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.