today was my first genuine day of naturing for 2011. preparations began yesterday: the venue would be cowassock woods in framingham/ashland. but last night i had a change of heart. it would take an hour to ride down there, and with projected temperature only in the high 60's, it wasn't going to be a pleasant journey. better to go later in the summer when it's warmer. so instead i picked the middlesex fells in medford because it was a lot closer and i hadn't gone in a while. i figured start small on my first outing, then slowly work my way to bigger and better naturing later on.

i've always thumbed my nose at the middlesex fells, because it was so accessible and there's usually more people than i care for. of all the times i've gone (i think 5 times total) for some reason it's almost always been in the springtime (march 2004, may 2004, march 2006, may 2008). another reason why i don't go more often is that it's kind of hard to get to despite the close distance. whenever i'm in medford or malden i always get lost.

i left the house sort of late, close to 1:00. middlesex fells is just 6 miles away but takes about 20 minutes riding because of the traffic. i wasn't too surprised when i got lost in medford center. i couldn't find the streets for the route i memorized. after circling the area twice i finally got back on track.

there are numerous parking spots dotting the perimeter of the fells but the biggest (and conveniently centrally located) lot is at sheepford, which is where i went. i parked in the frontmost lot, which was almost completely full. must be a lot of visitors, i thought to myself. i immediately realized my critical error: i'd parked the motorcycle on a slight downward slope. due to the weight of the bike and the fact that motorcycles don't usually have a reverse gear, i wouldn't be able to backwards push the bike out of the parking spot. i could only go forwards, but with cars parked on either side of me, there wasn't enough space to perform a 3 point turn. in essence, i was stuck.

i decided to ignore the problem for the time being and got off the bike. "boy, it's hot," i heard somebody say. standing by a car next to me was a bald old man wiping his neck with a handkerchief. we made some chitchat. "have you been here before?" he inquired. "a few times, but not in a while," i replied. he said this was only his second visit. "what's your name?" he asked. i thought that was a weird thing to ask, but i told him anyway. "my name's david," he told me, extending his hand, "maybe we'll see each other again." then he said something about standing next to the wrong car and found his vehicle further away.

sensing i wouldn't be able to enjoy myself unless i found a way to free my motorcycle, i got back on and tried to rock it up the slight incline. i looked around to make sure nobody could witness my embarrassment. it was becoming hopeless. my only solution would be to ask someone for help. just then i saw a young man walking out of the woods. "hey, do you think you could help me for a second?" i asked. i got him to give me a push and that's all it took for me to get out of the parking spot. "thanks, you really saved me!" i turned around and backed into the space again, this time in reverse. i noticed another man was sitting in his car, who saw the whole thing from his rearview mirror.

i made my way into the reservation, passing by 2 young men who seemed to be wandering around, maybe waiting for friends. i pulled out my GPS but it was having a hard time getting a lock on satellites. all i really needed was to mark where i parked, so if i got lost, i could see which direction i needed to go in order to get back. while the GPS was acquiring a signal, i went chasing after a pair of brown-headed cowbirds, which caught my attention because they made this chirp that sounded like R2D2. i've only seen them once or twice before. they're not that conspicuous but any birder can tell you their sinister secret: brown-headed cowbirds are brood parasites. females lay eggs in other birds' nests. tricking them into raising their babies, most often to the detriment of their own offsprings. the thing i think is most interesting is even though a cowbird grows up never having seen another one of its kind, it's still able to find other cowbirds to mate with, even knowing what songs to sing.

one memory i have of the fells is that it's an unauthorized dog park. supposedly dogs aren't allowed on the trails off leash, but it's never enforced since i see people do it all the time. the large grassy area is where most dog owners congregate. i was surprised to see so few people despite the full parking lot. maybe they're all out in the woods somewhere.

from the grassy field i was intrigued by a well-worn dirt path that went through a chain-link fence with a large gash opening. beyond the fence was the town reservoirs, with several signs posting no trespassing. but i could hear the barking of dogs so i knew there was people on the other side so i went to go check it out. a dogwalker with half a dozen dogs was just leaving. the dogs were all wet, apparently swimming in the water supply. there was a trail which followed the perimeter of the (north) reservoir and i followed it north (later i'd learn this was possibly dike road). a park service truck drove up behind me. i figured he'd ask me to leave, but instead he just waved hello as he drove by. maybe it wasn't illegal. but definitely dogs swimming in the reservoir seems like a no-no.

my insect repellent was ready but i never had to use it. i was surprised there were no mosquitoes. maybe it had something to do with the strong winds. whatever it was, i wish it could be like this all the time!

instead of just walking around the reservoir, i took a shortcut near the first bend, a small climbing trail up a granite strewn hill. this was a nice spot, high enough to see the reservoir down below, with not a person in sight. fallen trees served as natural benches. i rested here briefly, taking photos of corydalis flowers, perching stream cruisers, and sporadic ladyslippers.

