Monday, December 16, 2019

A time to give

By Beth Sullivan
Those of us who are a bit older feel the fleetness of the passing years. The little ones, however, feel the time stretching too long from one year to the next. So much happens in one year. So many changes. One thing that does remain consistent, is that the time between Thanksgiving and the New Year is a time of looking outward, thinking of what we have been given and of what we can give in return.
For many of us with small children in our lives, it is easy to give material items. There are amazing new educational toys now, many based on science. There are wonderful new books that explain life, diversity, fairness, and kindness. We try to choose wisely.
But this year has made me, along with many others, begin to seriously wonder what life will be like for these children we cherish so much. There are so many frightening scenarios: social, political or economic. But the one that gives me the greatest fear is the environmental one. What will our Earth be like in the next decades when our young children begin to take leadership roles? More and more we see reports of warming, glaciers melting, seas rising, and storms intensifying. We read of extinctions of creatures we either never knew, or took for granted. Maybe we, ourselves, don’t witness all of these. But what we do witness is the loss of bees buzzing in our gardens; we notice fewer birds, either in the woods, along the shore or even at our feeders. We notice greater number of trees dying from disease or infestations. We, who are a little older, notice these changes. Our children’s children may never experience the same kind of nature that we did. We didn’t experience the nature of generations before us. It makes me sad.
Children merely need an opportunity and will rejoice in nature.

The very youngest find happiness wandering with a friend. Photograph by S. McLarney.

History is preserved here, but we don't know how long it will last.

There is hope

Now, this is not meant to be a Grinch tale of holiday woe. I am still a hopeful person. There are so many amazing places to explore, miracles to witness, experiences that we can share with our children to help them cherish what we have come to know and appreciate. The gift of teaching love for our Earth, the gift of experiences, great or small, are things we can still give. These things don’t cost a lot; many are absolutely free. Most don’t take a lot of time. Most do not require a great deal of expertise. They require patience in the moment and foresight to the future.
We all have the time to take a walk, take a deep breath of clean air, and encourage a child to look deep into a pool of water or listen to spring peepers. If you don’t have a child in your life, maybe an elderly person would appreciate the same opportunity. Maybe, most importantly, do it for yourself. Pay attention to Nature. Notice the changes. Notice the very small beauties close to our feet, and then look skyward and appreciate the sky and clouds we see through the trees.
But here’s the catch: we need to make sure these opportunities remain available for the future. We need to pass on our experiences and love, so that long after we are gone, there will remain people who remember, and places where they themselves can be refreshed and give the gift to others.
Here in our small corner of the world, we have the ability to change the way our future may look. We live in an area of great diversity of habitat and great opportunities to experience somewhat undisturbed nature. Organizations, like Avalonia, are dedicated to preserving what we can for future generations. Some of the areas are vast (by CT standards). Others are small gems easily explored. Over the last half-century Avalonia has protected over 4000 acres of land that will be an ever-present gift for you to share with your children and beyond.
As we face an uncertain future of changing climate that may indeed change the face of the land we love, we give thanks to those who can join us in our efforts to protect what we can, to preserve the waterways, the landscapes, the air we breathe and to give the wildlife a home so it too can be part of a future experience. We have to remain hopeful but act with urgency.

The joy of family explorations of a protected space is a great gift.
The face of our landscape, especially the shoreline, is being changed. 

Those in college now will be making very hard decisions in a few years.

