Over spring break, I spent a few days in upstate New York near Albany at a close friend’s house. On a sunny morning, accompanied by some friends, we strapped on snowshoes and headed out into the woods behind the property. I was able to step into a new place yet observe familiar features in an unfamiliar location. This filled me with great joy, knowing that my knowledge of natural landscapes extends across lakes, mountains, and valleys. These teachings can be practiced in other places besides Centennial Woods.
The site I picked across the lake in Albany was quite different from my place in Centennial. For one, I noticed there was much more snow at this new place. I think this is due to a combination of the recent nor’easter and the difference in trees. This place was much less dense and contained more underbrush, shorter trunks, and dead stands–a much younger forest. The Hemlock Forest in Centennial was almost all old growth, which could block a lot of snow from accumulating on the ground. Also, this new spot has less foot traffic, allowing me to break trail and gave the opportunity to discover some interesting tracks! I have attached below some photos of what I believe to be deer tracks. In addition to tracks, I was able to identify Red and Sugar Maples as well as White Birches by just their bark and twigs (see photos below). Perhaps the feature that jumped out to me the most about this place was not what I saw, but what I heard. There wasn’t a silent second. Flocks of birds chirped and called out during my walk in these woods. When I looked up, I saw dozens of small black birds flying around from tree to tree. This was a pleasant surprise as my place in Centennial does not attract a lot of bird activity.
It was nice to get away for spring break, and it was nice to experience a new ecosystem that contained new elements mixed with some old. But at the end of the day, I’m happy to be back near the cozy familiarity of my Hemlock Forest.
Using the Wetland, Woodland, Wildland categories of natural communities, I would say that my spot is a Hemlock-Northern Hardwood Forest. It was cool to research this because upon my first visit and post, I coined this spot the hemlock forest, so seeing this in the book was really cool. While researching further into this kind of forest, I found a definition that I really like. “A close-canopy forest with eastern hemlock present in the canopy. Hemlock may occur in nearly pure stands, with nearly 100% canopy cover, or reach an abundance as low as 20% canopy cover, intermingled with other canopy trees.” This perfectly describes my spot because it is covered with hemlocks and white pines, which are other canopy trees.
While there have been periods of warm weather between my visits, unfortunately the temperature once again dropped, and there was snow on the ground. This made it somewhat difficult to detect all of the changes that might have taken place. I found my most recent visit eerily similar to the previous one. There was still a little snow on the ground but no animal tracks to be seen other than human boots.
Using the BioFinder program, I was able to thoroughly analyze my spot. I could look at an overview of myplace through the eyes of conservation programs and initiatives. I saw that Centennial Woods is a landscape with a high conservation priority (green). While I am not surprised, this was somewhat shocking to me. It was surreal to be studying a place of high importance to other people capable of making change. I wanted to delve deeper into why Centennial is a spot of so much importance. Perhaps the most compelling argument that BioFinder could provide was that Centennial Woods holds an abundance of rare natural communities (yellow). Finding this out reinforced my enthusiasm towards this spot because preserving rare natural communities is so important to me.
Today, I returned to my place after month of absence. It was an interesting feeling of strangeness and familiarity. I knew exactly where my place was, but almost did not recognize it through the white cover and bare trees. I embarked through Centennial looking for fresh animal tracks, just as I did a week before in Bolton. Unfortunately, since it is such a popular area, most of my place had been trampled over with footsteps. This really drew attention to how busy this part of the woods is. During warm weather, it is impossible to sense how busy this spot is just from looking at the ground, but now I could clearly see all of the footprints that had been left behind. While I did not stumble upon and “true” wildlife, I was able to spot some non-human tracks. Using my animal track sheet and a little background knowledge, I determined these tracks belonged to a dog.
Here is a sketch of a hemlock twig that had fallen to the ground. I could tell it was recent because it still had a lot of it’s needles. Among the hemlock twigs were also white pine needles, as this area consists of entirely hemlock and white pines.
I am looking forward to heading back to my place soon; perhaps after a snowstorm to observe the fresh snow and which creatures might have crossed by.
As I wrap up my first semester at UVM, I am using the last week to reflect on my time here. I am thinking about who I was at the beginning of the year vs. who I am now. There have been a lot of changes, and it is always interesting to examine them. It is interesting to think about my phenology spot as a parallel to my time here. It has changed a lot in just a few months as well. The ground has gone from a deep brown and gold, to a frosty white and gray. The fallen log I once could sit on is too cold and wet to do so anymore.
It is obvious from just observing all of the changes that occurred during the semester, but what required research was the history of the place and the changes of the spot over tens, or even hundreds of years. Using knowledge learned in NR 001, I can look at the large fallen trees and the height of the standing trees to estimate that this has been a forest for at least 80-100 years. This is cool to me because I know that this area was once cleared for farmland long ago. A study done by A UVM anthropology class reveals reaches further back in history. The article on the UVM website describing these findings also states that a later class found “abundant evidence of Native American tool making,” which is evidence of human activity dating back thousands of years ago. The class found stones and flakes that are used for spear making, which makes me curious about the wildlife around this area. It is weird to think about how three dining halls are within walking distance from my spot today, yet thousands of years ago they relied solely on their spears and tools instead of CatCards.
