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Sense of Place Over Thanksgiving Break

After returning back to school after Thanksgiving break I noticed that my sense of place in my hometown was stronger than I thought it was before I left for the start of college. I had not payed much attention to the nature around me at the time because I was so excited to leave for college. When I returned home I began to appreciate the green-spaces I had taken for granted growing up. I visited Borderland State Park which is a conservation area with a large natural history since the Ames family, a wealthy family in Easton, Massachusetts, chose to build their mansion on the estate. This class has taught me to look at landscapes and vegetation with a more observational eye which allowed me to notice the little changes in my environment I did not have the knowledge to understand before. Learning to identify twenty one different tree species made them more apparent on my hikes. At Borderland I noticed most of the trees were Eastern Hemlocks which I never would have noticed before. I would have simply assumed they were all different evergreens and now I am able to make keen observations and ask questions such as “why is eastern hemlock so common in this one area?” Being able to notice the little details throughout my hometown made me feel more connected to it because I can better understand how the land was formed.

I think your hometown can greatly affect your view of the world. If you grow up in a city or a more rural area, you tend to be drawn to similar types of areas because it is what you are comfortable with. I was very lucky to grow up with easy access to nature reserves and hiking trails, so when looking at colleges I was drawn to places that valued the outdoors and provided many outdoor activities. People who grow up in rural towns tend to view cities with a sense of “placelessness” due to their lack of nature.

The natural history of a place can also provide significance to what it means to people. My house is right next to our town hall on main street. Every house on this street can see its natural history in its own back yard. Tall rectangular pieces of stone sit in the middle of peoples backyards representing the original property lines of the people’s land. Ours sits at the very edge of our patio and the original edge of our property is now nearly three houses down. It is interesting to imagine what the house used to look like and how it may have looked with a larger plot of land. It reminds me that the center of my town was not always so busy and full of people. The houses used to be further spread apart. I can imagine that it used to be a lot more tranquil and serene. Knowing the history of my town makes me feel more connected to it because it allows the familiarity to grow and you are more comfortable in a place that you know nearly everything about than a place you do not. Sense of place is about having a spot that is meaningful to you and I think that this feeling can grow over time, especially in absence of it. I do not think sense of place is defined by the trees you identify or the history of it because it is simply a place you hold dear and you are comfortable. However, I feel like noticing the little details in your space helps you to feel even closer to the spot because it allows you to make observations you had not seen before which provide new and stronger meaning to your home.

Property Marker in my Backyard
My Street
Ames Family Mansion
Borderland

Phenology and Place

So much has changed since my last visit to Centennial Woods and most of it is due to the recent snow and decrease in temperature. Much of the wildlife is preparing for winter as the vegetation begins to die off. Tall grass used to stand around the edge of the creek, but after the snow, all of it has been flattened to the ground exposing the earth which is damp and muddy. Despite the snow melting, the water level in the creek is very low allowing the rocks to be more visible. The lack of water helped me to notice a large amount of broken glass tucked in between the rocks. They have been stuck there for a long time because the constant stream of water has eroded them into smooth edges. Someone must have broken a ceramic dish because white fragments with pink flower designs were scattered down the stream. I noticed a small piece of wood leaning against a tree, hidden under snow and branches. It was smooth and rectangular so it had clearly been cut, possibly used as a plank for one of the boardwalk bridges across the creek.

One change that immediately caught my attention was the contrast between the snow and the moss on the fallen tree next to my spot. The white snow illuminated by the sun was beautiful against the bright green moss growing on the log. After looking through “Naturally Curious” I noticed that this was Foliose lichen growing on the tree which was common to grow in November. I also noticed how almost all of the vegetation was nearly dead except for these bright green ferns growing outside the tree. While I was reviewing “Naturally Curious” October, I saw that these ferns, Hay-Scented Ferns, should have turned yellow a month ago. I was surprised that the ferns were still green and that they survived the snow.

After returning to this spot over the course of a couple weeks, I feel like my Sense of Place has really grown. At first I did not feel much of a connection to Centennial Woods, but now I know every nook and cranny of this spot. I think one of the reasons I enjoy this spot is because it is so similar to trail spots at home. I grew up in Massachusetts and I love being in New England because the terrain is so similar and beautiful throughout. Since Centennial Woods is a public trail, it is strange for me to think of all the other people that have come across my spot. Did other people have a connection with it? Or was it simply a pass-by in their day? I then begin to think about all of the people that have come across my spot in the past years. I wonder if the creek still had the same bends or if it has changed its course overtime. Centennial Woods used to be used as a landfill and I compare my connection to this spot to the people’s then. It is sad to think they may not have seen the beauty I do because in their eyes it was simply a landfill.

