My last visit

Wow, I truly can’t believe how quickly this year has flown by. Finally, though under a thick layer of mud and leaf litter, I can see green again at my spot, just like when I first met it. All over, ferns are unfolding from fiddleheads, trees are continuing to bud and grow leaves, and life continues to return to a place that felt so desolate for so long.

Upon returning back to my spot, I realized all at once that my first year is ending. My first year of college, passed and over in the blink of an eye. And in the time that I’ve been here, I’ve watch a tree die and break its trunk completely, letting small critters and creatures find a home and food in it; I’ve watched a life end and create another. Simultaneously, I feel as though I’ve been here for a minute and a lifetime, and I think that a lot of that is tied to my place in the woods.

To me, this last visit hit home as one of the important “last”s. Sitting alone under my tree has felt like a safe place during the hard times this year, and in visiting it one last time (for now), I sat back and thought of all I’ve been through, both incredible new adventures and firsts as well as harder times and moments of stress. At the end of the day, my place was always somewhere that I could go and turn all of the attention away from the world around me and back onto myself, to take a moment to breathe, relax, and enjoy being who I was and where I was for that time.

I think that being a part of place means that you’ve gotten to know the small corners of it all, have memories in them, and can consequently feel like you belong. Going to my place one last time yesterday, I truly felt like I belonged, in this major and this university and this city, and especially in the woods.

April Showers

Finally! It feels like seeing my sit-spot with some plant life and budding growth was a world ago, and these signs of spring warm my heart. The cottonwoods, basswoods, and silver maples have shown signs of budding, and the ground seems to be growing color back from the grey/white dormancy that winter brought. On the ground, there are signs of fern germination, as well as other green sprouts fighting for sunlight. When I shut my eyes to take it all in, not only did the smell of freshness strike me, but the noticeable bird presence was fascinating to me as well. Though I couldn’t identify much, I did notice the call of a pewee from Allan Strong’s lecture, and the rhythmic thumping of a woodpecker.

The edge effect in my sit spot has become evident to me after lecture. Right along my spot, on one side, is a trail, and on the other is the intervale farm. Both create huge edge effects, drastically impacting the species able to thrive in my spot. Because of this, I am sure that my spot and the wetland in general is home to few large critters, though there was evidence of deer that I found when walking around.

Mount Major Spring Break Excursion

Over my spring break, I went (finally) on a spring hike up to a false summit of Mount Major in New Hampshire. Itching to get outside, I was able to convince a friend to join me on a quick three hour hike up and down the mountain. While the ice kept us from reaching the peak safely, we were able to enjoy some time in the woods, and all the while I talked his ear off about all that I’ve been learning in this class, (ie. what the type of tree we were looking at was, what trees do best going up the gradient, and we even spotted a woodpecker within feet of the trail, which I took a video of and have posted below). Additionally, we heard the calls of crows and chickadees near the base of the mountain.

Truthfully, I was unsure and unable to identify many of the species I spotted on this trip up the mountain. There were quite a few cedar and beech near the base of the mountain, though as we went up the incline, my ability to identify the plants and tree species dropped dramatically. I noticed some pine near the false summit, as well as some paper and yellow birch, but required some research to learn the rest. The alpine and sub-alpine species include mountain ash, cotton grass, sheep laurel, mountain sandwort, and the mountain cranberry. Lower elevations of Mount Major are covered in northern hardwood forest species, and the middle elevations show plenty of stands of red spruce.

As opposed to my sit-spot in Vermont, this was a drastically different environment. A mountain landscape yields far different ecosystems than a floodplain does. And I found it quite interesting to hike while paying attention not to my own exercise, but rather to the area around me, while taking mental notes of differences in this ecosystem than mine here. This area was dry, rocky, and with a far less intense and thick understory than the floodplain, and with a lot more that I couldn’t identify than a Vermont forest. Being only a state away, I assumed I would have little to no difficulty applying my knowledge to New Hampshire, but it amazed me and challenged me to realize how much I have yet to learn. Looking forward, it was a welcome eye-opener, and a clear sign that I just might have to take dendrology in the coming semesters.

Another visit (plus some research)

After some research, I would classify my phenology spot as a Silver Maple-Sensitive Fern Riverine Floodplain Forest. According to Wetland, Woodland, Wildland, these forests occur in the floodplains of rivers. In these forests, silver maple is the dominant tree, but green ash and (what was called though I couldn’t identify) “swamp white oak” may be present. It was also noted that soils are moist, typically mottled, silty alluvium. Most of the trees in my spot are silver maple, with a few cottonwoods and green ash trees spread sporadically through. Additionally, sensitive fern grows around, which is another key matching characteristic noted in the reading. This spot characteristically is a stomping ground for otter, mink, muskrat, and beaver, and the mink and muskrat I found tracks of during my last visit. It was also noted that there are plenty of birds that can be identified as inhabitants of this spot, though truthfully, I can’t identify many birds by their call, so this wasn’t much of a factor in my classification. I do remember a frog that I found on a fallen tree in the fall, and I was reminded of this moment I had with him/her when I read that amphibians are common in these types of spots.

