Food for Thought

Vermont is a state I love. I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney, Killington, Mansfield, and Equinox without being moved in a way that no other scene could move me. It was here that I first saw the light of day; here that I received my bride; here my dead lie, pillowed on the loving breast of our everlasting hills.
I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.

-Calvin Coolidge, 1928

Faced by conflicting views of my upcoming transfer opportunity to George Washington, I am consistently reminded of the natural beauty that exists around my room in University Heights, Centennial Woods, and on my walks to and from practice in the morning. The Vermont scenery is more than just beautiful, but rather reminiscent of the adventures in nature that I had as a child. I’ve called this place my home since I was ten and wanted to go to college here since before I could remember. Is it worth wanting to give up? Are the opportunities going to be better for my soul than the experience of walking in the woods and tracking snowshoe hare across the landscape? I am more than just conflicted, but rather “torn.”

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Yet Another Walk in the Woods

Sloan and I decided to spend some time this afternoon visiting Centennial. The snowfall last night made for some perfect tracking opportunities and a very refreshing end to the week. Although we spent a lot of time slipping around on ice, the sights were well worth it.

It appears that someone wanted to make a meal out of this tasty tree.

Dog tracks, easily the most identifiable and prevalent species on our walk.

The faintest snowshoe hare track, as indicated by the gait and size of the foot.

If you look closely enough, you can see the bore holes of woodpeckers.

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Hobblebush or Bust

Today was full of interesting discoveries at Centennial Woods. I identified this plant, with the help of Walt, as a Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides).  After researching more about it, I found that it is a small, shrublike plant, named after the hikers tripped on its vines.  Although the Hobblebush prefers high-altitude areas, it can survive in nutrient-poor lowlands.

Moral of the story: if you don’t know, ask.

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Identifiable Deciduous Tree Species

Trees that I can identify using my key:

  1. Sugar Maple
  2. Norway Maple
  3. American Beech (Cigar Buds!)
  4. Paper Birch
  5. Yellow Birch
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The Buds of Centennial Woods

American Beech Bud

Eastern Hemlock Branch

Norway Maple Bud

Red Maple Bud

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Diagram of Sugar Maple Twig

Drawn from a specimen within Centennial Woods. Scales and bark were both brown in color.

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My spot was visited by one dog in particular. Unfortunately, it’s been so icy and cold that it was difficult to see any other clear tracks in the snow.

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Changes in the Landscape

Silently, like thoughts that come and go, the snowflakes fell, each one a gem.

-William Hamilton Gibson

I arrived back from my winter break last evening. This morning, I decided to clear my thoughts and go and visit Centennial Woods to see how the area has changed since I last visited prior to finals. The most distinguishing characteristic of the landscape is the layer of white that blankets the soil. I was used to seeing leaf litter, but it seems like the process of litter decomposition had ceased. I couldn’t find any animal tracks in the snow because of the hard exterior of the snow drifts. I spotted a red-tailed hawk watching for rustling in the bushes for his next meal. Like a king with dominion over his kingdom, the hawk looked almost regal against the contrast of leafless branches.

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During my walk through the woods today, I took this picture of a snag, stripped of its bark and protective element. As visitors to our phenology places, I think it has become important to recognize how much we must give up to submerge ourselves in nature. For some, it is mere time, and for others, it is giving up time spent studying for upcoming final exams to go out and experience nature for what its worth. I enjoyed taking a break and going outside today to see some interesting natural elements of the Centennial Trails knowing that they may not be there as the snow begins to fall.

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Final Sentiments

The land is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness.

-Robin Wall Kimmerer

Through my exploration of Centennial Woods, I have learned many things about the ecology and history of Vermont. Growing up, I was exposed to John Muir and his legacy, but I never really understood his language when I wasn’t inside of nature. Since August, I have become attached to Centennial Woods and the Pine Stand and have found calmness when inside. The beauty of learning, as I’m sure Kimmerer would agree, is that it is lifelong and continuous. We can never learn everything, but are always in the pursuit of gaining knowledge. Through my studies, I expect to learn more about our relationship with the landscape and how it pertains to finding our truest self.

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