Take a Hike! Yellick Trails

We hike the Yellick Trails in Northborough, Massachusetts, fairly often. We usually hike the Old Farm Trail along the river, back through the corn field, past the beaver dam and the abandoned, rusted-out cars and farm equipment, and on to the creek, where we spend time tossing rocks and sticks into the water and delighting in the splash. Sometimes we invite friends who collect beautiful and unique stones which my son then grabs and tosses into the middle of the creek. Then we turn around and head home.

Today, we decided to explore some of the trails that we never seem to get to. We parked at the trailhead off of Route 20 and followed Old Farm Trail to Birdsong Trail, intending to hike all the way out to the trailhead off Hudson Street at the end of Coyote Trail.

The path led us among the trees that were felled by Hurricane Sandy week before last. Many pine trees were blown over, their roots sticking up like mountains of dirt, as my three-year-old son observed. At one point we were startled when a large branch fell form a great height about fifty feet away from us. Trunks bisected the path, but someone had taken a chainsaw to them and we didn’t have to climb any of them. Instead, we walked between the two ends of the trunks and got to observe the sap that had dripped from the fresh cuts and count the concentric rings inside.

Fused double-trunk!

On one we saw this:

Further up was one with the notation, “NH3.” Looks like some local Hash House Harriers have used our little trail.

Earlier this week, the kids and I went on a hike on our usual trail in search of club moss. It was chilly and my son complained that it was “winding” (pronounced like “wind” with a short “i” with “ing” at the end) and we didn’t see any club moss, so we cut the hike short. Today on our less-traveled path, we were thrilled to find a few good patches of it.

For those unfamiliar with club moss, it’s actually an ancient plant that predates trees. Prehistoric club mosses grew to heights of 100 feet or more, but today they grow no taller than a few inches. They reproduce via spores and have no root system although they’re often linked together just under the surface of the ground by a root-like stem. If you pull up one plant, you can end up with a whole string of club mosses. It takes club mosses seventeen years to reach maturity and ten years just to become large enough for us to see. People think the diminutive evergreens look like miniature Christmas trees, and some collect them to use on wreaths and other decorations, which is kind of sad when you think that it took almost two decades for the poor plant to reach just a few inches in height. At least it’s sad to me.

Incidentally, we learned about club mosses from Gale Lawrence’s fabulous book of essays, The Beginning Naturalist. There are 52 essays in the book, which follow the weeks of the year. Starting at the autumnal equinox, we’ve been reading one essay a week and then hiking to look for whatever plant, animal, or other feature Lawrence has written about for that week.

At any rate, my daughter and I think the club moss we saw is tree groundpine or Lycopodium dendroideum. She was hoping there would be some of the yellowish spores left to stain her fingers, but I think we must have found this patch of club moss too late for that.

Soon after the club moss sighting, we noticed that the sun was dipping rapidly into the trees, so my husband sent our daughter and me along to explore the trail ahead while he followed our son’s more leisurely pace. My daughter and I travelled over bridges and through mud and along trails lined with dried and rustling grasses until we reached the river and Coyote Trail.

Very quickly, Coyote Trail became very narrow and sloped steeply down towards the river. The going was made all the more treacherous by the slick layer of dead leaves that covered the trail. My daughter and I pressed on until I noticed that the air was cooling as evening drew ever nearer. Not knowing exactly how far we had to travel and not wanting to try and traverse this path in the dark and risk an unplanned dip in the river, we decided to turn back. My daughter hopped, skipped, and ran along the trail, leading the way and calling back to me, “I love to run! Especially when we’re out in nature!”

We paused long enough to note that one clearing would be a good place to set up our tent, should we ever choose to backpack our little trail (which led to a little discussion about why we don’t set our tent up just anywhere), but within a few minutes we’d met up with my husband and our son, who were playing poohsticks from one of the little bridges.

With the little guy on my husband’s shoulders, we retraced our steps back to our car. I flicked a tick (male deer tick, I think) from my sweater before I got in the car, but we found no other arachnid hitchhikers during our thorough tick-check either at the car or back home where we combed our hair and bathed thoroughly. I want to do everything possible to avoid having one of those buggers embed itself in our skin. The sight of that tick lodged in my daughter’s scalp a couple of weeks back, eight little legs wiggling, is not one I want to see again any time soon. Thinking about it now makes me feel all itchy all over again.

