Monday, November 16, 2020

There is hope

By Beth Sullivan

Time for good news, positive thoughts, and actions. A nice change of pace.

The Parker Preserve

Almost 10 years ago an interesting piece of property was donated to Avalonia Land Conservancy, way out on the southern tip of River Rd in Pawcatuck. The two Parker brothers tended the front acres as a garden.   The larger western portion, or rear of the parcel, is mostly wetlands with an established grove of large mixed evergreens.  When the property was given to Avalonia, it became the Parker Brothers Preserve. It had young fruit trees, blueberries, raspberries, a grape arbor, and many specimen evergreens and conifers.

Over the years, the fields were mowed by a willing and generous neighbor steward.  But the gardening part went by the wayside. Our stewardship chores are too numerous already, and we don’t have time for maintenance gardening. I tried my hand at rescuing the grape arbor several times, but when it became overgrown with porcelain berry, it was nearly impossible to tell the two vines and their leaves apart.

During the terribly stormy period of 2012-2013 with hurricanes and blizzards, the evergreen grove took a beating. Many of them were broken, trunks littered the ground, and what remained were jagged snags and brush piles. We couldn’t do anything about it.

 Each year we would go in to do our annual boundary walk and tried to get around the wetlands.   It was always easier to do it when the ground was frozen, so we really didn’t spend a lot of time there during the summer season.   Over the years, invasive vines grew up into the evergreens and over the walls.  But it remained a lovely spot to look for cones, berries, and birds - a place to see the water and enjoy the breeze and views.

Shining yellow near the center of the back wall, we found a lovely Dawn redwood tree growing.

The evergreen grove was severely damaged by the wind storms and blizzards several years ago.

There was a great patch of native milkweed already established.


Girl Scouts have a plan

Early this year I was contacted by Girl Scout troop 61047 leader, Laura Holveck, who had enjoyed the Hike Stonington Program, got to know Avalonia, and knew the Parker preserve in her neighborhood.  She and her troop had a proposal: to create a pollinator garden in the preserve.  This would be following Stonington’s efforts to create pollinator pathways throughout the town. Avalonia doesn’t,  as a rule, allow or encourage “gardening” on our nature preserves, but since the preserve was the donors’ garden, and it surely needed some TLC and attention, this seemed like a great time to take a new look and get some new input. Perfect for a Girl Scout Project.  Then came Covid, home schooling, confusion, and distancing. Then there was summer drought and more uncertainty.  But we planned.  The girls, Kate Holveck, Nora Fanning, and Sierra Redfern, are Middle School age and working toward their Silver Award.   (You can read more about the Silver Award here.)  They had to research, plan, and present their plan. Then they needed to decide how to implement the plan.    We did a lot of email communication, and I did an on-site meeting with one Scout and her mom.

She presented the group’s idea to create a 10-foot diameter circle garden, divided into quarters, that would represent the four seasons with appropriate plants and flowers.   It was decided that the best place to locate the garden was just inside the entrance and adjacent to a natural patch of native milkweed for monarchs.

With the help of our neighbor-steward and his bigger equipment, the sod was removed and compost was added.  At this point it was getting late in the season, well into October, so the opportunity to get donations from local garden centers seemed to be diminishing for the season.  But the girls had great luck when they approached Pequot Plant Farm and were given two native Cinquefoil and two butterfly bushes. Many Thanks!

During the recent spell of lovely weather, the girls got together and edged out the garden and planted the small shrubs.  They hope to add some early spring-flowering bulbs for those early honeybees.  They will continue to plan over the winter, for a spring planting of flowers for summer bloom.

Avalonia stewards have continued to clear the walls, took a lot of debris to the dump, and have had quite a time ripping and pulling invasive plants and vines from the beautiful big trees.  There are larch, fir, yew, cedar, spruce, and pine.  We uncovered several young, native holly trees and also discovered a lovely Dawn redwood tree along the back wall. 

The evergreen grove is beyond rescue. The area will be left to evolve naturally with gradual decomposition of woody debris.   There is an old dump of garden debris that will also compost naturally.  Invasive plants are attempting to get hold in that area, and we may need to address these, but otherwise we will leave the woodlands and wetlands alone.

