Squirrel Business

Categories: Random Thoughts

I’m primarily a plant person, because I’m slow on the uptake and not very observant. Someone says “Look at that bird!” and by the time I’m looking even close to the right direction, let alone focusing in on what a bird is, said bird has flown far, far away. Trees, wildflowers, landscapes-easy to see, and prone to stay in one place. Since starting at Middlebury, though, I’ve become enamored of our extensive squirrel population.

Photo Credit-Dan Celik (Thanks!)

Aristotle named the squirrel ‘skiouros’, combining  two Greek words, ‘skia’ for shade, and ‘oura’ for tail, or, in some ancient Greek slang, ‘he who sits in the shadow of his tail’. The French created the word ‘esquirel’, from whence came the English ‘squirrel’.

Our breed of squirrel on campus is the Eastern Gray Squirrel, native to the east coast from Manitoba to Florida and eastern Texas. Squirrel fossils date back to 40 million years ago, and know number over 365 species in seven families, including ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and flying squirrels. Clearly, our Middlebury squirrels are tree squirrels. This time of year their nests, or dreys, are seen high in some of our trees, or in the several hollow trees we have scattered about.

We seem to have some squirrel ‘families’, or at least some serious inbreeding going on, although it does not seem to be as notable this year as in past years. While all white or black squirrels can often be seen in urban populations with little to no predation, up by Mead Chapel for the last several years we had a group of gray squirrel with thin, wiry red tails, more like a red squirrel. The difference in the squirrels between Mead Chapel and the library quad was quite striking. Now the Mead squirrels have fluffy tails, but they are still red.

Squirrels are ‘scatter hoarders’, making many small caches of food in various locations. They are known for their spacial memory, remembering where up to 1000 of these sites are. Food types are generally tree seeds, including many nuts, although they’ve been known to feast on fungi and tree bark as well. When food is scarce they will even turn carnivorous, eating insects, frogs, small birds, even other squirrels (!).

They are most well-known for feasting on nuts, however. In fact, their love of seeds started this post. While preparing to remove the lightning struck spruce, we noticed a large cache of spruce cones underneath the tree. Given a sudden abundance of a food source, a squirrel will make a temporary pile to await better burial and hiding later. Spruces were prosperous this year in cones, and if you’re a squirrel you can’t let a good thing go to waste. The seed of the spruce sits at the base of a seed scale, and each cone can have many scales. Squirrels seem to process the cones, flaking away the bracts to reach the seed, and then later burying the seeds for retrieval later.

 

If I were a squirrel, though, I’d be waiting for acorns. A good source of protein, their size is probably a meal unto itself. While humans don’t like the bitter tannins found in many acorns, the squirrel doesn’t seem to mind.

 

I remember my first fall here at Middlebury, and thinking our Red oaks had a terrible disease. The ends of the branches, the new growth, would lie scattered about the base of the tree. Dan Celik, custodial supervisor extraordinaire, has noticed the same thing, and took pictures for the blog. Squirrels, even though they have a brain the size of a small walnut, aren’t too dumb. They go to the end of an oak branch, and gnaw with their teeth until the end falls to the ground, where they can easily and quickly harvest the bundle of acorns attached.

Photo Credit-Dan Celik (Thanks!)

Become a Vermont Tree Steward

Categories: Random Thoughts, Trees

This comes to me from a friend of mine-a Kate Forrer, of the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program, UVM Extension. There are over 350 SOUL graduates throughout the state, and everyone I know that has taken it has loved it. Through Vermont Interactive Television the course can be taken in Middlebury, and Kate says if there is room at the site she will open it up to Middlebury students at no charge. I’d take it if I were you…

 

Don’t Delay- Register Now to Become A Vermont Tree Steward

Early Registration Deadline Extended until Friday, January 13th for statewide course 


Are you passionate about trees?

Do you want to learn more about them and how to care for them?

Do you want to make a difference in YOUR community?


Then you may be interested in the Stewardship of the Urban Landscape (SOUL) course offered by the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program. The course prepares participants to become stewards of the forest in which they live by covering topics from tree identification, biology and planting to resource assessment, landscape design and conservation planning.  Through a series of eight evening sessions, offered through Vermont Interactive Television and three Saturday hands-on sessions, participants will gain 40 hours of instruction and become part of an invaluable community forestry network. This educational opportunity is based on fifteen years of SOUL Tree Steward programs which has graduated more than 350 Vermonters!

Winter Course Dates: February 11 through May 12, 2012- including eight Wednesday evenings; 6pm-9pm, and three Saturdays: February 11th, March 10th and May 12th

Locations: Evening sessions offered via Vermont Interactive Television at the following sites: Bennington, Brattleboro, Johnson, Middlebury, Montpelier, Newport, Randolph, Rutland, St. Albans, White River Junction and Williston. Saturday sessions in nearby location. 

