On any given day I can walk outside the Welcome Center at Chatfield and become immersed in the natural surroundings of the St. Martin campus. No other college or university in the area can offer such a gorgeous expanse of acreage for its community to utilize for spiritual, personal, family or recreational use. The college grounds are a verdant gem in the rural farm country of northern Brown County, and I hope that it stays that way.
If you ask someone from within a 20 mile radius about Chatfield, that person may say that it is a college, nuns live there, the chapel is beautiful, they used to have an indoor pool, and that the campus driveway was considered for a part in a little movie called Rain Man. What they may not tell you is that Chatfield is a veritable treasure of flora and fauna that gets overlooked as just another chunk of ground in the middle of Ohio farmland.
When I walk around campus on one of my work breaks, I can’t help but fall in love with the scenery over and over again. From the conservation of the natural waterway that runs through the entrance, to the reflection of the chapel in the pond- along with turtles basking on the bank- to the largest tulip poplar I have ever seen, Chatfield’s campus is a natural showcase. Anyone who has an appreciation for plant and wildlife would be remiss in not taking the time to explore the grounds.
One of my favorite things to do is tell visitors about our diverse bird population. That usually starts with me pointing out our nest of baby birds- Eastern Phoebes- at the entrance to the Welcome Center. The nest currently has 4 chicks and is on top of a light fixture next to the doorway. Mom and dad feed the chicks insects every few minutes. They are not shy, and will sit perched on a twig (or sign, or post, or bench…) and watch the coming and going of people walking by. When the coast is clear, the parents fly to the nest and are greeted by a cacophony of chirps, peeps, squawks, and wide-open mouths.
Another insect eater on campus is the Barn Swallow. These birds are aerial acrobats and quickly fly back and forth, skimming the grass for mosquitoes and other flying insects. They build nests in the eaves of buildings, and we have a pair of them under the porch roof of the gymnasium. If you get too close you will be in danger of losing some hair, as swallows will dive bomb intruders! I can’t help but watch them dart back and forth across the yard and am always struck by their grace and agility.
A gorgeous and energetic bird found on campus is the Red Headed Woodpecker. We have a pair of them, more than likely nesting in a rotted tree somewhere close by. One of them likes to sit on the fence around the tennis court. The male and female look alike, with a bright red head, white body and black wings. Woodpeckers make two drumming noises. One, when they are drilling into trees looking for insects; the other is used when they are “marking” their territory by drumming loudly on trees, gutters, telephone and electric poles, and any other object they take a fancy to.
There are, of course, other birds on campus that are equally interesting. Walking around the paths and driveways on campus will bring visitors in contact with Goldfinches, House Finches, Chipping Sparrows, Dark Eyed Juncos, Wrens, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Kingbirds, Robins, Pine Siskins, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Crows, Starlings, Red Wing Blackbirds, Red Tailed Hawks, Great Blue Herons, Black- and Turkey- Vultures, and so many others. Binoculars are a no-brainer if you intend to spend some time exploring.
There are also larger creatures to be seen on a visit to Chatfield. One day while coming back from lunch a group of us saw a doe and her fawn walking through the creek that runs through the front of the property. The doe was standing in a shallow pool and her spotted fawn was running and bucking in a circle around her. I was driving and, as is my habit, looked upstream and saw the doe look up at us. I quickly stopped and backed up so that we could get a better look at them. One of my passengers made a joke about my quick braking and we laughed, but it was a wonderful moment that I got to share with my team of co-workers.
Another instance of coming into contact with the wildlife on campus happened when my 12- year-old daughter took a summer enrichment drawing class. She was sitting on a bench outside working on her tree drawing. She happened to look up and out toward the small field next to the cemetery and noticed something moving. It was a group of coyote pups, playing and jumping at each other in the tall grass. The mother was off in the distance, watching. My daughter, who takes after her mom, was not in the least bit concerned about the coyotes. She was delighted to see them and counted herself lucky to have the chance to watch them play. Her only regret was that she did not have my camera with her. We looked for them later, but they had moved on.
If you are a fan of snakes, we have those, too. Several black rat snakes have been seen on campus. Black rat snakes are very beneficial, non-aggressive, and beautiful to watch. I once followed one that I shooed away from the driveway. I even reached down to touch it as it moved into the grass. It paused and flicked its tongue a couple times, then went on its way, which happened to be a large hole in one of the maple trees by the tennis court. The day before, I had removed a small black snake from a (human) populated area and released it on a back corner of the property. One of my co-workers insisted on taking a picture, and now I have been given the moniker of “snake charmer!”
While a love of nature and wildlife may not be shared equally by all visitors to Chatfield, this is a place where students, families, and the community can come to relax in the quiet spaces and get away from the stressors and triggers of the daily grind. The grounds are open to the public until 10:00 pm every day. Bring a blanket to spread out underneath the huge beech tree. Pack some lunch to eat on one of our picnic tables. Children can play Frisbee or tennis- or hunt Pokemon- while parents walk through the grass in their bare feet. Watch for butterflies and hummingbirds along the edges of campus where the wildflowers grow. Take the dog for a walk around the pond and feed the bass and bluegill that gather in the shallows. Bring a camera, binoculars, or drawing supplies. Whatever it is that brings visitors to Chatfield, we want everyone to leave with a feeling of contentment that cannot be duplicated, and that will instill a desire to come back again and again.
PS: Don’t forget to sign up for our annual 5K Run/Walk on Saturday, July 23! Get your dose of the great outdoors while helping out our students. The 5K helps fund our student scholarships, and this year, it also benefits the Hope Emergency Center. Bring a school supply and get discounted registration. Check out our website www.chatfield.edu/5K for information.
-Lee Rose, Admissions Counselor