The River Gets The Last Word

I found myself looking at a curious scene when I arrived at my phenology place for the final time this season. Transformed, eroded, and buried in silt, the place I’ve come to know was mostly submerged by the rushing water. The air was warm and windy as sunshowers sprinkled across the landscape. My last visit couldn’t celebrate phenology more, yet it felt odd knowing that I would leave the place at the mercy of the river, unsure of how the springtime torrents will change the face of its surroundings. Maybe that is what I love most about my place, its extreme dynamism. I never quite know what to expect with each visit, as the river seems to have the final say in dictating the condition of the land.

When I turned and left my place, I truly felt like a mere visitor. A priviledged visitor, lucky to enjoy the place I chose as mine to study months ago, but a visitor nonetheless. In the long run, I won’t have much of an impact on my place, and it almost seems silly to call it mine at all. For each time I look, I see that I am not alone. I am one of many visitors, each of whom make the place what it is.

Upon my last visit, the particular crowd of characters that were visiting my place were indicative of spring. The buds on the trees were beginning to burst, and birdsong filled the air around me. I saw a pair of birds, peeling bark from the silver maples as they conducted their business which is rather mysterious to me. For the first time I noticed small flying insects hanging in the air, accompanied by a flock of Canada Geese making their seasonal migration. The earth was washed anew, with a few brave leaves poking through the soil, preparing to paint this year’s unique canvas on the earth. The scene was an odd mix of barren and vibrant, as the springtime species started to flourish.

I was also reminded that I am not unique as a human visitor. As I sat on the shore, a canoe being paddled by fellow Rubenstein students floated by, and we exchanged a wave. The Winooski Valley Park District signs that hang from the trees are symbolic of a recreational presence, and the surrounding fields show that the area supports human nourishment in addition to the more spontaneous ecosystem that fills the gaps between cultivation. I also thought about the area’s rich history. Perhaps, centuries ago, one of the native Abenaki stood where I was. Maybe not on the same land, as the river ensures each flood makes the land new, but on a similar floodplain parallel to that which I know. Then, that thought made me think of the circumstances that led me to stand on the rivers shore instead of that Abenaki. A complex and all too likely unjust human history is responsible for the area’s current condition, and I can’t help but feel the weight and some responsibility for all that has occurred here, because I too am a visitor just as much as anyone else who has set foot on the land we call the Intervale. The nature and culture of the place are one, and I have become caught in the middle of it during my passing glimpses this year.

The river, however, has seen it all. The river is one constant, and while it changes, I know it will always be there. Maybe one day it will cease to flow, but when that day comes it would be difficult to call it the same place. The river came before all of the visitors that I have personally seen, and it will outlive us all too. Even the silver maples, which seem so steady and so integral to my place, will be outlived by the river. And I think that the fleeting nature makes it all beautiful. I hope to visit again, for I don’t want this visit to be my last goodbye. Until then I will carry what the place has taught me: we all live in the hands of rivers.

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A Blank Canvas

This gallery contains 4 photos.

While the advance into spring has been tentative to say the least, on Wednesday the intervale was showing signs of seasonal change. The area was in a time of transition- the thick slabs of ice left over from winter haven’t … Continue reading

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Spring Break!

I spent my spring break with the UVM cycling team in Brevard, North Carolina. We spent the week riding in various locations across the western half of the state, which gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in a landscape that is rather different from the location I’ve been studying in Vermont.

The place that I chose to look at in more depth was on the Ingles Field Gap trail in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest. The Bent Creek Experimental Forest is an area that was designated in 1927 to study the rehabilitation of degraded, cutover forests. It is the oldest experimental forest east of the Mississipi River. The natural area had been abused and overharvested prior to its governmental establishment, but has since become a valuable research location for the US Forest Service. Now part of the Pisgah National Forest, Bent Creek is a fairly well-preserved ecosystem that is still a valuable asset for contemporary forestry research. Bent Creek is also home to a trail system open to hikers and mountain bikers, which is why I found myself there.

