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Articles About Lynn Woods

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Bringing Home the Woods by Jack Walsh

(originally published in June 2000 newsletter)

What are the qualities of the woods that draw us back time and again? What greatest satisfaction is received by the sojourner amongst its treasures, whether it be spring or fall, winter or summer? Though the reflective woods frequenter may answer these questions in a variety of ways, including by allusion to its visual splendor, quietness or nerve soothing safety from being run over or asphyxiated by motor vehicles; my vote goes to the joy of witnessing the various species of plant and wildlife he or she may happen upon along the way. For it is here in the woods that the symbiotic relationship between plant and animal results in the healthy population of each, with a resulting reward of observation for the human observer.

A walk within the Lynn Woods this spring readily illustrates the salubrious effect of our recent wet weather upon the plant and animal kingdoms. The new growth is dense and luxurious wherever one's eyes alight, and the plants along a trail look a year older the following week. This banner year of burgeoning plant growth has also contributed to the mystery of the place, where one's imagination takes more license in dense, impenetrable growth. Indeed, there is more reason to imagine what hides out of our vision as we walk along. This lush growth feeds the herbivores of the animal world and makes the setting more attractive to the carnivore.

Of course, the lover of nature and observer of wildlife have other alternatives than traveling to the woods to fulfill their passion. One often overlooked alternative is to create a wildlife habitat in one's own backyard by gardening for wildlife. By simply investigating the needs of wildlife and planting to accommodate them, the average homeowner can exponentially increase wildlife visits to his yard.

There are a few simple but important rules in creating a wildlife habitat that will supply the all-important food and shelter needed by our wild cousins. The first rule is to cut back on the size of the lawn. Although large sweeps of closely cut grass have long been considered desirable and a mark of middle class success, it has all the while been at the cost of the health of our native animal population. Thankfully, this practice is falling out of vogue and, especially in affluent areas, folks are precipitously cutting back on the size of their lawns and beginning to bring the woods back home.

The second rule in creating a wildlife garden is to plant only native species. The animals and insects of our native northeast have evolved alongside the native plant species. Birds, reptiles, and mammals have traditional relationships with native plants, and can actually suffer from starvation in the midst of thick pockets of alien growth. And this is a particular problem in suburban towns where homeowners are purchasing exotic species without regard for whether that beautiful plant will be further adorned by our native butterflies, birds, and reptiles. Species like the Norway Maple tree or Winged Euonymous shrub should be diligently avoided and extirpated wherever found in your potential garden. Instead, plant the more beautiful sugar maple or an oak, along with a spicebush or native viburnum.

For many, the magic of a walk through the woods is the potential for seeing a fascinating bird or animal. Think of the increased potential our own neighborhoods would enjoy if many of us began to enthusiastically and judiciously invite wildlife into our neighborhoods through enticing native plantings on our own properties. Be the initiator of this behavior in your own neighborhood and allow your success to convince your neighbors. Illustrate for them the ability of bringing a wonder of the woods to your own backyard!

Change and the Woods by Jack Walsh

(originally published in October 1999 newsletter)

Though born in Charlestown in the late forties, Jack has always felt most at home amongst the trees and the wild creatures of the forest. While attending school in the Catskills in the 60's, he learned that some of the most important things in his life were the sounds and the fragrances of the woods. It was there also that he first became aware of the wealth of life that inhabits these woods, and the serenity to be found there.

Jack says, "Though I reside in Newbury, the thirteen years I spent in Nahant, as well as the many years I have worked in and around the city, make me look upon the Lynn area as home. I view the Lynn Woods as a treasure to be fostered and protected at any cost. It's the prominent, treasured jewel on the aged hand of Lynn."

