Monday, September 30, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Camp in a tent at a VT state park.

from the files of "i wasn't expecting to get this one": a little while ago i was on my adventure day with my friend barb and we were looking at the campgrounds in and around moosalamoo and we made plans to go out for a one night backpacking trip so i could ding "Go on an overnight backpacking trip with everything you need in your backpack" but then barb broke her collarbone and i was all like oh, noooo.

she thought she'd try and feel better in another week and maybe go, but i've HAD a broken collarbone and no. just no. nope, nope, nope. you don't have to give up your fall camping weekend just because you broke a collarbone. we'll go car camping and i'll get us a lovely site near some water and we'll take it nice and easy so i made a reservation at ricker pond state park and that was lovely.

here's a picture of the table in the site, and if you know me pretty well, a lot of the things in the photo identify this as uniquely MY campsite: my walking stick, my beloved luci lantern, my ubiquitous nature journal, and a mushroom field guide the size of my head.

it was perfect weather, and i'd never been to ricker pond state park so bonus delights.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Identify each of these three types of rocks: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic.

i live in an area where the rocks are mostly metamorphic; i live near the spine of the Green Mountains, which have been raised and pushed and pressed so many times and in them you can see the folds and almost imagine days when they were plastic.

but to my west there are sedimentary rocks, the sandstones and shales of the Champlain Valley, and to my east are the granites of Barre and the northeast.

i went down into the bed of the Huntington River to look over some glacial till, because there you can usually find a lot of kinds of rocks.

i found this sandstone.

and this lovely banded gneiss.

and i thought maybe this was a granite, but it's not. it WAS a granite before it was metamorphosed, but now it's also gneiss.

so no big deal, right? if you can't find igneous rocks in the state of vermont, you are clearly not near barre, and not in the Northeast Kingdom. the geology of a lot of the state involves the Green Mountains, but west of that range are the Taconics (southwest corner) and just east of it are the great volcanic plumes of the Northeast Kingdom and the granite beds of Barre.

so, yanno. all you really have to do to find igneous rocks is head east of the Green Mountains and look for granite mountains or granite quarries, or really, you could just look for any modern cemetery or city edifice built of granite...

uh, anyway. up on owl's head in Groton State Forest are piles and piles of granites.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Ride your bike or go for a run on a rail trail.

i didn't think i was going to get this one; often i am riding a rail trail for some other reason and just get this one by accident, but this weekend a short trip to groton state forest fell into my lap and my friend barb and i went for a little jaunt up the rail trail from ricker pond to the sign on the north side of stillwater road.

it was hard riding for me. i'm struggling a lot this year with increased pain and increased fatigue, but we did it.

then on the way back were were thinking that we wanted some cold sodas, but had't brought any.

but then it dawned on us: we are GROWNUPS with CARS and MONEY. so we went to the general store and they have moxie.

life is good.

Friday, September 27, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Photograph and identify three different kinds of pine cones

i have been recklessly and prolifically photographing the cones of assorted conifers across vermont and new hampshire with the intent to collect three good photos and post them together to satisfy this item.

and i always hesitate when talking about "pinecones", because are we talking about the cones of all conifers? or just the actual pines? i have white pines that grow near my house and some red pines, which are the result of reforestation in the late '20s, but i think past that i'd have to go to what i think is some pitch pines i met this summer but then i think that for the purposes of this challenge it's probably ok to use the cones of spruces or firs or even -heaven help us- northern white cedar.

so i think what i've settled on- and let me stress that me decision about which cones to use for the challenge is as much informed by which photos i could find all at one time the soonest as any other factor- i present to you the red pine, red spruce, and tamarack.

the red pine is from a tree that appears to be an escape or maybe a volunteer descendant of a reforestation in richmond. the forest around it is mostly white pine, hemlock, and yellow birch. there are two other red pines in this area.

 this red spruce cone is from a tree on bear hill in allis state park.

 this tamarack is located at the nature center in groton state forest. tamaracks are unique in the world of north american conifers because they are deciduous.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Make a tin can telephone.

i haven't done this since i was a child!

and i did it so authentically this time, too, because i didn't have any empty cans at my house SO I ASKED MY MOM FOR SOME.

i made my telephone while in the groton state forest hanging out near ricker pond.

what a blast.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Try a new technique when building a campfire.

i always get worried that i'll run out of new things to try.

