i woke up this morning to visit the middlesex fells with bruce. while taking a shower, i noticed there was no hot water. hmm, that's not right. that's when bruce contacted me, told me he just woke up and needed another half an hour to get ready. that gave me a chance to go down to the basement to check out the hot water heater. i figured maybe the pilot went out (which has never happened before). that's when i noticed the large puddle and water trickling out from the heater. that's not good. i turned off the electricity and closed the water valve. i called my father, told him what happened, and asked if he knew a good plumber. he said he knew a korean guy, and i told him i'd get in touch with him again when i came back from medford. in the back of my mind i was already preparing for a memorial weekend without hot water. probably the earliest i could get somebody to come replace the water heater would be tuesday.
we didn't make it to middlesex fells until 11am, after taking the scenic way there through picturesque somerville (that's a euphemism for going the wrong way). we parked at the sheepfold entrance and walked north along the skyline trail.
on top winthrop hill there was all sorts of plant activity, including all the corydalis, which grow abundantly from the rocky summit. we even spotted a large garter snake, which managed to slither underneath a large boulder before i could get a photo. i saw a flower i'd never seen before: the blue wild flax, which was growing from a clearing.
the main reason why we were at middlesex fells is to check out the field of blossoming ladyslipper flowers. as soon as we left the rocky hills and into the soft undergrowth of the pine forest, we began to see the familiar mansacks. we noticed the differentiation in colors, ranging from pure white to light pink to dark pink. even with so many ladyslippers already blooming, there were even more waiting to flower. come back in another few weeks and the place will be covered with these orchids.
figuring that most of the trees already have their leaves, seeing birds wasn't a high priority. we could definitely hear them more than we could see them, hiding amongst the foliage. nevertheless, we still managed to see some relatively rare birds. our first was a baltimore oriole. there seems to be a lot of these this season (in years past, i'd go the entire spring-summer without ever seeing one), and we got a pretty look of a singing oriole high up in a tree when we first got to the fells. that could've easily been our birding highlight, but later after we started descending winthrop hill, we saw a scarlet tanager. i thought i saw one once at mt.auburn at the consecration dell, but i wasn't sure. this time i was positive, with photos to prove it. later, at the western tip of the north reservoir, we saw a bunch of birds, including a yellow warbler collecting nesting material and an indigo bunting (my first, although i might've seen a glimpse of it before at one of the mt.auburn cemetery morning birding outings). indigo buntings are kind of difficult to see, because under certain light conditions they just look like boring black birds. but once you get a good look, there's no mistaking this all blue bird. i thought i also saw a black-throated blue warbler but it was only a glimpse and i never saw it again after that one time.
there were insects as well: i saw my first dragonfly of the year, a skimming bluet. we also saw a green tiger beetle but it flew away before i could get a photo. there was also the tiger swallowtail that managed to escape before i could train my telephoto lens onto it.
besides the garter snake early on, we also saw a few turtles. no amphibians though, which was surprising since we recently just got some rain. there was also thankfully no mosquitoes although the poison ivy have started to come out.
we made it all the way to bear hill at the northern tip of the fells before turning back, following trails along the edge of the reservoirs.
on our way back we bumped into an elderly jogger. he stopped and asked us, "are you guys sort of birdwatchers?" he then proceeded to tell us the story of an incredible bird he once saw in the 1950's when he was in forest with a girl. bigger than a heron, it had a head like a vulture and a wingspan as long as his outstretched arms. he said he's told this story to every birdwatcher he's ever come across, and nobody can tell him what he saw. his theory is it's some sort of mythical "thunderbird" that went extinct, and kept on speculating that this large bird he saw could easily plunk children off the ground. i told him it sounded like some african stork, maybe a lost migrant or possibly a zoo escapee. he was just wrapping up his story when two silver foxes passed us by walking a dog. everyone greeted each other, and as they left, the guy whispered to us, "not bad, eh?" after bruce and i left, i asked bruce, "did that guy just say, 'not bad, eh?'"
we finally returned to cambridge around 3pm, back to my problem with the dead hot water heater. i called my father back and he told me he got in touch with somebody and they would be coming over later to take a look at the problem. around 4pm my father showed up with a plumber. we went to the basement, he took a look, and said he could replace the hot water heater right away. i couldn't believe it! so maybe i wouldn't have to face the long weekend taking cold showers. while my father returned to the cafe, i went with mauricio (the plumber) in his van to the watertown home depot to buy a new hot water heater. i found out he was brazilian and besides plumbing, he also does HVAC repairs as well (a nice guy to know!). if you ever wondered how much a 40 gallon heater costs, wonder no more: $400 for the 9 year warranty, and $440 for the 12 year. i ended up getting the 12 year, figured for an extra $40 i wouldn't have to replace the heater until the year 2020.
we brought the new heater back to my place, along with his assistant marshall who followed us in his car. they worked fast, first detaching the old broken water heater, before attaching the new one. my job was to drain the old heater, hauling out the buckets of water coming out from the heater's outlet valve. the heater must've of seen better days, because each successive bucket of water would get gradually darker, a combination of rust and possibly hard water deposits. in a bit of weird coincidence, i remember my upstairs neighbor had to replace their tank last year as well. their plumber wrote the installation date on the tank, and it's almost exactly a year ago today that their water heater died. it seems like the month of may is the time hot water heaters wait to die. it took mauricio and marshall (it was mostly marshall who was doing the work) less than 30 minutes to swap out the tanks. once it was done, they filled up the new tank and volunteered to throw away the old one (they could probably make a tiny profit selling it as scrap metal). after they left, it took about 30 minutes before the water tank was completely heated. i've never been so happy to have hot water in my life!