Hay-Scented Fern
Flattened Grass
Wooden Plank
Exposed Rocks

Mapping and Charismatic Species

While visiting my spot in Centennial Woods, I noticed that there were still many birds singing in the trees. I identified one of them as the Black-Capped Chickadee (Poeicille atricapillus). Chickadees do not fly south for the winter because they rely are nuts from coniferous trees or they scavenge, which is why they have become so predominant in the area as it nears the colder season. A Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) was very noticeable as it was the tallest plant and very colorful growing in the middle of a yellowing grass field. In the fall the sumac’s leaves turn a brilliant red which contrasts greatly to dark green color of the coniferous trees. In the field across from the creek grew Sweet Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium purpureum). These plants stood tall in comparison to the majority of low growing vegetation. These plants were the previously mentioned purple flowers that covered the field, which now have turned brown with white soft seeds flowering at the end of the stem due to the change in seasons. A similar plant growing in the field was the Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). This plant normally has yellow flowers, also changes to have white soft seeds at the start of winter, but these are much more prominent and the branches are longer than that of the Sweet Joe-Pye-Weed. Growing low to the ground was a young Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) which had five large red leaves growing out of its very skinny trunk. It almost looked like it could topple over! The northern red oak is a very common tree in Centennial Woods and this is just one of many saplings across the reserve. One plant that really struck me while sitting in my spot was the Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sesibilis) which almost appeared like it had purple fruit or bead-like flowers all along it stem. Sensitive ferns enjoy wetlands and growing near water sources which is why many of them were growing along the sides of the creek. This is just one of the many plants that act as a filtration system to remove harmful bacteria from the water.

Despite only a weeks difference, so much has change in the surrounding area near my spot. It had rained the night before so the ground was very soft and muddy, which caused the sides of the creek to slope inward into the water. Multiple branches had fallen from the nearby trees into the creek causing the water flow to be more jagged and rushed. The previous rain had caused the water level to raise in the creek so nearly all the rocks were completely covered by the water. All the purple flowers that were there the previous weeks had wilted and turned brown. Nearly all of the trees have lost all their leaves so the ground was covered with red, orange, and brown leaves. Looking around the site there is almost no green left and all the vegetation has turned a brown-yellow as the woods prepare for winter.

Creating a map really showed me just how much an impact this spot has made on me. I was able to remember almost every detail of the place after only visiting there a couple times. It also really helped to be aware of where I was in comparison to other landmarks. Some places seemed really far away, but once placed on the map were clearly much closer than they seemed.

Map of My Spot
Black-Capped Chickadee (Poeicille atricapillus)
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Sweet Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sesibilis)
My Field Notes for the Day

Welcome to Centennial Woods!

Hi! I chose a spot a little ways into Centennial Woods where I hope to document changes in the area throughout the year. The spot is right next to the creek so you can hear the babbling of the brook as it flows over rocks and sticks. I thought this spot was special because it is very small clearing right next to the creek, just big enough for me to sit down, and has a beautiful view of the field of wildflowers. The sun always hits this spot beautifully and lights up the golden fall grass. The sun provides a wonderful contrast to the dark evergreen trees in the background. The scene looks very picturesque, like a painting as the sun rays shine on the grass and the wildflowers wave in the breeze. The tall grass is clearly turning yellow as it nears winter, but there are still remnants if beautiful purple flowers across the field. Near the edge of the field, a large portion of he grass is completely bent over in the opposite direction suggesting human or animal involvement.

The plant life is much greener around the creek. Ferns and bushes line the water because it is a great source of nutrients and the plants filter bacteria out of the water. A beautiful low growing bush hangs nearly completely over the creek providing coverage to the water below. The recent rain caused the water to be significantly faster and the noise from a slight waterfall over a bridge of rocks was much more apparent. The loud rushing water near the rocks greatly contrasts with the small bubbling downstream caused by multiple sticks on the edges of the creek.

At first it appears almost silent in the area, but then you begin to notice the rustle of the wildlife. Grass and plants shake as chipmunks run across the ground in search of food. Birds chirp in conversation and you begin to become more aware of the different songs each use to communicate. The occasional crow makes its appearance and its loud caw dominates over the other birds. The only reminder of nearby civilization are the planes that fly overhead every once in a while. The power of their engines drown out the animals and the serenity. Despite this slight interruption, the animals go about their day and its easy to get lost in the quiet and simplicity.

Directions:

  1. Enter at the trail head of Centennial woods
  2. Follow the path until you reach the first clearing of a wide open space with trees around it
  3. Take the path with the wooden bridge
  4. Follow the wooden path until you reach the second, larger clearing
  5. Notice the large tree nearly straight ahead at the edge of the clearing, its is growing at the edge of a slight downward slope
  6. Go down the slope until you reach the creek, there should be a fallen tree over it acting as a bridge (do not cross it, just a landmark)
  7. Follow the creek to the left, there is a lot of vegetation but it is a slight clearing with to fallen trees on the ground
  8. Pass those until you reach the giant fallen tree that crosses over a slope, the creek, and into the field.
  9. From here you will notice there is a small space on the other side of the creek next the the fallen tree
  10. Cross the creek to the space and you have found the special spot!
Clearing by My Spot
Scenic Field
Green Vegetation Around the Creek
Rushing Water Over Rock Bridge

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