On Wednesday afternoon I took a walk from Framingham State to the town common and back: a direction I hadn’t walked before. I took the pedestrian footbridge over Route 9, which I’d seen from my car but had never actually taken, then I walked down to the common, where I happened upon two things Google Maps hadn’t told me about.
I’ve been relying upon Google Maps to chart my midday walking routes on days I teach in Framingham because I’m still unfamiliar with the lay of the land. Apart from a trip to the Garden in the Woods years ago, I’d never really been to Framingham (other than to pass through it) before I was hired to teach at Framingham State this past summer. For the first month of the fall semester, when my sprained foot made it uncomfortable for me to explore on foot, I knew only how to drive from my house to campus and then how to walk from my parking spot to my classrooms and office. Since walking around is how I typically get to know a place, during the first month of the semester I felt particularly transient and ungrounded, unable to do anything other than show up, teach my classes, and go home: a kind of “time-clock mentality” that felt completely at odds with how I usually settle into a new place.
If you aren’t familiar with a particular town, maps are a great way to “let your fingers do the walking,” as the old advertisement for the Yellow Pages used to say. Once you’ve determined the precise point that marks “you are here,” you can scan in any direction to see what looks interesting enough to explore on foot. Scanning Google Maps is how I figured out how to walk from my office to the Winter Street side of Framingham Reservoir No. 1, and it’s how I figured out how to walk from my office to the Salem End side of the same body of water. When I scan Google Maps before setting out on my midday walk, I’m basically looking for two things. First, I’m looking for patches of green or blue, since those typically mark parks and waterways; second, I’m looking for a simple, easy-to-remember route to and from something that looks like I can walk to it, explore a bit, then walk back in less than an hour.
I’m gradually realizing that although Google Maps will show you the route there and back again, it won’t tell you all you need to know as a pedestrian. One of the things I’ve had mixed luck with in my Framingham rambles, for example, is sidewalk accessibility. Several of the roads I’ve already explored have sidewalks in some places but not in others, which means either crossing from one side of the road to the other, depending on which side has either a sidewalk or berm, or walking along the edge of the road, hoping passing drivers both see you and give you space. Walking along a roadside can be charming if there’s a leafy, wildflower-strewn edge between the road and wilderness, or it feel like a nerve-wracking game of chicken with passing vehicles. So far in my Framingham adventures, I’ve experienced a bit of both.
The other thing Google Maps won’t tell you is what exactly how far it is between Here and There or the exact things you might see along the way. I’m not very good at gauging walking distances on a map, especially on maps where you can zoom your view in or out, so there have been days when I thought I’d have to walk a fair distance to reach something that was much closer than I’d expected. (This is particularly true of Framingham State’s campus, which is smaller than it appears on the campus map.) Walk Jog Run is a good tool to use for calculating distances traveled on foot, and Google’s “street view” feature can give you an idea of what you might see along any given route, but on most days I don’t take the time preview my walk on either site; I just set out to see what I can see.
On Wednesday, there were two surprises on my way to and from Framingham common. First, I had no idea that the Framingham History Center, which abuts the town common, is housed in an impressive stone building where even the Greek pillars are cobbled together with stone.
Although I didn’t have time to go inside the FHC, I made a mental note to return on a more leisurely day, and I enjoyed briefly watching a flock of cedar waxwings working a row of berry-studded crab-apple trees in the parking lot behind the building: the kind of serendipitous find Google Maps could have never prepared me for.
Second, I didn’t realize from my cursory look at Google Maps that there is a large, woodsy old cemetery right down the street from the Framingham town common: Edgell Grove Cemetery and Mausoleum, which was consecrated in 1848 and emulates Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, one of my favorite places to walk. Discovering there is a large garden cemetery within easy walking distance from campus was even more serendipitous than finding waxwings behind the historical center, since those waxwings were presumably just passing through, but I’ll definitely return to Edgell Grove. (If nothing else, the red-tailed hawk I saw zoom across one of the cemetery’s gravel roads served as a kind of avian welcome-wagon: if hawks frequent Edgell Grove, then I know it’s the kind of place I’ll enjoy visiting.)
The only downside to Edgell Grove Cemetery and Mausoleum is that photography isn’t allowed there, so I’ll have to content myself with walking around and admiring the scenery without taking pictures. This assortment of photos might give you a sense of what Edgell Grove looks like, though, and it might give you a sense of why I plan to go back. When you’re getting to know an unfamiliar town on foot, you can do worse than to frequent cobblestone historical centers and old, woodsy cemeteries.