Monday, October 19, 2020

The great Avalonia trail trek

By Beth Sullivan 

It is time to hit the trails for a purpose, and if you can’t get out to do it, you can support a team or support the effort. 

A short trail may have a reward at the end.


 

The trek begins 

This weekend marked the beginning of the Trail Trek fund raiser for Avalonia. The organization has never done this kind of an event, and the plans were hatched before we found ourselves in the depth of a pandemic. So, not only are we trying something new, but we have to punt. Make lemonade! Or whatever metaphor you want to use to describe making the very best of a less than perfect situation. But, you know, this is turning out to be quite wonderful. Maybe even better than a bunch of big group hikes. This way we all spread out our energies and intentions and cover Southeast Connecticut with our members and friends, to spread the word of the work Avalonia is doing to preserve the beautiful open spaces that have kept many of us, especially me, sane over these past months. 

I myself have never actively participated in a walk/bike/run for any cause. Some people find it easier to simply make a donation. Of course, you can still do that (thank you!). But how much more fun it is going to be to have a purpose, a goal, to do something I love anyway. I may not cover as much ground as the runners. I can’t climb the Tri-Town mountain like the real hikers. But I am pretty sure I will really look at things along the way. I take time; I dawdle when I walk. I have to stop to look up so I don’t trip on something, and I need my bifocals to look at things really closely. I always wander with my camera, or most frequently with my phone that seems to be quite satisfactory in its quality and detail in photos. I often have binoculars hanging around my neck as well. This is a great time to look for migrant birds, both those passing through and those who are arriving here for the winter. 

It's never too soon to start trekking.


Bridges can be part of the fun.

For some the challenge will be vertical.

This fall I don't think we have to worry about too much water on the trails.

 

Don’t forget your phone 

I don’t carry bird books anymore because the phone apps are so wonderful for birds and plants and all sorts of things. I often take photos of things and then look them up at home. Being able to do that gets me moving a little faster. 

I also tend to wander off the trails. There always seems to be something pretty interesting around a corner, over a hill, or across the lot. I won’t admit to becoming lost, but I do get turned around pretty easily. For that reason I really love the ArcGIS Explorer app. The app is free. A dedicated volunteer has loaded all the Avalonia properties, trailed and untrailed, into a file of Avalonia online maps. You can easily locate yourself on any preserve, on or off the trail. I have not become lost even once while exploring off trail since I installed the app. 

It seems that I depend a lot on the smartphone technology. I guess I do. I am not a very tech savvy person, but I recognize how we can enrich ourselves in our hiking experiences by tapping into the great resources available at our fingertips. We developed Hike and Seek specifically with that in mind. If you are lucky enough to be able to trek with kids, check out the Hike and Seek program on the Avalonia website and get even more out of your hike. 

I may not cover a lot of ground myself being so distracted, but I hope my Sullivans and Friends group will. We will walk, stroll, hike and bike. Please check out the web page: https://www.pledgereg.com/great-avalonia-trail-trek. The main event will be happening all week, but donations and team support will be welcome into November. If you have the ability to support Avalonia with a small donation, you will be helping us keep our many paths open so you can Trek any time you choose. 

Be well; hope to see you on the trails. And please be sure to send or post your photos of places you have trekked.

 


You may have choices to make.


Sometimes you have to stop and notice the little things.

You might have to take a break from the walk and view the trail from above.


 Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Autumn Hiking 2020

 

By Beth Sullivan

It has been quite a year. Even the way the plants and trees are responding to the weather is a bit off. The drought has impacted and stressed most plants. A cold snap with localized frosts also set the color changes into motion a bit early.  One constant: it is beautiful out now.  Surely every season has its fans. Each one can be considered perfect for some reason, an excuse for being out on a trail.   I would guess though, that this time of year probably is the top vote-getter for a lot of reasons.

Some times a trail opens up a view that is stunning in late afternoon light. From Knox Preserve.


