By Corinne H. Smith
“Went to what we called Two-Boulder Hill, behind the house where I was born. There the wind suddenly changed round 90° to northwest, and it became quite cold.” ~ Journal, January 31, 1860
It was the morning of July 12th. Sunshine was already blazing down on Thoreau Farm. And it was time for one of my regular nature walks to Two Boulder Hill. On this day, a new friend named Robert joined me. In the spirit of Thoreau, we sauntered. We made a point to pay close attention to sounds, to sights, and to anything that came our way. We scribbled notes in our journals, too. But it was hot. We sure could have used Thoreau’s cold wind.
Especially noticeable today was the Queen Anne’s lace that stood tall along the edges of our route. Many blooms had opened from the initial stage that some naturalists call “bird’s nests.” Henry Thoreau thought their intricate weaving of greenery resembled “a fanciful ladies’ work-basket.” (July 3, 1852) We stopped and watched as one of the flowers was being worked over by a variety of insects. One bug was bigger than the rest and had a bright gold body underneath his black wings. Neither one of us had ever seen his kind before. Already, we were finding new and incredible things.
Queen Anne’s Lace, without the insects
The flowers of mid-summer greeted as old friends here. The little yellow flowers in low leafy bunches were bird’s foot trefoil, now seen along highways almost as often as crown vetch. Tiny deptford pinks added more color to the scene. And the sweet fern, wow! I’d never seen so many plants of it here. This was a nice surprise.
Robert pointed out faint tracks of white-tailed deer stamped into the mud. Bigger prints with claws meant someone with a sizable dog had walked through here recently. These tracks were too big to have been made by coyotes, although this area has been known to harbor them from time to time.
And then we noticed The Hand of Man. We spied something shiny lying among the bushes. Robert stepped in to grab it, and it turned out to be a deflated aluminum balloon. Hundreds of ants ran all over it. He dropped it onto the path, so that we could pick it up on our way back and hopefully, without ants. Some of my environmental and anti-balloon friends would have felt both appalled and justified in being so. Obviously blown balloons can indeed end up anywhere.
When we walked uphill and came within sight of the two granite boulders, we immediately heard the song of the wood thrush. Thoreau’s favorite bird! This was a good sign. We sat down and pulled out our journals and listened for more inspiration.
Robert soon found a tick crawling on his leg. He dispatched it quickly. I was visited by a teeny-tiny white spider. I had just picked it up and relocated it to a nearby leaf when a sudden clamor erupted behind us. A crow alarm of various voices burst into full force.
We both jumped up and turned around. I caught a quick glimpse of something brown in the top of a tall tree. Crows cawed and buzzed by the branches. A hawk. It had to be. But we couldn’t see it. Robert ran back up the path to get a better look. More crow reinforcements arrived, protesting even as they flew in. It was an amazing scene to witness. The alarm could have lasted for only a few minutes, but it seemed like forever. Then, just as quickly as it had started, the calls trailed off and stopped. The hawk must have flown away from the back of the tree. Robert returned, both of us slightly disappointed. Neither one of us had gotten a good look at it. And by now, even the crows were gone.
As we made our way back to Thoreau Farm, we started to notice some of the rocks along the path. I picked up a nice example of conglomerate as a memento. If you look closely, you can see sparkles in it. Now I keep it in my pocket as a reminder of the place and the day. I smile when my fingers happen to brush against it.
The balloon was still covered with ants, so we left it in the path. We could only hope that another walker would carry it out and dispose of it someday. We should have brought a garbage bag with us.
When we reached Thoreau Farm, we saw that people had gathered in the shade to celebrate Henry Thoreau’s birthday. We sang and ate cake – quickly, as the icing melted in the sun. All in all, it was not a bad way to mark Henry’s 198th.
On December 5, 1856, Henry Thoreau wrote in his journal: “I have never got over my surprise that I should have been born into the most estimable place in all the world, and in the very nick of time, too.” But Henry! Why did it have to fall on such a hot day?