Archive for the ‘Written Posts’ Category

March Snowstorm

My mother, skiing on a frozen marshland.

It’s a quiet morning, and I wake up a little earlier than I’m used to. Outside, snow is already softly blanketing the ground. The sky is hazy shade of grey, the treetops barely visible in the squall. I can’t see as far down my winding driveway as usual, but a quick glance out of the windows confirms that today won’t be the day that the marsh by our house melts. About halfway down my driveway, a path cuts through the woods and opens up to what is usually a marsh with water 2-3 feet deep. In the summer, cattails and lily pads cover the water, along with other various grasses. Often times, a beaver will build a dam out in the center of the water. Now, however, all that’s really growing is the various coniferous trees that fill the forests and the edges of the swampy area.

In the town where I live – Mont Vernon, NH – is about 16.7 square miles, only 0.5% of that area is covered in water. Most of it can be found in Carlton Pond and Purgatory Brook, which actually is about a 3 minute drive from my house. This little marsh brings an interesting cast of characters in the summer, but in the winter my family makes the most of it through cross country skiing. After a nice breakfast, I pull on my cross country boots and help my dad get my dog into her harness. We attach her to a harness that my dad wears, and she can pull him a bit as he skies. Most of the snow on the marsh is untouched a new, so when we glide over the snow-covered ice, the trails broken in are completely fresh. Koda, my dog, is a sled dog by breed. She’s a chinook, the New Hampshire state dog, and her breed has been used as working animals historically in the state. In the White Mountains, there’s an old historic farm that used to be where they bred the chinooks – and the first ever “Chinook”, the father of the breed, actually accompanied Admiral Byrd on an Antarctic expedition in 1929. It’s no wonder Koda looks so happy in the snow as we ski, chasing after my brother and I when we get too far away on the lake.

Besides the history of my dog, Mont Vernon’s landscape has the typical New England history. It has always been a small town, with the current population barely over 2,500 people. Established in the early 1800s after separating from the larger neighboring town, Amherst, it was predominantly a farming town until the Civil War. Following that, it became a tourist attraction for the people of Boston who wished to escape the summer heat in the more northern, forested areas. When the automobile was invented, the traffic through the town was decimated, and took a further hit when the Great Depression occurred. People at that point were able to get up to the White Mountains fairly easily, so Mont Vernon was no longer a desirable location. Population at its lowest in the town was about 300 people, but it became a residential town in the 50s and 60s, when working in nearby cities became popular. It has remained residential ever since.

Second Semester, First Visit

I could feel the excitement start to grow in my chest as I pull my snow pants on in my dorm. It’s been a little over a month since I’ve last been to my site, and there’s been a lot of life that has passed through since I’ve seen the trees there. Its a Sunday afternoon, and gloomy. The sky is grey when I begin my walk from Redstone to Centennial, with a slight breeze rolling through the trees. The snow was fairly fresh from the Saturday storm, about 6 or so inches deep. Its a very quiet day in the woods, almost silent except for the wind rustling the topmost branches of the trees.

Once I get to my site, I immediately turn to the snow. There are tracks in the snow, somewhat filled in from the recent snows. They criss-cross around the area, underneath logs and around the trees. Most of them seem to resemble diagonal walkers, as if the creatures leaving them behind only had two feet like a human. I decide to attempt to identify a fairly clear set of tracks beside a fallen log on the western side of the area that I was looking at. The tracks measure around an inch and a half in diameter, and are fairly round. The pad and toes aren’t very visible due to the newer snow that has filled the tracks in, but the basic shape is still there. Other tracks have more of a drag around them, as if the animal that was walking had its belly dragging through the snow rather than being tall enough to step over it all. I used my scat and tracks book to compare the tracks to both a bobcat and a red fox, and based on the straddle and stride of the tracks I believe that they were actually red fox tracks. However, it was impossible to be sure because of the snow that had been sifted into the tracks themselves. Aside from just tracks, there is also a few places where an animal urinated, but it is possible (and more likely) that a domestic dog had just peed on the side of the trail. There were some pretty obvious dog tracks as well, which zig-zagged across my site in haphazard patterns before returning to the main path and following alongside human tracks. Unless bigfoot has a pet wolf, I think its safe to say that many of the tracks in the area can be attributed to domestic dogs.

There aren’t obvious signs on the trees of animals, but the trees themselves have changed in the winter. Now totally without leaves, many show a variety of different buds at the end of their twigs, which will persist through the winter and into the spring. Based upon the buds that I saw, here are some of the trees that I believe are found at my site:

  • White Oak
  • Sugar Maple
  • Red Maple
  • American Beech
  • Green Ash
  • Boxelder

I look forward to further acquainting myself with this area throughout the winter months, and definitely want to spend more time tracking. There are many interesting stories to learn from the animals in the wilderness, if only we wish to see them.

