Place Where You Live:

Arlington, Massachusetts

Our block ends in an access trail to ten acres of hilltop conservation land bounded by densely built neighborhoods. The summit, called Mount Gilboa since the 1700s, marks the edge of the Boston basin—a glacier-carved rim that overlooks the flatlands stretching toward the harbor. It took three attempts to put this land into conservation. The first proposal failed in the 1880s.

From this vantage, one is awed not by the expansiveness of the land, but by the intensity of its use and repurposing, by the possibility of what it once looked like in the days of the Massachusett. To the north, a landfill, once a market farm, is now a playground. To the east, winding through the grid of rooftops, is a defunct rail corridor now bike path. In the distance, the high-rises of Boston, the fanning cables of the 8-laned Zakim Bridge, the aging stacks of the Mystic Generating Station, and everything in between, the landscape through which at least a couple million people pass daily.

But it was in this sequestered patch of urban wild that I first felt my place in the geological and human continuum—even though I am, like many here, a transplant. I walked these rocks regularly, before motherhood, following the meandering stonewalls that marked some once meaningful boundary. And while pregnant, I waded through snow so thick my knees bumped against my belly with each plunging stride. I wandered its rings of networked trails, while one son toddled behind with lichen-covered twigs and sassafras leaves, and another clung to my back. But our favorite spot is a lean-to built on Gilboa Rock from fallen branches–maybe oak, maybe hickory. We rarely encounter others up here, so we imagine its origins and who must have come here before us. My sons dart in and out of the structure, shoring it up with found sticks. The welcomed wind mutes the sirens below on Massachusetts Avenue, and the ancient rocks ground us after a too-rowdy birthday party and a morning wasted on television.