Are Wooster’s Squirrels spoiled?

when we first got to Johnson woods I was very underwhelmed. In class, there were mentions of how it was a nature park so I pictured something much larger. I was really saddened when we pulled up and it was a small little nature area that forced you to cross a really dangerous street that I felt should have had a slower speed limited due to the fact it is so close to nature and those that call the woods home. It perplexed me why such a small area could be coincidentally be protected for such a long time. I don’t understand how it survived the greed of humans and their thirst for land to plow.
As I got further along in my hike I noticed more of these creatures, gracefully leaping from dead log to dead log. They watched as my friend and I walked along the boardwalk. Showing just the tip of their bodies, concealing the rest with ease. The squirrels of Johnson woods were very curious creatures, although they kept their distance, the only reason I noticed them was because of the rustling of the leaves their little paws made. Watching them navigate the forest with such grace and carefulness made me realize that the squirrels at Wooster had become spoiled with the presence and protection that human presence can provide.
When we returned to the bus I noticed quite a bit of litter, although it was the parking lot I figured since the wooden part was so clean other places would be as well. It made me realize that this place while it is respected and used to become closer to nature, there are in fact people who abuse the space for less innocent things, which made me sad because I realized most things like this will be taken for granted.

The Contrasting Realities

When approaching Johnson Woods on the bus, one quote that stuck out to me was one that Professor Bourne mentioned which was on the lines of “straight ahead you will see a forest on the left and on the other side of the road another forest: that is Johnson Woods.” This immediately made me think about the question we discussed earlier this semester about what is considered natural versus artificial in nature. As we drove closer to the forest, I instantly saw the forest in comparison to its surrounding area as natural and unharmed. The grandness of the red and white oaks, and hickories in a cluster with its tall trunks and its bare branches stuck out to me. It was as if it was the one unaltered thing that was present in this particular area. Just about everything else around the forest I saw as being artificial as it had been manipulated/altered in some way by humans for human benefits. An example of this can be seen with the road that cuts right through the forest. The installation of the asphalt road (Fox Lake Road) was placed between the forest to help connect Wadsworth Road (OH 57) and Mount Eaton Road North (OH 94) rather than having to find an alternative route to get to the two popular state routes. Another example is the surrounding area. It is primarily composed of open pastures and/or farmland, which is used for holding livestock and agricultural production for benefit. With my observation of the façade of the forest as seeming natural and untouched, I was shockingly surprised to be wrong by my notion.

What I thought had been a natural area now changed as I began to see the human disturbances that had been placed within the forest. The first artificial addition to the forest was the installation of the boardwalk, as I was immediately shocked to see a boardwalk lying on the ground in the entrance and then throughout the walk. I saw the boardwalk as a disturbance as it was disconnecting the hiker from making a physical connection with nature. Also, the path essentially posed a set narrative to what to look at rather than letting the hiker explore on their own. Another artificial addition was the installation of sugar maple and American beech trees in place of the larger oaks and hickories that are dying. Though it is good these trees are being replaced, the addition of the maples and beeches are consequently “becoming more prominent members of the forest community at Johnson Woods” (Preserving 206 acres in Wayne County). One word that stands out is “in place” as it implies the action of making an alteration to something that was original or natural. Initially the idea of adding maples and beeches to the forest sounded good, but I have come to think differently as it is ultimately changing the original biodiversity that Johnson Woods initially had. It makes me question: why don’t the people who help preserve the forest plant new oaks and hickories instead of bringing in a completely new tree species in? The last artificial addition I saw was the graffiti that was scratched into the beech trees. I have seen people scratch their initials into trees, especially beech trees, in the past in more public areas, but I was shocked to see many of the beech trees, in an OLD GROWTH FOREST, were vandalized. It goes to show the negative human impact that has become to be more present in this once natural forest.

The Fallen Trees

During our visit to Johnsons Woods, the fallen trees were what stuck out to me most. There were some that had clearly fallen naturally, and their roots were sticking up from the ground, while others looked as if they had been mechanically, literally by axe or chainsaw, cut.  Seeing what appear to be logs that one would use to build a fire in a fireplace, precisely cut, was surprising and somewhat disappointing. I thought it took away from the natural aspect of being in nature. In regards to the boardwalk, I do support it being there, although it, too, somehow takes away from the true nature of being in the woods. I support it because of the increased accessibility it creates and that it holds visitors more accountable for their actions in the woods.

A Walk Through the Johnson Woods

The sky appears to be engulfed in darkness as the starlings swirl around. One moment it is beautiful as the birds weave a pattern across the sky; however, just moments later that same delicate pattern disappears, replaced by a wall of pure, suffocating black. This was the balancing act that seemed to be constantly occurring in Johnson Woods as often nature would not always be what it seemed and permanency was just an illusion. The starlings themselves showed this as even though they are birds found in nature, they are not supposed to be in this area. This means that they are an invasive species. 

