A couple of weeks ago, my family and I had the pleasure of celebrating our friend Margaret Nally on her 90th birthday.
Together, along with her nephew Jay, we enjoyed a quiet evening of dinner and cake, and chatting of her remarkable life. She shared stories of enlisting in the Navy on her 20th birthday and of her travels on the slow boat to China.
With warm tones and a bright smile, she talked of the puppy she brought home from Paris and how her dad became its best friend. She also talked about her life in Amesbury — teaching, mentoring, her years on the School Committee and of the few remaining World War II veterans she holds dear.
I asked her about outdoorsing in Amesbury and if there was a special place in town she used to enjoy. Without even a second of consideration, she shared Po Hill as a longtime favorite. Rising from the east shore of Lake Gardner, it was a favorite to simply enjoy a quiet afternoon and her annual spot to walk off Thanksgiving dinner.
Margaret, I hope for a moment you may ride on these words and walk with me on Amesbury’s Po Hill:
After a steep and winding drive up to the end of Powow Street, my canine buddy, Gauge, and I arrived at the trailhead on top of Powow, or Po, Hill. Bright sun washed across crusty snow and glared from icy footprints that led across a small field to an overlook atop the highest point in town.
Crisp winter air and clear skies offered views to the northeast of Isles of Shoals in the Gulf of Maine and to Mount Agamenticus rising from the horizon. Glenn Cook’s apple orchards slept quietly down in the foreground, covered in snow and soaking up March’s brightening sun. Barely 100 steps into our morning, it was already gorgeous.
Descending to the shores of Lake Gardner, we traveled down Old Stagecoach Trail and through a small forest of pine, oak and birch. Still and super-cold air carried sounds of creaking limbs and woodpeckers knocking into dead, hollow trees. My boots crunched with every step atop packed snow from melting days and freezing nights.
Gauge ran ahead, snuffing and wagging, and burying his snout into every crevice he could find. “Careful, buddy,” I yelled out. “Come summer, those holes will have angry critters in them.”
Stepping and slipping down the icy and winding trail, we made our way to the frozen lake. (I’m often wary of March ice, but given the recent cold snap, I knew it was safe.) We ran and slid and played fetch with a piece of birch from shore until the ice cracked a little too much for Gauge’s comfort.
Like summer thunder rolling off into the distance, booms from settling ice traveled the entire length of the lake and beyond to Powow River. It was time to head in.
We walked together along a narrow, icy trail and through stands of young hemlock and birch. Chickadees and finches sang spring songs high overhead. They put a smile on my face, but more importantly, they reminded me to look up and see the sun shining straight down into the forest instead of sideways through trees as it does in winter.
With our breaths puffing visibly into the cold midday air, we climbed up the side of the hill and back toward our car. Views of Lake Gardner grew grander behind us with each step as we scrambled over felled trees and crunched through snow.
Though only an hour, our time in the woods lifted my spirits and helped usher out winter. Spring is Marching in, for sure, and before we know it, the sun will be high in the sky long after supper.
Happy birthday, my friend.
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: Powow Hill
Where: Part of the 100-acre Powow River Conservation Area on the east side of Lake Gardner in Amesbury
Parking: Lake Gardner Beach on High Street, Battis Farm on South Hampton Road or Batchelder Park on Powow Street (entrance at the end of Dennett Way)
More information: www.lgia.org/conservancy