A lot has changed since my last visit! As you can see, the mushroom tree is still standing. I was concerned that it was going to rot away under the snow during winter break, but today I was pleased to see it standing strong. There were several phenological changes that took place in the past two months. For starters, when I left, there were just a few flakes of snow nestled between the mushrooms. Today, there was at least two or three inches of snow on the ground surrounding the tree, as well as some climbing up the base. I didn’t realize as many squirrels or birds as I usually do, and I couldn’t find any minnows in the river. The river was running smoothly due to the melting snow, though some parts were frozen, but the turbidity was relatively low.
I found several tracks in the snow around the tree. They were difficult to identify, seeing as many of them were old. I used my pen or my foot as a scale in many of the photographs. Explore below to see the tracks and other signs I observed!
Over the break, I went back to my hometown of Mansfield, Massachusetts. Mansfield is a fairly small suburban town about 45 minutes south of Boston, where I’ve lived my entire life.
The town itself is fairly historic. There’s a train station that will take you straight to Boston, which has been taking people to work for over 100 years. In the 19th century, we had trolleys that would take you to neighboring towns. 100 years ago, Mansfield was the place to be, we had shops, movie theaters, and even a bowling alley. The story when I was growing up there was slightly different.
My Mansfield still had the train station, but the trolleys and stores and other attractions were mostly gone. It sits at an intersection between four major highways and has a fairly large concert venue five minutes away from my house, and Gillette Stadium 20 minutes in the other direction. When I was younger, none of this meant very much to me. But, as I got older, Mansfield started to evolve.
When I was about 10 years old, an old field 5 minutes away from my house was paved over and became Mansfield Crossing, an outlet mall complete with L.L Bean, Bertuccis, Kohl’s, and several other retail stores. Suddenly, my little town that had only been known for its concert venue wasn’t so little anymore. Apartment buildings began to spring up all around and more younger people started to move in. The buildings began to get taller, and more stores started popping up. The same old hiking trails are still located nearby, but we’ve lost several local businesses in the last five years.
When I came home this week for Thanksgiving, I got off the train in my town and the first thing I noticed was the six-story building being constructed next to the station. It had been nothing but a foundation when I left, and when I returned, it was the tallest building in Mansfield. Then, I started to notice the newly paved roads and the shiny new signs. My family filled me in about the movie theater that was being built at Mansfield Crossing, and how our favorite small chain grocery store was closing. On my way to dinner with them, we drove through a new rotary, so new that they were taking away the traffic cones as we approached.
It’s difficult for me to watch my hometown go through these changes, especially because it’s where I lived all my life. It used to be a place where everybody knew everybody. Most of the generations before me grew up there and stayed forever. I’m part of the first generation to spread out. As the people I went to school with and I leave, it’s hard to watch new people take our place- people who come from all over just to work in Boston. I’m torn about whether or not this development in my town is a good thing. On one hand, it’s good for the economy of my town. New people will bring new resources and new ideas. One of the positive changes that has taken place since I’ve left is that when I graduated, girls had to wear white gowns and boys had to where green ones, which forced many students to conform to something they weren’t comfortable with. The class of 2020 will be the first class where everyone is going to be wearing the same green gowns, regardless of gender. But on the other hand, we’re losing a sense of our small town culture and many local businesses have been forced to close down.
One hundred years ago, it’s possible that this site was completely different. What is now a rotting carcass of a tree would’ve most likely been a sapling. It’s possible that the brook would’ve followed an entirely different path, not even coming close to the sapling. The topographic features would’ve been different, also. At the moment, the tree and brook are located at the bottom of a hill. It’s possible that before, it would’ve been higher up. I assume that once it was a large tall maple or oak tree. I believe it was destroyed in a storm, leaving the stump I see today.
The thing that originally called me to this site was the mushrooms on the side of the tree. I originally had chosen another site, but I found myself drawn to the mushrooms. In the past, when it was a living tree, it most likely didn’t have the mushrooms that called me to it, and I might not have noticed it.
My sense of place hasn’t entirely changed since I first saw my sight. I’m still drawn to it with a sense of wonder. Everytime I visit, I’m filled with excitement. I love the walk to my site. I have to cross the brook over a small boardwalk, and recently, the boardwalk washed away in a storm, so it’s been an adventure getting to my sight! I do feel at home at my tree. I feel safe sitting underneath it and working on field notes. It’s far enough from the trail that I feel secluded, but I always know how to get back.
