Time spent at the site oscillates between contemplative, observational, and social modes. I make every effort to visit the site at least once per week, and frequently spend time shooting video, writing, observing, doing contemplative/meditation exercises, and documenting observations, often combining site visits with extended walks around the field station. Sometimes I do nothing at all for significant stretches of time, and just try to simply be in the forest and with the tree. My collaborator, naturalist Kate Wellspring visits the site regularly too, and has created a thorough botanical survey of the area. We have tracked bird, animal, fungi, and some invertebrate species, and installed a wildlife camera at various locations around our site. We've tracked the progress of the many red oak seedlings sprouting around the base of the tree, and Kate propagated some acorns from the tree, raising them in pots for a couple of seasons, and then planting them in six locations around the field station. The pictures below give a sense for some of our activities and observations. It is hard to capture the meaning and richness that the site has taken on for us over these last three years. The tree and the forest have been great teachers and provided occasion for rich conversation, learning, and reflection. This work has been supported and enhanced by a sustained project of self-education in the areas of natural history, forest ecology, climate crisis, and environmental philosophy.


Part 1: at the tree

set a timer for five minutes

stand in front of the tree with both hands on it

breathe deeply and slowly, feeling your breath fill your whole body as you inhale (draw air in through the tree)

then feel your breath filling the volume of the tree as you exhale

inhale (receive) and exhale (give)

stop when timer ends

(consider reciprocity)

Part 2: at home

read about photosynthesis, respiration, and carbon sequestration

Increase your understanding of these processes

consider the carbon cycle and its role in climate crisis

Part 3: back at the tree

repeat part 1 with increased knowledge and consideration of material reciprocity

Our subject, the Red oak, estimated to be 75-100 years old, measured at 85 feet tall and 24" diameter at 4. Pictured here in summer 2019.

The site itself is a typical patch of second-growth New England forest, and includes red oak, white pine, hemlock, black cherry, american beech, red maple, yellow, grey, black and white birches, white ash, striped maple, and a number of other trees, in addition to a rich diversity of understory plants and shrubs. Naturalist Kate Wellspring has been creating a botanical survey of the site starting in Summer 2019.

The tree at the height of autumn color, 2019.

a clear day in winter

The vernal pool about twenty feet from the tree supports a diversity of wildlife and plants, fungi, and mosses.

A northern waterthrush at the vernal pool, June 2019

a White-tailed deer fawn browsing for something to eat on the surface of the dried-out vernal pool (wildlife camera photo)

the process of mapping the site for the botanical survey

naturally seeded oak seedlings at the foot of the oak tree, photo by Kate Wellspring

Kate counting seedlings from the acorns produced by the oak every Fall

birding at the site provides a regular excuse to avoid worldly responsibilities

a crude mapping process provided a way to begin understanding our chosen site

an eighteen-foot tree stand we erected in a nearby white pine, so we can better see into the forest canopy

a break in the forest canopy, photo by Kate Wellspring

oaks handle cold feet well enough

nicknamed the "hotel tree" (aka "air-b-n-tree"), this diseased and dying white pine on the site has been extensively mined by pileated woodpeckers, and frequently each cavity hosts a different invertebrate "guest." occasionally mice also use the cavities, and these provide an attraction for owls. no trip to the site is complete without a visit to the hotel tree.

hotel tree, standard non-smoking accommodations. Amaurobius ferox, or black lace-weaver spider. photo by Kate Wellspring.

a flying squirrel on the "hotel tree" (wildlife camera photo)

a black bear on the site near the "hotel tree" (wildlife camera photo)

Uvularia sessifolia, or "wild oats," a native Spring wildflower. Photo by Kate Wellspring.

Cypripedium acaule, or pink lady slipper, a native wildflower, photo by Kate Wellspring

Polygaloides paucifolia, or gaywings, a native wildflower which conveniently blooms during Pride month, photo by Kate Wellspring

a red eft at the site, juvenile stage of the Eastern newt

Ganoderma curtisii, a wood decaying fungus. photo by Kate Wellspring

ghost pipe is a non-photosynthetic plant. It gets its nutrients from the mycelial fungal network, fed by the photosynthesis of nearby trees. a tangible reminder of the interconnectedness of forest organisms.

Acronicta radcliffei larva, aka Radcliffe's dagger moth, photo by Kate Wellspring

Osmundastrum cinnamomeum, or Cinnamon fern, first appearing in the Spring. Photo by Kate Wellspring.

ferns and moss growing on a decaying log at the site. life and death cycle into one another in the forest. photo by Kate Wellspring.

Kate propagated several acorns from the tree we are studying, overwintered the seedlings for 1-2 seasons, and in the Fall of 2021, we were able to plant six offspring from the tree in good locations around the field station.

getting tree seedlings in the ground is very satisfying, and provides a reason to feel hopeful despite all the challenges these small plants will face. good luck, little ones!