Monday, May 22, 2017

Watching the Birds

By Beth Sullivan
What a great time of year this is! So many things to look at; So many directions to go in. Those of us who are naturalists by profession or passion can get easily distracted when out in the field at this time of year. There is just too much to pay attention to.
Almost everyone watches birds to some degree or another. I think I have been fascinated by them since my first pet parakeet back when I was a toddler. But there are varying degrees of watching birds, and then there are birders. Sometimes a bird watcher progresses to become a birder, sometimes the line is blurred.
Drinking, bathing, or just splashing, this Yellow-rump warbler was clearly enjoying itself. Photograph by Dennis Main.

I consider myself a watcher more than anything. I love watching the behavior of even the commonest little backyard Chickadee. I am quite content just keeping track of the birds that have become familiar to me in my area. However, when I have the opportunity to vacation in a spot I have never been before, I become a Birder-checking my lists, trying to study what I might encounter, and enjoying ticking off new species. I do not have a personal life list, or at least not one that is up-to-date and comprehensive. And with aging brain cells, I often forget what I may have encountered on a long ago vacation.
Common Mallards are easy to observe, and family groups are a joy to watch.

But watching, understanding, and deciphering birds is something you do not forget. It happens daily; it becomes part of everything I do-Just paying attention and keeping my eyes open.
The simplest behavior, such as lifting a head in song, can be so beautiful to watch.

Observations from this spring

Last spring, with many small Winter Moth caterpillars devouring my ornamental cherry tree and crab apples, I noted tons of birds in those trees. I had gorgeous Indigo Buntings glowing blue against the pink blossoms. There were Goldfinches, Baltimore Orioles, and Scarlet Tanagers all adding to the amazing color. They ate well, but there were few flowers due to the caterpillars. This year there were fewer caterpillars. The trees were beautiful, but there were far fewer birds for me to enjoy out the kitchen window. With caterpillars under control or absent, blossoms were pollinated, and the birds went elsewhere. But I also know that there will be more fruit on these trees for the birds of fall and winter to enjoy.
These Orioles landed by a garden pond and played together for almost an hour.

I admire the adaptability of birds. The Robins, Catbirds and Cardinals that seem to enjoy nesting close to the house. I watched a Robin frantically creating her nest outside a window, at eye level in an open Rhododendron bush. I enjoyed her technique for weaving grasses, and adding her mud. Then she tamped it all down with her feet and nestled her body into the cup to create a perfect fit, and there she sat. I was careful not to make sudden noises or to turn the light on at night. She was very tolerant. Then, one day, she was just gone. She left behind nothing; no eggs. I was so sad. Later that same day, I watched a Crow walk slowly along the gutter line of my roof, then peering down very deliberately into the bushes at the foundation below. I could easily understand how it could have walked right along, spying the mother Robin and dropping down to scare her off and destroy her eggs.
This Robin spent days perfecting her nest, only to be scared off by a Crow.

Now I watch as a Cardinal pair works to make a nest close to the same area, but they have chosen a very dense evergreen and are quite hidden from view. Their courting is lovely to watch as they sit together, sing to each other, and he frequently feeds her gently. I hope they succeed.
Hopefully the dense evergreen cover will protect this Cardinal from the eyes of the Crow.

The Crows, on the other hand, have been really noisy through the earlier part of spring. They declared territory and had gang wars with each other and Bluejays. However, now that they are guarding their nests and may have young, they are far quieter, and far more cautious about advertising their locations. Smart birds. I raised a Crow once; their intelligence and personalities are so amazing. I would have enjoyed watching that crow for years and been happy with nothing more exotic.
Crows are super smart and fun to interact with, but  are awful nest predators.

As the season progresses, take some time to just watch the birds around you. Get to know their habits and personalities. The experience will last longer than a quick spotting and a check on a list.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Next Generation of Environmentalists

By Beth Sullivan
We have just wrapped up the fifth year of collaborations with the Connecticut College Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment. For each of these past years, a group of sophomore students applied to be in the special program dedicated to the environment. Their major fields can be wide and varied, but each of them somehow ties their focus to some aspect of environmental study. In the spring semester the center has been teaming up with Avalonia, and the students get some insight into land conservation work. Together we work to shape projects that are of interest to the students, some of whom may carry over the study through their senior year. In return, their goal is to deliver a project that in some way benefits Avalonia and supports our mission.
A work party provide the youth and energy needed to move rocks.

