Monday, May 18, 2020

The impact of a life-changing pandemic

Amelia Packard, a student at Connecticut College has written another blog, this time explaining how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her personally, and shares her thoughts about how it may affect things for a very long time. She recognizes the importance of nature and conservation of open space that has become so important to all of us at this time. We are lucky to have such insightful young people to take the reins from us. It is time, and they have the power to create a better world.

A couple of years back, these students didn't need to worry about social distance.

Hello Avalonia eTrail readers!

I hope everyone is well in light of the outbreak of COVID-19. When Connecticut College transitioned to online learning on March 25th it was a big adjustment. My rowing season was cancelled, and all my classes were modified so they would better fit the online format. I only have two classes, Classical Mechanics and the Goodwin Niering Seminar, that meet regularly now. My other classes have switched to readings and assignments online. I am hoping the online class format is not one that lasts for very long. I feel distant from my college community and my other classmates. COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on everyone. It has disrupted our way of life. People are turning to nature in this time of crisis, and I think we can learn some valuable lessons from its effects.

As a response to the pandemic, people are staying at home. For many this is a true disaster. But decreasing travel has been decreasing air pollution. According to NASA, the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has significantly decreased over the Northeastern United States. See figures 1 and 2 for a visual. Figure 1 shows the average NO2 pollution from March 2015-2019 and figure 2 shows the NO2 levels this past March. You can clearly see the difference. This is not, however, a permanent solution for air pollution. These visuals have shown me just how effective change made on the individual level can have a large impact if it is done by many people. But, we won’t be in lockdown forever. I think it shows clearly the connection between our economy and pollution. As the world comes to a screeching halt, air pollution significantly decreases, but at a huge cost. But we also know it can be done. We need to build a world that runs on things like sustainable agriculture and clean energy sources.

Figure 1 March 2015 to 2019 Average NO2 levels. Image from NASA.

Figure 2 March 2020 NO2 levels. Image from NASA.

Another effect of the pandemic is that so many people have been seeking exercise and inspiration outdoors. The parks are packed on weekends, and DEEP has shut down two state parks (Kent Falls and Seaside Park) due to the increased foot traffic and concerns for social distancing. Without work and school, people still need an outlet for exercise, both physical and mental. Nature has been available as a safe option for people to explore due to its allowance for social distancing. I am hopeful that people remember how important nature has been for people during this crazy time. I hope it will allow for more conservation efforts as many people have newly connected or rediscovered nature.

Reconnecting with the natural world is hardly a new concept. People have retreated to the countryside over centuries to find themselves again. There is something inexplicable about nature that allows people to slow down, find themselves, and answer questions about the world.

Appreciation of nature starts now.

If you isolate together at home, you can still share a bench outside.

Solitary exploration can be the best.

According to British newspaper, The Independent, young adults care a lot about environmental issues and often it is their highest priority. From a survey, it was found that 80% of teenagers feel pressure to save the planet, but 44% say they don’t hear about these issues or ways to solve them in the classroom. Environmental education is key to continuing future change. As we educate, more people will find passions in environmental fields. Many fields of study involve, or will involve, environmental aspects. In the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment at Connecticut College, students have all found passions in different areas of study, but we all have one interest in common - the environment.

Maybe as a result of this pandemic, we, as a human race will have recognized a deeper importance of nature and our environment, for ourselves and future generations. Maybe our generation will find the power to take a stand.

The Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment has been helping us for  many years but this year we couldn't hold a work party.

Next month Amelia and I will share some of the student projects from this semester. It has been a challenge but the outcomes are excellent.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.


Blumberg, Sara. “Data Shows 30 Percent Drop In Air Pollution Over Northeast U.S.” NASA, NASA, 9 Apr. 2020,

“COVID-19 Updates CT State Parks and Forests.”,

Young, Sarah. “80% Of Teens Feel under Pressure to Save the Planet.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 5 June 2019,

Monday, May 4, 2020

Happy? Spring?

