Nature’s Wonderland Just Past Your Doorstop


A little over 15 years ago, after I had my heart attack, I decided it was time to get off my dead ass and exercise. The only thing I could think of was jogging. I found a pond in Wakefield MA, Lake Quannapowitt, that has a path entirely around it and has a length of roughly 2.5 miles. I started out run, walk, run, walk, each day. And each day I did a little better. When I was at the top of my game, so to speak, I was able to jog around that body of water 3 times non-stop. But then I moved and had to find a new location. I actually found two, both in Cambridge, Fresh Pond and the paths along the Charles River and so I began to jog them regularly.

My knees were hurting me so I consulted my doctor who advised me to act my age, that I was not 25 anymore. He was fine with the exercise but jogging had to go and so I join a gym which was good for about a year. But I find gyms boring, really boring. It then occurred to me how much as a child I had loved bicycling. More than once I literally rode a bicycle into the ground. One time the joint at the front fork and the cross bar broke. Anyway, I bought a cheap bike, about $300 and headed off for the Minuteman Railtrail. This pathway starts in Cambridge and travels through Arlington and Lexington and ends just short of Bedford center. The trail itself is roughly ten miles in length and for the most part travels through wooded areas.

While riding the trail I noticed lots of squirrels one of which was totally black and another which was totally white, both rarities. Our local squirrels are of the common gray squirrel variety. And the of course right next to them are the chipmunks.

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These guys love to play chicken with you as you ride along and sad to say one was not quite so quick as he thought when I could not avoid him and ran over the little guy. It made me terribly sad.

Another creature I see quite often on this trail is the red tipped hawk.

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This breed of hawk is common to our area and you see lots of them. But they own the woods along the trail and are fearless creatures. I had one alight on a pole just in front of me as I was moving along, similar to the one above, and stare me down. His obvious power and beauty are breathtaking. I could watch this bird for hours on end as he goes about his business. In flight he is a thing of beauty, barely flapping his wings as he adroitly glides on the air currents, the updrafts and the ambient winds.

One day as I was returning home on the trail I came across a rather large doe. Now I have seen lots of deer in my travel but this one was standing on a small rise a few feet away from the trail, her body parallel to the trail. I stared at her, as she was truly beautiful, and in return she snorted at me as if to say, “what are you looking at?” The picture below is a pretty good representation of just how she looked at me.

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The most surprising creature I ever came across was a wolverine.

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Now this guy I did not see along the rail trail but caught him crossing Route 2A in Lincoln MA but yes, I was on my bicycle. I honestly did not know what I had just seen but his fur was much more brownish than the one above and he moved very quickly across that busy highway. What I have found out since about wolverines, having watch a Nat Geo (I think) story on them, is that they are elusive to the extreme and they number only about 200 in the lower 48. Unfortunately, even had I had a camera at the ready it is unlikely I could have gotten a picture of this guy as he quickly disappeared into the brush next to the road. I also found out that a wolverine can claim upwards of 300 square miles of territory. The Nat Geo story said they were thought to be extinct east of the Mississippi until the camera crew found one in Michigan. That may be the only time I will ever see this guy but it was worth the price of admission.

blue heron

The bird above is known as a great blue heron. He has a wing span of roughly 80 inches which translates to about 6 feet 8 inches! There is a marshy area along the rail trail in Lexington and right next to the Lexington land fill when this bird frequents. He is simply gorgeous and I always hope that when I come upon him standing in the swamp that he will decide to take flight and give me a great show.

Other animals I regularly see are cardinals, house cats, beavers, crows and the occasional turtle. The point is, if you ride up and down this path enough you will eventual see many of nature’s creatures in their natural habitat, and that is wonderful, always.

There is a rail trail in every state of the lower 48 and I highly recommend that you find one which suits you and travel it as much as you can. You should be both surprised and amazed at the woodland creatures you will come across in your travels. And that is a trip worth all the time and effort you can give it.

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