Many projects this year

This year the projects were varied, and in many ways focused on outreach. As an organization we are always looking for opportunities to get the word out about who we are and what we do. We also want to engage a younger age group. Over the last several months the student teams fine-tuned and then implemented their projects. This past week I attended their final presentations, and some of the results were outstanding. Those dealing with outreach and education were right on target.
Amelia, Delilah and Chloe did pure outreach. They did three events where they set up tables, engaged with the public-adults and children alike. They passed out Avalonia information, introduced people to Hike and Seek for families, and presented a bright fresh face to the public. They set up at Fiddleheads Food Co-op in New London, the Stonington Farmer’s Market, and did a really big Earth Day event sponsored by the Mystic Aquarium. When they did final reporting, they had collected nearly $100 in donations, got three new memberships on the spot, gave out applications for dozens more, and made hundreds of new friends for Avalonia . Best of all-they had fun.
At the Farmer's Market, the team got donations, recruited members, and made many friends for Avalonia.

It was great fun working with this team at eh Aquarium Earth Day out-reach event.

Ricardo and Emilio also did outreach but with a very unique spin. We discussed the need to reach out to other, more urban, communities where we may not have a physical presence, and invite children and families to freely explore Avalonia preserves and enjoy educational outdoor explorations. They joined with a group from New London’s Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School that has a connection at Connecticut College. They developed a scavenger hunt based on the model of Hike and Seek, and then took a group out into the Arboretum to explore. They followed up with a classroom session and gave informational materials to the students inviting them to explore Avalonia trails with their families. Great job fellows!
Ricardo introduced his group to the plan for the scavenger hunt.

Sydney and Sarah wanted to help us develop more educational signage for our preserves. They chose two properties with some very interesting historical significance. The Perry Natural Area has been the focus of student projects before. This time they documented the colonial families who owned the land and left their mark with foundations and in cemeteries. They also did significant research with a local team which has been exploring the Native American landmarks to be found in our area. Their signs for Perry will address both Colonial and Pre-colonial theories of usage. They also chose Pequotsepos Brook Preserve to document the Colonial ownership of the land and also to explore the extensive stone works, quarries, bridges, and walls to be found on the property. While the signs are still in the draft stage and need to go through edits and approvals, we are well on the way to adding to the educational experience of visitors to these areas.
Clean up efforts at Pequotsepos Brook netted an astounding number of beer bottles.

Jon and Nate chose to study and plan for the management of South Dumpling Island, an Avalonia holding in Long Island Sound. The island is subject to serious erosion and an invasion by Cormorants that have devastated the plant life. While they were unable to get transportation to the island, they hope to continue the project through the summer and see how their on-shore research will fit with what they find out there and see how their studies can help with possible restoration efforts.
On South Dumpling Island, the Cormorants have taken over and their excrement has burned the vegetation. 

Caroline and Ariane chose to explore an Avalonia Preserve from different viewpoints. Ariane studied the spread of Barberry as an invasive species and researched its effect on native populations. Caroline logged the mileage of the trail there and did a Go-pro video as she traveled them. If developed further, this could be a fun way to bring a virtual trail adventure to an online viewer.
Avalonia thanks the students for their time and enthusiasm. I always enjoy working with them. Each year we all learn a lot from our collaborations. The deliverables help Avalonia, and hopefully the students have learned that land conservancy efforts can be about so much more than just “Hugging Trees”.

Photographs by the students of the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment.  

Monday, May 8, 2017

Outdoor explorations are the best education

By Beth Sullivan
Tuesday dawned quite cool and gray, foggy, mist in the air, and windy. Not a real inspiring day to go outside for any length of time. But Mrs. N’s class of first graders was not daunted at all. Due to almost a school year of practice, each student had a bag of gear including rain coat, rain pants, and boots. They also were prepared to get wet, so each child had a bag of clean dry clothes. Their backpacks contained their paperwork on a clipboard, and their lunch and a drink. I remember how hard it was trying to get my own two children ready for an outdoor adventure, never mind an entire class of very active and excited 6 year olds. They were going to the POND.
The outdoor classroom.

