by John Galluzzo
From the moment one sets foot on the trails at Jacobs Pond, a hiker is surrounded by history. In most cases it's not eminently visible, but it's there.
The pond itself, 59 acres, shaped like a raindrop falling diagonally from the sky, is manmade. A dam at what is now Route 123 powered a mill at the busy Assinippi Village of yore. The corner today retains its reputation as a business hotspot, but with fewer blacksmiths, gristmills and dry goods retailers than it boasted a century ago. Before the stream was dammed, wet meadow and even forest stood where the pond now is. Proof? Stand on the dock and check out the tree stump in the middle of the pond. The eastern kingbirds and spotted sandpipers will show you where it is.
Walking through the woods to the northwest, it's hard not to come up against the farming history of the land. Stonewalls run through the forest, back and forth. Every time a walker crosses over one, a farmer of the olden days rolls over in his grave. Even the trees tell us that this was not that long ago. Their minimal girth reminds us that they are indeed quite young. When we do find an ancient specimen, it's usually standing guard at the edge of one of those stonewalls, a boundary marker between one farmer and the next, perhaps meant to provide shelter for cattle on hot days.
But as one turns the corner to the northern end of the pond, deep history presents itself, glacial history. The pleasantly wooded trail suddenly descends to a low point and turns from soft, even dirt underfoot to a jumble of large rocks, glacial erratics carried from afar and left here 11,000 years ago. Lost in the vision of this place is the primordial sound. Today, these rocks rest quietly, populating the forest like the domestic cattle once did the fields that surrounded the pond. But what did it sound like when it formed? Did they all come tumbling together, or as the glacier melted did each fall individually, partaking of its own moment of glory?
Navigating through the boulder train, one comes finally to the crowning feature, the esker. As the glacier was in its heyday, rivers of outwash formed under it, filling with sand and gravel. When the glacier melted, those materials remained in place, leaving a long, winding, snaky, raised ridge called an esker. The trail atop it runs at times ten to fifteen feet above the forest floor below it to each side. Bald when it began, it's now studded with small trees that, because of the way water runs off it, show exposed tangles of roots like we generally never see them elsewhere, making for interesting footfalls no matter where one steps.
Nature shares its secrets with those of us willing to listen, and there's some good listening to be had in all 189 acres of the Jacobs Pond Conservation Area.
Off Jacobs Lane in Norwell, across from the South Shore Natural Science Center. For more information:
Town of Norwell Conservation Commission
345 Main Street
PO Box 295
Norwell MA 02061