By Beth Sullivan
We are all painfully aware that some things are just not right. And we also have to be thinking that they may not be right, or normal, for a long time. But just for right now, let’s remind ourselves that this is truly a miraculous time of year, and some things do not change.
Maybe you have had some quiet time in the evenings to notice the chorus of our littlest frogs, the spring peepers as they wax and wane in their calling depending on the temperature. On the cold nights we have had, they hunker down underwater, in the vegetation, and stay silent. But with the rollercoaster of temperatures we have had, the very next lovely mild night, their sounds fill the wooded wetlands.
The birds have been busy and maybe you have had time to notice. Every year a pair of cardinals nests in a holly bush by the house. This year I can see the nest pretty well and hope to get some photos. Take some time to watch your yard birds and see where they go and what they are doing. I seem to have more titmice than ever before, and several of them have discovered little piles of dog fur stuck in my wood decking. They spend a lot of time picking and gathering the fur. I can spend a lot of time watching them.
Just as usual, the osprey have returned to their nest platform at Paffard Marsh. That site is noticed and photographed by so many. The Bluebirds at Knox are taking a stronger stand this year against the house sparrows, and we have several pairs nesting. We also put out the gourds for the purple martins and have had some activity, but the cold wet weather has been lethal for them.
The osprey return every year to the Paffard Marsh nest site. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Bluebirds have claimed several nest boxes at Knox Preserve. Photograph by Rick Newton.

The martins don't have to abide the rule about social distancing. Welcome mats are out.

Take a walk in the woods

A walk in the woods is completely acceptable activity. It should be mandatory. I have noticed that many of our trails are becoming very worn and hardened. Enjoy them gently and with attention. We have had Facebook comments on trailside flowers that were never noticed by people before. Right now there are many yellows: dog tooth violets or trout lilies, marsh marigolds or cowslips. Notice where the most beautiful yellow appears; it is often accompanied by some lovely purple violets. Artists know that these are complementary colors. Mother Nature is the best artist.
While we are considering yellow, have you noticed the goldfinches? People are asking: where did they come from? Where were they all winter? They were right here, often fully visible at our feeders, but only now, in the heart of spring, do the males transition to their brilliant yellow and black. Listen for their chatter in the trees. They will not be nesting for quite a while yet. They wait until mid-summer when there is an abundance of native seeds.
Trout Lily,  fleeting beauty.

Yellow marsh marigolds and purple violets. 

Male goldfinches are like rays of sunshine. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Or take a drive

I like to go out for some longer back country road drives. Looking at the changing scenery now is well worth the price of gas, especially now that it is so cheap. Head inland and uphill to get some overviews of the bigger landscape. You can still see the rocks and walls and ledges that give hard structure, bones, to the land. They are soon to be hidden by foliage, so enjoy them now. In many areas, usually wetlands, the red maples are still showing their red flowers, tinting the woodlands with misty rose color. Elsewhere Norway maples, while not native, are abundant, and their lime green-yellow flowers are truly outstanding when seen across a span. Over the last weeks there have been subtle changes in the succession of flowering trees. There were willows and the maples, now delicate shadbushes , several types of wild cherries or choke cherries. There are fruiting trees like crabapple and pear trees that have escaped cultivation and dot the wild landscape. Of course while driving around, you can enjoy everyone’s home landscaping and flowering shrubs. With the quince in full bloom, the hummingbirds should be arriving any day.
Normalcy is earlier sunrises and later sunsets. That means more daylight hours to get out and enjoy. So many things are not dependent on human presence, or absence, for so much of nature is on its own schedule, slow and steady. Take some time to savor that pace. It’s spring.
Flowering trees dot the landscape.

The hummingbirds are running a little late this year.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, April 20, 2020

New Voices

This week we celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day. Our celebrations will be different for sure. No gatherings, no work parties to plant trees. But we can each truly celebrate the Earth even more this year than we may have before. As we are isolated from one another, we can become more aware and attuned to the Earth. Nature is at her most beautiful, active and alive right now. Celebrate that!
Many of us of a certain age can remember when there was no Earth Day. We can remember when our waterways were filthy and air not was fit to breathe at some times. We can celebrate the change. And we can celebrate that the next generations of leaders will have grown up having Earth Day and environmental awareness as part of their daily lives, part of their school curriculum.
The young adults that are part of the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment are very much more aware and forward thinking than I may have been at their age. They are also experiencing the worst pandemic threat in a century. But they adjust, adapt and carry on with hope for the future.

