Your Brain on Nature

 

Woodstock’s quiet Vondell Reservoir.

By Laura Power

Note to reader: This is Part I a two-part series on the fascinating book, “The
Nature Fix,” by Florence Williams.

There is a cure for one of the most virulent menaces of modern society, a
scourge that’s highly visible and openly accepted on almost every American
street. It’s present in nearly all homes and places of business. Every day,
American adults spend an average of about 11 hours in front of computers, smart
phones, tablets and televisions. For children, it adds up to 5-7 hours on average,
again, every day. Screen time continues to trend up, and not coincidentally, so
does obesity. Too much boob tube and iPhone impairs vision, cognitive acuity,
and sleep, stunts development of social skills, and can exacerbate attention
problems and anxiety.
Author Florence Williams says there is at least a partial remedy for the ill
effects of too much sedentary time indoors, an antidote that’s easy and fun. Even
a little time spent with the flora and fauna of nature, she says, can calm the mind,
lower blood pressure, improve creativity and lead to, well, happiness! Thankfully,
there’s plenty of opportunity to test and validate Williams’ findings here in
Woodstock.

Williams spent two years compiling 260 pages detailing experiences,
experiments, and statistics in “The Nature Fix,” her book about the beneficial
impact of small and large doses of nature on stress and other physical and
mental ailments. The research stems from two hypotheses: that humans are
inherently at home in nature because that’s where we evolved, and that time in
nature fortifies our brains with needed rest.
Williams’ quest to confirm the curative powers of nature took her to forest
therapy trails in Japan and Korea, up slickrock fins in Utah, across fitness trails in
Finland, and over rambling hills in Scotland. She ran whitewater in Idaho’s River
of No Return Wilderness and picnicked beneath the massive, man-made
Supertrees in Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. Along the way, Williams
interviewed neuroscientists, forest guides, psychologists and social scientists. To
document the impact of her adventures, she monitored hormone levels, heart
rate, blood pressure and other physical manifestations of well-being. She tested
effects on her creative and cognitive capacities. And, she paraded around in
various environments wearing an electroencephalogram cap to track brainwaves.
The bottom line is that Williams discovered that being in nature produces
both instant and ongoing effects. She learned that out in the green and quiet
wilds, the human body experiences an immediate, positive reaction. Within seven
minutes, the face relaxes and the heart rate lowers. After 20 minutes, blood
pressure drops and circulating cortisol (a stress response hormone) declines. At
50 minutes, cognitive performance improves.

Realizing these benefits consistently requires what seems like a modest
investment. Researchers that Williams met in Finland found that a minimum of
five hours a month in nature is needed to maintain restorative effects. That
seems like a reasonable chunk of time to carve out of the hundreds of monthly
hours many now devote to screen time.
Woodstock and environs, fortunately, offer a plethora of natural spaces
where residents can be among quiet, aromatic trees, sweetly warbling birds, and
gentle breezes to test their own reactions, and hopefully calm their brains.
In “The Nature Fix,” Williams cites noise as a near constant source of
stress in almost all environments, urban, suburban and rural. The world
continues to grow louder. Human-generated noise has increased two-fold every
thirty years, Williams reports, and roads have so fully penetrated the lower 48
that traffic can be heard in 83% of our land. The relentless roar of airplanes in
cities causes measurable declines in reading comprehension among school
children. Although much of Vermont is relatively quiet, here in Woodstock, racket
from trucks, cars, and motorcycles on Route 4 can be grating. For a stress-
relieving break from engine whine, try the blissful quiet of the Amity Pond Natural
Area State Park in nearby Pomfret. Its short trails run through ferned forests, past
small ponds, and over open fields. Enjoy an almost solitary ramble or simply sit in
one of the silent meadows and absorb the view of distant ridgelines.
The Vondell Reservoir in Woodstock is another place of subtle beauty and
near-absolute quiet. Walk a mile up to it on the unmaintained, forested Grassy
Lane, which begins opposite the Cox Reservoir and the Woodstock Aqueduct

