Book of March: Upstream
As friends often do, one, whom we fondly call Señora because she was our sons’ high school Spanish teacher, recommended a book to me.
And as I often do, I visited my favorite independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, took a quick look and made a purchase.
Book of March: Upstream
Upstream by Mary Oliver is a collection of essays, many which she previously published elsewhere. In 175 pages, the essays span a lifetime of writing–but even more so a lifetime of living. And noticing. And contemplating. And wondering. And making connections. And wondering some more. But all the time, believing, even in that which she could not see or quite comprehend.
She speaks to the writing process, a process I have embraced for what seems like forever. Only a few minutes ago I shared with a friend that a final draft is never really final. Each time we return to the words, we find other ways of playing with them.
She speaks to the natural world that she has spent a lifetime observing and recreates it on the printed page with elaborate detail. And so, with each sentence, I travel beside her, whether she wants me to or not, for Ms. Oliver embraces solo moments of exploration. I get that.
She speaks of Emerson and Whitman and Wordsworth and Poe. And actually, about the latter, she turns my head for she writes about him with such compassion.
She speaks of the reality of the universe and reminds us to exist. She is. We are.
She speaks of observing a mother spider and her egg sacs in the cellar of a rented home over the course of several months, and I sense her wonder. As a child, I was afraid of those cellar spiders. As an adult, I’m intrigued by them.
And so today, I took Ms. Oliver with me when I stepped into the woods.
It was a snow-eating foggy sort of day and the dampness grazed my cheeks.
As my snowshoes slapped the hardened snow pack, rain drops drew my focus. On this particular pine sapling, I was drawn to the crosses formed by raindrops and needles, which seemed apropos given that today is Ash Wednesday. And then I noticed the spider silk.
Every where I turned, long beaded strands of miniature raindrops connected one branch to the next.
What I soon realized, however, was that the strands weren’t merely on single trees. Each tree was connected to the next throughout the forest. As I moved slowly about, I inadvertently snapped some of those lines and felt a sense of sorrow for all that work lost.
And because I was looking, I found other curious sites that I didn’t expect. That is one of the take-away messages of Ms. Oliver’s book–get outside and even if you are searching for something specific that you may not find, it’s what you see along the way that is more important.
As I often do when a book such as this one pulls me in, I turn back the bottoms of pages to remind myself that there are passages I will want to revisit. If the corner is turned back and back again, as this one, it means there is something to reread on this page and the one to follow.
For me, Upstream is that type of a book. It’s broken into five sections. Ah, the word broken–it doesn’t feel right in that last sentence because there is nothing broken about the book. Perhaps divided is a better word. Or maybe there’s another that will come to me eventually. That’s the thing about the writing process–it’s never final as I said above. Anyway, I found myself relating to each section with a different part of my soul.
And give thanks that Ms. Oliver chose to share her reflections in this manner. I also thank Señora for the recommendation.
Upstream by Mary Oliver, Penguin Press, 2016
Book of February: The Stars–A New Way to See Them
If you don’t mind stepping outside on a crisp winter night, it’s the perfect time to turn your eyes skyward. With less ambient light and no humidity, the stars and constellations (and the cold air) will take your breath away.
The first thing to do is move away from any house or street lights to orient yourself. With arms outstretched, point your right hand toward sunrise and your left toward sunset–thus you’ll now face north with the east to your right and west to your left. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, your backside should face south.
Now, if you were an Ancient Greek or Roman, you’d look at the stars above and draw elaborate pictures in the sky to represent the gods and goddesses you knew so well. But you aren’t. Nor am I.
Book of February
Instead, I connect the dots in a manner learned from H. A. Rey, author of the Curious George series (think Man with the Yellow Hat). Mr. Rey also wrote The Stars: A New Way to See Them, which guides us amateur stargazers in how to look at the constellations in a graphic way that shows the shapes implied by the name.
Almost everyone recognizes the Big Dipper, the seven stars that form a large scoop–or dipper. The curved handle is created by three stars while four others form the bowl. Though we may think of the Big Dipper as a constellation, it is actually an asterism or group of stars within a constellation. In this case, the asterism is within Ursa Minor, the Great Bear constellation. The tip of the dipper serves as Great Bear’s nose and the bowl forms part of his back–like a bicycle saddle bag. If you follow Rey’s diagram, you’ll see the rest of the side view, including the bear’s front and back legs and paws, plus his rump.
