Firewood Friends

maple tree

The maple tree that became firewood.

I pulled in the driveway and the sky seemed to switch personalities from slight irritation to a bucket of anger upturned. The rain came in curtains and torrents, the wind chaotic. I watched through my sunroof as the tops of the yard maples spun and twisted and writhed. Out loud I wondered if today was the day one would split and come down.

With just as sudden a mood change, the rain subsided, the sun came out and the fresh raindrops on the grass glistened. It seemed peaceful and magical, the primary sound being the patter of the last drops through the leaves. Everything was remarkably still after the intense motion just past. The trees both stood, wet and drooping.

A little while later a phone call came through. “Hey! Half of your maple tree is lying in the road.” Hmm. By the time I got home my neighbor was already there, sweat dripping down his face, chainsaw in hand. We had gazed up at those trees many times and contemplated… There’s a lot of firewood in those trees.

Within an hour, with some extraordinarily generous friends and neighbors, the tree was out of the road, branches piled, and limbs cut into wood stove sized bites. The splitter would run another day. Eighty degree heat and 98% humidity aren’t particularly compatible with firewood activities.

Harvesting trees for firewood is labor intensive. If I counted how many times I handled each piece of wood before I finally fed it to the wood stove, I might actually decide that it is too much work! The fact that it is so more than work is what keeps me using it.


Free range chickens use the pile as a perch.

Physically, using firewood is a good workout. Moving, splitting, stacking, and moving again is good for arms, legs, and cardio. All year long firewood provides excellent toning workouts.

Mentally, it is therapy and meditation. The tasks are often monotonous, but with that comes a clearing of the mind. After I get past the point of thinking about all the other things I have to do, moving, splitting, or stacking firewood allows my mind to wander, cleanse itself, and recognize the truly important things in life. It is also gratification when I see the results of my work in a neat stack, a truck full, or a blazing fire.

Ecologically, I share the wood pile with so many others. There is always a stack of firewood, sometimes two years’ worth depending on the time of year, in the driveway. In that stack wildlife finds shelter, food, and even homes. Whether it is the first little snake of spring, huddled for warmth near the top of the pile, or the long-legged crickets that lurk near the bottom, there are signs of life throughout. The firewood friends.

One rainy year I found a Slimy Salamander resting between pieces. With the abundance of slugs, insects and invertebrates there was little wondering why he chose that spot. To the amphibian list I can also add Red-backed Salamanders and toads. They prefer the bottom layers, shaded and cool, with close access to the damp earth beneath.

Snakes love the upper layers. The sun hits both early morning and evening, providing a therapeutic dose of vitamin D and warmth with which to start and end the day. I often find snakes in the wood pile before I find them anywhere else. Even when I don’t find the snakes themselves I always find shed skins. I’ve counted five different species of snakes using my wood pile, though there might be more.


A Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar transformed into a chrysalis on the edge of a piece of chopped wood.

Many rodents seek refuge in the wood pile, either from hungry predators, weather, or cold. Mouse nests made cozy with grass and chicken feathers are scattered throughout the layers. Caches of cherry pits, acorn shells, and scat denote favorite eating spots. Tunnels between the bottom layer and the dirt show the highways that the voles and mice use in the winter months as they travel between food and shelter.

Insects maintain a continuous presence both in the wood and between the pieces. Ants, beetles, bees, wasps, and moths are regular residents. This year I discovered a treasure. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of green. After walking by a few times I finally investigated and found a Monarch Butterfly chrysalis suspended from one piece of firewood.

Perhaps the most rewarding friendship I have that often revolves around firewood is that with my neighbor. He loves any activity that involves firewood. Countless days I have come home and noticed the stack of firewood already split. There have been evenings that we have been out until his wife turns on the porch light, letting us know that is actually too dark to be working and we should cease. He understands well the benefits firewood provides.


Many insects find homes in the cozy spaces of piled wood.

Thanks to the wildlife and the friendships, I now better understand what using firewood truly is. It isn’t work or a chore. It is spending time with neighbors and friends. It is a workout. It is an escape. It is a window into the lives of wildlife. It is harvesting a renewable resource. It is sheltering wildlife. It is a sustainable transfer of energy from the yard to the wood stove, from the garden to my muscles. And while I don’t wish for the other half of the tree to fall, I won’t be sad when it does.

