This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
When Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published these words in his epic poem “Evangeline” in 1847, much of the eastern United States was still covered by a vast forest that extended from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River. Around that same time, Henry David Thoreau was exploring the Maine woods, about which he gave the following description, published later in 1864:
What is most striking in the Maine wilderness is the continuousness of the forest. . . . the forest is uninterrupted. It is even more grim and wild than you had anticipated, a damp and intricate wilderness. . . .
In his 1989 monograph A Forest Journey: The Role of Wood in the Development of Civilization, John Perlin tells of early encounters with this North American forest:
An Englishman on a tour of Virginia, shortly after the Revolution remarked that “an immense forest, almost without bounds” covered the state. . . . Another person who viewed the forests west of the Appalachians compared the trees to “a grand assemblage of gigantic beings which carry the imagination back to other times before the foot of the white man had touched the American shore.” . . . The oak commonly had “a straight trunk without a single branch for seventy feet; and from that point to the upper branch it has measured seventy feet more,” according to . . . a visitor to the Ohio country at the end of the eighteenth century.
Among the many birds, including the “princely eagle, and the soaring hawk,” it was the hummingbird that most enchanted the first English settlers. William Wood, describing the New England of the 1630s, called this bird “One of the wonders of the country, being no bigger than a hornet, yet hath all the dimensions of a bird, as bill and wings, with quills, spider like legs, small claws: . . . as she flies, she makes a little humming noise. . . .
But by the mid-1860s, this wondrous world of giant trees and enchanting birds had undergone an astonishing transformation. Perlin documents the rapid cutting down of this forest:
Almost 5 billion cords of wood had been consumed for fuel in fireplaces, industrial furnaces, steamboats, and railroads. [This] meant the cutting of about two hundred thousand square miles of woodlands, an area nearly equal to all the land that comprises . . . Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
In addition, Perlin writes, “approximately 25,000 square miles of forest went to build houses, ships, railroads, bridges, wagons, [and] waterwheels.” And “from 1850 to 1860, 31,250 square miles of timberlands” were lost to farm and pasture land, where livestock consumed any new plants, and with them all their vital genetic diversity. Perceptive observers voiced their concern about the consequences of cutting down the forests: the interruption of the natural water cycle, drought, torrential rains and the floods that carried away the topsoil, the silting up of waterways,
and—noted even then—changes in climate. It is the story of the past 3,000 years, as civilizations rose and fell—or were transformed—as they cut down their forests.
But the forests that remain continue to evolve, as they strive to hold on to the past. I remember a camping trip we took many years ago. One night, we saw small patches of the forest floor suddenly flash with a green phosphorescent light. In the forest there’s a lot more going on than we first see. For example, in The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, Peter Wohlleben refers to the work of Suzanne Simard, who has discovered how trees “talk” to each other “using chemical signals sent through the fungal networks around their root tips.” Wohlleben explains:
These fungi operate like fiber-optic Internet cables. Their thin filaments penetrate the ground, weaving through it in almost unbelievable density. . . . Over centuries, a single fungus can cover many square miles and network an entire forest. The fungal connections transmit signals from one tree to the next, helping the trees exchange news about insects, drought, and other dangers.
—what Dr. Simard has called the “wood wide web.” (See her fascinating TED talk at
This summer, around the first week in August, our Green Team is planning to lead a walk through Breakheart Reservation in Saugus, to explore its different habitats and diversity of plants, and to see what a modern-day “restored” forest looks like as it works to put itself back together. There is an easily accessible road that loops around the park, as well as winding trails that bring us to open granite ledges, two beautiful lakes, and wetland hollows next to the slowly meandering Saugus River.
And when we encounter a stand of bright crimson cardinal flowers, we may be just lucky enough to see a hummingbird, like the one that so enchanted William Wood almost four hundred years ago.
John I. Benson,
Delivered at UUCGL, April 8, 2018
Please join us on
April 8, 2018
the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn
101 Forest Ave. Swampscott, MA
Admission is free but donations gratefully accepted.
$5.00 single and $10.00 family
WINGMASTERS is a partnership of two people dedicated to increasing public understanding and appreciation of North American birds of prey. Julie Anne Collier and Jim Parks are both licensed raptor rehabilitators based in Massachusetts. Together they care for injured birds of prey. Most of the birds they rehabilitate can ultimately be released back into the wild, but in some cases the birds are left permanently handicapped. Julie and Jim are further licensed to provide a home for these non- releasable raptors, and to use them for educational programs. Since 1994 WINGMASTERS has presented over 5000 programs at schools, libraries and museums throughout New England.
WINGMASTERS programs are noted for a calm atmosphere that promotes learning. There is always an interactive exchange of questions and answers during the program. However, for the safety of the audience and the well-being of the raptors used in their programs, the birds are never free-flown and are never handled by anyone but Julie and Jim.
This event is sponsored by the Church’s Green Sanctuary Ministry Team, which is committed to building awareness of environmental issues and generating interest for personal lifestyle changes leading to a more sustainable world.
ALL ARE WELCOME!
Transforming a Multi-Billion Dollar Industry
Explore some of the world’s extraordinarily rich and biodiverse forests, as well as the people and wildlife that depend upon them. Then take a closer look at the global commercial forces driving large scale illegal deforestation in many of these precious areas, meet some of the local defenders fighting for their survival, and learn about efforts underway to ensure a sustainable future for these places, essential to our global climate and shared well-being.
(Photo credit: EIA)
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.
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
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.