We welcome their voices as they report on their projects from this last semester. These are the voices of the future. And I have hope. 
This is Hope.  Photograph by Beth Sullivan.

Hello Avalonia eTrail readers!

My name is Amelia Packard. I’m a sophomore Physics major at Connecticut College working with Avalonia through the Goodwin-Niering Center(GNCE). Connecticut College’s GNCE is a group of students and faculty at the school who are all passionate about the environment and meet once or twice a week. From a large pool of sophomore applicants, only 12 are selected each year. Each student will complete a senior integrative project to try to answer questions that they pose about the world. As we all come from different backgrounds and majors, the topics range from beauty to chemical structures in the environment. But we all share something in common - a love for the outdoors.

I grew up on a family farm and was almost always outside. I played any game you could imagine with my friends in our 12-acre horse pasture and 20-stall stable. In high school I joined the Glastonbury Crew Team because I wanted to be out on the Connecticut River in a boat with my teammates. The first image (1) shows the farm where I grew up. Ours is the green horse pasture in the middle. The other two images (2 and 3) were taken in Cotton Hollow, a great place to hike in my hometown where I have been many times. Growing up outside has ingrained an interest in the environment in me.
Image 1

Image 2 Photograph by Mark Packard.

Image 3 Photograph by Mark Packard.

My interests seem to have a common theme as well. I love it when things move. I love being able to train a horse to move correctly. I like finding rhythm and pace when I work with horses. And in rowing, it’s all about making the boat move faster, improving your technique and strength to better move the boat.

When I hear about environmental issues, specifically global climate change, I wonder if future generations will be able to enjoy the outdoors the way I did. The constant fossil fuel consumption by the world’s population is raising the levels of what are known as greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. These gasses trap heat and raise the Earth’s average temperature. Because of this, climate change will greatly alter habitats around the world. I want to explore sources, especially ones that involve movement (kinetics), in order to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels. By doing this, we can mitigate the damage done by climate change on ecosystems. This is a very similar goal to what Avalonia is trying to achieve. We are both, in our own ways, preserving and protecting land for future enjoyment.

I have made connections from extracurricular interests to my academics. During high school AP Physics, I found that I am most interested in the laws of motion. Physics helped explain why the world around me works the way it does. Then I connected my interest in motion and my passion for the environment and I began to look into kinetic sources of energy such as wind, hydropower, tidal, and wave energy. So I asked myself, why aren’t other forms of kinetic renewables seen in the industry today? Was it communication about the issue? Were they not sustainable? It’s these kinds of questions I want to help answer during my lifetime.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 11% of our energy in 2018 came from renewable sources. About 45% of that was from kinetic sources. According to Energy UK, in 2016 the UK obtained their energy mainly from coal (42%), nuclear (21%), and renewables (25%). The makeup of their renewable energy came from wind, wave, marine, hydro, biomass, and solar.

From this information, we can see that a lot of renewable energy comes from kinetic sources. Ocean energy (a combination of energy that comes from the ocean) is a relatively new type of energy that is being researched. In some parts of the world waves are large and constant, creating large amounts of energy to be harnessed. The ocean also has currents which can be harnessed as well (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management). In the fourth image, you can see how researchers have designed tools to help capture this energy. In general terms, in order to create electricity, you need to drive a generator or turbine( The designs in the fourth image (4) show how that is possible. This idea is very similar for all types of electricity generation.

I believe that exploring new energy sources will help protect land from climate impacts, and therefore preserve it. I find this fascinating, and I am looking forward to being able to help protect and preserve the land that we all know and love.

But right now, during our sophomore seminar, GNCE students are working on projects for Avalonia. I’m writing blogs and offering a new voice and point of view. My other classmates are working hard on their projects, even as they work from home due to COVID-19. As most colleges have, Connecticut College has sent the majority of students to work from home for the rest of the semester. We are all working to adapt our projects and continue moving forward during this crazy time. Tune in next time for an overview of what we are doing.

Image 4. Image by Alpaslaan Aydingakko from Research Gate.

Aydingakko, Alpaslan, et al. “Figure 6 Typical Types of the Wave Energy Converters (20) .” ResearchGate, 1 Aug. 2018,
How Are Ocean Waves Converted to Electricity?”,
Renewable Energy on the Outer Continental Shelf.” Bureau of Ocean Energy Management,
U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis.” U.S. Energy Facts Explained - Consumption and Production - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA),
WebxSol. “Electricity Generation.” Energy UK Small,

Monday, April 6, 2020

Time for some new ways of thinking

By Beth Sullivan
In less than three weeks the world has turned more upside-down and inside-out than anyone could have imagined. I am quite sure just about everyone feels as I do - overwhelmed, scared, frustrated and somewhat useless. Being considered “elderly” doesn’t just get me a senior discount, but pretty much mandates that I try to really stay home and stay safe. I am.
I am very grateful that I find solace in nature; solitude and quiet are not things I am afraid of. I have always embraced them. But it is not for everyone. It surely is a bigger change for so many other people, than for me. We are so lucky to live in an area with many available open spaces, to spread out, walk, sit and think or sit and not think. We can meet friends and keep our distance, but talk a little louder outdoors and get at least some sort of real un-pixilated face time.
We are lucky to live in an age of easier communication and connection. With the internet we can take classes, read books, see our grandchildren from afar and learn a million different things. It’s hard, though, for me to sit still at the computer so long now, especially since the weather is getting better.
This year my gardens will be cleaned earlier and that’s a good thing since things seem to be springing up earlier. This year more than ever, we should notice and cherish the coming of spring. We have the time. Take notes. Take photos. Write in a journal or do some sketching. I have suggested taking a child out with you, to explore, see things through their eyes and to embrace their sense of hopefulness. My little ones are out of my reach right now. It’s hard to face time with a 6 month old, and a toddler really doesn’t quite have the patience and understanding for conversation, but she does blow great kisses.
However my 5 ½ year old grandson and I have invented a game. When I am out and about in the yard or woods, camera /phone in hand as always, I am finding things to photograph. The most mundane things look so amazing when seen very close up. I challenge him to figure out what they are. Sometimes there is a story behind the photo: a shell from a cicada that emerged last summer, close up of woolly bear ‘fur’ which spent the winter under a pile of leaves. Somethings lead to a bigger conversation or a hunt in their own area to find the same. Sometimes he has to look things up. Sometimes we both do.
We have had a lot of fun and laughs together over this. We also created a Fairy House in the woods when he was here months ago. Now he has me check it to see what the fairy has left and take a photo so we can discuss the contents. That’s fun for both of us. That fairy is busy!
A magical fairy house.

An emerging rhubarb leaf.

Cicada larval shell.

It's a root, not a pile of poop.

Some items to keep in mind

This is all fun stuff, distracting activities, but we know there is underlying seriousness. I have a couple of requests.
While we are all worrying about the crisis at hand, we have needed to shift our priorities a lot. But while we are home worrying, there is still a climate crisis. There are many who believe that these two situations are intricately related. The global climate talks have ceased. Each day I read of new laws that dismantle former protections for our environment and public lands here in our country. This seems to be happening quietly and there is no one objecting. While you have the time to read, please take heed, you can take the time to become involved without being part of a crowd. Let your voice be heard, so that when we emerge from this crisis we will still have large unspoiled places, protected land that we can cherish and visit when we are free again to roam.
It is the small places we call home that we are using now. The Avalonia trails throughout SE CT are welcome havens for families and individuals. The preserves will remain open. There are several programs dedicated to family hiking and exploration: Avalonia’s Hike and Seek, and the local Hike Stonington. I am guessing other areas have similar programs. I have run into so many people out on the trails these last weeks. It is wonderful. Please keep in mind the rules of physical distance between people, avoid groups, and please keep your dogs on leashes. Our pets are therapy now but keep them close and beside you, for their sake, out of concern for others, and for the wildlife we are striving to protect.
A small ask: if you are now, newly enjoying Avalonia’s trails and if you are able, please support our work by becoming a member or offering a small donation. We still have to “keep the lights on” though the office is closed. Our small staff is working from home. We are still using equipment to maintain the trails and are raising funds and writing grants for several acquisitions that will become available to you in the future. Thank you.
I am personally wishing you all well. Be safe, stay home, but you can call the preserves home as you need.
Computers are used for connections on many levels.