With Rey’s help, you can use the pointer stars in the Big Dipper to locate Polaris, the North Star, and then navigate your way around the night sky to other constellations. It’s a fun journey to take, especially when the sky is clear and wind calm.
Other winter favorites include Orion the Hunter and Gemini the Twins.
An easy way to locate Orion is to first find the three bright stars lined up that create his belt. Do you see his sword dangling from the belt? He’s the heavily armed guy that dominates the sky right now with one arm raised high and holding a club, while the other extends forward and grasps a shield. The constellation includes the brightest star–Betelgeuse (pronounced beetle juice), which marks his left shoulder (leading to the club in his hand).
Above Orion stand the Twins or Gemini (to the south), who remind me of the stick figures I used to draw in elementary school (and beyond). Their heads are the bright stars–Castor and Pollux. I love how they stand side-by-side, holding hands.
There’s so much more to see and I like the simplicity Rey has taught me to find my way about the night sky. Yeah, you can hold your phone up and use an app, but that takes the fun out of it.
Go ahead, treat yourself to Rey’s The Stars and turn your eyes to the sky.
I found my copy of The Stars: A New Way to See Them at Bridgton Books. Where did you find yours? (I hope you’ll join me in supporting local independent bookstores whenever possible.)
The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H.A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008 (with update on the solar system and our planets), originally published in 1954.
Book of January: Naturally Curious Day by Day
Twice now I’ve had the pleasure of being in the audience of Mary Holland at local speaking engagements and I give thanks for each opportunity. But even if I can’t be in her presence to catch her excitement about the natural world and listen to her tales of wilderness adventures, I’ve contented myself with turning to her book, Naturally Curious. It’s like having a naturalist beside me at all times. And when I encounter something I’m not sure about, it’s to Mary that I turn–or at least her book.
It was with great joy then, that I learned she’d published a new book this past year (in addition to children’s books and calendars and . . .). I purchased a couple of copies at my local independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, to give as presents. Of course, I also added it to my own wish list.
And so it was that I was grateful to open a certain shaped package of just the right weight on Christmas morning. Quite often we disguise our gifts to each other, but this one I knew immediately.
Book of January
Naturally Curious Day by Day by Mary Holland is exactly that. She breaks the year down into more than months as she did with her first book. For each day, she includes two or three photos and a paragraph or two. No too much info, not too little.
True confession here. I keep it in the upstairs library, aka bathroom. It’s just the right amount of information and I’m always looking for something to read when I’m seated there. (I’ve been known to read the packaging on a myriad of bathroom-related items.)
My reading experience includes credits and acknowledgements, dedications and prefaces. And what to my wondering eyes should appear in NC Day by Day, but a photo credit to one of my mentors: Bridie McGreavy, PhD. I remember when Bridie first shared the photo of the mouse impaled by a shrike with some of us. Turn to page 419 and see if for yourself. (Congratulations to you, Bridie.)
After I opened this coveted gift, a relative asked how Ms. Holland knew what to include for any particular day–that that animal or plant species would be seen that day. Ah, but Mary knows this because she is a seeker who has spent decades in the woods and on the water and she understands the rhythm of the natural world. How often do those of us who follow Mary’s blog and venture outdoors realize that we saw the very item she writes about the previous day or trust we will notice it that day?
It’s only day 5 and already, I’ve photographed most of the things Mary writes about from
pileated woodpecker holes and
associated scat (filled with insect bodies and bittersweet berries),
snow on conifers,
white-breasted nuthatches, and
to mammal prints,
maple buds (in this case Red Maple), and
even a snow scorpionfly.
Each month begins with a lengthy description appropos to what’s happening at that time of year, e.g. woodpecker holes and other signs of birds feeding, the survival of evergreens through the winter season and our local nuthatches, both white- and red-breasted.
How does Mary know what to include for each day of the month? It’s easy. She’s paid attention and encourages all of us to do the same. Probably, in hind sight, it was difficult for her to narrow down her topics.
Thank you, Mary Holland, for taking us along on your treks through your photography and prose, for teaching us and learning with us, and for providing resources for us to return to day in and day out.
Naturally Curious Day By Day: A Photographic Field Guide and Daily Visits to the Forests, Fields, and Wetlands of Eastern North America by Mary Holland, Stackpole Books, 2016. $29.95.