The Parker Brothers’ Preserve is a little gem, off the main roads of travel. It can become a great local resource with some collaboration.  I am hoping that other neighbors in the area will step up and continue to help with stewardship as the Girl Scouts have set a good example.  A bright spot when we need it.  I am thankful. 

Picking up trash that was hidden under years of vegetation. Photograph by Troop 61047.

The garden was dug and compost piled on. Photograph by Troop 61047.

Pequot Plant Farm donated some great plants, and they are in. Photograph by Troop 61047.

The plants, and the girls, look pretty happy. Photograph by Troop 61047.

It is cleaned up, garden ready, and grapes rescued. It is a lovely spot. Photograph by Troop 61047.


Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.




Monday, November 2, 2020

To counter the madness

By Beth Sullivan

As I write, it is Halloween.  We had a trick yesterday - snow and frigid temps - and a treat today when the sun came out and everything sparkled. The contrast of the colored leaves with the white snow and water droplets was really pretty.

Preserve our serene and inspiring places.


Am I scared this Halloween?

Yes.   I am scared about the situations we are in.   I cannot prioritize; each one of these issues is a crisis in and of itself, enough to rattle the brain of even the sanest. And that is not me!  

I worry about politics and policies and the election and what will happen afterwards.

I am angry and saddened by the disrespect for each other and intolerance of so many, the acceptance of lies and brutality and inhumane behavior towards others.  Racism.

I am scared of Covid: it is not going away; it is creeping closer to home. Being of a certain age, I am more vulnerable and am living in a situation where another in my household is immunocompromised.     We are being really careful.  I miss my grandchildren.

I am truly concerned about the youngest among us.  While they may be more able to rebound or resist in this health crisis, I worry that from social, emotional and educational perspectives, they will suffer more than we can imagine with long lasting effects.

I am frustrated and scared by the refusal of some leaders to see that the climate is changing, and not for the better. It’s one thing to see it on paper: heat indices rise; sea levels rise; ice melts; fires rage; hurricanes are record breaking; seasons are messed up.  But we can witness some of this in our own communities.  Flooding tides and record drought all in one town.

I am frightened and angry about the environmental abuse that is occurring. There have been changes in the regulations concerning clean water and air standards. There is less concern, or none at all, for endangered species and the chain of life, the interconnected webs that we ourselves are a part of.  I fear that the old forests and huge blocks of untouched wilderness will be opened and violated.  They will never recover their virgin state.  I worry about our soil and our oceans.  Can they sustain the next generations? 

Storms and higher tides flood our communities. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Our reservoirs run dry. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Listen for bird song. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Find stability in the ongoing cycle of seasons. Photograph by Al Bach.


To counter the madness

HOWEVER, I also work really hard to find the positive to overcome these fears.  The world is truly awesome.  The more I practice seeing the positive, seeing the beauty and focusing on what is good, the less fearful I can be.  Even if it is only for a short time, concentrating on something positive can break the anxiety.

We each have to find our own ways to do this.  For me, the best way is to be in nature.  There are so many beautiful places to let our eyes rest and our spirits be restored - places where we can let our minds quiet. We are blessed with an abundance of choices: oceans and beaches, forests and fields, flower gardens, and wild meadows.   Just looking at the snow and leaves this morning, in the sparking sun, gave me happiness.  For the last month or more, listening to the night noises in the woods was hypnotic.   This afternoon, the constant dripping of water from leaves in the woods was soothing.  We can listen to birds.  We can share these moments with a friend, a child or even a pet.  Sharing joy expands us.

In order to be able to ensure that these opportunities remain, to give us peace and to share with the youngest ones, we need to do our best to see that each one of us takes a stand.

 Each one of us must vote with our hearts, and souls and conscience, to protect what is at stake. From the smallest creature, and the smallest child, to biggest forest tracts and deepest oceans.

My one voice doesn’t count for a lot.  We have to believe that together all our voices will.   Mother Nature and Father Time can heal, but if we want to see results in our lifetime, we need to act together. Now. Use your voice to educate a child, spread your own peace. Make your voice heard in your community to help protect the birthright of our children and grandchildren.  Help teach them kindness and empathy.   The world will be a better place in their hands.

Find beauty in the cold.


Share the wonder. Photograph by Emily Sullivan.


My happiest place. Photograph by Emily Sullivan.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.