Monday, December 31, 2018

“The Holy Land is everywhere.” Black Elk

by Beth Sullivan

Thank you for the role you play – every day – in protecting that which is Holy. Our descendants (and our ancestors) are counting on it.
May the conservation spirit burn brightly for you this Holiday Season and throughout the year in 2019.
Happy New Year!
David Allen

This email message caught my eye, and the words Holy Land really grabbed my attention. I am often overdosed with end of the year requests, and greetings from people or organizations with which I may have only a fleeting relationship. David Allen writes a weekly blog highlighting various aspects of development for conservation organizations. I often learn from his professional tidbits, about better ways to write to engage people with my own writing. The simplicity of this actually stopped me in my tracks. I know the same words went out to all his subscribers, but they spoke to ME!
A holy landscape rests at the heart of it all.


Holy Land

In this season of spirituality, most of us have a sense of some form of holiness. Most is related to a system of religious beliefs. But believing in the sacredness of our Earth puts a different emphasis on holy. I have always felt closer to God…in whatever form she or he takes, when immersed in nature. To me it is impossible to deny some kind of higher power at work when confronted with the simplicity and complexity of the natural world. The more scientists learn, the more profound the mystery of how interconnected everything is. I have a deep love for plants and am always just amazed at the way all species of them are working and living together to support one another and enhance their own environments. Are they really not conscious? They also are the source of all that we as humans need to survive on this planet: food, shelter, oxygen. They are constantly threatened by mankind’s assaults on the air and water and on the very organisms themselves. Yet they continue to adapt and strive to achieve balance. It is frightening to think of how unbalanced our environment has become, and how unbalanced our leaders’ efforts are in regards to protecting and preserving the very things that are essential to life.

Our Earth is indeed holy and in need of our protection. As David Allen’s quote points out: “our descendants ( and our ancestors) are counting on it.”

At this time, when one year ends and another begins, we all have the opportunity and moral obligation to think about some small thing we can do to keep this land and water preserved and holy for all that depend on it. I don’t believe that I alone, as one individual, can make a huge difference, but if each one of us makes a small effort, and sticks with it, and spreads the word so that the intent ripples out like small waves on a still pond, together we can make a difference.

I hope each one of us can make the resolution to cherish our Holy Land.

Happy New Year to all. With thanks to David Allen and Black Elk.


An annual miracle.

Each organism has a very special niche.

Many species are interconnected.

Some miraculous moments are fleeting. 

Future generations depend on our actions now.

May we all find a holy place.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Reds and greens in the winter woods

By Beth Sullivan

We are at the darkest days of the year. The woods can look pretty drab and it even makes me wish for just a bit of snow to change the scene. But take a walk and look closely, you will find some welcome color, red and green, to greet you for the holidays.
We all know our Pines, Spruce, Firs, and Cedars, the bigger evergreens of the woodlands. They provide great protection for birds and other small creatures when the winter winds blow and snows fall. Their cones hold nutritious seeds, high in fat and protein that the wildlife need to help them through the cold season. 

Some different evergreens

Look a little lower, the shrub layer in many of our woodlands is dominated in places by our State Flower: Mountain Laurel. Drive along many of our roads where the scenery is rocky and rough, you will welcome the sight of gnarled branches and leathery green leaves of this lovely shrub. While it doesn’t provide a food supply, the usefulness as nesting sites for forest birds is often revealed in winter.
In some of the more remote wetlands areas, our native Rhododendron (R. maximum) will stand out, green against the brown. During the severe cold, you can note that the leaves droop downward and curl into tubes. This is the plants’ adaptation to protect the leaf surface from cold and dehydration in the dry winter air. 

Rhododendron leaves droop and curl in winter.

Bright winter reds

Native hollies provide winter interest. Our American holly, (Ilex opaca) the familiar Christmas decoration, has spikes on the leaves to deter deer but the berries are feasted upon by many birds, now and through the winter, as long as they last. Robins, Thrushes, and Bluebirds in particular will find a bush and claim it.
Native winter holy

Our other native holly, Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)is deciduous, but its berries glow red on bare branches during this season. These berries often do not fully ripen until they have been cold for a long time, then they ferment, and the birds love them. This is true of many berries that remain on the bush through the winter: Viburnum and crab apple in particular. Those birds know how to wait until the vintage is perfect.

Winterberry with Mantis egg case.

Mosses for the season

Club Mosses ( Lycopodium sp.) such as Princess Pine and Ground Cedar ( They have multiple common names) will populate the ground in patches. Years ago they were harvested irresponsibly for Christmas decorations and the populations were nearly decimated. Garden Clubs have protected the species by refusing to pick it, or sell decorations using the club mosses.
Ground Cedar is a clubmoss.

