Hemlock Dreams

The lure of a favorite hemlock grove drew me out today, to see the trees wearing yesterday’s big snow. And who could stay in on such a radiant winter day, with its bluebird sky and sunlit, glittering facets of pure snow and ice?

Not me, not a chance, so off I went to the Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary near Petersham, a paradise of a trail meticulously maintained by Mass Audubon. The trail was drifted deeply with snow, but no matter, with those blue medallions nailed six feet up on the trunks of trees marking the outgoing trail, and yellow on the return.  I bushwhacked through the snow, quite alone, enjoying the deep quiet of the winter wood.

Heading to Porcupine Ledge, I walked first along the Rutland Brook, so deeply frozen that much of it murmured out of sight under the ice. But there were places where its momentum broke free, and the icicles it splashed onto snowcapped rocks glinted with sun.


Rutland Brook foams beneath a glittering beaded curtain of ice.


Then in a hush and long shadows, suddenly there they were: the hemlocks, in all their stately grandeur.  I wanted to see them today in particular, to enjoy the snow thrown in sparkles from their wind-tossed boughs, and the backlit ferny green of their branches.

These hemlocks are monarchs of this winter wood, a gallery of elders, arrayed all in a line along the brook, in rank upon rank of big trees. Chickadees were probing their tiny cones for seeds — and both the cones and the birds seemed smaller than ever amid such big trees.


These big hemlocks are monarchs of the winter woods.


I turned up the Ridge Trail, taking my walk further into the woods. Light spilled across the hills and the hemlocks painted long blue shadows across the snow.

Porcupine Ledge, when I reached it, was basking in late afternoon sun, jagged icicles glinting from its top-most ridge.  If there were porcupines in there, they were snugged deep in the rock for a long winter’s night.


Icicles stand guard at the entrance to Porcupine Ledge



It was time to head back. The  bright sun was at a deeper slant now, as the afternoon came to its close. Soon I was back on the trail along the brook, winding through the big hemlocks, many too large to surround with my arms.

This forest looks healthy, it’s hard to imagine it without these trees someday. But I suppose that will one day be so, with the advance of wooly adelgid, an invasive pest killing hemlocks by degrees in the New England woods. Perhaps the consciousness in so many people over so many years walking this footpath will keep their memory alive. A hemlock dream so many of us shared in deep winter.


The entry to hemlock dreams, the invitation of a winter footpath is not to be denied.  


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