Along Old #11 Road in Westford

By josh • 251 Birds, Nature, Plants and Fungi, Wildlife • 27 Mar 2014

Westford (Chittenden County)
Schultz Trail
Town #46

I, like every other sensible creature in eastern North America, have grown tired of winter this year.  I’m not a warm weather person. I’m perfectly comfortable with very cold temperatures, deep snow and its attendant inconveniences and responsibilities, and even months without much sun or warmth.  This year, though, has nearly made a snowbird of me.  The lake is still frozen, we’ve had little relief form the bitter cold, and the snow cover shows little sign of receding.

My children’s intolerance of the cold and wind and other family responsibilities have kept us indoors this year more than most, and perhaps that’s why I’ve felt so keenly the long winter.  That theory in hand, I went for a snowshoe along the Schultz Trail in Westford on the Ides of March.

The Schultz Trail looks as though it will be well worth exploring (you can find a PDF map of Westford municipal trails here).  The section I walked is the historic roadbed of Old #11 Road, which now terminates at the trailhead.

20140315-01-Westford-Schultz_Trail_Sign

The trail leads south through a beaver meadow complex before turning west to meet Machia Hill Road. The northerly part of the trail ascends between open fields before passing through oldfield woods (with paper birch, yellow birch, beech, and white pine) and a red spruce plantation. The part I shoed was easy to follow and well-marked with Westford Conservation Commission signs.

20140315-06-Westford-WCC_sign

Sadly I didn’t make it much further than the first height of land.  The snow was dense and heavy yet the crust was brittle, and every step brought six inches of near-slush onto the deck of my snowshoes.  Breaks were frequent.  Then it began to snow again, and improbably the same heavy stuff began to fall from the sky that already lay on the ground.  There won’t be many photos in this post; my clothes, my bag, and my camera were soon sodden.

Stopping in these snowy woods on this day brought to mind a certain well-known Frost poem and thoughts about mortality rather than the peace and beauty one expects to find in a heavy snow, but I suppose that says more about the walker than the woods.  The silence of snow on a calm day was broken by the snow itself.  Each huge wet flake struck the already dense and sodden pack with an unpleasant *splut*–sinister in a water-dripping-in-a-Hugovian-sewer sort of way–and quickly soaked me to the bone.

There were birds to be seen, mostly around the trailhead.  Most exciting was a strident KYIR-KYIR-KYIR-KYIR-KYIR from the top of some white pines west of the farmstead at the end of Old #11 Road.  Had I found an overwintering or recently returned Red-shouldered Hawk?  Alas no, it was a Blue Jay with perfect pitch, timbre, and phrasing.  In fact, there was a flock of 25 or so Blue Jays mobbing the feeders around the house, and I was treated to a wide range of vocalizations, from the aforementioned hawk to the eerily insistent mewl of a small kitten.  I also heard up a first-of-year Barred Owl and flushed a Ruffed Grouse from relatively high in the canopy.

  • Ruffed Grouse (1)
  • Barred Owl (1)
  • Downy Woodpecker (1)
  • Blue Jay (25)
  • Common Raven (1)
  • Black-capped Chickadee (18)
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch (3)
  • White-breasted Nuthatch (3)

Returning to the car feeling more than a little defeated, I realized the value of my snowshoes when a binding came loose and I decided to remove the shoe rather than fussing with it.  I started to walk the last 50′ with one shoe on and the other in hand.  The leg with a bare boot sunk up to my upper thigh in the snow!  There was at least 2.5′ of snowpack, and I hadn’t appreciated the depth until I tried to walk unshod.  Hopefully we’ll see some melting this week- surely there must be earth beneath that snow somewhere, right?

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