Books of December: A Holiday Wish List
In the spirit of changing things up a bit, I decided that I’d include five books I highly recommend you add to your holiday wish list and two that I hope to receive.
These are not in any particular order, but I’m just beginning to realize there is a theme–beyond that of being “nature” books.
Book of December: Forest Forensics
Tom Wessels, forest guru and author of Reading the Forested Landscape, published this smaller work in 2010. Though only 5″ x 7.5″, the book is rather heavy because it’s filled with photographs. Despite the weight, Forest Forensics fits into a backpack and is the perfect guide for trying to figure out the lay of the land. Using the format of a dichotomous key, Wessels asks readers to answer two-part questions, which link to the photos as well as an Evidence section for Agriculture, Old Growth and Wind, plus Logging and Fire. In the back of the book, he includes Quick Reference Charts that list features of particular forest and field types. And finally, a glossary defines terms ranging from “age discontinuity” to “Uphill basal scar,” “weevil-deformed white pines” and “wind-tipped trees.” In total, it’s 160 pages long, but not necessarily a book you read from cover to cover. If you have any interest in rocks, trees, and the lay of the land, then this is a must have.
Forest Forensics by Tom Wessels, The Countryman Press, Woodstock, VT, 2010.
Book of December: Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest
Michael L. Cline is executive director of Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, New Hampshire. In September, I had the pleasure of attending a talk he gave about Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest. The 6″ x 9″ book weighs about the same as Wessels’, and will also fit handily into your pack. Of course, you might want to leave the books in your vehicle or at home and look up the items later–thus lightening your load. Using Brownfield Bog as one of his main go-to places, Cline describes 70 species of shrubs from Creeping Snowberry to Mountain Ash. The book is arranged by family, beginning with Mountain Maple and Striped Maple of the Aceraceae (Maple) family and ending with the American Yew of the Taxaceae (Yew) family. Each two-page layout includes photographs (and occasionally drawings), plus a description of habit, leaves, flowers, twig/buds, habitat, range, wildlife use, notes and other names. I have no excuse now to not know what I’m looking at as I walk along–especially near a wetland. That being said, I’ll think of one–like I left the book at home, but I’ll get back to you.
Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest by Michael L. Cline, J.S. McCarthy Printers, 2016
Book of December: Bogs and Fens
Ronald B. Davis’ book, Bogs and Fens, was a recent gift from my guy. I hadn’t asked for it, and actually didn’t know about it, so I’m tickled that he found it. I’m just getting to know Dr. Davis’s work, but trust that this 5.5″ x 8.5″ guide about peatland plants will also inform my walks. Again, it’s heavy. The first 26 pages include a description of vegetation and peatlands and even the difference between a fen and a bog. More than 200 hundred pages are devoted to the trees, plants and ferns. In color-coded format, Davis begins with the canopy level of trees and works down to tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and finally, ferns. He also includes an annotated list of books for further reference, as well as a variety of peatlands to visit from Wisconsin to Prince Edward Island. As a retired University of Maine professor, Davis has been a docent and guide at the Orono Bog Boardwalk for many years. Field trip anyone?
Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada by Ronald B. Davis, University of New England Press, 2016.
Book of December: Lab Girl
I’d never heard of Hope Jahren until this summer and then several people recommended her book, Lab Girl, to me. Rather than a guide, this is the story of Jahren’s journey from her childhood in rural Minnesota to the science labs she has built along the way. As a scientist, Jahren takes the reader through the ups and downs of the research world. And she does so with a voice that makes me feel like we’re old friends. Simultaneously, she interweaves short chapters filled with information about the secret life of plants, giving us a closer look at their world. I had to buy a copy because for me, those chapters were meant to be underlined and commented upon. I do believe this will be a book I’ll read over and over again–especially those in-between chapters.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
Book of December: The Hidden Life of TREES
And finally, a gift to myself: The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben. I’d first learned about this book in a newspaper article published last year and had to wait until recently to purchase it after the book was translated from German to English. Again, it’s not a field guide, but offers a delightful read that makes me think. And thus, you can see my bookmark. I’ve not finished reading it yet, but I’m having fun thinking about some different theories Wohlleben puts forth. As a forester, Wohlleben has spent his career among trees and knows them well. He’s had the opportunity to witness firsthand the ideas he proclaims about how trees communicate. And so, I realize as I read it that I, too, need to listen and observe more closely to what is going on in the tree world–one of my favorite places to be. Maybe he’s right on all accounts–the best part is that he has me questioning.
