Years ago, when both my Mother and my younger daughter were still living, my husband and I would find a fine outdoor place to go walking with them on Christmas Day. Once, it was by the ocean; I have pictures of my darling Mother, who went about 5’ 1”, well-bundled up in one of my large down parkas, her smiling face barely visible within the hood, radiant with the joy of it, the snowy beach, the waves. There are pictures of our Alyson too, in a light brown coat, doubtless saving up this memory to tell her friends: “Oh yes, we went walking on the beach on Christmas Day—doesn’t your mother do things like that? Uh-huh, my grandmother came too.” Alyson was pleased and even proud of my unusual or unconventional, or sometimes daring, doings.
Anyhow, this Christmas my husband and I thought to take a walk. There’d been rain for days prior, but Christmas cleared up by noontime, and it was sunny, warm and damp. We are lucky that although we live in a city, a very short drive will bring us to any number of good places to walk. This day, we hopped in the car, drove up Rte. 2 about ten minutes (no traffic today!), and arrived at The Great Meadows.
A guide to Great Meadows tells us that it encompasses about 185 acres. In the center there is marsh and wet meadow (“water-meadow”), and its edges are dry upland knolls and forest.
It seems that in the olden days, in the 17th century, the Colonials sold lumber from the Meadows trees to shipyards in nearby Medford. Other industries arose hereabouts in the 19th century: a dairy farm, a mill, and a company that cut and sold peat from the marsh and meadow. Later, the town of Arlington, abutting The Great Meadows, flooded the marsh to use as a water storage area, thereby creating a lake which the locals used for boating and swimming. The lake attracted lots of shorebirds, and a famous naturalist, William Brewster, used to come for birding. In 1902 the reservoir was no longer needed, and was drained.
It’s still really really wet here, though. As we started our walk we took what I guess was a wrong fork in the trail, and found ourselves slopping along a narrow way in deep mud, cattails to either side over our heads. In the middle of the marsh! It’s all glaciated landscape around here, around everywhere in New England, and I can imagine the gigantic block of ice, a broken-off bit of glacier, that was left behind sitting here, its great weight slowly depressing the land, melting where it lay: and thus a lake and then a marsh.
After going a short distance into the cattails, we turned back around to find the trail proper. A sharp turn, my husband’s in front of me. Stop! he murmured emphatically. I stopped. There on the wet trail about ten feet in front of him sat a large, fine redtail hawk, wings fully spread, red tail feathers gleaming against the golden dry grasses. I crept a few feet closer from my spot behind John, so as to get a better look. The hawk jumped into flight, white-feathered legs dangling, and landed in a tree not far away. “Was he eating on something?” “No, I don’t see anything here in the grass, and I didn’t see that he had anything in his beak when he flew up there.” “Wonder what he was doing, sitting there, then?”
Delighted and energized by our intimate wildlife encounter, we walked on. Others were out, too, on this warm and sunny Christmas Day, some with their dogs, some with their kids, others by themselves. “Merry Christmas!” people greeted each other, smiling.
Mid-afternoon sun slanted through bared trees and into tawny marsh plants. Stands of birches fanned out in white bouquets. Sky glittered upside down in tussock-dotted waters along a boardwalk. Brilliant red seed heads of sumac glowed like Christmas ornaments. So much to see and in which to rejoice!
This makes me remember the poem I made my 4th grade students memorize, or part of it anyway, written by William Wordsworth:
My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky.
So was it when I was a child,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
If my tattered heart could not be stirred to rejoicing by the black tree across the golden trail, or the oak leaves yet russet in their death, then I were dead indeed. But I’m not, I’m alive, and a walk on Christmas Day just fills me with joy. How happy I am, to be alive! How beautiful our world is, in its mystery and grandeur!