The Deserts of Massachusetts


By: Katherine McCredie

“It’s like a desert out here,” crew member Taylor said on our first hike in to the project site. And she wasn’t wrong. Sand, arid heat, and lack of shade – the typical components of a desert were all there. Our crew took the comment in silent nods as we admired the scraggily pitch pines, growing crooked and strong despite unfavorable conditions, and the ubiquitous green color. Every once in a while a complaint of heat and sweat was expressed as we hiked our pick mattocks, Pulaski, grub hoes, loppers, and root mattock to what would be our first trail re-route, but spirits remained high. Obviously our bodies weren’t accustomed to the same environments as the resilient plants and creatures that claim the pine barren habitat as “home”.

We found our way via braided trails with help from blue blazing that the Friends of Myles Standish made. We surveyed our site, noticing the terrain and contour of the land, and used flagging to mark a more sustainable route. We used our loppers and hand saws to cut back the brush, and came back through with our grubbing tools. In my opinion, that’s where the real work always starts. That’s where you really get to know the land. First strike of a tool into the ground showed us the challenge of breaking up a vast, stubborn root system, all seemingly connected to root wads deep below the surface. The only way to clear them out was to swing the Pulaski again and again until the fibers were broken apart, and if you weren’t sweaty before, there was nothing like a match with a root to solve that problem for you. We started holding them up as mangled prizes, challenging each other for the biggest and baddest. The total number was something like 67. I’m not sure who won in the end.

To wake up at the same time every morning, to crawl out of the tent, to pack out and hike in, to strike a tool again and again day after day, in the sand, arid heat, and lack of shade – those are the things that pure trail work is made up of. Crew members have their various motivations to take them through a rough day, and it’s certainly not for the pay or the fame. It’s for a cold swim, a hearty camp dinner, a chance to know that you and the crew had accomplished what you set out to do, and sometimes even a bit more.