A walk along the towpaths's nature trail loop near Harrison Street a couple weeks ago had an unexpectedly uplifting effect on my spirit. Nature has played a big role this year in keeping people emotionally afloat through the pandemic, and even as nature shifts towards dormancy I felt gratitude for the patterns and small bits of color it still offered.
The trail is not as wide as it was in years past, since there's been a breakdown in who is responsible for mowing, but foot traffic has kept it open. Just by walking along it, you do the trail a favor.
Wood reed is a common native grass in shady lowlands.
We're used to seeing a sharp division between open fields and dense forests where little ground vegetation can survive. What's special about this nature trail is that trees are more scattered, allowing sun-loving wildflowers to flourish underneath. This savanna-like habitat would have been much more common in the past, when trees were harvested more selectively, or fires were allowed to sweep through, killing some trees and leaving others to grow. In the more recent past, the state parks crews would mow this habitat once a year in late winter to limit woody growth, but the past few years I haven't had luck getting it done. The strategic, episodic maintenance needs of native habitats, e.g. mowing once a year, seem harder to integrate into maintenance crews' schedules than the recurrent once-a-week mowing regimes that are far more expensive but can be routinized.
Learn to identify some plants, and even a walk through the stripped down nature of late fall can stir an energizing mix of recognition, memories and anticipations.