Final Post

Nature and culture combine in an interesting way at my place.  While the culture of the area has a significant impact on the spot, no one is thinking about it.  I would put money on my being the only person to actually go to my spot and observe it over the last year.  It’s not a particularly good fishing spot so no one goes there, there are no trails, so no one goes there, and it’s not in a particularly relaxing location because it’s close to a pretty major road and has lots of brambles.  It’s essentially a small, uninteresting stretch of an unimportant river that divides a small dairy farm from a seldom-tended woodlot.  The cumulative effect of all of this is that very few people are actually conscious of the existence of spot, and even fewer are thinking about its condition.

While the culture of the area may not be impacted by the nature, the nature is definitely impacted by the culture.  Every year, the accumulation of pollutants in the river can be visually seen.  The river starts as sort of brown-ish in February, but then becomes grey, and then green, and then a nasty grey-ish green with hints of other colors by December.  I suspect that most of this runoff is cattle manure from the dairies that line the river to the northeast.  However, the impact of runoff from the roads that cross the river can’t be ignored.  I don’t think that residential runoff is a big issue because there are no houses anywhere close to the river that aren’t separated from it by at least a mile of healthy forests.  The entire watershed is very heavily forested, with the exception of the dairies.

I don’t really consider myself a part of my place.  It’s actually one of the few places near my house that I don’t feel a part of.  I know all of the land within a few miles of my house pretty well on foot, including the large tracts of forest.  But, this spot is so heavily impacted by human activity in the area that I find it hard to connect with it, not because it’s not “natural”, but because I feel like I don’t entirely understand it.  In most places, I can look around at the trees, and shape of the land, and the shrubs and figure out why things are the way that they are.  But, in this spot, it’s hard to see the cause and effect because so much of the condition of my spot is determined by human activity many miles away that I can’t see.  So, in that sense, it’s hard to feel that I understand the place, and it’s hard to feel that I’m part of a place that I don’t understand.  Additionally, this place is honestly pretty devoid of non-plant life.  There are a handful of squirrels, and that’s about it.  Without repeated encounters of the same animals, it’s hard to feel like a member of that natural community.  Maybe in time, that feeling of connection with my spot will come, but for now, it’s not there.

As for phenological changes, there have been a few.  Because of the rains and warm weather recently, a lot of grasses have grown, all of the maple buds have popped, and the little stream that runs down into the river has started flowing again, and it’s very clear.  The bottom of the stream is entirely sandy clay that’s almost hard to the touch, so it always runs clear.  It’s not a very good indicator of local water quality, but it is pretty.  The rest of my site is unchanged, as the rest of the flora is evergreen, and the fauna is nowhere to be seen or heard.


I honestly did not see any signs of amphibians, of any sort.  I’m sure that there were signs a few days ago, but this recent snow and sleet has really made it hard to see anything at all.  None of the trees have begun to flower, sadly.  However, a few of the maples at my site have a few noticeable buds.  Hopefully the weather next week will help with that.  There are no flowers coming up through the leaf litter, but some of the grasses appear to be sprouting, which is nice.  I’m not sure how this recent bout of cold weather will help them, but oh well.


This spot is interesting in that it is almost entirely an edge.  To the east about 20 meters, there’s Dorset Street.  To the north about 25 meters is the edge of a pasture used to graze cattle.  My spot is on the north bank of the La Platte, so that acts as a sort of natural edge.  These edges play a really important role in the ecology of this spot actually.  The edge of the road is slightly warmer than other parts, and receives much more salt, so there are fewer delicate grasses, and more hardy brambles.  The woods that border the pasture have significant undergrowth in the form of shrubs and grasses, and because of the position of the woods, there are always a lot of birds taking refuge there.  The edge of the river is, of course, a riparian zone, with all of the things that go along with that.  I covered it in my early post about the natural communities there.

March Break Phenology

Over spring break, I spent some time out in Colorado Springs visiting a friend who goes to school there.  So, I decided to immerse myself in part of the Red Rocks open space, which is just a few minutes outside of town.  It’s a pretty popular location for dog walkers, mountain bikers, hikers, and every other person who might want to come outside.  It’s also connected to a much larger wilderness area, so it’s frequently used as a gateway for people who are looking to have more serious backcountry adventures.

