April 27, 2012

Musketaquid Earth Day Celebration 2012

Otter leads the way - 2010 parade

Come strut with the animals, flowers, families, and friends in the Musketaquid Earth day parade, then join in the fun, music, dancing, food, crafts, and learning at the Emerson Umbrella, 40 Stow St., Concord.

10 am - River Festival and Earth Float launching

11 am - Earth Day Parade moves out at Lowell Rd. boatlanding

Noon - 2 pm - Musketaquid Earth Day Festival, Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts

April 25, 2012

Down in the Dumps - Some Throw-away Reflections

Discarded whiskey flask (Lyndeborough Glass Co. bottle, c. late 1800's),
found in Fairhaven Bay basin in 2012
On the eve of this year's 42nd annual Earth Day, I mused about its inaugural year when friends and I took bags in hand and went to comb the roadsides for trash.  Walking down one of the lovelier and wilder thoroughfares in our community, where woods and wildflowers met the pavement, I remember the moment when my teenage consciousness took a dramatic shift.  Here amongst the green and the blossoms, lay endless quantities of beer and liquor bottles, cans, old buckets, pieces of leather, cigarette packages, fast food trash (a relatively new phenomenon), bed springs, an old frig, tires, and so on.  Growing up during a time when hardly anyone gave a second thought to tossing trash out of car windows, pouring industrial waste into our air and waterways, and buying increasing quantities of disposable wares for their "ease and efficiency," few of us were mindful of the connections and consequences these actions had on our local landscape, our personal lives, or the Earth's well-being as a whole.

Old trash dump in Concord woods
The simple, intentional act of walking along a beautiful wooded roadway to collect a bit of trash on Earth Day, only to discover it was a significant dumping ground for local residents and passersby (some who were likely my friends), triggered a revelation about the consequences of our consumer driven culture that has motivated a long road of preservation advocacy ever since.

I now live in a foresighted community whose programs for recycling, freecycling, land conservation, eating locally, and municipal energy sustainability have become national inspirations.  Tonight, our Town Meeting will, for a third time, be taking up a vote to ban bottled water sales in the town.  This is an initiative that may feel as inconvenient and inconceivable to some as did many of the ideas of environmental responsibility and cleanup that emerged in the pioneering days of the 1970's.  But on closer inspection, our intentional shift away from dependence on bottled water could have huge implications for reining in a global plastics trash issue that's out of control, protecting water sovereignty for our community aquifers (from multinational corporate interests), and stimulating creative solutions for portable, potable drinking water solutions that are environmentally sustainable.

Plastic bottles TAP sculpture,  by Turville, Lawson, et al - supporting TM Article 32

April 23, 2012

Wild Studio Journal - Estabrook Woods

Arrowhead violets (Viola sagittata) at Beaver Pond       Photo © John L. Nevins
As part of today's Wild Studio adventures, sponsored by Musketaquid Arts and Environment Program, my husband John Nevins and I set forth with Alan Bragg and Faith Johnson to commune with the rain spirits deep in the Estabrook Woods.  Lushness quickly returned to the parched forest floor where we found five delicate species of violets, Jack-in-the-pulpit, wood anemone, and goldthread all in bloom.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
Blue marsh violets (Viola cucullata)                             Photo ©John L. Nevins

Water splashed on petals, ponds, stones, and our noses.  Everything glistened, giving us all a feeling of deep refreshment.

New life on a nurse log
Rocky ford across Saw Mill Brook
Saw Mill Brook
Wild Studio mates

April 17, 2012

Leatherleaf 's "very interesting piece of magic"

Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) in Gowing's Swamp, 4.16.12
I derive more of my subsistence from the swamps which surround my native town than from the cultivated gardens in the village.  There are no richer parterres to my eyes than the dense beds of dwarf andromeda...which cover these tender places on the earth's surface. (Thoreau, Walking, 1862)

Thoreau's reflection has often validated my own deep affinity for Concord's bogs and swamps over its manicured suburban neighborhoods.  The moment when our wetland heaths come into bloom marks an annual highpoint for me that few of even my dearest friends understand.  Leatherleaf blossoms are the first to brighten Concord's boggy kettleholes - from Gowing's Swamp to the Andromeda Ponds and other lesser known depressions.  Thoreau has many references to our modern leatherleaf in his Journal, which he variously called andromeda, dwarf andromeda, and cassandra.  In the record warmth of this spring, I found leatherleaf flowers opening on April 11th, ten days earlier than our earliest known recorded date in the last 161 years.

Thoreau's Andromeda Phenomenon
In 2010, I made a mid-April foray to the Andromeda Ponds, the heath-rich kettleholes that form a staircase of wetlands from Walden Pond down to Fairhaven Bay, as part of my informal survey of Concord's surviving boglands.  That spring was also accelerated due to an early April heat spike.  As I approached the first kettlehole, it glowed in the mid-afternoon sunlight as if contoured by a light snow, perhaps already covered with a premature burst of leatherleaf flowers.  But as I moved beyond and to the south of the wetland, a rich rusty redness replaced these glowing highlights.  This phenomenon continued as I passed by each of the kettleholes and has perplexed me ever since.

