Muddy trails, four-footed friends

Boots, you fool. Boots. Two days in a row, I’ve gone out in running shoes when boots would have been a much better idea. It’s uncommonly warm for late December, and a recent gentle 24-hour rain left local paths muddy. I’ve been on flat trails close to home, nothing adventurous, but they’ve left me with very dirty shoes. No harm done.

(And what was I thinking when I bought white athletic shoes? Nothing meant to be worn outdoors should be white, except for reflective tape.)

Nashua River at Mine Falls Dam. Spring runoff can cover those rocks.

Nashua River at Mine Falls Dam. Spring runoff can cover those rocks.

I wondered if there’d been enough rain to make Mine Falls into a real falls. The Nashua River can be quite impressive at that spot during a good spring runoff. How about December? Average, I discovered, but still lovely.

I’ve shared the trails recently with a lot of dogs, leashed and unleashed. I don’t have any pets myself, but I have a soft spot for friendly and well-mannered dogs, like the majestic Newfoundland that accompanied its owners through Horse Hill yesterday when I was there. Just on the last couple of walks, I’ve seen a broader selection of canines than usual. To name a few: pit bulls, a Yorkie, standard poodles, a dachshund, a greyhound, and one exotic-looking creature that I had to resort to Wikipedia to identify, a Komondor. No wildlife. Perhaps the dogs saw to that.

The year will end with snow-free trails in my area, thanks to this warm spell. It won’t be the first time I’ll ring in the new year with spring-like conditions. I can always head a couple of hours north if the call of the snowshoes proves irresistible.

NH projects on 2014’s National Trails Day, June 7

Sure to be seen on Trail Day: tiger swallowtails.

Sure to be seen on Trails Day: tiger swallowtails.

I was happy to find a link on my Facebook feed this morning, directing me to a list of Trails Day projects nearby this weekend. For my southern New Hampshire readers, take note of projects at Temple Mountain, Pisgah State Park (two projects there), and Bear Brook State Park.
Details here: http://www.nhstateparks.org/whats-happening/national-trails-day.aspx

A new trail up Temple, to form a loop with a segment of the Wapack Trail? Yes, please.

If I can’t get out there Saturday, I’ll find something closer to home. Mine Falls will have a cleanup day on the 14th. I owe the trails a little love. Which reminds me – the city of Nashua, probably with some volunteer help, is doing heavy-duty work in Mine Falls Park this week to clean up the canal, pulling out trees toppled in the October ’11 snowstorm. Great job!

Mine Falls treat: beaver sighting

Beaver seeking privacy from a nosy photographer.

Beaver seeking privacy from a nosy photographer.

Mine Falls Park in Nashua is a watery place, with the Nashua River and an old mill canal and millpond. It teems with life. I can count on seeing a variety of birds in all seasons. In the summer, eastern painted turtles sun themselves on broken tree branches partially submerged in the canal. Muskrats are common. A far rarer sight: beavers. They’re around, all right – just look at the evidence they leave behind in gnawed trees. Actually seeing one of the critters, though, is unusual. Early one evening this week, I hit the jackpot.

No, this isn’t the Loch Ness monster’s little cousin. It really is a beaver, as best as can be captured with my not-quite-top-shelf cell phone camera. I was lucky: as I scooted along a trail by the mill pond, I heard a sudden splash very close by. I had startled something. I looked over to the pond, saw ripples, and watched. Sure enough, up popped the beaver a few feet away. It swam away at a leisurely pace as I fumbled for my phone and snapped the picture.

I was at the park for the first brisk walk I’ve had in weeks. I walked what I call the full loop, a little less than five miles long, touching the park’s eastern and western ends. I saw the pair of swans that have nested in the cove for several years now, and it looks like they’ve found a new spot for their nest, a little more protected from gawkers like me.  A few trees have been downed by spring winds, and for once none  fell across a main trail. The peepers – frogs that sound like sleigh bells for just a few weeks each spring – were just tuning up as I passed a pond. Everything added up to a wonderful hour and a quarter. But the star of today’s show: an oversized rodent that refused to pose for me. A treat indeed.

