Saying a (Temporary) Goodbye to Centennial Woods

     I made the familiar trek up Carrigan Drive, passing Rowell and Stafford and the water tower, and down behind Centennial Court to Centennial Woods. I figured that Centennial Woods and I would have to postpone any contact for another month until sometime in late January, so a trip to say a proper goodbye to my phenology spot was in order. The excitement of my trip was somewhat hindered by the loud shrill of a helicopter on a nearby landing pad for whatever reason, but as I wandered further along the trail, the noise disappeared and I was instead greeted by the small sounds of nature- the smush of the wet leaves underfoot, creaking of trees swaying above me, and light tingles of wind rustling my hair. Along the path there were many trees fallen and strewn to the side of the trail; at first, I thought maybe a large windstorm had occurred while I was away on Thanksgiving break, but then noticed the fine cuts at the bases of the fallen trunks. Someone had come through, cutting what looked like to be healthy pine trees and what not. I guess I will see in the Spring how this change will affect my route. So I continued on, stopping to look around and take photos every so often, and noticing the emptiness of my surroundings. Some green remained, but only in bits and pieces, and the landscape was dominated by shades of grey, brown, and even more grey and brown. The maples and oaks and beeches were bare, allowing much more visibility of the forest from the trail than in September or October.

Some woodpecker snags possibly

Signs of disturbance

A bright violet vine I saw a few times

   

 

     The emptiness became even more evident when I came to my phenology spot. The area that I was most familiar with when it was still lit with bright fall colors was now bare, grey, and different. Well, the large gnarly maple tree, brush, and pines were there, but the livelihood that drew me to the spot in the first place was not there. Winter is really not my season, or at least because there is no fluffy white snow coating everything yet. I left my phenology spot contemplating the emptiness and quiet that occurred without me and also wondering what the protocol is for defending oneself against bobcats (future reference: they rarely attack humans, but walk away slowly and deliberately and make noises if necessary).

 

A Human History of Centennial Woods

      Centennial Woods has not always been the “Centennial Woods” that we know today, nor has it always been a forest in its long history. To begin with, what we see today as Centennial Woods and Vermont, in general, came to be about 19,000 years with the slow retreat of the Laurentide ice sheet. The glacial ice of the Laurentide ice sheet and the numerous ones that came before it are responsible for carving out the mountains, hills, and other topographic features that define this area, leaving behind glacial till and glacial flour. The earliest known settlement of the Centennial Woods area began around three to four thousand years old with groups of Native Americans, or most likely the early Abenaki. Evidence of their settlements was in fact discovered by UVM students nearly two decades ago, when archaeology students uncovered a site containing “an abundant evidence of Native American tool making,” according to the Vermont Quarterly. Thousands of years later, around the 18th and 19th century, Centennial Woods was developed into a dairy farm. Since the woods have since regrown, there is not much evidence of this besides from barbed wire and posts throughout the forest. Other evidence of this development that I encountered first hand at my site was the presence of maple trees, specifically Norway Maple and Sugar Maple. These trees could be indicative of relatively recent disturbances since their life spans are around 100 years, so they are at most as old as the decline of the dairy farm. By 1974, ownership of Centennial Woods had been passed to the University of Vermont, and that year the Board of Trustees outlined new regulations to protect the area. Motorized vehicles, fires, and the collecting or damaging of plants or animals were banned, all in the hopes of preserving the area for educational purposes. Now Centennial Woods “contains about 70 acres of mature conifer stands, mixed hardwoods, fields, streams, and wetland areas,” and is a resource utilized by the university and public to promote outdoor recreation and education.

Sources:

“7. Norway Maple.” SUNY Orange, www.sunyorange.edu/inttreetour/acer_platanoides.shtml.

“Centennial Woods Natural Area.” Research Guides, 7 Mar. 2016, researchguides.uvm.edu/centennialwoods.

Klyza, Christopher McGrory., and Stephen C. Trombulak. “The Past as Prelude.” The Story of Vermont: a Natural and Cultural History, University Press of New England, 2015, pp. 5–17.

Loehle, C. Tree Life History Strategies: the Role of Defenses. Lifespans of Common Trees in Virginia, 1988, bigtree.cnre.vt.edu/lifespan.html.

“Regulations.” Natural Areas… and a Resolution of the Board of Trustees, www.uvm.edu/~uvmsc/Centennial%20Woods/UVM_Natural_Areas_1974001.pdf.

