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Middletown-based nonprofit artist creates calendar from nature’s perspective

Artist Jon Schroth and sustainability researcher and writer Erik Assadourian, director of the Middletown-based environmental nonprofit The Gaian Way, created a colorful ecological calendar of Southern New England that tracks time from nature's perspective rather than a people-oriented perspective.

Artist Jon Schroth and sustainability researcher and writer Erik Assadourian, director of the Middletown-based environmental nonprofit The Gaian Way, created a colorful ecological calendar of Southern New England that tracks time from nature’s perspective rather than a people-oriented perspective.

Erik Assadourian / Contributed photo

MIDDLETOWN — A local sustainability animation artist, researcher and writer has created a colorful, circular calendar based on 20 species native to southern New England and their development through the seasons.

Erik Assadourian, director of the Gaian Way, an environmental nonprofit based in Middletown, collaborated with artist Jon Schroth on the unique poster project called the Cycles of Gaia with a radiant sun in the center.

“Gaia is another way to talk about our living Earth, to recognize that Earth is a living system that sustains us and of which we are a part,” Assadourian said.

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He and Schroth created the ecological calendar that keeps track of time from nature’s perspective rather than a human-centered perspective.

“What makes it so beautiful is that you can see the patterns of leaves coming into circulation (through the trees’ vascular system), swelling, and then, as the leaves fall, that waxing and waning of flowering, fruiting and leaf formation , all tied to our precipitation patterns and day length patterns,” Assadourian said on Friday.

The image shows the foliage, flowering and fruiting of twenty species from the northeastern coastal zone throughout the year. Based on 35 years of data from the Harvard Forest and UConn Extension Center, the poster also shows the amount of sunlight and precipitation.

Assadourian is developing a lesson plan for students in all grades, according to the Connecticut Next Generation Science Assessment standards. So far, he has approached about 300 schools about the project, with interest from teachers in Trumbull and Rocky Hill, in addition to Middletown.

Today’s busy world has created a kind of disconnect from the natural world, Assadourian said.

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He said some people are looking for that connection with nature, like forest bathing, a monthly class he teaches for the recreation department.

The way the calendar is organized in a circle makes these functions easier to understand, he said. This is not clear with standard calendars.

“This provides a visual guide to what’s happening at different times of the year,” Assadourian said.

He hopes the calendar will ‘spark’ people to be inspired to identify the plants.

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“It is one thing to see the leaf landscape as a whole, without understanding that it is a birch and a maple. It’s another thing when you start developing relationships with different species and individual plants,” he said.

Assadourian has a river birch tree behind his house that provides year-round entertainment.

“Yesterday I saw a squirrel fighting with two blue jays for about 10 minutes,” he said. “It was amazing.”

The aim is to encourage schoolchildren – and others – to choose one of the species, be it a particular tree or shrub, and follow it through the seasons. That has the potential to “build a deeper connection and give people a deeper appreciation for the ecoregion they are part of,” he said.

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“It’s one thing to put together a poster that will make a beautiful addition to a bedroom or living room, and another thing to hang it on a classroom wall for kids to look at year after year,” added he added.

Assadourian and Schroth met because their sons are taking forest bathing classes.

“It was a natural fit,” Assadourian said.

The poster was inspired by one that a sustainability professor in Puerto Rico created using native plants. Schroth saw the one Assadourian had hanging on a wall.

“He saw it and loved it,” Assadourian said, which led to the collaboration.

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A 2020 study from the American Psychological Association found that nature has a calming effect and can improve the immune system and mental well-being.

Working long hours, with family and other obligations, often makes it difficult for people to find time to go outside.

Appreciating nature means knowing its needs, Assadourian said.

“If you don’t love something, you’re not going to fight to save it,” he said. “We no longer have a direct relationship with all these plants around us.”

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“Our food comes from far away, we are not farmers, we are not gatherers, we do not understand that these trees all around us make the oxygen we breathe, that they purify the water we drink. holding the soil together and nourishing it for the food that we or animals eat,” Assadourian said.

The development of the Cycles of Gaia curriculum is made possible in part by a $7,500 grant from Sustainable CT.

After this phase of the project, Schroth and Assadourian envision a traveling museum exhibition or the creation of a circular, spiral nature magazine “without end and without beginning.”

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To purchase a calendar, visit the Sustainable CT Campaign or stop by Reboot Eco at 131 River Road. Teachers interested in being part of the project can email [email protected]. For more information, visit gaianway.org.