Sunday, December 6, 2009

Geology Hike at Middlesex Fells

"Because it helps you build up a relationship to the earth in a mysterious kind of way ..."
On Saturday morning December 5, ~30 people gathered at Bellevue Pond in the Middlesex Fells for a Geology Hike sponsored by the Friends of the Fells and led by Ed Myskowski of the Peabody Essex Museum. Ed is friendly and knowledgeable, happy to share his considerable insight into the geology of New England. Before setting out he covered the basics of plate tectonics and the effects of glaciers on the New England landscape. He even delved into recent theories proposing that periodic variation in the earth's tilt (varying between 21-24 degrees, with a period of 40,000 yrs) is responsible for the historical cycles of glaciation observed (~100,000 yr period), and discussed possible implications for climate change in the future. Ed is pictured below with a gabbro boulder that seems to have been conveniently placed alongside the pond for demonstration purposes. This type of rock is ~600 million years old, sometimes called "country rock", meaning, a component of the local bedrock. It formed at a time when the continents were still connected in a big land mass (called Pangea). New England was butted up into what is now north-western Africa.
Igneous rocks (from molten magma far below the surface) make up some of the more interesting formations in the Fells. While the varying compositions and formation mechanisms are complicated enough to be the lifetime work of many geologists, their beauty is easy to grasp. Ed told a great story about talking to a group of young school children about igneous rocks. It seemed to Ed their attention was drifting, so he asked "but why should we care about igneous rocks?". A reply came back: "because it helps you build up a relationship with the earth in a mysterious kind of way". I bet Ed felt great about his work with kids on THAT day.

The word "Fells" is an English word for "rocky windblown hills". Formations as shown below give character to the terrain, making for enjoyable hiking. The numerous paths are also favored by runners.
Our hike took us to Wright's Tower on the south-eastern tip of the West side of the Fells. Great views of the Boston Skyline, and the site of the ancient Boston Caldera. (That's another story, that Ed will talk about on February 9 2010, watch the Friends of Fells site for details).
I like the combination of the natural Lynn rhyolite rock feature and the man-made stairs and tower.
I can almost still see the swirling magma flows in this rock, and the glacial scratches.

And wow, does it confuse a compass - the white line painted on the rock in the photo below runs North/South. As you can see, the compass points almost due west!

One of the most clear examples of a dike, where magma has intruded into cracks in the bedrock. Some grass has grown where the two rock types meet, providing an even better marking of the division.
Click on any of the photos for more detail.
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Winter Moths

The Winter Moth have definitely arrived in Arlington MA. These photos were taken the evening of November 25 2009. The male moths shown are attracted to light and to the wingless females. After mating, eggs are laid in tree bark crevices, under lichen and elsewhere. In the spring the eggs hatch and release tiny and destructive caterpillars (larvae). They eat tree leaves, dropping their droppings below, and swing down and sideways onto other trees by filaments. They are destructive to oaks, apple trees, roses, other perennials, and are the bane of blueberry growers in coastal areas, inflicting considerable economic damage. You may have seen swarms of these when driving at night or raking leaves.

For more information, see the excellent U Mass Extension Fact Sheet
by Robert Childs and Deborah Swanson.
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Middlesex Fells - Thanksgiving 2009

Thanksgiving 2009, Arlington MA - a morning with fog so dense and white that trees just a block away faded into mist. Damp but fragrant air, temperatures in the mid 40's. A great day for a walk in the Middlesex Fells, a natural treasure just around the corner in Medford.
The light on this cloudy day illuminated mossy logs and lichen-covered rocks in a magical way. The photos show a "nurse log", supporting vibrant green moss, a pine seedling, and a small community of healthy fungi. A tiny wintergreen (pipsissewa) grows alongside - it will provide a welcome green all through the winter.

We traversed many small hills and ravines. A pervasive quiet, and sounds of birds left the din of civilization fading into the background. At one point we paused, hearing the sound of something dropping from trees. Might it be just water droplets? Looking skyward, we saw birds feeding on catkins in a tall birch tree. We were hearing the sounds of bits falling from these crumbling catkins as they hit the brown crinkly leaves covering the ground. I had never experienced this before. Nature will always surprise and delight.
You may click on the photos above for a larger image.
The Route: Start at the smaller Parking area just south of the Long Pond Parking area on South Border Road, on the west border of the Fells. Proceed south along the Skyline Trail, about 1/4 mile to where it joins the Reservoir trail. Take the Reservoir trial north for about a mile, to north of Nanepashemet Hill, where it crosses the Skyline trail. Take the Skyline trail left, turning south for the return trip. While the trails are very well marked with white and orange blazes (small squares on the trees and painted on rocks), having the excellent map and guide published by the Friends of the Fells is essential for not getting lost in the Fells (not that getting lost is all that bad).
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Seasonal Scenes: Jan-Feb-March 2009

The winter of 2008-2009 brought us our share of snow and cold in Arlington MA, but many days were also sunny. Getting out into nature was always restorative and much needed. The video below shows typical nature scenes in Arlington and vicinity at this time of year. Relax and enjoy the scenes and music. Most importantly though, there is no substitute for getting out and experiencing nature first-hand. The video shows several places in or very near to Arlington that are wonderful places to explore.

