i spent the day with renata getting our nature on, visiting trustees reservations in the andover area, before having dinner at sweet chili (thai) in arlington. it was perhaps the first time we went out naturing together where it wasn't raining, nor was it freezing, nor were we chased out of the forest by hungry mosquitoes, our first successful outing.

i woke up this morning, ate the last piece of leftover pizza, watched some television, before i realized rob was home, coming back around 6am after spending the night at foxwoods casino. i paid some bills (writing checks) and got rob to pay the rent. i was getting ready to leave when i got a call from renata, asking if my invitation to go naturing was still opened. i sent her a last minute e-mail late last night and didn't think she'd be free, so i was pleasantly surprised when i found out she was able to go. i took a shower, changed into my hiking clothes (pair of jeans and a t-shirt on this 70+ degrees day), and drove (with my parents' SUV) across town to renata's place.

i had a can of filipino mango juice nectar waiting for her in the car. earlier this morning she'd already gone out kayaking on the charles river, so this was her second dose of exercise for the day. she was bubbling with excitement over our trip, to the extent that i thought maybe she had to be restrained. since i don't own a car, renata is usually driving, so it's a rare treat that i'd be at the helms today. she added how happy she was that she wasn't behind the wheels, which freed her to really enjoy herself.

the drive north to andover was fairly routine. although i don't remember ever having been to andover, it was a simple matter of getting onto I-93 and exiting off of the route 125 north junction. a good stretch of 125 was lined with scenic trees already in the midst of their autumn color change. the car that i was driving, a ford explorer, the right blinker is broken, which meant i had to manually pump the signal switch for every right turn, which initially confused renata, who thought i was just an overly aggressive and neurotic driver. the first place we wanted to visit was the ward reservation, and we found it after i realized we passed it and had to take a detour. a lot of times these trustees reservations are fairly hidden, well known only to locals, and ward reservation was such a case, the only sign telling you about the place is when you're actually there. although the place is 700 acres, we only saw a small section of it, the 700-feet boardwalk into pine hole bog, then the climb to holt hill (420 feet), the highest point in essex county.

initially i wasn't so sure that a real bog was located so close to where i live. having seen a bog for the very first time up in groton state forest in vermont, i've come to fall in love with this particular type of ecosystem. all my doubts were soon laid to rest when i finally visited the pine hole bog. first, in between the cracks in the wooden boardwalk we could see that we were above water. the area was covered in green sphagnum moss, another indicator. while playing dead so renata could have some practice taking photos with my digital camera, i saw tiny sundew plants growing on the sphagnum. i showed renata, and let her shoot a few macro photos of the beautiful sundews. she said i should become a naturalist, taking people out on nature tours. nearby we found these red berries, which we both guessed to be cranberries, but neither of us were certain. i wanted to taste one to find out but renata wouldn't allow me to do it.

seeing sundews was exciting, but then i was hoping we'd find another particular bog plant that i know and love so well. further along the boardwalk we found it: pitcher plants! i was excited to see them, like seeing old friends. it's good to know they can be found here in andover. the boardwalk came to an end at pine hole pond, the path dipping into the water. here large dragonflies circles the air while tiger mosquitoes started to land on us. there were few enough of them that we had time to swat them before they bit, but i still left with some bites.

since it didn't look so far and since we were already there, we figured we'd take the short hike up to holt hill. on the summit were the solstice stones, an arrangement of stones marking the solstices and equinoxes. from here we could see boston off in the distance (about 20 miles away), although the weather was a little hazy this time in the afternoon. we sat on a rock and rested. renata was still very much preoccupied with her arm muscles, which said were uneven because she has an uneven collar bone (a fact that i verified earlier while at her apartment). she made repeated attempts to get me to squeeze test her left and right biceps to see which one of bigger, although they both seemed equally ample to me. renata, haven't only had some cheese and pita for breakfast and corn chips for lunch, was to say the least hungry kind of hungry, and broke into my trail mix reserve.

we left ward reservation and traveled further north along 125 to weir hill. before we arrived though, we looked for a bathroom, and finally found it at a pizza shop. not wanting to come off as non-paying customers, we both bought drinks before using the restroom. while waiting for renata, i talked with one of the guys, who asked where we were from, since we didn't look local. "cambridge," i said. "that's a good place, expensive though," he replied, "i used to work there." a pizza place on cambridge street i found out, and he had a friend who's renting a cambridge apartment for some insane amount of $2400/month.

weir hill (194 acres) has no parking other than on the sides of a fairly empty street. formed from a double drumlin, the place is shaped like a small peninsula surrounded by water on three sides, with a scenic vista. a lot of times the description for these trustees places are very romanticized and in actuality it's never quite like what they write. such was the case with weir hill. the scenic vista point was nothing more than a hill overlooking an unidentifiable part of andover. the surrounding bodies of water were nothing more than a string of small ponds and a lake. the town beach "as seen on the map" looked like nothing more than a small strip of artificially brought-in playground sand. nevertheless, the place has some charm, and renata seemed to love it, remarking how this had been her best nature outing since returning from alaska. although the view wasn't anything to write home about, there were some late-season wildflowers growing on weir hill. we picked asters and goldenrods and wore them in our hairs and on our bodies. occasionally people walking their dogs would pass us (such was the case back at ward reservation as well).

weir hill scenic vista

stevens trail

stevens pond (lesser)

from the scenic vista we followed a path carved out by the old railroad tracks, down to stevens pond. renata used this opportunity to practice her chinese with me, which she was afraid that she had forgotten most of the things she learned this summer. a huddle of teenagers, some on land, some in a canoe, were doing some weekend fishing by the pond. from there we went through the hatch trail underpass to the shores of lake cochichewick on the other side. the water seemed very unpolluted and clean enough to swim, although i remember reading somewhere that this is actually a reservoir and not for recreational use (although we did see a boat out on the lake).

hatch trail underpass

millers path lake view

cochichewick trail

we walked the entire loop around weir hill before coming back out to the entrance. i kept my eyes opened for efts but i didn't see anything. we crawled back into the car and drove back to cambridge.

edgewood farm trail (entrance)

edgewood farm trail

turkey tails

trying to catch a possible movie at the capitol theatre in arlington, we decided to have dinner at sweet chili because it was nearby. renata had a coconut creme soup while i went with my tom yum soup with chicken. we shared an entree, a spicy string beans curry dish. although i didn't really notice, the woman sitting next to us was complaining how people never want to eat with her because she's so picky about her food, then listed all the things she couldn't eat, which was pretty much everything. there was a little bit of leftover that renata took home. exhausted from a day's worth of activities, renata opted out of the movies and i drove her back home. i returned to cambridge, where i caught the red sox yankees game from the 4th inning. once again it was a close game, until the bottom of the 8th, when the red sox unleashed a flurry of hits to put them up 12-5. this victory clinches the season series against the yankees (10-8), which i'm hoping it means the red sox will get home field advantage if they should happen to meet the yankees again come playoff.