To Register: Visit http://www.uvm.edu/extension/environment/soul/

Questions: Contact Kate Forrer, Program Coordinator, via e-mail soul.treesteward@uvm.edu or call 1-866-860-1382.

Planting Dolomite

Categories: Geology

One of my regrets in my college career lies in one of my favorite courses, Intro to Geology. I took the class Pass/Fail, which left me with just enough knowledge to totally confuse the hell out of myself. I loved the class-I remember the labs most of all. Like going to the Lake Mansfield Trout Club, in Nebraska Notch at the base of Mount Mansfield, walking along the top of a lateral moraine in the woods, and making a hard left as the moraine turns into a terminal moraine.
I don’t remember much of the classwork, however, nor the tests. I still have the textbook we used, and I’ve been meaning to re-read it for the last 20 years since the class, as I found it fascinating. Geology is a language all its own, and not being fluent, or even knowing how to ask to use the bathroom, makes it difficult to read.
So Middlebury, be careful what you wish for, wanting a pass/fail option. Would I enjoy reading about geology if I had a stronger foundation in it, rather than skimming a class for an easy pass? I know I certainly would find it less frustrating, and the month plus gap in my blog writing would have been quite a bit shorter as well.

The other problem with geology, besides the language, is understanding time. We understand hours, minutes, days, weeks, even years, to a point. Humans can understand a generation or two, but go as far back as even 200 years, and time becomes irrelevant. How can we understand 4, 5, even 8 generations ago? I had a many greats-grandfather burned at the stake for witchcraft, but aside from creeping me out I can’t comprehend that far back.
And geology? Forget about it. The unit of time in geology is MYA, an abbreviation for Million Years Ago. The fossil record talks of rocks formed 200 million years ago, for example, but what does that mean? The Green Mountains were origniannly formed 450 MYA, but that’s as hard to grasp as 450 years ago, 70 years after Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas.

I’ve planted many trees and shrubs here at Middlebury, and I love it, but planting rocks always seems to stick out in my mind. This fall I got to plant another. Dr. Peter Ryan, a professor of geology here at Middlebury (and excellent guest blogger) taught a course this summer for the alumni college called Vermont’s Geological Landscape: From Continental Collisions and Mountain Building to Groundwater and Streams. One of the field trips was to Pike Crushed Stone, up the road from Middlebury in New Haven, Vermont, and the source of much of our gray stone we use landscaping next to buildings on campus. While in the quarry they found a piece of rock with enough interest that Alum Paul Diette  generously donated transporation to move said rock up to campus, where we ‘planted’ it on a leftover square of concrete up near Bicentennial Hall for future classes to admire.

I’ve no idea why the concrete was there, but I think it was a piece left over from the old observatory that was up on that section of campus.
I thought the site appropriate, for several reasons. It’s proximity makes for easy teaching (not that the geology labs I’ve seen walking around have any fear of travel), but the a goal of Bicentennial Park is local trees and shrubs, so local rocks seem a good fit. I dream of filling the area with local rocks to sit upon, a nice contrast to Smog.

Paul has named the rock Diette-Ryan New Haven Iapetus Ordovician Seafloor, a pretty big name for a relatively small BFR, but was my lauching point into researching just exactly what this rock is. I’d always called this type of rock by it’s local name, Panton Stone. This limestone rock is used quite a bit locally in landscaping, as the pretty blue gray color and blocky fracturing make it natural for making stone walls, like a small wall north of Allen Hall next to the Atwater Dining plaza. Or better yet, look at the huge blocks of stone the next time you are out front of the Davis Family Library. Look close. You’ll notice fossils, lots of them, scattered throughout the stone, and this provides a convenient, if difficult way to age the rock.
Our new rock doesn’t have a lot of exposed fossils, and the couple showing only confused me further researching that. So instead I cheated, and went to the Vermont Geological Map to look up more specifically the type of rock, and a closer date.
As near as I can tell, this limestone is a ‘Beldens Member’ of Dolomite, dating it to about 480 MYA. The lack of many prominent fossils, probably lost in deformation and metamorphism, are good clue for age. The exposed ledge below Gifford Hall is probably in the same member family as this rock, writ large.

