I’m not religious, and I hope those who are won’t be offended when I say that, for me, walking around Fresh Pond is a spiritual experience. Living in an urban area, I am always grateful for the chance to commune with nature. Lately, circling the Pond has become a touchstone by which I take stock of my course in life, a time to clear my head and put life’s frustrations into perspective.
My pilgrimage to the Church of Fresh Pond is hardly arduous, as I live a hop-skip-and-jump from the crosswalk near Vassall Lane, where an often-muddy trail leads across the disused, weedy railroad tracks and onto the path around the reservoir. If you’re familiar with that point of entry, you’ve probably noticed – maybe even tripped over – a small root stump just before you reach the paved path. It’s been there for as long as I can remember, sticking up a few inches above the dirt, a lawsuit waiting to happen for unsuspecting or clumsy bipeds. Without fail, my dog stops to sniff and mark this gnarled bit of wood, and would happily stay there all day if I didn’t tug him away.
Watching other dogs veer over to smell and leave their mark on the same arboreal relic, I’ve begun to wonder if it’s some kind of canine shrine, like the pillar of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Since the cathedral was built in the 9th century, devout Catholics have made the pilgrimage to this small town in northern Spain to worship at the burial place of St. James. It is their custom to stop and touch the left foot of the statue of the apostle near the entrance to the church. Millions of hands have rubbed a deep polished groove into the stone over the past millennium. I visited Santiago de Compostela in 1989 and touched the spot for good luck, feeling somewhat sheepish as a non-believer. Touch stone or wood, so far my luck has held, as I am blessed with a loving, healthy family, a loyal dog and proximity to Fresh Pond. Life is good.