Dry vs. wet

Thursday afternoon was gloriously spring-like in southwest New Hampshire, with temperatures in the 60s and lots of sun. During my morning office hour at Keene State, I watched work crews beginning to build this year’s graduation platform: a certain sign of spring. On my lunch hour, lured by the weather, I took one of the campus walking trails over to the athletic fields, which are still drying out from snow season.

Fox sparrow

Keene State’s soccer field is bordered by the Ashuelot River on one side and an open, artificial wetland I call the Soggy Sink on another. It’s as if the architects who placed a soccer field right next to the river realized she would flood in the spring and whenever. Instead of fighting the river and the sogginess she brings, these landscape architects threw the Ashuelot a bone, leaving a square, clearly delineated hollow where water can pool and puddle. It’s an otherwise orderly spot that masquerades as “swamp” in the springtime, drawing mating wood frogs out of nearby riparian scrub and serving as an unintended water trap for errant soccer balls.

Song sparrow

I don’t know if those landscape architects who designed the Soggy Sink intended it as wildlife habitat: I suspect they primarily wanted a way of keeping the athletic fields dry, and giving water a place to pool was the easiest approach. And still, the Soggy Sink proved to be a richly lively spot when I walked around it on Wednesday: in the span of a lunch-hour walk, I noticed wood frogs quacking, a song sparrow singing, and a fox sparrow skulking. In the woods bordering both the athletic fields and Ashuelot, I heard a handful of (confused) spring peepers continuing into the daytime the peeps they pursue by night, and I saw several gnawed stumps that indicated beavers have at times conducted their own landscape architecture here.

Beaver sign

Campus athletic fields are where a college community gathers to root for the home team…and as I took a short lunchtime stroll on Wednesday, I realized how grateful I am to teach at a school where the “home team” includes beavers, sparrows of several kinds, wood frogs, and spring peepers. Keene State’s official mascot is the owl, and it seems owlishly wise to set aside space where all creatures can exercise their personal best, even in a season when the wet and wild sometimes exceed their bounds.

Flooded walking trail

The granite stub at bottom right is a mile-marker from one of Keene State’s walking trails, this one currently serving as an Ashuelot River overspill. Before retracing my steps back to main campus and my afternoon classes, I saw a pair of mallards swimming over what passes for a walking trail in drier seasons. I guess that makes this a “multi-use, multi-species” path.