Rain or shine classroom

I was thrilled to be part of this adventure. I had worked with this school and first grade team for more than 20 years, doing habitat classes and outdoor field trips. The teachers were absolutely amazing in the way they incorporated the habitat elements and outdoor discoveries into all areas of their curriculum: writing, reading, art, math, and science. This year Mrs. N has taken this approach to a new level. Every Tuesday, rain or shine, the students go to their Outdoor Classroom in the woods on school property. She is assisted by another teacher, Mrs S, who was also part of the outdoor learning team for two decades. The children know the drill. Everyone cooperates. There was a wagon full of supplies, buckets to be carried, and even a portable commode and pop-up tent for privacy. This was serious business.
Deep in the woods, we listened to frogs, birds, and splashing. Everyone was wet and happy.

As we hiked the trail to the classroom area, we observed newly greening plants, leaves on trees, sounds in the woods, and bugs on the ground. They remembered things from the previous week and could make comparisons. When we reached the classroom, a circle of stumps set under a tarp, it was time to settle and listen. With some special songs, verbal and visual cues, and a few deep breaths, the children began to quiet. A story about a tadpole and a caterpillar brought some laughs, but also some insight about how things change in nature. They ate their lunch while listening to review of the plans of action. For a period they were allowed to roam freely in the general area, boundaries having been set early on, but they chose their routes, and explored on their own. No one got lost; no one got hurt. Do you remember that feeling of being free in the woods? I sure do.
The nets were taller than the students.

Vernal pools to explore

Since this was their first time working in the vernal pool, there was need for some special instructions. They would be in teams, with each pair sharing a long handled net (which could indeed be a danger in the hands of an exuberant, shorter, little person). When they were ready, we headed to the shoreline of the shallow woodland pond. At first there was hesitation: some were uncertain about their footing and depth in the water; some were a little concerned about what might be in the water. Then there was the scooping: bringing in big nets full of slimy, wet, old leaves and picking through to find the hiding creatures. It took a bit of coaxing for some of them to decide to dig in with bare hands to discover insects, larvae, amphipods, isopods, and other previously unknown critters. And yes, there were tadpoles, a very strange looking and behaving Fairy Shrimp, and the larva of a large Diving Beetle, the somewhat daunting Water Tigers, which had some impressive pinchers.
The brave ones dove into the nets with bare hands.

There were lots of questions, absolutely no boredom, and a great deal of respect for the creatures we caught. By the time we were done we all had water over the tops of our boots. The class regrouped shook out their nets and cheerfully, for the most part, emptied their boots and wrung out socks.
Once again, each child drifted to their sitting place in the woods, to meditate a bit, to record on a journal page the observations and insights from their hours in the outdoors.
Team work helped when searching for creatures. 

Being part of their day and accepted as a part of the group was a joy and an honor. I love watching those light bulb moments of understanding. The hesitancy to touch something being overcome, and a fearful child opening his hand freely, to hold a slimy tadpole or a wiggling beetle.
This type of learning, to me, demonstrates the best of all worlds. The time to enjoy childhood is so fleeting. The window of opportunity to discover the wonders of nature is too small.
A quiet time for reflection and recording observations.

I salute those teachers, and parents, who recognize this and dedicate themselves to making sure that the next generations will produce young people who appreciate nature and are willing to stand up for the protection of our natural world.
The names of teachers and the school are omitted and the faces of children have not been shown to protect their privacy.


Photographs by Kathleen Smith.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Protecting a new space: The Benedict Benson Preserve

By Beth Sullivan
We are thrilled to honor and be trusted by, a family that has been conservation-minded from the beginning of the last century. The descendants of Benedict Bengt Benson have donated 94 acres of beautiful forest land in North Stonington, to be preserved in perpetuity.
Benedict Benson's family members. Photograph by Bruce Fellman.