There's plenty of space out here. Photograph by MJ Hughes.

You can teach physical distancing with a good stick to allow social fun time. Photograph by Nick Young. 

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Look for Silver Linings: Go Hike and Seek

By Beth Sullivan
Even in the middle of a crisis, some things remain unchanged. What a difference in our outlook from a couple of weeks ago. At this point, there is no use in discussing how we got to this point in this public health crisis. But we can do our best to stay informed, take precautions seriously, and try to maintain as much normalcy as we possibly can, as a community and as individuals.
There are certainly things that are so totally impacted, that there is no way to avoid the consequences. Kids are out of school. Period. It is not like a vacation or summer break that was planned for. It is not like a snow day that was unplanned, but where playdates and special programs could keep groups of kids entertained and safe. Parents are home because their jobs disappeared, or because they don’t have child care. Maybe they are lucky and can actually work from home, if the kids will let them.
But here’s the good news, and we are all looking for that. We are heading into spring. We have really been lucky with good weather getting to this date and even if we get a late snow storm, we get over it quickly. Get those kids outside. Obviously, if they are ill, they need special attention, but getting them out into the air, roaming, running , being creative is one way to keep them engaged and happy as well as healthy.
Dirty feet don't need sanitizer.

Maybe you relax the rules a little. Or join the fun. Photograph by Emily Sullivan.

As we go through the flowering season, you can draw them, even dissect them. Get out the books to help.

Millipedes are easily found under leaves. They do not hurt. Check out those legs.

Be a teacher

Think of what great lessons, you, as an adult, can teach them about the new season. It is an opportunity to observe daily changes. Even the youngest ones can appreciate a new flower, or something getting bigger. Look for acorn caps; touch the moss. Let them pick a flower and then show them that you cherish it. Make it important. Slightly older children can do some drawing. Test their observation skills at their appropriate age level. Discuss color, texture, and comparative sizes. If they are ready to write, get them to use descriptive words. You can discuss weather conditions and keep a journal. Have them observe the sky, clouds, feeling of the ground, wet or dry.
Look at the differences in several kinds of plants. Are their stems hard or soft? Watch the changes in their leaf development. Pull a dandelion out of the ground and look at the roots. You probably don’t have to go very far to find a shrub with some buds already showing. Forsythia is everywhere. Before you know it, both of you will have become better botanists.
Then there are insects to watch for. Look under rocks and logs. Lift piles of leaves and see what’s under there. At this point in the year, there are already insects and their relatives, moving around. There are also amphibians to look for, and listen for. There are probably salamanders under those leaves. You can find a small wetland near your home and listen in the afternoon or early evening for frogs. Peepers and wood frogs are chorusing now.
And of course there are the birds. Spring is meant for birdsong. Kids never really like to sleep in, unless they are teenagers. Get up and sit outside on a nice morning and listen to the birds. Can you find them? Can your child describe them for you? Take notes together. Draw pictures.
This could also be the time to let them engage with a smart phone a bit more. There are so many wonderful apps available now that help you identify all sorts of wildlife, birds and their songs, and all aspects of plants. There are still amazing books.
No spring excursion is complete without checking out the skunk cabbage.  Watch as the plant changes through the season. 

Textures on tree bark can make great rubbings or abstract photos.

Trees have lovely flowers if you can look closely These are red maple.

Check out Avalonia’s Hike and Seek program

 Not every adult is really comfortable with all I have just suggested. Some people really want a guide. That’s what Hike and Seek is like. As a parent, take some time to review it. Find a preserve near you. Look at the preserve pages, maps and photos that are targets and clues. There is also a Resources section that allows you or your young student to look a bit deeper into a subject. It is all accessible on your smart phone. Take it with you on a hike. Take photos and write stories. Do it together. The trails are not crowded. The air is clean. It is almost spring. It is the very best way to stay physically and mentally healthy at a time of social distancing and isolation. Earth-Dirt doesn’t require sanitizer. Use this time with the child in your life, in a positive way and help them learn to look for that silver lining. It is a great de-stressor for grown-ups too.
We caught two wood frogs and a peeper recently. Keep them moist, observe them, then let them go.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.