The Arlington Natural Connections Project would appreciate receiving contributions of photos that document nature in the current season. Select photos may be displayed in on-line galleries, photo collage videos or other works created as activities of the Arlington Natural Connections Project. The contributing photographer will be credited, unless anonymity is requested. Please include: place, date, time (optional) the photo was taken, and the photographer to credit. Submission of photos is taken as permission to use in these venues.

Please submit digital photo files to:

The mission of the Arlington Natural Connections Project is to promote a sense of connection to the natural world by combining an artistic and natural science approach.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Tracking Hike at Arlington Great Meadows

On Sunday February 1, temperatures soared into the balmy range near 40F. What a great day for a Tracking Hike in Arlington's Great Meadows. The event was organized by Don Miller and David White of the Friends of Arlington's Great Meadows . We split into two groups, one led by Lydia Rogers and one by Fran Ludwig. Although we didn't have the dusty covering of new snow that would make conditions optimal for spotting tracks, we did see some. We learned about the X pattern that all dogs make when they leave a track. We saw squirrel tracks, identifiable by the larger tracks in front (made by the back feet) with smaller tracks in back (from the front feet). I was embarrassed to realize that I didn't really know how squirrels ambulate around, despite having a bird feeder in my yard that is a major squirrel attraction every day. A nice picture of squirrel tracks and a drawing of how they move is here. As usual, you may click on photos to see them enlarged.

The snow was textured by cycles of warm/cold and the rocks, branches and other objects lying underneath.
The Friends of Arlington's Great Meadows group have made many improvements that enhance enjoyment and accessibility.

We saw these beautiful ball-shaped oak galls, and also another type more elongated and integrated into the branches of a bear oak. Although these make interesting additions to my "natural collections", I am always conservative about collecting these galls because they provide such visual interest and are part of a fascinating natural system.

Posted by PicasaThanks Lydia, Fran, Don and David for organizing this!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Habitat, Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, Belmont MA

Took a walk on Saturday afternoon, January 24, 2008 around the Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, a Mass Audubon Society property, at 10 Juniper Road, Belmont MA. The temperature was in the 30s, with some wind. The wind was audible, whistling through the pine trees high overhead. Also heard rustling of some oak leaves that have hung on all winter, some lyrical birds, and the occasional tree branch clunking against another as it moved in the wind. The sky was visible through the bare treetops, more so than in summer when the canopy is dense with leaves. The birch grove shined brightly, vividly white. The dense trees shielded walkers from the wind. Especially in the sun, I was quite comfortable when walking around. As usual, you may click on photos to see them larger.

A great place to ward off the effects of nature deficit. Very close to Arlington. Plenty of parking, visitor center has rest rooms.
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Sunday, January 11, 2009

MicroCosmos Movie

As 2009 begins, the weather in Arlington, MA is typical for January - cold and snowy.  Put on some warm clothes and get out in it - it's beautiful and exhilirating.  Here's a photo of Spy Pond, taken in the afternoon, January 2.

If you are looking for a video to watch, one evening, warm inside, try "MicroCosmos".  Wonderful scenes of a meadow in summer, featuring some spectacular close up photography of ants and insects.  There are many samples available on YouTube, here is one that shows the beginning scenes:

This video gives you a taste of the beauty and genius of nature captured in the film "MicroCosmos".  It is available as a DVD rental for only $1 at the Arlington Robbins Library.  I find it impossible to watch without being very moved.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Shared and Transitory

In the Produce Aisle
- by Kirsten Dierking

In the vivid red
of the fresh berries,
in the pebbled skin
of an emerald lime,
in the bright colors
of things made
to be transitory,

you see the same
you find in your own
delicate flesh,
the lines fanned
around your eyes
charming like
the burnish
of plums,

your life like
all the other
fragile organics,
your soft hand
hovering over
the succulent apple,
you reach for it,
already transforming.

"In the Produce Aisle" by Kirsten Dierking,
from Northern Oracle. © Spout Press, 2007.

I thank Garrison Keillor and the staff at "The Writer's Almanac" for including this wonderful poem in their serial for New Years Day, 2009. The poem speaks of beauty and connection, and of the temporary and transitory reality that we humans share with all natural things. These subjects are central to the interests and aspirations of the Arlington Natural Connections Project.
Happy New Year 2009 from the Arlington Natural Connections Project!
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