Like the starlings changing patterns in the sky the woods would also transform, not as fast, but at just a wide scale. Today we saw Johnson woods in winter. The trees like skeletons as we walked through the woods enabled us to truly see everything that was happening, even the distant cars. The reminder of humans was strange, but walking along the boardwalk was just another reminder. The boardwalk may have destroyed any chance of plant growth in that area; however, it is important to note how it protects both the vegetation that is growing and will grow. The path forces a specific route for people to take, which enables the wild life beyond to keep thriving. As I walked along that path I was happy to be able to take a walk through the woods. As without the path some of the wet areas would have been impossible to go through in my Vans. 

A Tree’s Epidermis

Once the ruler of the world, nature must confront a new rival. An eternal battle has emerged between man and nature as their visions of earth’s future collide. They fight as if there is a war and race in hopes of claiming the most barren, yet valuable, pieces of land. Land is gold through the eyes of the colonists, that is man and nature. If one claims it, the other one steals it.

Nature’s lungs have countlessly been pierced by a powerful enemy. Left wounded in the lungs, nature’s heartbeat has lost stability as it struggles to regain a rhythmical flow of breathing. Searching for the elements that supply it life, nature traces the earth’s surfaces and reaches towards the infinite sky in an attempt to revive itself. However, man has, to some degree, altered those elements to work in their favor. Originally allies with nature, these natural elements have betrayed nature. However, nature unveils a hidden strength of persistence and independence to retaliate at unpredictable times. Spreading like an incurable virus, nature camouflages itself as a sea of lifelessness but also bursts with rage often leaving man deceived and diminishing their constant mental state of superiority.

During our immersion into the tamed wilderness, I was particularly drawn to the trunks of the trees. The bark appeared to resemble a human’s fingerprint––every tree’s bark was unique. And with that uniqueness emerged a story. Were these trees simply aging? Victims to an outbreak? or scars produced by man? The trees that appeared to be aging almost looked like they were emulating a snake shedding its skin. The skins of the trees were like different generations within a family. The oldest generation was on the outside and the youngest was at the core. One knew the outer layer was the oldest generation as it had wrinkles and bruises. The trees that looked as if they were victims of an outbreak were the ones that were choked with wildlife, like fungi. The appearance of fungi often signaled that “the tree is infected with a rot-inducing pathogen” resulting in “heart decay, which causes healthy trees to begin to rot at the heart of the trunk” (Austin Tree Surgeons). The fungus was tenacious as little sprouts were scattered all over the trunk. It was surprising to see a tree untouched by intruders, whether that be humans, other wildlife, or a virus. The trees that captured the scars of man were the ones that bear the cuts. At Johnsons Woods, Beech Trees were the victim of such human assault. These trees archived the impulsive graffiti of man as they evolved into a canvas for lovers to write their names.

My experience at Johnsons Woods was unexpectedly intriguing as I realized that trees are archives that record life on earth. I hope to visit Johnsons Woods during a different season to see if it extracts a different impression.

Surprises from Johnson’s Woods

For me I was a little surprised when we first got to Johnson’s Woods because it wasn’t necessarily what I had expected. One of the first things I noticed was that there was not very much wildlife around, except for the starlings when we first got off the bus and one grey squirrel that I saw. I was expecting to maybe see some more squirrels or even a few deer. This was surprising because I guess when I think about nature and the woods I also think about the animals that live in the environment. It also makes me wonder though if it was because it was so cold out that day and maybe if it would be different if I had visited when it was warmer.

The second thing that was surprising to me was the boardwalk path that looped around the woods. Usually when there are paths in nature areas they are just cleared paths of dirt. I think this boardwalk type path is helpful because it accessible for many different people and can help you stay on track so you don’t get lost, although the woods are not relatively big. I also was surprised by all of the fallen trees, as humans living in a city we are accustomed to as soon as a tree dies and falls down we have to clean it up to make the scenery pretty again but here the fallen trees remained. Overall I had a good time in the woods and would be interested in visiting them during either the spring or summer to see how it changes with the seasons.


Johnson Woods: A Sustainable Symbiosis

At this point it’s hard to see humans totally disentangling themselves from nature. Like McKibben says, the frontiers are all gone, there isn’t anywhere the boot of man has yet to tread. With that in mind, places like Johnson Woods are impressive in their overall respect for the surrounding natural world. Located on a small backroad and surrounded by acres of farmland, the forest is a large stand of trees a passerby might overlook. The woods themselves are relatively undisturbed, the only human structure being the boardwalk that snakes through the woods and over the marshy areas. 

Although with the boardwalk it’s impossible to forget human civilization, I’d argue that humans would always be present in one’s conscious anyway, with or without the boardwalk. This constant reminder manifests not only in the crude carvings on nearly every single beech along the path, but also in the historically unfamiliar organisms residing there. When we first stepped off the bus we were instantly reminded of the meddlings of humans in nature by the thousands of starlings in the neighboring field, a species introduced solely for their brief appearance in Henry IV.

