Sense of Place At Home

For Thanksgiving break I went back home to Orchard Park, NY which is a town right outside of the city of Buffalo. I’d say that my sense of place here is greater than anywhere else on Earth. I know my hometown like the back of my hand and could navigate around it blindfolded. After being away from my hometown for three months, I have gained a better appreciation for it. In high school I had always thought that I would want to travel far away and live the life of a vagabond. I dreamed about chasing new horizons and thought that the old saying, “home is where the heart is,” was just a cliche. Coming home for a short week reminded me of all the simple things that I have missed over the past three months. My most memorable sense of place in my hometown is my house, which is tucked away on a quiet road in a wooded area. My house was built in 1930 by a farmer and was constructed based on dutch colonial architecture. We have pictures of the house during its construction and the land around it was once baron with open fields. Now it is covered with a canopy of tall silver oaks and sugar maples. Towards the back of the yard is a big white barn with a pasture full of animals including goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, a pot-belly pig and a mean old goose. We’ve had several other animals in and out of the barn, but those are just a few honorable mentions. My mother is also a certified wildlife rehabilitator, so we get a few wild animals through the house now and then. Having all these critters around my house has given me a fascination for wildlife and is the leading reason why I chose wildlife biology as my major. While at home on break I found my sense of place with my animals, especially when my yellow lab named Finley would curl up in my bed. Another significant source of sense of place at my house is my family. My sister and mother usually fill the house with their long and loud chats about anything under the sun, while my brothers usually seek refuge in the garage to work on anything with an engine. Our house is usually a revolving door with my siblings constantly coming and going. Sometimes life at my house gets hectic, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. My favorite place to go outside my house is a state park called Chestnut Ridge, which has several shelters, trails and an overlook towards the city. It’s the perfect place to hang up some hammocks and chill out with my closest friends. During break I did just that and there’s nothing quite like laughing over all the trouble we used to get in high school. These bittersweet memories have painted an image of what my town is to me. Without memory there is no familiar sense of place. Orchard Park, NY would have no meaning to me if it wasn’t for the sense of place that I created there throughout my life. During my visit back home, my mind was filled with aesthetics that I hadn’t felt in months. Maybe home really is where the heart is. 

A picture of my house
My dog Finley in front of my brother’s truck with wind surfboards strapped on
Low quality pictures, taken with my 35 mm film camera, of the overlook at Chestnut Ridge Park

Phenology and Place

Through all of my visits at my phenology site, I have discovered a sense of place. Before this project, I used to walk past the small retention pond on my way to class and think nothing of it. Now I have discovered the characteristics of the site that make it what it is. Over the past month or so I have noticed many phenological changes that have occurred surprisingly fast during this short period of time. During the first week of the project many of the trees still had green leaves, which quickly turned to bright yellow, orange and red colors. As the weeks moved on the leaves peaked their brightness around mid to late October and then started to dull. I noticed two mallard ducks floating on the pond until migrating the first week of November. With no other animals spotted besides a cottontail rabbit, I wondered if the ducks will come back to the same little spot after winter. Many questions like this came along as I observed and visited my site more and more. Through mapping and observing, I also discovered how the pond was man-made to catch runoff from surrounding impermeable surfaces. I noticed that the rocks have little to no weathering and erosion indicating that the pond must be fairly new. I wondered about the history of the location before the man-made pond and surrounding buildings. I assume the site was once part of a cleared land on an 1800s farm before being sold to UVM. In terms of the sense of place component on a larger scale, I thought of the impact the little pond has on Vermont and Lake Champlain. I wonder how much phosphorus is filtered out of the water before being drained into Englesby brook and eventually into the lake. How much of an impact does my little site actually have on creating a more sustainable Vermont? Questions like these occur through the development of a sense of place. I would have never thought so deeply on a small site like this without viewing the area through different lenses. Like I said before, the site used to be just something I walked past everyday. I never would have thought about the location’s history or its impact on Lake Champlain or even wondered if the mallards would be back without finding a sense of place. 

Mapping and Charismatic Species

Over the last week I noticed a few changes of the surrounding vegetation. The bright October leaves have dulled and started falling off of the trees and the reeds around the pond have turned brown. The water level of the pond has also rised due to the rainfalls, which indicates that the retention basin is doing its job by catching runoff. I have also noticed that there is less algae on the surface of the water than last week. This may be because of the water being stirred around and the lack of sunlight for photosynthesis. Six organisms that I have observed at my site are sugar maples (Acer saccharum), basswoods (Tilia americana), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), shaggy mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) , an eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) and a pair of mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos). The trees that surround the site are all young and have been planted recently. I noticed the mushrooms on October 30th at around 8:30 pm. I was surprised because I hadn’t noticed them while visiting the site earlier that day. After further research I found that they are called shaggy mane mushrooms, also known as lawyer’s wig mushrooms. I was also surprised to see that the two mallard ducks had green heads indicating that they are both males. I previously assumed that the pair would be one male and a female. I am curious as to why the two mallards haven’t started their migration to the south yet. I noticed that they are always diving down in the water so it could be possible that the pond is a good food source and the two ducks are trying to take advantage of it before leaving. For this assignment I mapped out my site. This gave me insight as to why the retention pond is located where it is. I noticed that the small basin is surrounded by impermeable surfaces such as a parking lot and residencies. It is definitely an efficient spot to catch runoff.

Drawn Map
Shaggy mane mushrooms also known as Lawyer’s Wig mushrooms
October colors are fading

Introduction to my place

My phenology site is located on the redstone campus on the left side of the Wing Davis Wilks hall. It is very accessible and I can walk to it from my dorm in a minute or less. The site is a man-made pond with fencing and planted vegetation around it. There are young basswoods, paper birch and several types of maples around it. A plaque states that it is classified as a wet detention pond and is considered to be one of the most efficient management practices for stormwater treatment. The plaque states that it is designed to capture 40% of the average annual post-development total phosphorus load around its area. After deeper research, I discovered that it was built by the American Society of Civil Engineers. A map of the pond shows how it is broken down into sections of different marsh depths. It states how each section controls the quality and quantity of storm water caught from several storm pipes. A layer of rocks fill the pond to filter the storm water into the ground. The map shows an outlet that filters water into Englesby brook. During my visits, it is difficult getting up close to observe the water because of the fencing around it. I’ve debated hopping over the fence and walking down, but I know the fence is probably there to preserve the land. Looking from a distance still gives great aesthetics despite this. With the bright yellow leaves of the basswoods and birch reflecting on the water, my site resembles something that Bob Ross might paint (or at least comment on the happy little trees). My site has visual beauty, however, the noise surrounding it isn’t as peaceful. Being right on campus, the site is littered with the sounds of cars and noisy college students. Having a location close to the school definitely has its pros and cons. I chose this site with this in mind, knowing that I would be able to visit it more often than other places in Burlington. I’ve noticed during my visits that the pond has a decent amount of wildlife inhabiting it. I have seen a pair of mallard ducks swimming around and diving for food a couple of times and just recently a cottontail rabbit jumped out of the shrubs. I can tell that he lives around campus because he seemed to be fairly comfortable with me. We hung out for awhile and I watched the cute little dude eat a few berries before hopping off.

Below is a picture of the plaque found on site and my field journal notes.