Our Environment: “The Amazing Blackstone” By Scott Turner

Sunday, December 16, 2018


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Blackstone Bikeway, PHOTO: Scott Turner

With workmates headed to the mall at lunchtime to shop for the holidays, I took the road less traveled to Lonsdale Marsh in Lincoln.

The drive from my Providence office took only 10 minutes, giving me roughly 20-30 minutes to meander. That was just the right amount of time outside, as it was cold. Although the sky was clear and the sun bright, the temperature was only about 32 degrees, and the air was humid in a way that drew tears from my eyes.

I parked at the site of the former Lonsdale Drive-In, along the Blackstone River Bikeway. It’s a lovely locale, with the river, wide, low and rippling before you, and a mix of meadows, marshes and flooded forests stretching out along the trail.

Indeed, this site was restored from its previously paved-over drive-in status into a complex of riparian, wetland and open-water habitat.

I walked about a half-mile north, entering Cumberland for a bit, observing how extensive the water had reached into the forests that ringed the marshes. Autumn was wet, so the presence of all of that water—now in the form of ice—made sense.

Some of the trees displayed striking winter characteristics, such as the sumacs, with their stout twigs and red seed tufts.

The magenta-colored buds on the tips of the cottonwoods branches pointed skyward stoutly. In late winter those buds become sticky, and glisten with a balsamic-like-scented resin.

Goldenrod, laden with fluffs of seeds, rustled in the breeze. Every so often a Song Sparrow popped out of the meadow, producing a sharp chip of alarm.

Retracing my steps back into Lincoln, I visited some of the robust American sycamore trees that grow naturally in Lonsdale Marsh. Their massive trunks and extensive canopies displayed peeling blocks of brownish-red bark, revealing an underlying white layer.

This area is home to one of the thickest growths of gray birch trees I’ve ever seen. A stretch of that birch forest, downriver a bit—closer to Central Falls-contains thousands of the cone-bearing trees. The gray birches attract winter finches, particularly Common Redpolls, which feed on the cones.

Around the marsh and woods, the open waters of the river are also known as winter habitat for visiting Bald Eagles.

Walking on the bikeway, I noticed that two white-tailed deer were watching me. When you live in the city like I do, and you don’t see deer that often, they can seem quite large and lovely to behold.

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Blackstone River, PHOTO: Scott Turner

Both deer lacked antlers, so I am guessing that they were females. I used my binoculars to observe their subtle coloring such as the dark rim of hair around their ears.

Stopping on the bikeway gave me the chance to admire scattered seeds of white ash trees on the asphalt. Each tan seed looked like a one-inch-long canoe paddle.

Just a few weeks earlier those seeds hung in green clusters close to the branch tips of the ashes. With the onset of cold weather, the seeded turned tan.

A lot of birds and small mammals eat white ash seeds such as field mice, squirrels, cardinals and turkeys.

At that moment it occurred to me to listen, and what I found was that there was no resonance beyond the hush of some distant traffic. I was in a surround sound of silence.

I also realized that there was no other human being around. In fact, I saw no one else during my 30 minutes outdoors.

Alone, watching deer in the silence of the marsh, I felt like I was truly on a lunch break from my office in Providence.

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Scott Turner is a Providence-based writer and communications professional. For more than a decade he wrote for the Providence Journal and we welcome him to GoLocalProv.com. 



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