 

Un-whining

The New Year’s Day hike on Monadnock was the last time I got away for a hike, as opposed to walking in nearby parks.

Whine.

January and February have been filled with long hours of work and stress and lousy weather.

Whine.

My clothes are too snug, I’m out of breath after three flights of stairs, and I hate icy roads.

Whine, whine, whine.

When the weather was “nice” the other day (and please, no scolding me for being unprepared for all conditions), I forced myself to shake off my winter torpor for little while.

The cove at Mine Falls Park, awaiting the springtime return of the swans. Nashua Millyard in background.

The cove at Mine Falls Park, awaiting the springtime return of the swans. Nashua Millyard in background.

Hard to believe what a difference that made. After a couple of miles in a favorite park, my jeans were still too snug and I still had a pile of work waiting for me. But gradually, as I walked along the canal path in crunchy snow, the whines went away. Not permanently, for sure – for all its beauty, winter is not my favorite season – but fresh air and near-silence worked wonders.

I’ll still need a push to get out the door this season, but I’ll have this post to remind me it’s worth the effort.

The winter games are here

Mine Falls Park after first snowfall, December 2013

Mine Falls Park after first snowfall, December 2013

No, not the Olympics in Sochi (which I will watch on TV in a couple of months along with a billion other people). I mean there’s finally been a snowfall in my area just heavy enough to put a base on the trails. It’s late fall, and winter is impatient to elbow its way in. This morning in Nashua, I spent an hour at Mine Falls Park enjoying the crunch of snow beneath my sneaker-clad feet. The canal is almost-but-not-quite frozen over, and the muskrats have taken refuge wherever muskrats like to go.

Sometimes the season’s first snow in southern New Hampshire pounds us – the Halloween Eve snowstorm in 2011 dumped a foot of heavy wet snow, uprooted countless oaks & maples, and left me without electricity for four days. Other years are more like this – a couple of tentative snowfalls, just to get us ready for the inevitable big ones.

I can pull my snowshoes out of their little nook in the basement and put them closer to the door.  I can  look forward to hiking on those brilliant cloudless days that follow snowstorms. My favorite cross-country ski area, 45 minutes away on the eastern slope of the Wapack Range, has announced that it’ll be open for business this weekend. That means their 40km of snowshoe trails are ready to go as well. That’s a special trip for me, too far for weekly visits. A prime memory for me is a midweek trip there a few years ago, the day or two after a storm. There were a few skiers around, but I was the only snowshoer in sight, and I had all that wonderful powder to myself on the woods trails. Solitude, beauty, sunshine, and unbroken powder: does it get any better in the winter?

When the Olympics are broadcast, I will ooh and ahh over the alpine skiers. I have never learned to ski, so seeing people do it at a high level of skill is alarming and thrilling for me. I’ll cheer for the cross-country skiers, who are better-conditioned than most of us could ever hope to be. I’ll watch the snowboarding, which for my money is the most fun event to watch at the Olympics (and yes, I watch the X Games). But eventually, I’ll tire of being a spectator. The snowshoes will be right by the basement door, waiting for me.

 

Mine Falls is ready for Spring

Quick note: I walked the entire cove loop at Mine Falls Park in Nashua today, starting at Whipple Street, and the route was nearly mud-free. Some tree litter from the past few months has been cleared.The swans are back, although in a different part of the cove. The lower trail along the east side of the cove appears to be clear, but I stayed on the parking lot behind the renovated mills. I’m still not comfortable on that newer, more isolated segment.

For the kayakers out there, the canal on the east side of the highway still has ice across the width of the canal in one 150-yard stretch. It’s otherwise navigable.

Gate City Striders weekly workouts begin at the park in two weeks, Wednesdays at 6 p.m. See their web site for details under “outdoor track.”  Looking forward to that, as always!???????????????????