Vermont 480 MYA was a tropical paradise, like the present day Bahamas or Arabian Sea. Tectonic forces were pushing Vermont slowly to where we lie today, but back then Vermont was a shallow tropical sea,about 20-30 degrees south of the equator.
We sat in the Iapetus Ocean, forming part of a continent called Laurentia, comprising of our present North America Craton, combined with Greenland and parts of Scotland. (Iapetus was the father of Atlas in Greek myths, one of the original titans, and the Iapetus Ocean is the father of what we now call the Atlantic Ocean, named for Atlas.) Geologists have named this Ordovician time, in the Paleozoic era. The name comes from the British geologist Charles Lapworth, who in 1879 named the era for rocks found in Scotland.
Ordovician time was preceded by the Cambrian era, which saw life on earth diversify and explode into the many phyla we see today. Life in the Ordovician time continued to flourish, even as it was doomed at the end of the era in the Ordovician-Silurian Mass Extinction Event, the second largest (of five) such events we fellow earthlings have gone through.
Land wasn’t very interesting, mostly algae and mosses, but the calcite sea was an explosion of creatures, forming some of the earliest reefs. Around 480 MYA, when our rock was formed, the ocean was thought to be about 45 degrees Centigrade, limiting the amount and diversification of creatures, and therefore our fossils in the rock. The air cooled around 460 MYA, and more creatures arose, (http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/geo/foschamp.htm),filled with calcium rich creatures with hard exoskeletons, slowly dying to form what we now see as a hard limestone rock. Maybe we can see some foreshadowing, as carbon dioxide levels were 14-16 times higher in the atmosphere than present day, and high sea levels covered much of the continents in sea water. The globe was mostly ice free.
So for millions an millions of years, sea creatures were born, died, and fell to the shallow sea floor, slowly building the gray rock we move today.

Streaked throughout our rock are white lines, pure calcite precipitated out and laid down in cracks in the sea floor. A couple of fossils adorn it, although aren’t easily identifiable (know what they are? Post in the comments please!).


As well as a bump. The bump may be a piece of Chert, a poor cousin of flint, formed when silica replaces calcium carbonate.

Fancier cousins include Opal, Agate, and Onyx, while our possible chert probably wouldn’t even make a good arrow head or ax, an early use for chert.
The best feature of the rock is the fossilized waves seen across the top. Imagine being a kid the the edge of the Iaptetus, one of those days when the tide was very low, and seeing how the waves formed ridges along the surface of the sand. The tide rises again, water levels return to normal, and a new shelf deposit of rock starts to form, hiding the wave marks, that are only exposed again by the quarrying process 480 million years in the future.

So, as near as we can tell, the rock dates to somewhere between 480-460 million years ago, but we are still stuck with the concept of time. That sounds like a long time ago, but so does breakfast at times. Paul put it best, giving a concrete time example to our rock, and a poetic end to the post.
Our sun rotates around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, slowly, taking somewhere between 225-250 million years to make one rotation. Humans, as a species, have made 1/1250 of a trip. Our rock, two whole trips around.

Lightning 1, Spruce 0

Categories: Landscape, Trees, Weather

Anyone around this summer, or past readers of this blog, will remember a large thunderstorm that ripped through Middlebury two days after Independence Day.  Several trees were struck by lightning, which I wrote about after the storm.

The largest tree struck was the Norway spruce in the Main Quad, one of the ones remaining after we removed part of the line. I wrote this summer how the tree was struck at the top, and exhibited a spiral shaped scar all the way down the trunk, exiting at the root flare. We didn’t know if the tree was going to make it or not, but had hopes.

It’s not the voltage that kills trees, but the water. Over 100 million volts strikes the tree, but it is the water heating quickly turning to explosive steam that causes failures. (Another blog post, on a lightning stuck Ginkgo, has much more detail) Damage in trees can be tricky, often with the worst of the damage unseen.

There was damage seen immediately. Long strips of bark went flying across the quad, and a scar opened up, spiral shaped, following the grain of the wood down the trunk. The high sap content of spruce makes it susceptible to such long scars.

I’d been worried about this tree all summer, and was watching it closely. All the limbs near the scar started to die, and the color of the remaining ones seemed a little off, but still green.

During a closer hazard evaluation this summer I discovered two things, one bad, the other worse. The first was the size of the scar, and while this shouldn’t have surprised me, it did.

The scar that formed in the summer seemed minimal. While very long, it only seemed an inch or so wide.

Scar in summer

The bark hid quite a bit of damage, and another small crack that wasn’t even open this summer showed another major wound. Peeling away at the wound showed extensive damage, much larger than we’d first thought. Overall, it seems about 1/3 of the sapwood (the live wood beneath the bark that conducts water and nutrients) around the trunk has died, severely compromising the tree.

I’ve seen trees limp along with scars like this for many years, most often in a forest setting. Trees in communities are connected in several ways, relying on each other for support and nutrients. They also tend to be the best trees for the site, adapted to soil and weather conditions. Trees in an urban or landscape setting are under more stress, either from a singular status in the landscape, more exposed to wind by themselves, or stress from poor soil conditions its genetics just can’t handle gracefully.

