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Phenology Project

First semester sunset

Posted: December 6th, 2018 by thoopes

On Tuesday afternoon I walked down to the waterfront to check out my phenology site. I usually ride my bike down, and I was surprised when the walk took almost an hour. However, it did give me lots of time to reflect on what this place has been for me. It’s hard to believe that my first semester here is almost over, and I’m a bit nostalgic to think about how fast these few months have flown by. One of the hardest things about coming to a new place for me is connecting with people. There were a few times early this fall when I felt pretty lonely, especially early weekend mornings when no one else was awake. On these occasions, I often got on my bike, went down to the water and swam. This beach was my first real friend, the first one to give me a hug, at least. It was an escape and a release from all of the stresses of being alone in a new place.

The waterfront and the small slice of beach that is my phenology site has a rich history of human land use. Prior to 1700, the area that is now “my” beach was underwater, and a large bluff a few hundred feet inland was the shoreline. Abenaki people used the less steep parts of the bluff to fish and access other resources at the water’s edge, and they paddled the water in dug-out canoes. The first settlement arrived in 1772, but the first buildings didn’t pop up until 1792. Goods such as molasses and sugar were shipped in from Whitehall, New York, and the lumber shipping industry was established. By 1800, the village of Burlington bay had innkeepers, retail merchants, a silversmith, blacksmith, and some other workshops. The Vermonters sent cattle, cheese, butter, fish, flax, furs, grain, maple sugar, potash, pearl ash, sheep, and tobacco to Canada in return for gin, rum, salt, and luxury items from Europe like chocolate, coffee, tea, and textiles. In the 1850s, the waterfront became more industrialized, with lumber yards, train companies, power generating plants and water pumping facilities built upon created land – sand that was dumped in, called “fill”. In the 1900s the lumber profits began to wane, so the petroleum industry took over. Oil tanks and bollards became common sights on the waterfront. In 1991, the area was purchased by the city of Burlington, and in 1994 the last oil drum was removed. In 1997 a 12 year plan to revitalize the area was enacted. This plan emphasized open space, conservation, and public access. In 2012 voters passed a bill designating $6 million to waterfront revitalization. Today, it is a beautiful, safe, and accessible place to enjoy the outdoors.

(PBLAwaterfront. (2012, April 25). Retrieved December 05, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=154&v=takWcU_R90M)

(Berrizbeitia, I. (n.d.). Focal Places in Burlington. Retrieved from https://www.uvm.edu/place/burlingtongeographic/focalplaces/wf-ecology.php)

Both of my parents went to UVM, and they always marvel at how nice the waterfront is now when they come to visit. They were graduates in the late 80’s, before the waterfront revitalization and at the end of the petroleum industry’s use of the waterfront. My mom has said that the area that is now the waterfront bike path was pretty sketchy – not the type of place a college-age girl really wanted to be. I can still see remnants of this past “sketchiness” when I go down to my phenology site – the decrepit brick “City of Burlington” building, and the large pieces of scrap metal lying near the path. I wish I could go back and see what the waterfront looked like before it was filled. I imagine that the bluffs were absolutely gorgeous, and teeming with wildlife.

On my way down to the water on Tuesday I passed a tree full of European Starlings, black and round and making an absolute racket. When I got to my beach 16 ducks quickly began to swim away from the piles of leaves at the water’s edge – from which they were eating. There was a light dusting of snow on the beach, and the only green vegitation came at the courtesy of the sole Northern White Cedar. I walked around and took a few photos, then just sat for a while, watching the sunset. A few minutes passed, and I heard the ducks honking. They seemed to have decided that I wasn’t a threat, and had returned to their leaves. It seemed somehow fitting – as the sun set on my first semester at UVM, just the ducks and I were sitting at the beach which soothed my loneliness back in August. It got dark, and therefore cold, so I began my long walk back to campus, and had dinner with friends.

A tale of Two Beaches

Posted: November 25th, 2018 by thoopes

I went to my favorite place in the world a few different times during break. My first visit to Crane Beach was on a short walk with my two dogs. The mere smell of the ocean seemed to lift me out of the rainy Burlington slump that I had fallen into. I may have laughed when I heard and saw waves crashing onto the beach. John Muir wrote and spoke frequently about the restorative power of nature, and I felt it in full force that day. I saw a flock of eiders floating along with the outgoing tide, just further than my dog was willing to swim out to chase them. Every time I go home after a while of being away, more and more sand dunes disappear. Every time there’s a good storm, the dunes take the brunt of the impact, protecting the Basin of salt marshes and islands that lies behind it. They’ve been eroding more in recent years than they ever did before, though. I try not to let it get me down. I noticed one area where dune restoration was taking place; there was an area where what appeared to be rolls of hay had been laid down to keep a dune from crumbling. The marsh grass had all turned orange, and the contrast it made with the blue ocean water was truly beautiful.

