It is a mild winter’s day in February when I set out to walk to Sacred Heart Park in Andover. I first came to this park over a year and a half ago. It was the very first day that we looked at this apartment which we are now renting. In that span of time I have only visited here a few times, watching and counting birds here whenever I could. It has been fairly quiet at the bog lately so I have been coming here more often, mostly to walk the dog, but today I am leaving the dog behind and bringing my camera and binoculars along instead.
At the end of the trail I cross the pavement to the soccer field and playground. A brilliant and cloudless blue sky is vaulted overhead. The mild temperatures have the feel of springtime about them, though the buds have yet to swell or the grass to start its flush of green. Here I turn southwest towards the tree line and walk along the edge of the woods. As I near the naked trees tied together with tangles of bittersweet vines I start to see a few robins. Lower down in the brush the dark-eyed juncos hop. I follow the along the edge of the field towards a path that leads to a bit of a clearing down by the Shawsheen River.
The sun is casting long shadows over the still brown grass. I see the Shawsheen glimmer in the cool winter’s sun. The river bends and twists here forming a small pond and a marshy area. As I head to a little wooded alcove at the top of a small hill I am surrounded on three sides by water and marsh. Only the grassy lawn I walk on is firm ground, and the rise of the woods towards the soccer field.
I watch and listen and close my eyes just to hear this soft sound, then, afraid I might miss something, I open my eyes again. It appears to be raining robins! I count 75 or more in this little woodland fluttering everywhere!
The brilliant blue sky shows off the brilliant red breast of this bird surrounded by berries so red and ripe. It is a perfect picture for me and I drink it all in.
I am feeling a bit dreamy with wonder as I wander back down the grassy slope towards the river’s edge.
As I head north I pass the little pond to my left formed as a backwater of the river. While the river is flowing, this little pond is still mostly frozen and I can see signs of a skating rink formed where someone had pushed the snow back. Now it is too slushy to skate on or even stand on. I can see melt water on top of the ice and a few places where it is totally melted through. Sparrows like to gather in the brush along these banks, and I can see a low branch hanging over the pond where I saw a phoebe hanging out one day last summer.
Above the frozen pond and mostly hidden in the trees I spot a yellow-shafted northern flicker perched on a branch. The red V on the back of its head and the bit of its white rump peeking out through its folded wings are all that give away its presence.
Though everything is bare and gray and naked, I see a spot of green moss across the river on the opposite shore reflected in the languid river. The Shawsheen rolls along shallow and lazy here. If it were summer it would be tempting to wade in this clear water, but today the thought of that cold water chills me to the bone.
From the bank of the river I look back up the slope I have just walked down. Sunlight and shadows play with my mind…
I turn to follow the river where it takes another sharp bend as it heads north toward the Merrimack River to flow out to the Atlantic Ocean between Salisbury Beach and Plum Island, two of my other favorite places to bird. Here at this bend I once spotted a Belted Kingfisher, but there is none today. Just blue sky and russet brown leaves reflecting in the silent water.
Through the shallow water I gaze at ripples in the sand forming patterns on the river’s bottom, enhancing my dreamy state of mind.
The ground starts to rise steeply before me and with it the oak-lined river bank which is loosely carpeted with last year’s leaves.
Here I emerge from the woodland to the other section of the park. The buildings of Andover are visible beyond the grassy field.
A walking track circles the inner part of the field, but there are no birds there. Because the bank is so steep here a chain link fence has been erected along the river’s edge. I follow the fence line now, gazing through chain link for birds either in the trees above or below me in the water. I soon spot a few mallards floating lazily in the current. Overhead some mourning doves coo their mournful song. When I draw near they take flight, their wings whistling as the air rushes through them.
I am captivated by the contrast of russet leaves and cobalt blue water.
I have such a peaceful and dreamy feeling now. I walk up to the chain link fence to view the river below. Here the fence stops at a short but steep slope down to a shallow flat area before coming to a stone edged drop off to the river below. The river is forced into a manmade channel here as it flows through the park to head out of town. As I near the edge of the fence I have my camera slung over my left shoulder and my bins on a harness across my chest. Sunlight is streaming down on me. The river looks so peaceful and lazy. I am feeling peaceful and dreamy and oh so happy to be outside. I take another step closer to the edge of the fence on what I think is solid ground and just as my hands are grasping the links the world slides out from beneath my feet!
I now realize the fence is not attached at the bottom! My fingers lock on the cold metal links. My feet are slipping and sliding on that russet carpet of oak leaves which had blown up against the bottom of the fence making it appear as if it were solid ground. Since the fence has now bent forward and away from the flat area behind me, my feet are beneath the bottom of the chain link and I am dancing on peanut butter. For a brief moment I dangle there like a scarecrow, the muscles in my arms taut, my mind racing. I don’t have time to think about how ridiculous I look. All I can think about it that cold water below and how I don’t want to be IN IT! I kickback to try to find a purchase and with a huge effort, find solid ground again and pull myself up and back. It is only when I am sure that I am standing on solid ground that I let go of the fence. I look below me to the river, flowing cold and dark and slow. It almost seems to be laughing at me. But I don’t care. I straighten myself out, dust myself off, and decide I’ve had enough of bird watching and nature for today.
That dreamy state of mind left with the adrenaline rush of survival. It’s time to go home for a cup of hot tea where I can watch birds safely out my kitchen window! But don’t you worry Shawsheen River, I will be back again!