Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Field Trip: Proctor

Just before Christmas, Mo and I headed down to the old quarry town of Proctor, located in the Vermont Valley just outside Rutland. While the heyday has come and gone, the quiet town is now home to the Vermont Marble Museum. Old abandoned quarries and an amazing mill next to the dam. It's part of a line of limestone/marble quarries that runs, well pretty much down the east cost down into the great caving belt in Kentucky. Mo's done a lot of cave exploration and I recently have been to a few, all in limestone. A lot of excavations - whether as a quarry or road cut - exposed old cavernous fractures in rock, slowly etched away by acidic rain water. These hidden caverns are called karst topography, which I wrote about previously.

Because the substrate - rock and cement here as there's basically no soil - is so rich in nutrients from the limestone, moss readily grows on the concrete slabs and inside of the old mill, which is empty of its former occupation and currently used as storage for RVs and boats.

The water weaves intricate patterns on concrete structures. The acidity of the rain draws out calcareous elements, slowly depositing them in fissures and grooves, and along the bottoms of tiny ledges.

Marble floor tiles with a paper birch emerging from the ruins
It is one of the strangest places I've ever been. The town was swimming in marble. And the built everything out of it. Even in the crappy little office in the image above the floor tiles were decadently made out of marble. As with the moss, the calcium rich substrate allows trees to grow in odd places and deal more readily with shade that would otherwise stress them too much to allow them to grow. In the above photos there's a birch tree growing between tiles and we found them growing throughout the building and on the roof.

The bedrock geology map below shows the town of Proctor composed of and surrounded mostly by north-south running bands of dolostone and marbles. These are the same rocks that jut out along the cliffy edge of Lake Champlain.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Field Trip: Mud Pond in Williston

Grumpy old cattail herma
Mud Pond has been on my bucket list for a few years now, since I heard about the microburst damage there. Last week I finally made the trek out there with my sister, and wow was it totally worth it. We hopped off the trail after about a 100 yards following a set of gray squirrel tracks. It broke out of the hemlocks into the open of a red maple swamp. We quickly switched to a gray fox trail, which crossed fisher, mink, long tailed weasel, and red fox! The tracking was totally amazing with a ton of different habitats woven together.

The fox lead us down to a creek which ultimately drained into Mud Pond proper. There's a great mix of American elms and green ash in with the red maples. The ice on the creek was gorgeous and we spent a while photographing it before heading out on the dam to explore the old, abandoned beaver lodge. The mud caking the outside had largely washed away and we could poke our heads in to see the feeding platform. It's not often you get to look inside an old lodge, so that was wonderful. The rim of the pond is a dense tangle of cattails and sedges that as the land slopes up grades into an even denser tangle of alders and then maples.

Possibly a goldfinch nest in a speckled alder
The highlight was towards the end where I saw a long swoop carved gently into the snow. It started in a little patch between hemlocks about 4 feet before ending in a flurry of little squirrely tracks. These circled around themselves for awhile before disappearing up a tree. I've never seen definitive flying squirrel tracks, so it made the whole day worth it. Plus there were several bird splatterings on the snow filled with snow fleas (a type of springtail)! We wound up getting completely and utterly turned around for some reason, but eventually made our way back to the car.