Back At Home

The snow has already started to melt, and I am definitely overdressed. My dog wiggles excitedly as we walk down the driveway, stopping to stick her nose into the slowly melting piles of snow at the side of the pavement. The walk is a short one, but at the first notice that we are anywhere near the woods, her tail whips into an excited frenzy, eager to run into the snow and the trees surrounding us. My house in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire is luckily blessed with a long driveway nestled into the woods. The forest surrounding my house consists mostly of pine trees, both Eastern White pine and Red pine. There are also an abundance of Eastern hemlock, their tiny cones littering the snow at around this time of year. Often densely shaded by the various coniferous trees, not much tends to grow in the underbrush, save for where patches of light poke through and small saplings have started to grow. Of the hardwoods found here, there were a few sugar maple and Norway maple, as well as beech, but very very few birch trees. I could not find a single yellow birch, and it seemed that only three or four paper birch were in the area. The difference is staggering from my spot in Centennial, as it is dominated by mostly by hardwood trees like oak and maple.

When we turn into the woods, it is much easier to navigate the land. Without buckthorn and ferns in the way, you don’t have to move as carefully through the snow. Lichen grows on the trees, and as the sun starts to set, shadows are cast on the disappearing snow, slanting as if they’re reaching out and away from the sinking sun. I’ve been here before a million times – the path cuts from the far side of my driveway horizontally through the woods, curving out to a marshy pond that stretches alongside my road. You can’t really see the road from the clearing where you can sit to look out at the end of the trail, but you can hear it. The nice thing is that there’s barely any traffic, so its easy to sit there for an hour and not hear a single car. There have been beavers on the pond before, but not this year. No dams rise out of the slushy almost-ice on top of the water, and my mother hasn’t sent me any pictures of the beaver this year. I don’t imagine its the best place for them to live, only because it’s so shallow most of the time. Underneath the snow, I know the soil is soft and springy, covered in moss that probably died when the snow first fell. My dog, pulling me forwards, sticks her nose directly into a pile of deer scat, attempting to eat it, and barely listening when I try to pull her away. The clearing I usually sit in is empty, and I plop down in the snow. My dog trots circles around me, excitedly sniffing everything within the short stretch of her leash. The plants that grow here are short and resemble a mountain laurel, only much smaller and without the characteristic flowers. They only grow where the hemlock stops, where the light touches the bank of the marsh before it melts into the water. In the summer, there are water lilies that sit and bloom on the surface of the water, and I find myself wishing they were here now. It is so easy to relax there, to admire the beauty without all the bustle of the outside world.

I ended up looking up what the bedrock was in this area a few hours later. Surprisingly, being in the granite state, it was granite. Granite is formed when magma slowly crystallizes under the crust of the Earth and then is forced in between other rocks. This means a lot of the bedrock in New Hampshire was probably formed on the edge of tectonic plate, whereas the glaciers caused the glacial till common in areas of Vermont and in Burlington. I find it interesting that two places so close together can have wildly different backstories for the formation of their soils and their bedrock.

I sat in silence for a good amount of time as the sun continued to sink beneath the treeline. My dog, still excited by the scent of deer, didn’t stop moving the entire time, but her disturbance wasn’t unwelcome. She loves it out there as much as I do, and I think she knows exactly where we’re going every time we step outside. 

Map to Thanksgiving Phenology Place

Event Map

Some More Photos

Recent Photos & A Poem

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

Strolling through the wood

There I saw a crow

He ruffled his feathers and squawked at me

What he said, I’ll never know

The changes come slowly

You can see them in the plants

Where the trees stretch up to touch the clouds

Most of them are all bare now

The temperature is dropping quick

Each day seems to feel colder

I wonder if I’ll see the crow in the wood again

Cawing from over my shoulder

Slow Changes, or Not So Much?