"Andromeda phenomenon" observed
Only this week, as I was preparing this post did I discover Thoreau's detailed observations and epiphany about this optical experience, which he called the andromeda phenomenon,  "It makes all those parts of the country where it grows more attractive and elysian to me.  It is a natural magic."

In yesterday's foray to photograph leatherleaf blossoms, this mystery was further revealed. The underside of its gray-green leaves as well as its stems, flower petioles, and sepals appear to be speckled with raised, reddish brown scales. The light refracts differently off of the darker scales and the lighter-colored leaf surfaces depending on our angle of view.  As Thoreau so quintessentially reflected, "These little leaves are the stained windows in the cathedral of my world."

For Thoreau's detailed observations and the quotes included here, see his Journal, Vol. III, April 17 and 19, 1852.

April 15, 2012

Storm Light

I noticed the light begin to shift dramatically last Thursday afternoon as dark clouds filled the western sky.  Grabbing my camera, I dashed over to Great Meadows in time to watch the storm clouds roll in - over Ball Hill and across the marshes. (4.12.12)

April 8, 2012

Monthly Great Meadows Walk - April

Crabapples by the Concord River
A continuing series of monthly walks exploring the landscape, plants and seasonal wonders of Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord

Sunday, April 15, 3-5 pm

The warming earth gives way to fattening buds, delicate blossoms, and greening shoots.  Swallows swoop and dive over the impoundments and birdsong fills the air. Muskrats get busy, migrating waterfowl fill the marshes, and spring frogs trill from woodland and shoreline pools. Come explore and celebrate the floodplain's renewal.  Bring binoculars and a camera, if you have them.

Led by Cherrie Corey, local naturalist and photographer

No pre-registration required.  A $5/person voluntary donation will be gratefully accepted.

Co-sponsored by Musketaquid Arts and Environment Program and Friends of the Assabet River NWR

Meet at Great Meadows NWR in Concord, MA  (Monsen Road, off Rte. 62, driveway on left where road curves right.  Drive to parking lot at the end.)

For questions, email cherrie.corey@verizon.net or call 978-760-1933.

April 7, 2012

Springs, Seeps, and Streams in Concord

Brister's Spring
While Concord’s famed three rivers, marshy expanses, and kettlehole bogs and ponds often draw the greatest attention and adoration, the spring season can be quintessentially found beside it’s springs, seeps, and streams. These waters bring the earliest displays of long-awaited green to the seasonally gray landscape.

Brister's Spring percolates out from the side of a gravelly hill, or glacial kame, in the southwest corner of Concord's Town Forest.  Thoreau frequented the spring for refreshment and reflection, and during a more studious moment, measured it's water temperature at 49ยบ on June 30, 1860.  In the early spring, this is sufficient warmth, combined with the penetrating sunlight, to inspire luxuriant plant growth.  From a distance, floating carpets of young watercress leaves stand out in the dark pools.  On closer inspection, many take root -- companioned with skunk cabbage -- in the deep rich muck that lines the seep.
Watercress carpets and iron deposits color the seep
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) takes root with skunk cabbage in the deep muck
Brister's Spring winds its way down slope to water the kettlehole that's now Fairyland Pond.  In this protected, sun-warmed hollow, the smooth alder (Alnus serrulata) opens early and the buds of highbush blueberries and a lone Japanese cherry tree add pink appointments to the monochrome surroundings.


In Concord's Estabrook Woods, spring flowers are opening very early this spring, due to the heat spike we experienced in mid-March.  Blueberry blossoms (Vaccinium corymbosum) popped on 4.4.12, along the beaver swamp southwest of Hutchins Pond.  A yellow canopy of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) blossoms, already fully open, hangs over the stream courses and trailsides.

Highbush blueberry blossom, 2-3 weeks early
Tiny spicebush flowers, 3.4.12
Estabrook Woods, Concord's "great wild tract" of land, as Thoreau called it, is a stonewall-laced and boulder strewn second-growth forest, with rare traces of its past in a landscape that has remained virtually untouched for the past two centuries.

Stonewall crossing Saw Mill stream, north of mill site
Saw Mill brook just below mill site
Near the Thoreau family's old saw mill site (the old pencil factory) and its sparkling spring waters, grows an expanse of skunk cabbage and watercress, interspersed with exquisitely pleated false hellebore (Veratrum viride) leaves just beginning to unfold.
False hellebore buds

False hellebore unfolding, 4.4.12
I went walking in Estabrook in search of one of my favorite spring flowers, the delicate bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), likely introduced here by Minot Pratt in the mid-1800's.  Though nearly ten days early for its customary annual debut, I found a small colony of buds and blossoms in the area of streams and seeps.  It is easy to feel kinship with this delicate wildflower whose prominent veins run with a blood red fluid and whose leaves swaddle its delicate petals until just before opening. Thoreau makes no mention of wild bloodroot in Concord, though he received a box of its fresh blossoms from a botanist friend in Brattleboro, VT -- the place where I first made its acquaintance many years ago.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
I closed the week with a walk down past the Andromeda Ponds along the Well Head Meadow drainage into Fairhaven bay.  This dark, damp forest seep was lit with the first bright blossoms of marsh marigolds (Cathra palustris).  This same flower can also be seen now in damp basins within Estabrook Woods, the town forest, and Great Meadows NWR.