The middle day of winter greeted us with unseasonably mild weather. Wanting to get out in the springlike day and explore somewhere new with our boys, my wife, Jamie, and I set out to investigate Gloucester’s Goose Cove Reservation, which is nestled into the west shore of Cape Ann and along the banks of the Annisquam River.
The 29-acre reserve offered a delightful 3/4-mile walking loop out over a rolling landscape and across intimate, rocky shorelines. It was the perfect spot to get out, stretch our legs and refresh along a sheltered cove.
We arrived shortly after lunch to warm, damp air moving in gently from the southeast and midwinter’s sun shining through a low, parting cloud cover. Barely February, it felt like late March. Darting kingfishers and fluttering woodpeckers met us at the trailhead and invited us in with cheerful chirps and flashes of white and red. Swooping up and down as if riding an invisible wave, they flew ahead and led the way into the tiny forest.
We walked along melting ice and squishy, spongy earth down a narrow path that sliced through stands of tall birch, beech and unusually slender oaks. Bright sunlight shone in through bare limbs from seemingly every direction. Trees dripped morning ice that tapped and hissed on the melting forest floor. Everything was slick, shiny and glistened of a midwinter thaw — the perfect scene to lift wintered spirits.
Rolling along a glacial moraine that formed a perfect ridge upon which to walk, the trail led us through fields of lichen-covered erratics and trodden oak leaves and alongside a small frozen swamp that begged the boys to stop and explore. They poked and chopped at it with sticks and hopped atop exposed, frozen-in logs and boulders. I joined them on the ice to play, but not for long — a simple clear of Jamie’s throat, and we boys knew we were too far out. It’s always nice to be looked out for, especially over 6 inches of water.
Leaving the swamp behind, we scurried down from the ridge and out to a rocky shoreline overlooking a sleepy winter cove. The sweet smell of organics from the forest mixed with salty air blowing in from over downtown Gloucester. The scent brought my mind further into spring, though I looked out across an icy cove with darkening gray skies to the west.
The boys climbed and scrambled boulders that lined the shore. Roots of aged cedar trees clung to the boulders, delineating two worlds: the muddy forest and the exposed, rocky shore. The kids used the roots as footholds, climbing up and over boulders, chasing in and out of the trees, and generally making way over super-cold water. They had a blast burning off energy, while unknowingly prepping for summer rock climbing.
Jamie and I sat on sun-warmed slabs and watched the pack ice move and crunch with the outgoing tide. Like fluffy, layered pastry, the ice lay in sheets from repeated tidal flow. It boomed and cracked, crunched and creaked, and carried every sound from across the cove: a crackling backyard fire, a barking dog and the distant slamming of a porch door.
Worried the kids would soon get a bit too courageous climbing over icy water, we called them in to make our way back to the trailhead. Under a darkening sky and through chilling air, we walked together, back up the ridge and through the forest that Essex County Greenbelt has thoughtfully protected for the past 48 years.
The middle day of winter is a special day for me. Growing up on my family’s farm in Newburyport, it was nearly considered a holiday. It marked the end of dark and blustery days and ushered in later sunsets, chickadees and swelling buds all around.
Our time together walking the trails at Goose Cove was sweet and relaxing, and one I’ll fondly remember midwinter when both my boys have grown and gone. Then, perhaps, they’ll write of their own midwinter walk. I’d love to read that.
Justin Chase is an avid naturalist who lives in Amesbury and grew up in Newburyport. He is the author of the blog Outdoors, By Cracky! Visit his website at www.outdoorsbycracky.com, or contact him via email at email@example.com.
If you go
What: Goose Cove Reservation
Where: Washington Street in Gloucester, about two miles from Blackburn Circle
Parking: Gravel lot, limited to five cars
Total acres: 29
More information: www.ecga.org