Mimi and Brad Borden have been in conversation with Avalonia for quite a long time, trying to determine the best way to donate land, preserve portions for their farm and family, and ensure that the entire area will be preserved for both people and wildlife to enjoy and thrive.
These acres are part of a large forest block, parts of which are also protected. It is a widely varied area, with fresh streams, many vernal pools, and abundant rocks-rocks that are ledges and outcrops, rocks that are glacial erratics, and of course the area is strewn with the stones from which the Stoningtons get their name. These have been gathered into all manner of walls and mounds and piles scattered throughout the area.
Any rock lover will be thrilled to walk here, observing the glacial effects of many thousands of years ago. Big boulders scattered seemingly at random throughout the landscape are covered with mosses. Many of them have cracked and split, in recent time, relatively speaking. During the natural process of water entering a crack in the rock, then freezing and expanding, the cracks are enlarged. Organic debris fills in the cracks, and over years there is enough to support the growth of a seed. The seed sends its roots, strong and persistently powerful, out and down, until the rock cracks a bit more. Over time the two parts of the boulder are completely separated. There are many examples to be found here of full sized trees growing within a rocky base.
It's easy to imagine kids making a fort in these rocks and woods.

Over decades, this tree has found a foot hold, or root hold, by cracking apart this bolder.

Appropriate Dedication

Appropriately, on Earth Day, the new preserve was dedicated with over 30 people in attendance, including descendants of Benedict Benson himself as well as the donors.
The North Stonington town committee has completed marking a trail through the woods on the west side of Swan Town Hill Road, with yellow blazes . But the orange tape on the trees is also a testament to Mr. Borden himself enjoying the property, hiking over many decades. A little bit of different family history remains deep in the woods. A very old car, probably a family first, remains in place, home to small creatures and greenery.
The old family car. Wonder what it was?

The varied habitats also support a wide range of very unique plants, spring ephemerals and other wildlife as well. The area is well known to birders as one of the very few breeding/nesting areas for the critically threatened Cerulean Warbler. As we walked the trails, we could hear bird song from well over our heads, announcing the beginning of spring migration.
Woodpeckers have abundant food and nesting opportunities.

The Lantern Brook flows through the property starting from a pond to the north, spreading into pools and wetland seeps, then tumbling down a stony rubble path making beautiful noise along the way. The wetlands were the greenest spots in the woods with Skunk Cabbage and False Hellebore following the waterway.
The early greenery of False Hellebore follows the flow of the Lantern Brook.

A map, directions and description will be on our preserves page shortly. We will also include a history of the property written by Mimi Borden herself. Take a ride into the country of North Stonington. Get a little lost in the woods and think about what Benedict Bengt Benson must have felt when he first arrived on the land and made it his home. His family says he would be happy to know it is preserved for others to enjoy as well.

Thank you Benedict. Thank you Mimi and Brad.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise noted.

Monday, April 24, 2017

How are we doing this Earth Day?

By Beth Sullivan
At this most beautiful, bursting, growing time of year, everyone has thoughts of being good to “our Mother .” We are all in the spirit of planting trees, cleaning up roadsides, doing the things that need doing after a long winter. It is indeed joyous to be out now, enjoying the clean air, sparkling brooks, spring-green along woodland trails, and beaches refreshed and ready to go. It seems trite and worn out to remind everyone that “Earth Day should be Every Day,” yet the impacts of our actions over the rest of the 51 weeks a year are more important than the token things we do for a week in April.
All species of turtle are in decline, even our favorite the Painted.

Environmental Quality report published

The State of Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality has just come out with their report through the end of the year 2016. The full report can be found here.
It is an annual report, but it compiles and charts data for the past ten years to examine trends over time. That’s what makes it interesting. Connecticut has been making strides in many areas: we lead the charge in trying to plan for climate change as we have at-risk coastlines to care for; our air quality in general has improved, yet we still have too many bad air days in the heat of the summer; our waterways are growing cleaner because of (overall) less discharge of nitrogen into rivers and streams yet Long Island Sound is still in trouble. The report points to several reasons why things don’t seem to be improving as fast as they should be and they all seem to relate to heat.
Osprey are healthier with cleaner water and safer fish.

The big elephant in the room is the warming climate. While some continue to debate the truth and cause of global warming, there is no denying the scientific data that graphs out the rising trend in temperatures-each year warmer than the last. Our leaders, or some of them, grapple with trying to determine whether to concentrate on the cause or the effect. But as they talk and debate, things get worse.
While the air is cleaner, the trapped heat continues to create dangerous air days in the summer.

