Lathrop’s Tough “Old Hickories”

by Barbara Walvoord

Here’s a trivia quiz: Which U.S. President was called “Old Hickory” and why?

We have some shagbark hickories on our land right now (Carya ovata). And yes, like Andrew Jackson, who survived brutal battles in the war of 1812 to become our seventh president, these trees are very tough, and they’ve escaped many potential dangers.

There is a line of shagbark hickories on the east campus Mulberry Meadow. Walk behind the Mulberry Lane homes and take the mowed grassy path across to the far side of the meadow, and then west along the row of trees that separates our property from the property next door. In that row, look for the trees with the very shaggy bark.

These hickory trees are survivors. They escaped being cleared to make room for crops, either on our side or on the neighboring field. They escaped being cut down for their hard, shock-resistant wood Continue reading Lathrop’s Tough “Old Hickories”


Trail Maps are Ready!

by Barbara Walvoord

It’s an absolutely gorgeous time to walk our land. We have 150 acres on the east campus and about 15 acres on the north campus of fields, meadows, brooks, and wetlands–peaceful, quiet, full of beauty. The Land Conservation Committee now offers trail maps.

East campus: Trail maps are available on a table in the far corner of the Inn mail room, in a clear plastic brochure holder, and also at We don’t have any official wheelchair-accessible trails, but our two easiest east campus trails (#1 and #2 on the map) have, I know, been traversed by residents in electric wheelchairs. Watch for our future announcements of hikes and electric-car rides on the trails.

North Campus: The end of Shallow Brook Drive is the starting point for our two trails. The east trail  is marked with white blazes and the west trail with blue. Both are rough trails, a bit hilly, with rocks and roots underfoot. Both trails terminate on Boggy Meadow Road in the Fitzgerald Lake conservation area. The Broad Brook Coalition publishes a map of the Fitzgerald Lake trails, and that map also shows our trail, which is marked as a single “loop trail” toward the bottom of the map next to the mileage key. You can get a paper copy of this map from the lobby at the Meeting House, or download it from

Every Thursday at 9:30 a.m., a group, “Hiking with Hans,” leaves the Meeting House. If you are interested in joining and need more info, contact Hans Van Heyst at

Happy hiking! Send photos and descriptions of your hikes–I’d love to incorporate them into our website and into future columns.

Sustainability at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

Lathrop residents and management are thinking a lot these days about being sustainable–in terms of occupancy, finances, services, buildings, and long-range plans. More broadly, Lathrop and the other Kendal affiliates all voted in 2009 to implement thirteen “sustainability initiatives” to help keep not only ourselves but our WORLD sustainable in the future.

  1. Establish, monitor, and maintain a community-wide, multi-faceted system of recycling or disposal of items such as, but not limited to, paper goods, containers, plastics, batteries, electronic goods, and hazardous materials.
  2. Establish a program to reduce office paper usage, and purchase of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC, an international non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization established to promote responsible management of the world’s forests) certified paper for all print materials.
  3. Establish a program to install and maintain native landscape.
  4. Provide building automation/energy management system for monitoring mechanical, electrical, and plumbing equipment for maximum efficiency.
  5. Develop an energy conservation plan that is measurable.
  6. Adopt a policy to purchase only EnergyStar appliances.
  7. Offer environmental educational programs and ongoing reminders and updates to staff and residents about environmental issues and opportunities.
  8. Establish a program for water conservation.
  9. Provide a program for incorporating the least possible use of herbicides and pesticides into landscape management.
  10. Provide a program for using green chemicals in all aspects of operations including housekeeping, laundry, and dining.
  11. Establish a “food philosophy” which includes incorporating local food in the dining program.
  12. Establish a program and practice of Green Building standards in any construction or renovation project including finishes and furnishing.
  13. Establish a sustainability workgroup in the community including residents and staff that actively works to monitor and advance the sustainability efforts of the community; includes a sustainability “library” with references and website links.                (

Continue reading Sustainability at Lathrop

Witch Hazel: Blooming for Halloween at Lathrop

By Barbara Walvoord

Isn’t the blooming season past? Nope. One native shrub (or small tree) is just now blooming–witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana).

On the east campus, walk along the woods edge next to Basset Brook road, between the Inn and Mulberry Lane. Among the trees, you’ll see a beautiful yellow haze of delicate blossoms, each with multiple thin, ribbon-like petals.

“Witch hazel” is a recycled name, given long ago to a different species of tree in England, and reused by colonists for the tree they found here.

“Witch hazel” is also an ancient name, probably from the Old English wice, meaning weak or pliant, as indeed these branches are.

It’s a magical name, too, intimating witch-like powers, both as a medicine and as a divining rod for locating water. Blooming at Halloween, after several hard frosts, is magical by itself.

Both colonists and Native Americans used witch hazel as a medicine, and CVS still sells it. The factual, decidedly non-magical website Continue reading Witch Hazel: Blooming for Halloween at Lathrop

I’m Freezing!

by Barbara Walvoord

Now that we’ve had the first really hard freeze, all life at Lathrop must adapt.

Our hawks and butterflies will fly thousands of miles to bask in Mexican sunshine; our bobcats and chickadees will grow heavy fur coats or downy feathers and keep hunting to fuel their bodies; our bears will burn their summer’s body fat as they hibernate. Our mice will try to come indoors.

But some of our cold-blooded fish, amphibians, insects, bacteria, and fungi will manage to live in frozen water or mud.

How do they do that? They produce “ice-structuring proteins” that bond to the surfaces of ice crystals to change the structure of the ice or prevent its formation.

These proteins have been discovered during our lifetimes. A Norwegian scientist, in 1950, set out to discover how arctic fish can survive in water colder than the freezing temperature of their blood. Since then, ice-structuring proteins have been found even in plants.

We humans not only observe nature in awe, but of course we also try to capture it. Scientists are trying to extend crop growing seasons, raise farm fish in colder waters, treat hypothermia, or Continue reading I’m Freezing!

Serviceberries at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

All summer, we’ve feasted on local strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries–all done, now.

But as we walk our land, we see a huge store of berries still available for our birds, bears, chipmunks, and other creatures.

One of the most beautiful berry bushes at this time of the year is the native serviceberry, also known as shadbush or Juneberry (Amelanchier). Those odd names go back to colonial times, to human events tied to the cycles of nature.

“Serviceberry” trees unfold clouds of white blossoms just at the time when circuit preachers, immobilized by winter, could again visit the villages to lead worship services and funerals to bury the dead, who had been in storage all winter, awaiting the thaw, so graves could be dug.

The “shadbush” blossoms also herald the return of the immense schools of shad in New England rivers, swimming up from the ocean Continue reading Serviceberries at Lathrop

Decapitation at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

In July 2014, this column carried the headline, “Oops, we Mowed our Meadow.” That’s because, following an old schedule, our east campus meadows were mowed in July. Mowing so early in the season decapitated the wildflowers before most of them had set seed for next year’s black-eyed susans and asters. Mowing destroyed the cover for our rabbits, mice, and voles, which in turn would be eaten by our bobcat and coyotes. Mowing took away the nectar and pollen that our birds and bees need for migration. It destroyed cocoons of overwintering insects.

Now, in collaboration with our facilities team and our landscaper, our meadows and fields are mowed in October, and 1/3 of their area is mowed each year, with 2/3 left standing. This is the practice that naturalists recommend–selective decapitation.

Why mow at all? Because in New England, every meadow want to become a woods. A look out your car window around here easily demonstrates what we read–that more and more of New England is Continue reading Decapitation at Lathrop