History of the Area

Though my spot in Centennial sits in a place surrounded by trees, mostly sheltered from the outside world of Burlington – it was not always that way.  This land was part of where the Abenaki lived for many years. They hunted here, gathered here, and made some of their livelihood in this familiar patch of woods. After Europeans arrived, Centennial used to be part of a group of farms, with land belonging to several different gentlemen by the names of C. Baxter, H. Stevens, Hickok, Kirby, Unsworth, and the Ainsworth family. The agricultural use of the land is evidenced both through the natural species that are occurring there as well as some leftover human evidence. In the case of nature, there are many areas dominated by Eastern White pine, which, as an intermediately tolerant species, would do well re-growing in the post-farming soil. They, along with a few other species such as young beech trees, show that there was a disturbance and they grew quickly once the land use had changed. Additionally, there are leftovers of human activity in the form of barbed wire left in the woods, which is an easy nod to the farming of animals.

Though this is the last official visit I will take to my spot, it is not going to be the forever final. Over the past few weeks I have enjoyed getting to know this place and getting to love it – I have spent so much time in the tranquil air of the forest, and it has helped rejuvenate me so many times. As I walk to Centennial today, it is cold, but it is so nice to see the sun again. The previous weeks have been gloomy, shrouded with clouds and snow. The snow I enjoy, but the persistent gloom makes it difficult to be anything but tired. The crisp air, though I can feel the ends of my just barely dried hair freezing, feels good in my lungs and on my face as I move through the snow towards my spot. It’s not as deep as the last time I was here, with more plants and baby trees shooting up towards the sun. There are no ferns in sight, and the deciduous trees are especially bare now. Whatever leaves they had been clinging to are now gone, giving me easy sight through the canopy. The birds are especially quiet today, and I sit on a log for a while to wait, to see if they’ll show themselves one more time.

In the snow, there are squirrel tracks, and other footprints of human and dog. The culprits don’t show themselves during my time there, and I wait almost an hour before I decide to return to campus. Centennial is now a natural area, purchased by UVM in the 1970s to be used for research, teaching and just plain recreation. Hiking is most of the human traffic now, but plenty of students go there to learn, just as I have done for the past few weeks.

Back At Home

The snow has already started to melt, and I am definitely overdressed. My dog wiggles excitedly as we walk down the driveway, stopping to stick her nose into the slowly melting piles of snow at the side of the pavement. The walk is a short one, but at the first notice that we are anywhere near the woods, her tail whips into an excited frenzy, eager to run into the snow and the trees surrounding us. My house in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire is luckily blessed with a long driveway nestled into the woods. The forest surrounding my house consists mostly of pine trees, both Eastern White pine and Red pine. There are also an abundance of Eastern hemlock, their tiny cones littering the snow at around this time of year. Often densely shaded by the various coniferous trees, not much tends to grow in the underbrush, save for where patches of light poke through and small saplings have started to grow. Of the hardwoods found here, there were a few sugar maple and Norway maple, as well as beech, but very very few birch trees. I could not find a single yellow birch, and it seemed that only three or four paper birch were in the area. The difference is staggering from my spot in Centennial, as it is dominated by mostly by hardwood trees like oak and maple.

When we turn into the woods, it is much easier to navigate the land. Without buckthorn and ferns in the way, you don’t have to move as carefully through the snow. Lichen grows on the trees, and as the sun starts to set, shadows are cast on the disappearing snow, slanting as if they’re reaching out and away from the sinking sun. I’ve been here before a million times – the path cuts from the far side of my driveway horizontally through the woods, curving out to a marshy pond that stretches alongside my road. You can’t really see the road from the clearing where you can sit to look out at the end of the trail, but you can hear it. The nice thing is that there’s barely any traffic, so its easy to sit there for an hour and not hear a single car. There have been beavers on the pond before, but not this year. No dams rise out of the slushy almost-ice on top of the water, and my mother hasn’t sent me any pictures of the beaver this year. I don’t imagine its the best place for them to live, only because it’s so shallow most of the time. Underneath the snow, I know the soil is soft and springy, covered in moss that probably died when the snow first fell. My dog, pulling me forwards, sticks her nose directly into a pile of deer scat, attempting to eat it, and barely listening when I try to pull her away. The clearing I usually sit in is empty, and I plop down in the snow. My dog trots circles around me, excitedly sniffing everything within the short stretch of her leash. The plants that grow here are short and resemble a mountain laurel, only much smaller and without the characteristic flowers. They only grow where the hemlock stops, where the light touches the bank of the marsh before it melts into the water. In the summer, there are water lilies that sit and bloom on the surface of the water, and I find myself wishing they were here now. It is so easy to relax there, to admire the beauty without all the bustle of the outside world.

