Sunday, November 02, 2008

From earth’s wide bounds

Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day . . . . isn't this time of year when the veil between the living and the dead thins?

These seasonal reflections took me to Rock Meadow, one of my town's conservation areas. My colonial ancestors farmed a portion of this tract about 350 years ago. In walking over the mowed grass fields, I wondered how much this land has changed since the time that they pastured their livestock here.

These open fields? Local history indicates that this area was meadow, wetlands, and woods at the time of colonization.

Those clumps of Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)? With its beguiling Halloween colors, this invasive plant is the devil in disguise. This herbaceous colonizer arrived around 1850.

A fascinating study of Henry David Thoreau's diaries, written during his sojourn at nearby Walden Pond, indicates how much the New England landscape has changed over the past 150 years. Since the 1850's, 27% of the plant species at Walden have disappeared; 36% are near extinction. Lilies, orchids, buttercups, anemones, asters, bluets, violets, roses, dogwoods, and mints have declined at the expense of mustards, knotweeds, and non-natives (hello, bittersweet). Global warming is not just about melting ice-caps and a few stranded polar bears--it hits us here and now.

Even on a winter afternoon at Walden Pond.

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