by Maria Clara Starling
What started out to be LANDS' shortest week turned into one of the longest ones. For our fifth week, we were awarded with the privilege to explore Concord Woods Natural Area. This 100-acre property is a piece of land in North Concord, VT. Donated to the UVM Natural Areas in 1944, its uniqueness relies on the fact that it is a well preserved piece of Northern Hardwood Forest (with some variations). On the other hand, its surrounding region has been heavily logged (completely clear cut). Working in Concord Woods meant a break from our now well-known invasives (not a single Buckthorn was traced). Meanwhile, it taught us how boundary marking and navigating in steep (very steep) elevation, looking for 30 year old blazes, and (of course) below heavily pouring rain, can be tricky.
Monday started earlier than usual with van packing at 8 am. Yes, Bianca was packed, once again, but she manages to be such a great team member that everything fit well (not!). Laura was the smooth driver this time and at around 11 am we met Becky and Rick Paradis who were going to tell us about the property and nominate tasks (thanks for trusting us again!). After one hour chatting about Concord Woods’ natural history, looking at maps and discussing project details we had a game plan and started the hike up to the property. One of our tasks was installing four corner posts on their unknown proper location. Therefore, we made a quick stop in the middle to grab some digging tools and four shiny red pressured treated hand-marked corner posts that were carried up with us (credits to Becky). Posts were marked according to the 1700s survey when US territory was split on lots and ranges delineating properties. After following blue flags up the hill we got to our first boundary corner where we found a short decomposing orange post that came from a mysterious source. Then, we split into 2 groups that would explore eastern and southern boundaries looking for old blazes and equally mysterious orange posts each. Both teams left to accomplish their tasks while Emily and Laura were addressed with the digging mission. One of the teams was successful on finding some old blazes and the post after a precipitous climb up within a dense well conserved forest to the eastern corner. The property boundary was also somewhat clear by tree age on both sides. The other group struggled a bit to find old blazes and followed the mapped bearing up to an interrupted barbwire fence. Back to the first corner (where a brand new bright red post already laid on the place of the second one) and down the mountain we went to get groceries and set up camp. Tents up, fire lit, dinner cooked, s’mores devoured. It was time to go to bed under continuous water drop sounds that persisted heavily through the entire night.
“Caution! Items may fall while opening the door”
Carrying posts and tools up the mountain
Old corner post and shiny and bright new ones!
Tuesday morning’s alarm tone was a frenetic oven bird that seemed to be pumped up by all the rain that kept falling. Unfortunately, we accidentally had food and trash left out during the night which attracted messy rodent company. As we gathered in the lean-to after breakfast to “bring our minds together”, wet-tent night stories started popping up. Some of us had had their sleeping bags totally soaked and a long night experience. The talk was necessary to bring us back to a positive mind state. Duty still called us and we were presented with a streamlined plan for the day: a field naturalist relay with a blazing and digging tools exchange. Four stages, three groups, three corners to be properly blazed in order to keep loggers out of our untouched forest, and countless special features to be registered. Rather challenging, as usual LANDS tasks, but there is something within us that always speaks louder and we just went for it! At some points during the climb we did wish Becky had made lighter corner posts, but we managed to get all of them up by the end of the day (awesome team work! Now we know that she made the posts this way just because she believed in us, maybe more than we did!)
Stage one down, rain picked up a little bit during stage two. Towards the end of stage two, weather conditions had slowed us down and so did difficulties to find old blazes and one of the old corner posts. All three groups ended up together at one corner and the decision was made to head back to the starting point and finish our mission on Wednesday. We went down with our eyes (and cameras) open for wildlife and unique features on the way. Leatherwood, huge yellow birches, moose scrapes, deer and moose scat, bear scratches on trees… a wonderfully rich forest! As much as we aimed for concluding all of the four stages that day, we learned that when dealing with some circumstances we cannot control (such as the weather) it is okay to be below the (high) expectations we create for ourselves. Back to camp, we made a clothes line and gathered all of the wet items that were essential to keep us warm. Emily and Laura took a bagful of sleeping bags, sweatshirts, pairs of paints and socks to the laundromat (thanks a lot!!).
Stage one: check! Old blazes replaced by new ones!
Wildlife signs: bear scratch and moose scrapes
Surprisingly, Wednesday started out as a dry morning. Camp down, breakfast eaten, lunch made and Bianca packed. It was time to do a little service for the camp site in order to pay for our stay. Trash picking, nail removing, spider web brushing, etc… Unfortunately, we came across another unexpected situation. While Julie was innocently cleaning one of the fire places a tree branch fell out of an old pine on her head. “Wrong place, wrong time!” Luckily, small cut and no concussion. By the time all necessary bureaucracy regarding the incident was dealt with, we had a game plan and left to the field under the sun light! We met Becky and Silas (her dog and now 13th member of the LANDS crew!) at the usual parking place. We gave Becky an update on what we had already accomplished and on our plans for the day. Our last search for two missing old posts started humid and sunny. However, half way up to the supposed corners, we were caught by a huge torrential storm. Refreshing as it could only have been, it followed us all the way to our “corners”. One of the groups seemed to have their eyes trained for old blazes and the barbwire fence mystery was finally solved. A corner post was found buried under a fallen tree (awesome eyes)! With three out of four, we headed back to base, completely soaked, but satisfied with the work we could accomplish against all of the odds.
With Bianca packed (and emitting a curious smell) we headed back to Burlington. Since it had already passed dinner time, we ordered pizza on the way and had delicious dinner on someone’s front yard (oops!). Timing couldn't have been better, we were out of the van and walking home just in time to watch 4th of July fireworks!
Torrential storm effect