The Location of my Spring Break Phenology Place

The phenological condition of the Pisgah National Forest is very different from Northern New England. While Vermont was under a barrage of multiple Noreasters, I was at Bent Creek where it was in the mid-40s without much sign of snow. My place was quiet and eerie, perched on a hill with a thick cloud of mist hanging in the air. The forest was ahead of Burlington in the race toward spring, but the deciduous trees in the area still hadn’t popped their buds. The woody vegetation was still in a state of winter dormancy, with heavy frosts still occurring at night at higher elevations. The natural communities present were fairly different from what I am used to. The most notable change was the abundance of Rhododendrons, which was the only green present aside from some scattered conifers. In some places, the Rhododendrons would create a thick corridor around the trails we rode our bikes through, which created a striking and unusual aesthetic. The deciduous trees, barren of leaves, were difficult for me to identify in a foreign environment, but I did notice some oaks and the distinct opposite branching patterns of various maple species. I didn’t see any wildlife in my visit at Bent Creek, likely because the group I was in scared any birds or mammals away on our bikes. The wildlife in the area is probably wary of the heavy presence of people recreating.

Mixed Hardwoods at Bent Creek

The geology of North Carolina was quite interesting to me. I mostly noticed a mix of mineral soils and clay, all of which had a rusty orange tinge. The topography was very mountainous, but the latitude meant that the species present at various elevation gradients were drastically different from those in more northern mountains. The place I studied was probably at around 2500-3000 feet above sea level, but the forest was a mixed hardwood community, but in Vermont, a forest at that elevation would likely be a montane red spruce-yellow birch forest. Even on trails that took us to elevations of 4000 feet, hardwoods were dominant. It was odd to think that we were riding trails that were the same height as Mount Mansfield, yet the forest structure was more similar to the lowlands of Vermont than any kind of northern alpine community.

I had a great week in North Carolina, and I wish I could have spent more time there. My days in Brevard were fast paced and I didn’t get a chance to slow down and deeply immerse myself in the landscape, but still, my trip was a great way to see more parts of the country. Now that I am back in Burlington, it feels like I have gone back in phenological time because of the new blanket of snow that fell over Vermont in my absence. The longer days and higher sun, however, suggest that spring is just around the corner.

I’ll admit that this photo wasn’t taken at Bent Creek, but the view from the Black Mountain Trail does a good job of capturing the topography of Pisgah National Forest

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A Muddy Floodplain


Unfortunately, due to the fickle nature of cell phone batteries in the cold, this is the only photo documentation I have of my last visit to the intervale

The last time I visited my phenology place the landscape was covered in a thick sheet of ice. A month later, that ice has been traded for mud. Once the tires of my bike left the firm surface of maintained roads, it immediately became clear that the infamous New England mud season is upon us. Nearly all of the ice present just one month ago is now gone, aside from some larger slabs on the bank of the Winooski. The river itself has melted too, and it was flowing at a much higher level. Melt at the surface supported by a still impermeable layer of frost in the ground has caused the whole floodplain forest and agricultural fields to become waterlogged.

The center of my phenology place was at a transition point, caught in a tug of war between spring and the remnants of winter. The weather reflected that: it was lightly snowing, with temperatures in the mid-30s. The ground was still covered with thick, though crumbling, slabs of ice. On top of that ice, however, the river has deposited about two inches of sediment, causing the area to be a treacherous mucky mess full of sinkholes and thin ice that made walking a challenge. I still find it almost unbelievable that the river could reach a level high enough to wash sediments several feet up the shore, but the evidence of flooding is there. I’d like to see the river when it is swelled with melt and rainwater, but maybe only from a safe distance. The power of the river is fascinating, but also makes me wary of the how much of an influence hydrology has on the landscape.

The battle I saw last month occurring between a leaning silver maple and river ice has continued, and the Winooski is winning. The silver maple in the cover photo of the blog that arcs at nearly a 45-degree angle over the river is now leaning almost level with the ground. The continuous pull of ice that has embedded the tree in conjunction with the suddenly muddy terrain seems to have caused the tree to lose its footing.

There were more signs of active wildlife yesterday. Crows had a heavier presence than ever. Hundreds flocked in the fields around my place, and there was rarely a silent moment uninterrupted by their incessant cawing. Birds-maybe a crow, maybe something else, also left white specks from their droppings on top of the otherwise brown mud. That mud that now covers everything also tells another story. A small set of tracks with a gait that was unmistakable as that of a bounder pattered across the ice on the shore. Due to the small print size, about 1″, I would guess that the animal that left the trail was most likely a weasel or a mink. I expect to see even more signs of life in the coming months as spring truly takes its hold on the landscape.

