“There are a lot of trees,” was the understated observation of a young Canadian farmer I met while hiking Vermont’s Long Trail in 2016.
VERMONT: A LAND COVERED IN TREES
Trees. That’s what you see from any ridge line in Vermont. The view shifted my perception of roads, buildings and other landmarks of the built environment. These daily markers of where I was in the world only tell a small part of Vermont’s story, and so began my education in reading the landscape in the language of trees, water and the animals who live there. I’ve been practicing this literacy for the past four years on three hundred acres of land where I’ve been deer hunting.
The land is steep, descending south from a high ridge down to the West River. On clear days, the sun is like the hour hand as it arcs across the sky. I have witnessed sunrise, like theater lights coming up, and I’ve left the woods in the afterglow of sunset. When the sky is overcast, the rills, brooks and streams running down to the river point my way out.
Most of this land hasn’t been logged in several human generations, so the old growth forest contains magnificent trees.
But the land isn’t entirely wild, either. There’s a stand of red pine planted after the devastation from the hurricane of 1938, and two power lines cross the property, dividing it into quadrants, like an algebra equation. I’ve spent time studying each section, learning the folds of the land and paying special attention to where the oak and hemlock meet – where I’m likely to find deer.
The power lines tell a story of their own. Built in the 1960s and expanded this century, they are now an accepted feature of the built landscape. I suspect that future generations will become similarly used to wind turbines and solar arrays.
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF DEVELOPMENT
One of the unintended consequences of these power lines is the habitat they provide for animals that depend on such scrub and shrub cover. There was much more of this habitat at pastures’ edge when more of Vermont was farmed. Now it’s the power lines that provide the habitat that was once common near agricultural fields, orchards and pastures. A preliminary survey of these power corridors has inventoried close to seventy species of birds, including several that are now rare in Vermont.
I confess that I also like the power lines for keeping me oriented. I first learned orienteering in Manhattan, where the avenues run north and south, the streets east and west, and the coordinates of every intersection are numbered and posted with signs. Learning how to read the signs of the natural world has not come easily for me, mostly because I’ve had to overcome my intense fear of getting lost.
LEARNING TO READ THE LANDSCAPE
For years, I stuck to blazed trails as I hiked worn paths from my car to a summit and the length of Vermont on The Long Trail. So stepping off the trail and into the woods has required not just learning a new alphabet, but also overcoming a deep fear of failing to read the language it spells.
These three hundred acres have been an excellent primer. The more I lose myself, the better reader I become. I love reading, and this new language gets me outside, where I wander about, piecing together the stories the woods tell.
CONSERVING LAND, CREATING A NATURE PRESERVE
The Green Mountain Conservancy, a local non-profit, is about to purchase and conserve these three hundred wild acres, which will establish the Deer Run Nature Preserve.
Conserving the land will prevent forest fragmentation, protect habitat and provide a travel corridor for wildlife; safeguard the West River watershed; protect the view of the high ridge line; and provide public access to wild land.
The GMC is now focusing on raising the funds to purchase 826 wild acres contiguous with the 300 acres I’ve learned to read. This second parcel includes two and a half miles of river frontage and will protect a large section of the West River watershed, among many other benefits, including public access to land that has been privately held for a very long time.
RAISING AWARENESS AND FUNDS
I’m looking forward to learning how to read this next, longer, chapter of Vermont’s landscape, and I’m proud to be a board member of the Green Mountain Conservancy, a Section 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to acquire and protect wilderness lands in southern Vermont.
Learn More on December 4, 2019
The GMC is hosting a public informational about Phase II of the Deer Run Nature Preserve on Wednesday, December 4 at 7 pm in the Williamsville Hall, located at 35 Dover Road, Williamsville, VT. All are welcome; the event is free and accessible. The meeting will be videotaped and available on brattleborotv.org sometime afterward.
Of course, to make this purchase happen, we need to raise money. If you know of or have connections to a foundation or an individual that supports land conservation, please let us know. We’re also happy to accept your donation in any amount.
Written to educate, provoke, and entertain, Living in Place is where I publish essays about the human condition. Please subscribe to receive essays by email. Thank you for supporting my independent, non-commercial voice