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Alumnus Steve Grant offers a look
at the seasons in Connecticut
(April 5, 1999)
rom the first glimmer of spring, through the fullness of summer and the glory of fall, to the stark splendor of winter - the seasons in Connecticut are full of natural wonders for those who take the time to look.
Steve Grant, nature writer for The Hartford Courant, spent a year in the Yale Myers Forest in northeastern Connecticut doing just that.
On March 28, he showed slides of the experience to an audience of about 80 people, his fourth talk in the past eight years for the Sunday Lecture Series presented by the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at UConn.
In addition to writing articles about nature, each year Grant, a 1974 graduate of the University with a bachelor's degree in English, embarks on an extended outdoor project, reporting in The Hartford Courant about his experiences as he goes.
In 1997, he kayaked the perimeter of Long Island Sound to learn about the many relationships between man and the urban sea, climaxing with his eight-hour battle to cross the Sound from Long Island to the Connecticut shore against the powerful forces of "the race," which can sweep a person or boat out into the Atlantic.
He has also canoed the entire Connecticut River, traveled the New England shoreline from Canada to New York, walked the 360-mile route of the legendary Leatherman and hiked hundreds of miles of the Appalachian Trail. He is now writing a series about trails in Connecticut's State Parks.
During his year in the forest, Grant camped several days each month to observe the seasonal changes. He saw great horned and barred owls, painted trilliums, herons in their rookery, beavers and over 20 varieties of trees. And he almost saw a moose.
He arrived in June 1996, just after Hurricane Bertha, to find Bigelow Brook raging over its banks. Usually it is a calm waterway at that time of year. Pond skimmers were plentiful then, as were Azure butterflies in July.
Though Grant spent the majority of his time alone, he also sought the expertise of scientists, including Professor David Wagner and graduate student Neil Sawyer, both in UConn's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
"I received a wonderful natural history lesson from Dave Wagner, who identified hundreds of insects on the wing - a violet dancer damselfly, a Halloween pennant dragonfly, a slaty skimmer. I would have been searching through a field guide for hours to identify just a few of them," said Grant.
As the two men walked along a brook, Wagner told Grant that dragonflies evolved in pre-dinosaur times, and Connecticut's 145 species are bellwethers of environmental quality.
In 1996, white pine cones were abundant. About once every 12 years, each white pine tree produces hundreds of cones to ensure survival of the species by producing more seeds than the birds, squirrels and other animals can eat.
In September, wild grapes, which grow in disturbed places, blanketed the forest. A brilliant October day atop the summit of Turkey Hill revealed the spectacular colors of fall.
The sound of the Common Raven, which is - despite its name - uncommon in Connecticut, filled the silence of the forest throughout the year, said Grant. Ravens are forest birds that look like crows but are twice as long.
Winter was mild between two major snowstorms. During a December snowstorm, Grant trekked through 14 inches of snow, roads blocked by fallen trees, and extensive damage in the forest.
Signs of spring came in April with an unidentified green plant peeking through the forest litter, spring peepers, wood frogs in vernal ponds and returning migrating songbirds.
Grant also hiked the Nipmuck Trail. He survived sub-zero winter nights, and hot humid summer days. He quoted Henry David Thoreau and Frederick Jackson Turner, and retraced the path of The Thomas Hooker Party, which in 1636, traveled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony through the southern tip of the forest, to settle Hartford.
The 8,500-acre forest, mostly farms when the property was donated in the 1930s, is managed by Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. One of Grant's slides showed a huge lichen- and moss-covered boulder topped with smaller boulders. Long ago, he said, a farmer in a hurry had piled up the stones to get them out of a pasture or hayfield.
Grant's only disappointment that year was the moose.
"A moose in Connecticut is a very rare thing," he said. Every month, he went to where someone had just seen the moose but, despite all the unusual things he found in the forest, he never saw it.
Elizabeth Lucas, '02