According to the signs posted around the entrance to the park, it used to be a quarry.  In some places, you can actually walk into the pits where rocks were dug out, which is pretty nifty.  It’s pretty apparent from the absolutely enormous roads/trails near between the entrance of the park and the old mining pits that this was a pretty heavily used quarry, and that a lot of stone was removed and transported to Colorado Springs, apparently to build half of the town.  However, beyond the pits, it seems like there hasn’t been a ton of land use, and that it has remained a fairly natural area, with the exception of disturbance by hikers and dogs.

I didn’t particularly notice any birds here.  There were certainly some, but nothing remarkable.  They looked just like common sparrows, not the sort of bird that one would normally make note of.  I suppose that any exceptional birds in the area probably left for the winter and have not yet returned.

The woody plants were entirely evergreens, from what I could see.  Of course, this is no surprise given both the altitude and how unpredictable the weather can be.  Sometimes it’ll snow a foot and then be 80 degrees the next day, which would make it hard for deciduous trees that rely on predictable changes in the weather to deal with the seasons.

This is a link to the spot: https://goo.gl/maps/spbZSZUCeep

And here are three photos!

Natural Commmunities


It’s hard to classify this natural community for two reasons.  The first is that depending on how one looks at it, my spot could contain either two or three natural communities.  The main body of the floodplain is either an intermediate or rich fen as indicated by the sedge grasses and mosses there, as well as the peaty soil.  The slope that leads from the fen up to the cow pasture that is not a part of my spot, but directly adjacent, contains mostly pines and young maples, and appears to be a transition hardwood forest.  If one were to count the actual muddy bank of the river, one would have to include river mud shore in the natural communities present in my spot.  The muddy bank is sometimes exposed, and very sparsely populated with grasses and shrubs in the summer.


Since I was last at my spot, much of the snow has melted, but there’s still quite a bit of ice on the banks.  There are a couple of buds present on the maples, but it’s by no means many, nor do I think that they’ve picked the right time.  The level of the river has increased slightly, but not too much.  It is notable that some of the bank has been undercut just the littlest bit, which I would guess is a result of the slightly increased water level.  This stretch of river is pretty malleable, so I would assume that this is just the start of a little change that will become more evident throughout the spring and into the early summer.  Depending on when we get full snow melt and when it rains, it might change a lot or not at all.  Such is the nature of such curvy stretches of river.


My spot is actually quite interesting to view on BioFinder.  It includes a Highest Priority Wildlife Crossing, Rare Plant and Animal Species, Riparian Wildlife Connectivity, and Highest Priority Surface Water and Riparian Areas.  I’m not surprised by any of the connectivity areas highlighted, because Dorset Street is a fairly large road, so this less-trafficked, less-developed area is an important crossing from one side of Dorset to the other.  I was, however, surprised by the Rare Plant and Animal Species highlighted are.  In fact, the little circle that was highlighted for Rare Animal Species perfectly aligns with my little 15-meter radius spot, so now I’m very curious as to what is there.

Since I was last at this site in the fall, much has changed.  Primarily, most of the leave on the deciduous trees have fallen, and the river has frozen over.  In addition, there’s now snow everywhere.  There are some really interesting shapes created by snow piling on top of broken sections of ice up to a foot thick, which I’ll photograph next time I’m there.  I saw a good number of tracks, but was only able to tentatively identify three, given how much the snow had been blown around.  The pictures of the tracks are below:

The first track appears to be mink, given the bounding pattern, stride length, and proximity to water.  The second is a vole, easily identified by its relatively long stride and lack of a tail drag.  The third track is clearly a rabbit given the shape of the track, as well as the bounding pattern.  The final track appears to be a skunk, although is hard to identify definitively.  Twigs and a twig sketch are below:

The first twig appears to be a Norway Maple, which makes sense given the number of Norway Maples in this area.  The second twig appears to be a Beech, which is, again, characteristic of the area.  The last picture is my sketch of the Norway Maple twig, which may be a poor drawing, but does include the important bits.  Below are a couple of pictures of the rest of my spot, just for fun.