Heat is also related to another factor-impervious surfaces. As our populations grow, there are more homes and driveways, more roads, more parking areas, roof tops, and shopping malls. All of these do not absorb water, do not allow pollutants to run off, and do nothing to temper the heat tossed back into the atmosphere by all the dark surfaces. Even though our lawns may be better than blacktop, they are a major cause of overloads of nutrients running back into our waterways. But we know all that.
There just have to be frogs for future generations.

Avalonia's mission

It is the third element they identify that I found most interesting-the lack of enough investment in open space in our State. Even though we are doing better than some states, and there has been an effort to increase the amount of preserved farmland in Connecticut, we are not on track to meet goals set for preserved open space. As governments struggle with budgets, it seems the first and easiest thing to cut back on is the funding for the open spaces needed to create greenways and blueways to protect our precious habitats and wildlife. People see the immediate devastating effects of cuts to schools and services, but it is harder to grasp the long term effects of loss of our open spaces on the future of our next generations.
Pileated Woodpeckers need large unbroken forest areas to survive. Photograph by Dennis Main.

This is where Avalonia Land Conservancy, among many others, is desperately, actively trying to acquire, for preservation in perpetuity, some wonderful open spaces (updates will be coming). Not only will they be available for us to enjoy in the near term, but as we are enjoying them on one level, these spaces filter our water, clean our air, buffer heat return to atmosphere, support wildlife and in doing so contribute to our overall health and well-being as well as increase the property values where they are located.
Long Island Sound is threatened by rising temperatures as well as pollution. 

We can make a difference every day, not just on Earth Day, by supporting conservation efforts of Avalonia and other land conservancy organizations that are active in the places you love.


Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise noted.



Monday, April 17, 2017

New England Cottontail hops back

In honor of the unofficial start of spring, we re-post an earlier feature on Avalonia's work to restore habitat for the New England Cottontail.

By Beth Sullivan
Since 2013 I have been writing about our New England Cottontail project on Avalonia’s Peck and Callahan preserves in Stonington. Not accessible to the public, people have had to rely on written reports and photos to follow the progress.
We have laid out the welcome mat. Now we wait.  Photo from USFWS.

New England Cotton Tail returns

The New England Cottontail was determined to be in danger of needing Federal protection due to plummeting populations. They are out-competed by the non-native Eastern Cottontail that is highly adaptable to living near people and our homes and gardens. The New England Cottontail (NEC) needs shrubby, overgrown thickets of dense brush, of the kind found decades ago when farm fields were abandoned and were overgrown. Once the fields progressed into forests which are now abundant in our state, the NEC had less desirable places to live, they didn’t breed successfully (like rabbits are supposed to do) and thus the population dropped.
Studying the problem, the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined it would be far better to try and stabilize the population, create habitat, rather than allow it to further decline and need federally mandated protection. Since 2012, we worked with USFWS, CT DEEP and the Wildlife Management Institute to help create a big block of habitat up in the woods between Pequot trail and Route 184.
Last year this area was low and sparse. Now perfect habitat. 

You can read about the progress and process herehere, and here.
Last week representatives from several federal agencies and teams from New England States met in New Hampshire to celebrate a success story. Because of all the efforts to study and restore habitat in focus areas throughout New England, it was determined that the NEC did not need to be placed on the Endangered Species List.
Plentiful berries of several species provide food.

The next question seems to be: Why is that a good thing: don’t they still need protection?
The NEC will continue to need protection and monitored to make sure all the work done to create habitat is successful in having the rabbits move in and thrive. Studies will continue over the next years as the project areas regrow into the young forest habitat they need. Teams will go out in the winter when the ground is covered to collect rabbit pellets to check for DNA confirmation of NEC presence. THAT will be success! Then plans can be made to continue to work with this habitat management system, keeping it in rotation of optimal size and level of growth, and work with other land owners to provide more of the same.
Under the powerlines, the habitat is dense and thick.

If the New England Cottontail had been placed on the Endangered Species list, there would have been a huge, bureaucratic need to install protections on large territories where the rabbits “might” be located and restrictions placed on areas where they are found. Private landowners could lose the choice of being able to create habitat or not, to develop their land, or not. The expense to list and then protect a species far outweighs the money spent to provide what it needs to keep it off the list.
A large Black Rat Snake probably finds many small mammals to eat.

