January 19, 2021

Kinda wet and, in places, slushy.


The road goes ever on and on,

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then?  I cannot say.

– Tolkien, J. R. R.  The Lord of the Rings.


There are two disjointed parts to the Assebet River Rail Trail.  The first, and closest to where we live, is 5.25 miles long and is the one Waldo and I take from Marlborough to Hudson.  The second, once part of the same railroad bed, begins in the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge and runs up to Acton, about 3.35 miles away.  There’s a gap between the two sections,  navigable by way of city streets, of around 5 miles.  One day, we’ll have to do the entire 14 or so miles in one whack, but today, on nothing more than a whim and because we’ve not yet done it, Waldo and I are walking on the further part of the trail.  We park in Acton and head south.

It snowed last night, followed by rain.  This left a slushy, slick mess on the tarmac we have to walk through in places.  The going isn’t too bad, though, and we make good progress.  Shortly after we leave the car, the trail takes a bend to the left and then right again.  This is obviously not exactly on the old railroad bed – a train would never be able to make that sharp of a turn.  It then runs over a new well-constructed footbridge.  Someone has spent some time and money making this trail foot-friendly using the old right-of-way, but not following the original track exactly.  I see the same thing in Marlborough, but there, I can see why.  The path needs to be slightly rerouted because of streets and highways.  Here, it’s not so obvious why the path twists and turns the way it does.  Maybe it’s due to property boundaries?

We seem to be on the edge of town, buildings and streets on the left, swamp, forest, trees and, sometimes, the Assabet River on the right.  The river is full, lapping up against tree trunks and around bushes on the shore, and the water moves fast.  Waldo takes to the trail as soon as his paws hit the ground and is off out in front as if he knows where we’re going, which he probably does, given the number of these walks we’ve been on.  The day is cold, but not terribly so, the sky is partly cloudy and the sun shines down between white puffs, more of a reminder that it is still there than a source of warmth.  Waldo seems quite comfortable in his sable birthday suit.

As we walk further, we move into Maynard and by some old factory buildings.  A placard posted beside the path reveals that one of them belonged to DEC, back when it was a big deal.  It’s now owned by someone else, but it’s still in use.  Other placards along the route give lessons in local history, including the founding of Maynard and Acton and the industry that made them grow.  Now the towns are quiet suburban areas.

We pass people, all bundled up against the cold, wearing masks.  I wonder how busy rail-trails were before COVID hit and before everyone was spending so much of their time at home.  There are about 55 rail-trails Massachusetts alone, and every one we’ve been on, so far, has been well used.  Some are paved, some not.  Some have places that are hard to navigate, for one reason or another.  Even so, we’ve passed people, bikes, skateboards, roller skates, electric powered wheels of one kind or another, joggers, kids, afoot and in strollers, and dogs.  On cold days, hot days, rainy days and snowy days, when the track is clean and dry, wet and muddy, icy or covered with a foot of snow, at midday or after dark, we have never been completely alone.  There have always been others there.  It’s nice to know that there are people out there that appreciate a good place to walk.  People who share with Waldo and I the pleasure of being out in nature for a stroll.  Clearly, there is a community of like-minded people who are renewed by living in the moment, surrounded by the natural world.  And there are so many beautiful places to walk, so many places to go.

And they are just outside your front door.


The Assebet River in flood.

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