Human Impact, Final Post

The human impacts on my place have been huge.  However, there is very little evidence of that within my spot itself.  To understand the human impacts on my site, we have to expand our view about 20 yards west, to Dorset Street, and about 15 yards north, to the first of the many cattle pastures in the LaPlatte River watershed.


To properly understand this spot, one first has to know a little bit about Charlotte.  Charlotte is a very divided town.  West Charlotte, with its familiar Old Brick Store, is a wealthy town, full of expensive, elegant houses owned primarily by people with lots of money.  It has a winery, a library, a fire department, a pick your own berry farm, and all of the other attractions that make a “nice Vermont town” what it is.  East Charlotte is much more of a normal Vermont town.  The houses aren’t large, there’s no police station, library, fire department, nor winery.  East Charlotte is centered around the Spear Store, whose owner everybody knows by name, and whose guiding philosophy on how to stock her store is “people will always buy beer, chips, and ice cream”[1].  She’s definitely right, and by selling those staples, in addition to gasoline, she’s kept that store open for as long as anyone knows.  East Charlotte is then subdivided again, but not socially.  This division is more of a practical one.  South of the Hinesburg Road, one will see mostly vegetable farms, with a few goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens thrown into the mix.  Of course, there’s a healthy smattering of small houses with no farm or livestock to speak of.  North of the Hinesburg Road, there are cattle farms.


My spot sits right at the place where the cattle farms start in earnest.  On the south bank of the river, there’s a forest that continues up a good few miles, broken only by a few small houses and the patches of grass they maintain out back.  On the north bank of the river, there’s a cattle pasture, one of four owned by the first farm that one encounters driving north on Dorset Street, and all of them drain into the river.  The same is true for nearly every cattle farm one will see driving north on Dorset Street.  Until South Burlington, pretty much everything drains into the LaPlatte, and it shows.  Because I love to fly fish, and the LaPlatte is my local river, I’ve done a sort of impromptu phenology project all year, and the impact of the cattle farms is apparent.  While under normal conditions, a river of this type would be brownish clear, stained with tannins from decaying leaves, that’s never the case.  The river starts at a light brown/green in the spring, and gets progressively more gray/green as the year goes on, and the river absorbs more runoff from the nearby cattle farms.


The road is the other major human impact on the river.  About 20 yards upstream of my spot is a small bridge crossing the river.  While the bridge itself is paved, the roads on either side are dirt, and this is not a low traffic road.  If one is on the river, near the bridge, when a large truck passes by, the dust settling onto the water can actually be seen.  This continual addition of small amounts of dirt to the river has actually caused noticeable sedimentation, which becomes less noticeable the further one goes from the bridge.  The other main impact of the road on the river ecosystem is on the plants that live near the road.  Because of the increased carbon dioxide and heat near the road, different species of plants live there than one would normally expect in this area.  I’m not sure of the species, and it’s not technically in my phenology spot, but it’s clear that there would not normally be a swath of 5 foot tall flowering grasses on the bank of this river, well into November, without some kind of habitat disturbance.


This spot is really so interesting because of the confluence of human and natural influences. While the spot itself may have been entirely undisturbed by humans throughout its entire history, the impact of the road, and the cattle farms, is apparent.  One cannot possibly hope to observe this spot, or take in the changing of the seasons, without accounting for the intense human development that has happened around it.  And, as much as we might hope that the river will be healthier next year, there’s just no way for that to happen without a major shift in the way that people interact with the river, which may never happen out here in the small Vermont town with no impetus to change.

[1] Actual conversation I had with her about 3 weeks ago.