but recently i was at an event (teaching firebuilding) and this guy asked me if i'd ever built an upside-down fire. i hadn't, because my favorite fire lay is the Unholy Mess, but i'd seen some cool vids about them and this guy i was talking to me said it was really worth my time.

so recently i found myself camping with a friend at ricker pond state park and we bought a load of firewood and while we were out exploring we picked up some good tinder and kindling and i decided to try lighting the whole thing with a ferro rod and charcloth, because i've never been able to successfully blow up a spark ignition into flame.

to be sure, i have sparked an accelerant and that's pretty spiffy, but i had never yet successfully used the charcloth with spark, so i decided to try that on top of my upside down fire because either way i will have used a new technique and let's face it: even if i had failed, i still would have TRIED.


the upside-down fire, by the way, works a charm. if you lay it right, it burns right down to a fabulous bed of coals with nearly zero maintenance, which is a big plus. would do again.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Learn how to tell time without a clock

i'm a big fan of all the map / compass / clock skills.

if you can find true north, you can then use that knowledge to make a sundial.

there are a lot of ways to make a sundial with varying degrees of accuracy. the trick is that you either need to plant it in one place and construct it to be accurate for its place and season, or you need to angle and orient it whenever you use it to have the hours line up properly.

i like this little number from sky & telescope because it has an easy to use printout page that you can use to build an easy and pretty accurate sundial. you have to face it to true north (or south, if you live in the souther hemisphere), but if you've folded it to match your correct latitude, it's pretty accurate. you have to adjust for daylight savings on your own, but it works.


Monday, September 23, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Clean up trash from one of your favorite areas and send us a before and after photo.




*wipes tears from eyes*

ok, i know you guys were hoping for a dramatic before / after photo but there just isn't one.

i know what the department of forest, parks, and recreation had in mind was a one-time trash cleanup that we could all point to and say "there. doesn't that look nicer?"

but instead (either cheating or overachieving) this month i accepted a two-year term as one of the land stewards of the Sara Holbrook Floodplain Forest, which means not only have i agreed to go down there and regularly pick up trash, but i have agreed to monitor the parcel usage, the health of our forest and riverbank, help develop a management plan for the parcel, and engage in community education and discussion about conservation on the parcel.

last week when i went down there all i got was two beer cans, but this last time i had a meeting with a team from the UVM NR206 course, in which students engaged in a capstone project will help the town of bolton develop a management plan.

so yeah, let's just say i picked up some trash and call it good, ok?

Sunday, September 22, 2019

2019 venture vermont: attend and support a local event

so as a result of some of my other work a nice lady from service unit #241 called me up to ask if i could come and be an instructor at their fall camping event, and of course i could.

it turns out that if my girl scout troop were registered in the town where i live, that would be my service unit, but we're not, so it's my local community but i don't belong to it administratively.

she hadn't firmed up her list of instructors for the event, so i told her to just have me do whatever she wanted from my skillset.

she ended up asking me to do two sessions of firebuilding and two sessions of music with nature.

i helped with setup and takedown, as well as helping some of the other instructors find their places. f'rinstance the archery instructor is a guy who more habitually teaches archery on our property at camp seawood, and he had never been to our camp so i helped him find the range and open the shed and all that.

also they had a woman come in to do a foraging thing, but i know when i go to a place to do foraging i prefer to have time ahead to wander around and look at what's there so i took her on a walk to show her where we had the plants that were of interest to her.

i don't have pics of that because of course i don't have authorization to photograph the minors present, but there are witnesses. i did the thing.

and i may have gone and got myself committed to do other things.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Write a poem or song about your favorite outdoor space and send it to us

unless you just walked in in the last ten minutes, my favorite outdoor spaces these days are the girl scout camps of the Girl Scouts of the Green and White mountains.

i felt there was a need for one song that spoke of the bond between the camps, because we're all one council, all one movement, and i wanted to frame the camps as friends.

so i wrote this song.

here's a quick and dirty recording of it.

Four Friends

There were four friends as solid as rocks
A dragon and a turtle and an owl and a fox (1)
Like fingers in gloves or keys in locks, 
They all went out to roam together  
And they all went out to roam.

They danced in a meadow high on a hill
In the green Green Mountains while the summer stood still
But the seasons turned as the seasons will (2)
And they all went out to roam together
And they all went out to roam.

