Walk #5: Vernal Pools (and Hemlock Harkness)

Kids on logs

We approximate a Harkness table. Thanks, Crazy Creek!

We approximate a Harkness table. Thanks, Crazy Creek!


The day is cloudy and the soil is moist as we get off the Red Dragon and head into a portion of Exeter’s woods that I have never visited before. We are in search of vernal pools, the ephemeral collections of water that form in the spring where frogs come to chill and spawn. I smell the dead grass as we cross the fields into the forest, and sense the green sprouts venturing out into the open in the cold weather


I look and smell and hear, and I’m slightly frustrated by how ineffective I am. Mr. Bre is quick to point out deer tracks, something that I had originally dismissed as merely wet soil. And as we progress into the woods, Mr. Bre again points out that a deer has scraped against a small shrub; I note in my journal as Mr. Bre explains, “something for mating.” I don’t completely understand, and I begin to wonder how people like him and Claire Lesley Walker see so much. Is it because I’ve spent so much time in the city? Yet even in the city, I believe I am observant; I notice the ways buildings are built and stand, people’s expressionsand innuendos within the urban landscape. But when I am in the land, I feel lost and unsure how to look, interpret.


We get some time to go off on our own. I find the nearest tree, and I just stand there to look and listen. The branches on the lower portion of the tree are dying, and some stick out as if they were demented arms. The wind blows, and I hear the creaking as the tree sways with the wind. I look up, and notice how the tree’s creases get less defined as I progress to the top. The tree is so tall, sturdy, in place, yet so temporary, and I find comfort in that when it dies and rots away it will join the earth and revitalize into something new. The urban environment, made of concrete and metal, appears so permanent, stuck in its place, unable to grow or evolve, to disappear with time. Thirty years from now, the apartment buildings in the city back home will stand, stuck in a different age.


Perhaps we have come to look for vernal pools to early; no frogs today. 



Some more notes from the day:


I hear the chickadee! It’s calling, and another squeaker responds.


We find deer droppings that look like beans.


The sound of the cars and traffic is inescapable.


Krissy points out the wooly adelgid on hemlocks, that arelike poison to the woods.


And right as we are about to leave, we see a blue heron fly over us. What an end to the excursion.


Lastly, we come together in an oval circle and Harkness in the classroom that is the forest.

-Brian Byun  



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