You can see many trees, both standing and fallen, at Audubon, located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. Hike the trails from dawn until dusk and stop in the Nature Center anytime between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. except Sundays when it opens at 1 p.m. More information is found on the website or by calling (716)  569-2345.

Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon Nature Center.

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Audubon Needs Volunteers for Saturday’s Monarch Butterfly Festival

Monarch Fest volunteer

Maybe too many of Audubon’s regular volunteers are on late-summer vacations, but whatever the reason, the Nature Center is putting out a last minute call for volunteers to help with this Saturday’s (August 27) Monarch Butterfly Festival. In addition to free admission to the festival and a complimentary meal ticket, your reward could be seeing the wonder on a child’s face, like the volunteer here who is helping a young boy hold a caterpillar.

Jamestown, NY – The Audubon Nature Center is looking for more volunteers to help visitors

celebrate the life and migration of Monarch Butterflies at this Saturday’s (August 27) Monarch Butterfly Festival.

While many volunteers have already signed up, a few more are needed to ensure that the festival’s many visitors all have an outstanding experience.

A number of job slots need filling at the 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. event. These include children’s crafts, admissions, butterfly room and caterpillar monitors, distributing insect nets, and kitchen staff.

Help is needed on Friday (August 26) as well to cut and arrange flowers for the indoor butterfly garden and to set up the children’s crafts room.

In addition to the reward of bringing joy to so many, especially children, all volunteers get free admission to the festival and a complimentary meal ticket.

For more information on any of these opportunities, visit

To sign up to volunteer, contact Katie Finch at or call (716) 569-2345, ext. 25.

Festival admission is $8 or $6 for Friends of the Nature Center and children ages 3-15. Two and under are free.

The Audubon Nature Center is at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York, and Warren, Pennsylvania.

The Monarch Butterfly Festival is made possible by the dedication of many volunteers, some of whom are registered with RSVP, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

Event sponsors are Wegmans, Lena’s Pizza, Frewsburger Pizza Shop, Native Roots, and J Coffin Concrete.

Details of the Festival are at To learn more about the Nature Center and all its programs, call (716) 569-2345 or visit


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Renowned Bird Researcher Returns to Audubon

Bill Evans & Jen Schlick

Distinguished bird researcher William Evans will be the presenter at the Audubon Nature Center’s First Friday Lunch Bunch on September 2. He will report on his research that includes information gathered over the past four years from sounds of migratory birds recorded at Audubon. Evans and Audubon Program Director Jennifer Schlick are shown here on the roof of the Nature Center with the monitoring equipment: a microphone in the bucket picks up the flight calls of migrating birds. (Photo by David Campbell)

Jamestown, NY – With migratory birds often traveling at night, it is difficult for scientists to monitor their declining flocks.

The researcher who determined how to track these birds by using their distinctive nighttime vocalizations is returning to the Audubon Nature Center as the guest speaker at the September 2 First Friday Lunch Bunch.

William Evans’s 11 a.m. program will be on the flight calls songbirds give in nocturnal migration and how monitoring them is leading to an independent method to monitor populations.

While we sleep, large waves of migrant birds pass over our houses during the spring and fall migration periods. Many utter short vocalizations to maintain contact with others and avoid mid-air collisions. On good migration nights thousands of these calls can be documented.

Bill Evans will share insights from his now 30 years of obsessively listening to the phenomenon. He will present results from a continent-wide night flight call monitoring network in which Audubon participates. Since speaking at Audubon in 2012, he has gathered four fall seasons of data from over the Nature Center, as well as some in the spring.

The director of Old Bird Inc., a nonprofit focused on nocturnal bird migration research and education, Evans’s work has been featured in many media, including PBS’s Nova, the BBC, NPR, Science, The New York Times, and the new documentary on songbird decline, The Messenger. He is co-author of the CD-Rom Flight Calls of Migratory Birds.

A resident of Ithaca, New York, Evans’s current research is directed toward understanding the impacts of artificial light on night-migrating birds and their concentration dynamics along shorelines and in mountainous terrain. His expertise has led him into active involvement with efforts to mitigate avian fatalities at communications towers, wind turbines, and hydrofracking drilling rigs.

