No one ever comes to this small piece of Parker Forest wedged between houses, perhaps because the trail makes a rather short loop. As a botanist surveying the whole forest, I need to poke into every last corner, and sometimes the rewards for doing so far exceed my expectations. As is true of unfrequented places, the fire road was littered with branches and small fallen trees requiring clearing, and on a return trip some pruning would help as well. The area is unusually flat for our rugged post-glacial terrain, and the reason for it being so became evident when I came to a clearing of sandy soil. This is a small outwash plain, the only one I know of in the forest, making it a very unique place.
It’s also an area that experienced a lot of human activity, which can be seen in all the borrow pits where sand was removed, leaving wet hollows. There are also odd bits of rusty machinery, a half-pint glass milk bottle, and gnarly old crabapple trees. Where the trail loops back a pond rimmed with giant reed grass harbored a flock of chickadees, which flew over to check me out. I held out a handful of sunflower seeds and one bird proceeded to dance all around me, so close I could feel the fluttering of its wings. It really wanted the seed, but was too wild to land, so I left it on the ground.
As I made my way back, the trail was wet and mossy with the first skunk cabbage flowers pushing up, which I smelled before I saw. This part of the road was more obstructed and I was occupied with snapping off dead pine branches when there was a sudden loud whooshing sound right above me. Looking up I was staring into the big round eyes of a great horned owl looking down at me! I stood stock still watching in rapt admiration while it swiveled its head around. After a few minutes it lifted off and silently banked away through the dense trees branches. This quiet unvisited corner of the forest with its clearings makes for good night hunting and (usually) undisturbed sleeping by day.
There was one more surprise in store. Following a side road that dead-ended I found myself in a small grove of pitch pine. Pitch pines are easy to identify as they are the only pine with three needles in a bundle; white has five like its name, and red and Austrian have two. Pitch pines are of course very common on sandy Cape Cod, and on the fire-prone rocky summits in the Middlesex Fells and Blue Hills. I hadn’t expected to see any in Parker Forest where fire is rare, and sandy areas equally so.
With over 3000 acres it’s not hard to get off the beaten path in Parker Forest, and it’s always worth it.