The Lifeblood of the Landscape

July 23, 2014

I like to say that rivers are the lifeblood of the landscape.

Here in Connecticut, as in so much of the developed world, we haven’t always treated them well, lifeblood or not.

The Farmington River is among many in Connecticut that were burdened with pollution into the 1960s. With a major cleanup effort, the river by the mid-1970s was far cleaner. Today it is an enormously popular recreational river, heavily used by canoeists, kayakers, tubers, and anglers. Click to enlarge.

The Farmington River is among many in Connecticut that were burdened with pollution into the 1960s. With a major cleanup effort, the river by the mid-1970s was far cleaner. Today it is an enormously popular recreational river, heavily used by canoeists, kayakers, tubers, and anglers. Click to enlarge.

We have fouled them with human and industrial wastes. We have deforested their watersheds, with huge impacts as sediments were washed from cleared land. We constructed dams on practically every brook, stream and river of any size in Connecticut – literally thousands of them – choking them. We’ve introduced so many fish species into Connecticut waters that stream fauna is forever changed, often for the worse.

I’ve written a longish piece for The Hartford Courant that takes a look at the history of rivers in Connecticut. Beginning in the late 1960s we began to clean up our rivers, with substantial success in reducing sewage and industrial pollution. Many rivers once filthy are now clean enough for swimming, fishing and boating.

But big problems remain, including runoff pollution  from streets, driveways and parking lots.

Here is a link to the story: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/courant-250/moments-in-history/hc-250-rivers-connecticut-20140719,0,7527600.story

Hiking and Yoga is a Great Combination

May 15, 2014

Among the 258 events scheduled statewide for National Trails Day weekend in Connecticut June 7 and 8 is a hike combined with yoga in the nearly 800-acre Penwood State Park in Bloomfield.

A hiker does tree pose from the Cedar Ridge Lookout in Penwood State Park, Bloomfield.

A hiker does yoga's tree pose from the Cedar Ridge Lookout in Penwood State Park, Bloomfield. Click to enlarge.

We’ll hike the yellow-blazed trail along the northern reach of the Talcott Mountain Range to the Cedar Ridge Lookout and back, about 3 miles round-trip over moderate terrain. Expect great views of the Farmington Valley to the west and south from the lookout. Wildflowers, abundant bird life and a rich mix of tree species add to the appeal of this trail.

At the trailhead, before the hiking begins, Leslie Gordon, co-owner of the Be Yoga studio in Avon, will lead hikers through a brief series of warm-up yoga poses. After the hike, participants will travel the short distance to Leslie’s studio, where she will lead a 45-minute session of poses that will gently stretch and rejuvenate muscles worked while hiking. No yoga experience is required.

The hike and yoga are free, but the outing is limited to 20 people. It is not too early to sign up. Similar hikes the past two years have filled up. For questions or to register, contact hike leader Steve Grant at steve@thestevegrantwebsite.com or 203-733-0079. Or, contact yoga leader Leslie Gordon at leslie@beyogainavon.com or 860-930-1311.

This hike also is open to families participating in the Great Park Pursuit program sponsored by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Families can document their participation by taking a photograph with a Great Park Pursuit sign that will be available at the hike trailhead.

Hikers will meet at the Penwood State Park entrance parking lot on the north side of Route 185 at 8 a.m. Sunday, June 8. Rain cancels. No dogs. Pre-registration is required. We expect the event to end by noon.

The Wildflowers of May

May 8, 2014

Wild ginger is an interesting wildflower that blooms in May in Connecticut woodlands. The flower is almost secretive, blossoming at ground level and hidden by two heart-shaped leaves. Click to enlarge.

Wild ginger is an interesting wildflower that blooms in May in Connecticut woodlands. The flower is almost secretive, blossoming at ground level and hidden by two heart-shaped leaves. Click to enlarge.

On a recent day, I hiked part of the Henry Buck Trail in American Legion State Forest in Barkhamsted with Eleanor “Sam” Saulys, a longtime board member of the Connecticut Botanical Society and a wildflower identification expert. The Buck Trail is a footpath that Saulys and many others think may be the single best spot in Connecticut to see some of the wildflowers that emerge in May.

“It is a wonderful display of plants,” she said. “Everything that you want to see can easily be seen within 500 feet of the road. You don’t need to put on your hiking boots or anything. It is a well worn trail.”

Already in bloom this day were purple trillium, with striking dark purple petals, and Dutchman’s breeches, a diminutive plant with dangling white flowers that, in fact, look like breeches or pantaloons. Also blooming was wild ginger – a small, mysterious plant with its three-lobed flower literally at ground level, sheltered from above by two bright, light- to medium-green, heart-shaped leaves. The flower is easily overlooked, but worth searching out – look for the distinctive leaves, then find the flower.

Dutchman's breeches is in bloom in Connecticut woodlands right now. The flowers of this diminutive plant suggest old-fashioned breeches or pantaloons. Click to enlarge.

Dutchman's breeches is in bloom in Connecticut woodlands right now. The flowers of this diminutive plant suggest old-fashioned breeches or pantaloons. Click to enlarge.

The wildflowers, of course, are part of the rhythm of the seasons, each species with its bloom time, some emerging even in March, others lingering into November, each with its ecological niche, each brightening the landscape for a few days or weeks.

After a long, cold winter, a wildflower walk on a mild day in mid- to late-May is especially pleasant. That many songbirds will be migrating through at the same time adds a woodland chorus to your outing.

My outdoors column appears in tomorrow’s editions of The Hartford Courant, with suggestions from Saulys on some great places to view wildflowers in coming weeks.

Check the Connecticut Botanical Society website for a list of their scheduled outings, open to newcomers and novice wildflower enthusiasts. www.ct-botanical-society.org.