The added benefit of the work, is that there are a number of other species, about 50 in CT alone that benefit from the newly created habitat. Some of them were heading toward that “E List” themselves.
Since our project was completed in August of 2013, we have visited a number of times. The area is almost impossible to walk through: Excellent for rabbits! Berry bushes cover the ground providing fruit for all manner of animals. It is teeming with more wildlife than ever before. We have counted new birds, noted many new insects in great numbers, and reptiles and amphibians as well.
Walking through the preserve in no longer easy.

On behalf of a special bunny, we are all grateful for funding by Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Long Island Sound Futures fund ( LISFF), the efforts of the USFWS, CT DEEP and those supporters who had the vision to proceed with the project.
We will keep you posted.
Link to The Day article on the NEC is here.


Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Making a Difference

By Beth Sullivan
This is the fifth year that the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment at Connecticut College has collaborated with Avalonia to provide students with first hand knowledge of how a land trust functions and to give Avalonia some much needed energy, assistance and strength.
In past years, one student has taken over writing the blog for me, as part of an outreach project and to introduce the students. This year no one decided to take me up on that, so I will be writing a few of these entries to describe what some of the teams have chosen as their projects.
The frontage was overwhelmed by brush and litter.

Ricardo Olea and Emilio Pallares recognized that our outreach efforts, publications and web photos were lacking in diversity. We discussed several ways to remedy this, and their goal will be to engage diverse students from New London schools near the College, get them outside at the Arboretum, and get some great photos for us to use to be more inclusive. They will promote the new Hike and Seek program and encourage city kids to venture out onto Avalonia trails not far from town for education, fun and, adventure. As they work toward this goal, Ricardo told me about his unique campus group: MEChA ( explanation coming shortly) which needed some community service time and offered to spend a Saturday morning with me, working at a preserve of my choosing.
Invasives were impenetrable behind the wall.

Collier Preserve Clean-up

Great. I never turn down strong young helpers, and it would give me a chance to talk a bit more with Ricardo about his project. We chose the Marjorie Stanton Middleton Collier Preserve, near the top of Quoketaug Hill on Pequot Trail. Over the winter a dedicated volunteer has hacked away at vines strangling the trees and covering the walls. (Thanks Jim.) There was so much dead wood, and dense invasive growth and brush, that the roadside walls were barely visible, and the frontage was a mess. The preserve was donated to Avalonia by the Collier family, one of the founding families living up on the hill far back in Stonington history.
A break of cookies and juice, and a therapy dog, was welcomed.
Ann Collier, art of the donor family, last visited about four years ago.

On a blustery Saturday, six students, including Ricardo, showed up to help fix up the walls. While none of us were stone workers by any stretch, with muscle and some good tools and team work, they were able to get fallen rocks lifted back onto the walls. Over decades these rocks had tumbled, then become grown over and buried. Now they are back out where they belong. The brush along the road and in a nice broad swath behind the walls has been cut down. It is more open and appealing. Litter was picked up by the bag-full, and the area is already drawing positive comments from the neighbors.
Big, fallen rocks were placed back on the walls.

The right tool and a great team made all the difference.

But now about MEChA. As I talked with Ricardo and his friends, they explained that their group was comprised of students of similar ethnic backgrounds going back to indigenous people in Mexico, before Spanish influence. I was intrigued. I will quote Ricardo here as he described his group:
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) is a student organization that promotes higher education, culture, and history. Each word in MEChA symbolizes a great concept in terms of la causa (the cause). Movimiento means that the organization is dedicated to the movement to gain self-determination for our people. Estudiantil, identifies the organization as a student group for we are part of our Raza's future. At the heart of the name is the use of the identity: Chicanx. At first seen as a negative word, now taken for a badge of honor. In adopting their new identity, students committed themselves to return to the barrios, colonias, or campos and together, struggle against the forces that oppress our people. Lastly, the affirmation that we are Indigenous people to this land by placing our movement in Aztlán, the homeland of all peoples from Anahuak.
The term Anahuak is more of a general term often used interchangeably with Valley of Mexico , and both Aztec and Mayan civilizations fall under the umberalla of Anahuak. It is the core of ancient Mexico. This is generally where Mexico City is located today. Essentially, it is where the indigenous peoples of Mexico are said to have originated from.”

