Sunset hike at Wilton nature center reveals life in the cold and dark

WILTON — It may seem like the earth is going dormant, but there are still many things to see and experience out in the woods.

That’s why Sam Nunes, an environmental educator at Woodcock Nature Center, led a sunset hike on Nov. 19, covering a couple miles of trails as the daylight faded in the west.

“There are still beautiful things to see,” Nunes said. “There’s still stuff to learn, still processes going on.”

Nunes, who also writes “The Naturalist” column for the Wilton Bulletin, led a group of a dozen visitors out along the Orange Trail at 3:30 on the cold autumn afternoon as the sun sank low over the hills and faraway to the west.

“Along the way I encourage you to use your senses,” he said, providing some examples for things to see, listen for, and even smell and taste.

“Even though everything looks dead this time of year … there’s still a lot of stuff going on,” he said.

“We love Woodcock,” said Madeleine Bourdeaux of Wilton, who took part with several family members. “Their events here are wonderful.”

Nunes spoke of growth patterns of trees and shrubs, in relation to the sun and — consequently — specific directions.

At one spot along the trails known as the Beech Grove, he explained how this group of trees was able to communicate with one another through its roots, through fungus and pheromones in the ground.

“These trees are all interconnected … They can share information,” he said.

“The roots are pretty shallow so you can see them,” he said, also noting the damaging carvings people had done on the extremely thin bark as well.

“They also call these the sweetheart trees,” he said, because courting couples will carve their initials in them — something he said that’s potentially very damaging to the beech trees as it opens their thin bark up to infections.

Nunes also taught some facts about the Eastern hemlock, which he said is not the source of the poison of lore, but actually a beneficial tree for several reasons.

“The smell of these trees has a lot of healing properties,” he said, generating good feelings through their scent.

In fact, he said, thousands of years ago — right around the time of the winter solstice — Vikings would bring them inside their house because they were said to foster health and wellness.

Nunes noted that the outdoors in general was a great place to generate wellness, particularly through relaxation and loss of stressors.

“As we spend time in nature it has a relaxing effect on our bodies,” he said. “It is healing.”

Nunes also brought the group out along a swamp boardwalk, where he encouraged everyone to stay very quiet to listen for birds.

“At this time of the day a lot of birds are returning home and doing their companion chirps,” he said, “trying to determine where their loved ones are.”

Along with playing home to a variety of amphibians and insects, the swamp also serves as a natural filter for water that ultimately runs out into the Norwalk River and the Long Island Sound.

“They’re buffer zones for the watersheds,” he said of swamps.

“I love hikes, especially guided hikes,” said Liz Marcal of Wilton, commending Nunes for his knowledge and work.

“They’re just helpful, with information about what we’re seeing with the plants and trees,” she said. “The older I get, the more I’m getting into this stuff.”