The Hidden Life of TREES: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben, Random House, 2016.
And that’s just it–the underlying theme of these five books you might consider is TREES. I can’t seem to learn enough about them. One word of caution, each author has their own take on things, so the best thing to do is to read the book, but then to head out as often as you can and try to come to your own conclusions or at least increase your own sense of wonder.
And now for the books on my list (My guy is the keeper of the list):
Naturally Curious Day by Day: A Photographic Field Guide and Daily Visit to the Forests, Fields, and Wetlands of Eastern North America by Mary Holland, Stackpole Books, 2Mosses,
Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast by Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.
Do you have any other suggestions for me?
One final thought about books–please support your local independent book store as much as you can. Here in western Maine, we are fortunate to have Bridgton Books. Justin and Pam Ward know what we like to read and if they don’t have a particular book we’re looking for, they bend over backwards to get it for us.
Book of November
My sister knows me well. And so this summer she gifted me a copy of Kathryn Aalto’s The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A walk through the forest that inspired the Hundred Acre Wood.
My relationship with Pooh began as a child, though I can’t remember if my sister or mother read the stories to me or if I first meet him on my own. It doesn’t matter. What’s more important is that I had the opportunity to meet him and to stay in touch ever since.
Our relationship continued when I took a children’s literature course as a high school senior and after reading and writing about the books, I sketched characters from several stories including A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh to complete an assignment. My framed collage still decorates a wall in my studio. And later, I met Pooh again through The Tao of Pooh here I listened more closely to his lessons about life. When I needed to interpret a song for a sign language class, it was to Pooh I turned: Kenny Loggin’s “House at Pooh Corner.” And Pooh was a dear friend when our sons were young and the oldest formed his own relationship with the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood.
And so it was with great joy that I opened Aalto’s book and immediately related to her dedication: “To the walkers of the world who know the beauty is in the journey.”
When a friend noted that Winnie-the-Pooh is 90 years old today, I knew that this had to be the Book of November. Alan Alexander Milne published When We Were Young and A Gallery of Children in the two years prior to 1926 and followed with The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. All are as meaningful today as they were then–perhaps more so.
Kathryn Aalto is an American landscape designer, historian and writer who lives in Exeter, England. I know it’s not good to covet someone else’s life, and yet . . . I do.
Her book begins with biographical background about Milne and how he came to be at Ashdown Forest and the Five Hundred Acre Wood. I think one of my favorite facts that she shares is that while at boarding school, his mother sent care packages that included bunches of flowers grown in her garden. Upon receiving them, he was pulled home by the sight and scent. Perhaps secretly, my sons would appreciate that, but they’d never let on.
States Aalto: “We value the books for simple expressions of empathy, friendship, and kindness. The stories are classics as they express enduring values and open our hearts and minds to help us live well. But as I read about Milne and walked around England with my children, I saw how they also tell another story: the degree to which the nature of childhood has changed in the ninety years since Milne wrote the stories. There is less freedom to let children roam and explore their natural and urban environments. There are more digital distractions for our children that keep them indoors and immobile, and heightened parental fears that do so as well.”
With that, I am reminded of a childhood well spent exploring the environs of our Connecticut neighborhood and beyond and not returning home until we heard Mom shout our names from the back door. (Or a certain next door neighbor told me that my mother was calling.)
While C.R.’s explorations with his stuffed animals became the muses for his father’s stories, the landscape also provided inspiration.
That landscape still exists, though time has had a way with it. Aalto takes us there through her photographs and words. She begins with a visit to the farm, village of Hartfield, and the forest located steps to the south. Referring to the Ashford Forest, she comments: “It is still a place of solitude where people can walk half a day without meeting another person. There are no overt signs pronouncing your arrival in Pooh Country. There are no bright lights or billboards, no £1 carnival rides, no inflatable Eeyores, Owls, or Roos rising and falling in dramatic flair. There are no signs marking the dirt lane where Milne lived, nor pub grub with names like “Milne Mash and Peas” or a “Tigger’s Extract of Malt Cocktail” on ice. A quiet authenticity–historical, literary, and environmental–has settled over the landscape.” Ah, yes. A place to simply be and breathe and take it all in.
