In his book, Walking Towards Walden, John Hanson Mitchell treks — bushwhacks — with two friends through the woods from Westford to Concord. He spoke at the Conservation Trust’s annual meeting three years ago and was a delight. His book is delightful as well with just enough eccentricity to keep the reader’s interest up.
To start the eccentric motor running he and his small band paid a visit to the site of the stone monument to the Westford Knight, a fabled visitor to North America from Europe who in legend explored the area in 1399. According to Mitchell, no archaeologist has even bothered to refute the claims of this predecessor to Columbus, but many locals firmly believe in the Knight.
Mitchel is a believer in the importance of sense of place and told us at our meeting that he wrote Walking Towards Walden about it. He feels that Concord Massachusetts is the most America of all places. It is the place in the US with the most thereness, he feels.
I think that Prospect Hill Wildlife Sanctuary might be the most ‘Westford’ of all of our conservation lands. Its small — ~ eight acres — and humble but full of history and nature, and its right in the very center of town on Hildreth street (one of our most scenic) across from The Salt Box farm, one of the few remaining farms in town. It has Norway Spruce that were planted after the 1938 hurricane, a huge Shagbark hickory and its thickly wooded throughout making it a good habitat for deep forest birds including Wood Thursh and Blue-winged Warbler. To top it all off there is a corn field as if thrown in for good measure. (These details are from the Westford Trails guide book published by the Westford Conservation Trust)
The Sanctuary is also a place of invasive plant species. The is lots of Fire Thorn and other invasives, something that Lenny Palmer of the Conservation Trust is working to mitigate. It is also a haven for Poison Ivy, so wear long pants and boots if you hike through it.
The land was donated in 1999 by Priscilla Elliott and the entrance to the Sanctuary (nice word) is gated. I wonder of the gate was there before she made her generous donation or if it was put up then. It looks timeless so I guess its old.
I’ve been taking photos of the gate and entrance for the 2008 Westford Conservation Trust calendar. The photo above is my best effort so far. It is more of a challenge than I thought it would be. The sun creates hot spots so I arrived earlier today to avoid strong sun light. But then the breeze blows the leaves around making it difficult to have all the foliage in focus. But then why does it all need to be in focus? Maybe so the the image has a restful, peaceful feeling inviting the viewer into the woods beyond the gate. Or maybe I’m being a typically fussy photographer. If I was painting the scene I doubt that I would try to represent each leaf in perfect clarity.
If you care to please let me know how you like the photo. Or better yet, go to the Sanctuary and hike around then let me know what you think about it. Enjoy the birds and trees but — watch the poison ivy!