Where We Went: Mass Audubon Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary / Worthington
When We Went: January 10th, 2020
Difficulty/Boots 1-10: 2 Boots
Trail Length: 1 mile
How Long it Took Us: 2.5 Hours
Overview : January 10th – it’s 5p.m. and the moon is full. We spent some evening time in our backyard, marveling at the moon’s brightness, absorbing it’s brilliance before heading inside for dinner. The very first full moon of 2020. The Wolf Moon.
Why is the new year’s moon called the Wolf Moon? There are so many ancient ties between wolves and January’s full moon, it’s hard to nail down a specific origin. The Gaelic word for January, Faoilleach, comes from the term for wolves, faol-chù. The Saxon word for January is Wulf-monath, or Wolf Month. The festival of the Japanese wolf god, Ooguchi Magami, is held in January and the Sioux tribe call January’s full moon the “Moon Where Wolves Run Together.” A medieval favorite has roots to the days of Odin, Loki, and Thor.
In this Norse myth, two wolves – Skoll and Hati – spend their lives chasing the sun and moon across the sky. On the day of Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse, the wolves were said to finally catch their elusive prey, with Skoll swallowing the sun and Hati gobbling the moon, plunging the cosmos into darkness. One of my favorite books is Barry Lopez’s remarkable, “Of Wolves and Men,” an incredible account of observation, mythology, and mysticism about wolves and, well…mankind. In regards to the whole howling at the moon trope Lopez has this to say:
“There has never been any evidence that wolves howl at the moon, or howl more frequently during a full moon, though howling may be more frequent in the evening or early morning. Howling reaches a seasonal peak in the winter months, during the time of courtship and breeding; it is easy to see how the idea that wolves howl at the moon might have gained credence and played well on the imagination during these cold, clear nights when the sound carried far and a full moon lent and eerie aspect to a snowscape.”
Rewind the day’s clock 6 hours and you’d find us outside on another, separate wolf adventure.
Wolf Tree in Lanesborough
If you’ve ever taken a walk in pastoral New England and spotted a large, low-branched tree that looks strangely out of place in its surroundings, you’ve probably seen a “wolf tree.”
Also called legacy or pasture trees, the term “wolf tree” was most likely coined by foresters stumbling upon these lone wolves in the woods. Often left uncut in open fields to provide shade for grazing livestock, many are found near remnants of stone walls because of an old “rule” that you didn’t cut down trees along your property boundaries.
Much like the Norse wolf Skoll, these wooden wolves also had the ability to “eat” the sun. Left all alone in abandoned fields, these alpha trees monopolized nutrients and prevented the growth of other trees. Today, it’s important to understand how much these giants now benefit their surroundings. Michael Gaige, a conservation biologist who studied the use of wolf trees by wildlife, found that the trees are favored over more typical forest trees. Birds and mammals both frequently utilize wolf trees, Gaige “concluded unequivocally that wolf trees are a boon to wildlife.” You can read more about wolf trees and his findings here.
At Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary in Worthington, the wolves are out in full force. Ancient sugar maples line the access road, showing their age in the splintering limbs and deep cavities. Within the woodlands, look for these solitary giants providing critical nesting sites for area birds. Conserved and protected by Mass Audubon, Road’s End is a typical abandoned farmstead. The forest may be coming back, but the clues to its former past linger everywhere. Go hunting for wolves, full wolf moon optional.
What We Dug: Road’s End has all the distinguishing characteristics of land that was once used for agricultural and lumbering purposes, now being reclaimed by the forest. Rock walls, cellar holes, and the mixture of old-growth and new-growth woodlands. It’s the perfect spot to put your land use detective skills to the test! As we walked, I tried to get the kids to imagine what the land used to look like, asking them to picture sheep and cows grazing in the fields (with the snow as a mental roadblock, this lasted approximately 25 seconds). The Nancy Weiss Trail was the perfect mix of flat area sidling along next to a freshly awakening brook.
Syncing up with the wolf moon, we spent some time hunting for wolf trees, but this is an activity you can do anytime. Check out this link for a FREE printable wolf tree activity!
Another fun activity to try when you’re walking amongst a grove of pine trees is to try and count their age. As a pine tree grows each year, new branches form a circle, or “whorl”, around the trunk. These branch “whorls” each signify one year of growth. The number of whorls is an approximation of the age of the tree. By counting from base to crown, you can estimate how old the tree is. This can be difficult on older trees. Although it’s not a wholly accurate indicator of age, it is fun for kids to guess-timate and practice their counting skills.
For the older nature sleuth, or my fellow adult investigator, I can’t say enough about terrestrial ecologist Tom Wessels and his books, “Reading the Forested Landscape” or “Forest Forensics“, both invaluable resources on deciphering the past lives of New England’s landscapes. If you’re more of a visual kinda person, the 3-part video done by New England Forest is available, FREE, here on Youtube. Skip to 13:35 on Part 3 for his input on wolf trees.
What We Could Do Without: See those snow slugs? Yea, those slugs are mine. Truth be told, the kids were not thrilled on this hike. Even with activities prepared, they were over it 5 minutes in. Sh*t just be like that sometimes. With some bribery and mild threats, we made it through and chalked it up as an off day.
Due to the mild day, snow was melting and Corbett Road was pretty muddy. Definitely wouldn’t attempt during real Spring thaw unless you have a car with the ability to traverse deep mud.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: cellar holes, wood frog, spotted salamander, bear claw marks on American beech trees, old rock walls, white pine, wolf trees, apple trees, sugar maple, beaver and beaver ponds, mink, otter, muskrat, wood duck, nuthatches, woodpecker, deer, porcupine, black bear
Must Know Before You Go’s: In the winter months, the parking area is not plowed. Parking is allowed at the end of Corbett Road and then walk to the trailhead. Leave pets at home. Refrain from running, bike riding, or driving motorized vehicles. No fishing, hunting, or trapping
Directions: From the east: Take the Mass Turnpike (Rt I-90) to exit 4 (Rt I-91 north) to exit 19 (Rt 9). Follow Rt 9 west through Northampton and Williamsburg. Take a left onto Rt 143 west and follow it for approximately 12 miles to the intersection of Rt 143 and Rt 112 (Clark Road). Take a right onto Rt 112 north and a quick left onto Corbett Road (dirt road). The sanctuary is located at the end of Corbett Road. Corbett Road is impassable during the winter and mud season.
From the west: Follow Rt 9 east to the intersection of Rt 9 and Rt 143. Turn right onto Rt 143 east and follow it to the intersection of Rt 143 and Rt 112. Turn left onto Rt 112 north and follow directions above from “Rt 112 north.”
GPS: 42.423736, -72.930181
Barry Lopez, “Of Wolves and Men”