Green. Peace.

The Improper Bostonian , June 1-14, 2005

The Improper Bostonian, June 1, 2005

Green. Peace.

It’s never too late to grab yourself some instant karma

By Tracy Mayor

Ah, summer in the city. As the song says, it’s dirty and gritty. It seems like half the universe bailed Friday afternoon for P-town or the Vineyard, and the other half was at least motivated enough to haul out of bed and head for the beaches before the parking lots filled.

Then there’s you, emerging way too late from your burrow to stare down the second half of a hot, sticky weekend day. The Esplanade is packed wheel-to-wheel with baby joggers and amateur ‘bladers, and there isn’t an outdoor table open from one end of Newbury Street to the other. Is there any possible way to salvage the afternoon?

There is. Herewith, we take pity on your sorrowful self and share with you some of our favorite peaceful places, green glades an hour or less from the city’s swelter where you can recharge and de-stress in cool, uncrowded comfort.

At the risk of sounding like someone’s mom, keep in mind that nearly anywhere natural in Massachusetts outside 128 is rife with mosquitoes, ticks and poison ivy, so find a way to rock that white-socks-and-hiking-boots look before you get on the road.

Then head out to stretch your cubicle-cramped muscles with a good hike, laze in a bed of sun-warmed pine needles with a good book, or just get high on nature with your honey—or your pooch. Just don’t tell those sweaty hoards at the beach where you’re going. It’ll be our little summer secret. 

Cox Reservation
82 Eastern Ave. (Route 133)
Essex, MA
31 acres
Run by Essex County Greenbelt Association
(978) 768 – 7241
Open dawn to dusk 7 days a week
Admission: free
Dogs okay

Wedged inconspicuously next to Essex’s popular Farnham’s clam stand and flanked by two vast salt marshes, the Cox Reservation is a tiny little backbone of land that manages to serve up a wealth of wide-open vistas for world-weary eyes—uplands, hay fields, shady grottos of cedar trees, and more birds than you can shake your Sibley’s at, including a pair of Eastern meadowlarks nesting in the grassy field close by the parking area.

It’s no wonder, then, that the reservation is a favorite of local painters for its gorgeous, sky-swept views of some of the North Shore’s most beloved spots—the Essex River, Crane Beach, Hog Island and Conomo Point.

The walking trail ends at the river’s edge at Clamhouse Landing, where you can hang out on sun-warmed rocks and watch kayakers paddling, cormorants diving, and, far off in the distance at low tide, glimpse the flats from whence locals clammers uncover Essex’s sweetest crop.

The reservation is free and open to the public, and dogs are welcomed on a leash. To park, cross the small gravel dam over the marsh at the entrance, bear right when the driveway forks, and park in the lot between two the barns.

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
87 Perkins Row (off Rt. 97)
Topsfield, MA
2,200 acres
Run by Mass Audubon Society
Open dawn to dusk, Tuesday-Sunday and Monday holidays
Admission: Mass Audubon members free; nonmembers, $4 adults, $3 children and seniors
No dogs

With its mini-gift shop, nature center, canoe and cabin rentals (for members), and year-round nature programs for singles, families, and adults, the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary can be a busy place on a summer weekend as nature venues go.

But don’t let a full parking lot scare you off. At 2,200 acres, Ipswich River is Mass Audubon’s largest sanctuary, offering up more than 10 miles of interconnecting trails that wind among meadows, across wetlands, through forests and over eskers—those gravelly ridges left by departing glaciers (but you knew that already, didn’t you?)

Especially if you stick to the less-traveled side trails, it’s not uncommon to see any one of a host of wild animals and birds that call the sanctuary home—deer, raccoons, river otters, painted turtles, herons, bluebirds, hawks of all sizes and shapes, owls, springtime warblers, dragonflies and damselflies, beavers (or at least their dams), and, in the Rockery Pond, two huge snapping turtles. And that’s not even counting the acres of wildflowers and stands of majestic trees.

