NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 7, 2012

Newbury trail suffered from storm's wrath

Bill Plante's
North Shore

---- — Winter’s making a job of settling in I thought on Monday of this week.

I hadn’t ventured out of doors until early afternoon. Surprised to find it more like mid-October than December I decided to make the most of it by hiking up the Southwesterly side of the Trustees of Reservations’

Old Town Hill instead of taking the shorter path from the Southeasterly entrance.

Both have their merits. The Southeasterly is shorter, steeper, and more challenging for those of a certain age. I usually stop to check my heart rate three times to keep it at reasonable levels.

There are three options from the parking area.

The one begins across the street and leading uphill to join with the trail leading to the hill’s crest. The second is up Newman Road to the main gate to take the shorter, steeper climb to the hill top.

The third leads from the parking area down to Little River.

The Southeasterly path is considerably longer along its base and up the rising spine of the hill to its grand, easterly view across the lowlands and seacoast from the Plum Island dunes to Hampton, and, on a clear day, to the Isles of Shoals.

As hill climbing goes, Old Town Hill’s height is only 168 feet above sea level and hardly a challenge for those of reasonable health.

Its significance, however, is another matter.

It rises from ancient marshes begun with the retreat of the glaciers that reached all the way to Cape Cod some 12,000 years ago, and I sometimes wonder with each step while descending how long it took for the melting glacier to have reached that point in my stride.

I usually proceed up the road from the parking area to the gate, and it was just beyond that where I was met by two first time visitors from away with whom I would later join in a disappointing discovery.

The hill has its regulars - those with dogs to walk being most among them, but it’s also an attraction for those from away. Some are acquainted with the remarkable undertaking of the Trustees of Reservations - a national treasure of world renown.

I hadn’t taken the Southwesterly path for some time. It rises briefly from the gate and drops down toward the marsh before beginning its rise to the top of the hill, and I slow my pace after making the turn at the beginning of the climb.

I stopped at about a third of the way near the entrance to the hay field, the smaller of the two the Trustees harvest, role wrap, and store along the borders of the large Newman Road field.

Their gradual departure will mark Winter’s passing.

I made welcome use of the hill top bench before my quick descent down the Southeasterly path to Newman Road where I found the couple I had previously met, told them of the eastern most Little River trail I had not traveled for much too long, and invited them to join me.

They did, but so much for showing off my local knowledge.

The same great surprise blow of a northeast gale of two years past that had wreaked its havoc of the hill top had also made its force felt along what had become the extended foot trail leading westerly along Little River’s northern bank, and we found ourselves picking our way through brush, brambles, and deadfalls back to Newman Road.

That’s a loss that only time and effort will restore, but it’s much too central to nature’s calling to be left as it is.

As for the weather, I don’t expect many December days like that of Monday. For that matter, I don’t expect a winter like the almost snowless one we had last year.

Quill’s Pond is shrunken to a viewable bottom, and the leaves fell in an undisturbed circle at the bases of our trees.

Look for snow. We’re overdue.

Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and a staff columnist.