further inland was the remnants of a metal fence. here was a trail marked in orange. little use it did me since my maps were printed in B&W (they should mark the trails with shape-flags instead). my GPS was still having problems so i had no idea where i was. when it was working however, it said i was close to bear hill, a point i've been to before since i'd set a waymarker. i decided to follow the orange trail north. at one point a trio of mountain bikers bounced through the trail. "hiker up!" one of them yelled. later i wondered how they even managed to ride on the trail, with all its exposed tree roots and rocky obstacles.

it was here that i spotted a green 6-spotted tiger beetle. they're so strikingly attractive that i imagined making a coat out of tiger beetle shells. this particular beetle was unusually fearless, allowing me to get very close. at one point it even charged me. eventually it grew tired of my hovering and quickly flew away.

the GPS said i was going past bear hill, so i turned around, figuring there must be another way to the summit. that's when i came across the marker for the skyline trail, one that i recognized from past visits. i scrambled up the rocky ascent. only later did i realize this wasn't bear hill but rather winthrop hill. only i never updated the waypoint in the GPS, resulting in some confusion.

the other side of the summit sloped downwards to a partial clearing of tall grasses. here were also an abundance of wildflowers: palmated hop clovers, yellow hawkweeds, cinquefoils, oxeye daisies, black-eyed susans (unopened), and my personal favorite wild flax. after walking around taking flower photos, i checked myself to make sure i didn't pick up any ticks.

a path down winthrop hill intersected a wide gravel road that i'd later learn to be bear hill road. with the help of the GPS, i followed the road south, in the direction of the sheepfold parking lot. i knew i could get there because i remembered seeing people walking out from various trails back into the parking lot.

along the side of the road i spotted 2 things i'd neve seen before. first was a plant, reddening at the tip, separated into several star-shaped tier-clusters of leaves. could it be cucumber root? but those are usually just 2 tiered, and i'd never known them to be any color other than green. later i saw something that i don't even have a guess as to what it could be. at first i thought they were mushrooms, but like no fungus i'd ever seen. maybe they're a type a parastic plant like indian pipes. they remind me of underwater nudibranches. seeing these 2 things were the highlights of this outing.

bear hill road eventually goes underneath a bridge that used to be an old railroad trestle. while i went by the bridge, a man came down from above the bridge. he had a mario moustache. i asked him if this was the right direction to get to the parking lot. he said yes. he kept walking south while i stuck around to take some more photos.

from here i could not only hear nearby interstate-93 but occasionally i could catch glimpses of cars between the trees off in the distance. there were plenty of unmarked trails and the only way i knew i was going in the right direction was based on what my GPS was telling me where the sheepfold parking lot was. i've always heard there were vernal pools in the fells and here i found two. a man walked by along the path while i was crouching by the vernal pool taking photos. i waved to him silently. here were also the only mosquitoes i encountered during my whole trip. i hurried up my pace so i wouldn't get bitten.

getting close to the parking lot but still not sure which trail i was supposed to be on, i noticed a small rocky hill nearby. i climbed up hoping to get a better view.

i got a better view.

two men were sitting nearby, acting very suspicious. neither made eye contact with me, and one of them was actually moving farther away. that's when i finally pieced together all the evidence. it felt like the final scene of the usual suspects, when you finally realize who keyser soze really is. keyser soze is a gay cruising spot in the middle of the woods. i haven't seen something this shady since the roadside truck stop we had to visit one night on our way back from the hamptons. it's really the perfect place if you think about it. plenty of parking. close to the highway. ample seclusion. suddenly i questioned every encountered i had up to that point. no wonder that man in the parking lot was so friendly! or that i kept on seeing single men coming out of the woods. and that would totally explain the condom wrapper i found. i quickly got out of there.

fortunately i was pretty much next to the parking lot by that point. there was still plenty of cars outside. a man stood next to his car but had his body turned so i couldn't see his face. as i left on my motorcycle, i saw the eyes of another man watching me from a rearview mirror.

i got lost trying to get back to medford square. i tried to avoid getting onto I-93 but after circling some residential streets i had no choice. i was only on it very briefly before i got off at the next exit. later i realized how close i was to medford center. learning from my mistakes! i took route 16 to mass ave then to the cafe. my mother handed me a box of fried rice for dinner.

i took a shower when i got home, but i really wasn't all that dirty. i didn't use any insect repellent, and because the weather was on the cool side, i didn't sweat very much either.

bram came home around 10:30 and went directly into his room. i didn't see him the rest of the evening but when he finally fell asleep i could hear his loud snoring. i wanted to talk to him about the shower situation. this morning when i woke up i found another puddle by the bathtub.