A BYO brown bag lunch and conversation will follow the program, with coffee and tea provided.

The fee for attending is $8 or $6 for Friends of the Nature Center. Reservations are not required.

The Audubon Nature Center is at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York, and Warren, Pennsylvania.

To learn more, call (716) 569-2345 or visit


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Monarchs Continue to Astound


One of my first memories of the idea that the Monarch Butterfly had a life beyond my yard happened in my living room as a kid. There was one recessed corner behind the chairs where I liked to go, partly to hide and partly to leaf through the pictures of the magazines stored there. I was too little to read, but the National Geographic magazines captured my imagination. Hours of my childhood were spent looking at pictures that showed me a world I would never see in person: of sharks, whales, volcanoes, tribes with no modern technology and jungles. One of those National Geographic magazines was about Monarch Butterflies and showed photos of them covering the trees like leaves. It was a sight that was almost unimaginable. The story, if I could have read it then, was about a scientist that found where Monarchs spend the winter in Mexico. The magazine was printed in August of 1976, just months after the butterflies had been found on their wintering grounds. The world, aside from the Mexicans who had known about the area for centuries, was shocked. It’s a sight that is still mind boggling. Almost every Monarch Butterfly east of the Rocky Mountains ends up roosting in a few spots in the mountains of Mexico. They travel up here in waves, laying eggs and dying while the next generation moves farther north, only to lay eggs and die, leaving another generation to move back into this area.

Now, in August and September, these Monarchs are migrating South and will fly all the way to Mexico. Their needs are few on the trip south. They need only nectar-rich plants to sustain them on the journey. That has been a problem in recent years as droughts have struck areas they pass through. On the way North, they need nectar for food and milkweed to lay eggs on.



Monarchs have been a part of the summer landscape for my entire life. They have always been the big black and orange butterfly that is in fields. To this day, if a child knows the name of any butterfly, chances are that it is a Monarch, even though they have been much harder to find in recent years.

The education offices at the Audubon Nature Center are currently cluttered with boxes full of caterpillars, chrysalises and milkweed leaves. Our dedicated and amazing interns have raised and released dozens of them over the summer, but these last remaining boxes are special.

These caterpillars and butterflies will be a part of this year’s pair of Monarch Butterfly events at the end of August: Monarchs & Margaritas and the Monarch Butterfly Festival.


Monarchs & Margaritas is a fun, adult take on the festival on August 26 from 5:00pm-7:00pm. There are Monarch Butterflies flying around the room, beautiful flowers, games and prizes, along with some amazing food and drinks courtesy of Miley’s Old Inn. Admission includes two drink tickets, food, and access to all festival activities. Non-alcoholic drinks will be available as well. The over-21 event costs $25 each if you reserve by August 24. Admission at the door are $30 and are limited.


The Monarch Butterfly Festival is for everyone, and there is something for everyone at the festival. Volunteers will be standing by with watermelon cups that can be used to feed the butterflies. There will be caterpillars to watch and hold. More volunteers will be standing by to help make crafts, hand out insect nets to borrow, and tag the butterflies so they can be tracked on their migration to Mexico. There will be Mexican themed food as well as some traditional American food for sale in honor of the Monarch’s migration to Mexico. More volunteers have spent the summer raising native plants that the Monarch relies on to sell at the festival. There will be milkweed that they lay eggs on and the caterpillars eat, as well as nectar plants to attract the butterflies available for purchase.

The Monarch Butterfly Festival runs from 10:00am to 4:00pm on August 27. It costs $8 for adults, $6 for children and Friends of the Nature Center, and is free for children two and under. Monarchs will be released in the newly re-established Butterfly Garden near the Nature Center at 4:00pm.

The Monarch Butterfly Festival receives a lot of community support. We appreciate the help of our sponsors: Wegmans, Frewsburger Pizza Shop, Lena’s Pizza, Native Roots, and J Coffin Concrete.

For more information about either festival, visit the Audubon Nature Center website at or call (716) 569-2345. The Nature Center is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren.

Jeff Tome is a naturalist at Audubon Nature Center.