A photograph of C.R.’s secret hideaway in a tree reminds us that the stories are about real people and real places and based on real life events, all with a dash of real imagination. Aalto examines every aspect of this.
A week ago today, while exploring a similar woodland in New Hampshire with a dear friend, I convinced her to step inside a tree cavity, much the way the real Christopher Robin used to do a Cotchford Farm. At heart, we can all be kids again.
I love that Aalto provides us with a closer look at the flora and fauna of the forest. From flowers and ferns to birds, butterflies, moths, damselflies and dragonflies, and red tail deer, she gives us a taste of C.R. and Pooh’s world.
And she reminds us to get out and play, including rules for Poohsticks. I think it is more important than ever that all members of our nation step outside, find a Pooh bridge, drop a stick and run to the other side. As Aalto says in rule #9: “Repeat over and over and over and . . . ”
I also like that she mentions one special visitor to Ashdown Forest, who spent many hours examining carnivorous sundews.
I’m rather excited by that because just yesterday I discovered sundews, though rather dried up, growing on our six-acre woodland. We’ve lived in this house for 24 year and I’ve never spotted these before. The land is forever sharing something “new” with me and I’m happy to receive each lesson.
I’m also thankful for a feisty faerie with whom I share this outdoor space. Sometimes her statements are dramatic and I can only imagine the cause of her recent frustration.
It’s not too late to revisit your inner Pooh. To take the journey. And while you are there, I highly encourage you to get to know him and his place through The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh by Kathryn Aalto.
P.S. Thanks Lynn😉
The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh, first edition, by Kathryn Aalto, © 2015
Book of October
Better late than never is the name of my game. And so it is that I’m finally posting the Book of October. Since I was away at the beginning of the month, I’ve been playing catch-up, but also, I had three different books I wanted to write about and couldn’t choose one. And then, the other day after hiking with my friend, Marita, and mentioning her book, I realized when I tried to provide a link from my Book of the Month posts that though I’ve mentioned the book several times, I’ve never actually written about it. And so, without further ado . . . the Book of October is HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION by Marita Wiser.
Of course, since we’ve been friends for a long time and I’ve served as editor on several editions of the book, I suppose you might deem my review as being biased. It is.
And if you find the typo that has survived several editions, I might give you an extra candy bar for Halloween. Just remember, only God is perfect.
As you can see from the table of contents, trail descriptions are organized based on location and she ranks the difficulty, making it easy for the user to make a decision about which trail to hike. Do you see the blue box on Mount Cutler in Hiram? I actually had a brain freeze there and couldn’t put mind over matter and get to the summit. I was stuck in one spot for at least a half hour before feeling a slight bit of bravery and making my way down. I laugh at that now because I’ve completed all the black diamonds except for Chocorua–guess that needs to go on my list. Of course, my guy and I did have a heck of a time descending one trail on the Baldfaces, but we survived and have a story to tell.
The trail descriptions include directions, distances, time allotment, difficulty and often history. I think knowing the history of the place is extremely valuable so you can better understand the features around you.
For one of the local favorites, Pleasant Mountain, she includes five pages to describe the various trails and even includes an old photograph of the Pleasant Mountain Hotel. Standing at the summit, I often imagine the horses and carriages that carried visitors up the Firewardens trail, that is after they’d arrived by Steamboat, having followed the Cumberland and Oxford Canal from Portland to Harrison. Their journey makes any hike we take seem so easy. Well, maybe not, but still.
The centerfold provides an overview of all the areas Marita writes about.
And while she begins the book with a variety of hiking tips about everything from water, food, trash and clothing to ticks, hunting and trail markings, she ends with a scavenger hunt and information on how to reorder the book.
With time comes change and her covers reflect such. Marita started this project when she wrote a hiking column for The Bridgton News years ago.
The beauty of her book is that she actually goes out and explores all of the trails over and over again, and in each edition she provides updated descriptions. She also adds and deletes trails, so even if you have an older version, you might want to purchase the current copy.
I’m thankful for the book and my friendship with Marita. And glad that I often get to join her on a reconnaissance mission. (We also co-host the rest stop at the teepee on the Southwest Ridge Trail of Pleasant Mountain each September for Loon Echo Land Trust’s Hike ‘n Bike fundraiser before we traverse the ridgeline to the summit of Shawnee Peak Ski Area–thus our southern-themed headwear.)
