“Auntie Kezia,” three-year old Matthew says to me, “Where are his eyes?” He is referring to the set of moose antlers mounted on a wall in my parents’ house — antlers that suggest, to me anyway, the absence of something larger: a face, a head, a body. But Matthew is most interested in its lack of eyes. Every time he comes to visit, he asks the same question.

True to his age, Matthew asks a lot of questions, and often his inquiries make me look at something in a different way.

For months I’ve been planning to take Matthew to the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, and finally last week I was able to do so. With open fields and pastures, boardwalks through the marsh and the woods, and all sorts of birds and other wildlife to behold, the sanctuary (also known as Dwyer Farm) is the ideal place to explore in the company of an inquisitive youngster.

Matthew is the son of my friend Keri, whom I’ve known since she and I were pre-schoolers. Keri and I grew up together — she lived at one end of the street, I at the other –and while over the years that short distance has sometimes been enough to keep us from speaking for up to a year at a time, on the whole we’ve been great friends since the day we both stepped onto the kindergarten bus, more than twenty years ago.

I credit Matthew with rekindling my friendship with Keri. For at least a year before Matthew was conceived, Keri and I had not spoken at all. Nothing in particular kept us apart — our lives had just gone in two very different directions. It was easier to maintain that distance than to take the steps necessary to patch things up. “Not right now,” I would tell myself when I thought of her. “But one of these days I’ll give her a call.”

However, when I heard through the neighborhood grapevine that Keri was going to have a baby, I didn’t have to think twice about getting in touch with her. I sent a note, and she called me soon after. Before long we were right back where we used to be, sharing our ups and downs. With so much happening in each of our lives, I think we were both grateful to reconnect with an old friend.

Matthew still seems to be the force that draws us together. Keri and I would probably be content to chat back and forth over e-mail, seeing each other rarely, but Matthew finds such an arrangement unacceptable. Just before his third birthday, Matt — who had seen me probably five times over the course of a year — declared that “Auntie Kezia” was one of his favorite people, and began insisting that he spend time with me. Now hardly a week goes by that we don’t do something together — whether it’s bike riding, or dinner, or a shopping trip. I think all of us appreciate the extra time together.

You may have guessed from Matthew’s fascination with the moose antlers that his tastes run along the typical “snakes and snails and puppy dog tails” of young boys. He is also fond of skeletons of any sort, be it the hermit crab shell my dad found on Duxbury beach that Matt insisted on taking home with him, or the six-foot inflatable “Mr. Bones” that I bought him for his birthday this year. He’s also intrigued by ghosts, goblins, and all things spooky.

Keri e-mailed me the other day to report that Matthew had asked when we’d be returning to “the pooky place,” his name for Webster Sanctuary. “Pooky” was how Matthew described the sanctuary when we were there — on the first day of tentative sun after more than a week of rain. I don’t know if it was the clouded, darkening sky that inspired this characterization, or the vestiges of old farm fences and foundations on the property, or the collection of white-painted gourd bird houses hanging high above one of the trails — the ones that had Matthew tugging at my jacket and commenting quite seriously, “Look at the ghosts!” But I’d have to agree with him that, on the day we visited, the place did seem a little spooky.

Gourd birdhouses at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary.

I enjoyed seeing things from the perspective of a three-year old. Generally when I visit the Daniel Webster Sanctuary, I am most interested in big-picture sorts of things: the curve of the river, the sweep of the landscape, the strong sense of place I feel while walking on trails cut through historically-rich farmland. But with Matthew it was different. At first he insisted that we find puddles to jump over, as he had worn his “puddle jumper” boots. Then, because he’d brought along his binoculars, it was of utmost importance that we see birds. A flock of Canada geese, honking loudly, met us halfway down the path, coming closer — I think –than Matthew would have preferred. He held my and Keri’s hands tightly as we tiptoed past them, whispering with awe that they were nearly his same height. The red-winged blackbirds that we saw, later on, in the reeds along the pond were more to his liking.

“See that blackbird,” I asked my little friend as I hoisted him into my arms for a better view, “watch under his wings as he flies.”

“Red!” Matthew exclaimed . . . his favorite color. “I wanna see the bird with the red again!”

Strolling at a three-year old’s pace, we didn’t have time to explore the entire property, but there was still plenty to investigate. A trail along some recently-tilled fields offered fully-bloomed buttercups to be held under the chin, and puffy, dried dandelions ideal for blowing into the wind. A recently hatched egg found in the middle of a woodland boardwalk raised five minutes’ worth of questions. Occasional patches of goose poop were of great fascination as well. “Why is it green? Auntie Kezia,” Matthew would ask. “And why do they eat grass?”

Strangely enough, the swampy areas — which I expected would be most interesting to Matthew for their potential yield of turtles, frogs, and snakes — were deemed “yucky,” and not nearly as appealing as the “little house” in which we stood quietly and watched the birds.

An hour and a half was just the right amount of time to devote to exploring Webster Sanctuary with a three-year old who had spent the better part of the day at school. As we headed up the recently-mowed main path, the Green Harbor River shimmered in contrast with the acres of pasture all around us. Keri and Matt, who had only ever seen the sanctuary on Audubon’s annual Farm Day, both expressed interest in returning sometime soon.

Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary is located at the end of Winslow Cemetery Road, off Webster Street in Marshfield. Managed by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, this 476-acre parcel contains several walking trails and boardwalks, and a wide variety of landscapes to contemplate and explore. There are ponds, wetlands, two observation blinds, a wooden hilltop pavilion that offers a spectacular view of a Marshfield you probably never knew existed, and numerous benches in just the right spots for sitting and taking it all in.

Three-year olds, and the enthusiasm that being with a three-year-old inspires, are welcome at the sanctuary on a daily basis, from dawn to dusk. However, Mass. Audubon asks that you refrain from scavenging or collecting — even if it’s just a buttercup or dandelion that you are tempted to pick. We missed the sign declaring this on the way in, but on the way home we discussed why taking flowers, plants, rocks or animals from a sanctuary is generally prohibited.

by Kezia Bacon, Special To The Mariner
June 1998

Kezia Bacon’s articles are provided by the North and South Rivers Watershed Association.