Company garage on Cox District Road. On some mornings, a fine mist hangs
like a shroud over the lake’s fingers. On others, the glassy stillness of its surface
creates a flawless reflection of the surrounding trees and hills.
While man-made noise often irritates, certain sounds from the natural
world soothe. Wind, water, and birds are the “trifecta of salubrious listening”
writes Williams. For the gentle swoosh of wind and water, visit the back lawn of
the Woodstock History Center, on Elm Street. Spend a lunchtime idling at the
picnic tables set right by the Ottauquechee River. And in the warmer months,
enjoy the perfume of summer blooms wafting across the expanse of verdant
grass.
In “The Nature Fix,” Williams says that humans have a special kinship with
birdsong because we have more speech-related genes in common with birds
than we do with other primates. One of her experts recommends listening to the
birds for at least five minutes a day; we associate their chirps and tweets with
comfort and safety. There are a number of birding hotspots in and near
Woodstock. The Nature Conservancy’s Eshqua Bog, off Garvin Hill Road in
Hartland, is one of them. The website eBird lists more than 50 species sighted
there in recent months. A few of the more melodic include the Scarlet Tanager,
the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A visit to the
Eshqua Bog is particularly special during the two or three weeks in June when
hundreds of wild orchids bloom there.
(To be continued in next week’s edition of The Vermont Standard.)

 

Part II
The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park is Woodstock’s gem,
and the quintessential place to try the nature-immersion, sensory experience
called “forest bathing” that author Florence Williams touts in her book, “The
Nature Fix.”
The National Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides website lists
trained facilitators, but also offers advice for self-directed, solitary forest bathing.
Very important, it says, is that the experience should have no goals. Forest
bathing is not a workout, there should be no effort to “achieve” anything.
Transcendent immersion experiences reported by others are irrelevant and there
should be no attempt to duplicate them.
Pick a place in the National Park that is forested, preferably near a stream,
and that doesn’t require much physical exertion to move in. At the outset, pause
in one place for at least 15 minutes and become acutely aware of all of your
senses. Pick up a stone and feel it, listen carefully to all the sounds of the forest,
breathe deeply through your mouth to taste the pines and the maples and the
earthiness of the soil. Look about, for things that you haven’t noticed before.
Walk around slowly for another 15 minutes and perceive even the most subtle
movements: leaves flitting in the breeze, small animals rustling by, birds winging
from branch to branch. Have a conversation, out loud, with the trees, sticks,
stones, flowers, and other objects near you, and let them in turn inspire new
thoughts in you. Choose a comfy spot and just sit for another 15 or 20 minutes.
Watch an ant crawl across a fallen leaf or a bee flit among wildflowers. Leave

with a feeling of giving back. Sing a song or write a haiku or simply thank the
forest for being.
While forest bathing should be a gentle experience, “The Nature Fix” also
acknowledges the value of combining time in the leafy and wild outdoors with
exercise. It’s well documented, says Williams, that brisk physical activity boosts
memory, slows aging, mitigates anxiety, improves learning, and lightens mild
depression. Pairing exercise with restorative time in nature amplifies those
benefits. And, Williams encourages experimentation with ways to incorporate
outdoor exercise with other pursuits. The Mountain Road Trail to the Pogue in
the National Park, for example, could be an ideal venue for a walking meeting.
Why not discuss marketing strategies or product development in an atmosphere
known to relax the brain and open it to new ideas?
Or, instead of plopping onto chairs and couches, hold your next book
group meeting while hiking the Summit Trail at Mount Peg. At the top, drink in the
vista of pastures and orchards and ridgelines across the valley. It’s a view that
Williams might characterize as awe-inspiring; the kind that she says stimulates
curiosity and a more outward, helpful, collaborative focus.
Your brain, and your body, will love you for it.