Emerald green cushion moss brightens the landscape.
Many other species of moss seem to become more intensely emerald at this time of year. Sphagnum moss, which holds the water in the wetlands, is more softly colored, but look closely at the structure of each plant: miniature Christmas trees.
There are a few evergreen plants, still holding leaves: Christmas Fern for one, each ‘leaflet’ on a frond has a “toe” creating a “stocking”. Partridgeberry is a sweet vining plan with delicate evergreen leaves. The occasional red berry remains on the plant as an invitation to a ‘Partridge’ who may favor the berries. Sadly our native partridge or quail, the Bobwhite is considered extirpated from Connecticut. Only to be remembered in Christmas song, being in a Pear Tree.
On the Christmas Fern, each leaflet has a stocking toe.

Partridge Berry.

Happy Holidays to all and enjoy the winter woods. 

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Hard and sharp

By Beth Sullivan
Winter and the shortest days are approaching. I will admit that sometimes I need a bigger push to get out the door when the days are so cold. But there is great beauty and some unique benefits to hiking at this time of year.
First, there is the light. There is something stunning about the crisp, sharp light now. As the sun slips farther south, the shadows loom long. Trees shapes become gnarled and lanky as they creep across the ground. Contrasts are more intense. Looking with a photographer’s eye or an artist’s sense of light and dark, it is amazing to see the depth of contrast when the colors themselves are more muted. It is time to appreciate the Earth tones, the shades of grays and gorgeous textures in the woodlands. Even the waterways take on muted tones when they reflect a more subdued sky. All of this subtlety makes the sunsets all the more outstanding, even though they are so early. We all need light for our physical, and especially mental, health. Take a walk, close your eyes and put your face in the sun, catch a little warmth. Then open them and notice the sharp strong light, the cool shadows and the warm tones of our Earth now, before she is covered with snow.
With the early intense cold, came hardness. Most of the ground is frozen already. While I miss the soft springy-ness of summer earth, it certainly makes walking in wet areas easier. With so much rain in November, our wetland preserves were pretty inaccessible. It was nearly impossible to do some off-trail boundary monitoring. Boots were a necessity. In some areas, trails and bridges went under water. Now the ground is frozen, some of the wet areas are crystallized with frost. It makes for tricky walking in some places, but it also creates interesting patterns of ice in the soil, in puddles, and around plants. Ice along stream edges creates great delicate sculptures. Sometimes those hard edges are the most beautiful.
Sunset is earlier but there is a sharp clarity to the light.

Designs on the light ice of slow streams.

Ice on the Cottrell Marsh cove is hard and sharp.

A look beneath the vegetation 

It is also the best time to see the bones, the structure, of the land. During the soft summer, everything is swathed in greenery. Autumn foliage distracts us from the essentials. But now we see the hills and valleys, the gentle rise and fall of some landscapes and the abrupt, hard edges of other vistas. This part of Connecticut is just full of mementos from the glaciers. They scoured clean the ridges and rock faces, they dropped boulders in erratic places, and left stones of all sizes at various depths in our soils. Now is the time to look more closely at the way our landscape was shaped. It is also time to appreciate all the centuries of work, done by a variety of peoples and cultures, to create walls, cairns, wells, and cellar holes. Almost all of the Avalonia preserves in southeast CT offer beautiful walls, abundant rocks, and glimpses of history within. It’s easiest to see it now.
Do yourself a favor. Bundle up. Get some light. Open your eyes to the more subtle beauty of this time of year. It will surely lift your mood. The brisk air will revive you and invigorate you. Feel the crunch of the ice beneath your feet. Repeat daily as needed.
Holiday Hint: If you want to feel warm and fuzzy amidst all the hard and cold, give yourself or a loved one the gift of a membership to Avalonia. You can feel good about that kind of gift, as it is not material, will be a perfect fit, will last all year, is tax deductible, and will provide both the giver and the receiver the most valuable sense of being part of something bigger than the simple gift itself.
Happy Holidays to all!
Glacial erratics are more visible at the Teftweald now.

Hidden stone structures are revealed at this time of year

Stone walls meander through woodlands and their rounded stones show the wear of centuries. 