This fall was a good one for fungus, with cool moist conditions. The base of this spruce showed a colony of fungi following along one of the major roots of the tree. Later that same month the same fungus appeared following a different root. This indicates a root rot, a type of fungus eating away at the roots of the tree.

I’ve spoken with an arborist friend of mine who suggests immediate removal. He’s seen similar cases, where trees exhibiting root rot like this suffer from wind throw, heaving over in a storm. The clay soils of our quad make this species very susceptible to this, spruce not being a deep rooted tree to begin with, in clay soils even more so.

While I like this tree quite a bit, the chance this tree could suffer a catastophic failure in such a busy location on campus is too much of a chance to take. The remaining tree, the large Norway spruce with the interesting trunk, will remain.

Tree Removals 2011

Categories: Trees

Like most years, the landscape department takes advantage of the upcoming holiday break to do some tree removals. Not that we are doing anything under the cover of darkness-it’s more like we don’t want to break the solitude of campus with the cacaphony of chainsaws and tree chippers, not to mention the lack of stress we have when not having to do hazardous work with pedestrians walking around us.

Like last year, we’re working off of a hazardous tree list we’ve kept for several years now. Each year, the hazardous trees are inspected in the early fall, the best time to observe stress in the plant. We’re getting toward the end of the list of hazards that must be removed, as this year we’ve selected 6 trees that for reasons described below must be removed.

Actually, 7 trees, but one is sad and important enough to warrant it’s own post later in the week.

The first tree on the list is a big one, a Norway maple north of Starr/Axinn. Like I’ve written previously, this tree is held together by a web of cables up in the crown, two complete systems. The first set is a group of three cables holding the main scaffolds together, and the second set is a complete ring around the canopy. Like we’ve seen in the Black Willow that failed by Battell, failure of one of these limbs can compromise the rest of the cable system, and lead to total failure. For this reason cable systems should be inspected yearly, preferably whilst up in the crown of the tree.

This tree has been declining in health for the past several years.. Notice the greatly thinning canopy in the following pictures, with the interval between last year and this being by far the greatest loss.

Canopy fall 2006

Canopy fall 2010

Canopy fall 2011

The cabling systems were originally installed to protect against failure in the main trunk. Norway maples, though, have a life span, one that is quite a bit shorter than I’d thought, and this tree has reached the end of it’s life. Over 75% of the crown was dead wood, with hollow scaffold branches held up only by cable. Most worrisome was the appearance of several types of fungi, indicating rotten wood both in the trunk and in the root system. While I hate to see such a large tree go, we can’t risk failure in an area so heavily trafficked.

The next tree on the list is another large one, a Silver maple by the Davis Family Library.

Silver maples are poor compartmentalizers, meaning any wounds they suffer sit and rot, further decay going up the stem and into the trunk. This tree has a major defect at the attachment of the main scaffolds, and hollow limbs on two of them. This tree had a hanging branch several years ago, and I climbed up there on rope to remove it. After ascending, I noticed the branch I was tied into was completely hollow, an empty tube the length of the branch. I didn’t stay up long.

After any major windstorm I would always look towards this tree on my drive into work to see if it was still standing. The crack shown above has opened up in the last year.

Another Norway maple in need of removal is next to Centeno, another Norway at the end of it’s life. This tree, like the other, has poor scaffold attachments at the base, and suffers from major cavities with rot. The crown has also suffered major decline in the preceding year, losing much of it’s foliage.

Centeno maple 2010

Centeno Norway 2011

The rot in the trunk holds water, and is actually deep, over 1 foot. Note how, typical of Norways, much of the leaf surface is on the ends of the branch, and therefore much of the weight is as well. This raises a red flag, as high wind events cantilever the branch, with the foliage acting like a sail.

At the top of the stairs leading to the east side of Gifford is a Black Cherry tree, leaning towards the stairs and a nearby light pole.

Lean in a tree towards a target is always troublesome, or at the least worthy of a second, closer look. This tree suffers from a cavity at the root flare in the direction of the lean, indicating a weakened or even missing root system in the potential failure direction.

The last two trees on this removal list are both Sugar maples, which, given the percentage of Sugars on campus, is hardly surprising. The first tree doesn’t really have an obvious cause of death, but is nearly dead nonetheless. It’s located up at the tailgate area, near Route 30.

The final sugar to remove is located up by Hepburn, and to be honest I didn’t really want to see this one go.  In fact, it probably should have been removed several years ago, when its defect was first noticed. Students in my winter term class will recognize it, and the tree is prominent in all of my tree tours. Rarely do you see such a concrete example of girdling roots causing an untimely death.