On a recent stroll through the Lynn Woods, I came upon an area that had suffered rather badly from that master of transformation, fire. Oaks that had been well on their way to becoming giant forest sentinels appeared now as ruins somehow out of place amongst the green exuberance of their younger, verdant, more vibrant neighbors, and they were coated in a gray and black armor of charcoal that protected their now lifeless forms from further ravishment by molds, fungi, and insects. Of course, even this seemingly impervious cloak will eventually succumb to the inexorable process of time; the black charcoal vestments are but a temporary impediment to eventual decay and transformation. This sight led me to ruminate upon the concept and reality of change, and how it has affected Lynn and 'The Woods.'

Often while walking down one of the many trails, my imagination will rear up and supplant for a time any realistic thought. I'll fancy, for instance, seeing those two great naturalists, Henry David Thoreau and Cyrus Tracy, approaching me on the trail, still in the distance. They'll be animatedly engaged in discussion, each with earnest countenance and penetrating eyes, that universal garb of passionate commitment and genius. Indeed, it is only the passage of time that makes this vision one of imaginative fancy; they were here in these woods in the early 1850's and both have left evidence of what they thought and found in their fascinating journals.

The use of the imagination with woods as a background is particularly fortuitous; the forest lends itself well to envisioning the past. Beyond these woods, the City of Lynn has seen great change; technology's invention of the automobile along with a varying and burgeoning population have seen to that. But it is perhaps the internal combustion engine that is responsible for the greatest change in our cities. Thoreau and Tracy, I'm confident, would both cringe at the serious problems of noise and pollution resulting from its ubiquitous use, while, like the rest of us, nonetheless finding themselves captivated by its power and convenience. The forest, however, used judiciously, resists this type of change well.

What accounts for this discrepancy regarding change between the woods and the city? Why is change so immediately evident in the city? And why does the great power of time, along with its offspring change, there mark itself so thunderously, while etching its message so subtly and delicately in the forest?

Imagine Tracy and Thoreau strolling along a path in the woods here in 1999. They would, captured by film, be dressed differently than in their own time, but that would be the only notable change. They would still be under an arbor of trees and vegetation which, to the casual observer, would be the same. Now, imagine these men walking down Market Street in 1999. Only their expressive countenances would remain the same; the surface needs of the truck and automobile, as well as the many differences in architectural materials and design, would have 'change' easily dominating the picture.

It is true, of course, that change has also occurred within the woods. The demise of the mighty chestnut along with the introduction of aggressive alien plant species are evidence of this. Nevertheless, though of great importance ecologically, this type of change doesn't affect the tone and flavor of a setting in an obtrusive manner. Nature, great artist that she is, substitutes species so well that our comparison snapshot would be striking in its similarity to the 19th century rather than in its difference from it.

It is this nature of the forest, this seeming ability to transcend time, which bestows upon the woodland scene that universal power to calm and sooth the mind. Lovers and friends of the woods treasure this soothing quality of the forest, and they realize it is this apparent power over the more destructive nature of change that is the source of this phenomenon. It is only when man encroaches upon the woods, when moneyed interests dominate over spiritual, that the destructive aspect of change manifests itself in the forest. Only when vested interests, like those of unbridled bicycle usage or the imprudent development of forest buffer zones, gain control and usurp the original intent of the woods, does change begin to destroy the placid, soothing quality of the woodland scene. Only then does change in the woods become the destruction of the woods.

Divinity and the Woods by Jack Walsh

(originally in March 2000 newsletter)

On a recent walk through the woods, I was struck by the singular nature of early March and the efflorescence in nature that was just beginning to occur. As I was feeling an increase in energy and enjoying the impulse to get out and move my winter stiffened limbs, as I responded to the call of the rejuvenating affect of Spring, my close relationship with the plant world became clearly manifested. Just as all living beings are dependent upon the power of the sun; it appears that all living creatures, humans included, are respondent to the awakening call of the spring time; it makes our sap run.

In some of the world religions, some Eastern religions come to mind, nature is looked upon as a clear indication of the divine. The devout Easterner sees divinity in all living things and his springtime walk is a truly spiritual experience. Every moment pulsating with burgeoning plant and insect life, every swelling of every bud, is nothing more to him than a redolent accentuation of the mystery and wonder of life, and, as such, can only be described by reference to the mysteries of the spirit and a humble deference to a higher power.

