Whitten woods a cultural and natural resource in Ashland, New Hampshire

What could be better than spending time writing poetry with my daughter on a Saturday morning? I attended the “Mindful Journaling” workshop led by Amanda Carron- an impressive Americorps volunteer with Squam Lakes Association. Amanda has a Master’s degree in Natural Resources with a certificate in Environmental Education from the University of Idaho and she offered a great collection of writing prompts. Lucky Sydney who gets to work with her and served as her assistant. I was sorry the 2.5 hour session hiking around Whitten Woods had to end. I really enjoyed sketching and reading and sharing our writing.

New England Forestry Foundation owns the 400+ acre property and Squam Lakes Conservation Society holds conservation and trail easements.

Read more about Amanda, https://www.squamlakes.org/2018-2019-conservation-journal#.

One of the other participants had three daughters who attended Saint Lawrence University, Sydney's alma mater, so the two of them had lots of connections.

I teach about the culturally, historically significant Whitten woods site in my Plymouth State University classes and was happy for another chance to trek around in the winter. More than a hundred years ago, Reuben Whitten fed his neighbors with food he grew on his elevated, south facing property overlooking the Squam watershed, during the year without a summer. His success followed the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia; one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in history with a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 7.

Mount Tambora was 14,100 feet before the explosion and is now 9,254 feet high. The explosion was reportedly heard 1600 miles away and ash fell 810 miles from the site. The amount of ash put into the atmosphere lowered global temperatures and caused sunsets to be red and orange with purple and pink above as reported in England. Sunspots were visible in the dark, dimmed, daytime skies. The colorful skies were beautiful but the famine that followed was not.

The decrease in average global temperatures from all the ash emitted caused significant agricultural problems around the globe, in China, Europe, and North America. In June of 1816, frosts were reported and snow fell in northern New England. "Reuben Whitten and his wife shared 40 bushels of their wheat with 100 neighbors who were less fortunate, an act of generosity that was later recorded on a memorial stone by their grandson, in 1911," https://nhpreservation.org/…/2018-preservation-achievement-…. Their house has been moved to Ashland and is now on the state historic registry in recognition of Reuben's contributions almost 200 years ago.  1816 has been referred to as the year without a summer.

The cooling climate was blamed for typhus epidemics and disrupted the Chinese and Indian monsoons, causing failed harvests resulting in famine. In Ireland the wheat, oat, and potato harvests all failed. The documented rainfall was as much as 80 percent more than the calculated normal, with unusually high amounts of snow in Switzerland, France, Germany, and Poland. The most interesting cultural phenomena is the claim that some countries could no longer grow grapes and switched to hops to brew beer

Tambora currently has an active vent being monitored by the Directorate of Vulcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, Indonesia. I urge my environmental science and policy student to consider pursuing hazard mitigation as a career; we certainly don’t have any shortage of natural disasters, especially as the population continues to increase.

I visited Vesuvius, Etna, and Pompeii for my last sabbatical; maybe I can investigate Tambora next.


Brönnimann S, Krämer D. 2016. Tambora and the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816. A Perspective on Earth and Human Systems Science. Geographica Bernensia G90, 48 pp., doi:10.4480/GB2016.G90.01; https://boris.unibe.ch/81880/7/tambora_e_web.pdf.

Gillen D’Arcy, 2014, The Volcano That Changed the Course of History:After the tsunami and famine came cholera, opium, and failed Arctic expeditions, https://slate.com/…/tambora-eruption-caused-the-year-withou….

Chamberlain Reynolds Memorial Forest and exploring the inhabitants on Squam Lake

February 2019

So glad I joined Americorps volunteer Adel Barnes on her guided "walk through time" on the Chamberlain-Reynolds Memorial Forest perimeter loop trail for Squam Lakes Association. She covered the first people who lived in the Squam area, ending with discussion about conservation today. Hearing Adel's perspective about the contrast between the 29 recognized Native American tribes in her home state of Washington with the fact that there are none in N.H. made her story about the impact of the Seven Year or French and Indian War in the New England area, (1754-1761), more interesting. Less than 1% of the current NH population claims to be of Abenaki descent- the Abenaki is the name of the native people who inhabited Grafton and Coos County before European contact.

I visited the 2018 NH State Conservation and Rescue Archaeology Program (SCRAP) that documented Native American occupation at “the Hollow” on the Pemi River at Livermore Falls, but I did not know about the archaeological sites on the two sides of the river connecting Big and Little Squam. A local woman hiking with our group remembers finding artifacts as a young girl when she was visiting the owners of one of the sites on the river.

A 12,000-year-old spear point was found near Jefferson, NH in the 1990's and nearly 60 other Native American sites have been identified around New England. Based on stone tools and other artifacts found near a Jefferson site in 2017, the area was believed to have been used for hunting and slaughtering caribou that were present after the Ice Age before forests covered the terrain. Pieces of stone from as far away as Maine and New York have been found suggesting the the Native Americans at this time were nomadic – following herds. Volunteers excavating a shallow pit in Jefferson in 2017 also found a collection of softball-sized stones which could have been the remains of a sweat lodge.

The new, more recent history that Adele shared about the people who visited Squam, was about guests coming to the area during prohibition, where a room key came with alcohol.

Adele had lots of old photos to illustrate the different eras on Squam, part of the archive at Squam Lakes Association.

I was particularly interested to hike on the property as one of my PSU classes is looking at conserved forests in the area. This 186 acre property has abandoned fields, a swamp, old growth hemlock, and beaches. Heron Cove is a critical nesting area for loons. The New England Forestry Foundation owns and manages the forest and SLA maintains 5 campsites and 3.5 miles of trails. The two organizations have collaborated since 1960. The forest management plan has include at least 6 timber sales. The NE Forest Foundation has been in existence since 1944.