I ended up looking up what the bedrock was in this area a few hours later. Surprisingly, being in the granite state, it was granite. Granite is formed when magma slowly crystallizes under the crust of the Earth and then is forced in between other rocks. This means a lot of the bedrock in New Hampshire was probably formed on the edge of tectonic plate, whereas the glaciers caused the glacial till common in areas of Vermont and in Burlington. I find it interesting that two places so close together can have wildly different backstories for the formation of their soils and their bedrock.

I sat in silence for a good amount of time as the sun continued to sink beneath the treeline. My dog, still excited by the scent of deer, didn’t stop moving the entire time, but her disturbance wasn’t unwelcome. She loves it out there as much as I do, and I think she knows exactly where we’re going every time we step outside. 

Recent Photos & A Poem








Strolling through the wood

There I saw a crow

He ruffled his feathers and squawked at me

What he said, I’ll never know

The changes come slowly

You can see them in the plants

Where the trees stretch up to touch the clouds

Most of them are all bare now

The temperature is dropping quick

Each day seems to feel colder

I wonder if I’ll see the crow in the wood again

Cawing from over my shoulder

Slow Changes, or Not So Much?

The sun had finally come out for the first time in almost a week. The warmth was welcome, even though it did little to actually warm the fall air. This is the first time I ventured out into the woods toting a real, good quality camera – borrowed from my gracious roommate. I was eager to capture the small details of my site, things easily overlooked and not so easily shown in the other pictures I’d taken on my phone. The ground and pathways through Centennial were thoroughly saturated with rain, most of them pooling with mud puddles that squished up around my shoes when I walked through them.

Upon examination of a few of the larger logs downed at my site, I managed to unearth an eastern red-backed salamander. I was surprised to see one this late in the season, as they typically begin to burrow into the mud and hibernate once the temperatures during the day hit the 30s or 40s in Fahrenheit, but it seemed like this one was enjoying one last day under the sun. Likely it was looking for food, as these little guys tend to feed on a large variety of invertebrates typically found in damp, dark places – such as the log I poked around under. With the recent rain and the sudden ‘bloom’ of earthworms that I had seen on campus – I wonder if he had followed the feast to the surface.

As for the rest of my area, it looks a lot different. Most of the trees have dumped their leaves on the ground, leaving a colorful, fast-fading blanket on the dirt below. Of the trees that are still clinging to their leaves, the color is a vibrant, beautiful yellow that has not yet faded. The reds and oranges are long gone, but the yellow still remains. The birds I encountered at my last visit were either quiet or not around, save for a solitary crow fluttering his way between the trees in the area. Every so often, he let out a throaty squawk, and eventually flew away to go haunt some other area of the forest. The whole place seems like its going to sleep – the ferns are starting to wither as well, as I found no marsh fern left behind, and observed the lady ferns starting to curl in on themselves. The buckthorn plants have less leaves on them, as do the honeysuckle, and after the heavy rains, I found an abundance of mushrooms hiding in the crevices of trees and underneath the logs down across the path. I almost feel like I know this place better after rain then after a week in the sun, as I’ve pretty much only seen it after downpours.

The changes have been so subtle, I wonder if I’ve missed something big. The hemlock and the pine look no different, and the rest of the trees stand tall above me, mostly leafless branches swaying in the wind, doing what they’ve done every year since they’ve sprouted.

Running List of Identified Flora


  • White Oak
  • Eastern Hemlock
  • Eastern White Pine
  • Sugar Maple
  • Red Maple
  • American Beech
  • Green Ash

Understory Plants:

  • Buckthorn (both Common & Glossy)
  • Honeysuckle
  • Lady Fern
  • Marsh Fern

Second Visit

Two weeks had passed since I had been to my phenology site last. It was a considerably sunnier day, though the air was colder, much more reminiscent of a fall day than the previous. There was a fairly strong breeze, and barely a cloud in the sky. Back in the woods, underneath the shade of trees, it was much colder, but in the sun, I felt the need to take off my jacket as I walked. It was about noon when I arrived.

