My hometown, Seekonk, Massachusetts, is where I spent this past thanksgiving. My home is a relatively rural area, with woods just behind my house, and a nature reserve only a short walk away. These natural areas had a massive impact on me throughout my childhood. I spent countless days in these woods with my friends or brothers building forts, drawing maps, and exploring. It had a massive impact on my appreciation for nature and grew my connection to this place. I can remember vividly certain parts of the woods that I used to go to, and often I think about those places when I want to relax or fall asleep. But it seems that these areas were only a vessel for memories and experiences to be made. Although I believe the true connection to this place comes from all these memories, feelings, and experiences I made in this place. It truly gives a sense of home and safety that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. One of these feelings that has become especially prevalent when I return home from college or from a vacation somewhere. As I reach my town, I begin to get a strong sense of comfort from the familiarity of the things that I see and recognize from years of living there. But this familiarity is deeper than simply recognizing a place, I would pass schools I went to, houses I have biked and driven past thousands of times, each with meanings and familiarity, different than anyone else’s. One thing that has changed is the people that live around this place. Some families moved away as their kids grew up and moved to other places, and as this happens, other new families move in to raise new kids in their place. But although I may know less of the people around me, my true connection to this place isn’t derived from its people. Of even less importance to me, is the political economic influence on my perception of sense of place. Although this undoubtedly impacts my feeling of sense of place, it is almost subconscious and is not what I think about when I think about my sense of place with my home. By going from living and going to school in this town every day to visiting it every couple of months has greatly impacted my sense of place. Whenever I go back, I feel as though I have lost my connection to this place to a certain extent. As I notice new things around town, no matter how subtle they may be, it gives me feel more distanced to this town that I grew up. Yet over any other place on Earth, I still share a closer bond to this area.
Over the short period of time that we have done this phenology assignment, the change observed has been immense. Over these past couple months, I have observed a variety of phenological changes including the turning and shedding of leaves, the change in the course of the stream, and many plants slow preparation for the impending winter. These plants are truly remarkable in their resistance and ability to change with the seasons. For decades, these plants have survived year after year of harsh winters, violent storms, and deadly droughts, forming the place that I see today.
Although gradual, these changes are noticeable, and reciprocate the changing environment around them. In many other places in the area, similar phenological trends occur, like the changing of foliage, and slow decay of shrubs and tree growth in preparation for winter. These kinds of foliage changes and natural greying of the environment is something that I have experienced my whole life in the North East, so it gives me a sense of home and connection to the land and changing season. For some this “greying” of nature may have negative connotations since it means a long cold winter, yet for me, it is something special since I have spent every year playing in and enjoying the snow and enjoying these winter months as much as I can.
To many these woods may look like they have been around for years. But before they grew back into a forest, they were used to be pastures cleared to raise cows and sheep. Later being bought by UVM, Centennial woods were able to grow back into an area that can be enjoyed for its natural beauty. Beyond its relatively recent history, Centennial Woods itself has changed on a much larger time scale. Every aspect of this area has taken years to grow and build up into what it is now, countless numbers of organisms and processes as well as erosion and meandering of its stream, contributing to what we are able to see today.
Upon arriving to my site, the change could be immediately noticed. The night before going to my site, there were torrential downpours and flooding, and this was very evident at my site. The thing first noticed was the absence of the bridge that is used to cross the brook, which had been pushed downstream by the flooding. Once I got to my site, I also began to realize that almost 4 feet of the brook bank had eroded away due to the flood waters, and the brook had almost doubled its width. The sides of the bank had also been eroded, although some grasses and other vegetation had held much of the soil together, creating somewhat of a cliff. Around my site, I had noticed that much of the vegetation had begun to turn brown and die off. Many of the trees had completely lost their leaves, including the green ash trees which was one of the last trees to lose its leaves. Now only the red maples were left with yellow tinted leaves. I also saw multiple chipmunks gathering nuts and other materials to prepare for the winter. Surrounding the site, many Eastern White Pine trees stand tall with all of their needles, ready for the harsh winter, a factor nearly unchanged by the coming of fall. The fungus pictured represents the circle of life that occurs throughout my sight and plays an equally important role as any other organism at my site. The act of mapping my sight really made me think about and picture what I have seen many times. By drawing a map before, it brought out my perception of my site, based only on how I remember it, forcing myself to think about every rock and plant at my site. This activity made me more focused when I visited it next because I was looking for the details I missed when trying to map it from memory, changing how I observed my site.
I choose my location out of accessibility and natural beauty and serenity. My place is one commonly looked past. My location is a spot in Centennial Woods. As you walk through the entrance to Centennial Woods you walk down the path to the first opening. Walking down the path to the right, you eventually reach a small creek, bordered by thick vegetation and shaded by tall evergreens. Right over the small bridge, I found my location. This spot is just far enough from the road, that many of the sounds of human development can’t be heard. This allows for a true immersion into nature. The flow of the stream and occasional chirp of birds or frogs almost completely covers up the sounds of urban life. This serene spot is a very accessible way of going somewhere without the constant hum of urban life. My time I spend at this spot allows for my mind to settle and not worry about due dates or exams. This spot is truly peaceful, and is a perfect example of natures beauty. But the true beauty is when you look deeper into the location, into how the river banks have formed, and been shaped over years of slow erosion to form the brook. Following this erosion, trees followed, holding soil into place and establishing a bank held together by years of root growth. Through the securing of the brook banks, smaller vegetation filled in the gaps and built up the surrounding ecosystem around this bank. Understanding this gradual and natural process contributes to an appreciation of the area. Every aspect of this area has taken years to grow and build up into what it is now, countless numbers of organisms and processes contributing to what we are able to see today. A lot of my appreciation for nature and the world around me is how long it took to create them. The brook took many years of constant water meandering to form what it is today, moving soil and rocks with only the force of running water. Even the landscape we live in today has taken million years to form, and is still forming and changing.
Written by: Collin Brown