Monday, October 28, 2013

Busmoor's Holiday

The term "busman's holiday" frequently comes to mind when I take any kind of a vacation, because the line between what I enjoy in my time off and what I do as a professional geographer is often blurred. It is far from a bad thing, though: if walking in the woods with with my family -- for example -- reminds me of something related to my work, I have chosen my work well, and am fortunate to have it.
My latest "Sombra" photo. I took the first first against a coffee backdrop in 2011,
when comparisons were made to the famous
"Shadow" statue of Sandino in Managua.
Twice in a fortnight, this precise example has played out. As with a walk on the Lexington rail trail two weeks ago, this morning's brief adventure in the Cape Cod moors reminded me of ongoing work I am doing with students, related to the development of the Nunckatassett portion of the Bay Circuit Trail. This weekend, the insights came as we walked through the Seabury Farm Conservation Area in Barnstable, at the recommendation of our hosts at the Lamb & Lion Inn. Equally inviting would have been the trails of an Audubon property directly behind the inn (and facing Cape Cod Bay, except that we had a canine companion with us, who is precluded by the Audubon management plan. The admissibility of dogs is an important consideration in any open-space management, and this area of Barnstable now has ample public land in both the dog and non-dog category.

When Pam and I -- and our doglet Perry -- stepped into the scene above, I exclaimed "The Moors!" as I was reminded of the upland grasslands of Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles (though our min-pin is neither a hound nor very Baskervillian). On further discussion, we found that we each had different definition of "moor," all of which were substantiated by quick Google searches and -- more importantly -- by the Oxford English Dictionary. We learned that it can mean a highland open space, especially if covered with heather, a swamp, or any uncultivated land. We also learned that "moor" in the ecological sense has an etymology that is completely separate from the word "Moor" relating to people of North Africa.

In some contexts, "moor" refers specifically to areas reserved for shooting (that is, hunting), which is the case on this property we were walking in Barnstable. In Massachusetts, hunting is allowed on public lands unless specifically prohibited, subject to certain set-backs in distance from roads and buildings. As we consider the development of trails through public lands in Bridgewater, this is an important subject to understand, as it is in any place experience rapid suburban sprawl. Newcomers are sometimes surprised to see hunters close to their homes, and long-timers are sometimes surprised to find that the places where they hunted in their youth are now off-limits. In this context, the signage used above can be a vital part of managing public trails. The photo includes another essential element of trail management, which is to identify the right level of vehicular access, and to find ways to achieve it that meet the various management objectives at a site.
I noticed this house as we were about to exit the property, along what is known as Aunt Hatch's Lane. This house was clearly in place before the recent designation of the surrounding land as public open space. In many similar situations -- I do not know whether this case is one of them -- public space becomes accessible only if access is provided across private lands. In such cases, tax benefits may accrue (a major topic in my course), along with a sense of serving the public good. It is also quite often the case that the value of this kind of property actually increases, despite the potential loss of privacy, because of its proximity to protected lands. In fact, some argue -- not without justification -- that land protection is often purused specifically as a way of protecting property values. It is certainly the case that many Massachusetts towns with a high proportion of public land also have extraordinarily high property values.

I named the photo above "buffer" because the value of the property is further enhanced by a thick growth of vegetation on a steep slope, separating it both visually and physically from the public way.

Aside from good exercise, a major reason to spend time in the out-of-doors is to appreciate its aesthetic beauty, and I was fortunate that Pam noticed the above "still life" along the trail's edge. It is good always to have an eye open for such encounters.

I look forward to hiking this property again, when I'm prepared for a longer exploration of the "Amazon Trail" just to the south of the area we explored. I am intrigued by its name, since it was the Amazon that got me into geography in the first place!

View Larger Map

Back to that Audubon property: we got no farther than the train tracks, which of course we know not to walk along, tempting though it be. The night before our walk, we noticed the Cape Cod Dinner Train, which we had enjoyed riding last year. This section of track is near the one low overpass along Route 6A, a quaint -- if treacherous -- crossing that I have admired since my first visit to the Cape many years ago.

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