Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pinnacle Rock

 September is the hawk migration. Hawks and September, sharing the same deep blue cloudy toasty raw windy day, depending. Which means, usually, driving out to Mt. Wachusett, an hour or so west, to not see invisible specks that only the Swarovski and spotting scope crowd can see. Luck is a scattered traffic of passersby riding the airstream overhead—kestrel, osprey, TV (turkey vulture), 'tail (redtail), sharpie (sharp-shin), sighted, called out, followed, recorded. And sometimes, on rare Septembers, wheeling kettles of broad-wings by the dozens, and when I'm not there, by the hundreds, even the thousands.

But this year I didn't make that journey. I had to settle for the poor man's Wachusett—Pinnacle Rock, an outcropping on the northeast shoulder of the Fells Reservation, a 2500-acre green space a short drive from home.  I went first by myself, sitting on the summit for a good hour, as if filling the position of Fells guru, and seeing nary a hawk. And I went a second time last weekend with two friends, Helen and Ed, less for hawks than for Pinnacle Rock itself.

I led the way up Fire Trail 56, an uphill walk that levels off, through a corridor of woods—oak and pine, sassafras, aster, and goldenrod (still drawing bumblebees). It was the cooling kiln of late September, lazy but purposeful. We took a side path along a new ledge of rocks, and then it was all rock, just rock: a short ascent, closer to the sky. The pinnacle.

We installed ourselves on three adjacent levels and took in the view. To the north and west lay  nameless neighboring towns (Saugus? Melrose?). To the east, the blue Atlantic. And all around us an expanse of apparent bushes that were really the tops of trees.

We talked, but at this height talk was concurrent with a secondary activity—being above, and exposed; being seen and seeing. Nature was the other party—the host, in fact—with whom we were conversing. So the conversation ranged from news to "olds:" a discussion of the lobes of oak leaves and whether a certain arm of land was Nahant. I saw a hawk in the distance, just above the horizon, probably a redtail. Last time I was here that would have been the culmination of my stay. This time it was a peripheral detail, on a par with the blue jays that flew across the nearby treescape. 

What we saw depended on how we were looking. Sometimes serious topics—work, illness—grounded us. Then a turkey vulture interrupted, rising out of the oaks a hundred yards away, and tilted past us, just above the trees, black and careful as a judge on skates. We watched it teeter by, hunting for smells, feeling for wind, following some winding air route, finally flapping for momentum. That was cool, being above a vulture.

A short time later, a query: Is that another vulture? It was directly above me; then the sun was in the way, so I didn't see it until it was in the clear. It wasn't a TV. Too big for a redtail. What was it? An osprey? No, not an osprey. It could only be an eagle. A juvenile baldy. That underwing pattern of brown and white, and the long wingspan. An eagle, we concurred. On one level, just another chance bird. But higher in our hierarchy—a good sign, maybe. Sufficient for September, for sure. 

Pinnacle Rock delivered.

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