You can imagine the energy of the upthrusting of these rocks at Stony Brook.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

You can still support Avalonia Land Conservancy through the Amazon Smile program.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Counting blessings

By Beth Sullivan
Now that we have stopped counting calories, we can continue to count our blessings. In this season of giving and thanks, we have a great deal for which to be grateful.
Avalonia Land Conservancy is founded on the generosity of its members. They are the bedrock. Each year our membership grows, our foundation can get stronger. We work on outreach to connect with those who do not yet understand our mission. We strive to engage the next generation of conservationists. We post our signs so we have a visible presence in the communities where we have our preserves. We invite all, members and non-members alike to stroll the trails, hike the woods, and enjoy what Avalonia has been able to preserve with the support of its members. Thank you.
Avalonia is further supported by the generosity of special donors: those who exceed expectations because they believe in the mission and understand the importance of the preservation of a resource that is rapidly changing and disappearing. There are no words of thanks, special enough, to recognize a larger gift, a grant, or a piece of treasured land, entrusted to Avalonia for care in perpetuity. It is not only our mission, but our promise, to care for each donation to the very best of our ability. Thank you.
None of that caretaking can be done without our volunteers. With the exception of two part-time paid staff people, the organization is completely dependent on its volunteers, from top to bottom. From executive officers to ground teams, volunteers direct and lead, man the keyboards, keep the books and lists, and attend conferences and meetings. Volunteers do outreach and education. Volunteers monitor the preserves, clear trails, mow fields, and improve habitat. There is no way to accurately count all the hours amassed by our volunteers, and no way to truly estimate the value. Thank you.
It might be cold; everyone is busy. It has been said before, but bears saying again: go out and find a place of peace. If it is an Avalonia preserve, please remember all that it takes to have that space and place available. Give thanks!

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.
Continental Marsh

Cottrell Marsh

Knox Preserve

Osprey at Paffard Marsh. Photograph by Rick Newton

Sandy Point as seen from Dodge Paddock.

The view from Tri-Town Ridge line Forest. Photograph by C. Tjerandsen.

As we approach the end of the year, don't forget you can support Avalonia Land Conservancy through the Amazon Smile program. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Restoration of an Aging Forest: Our Hoffman Preserve

By Beth Sullivan
Those of us who have hiked and enjoyed the Hoffman Evergreen preserve for many years are noticing the decline of the forest with sadness. Truly, it is normal for a forest to age, like humans, and there is a limit to how long trees can live and be healthy. But the last decade has been especially hard on Hoffman. The hemlocks that were lovingly planted more than 50 years ago are now too crowded to thrive. Many have died, and some succumbed to the wooly adelgid. There is little new green plant life beneath them.
The beautiful oaks that rose above the hemlocks have been devastated by insects and gypsy moths; winter moths have defoliated them for several years in a row. Severe drought conditions at the same time stressed them to death. Literally. Now the wind storms of the last year are toppling and breaking them. The forest has become dangerous to hikers and to the stewards who try to keep the trails open. It is also a fire hazard.
In the last three years, we have had several teams of experts come to evaluate the preserve. DEEP foresters and biologists have walked the preserve and given us their suggestions. Audubon CT sent a special team in to assess not only the health of the plant life, but the bird life as well, and prepared a very detailed report with their recommendations for action. Currently, we have had a professional forestry company that has offered to help us find the best way forward. Every single one of these reports agree: we can save the future integrity of the forest if we take action now.
Back in 2006, the Hemlocks were healthier, but they were already becoming too crowded. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Now there is nothing much alive in the understory, creating a fire hazard.

The trails have become dangerous for hikers and the stewards who work on them.

Restoration steps

Avalonia will embark on a detailed plan to begin the restoration of many areas of the preserve. Dead and crowded hemlocks will be removed and thinned to create space for healthy ones to expand and grow. Dead and dying oaks will be removed while their wood is still of some use and before more large trees fall into the trails. Areas where the pines were destroyed by the high winds and heavy snow storms of the past two winters will be cut. This will allow the seedlings below to grow and thrive. Openings will be created to allow dense shrub growth. Many of these shrubs will be berry bushes that will provide great food and shelter sources for a greater variety of species. The proposed work will avoid wetlands, slopes and sensitive areas. Some dead trees, snags, will remain for wildlife use in places that will not endanger trails.
We ask for your support and also assistance as we move through the next phases of forest management, soon to begin if the weather cooperates. This work should be completed before next green spring season. Some trails may be closed for periods during intense work. It will be jarring for sure, to have the peacefulness of the Hoffman Preserve interrupted for a while. But in the years to come, the work will bear fruit in the form of a healthier, safer, and more beautiful forest for all to share and enjoy. We hope that as time goes by you will join us in reporting your observations, keeping bird lists, and noticing things as you walk through the recovering areas.
I will periodically report on the project as we continue this process to nurture the forest that we were given many years ago. We will have many opportunities for stewardship efforts next summer and hope you will join us. Together we will restore Hoffman Evergreen Preserve.
Windstorms have toppled dozens of oak trees.

Care will be taken to protect historical sites.

Trees won't be cut down if they are homes for wildlife.

With more sunlight, the Mountain Laurel will bloom again.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.
Don't forget to support Avalonia Land Conservancy through the Amazon Smile program.