A Trail Running Mom Looks Ahead to Spring

By Lisa S. Ballew

As a working mom of two young children, the late afternoon run, especially a trail run, is a rare and luxurious treat. It is as if my very cells seize the chance to exalt in the rush of blood, oxygen, and vitamin D before the dwindling sunlight fades to black.

Whip Hill Park is 30 acres of hilly woods adjacent to the Middlesex Fells Reservation managed by the town of Stoneham. There’s a grand old manor house at the top of it, a magical pine grove, crumbling stone walls, a vernal pool, and impressive rock formations. To say the woods on Whip Hill are beautiful any time of year is putting it mildly. If you’re anything like me (and most likely you are if you’re reading this) you would think so too.

It was one of the last days of winter. With every step, my foot broke through snow like fancy restaurant creme brûlée. The light bouncing off the sheen of ice gave me the slightest feeling of dread as I imagined slipping and falling alone in the woods. I careened down the path anyway. The temperatures rose into the fifties and warm sunlight filtered through the naked branches. Spring was about to burst on the scene.

With countless things to think about I found myself thinking exclusively about my children. Alone on the trail, my little people back home felt like invisible appendages I’d haplessly taken with me.The memory of their feverish little bodies climbing on me, their silky heads in my lap, and their warm breath in my face was like a permeable barrier to the crisp fresh air.

I slowed down as I approached the section of the trail below a prominent rocky cliff. In warmer weather my kids and I had discovered a man-made lean-to of pine boughs and branches built against one side of it high up on the rock. Obscured by the abundant foliage we were amazed to stumble upon it during one of our adventures. The structure was just big enough for all three of us to huddle inside together. Inexplicably, we dubbed it the “bear cave”. Several months had passed and from where I stood below I didn’t see our cave. I trudged up the embankment to the spot where I thought the cave/ lean-to once stood, but it was gone. Things looked so different covered in snow, though; I couldn’t be certain if I was in the right spot. I looked around again, noticing the muffled silence so unique to a snowy landscape, and imagined the strong winds and driving snow that may have led to our bear cave’s undoing. Was that branch strewn over there once a piece of the cave? There was no telling.

Resuming my run, I entered the reservation proper, where the trail widens and splits in multiple directions. With new purpose I headed off in search of new landmarks and woodland destinations to delight my children.The massive felled tree decomposing along the edge of a trail caught my attention. It was at least as long as the goal line of a football field. The thick trunk, perched precariously off the ground, was still held up by the strength of its once mighty branches. Giant centipede? A combine on a farm? Fire breathing dragon? Before passing by the grand tree in its final resting place I paused and looked back. Sleeping brontosaurus, I thought. I imagined telling my son and daughter about this ungainly brontosaurus I met in the woods near Whip Hill, and I could almost see the familiar look of recognition in my son’s eyes when I brought him back here to see for himself.

The sleeping brontosaurus deep in the woods.

The warm light took on a bluish hue as I made my way out of the woods and turned toward home. Mentally I made a list of what we would need for our return trip as a family adventure took shape in my mind. Magnifying glasses, minnow nets, maybe two of those compasses for kids, some zip lock bags… A book about plants?

And the bear cave. I wasn’t fully convinced it wasn’t hiding on me, the adult with insufficient powers of wonder and amazement. It very well could have been obscured in some magical way, reserving itself for my worthy little companions to uncover anew in the early days of spring.

Lisa S. Ballew is a FoF member and volunteer, and resident of Melrose. She blogs about running, trails, and thoughts on life at creakyjointsrunning.wordpress.com

Follow her on twitter @creakyjointsrun

The Appalachian Mountain Club this week highlighted six locations around the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that are ideal sites for viewing spring wildflowers.  Among the chosen destinations is the Cross Fells Trail in our very own Middlesex Fells Reservation!  Here’s what AMC Outdoors had to say:

A pleasant wildflower hike that can be reached by public transportation from Boston is the Cross Fells Trail, which connects the eastern and western halves of the 2,575-acre Middlesex Fells Reservation. Flowers bloom in the reservation April through September, but the best time to see wildflowers along this trail is in May. The trail passes through wooded areas where you may see bright yellow trout lilies and carpets of wood anemone, and over sunny hilltops where the bell-shaped flowers of lowbush blueberries bloom. Violets and the elegant pink lady slippers can be seen scattered throughout the reservation. Begin at the trailhead near the MBTA’s Oak Grove Orange Line station in Melrose and follow the at times steep and rocky trail to its end. There you can catch the 134 bus back to the Orange Line at Wellington Station.

Make sure and head over to the post on AMC Outdoors to check out the other spots they chose.

Which wildflowers are you most excited to see this spring?  Where in the Fells have you seen them?  Have you visited any of the other spots on the list?  We would love to hear from you in the comments below.