Aside from direct observations, I’ve learned quite a bit about the landscape of my place through Vermont ANR’s Biofinder site as well as the field guide Wetland, Woodland, Wildland. My phenology place is located in a Silver Maple-Ostrich Fern Riverine Floodplain Forest. The site is on a riverbank with the dominant tree being Silver Maple. The substrate is course, wet sediment at low elevations, which supports species such boxelder and invasives like buckthorn. I didn’t note the presence of ostrich fern when there were herbaceous plants present at the site, so I’ll have to look for them later in the spring. My site bears a strong resemblance to the Silver Maple-Ostrich Fern community, and Biofinder confirmed my observations. Biofinder also identified the area surrounding my place as a home to rare aquatic animals, a key point of riparian wildlife connectivity, all nestled in a high priority interior forest block. The Winooski River is a body of water with critical significance to the natural surroundings, and it intersects my phenology site in a place that is a patchwork of agricultural and natural landscapes. Doing a bit of research on the area has made me realize that my phenology site is a very interesting place to study, but also a place that holds huge ecological importance.


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Ice, Ice, and More Ice!!!

It has been two months since I’ve set foot on the intervale to visit my phenology place, and the changes that have occurred are drastic. While it was clear that the geographic location was the same, in some ways the whole area was almost unrecognizable, namely that the entire intervale has donned a thick covering of ice. My guess is that the ice sheet is left over from the flooding that happened in January during a large thaw event. The windblown environment seemed harsh and lifeless, a stark contrast from the fertile agricultural hub that I remembered from the fall.

Ice covers the entire floodplain

I was ill prepared to travel over such a large expanse of ice, and what would typically be a fairly short bike ride to my phenology place turned into an hour long, slippery endeavor. On the plus side, my slow rate of travel proved that my initial assessment of the area as being fairly lifeless was wrong. I started to notice tracks in the patches of snow that hadn’t blown away, along with a few other signs of wildlife as well. I saw telltale evidence of beaver in the woods on the way to my place.

Today was the first time that I saw fairly undeniable beaver marks on trees

Once I arrived to my actual place, it was quite different than the last time. The Winooski has frozen into a stationary slab of icy rubble, with woody debris caught up in the midst. Rather than a sandy shoreline, the ground was covered in thick, broken, upturned slabs of ice. The leaning silver maple that I’ve featured on the blog before was snapped of, the crown embedded and jutting out of ice down below. This visit truly showcased the power that rivers have.

Slabs of Ice 6 inches to about a foot thick covered the ground

There were some animal tracks at my phenology place. There were tracks that were definitely a dog, judging by the erratic trail and proximity to a popular walking and nordic skiing trail. Another set of smaller, canine prints meandered over the snow, and the trail went under the ice a few times. I couldn’t confirm whether the tracks were a curious small dog or a fox hunting for rodents that took refuge among the cracks in the ice. Tracks from a gray squirrel galloped through my place as well. Even in harsh winter conditions, animals are active.

Top: Gray Squirrel Tracks
Bottom: Dog Print

I’m fairly familiar with the hardwoods in my phenology place. There is a long silver maple stand along the shoreline, and a few box elder trees farther from the shore. My phone died so I was only able to take a few photos of twigs. I also saw another tree that I am still unable to identify. Its alternate branching, slender pointed buds, and lenticels resemble a birch, but it wasn’t a paper or yellow birch, so I’m not really sure what this tree is. It was a small tree with dark gray bark. If anyone has any ideas as to what this tree could be, I’d be happy to hear them!

The mystery (Some kind of birch?) twig in question

Silver Maple Twig

Labeled Sketch of a Boxelder twig

I enjoyed my most recent visit to my phenology place, and am glad I was able to see all of the unique ice formations that had occurred. Due to the impermanence of winter conditions, by the next time I visit all signs of the Icy spectacle could be gone or covered with snow depending on what the winter brings.

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Reflections on Land Use and an Early December Visit

The fall semester is coming to an end, and I’m sad to say this is likely the last time I’ll see my phenology place for a while. This visit was on an unusually warm December day, it was about 40 degrees with the sun beaming down. As I pedaled my bike down the intervale road withering evidence of the summer’s farming season lay to either side of me. A pileated woodpecker flew through the trees lining the road, bringing a flash of red color to the otherwise dull canopy. The presence of an elegant focal species of NR1 seemed fitting for my final visit this year.

Though the landscape seems rather bare at this time of year, even in the beginnings of winter it is easy to see why people have been drawn to the intervale for so long. The rich soils, the proximity of the river, and an abundance of flora and fauna make the intervale highly habitable for people. There is a rich history of land use on the intervale, dating back well before European settlement.

