Monday, June 17, 2019

A New Perspective

By Beth Sullivan
June is a most beautiful time here, and while I hated to leave home, we had the opportunity to go out west, Montana, Wyoming and Yellowstone area, so we spent the last week exploring spring in a new area.
I always find it so interesting to compare and contrast wildlife, plant life and landscape when I travel to different places. There are many similarities and when noting differences, it is obvious that those differences really reflect similar niches to the ones we have here.
Hidden reservoirs, rolling sage brush covered hills, and always snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Imagine the forces that created such an upheaval in the earth.

Not in Connecticut anymore

The biggest difference was the altitude. We are used to sea level and barely above. I was quite surprised at the effect that 7,000+ feet had on my stamina With the altitude comes the very big difference in temperature and life zones. At lower levels it was a little warmer, and spring had begun. Early wild flowers dotted the fields and woodlands. They had experienced a spell of warmer weather before our arrival and the snow melt had begun. The record snowfall and warmth had created roaring falls and streams.
At the mid elevations, it was still pretty cold, and at the highest points there was still a lot of snow pack. On June 8 we even experienced a snowstorm. Not exactly what I was hoping for on our vacation, but it made things quite beautiful and allowed us to spot a moose and calf which stood out against the whiteness.
It is interesting to see the progression of the wildflowers, in full bloom lower down; the same flowers would be barely breaking the ground or in bud higher up. There are some similar flowers there: white trillium and trout lily are flowers we have here, but ours bloomed in mid April. Native orchids are a treasure for me, no matter where I go, and the Calypso orchid was a gem hiding at mid-elevations in the moist forests near streams. I felt most at home in the green forests and stream sides.
We would never have seen the moose and her calf, if not for the snow.

Calypso Orchid

The snow melt made for some beautiful waterfalls.

Some familiar birds

Some of the bird life was familiar. The yellow-rumped warbler we have here as a fall migrant is the Myrtle form with a white throat. In the mountain west it is the Audubon’s form and has not only a yellow rump, but a yellow throat. There were red-winged blackbirds, but also yellow-headed blackbirds sharing the same cattail swamps.
The vastness of the landscape can be disconcerting. The rolling hillsides, sage bush covered and soft gray-green, seem to stretch forever. There were different wildflowers dotting the dry sage brush flats. A favorite was the Indian Paintbrush, very rare here, which is the State flower of Wyoming. It was there we found the pronghorn antelope with their young, some beautiful wild horses, and in Yellowstone, there were the herds of bison and elk. The local deer were the mule deer, which are huskier than ours, with a black tip on the end of their tail. Like our white tailed deer, they are having their young now, and the males were loosely traveling together in smaller groups, sporting velvety antlers. Everywhere the trees showed signs of buck rubs: worn areas where they have scratched and rubbed their antlers much like we find here. The black bears used the buck rub trees as back scratching posts.
Always in the distance were the snow covered peaks of the different mountain ranges. They were stunning sights on our blue-sky days. We didn’t have a lot of sun, but when we did, the landscape lit up and truly glowed.
We traveled to Cody, Wyoming and there again, we were astonished by the landscape. I was never much of a geology buff, but seeing the rock formations and jagged cliffs, it was impossible not to wonder about the violent, ancient history of the Earth hidden in the rocks themselves. It was a harder, browner, less welcoming landscape, but those who live there have come to love the shapes and views and the way the sunlight plays on the rocks. We were guided to hidden lakes with large rainbow trout. Swallows of all kinds, as well as nighthawks, swooped low over the water. Osprey nested on telephone poles ,and bald eagles occasionally chased them for the fish they were carrying. The pine siskins we have here in the winter nest there. We saw cedar waxwings, and the bluebirds there are mountain bluebirds which are fully blue, no rusty chest.
So many wonders our country holds for us. Great swaths of land preserved for future generations. It was pretty amazing, but as always, there is no place like home and the familiar embrace of our local preserves.
Yellow-headed blackbird

A black bear enjoys a back scratch.

