In today’s day and age, it is easy to become entrapped in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Our daily routine has become largely mundane and unexceptional. This is perhaps especially true for people who hail from urban and suburban areas. I contend that our society is actively experiencing a disconnect from nature and our biological heritage in contrast to past generations. Despite forces of materialism that have proliferated in many aspects of our lives and cultural, economic, and political status quos, we can still maintain a connection to our natural environment. Even within the bounds of concrete jungles (AKA cities and suburbs), this connection can thrive.
The autumn of 2014 began in a usual fashion. The academic semester began on the first of September and with that came acclimation to a new routine, course load, and work schedule. During the midst of the ups and downs of university life, I and fellow students from my program made time to visit and explore our natural surroundings with hikes up Mounts Sugarloaf and Monadnock.
Nestled within the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, Mount Sugarloaf lies within Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation and is comprised of two summits: North Sugarloaf and South Sugarloaf. It is accessible by public transportation. The mountain’s signature Sugarloaf arkose, a type of sandstone rock, is a testament to the region’s geologic history. Due in part to its close proximity to campus, we ventured out to hike the more popular South Mountain one balmy Sunday afternoon in October. Our ascent began a short distance off the parking lot, a main trail head. At first glance, it appeared to be a hop, skip, and a beat up to the top. While not an overly challenging climb, I certainly exerted more of a workout than I expected! The climb combined a unique blend of gentle upslopes, steep upslopes, and some flat stretches.
The summit offers spectacular, panoramic views of the Connecticut River and rolling farmlands. There is also an observation platform and a paved road for those unwilling or unable to make the climb. Mount Sugarloaf is a special haven for flora and fauna in the midst of a more suburban landscape. After our hike, we visited a local farm, which could be seen from the summit, and participated in a corn maze scavenger hunt!
Up, up, up to the mists of the mount
New Hampshire’s oldest conservation nonprofit, Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, owns and conserves Mount Monadnock and the surrounding area as part of their Monadnock Reservation. Located in southwestern New Hampshire, the reservation encompasses 4,519 acres. Mount Monadnock itself, topping off at 3,165 feet, has been designated as a National Historic Landmark since 1987. The mountain and its surrounding area maintains a historical link to transcendentalism as inspiration for Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abbott Handerson Thayer, and Henry David Thoreau. The society leases part of the reservation to the State of New Hampshire, which manages the land as Monadnock State Park. Monadnock State Park offers a plethora of outdoor recreational opportunities, which include picnicking, snowshoeing, hiking, birdwatching, walking, RV and remote camping, and cross-country skiing.
We began our ascent on a trail off the park store and main parking area. By no means were we the only hikers. I recall seeing couples, groups, and families of different ages, races, and ethnicities. This goes to show the diversity of people that value and directly use conservation properties! In the western hemisphere, Mount Monadnock is claimed to be one of the most popular hiking mountains. We lingered for a time on its summit, where it is easy to become disoriented amid the rocky landscape. Unfortunately the weather was a bit uncooperative, as grey clouds and fog prevented dramatic panoramas and picture-taking. Nonetheless, it was a sight to behold! There is a U.S. Geological Survey benchmark on the summit, which is a tribute to historical surveying.
Both of these hikes and the corn maze provided opportunities to reconnect with nature. The forests and mountains, with all their sounds, flora, and fauna, create a tranquil, soothing atmosphere. I find nature to be the most effective reliever of stress, worry, and anxiety.
Sustainable Waste Management
Forests also aptly demonstrate sustainable waste management through a zero-waste culture. Like society generates waste, so do forests. The difference is that the waste of one source becomes the resources for another source. Both decomposers and detritivores undertake this challenge. Forests do not operate landfills where wastes are stockpiled nor do they generate anything that is not biodegradable. During our hikes, I saw many downed trees and braches strewn about on the forest floor.
Necessary nutrients that would otherwise be lost and inaccessible to other biota are released back into the forest through decomposition. While society will indefinitely generate waste that is not biodegradable or takes a long time to biodegrade, we must better manage our waste to emulate nature’s example as much as possible. As the saying goes, “Nature knows Best”!
~by Angelo Teachout