal type.  I return money to cashiers when they undercharge me, and pick up after our dogs.  On the other hand, I am a bit of a rebel when it comes to open land.  (Some of the best hours of my childhood were spent in an old-field that adjoined my parents' land.  When as a teenager I discovered that land would be subdivided for house lots, I did a little sabotage, pulling up stakes and breaking pipes that had been sunk to assess groundwater depth.  It accomplished nothing, of course, except to make me feel less impotent.)  I knew I was trespassing on someone's land, hence the precautions.  But my main concern was not moral, but simply to avoid being seen, scolded, and forbidden to return.  

This wood is a delight.  It is a mixture of oaks, red maple, and white pine, with a shrubby understory that tends toward brambles.  It is trackless, and only two things--a discarded mylar balloon and some inflatable vinyl thing--gave evidence that humans sometimes came here.  Big trees, and fallen trees in various stages of decay, showed that these woods had not been managed for a long time--a conclusion strengthened by the presence of prince's pine--a clubmoss that favors old woods.  Of course, there has been no wilderness worthy of the name in southern New England for probably two centuries, and the hum of the nearby highway made it clear this was very near civilization.  But just as plainly I was in a little bit of The Wild.  Thoreau would certainly have found nothing wilder in the Concord of 150 years ago.

I was suddenly brought up short in my pleasure at discovering that this wood was my own hidden wild.  A contradiction.  I profess to be a big believer in fighting so-called Nature Deficit Disorder, yet was personally delighted that this wood, surrounded by homes, was unvisited.  Lack of trails was surely evidence that the surrounding families lived in-door lives with little but electronic experience of the natural world.  Yet I well remember my first paddle to a little island in Nippenicket Pond years ago, and discovering to my dismay the well-established maze of trails, rope swing, fire ring, and trash that marked a well-loved neighborhood haunt.  On posts scattered around the shoreline, signs proclaimed the Rules for visitors.  I haven't been back much since.  Of course when I was young this is how I claimed and settled the old-field of my childhood, establishing trails, and forts and hiding-places.  It is an unfortunate contradiction that we want to "have our wilderness and share it, too."  I will have to try to welcome the personal struggle, if more people get out into these woods.

After perhaps an hour wandering the woods, I headed home.  I'll certainly be back during the growing season!

Big trees.

 Prince's pine is not a pine at all, but a clubmoss or Lycopod.

White Pine mom and kids.

Cloud patterns seemed to emanate from the sun.

It looks like we are in the middle of nowhere.  Small pools were common, and 
parts of the land may be wet enough to qualify as wetlands, precluding development--I hope!

Bordering the Wild Place, a field over an acre in size is kept clear--for what?  A sheet metal storage building out of sight at the far end probably holds heavy equipment.  South of here is a small housing development that appears on only the most recent Google Earth images, so some development is occurring.

In the woods bordering the field are at least two tree stands.  
Is hunting legal within city limits?

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