by Peter Brace
The beauty of living on Nantucket year-round is being able to experience each and every one of our island’s little meteorological peccadilloes, which islanders view favorably or with disdain for their annual annoyances.
Fog: eerily drifting through small island forests at dusk, lit only with
fireflies and fading sunlight, bathed in heady, delicious scents of beach roses, sweet fern, and honeysuckle in the soft air.
Squam Swamp, out off Wauwinet Road, and the adjoining Squam Farm property, both owned by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, is one of the island wilderness haunts I go to in order to indulge in summer escapism cravings. A dense forest of serpentine black tupelos, spreading swamp maples, squat white oaks, and regal American beeches grows out of the high-and-dry spots. It provides the cover for avian heralds of the summer solstice and a hush from all sounds manmade.
Gray catbirds meow and mimic all the other birds; ospreys from nearby nesting poles on fishing sorties around the Head of the Harbor call to each well over the canopy of lush green swamp tree leaves, and Carolina wrens call back and forth to each other around the forest. There’s a background sound of frogs; green and bull audibly gulping and chugarumming along with the odd few late spring peepers chirping away from their soggy nocturnal perches.
This is where fiddleheads unfurled from edible green swirls into waist-high prehistoric fans of low shade; where soggy sphagnum moss glows neon-green, dripping with moisture. This is where a true hidden forest’s leaves unraveled to envelop a swamp ecosystem that looks like a location straight out of a J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy. Here, winter-dormant fairy shrimp that have reconstituted in vernal pools scoot around after microscopic food; these temporary giant puddles of rainwater are suddenly replete with tadpoles steadily morphing into frogs, and with baby turtles recently hatched from their eggs on the pools’ edges.
Squam Swamp seduces with a promise of summer respite from the hordes of migratory humans that overwhelm the island around this time of year. It’s far enough away from town that you feel like you’re on another island all together and, if you choose to walk it at the right time of day, you’ll have it all to yourself. Plus, you can learn about what you’re seeing along this loop trail, because the Foundation marked it with 54 numbered posts.
Each post’s number corresponds to its respective digits on a map of the property found in a box at the trailhead. Under each number is a description of what you’re seeing at that post. Take note of #38, because it marks a connecting trail over to the Foundation’s Squam Farm property.
Check out https://www.nantucketconservation.org/property/squam-swamp/ for maps of these trails.
Get there by driving out Polpis Road from either Milestone Road Rotary, or from the ’Sconset end of Polpis Road, and then going approximately 1.5 miles down Wauwinet Road. On Wauwinet Road, about 100 yards after the left turn for Pocomo Road, slow down as you start to descend a gradual hill. Opposite a grove of white oaks is the parking area for Squam Swamp.