10 comments

  1. Melanie Meadors · November 12, 2012

    Both my parents and my grandfather have all had Lyme’s Disease–nasty business. My mom is really paranoid and checks herself often, and her tick was on her leg, so she knows it was only there for a short time. But the next day, she had the rash. The thing that stinks about Lyme’s is that years from now you can develop arthritis from it, or have re-occurrances of symptoms. I really REALLY hate those tiny ticks. Since so many of our friends and family have had Lyme’s we’ve given in and use the DEET spray now. Especially because of the mosquito illnesses now too, and those buggers just LOVE my son. 😦

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    • CJ · November 12, 2012

      Even the hippie bug sprays we just spray on our clothes (mostly where one item of clothing overlaps with another, like at our socks and pants); I’m fairly comfortable with spraying DEET on our clothes, it just means we always wear long sleeves and long pants and sun hats, no matter how hot it is. Mosquitos are complicated, though, since they can sometimes bite through the darned clothes. They didn’t seem bad this year, even before the community spraying efforts.

      We actually found some on-sale bug-repellent UPF fast-drying pants in my daughter’s size on Sierra Trading Post. She doesn’t like to wear them, but she’s given in since we found that tick. I think I might need to see about investing in bug-repellent clothes for all of us if we’re going to be hiking and camping more. The adult ticks are tiny enough, but the nymphs are practically invisible.

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  2. Debbie · November 12, 2012

    We call clubmoss “Princess Pine,” which I learned about when I was teaching and took a professional development class at Broadmeadow Brook. I never knew it had another name!

    Owen and I both came down with Lyme disease this fall. He rallied after the 3 weeks of antibiotics, I have not. So I don’t recommend getting it … just awful!

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    • CJ · November 12, 2012

      Ugh! I’m so sorry to hear that you and Owen had/have Lyme. We ended up getting my daughter the one day of high dose antibiotics just to be on the safe side since we weren’t sure how long the tick had been attached. We’re still watching for symptoms, though, and keeping our fingers crossed. I’ve never been much into winter hiking, but I find myself looking forward to being out in the freezing temps just because we won’t need to worry about ticks so much.

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      • Debbie · November 12, 2012

        We hate doing antibiotics, but we would have done the same thing if we knew it was an option. The next time either of us ever gets bitten by a tick, we are going straight to the doctor for something preventative. We’re also pretty sure the 24 hours thing is BS, as I don’t think either of us had one on us for that long (we are religious checkers and did so both morning and night). However, these ticks were so small we ere doing our checks with magnifying glasses!

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      • CJ · November 12, 2012

        I’ve heard enough stories that I’m starting to think the same thing about the 24 hours thing. I mean, even if it’s accurate, it’s not like at 23 hours and 50 minutes you’re A-OK and then ten minutes later you have Lyme. There were enough risk factors involved that we decided the antibiotics were worth it.

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  3. Melanie Meadors · November 12, 2012

    Ugh, ticks give me the heeby jeebies….

    I love that your guys were playing pooh sticks :). We like to see club moss because it’s such an interesting texture mixed in with the other leaves and plants on the forest floor. And this time of year, it’s refreshing to see that green. I think it was…grr, I always forget the name of it. Mt. Pisgah! a few weeks ago, we saw a lot of this along the trails, in patches here and there.

    LOL E loves running in nature too, but I always have to remember to make sure he is wearing something other than brown clothes when he is doing it!

    Happy hiking!

    Like

    • CJ · November 12, 2012

      It’s nice to see you back, Melanie! I know you’ve been busy lately.

      Like

  4. CJ's husband · November 12, 2012

    I really like these Northborough hikes. I was surprised that there were parts of the Yellick trail system we had yet to see; this is when I realized we were section hiking these 5 or so miles of trail. So before tackling the Appalacian Trail, I am excited about completing the Yellick Trail!

    Like

    • CJ · November 12, 2012

      Maybe I ought to reconsider our daughter’s backpacking idea…

      Like

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