 

You can still be outdoors

We have all tried to be outdoors as much as possible over the last months, but the summer heat was a bit daunting for strenuous work or hiking. Finally the air has cleared of the oppressive humidity.  It’s actually been enjoyable to pull on a fleece in the morning, and more enjoyable to take it off in the afternoon warmth.   We can happily don hiking boots that give us good footing to get out on rougher trails and put away the flip flops.

There is a clarity of color we haven’t seen for months. The blue of the sky is a perfect complement for the gold-hued leaves, and the perfect match for the Blue Jays acting like gangs of rowdy teens blasting noisily through the trees. 

Because the leaves have begun falling already, the density of the green is lessened.  There is more space in the woodland view, and those spaces are filled with sunlight.  Some people complain that the “deep dark woods” of summer can feel too close, claustrophobic.    I never feel that, but I do understand, and now that there is more light and an airy feeling, those folks can feel more comfortable with a longer view.  While it is not as stark and open as it will be in another month, we can now see some of the more hidden elements that summer covered up:  rocky outcrops covered in green moss, stone walls running through woodlands, skeletal trees that have not survived the last several years of stress and drought,  and bird and insect nests high in the bare trees. We can walk dry stream beds in many places like another trail.  This gives the opportunity to look for footprints of wild things searching for moisture and edibles under rocks.

But there are some things to be wary of.   Lest you become distracted by the beauty of an open field of gorgeous grasses and wildflowers, and decide to wander in for a closer look, remember that the ticks have re-emerged now and seem to be more abundant than in previous months. 

Heavy use on the trails results in more roots exposed. Look at the ground as you walk.


The bare trees create their own beautiful views. Just look up. From Hoffman Preserve.

The Woodlot glows with clear yellow in the understory of spicebush as well as the canopy.

 

Changes in the woods

In the woods, the leaves are already falling, and they can obscure rocks and roots that may be an accident waiting to happen.  On trails that are not heavily traveled, the trail itself may be hard to discern, so keep your eyes out for the blazes.  Cool and frosty mornings leave rocks slippery, and remember the rocks can stay moist or icy even after the rest of the ground has warmed up. You know the warning about bridges freeze before roads - that is true in the woods as well. Wooden bridges can be slippery when damp, so please be careful.

Really cherish every little bit of this season. I know I feel hyper-vigilant, seeing things with new eyes and remembering details.  This often occurs before winter sends me indoors, but this year it seems to be more important to gather in all the goodness that nature has to offer. I gather strength from nature. We get vitamin D from the sun. Exercise improves our health and mood. Our good mood improves our immune system and settles our hearts and minds. It’s all related.  

Don’t think of hibernating this winter, I know I have, but invest in some warmer clothes, some good boots, and a hiking stick. Make a list of the places you hike now so you can revisit with new eyes in the next season.  Join us for the Great Avalonia Trail Trek. Learn more here.  

 Avalonia is your local land trust. We are stewards of the land for the habitats, but also for your well-being and peace of mind.   Please join us.

 

Autumn exposes things we may have wished we had known about earlier.

Even a new wooden bridge can be slippery when wet, but the dry stream bed is great to explore. From Paffard Woods Preserve.


With leaves thinning out, new details are revealed. From Preston Nature Preserve.

Wherever you walk this fall, take the time to love a tree.


Photographs by Beth Sullivan

Monday, September 21, 2020

Embracing Changes


By Beth Sullivan

This time of year always seems to sneak up on me, and the changes catch me by surprise. One would guess after all these years I would be better at remembering, anticipating, and preparing.

Of course in our early years we always knew school was coming, and that marked the change. We got ready by buying pencil boxes and new crayons. Later it was binders and notebooks and calculators.   Then we had our own kids, and we were again buying those same things. The seasonal changes seemed to blend into the expected activity.

