Monday, May 15, 2023

RBWMA on Fox Hill


The fact that I don't like spiders is arguably proof that we don't have to enjoy something in order to understand the importance of its existence. Once, when I was a happy go lucky teenager, I reached down to pick up what I had thought was a big rubber spider on the basement floor. I was within millimeters of touching it when it snarled and pounced at me with it's huge hairy venomous venom injectors! The sheer adrenalin induced volume of my scream saved my life as the beast paused for enough of a split second to permit my escape. From that moment on, I knew on a deeper level that spiders were not to be trusted!  Over the years and with no further conflicts, spiders and I have come to a truce of sorts. Spiders are fine as long as I know that they are there. I won't be visiting Australia and its funnel web spiders mind you; but nor will I be applying broad spectrum insecticide to my property. 

I almost forgot to explain why spiders are so important, "spiders eat the equivalent (insect weight) of all the humans on earth annually."* 

Poison ivy is a valuable food source for pollinators, and a fall food source for birds and mammals, just don't come near me with it.

I rejoiced at seeing my first Baltimore Oriole of the season while sipping my morning coffee here in Vernon. The Oriole's striking beauty and song as it perched in our crabapple tree filled with blossoms was a moment to behold! We also saw a Turkey vulture feasting on gray squirrel road kill while on our way to the transfer station. I thought to thank the vulture for its good work as we passed by. 

Martin explains to his small gathering of Vernon residents that we are about to enter a Dry Oak Forest. The trees of interest are Red, Black, White, Chestnut and Scarlet Oak. I take note of his mention of Scarlet oak because I recently learned that a survey of the oak will take place this spring at the Rec. Scarlet oak's expansion northward of its range is thought to be a measure of Climate change. The USDA Forest Service Northern Station Research Center's Current Forest Inventory and Analysis map can be viewed by selecting this link.

 Martin himself discovered a small stand of wild Dogwood of which he alerted the state. Martin says that the state visits the stand when in this section of the Roaring Brook Wildlife Management Area. There is also Sassafras, a more abundant tree to the south and a tree that I have never personally identified. We are in Martin's backyard on Fox Hill in Vernon about to explore a parcel belonging to the Roaring Brook Wildlife Management Area.

Martin's discussion turns to the historic management of this parcel. He tells us that the indigenous people used fire to clear land for crops below the hill across from Newton Road. However he says, there is no evidence that this RBWMA parcel has ever been farmed.

This idea resonates with me, as not far from Fox Hill, Wayne and I located Pitch pine which is a fire dependent tree. Later, while looking into Dry Oak forests, I discover that they occur on south facing slopes and glacial sand plains. Fire adapted natural community's make up Dry Oak forests. These communities declined as fires were increasingly suppressed. **  All of this, I learned after I walked the woods wondering why its understory lacked the rich, diverse plants that we were accustomed to seeing in Vernon.

"Why are Dry Oak forests important?" I ask myself. I had agreed to this hike mostly because Martin is so darn excited about a vernal pool within the area and know nothing of the surrounding forest. 

Just steps behind the Fox Hill housing development, the area has largely been left untouched by logging and other forest management tools for decades. On this April day, the understory growth seems limited and the forest floor is littered with crunchy leaves and open space. 

Martin mentions the presence of laurel, Eastern Hemlock and White pine. We also come across Striped maple, birch and beech. 

Martin points out the hardwood trees that indicate logging had once taken place here decades ago; and I learn the answer to many wonderings on past hikes. Hardwoods with multiple leads emanating from a single trunk just feet off of the forest floor is a result of a cut stump. The larger the tree, the longer it has been since it was cut down. 


I ask Martin if he knows what kind of tree this is. Martin isn't certain but thinks it is White oak. I ask because the tree has an old injury with "curled" edges. Among the possibilities causing this old injury is fire. Insects are processing this tree into sawdust.

As I write this post, I wonder how old this hardwood tree is. Located in a natural community known for stunted growth, I also wonder if the botany guidelines for oak growth rates are even relevant. If this is White oak, it takes thirty years for a White oak to reach full growth under typical conditions.

Nearby Wayne points out Lowbush blueberry.

I find  native Witch Hazel,  I fail to recognize it in the field even though I planted one by my driveway several years ago of which I am quite fond of. Google Lens reminds me that I have a lot to learn.

The few logs that we find are barren of moss and fungi. The moss that we find is sparse and reserved for the base of standing trees.

 Birch with moss at the base of the trunk.

Where are the rocks I wonder. As if on cue they rise up out of the leaves.

 I wonder where Wayne, Martin and the others have gone off to?

Finally the forest floor gives way to green

We are at the top of the hill and I see my first butterflies of the season. Three in all with one landing on my trekking pole. 

Here, next to a tiny sprig of Wintergreen, is a piece of white quartz. Wayne and I see quartz on most of our hikes in Vernon.

How is it that trees grow on top of rocks?

The rock is unworried as it knows that time will release it back to the earth.

Ahh, here they are! All at once I regret missing Martin's knowledge of this place.

Chestnut oak is more common in western Vermont

Red oaks have a lifespan of 100 to 150 years

Deer hair
Cracked acorn shells

The Striped maple grows to thirty five feet tall.

American Chestnut almost certainly will succumb to blight before maturity

Highbush blueberry thrives on the edges of the large vernal pool that Martin has led us to . The seasonal pool is the only sign of water we encounter on this venture. While Lily pond is flooded, the town forest muddy and the Broad brook flows swiftly, this RBWMA area is home to an oasis of sorts within an uncharacteristically dry VT landscape.

The pool is alive with small black tadpoles swimming above oak leaves.

Martin scouts for more Sassafras trees while standing next to one. In 2014 this article was written about Vermont's largest Sassafras tree on Huckle Hill at Stonehurst.

Feet from the shore, the earth returns to a Dry oak woodland. 

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, the importance of a Dry Oak woodland is that it provides many species of animals with a valuable concentrated source of food. I wish you to take this away from this writing; just because you don't like something, or understand something, or ever have the chance to see something, that doesn't mean it isn't important.

Martin told me about the premier vernal pool on Fox hill a couple of years ago. This Spring Martin was very gracious in offering to be our guide. We might have never had the opportunity to visit this state conserved land had Martin not allowed us to cross his property. Had Martin not been so  knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his backyard, a Dry oak forest, I most likely would have thought the area unremarkable and failed to write about it. 

I wish to extend our gratitude toward Martin for his generosity. -Norma Manning

No comments:

Post a Comment