Something for our children

We can give a valuable gift to our own children by giving them a membership to Avalonia, in this area, or another organization or land trust in your own area if you are reading this from afar. A membership doesn’t necessarily get you a mug, or a bag or a hat. We save our money to support our mission to preserve, protect, and educate. A membership for a family or a youngster can help begin the conversation about being in touch with nature, being part of a larger effort, and understanding the gifts that are present for all to enjoy, every day, not just at the holidays. It can sustain their commitment to watching and working toward a healthier environment.
It seems very fitting to me, that just this week, young Greta Thunberg was named the Person of the Year for 2019. I bet she spent a lot of her young life enjoying the gifts of the Earth.
Wishing you all a joyous holiday season, and a new year of peace and hope.
Together we can preserve the gift of place, so you can give the gift of time.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Communicating the value

By Beth Sullivan
Avalonia is a land trust. It conserves, preserves, and protects land and natural habitats. The other half of our mission is about communicating the value of these resources that once protected, will remain protected forever.
The Avalonia team works to communicate and educate in many different ways. This blog is one. We use social media such as Facebook and Instagram to convey our message. One of the best ways to really learn is by getting close to the subject, getting out and hiking, getting on your knees and looking closely, or joining a guided hike with a leader who can help teach.
Dealing with stronger storms and higher sea levels will be a topic of study for many.

Hoffman Evergreen Preserve hike

This past Friday, Black Friday, we challenged the turkey-filled to avoid the malls, and get out and hike. I have written extensively about the Hoffman forest restoration project. So, on Friday, stewards Jim Friedlander and Rick Newton, who are closely involved with the effort, joined by Phil Sheffield, a hike leader, and Sandy Alexander, our communications wiz, took about 50 people, kids and dogs as well, on a hike through the Hoffman Evergreen Preserve. Many hours of effort had already gone into getting the area more user-friendly: new blazes were painted on trees to be more visible and reduce confusion, and miles of trails were cleared by hand to remove large and small debris for safety and easier walking. With recent winds and rains, trees continue to fall, so chainsaw teams had gone out to remove even more blowdowns. Hikers had an opportunity to see the project and understand the planning behind it, as well as hear our hopes and plans for the future. Getting people to understand the issues, and become engaged with a project, allows them to feel like a true part of our conservation efforts. We will be calling on some of these same folks over the next months to help us with work parties.
Led by Jim F., hikers of all ages enjoyed the walk a Hoffman Preserve.

The pond a Hoffman Preserve remains full to the brim.

Some of the projects spreading our message

Some of us work with individual students to give input on projects or take on groups, from Cub Scouts to College students, to assist with educational efforts.
Cub Scouts planted seedling trees on The Woodlot Sanctuary. It is my hope that some of them will thrive so the kids can return years from now and locate them.
Maggie DeFosse is studying environmental policy and doing her final college internship with Avalonia. She remembers many years ago when I was doing classes in her elementary school and now has come full circle. We are working together.
This past week I met with a student from the Williams College Marine Program, to discuss coastal resiliency. He knows Avalonia has a number of coastal properties, including islands, and wonders about our plans for resiliency. He has studied our efforts at Dodge Paddock. He is concerned that there isn’t a state-wide plan to work together with towns and land conservancies and other agencies to address the looming sea-level rise crisis. He had some great thoughts, but in this case he will literally have to fight multiple city halls because each municipality in CT has its own rules and zoning plans.
I am working on scheduling a hike with a 13 year old, Gabriel, who is going to do a school project that will be educational, scientific, and oriented for community education. He has been inspired by hiking with naturalist Bruce Fellman. I will help him explore Knox Preserve, with a focus on how wildlife can prepare to adapt and survive the winter ahead. Once he gets the introduction, he will create his own educational hike and lead a group of his peers on a tour of the preserve to teach them what he has learned. Now, if the weather would cooperate, maybe we can get out next Sunday.
The program with Connecticut College's Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment, will begin in February. It will be yet another opportunity to educate smart young people about what we do as an organization and to learn from them as well.
These are the future stewards and policy makers for our world. Some will stay close to home, some will range far. All will, hopefully, see that their time with Avalonia helped shape their ideals and goals for the future we all share.
At Knox Preserve, we will discuss adaptations to survive the winter.

Connecticut College students are willing to get their feet wet.

Cub Scouts plant tree seedling. A hope for the future.

A fox den at Knox Preserve.

Photographs of Hoffman Preserve are by Phil Sheffield and Sandy Alexander. All other photographs by Beth Sullivan.