Nobody ever said trees were terribly intellegent. This tree grew several roots that wrapped around the root flare, so as they grew the tree was slowly strangling itself.

Water couldn’t go up the trunk, nor nutrients down. It showed all the classic symptoms of root girdling over the last several years. First the top started to die back, as the very upper reaches of the tree starved. Next the side of the tree with the girdling died back, followed by major sections of the trunk. Finally the entire tree itself starved as it tried to reprioritize, but without sufficent water and nutrient flow just couldn’t retrench to live out its final days the way many mature trees do.

I’m compiling our Tree Karma score for this year as part of our Tree Campus re-application, but am fairly confident we’ve planted many, many more trees than we’ve removed, even with all the freak storms this summer. Feel free to contact me with further questions or concerns you may have.

Your resume, your life

Categories: Random Thoughts

Nancy got an email the other day from a former student/co-worker at the Grille asking for help with a resume, and she shared the email with me. Rather fortuitous, as I’d been assigned to write my ‘personal biography’ for my upcoming TEDx talk, and I’d also been reading Ryan Kellet’s recent MiddBlog postings on job searching, (and one on starting, but for the sake of this post we’ll assume you’re already there) so my own resume was on my mind. I’ve been on both ends of the resume game, I’ve been at it a while, and I’ve had some excellent teachers along the way, so I thought this would be a good time to share some thoughts. Melody, this one’s for you.

First secret? You don’t have one resume, you have hundreds, one for every job you apply for. A resume is not a static document, but it’s a sales pitch, and one that you should customize for every job. Nancy is a great example. She’s done carpentry, house restoration, boat building, cooking in restaurants, supervising, senior care, day care, even landscaping (not for me, I’m a terrible boss). If she is applying for a cooking job, her resume will reference most of that experience, while a construction job will focus on her degree and experience in Historic Preservation.

And this works on a smaller scale as well. Let’s say you are applying for a job supervising a small work group. Your summer job as a camp counselor is probably more experience than you realize at supervision and it only takes a couple of words to make the cut into the ‘call’ pile.  Or maybe you are over-qualified for the position, but you’d really like to eat next week. Think carefully when describing your experience, and tailor each copy you send out. A resume is not a make it or break it document that will get you a job, but a well crafted one will get you noticed. The Career Services office has a list of ‘core competencies’ language that is excellent.

Another secret. You’re about to graduate, and you don’t have a lot of experience, so you may be afraid your resume may be a little empty. In reality, even a skimpy resume speaks volumes. When I am plowing through a stack of resumes, even for an entry level job, a well crafted document says a lot about the applicant. Spelling errors, bad grammar, and/or poor layout shows a lack of attention I find troubling in an employee, and don’t waste my time interviewing.

I won’t talk about formatting, style, etc. There is heaps of bad advice out on the net about resumes. The best way to separate the good from the bad? Any template that suggests a ‘mission statement’, ‘job objective’ or ‘personal goals’ section of a resume should be ignored with all due haste. I don’t care what your personal goal is-I know it’s to get a job. Give me and my tired eyes a break.

The best template I’ve found, with excellent advice to boot, is found at the Career Services Office right here at Middlebury. Keep your resume to one page. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t’ get fancy. Did I say keep it to one page?

What are other ways to fill out your first resume starting out in the big scary world? I’m not a terribly big fan of the activities and interests section most resumes have, but it certainly is a good area to fill out a lack of experience. Please, though, call the sectional  ‘additional’. What kinds of things am I looking for? Once again, it depends on the job I’m looking to fill.  Are you a member of a trade organization in my field? Do you spend your nights coding for free on an open source software project, or are you just laying about in your jammies playing X-Box? Are you an active participant in your life?

The best resume secret, though, is the hardest. You need to keep your resume updated. Constantly.  Maybe it’s your birthday, maybe New Years Day, or tax day, but once a year look over your resume. Maybe you have something to add. Maybe, like me, you look it over and see a subtle, but deeply embarrassing grammatical error. You may get asked for a resume in an elevator while making small talk. The person asking will forget who you are by tomorrow, after you spent the previous night re-writing your moldy, dusty, stale life. The same person will be impressed if your resume is in their in-box in half of an hour. Attention to detail, being an active participant in your life.

In the same vein, keep a list of extraordinary things, items that didn’t make it into this draft of your resume. Time spent volunteering, times you’ve been quoted in the newspaper, anything where someone paid attention to you. You’re special, so literally don’t forget it, and write it down.

My last piece of advice would be to constantly look for work, even when you aren’t. Always read the help wanted ads. They tell you more than you realize. A restaurant continually looking to hire line cooks has potential to be a terrible place to work, or a food co-op with high turnover might not have the atmosphere they think they do. Help wanted sections are the pulse of a community, the news behind the news. Trust me, the job of your life may come around when you think you aren’t looking.