The sun had finally come out for the first time in almost a week. The warmth was welcome, even though it did little to actually warm the fall air. This is the first time I ventured out into the woods toting a real, good quality camera – borrowed from my gracious roommate. I was eager to capture the small details of my site, things easily overlooked and not so easily shown in the other pictures I’d taken on my phone. The ground and pathways through Centennial were thoroughly saturated with rain, most of them pooling with mud puddles that squished up around my shoes when I walked through them.

Upon examination of a few of the larger logs downed at my site, I managed to unearth an eastern red-backed salamander. I was surprised to see one this late in the season, as they typically begin to burrow into the mud and hibernate once the temperatures during the day hit the 30s or 40s in Fahrenheit, but it seemed like this one was enjoying one last day under the sun. Likely it was looking for food, as these little guys tend to feed on a large variety of invertebrates typically found in damp, dark places – such as the log I poked around under. With the recent rain and the sudden ‘bloom’ of earthworms that I had seen on campus – I wonder if he had followed the feast to the surface.

As for the rest of my area, it looks a lot different. Most of the trees have dumped their leaves on the ground, leaving a colorful, fast-fading blanket on the dirt below. Of the trees that are still clinging to their leaves, the color is a vibrant, beautiful yellow that has not yet faded. The reds and oranges are long gone, but the yellow still remains. The birds I encountered at my last visit were either quiet or not around, save for a solitary crow fluttering his way between the trees in the area. Every so often, he let out a throaty squawk, and eventually flew away to go haunt some other area of the forest. The whole place seems like its going to sleep – the ferns are starting to wither as well, as I found no marsh fern left behind, and observed the lady ferns starting to curl in on themselves. The buckthorn plants have less leaves on them, as do the honeysuckle, and after the heavy rains, I found an abundance of mushrooms hiding in the crevices of trees and underneath the logs down across the path. I almost feel like I know this place better after rain then after a week in the sun, as I’ve pretty much only seen it after downpours.

The changes have been so subtle, I wonder if I’ve missed something big. The hemlock and the pine look no different, and the rest of the trees stand tall above me, mostly leafless branches swaying in the wind, doing what they’ve done every year since they’ve sprouted.

Running List of Identified Flora

Trees:

  • White Oak
  • Eastern Hemlock
  • Eastern White Pine
  • Sugar Maple
  • Red Maple
  • American Beech
  • Green Ash

Understory Plants:

  • Buckthorn (both Common & Glossy)
  • Honeysuckle
  • Lady Fern
  • Marsh Fern

Second Visit

Two weeks had passed since I had been to my phenology site last. It was a considerably sunnier day, though the air was colder, much more reminiscent of a fall day than the previous. There was a fairly strong breeze, and barely a cloud in the sky. Back in the woods, underneath the shade of trees, it was much colder, but in the sun, I felt the need to take off my jacket as I walked. It was about noon when I arrived.

Though some time had passed for me since I had been there, not much had changed in the area. Much of the vegetation looked the same, especially throughout the understory. The hardwood trees had definitely started to lose more of their leaves – the ground was blanketed in mostly maple leaves of varying colors, mostly yellow but each a little different than the next, some with splotches of red. The white oak at the center of my area was mostly unchanged, still retaining green in many of its leaves. I had to sift through the many maple leaves on the ground to even come across a few downed brown oak leaves, and there were even less needles from the pine trees around. The ferns, like the maples, had started to shift as well, many of the pinna starting to yellow or wither as the increasingly colder weather began to get to them. Many of the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) retained their dark green color and have not yet started to yellow; the other type of fern common in my site, what I think is marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), has begun to yellow. Other woody plants in the understory have stayed very green in coloration much like the lady fern. At that point, temperatures hadn’t quite gotten so cold, so maybe that had some sort of effect on the longevity of the plant life.