They paddled on a lake both sparkling and sweet
And they went to Seven Gables by their wings and by their feet (3)
But the travel of the friends was not complete 
So they all went out to roam together
And they all went out to roam

They went exploring down by the shore
And they took a trail so far that they could see a dinosaur (4)
All thanks to the Daughter of Appledore (5)
They all went out to roam together
And they all went out to roam.

In Sebbins Pond they swam all around
And Sandy is the other pond and sandy is the ground
An american chestnut tree they found (6)
but they all went  out to roam together 
And they all went out to roam.

But a piece was missing from the fox's heart
She wanted to return to the place she got her start
So to Twin Hills turned and they traveled apart (7)
And she said i love to roam together but i love to be back home.

You know i love to roam together
but Twin Hills is my home.

(1) these are references to the four mascots of the camps: the twin hills fox, the farnsworth owl, the kettleford dragon, and the seawood turtle
(2)this sounds like the least specific of the verses, but it is really a reflection of being in my mid-fifties playing in the same meadow where i played as a child.
(3) seven gables is a place at camp farnsworth
(4) at camp seawood they have a rock called dinosaur rock. it is pretty far out from main camp.
(5) this is an obscure reference. celia thaxter was a prominent 19th century poet and her family donated the land for this camp to the girl scouts. ms. thaxter lived on star island for much of her adult life, but her father was the lighthouse keeper of appledore island and she spent some of her childhood there. it's not the best lyric, but it acknowledges the gift and if fits the rhyme scheme.
(6) camp kettleford borders two ponds, sebbins pond and sandy pond. they have actual american chestnut trees there, which gives me hope for the future. and yes, the soil is very sandy.
(7) the lyrics to this verse and the coda change according to where the song is being sung.

Friday, September 20, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Make a map of your favorite natural area.

i'm not sure if i'm cheating or if i'm overachieving.

arguably my favorite natural area is twin hills girl scout camp, where i am the naturalist.

i can't so much say that i drew a map of it, but i did do the scouting to find the route of the old blue trail and use GPS to map it out. we're trying to identify its old path that was disrupted by logging operations and we're looking for places to repair or reroute it.

additionally, we need to plan some connector trails and most importantly on our to-do list for that is we need a new trail sited that will be appropriate for use by very young girls or for groups looking for an easy and pretty accessible walk instead of the monster that the old blue trail was.

if you want to look at my map, it's here.

this represents my walking of the property. the blue trail is represented by the blue line, and stone walls and other points of interest are also marked. i have annotated some of the proposed areas for new trail, but i'll be working this fall with an intern to set new trail in the vicinity of the pink line.

does this count as drawing a map? does putting it on the anr atlas count as sending it to the department of forest, parks, and recreation, which is a subsidiary of the anr? i really hope so, because i'm counting it.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Take a human powered boat on a lake or pond

the weird irony of my life these days is that i used to spend a lot of time out doing camping and boating and thinking that it would be cool if i could teach these skills to, say, girl scouts.

so now i spend most of my time teaching these things to girl scouts but i don't do as much of it myself.

not a complaint; i'm doing what i wanted.

i have gotten out on the water some though.

i went canoeing with my girl scout troop, and i guided a canoe trip from a girl scout camp.

i'm not in this photo. i'm behind the camera. but i promise, i'm in a boat on the water.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Hang your laundry outdoors to dry instead of using a drying machine.

this one seems very simple and i had been tempted to dry this way some of the time, but i do not have enough rack space for a full load of laundry and i have no space to hang a clothesline.

but ten points on the venture challenge is ten points, and i used that motivation to do me some problem solving.

problem #1: not enough rack space
solution: buy a second rack.

problem #2: no laundry basket big enough to haul things up from basement where laundry machines are located
solution: buy a laundry basket.

so i did those things, and right now i have a whole load of laundry drying outside in the sun.

that feels awesome.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Pack a picnic for someone else to enjoy

this summer a group of girl scouts was hiking a portion of the long trail near my house.

now, in 1976 i was a girl scout on a hike on that same terrain and i remember what it was like to encounter trail magic.

but because the trip leader is a friend of mine, i was able to find out what things the girls would especially enjoy to find in a magic box, and they wanted chocolate milk and a baguette.

ok, that's weird, but ok.

so i got them good chocolate milk from a reputable local dairy and a good baguette from a fine local bakery and while i was at it i got them a wedge of brie and some tomatoes and some milky ways.

and because it's bad manners and probably bad luck to leave out special things for only your hikers but not share, i bought some sodas and some water and i wrapped up the things for the girl scouts and left a note encouraging all passing hikers to help themselves to the drinks and the rest of the candy  and all morning our girls were hearing southbound hikers telling them their box was at the trailhead which was a total surprise to them and the trip leader tells me they
practically ran down the mountain to get it.

it turned out that two of the girls were french, so a good baguette and a wedge of french cheese was very welcome.

but while that PROBABLY qualifies as making a picnic lunch for someone else to enjoy, on my adventure day with my friend barb i went to the grocery store and picked up some sandwiches and such and packed here a surprise lunch that we ate in a clearing in the green mountain national forest.

