Sense of Place: The Freedom Trail

I have very strong connections to the town I grew up. I spent much of my childhood and developing years exploring the parks and woods of Trumbull Connecticut. I have been very fortunate to grow up in a town with several parks and trails. And while I equally admire the more urban areas and street I lived on, for this post I am going to be focusing on the place I have the strongest connection to and feel the most attached, the Freedom Trail.

Throughout my several years of living in Trumbull, I have created countless memories walking along the Freedom trail. It is a staple in my small town and has significance in the majority of the residents lives. Let me describe it to you. This man made trail sits in the middle of civilization and nature. You can enter by parking your car at the end of a quiet street and climbing a staircase until you reach the path. The beginning of the trail has a canopy of tree cover, but the urbanized land around you is still visible. It is easy to see houses and hear cars. As you walk farther along the beaten down dirt trail, the houses start to turn to trees until suddenly you are in the middle of the woods. I can see small running streams and rivers from my elevated place on the trail. But if you decide to climb off of the path, you can be rewarded by less traveled quieter paths that run through the woods. Each mile you walk is marked by a bench, donated from the local PTA. You could walk for hours and still not be done, the Freedom trail stretches way into neighboring towns. Ecologically, it is beautiful. The city planners designed it well.

From a personal sense this trail as been formative in who I am today. My sense of place and connection with my town is entirely characterized by my memories on this trail. Thinking back upon those memories, I remember the many after school walks with my mom and dogs when I was little. The first time I ran a mile without stopping and the joy I felt reaching the wooden bench waiting for me. I remember how it turns to ice after the first winter freeze, making it hard to walk without a pair of spikes. The many afternoons spent getting in shape for my high school field hockey tryouts burn in the back of my brain. This is where I would go for walks after school with my friends talking about college and our futures and never wanting to leave. Here, amongst the scuttle of squirrels and chirping of birds, I have listened to hours of good music and good podcasts. This trail IS my sense of place. 

Returning home the trail welcomed me back. It was the same. But I was different. I seemed to pay more attention to the tree species and plants around me, delighted that I could identify more than when I left home. I was able to understand why certain parts of the trail had eroded and others stayed the same. My appreciation for the Freedom Trail has grown since being at UVM. I know as the climate changes, it will too, The increasing intense storms will cause it to weather faster and start to become just a part of the mountain side. The species living there will change, as a warmer climate will drive many out. It will be very different and the whole town will morun. This trail has been a home to so many memories and stories. My sense of place within my town has grown because of this natural beauty.

A painting I did of the trail.

Sense of Place

Hello again! Welcome back to my blog! It is currently snowing out as I write this! YAY for Vermont winters! It’s hard to even recognize my place as its covered in the white powder! Walking to my spot I noticed the Quarry completely frozen over. My path was blanketed in white and the bright fall colors were nowhere to be seen. It feels slightly more empty now that the trees are barren and the forest is covered in white. I have started to create a strong attachment to my place as I walk to visit it weekly with my friend Grace. And as I start to connect and create and attachment to this place I have decided to think about those before me, humans and nonhumans who have also made connections to these beautiful trees and plants.

Clearly we are excited about the snow…

Changes in Phenology…

There are many changes going on currently in the Redstone woods. Just a few weeks ago I saw dozens of chipmunks scurrying around collecting nuts. Now the woods were much more silent. I saw one grey squirrel and one rabbit as I walked to my place. The forest floor is peacefully quiet, but it is different than before. It is completely blanketed in snow, the aster flowers and small plants trying to establish themselves in the soils weeks before are now covered with the cold veil of death. While I still heard the chirping of birds, it felt different as I looked up and could actually see the sky. There are no leaves left on my trees now, meaning there is much more light entering through the canopy. I was the first to visit spot since the snow, there were no other footprints or human activity. I feel connected to my place differently as it gets colder than I did while it was fall. I personally felt a stronger sense of place with the colorful leaves, as I have a strong personal connection to fall. Now as it is colder and I need to bundle up to walk over, I feel slightly more dislike towards the place. This in no means however suggests I no longer feel a strong sense of place in my spot, as I love to document its phenological changes and feel myself change with it.

