Monday, April 02, 2012

Alpine Hill and the brook up to Sheldon Pond

I took a really magical walk last weekend. It was a dream that became a reality, there was some secrecy to it, and the place had its own unique charm and personality. I have been working my way across the map of hills north of Fitchburg (see here) and got to Alpine Hill thinking there were several places that looked interesting. A brook flows past the west side of the hill and loops around to a "Sheldon Pond" and I could see a level spot next to the brook, part way up. And I thought it would be fun to try to get all the way to the pond (~1.5 miles through the undergrowth) starting at about where the brook crosses Rt 12 (you know, the way to Monadnock) and going in a straight line, diagonally up the hill side of Alpine Hill, and over to the pond. Maybe there would be something worth seeing on the flanks of the hill? You don't know, when you go exploring, whether to look "up high" or "down low". But lately in this part of Fitchburg, I have been having more successes with "up high". So I wanted to take that in, get to the pond, explore there, and return.

Still looking at the map, I see this is private property, ringed with houses almost all the way around; I can see a "Beth Eden" church on the map, along Rt 12, and I plan to get into the woods by sneaking in behind there. Just in case, I locate a nearby playground where I can park safely. I drive out to Fitchburg and do these things. Then I step into the woods.

I feel a sense of privacy. A few moments later and I am trying to decide whether to descend to the level of the brook, or keep the elevation already gained and stay to the right. Pulling out the map, I see that the first level spot I want to get to is just up ahead and to the right. So I continue and, before you know it, there is the dappled light of a stone mound, a large rock pile on the horizon.

I go over to it and it is pretty nice. It is a mound with a short flanking side wall. And a bit of white rock atop the side wall. And a diagonal line from the main mound over to some decrepit wall bulges that seem to have hollows. And I take pictures then continue following the wall. At this point the brook is at the side, to the left. And then I see some more large wall bulges with dimples, beyond them...a larger mound and an open field. So I take some pictures of the first bulge, and the next one, and a smaller rock pile in the woods beyond them.

Then I am getting ready to cross the brook and go look at the big mound and - what do you know - the wall opens like a gateway between the brook and the mound. [Telling FFC, he asks "Is it a spirit door?"]. So I cross and see that the big mound is basically a field clearing pile. It has all the characteristics of - uneven edges, large rocks with smaller rocks piled on top, a nearby field. So I am feeling disappointed and go out into the field. I see an "island" of trees in the upper part of the field. On investigation, it turns out to be another large smeared out stone mound. I see a little pattern to the side. I walk up around the island, and can see the plow soil has eroded down onto the mound. After that, I left the field. But I had learned at this point that the "up high" strategy was almost correct, but that I should search on the sides of hills. Searching the hill slopes, west of the brook, beyond the open field, there was another large rock pile. This would be 10 or 15 feet high from the downhill side.

Then I cut back into the woods, and popped out again on the lower slopes of the main hill. They are logging up there and doing a fearfully poor job of it - leaving slash all over the place and driving over the stone walls and (as we'll see the stone mounds) and it is hard to walk on. So I kept down hill following the stream. At one point I saw a little pattern I have seen before consiting of a standing stone separated from a rock pile (3 other examples are, Hobbs, Estabrook, Yellow Birch, ...) and there was still evidence of a small fire beside the standing stone. But I wanted to scan the slopes of the hill and this found me out in the open, picking my way through the logging debris. I thought I saw piled rock higher on the hill...was it a mound, was it a wall? It was a big, thick, old, smeared out wall, with a substantial bulge in it.

And a few minutes later, I am crossing the hill and spot another large mound on the hillside, looking northwest. And beyond it I can see another. These mounds are pristine (ignoring the scarring from the log skidder) and they are classic Wachusett burial mounds - rectangular, 40 feet across, in the shape of truncated pyramids, with two dimples on top. I had to work for it though. Several times I pushed on when I was tired. I had nothing else to do for the day, no one at home, and figured I would keep going and not hurry. This is why I pushed on across Mc Intire Rd and over to the southern edge of Sheldon Pond. I could see interesting stonework across the pond but was too tired at this point. So I just headed down the brook, one foot in front of the other, till I got back to my car.


Chris Pittman said...

Great read!

Infostream Network said...

Just want to say that Geology Rocks.