Monday, September 16, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Go on a hike you’ve never done before.

these days the amount of hiking i can do is limited by pain or fatigue or both. fortunately my friend barb does not mind hiking at my pace, which is slow. very, very slow.

so after we were done looking for the cave that's on the nature trail at branbury state park, we went and hiked the lower cliff trail. the views are lovely, and the cliffs are impressive.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Sit in a quiet area and observe nature. Write down or draw a picture of what you see.

i had been keeping a nature journal of sorts until i took up study as a Vermont Master Naturalist, and then i started KEEPING A NATURE JOURNAL and in particular going to the same place in all seasons and most weathers to sit and observe and record.

here's a picture of two pages.

i'm trying to do less writing and more sketching, so so far i'm not very good at that.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Learn a bird call. Send us a recording.

this spring while i was up on girl scout camp property, i kept hearing a hawk. i was able to identify it as a broad-winged hawk (buteo platypterus), and later in the spring there was a lot of territorial hawk calling and then when i was up there with some people we thought we saw a nest.

oh yes. the female went and put her nest right in our parking lot, right over the place where the busses disgorge the campers and the parents pick up and drop off girls and sure enough the precious little chick (really a huge bird, even right out of the egg) hatched JUST before camp started and what had seemed a perfect quiet neighborhood was  now an alarming one teeming with juvenile top-level predators, although eventually i think the mother was able to piece together the basic fact that while we are a species that eats eggs and poultry, we are not for the most part going to climb that slender tree and eat her chick and our presence both discourages tree climbing predators and increases the amount of delicious, delicious rodents, because children leave a surprising amount of food crumbs, which rodents love.

anyway, the chick stepped out of the nest early and plopped to the ground while we were sitting right there one day and then it flailed around in the bushes trying desperately to get out of our sight while we politely DID NOT LOOK AT IT.

it was fun for me, as the staff naturalist, to explain to the children why we would purposely not look at such an awesome thing, but we got that all sorted out and over the next week or so we kept hearing the chick and the mother calling to each other and seeing behavioral evidence that the now huge but still flightless chick was still being cared for and assisted somewhere on the ground in our forest.

then, at about the time when the chick should have been fully fledged, i stopped seeing them so much. i hope they're both well.

my recording of this female hawk can be found on an inat observation page here:

Friday, September 13, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Make a crown out of natural materials.

i was out at a girl scout camp, doing preparation for a foraging session, and i picked a couple of stems of meadowsweet and goldenrod to make this crown. i wove in a stem of new england aster for good measure, because pretty.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

2019 venture vermont: ID three different invasive species.

here's autumn olive (elaeaganus umbellata), which is invasive and delicious.

i found it growing at button bay state park.

this is multiflora rose, which is pretty and also edible.

i caught this one growing in the sarah holbrook floodplain forest.

here's some morrow's honeysuckle:

there's a patch of it with some tatarian honeysuckles growing in a logged patch at a girl scout camp.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

2019 venture vermont: attend a state park you've never been to

i know this seems improbable, but i had never actually been to Branbury State Park.

and i needed to go see a cave and attend an interpretive program and there wasn't going to be a program near the smugglers' cave (which i've been to a lot), so i decided to make a whole day adventure out of it.

here's the view of lake dunmore from the lower cliff trail.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


they gave me the honor pin, which is kind of a big deal.

i dunno, it sort of felt like too much. i'll be the first one to tell you that my work is good and that i do a lot of it, but it doesn't seem that, uh, -elevated- to me?

still, it's gratifying to be noticed for my work, and a little terrifying to feel i have to live up to the honor. i sort of like flying under the radar better. maybe i can turn it into opportunity. if people have heard of your program, they're more likely to sign up for it.

that's the thing, you know- i've been honored for basically playing around and doing the stuff i wanted to do, not because anybody said they needed it but because it pleased me and it just happened to be useful.