From a larger point of View…

Looking at my space as a component of larger area I can see the benefits it has for both UVM and Vermont. At UVM even though it is just a small natural area, It provides the students with access to a green space which is both a physical and mental health benefit. It helps to diversify and make campus more visually appealing, this natural area is the backdrop of a parking lot, without it the campus would seem like dreary concrete. Besides health and visual benefits this area also helps to preserve many of Vermonts valuable natural species. While this natural area is small, it is still important in biodiversity conservation and animal habitats. I have seen countless small mammals scurrying through it, the tall oak trees provide food and shelter for these animals. I also see lots of native species growing within my spot, which helps to strengthen Vermonts biodiverse ecosystem. While this spot works to bring nature and animal habitats onto UVMs campus it also helps on a larger scale. Looking at this place in terms of its value to Vermont, it provides yet more natural land that sequester carbon, mitigate climate change, and create a diversity of native genes. You can almost never go wrong with natural areas!

Historical Value…

This natural area separates the UVM campus and the neighboring golf course. It was probably manually planted with the very intention of doing that. The forest, while it serves a purpose also provides a beautiful place for students on campus. I know several students who love this small area of woods because it provides privacy to go sit in nature with your thoughts. I imagine in the 19th century my place was probably not around at all and was mostly farm land. While someone may have had a connection to that place it is very different than my sense of place is today, seeing I cherish it for its tall trees and natural area. Historically numerous other students have probably found their own reasons to be attached to these woods.

In conclusion…

Winter means lots of new things for my spot! The animals are changing- or should I saw hibernating. The trees are bare and the forest floor is more bare. It is colder out and everything is covered in snow. While this is a slow season for forest productivity I still see much going on. Walking back I noticed the roads covered in the ironically cheery rainbows of oil. As salt is placed on the road and pollutants like this oil start to run off into the woods and water bodies, I wonder the damage it will cause. Vermont winters are brutal and we are just getting started.

Field Journal

Adventures in Mapping!

Me! October 30, 2019

My Core Species.

While in my spot I chose 6 species to photograph: Blue Cohosh, Red Legged Grasshopper, Some unidentified bird of prey, a Sugar Maple, an Eastern chipmunk, and another unidentified plant species. At this point many plant species are starting to disappear in preparation for Vermonts cold winter. The tree species In my area are the stable plant species that will survive and stand all weekend, however the other smaller plants like Cohosh will not flourish for much longer. The chipmunks are ready to hibernate and the birds will migrate and come back in the spring. There was less to see than early October but I am predicting more than I will find next week. I identified the species as much as I could using inaturalist but could not identify everything.

Common name: Blue Cohosh, Scientific name: Caulophyllum thalictroides, Family: Berberidaceae, Rank: Species, Higher classification: Caulophyllum

Common Name: Red Legged Grasshopper, Scientific Name: Melanoplus femurrubrum, Order: Orthoptera Rank:  Species, Higher classification: Spur-throated grasshoppers, Phylum: Arthropoda, Family: Acrididae

Common Name: Sugar Maple, Scientific name: Acer saccharum, Family: Sapindaceae, Rank: Species, Order: Sapindales Kingdom: Plantae

Common Name: Eastern Chipmunk, Scientific name: Tamias striatus, Lifespan: 3 years (In the wild), Order: Rodentia, Rank: Species, Higher classification: Chipmunk

Unidentified Bird, My Guess: Rough-Legged Hawk

Unidentified Plant, My Guess: no idea

Changes In My Spot

It is crazy how much has changed in just the two weeks since I last visited my sight. The trees are bare while the forest floor is covered in brown and orange leaves. The chatter of chipmunks, while still present seems more subdued than before. Sitting for the same amount of time, I saw less of them running about. Everything seems darker and less lively than before. I have included two photos below of the same cluster of trees and how different they look now. The leaves are quickly falling and covering the soil. I was unable to even see the dirt beneath me but the forest floor was hard. Since last week the trees have less leaves, the aster flowers I saw are gone, but most plants are still there.

