Green Sanctuary Ministry Team Blog

The Green Sanctuary Ministry Team’s theme this church year — “Into the Woods” — is a celebration of forests and woodlands. What better way to celebrate then going for a hike in the woods this coming Spring. Lucky for us there are woodlands right in our own back yard! Two Swampscott forests – Harold A. King Forest (off Nichols Street) and Charles M. Ewing Woods (right behind the church!).

The Harold A. King Forest is 47 acres of wild and rugged forested land that has been dedicated as public conservation land. The Forest is tucked up in northwestern corner of Swampscott. As described in an earlier Town Open Space Plan, “[f]rom its highest point, commanding a view of Nahant and Boston, the land slopes down to an extensive swamp with its unique plant life. The area’s outstanding feature is a terminal moraine, which coupled with a diverse growth of deciduous trees and shrubs, makes it an ideal are for nature study.”

Thickly wooded uplands are rare in Swampscott, and the Harold A. King Forest serves as habitat for both birds and mammals. The most prominent species in the Forest are second growth oak and beech trees, with witch hazel, sweet pepperbush, low and high bush blueberry, catbrier, and bayberry among a variety of other shrubs and vines occurring in the understory.

In the wetland area, duck weed, cat tail, phragmites, yellow birch, a variety of ferns, prince’s’ pine, and striped wintergreen flourish. Primary access to the forest is down an uneven slope from a small paved parking area at the end of Nichols Street. The condition of the forest is very good, with little litter or other signs of human impact – except for a rusty old shell of a car in the middle of the woods! See if you can guess the make and model?

Currently the forest is used for passive outdoor recreational such as bird watching, nature study, dog walking and hiking. There is a two-way paint-blazed loop trail recently revitalized done by a Boy Scout who added circular markers, and who also built a new kiosk near the entrance. (Note that passage at the end of the loop trail is more difficult because of the large boulders scattered throughout the area.)

Charles M. Ewing Woods is located along the southern boundary of the Stanley School and its athletic field. Access to the woods is from the school property, our Church’s parking lot, or the end of Forest Avenue Extension. On school side, there is a dirt path that runs between the Church parking lot and Forest Avenue Extension. There are also several smaller paths in the Woods, including a trail that loops up from this main path to the ridge in the center of the property and then back down to the main Path.

Currently, Ewing Woods is also used for passive outdoor recreational such as bird watching, nature study, dog walking and strolling on the dirt paths. Ewing Woods is of varied terrain. In addition to the ridge that runs roughly from east to west midway through the property, there is a low area north of this ridge that pools with water in the Spring. This low area may include uncertified vernal pools. There are mature oak and white pine in the Woods. Note that there is poison ivy throughout the Woods as well as invasive plants, notably, “burning bush”.

“Forest Bathing” — or Shinrin-yoku in Japanese — is the new trend in reducing stress and depression, lowering blood pressure, boosting immunity and improving overall mental and physical health.  For those unacquainted with the term, it essentially means taking a quiet, leisurely, mindful walk in the woods.  No water is involved.  Just soaking up the forest “atmosphere.”  That this type of activity would be good for both the mind and body should come as no surprise.  People have extolling the benefits of spending time in nature for centuries and modern studies just keep confirming them.

This year, the UUCGL’s Green Sanctuary Ministry Team will focus on its new theme “Into the Woods,” a celebration both on a global as well as a local level of the Earth’s wood lands and forests.

Forests have often gotten a bad rap in literature — think of Hansel and Gretel wandering through the woods or Little Red Riding Hood on the way to Grandma’s. They haven’t fared too well in the movies either — who could forget Dorothy and friends creeping through the haunted forest in the “Wizard of Oz.” Oh my!  Not to mention the just recently released Disney film “Into the Woods” inspired by the tales of the appropriately named Grimm Brothers.

No doubt, forests can be scary.  They’re often dark and mysterious.  Full of mischief.  Ferocious animals may be lurking behind every tree!  And unless there’s a yellow brick road running through the trees, you could easily get lost!

But there’s another side to forests, one that’s less frightening and more appealing.  That’s because when we go into the woods, we can get away from the hustle and bustle of civilization and enjoy the tranquility and beauty of nature.  It’s a place where we can follow a well-worn path by a meandering stream and discover woodland violets, marsh marigolds, and Jack-in-the-Pulpits, along with Lady and Cinnamon ferns.  It’s a place where we can observe hawks, cardinals, owls and woodpeckers up in treetops and where we can startle the deer, raccoons, and foxes that may be lurking behind the trees.

The forest is often a quiet place — a place for contemplation and introspection, a place where you can get lost in yourself.  Henry David Thoreau, as you may recall, “went to the woods because [he] wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life, and see if [he] could learn what it had to teach, and not, when [he] came to die, discover that [he] had not lived.”

And now studies show that taking a walk in the woods reduces stress and depression, lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity and improving overall mental and physical health.  Rather than being a dangerous place, it’s a healthful place!

This Church year, the Green Sanctuary Ministry Team will be going “Into the Woods,” for a celebration of the Earth’s forests.  We’ll also be looking at the threats to these special places – such as deforestation and global warming.  We’ll be planning a number of activities revolving around this theme so stayed tune for more information and check The Times, the Weekly Updates, and the GSMT Bulletin Board for upcoming events!

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
John Muir 

Beware!

Although there may not be lions, and tigers and bears in the woods, there are other things to beware of, such as ticks and poison ivy.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself against ticks including:

  • Avoiding brushy areas and dense leafy areas.
  • Wearing a hat, long sleeves and pants, and tucking pants into socks in areas where ticks are a big problem.
  • Checking your skin and clothes frequently for ticks.
  • Using an appropriate insect repellent.
  • Showering soon after being outdoors.

Also become familiar with what poison ivy looks like and then avoid any contact with it: