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Writer’s Retreat at Treleven

29 May

Treleven Farm, the educational and environmental nonprofit Don and Cheryl Mitchell founded at their farm in New Haven, Vermont, will be establishing a writer’s retreat in the annex beside the main farmhouse. This is a beautiful, sunny space of almost 1,000 square feet with a bed in one corner, a desk in another, a dining area with a table, a well provisioned kitchen, a bathroom and shower, and a deck. It has frequently been used in the past for tourist and guest accommodation as well as for retreats.

Treleven will now also begin offering this facility for a writer’s retreat, starting with one month in the fall of 2015 and another one in the spring of 2016. The upcoming fall session will start on October 15th. The costs for the room and for utilities will be covered by the foundation, while the writer accepted for this retreat will be responsible for his or her own transportation and food. Applications will be considered both for one-month and for two-week residencies during the initial period.

The proposed writing project should relate directly to some aspect of the Treleven mission, which emphasizes creativity, environmental awareness, and close attention to the land, to education, and to social justice. More information about recent programs and affiliations may be found on the Treleven website: ( The application should consist of a cover-letter with a description of the proposed project, a writing sample of between 200 and 2,000 words, and two letters of recommendation. Applicants for the October 15th retreat are asked to submit these materials to the following address by July 15th: Treleven Farms, 164 Mitchell Drive, Vergennes, VT 05491. A selection committee from the Treleven Board will read all materials and get back to people with its decision by August 15th.

Treleven in December

6 Dec

Don made his first-ever “Black Friday” shopping foray on the day after Thanksgiving this year, in order to buy a wildlife camera that happened to be on sale. There were no crowds in the box store at 6 a.m. fighting to get their hands on one of these devices, so Don was able to make off with it easily. It’s an innocuous-looking plastic box painted in camouflage green, and when you strap it to a tree in the woods it begins to quietly take photographs of anything that triggers its ultra-sensitive motion detector. Day or night, rain or shine. An infrared flash illuminates the surrounding visual field for a distance of up to forty feet, without unduly alarming the photographic subject. The idea is that any animal who innocently wanders into the camera’s range will have its picture taken and be digitally recorded.

Wild Life Camera

Once we get adequate snow cover to show the tracks of animals moving through the woods, we’ll set up the wildlife camera at places where there seems to be persistent activity…and then we’ll post at least some of the results on this website. Anecdotally, we’re already sure we have a wide and diverse array of wildlife making their living on Treleven Farm—particularly on account of the sprawling beaver swamp and the talus formations at the base of both the east cliff (“the back cliff’) and the south cliff. These talus formations don’t amount to true caves, but they do offer myriad denning sites that are easily defensible and well-protected from the weather.

It will be fascinating to pin down exactly what creatures we’re sheltering here. Some of the impressions that we find in the snow are reasonably obvious: white-tailed deer, snowshoe rabbits, foxes and coyotes. But is there a fisher out there? What about a bobcat, or long-tailed weasel? Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife lists fifty-eight different species of wild mammals as being native to Vermont, of which seven are currently assigned an “endangered” status by the state.  (Four of those seven endangered species happen to be bats, which accounts for the state’s overriding concern with enhancing bat habitat). Once we get the wildlife camera up and running, the goal will be to make a photo album showing how many of those fifty-eight wild mammals are present on Treleven Farm.

A couple days after Don’s “Black Friday” shopping adventure, Ethan came across a YouTube clip of a wildlife life camera set up to record video images in Australia. The camera was evidently picked up by an eagle, who flew off with it and managed to take pictures far and wide. Here’s the link to where you can fly with an eagle:

Eagles have made something of a comeback recently in the Champlain Valley, and we’ve spotted at least one of them flying over the farm on several occasions…looking for a camera to fly off with, in all likelihood. I hope he’s not smart enough to bite through the bungee cords used to attach our camera to a likely tree. But if he does, we’ll try to get it back and then post the images!