We  Are A Button Up Hero Community!

By. Zachariah Ralph

In many ways weatherization is like infrastructure, very important but not appealing because maintaining something old is not as attractive as building something new.  It may not be the “sexiest” option, but creating more efficient homes is extremely important. In Vermont we have a tradition, we green up in the spring and button-up in the Fall. Button Up Vermont reminds us that tightening up our homes for the winter is just the thing to do.

Paige Heverly (Photo by Rick Russell)

Many homes in Vermont are over 100 years old making us the second oldest housing stock in the country. Because of their age, many homes are inefficient, allowing for heat and air conditioning to literally go right out the window. Creating a more efficient home, or weatherizing your home, will save you money. Many weatherized homes will see at least 25% in energy savings.

Weatherizing an inefficient home will not only save you money, it also reduces your carbon footprint. Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan wants to see us reduce our carbon emissions; one of its goals is to have 80,000 homes reduce their energy usage by 25% by the year 2020. Unfortunately, we as a state are not weatherizing fast enough and we are far from meeting our current goals, which is another reason why we all need to think of ways of tightening up our homes.

Not everyone can afford to pay out of pocket for weatherization upgrades, but don’t let that stop you there are many great programs around Vermont to help incentivize weatherization Projects.

Home Performance with Energy Star

The Home Performance with Energy Star program, administered by Efficiency Vermont, “is an incentive-based program to improve insulation and air sealing, plus heating and ventilation systems, to ensure safety and health.” Participants can receive up to $2,000 towards their home air-sealing project. The program starts and ends with an energy audit and blower door test. Visit the Efficiency Vermont website to choose a professional energy contractor to come and conduct an audit of your home to determine what you can do to start saving money on your energy bills.

SEVCA

The Capstone Community Groups offer the Weatherization Assistance Program to income qualified renters and homeowners.  If you qualify they will come and complete upgrades on your home at no cost to you. Contact them immediately if you think you qualify as the waiting list can be long.

COVER Home Repair

COVER Home Repair helps make homes more airtight, saving home owners money on heating.  They are willing to work in some way with all home owners and renters (with permission from landlords). COVER uses a sliding scale based on income to determine product costs. COVER works with qualifying home owners and volunteers to supply the labor at no charge.”
Mobile Home Replacement Program
Efficiency Vermont’s Mobile Home Replacement program works to incentivize mobile home owners to replace their old inefficient homes with more efficient and sustainable options like Vermod Homes or Irene Cottages. Efficiency Vermont will pay up to $10,000 have your old mobile home replaced, and also to lay a foundation for the new mobile home. They will also work with homeowners to find financing options for a new mobile home.

Weatherization is not only about adding insulation.  For many homes, simple free or inexpensive conservation and air sealing measures are the most cost effective means of increasing comfort, reducing heat loss and saving money. Here are some quick tips;

  • Put plastic film over windows ·Replace worn weather-stripping ·Plug holes in exterior walls ·Insulate outlets ·Tune up your furnace ·Get a programmable thermostat

This year Sustainable Woodstock will be hosting a number of Button Up events over the next couple weeks as part of Efficiency Vermont’s Button Up Hero weatherization program. As a Button Up Hero community residents can receive a free walk-through assessment, scope of work, and cost estimate from a qualified contractor vetted by Efficiency Vermont.  Residents sign-up by completing a brief survey before December 15. Walk-throughs will be completed between November and March, and Efficiency Vermont will offer prizes for residents who commit to a home energy project by Earth Day in April 2019. In addition, we will will host engagement activities and hand out free energy efficiency kits!

We hope you can join us to learn ways to save money on your energy bills, reduce your carbon footprint and to live more comfortably! Join us for the upcoming event.

Join us for discussion, workshops, FREE LED lightbulbs. These workshops are for Vermont homeowners to help them better understand the steps they can take to make their homes more energy efficient and comfortable in very clear language and simple steps. We encourage Vermonters across the state to take action by “Buttoning Up” their homes.