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Deadline for Nature Center Seasonal Naturalist Applications is September 1

Crin Fredrickson

The Audubon Nature Center is accepting applications for its seasonal naturalist position through Thursday, September 1, 2016. While the demands are significant for this paid internship, Corinne “Crin” Fredrickson (pictured here) described her experience in the position as “the single most influential working experience of my life.”

Jamestown, NY – Whether it’s called a job or a paid internship, securing a position as a seasonal naturalist at the Audubon Nature Center is an opportunity to earn money while getting some great experience.

September 1, 2016, is the deadline for applications for this position that will have varying hours from October through March.

Three years ago, Corinne “Crin” Fredrickson submitted her application. “I had never visited the Center before my interview, but when I parked my car and walked toward the front door I had this overwhelming feeling of belonging,” she said.

Frederickson stayed at the Nature Center for a year and a half. “Being there was the single most influential working experience of my life,” she observed. “I am certain that I learned more about teaching and environmental science in my time at Audubon than I learned in my four years of college combined.” She looks forward to using all she learned as she begins teaching full-time at Cassadaga Valley this fall.

The Nature Center is looking for someone with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience in an elementary classroom setting, experience in informal settings teaching children, general natural history knowledge and comfort in the outdoors, enthusiasm and the ability to be dynamic, the ability to work independently, a valid driver’s license and own vehicle, and familiarity with office equipment, including copy machines, computers, scanners, and fax machines.

Responsibilities include presenting five to six pre-K through fifth grade classroom programs in area schools for three or four days a week, leading Discovery Walks for school students on the Nature Center grounds, and assisting with public programs like workshops, Snow Camp, First Fridays, and Enchanted Forest.  Designated special projects can also be pursued, if time permits.

In addition to income, the person securing this position will gain significant experience working with elementary age students in classroom settings as well as outside the formal classroom, a better understanding of the workings of a small non-profit, knowledge of the natural world, and an appreciation that environmental education is a way of life, not a field of interest.

Full details of the seasonal naturalist position can be found by clicking under the picture at

To apply, send a resume with references and cover letter to Sarah Hatfield, Audubon Nature Center, 1600 Riverside Road, Jamestown, NY 14701, or you may email your application to shatfield(at) For questions, use this email or call (716) 569-2345.

The Audubon Nature Center is at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York, and Warren, Pennsylvania.


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Audubon Nature Center’s Butterfly Festival: A Not-to-be-Missed Event

Monarch Fest 2015 boy

Great food, kids crafts, fun shopping, photo opportunities, butterfly garden tours, a plant sale, and – like the young man pictured here — getting up close to caterpillars and butterflies are just some of the many things you can enjoy at the Audubon Nature Center’s Monarch Butterfly Festival, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, August 27, 2016.

Jamestown, NY – Whatever your interest – watching beautiful butterflies on wildflowers, having your picture taken as a giant butterfly or caterpillar, great crafts for the kids, yummy taste treats, and so much more – there will be something for you at the Audubon Nature Center’s Monarch Butterfly Festival.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 27, Audubon will celebrate this beautiful creature.

At the indoor garden, you can take pictures of Monarchs in every stage of their life cycle. Maybe you will see an adult emerge from its chrysalis or hold a caterpillar or butterfly. You can watch experts tagging butterflies and at 4 p.m. see them released to fly to Mexico, where their tags will help scientists track the migration of this rapidly dwindling species.

More festival fun includes tours of Audubon’s butterfly garden, enjoying the Ted Grisez arboretum and additional gardens, borrowing a net to catch butterflies outside and have experts identify them, exhibits of live fish, reptiles, and amphibians, viewing Liberty, Audubon’s resident Bald Eagle, and a butterfly plant sale.

The Blue Heron Gift Shop will feature butterfly items from books to t-shirts in addition to its usual treasure trove of puppets, puzzles, jewelry, notecards, handcrafted walking sticks, books and field guides, bird feeders and seed, and locally produced jams, Stedman Corners coffee, and maple syrup.

Scout Leaders are encouraged to bring their groups and Scout parents their individual Scouts. Ask for a checklist and when at least four of the activities are completed, Scouts can purchase a Monarch Butterfly patch for $3. Children who are not Scouts are also welcome to participate.