Over the years I have also gotten used to hearing the school buses go by, but I mark my seasonal changes by watching the birds and plants and thinking about family birthdays all clustered at this time of year.    Some things don’t change, but it seems like everything else has.   When I think of the changes, I can get really depressed, but I have decided to try  to pay attention to the positive, to try and remember the good in people and the consistency in nature, even in the face of change.

A little bit of dirt never hurt anyone.


Allow your inner child a chance to have a little fun, too.

 

Grandchildren

Almost exactly six years ago I wrote a blog dedicated to my first grandchild, Emerson. I couldn’t wait to be his nature teacher (not that his parents couldn’t do it!).  In the following years we have done everything I hoped and more. We have explored woods, played in brooks, walked and talked about all sorts of things from insects and birds and mushrooms to the magic of acorns.  When he was two, we discovered “birdies on the phone”, the Audubon Bird ID app. How much fun we had learning the birds and their sounds.   Never doubt that the lessons learned at an early age can last a lifetime. He still knows his way around that app better than I do.

Two years ago we welcomed a granddaughter, Ava.  From day one, or maybe two, we walked outside.  The best way to soothe a crying infant, and let a tired mom get some rest, was to bring her out to see the sky and trees and feel the breeze.  A favorite place was under a maple tree where we could watch the leaves move and see the play of light through them.  That summer was a good summer to be outside. This little girl learned early about animals of all sizes - dogs, goats and even horses. She is comfortable out in nature, and even enjoys pointing out ‘buggies’ where her bright little eyes find them. She will run barefoot over any kind of surface, hop in puddles with glee, and keeps her mom busy with laundry and trying to match socks she has discarded along the way.  Her first word, or command, was “OUTSIDE!”  and is still tops on her vocabulary list.

Now we have a third grandchild, Clara. She is almost one. Such a wonderful age.  Of course every age is wonderful.   She is following in the footsteps of her brother, literally, as she is learning to climb and explore. She, too, has a fondness for leaves, rocks, acorns, and water.   She knows how to use a few words of sign language and ‘birdie’ is one of her favorites. She can spot them high and hear them from afar. 

Yes, things have changed. I can’t be with my little ones as much as I would like. But we can still communicate, share treasures, photos, and adventures.   Being close to children now is so important; they are such sponges for information and needy for opportunities to connect and learn.   They are also fonts of joy and hope. 

Emerson now can teach Clara all the secrets he has learned.


Independence, self confidence, and joy are all possible outdoors when you are six.

Learning to be with animals is a gift that will last a lifetime.

 

Go outside with children

As the season changes, the children especially will need ways to stretch away from computers, to get rid of masks for a bit if possible.  Adopt a child to nurture, or at the very least, adopt a childlike nature for yourself, and take some time to stop the speeding madness and take in the true beauty of this time of year.   Embrace the changes as they arise, and do your very best to begin an outward ripple of positivity and hope.  Kids do that without even thinking. 

OUTSIDE! is where Ava wants to be.


Sometimes I feel like this when I am outdoors.

Why bother with toys when a leaf is just perfect.


 

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and her family.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Resilience

 

This spring and summer I had the pleasure and great good fortune to work with Chris Arrotti, a recent UConn graduate. As a summer intern with the UConn program Climate Corps, he helped me scientifically and logically sort out a lot of options and directions for our planning for the Hoffman Preserve. He has created a super management proposal that will be reviewed by our stewardship team and added to the Hoffman Management Plan going forward. It will ultimately be available on our website. Enjoy his report. With young adults like Chris, succeeding even during this time of upheaval and change, standing ready to confront the future and whatever challenges it holds, I have hope.

Beth
 

 

Hi! My name is Chris Arrotti, and I’m a recent graduate from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in biology. When exposed to the different facets within biology, I learned I had an affinity for ecology and conservation, the branch of biology which studies organisms' relationship to one another, their physical surroundings, and preserving these relationships. I think my passion for the subject accrued given the current circumstances on Earth: humans have altered the planet in such substantial ways to the point where there is an environmental crisis. I feel very lucky to be passionate about something that will be arguably one of the most important frontiers in my lifetime. In the past few months, I’ve learned about the difference between school work and employment, both the challenges and freedoms that come with each, and the necessity for resilience in nature and life.

