Remembering the Past – Blog Post #2

I walked through the Phil and Ginny Leach Wildlife Sanctuary as my eyes strained at the sun-rays bouncing off the white blanket of snow. I took the time while out there to remember my previous experiences. Many of my fondest memories have been while out in areas just like this. One of the most important parts of conservation work is understanding the interactions between plants and animals in the area that you are working in. A term that I was introduced to during my experience at Maine

Species account on a Downy Woodpecker.

Species account on Eastern White Pine trees.

Coast Semester at Chewonki in Wiscasset, Maine was being a naturalist. This term reemerged throughout the many future endeavors that I went on. As a 17-year-old, I did not fully embrace this idea or understand what it meant. I would get glimpses into the understanding of it when I was told to count the number of birds that visit a bird feeder in an hour time slot each week. Why am I doing this? Or learning the identification of the native tree species that live on the Maine Coast along with their common and scientific name. What is the point of this? Or trekking through the woods in search of vernal pools to locate and mark them for future evaluation of their health. Where are we going? Or spending one day each week going to new sites like beaches or mountaintops where we learned about how the features were formed, and what plant and animal species live in the area. We do this every week?! Or writing species accounts on various plants and animals. I have to write another one? Or spending two nights and three days alone in the woods with no one but myself. Am I sleeping out here alone? Or simply sitting in the forests and watching it exist as it has for thousands of years. Why am I just sitting here? As a 17-year-old, I was not yet able to appreciate what I was learning during all these experiences.

A moose sighting on a canoe trip in 2013 in northern Ontario.

I continued on with my life with this new idea in my head about being a naturalist. I carried it with me as I spent my summers up in northern Ontario where I canoed on some of the most remote areas that I have ever been to. Animal sightings of bald and golden eagles, moose, and herons were all too common during our trip. Wolf, bear and even wolverine sightings were less frequent but did occur. On one special day, we stumbled upon the aftermath of a wolf feast on a deer. This was a stark reminder of the territory that we were traveling through. My appreciation for the natural world was growing at a rapid pace, and the idea of being a naturalist started to come into focus. I began to realize what my mistake was with my past experiences with the natural world: I was putting myself at the center focus. My inner dialogue consisted of this: Why am I here? What I am doing? Where are we going? The questions that I should have been asking needed to be less self-centered and much more thoughtful. Questions like: Why are vernal pools so important? What animals rely on these pools? Why do animals prefer a certain habitat over another one? What animals rely on one another for survival? These questions are at the heart of being a naturalist.

A very rare wolverine sighting in northern Ontario!

Ultimately, these questions are a skill. A skill that we as humans must learn and use in order to save our planet, and that skill is called listening. I finally understand why I had simply just sat in the woods and heard the sounds of nature. I was listening to nature! If we want to be successful conservationists, then we have to be naturalists. We must listen to the ecosystems and understand what their needs are. Similar to the silliness of putting a road somewhere where there are no cars, it is just as silly to protect an area without first listening to its needs. We all have a lot of work to do in the coming years to help our planet heal, but one thing that we all can do right now is start listening to what nature has been telling us.

Downy woodpecker spotted on the Leach property.

Be like Sisyphus

As noted in a previous post, the Attleboro Land Trust is participating in the annual Big Read program of the Attleboro Public Library.  This year, the entire community is reading the book Circe, a story about Greek gods and goddesses by Madeline Miller.

If you are visiting the Phil and Ginny Leach Wildlife Sanctuary to do the Virtual Mythology Scavenger Hunt, be sure to visit Big Rock before you leave.  This glacial boulder serves as a reminder of Sisyphus, a character from Greek mythology not mentioned in the book.  Sisyphus was a dishonest and greedy king who was punished by being forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill, over and over again for eternity.  Whenever Sisyphus got to the top of the hill, the boulder would roll down again.

We invite you to take a selfie with Big Rock and post it on our Facebook page or send it to us.

