Trapped in traffic crawling along Pond Street near my house in Melrose, Massachusetts I was silently fuming over potentially being late for or, worse, missing yoga class. I sighed and looked to the right through my passenger-side door window and thought I saw a sign for a trail beyond the paved pathway at the side of the road. It looked as though the dirt had been worn thinner in an opening that led into the woods. I made a mental note to return there as the traffic began slowly pulling ahead.
Weeks later I took off walking toward the place where I thought I’d seen the sign not wanting to risk missing it again in my car– I’d driven by the same point dozens, maybe even hundreds of times in the years I’d been living in Melrose and going to a yoga studio six, sometimes seven days a week in Wilmington and had never seen the sign or path. Twenty minutes after setting foot to sidewalk in front of my house I found myself surrounded by the towering trees of the Middlesex Fells Reservation on the Crystal Spring Path of Fellsway East.
I circled around the woods for a while, secretly afraid of setting out alone, it was in fact my first solo hike. Eventually the fear gave way to calm curiosity. When I came back out to the paved walkway that borders Pond Street I looked across the road and noticed a large green sign in the center of a small pull-over parking lot. I crossed to look more closely and discovered there were miles more of trails. I decided I would return another day for more exploration.
In the years to come these woods would become my place of refuge where I could go to be alone and immediately feel calm and at home beneath the trees no matter how bad things were beyond the borders of the quiet trails. And even though I came to know the trails so well, understanding which paths would lead me further in faster or take me meandering past streams, waterfalls, and forest flora, each time is still a new experience of its own. In the spring I watch as new plants and flowers shoot up through the muddy earth and bud and bloom as the summer sun beats down. And in the fall the leaves begin changing into beautiful shades of red, orange, light green, and deep purple, falling to eventually curl up and form a brown blanket across the earth that cracks and crumbles beneath my shoes. Winter time in the Fells offers a quiet solitude as the earth freezes over and snow outlines the bare tree limbs. Once after a blizzard buried the streets and cancelled school for days, I pulled on my boots and ski pants and trudged into the woods. I climbed through the thigh-high snow, jumped to the ground and waved my arms to make snow angels along the paths, and stared up at the sky from the pillowed ground.
Through every major life change, after the most difficult of days or work weeks, when I need to make a decision or change, I make my way into the woods and get lost along the trails for hours. There’s a rock just beyond the end of the Virginia Woods Trail, set off from the path where I go to sit crossed legged, my face turned toward the sun, listening to the slow sound of my own breath. And each time I reopen my eyes after sitting in silent meditation, life looks so much clearer than before.
The Middlesex Fells Reservation is divided by Interstate 93 into two sides, East and West, and stretches across five cities: Medford, Malden, Melrose, Stoneham, and Winchester. On each side you will find trails of varying lengths and levels. Some like the Spot Pond Brook Historic Trail offer a moderate stroll with beautiful views. Others like the Rock Circuit Trail climb up and over hills, through the woods, and wind on for miles. Visit the website for maps and information and plan a route that will work best for you. If you find you are most at home in nature, the 2,575 acres of land are a welcome reprieve from the rush of city living.