Program Highlights

20 Nov

The program offerings of Treleven, Inc.  have been growing slowly in quantity and quality. Some of the highlights were:

Master Class with David Epston. This wonderful class, arranged by Peggy Sax, was designed for advanced practitioners of narrative therapy. It is the model for the way we hope Treleven will function in the future. The group spent three days attending classes in the Annex, hiking and biking during the breaks, eating, laughing, and learning.  Peggy is planning a similar event for spring of 2014.  Some of the international group of participants had connected through Peggy’s on-line teaching site, others were meeting for the first time. The weather was glorious and we learned a lot about the way Treleven could support a group such as this.


Habitat Management Project: AKA Bat Walks  In conjunction with the publication of Don Mitchell’s new book, Flying Blind,  we led 90 minute tours of the habitat management areas of the farm.  These took place every Saturday morning at 10:00, rain or shine (for the most part the weather was wonderful). Groups ranged in size from small up to 15 and often included people from other environmental groups such as Vermont Coverts, Audubon, Bat Conservation International, and girl scouts working on bat protection. We even saw bats at one of the special evening tours.

Farm Management: The seasonal work of the farm continues to attract volunteers, many of them students from the college.  Spring is lambing season, summer  is haymaking, and autumn is putting the gardens and orchard to bed. This is another area we hope to expand in the future, perhaps in conjunction with the emerging environmental and food studies programs at the college.


Supporting child care and other human service workers: Treleven continues to host the Culminating Seminar for Early Childhood and Afterschool Professionals once or twice a year. This is a twelve-week, 3 credit course offered through the Union Institute and University. We have also offered reflective practice sessions and retreats for this community. The TouchPoints work, which Treleven used to sponsor, has now been successfully transitioned to the Vermont Department of Health, under the direction of Wendy Davis, MD (the former Commissioner of the  Department). We have hosted small meetings for the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children and the Home Visiting Alliance. The Education in Human Values Curriculum has now been distributed to all schools in Addison County, as well as to many statewide organizations.

Supporting Middlebury College: Treleven has hosted orientations for first year students (one focused on environmental issues, the other on social justice); a retreat for the Campus Compact Leaders, a winter term course called Spirit of Change, and has helped connect College programs with the Migrant Farmworker Coalition Activities.  The connections with B Amore and the Invisible Odysseys project remain strong: this year the art work was part of the Rural Health Training meeting that was held in Middlebury.

Treleven in November

6 Nov

As the land starts drifting off to sleep for the winter, we’re trying to finish up a new set of trails carved through the southeast corner of the woods on the farm. About five more acres of previously impassable forest have been restored to accessibility by hikers—not to mention winter explorers on cross-country skis and/or snowshoes. Many of the trees in this part of the woods are simply magnificent, and it seems a shame that for most of the last forty years they were impossible to appreciate simply because there was no easy way to get to them.

White Pines Trail
We’ve become impressed by the huge disparity between a particular forest aesthetic that has come down to us via western culture—the idealized forest in which all the trees are standing tall and straight and healthy, with a park-like understory that allows for easy strolling—and the actual requirements of a healthy forest ecosystem. The latter embraces standing dead trees or “snags,” downed limbs and deadfalls gradually decaying all across the forest floor, and robust growth at both the forest’s midstory level and closer to the ground. The problem with such an ecologically desirable forest is that it’s uncongenial for humans to walk through and enjoy. Well-designed trails answer the problem by creating lanes of access that don’t require stumbling around and wading through underbrush. Beyond the trails, though, the forest can go on doing its thing.

About 3500 feet of new trails have been blazed this year, so that—combined with the previous trails created as part of the “bat project,” it’s now literally possible to walk for miles in the woods on the farm. Having trails, too, allows a rational approach to dealing with invasives such as buckthorn and Japanese barberry. Tackling these problems on a forest-wide basis is simply too daunting, but to deal with them in particular quadrants defined by well-marked trails is a doable thing.

Wolf Oak

Thoreau writes about making pilgrimages to visit particular trees in his neighborhood around Walden Pond, as if visiting old friends. Now we’re beginning to be able do that, too. But since there are still at least forty acres of forest here without any significant trails or easy means of access, we’ll be continuing this work for a long time. Who knows what inspiring trees may be found in those inaccessible woods, yet to be admired?