The Abenaki were the first known settlers of the intervale, and their presence dates back to around 3000 B.C. The area was used for fishing, hunting, and some subsistence farming. Repeated flooding from the Winooski River renews the fertility of the Intervale when high waters bring new, nutrient-rich soils and sediment to the floodplain. Accordingly, the area continues to be biologically productinve after thousands of years of human use.

Once European settlers arrived, they quickly realized the area’s agricultural potential and began farming, more intensely than the Abenaki. Settlers flocked to the area, including Ethan Allen, whose homestead is not too far from my phenology place.The commodities being produced have varied over time, from grain to dairy, and now vegetable farming, but farming has been a ubiquitous part of human culture at the intervale.

In the twentieth century, the land use diversified. For a time the intervale hosted a municipal dump, though that was closed in the 1970s. The intervale saw more industrial operations as well, including a wood-fired power plant that still runs today. Right now, the intervale is primarily used to produce local vegetables as well as a recreation area, which is evident from the network of trails and agricultural fields.

(Information sourced from Burlington GeographicThe Lake Champlain Basin Program, and The Intervale Center)

Today I was just a passerby, thinking about the history of my place but also making observations in the present. A flock of crows gathered at the dairy farm across the river, their calls mingling with the few brave songbirds that overwinter here. Since my last visit, my place feels even more dead, with fewer plants covering the ground. The river itself has changed too, likely due to recent rainfall the riverbank has eroded leaving steep unstable banks. I sat for a while, listening to the birds and noticing the earthy scent that accompanies the river. After some time passed, it was time to leave. I noticed some signs of beaver activity for the first time, the more open ground revealed that saplings along the riverbank have been chewed off and harvested. With each visit I learn something new about my place, and I’m sure that there is still much more to discover.

Here are some photos from today:

Much of my place has gone into dormancy, and it looks ready for winter


A few shriveled berries were some of the only splashes of bright color left

Even late in the season, my place sees other human visitors

Next spring’s buds have formed on the silver maples

The lack of ground cover makes it easier to see a concerning amount of litter along the riverbank

Regulations on land use have been posted

Erosion of the riverbank

Today was likely my final visit this year, luckily it was on a rather pleasant day


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Phenology in Warner, NH

Over Thanksgiving break I visited a new place near my home in Warner, New Hampshire. Here is a map showing where my place is:

Here’s a Link to a Google Map

A Description of my new place inspired by the style of Aldo Leopold:


The leaf litter of late November crackles underfoot as I weave through oak and hemlock stands. A warm breeze greets me, comfortable yet unusual for the time of year. I meet a stone wall, built generations ago by farmers who are now long gone. The stone has stayed constant through the passing of years and seasons, the granite remains relatively unmoved even through drastic change of the surrounding landscape. I follow the wall, until I reach a clearing on the western side of the wall, a scar across the landscape from a recent timber harvest.

There is a strong juxtaposition of landscapes around the wall, one side lined with a growing stand of trees, while the other is bare and open. A few songbirds flit amongst the oaks that remain to my left, seemingly indifferent to the approach of winter, while to my right I see the telltale signs of deer browsing on the saplings that have just began to appear where a forest used to stand.

I look to the sky, thin clouds hanging in a blue sky. I see no birds, but their voices can be heard from the surrounding trees, a chorus of low calls and whistles. The sun is low on this late autumn afternoon, casting a pale gold over the entire landscape. After sitting for awhile, I leave, pondering the wall, the clearing, and the remaining forest, thinking of the people who have been here before and who might be here in the future.


A comparison of my place in New Hampshire to my place in Burlington in the style of Mary Holland:


A standout difference between the ecology of the two places is the proximity of water. My place in Burlington is right on the Winooski, whereas my place in New Hampshire is relatively far from any body of water, which affects the geology and species composition of both areas, as well as the phenology of both those places.

The place I’ve been visiting on the intervale shows telltale signs of its location on a riverbank. The soil is dark, moist and sandy from sediment that the Winooski has carried through the area. The only tree species that is present right along the bank is the silver maple, which is suited to proximity to water. The rich soil supports an abundance of herbaceous vegetation as well, though most of it has been claimed by frost at this point. However, the sheltered location has meant that it has been a little behind the surrounding area in terms of change towards winter.

