Thursday, December 11, 2014

Long Run, December 5th: The Alewife Brook

I got a bit of a later start than I wanted on my run on Friday morning, and I was also planning for 5 or 6 miles, which ended up not really happening. I was just thankful that it was still sunny when I left the house and headed up North Street towards Medford. I had decided that the main purpose of this particular run would be mainly academic; I wanted to map the course of the Alewife Brook, starting from where it meets the Mystic River. At my new job at Cambridge Friends School, we have recently pitched a project for the 8th grade that involves working with the Friends of Alewife Reservation to monitor the water quality a couple times a month. The Alewife Brook itself has an interesting story; I'd always known it as nothing more than a not-so-pristine stream that runs adjacent to the notoriously jammed-up Alewife Brook Parkway that curves its way to Fresh Pond, as I've often run along the footpath that lies between the brook and the road.

However, it has a bit more of a story than that. A plaque near the sidewalk along the Parkway informed me that the brook once served as a migration stream each May and June for hundreds of thousands of alewives that would leave the ocean and travel up the Mystic River into the Alewife Brook and finally into small ponds to breed. Hence the name of the final stop on the red MBTA line, Alewife. The Native Americans were kind enough to show the European settlers how to use the small 10-inch fish as fertilizer, so the settlers killed the alewives (and the Native Americans) and used them (just the fish, but who really knows) to fertilize their crops. Our idea at CFS is to help the Friends of Alewife Reservation to monitor the water of the brook and the nearby Little River, which are both affected by combined sewage overflows from parts of Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington. To get a sense of where these CSOs are along the length of the brook, I took a turn down the parkway to eyeball the course of the brook for good testing spots. I had always run on the path next to the road, but now that the foliage is down I could see a trail on the other side of the water and discovered a new bike path.

The upper half of the brook has natural banks, but after Broadway it turned into a cement trench with occasional pipes feeding into the side from under the road--the CSOs. It was dry out so I did not see anything draining into the brook (although I did run back there the next day during some rain and did see several overflows open, particularly towards Mass Ave). I wound up at the edge of the block-shaped reservation, which I did not fully explore although I did run on the boardwalk past a marshy body of water called Yates Pond. I wanted to get to the much larger Fresh Pond to loop and come home, which is already about 7 miles total.

The parkway arcs over the commuter train tracks right before the mall. To my left was a tall chain link fence, and as usual I tried to peer through the grid to spot downtown Boston from my elevated position. The Prudential and John Hancock were small figures about 6 miles off, hardly showing above the tree line. I always feel unbearably far out whenever I get a now-rare glimpse of the city's minute skyline from my new neighborhood. Something about the brightness of the day and the perfectly compact view enticed me, so I ditched my former plan when I reached Fresh Pond and turned towards Harvard instead of continuing around. I wanted to see the city, so I headed eastward a few miles until I reached the Charles River bike path. As I wound down Memorial Drive from Harvard Square, I was able to appreciate the slow expansion of the mini-skyline over the course of several miles until I reached the Mass Ave bridge and my field of vision was filled left to right with downtown Boston. I continued until I reached the Whole Foods by MGH (via the gardens and the Common) and rewarded myself for my impromptu 11 miles with an overpriced coconut drink. The electrolyte boost may have helped, but I did still spend the rest of the day inert on the couch before getting Friday burgers with Daniel. I always like those runs best, the ones where things don't go as planned. To top it off, I got to see 5 of Boston's local water bodies. Not bad for a lazy Friday.

1 comment:

  1. It is reassuring to know that the Europeans were decent enough not to use Native Americans as fertilizer.