I like this outlook, though I don't consider myself a religious man. Often I feel an inexplicable sense of wellbeing when in contact with the inner sanctum of nature that we call the woods. Indeed, when I fail to bath myself in its emotionally cleansing quality for an extended period, I suffer and feel ill at ease. It's a common experience that I've heard others mention. There is an obvious intercourse with nature that occurs for the fortunate person who has learned to see and feel its effects. Nevertheless, I fear not enough of our species has made the relation and, as a result, live more poorly and squalidly in spirit for it.

Another reason I like this Eastern approach to nature lies in the realization of its salubrious effect upon the environment. Whenever and wherever nature is seen as divine, there is a respondent care and solicitation for its health. The devout Easterner has more than a simple practical respect for the health of a tree; he sees in it a living entity with a similar right to life as his own. The tree, with its resident insects and birds, are all seen as vibrant indications of the presence of the mysteries of life. The result is that existing forests are holy places and deforestation isn't the plague it is in the Western World or in those nations badly suffering from westernization.

Which brings me back to our beloved Lynn Woods. We who have learned to cleanse our spirits in nature have developed and fostered a passionate love for our oasis in the city. We're protective of its wellbeing and affronted by those who would detract from its health. We've learned to simulate its qualities in our own backyards where we plant only native species, and we treat with a fabled solicitude our yearly visitors of the avian world who depend upon our knowledge of the plants they need to thrive, those that not only supply them with fruits and berries, but also attract the insects they need to feed their young. We long for a growth in the understanding of those less enlightened, and we fantasize over the neighborhood where insecticides and herbicides are alien, and where the growth of native shrubs and trees proliferate and become legion.

But when our imaginations grow weary with disappointment over the reality of current ecologically disparaging trends, we look for solace and rejuvenation from an old and trustworthy friend. We head to the woods and look for divinity in nature.

Holiday Greeting by Jack Walsh

(originally published in December 1999 newsletter)

Another holiday season is upon us, and these shortest of days are becoming festively colored with the sights and sounds of the joy in loving and giving. Faces and countenances flushed with cold and excitement are a common sight, and folks otherwise reticent to express their feelings become, for a short time, revelers under December's mysterious sway. This time of minimal daylight and cold inclement nights paradoxically transforms people's behavior, and they supplement mother nature's inability to supply enough warmth with a compensating increase in the warmth of their hearts and the glow of their demeanor.

The woods, however, are quieter; and long brisk walks are marked more by silence and a lack of wildlife activity than otherwise. Nevertheless, a saunter onto a familiar but seasonally changed trail enlivens the mind to thoughts singularly in keeping with this season of giving; and we compensate the quiet of the landscape with the increased activity of our minds. Our festive generosity grows into the plan to plant a native tree in our own backyard, or becomes a private pledge to volunteer for a Lynn Woods tree planting activity in the spring. We become aware and solicitous of the needs of wildlife, and our thoughts of holiday cheer extend to all of our fellow creatures.

I wish you all a safe and joyous holiday season.

Lions and Pirates and Caterpillars, oh my! by Mike Trans

(originally published in September 2004 newsletter)

The other day while walking one of the paths with my dog, Ted, I saw a family taking advantage of some good weather and spending time with each other. The mother and father of two young children were sitting by a boulder watching their children play and enjoying a very brief peaceful moment. The two children must have been between six and eight years old. The older sister started chasing her younger brother and scaring him with a caterpillar she had found. He was running in circles trying to avoid being touched by the caterpillar and letting out a shriek that would curdle your milk. He even scared Ted. As funny as it was, I didn't laugh because their mother didn't find it too amusing. She scolded the girl for teasing her brother. Even though there was a minor crisis at that moment, at least they were spending time together—something that may be later described in therapy by that little boy, but they were spending time together now. And that what's important.