My place in New Hampshire is on a somewhat elevated location, and lies on granite bedrock covered by a thin layer of sandy loam. The area is not as rich with vegetation, and the dominant trees are Eastern Hemlock, White pine, with a few Red and White Oaks mixed in. There is little understory where the forest hasn’t been disturbed, and where it has been cleared some grasses and and saplings are struggling to grow in the poor soil. The most prominent sign of wildlife is deer browse and an active bird population. Nearly all leaves are off the trees, and although it has been unseasonably warm the area still is inicative of late fall.

Though both places I’ve visited are relatively close geographically, they are very different in terms of ecology and phenology. There is a diverse range of ecosystems, even within northern New England.

Here are some photos of my new place in New Hampshire:

A stone wall separates land cleared in fall of 2016 from land that has been undisturbed since the 1990’s

Telltale signs of previous land clearance

Earlier stages of succession in the recently logged side of my place

Blown down snags on the forested side

Mount Kearsarge, perhaps the most prominent landmark of the area, looms in the distance

Some sketches of things I saw at this place

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The season has changed to grey

The past two weeks have brought wind, rain and cold that have stripped my place of vibrant fall colors. Rain was falling softly overhead, and the river was full, creeping up the bank towards the edge of the woods. All of the foliage has since been knocked off of the silver maples, leaving a tangle of dead grass and leaves on the ground above the silty riverbank. The area is preparing for winter- I could no longer hear songbirds or insects in the surrounding woods. A flock of geese flew overhead, honking and making a racket as they underwent their seasonal migration. Not all species are leaving or going dormant, however. The soft sandy soils left telltale signs that a deer had paid a visit to the spot I’m studying. I have yet to see the effects of a hard frost on the landscape, but I feel that will happen before my next visit.

An event map depicting my experience this week:

Deer prints in the shore:

I had the pleasant surprise of seeing a flock of geese fly overhead:

Here’s a video

It was a grey, dreary morning:

I’ve also composed a poem about my relationship with the seasonal changes my place has endured:

I’ve come to know a place

so close to the travelled path, yet

just out of sight


When I’m lucky

I find time to steal away from a turbulent life

down to this place by the river


Upon each arrival

it is the same

but different.

Every week or so brings a stark change to the land


To me, the change is


and sudden

yet I know this isn’t the case


The place is always changing,


I’m just not there to see it


Instead I am elsewhere,

removed from that place

wondering about the events unfolding in my absence

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Fall is Here

A few weeks have passed since my last visit, and when I made my way to my place it was clear that fall has come. The ground was littered with leaves, the air was cooler, and the adjacent cornfield had since been harvested.

Upon arrival I realized that my place was no exception. Sheltered, low, and right on the river, my place has been a few weeks behind the rest of Burlington in regard to the changing seasons, but now it is finally succumbing to the inevitability of the incoming winter. The silver maples’ leaves have been turning yellow and now they line the riverbank and are tangled in the thinning, yellowing grass above the shore. A few herbaceous plants were going to seed. My place was quiet when I visited. The frogs are absent, and the grass no longer rustles with every step as they frantically hop to and fro. In fact, the only signs of animal life I noticed were the footprints of a passerby and their dog left on the shore of the river. I left my place early in the evening, and the sun was already starting to set over the Intervale. I’m sure that by my next visit further change will occur, and the sun will be setting earlier still.

A birds eye representation of my place

Fall has arrived

More tracks in the sand


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Getting to Know My Place

I’ve visited my place a second time and done a little poking around. Here’s what I found out:

I arrived at my place early in the morning, just after sunrise. The air was filled with the whir of insects with the occasional bird call mixed in. My spot is low, shaded, and very close to the water’s edge. Possibly for this reason, the signs of fall haven’t quite crept in to my place as they have the surrounding area. Leaves are still bright and green, and the area seems to be bustling with animal life.

My place has a grassy ground cover over soil that seems like silty river sediment at first glance. The dominant tree species is silver maple, there are a few medium sized maples that mark the center of the area I’m studying. There are also a few boxelder trees and buckthorn plants located a little farther away from the river bank. Another observation I made right away is that there are frogs everywhere! They were too quick for me to take a picture, but I’ll try and get some froggy photos in a future post.

My place is a nice spot, I recommend checking it out if you can! Here are some photos:

The sun rising over my place

A Silver Maple leaf, still green and clinging on to summer

The bank of the Winooski


Only kidding- stay tuned for more updates!

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