Spring!

Today, Centennial Woods was green for the first time in months. Buds are beginning to open up on the trees, and the shrubs along the ground have sprouted leaves. Due to the recent abundance of rain, the stream is full and flows throughout the park.

Nature and culture intertwine in many ways in Centennial Woods. As discussed throughout the semester, the land that this park is located on, as well as all of the land where we work and live, is indigneous land, and we should honor that more than we do. Nature and culture also intertwine as Centennial is an educational hub for UVM and Rubenstein, and I think that this could be used to provide more education about indigenous issues.

When I first entered Centennial Woods in August, I said that I felt at home. My relationship to this forest has only grown and deepened as the year has progressed, and as I have learned more about its ecology and phenology, and I am thankful for this relationship knowing that as I continue my time at UVM I can turn to Centennial Woods for solitude in nature when I need it.

I’m not much of an artist, but I’ve always wished I was. I find that abstract lines and shapes are the best way for me to express myself in drawings. I made this quick sketch today as I sat beside the stream.

Spring Break Phenology

Over Thanksgiving break I spent time at Castlewood State Park, which falls on the Meramec River in St. Louis, Missouri. During spring break I returned again to the river, but to a different park called Sherman Beach.

Sherman Beach is located at the end of a windy, sometimes spooky, road in the West County suburbs of St. Louis, in my hometown of Ballwin. Despite this, however, the park is visited often, mostly by high school students eager to climb up to the train tracks on warm afternoons, and often by those daring or foolish enough to graffiti them. This proved to be a perfect day for climbing, and I found myself looking down at the riparian ecosystem from above.

Despite the season, the beach appears rather lifeless. Spring is approaching in Missouri, but the trees and shrubs in Sherman are still very bare, their brown woody branches extending high over the river. The banks are sandy, and lend themselves to very little growth at any time of year. I had hoped that outside of Vermont I would find the flowers and green that I have always associated with spring, but it seems that I am a bit too early.

The close proximity of the park to suburban homes and train tracks also makes wildlife sightings rare. Occasionally one car hear a rustle in the leaves or a birdcall in the distance, but I failed to encounter any animals face to face as I hiked through the woods before reaching the tracks.

Species common to this area, however, include white-tailed deer, squirrels, and Canadian geese. Red cardinals, as our baseball team is fittingly named, can occasionally be seen flying through the trees alongside robins, blue jays, and wrens.

Centennial Woods and Sherman Beach are fairly similar. Both contain primarily deciduous forests alongside riparian areas, sprinkled with shrubs. Both see a lot of human activity, containing hiking trails and being located in close proximity to residential areas. In both parks, walls of graffiti contrast the natural beauty of the forest in a way that first intrigues, then saddens me.

Natural Communities of Centennial Woods

Centennial Woods contains both wetlands and woodlands. Much of it is woodlands; walking along the trail, you encounter a diverse selection of trees. Paper and yellow birches, red and sugar maples, hemlocks, white pines, and many others. The woodland, however, gives way to wetland where the stream flows, and trees are traded for riparian shrubs.

I hesitate to classify Centennial Woods as a wildland because it is so often frequented by people. Trails crisscross the woods, littered cans and wrappers are occasionally seen alongside the stream bank, and graffiti can be found within the park. Centennial, though beautiful, is no longer a wild place.

Though spring has yet to show it’s face, snow is beginning to melt in Centennial Woods and I’m sure that the trees will soon be green.

 

It’s Winter!

It’s been awhile since I made my way down to Centennial Woods, and it is a very different place than the last time I did. The streams I used to dip my toes are covered in snow, the leaves I used to use to identify the trees have all fallen. Many animal tracks have been covered by the recent snow, but a few fresh ones can be found. In winter, Centennial Woods is a much different, much quieter place; it is a different sort of beautiful.

 

I spotted tracks like this in three different places at Centennial Woods. It is difficult to say exactly what they are, as the tracks somewhat resemble a coyote or red fox. In truth, though, these could simply be dog tracks, which I may just be reluctant to admit because I was hoping to see tracks from wildlife. The fresh dusting of snow, however, could have played a role in hiding them from me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These tracks were more difficult to identify, however, as they were clearly older. The tracks on the left appear to be that of a bounder, while those on the right more resemble a diagonal walker.

There were other signs of wildlife in Centennial too, including, in two locations, what appeared to be blood.

 

This first photo features one bright red spot alongside a few brownish spots, which may be other blood droplets that have since been trampled or covered by snow.