Thanksgiving Spot: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1TcG9rDaBE1Iy1xiGBgNbsikZXak&usp=sharing


The air becomes colder every day, lending the salty sea breeze a subtle bite, sharper with each passing day and every degree colder.  The birds of the marsh have flown, and no longer can the ducks and cormorants be readily seen.  The silence of the shore, half broken by ankle-high wavelets falling on pebble-strewn sand, is overwhelming, begging the passerby both to stay and listen, and to leave the beach in peace. The sea grasses have wilted, giving rise to a soft golden-brown sea whose waves are controlled by the breeze blowing off the Atlantic.  The line between the yellow sand blown into the edge of the marsh and the green stems of the grasses is no longer so apparent, a gradient of earth tones bridging the gap between sand and grass having taken its place.  The water flowing into the marsh while the tide rises is completely clear, and would likely be invisible if it weren’t for the ripples on its surface.  In one of the most pristine seashores that one may find in this day and age, fall has gone and winter has arrived, bringing with it the dry crunch of long dead greenery underfoot and the comforting silence of a shore at rest.



The shores of Wareham, Massachusetts, are mixed with saltwater marshes, populated mainly by tall grasses.  The narrow inlets are bordered by steep sandy banks, which give way to a grassy floodplain after a 1-4 foot vertical climb, depending on the state of the tide.  Examining the bottom of the inlet stream, one finds a number of small shells, containing mostly periwinkles, with a smattering of hermit crabs.  Every now and then, a bird makes an appearance, occasionally a sandpiper that has wandered inland, but mostly herons and every so often, an osprey.  The water is so clear that it would be invisible were it not disturbed by the breeze.  This is in stark contrast to the banks of the La Platte river in Charlotte, Vermont.  The La Platte is so heavily eutrophied that despite a shallow depth of only 2 feet, not even a hint of the bottom can be made out.  The cows in pasture 20 feet up one bank of the river certainly contribute to this.  Where earlier in the year, numerous small mammals could be seen on the banks, and occasionally a fish in the river, very little life can be found now.  The river and its surroundings have turned in for the winter.

Recent Changes:

Since my last visit, the few remaining leaves on the deciduous trees have disappeared.  This is almost certainly a result of the amazing storm last week, which was much stronger in Charlotte than it was in Burlington.  The level of the river has increased a good bit from all the rain.  There’s likely much more fertilizer and manure in the water than there was before, due to runoff after the rains.  More of the dead needles from the evergreens seem to have come down, as the duff underfoot feels a bit thicker.  The cows still moo just as loudly as they always have.


A Trio of Haikus:


A wicked wind blew

Down came the needles and such

An autumn carpet


Smells confront the nose

Pine, manure, rain, fallen leaves

A streamside perfume


Who shall see the sun?

Not I, beneath a green roof

A forest castle

Map and Wildlife

This section of river has fairly small riparian zones by virtue of the steep incline on either side of the river.  However, these steep inclines are wooded, and on the side on which I’m focusing, give way to cattle pasture.  There are definitely squirrels and chipmunks, which can be observed any time.  I also know from prior experience that there are both trout and frogs in this river, but not many because of the poor water quality and eutrophied nature of the river.  The arrow indicates the direction of flow of the river.


Recent Changes:

At this point in time, the phenological change visible in this site is not so drastic.  Because of how warm this autumn has been, and how wet the summer was, most of the plants seem to be in pretty good health.  The leaves are starting to turn in earnest, but haven’t really begun to fall yet.  Essentially all of the wildlife present in this area are still active.  However, the frogs, whose species I do not know, because I have never had the chance to inspect any of them closely, are becoming a bit more quiet, signaling the start of the proper fall.

Description and Vegetation

The center of my phenology spot is beneath a roughly 50 foot tall hemlock tree on the bank of the LaPlatte River in Charlotte.  The river, about 20 feet wide, meanders through its little gulley and has a green/grey color.  It’s pretty severely eutrophied at this location, likely because it’s right in the middle of the Charlotte cattle farming area.  Not a whole lot is living in the river at this time of year except for a few trout that have held on.  The trees are primarily hemlocks and beeches, with a smattering of sugar maple saplings among the grasses and leaves in the understory.  I suspect that if my site were slightly further up the bank, and including the edge of the forest where it meets the pasture, I might find birches.  On one side of the spot is the river, and on the other is a steep bank, about 20 feet vertical at roughly a 40 degree angle, at the top of which is a pasture for cattle.


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