Treleven in September/October

10 Oct

There were still bats in the woods as of Friday evening, September 27 when Treleven hosted a gathering of Vermont Coverts co-operators for a special evening bat walk. When we tour the bat zones with visitors on Saturday mornings, any bats currently on the farm are sleeping in their roost trees so they’re never on view. People just need to take it on faith that they’re here. But just at dusk as we walked through one of the enhanced “foraging zones” in the woods—where the forest’s midstory has been removed to make it easier for bats to hunt insects—there they were, cruising about high up in the canopy. And then when we got back to the house, there was another bat circling the inside of the garage at bat-like speeds…until he/she made an escape into the night.

Bat Walk in Fall

But the bats will soon be decamping to head for their winter hibernacula, which tend to be at the southern end of the marble belt that stretches from Middlebury to Manchester…and it’s in those caves where the ravages of white-nose syndrome are most often found. Based on quite a few anecdotal reports, though—some of them offered by visitors who have come to tour the bat zones here—there have been more bats sighted this past summer than has been the case for the past couple years. So perhaps the wheel is turning, and/or evolution is doing its thing. Survival of the fittest and all.

Bat Sign

We’ve had as many as eleven people show up for a bat walk, and as few as just one—but we’re happy to lead these hikes for anyone who shows up at Don and Cheryl’s house at 10 a.m. on a Saturday.  It’s interesting that different people tend to have different areas of expertise when it comes to appreciating the world around us. Some know the birds, some know the various ground-cover plants in the woods, some are adept at understanding the geological forces that shaped the land here. The pooling of each person’s knowledge has been a rewarding part of these Saturday hikes, which are “supposed”  to take 90 minutes but often go on for longer than that when everyone starts sharing what they know!

The last Saturday morning bat walk—for this year, anyway—will take place on November 2, by which point the forests will no longer be in the ecstasies of autumn foliage.  In fact, there could even be snow on the ground. But dress for the weather and climatic conditions, and we’ll be happy to show you around.

Treleven in August

28 Aug

The long-awaited bat habitat tours began taking place on the first Saturday in August, with ten hikers showing up from far and wide to walk through the woods. Since then, the numbers have dropped off…but with fall foliage now in the offing, we expect business to pick up. And so far, this has been a marvelous way to meet new people and share the Treleven vision with them. There will always be a “bat walk” leaving Don and Cheryl’s house at 10 a.m. every Saturday morning, from now until the first weekend in November. Even if only one person shows up, we will happily show that person the woods! Thus far, everyone who has come to share this experience has left feeling well-rewarded.

don on back cliff

One of the famous sayings of Yankee farmers—along the lines of “Rain in May means a barn full of hay”—is that “A dry year will scare you, but a wet year will kill you.” Kill your farm enterprise, that is. We’re not going to be put out of business by the unprecedented rains of the first half of this summer, but the consequences have certainly been daunting. In a wet year, the growth of forage crops in pastures and meadows explodes…but grazing livestock trample much of that feed into the muddy ground, and haying machinery is unable to harvest wet crops on soggy ground. We now finally have a hay crop, but it’s so over-mature that the nutritional quality is much poorer than we’d like. Then, too, with the first cutting of hay delayed by over a month, various weeds that ordinarily get nipped in the bud have had their day. Of particular concern at Treleven is the proliferation of milkweed, which happens to be a perennial. Milkweed is great for Monarch butterflies—in fact, they require it in order to complete their life-cycle—but it’s not something you want to find in a bale of hay. Hopefully, a second and third mowing before the season is over will at least discourage the milkweed…and maybe next summer we’ll be back to a “normal” weather pattern.

Treleven in July

3 Jul

It was a distinctly dry spring until the middle of May, but since then nearly twenty inches—twenty inches!!—of rain has fallen, with challenging consequences. All of the sheep pastures are squishy wet, and it’s been impossible to put up any hay whatsoever. This part of New England seems to be stuck in a pattern of lousy weather that just won’t go away.

