Morning Hikes on Tully Mountain. A reflection, by Emma Ellsworth
I believe that mornings are the best time to hike Tully, because that is most often when I am able. My husband Tom is a contractor and starts his work at 7am, often I head out the door at the same time as him, but my first assignment includes two German short-haired hiking buddies and a pair of sneakers.
I can reach the mountain from an abandoned logging road behind my house, but since time is usually limited, I drive up Mountain Road and park in the recently much-improved parking area. It’s certainly cheating to drive halfway up the hill and certainly seems “wrong” to drive 1 mile from my house, rather than extending the trip. However, this modification transforms the adventure from an hour and a half to forty-five minutes, which is frequently the difference between getting out or not.
The parking area is adjacent to the old Partridge family farm field. While the farmhouse has been removed, Tom fixed their roof only years before the entire property was sold for conservation. You can still find their asparagus patch and some old crab apple trees.
I should confess that this particular hike was one of the first Tom and I did very early in our relationship, when we were just getting to know one another. I of course had in mind a romantic stroll, perhaps some hand holding, and certainly lengthy pauses to admire the views. Tom, however, saw the opportunity to test my metal and strolled out ahead attempting to summit in one strong fast push. I had to gather my wits about me and scramble up behind him.
From the parking area, one has two choices of route to the top. There is a shorter steep climb up the southern face, or a long gradual ascent up the old fire road. I find that my knees and hips prefer to climb the steep path and descend the long windier route. From the Northwest corner of the parking area there is a trail that leads through the grass and into the woods. Once in the woods it is usually muddy and sometimes there are even puddles that need hopping. With the drought this summer, however, there were no such obstacles to traverse. Hikers starts climbing rather swiftly and reach a fork in the road, indicating a choice between the steep or gradual trails to the summit. The dogs and I stay left.
There are a few logs to step over, and some beautiful granite slabs to carefully skate across. I do admit that later in the fall when the leaves are freshly fallen this part of the trail can be overly slippery and at times I ascend and descend via the more gradual route. The dogs make a mockery of my huffing and puffing as they fly up the rocky terrain. There is often a small flock of turkeys in the underbrush as I climb and more than once I have seen a hawk stare down at me from the oak branches.
Depending on the vigor of my legs and my early morning ambitions, the climb can take me anywhere from 11 minutes to 20. The last push is on to huge lichen-covered granite slabs and then one is standing on the rock with spectacular views open to the north at Mount Monadnock, east all the way to Wachusett and Ascutney, and south over the town of Athol.
Over a decade ago I did this climb the morning of a friend’s funeral, taken too early after a protracted battle with cancer. That morning I found myself doing three sun salutations, an abbreviated yoga flow. The first salutation I allowed myself to be filled with gratitude for the health and ability to make the climb. The second, I one by one envisioned and thanked my friends and family, the dogs panting at my feet for their love and companionship. The third and final salutation was devoted to the spectacular beauty of the natural landscape stretched before me, for this place. The glisten off the waters on Tully Lake, the lily pads from Tully Pond, the seemingly endless carpet of trees hiding deer, turkeys, and even moose.
This ritual was developed years before I came to Mount Grace and learned about the Tully Initiative and the bold landscape scale conservation developed by Senator Robert Wetmore, Secretary of the Environment Bob Durand, as well as then Executive Director Leigh Youngblood. Durand and Wetmore had the funds and the vision, and Leigh Youngblood and the nascent Mount Grace landscape had, as my mother would call it, the “Hutzpah.” This was one of the first, but certainly not the last time Mount Grace was bold and ambitious and punched above its weight. Over 8,000 acres were protected in two years. Landowners who had stewarded their log lots and farm fields for generations were invited to participate in this momentous project, protecting their lands for future generations while receiving much needed financial relief for them and their families.
They ensured that each one of us making the trek up Tully could experience the majesty of open space that stretches to the horizon. Just this week a moose was seen on Mountain Road, proof of the importance of maintaining connected protected landscapes. So now when I do my third sun salutation and feel so grateful for this beautiful place that I get to call home, I realize this is not happenstance. This land is protected thanks to the vision and metal of the Mount Grace community.
As I commence the gradual hike down, enjoying the rhythm of my sneakers as they shuffle across the dirt path, the shade from the tall hemlock forest, I think about that legacy and the charge to keep the conservation moving. Projects like Greater Gales Brook, that we completed this year, that added 700 acres filling in gaps from the original Tully initiative. We can’t make more land, so we must carry on protecting what we can.