Stanley Park of Chatham, NJ: Description

Stanley Park is only five minutes by car from my house, but it was not until the beginning of last summer that I visited it. The first time I came there was a special time for me. It was in the early morning of June 22nd, the morning after I graduated high school. The rain from the previous evening had continued throughout the night, and now, at 4 in the morning, a few of my friends and I were gathered in our cars in the park, rolled up in blankets listening to the soft patter of rain and music, sprawled out in the most comfortable position possible with our heads straining to look up through the sunroof in hopes of seeing any glimmer of the soon to be rising sun. Our plan of embracing the morning sun and the first ever day of our highschool-less lives was ruined, however, as outside it only changed from dark and dreary to a little less dark and dreary. Fortunately, we substituted what we hoped would be our contentedness from watching the rising sun with some pancakes at a 24 hour diner. I would return to Stanley Park throughout the summer, though, in hopes that I could have a better experience than my first, and I indeed did.

The Passaic River that cuts through the edge of Stanley Park appeared like a river of glass, smooth and shiny. The river runs untouched and pristine, looking more like a mirror than a body of water, until it must reach a slight dip in the river, where a small rapid forms. The water churns over this slight bump with some small commotion and waves, and continues to splash around in excitement as it runs in shallow waters over patches of rocks. At the river’s edge, the bank is pretty steep, but there was a small, narrow path that I walked down to stand closer to the water. Beside me, along the edge of the river, were shrubs and bushes, some still with bright green leaves and others already bare. Towering above me were some trees, most with brown, dry leaves that were falling to the ground to reveal their rough grey barks. Aside from the noise of some passing cars (a noise that I’m pretty sure is inevitable in most of New Jersey), the park was calm and serene with the sounds of the lazy river and the remaining leaves rustling about. I thought back to the first morning that I was here, when the park was still green and bright with the livelihood of summer and I was finished with a stage of my life and on to the next. By Thanksgiving, there I would be again, the park finishing with fall and soon to be on to winter, a familiar cycle for it, while I was still in the process of transitioning into the next stage of my life.

My phenology site in Burlington featured many Maples and some Pines and was awash in bright fall colors the last time I visited it. When I came to Stanley Park at around noon, it was sunny and in the mid 50s, seemingly much warmer and less windier than Vermont. Because of the relatively milder weather here, I expect that the phenology at this site is a little behind that of my site in Vermont. This site had a few Maples as well, but also many variations of Oaks and possibly Beeches, Cherries and Birches. The Oak that I saw looked to be English Oak because it had shallow sinuses and very round, fat lobes that almost looked cartoonish. The other trees I saw had oblong shaped leaves and were of species I did not know off the top of my head. There was still some bright greens, mainly on a shrub that I also could not identify. Aside from that patch of greenery and the withering green of the grass, the deep red, yellow, and orange hues that are characteristic of fall had passed. What was left was bare trees and dark, dry leaves that I could probably have easily plucked off the branch. The ground was covered in leaf litter that crunched under my foot. I did not hear or see any signs of wildlife, probably because the park is so close to River Road and the surrounding town area.

Stanley Park of Chatham, NJ: Photos & Map

 

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1CXQt-Pc6M8EUgJon9dE08wc66aIovNV2&usp=sharing

November 5th Observations, Poem, and Event Map

   When I visited my phenology spot in mid October, some of the leaves were orange or red, while still a cluster was green. It was also quite warm, so it did not feel like fall had truly arrived at all. Now, by early November, the leaves are all colored and some of the trees are quite bare, this process possibly accelerated by the recent wind storms. It is chilly and very windy and finally feels like a typical autumn day. There is still not that much wildlife that is easy to see, although I could hear chipmunks, squirrels, or other small animals scurrying around in the leaves, and some geese honking. I could also hear the sounds of the highway, a sound which I expect will only grow louder as the trees become more bare. Nonetheless I was happy that my phenology spot finally had an autumn look to it and that it was not absurdly warm.

Fall in Centennial Woods

The massive maple tree,

With its strong branches

And its head of soft orange leaves,

Whirls in the chilly autumn breeze.

 

On this November day

It greets me with its trunks twirling up in delight

And gifts me it’s crisp beautiful leaves

That fall to my feet and ask me to stay.

 

I look around at the woods,

Listening for woodpeckers or chipmunks,

Other signs of life,

Indulging in autumns goods.

 

Now I look to beneath me at the ground,

The blanket of pine and maple,

Soon to be covered in frost and ice,

The cycles of life going round.

 

It is almost time to head back

And grab a blanket and hot chocolate

To write up the changes of today

In my bimonthly Centennial Woods almanac.

 

So I say goodbye to the chipmunks and birds,

Leaving behind the big maple

That waves goodbye with its leaves shaking in the wind,

And plan to put my journey in words.