This Book of October is a must have if you live in or plan to visit the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region area. And it’s available at many local shops, including Bridgton Books.
HIKES & Woodland Walks in and Around Maine’s LAKES REGION, fifth edition, by Marita Wiser, © 2013.
Book of September
The other day a friend and I made plans for an upcoming hike. Before saying goodbye, she said, “Don’t forget to bring your tree book.”
Really? I have at least thirty books dedicated to the topic of trees. But . . . I knew exactly which one she meant: Forest Trees of Maine. I LOVE this book–or rather, booklet. You’ll notice the tattered version on the left and newer on the right. Yup, it gets lots of use and often finds its way into my pack. When I was thinking about which book to feature this month, it jumped to the forefront. I actually had to check to see if I’d used it before and was surprised that I hadn’t.
Produced by the Maine Forest Service, the centennial issue published in 2008 was the 14th edition and it’s been reprinted two times since then.
In previous years, the book was presented in a different format. Two editions sit on my bookshelf, and I need to share with you two things that didn’t find their way into the most recent copy.
From 1981: Foreword–“It is a pleasure to present the eleventh edition of Forest Trees of Maine.
Many changes have occurred in Maine’s forest since 1908, the year the booklet first appeared. Nonetheless, the publication continues to be both popular and useful and thousands have been distributed. Many worn and dog-eared copies have been carried for years by woodsmen, naturalists and other students of Maine’s Great Out-Of-Doors.
We wish the booklet could be made available in much greater quantity, however, budgetary considerations prevent us from doing so. I urge you to use your copy of Forest Trees of Maine with care. If you do, it will give years of service in both field and office.”
Kenneth G. Stratton, Director.
From 1995: One of two poems included. I chose this one because it was one my mother often recited.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
The most recent edition of Forest Trees of Maine provides a snapshot of the booklets history and information about the changes in the Maine landscape. For instance, in 1908, 75% of the land was forested, whereas in 2008, 89% was such. The state’s population during that one hundred year period had grown by 580,457. With that, the amount of harvested wood had also grown. And here’s an intriguing tidbit–the cost of the Bangor Daily News was $6/year in 1908 and $180/year in 2008.
Two keys are presented, one for summer when leaves are on the trees and the second for winter, when the important features to note are bark and buds.
Terms for leaf shapes, margins and structure, twig structure, plus needle types and flower types are illustrated and various terms defined.
There’s even information on how a tree works because they do–for our well-being and for the benefit of wildlife.
And then the descriptive pages begin. Each layout includes photographs, sketches and lots of information, both historical as in the King’s Arrow Pine, and identifiable as in bark, leaves, cones, wood, etc.
Though some of the information is the same, it’s fun to note the differences from the two earlier publications.
At the beginning of each family, major descriptions are noted in an easy to follow format.
And like the conifers, the broadleaves are portrayed.
Tomorrow, when my friend and I venture off, I’d better remember to pack this booklet. She’s peeked my curiosity about what she wants to ID because I’ve climbed the mountain before and perhaps I missed something. She already has a good eye for trees so I can’t wait to discover what learning she has in mind for us.
Forest Trees of Maine, Centennial Edition, 2008, published by The Maine Forest Service
Book of August
It was my journey through the Maine Master Naturalist class several years ago that lead me to this book of the month: BARK–A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech.
The book actual evolved from Wojtech’s work, under the tutelage of Tom Wessels, toward a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology at Antioch University New England.
Between the covers you’ll find information about bark structure, types of bark and bark ecology. There is a key for those who are so inclined.
And then the biggest chunk of the book is devoted to photographs and descriptions for each type of tree that grows in our New England and eastern New York State forests. These include the common and Latin names, family, habitat, range maps, leaf and branch pattern, leaf shape and notes.
For me, there are two take away items from this book. First, I learned to categorize bark based on its pattern from smooth to ridges and furrows, vertical strips, curly and peeling to others covered in scales and plates. He breaks bark type into seven varieties that I now find easy to identify.
Second, I came to realize something that I may have known but never gave much thought to–except for American beech bark, which remains smooth all its life (unless it’s been infected by the beech scale insect), bark differs from young to mature to old for any particular species. Oy vey!
Though this book is useful in the winter, now is the time to start looking. To develop your bark eyes. The leaves are on and will help with ID, thus you can try the key and you’ll know if you’ve reached the correct conclusion or not.
