Who doesn’t wish 2020 would end? Like everyone, we have a long list of grievances. But our complaints are nothing compared to the folks who have lost loved ones or their jobs. So instead of grumbling in this Thanksgiving season, we think it’s more appropriate to examine our glass half full. We had always thought that we knew New England pretty well, but since our radius of travel has been curtailed, we’ve become much more intimately acquainted with our figurative back yard. We have had to dig deeper, discover new places, and learn to appreciate some of New England’s more subtle pleasures.
In this pandemic year, here are 10 things for which we’re giving thanks.
Created in 1891, the Trustees of Reservations (thetrustees.org) is steward of more than 120 sites around Massachusetts. Some of the most prominent Trustees properties — Crane Beach and World’s End — are deservedly famous. But we’re especially grateful for some of the small, often-surprising pockets of nature preserved and cherished under the aegis of the organization. What could be quirkier than Dinosaur Footprints along Route 5 in Holyoke, the sweeping Lowell Holly reservation in Mashpee where it’s always Christmas, or the geological quirk of Dexter Drumlin in Lancaster, where the abstract idea of a glacial deposit becomes very real on this rounded hump in the landscape?
The ‶awww!″ response
Austrian ethnologist and zoologist Konrad Lorenz called it the ‶baby schema,″ observing that infants share certain characteristics — big heads, chubby cheeks, a high forehead, and a comparatively small nose and mouth. That applies equally to baby animals as to human infants. Here’s a shout-out to the baby animals that make us smile and give us hope. And here’s a note of thanks to some of the places that raise heritage breeds: Plimoth Patuxet (plimoth.org), Old Sturbridge Village (osv.org), and Hancock Shaker Village (hancockshakervillage.org).
When the railroads built their lines, they generally surveyed the flattest routes with the fewest curves. Subtract the trains and tracks and those flat, straight rights-of-way are perfect for pedaling. We’re thankful for rail trails because they’re a lot more interesting than a spin around the block and often tunnel directly through beautiful landscape — like the woodsy path of New Hampshire’s Northern Rail Trail, the Pioneer Valley farmland and riverside views of the Norwottuck Rail Trail, or the mix of woods, sea, and beaches along the Cape Cod Rail Trail. Find new trails to explore at traillink.com.
Birds of a feather
Mass Audubon (massaudubon.org) has literally changed the way we look at the world, sensitizing us to every flicker of movement in the trees. Each time we’ve attended one of the organization’s educational programs, we’ve come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the avian inhabitants of Massachusetts as well as all those feathered fly-by seasonal visitors. Thanks to Mass Audubon, birding has become less an avocation than an everyday reflex.
Way to go
We’ll probably never blaze a new trail. It seems every square inch of New England has been discovered. But after wandering unintentionally down spur trails or finding ourselves back where we started after an hour of hiking, we have become especially grateful for well-marked hiking and walking trails and the folks who blazed them. The best signage anticipates potentially confusing trail intersections and highlights desirable detours like a waterfall or a covered bridge. It is our fervent wish that people who vandalize trail markers be consigned to an eternity of wandering in the dark.
Special kudos to park staff, rest stop managers, and other custodial heroes who were able to safely open rest rooms at some facilities and along the highways. Not having our length of travel dictated by our bladders has been truly liberating.
A sight to see
We were as happy as anyone when museums were finally able to cautiously reopen their galleries, but thanks to outdoor art in its various permutations, we were still able to experience beauty, whimsy, and wonder throughout the lockdown. That included the vibrant, edgy urban murals at Underground at Ink Block (undergroundinkblock.com) in the South End and the pastoral idyll of often gigantic artworks in the landscape of Lincoln’s deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (thetrustees.org/place/decordova).
An app for that
We confess to becoming so dependent on GPS that we almost never consult paper maps when we’re driving somewhere. As good as Google Maps and the other directional mappers might be, they fall down once you leave the pavement. That why we’re thankful for the AllTrails app (alltrails.com). Not only does it give us access to more than 100,000 trail maps, the Pro version ($30 per year) lets us download maps for places where we won’t have cell service. Moreover it gives us turn-by-turn notifications. Dedicated hikers can also use it to record their hikes.
Roads less traveled
With deference to the television insurance commercial, it might be possible that we are turning into our parents — at least when it comes to the scenic Sunday drive. We’re thankful for the Massachusetts Scenic Byways, which run the gamut from the salt breezes of the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway to the mountain ridgelines of the Route 112 Scenic Byway in the Berkshire foothills. There are a slew of scenic byways in the other New England states as well. To look for one near you, visit scenicbyways.info.
For reasons probably all too obvious, the summer of 2020 wasn’t a big beach season for us. But we are definitely thankful for off-season beaches. We might not sun ourselves on the sand or paddle out to catch a roller, but we love the long stretches of uninhabited shoreline, the rhythmic lap of the waves, and the admittedly chilly wind in our hair. Without the in-season crowds, a walk on the beach is both primal and rejuvenating.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at email@example.com.