The hawk spreads its gray-orange wings and lumbers into the air as I jog along the tree-lined path toward it. It flaps its way ponderously toward my head, gaining altitude slowly, looming larger every moment. At last it banks to avoid me and sails eastward down the trail. Probably I interrupted its breakfast of fresh chipmunk.
I'm on an abandoned railroad right-of-way, paved and converted now into a biking/hiking/skating/skiing/jogging route: the Norwottuck Rail Trail (NRT), part of the Connecticut River Greenway State Park in Massachusetts. Paulette  & I are staying at a motel in Amherst, getting ready to pick up daughter Gray from six weeks of intensive summer music camp at Mount Holyoke College nearby.
In between activities with family and friends I slip away on two mornings to stagger for a few hours along the NRT at my customary glacial pace of ~10-11 minutes/mile, including walk breaks for about 20% of the time. Summer heat and humidity make the runs rather sweat-o-matic experiences. Once I get out of town I take my shirt off and wrap it around one wrist, where I use it to wipe my brow. Thursday I head southeast, Saturday southwest.
Adjacent to the trail I see weathered gray concrete pillars marked with a big "W". They're whistle posts, reminders to locomotive engineers who should toot their whistles as they approach grade crossings. In honor of that tradition I whistle whenever I see one --- which reminds me of Lauren Bacall's famous "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow." from To Have and Have Not. I also remember my custom of saying ping as I pass a Marathon in the Parks mile mark. (I say gnip when I cross an MitP marker backwards on the return trip.)
Besides the aforementioned hawk, and not counting cyclists, dogs and dog-walkers, inline-skaters, and other pedestrians, there's quite a bit of wildlife on the NRT. I see rabbits big and small, chipmunks, wrens, sparrows and less identifiable birds. I hear ker-plunks and spy ripples in pools of water as unknown entities --- frogs? toads? turtles? --- immerse themselves to avoid the pleasure of my company. I smell the aroma of rotting vegetation in nearby swamps.
And I feel the stings of small black flies as they settle on me and drill for blood. At intervals I slap the top of my head in hopes of interrupting the flies' feast, and occasionally I'm rewarded with a smashed corpse. I try self-flagellation, using the sweaty shirt I removed to whack myself on the back. But the attempt at insect feeding-frenzy disruption is feckless.
After the zero-mile start of the NRT there's an extension trail named for Catherine Arnold. It parallels the New England Central Railroad tracks along which I rode last month in my journeys to and from Washington DC. I proceed to its end, ritualistically touch the rails that cross the access road, and then turn back, swatting bugs the while.
On Saturday stinging flies are far less troublesome as I follow the segment of the NRT that runs westward from Amherst to Northampton. The route proceeds along a tree-lined corridor past a golf course, over creeks, through short tunnels below highways, behind shopping malls, near corn fields, and across neighborhood streets. It intersects Hadley Common, a mile-long open space where a trailside marker describes the historic palisade that protected the region from native attack some centuries ago.
Shortly past milepost 8 the trail crosses the Connecticut River on a quarter-mile-long iron trestle bridge built in 1887. Graffiti artists have painted "AllYourBaseAreBelongToUs" on the side, along with more mundane inscriptions. Boys swim in the river below the bridge next to Elwell Island, and boats bob in the water at a marina. I pick up maps at a small park on the western shore, catch my breath, and turn around for the return trip. On the way back I thank "Saturn of Hadley" which charitably provides a drinking fountain by the path. The NRT is nice (modulo black flies) but would be far more hospitable in summer months if there were more water available for dessicated runners.
For the ^z logbook, some time & distance data:
12:24 from the motel to the trail on South Pleasant Street (on the Amherst College campus, under Route 116 to South Hadley) + 5:14 to milepost 2 + 10:12 to milepost 1 + 9:42 to the start of the NRT + 16:02 to the NECRR tracks at the end of the extension trail + 16:17 back to NRT 0 mile + 9:44 to mile 1 + 10:23 to mile 2 + 10:33 to mile 3 + 22:37 branching off the trail and meandering back to the motel via the University of Massachusetts and downtown Amherst.
10:21 motel to trail entrance at Amherst College + 4:40 to milepost 3 + 9:46 to mile 4 + 9:58 to mile 5 + 10:03 to mile 6 + 9:52 to mile 7 + 10:43 to mile 8 + 4:39 across the Connecticut River bridge to the Elwell Recreation Area + 2:55 catching my breath, getting some maps, and phoning a progress report back to Paulette + 4:05 recrossing the CT trestle bridge to mile 8 + 11:25 to mile 7, including a water stop + 10:09 to mile 6 + 10:40 to mile 5 + 11:03 to mile 4 + 11:00 to mile 3 + 18:45 back to the motel via Amherst College and Route 116