Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Skiing Veterans’ Golf Course

There I was on Saturday, December 12, just itching to get out and do something outside on the freshly fallen snow, but I was hesitant to partake in any cross country skiing or snowshoeing in Wilbraham. Why? It was the last day of shotgun season for deer hunters. I could have made my way to town-owned conservation land, where shooting is forbidden, but most of these reservations are adjacent to wooded private property, where the bullets were undoubtedly flying. (Anyone who regularly hikes in Wilbraham knows what I’m talking about.)

So what better place to cross country ski than at Veterans’ Golf Course in Sixteen Acres? After all, there’s no shooting in Springfield, right folks? Let me put that another way: not much gunfire in the Acres on a cold Saturday afternoon, right? Besides, I have always liked hiking in the adjacent South Branch Park, and this was my chance to ski the golf course for the first time.


I park in the lot, which faces the back nine (pictured above), but I choose to walk down the hill and snap on the skis at the bottom, because the incline is just too damn steep! Yes, you may think I’m wussy for admitting this, but my skinny skis are designed for groomed trails, not backcountry skiing, so stopping and turning is a bit more difficult when I’m flying down a hill. Since I don’t want to end up in the South Branch of the Mill River (in the middle of the photo) or careening into the woods on the right, I walk like a wuss.

I snap on the skis at last, cross the bridge over the brook, and start gliding.

Who says you can’t take good photos with phone cameras? Check this out:

My tracks along the windswept tundra:

It’s amazing how evergreen trees will shield the ground from snow (below). If you’re ever lost in the woods and are forced to spend the night, build a shelter in a pine grove if it looks like rain or snow is coming!

I make my way down the fairway of the 14th hole. I remember traveling on the same stretch of ground 28 years ago—when I was in the bed of my friend’s pickup truck! Indeed, one night Doug Mizzetti thought it would be hilarious to drive off Plumtree Road and onto the golf course. Did his tires wreck the fairway? How should I know? It was dark out.

I’m approaching the tee to the 14th hole (below), which was once a notorious keg party spot in the neighborhood—right behind the former Ursuline Academy building, where I attended elementary and junior high school. Did I ever partake in these nighttime festivities? Let’s just say that when my friends and I were walking by, we did pause for some “refreshment” at the 14th hole—and also at gatherings at the 12th hole— before continuing on our shortcut through Veterans’ Golf Course to the Allen and Cooley cinemas, arriving just in time for a midnight showing of Woodstock or The Song Remains the Same or the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Time to turn around. Here is a view from the tee to the “green”:

As I cross South Branch parkway to hit the front nine I snap a shot of the signature Veterans Golf Course bushes:

While I enjoy the peace of a nearly solitary jaunt on a cold winter day, I am pleased to see someone else snowshoeing, along with a father taking his son sledding on the course. I also see someone else’s ski tracks in the snow. Memo to exercising in a gym on December 12: you missed a good workout in a winter wonderland.

Despite growing up in the neighborhood, the only time I played golf here was during the summer of 1983, when I was recovering from mononucleosis on an extremely hot day. So how was my round of golf? Let’s put it this way: if Cooley Street and Plumtree Road were parts of the fairways, I would have been doing all right. As I ski, I relive memories of swearing, throwing clubs, and boiling in the sun on afternoon that was 70 degrees warmer than today.

Yes, I am much more at peace on the skis during my first outing of the season than I was on links that wretched summer day, although I’m sweating just as profusely. I always forget what a cardio workout this activity is. I pause to guzzle some water and take a picture of the tips of my skis. Now it’s time to press on.

I extend my route into the old Camp Wilder property, a 32-acre tract which the city of Springfield bought for $1.2 million with the help of a $500,000 state grant in 2002. It was a bold move for a perpetually cash-strapped city, but the purchase of the land from the family of the late Emma Anderson Wilder, who founded the camp in 1940, saved the woods from certain development.

Below is Bass Pond, which is next to the camp. When we were teenagers, sometimes we thought it was a good idea to end an evening with a late-night dip there—but people who lived on the pond called the cops on us every time. I remember even getting the bum’s rush neighbors when I tried to fish there during the daytime.

If you grew up in the neighborhood in the 1970s and 1980s, but if you weren’t an abutter, a member of the Bass Pond Club or the Springfield Paddle Club, or enrolled in Camp Wilder, you couldn’t use the best pond in Sixteen Acres!

Ironically, when a lawyer for the city was examining the title of the pond for the state grant application, he discovered that Bass Pond was not a private pond, but was actually owned by the state and open to the general public. He found that Bass Pond is a “great” pond because it exceeds 10 acres and subject to state and colonial law dating back to 1647. “Every inhabitant who is a householder shall have free fishing and fowling in any of the great ponds ... within the precincts of the town where they dwell,” states the colonial ordinance. “It shall be free for any man to fish and fowl there, and may pass and repass on foot, through any man’s propriety for that end, so they trespass not upon any man’s corn or meadow.”

Amazing. Little did I know that I when I was accused of trespassing, I could have put down my fishing pole, pulled the colonial ordinance out of my pocket, and said to the old bag, “I doing some fishing, I might be doing some fowling, and I’m not stepping on thy corn or thy meadow, so fuck off, wench, lest I moosh one of my night crawlers in thy wrinkled old face!”

Alas, my ski tour of Veterans’ has come to an end. What will be the subject of my next blog entry? Only the shadow knows.