Teaming up with Thoreau

The Smithsonian Magazine has a an excellent article this month, Teaming Up With Thoreau by Michelle Nijhuis, that does a beautiful job of conveying what’s so special — and what’s changing too fast — in my small part of the woods. An excerpt follows or you can read the whole article on

“Even in the mythic American landscape of Concord, global warming is disrupting the natural world. Since Thoreau’s time, average temperatures have risen more than four degrees Fahrenheit because of local urban development as well as global climatic warming. Concord, once a farming community, is now a busy suburb—Boston is just a half-hour drive from Walden Pond—and expanses of warmth-absorbing concrete and blacktop have created a “heat island” of higher temperatures in the greater metropolitan area.

Seasonal routines such as migration, blooming and breeding are the pulse of the planet, and everything from agriculture to allergy outbreaks depend on their timing—and, often, their precise coordination. “Pollinators have to be around when plants are flowering, seed dispersers have to be around when seeds are available, leaves have to be around for herbivores to eat them,” says Miller-Rushing.

That’s disturbing news, because many plants and animals are already declining in eastern Massachusetts for other reasons. Though Concord has more parkland and natural spaces than many communities, thanks to strong local support for land conservation, human habits have changed over the past century and a half, and habitats have changed with them. River meadows, once mown for hay, have declined, along with local agriculture, and many have gradually turned to swamp forest. As hunting dwindled, white-tailed deer began devouring woodland plants. Invasive plants such as Oriental bittersweet and black swallowwort have infiltrated Concord, even covering the banks of Walden Pond. “The woods are being repopulated by things Thoreau never even knew about,” says Peter Alden, a Concord native and veteran naturalist.