This time, however, I was not alone with the plants. There were a few types of birds that I got to see this time through. The songs of blue jays were loud that day, and even though I didn’t see them they overpowered a lot of the other birds that were singing in the area. In the lulls between their calls, I heard the familiar chickadee-dee-dee call, and sure enough there were two black-capped chickadees above me, happily flitting around the branches. They seemed unbothered by my presence, hanging upside down on the branches above my head and giving me a once over before disappearing off into the trees somewhere else. Some time passed, and I was recording some observations when I noticed a strange hollow tapping sound coming from somewhere in the trees. At first, I couldn’t tell what direction it came from, but eventually I found the source – a pileated woodpecker tapping away at the dead snag diagonally west from the center oak. The snag is a tall, dead conifer of some kind. The wood is just starting to go soft, so I assume its a great place for the woodpecker to find food. I watched him from a log beneath the dead tree for a while, tapping decidedly then moving his head back and forth to decide his next strike. Eventually, he’d decided he’d had enough, and I watched him go to somewhere else in the forest.

When I left, I watched a crow land in a nearby maple, calling to the rest of its friends. I’d collected some leaves from various woody plants and shrubs and pieces from the two types of ferns, so that I could identify them later. The walk back was pleasant, warmer than the walk there. I can only hope for days this nice in the coming weeks.

Bird’s Eye View

Map of Place in Centennial Woods

 

In The Beginning

It’s a clear September day when I go to my phenology spot for the first time. The sky is clear of clouds, the air even starting to heat up as we cross from the morning into the early afternoon. The walk from Redstone Campus down to Centennial Woods isn’t a difficult one, but in the warmth I find myself wishing I had left my vest at home, or brought a water bottle. Following Carrigan Drive down across East Avenue and past the Police Department, the entrance to Centennial comes up on the left side. My spot, marked in the center by a towering White Oak, is about a 7 minute walk back into the woods. If you take the trail that follows the creek to the clearing dominated by various types of conifer trees and then turn left, cross the stream and continue along it until you come to a path that t-bones the main trail – that is the rough area of where my phenology spot is.

The reason for choosing this place isn’t necessarily specific or calculated. During previous trips to Centennial, I liked the vibe the area had, the way the trees filled the spaces. It became familiar, and since I don’t have a car or a bike – Centennial was pretty easy access. I ended up exploring a part of Centennial that I had never seen before, and the big White Oak really was what caught my attention for the specific spot. Its sheer size definitely stood out among the other trees, which were considerably skinnier – so much so that it was the first thing that caught my eye as I started to walk up the small hill.

Most of the surrounding trees were hardwoods, dominated specifically by Red, Sugar, and Norway Maple. Both varieties of Buckthorn can be found in abundance in the understory, and in one of the attached pictures you can clearly see the overlap of a Common Buckthorn and a Glossy Buckthorn growing right next to each other. Besides that, there are three main varieties of ferns I observed that provide a lot of groundcover, as well as maple sprouts and saplings. There is some grass, and towards the creek-facing side of the area, there is a great deal of shrubbery that I couldn’t identify on either of my visits to the place. A few coniferous trees also inhabit the area, including an Eastern White Pine and a few Eastern Hemlock. Additionally, there are a few large downed trees that have a lot of moss and fungal species growing on them. The logs once belonged to coniferous trees, likely pine trees. The ground cover mostly falls in the realm of Oak and Maple leaves, with very little of it able to be attributed to dropped needles.

The air was cold that day, with thick cloud cover. Periodic sprinkles of rain found their way into the forest as I observed my surroundings, but nothing too strong. The darkness of the wood and the vibrant greens were products of rain from the night before, and the air had a fresh, clean smell to it, underlaid with a small hint of wet dirt. It was very quiet, and devoid of animal activity, so much so that I don’t think I even heard a bird calling in that area of the woods.

Its a gloomy October day when I leave my place for the second time, my visiting family happily commenting on how beautiful it is. I must agree – there is nothing quite like the tranquility of the woods after a good rain.

                                  

 

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