The changing of the seasons has changed the feeling of my site. In the spring, I was surrounded by dense green leaves and lower shrubs. I couldn’t see very far past the brook. Now, after all the leaves have gone, everything is very open. I can see a meadow across the brook through the tree trunks. But, my sense of place hasn’t changed. I still feel connected to this place because of the relationship I’ve built with it. Even if the mushrooms, ferns, and brook disappeared, I would still feel connected to this spot because of the time I’ve sat and relaxed there. I will always remember the times I’ve brought people I care about to see it and the times I visited alone when I was stressed or anxious. Though things will change, it will always be my “shroom” tree.
During this visit to my spot, I observed several different organisms. The first one I looked at was the Wood Fern (Dryopteris). I had noticed the Wood Ferns during my first visit due to the spores present on the backs of their leaves. This time, most of the spores were gone and I noticed that the small leaflets were turning white around the edges. Ferns are a characteristic of my spot because they’re the only visible plant under 3 feet tall at my site at the moment.
I also spotted a grub-like organism (grub: holotrichia)when I was moving some of the leaves off of the forest floor to observe the soil. This grub is characteristic of my place because there are countless organisms who use the rotting leaves on the ground for cover, moisture, and nutrients. I never notice them at first glance, but they after some time of observing my area, they make themselves known. The soil was very moist and nutrient rich, which is good for all of the plant life and organisms that live there.
The third organisms were three different types of trees. Surrounding my tree in the overstory are Sugar Maples (acer sacchurum), Yellow Birches (Betula alleghaniensis), White Oaks (Quercus alba), and White Pines (Pinus strobus). While I can’t be sure because my tree doesn’t have leaves, I suspect it was one of the oaks because of its’ bark. I also found an acorn in the leaves beneath the tree.
The fourth was something I hadn’t seen at my spot before, Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). When you angled to leaf just right, you could see the trail that a slug (Gastropoda) had left behind. This characterized my spot because it’s a safe haven for everything to thrive, and I’ve always seen slugs there! I also found a spider web nestled in the bark of the tree.
Another organism characteristic to my area is the Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), which was starting to fruit. Barberry is characteristic of my area because it’s one of the few shrubs ground around my tree.
The final evidence of an organism that I noted was a dirt mound at the base of the tree. This dirt mound was actually worm poop, otherwise known as castings, made from the Earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) when they surfaced during the storm the night before my visit.
Since my last visit, my area has changed drastically. What used to be a secluded area tucked away in the leaves, you can now see a lot of the surrounding forest. The brook flooded exponentially and caused erosion on some of the banks. Turbidity had increased as well, because I could no longer see the bottom. Creating the map forced me to really take in all of the details of my area, not just the mushroom tree, but all of the other things that make that spot truly unique and special.
My site is in Centennial woods. It’s an old, rotting tree covered in mushrooms and surrounded by small ferns and shrubs. It’s next to a deeper part of the brook, where you can see small minnows swimming about. It’s surrounded by White Oaks, White Pines, Beeches, and Red Maples in the canopy, as well as a stout Eastern Hemlock near by. The mushrooms on the tree I believe are called Bracket Fungi, and they swirl around the Western-facing part of the tree, a long with a tapestry of thin, green moss. The Eastern-facing half is dry due to sun exposure and the bark is hollow and cracked.
When you arrive at my site, you’re hear the dibble of the brook in front of you and hear the rustling of the ferns and shrubs. At first, you won’t notice any wildlife, but after a little while, you begin to notice that this old tree is teeming with life. Slugs take refuge in the damp wood, Daddy Long Legs squat on the bark, and squirrels flutter about. Organisms slowly start to make themselves know. Birds fly overhead, water striders glide on the surface of the brook, and insects crawl around, each on their own important mission.
When I sat down at my tree for the first time, I sat on the ground beside it for 30 minutes, sketching, taking notes, and admiring it. I chose this spot because every time I had gone to Centennial for classes or just to talk a walk, I couldn’t resist stopping and admiring the mushrooms on the tree. They climb the trunk in a beautiful swirl and each mushroom is unique. They look like clam shells on the beach. I love watching the process of the tree being turned into earth once more as the mushrooms and moss take over.
In the two times I’ve visited my site, it’s taught me so much. I had never seen spores growing on a fern in the wild before until I sat down at my site. As beautiful as it is, I still freaked me out a little. The little rows of dots are somewhat unsettling. I tried to listen intently to the birds and separate the natural noises from the manmade ones. I heard one blue jay, in particular, who was particularly noisy. Every once in a while, a plane would thunder overhead. It was strange to me to hear such a loud sound in such a peaceful place. The noise made the entire forest rumble and everything natural paused until it was gone. It was a reminder that I wasn’t completely surrounded by nature.
I’m looking forward to going back and seeing what has changed there.