 



When I had started my project on Avalonia’s Hoffman Preserve, I was a senior during the Spring 2020 semester. Numerous courses painted a bleak picture of the realities of conservation: limited funding, limited resources, and most importantly limited time. We were taught to ponder questions of triage, choosing between species x or species y and how you go about justifying such an answer. Or what makes one environment more of a priority than the next for conservation efforts: productivity, number of species, uniqueness of habitat. There isn’t exactly a clear-cut answer to many of these predicaments, nor is there a very storied history of conservation which can tell us which the best way is to go about addressing these problems. One philosophy that was consistently suggested was adaptive management. Adaptive management is essentially a set of guidelines one uses to make management decisions when faced with uncertainty. This is a process general enough to be repeated when new conflicts arise and specific enough to tailor it to certain circumstances.

 

A patch cut that was bare is now regenerating, one step at a time.

Chestnuts have succumbed to blight for over a century, yet regrow from their bases.


A young hemlock grows in the shelter of an old birch tree.



Assisted Migration

During January, I had taken a walk through Hoffman Preserve’s patch cuts. The patch cuts, as a good portion of the preserve in general, were barren: compact dark soil, no vegetation, and silhouettes of sickly grey trees outlining the outskirts. I was told many of the trees were diseased and unhealthy conditions led to these acre-sized vacancies. I started to feel as if I likely wouldn’t have an impact here. I had limited knowledge of forest ecology, and the landscape did not look able-bodied enough to harbor life. However, in the lack of growth I saw an opportunity for something that was unprecedented at Hoffman: assisted migration. Assisted migration is the idea of moving southern native species into northern areas to make the environment more resilient to projected changes in climate. With the vacant areas of the preserve I thought it would be an ideal place to attempt to translocate some southern species.

As I continued to work on the project, I learned about the issues that led Hoffman to where it is now and what the managers planned to do going forward. Hoffman Evergreen Preserve, as the name suggests, was a preserve for evergreen trees. However, early management practices led to an overcrowding of planted evergreens. Ultimately, this created areas of densely populated, unhealthy trees that shaded out any light underneath, disallowing the establishment of any understory. The intense monoculture limited biodiversity and was a mediocre habitat for animals that used it. For that reason, patch cuts were made; trees would be logged and harvested throughout the park. However, removing the trees and transporting them out of the preserve also created large skid trails.

 

Resilience will have a chance when the sun reaches the forest floor.


Lush new growth on a hemlock in response to more light.

Hope for a warmer future. A southern species of pine.

Pandemic



Come late March, a pandemic had swept across the world and I was out of school. Among the stresses a pandemic brings alone, the abstractness of online classes was a difficult transition, and I found my management plan was harder to write. I think everybody can attest to the grueling mental grind quarantine put us through worrying if you were sick, the impatience of wanting normalcy, and never having experienced a rapid change such as this one.

But I write this now in August, and it feels like March was a decade ago. And it looks like it, too. Yes, people are still wearing masks, but there’s this palpable plasticity in society where I feel as though normalcy is within reach. For better or worse, I’ve adapted to the house-workplace and feel as though if I were to be under these circumstances again, I’d be better prepared. Moreover, Hoffman’s plants have bounced back with a vibrancy I didn’t think was possible. Three of the five patches are covered in a lush-green. Plants have managed to thrive in one of the driest and hottest summers in Connecticut's history without the help of people. I’ve even gone on to see some of the southern native species I recommended get planted on the site. Sometimes, the future seems unimaginably bleak. But it’s important to recognize the necessity and importance of resilience and your ability to adapt in the face of change.
        
A stump sprouting maple is also resilience.

 

The next generation steward. Photograph by J. Alexander.



Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.