A Legacy of Words


Just last week, I took my 3-year old nephew Max for a walk on the Trolley Trail. The “marshh on the udder side of town,” he calls it. Since he was a baby, I’ve been teaching him all of the important words. Words like marsh and woods, osprey and phragmite. We’re still working on glacial erratic.

These are some of the words my friend Peter Borgemeister taught me when we first met 20 years ago — and words are how he and I connected from then on.

After coffee at the local coffee shop and a “windshield tour” to show me local open space properties and marshes in 1994, Peter charmed me into volunteering for the Branford Land Trust — and together we worked on its publicity and newsletter for many, many years.

We were really big fans of each other. He always had good things to say about my writing, and I just adored his. So, I thought I would share some of his writing with you today. This is one of my favorites, from a 1996 issue of the Land Trust newsletter.

A Winter Walk in the Van Wie Woods
by Peter Borgemeister

Even in the dead of winter, the land tells us why it is worth preserving. To learn what the winter woods tell us, Bill, Alice Van Wie and I trudged into the Van Wie Woods through deep, newly fallen snow.

The abundance and variety of mammal and bird tracks in the snow amaze us. There is equal diversity of tree species, clearly shown by the colors and texture of the barks of trees and shrubs. Deer tracks occasionally lead to snow tubs, deep depressions in the snow made by deer bedding down for the night, and open water in streams. Fingers of ice reach out into midstream during the still cold night, but they recede toward the banks when warmed by the day’s winter sun. That sun, so low in the sky, reflects off the rippling water making it sparkle.

Snow doesn’t cling to the smooth, vertical faces of granite outcrops that seem to have burst out of the ground. Some face east; some face west, and at the base of each buried by the snow is a distinct micro-environment caused by the difference between exposure to the morning and the afternoon sun. Living in each, but dormant now, are plants and animals that have adapted themselves to this particular environment.

Small ponds of water have punctured the snow covering an inland wetland. A close look into these ponds reveals the green hue of live algae and indicates that this area will be teaming with life come spring.

Stone walls tell us that this area had once been cleared for pasture of farmland, possibly hundreds of years ago. An immense tulip tree, one of the monarchs of this forest, grows out of a corner in the wall; perhaps this tree marked the corner of the lot before the wall was built.

This winter landscape is not all black and white. The beech tree’s tan leaves seem to be creating their own light; they are bright enough. The mountain laurel’s dark green leaves contrasting with the snow speak of the life that persists in this winter woodland. Finally, the lowering sun contributes color to the late afternoon scene by tinting the snow pink and adding a bluish caste to the shadows of the trees.

I think every one who knew him would agree that Peter — his words, his actions, his love and enthusiasm — inspired all of us.

Thank you for letting me share some of that with you here. And thank you Peter, for giving me the legacy of important words to pass on to my nephew.

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