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Take a Hike: Taking a walk after Town Meeting

Mercifully, Harvard’s Town Meeting is being held outside again under the tent. That arrangement feels spacious, the air is refreshing, and views of wafting clouds are calming. Nevertheless, it’s a long period of constrained and restrained movement and, after a while, the body needs—longs—to stride out and breathe deeply. I imagine the walk I’ll take after the Town Meeting.

Barba’s Point

From my chair on the field, I walk over to Barba’s Point, a short out-and-back trail to a quiet spot overlooking Bare Hill Pond. It’s a short stroll to the trail, which starts at the trailhead sign between the tennis and outdoor basketball courts behind Bromfield. I like to speculate about the origins and purposes of the double stone walls along the path; maybe cows were driven between them. About midway to Bare Hill Pond is a vernal pool beside the path, which at this time of year will have water in it. Ever since I heard that a rare blue-spotted salamander has been seen there, I look around intently, hoping to see one. In spring, the ground is covered in wild lilies of the valley, also called Canada mayflower.

Small Nature Trail

On the other hand, behind me in my chair, is the Small Nature Trail, a pretty trail that starts at the parking lot behind Hildreth Elementary School and connects to the high land along Slough Road. A large, brown sign with a map is helpful in spotting the trailhead below the parking area. I could walk the blue loops to confine my walk to the Small Nature trail and return to the school parking lot, but I take the yellow trail up some steep but short hills to the edge of the woods. Along the way I see a variety of hardwood trees, wetlands with skunk cabbage and marsh marigolds, and a few wildflowers, including Canada mayflowers.

Dolan-Mason land and West Oak path

Continuing on, I walk through an opening in the woods, onto the sunny Dolan-Mason land and walk on a grassy, mowed path that curves under the open sky to Slough Road. After soaking up the expansive view, I cross the road to John’s Field, where a faint mowed path crosses the field along its edge, meanders over a little bit of running water where frogs plop in the mud, through cut-back briars, and emerge on Woodchuck Hill Road.

Heading west, I arrive at the intersection of Woodchuck Hill and Slough roads, where I decide to take a scant half-mile detour by heading north on Slough Road, then veering right on Oak Hill Road. A tall sign just before the curve on Oak Hill indicates the West Oak path. Looking north I get a view of blue Mt. Wachusett. The path heads down and around a pond with a beaver lodge, but I opt to save that walk for another day due to time and distance, and anyway, a fearless but nonpoisonous milk snake on the trail convinces me to turn back.

After returning to the intersection of Slough and Woodchuck Hill roads, I continue my road walk back into town by heading west. I merge onto Oak Hill Road for a short while and then take Old Boston Turnpike because it looks less steep than Oak Hill and because I rarely travel that road. At 2 miles from my imaginary chair at Town Meeting, I am walking on Fairbank Street where a fragrant flowering tree perfumes the air. I estimate that I am only about a quarter mile from the field.

The total walk is about 2½ miles, is hilly except for the Slough Road area, and has various walking surfaces. On the road, the edge of the asphalt is not always level with the ground.

Town center walk

Or, as people disperse from the tent, I start out on a walk through town center by heading up toward Hildreth House, named Hilltop by Stanley Hildreth. I look toward town and the stunning view. I poke around the grounds of Hildreth House a little bit, looking at the plantings and paths around the grounds. Then I head downhill on Elm Street, stroll past the historical houses, and turn onto Lover’s Lane. Walking is the only way to truly appreciate how charming this road, is with its backyard statuary and gardens, outbuildings, and various styles of colorful houses. I turn around at the really steep part and walk back into town where I stroll around the cemetery and the outside of the library until the effects of so much concentration during Town Meeting dissipate. (Carlene Phillips’ book, “A Common History: The Story of Harvard’s Identity,” available at the General Store and Harvard Public Library, contains information about some of the houses on the walk and the people who once lived in them.)

A walk around town after Town Meeting will not only stretch out the tight muscles, but also put my thoughts in perspective. Furthermore, the walk around town reminds me of its beauty and nurtures a love of it, and thus a desire to take care of it democratically.

Margaret Kusner is a retired middle school art teacher, a lifelong artist, and a wandering walker who considers herself to be a part of nature.

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