Snowshoes on Goffstown rail trail

We braced for two feet of snow with high winds, and got a little shy of a foot and a half. No wind to speak of, although neighbors to the north and east got slammed. No ice or mixed precipitation. Just fresh powder, plowed roads, and no obstacles between me and the trailhead of my choice.

I took  my snowshoes to the Goffstown rail trail and had it to myself for an hour on a weekday afternoon. I saw one set of fresh cross-country ski tracks. A set of snowshoe tracks looked a day old. Aside from that, the powder was mine.

And omigosh, holy boot camp, Batman…! This was only the second time this season I’ve used my snowshoes, and the last time was on a well-packed down path. This time, all the splendid snow gave me a workout. Every muscle from ankles to hips is now indicating that I should have some ibuprofen handy tomorrow. Worth it, though. Conditions were excellent.

Through the trees,  I saw and heard a red-tailed hawk doing lazy circles over the river. I figured I’d get a good look at it once I got to the bridge over the Piscataquog River. Darned thing waited until I got there and then flew away downriver.

(If you’re in the Goffstown/Manchester area: The little parking area at the Moose Club Park Road trail crossing is plowed enough to allow a subcompact car without snow tires to get in and out without needing a push. Heading eastward from there, the trail has no deadfall from the recent storm. At the Manchester end of the bridge over the river, there’s a wall of snow left by plow trucks clearing the road to the ice arena, and the boat launch parking area is temporarily inaccessible.)


Bridge-builder Helen Closson, RIP

This morning’s newspaper carries news of the passing of Helen Closson of Manchester, New Hampshire at the age of 94. The headline describes her as “a force for good.” The long list of her civic activities bears this out. As a Granite State walker, I will always think of her as the woman who brought us the Hands Across the Merrimack pedestrian bridge over the Merrimack River in Manchester.

Hands Across the Merrimack (and Manchester)

The Hands Across the Merrimack bridge. Ellen Kolb photo.

The bridge is a gem, pleasant in itself, all the more valuable for its setting along a rail trail that now stretches from the south end of the Millyard well into Goffstown.

Turning an abandoned rail trestle into a pedestrian walkway is a team effort, and my gratitude for the bridge ought to be extended to many people. Mrs. Closson, though, was the team leader who saw the project through to the end.

I appreciate the gift.


Manchester, New Hampshire, as seen from the Hands Across the Merrimack bridge over the Merrimack River.


Blossoms in a dry season


I’ve spent nearly three months hobbling with a knee injury, and physical therapy has finally begun. One of the less tiresome assignments is to Get Out There again, concentrating on distributing my weight evenly instead of limping as I walk. It was something of a triumph for me to cover three miles in an hour on the Nashua River Rail Trail this morning.

It’s bone-dry in my area, as in most of New Hampshire. Even so, buds and blossoms are turning up. A week ago, a few sprigs of grass were poking through the dry leaves at trailside. Today, bluets and violets were blossoming, and there’s much more greenery despite the drought. Rain is forecast for later this week – and a day of that should brighten up the trail in earnest.

What’s new in your area? What’s blossoming in spite of the weather?


Miles to Go


P is for Portland, Maine: northern terminus of what used to be a Boston and Maine rail line, 110 miles from this granite marker along the Nashua River Rail Trail in Massachusetts. The other side of the marker says W37, meaning 37 miles to Worcester. This is one of several markers remaining from the days of the active line.

It’s a fifty-degree February day, with open water alongside the trail. The three-mile stretch of trail I had to myself this weekend is a patchwork of clear pavement and slush and half-melted ice. I came upon a couple of skinny little blown-down trees that were easy to move off the trail. We have yet to see the season’s first serious sustained winds that will surely bring down a big pine or two.

This was a nearly-silent walk, perfect for a Sunday morning after Mass. There’s no hum from the Skydive Pepperell plane in the winter. The noisy geese that usually populate the swamps and ponds along the way were absent. No kids trying out their training wheels, no runners passing me, no backyard barbecues at nearby houses. There will be plenty of time for all that later in the year. For today, solitude suited me.

Familiar and fresh

Saturday, and another nine miles on a very familiar path. I’m reminded again that I’m no photographer, especially when my camera is an afterthought on a mobile device. My pictures are generic New Hampshire foliage shots – but each one is of a spot I’ve seen in all seasons for more than a decade now, on unhurried walks like this one.

Unkety Brook, Dunstable MA

Unkety Brook, Dunstable MA; osprey nest atop tree at right

When the Nashua River Rail Trail opened in 2002, an osprey nest was visible from the bridge over Unkety Brook. I look for it every year. It has taken a beating, and after one storm – was it the Halloween snowstorm of 2011? – it looked destroyed. Two springs later, the osprey were back.

Unkety Brook, Dunstable MA

Unkety Brook, Dunstable MA

There’s a farm field bordering Unkety Brook on the north side. Nothing but corn stubble remains from this year’s crop, visible as the whitish ground cover in the center left of the photo above. Most years, I see butternut squash or pumpkins in that field, but this time it was corn. We had a very dry summer, and Unkety looked low in July and August. The water level looks better heading into fall.

Nashua River Rail Trail, Pepperell MA

Nashua River Rail Trail, Pepperell MA

The glaring sun reminded me all afternoon that it would have been a good idea to wear a visor. No doubt that it’s autumn, though: the sun was much lower than at the same hour even a month ago, and it was fleece-pullover weather. The leaves on the trees edging the trail, as opposed to the trees along the nearby river and brooks, haven’t even begun to turn.

Nashua River, East Pepperell MA

Nashua River, East Pepperell MA

I have an AMC River Guide from 1978, more useful at this point for history than for navigation. About the Nashua River in Pepperell, the writers fretted: “From [Groton] to East Pepperell, the river is not attractive, as the increase in water level has flooded swampland and killed the trees.” Much has changed in 30-plus years, and the area upstream from the modest little dam in Pepperell is now in my opinion the loveliest part of the river.

Certain ceremonies must be observed: Columbus Day weekend marks season’s end for the ice cream stand in Pepperell near the rail trail, and I observed the occasion with a small-not-small dish of Moosetracks. No photo. Trust me – it was splendid.