Vanishing Cape and Intruding Trees

June 21st, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

In a follow-up to the Blue Hills geology perambulating lecture, the same guy, Les Tyrala, took a dozen of us around World’s End in Hingham. As well as seeing, touching and hearing about the rocks, we learned to bid farewell to Cape Cod and about yet other foibles of Frederick Law Olmsted.

The BH version was a DCR property and this was Trustees of Reservations’. Regardless, if you can hike slowly and have any interest in nature, Tyrala’s shows are worth the trips.

He admitted at the Blue Hills that this version was less varied and less dramatic in geological terms. Of course, he was right, but he knows so much beyond and related to rocks.

Bye Bye P’town

I remember in my first college geology course how the professor enjoyed talking about the ice ages. Speaking of the rate of movement of the thick slabs, he said the humanoids at the time were unlikely to think, “Oh, no…here comes the glacier. Run!”

Similarly, Tyrala notes that in geological terms, Cape Cod is gone. As he put it in my anthropomorphic terms, “The Atlantic Ocean doesn’t want it there.”

The relentless erosion is unstoppable. He figures the feature will be underwater to present day Duxbury. However, mirroring the caveman era, that’s nothing you and I have to worry about short-term. He estimates the process will take about 50,000 years or so.basaltdike

As for World’s End, it was mostly volcanic in origin, but relatively low-key. Seeping lava left rounded pillows here and there, but fairly homogeneous formations everywhere. A few shifts over faults moved one section higher and another lower. Weathering filled in air bubbles and cracks with other minerals, which makes for a little visual interest. Fresh seepage of lava produced classic Cape Ann basalt dikes — intrusive pathways of stone between two outcroppings.

Finally, the local glaciers did rough up the surface of the largest formations a bit. However, it had much less effect on striation and relocation than in the Blue Hills.

Pix Click Trick: Click on a thumbnail for a larger view. Use your back button to return.

Last Go for Fred

For the non-lithological aspects, Tyrala drew again on the local staff as well as his own broad knowledge. World’s End is a likely subject, as the last of Olmsted’s projects before he turned his landscape architecture business over to his son.

This land was set for exploitation by wealthy Bostonian owner John Brewer. Apparently he had worked through his farmer fantasy and hired Olmsted in 1890 to create a subdivision here. While that project sputtered, it got as far as the remaining web of carriage trails. There are also Olmsted plantings.

olmstedtreesA remarkable one is the seeming pathway of Norway maples in a long, close row. The Trustees guide gave us a tale that sounded apocryphal to me. Workers feared Olmsted’s extreme pickiness and planted these rows not for a pathway but as insurance in case some didn’t survive.

Of course, planting them so close kept them smallish, crowding each other. It would not be logical as backup either, leaving irregularities that surely would have displeased the perfectionist Olmsted. There doesn’t seem any record of the design decision.

However, as the skies and coincidence had it, we got another maybe tale the next day. We headed to Jamaica Pond for a 6 p.m. concert, following that vigorous rain and lightning display. While the band had given up about 5:30, wisely deciding not to have their electronics operating in thundershowers, still standing was Gerry Wright, Olmsted enactor.

As his real self, he felt it kind to hang around and inform the dozens dribbling in with chairs that the reggae/fusion concert would happen on August 1st instead. He also slipped seamlessly into his Olmsted persona.

I asked about the rows of trees. His version was that (he as) Olmsted believed you can never have too many trees. Overplanting and then thinning was his preferred design procedure.

Rogue Scandinavian

Oddly enough in modern terms, Olmsted loved vigorous trees and introducing species to his parks. That included the Norway maple, which has lovers and haters.

For the latter, such as the Nature Conservancy this tree is an overgrown weed, an invasive opportunist that crowds out sugar maples and serves as home to destructive beetles. Others, including my family, love the spreading and gracious early leafing tree, and particularly that it remains in its gorgeous yellow leaves for months, while that premature defoliator, the sugar maple, has gone to bare twigs and limbs.

leaves1In that vein, Yankee published a piece by my wife, on the tree. We had that house whose dining room used stencils of Norway maple leaves made by our artist friend Savannah (Marion Etheredge). The tree would be in full yellow glory outside the windows and images of those leaves would play off the interior walls.

You may fall into the hate or love camps for Norway maples, or you may never have thought about it. In any case, it’s worth checking the park sites, like the Trustees, DCR and Friends of the Blue Hills. These one-time tours for rocks, wildlife, bugs and plants are frequent in nice weather and occasional even in winter.

What you get after an hour or two hiking around is heightened awareness. After two walks with Tyrala, we know a ton more about how the rocks got there, what they’re made of, and how they changed and will change. There’s lots underfoot and overhead if you know what you’re seeing or touching. I suppose you could get that from reading guidebooks and doing it alone, but would you?

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One Response

  1. okra says:

    re: World’s End….

    isn’t that scheduled for 2013?

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