“The fields and the woods are a great deal like the books we read: the more we become familiar with printed page or forest path, the oftener we return to certain thoughts and trails that lead us back to scenes and associations enjoyed before.”
— Grace Greylock Niles
Where We Went: Hawley Bog, Hawley MA
When We Went: End of March 2021
Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10): Bog Trail: 1 Boot, Hawley Common: 2 Boots
Trail Length: Bog Trail: 700-feet of boardwalk; Hawley Common Trail: Less than 1-mile round trip
How Long it Took Us: 2.5 hours
Overview: The town of Hawley may be home to fewer than 400 people, but it has its share of natural curiosities. On a quiet curve of East Hawley Road, sits a “Quaking Bog” and the remnants of the old Town Commons. Once the bustling site of taverns, shops, and churches in the early 1800s, by 1880 the area was known as “Poverty Square” and shortly after, completely abandoned. Cellar holes and wells retaken by forest growth remain to tell the story. To read more about the fascinating history of early Hawley, click here.
The neighboring bog is a 65-acre preserve and a spectacular example of a high-altitude bog, sitting at 1800 feet in elevation. Formed 10,000 years ago by a melting ice age glacier high in the Berkshire Hills, the formerly called Cranberry Swamp is considered a quaking bog because the soft 30-foot thick mattress of sphagnum moss floating over the water actually moves. This incredibly unique ecosystem provides a home for many species of orchids as well as carnivorous plants like bladderwort and sundew.
It’s both a living classroom for Five College’s and managed by the Nature Conservancy.
What We Dug: “Feed Me, Seymour!” No, we didn’t find Audrey II lurking in the peat at the Hawley Bog (much to my dismay), but we did find another carnivorous plant there, one slightly less set on world domination. Known by a litany of names like, Carrion Flower, Adam’s Cup, Dumb Watches, Huntsman’s Cup, St. Jacob’s Dipper, Whip-Poor-Will’s Shoes — the Pitcher Plant is an extremely cold-hardy carnivorous perennial best known for it’s burgundy pitchers. Pitcher plants are very effective at trapping and killing insects. Lured in by the leaf color, insects that land on the lid are paralyzed by the nectar. They fall down into the digestive fluid to the bottom of the pitcher, decompose and their nutrients are then absorbed by the pitcher plant.
Pitcher plants were found in Hawley on June 6, 1824 by F.F. Forbes of Brookline MA on a visit to his brother’s in Buckland. We were happy to spot some hardy fellows even in March. The kids were fascinated to learn about the feeding habits and we vowed to return to catch one mid-meal. Darwin once experimented with steak and sundews and found they accepted the med-rare meat, “as readily as an insect.”
While we visited, I wondered if another local bog-trotter had ever splashed around in these swamps.
At the 2019 Berkshire Natural History Conference, I listened to historian Maida Goodwin and naturalist Allison Bell discuss the illustrious and ultimately tragic life of Grace Greylock Niles. If you’re a Berkshire history freak like me, you may have heard of her before. Under this nomme de plume, she penned “The Hoosac Valley: It’s Legends & History.” For those less familiar, Pownal native Greylock Niles rambled around bogs of northern Berkshire in search of orchids and other rare plants. Her subsequent book, “Bog-Trotting for Orchids” featured ground-breaking photographs of the plants in their habitats, and botanical descriptions of all the orchids native to New England. An early, passionate advocate for preservation of swamps and bog lands, I think she’d be pleased with the conditions in Hawley. Her infectious enthusiasm for “exploring lonely and dangerous trails” has inspired generations of bog-trotters. A woman ahead of her time, Greylock Niles’ later years were fraught with misunderstood mental health issues that contributed to her historical disappearance. To read more about her and the Mountain Meadow Property that bears her name, click here.
“I like to mark passages in books I love, here and there, as I would blaze a tree to guide me to the haunt of a cool stream or a rare-flower’s hiding place. Whenever I turn to such passages, I find that time and season have expanded some new thought in my mind, even as they have developed the buds to full-grown flowers since my first journey through the wood.” — Grace Greylock Niles
We enjoyed exploring the Hawley Old Town Common trail as well. The interpretive signs taught us a lot about the area that once was completely cleared of woodlands. It was interesting to walk the tree-lined trail and imagine it busy with townspeople going about their daily lives.
What We Could Do Without: We missed out on the sundew and bladdwort as the weather was not quite warm enough.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: White bells of leather leaf, wild cranberry, flycatchers, wild iris, rose pogonia, grass pinks, spruce, hemlock, yellow loosestrife, pitcher plant, sundew, bladderwort, bog laurel, white throated sparrow
Must Know Before You Go’s: No facilities. One picnic table at the parking area kiosk. No dogs on bog trail. No hunting, fishing, metal detecting, mountain biking.
Directions: East Hawley Road, Hawley MA 01070
Head west on Rt 116 to Ashfield. Just after Ashfield center, 116 will turn left and join Rt 112 S. At this junction head straight across 112 onto Hawley Rd. Follow Hawley Rd to the end (it turns into dirt and becomes Ashfield Rd). Take a right onto E. Hawley Road. After roughly one mile look for parking and grassy area with kiosk to left.