In many ways, this has been a glorious spring.
After a cool and damp month of March, the weather turned cool and dry from April through mid-May. In the meantime, buds bloomed gradually, while trees leafed out much more slowly than usual.
By mid-May, as the air began to turn slightly warmer, the spring still unfolded slowly. That made it a perfect time to be outdoors and see an amazing mix of shapes, textures, and colors all around.
In hindsight, this spring has been one of the loveliest we’ve had in a long time. In this post, we explore a few favorite spots near Boston for strolling or hiking in the spring.
It’s hard to think of a better place to be with the spring than the Arnold Arboretum. As its website states, the Arboretum is “…a museum of trees teaching the world about plants.” Spread over nearly 300 acres, the collection features thousands of native, rare, or unusual specimens.
One of our favorite walking paths at the Arboretum is the mulched Chinese Path that climbs up to Bussey Hill.
In the early spring, the scents of fragrant shrubs like Mountain Witch Alder or Brouwer’s Beauty Andromeda fill the air with their delicate perfumes.
Old growth shade trees tower over this path, creating lovely dappled light effects. The soft surface of the mulch underfoot adds to the peace and serenity of this secluded trail.
Elsewhere in the Arboretum, another favorite strolling spot for us is in the section closest to Forest Hills. There, varieties of flowering trees and rose bushes surround a trio of small ponds. Weeping cherries are especially pretty at this time of year.
Nearby, along the so-called North Tract of the Arboretum, many unusual flowering trees and shrubs border a great meadow of native plants. It’s always fun to see the varieties of Redbuds in bloom there, with their colorful blossoms popping out of tree trunks.
Also in this area, there are lots of showy Azalea bushes, like this Flame Azalea with its striking form and color.
Finally, another quiet spot for strolling in the Arboretum is the mulched Oak Path. Running along a lower flank of Bussey Hill, the Oak Path is a very peaceful and less traveled trail. Although small clusters of wildflowers pop up beside it, the real treat of this path — aside from its soft walking surface — is the close-up views it offers of many stately old growth trees.
Borderland State Park
Once the estate of an acclaimed suffragist and her botanist husband, Borderland became a state park in 1971. Since then, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has managed it as an historic property and nature preserve.
With over 20 miles of hiking trails that pass by small ponds, old dams, birding areas, and a small farm, Borderland is a great place for a workout or for communing with nature.
Instead of staying on the main part of the Pond Walk, we often branch off at a small opening in the farm fence. There, a mowed path follows the edge of the hayfield — we call it the “Perimeter Walk” — and we usually are the only people on it.
This area is one of our favorites in the park for birding. In late-April and early-May, as we passed by the hayfield, we often came across tree swallows with stunning iridescent blue markings.
Especially before the trees fully leafed out, we saw all sorts of birds during our walks at Borderland. Among the more common “visitors” at that time were Canadian Geese and their newborn goslings.
The spring migration also brought Redwing Blackbirds, Catbirds, Goldfinches, Barn Swallows, several varieties of ducks, and Blue Herons to Borderland. Other species like this Eastern Towee were less familiar but no less stunning.
Borderland is also a great place to get close — but not too close! — to assorted fauna, like snapping turtles.
Finally, there are many viewing spots by the park’s ponds where you can watch birds or, in this case, mating swans.
Blue Hills Reservation
Much as we love to hike at Borderland, we really love to hike in the Blue Hills. The challenge of hiking on such rocky and uneven terrain makes for a great physical — and mental — workout.
After trying many different trails in the Blue Hills over the years, we’ve figured out a moderately difficult route that’s become our favorite. The woodland hike climbs up, around, and then up — steeply — to the rocky summit of Buck Hill.
From the top, there are superb 360-degree views out to Boston Harbor, over the entire South Shore, and all the way up to New Hampshire.
Growing conditions are surprisingly harsh on top of Buck Hill. Scrub brush, stunted trees, and a few hardy shrubs find a home in the rocky soil there.
On a hike in mid-May, we stumbled on beautiful Lady Slipper’s Orchids in three different places on the hike up to Buck Hill. Since we’d never seen even one of these rare plants in the wild before, it was a real treat to find three of them half-hidden just off the woodland trail.
We discovered one other surprise this spring on the descent from the Buck Hill summit.
Near the bottom of a rock “staircase” heading down from the summit, we somehow hadn’t noticed this unusual boulder on our many previous hikes. But on one of our walks this spring, we suddenly saw it differently — an abstract version of a human face.
This has been a very lovely spring. Especially after a year of hunkering down during the pandemic, the glorious weather has been a welcome delight.
Our many walks and hikes this season have been thoroughly transporting, as they’ve put us in touch with some very pretty scenery and so many different flora and birds. They’ve also been a great reminder of how important it is to be open to surprises, look closely, and truly “see” our natural surroundings.