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The Power of Place- Using the Beautiful Plymouth State University Campus as an Outdoor Learning Laboratory

Last updated on July 17, 2020

This Japanese Maple on the East side of Hyde Hall, with its brilliant red leaves doesn’t wait until fall to show it’s colorful foliage.

On March 7th, during spring break, 2020, I decided to travel to Colorado to see my 91 year old mother, fearing with the pandemic it might be my last opportunity to see her alive and well.  Never did I imagine I wouldn’t make it back to my home in Plymouth, NH until May 15th, ten weeks later.  I decided to drive home, not wanting to risk traveling through airports and a bus terminal. So, I drove back East with a friend and while in route learned my housemate thought she had Covid-19. I didn’t want to risk becoming infected by her, so I decided to shelter-in with my friend in the foothills of the Adirondacks on Lake Champlain.

Moving my classes online and operating from Westport, NY meant unfortunately, my forestry class did not get to offer tree tours or collect ecosystem service data on the trees on our campus as planned. Spring is always so exciting, as we watch the leaves and flowers on the trees bud out on the students’ trees. Each student researches a different species of tree on campus, we have 106.  Each year I learn more, along with my students, about the diverse trees and their interesting properties. The students team up to offer tree tours for other classes, roommates, and prospective students and their families. As my knowledge has expanded, so has my interest.  This seems to happen for the students too, which is one of my learning outcomes and a basic tenet of environmental education and life, you protect what you come to love.

I enjoyed exploring the property around my friend’s house in New York on our hikes. I learned new wildflowers and watched the developing egg masses in vernal pools. I found a grove of Shagbark hickory a tree I’d never seen before; it’s bark and nuts are unmistakable. I wouldn’t trade the sheltering-in experience, although I am sorry about the pandemic and the loss of lives. Maybe because of Covid-19, I am all the more appreciative of how much the cycle of the seasons is still the same, the mass of amphibians migrating to breed in ephemeral vernal pools and the sequence of different wildflower blooming to announce the arrival of spring.  Getting outside to see the wildlife blossoming was essential to boost my spirits as the news on the television spoke of so many human deaths.

I arrived back in Plymouth after the semester ended, but early enough that I didn’t entirely miss the show of color on the trees on campus.  My first day back, I walked around in awe, noting and taking photos of trees in blossom. I recently learned the Japanese word for the tradition of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers- hanami. I travelled to Japan last summer and found I love the mindfulness of the zen elements of the culture. After learning the word hanami, I don’t think I can ever look at flowers in quite the same way again. Exploring on a bike meant covering more ground than on foot, which meant appreciating more flowers- all colors against the lush green of mosses and lichens and the multiple shades of white, pink, magenta, and red of flowers on trees against a brilliant blue sky- a visual delight.

The pandemic this spring meant my Environmental Science and Policy students in Plymouth weren’t able to experience and enjoy firsthand the unique and colorful trees on our campus. So, I have decided to document and create a virtual fieldtrip to show off the beauty of the trees in blossom.

As of May 25th, the following species of trees on the PSU campus have beautiful flowers or colorful leaves- crabapples, Japanese maple, redbuds, serviceberry, magnolia, Korean Mountain Ash and more.  Below is a map and photos I captured to share and entice folks to stroll through the empty campus where it will be easy enough to socially distance from others. 

Now, more than ever I am appreciative of the power of place, and being able to use the Beautiful Plymouth State University campus as an outdoor learning laboratory. I feel fortunate that I have a job where I feel it is my mission to share this special place with students. With our Tree and more recently earned Bee Campus USA designations, my goal is to keep learning and contributing with my students and outside partners to understanding the value of the trees on our campus and the importance of creating pollinator friendly habitats. It isn’t hard to wake students up to the fact that our beautiful trees serve as homes and food sources for wildlife and pollinators are an essential part of the process. The information students learn and more importantly the ethic they develop regarding the stewardship of their surroundings are transferable to wherever they choose to live and work. This certainly sounds like an important 21st century environmental science and policy skill and attitude to master, all the more important in establishing a new, less impactful normal.

Just beyond the Japanese maple, also along the east side of Hyde Hall, are four Redbud trees, the first has the most flowers and is the most colorful.
Three colorful, flowering trees are located on the South West corner of Speare by the lower entrance, a magnolia with yellow flowers, another with pink flowers and a Mountain-Ash Korean with white flowers closest to the building.
The Crabapple outside the front entrance to Human Resources is in full bloom.
There are nine Serviceberry trees in bloom on the north side of Silver, opposite the front entrance and there is another Serviceberry across the street, in front of Draper-Maynard just planted last Arbor Day. The trees produce edible purple fruit call juneberries or Saskatoon berries which the birds love. These native trees are also commonly called Shadbush. With PSU’s new Tree Campus USA designation, one of our goals is to maintain a tree campus plan where we will only plant native species going forward. This is all the more reason to enjoy the many beautiful ornamentals we have.
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