The small slice of waterfront realty that I call a beach in Burlington pales in comparison to Crane Beach. The beach in Burlington, though beautiful, is man-made. The sand was put there, and there are large amounts of rocks that were clearly laid down to shape the landscape into the attractive waterfront that it is. Crane Beach is primal; nothing is man-made, other than the boardwalks over the sand dunes and the small paths that cut through the dunes themselves. None of the white pine stands, early successional forests of aspen and birch, cranberry bogs, or vast amounts of marsh heather were planted there. I wonder if any of the trees and shrubs down by the water in Burlington arrived there naturally, other than the invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn. There was much less trash at Crane than there usually is in Burlington, not surprisingly, as the former is in a small town and the latter in a large city. For me, the restorative power at Crane is stronger than in Burlington, and I don’t know if it’s because of the primal, untouched nature of Crane, or because I am so much more familiar with the beach in my hometown than the one where I go to school. Either way, I’m grateful that both places exist as my personal escape from everything that isn’t sand and water.


Crane Beach, Ipswich Massachusetts

Crane Beach at sunset

A cold, drizzly Saturday

Posted: November 3rd, 2018 by thoopes

I woke early this morning, Saturday, November 03, to try to catch the colors of sunrise reflecting on the lake. Unfortunately, the rain and fog thwarted my plan, so I arrived to my favorite patch of beach in a hazy dawn. I heard a songbird as I neared my spot, pedaling along the bike path. I was shocked to see that the trees were almost completely barren. The one Cedar still held his flat, green needles, but the Cottonwood, Dogwood, Silver Maple, Elm, Ash, and Black Willow merely clung to brown, dead leaves, if any at all. I immediately noticed that all of the trash that had once littered the place was gone, and I’m grateful to whichever Good Samaritan picked it all up. As I sat on a log by one of the fire pits, clinging to my mason jar of warm water through gloved hands, a duck settled down into the shallow water. He was a male (had a green head), and was alone. He honked his horn twice, dunked his head in the water once, honked again, and flew off. As he flew away, I noticed the persistent cry of a gull. A few minutes later, a pair of ducks – one male, one female, settled down in the same place the first had been. These two didn’t make a sound, and swam around for a few minutes before doing anything seemingly productive. Then they started what seemed to be breakfast. Not making a sound, they repeatedly dunked their heads in the shallow water, feasting on what I hope was a satisfying morning meal. They were still chowing down when I finished my hot water, and the combination of cold and wet became too much for me, so I climbed back onto my bike and headed to campus, excited to have some breakfast of my own. As I did so, a crow squawked and flew out of the Elm tree above me.

When I could swim

If I let my vision go

The November rain seems to fade.

I can almost feel the sweet embrace

As ripples of energy caress the shore.

Woosh, Shhh, Woosh, Shh,

In, out, in, out.

It is September,

And there is no hood over my head.

Goggles cover my eyes,

And the water that enters my mouth

Tastes like leaves,

As I smile at a fish who swims along by.

Visit 2: Map

Posted: October 22nd, 2018 by thoopes

Though I saw little wildlife, or evidence of any wildlife on my visit to the lake today, I did notice that many of the leaves have turned from their former green to yellow, red, or brown. Many have fallen off. I was able to identify, with the help of GTA Grace, a few of the species of trees and shrubs living in my spot. The tree that lives on the beach is a Silver Maple, and there is also Staghorn Sumac, Dogwood, and Black Willow all around.

A quiet place to swim

Posted: October 1st, 2018 by thoopes

Though I didn’t swim today because the water is cold and I didn’t feel like putting on my wet-suit, this small patch of beach on the south end of North Beach is one of my favorite places to swim in Burlington. It’s really easy to get to. I simply ride my bike down the hill until I get to the waterfront bike path, and then I follow the path north until I reach my beach. It was a bit chilly today at 3:30 pm – around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. It was overcast, and I couldn’t see all the way to the other side of the lake like I can on a clear day. There was a slight breeze, but the water was calm. The leaves are changing colors now, and some are beginning to drop onto the ground, joining the significant amount of garbage and driftwood that litter the beach. I intend to clean this place up over the next few weeks.

The most common woody species there are:

Eastern Cottonwood

Northern White Cedar





There were a few species that I didn’t recognize, including one tree that was clearly a maple, but grew sort of like a Boxelder – with many trunks growing from the same area. The leaves resembled those of a sugar maple, and were turning a beautiful shade of red. There were a few shrubs that I didn’t recognize either, and I will work to figure out what these are.

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