New Year, More Damage

Categories: Landscape

I was asked (and jumped at the chance) to join Community Council this year, and was in a meeting last Monday when I was asked if there was any vandalism this year to the landscape. I happily reported we haven’t seen anything this year. I’d spoken too quickly, as the guys in the landscape department hadn’t been around the entire campus that day, but had been by tuesday.

We’ve certainly had our problems in the past (even have a tag for vandalism on the blog), but I was hoping the student (or students) had moved on, or at least come to see the error of their ways. I’d even heard through the grapevine that one of the perpetrators may have been caught.

‘Satomi’ Kousa Dogwood, a nice little pink flowering tree, was planted in Ross Commons near the plaza this spring. Someone tried their best to rip it up out of the ground last weekend.

You can see the broken branch on the ground, but the real issue here is the root system. Look at the root flare, where you can see the tree was repeatably pulled back and forth in an attempt to pull it out of the ground.

We had no choice but to dig the tree up and replant it. About 40-50% of the roots were broken in the process, all on one side. Hopefully youthful vigor will rally the tree and it will recover, but the outlook is grim with that much root loss.

More senselessly, two shrubs were pulled up out of the ground next to their holes at Battell South. They were Summersweet, a shrub so nice I wrote about it a little while back. We replanted those as well.

Let’s try and make this the one random incident this year, please.

Autumn Wood

Categories: Outdoor Art

The Class of ’97 Trail, part of the Trail around Middlebury, winds through young woods. Forests age, and this section is in its toddler years, skinny Sugar maple and oak showing potential, but with an invaisive understory of buckthorn and barberry clawing at your legs, asking to be held.

Among this youthful energy lies a poem, playing off the ancient renga form, called Autumn Wood. A renga in the strictest sense is a linked 100 stanza poem, with a meter grandparent to the haiku. It’s an ancient collaboration form of the poem-the first renga recorded was a shared experience between a buddhist nun and Ōtomo no Yakamochi, one of the 36 Poetry Immortals, in the 8th (!) century. Our Middlebury renga shares only the collaboration part, but is an installation through the woods along the TAM trail.

Walking through the woods one confronts poetry hanging from the trees in white lacquered paper. The poems, at least the ones I had the brief time to read, share the common theme of the environment they hang in, but don’t strictly make up a single cohesive unit like a true renga. Interspersed among the poems are photographs, some even of the item they hang upon.

Along the path lies art, almost hidden in the forest, peering out. Buds, berries, bark, and branches are woven together, or even just artfully lying on the ground, with rock and soil used to ground them. Some of these are subtle, and may only been seen on the walk back, while others jump out on the trail.

My favorite piece is naturally by my wonderful wife, a crocheted net hanging on some buckthorn. Should I worry about the direction her art is taking?: last years scarf is called Marley’s Ghost, a felted knit chain, and now a net…

My favorite poem is a timely piece written by John Elder-

Warm September woods-
all these lovesick mosquitoes
from Irene’s pocket.

To visit, go park up at Kirk Alumni Center (the golf course) and carefully walk across Route 30 to the big sign on the start of the TAM trail. The installation is scheduled to be up through the random date of October 27th, a thursday, so this is your weekend to go experience it. Hopefully the organic art will remain to meld with the forest floor.

 

Atwater Finished, for now

Categories: Atwater Contest

We’re declaring a truce on Turf Battle, taking a break until next summer. Left for next year will be the planting around the northern retention pond, and the sidewalk removal and re-configuration south of Allen Hall, and completing the wall next to the patio.

This was my fifth growing season at Middlebury, and Turf Battle was the largest landscape project I’ve been involved with here. Feedback on all of the projects I’ve worked on is familiar and welcome, (first thing I learned here? Everybody has an opinion, many of them opposing each other), but I’ve never gotten so much positive feedback from a job than this one. Students smiling at me, thanking the crew, saying how much better the area looks.

So I feel the need to let you know of the immense amount of people that helped this project come together. I’m the one with the loud mouth, but many more people behind the scenes at Middlebury deserve much more credit than I. Let’s start with Tim Spears, the driving force behind the Turf Battle contest, and Sarah Franco, his partner in crime. Also Dave Berthiaume, the crew chief in the landscape department for that area of campus, who listened to me talk through a lot of the nitty gritty design work on the plantings, and told me when I was losing my mind.

