Exploring February: A Snow Moon, Black History Month & A Winter Walk Among Bare Trees

Exploring February: A Snow Moon, Black History Month & A Winter Walk Among Bare Trees

Today we’ll experience the full moon of February, called the Snow Moon since February is typically our snowiest month of the year. After a relatively snowless January, I am hopeful the Snow Moon brings a bit more of the white stuff. I enjoy tracking animals venturing through our back pasture, as well as snowshoeing and downhill skiing (up north). The full moon today reaches its full peak of illumination at 1:30 pm when it will still be below the horizon. Look for it in the eastern sky around sunset.

Black History Month

As you know, February is Black History Month, a celebration of the central role African Americans played in the formation and development of the United States and a recognition of the obstacles faced while doing so. The celebration goes back to 1915, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, when historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. In 1926 the association established Black History Week to coincide with the Feb. 14 birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglas. In 1976 the week was expanded to include the entire month of February.

One great way to celebrate Black History Month is to travel to Norwich and walk the Freedom Trail. It is one of several excellent self-guided walks developed by the Norwich Historical Society. The Norwich Freedom Trail “celebrates Norwich’s rich, diverse, and largely untold story of African American heritage, highlighting notable people who played important roles in the movement to end slavery and advance civil rights before and after the United States Civil War.”

The trail features 18 stops focusing on the struggle for freedom, while also celebrating the accomplishments of the city’s Black community. The inspiring stories on the trail include abolitionists as well as contemporary citizens and are detailed in the Norwich Freedom Trail brochure. To get the latest information about all 18 stops on the trail, visit https://www.walknorwich.org/freedom-trail. If you prefer a printed brochure, you can pick one up at the outdoor information booth located at the Norwich Historical Society building at 69 E. Town Street in Norwich.

The Last Green Valley, Inc. was happy to partner with the Norwich Historical Society to make short YouTube videos about the Freedom Trail and one of the sites, The Ellis Ruley Memorial Park. Visit our YouTube page for those videos. At the Norwich Historical Society’s website you’ll also find additional videos and virtual lectures delving into the African American history of the city and greater region.

A Winter Walk Among Bare Trees

I enjoy a walk in the woods any day of any season. Spring brings out the early ephemeral forest flowers and songs of our migrant birds returning to their New England nesting grounds. Summer is when the woods come alive with deciduous trees in full leaf, fledglings launching from nests, and the constant hum of insects. The glorious autumn with its crisp air and brilliant fall foliage is always a popular time for a forest ramble.

Winter, despite the challenge of cold, ice and snow, really is a great time to venture forth to explore the woods, especially when the trees are bare of leaves and visibility deep into the forest is at its best. Here is what I look for during a winter forest walk, and a suggestion for a handy guide for identifying trees bare of leaves.

In winter the forest gives up its hidden secrets within the landscape. Stonewalls, old structures, interesting boulders, hillside rocky outcrops and ancient stone cairns are clearly visible for closer examination. Frozen ground makes for easier walking in areas that are too wet during other times of the year and provides an opportunity to explore areas usually unseen and difficult to visit. Winter is when frozen ponds safely allow me to examine beaver lodges and explore ice clad river edges with the thick mud and water trapped below the ice.

Individual trees seem to stand out even more, but sometimes it can be hard to tell what type of tree you are looking at. Examining the shape of the leaves is usually the easiest way to identify the species, but that is not the case for most trees around here from late November to late May. The outline and growth pattern of the tree can provide a clue, and the bark can help identify the type of tree. Evergreens and conifers are still showing their green boughs, making it easy identify white pine from red pine, hemlock, spruce and cedar.

Over the years I have learned how to identify several of our common deciduous tree by their bark. The birch species of yellow, black, grey and paper (white), when mature are easy since their names come from the color of their bark, and the family of red oaks versus white oaks each has a distinctive look and shape to their bark. Our region is dominated by oaks and other hardwoods, and anyone who has cut, split, stacked, and burned their own cordwood can usually identify red versus white oak by the bark and color of the split wood. But there are so many other species that, when devoid of leaves, I must make a very uneducated guess as to which tree it is.

Last year I purchased a new field guide to make it easier to distinguish 67 of our native and naturalized tree species from throughout New England. Written by Michael Wojtech, “Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast” is the new definitive guide for identifying trees in New England simply by examining the bark. I recommend this book for anyone interested in the trees of our region as it is packed with interesting information — beyond the section with full color photographs of each species.

The first few chapters examine the structure and ecology of tree bark, with easy-to-understand descriptions of the bark appearance and handy identification keys. It is important to read the first chapters and not just skip to the list of trees. There you’ll find interesting information about the bark structure with diagrams of the layers of what is in essence the tree’s vascular system, located between the outer layer of protective bark and the interior hard wood. The list of each species includes more than 400 color photographs, which are key to distinguishing the shape, colors, and textures of bark for each tree. Wojtech has brought forth the definitive guide to tree bark. For the budding naturalist or curious forest wanderer, it’s a handy guide to keep in your day pack.

Enjoy February, a season to remember and celebrate the achievements of African Americans and applaud their important role in the history of our country. It is also an excellent month for exploring our beautiful region, so bundle up, get outside, and enjoy your next outdoor adventure. We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. Please join me, and together let us care for it, enjoy it and pass it on.

Information for this column was gleaned from the “Old Farmer’s Almanac,” https://blackhistorymonth.gov, the Norwich Historical Society and “Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast,” by Michael Wojtech.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley and can be reached at bill@tlgv.org or 860-774-3300.

Exploring The Last Green Valley, Sunday, February 5, 2023

The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the following article.  The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.



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