Nature at NEECA

NEECA member, Linda LeBlanc, has managed to combine two of the great passions in her life, nature and

spending quality time with her mare Vidalia.  Linda is lucky enough to keep Vidalia at a property that abuts

NEECA so she frequently rides, or just takes Vidalia for a walk, at NEECA.  While enjoying this time with her

horse, she also takes time to appreciate all the fascinating wildlife and beautiful scenery NEECA has to offer. 

We asked her if she would share her observations with us so that everyone could "see" through her eyes

and we are so pleased that she agreed to do so.  The following is a series of articles Linda has written

concerning her travels through NEECA.  We hope you take the time to read them, they are inspiring.


Linda majored in Wildlife Management at the University of Maine Orono and was one of the first women to graduate with that major in 1973. She and her husband Ernie, a fellow student at UMaine, created and implemented an original life science curriculum and program for the Weymouth, MA public school system which existed for over thirty years. Linda taught primarily grades K-4 for over 25 years and was known by approximately 2500 Weymouth children as the nature lady, the bug lady and the bird lady. She received her Masters Degree in Training and Development from Lesley University in 1993 and provided extensive teacher training to area teachers. Her “retirement job” for nearly 10 years was Director of Childcare Services at the Athol YMCA where she designed and helped teach an experience-based curriculum in the Nursery School, Y Kids Depot Afterschool Program and Summer Day Camp at Tully Pond. Linda’s lifelong dream was to have her own horse and that dream came true in the summer of 2017 when she became the excited owner of Vidalia. She and Vidalia have been learning together ever since with the help of their wonderfully kind friends in NEECA and are particularly grateful to teachers Wendy Warner and Libby Lyman for guiding them through the trials and tribulations of being a horse person!

The Colors of Winter Part 1 - by Linda LeBlanc

In a typical winter people would be feeling the blues about all the white and gray outside their window. This winter, however, feels especially comfortless for all the reasons we are now so familiar with. Lately I have been thinking about and looking for the colors of winter during my frequent walks at NEECA. The searching combats the gloomy inattention I may fall into, and the discovery of unexpected color simply makes me happy.

Two abundant tree species in NEECA living in close association and showing beautiful contrast in color are the hemlock and beech. The Eastern Hemlock appears dark, almost black, under a winter sky. A needleleaf tree, its short, flat, glossy needles are almost blue-black. But if you duck under the soft limber branches and peer upwards, the needles turn silver. Each tiny needle has two light bands underneath that appear to turn that precious color.

The American Beech next to its shade loving associate is a broadleaf tree, and most in this category are leafless in winter, but the beech has numerous clinging dry dead leaves ranging from soft yellow to rich tan, much like the color of a Palomino horse. Its thin pointed buds are the color of a glossy Irish Setter dog. An old beech tree has smooth gray bark on a brawny trunk, reminding me of the leg of The Saggy Baggy Elephant.

When you next walk or ride by a drift of trees at NEECA, peer harder into the woods for the shining smooth pale skeleton of the American Beech with the light blades of foliage still clinging. Then search for the dark, almost black Eastern Hemlock sure to be close by. And before moving on, wait for the wind to make the hemlock’s long limber boughs sweep up and down. The tree whistles and sighs, the papery leaves of the beech rustle, in a quiet and peace you can feel through your skin. 

The Colors of Winter Part 2 - by Linda LeBlanc

The creamy white bark of the Paper or White Birch should fade into the snowy landscape. However, it is more distinct to me now when I see a small stand of them gleaming against the backdrop of the needleleaf trees. An observer will feel the raised lenticels, like pores, on the bark with a finger; they are one of the structures the tree has for breathing. The bark invites further touch because of its chalkiness, and the papery thin layers into which the bark peels. Resist the impulse to pull at the strips as it will leave permanent ugly dark rings around the trunk.

The needleleaf tree often providing the feathery blue green or gray green backdrop for the birch and beech is the Eastern White Pine. The arrangement of the needles truly is more plume like compared to the hemlock. Where the hemlock needles are arranged singly in flat sprays, the White Pine’s needles are first arranged in “bundles” of 5, and then further attached to the twig with more bundles of 5. Sometimes the effect is that of a bottle brush. During the winter when water is frozen and sunlight is limited, broadleaf trees such as the beech and various birches are dormant. Needleleaf trees like hemlock and pine continue to photosynthesize food at lower levels because of the needle’s winter proof characteristics. It is waxy which reduces moisture loss in the dry winter air, and its flexibility allows snow to slide off and not break the branches.

The large clearing of land where the Elwyn Bacon Trail runs north to the arenas and east to Davenport Pond, arguably the least attractive part of the NEECA property, is yet a favorite part of my walk on a sunny cold day. I find myself often looking up - as if I cannot get enough of the deep blue of the sky. The expanse of blue feels like the ocean to this coastal born and raised girl. And then there are the trees cutting it with their height and spread: the green sweep of the pines and hemlocks, the white glow of the birches, even the gray corrugated bark of the tall oaks with their splotches of lichen. I can imagine them as kelp and coral in this land-based sea.

The flat sprays

of Eastern


Beech &


along the

Elwin Bacon


American Beech

in the winter

Feathery needles of White Pine

White Pine bundle of 5 needles and the flat spray of Eastern Hemlock.

Horizontal lenticels and peeling bark on White Birch.

Park Address

802 New Sherborn Rd

Athol Ma 01331

Mailing Address

PO Box 366

Athol, MA 01331

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