Contact Sustainable Woodstock for more information about these events. Zach@sustainablewoodstock.org, or 802-457-2911

Just do One thing: Attend a Button Up event!

A Harvest of Wild Nuts

by Michael J. Caduto

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Gathering wild nuts is a longstanding tradition among Western Abenaki. Historically, when garden soil became depleted and villages were moved to new ground, piles of acorns, butternuts, chestnuts, black walnuts, hazelnuts and others were placed around the new home site. Squirrels gathered and buried the nuts in secret caches. Stores that were forgotten grew orchard-like groves of “wild” nuts around the lodges.

 

The large number of squirrels foraging this year’s abundant nut crop show that this is an excellent year to gather. Eating wild nuts will also decrease your carbon nutprint*, especially considering the energy required to grow cultivated varieties, the fuel needed for transport, and the heavy use of packaging.

 

Butternut is used in everything from cakes to fudge. The Latin genus, Juglans, means “Jove” or “Jupiter” acorns, after the Roman god of the sky. Colonists boiled husks to render a yellow-orange dye for wool. Butternut grows in open fields, hedgerows, and young woodlots and bears oblong fruits. Although a canker (fungal disease) has stricken many of our butternut trees, some stalwart survivors still bear nuts, with sticky green husks covered with short brown hairs. Inside each husk is a stubborn shell that requires a nutcracker, hammer or rock. I once met a man who folded the nuts into a sheet and ran them over with his car. Nutmeats can be boiled to extract the oil. Butternut meal also makes a rich-tasting flour.

 

Squirrels, birds and deer devour beechnuts almost as soon as they ripen, or stash them in stonewalls, holes or hollow logs in anticipation of winter. Beech comes the Anglo-Saxon boc, meaning “word” or “letter,” and from which “book” is derived. Prior to papyrus, beech bark was used as a writing tablet. A stylus pushed over the bark tracked along the flow of grain, so circlular shapes had to be formed as a graduated series of corners. Thus, Gothic writing evolved as letters composed of angles, rather than curves.

 

American beech bears nuts annually, setting a heavy crop every third year. Two to three, 3/4-inch, triangular nuts nestle inside each bristle-covered husk. Nuts can be roasted and eaten out of hand, pressed to obtain the oil or dried and ground into flour.

 

Hickory nuts yield more meat than beechnuts. The sweetest nuts come from shagbark hickory—named after its peeling plates of bark. Each tough, four-parted husk encloses a thick shell around a tasty nut that can be eaten out of hand or substituted for walnuts when cooking.

 

Oak trees commonly grow alongside hickories. But all acorns are not created equal. Those from the white oak group—including white oak, swamp oak and chestnut oak—have white meats that are best for eating. The leaves of white oaks have rounded lobes and tips. Trees in the black oak group—such as black oak, red oak and scarlet oak—have sharp-tipped leaves and acorns that contain too much bitter tannin to eat without excessive boiling.

 

Gather white oak acorns soon after they drop, remove the shells and boil until the water turns brown. Drain and repeat, then put the nuts in a well-ventilated place to dry. Nuts can then be roasted and eaten plain or ground into a flour-like meal, molded and cooked into bread. Acorn bread is still baked in southern Italy and many cultures use acorns for high-protein fodder.

 

Filberts (hazelnuts) are also popular in Europe. Swedish folklore says anyone holding a hazelnut rod becomes invisible. Colonial women coming of age named each hazelnut after a desirable young male acquaintance. When these nuts were thrown onto the glowing coals of the hearth, the name associated with the hazelnut that flared brightest was that woman’s “fate” in marriage. We still say someone “holds a flame” for the object of their affection.

