Seeking solace? Just escape to Mount
Tom by Mei Mei Thai
A bit early for a UMass
Amherst student, like myself, to wake up during the winter season when
it's not for a class. Luckily, it's 40°F on this Monday morning
in early March. Snow covers the ground, but it’s not too cold
for an escape to Mount Tom State Reservation. So my friend, Khanh
Tran, and I take off to check it out.
Half an hour later, as we trek along the
Metacomet-Monadnock Trail (M-M Trail) at
, I point out several animal tracks in the snow. They are
everywhere! We can see their paw print patterns around the trees
and on the sides of the trail. We see big tracks shaped like
hooves and assume they are from either a deer or moose. We also
see several smaller tracks, maybe from a coyote or fox.I can feel my excitement and curiosity rise.
Who would've thought I'd be wide-awake and
fully energized at this time, especially when I have tons of work to do
for my journalism classes. Only later did I realize that
is a great way to take in the natural beauty, and get away from all the
stress, drama, and chaotic aspects of life as a college student.
Khanh and I start off with a 20-minute
drive from UMass.We make a
sharp right turn onto
off of Route 5 in
, and drive through the entrance, unsure of what to expect. No
fees. We look at each other and shrug. We continue driving
on the narrow road for a few minutes and pull over at a stoned building
information center. It's closed. But we read the information
on the board beside it.
According to the panel board,
got its shape from the hardened lava flow due to moving
continental plates, erosion, and grinding glaciers over millions
of years, in which the
was formed in an east-west direction.
made up the western half of the range, and is now separated by
Route 5 and the
was named after Rowland Thomas, who first explored the
with Elizur Holyoke in 1650. The Massachusetts Legislature
as a state reservation, mainly for land preservation, in 1902.In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Civilian
Conservation Corps built roads and trails.
The one piece of information we
take really seriously is the fact that we could get Lyme disease
from deer ticks. Unsure if they live in the winter, we
tuck our pant legs into our socks. We aren't going to take
We hop back into the white Ford
Focus and follow a sign pointing in the direction of the Bray
Vista lookout. In less than two minutes, we step out of
the car and look straight ahead to see a breathtaking view of
the homes in the valley and its natural surroundings.
“Look, come over here,” Khanh
says, after a few minutes of staring into the horizon. He
walks toward a green metal tower behind us.
We can feel the railings vibrate
for every step we take as we climb up the three flights of
stairs. It doesn't sound safe, but once we get to the top,
it gives us a much better view of
. Although we
can’t see everything because of the trees, the vista is
you appreciate the valley’s natural beauty.However, there has to be more to do around here than the
lookouts, so back in the car we go, heading toward the M-M
It is eerily quiet at this time and nobody seems to be
around.Most of the
trails are not plowed when it snows, so it’s difficult to go
on a real hike.It
doesn’t matter to us.We
get out of the car to start our hike, and walk for a few feet
Adult deer ticks are dark reddish brown and are most commonly found in forests and wooded areas. They feed on hosts, but they only live on a two-year life cycle of three stages: larva, nymph, and adult. Eggs are laid during the spring, which then hatches in the late summer as larvae. The larvae will then attach themselves and feed onto a host until the fall season when they drop from their host, where they turn into nymphs (the size of a poppy seed).
They’re inactive during the winter and early spring. Nymphs then become very active from May through July, and are looking for hosts to feed on for four or five days, where they then detach themselves from their host, turn into adult deer ticks (the size of a sesame seed), and become active during the fall, especially in October and November. Bottom line: Lyme disease is more common in late spring and summer months (mostly the drier season) when nymphal ticks are active.
If deer ticks are infected with a bacterial infection, then human hosts can get Lyme disease. The symptoms to look for include fatigue, stiffness, neck, muscle, or joint pains, fever, swollen glands, and red circular rashes. Lyme disease symptoms should be treated early with antibiotics. If not, then as it progresses, the infection can lead to heart and neurological disorders and arthritis.
The best way to avoid deer ticks and Lyme disease infection is to avoid tick-infested habitats and moist, shaded areas, wear light-colored clothing (long sleeved shirts), tuck in pant legs into socks, apply insect repellent, and check your body and clothes for ticks after your activity.
trail.We see wooden
signs nailed to a tree pointing to
, .7 miles, and
, 2 miles.Since
time is not on our side because of classes, we take the
path.The only sound
we hear is the crunching of white snow under our feet, as birds
chirp and fly high above us.Fresh air and tranquility sets the atmosphere.
Tap, tap, tap, tap,
tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
“What is that,” I ask.“Is that a woodpecker?”
Khanh looks up, shrugs his shoulders, and says, “Yeah, I
think it is.”
We continue walking along, and that’s when we see the
appear fresh, while others faded. We
also see the excrement they left behind. Yellow stains and
dry feces sit in the middle of the trail every few feet we take,
making an interesting pattern. They were either marking
their territory, or they just simply had to go.It makes me wonder what animal was there and what
it was doing.Was it
just there, or did it pass by days ago?There is a wide range of animal diversity in
.It could be a
coyote, bobcat, or deer.
“It has to be a coyote,” I say.“What if they’re here?What if they’re watching us right now?”
“I don’t think coyotes are out here,” Khanh tells me.
“Yes, they are,” I say.
Little does he know about the diverse species that live in
this region. Different
types of birds soar through here - hawks, turkey vultures, bald
eagles, and falcons.Other
roaming animals include red foxes and white-tailed deer.It may be difficult to spot them, but they are around.
Aside from the heaps of animal tracks in the snow, tapping
woodpeckers, and the few chirping birds, we don’t see any
other forms of life.The
best time to go to
is probably during the fall, spring, or summer – only because
it’s warmer and easier to navigate.Some people like to hang out at the state reservation
during the summer, while others prefer the cold weather.Either way,
is open year-round and is inexpensive.It only costs $2 per car from May through October, and
doesn’t charge during the other months.The reservation is open from
during the winter, and for the summer, they open at
and close at
There’s plenty of
time to explore
’s reservation of 2,082 acres and to hike the 20 miles of its
winter activities include cross-country skiing and ice skating.For both the winter and summer, you can make a choice of
either taking a stroll through the woods, or a trek up an
inclined trail for a physical challenge.A more relaxed recreation would be fishing, and the
adventurous visitors can go canoeing on
, which is 10.5 acres.However,
you’re not allowed to swim there.In addition, there are picnic tables throughout the
reservation, so families can gather around and set up picnics.It would be a good way to start or end a fun, relaxing
The other day, I called up the park supervisor, Bob Carr,
wondering what other activities
there are seasonal park and nature interpreters who lead hikes,
or help with anything nature-orientated.He also mentioned about the hawk migration, which is the
most notable annual fall event at
That is something I would like to see.The migration of thousands of hawks, including falcons
and other birds, flying over the
reservation as they head south during the fall would be a unique
is an excellent getaway for enjoying the simplicity of nature
observation and participating in physical activities.By the end of your hike, or whatever it is you decide to
do, you will realize how much calmer you feel.There’s a peaceful atmosphere that puts you at ease.Not a bad way to escape from your ordeals like stressing
over an exam or fighting with a loved one.Just take some time out for yourself and head over to
“I’m definitely coming back here,” I say, as we drive
.“I feel so
be back again when it’s warmer.”
“Yeah,” Khanh says.“Next
time, I’ll bring my hiking boots.”
This website was created by the students of Journalism 375 at the University of Massachusetts 2005