What a change!
I found it refreshing to meet and learn about a group of young people who take pride in their heritage. They set great examples for others too as they support the greater community and promote diversity and understanding. Thanks for all the muscle too.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Warm Gathering on a Cold Night

By Beth Sullivan
It snowed all day. Threatened to turn bitter cold and windy. But the word had gone out, the committee had been planning for so long. So when the snow stopped, roads were cleared, the decision was made to go ahead and Avalonia’s Winter Potluck Gathering was ON!
March 10 was getting pretty close to spring. We were all hoping that the lovely warm weather we had briefly experienced would hold on. But it didn’t. The anecdote for winter blues has always been good food, good friends, and a good cause.

Winter potluck dinner

Avalonia Land Conservancy has held a Winter Potluck event for decades. There were years when it was a huge event, and then years when it was smaller and more intimate. But always there were shared home-made dishes and friends looking forward to connecting with each other. Part of the tradition has been to have a basket or tea-cup raffle and folks donated all manner of treasures. There were home-made birdhouses, garden baskets, books, and jewelry. There was also the usual assortment of knick knacks, small appliances and treasures that someone would absolutely need to have.
A big table of donated treasures to be raffled 

This year there was also a silent auction of smaller works of fine art. There were several framed pieces: watercolors, oils, and acrylics. There was a lovely quilted table runner and the bidding was lively for that. There were also packs of nature- themed cards, just perfect for those who still believe that a hand written note will never go out of style.
Items of fine art for the silent auction.

While people trickled in, several wonderful Girl Scouts and Avalonia volunteers met guests, explained the evening, and took steaming pans of food and covered salads and desserts to the kitchen. As everyone mingled, and bid on items, there were opportunities to look at displays of Avalonia projects including the new Hike and Seek program. Guests were encouraged to seek out those with Avalonia name tags, indicating people who might have answers to their questions.
Displays of Avalonia projects were on view.

The food came out, people found tables with old friends and new friends, and enjoyed music provided by The Avalonia Quick Steppers. They were fun-spirited, foot-stomping good, and inspired a few people to dance.
Old friends and new enjoyed dinner together.

The Avalonia Quick Steppers.

After dinner speaker

After dinner we were educated and entertained by an excellent presentation by Russ Cohen, author of “ Wild Plants I Have Known….and Eaten”. For those of us who are nature lovers, as well as gardeners, and who love to eat too, foraging is a natural extension of our interests. And what is fun, is that can be a positive, natural outcome of some of our stewardship efforts-eradicating invasives. Russ presented a great program, concentrating on wild-growing plants, many of which we constantly battle. How satisfying it was to see that instead of just cutting down, and swearing at, Japanese Knotweed, that there are a number of very delicious and easy recipes to be made from young tender stalks. They can be used like rhubarb. Autumn Olive berries can be as nutritious and tasty as cranberries in jellies and spreads. Maybe we should open up our work party days to foragers?
Author and forager, Russ Cohen.

Other plants provide roots that are tasty when prepared , like Chickory and Burdock. Leaves of Sheep Sorrel, Violets, and Lamb’s Quarters are excellent replacements for other farm-produced greens.
Russ also discussed other native plants that have produced foods that were appreciated by Native Americans and colonists such as Acorns, Hickory Nuts, and Black Walnuts. He even took the time to share some of his secrets for extracting the nuts in big edible pieces, rather than the smash up job I have been using.
Of course he offered the important cautions about foraging certain foods, Mushrooms as an excellent example, and the need to be absolutely certain of your identification. He also cautioned about harvesting plant populations that may be too small or scarce to sustain a harvest. All of this information is available in his book.
Desserts ended the evening with a very special creation by one of the Girl Scouts: Earth as a gem with a cake baked to appear like the jewel encrusted formation we see in geodes. Really creative!
The baker and her creation-Earth as a geode.

Included on the dessert table were creations offered by our guest speaker. No offense intended to all the other delicious treats, but his were spectacular.
Everyone went home happy. We made new friends, new members, and enlisted some new volunteers for our efforts. We went out into a cold night, warmed by a special event.



Thank you to the team who planned this event, and Bruce Fellman for his photographs.