The floor littered in oak and maple leafs.

Mapping

This is the map I drew, I was able to easily identify the trees in my area but did not include all the trees in the area because there was too many and I couldn’t identify them all. The area I chose is right in the woods and is a big clearing. Making this map really helped me develop a better appreciation for my spot. As I drew it out and spent time amongst the plants identifying them, I started to find a real joy and excitement for doing it and had fun looking at my areas plants. It was harder than I thought it would be to try to include everything on the map. There are so many levels and layers of plants and within just a few feet is a mini ecosystem in itself. I wonder how much more I would see if I put some soil onto a microscope. There is a whole other microscopic world I did not even include in my map. Yet now, I feel more confident of my knowledge of the species in the area and want to show it off to my friends. I appreciate its complexity. Creating a map helped familiarize and appreciate all the areas of my spot.

My map!

My Field notes:

Meet My Place!

Hello! I am so very excited to introduce you to the place I will be observing for the next few weeks. She is very easy to find and loves visitors! Walk along side the back parking lot on redstone campus, in between the quarries. If you see a fence covered in wildflowers and grapes you are on the right track! These fall days have turned her beautiful trees the most stunning shade of red! I will include a photo below. Once you reach the end of the path turn right, you will now enter a densely covered wooded area. Occasionally you will find some motorcycles guarding her entrance, but don’t be put off. Keep walking straight and soon you will find a tree uprooted, lying across the forest floor. Stop. Look around. You have now found the spot of my phenology blog.

Breathe in. The fall air smells like wet leaves and fires. So very fall. In this spot you are completely covered, completely safe. A canopy of trees blankets the sky, leaving small spots for sun to shine through in golden rays. Sit on the tree in the clearing and observe. I will now introduce you to the trees.

If you are looking straight, sitting from the direction you came in from, on your right is a very tall sugar maple. This tree has strong cracked bark, and as you look up you will see the five pointed leaves in a shade of golden yellow. Your left side is also accompanied by a sugar maple, but smaller. Their leaves are still a summery shade of green. As your eyes move around the circle of trees you sit in you will find you are surrounded by five more sugar maples. It is interesting, I hope you notice, that although all the same species, they all wear fall colors differently. The majority of the trees are still green, with just a few leaves turning a lemon-limeish yellow towards the tops. Only one tree is a pure orange. The odd tree out is a tall beech tree A few shrubs of glossy buckthorn, with its circular shiny leaves fill in the surrounding area between trees. I notice a few plants of white wood aster, the white flowers happily peaking out under the fallen red leaves. The floor is littered with these fallen leaves, red and ready to say goodbye to the branches that have housed them so long. Soon they will become a part of the soil, one day helping another tree to grow.

Look Around!

now that you’re here… sit for a little bit! Look around. In the half hour I stayed, the forest started to open herself up to me. Listen. Surrounding the tree trunk I sat on, I heard dozens of little feet pattering around the leaves. Soon they will show their faces, little chipmunks, each cheek shoved with fallen acorns, chasing after one another in a game of tag. This is the season of burying and storing food for winter. Each chipmunk is scrambling, not wanting to be left behind.

Birds chirp, I hope soon I will be able to identify their calls. But for now they all blend together creating a peaceful serenade. Exiting the forest, I watched as a hawk circled over head. Perhaps looking for a chipmunk snack?

Field Notes

Date: October 15, Time: 4:44
Temperature: 54 F

Notes: sunny day, mid afternoon. 7 sugar maples in circle. 3 greenish-yellow, 1 red orange, 3 green. 1 beech. smells like fall. some fallen leaves on ground, mostly sugar maple. lots of chipmunks. 2. gray squirrel. 1 hawk, maybe red tailed.

Welcome to my blog!

I’m Libby, a freshman majoring in environmental studies at UVM! I will be documenting and tracking phenology changes in a section of woods over on the redstone campus at the University of Vermont. Here you will be able to find all of the beautiful process of nature as the unfold in real time! Get excited!