A Winter Walk at the Arnold Arboretum

Winter is starkly beautiful in New England. Sometimes, the shorter days coupled with grey snow skies create a landscape that resembles a black and white photo. This season, as the new year unfolds, and with it the uncertainties of the pandemic and continued social and political unrest, it seems that nature really does have an uncanny way of reflecting our emotional state.

There’s a definite monotony to this pandemic life. Lately, I’ve been maxed out with walks around my neighborhood. Last month, I shared my experience exploring Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery. Last week, I mixed up my routine with a visit to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

Founded in 1872, this living tree museum is one of the jewels in landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead’s “Emerald Necklace”- the 7-mile chain of parks and greens spaces that stretch out across the city. A Boston public park, the Arboretum’s 280 acres is managed by Harvard University and it is free and open to all every day of the year.

Although the Arboretum is particularly spectacular in spring and fall, in winter it is the calm and quiet of nature that beckons -and entirely incongruous with being in the middle of the city.

This Christmas, I was thrilled to welcome with open arms and big hugs my 24-year-old daughter from London (she quarantined and tested in advance). A little excursion to the Arboretum was tailor-made for us to make the most of our (all too short) time together.

We entered the Arboretum via the Arborway Gate and strolled the paved walkways towards the Bonsai Pavilion to take photos of the terraces and the hibernating vines. Further on in the Explorers Garden we found several of the Arboretum’s oldest residents- some of which have centenarian status including a rare Franklin tree that dates from 1905. Eventually we climbed Bussey Hill where winter’s nakedness revealed vistas that are even more expansive and dramatic than during the summer. Finally we descended along Conifer Path to find ourselves in a piney forest and eventually made our way to the rolling meadows and the Arboretum’s three ponds that edge the dormant rose garden.

Seen along Conifer Path at the Arnold Arboretum

Because of the pandemic, the pull for me to spend time outside is strong- if only because there are so few things that I can safely do. What’s up for next month ? I’m thinking that a visit to Lincoln’s DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is in order.

It’s not necessary to travel great distances to find nature-or to benefit from it. Because as hard as this winter will be, during a pandemic that narrows our world, nature reminds us that hope and beauty will prevail.

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