 

 

The second photo shows another spot of blood. This one, however, appears to be more of a smear than simply a drop.

 

 

As the leaves have all fallen from the deciduous trees, I must now depend on other characteristics to identify them. I selected three diverse twigs to try to identify.

I believe that the first twig belongs to a red maple, the second to a boxelder, and the third to a willow.

A Change of Scenery

The first time I went to Centennial Woods I said that it reminded me of a state park near my house called Castlewood, and because of that it made me feel at home. I thought it only made sense that while I was back in St. Louis I visited Castlewood, and at home I felt. The trails of Castlewood State Park are as cutoff from the hustle and bustle of life as you can get in West County. They wind through woods, radiating a sense of calm that I gladly take a piece of to carry with me. The stream, when the rain has been plentiful and the water is high, is cool and refreshing in the summer – my favorite time to visit. Today, I do not dip my toes into the cold water. The stream is low, but still intrigues me, still calms me. Sitting here, thinking of Centennial Woods, I feel grateful and at peace. Leaving Vermont behind and coming home to Missouri has been hectic and emotional, but I’m realizing here that feeling I have two homes now shouldn’t make me feel torn. Instead, I feel more whole knowing that I have more than one place where I can experience this comfort and serenity.

Though many of the feelings of Centennial Woods and Castlewood are similar, they have many ecological differences. While Centennial Woods has a combination of deciduous and coniferous trees, the trees at Castlewood are exclusively deciduous. This may mean that the soil at Castlewood is less acidic. There are also recreational differences. The Centennial Woods trail is for walking only, with little space for parking, but bikers frequent the trails of Castlewood and cars can be seen driving throughout the park.

Centennial Woods Haikus

Another visit to Centennial Woods included a further decrease in canopy and green, and an increase in leaves carpeting the ground. The trail filled me both with nostalgia for the warmth summer and a longing for winter and snow.

 

Summer

The sun shines down on

My bare legs in the grass

All things are alive

 

Autumn

The leaves are falling

And soon the trees will be bare

I can feel the change

 

Winter

Bare branches like bones

Extending fingers from earth

Dead as are the plants

Changing

It’s 71 degrees in Centennial Woods today. The sun is out, but a brisk wind blows through the trees and through my hair. The first time I came here, I looked up and saw green. Green needles and green leaves covered every tree. Two weeks ago, I looked up to a still full canopy, but one on the brink of change. Leaves were beginning to turn yellow, orange, and red. Today, it seems like I missed almost all of that change in such a short time. When I look up, I see green again: the green of coniforous tree needles here to stay, and of Norway Maple leaves that have not yet begun their metamorphosis. The shrubs – barberry, buckthorn, and others – and the ferns remain unchanged, but there is an abundance of bare trees now, and an even greater abundance of fallen brown leaves covering the ground, trail, and stream.

The animals have not yet gone for winter, into hibernation or away in migration. I don’t see any, but I hear the occasional ruffle of leaves or snap of twigs that I know come from animal movement. Bird song persists almost constantly; flies buzz their wings close to my ear. I need only to turn over one of the rocks at the bottom of the stream to see the many macroinvertebrates that dwell there.

Today is October 23rd, and Centennial Woods is very much alive.

I wonder how long it will be before it is too cold for these creatures, or before it is too cold for me to dip my toes into the stream as I write.

An aerial sketch of the area

 

Exploration and Inquiry

Today I went to Centennial Woods to hike and hammock, and I found that there is so much more to the natural area than I realized. Centennial is both very big and very diverse, and I’m looking forward to exploring the trails, learning more about the organisms, and observing the environmental changes through the seasons both in and outside of my selected radius.

A few questions I have about Centennial Woods after today:

 

 

What are the physical, chemical, and biological conditions of the streams in Centennial Woods?

 

 

 

What made these holes?

 

 

 

 

What about these?

 

 

 

 

How do man-made structures impact the ecosystem?

 

 

 

And how do they impact the aesthetic/recreational value of the area?

 

 

Introduction

 

The first time I went to Centennial Woods I was struck by how home I felt. The trail is very reminiscent of a state park near my house, named Castlewood. I couldn’t think of a better place to spend my time throughout the year.

 

 

 

Centennial Woods is located just off campus, past the UVM medical center.

 

 

 

The forest is rich with diverse trees and vegetation, including many of the 21 tree species we studied in class. Clearings of paper birch and others of white pine are present, and buckthorn and barberry line the brook’s edge.