Most important, though, is Luther Tenny, an Assistant Director of Facilities, and our resident civil engineer. The landscapers get all the glory work-we come into a job site that essentially looks like well-placed piles of dirt, and when we’re done, the area is gorgeous. The devil is in the engineering, though. Drain placement, sidewalk and ADA ramp layout, handrail construction, job scheduling, budgeting, timing, and talking me out of crazy ideas, yeah, that’s the idea. Atwater would be a big hot mess were it not for Luther.

I’ll attempt a photo tour, and explain some of the changes we made during construction to the actual plan. As always, click on the picture for a larger view. Let’s start at the Atwater Dining plaza.

This is an overall view, from the Atwater Dining hall roof. (In all these pictures, you’ll have to imagine the dirt patches as grass. It’s up now, but not when I took the pictures) The new handrails show on either side of the stairway, with the brown mulched beds on either side. Originally, the landscape architect’s plan called for the entire area from Allen Hall to the stairs and the island formed by the ADA ramp to the right of the stairs to all be one giant planted bed, with shrubs and some flowers. In talking it over with Dave and his landscape crew, we decided this would be far too much to take care of, too much weeding and maintenance until the beds get established.

This is in line with much of our landscaping we perform at Middlebury now. With less crew and more areas to maintain, the old style landscaping of large planted beds are no more. Instead, we prefer to have small focused beds in high traffic areas, and take very good care of those. In this spot, though, we were having troubles designing how these smaller beds should look. No matter how we laid the shapes out, it all seemed a jumbled mess.  After fussing for a while, we stumbled across the brilliance of the Wagner plan. His layout of the beds to either sides of the stairs were in straight lines off of the stairs. The problem we were having was the multitude of lines in the tight area; the curving roof line, the arch of the ADA ramp, the columns on dining hall. How did we mesh all of that together in the landscape? Simply put, we didn’t. Straight lines off the stairs relate the importance of that feature in the landscape, making the passage the dominant feature. The confusion of the curve of the ramp fades in significance.

Alternating these beds on either side of the stairs with grass gives the walk down a sense of rhythm, and simplifies the landscape. These beds are followed through across the area formed by the ADA ramp, blocking a shortcut we didn’t want to turn into a grass path.

We also carried one more bed to the dining hall side of the ramp, matching both the parallel sides and the size. This should help in making the plaza area feel more enclosed in a garden space.

River birch trees (Betula nigra) were planted throughout the dining plaza area, much like the grove at Ross Dining. We modified the locations of many of them, in part to enhance the garden feel, but also to provide screening from the area above. We’re hoping for an intimate feel down on the plaza, and limiting the views of the upper areas, and of Battell  Beach.

Admittably, the least popular bit of landscaping we did is right next to Allen Hall, blocking the dirt path that leads down to the Johnson Parking lot. While we would have liked to have put a sidewalk here, the topography made it impossible, and for a variety of reasons, including erosion, dorm window privacy, and accessibility, the area was planted in native White pine and Red Twig Dogwood, and will blend with the native retention pond below.

Moving up the stairs, I once again had the pleasure of working with Brad Lambert, our stone mason at Middlebury. A flaw in the sidewalk layout with no graceful way of fixing means people cut the corner across the grass as they turn to descend the stairs. Pouring a triangle of concrete would have wrecked the graceful lines, and while some were advocating for a well-placed BFR, Brad and I instead did a simple little Panton stone wall, to limit the area of dead grass. The stone used is a match to the ledge behind, and is recycled from a stone wall that surrounded the Proctor deck before its renovation several years ago.

I became fixated on approaches and entrances. Notice above how the two flower beds to either side of the first stairs are placed. The further one comes all the way out, while the closer one with the birch is placed further away from the main walk, subtly leading you into the stairs, implying the inevitable turn.

Above is the new sidewalk across the west side of Allen Hall. It’s one of those “aha” moments you have, when  you can’t believe this sidewalk wasn’t always there. The large bed on the left has a disease resistant ‘Accolade’ elm in the center, and the contrasting focal point in front is a Dwarf Hinooki Cypress, as I’m a fool for dwarf conifers. This is a fairly large bed by our standards, but the space deserves it.

Here’s the view from the front of Allen, with that new sidewalk leading off to the right.The gardens in front of the ledge are to the left. We’re picking up on the same effect here as at the top of the Atwater Dining, with more gardens on the left subtly steering toward the dining hall.

Looking toward Atwater dining, across the Panton stone ledge, so you can see the gardens around the ledge. And remember Brad Lambert? I forget the student that came up with the suggestion to have pathways through the garden to the ledge, but I roped Brad into making a couple. They look good on the photographs, but really should be seen in person. Once again, they are composed of recycled wall stone from Proctor.

Here’s a view toward Atwater Dining from the top of the ledge. The plants in the garden are mainly summer and fall flowers and grasses, including Black Eyed Susan, White and Pink Coneflower, Japanese Anemone, and several varities of grasses. The effect we’re looking for is to echo the roof planting, composed of wildflowers and grasses, with the gardens surrounding the ledge, joining two major landscape elements.

