Category Archives: Observing Our Land

Loners Go A-Courtiin’ at Lathrop

Loners Go a-Courtin’ at Lathrop

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for March 24-31, 2018

Woodcocks are loners.  The dads mate with multiple females and take no responsibility for child rearing. The moms lay their eggs on the ground.  If the eggs are threatened, mom may feign injury to draw away the intruder, but is quite quick to abandon the eggs. Mom feeds the babies for a week, and then it’s out on your own, kids.  During the summer, woodcocks mostly stay to themselves, walking along the forest ground, eating a paleo diet—meat (from worms, spiders, beetles, ants, and thousand-leggers), with a few salad greens on the side.  When disturbed, woodcocks remain still, their mottled coloring making them almost invisible. Continue reading Loners Go A-Courtiin’ at Lathrop

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Farming Lathrop Land: A Long History

Seeds are for sale now at our local stores. Our community gardeners are planning their spinach, beans, peas, tomatoes, and squash.  We’re part of a very old farming tradition.  The old barbed wire on our land, as well as an old manure spreader abandoned in an east campus field, reminds us that European colonists farmed our Lathrop land for several centuries.

But in fact, agriculture on Lathrop land goes back even farther. Early European settlers tended to see the land they found as a wilderness, because it did not look like the farms they left behind in Europe.  But they were wrong.  The land they found in the Connecticut Valley was actually an extensive and well-regulated agricultural system that provided the basis of the diet of the native American tribes who lived here.

European settlers did not see the native American farms because women did the farming, and because the fields looked messy to European eyes.  English settlers assumed that only men farmed, and that the work of men was much more important, so they were blind to the fact that an Indian woman might be working up to 2 acres, raising 25-60 bushels of corn. Farming contributed up to three-fourths of total calories consumed. Continue reading Farming Lathrop Land: A Long History

Water, Water, Everywhere

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, February 17-23, 2018

“Water, water, everywhere,” part of a line from Coleridge’s 18th-century “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” is undoubtedly quoted (perhaps unwittingly) by our architects and planners at Lathrop’s east campus these days, as they plan new buildings that must avoid our land’s extensive web of streams and wetlands.

But our water is much more than an irritating limit on our building plans.  Like Coleridge’s mariner, we face a much more complicated paradox.  He and his fellow sailors, becalmed at sea and out of drinking water, have “water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” The mariner has killed an albatross, and the poem explores the disastrous outcome of this violation of nature and of life.  To be redeemed, the mariner must come to a deeper, more reverent view of his world, its water, and its creatures. Continue reading Water, Water, Everywhere

Open for Breakfast

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Jan. 6-12, 2018

After much planning, sawing, hammering, and decorating, the Inn dining room is now open for breakfast for our human residents, who can descend on a cold winter morning to enjoy their eggs, toast, and fruit.  But there are other breakfast buffets at Lathrop–for our birds.

For several years, Sharon and I have been setting up a breakfast buffet around our home on Huckleberry Lane.  The first thing we did was to remove the invasive Oriental bittersweet vines that were strangling a row of crabapple trees across from our front yard.  The trees are now thriving and loaded with fruit.  Then we planted a native winterberry bush, now full of bright red berries that typically last into the winter (hence its name), and provide important food for birds. Continue reading Open for Breakfast

Giving Thanks at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Nov. 24 – Dec. 1, 2017

At Thanksgiving feasts, family members sometimes take turns saying what they’re thankful for.  So I asked our Lathrop family of creatures:

A chickadee:  Thanks for putting in native plants near the Inn and in some cottage gardens.   I need about 6,000 insects, mostly caterpillars, to raise my brood next spring. I expect you’ve read the scientific findings that I know from experience: the native plants in your gardens will provide many more caterpillars than the old alien plants did.

A hawk:  Thanks for not mowing our Lathrop meadows until late autumn.  When you used to mow in mid-summer, you destroyed the cover for mice, voles, and other creatures that I needed to build up Continue reading Giving Thanks at Lathrop

Lathrop’s Quiet Vernal Pools

by Barbara Walvoord

First Printed in Lathrop Lamp Post, Nov.  18-24, 2017

Last spring, our vernal pools were jumping with visible life.  Mating wood frogs quacked in a loud chorus.   On rainy nights, salamanders paraded en masse to the pools from their woodland borrows and rockpiles. New-hatched fairy shrimp darted about in the water. Later, tadpoles and baby salamanders popped out feet and developed lungs. Predators circled–turtles, snakes, owls.

All that springtime life and movement is a race against time, because, at least every few years, vernal pools, by definition, dry up in summer, creating an environment free of the fish that would otherwise eat the eggs of vernal pool creatures.  Fish-free is good, BUT–the creatures have to adapt to the summertime drying and wintertime freezing of the pool.  Fairy shrimp lay eggs that stay in Continue reading Lathrop’s Quiet Vernal Pools

Berries at Lathrop: Good and Bad

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post Oct. 7 – 13, 2017

Imagine you’re a bluebird, say, or a chickadee. You’ve lived happily at Lathrop all summer long, eating lots of insects and feeding them to your nestlings.

Unfortunately, with cold weather, insects are getting scarcer.  But nature has provided lots of nutritious berries on shrubs and trees, hanging conveniently above the snow cover, out of the reach of bobcats and housecats.

As a bird, at Lathrop you’ll find good berries and bad berries.  The good berries hang on native plants.  You’ve co-evolved with these Continue reading Berries at Lathrop: Good and Bad