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From the African Serengheti to the Bamboo Forest to the English Moors, Nantucket has Amazing Bio-Diversity


I am constantly amazed by the bio-diversity of Nantucket.  Who would have thought that I could find the African Serengeti on a tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts?  I would never have imagined that I would find a bamboo forest, which is traditionally found in Asia, just a few miles from my home.  No need to travel to England to wander the moors.  They are right here in Nantucket.  In addition, natural kettle ponds, cranberry bogs, and warm bathtubs filled with exotic sea life are right here on the Island.  

Last week I walked in the oldest Quaker burial grounds.  This week, curious to visit these sites,  I took a driving/walking tour of some of the most interesting and unique areas of Nantucket.  Even though I have lived here full time for more than a year now, I still can discover new adventures and see new areas of the island.

I began with the Serengeti, which is located on Milestone Road on the way to Sconset.  The trees that dot the flat plain immediately evoke the feeling of Africa.  The word Serengeti is derived from the Masai word for “endless plain.”  Fittingly, someone has placed wooden cutouts of African animals across the landscape of this seemingly endless plain.  These plywood animals—giraffes, elephants, zebras, gazelles, lions, and rhinoceroses—populate this area and keep me company as I hikie across the Sarengeti, I am transported across the world.

It does not take long to move from Africa to England.  The Nantucket Middle Moors are the English countryside in miniature—the Yorkshire Dales in the midst of Nantucket.  These are reminiscent of the moors that Catherine and Heathcliff wandered in Wuthering Heights.   Wild and romantic, the Moors evoke history, drama,  literature, and poetry.  The Nantucket Middle Moors represent the largest expanse of undeveloped land on Nantucket—over 3,220 acres of protected open space.  Originally these open and rolling hills and meadows were blanked with grasses that fed the island’s sheep.  Today they are home to the Marsh Hawk, the Red Tailed Hawk, and the white tailed deer.

Moving  up higher on the Middle Moors, I arrive at one of the highest points in Nantucket—Alter Rock.  It has been well worth finding my way through the moors to get to the rock that tells me that I  have arrived.  From here I can see for miles and miles.  On a clear day, I have a stunning view of the spires of churches in Nantucket as well as Polpis Harbor, Sesachacha Pond, Sankaty, the cranberry bogs, and the Sconset water tower.  Not only is the view superb, but there is a special—almost spiritual—feeling about this place.  When the blueberries are ripe, it is magic to pick a fresh blueberry or two and taste the sweetness of Nantucket in my mouth.

Gibbs Pond is not far from Alter Rock.  It is one of the largest kettle ponds on the island. Kettle ponds were formed more than 15,000 years ago, when blocks of glacier ice melted leaving massive holes called kettles that filled with fresh water.  This pond has a rich history.  According to the Nantucket Pond Collation, “this pond is named for John Gibbs, a Harvard-educated Native American pastor of the Wampanoag people who, having spoken the name of Nantucket Indian chief Metacomet’s dead father, Massasoit, which is a Native American blasphemy, hid in the swamp next to Gibbs Pond after uttering the name. White settlers on the island had to pay Metacomet 11 pounds for Gibbs. Metacomet, also known as Phillip who lived on the stream running between Gibbs Pond and Tom Nevers Pond, is believed to have run with his tribesmen along this waterway to their canoes after the English paid the ransom for John Gibbs. Hence the name, Phillip’s run.”  True or not, this gives an interesting history to this body of water. Reddish in color due to the high mineral content, filled with ducks and gulls paddling in the water, and full or fish and snapping turtles beneath the surface, one swims at one’s own risk. 

It is an easy walk from Gibbs Pond to the cranberry bogs. While cranberry bogs are not exotic, they are nevertheless a wonderful aspect of Nantucket’s topography and history. Most of you have probably been to the Cranberry Festival at some point, so this is not a new place on your journey, but this week was only my second visit.  The Nantucket Cranberry Bog is the oldest and largest continually operated farm on the island. Today the cranberries grown and harvested are all organic  .Cranberries have been grown on Nantucket since 1857, and they were once an important part of Island economy.  Today they are still an important Nantucket product albeit on a much smaller level. There are miles of rustic trails around the bogs, and with a good dirt bike  and a finely tuned sense of direction—neither one of which I have—one could spend a beautiful day exploring this area.

Nearer to me, on Madaket Road, I find the Bamboo Forest.  While bamboo is often described as an invasive species—one that grows quickly and can rapidly take over an area—the bamboo forest is nevertheless is a magical place on Nantucket.   I first learned about the Bamboo Forest from my grandchildren who biked to it with the wonderful Strong Wings camp.  Initially, I tried to convince them that there couldn’t be a bamboo forest on Nantucket, but I was clearly wrong.  Filled with birds, it is a prime location for bird watchers.  Peaceful and quite, I am transported to a quieter more peaceful and spiritual world in the arches of tress with blue and gray sky peeking through the leafy green foliage.

Finally, I walk toward 40th Pole from my house, which is on the beach at Eel Point, and I find the bathtubs—pockets of warm water cut off from the ocean at low tide. This is a wonderful place to take children to wade and fish in these warm, shallow bodies of water.  Here baby eels, pipefish and other marine life—including the occasional seahorse and juvenile tropical fish--gather.  With a net and a bucket on a beautiful day, I can spend hours with my grandchildren exploring these wonderful forms of tiny sea life. As I walk along the beach, I will see beach grass, salt spray rose bushes, beach peas, and lichen.  Sea birds circle above me.  There are always  interesting shells along this stretch of beach, and my house is full of large glass vases filled with the shells I have collected between Dionis and 40th Pole.

Who knew that on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts, I could visit the] African Serighiti, the, Asian bamboo forests, the English Moors, as well as Alter Rock, native cranberry bogs, kettle ponds, and warm beach bathtubs.  Nantucket never fails to amaze me.