 

The gardens wrap around the stamped concrete patio next to Hall B. Like the Dining Hall plaza, we’re hoping for the feeling of being enclosed by the garden.

One of the most asked questions I’ve been getting on the project is the reason for the large berm behind Chateau. The long answer is that the hill breaks up the relativly flat topography in the area, and offers a new perspective for views in the landscape. Short answer? Needed some soil to grow a grove of trees. The plans called for a grove of single stem River birch, but we changed it to Honeylocust. The pH of the soil was too high for Birch, and we were also concerned about overplanting one species in the landscape. Honeylocust is one of my favorite shades-a dappled light dark enough to be cooling in the glare of summer, but bright enough so it doesn’t feel cave-like.

The Honeylocust were planted in lines specifically to preserve views of Chipman Hill. The stairs on the plan turned out to be recycled granite that facilities had in storage.

Top of the berm looking north, down toward the parking lot. Anyone with a history in Atwater are probably wondering what that foriegn green is between the halls-it’s grass. The trees shown below are Sycamore, a great fast growing shade tree. The wall, without the stone face, is visible to the right.

Standing on the sidewalk in the middle looking toward Battell Beach. Up at the top are more elms, also to the west of Chateau, to provide some screening between the Atwater area and the quidditch pitch.

One final picture, more grass, and a view down towards the lower retention pond. We’re going to get to the planting around the pond next year.

 

 

 

 

Seven Son Flower

Categories: Blooms, Trees

I don’t know if I’m a lazy, slothful gardener, or just a brutally honest one, but either way I’m hoping for a hard frost pretty soon. I’m tired. My garden is tired. A good significant freeze, a cleaning of the summer slate, an official change of the seasons, that’s what I need.

Given my perennial neglect, fall flowers always hold a soft spot for me. Anything that can brighten the garden in September is a bonus. Take Asters, rising up above the weeds of late summer. Sure, go ahead and curse the Aster yellows causing the lower leaves to fall away all summer, making the plant look ridiculous, but the bright pinks and blues as a surprising upper tier to the late garden redeem almost any neglected space. Grasses hold their own all season, but shine in the fall as vertical accents even as other plants droop and hunch like my sore autumn back.Trees and shrubs, though, are truly a lazy gardener’s friend. For a minimum of work, they blossom and grow dependably. In the plant world, it’s like something for nothing.

Heptacodium minicoides - Seven Son Flower

Seven Son Flower, Heptacodium minicoides, is a recent introduction into the plant world. Originally discovered by the famous plant explorer E.H. Wilson in 1907, at Hsing-shan in western Hubei province in China. Found on cliffs about 3000 feet above sea level, only one seed was found, so dry specimens were collected and brought to an herbarium. Another expedition found the plant in the Hangzhou Botanical Garden in 1980, and two seed collections were made from a single plant and distributed to various arboretums. Most active in spreading the plant around was the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts. (Read the complete history ) As far as I can tell in my reading, all plants in the trade trace back to that single plant.

Seven Son flower gets its name from the seven headed inflorescences on the flower cluster. The white flowers wouldn’t draw much attention in the spring, as they honestly don’t hold a candle to a lilac. In September, though, they draw the eye through the tired landscape, showing off against the pale tattered leaves of most trees and shrubs in the late summer.

Heptacodium-flowers

The plant seems to grow somewhere between 10-20′ high, and about 10-12′ tall. It’s one of those gangly plants that defy the easy tree/shrub category, although the finest specimens seem to be pruned into attractive multi-stemmed small trees. The advantage to this little bit of work is the ability to show off the bark, which peels in long strips in alternating cinnamon and light brown shades. The leaves hold opposite each other along the stem (showing off its familial relation to Honeysuckles, the Caprifoliaceae) and stay dark green, pest and disease free all season. Some books claim no fall color, but we seem to get a dependable, but not stunning, gold.

Seven Son Flower-bark

Further south, once the flowers fall, the calyxes stay attached, and while the seeds are forming, turn bright red, looking like a second bloom on the plant. Honestly, I’ve never noticed this in Vermont, and the book Landscape Plants of Vermont states that the the season ends too soon for this Cape Myrtle effect, but I’ve managed to photograph some last week, and I’m watching.

Heptacodium calyxes

For the observant, there is one planted near Painter Hall, just off of Old Chapel road, pruned to a single trunk. Other clump forms are on the south side of Munford, the east side of Pearson Hall, and a couple other places I’m forgetting. Heptacodium seems to do best in full sun, but is at least partially shade tolerant as well.