Virtual Mythology “G-Odyssey” Scavenger Hunt

The Attleboro Land Trust is again hosting an activity for families as part of the annual Big Read program of the Attleboro Public Library.  This year, the entire community is reading the book Circe by Madeline Miller.  The activity is a Scavenger Hunt to find hidden gods and goddesses from the book using the free GooseChase EDU smartphone app.  You may participate in this activity on your own schedule from dawn to dusk today through October 18 at the Phil and Ginny Leach Wildlife Sanctuary.

On your smartphone, go to your app store and search for GooseChase. Download and open the app.  You can “Play as Guest” without needing to open a new account.  Search for “Circe” and you will find the Circe Mythology G-Odyssey Scavenger Hunt.

You will be asked to name your team, but it is OK if you are just one.  Follow the directions and enjoy the game.

Here is a map if you need it:  Leach Sanctuary Trail Map

(This event was originally going to be at the Richardson Nature Preserve, but that site is not available due to a construction project.)

 

Author Confronts History in the Wilds of Attleboro

There is no end to the variety of fascinating requests the land trust has received over the years for activities to be conducted on our preserves.  Last spring, writer Jane Breakell set out to retrace the steps of banished Puritan dissenter Anne Hutchinson, who walked from Quincy, Massachusetts, to what was to become Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in April, 1638.

 On April 10, 2018, Jane, midway through her journey, spent the night in a tent on the Leach Sanctuary. Two days later, she crossed Narragansett Bay by boat to reach her destination, Aquidneck Island, as did Anne Hutchinson before her.  Below are some brief excerpts from an essay that Jane wrote about her experience for a recent issue of the New England Review (Vol. 39, No. 3).

Write Like a Puritan by Jane Breakell

“A woodcut shows a woman in a long black dress with a square white collar and a black hood, one hand at her side, one fist held to her chest, speaking, it appears, to a group of old men who are seated at a table, pulling at their beards, peering at her. If anyone can talk to God, then anyone can justify her own choices, words, actions, with or without the approval of the elders. From this kind of magical thinking, it is no great distance to amoral anarchy. When she would not recant, they kicked her right out. She had been a voluntary exile from England, braving the wilderness of the New World. She was now also an exile from Massachusetts, but she considered neither home. The bounds of my habitation are cast in heaven, she said, and walked out of Boston, into the real wilderness. She resettled herself on an island to the south, in what became the state of Rhode Island, not far from where I grew up. What takes ninety minutes by car today took her, on foot in 1638, six days. Eventually she left Rhode Island for New York. There, after refusing to evacuate during a Siwanoy raid (against the advice of her more experienced neighbors), she was killed.

“I’ve come to understand that Anne Hutchinson’s story, the struggle between doubt and assurance, the voices of elders and the voice in her own head, must be part of mine.

“…Specifically, I must retrace Anne Hutchinson’s long journey from Boston to Rhode Island in an attempt to reconsider New England—home of self-satisfied tradition—as wilderness, frontier. By reenacting this long-past drama of belonging, I want to learn about those questions we still ask ourselves: what is the right way to live? On whom can we rely to tell us? What do I need to do, where do I need to go, to be the right kind of person?

“…Instead of woolen clothes and wooden overshoes, I wear yoga pants and hiking boots with Gore-tex. Instead of carrying or gathering food, I stop for lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s; instead of sleeping out, I book Airbnbs for all but one night. And while Hutchinson sent a scout ahead to plot a route through forests, I follow a route chosen by Google Maps. She walked through forests, dunes, and swamps that have since been replaced by paved roads, village squares, college campuses, and Dunkin Donuts. When I read the names of the towns we will pass through, they evoke not wilderness but radio commercials for discount shoes and tires.

The point is to walk where she walked, which I do. It’s just different now.”

While reenacting the journey of Anne Hutchinson, Jane Breakell pitched her tent in the Phil and Ginny Leach Wildlife Sanctuary, in a spot near this lean-to, which Jane described as “a fortuitous illustration of the kind of structure the Hutchinson party probably slept in.” The exact route taken by Hutchinson is not known, but Jane said “I passed through Attleboro because it was the only place I was able to camp out that was even close to where I thought she walked–most of the way was really lacking in anything like wilderness.”    Image credit: Jane Breakell