Thursday, May 4, 2017

Natural History Notes

Paul Fischer
Professor Alicia Daniels

Further notes

I enjoyed this class and developed immensely through it. I had the opportunity, after about a decade of reading history books, to go into the field and see historical sites of natural and historical significance. The readings were engaging and the professor was knowledgeable about the sites and the natural vegetation and geological history there. There was even a fellowship I had the opportunity to learn about.
Between research in the library and the field trips, I felt that this course allowed me to exercise a realistic amount of the skills I will need ultimately in the workfield. It was exciting and fun to dig deeper by spelunking, I had been before but not very often. One part of the course I would like to learn about more includes the dendrology. While I can spot a maple still, there are a wide variety of trees right here in even basic forests that make the world around us jump out as a diverse community of vegetative species once some training is provided. For now, I do better with the manual in hand.
Completing the work was a bit daunting, but keeping a photojournal of our excursions aided me immensely in completing all of my goals and in reflecting back. I found more things to take great photos of than I had in the last 6 years combined almost! Getting in touch with the natural side of our state is a welcome change for an environmental student who has spent a lot of time in the books.
I also got to snowboard this semester for the first time in a while, where I was able to exercise some of the skills I acquired in the class from atop mountains. Sometimes, the wildlife and vegetation I was learning about I would come into direct contact with. I do not spend an excessive amount of time in the glades all said and done though.
Service and dedication are fundamental to succeeding in this class. The opportunity to exercise diligence in stewardship is always a pleasure, and it is one this class flexes. These are experiences that cement my compatibility and expertise in a field that is deeply tied to my other major, history. Thanks!

First Day of Class

The first day of class was exciting and fun, we got to see many trees and compose our own song and perform it. We began using our field book and became acquainted with the syllabus as well as the nature of the course. It is the first course I will take with field finals every class. Our songs were fun and it was good to walk around the UVM green before the cold sets in.
I have some concerns about identifying trees, some students in the course have taken dendrology. Natural history is a critical part of learning about the environment and situating my own historical studies. It should be exciting to see how the course progresses. We finished early, and two pages of writing from this journal entry will not be possible, but it will be fun to see how the class progresses.

4/12 Mud Pond

The Mud Pond group gave a great presentation. This was an opportunity to see the changing environment and an actual peat bog in Vermont. Nature was not the only focus, and the presentation included historical and wildlife components as well. It could be seen from the barbed wire that at some point in the past, during the previous owners’ stewardship of the land, the area had been used for cattle.
This was apparent in fascinating photographs of the community schoolhouse from the 1800s, where farming families clearly occupied the area. It was the fashion to appear serious in photographs then because exposure times were very long, and an effective photographer would ensure his subjects were still for long periods of time in order to garner a good shot.
That is something that made some early photographs focus more on nature than on humans, something that is rare for art forms. It is surprising, when one is familiar with artistic representations of the landscape and how sublimely gripping they can be, how long it took people to turn their focus from themselves and their prey or predators. Some might argue that lower forms of mass media remain occupied with that endeavor.
Mud pond is a peat basin, and this could be seen by a readout of lower pH levels. While the depth is not enough, at around 30-40 feet with a few meters of peat below, to have preserved artifacts as of the sort that turn up in other locations, it does contribute to a beautiful and unique natural landscape. Geese fight in the distance as we looked on from a bench that warns everyone not to enter the water, a sign I nearly missed before wading into the surrounding wetlands. Had I been alone, that might have been the end of me!
One of the most distinctive parts about mud pond, is the mud. This is made by a delta where the stream and the pond meet. The hydration is supplemented in efficacy by the degraded soil from centuries of “pasturization”, not the scientific double term but instead referring to the animals that ate the grasses and vegetation in the area low over the years. Some trees have clearly withstood the test of time, though (figure 7).

3/29 Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Indian Creek)

This was another example of a delta that meets the stream (figure 3). But a more exciting opportunity awaited here: more spelunking! We were able to extend down into the hill and catch a photo of a natural spring as well as descend into an area almost too small for adults to reach. It was a lot of fun, and provided opportunities to learn as well.
Signs of human habitation in addition to stewardship were dominant in this region. It is located close to a suburban development. There was evidence that people used the area and left their things either to return to them later or permanently. The delta formed by coinciding rivers is a biologically significant area due to the silt and other deposition in the area. The age of stones that were deposited can be roughly estimated using an evaluation of the depth of the find and information about the rate of erosion and deposition in the area.
Human intervention can increase erosion, something veritably apparent in this area. Because the streams also carry away a large amount of soil annually, stones from the building sites had been deposited into the hill. Unfortunately, the trend of erosion moved further upstream as a result, and it will be interesting in future years to see what actions the community takes to address erosion in the region. It will not be likely that continued human intervention by means of earth excavation, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars an acre, will be economically feasible for long.
Figures 4-6 depict the underwater stream and our descent into the cave. In figure six you can see that I had to tuck my belly in and crawl along the passage, being careful for small critters or other creatures and perhaps even monsters. The moss is greener nearer to the water, which shows the increased hydration and functionality of the plant on the stones that are close to the roaring creek.
Subterranean water passages are an important source of hydration for animals and wildlife and also impact geological outcomes. The cave we went spelunking in was old enough to have evidence of stalactites, indicating it had not occurred as a result of recent human development, but was instead a natural geological phenomenon. It would have made a secure area in prehistoric times, and more recently for creatures who wished to avoid conventional predators.

2/15 Shelburne, Trinity Woods

I was really shocked by this site. It seemed like a lot of fun, and the students had snowballs, the area has lots of tracks and we could identify a lot of wildlife activity in the region so there was every reason to be excited. But a murder mystery was waiting for us there.
My group was looking at wildlife and the tracks appeared to be a large hare running quickly and skidding or perhaps a deer, but it was difficult to tell because so much snow was coming down. We decided to take an extra ten or fifteen minutes and follow the tracks. I was surprised to find some blood. Perhaps the deer was giving birth.
As it turned out the patches were normal for deer, who create heat when they lie down for the night and melt a patch in the snow, which gives an idea of what size they are. This is in a no hunting zone, though, so the blood was still unaccounted for. Or why so many of them had gathered repeatedly in the area.
It appears that someone had been drinking at the site and smashed their bottle, that was hidden under the snow. The deer must have been impaled, perhaps infected or otherwise damaged before jumping up and not realizing why it was being hurt. While littering only carries a fine, I did some independent research and found that because we were close to the property of an elementary school, the punishment for the perpetrators if they had been or will be caught is between 2 and 10 years in jail for drinking in the proximity of an elementary school. Illegal hunting can also apply, which includes trapping.
It is especially a sad incident because the deer must have been young to have sat down so rapidly for a night’s sleep: keeping up with the others may have exhausted her. Because the winter is wearing on, it is possible that greater travel is necessary for the group in order to sustain a level of nutrition conducive to good health. Laws on drinking near elementary school vary from state to state, but because alcohol can reduce the potential income of a child that age by half, such incidents should be taken seriously.

  Figure 1: Hoofprint. Indian Creek, VT

 Figure 2: Yellow Birch with Prints. Indian Creek, VT
 Figure 3: Sandy Delta. Indian Creek, VT

Figure 4: Subterranean Water: Indian Creek, VT

Figure 5: Subterranean Spring Outlet: Indian Creek, VT

Figure 6: A Narrow Passage. Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, VT

 Figure 7: Older and Younger Pines. Mud Pond Road

Remains of a Deer Resting Spot, With Wound Marks and Broken Beer Bottle. Shelburne, VT

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