Additionally, the boardwalk may be less sinister than one would think. I initially criticized it for hugging the forest floor, lamenting the habitat fragmentation it was likely leading to. Even though the width of the walk isn’t substantial, structures like these can impose significant barriers to various ground-dwelling fauna, like small insects and mammals. However, upon closer investigation, the boardwalk was set a few centimeters above the soil, allowing for mobility through the seemingly bifurcated environment. When paying closer attention to the path, I noticed that it too was teaming with life, supporting many fungal and moss communities. These intrepid settlers had surpassed merely surviving, they thrived in this environment, as could be seen by their protruding sporophytes, or their spore producing structures. These tiny sporophytes asserted themselves in this human-nature hybrid habitat, promising a new generation to come.

The Sound of the Woods

While walking through the Johnson Woods it was impossible to miss the countless numbers of fallen trees. While most of these trees lay on the forest floor undisturbed decaying from decomposers, there were some which were disturbed. These trees were disturbed in a way that I found was disruptive to my ability to experience nature to its fullest es at the moment. Some of the largest treed which fell in close proximity fell over the boardwalk. In order to allow for the boardwalk to remain passable, the trees had to be cut up and moved aside. While I understand this action of clearing the boardwalk is necessary to continue to allow the public to access the preserves boardwalk. However, I found it extremely distracting to see a tree cut by what was likely a chainsaw. I felt as though I had been taken out of the location where I was and brought back to the artificial machine world outside this small patch of woods. While these fallen trees are inhabited by many smaller decomposers the larger animals which typically would be present in these woods were absent. Animals such as deer, rabbit, and fox which likely would inhabit these woods on a larger scale were absent. Possibly as a result of the past tree cutting noise pollution and the surrounding farm’s loud machinery.  In the summer months, I imagine the farm’s equipment will further detract from the serenity of nature.

The Nature of Nature in Johnson’s Woods

I greatly enjoyed our trip to Johnson’s Woods. Even though the trees were bare and there was hardly any vegetation other than the dead leaves on the ground, I still got the sense that Johnson’s Woods was a place where many came to appreciate and connect to nature. Despite the wintery landscape, there were many interesting sights to observe. One such scene was the sight of the frozen pond that passed underneath the boardwalk, with single sticks sparingly poking straight up through the slush. The overall effect was eerie and ominous, as the sticks almost looked like skeletons reaching through the ice. Another sight that I encountered was a tree that, though the bark itself was smooth, had bumps all throughout the trunk. It looked a bit like something on the inside of the tree was pushing against the bark to break through. I don’t know if my mind had a “spooky” theme that day and I interpreted these sights due to my own cognitive state, but it seemed to me like nature was (literally) pushing back in this forest that seemed devoid of life. This sentiment was also strengthened when I observed the moss that grew in between the slates of the boardwalk. It was interesting to think about how nature eventually takes back its space, creeping over  unnatural things placed in its woods.

I am in favor of the boardwalk being placed in that forest. One of the rules of the Leave No Trace principles is to only walk on designated trails in order to avoid trampling as much of the nature as possible. This boardwalk provides a path that protects the rest of the forest floor from being stepped on, and protects the vegetation underneath and around it. Additionally, I think that the boardwalk prevents people from straying off the path to harm trees- the only graffiti I saw were carvings in trees directly next to the boardwalk, not beyond that. Also, I think that the boardwalk allows people with difficulty walking to access the woods and enjoy the nature around them.

In Defense of Winter and Boardwalks

When we first walked into the forest, one of my first thoughts was, “I would like this so much better in the spring.” Something about bare trees and overcast skies typically makes me long for warmth and foliage. I do still think that I might find the forest more beautiful in the spring, when wildflowers are emerging, bright and sprightly, from the ground, and sunlight can dapple through the leaves, and more creatures are scurrying over the forest floor. But as I walked, I was surprised by the extent to which I grew to appreciate the barren beauty. I was particularly struck by the frozen water and the strange fungi—a bizarre show of life—growing on logs. Perhaps I had simply not spent enough time in these environments during winter before, but I do believe that our excursion gave me a greater appreciation of a beauty that I might have otherwise overlooked.

In terms of the boardwalk, I do think that it is unnatural, and that it stifles growth that would have sprung up in its place. However, I believe that it is quite valuable in terms of accessibility, which I think is something we do not think about enough when we think about natural spaces. I also think that it prevents a significant amount of damage that would occur to surrounding vegetation and wildlife. Also, a concern with “natural” trails is that they can widen over time as people use them, spreading chemicals and, over time, killing more vegetation. I believe that the boardwalk is useful because it is not malleable; it is a clear, unyielding trail. Finally, I think that, in terms of graffiti and harm to the trees, people who want to do that will do it with or without the presence of the boardwalk. Even if the boardwalk makes it easier for them to do these things, it also allows people with disabilities to more easily experience nature. I think that this worth the possible downfalls of the design.