Since my last visit, the snowmelt has caused my sight to be wetter than it was the last time I saw it, and in the cold winter months it feels grayer than I remember it. There’s something about the cold that sucks the color out of life, and as I took some time in my spot, I grew more and more excited to see it all in fresh in the spring. However, not much has changed. Luckily, my tree is still standing, growing almost paler with time, but hasn’t cracked completely. And after checking BioFinder to learn more about where I’ve been visiting this past semester, I felt a sort of pride in my spot. My spot is home to high priority connectivity blocks, interior forest blocks, and surface water and riparian areas. Additionally, it is a class 2 wetland, exemplary surface waters, rare and uncommon animal species, and uncommon palustrine natural communities. I was surprised to know that there was so much going on in an area I’ve spent so much time in that I haven’t had any clue of until just now. I was also happy to know that I’m, in a sense, checking up regularly on an area with so many important natural treasures that need protection. I feel as though after all this time, I’m gaining such a fondness and appreciation for this land that I would be willing to go the extra mile for its protection if something were to happen that would put the Intervale at risk. It’s becoming not only a way for the furthering of my ecological knowledge, but it’s becoming a piece of my heart and my college story. I’m realizing that, while Dr. Kimmerer spoke in depth about just this, that the best way to preservation is to get people to carry about the land. I grow more passionate about my major with each visit to my sit spot.

Back at it again

Finally, my first visit to my spot which I haven’t visited since last semester. It’s been a long while since I’ve visited my old friend, who seems to be holding up far better than I had expected. I assume that my tree died recently before I met her, and that is the reason that she hasn’t rotted through and fallen. Though, in her death, she’s created an ecosystem at the base of her trunk, full of buds and rotting leaves becoming homes for small creatures.

After revisiting my spot and getting reacquainted with my area, picking up on the small changes, I went on the prowl for tracks, and happily spent nearly an hour following the tracks of a variety of small creatures. Surprisingly enough, I was able to identify a few before even looking at my identification guide, and after documenting each print and taking pictures, I went home and researched. Tracking is something I’ve truly always wanted to learn, and I was pleasantly surprised to realize that a bunch of other animals like my sitspot as much as I do.

The first tracks (showcased as the first set of tracks when scrolling down my most recent post) I found to be that of a mink. The footprints were about an inch in length, with tail marks trailing the footprints, which was the deciding factor for me to rule out a gray fox. While this could very well be a weasel as I could not get a clear enough track to see claw imprints, my guess based on size is that this is a mink.

The next tracks on my post Kayla and I found to be a potential altercation between a white footed mouse and either a red fox or a fisher based on the claw prints, shape, size, and dietary habits, though based on the spacing between the claws and the pads, we guessed that this is the tracks of a red fox. The blood in the footprint of a single red fox track led us to believe that maybe the mouse was taken down by the fox, or that the fox was carrying prey from a kill farther away that dripped blood onto the snow. The mouse had a series of frantic tracks, though these weren’t in succession with the tracks of the fox, which caused some confusion for us in our deducing. Though, we had quite the time coming up with stories behind the mysterious blood drip found in the toe of a fox print.

Using similar deduction skills as shown above, I went about exploring more tracks and creating more hypothesis as to who could have left them, and I found what I believe to be some tracks from an opossum, a woodchuck, and a white-tailed deer. We even found the entrance to a subnivean zone that the mouse (if it had in fact escaped the fox) would have escaped to.

Human Influence

My sit-spot, while feeling untouched within my particular 20 foot radius, is actually heavily influenced by human activity upon further inspection… more than simple wear and tear on a walking path and the occasional piece of litter strewn across the landscape. Biking to the Intervale, I realized that the McNeil Generating Station was directly adjacent to the woods in which I was exploring. The McNeil Generating Station is designed to use biomass as a heating material, which as I’ve learned in Environmental Science 1, is not all it’s cracked up to be. Biomass plants emit high levels of carbon dioxide and essentially all of the same air pollutants as a coal-fired plant, such as asthma-inducing particulate matter and carcinogenic VOC’s. Additionally, biomass energy  consumes a quite a bit of trees, and deforestation can degrade and compact forest soils, cause erosion, and ruin waterways. It has even been said that this facility is the biggest polluter in Vermont.

One Last Visit

Today was a particularly special visit with my spot, the last of the semester before a winter that will most likely bring my tree to the ground to rot and regrow into new life.

As I began this blog with the sights, smells, and sounds, I can now express these differently than I could have during the start of the term. With the changing of seasons, the forest seems to be symbolically falling into dormancy just as my first semester at UVM draws to a close.

Touch: Walking through these woods, I felt as though I had to step more carefully than before. The frozen ground and glass-like leaves cracked beneath my feet, giving each footprint a more impactful press than the spring would have allowed. My tree has less dimension to the hand than it did when I first met it; now, the bark is gone, leaving the bare, smooth core, naked in the cold.

Sound: The air is still, with a momentary break in the quiet by the call of a common merganser duck.

Smell: Life is gone from the smell; no longer do the woods smell woody, rather, the air just smells and feels cold.

Sight: The bright, golden hue of my spot is gone for the season, with a drastically visible color change. The Earth’s floor is now brown and white, the trees are more grey and stark against the colorless sky. There was something eery and almost sad about my visit today. Maybe it was the changing of times, the changing of colors, or the knowledge that an old friend of mine will no longer be standing when I return to visit.

Today, I said goodbye to my tree. As Dr. Kimmerer taught the importance of, I spent this venture listening to the forest, talking to it, and waiting for an answer. Because of this, I learned more about my tree than I had known before. I looked up once more, and remembered that it was still standing only because it was being held up within the fork of another tree adjacent to it. This time, I went to that tree and thanked it, for slowing the fall of the tree that has shaded me since the start of my visits. I sat below my tree, listening to the forest around me, breathing the air given to me by the trees all around, and I felt guilty. From guilt, I felt determination. From determination, I felt assurance. I am in the right major, one in which I will be saving a future for young individuals like myself to have trees to get to know, to be inspired by, and to make positive changes to save our world.

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