Written by Sarah Miller
posted on June 13, 2012 07:27
If Minna Anthony Common had a Rock Ridges Trail blog I would have had it bookmarked, or better yet I would have pinned it. In a world of social media and digital entertainment Mrs. Common’s values, while analog, can still be found. Today every other person is posting their observations online; while Mrs. Common wrote her observations down in diaries and field notebooks.
Mrs. Common’s name may be familiar to many as it adorns the Wellesley Island State Park Nature Center which was named in her honor. The nature center covers a large part of Wellesley Island, including the famous glacial potholes which Mrs. Common brought attention to. Mrs. Common’s influences can be seen outside of the state park too, particularly in T.I. Park where Mrs. Common carved out Rock Ridges Nature Trail in 1935. This trail is now over 70 years old and still being cared for by the Friends of Rock Ridges Trail and the T.I. Park community.
As summer approaches I sit very far from the river and dream of Jack-in-the-pulpit and Solomon’s seal. My spring dreams are simple this year; generally elusive trillium, fragrant lilac or floppy peonies occupy my mind. When I first walked Mrs. Common’s Rock Ridges Trail I could not distinguish a mayapple from a sumac. Since then I have learned much about the local flora and fauna of the area and it is easy for me to see why Mrs. Common had such an interest in preserving her observations through journals and drawings.
These journals survive to tell readers about blooms, hatchings and the ever important weather. For example, in 1939 Mrs. Common reports of “a very bad drought five weeks in July and August killed all the mandrakes, nearly all the brakes, all blueberry bushes, sumacs, young trees on rock ridges, baneberry plants, dogbane and many of the ferns.”
Other entries comment on unusual finds, such as a 1946 entry stating that “walking sticks are numerous along the trail. Also saw a Katydid – the real pale green one, rare here.” Surely all us river commuters would have logged on for trail updates.
In the mid 1990’s Nellie Taylor suggested that I did not have to have an idle summer on the river. As I was too young to take up seasonal employment at the Wellesley Island State Park Nature Center Nellie suggested I rove Rock Ridges Trail as a volunteer. A simple definition of roving in this context is to walk the trails, do simple maintenance like lopping low braches and removing trash, etc. I must finally apologize for all the eye pokers I missed that summer. My growth spurt stopped abruptly at 5’4” and I was terrible at trimming branches over my head.
Ellen Detlefsen Reynolds became my trail maintenance mentor. There is so much to take for granted when walking on a trail. In addition to lopping branches Ellen’s son, David, helped me blaze the trail and remove garbage. To save the path from erosion I had the help of Mike Parkes to build waterwalls to divert rain off the trail. My most vivid memory of my roving days is a smell -- I can hardly think of Rock Ridges without the smell of wood preservative filling my nose. One of the easiest but messiest tasks was soaking the legs of the wooden benches in the stinky stuff.
I wish I had kept a journal like Mrs. Common. I learned so much that summer regarding the islands’ ecology, how much can I have retained? Mrs. Common understood the importance of keeping a record of Mother Nature’s activities. In 1941 she reported that 1,223 persons signed the trail head guest book. That is an awesome number and I hope that the trail is enjoyed by many this year too.
In the absence of a daily trail blog I can report that in May I visited the trail and I saw fiddle heads unfurling in ferny dell and lots of wild flowers already in bloom. The rock ridges overlooking South Bay are still covered with reindeer lichen, benches are still providing a solid resting spot and the sundial still tracks time.
This summer the Friends of Rock Ridges Nature Trail have a few programs planned to initiate those new to the trail and foster the involvement of established trekkers. Keep an eye out for these activities -- they will be posted on the T.I. Park bulletin board and advertised in the T.I. Sun.
By Sarah Miller
Sarah Miller and her husband Chase enjoy their time on both Wellesley and Murray Isle. Both were seasonal employees of the Nature Center for several summers. When they are not on the River they are in New York City. In addition to enjoying the flora and fauna of the islands Sarah is also interested in the history of the area. She is also proud that she can support her island post office by buying all her stamps on Murray.
Photographs by Chase Miller.