Festival admission is $8 or $6 for Friends of the Nature Center and children ages 3-15. Two and under are free.

The Audubon Nature Center is at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York, and Warren, Pennsylvania.

This event is made possible by the dedication of many volunteers, some of whom are registered with RSVP, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

Monarch Butterfly Festival sponsors are Wegmans, Lena’s Pizza, Frewsburger Pizza Shop, Native Roots, and J Coffin Concrete.

Details of the Festival are at To learn more about the Nature Center and all its programs, call (716) 569-2345 or


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Rocks are cool. Some are round and smooth. Others are jagged and sharp. Still others are fossils, conglomerates, translucent, sparkly, or paper thin. Everyone in the office had (or still has) a rock collection. What is it that draws children to the earth? To pick up rocks and put them in their pockets as if they are treasure? There is a link, someplace deep, between rocks and humans, forged long ago when a person holding a rock opened a world of possibilities. Tools, weapons, foundations, shelter, tomes, tombs, and fire starters are the immediate things that come to mind when I think of how people use rocks. An almost infinite list could be generated – the medium from which we get our fossil fuels, read history, and make pigments. Of course, I’ve not accounted for beauty; layers of colors in canyons, the precise natural walls of reservoirs, the faint blush of quartz, the appealing glitter of mica. We live upon rocks, we rest upon rocks, we rely upon rocks.

One of the rather unique and remarkable things that we have in this area is the “rock cities.” These deposits of rocks were created long ago from torrential flooding of inland seas and routine erosion. Little Rock City, Panama Rocks, Thunder Rocks, Gardeners Rocks, Jakes Rocks and other unnamed rocks are scattered throughout this region.

I absolutely love stumbling upon them, winding through passageways and scaling the walls. Liverworts, mosses, ferns, mountain laurel, juncos, porcupines, warblers, and snakes are common residents of the rock cities, at least the more remote ones. I have lost track of how many times a junco has exploded from a hidden nest, startling me with its blur of wings, alerting me to a nest I would never have seen otherwise. It always brings a smile to my face.

Graffiti is a common problem with public places, as most of you probably know. I was deeply saddened last time I was at Thunder Rocks in Allegheny State Park to see that someone felt the need to paint the rocks with yellow paint. Instantly it detracts from the magic of the place, and it insults its timelessness. For some reason, rocks invite vandals, as if leaving a mark of the Now on the Then makes a person immortal. Spray paint on rock, there is no question which will endure, and so it is trivial and ugly.

However, before the era of spray paint, the only way to leave your mark on a rock was to carve it. And if you wanted it to last, you had to carve it deep. Rather than being ugly, some are true art. In 1903, someone took the time to carve their name into the rocks. Deeply. Reverently. Can graffiti be reverent? I traced the letters with my fingers, lingering over the star. More than 100 years prior, a person stood in this very spot, for hours, carving his name into the rock. How did he get there? How did he find it? Was he part of the logging crews that scoured the area? Was it the defiant act of a nineteen year old ready to conquer the world? Was it the recognition of a fifty year old that our personal impressions on this world are fleeting, wanting to leave something more of himself?

I don’t know. I do know that it is now part of the place, created by the same forces that nature uses to erode rock – patience and element against element. The moss filled in many other names, one from the 1800’s. Rocks, in their infinity, draw us ephemeral beings close and tease us with their timelessness. We climb them, carve them, camp under them, photograph them, and sometimes paint them. I think, however, always with awe.

There are great, magnificent forces at work creating not just the rock cities, but our whole landscape. I have rocks on my windowsills, my bookshelves, in boxes, jars, and my porch. The color of my house is based on a rock. Many memories are sparked by a rock. I have rocks from mountains and beaches, streams and old barn foundations. They call to me, whisper through color, light and texture, as if they are part of a memory I’ve forgotten. I pick them up and put them in my pocket. Rocks are cool.

Audubon has no rocks of note, but we do have lots of other nature! Our trails are open dawn to dusk, the building is open daily from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. except Sunday when we open at 1pm. Visit for more information or call 716-569-2345.

Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon.

Original article printed August 2011.

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