If you’re craving true solitude, skip the beautiful but popular Rockery and Waterfowl Pond areas of the reserve and instead grab a trail map at the sanctuary’s headquarters to find your way to Averill’s Island over the Bunker Meadows, South Esker or Hassocky Meadow trails.

Whenever you go, be sure to bring along some black sunflower seeds—the chickadees at the sanctuary are famous for their willingness to eat straight from your outstretched palm.

Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge—Concord Unit
Monsen Road (off Rt. 62)
Concord, Mass.
250 acres
Run by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Open dawn to dusk, 7 days a week
Admission: Free
No dogs

It’s hard to believe Great Meadows lies mere minutes upstream on the Concord River from the Minuteman National Historic Park, which clogs to a near standstill every summer with thousands of tourists hell-bent on getting a glimpse of that famous statue of the famous soldier by the famous bridge.

In contrast, this watery chunk of nature feels like very definition of serenity—all less than a five minute drive, or twenty minute bike ride, from downtown Concord.

The Concord refuge is one half of a two-part sanctuary—the other division is in Sudbury—that’s dedicated to preserving the freshwater wetlands along the Concord and Sudbury Rivers. And, true to form, water is the central focus here. A wide gravel path (smooth enough for strollers) leads over a man-made dike that separates two pools, actually inland meadows whose water levels are periodically adjusted by park managers to discourage invasive weeds and encourage various wildlife.

That life includes water plants like cattail, pickerelweed, and wild iris; wet-liking mammals like muskrats; and birds like herons, goldfinches, bluebirds, wood ducks, hooded mergansers, and osprey. Those feathered critters account for the serious birders, with some seriously expensive equipment, you’ll pass on the paths.

If you’re looking for some sun, the good news here is the sanctuary’s three main trails are all wide open to the skies most of the daylight hours. If you’re seeking shade, stick to the less-traveled Edge trail and Black Duck Creek trail, both of which lead off from the parking area. 

Don’t miss the observation deck, also near the entrance, as well as the neat little chalk board announcing recent sightings of wildlife. If you like what you see, head to the other half of the refuge, at 73 Weir Hill Road in Sudbury, which also hosts the park’s main visitor center.

Hopkinton State Park
71 Cedar St. (Rt. 85)
Hopkinton, MA
1,450 acres
Run by Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation
(508) 435-4303
Open 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week
Admission: $5 per vehicle or $35 for a season pass to all Mass. State Parks
Dogs okay

Thanks to that little road race that’s run once a year, we all know how far Hopkinton is from Boston (26.2 miles). Less well known, to city-dwellers anyway, is this little town’s big state park. With its bathing pond, nature center, boathouse, pavilion, canoe launch, picnic tables and 14-odd parking areas, Hopkinton State Park serves up recreation in a big way--and the summertime crowds to go with it.

Unless, that is, you head to the other side of the park, the 700 or so wooded acres on the east side of Rt. 85. Here you’ll find some dandy, less-traveled trails that wind over rock ledges, through wetlands, around ponds and over brooks. Grab a trail map from the park’s main contact station (or off its Web site) and head out for the Duck Pond, Pipeline and Ledges trails (to access these, use the Reservoir Run trail at the south side of the reservoir, because the Vista trail, while closer to the park entrance, now dead-ends in a new development of McMansions). Bring your pup, too—dogs are welcomed everywhere in the park except the beach areas.


Finally, if you’re too late even to make it out of your neighborhood, remember there’s a distinct upside to the paved-over cow paths and brick walkways that make up our fair city—plenty of nooks and crannies in which to chill. Think of the summer-empty quads of our beloved institutes of higher learning, the cool inner courtyards of our libraries and churches, the stone benches of our Revolutionary-era graveyards. Find your spot, then guard it like hell.

One of our personal favorites for instant in-town refreshment:

Sunken Garden
Radcliffe Yard
Garden St. and Appian Way
Cambridge, MA

You’re a stone’s throw from dusty, stroller-choked Cambridge Common and three minutes on foot from the mall-without-walls that Harvard Square has become, but this mossy, hidden outpost instantly transports you back to gentler times with its flowers in bloom, trees in blossom and fountain in full burble. Green peace indeed.