Though some time had passed for me since I had been there, not much had changed in the area. Much of the vegetation looked the same, especially throughout the understory. The hardwood trees had definitely started to lose more of their leaves – the ground was blanketed in mostly maple leaves of varying colors, mostly yellow but each a little different than the next, some with splotches of red. The white oak at the center of my area was mostly unchanged, still retaining green in many of its leaves. I had to sift through the many maple leaves on the ground to even come across a few downed brown oak leaves, and there were even less needles from the pine trees around. The ferns, like the maples, had started to shift as well, many of the pinna starting to yellow or wither as the increasingly colder weather began to get to them. Many of the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) retained their dark green color and have not yet started to yellow; the other type of fern common in my site, what I think is marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), has begun to yellow. Other woody plants in the understory have stayed very green in coloration much like the lady fern. At that point, temperatures hadn’t quite gotten so cold, so maybe that had some sort of effect on the longevity of the plant life.

This time, however, I was not alone with the plants. There were a few types of birds that I got to see this time through. The songs of blue jays were loud that day, and even though I didn’t see them they overpowered a lot of the other birds that were singing in the area. In the lulls between their calls, I heard the familiar chickadee-dee-dee call, and sure enough there were two black-capped chickadees above me, happily flitting around the branches. They seemed unbothered by my presence, hanging upside down on the branches above my head and giving me a once over before disappearing off into the trees somewhere else. Some time passed, and I was recording some observations when I noticed a strange hollow tapping sound coming from somewhere in the trees. At first, I couldn’t tell what direction it came from, but eventually I found the source – a pileated woodpecker tapping away at the dead snag diagonally west from the center oak. The snag is a tall, dead conifer of some kind. The wood is just starting to go soft, so I assume its a great place for the woodpecker to find food. I watched him from a log beneath the dead tree for a while, tapping decidedly then moving his head back and forth to decide his next strike. Eventually, he’d decided he’d had enough, and I watched him go to somewhere else in the forest.

When I left, I watched a crow land in a nearby maple, calling to the rest of its friends. I’d collected some leaves from various woody plants and shrubs and pieces from the two types of ferns, so that I could identify them later. The walk back was pleasant, warmer than the walk there. I can only hope for days this nice in the coming weeks.

In The Beginning

It’s a clear September day when I go to my phenology spot for the first time. The sky is clear of clouds, the air even starting to heat up as we cross from the morning into the early afternoon. The walk from Redstone Campus down to Centennial Woods isn’t a difficult one, but in the warmth I find myself wishing I had left my vest at home, or brought a water bottle. Following Carrigan Drive down across East Avenue and past the Police Department, the entrance to Centennial comes up on the left side. My spot, marked in the center by a towering White Oak, is about a 7 minute walk back into the woods. If you take the trail that follows the creek to the clearing dominated by various types of conifer trees and then turn left, cross the stream and continue along it until you come to a path that t-bones the main trail – that is the rough area of where my phenology spot is.

The reason for choosing this place isn’t necessarily specific or calculated. During previous trips to Centennial, I liked the vibe the area had, the way the trees filled the spaces. It became familiar, and since I don’t have a car or a bike – Centennial was pretty easy access. I ended up exploring a part of Centennial that I had never seen before, and the big White Oak really was what caught my attention for the specific spot. Its sheer size definitely stood out among the other trees, which were considerably skinnier – so much so that it was the first thing that caught my eye as I started to walk up the small hill.

Most of the surrounding trees were hardwoods, dominated specifically by Red, Sugar, and Norway Maple. Both varieties of Buckthorn can be found in abundance in the understory, and in one of the attached pictures you can clearly see the overlap of a Common Buckthorn and a Glossy Buckthorn growing right next to each other. Besides that, there are three main varieties of ferns I observed that provide a lot of groundcover, as well as maple sprouts and saplings. There is some grass, and towards the creek-facing side of the area, there is a great deal of shrubbery that I couldn’t identify on either of my visits to the place. A few coniferous trees also inhabit the area, including an Eastern White Pine and a few Eastern Hemlock. Additionally, there are a few large downed trees that have a lot of moss and fungal species growing on them. The logs once belonged to coniferous trees, likely pine trees. The ground cover mostly falls in the realm of Oak and Maple leaves, with very little of it able to be attributed to dropped needles.

The air was cold that day, with thick cloud cover. Periodic sprinkles of rain found their way into the forest as I observed my surroundings, but nothing too strong. The darkness of the wood and the vibrant greens were products of rain from the night before, and the air had a fresh, clean smell to it, underlaid with a small hint of wet dirt. It was very quiet, and devoid of animal activity, so much so that I don’t think I even heard a bird calling in that area of the woods.

Its a gloomy October day when I leave my place for the second time, my visiting family happily commenting on how beautiful it is. I must agree – there is nothing quite like the tranquility of the woods after a good rain.



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