Looking to the future, I wonder how the Hemlock Forest and Centennial will look in a few more hundred years. What evidence of humans will there be left behind for future organisms to discover? How will civilization differ? Will the University still be here to hold class in the woods? With all these questions in mind, I keep coming back to perhaps the most important: How can I leave the places I interact with in better condition than when I found them? I value my time at my phenology spot. I did not take or leave anything; I just observed. This kind of interaction is valuable and all too rare.
“In Brief.” In Brief. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2016.
Immediately from campus, I traveled across Lake Champlain to the beautiful Adirondacks where I stayed at Upper Saranac Lake for the first weekend of break. While I had been there many times before, the location and trip was amazing as always. It was really interesting to take the new knowledge from my first semester at school and apply it to a location I had been so many times. The ability to deeply observe and infer about the area added a new dimension to the familiar landscape. While I was there, I was lucky enough to see the first real snowfall of the winter. This was an amazing site because when I woke up on Sunday morning, the landscape was completely different. The grass and fallen pine needles were covered in white, and the spruce trees were drooping with the inches of snow weighing heavily on them. The house I was staying at was right on the lake, so I was really looking out upon two different ecosystems. The snowfall provided a lens where I realized that the same action was happening to two different ecosystems, yet they were reacting in very different ways. It was a cool contrast to see inches of snow pile on the ground, but the surface of the lake seem untouched.
My spot in Saranac is very interestingly compared with the spot in Centennial. The two hold similar wildlife; mainly hemlocks and white pines. Saranac has more birches and spruces. Perhaps the most obvious difference is the tiny stream in Vermont compared to the vastness of Saranac Lake. Just looking down into the lake, it is very easy to spot fish of a large range of sizes swimming about. At Centennial, I’d see nothing more than tadpoles swimming about. As for the history, I know that Centennial is no stranger to human cutdown. Saranac shares that history, as trees have been cut down and regrown as a result of various property owners preferences. Just from observing, I could tell the two spots were similar by not only the type of trees, but their width and height. It was very interesting to observe a new phenology spot, as well as comparing the two. Below are some pictures of my spot at Saranac.
On my latest excursion to my site, I drew an event map that highlighted some of the key features of my spot along with some thoughts of my own:
Along with the event map, I created a poem to further describe my site.
Theres an indescribable smell that brings me home.
Reminding me of when I would play in the dirt,
Back when my legs were riddled in mosquito bites,
Back when I could run around for hours,
Back when I had to brush my hair out of my face,
I don’t prefer those days, but I deeply admire them.
I know now to call that smell “pine”
All of those memories summed up in one word:
Below are some hand drawn sketches of my location. Here is a birds-eye view of the spot with some man-made landmarks for alignment:
Since my spot is in the middle of a densely wood area, there’s nothing much to see from above except trees. Perhaps the most interesting feature are the cleared area in the woods that I mentioned in my first post.
Here is a sketch of the view from my spot. Although it is not a birds-eye view, it is a close up of the stream that cuts across my field of vision.
Nothing much has changed from the first time I visited my plot in terms of the physical landscape. The temperature has dropped significantly, which I predict will eventually change the landscape. I think the reason for the lack of change was because my spot was mostly dead needles, fallen trunks and evergreen trees. Evidence of wildlife was limited during my first visit, and even more so during this one. I did not hear many birds, probably due to the newly frigid temperatures.
The Hemlock Forest can be found in Centennial Woods after about ten minutes of following the trail. For the exact location on Google Maps, click here!
When deciding where to set up my phenology plot, I knew I wanted it to be in Centennial Woods; a large urban forest that serves as a natural escape of the bustling city and school atmosphere. Upon walking through it, I instantly fell in love with the Hemlock Forest. It seems as if I was transported to a different place entirely. The Forest is old and has a mystical feel to it. The spot is surrounded by tall hemlock trees, thus the name, but there are a few Eastern White Pine’s sticking up tall above the rest. The trees are spread out, and there is almost no underbrush, creating ample room to move about freely. About 99% of the ground is covered in dead pine needles, which was the first clue about the hidden White Pine’s towering above all. I sat on a fallen tree, as there were many in the area. I took a minute to take in my surroundings and make use of all my senses. There were short and staggered bird chirps. To my surprise, I heard a lot of noise and commotion coming from nearby roads. It is easy to block out noise from civilization and get lost in nature, but once I took a minute to collect my thoughts, I found myself a little disappointed that I could not escape the noises of the scene I was trying to escape.
As I sat there, I found myself looking around into the distance. Almost exactly due North there is a slow moving stream about 20 yards away. Behind the stream, starting from the West and extending out of sight to the north is a clearing. Only from first impressions, it is unclear if this is due to human activity or is natural. Perhaps it is recovering farmland, or perhaps a wetland. This question is nagging at me, and I will be sure to investigate further in the future. As I left the spot, I kept thinking more about the duality of the abundance of dead pine needles on the ground, and the hidden White Pine’s. I thought about the ecosystem interactions not only within the forest, but between the stream, and the clearing just past it. There is a lot of beauty and wonder in the setting I chose, but also a lot of unknown to be uncovered. I look forward to going back to start my investigation.