The only Treleven-sponsored event scheduled for last month—a day-long retreat at the pond and gazebos for directors of area child care centers—had to be relocated to a venue in town because the site here was simply too wet to use. On a brighter note, on the one day without rain we pulled off a baby shower for Anaïs and Noah in the midst of their relocation from Brooklyn to Vermont. Their baby was properly blessed in a New Age tradition, and he or she kicked appreciatively in response.


Riparian corridor would better serve traveling wildlife by allowing more brush to regenerate

Don attended a three-day training session in the Northeast Kingdom—sponsored by an organization called Vermont Coverts—in order to learn how to better manage Treleven’s forests and fields so as to attract more wildlife. This seemed like a logical extension of the bat project, and it turns out that we’re already doing a lot of things well. One desideratum will be to broaden the area of regenerating forest that flanks the stream which drains the beaver swamp into the farm pond, since that tends to be a corridor in which wild animals travel—and with a bit greater width in that corridor, they’ll be able to do so with more confidence and safety. Another goal is to “soften the edges” where the pastures and meadows transition into forested land, by modifying when and where we cut hay along the edge of the woods.


Brush piles in bat foraging zone provide habitat for wildlife

It was good to learn that the dozens of large brush piles we’ve been creating in the woods—as a consequence of the habitat work undertaken for endangered bats—are a definite aid to various forms of wildlife that use such piles for cover/protection and nesting places. Also, we’re starting to become more attuned to birdsong as we work in the woods. The general idea is that a robust and diverse population of wildlife—including songbirds—is a good indicator of overall forest health. And the presence of these fellow creatures certainly makes a walk in the woods more interesting.

We’re getting excited about showing off the bat zones in the forest to visitors every Saturday morning, beginning on August 3 and continuing through the fall foliage season…until Saturday, November 2. Please make of note of this and tell interested friends: anyone who comes to Don and Cheryl’s house at 10 a.m. on those Saturdays will get a 90-minute tour of the woods, including a hike up the back cliff to admire the spectacular views. For directions to the farm, click “DIRECTIONS” on the menu bar at the top of this page. Dress for the weather, and feel free to bring a light backpack filled with water, snacks, binoculars, camera, etc. If Don can’t be on hand on a particular Saturday to lead the tour and talk about Flying Blind—his book presenting the bat habitat project here and much, much else—someone else will be on hand to do so. Hope to see you there!

Treleven in June

3 Jun

We’ve been working hard lately to get the several miles of footpaths through the woods on the farm all gussied up, since beginning on August 3rd we’ll be offering weekly walking tours of the “bat zones” every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. These tours will take place every Saturday morning right through the fall foliage season, up until November 2. Anyone who shows up at Don and Cheryl’s house at 10 a.m. will get a guided tour of the areas where the forest has been reshaped in order to help bats find an attractive shagbark hickory to snooze in through the daylight hours, and also to provide some foraging zones where the mid-story trees have been removed so that bats can hunt insects at night with greater success. (We call these The All-Night Diners.) Don will tell you all about bat project, and show you a copy of his new book FLYING BLIND which tells the story of how we became bat-lovers.

Please come dressed for the weather, and ready to spend about 90 minutes walking on paths of easy to moderate difficulty. Bring a camera, too, because if the weather’s nice we’ll go up what we call “the back cliff” and enjoy a spectacular view of Treleven Farm and the surrounding Champlain Valley.


One part of the “bat project” here has involved a two-year effort to eradicate invasive plant species from the areas where bat habitat was specifically being enhanced. And we thought we’d pretty well succeeded—but sad to say, once again this year we are battling garlic mustard in the old sugarbush close to our house. It’s a very persistent exotic—so if you find it growing on your own premises, watch out! Here’s a picture of this biennial plant in its second-year stage, just before setting the seeds that will bring forth a next generation. Hope we can get them all picked before then!


For a map to Treleven Farm, click here. There should be plenty of parking available right behind Don and Cheryl’s house, which is the last of three houses on Mitchell Drive. Children and pets are welcome, although dogs—because we raise sheep on the farm—will have to be kept on a leash.