Indian Paintbrush

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Finally June

By Beth Sullivan
Whichever way you choose to look at it, June signals the beginning of the summer season. Memorial Day has passed, the Solstice is still ahead, but the weather remains fickle. We are all ready for summer to get going so we can get out and enjoy it. It has been a long time coming.
Get up. Get out. Get Healthier.

One bit of business to take care of first. Starting this month, Avalonia eTrails will be posted on the first and third Mondays of the month, not every week as it has been since we began this journal journey. We started in 2013 and, to date, we have posted 361 entries. Yes, I counted. All the entries are still archived on the Avalonia eTrails website if you missed any from the beginning. I am so grateful for all of you who have followed and enjoyed these weekly musings. Early on, they filled a space in Avalonia’s social media presence. Now, we have some amazing writers and editors, and there are newsletters, updates, e-blasts, Facebook posts, and Instagram feeds. Communication with our members and friends continues on a greater scale than ever before.
Since I began writing, I have been blessed with two grandchildren, and another is on the way. One of my goals is to spend time with them and keep them well grounded in what I love: Nature. They are off to a great start, and readers have had glimpses of them in some of my photos. I will certainly continue to sneak them in. To cut back writing a little will give me a bit more time to be out and hike and explore myself, too.
Getting out in nature and getting children out to explore has been my primary passion for over three decades. Several years ago we developed Hike and Seek. In the past year, we have had some new volunteers and program development assistance to help move it to the next level. We have sent informational packets to several schools systems locally which will pass on the information to their students and families. Avalonia has so many wonderful properties, and offers opportunities to enjoy, explore and hike, all for free. The Hike and Seek program helps provide parents and kids with the added depth to look deeper and learn more. Check it out on line: . Originally we made sure the targets were things that could be observed all year round, in all seasons. One of my goals for this summer is to get out on preserves and find some new targets, things that may be only seasonally visible, but worth looking for during the prime hiking season.
Everyone loves a lesson at Moore Woodlands. Photograph by Kent Fuller

Stop and Breath. Sometimes your view will be breathtaking. Photograph by Phil Sheffield.

Phil and Java enjoying Knox Preserve. Photograph by Nina Sheffield.

Not just for kids

This brings me to the next challenge. A number of adults have suggested that this Hike and Seek idea is not just for kids. They enjoy having a goal or a focus when they hike and it is an opportunity for adults to learn more too. At the same time, we all know that exercise is good for the heart ( both the physical heart and the spiritual heart) . Hiking in nature need not be strenuous to be beneficial, but a little cardio spurt on a trail never really hurt anyone who is healthy. Building up stamina, balance and some muscle can also be accomplished out on a trail.
One of our newer volunteers, Phil Sheffield, is always out hiking himself and has recognized this. He wants to take this passion that we both share and encourage others to do the same. He has created the Avalonia-Hikes Facebook page, and its purpose is described this way:
“Welcome to Avalonia Hikes! This page was created as a way for folks to find like-minded community members who are interested in taking walks on Avalonia's beautiful properties, either scheduled in advance or even last-minute. Want to go for a walk and looking for some company? Hoping to hike a new trail but don't want to go alone for the first time? Try creating a quick post on this page with the suggested date, time and place and perhaps others will be able to join you. Please use this page to set up hikes and walks on Avalonia properties.”

What a great idea to connect with old friends, or make new ones, to get out, explore, get healthy. And, if you use the Hike and Seek program, you might learn a thing or two in the process.

Watch out for poison ivy, use sunscreen if you are not in the woods, bring water if you will be out for a while in the heat, and check yourself for ticks at the end of the hike. Better yet: ask your friend to help do the tick check.

Have fun.
Poison Ivy can make a fun hike regrettable. 

Team work helps find these beasts.

You never know what beauty may await you around the next bend in the trail.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.