 

Wild American Hazelnut grows to 8 feet in hedgerows and moist woodlands. Beaked Hazelnut, which ranges farther north, sports a protuberance at the top of the husk. Ripe nuts have thin shells and sweet meats that can be eaten raw, roasted, or ground into flour. For a rich cookie treat, find a recipe for “pecan sandies” and substitute ground hazelnuts in place of pecan meal.

 

Add wild nuts to your repertoire and you’ll enjoy a rich gustatory tradition of living close to the land.

 

*carbon nutprint: A small portion of a nut-eater’s carbon footprint.

——-

Article adapted with permission from “Through a Naturalist’s Eyes: Exploring the Nature of New England” by Michael J. Caduto (University Press of New England, 2016)

 

What to do with your household hazardous waste?

by Amanda Kuhnert

Every week we place our trash and recyclables on the curb for pickup or deposit them at the town transfer station. But what about our household hazardous waste? According to the EPA, the average home can accumulate up to 100 pounds of hazardous waste. Improper disposal of these materials poses serious health, safety, and environmental risks.

What does this include? Medicines, chemicals, paints, lightbulbs, spray cans, fertilizer and pesticide containers, batteries, automotive products, and shoe polish. When these items end up in a landfill, they eventually seep into the environment, contaminating our air, water, and food.

There are steps you can take to reduce toxic chemicals in your home and limit the negative impact of hazardous waste on the natural world. Here are some ideas:

  1. Limit your purchase of products with hazardous ingredients. For example, opt for a plunger or plumber’s snake instead of drain cleaner. Use natural cleaning products like diluted vinegar and lemon juice for glass, countertops, and furniture. This site has some great recipes for homemade household cleaners: www.naturallivingideas.com/homemade-cleaning-products.
  2. Use eco-friendly fertilizers and biopesticides, derived from animals, plants, bacteria, fungi, and minerals. You can pull weeds by hand, use food-grade diatomaceous earth to get rid of insects, and ward off bugs with garden fabric and row covers.
  3. Choose water-based paints and polishes that contain no or low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These products are better for your health and the environment, and they’re easier to recycle. Info: earth911.com/recycling-guide/how-to-recycle-paint.
  4. Wash your clothes with a “green” laundry detergent. One of the major threats to marine life is nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), byproducts of a common ingredient found in many laundry detergents. Thankfully, there are a number of NPE-free detergents available.
  5. Dispose of auto products safely. Never pour motor oil, antifreeze, or gasoline down the drain, where it can contaminate fish and water supplies. To learn how to properly dispose of these materials: www.earth911.com/recycling-guide/how-to-recycle-automotive-fluids.
  6. Don’t put batteries in the garbage. Mercury and cadmium in batteries can be dangerous to humans and the environment, and car batteries placed in landfills release lead and sulfuric acid into the earth and water. Join the Vermont Battery Collection Challenge: call2recycle.org/vermont.
  7. Recycle energy-efficient lightbulbs, such as CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs, which can release mercury when they end up in a landfill or incinerator. There are other materials in the bulbs that can be re-used. To find out where to recycle bulbs: earth911.com/recycling-guide/how-to-recycle-cfls.
  8. Bring your toxic products to a household hazardous waste collection and drop-off day in your community. See this page for information about an upcoming event in Woodstock.

Another household product you’re wondering about? The website Earth911 (www.earth911.com) is an extensive recycling database listing about 350 products and how to dispose of them properly. You simply type in the material you’d like to recycle and your zip code to find recycling locations near you. You can also call 1-800-CLEANUP for the same information.

BOX:

HED: Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day
The Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste Management District (GUV) will hold its last household hazardous waste collection of the year on Saturday, Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Woodstock Town Highway Garage, 2576 West Woodstock Road. The event is open to all residents of the GUV District and the Town of Hartford. Businesses of any size are required to call in advance and pre-register. For more info call 674-4474 or email hgillett@swcrpc.org.

DO JUST ONE THING: Read product labels for disposal directions or visit Earth911 to find out how and where to recycle hazardous materials.

Sources: epa.gov, earth911.com

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