October 20th Observations

As I walked down the path, trekking deeper and deeper into Centennial Woods, a chilly breeze cooled my hot pink cheeks. Despite a few past crisp days, it was still quite warm for mid October. By the time I reached my observation sight, I was relieved to put my pack down and catch my breath, taking in the new scenery as I did so. Beneath my feet was a blanket of soft soggy leaves and also some fresh crisp ones, all in shades of pale oranges, light browns, a few light greens and a few deep reds. What was before a dirt path was now a mixture of delicate autumn hues. On the trees also hung an array of beautiful colors, further illuminated by the lazily setting sun that cast the trees in golden and pink light. The forest still had a lively mix of green color, but it was clear that autumn was very much here, and in a few short weeks the forest would be even more lit up in reds and oranges and yellows.

Just as with a few weeks back, the birds filled the air with their soft songs, perhaps also singing praise for the display of bright new colors. I also even heard the knocking of a woodpecker, although it was out of sight. Other than many chipmunks (and a man jogging), I did not see any other wildlife. I was however, aware of their presence as they rustled around in leaves all around me, their anonymous noises sometimes frightening me. I should probably not be afraid or startled by the various sounds of Centennial Woods, especially since it is so close to campus and catamounts have long been extinct in Vermont. This is my new and practical goal: Don’t be afraid of the wildlife, especially because 90% of the time I only saw chipmunks and birds, which will not attack me. If I am to become connected to this spot, this is a very relevant and important step. I should become one with the habitat where the chipmunks and birds and other critters come and collect here, each having their own niche and in most cases complementing one another.

Centennial Woods Observation Site Map

Exploring Centennial Woods: Tuesday, October 2nd

In 1845, Henry David Thoreau committed himself to two years alone in the wood. Why did he go? Well, Thoreau believed his generation to be grossly consumed by materialism and abundance, and too distanced from nature, which he viewed as the source of the purest pleasures in life. In Walden, he states that he:

…Went to the woods because [he] wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if [he] could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when [he] came to die, discover that [he] had not lived. [He] did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did [he] wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. [He] wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.

Certainly Thoreau’s dedication to the world is admired by almost everyone, especially English teachers and naturalists. Thoreau’s work is also greatly appreciated by myself; While I embarked on a roughly 10 minute journey with some bug spray in hand to the the great outdoors- aka the trailhead of Centennial Woods- for the purpose of this phenology project, I went for myself as well. I was curious as to what Centennial Woods could offer to me, what I could offer it, and maybe suck the sap out of some sugar trees ala Thoreau (or settle for some Yerba Mate instead).

So, very importantly, how does one get to my observation site in Centennial Woods? The trailhead is accessible on Carrigan Drive past the Centennial Court Apartments, and from there you can begin on the path. Continuing forward for five or so minutes you will meet a small brook, and from there follow the trail to the left and up a slight incline. After the incline there should be a flat area, and then continue up to the right along another incline. Follow this path, until you approach a maple tree with various trunks and branches. This is the spot for my semester long observation.

I chose this site using the advice of the guest lecturers, Matt Kolan and Kaylynn Two Trees, from September 21st. Their lecture focused on their experiences with the environment and identity, and how one should form a connection in nature. The five key steps they outlined for approaching any site in the natural world are: searching for invitation, asking permission, giving an introduction, listening, and offering gratitude. I did not strictly follow these steps when I first searched for a site of observation, but I used them to guide me. I was not just a casual hiker, simply enjoying the scenery of Centennial Woods, but I deeply immersed myself to become one with the ecology. I engaged all of my sense to absorb my surroundings and to have my surroundings absorb me. When I finally approached my site, I knew it was for me. Perhaps my body was just too hot to go on, or perhaps the nature motioned me to stop, but I knew I had found it.

My site consisted of a lot of clear space. Around the trail were trees, of course, but there was a lot of low grasses and shrubs. Many of the trees were varieties of maples, especially Norway maples, that were quite mature and hung over the path, creating some shady spots. Continuing down the path for about 20 feet, one will find some pine trees. On the ground there was a light layer of some pine needles and leaves. The canopy was not too dense and filled with bright green leaves, and there was the faint sound of cars driving on Route 89.

Fall is now beginning to show me it’s bright, beautiful colors, and Centennial Woods will be my primary spot for appreciating this Vermont scenery. I will continue to investigate and invest myself in this area to become a part of the habitat.

  • Thoreau, H. D. (1908). Walden, or, Life in the woods. London: J.M. Dent.

Looking down the path, opposite to the large maple tree

Looking up the path, past the large maple tree

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