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Humid, Warm Harvard Forest Summer

Thursday, August 1, 2019, by Elida Kocharian
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Tully Lake!


Harvard Pond

A poor fen has never been richer - in native flora and fauna, that is. Spend an afternoon circumnavigating the pond on its looping trail and you’re bound to see a busy beaver tending to its dam - or wait, it’s probably a muskrat. The pond is the best place to munch on wild blueberries and find sphagnum, a particularly absorbent and ubiquitous green moss fondly thought of as nature’s Kotex (if you know, you know). Fun fact: the Pond is a man-made subterranean graveyard for hundreds of pines logged after the 1938 hurricane, haunted by the meandering ghost of Henry David Thoreau. Woe be they who encounter him and endure an endless lecture on how Walden Pond is “overhyped” and “disgustingly industrialized” and “swarming with Christopher McCandless wannabes.” Never fear - legend has it that if you ask to snap a selfie with him he’ll get sucked into the nearest pitcher plant like a hipster anti-capitalist genie in a lamp. 

Stream sampling on Prospect Hill-- Trendy purple gloves included!

Nelson Brook

Of Prospect Hill’s weirs, Nelson Brook is the weirdest. Filled with enriching soil tannins, water from the brook rushes over the weir’s v-notch like Lipton from a teapot. It’s a great spot for stream sampling—it’s easy to spot REUs in purple nitrile gloves tailing LTER researchers with sample cups for testing concentrations of nitrate, phosphorus, silica, and whatever else the stream ecology lab requests—but not the best for a midday dip, unless you’re itching for beaver fever.

Queen Lake

Hang a left down Main Street onto Popple Camp Road until the street hits sand, pile out of the trusty blue HF van, and splash onto the little beach at South Queen Lake, and you’ve got the perfect post-field day dip. Extra points if you bring a frisbee! (But deduct a few if you accidentally fling it at local beachgoers)

Fisher Spigot

Underrated but overwhelmingly fun - the little spigot beside the Old French Road at Fisher House is more pressurized that a firehose and can fill up a record 34 water balloons in the time it takes for REUs to lose a game of REU-mentor volleyball. Also excellent for powering that random slip-n-slide hiding in a back closet at Fisher House (until somebody tears it in two before slipping right into the cow pasture next door). 


Black Gum Swamp

If you love mosquitoes, rising water tables, and crazy fungi, the gum swamp can’t be peat (see what I did there). Run up the Old French Road trail until it curves sharply into a wooden boardwalk and stroll through Prospect Hill’s cozy swamp, home to the oldest black gum tree in the forest. 

The local field ecologists are renowned for their abilities to shapeshift into freshwater mermaids.

Tully Lake

Queen Lake’s larger, sunnier cousin, Tully Lake is an island-spotted reservoir protected by the Trustees Foundation that’s great for canoeing, sunbathing, and an REU favorite: island-hopping. A jaunt through a hemlock forest brings you to a beachside campground from which you can swim island to island until you find the perfect spot to lie back and work on evening out that field capri tan.

Doane’s Falls

To get to Tully Lake’s neighboring hidden gem, park at the base of the Tully Trail hill and follow the path up until you peak at the edge of the waterfall where there’s wire that fences off the trail from the falls and a big sign that reads, “DO NOT ENTER.” Conveniently, REU students are STEM majors that can’t read, so riparian bliss is a simple matter of ducking beneath the fence, setting up camp on the rocks against the lip of the rushing falls, and chilling for hours underneath the cool yellow birch canopy. At the base of the falls, there’s a tiny island of maple and birch perfect for slinging against in a hammock - as long as you can cross the cool river without slipping downstream. Bring a book, a hammock, and your forest friends, and savor the spaces between the science at Harvard Forest that you’ll remember as the best.