right place, right time.

in related news, they also made me a torchbearer, which is an honor i had hoped to someday qualify for, and i'm surprised to be given it this soon. it is an award for adults who are instrumental in providing outdoor education and that is a thing about which i am passionate.

funny story: somebody way higher on the food chain was also honored with this award (which comes with an actual honkin' TORCH), and they'd tasked her with the job of getting me to the ceremony, because i'm way too likely to skip an evening session to go to bed early, and they called her name and she said "what, ME?" which earned delighted chuckles from the assembled crowd.

when they called my name, i let out an involuntary yelp and may have cried a little.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Find a cave and take a picture with it

the venture vermont scorcard helpfully mentions that there are caves to be found at both smuggler's notch state park and branbury state park, and i've been to the smuggler's cave, so we headed off to lake dunmore to visit branbury state park.

Saturday, September 07, 2019


this summer more than once i had to stop children from playing pretend CPR. while i applaud the intention of children playing at lifesaving, that's a thing you really have to step in and stop.

kids have a hard time grasping the concept that doing CPR on a beating heart may damage or actually stop it. they also do not get the part where if you're doing CPR on a person, it's going to hurt. it's probably going to break ribs.

but then WHY DO WE DO IT? is a reasonable question.

equally reasonable but not necessarily evident is that if your heart has stopped beating, some broken ribs are way better than dying.

that's why we practice on dummies, kids.

Friday, September 06, 2019

2019 venture vermont: ID 2 different types of caterpillars

caterpillars can be hard, because there are so may variations and here's a thing you maybe did not know about them: many species of caterpillar molt five times before they pupate, and each instar (that state between molts) can look very, very different.

i got a couple of good ones this year, though.

this is an abbott's sphinx, which will become an abbott's sphinx moth (sphecodina abbottii). when i saw it, it was a little green guy but in a later instar it will have become some fantastic yellow and brown with more or less triangular dazzle camo.

this is a pine imperial moth (eacles imperialis, spp. pini). it has reached its fifth instar and has now climbed down out of the trees to find a suitable burrow in which to pupate. in this stage of life it's known as a prepupa, and this unfortunate fellow appeared to have been in the process of being eaten by wasps.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Create a secret handshake

here's my secret handshake: it's for people who have done the secret work of forest fairies, which is a pretty broad definition.

it is executed in this fashion: both people make the letter "f" (for both fairies and forests) and you interlock them, flying them up.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

2019 venture vermont: Attend a state park interpretive program


if you leave your venture vermonting go all summer and wait until labor day weekend to get serious, you're going to have to go to heroic measures in order to do the Vermont State Park thingies, like going to an interpretive program, because not all parks have interpretive programs, and by labor day most of the programs are shutting down.

my local park (little river state park) has interpretive programs still running, but i needed to go to a park i've never been to before (tell you later), so i had to find one that wasn't too far away from a park i'd never been to before.

anyway, we ended up at Button Bay State Park for the flora and fauna hike led by Stefan who is a very nice young man who has a nice way of leading a nature walk for a mixed audience.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

2019 venture vermont: identify a painted turtle and a snapping turtle


sometimes i go more than a year without a bona fide photographable turltle sighting, let alone one each of painted turtle and snapping turtle in one season. but i saw them this year.

actually i saw two snappers and a painted turtle, but one of each is good enough.

and here they are:

common snapping turtle
chelydra serpentina

painted turtle
chrysemys picta

Monday, September 02, 2019

2019 venture vermont: catch a butterfly or dragfonfly with a net

ok, technically this one is neither a butterfly nor a dragonfly. it is a damselfly, which ought to count for the purposes of the challenge because most people don't make the distinction.

i found this one on lake abenaki in thetford. it was my first time using my BRAND NEW PROFESSIONAL GRADE BUTTERFLY NET.

anyway, it's an eastern forktail (ischnura verticalis).

Sunday, September 01, 2019

2019 venture vermont: make a recording of a toad or frog's call

i kept trying to get a recording of some wood frogs i know, because that's a SOUND but for some reason every time i approached them with a recording device, they fell oddly silent.

i was able to get a recording of some peepers (psueudacris crucifer) and in the background are some grey tree frogs (hyla versicolor) if you listen closely.

just for funsies imma tell you that i do a pretty good impression of green frogs (lithobates clamitans) and that any conversation is pepped up a little by the addition of frog songs.

you can get away with this if you're a naturalist, i guess.


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