This reminded me of when I brought my niece to the woods for the first time. It was always fun to show her someplace new. I thought I would open the door to a whole new world for her. I wanted her to remember the Lynn Woods as a place introduced to her by her uncle. I wanted her to gain an appreciation for nature, and know as she got older what it is to have a place to be alone with your thoughts. But most of all, I wanted to bring her someplace where I didn't have to spend any money.

Susan—the girl I baby-sat, taught the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" song, and bought gallons of ice cream—would never have the same appreciation for the Lynn Wood as her uncle. It started out promising. She was excited to see Dungeon Rock and hear stories of pirates and treasure. We didn't get too far in before she started running ahead of me. "Watch out for the horse poop! Watch out for.!" I yelled about four steps too late. She started to tell me how "daddy calls them 'road apples' and they're not the kind of apples you eat," although Ted tried before I pulled him away. At least there was puddle nearby to wash the applesauce from her boots.

"How many trees are here?" she asked. "Is ocean here too? What kinds of animals live in the woods? Do lions live here?" I couldn't keep up with her questions, but I threw out the best (or most amusing) answers as freely as each question. I answered, "yes" to the last one just for fun. She looked at me with pause, but started asking about the surroundings again when she realized her mouth wasn't moving. Halfway to our destination she ran out of questions, or her jaw got tired, so I started to tell the story about Thomas Veal and the treasure and the earthquake and the,

"Ahhh! Get it off meee!"

It? What was it? Where was it? She was running in circles swatting furiously at the empty space in front of her. Ted-the-Brave ran off at the sound of her shrieks. He found a sturdy log to hide under. Susan ran, she panted, she swatted, and still I didn't see what she was upset about.

"Get it off meee!!!"

"What? What? WHAT?"

"A lion! Aaahhh! It's got me. Get it OFF!"

Uh oh, what am I going to tell her parents? Their only daughter is being eaten alive. I grabbed her and spun her around. There it was clinging to her chest. A caterpillar fell from one of the trees and landed on her Mickey Mouse sweatshirt just under the famous icon's black-dot nose, making the mouse look more like Groucho rather than the lead Disney character. She bounced up and down. I was trying to rip the monster from her shirt. After convincing her to hold still, I picked, pulled, and flicked in one fast motion. The beast was defeated, and I somehow came out unscathed.

She was crying and panting so hard that she had blown out the contents of her nose. Now safe, but messy, she started to angle her arm to be a makeshift tissue. I told her not to use her sleeve, but to use a leaf instead (Do you really think I was carrying tissues?). I wasn't going to return my niece to her rightful owners with a racing stripe down one sleeve. I should have let her use whatever she wanted because the leaf she chose seemed to have some ill effect by the next day. Now we know what poison ivy looks like. I learn something new every day. After all, how many people realize caterpillars will attack while unprovoked .and can resemble lions in stressful conditions?

Ted came sneaking back after everything was safe. We never did get to finish our walk in the woods because it was just not safe with niece-eating caterpillars jumping from trees onto sweatshirts. The whole way back to the parking lot, Susan jumped at every leaf that touched her shoulder and screeched whenever a chipmunk scurried past a log. She had a whole new line of questions. "Are we almost near the car? What was that noise? Can't you walk faster?" She came to the conclusion that Lynn Woods was a yucky place with bugs (and lions). That was her first and last trip to the woods; she'd experienced enough. I had to make it up to her with a hot fudge sundae. Okay, I guess I ruined what could have been the start of Susan's appreciation for the nature, and any future trips to Dungeon Rock, as well as the possibility that she'll grow up to be an entomologist.

With a little luck, the children from that family that I encountered the other day won't be as easily discouraged, and the boy with the big screams will learn that caterpillars are pretty harmless and being teased by his big sister is a small price to pay to have some quality time with the rest of the family. He may find a way to get even with his sister one day. He may even come back to our beloved Lynn Woods well into his adult years .unless his sister tells him about the lions.