Go ahead. Purchase a copy and give it a whirl. I must warn you, it becomes addictive and can be rather dangerous when you are driving down the road at 50mph. As Wojtech wrote in the preface, “If you want to experience a forest, mingle among its trees. If you want to know the trees, learn their bark.”
While you are at it, I encourage you to visit the small western Maine town of Bridgton, where the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge leads into Pondicherry Park. Each of the sixteen bridge beams is constructed from a different tree and the bark is still on them. Test yourself and then grab one of my brochures at the kiosk to see if you got it right. If there are no brochures, let me know and I’ll fill the bin.
And while you are there, stop by the independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, to purchase a copy of BARK.
BARK: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech, University Press of New England, 2011.
Huh? How can a book of July not be a book? When it’s a magazine. I’ve decided to promote Lake Living magazine this month, rather than The Forest Unseen: A Year in Nature by David George Haskell. Perhaps that will be next month’s book.
OK, so this is a biased opinion since I write for Lake Living, but I swear that each issue is better than the last and the last was pretty darn good. Here’s the thing. Yes, the mag focuses on the greater Bridgton lakes region of Maine, but there’s something in it for everyone no matter where you live.
Among this season’s selections is an article about knot tying written by Perri Black and illustrated by Christine Erikson. Perri pulls the reader in with a whimsical look at the history of knots and her relationship with trying to tie one. And then, she and Christine show us how to tie three knots: bowline, tautline hitch and “An elegant hanger for a coil of rope.” Perri’s thoughts about the latter: “I love this one. It is, indeed, elegant, and if you make a real mess of tying other knots with the rope, no one will ever know because at least the rope will look pretty when hanging in your workshop or garage and give the impression that you know what you’re doing.”
Another delightful article is “The Smallest Steps” by Julia Marino, in which she invites us into her experience of discovering the wonders of farmers’ markets. It’s followed by two of her favorite recipes.
Speaking of recipes, in this issue, you’ll notice recipes attached to three articles, including one by yours truly about “The Mushroom Guys.” Even though they are located in the area, you can visit their Web site, http://www.whitemountainmushrooms.com, to place an order or find out when you might join a foray.
Coda’s Tale by editor/publisher Laurie LaMountain is on the more serious side. Her dog, Coda, contracted anaplasmosis in 2015 and in this article Laurie shares the details of pain and suffering–with a happy ending. Thank goodness.
A constant in the summer and winter issues, and something many people look forward to–book reviews by Pam and Justin Ward, owners of Bridgton Books, and Perri Black, who also works for them. We are thankful to have an independent book store nearby and love that we can walk in and be greeted personally by the staff, who oft times will recommend books because they know our preferences. I encourage you to read their reviews in full and then head off to an independent shop where you can develop the same relationship. Or visit Bridgton Books.
There’s more. And it’s a holiday weekend. So brew a cup of coffee or pot of tea and sit down with Lake Living. Oh, and did I mention that it’s free. Yep. You can view it on-line or pick it up in a local shop. (Unless you live “away” as we say in Maine, and then a subscription is $20.) Of course, in order to provide a magazine at no cost, we depend on advertisers. Please support them and let them know where you saw their ad.
Lake Living magazine, not a book, but certainly worth a read.
Lake Living magazine, published quarterly by Almanac Graphics, Inc.
Book of June
So, yeah, insects. They aren’t my thing. And yet . . . they are fascinating. I only know this because my eyes were opened when I took the Maine Master Naturalist course. And this year, we’ve added a new title to the course: Insects from the Golden Guide series.
Our students received the 2002 edition, which is on the right. I also have the 1966 edition. Notice the price–$1.00 marked down to $.84. The newer edition: $6.95.
Price is not the only change. Though some things have stayed the same, the presentation has been reformatted and updated.
One of my favorite differences–attitude.
In the 1966 edition, “the battle to control insects is a never-ending necessity.” The purpose of the book–to help identify those bothersome pests. Insecticides were highly recommended, though precaution mentioned.
Fast forward to 2002: The foreword ends with a statement encouraging all to use the guide as an aid to “recognize and appreciate” insects that are part of our daily world.
For someone like me, it’s a great jumping-off point. I have a key and I have Peterson’s Guide and I have used bug guide.net, but this little book (6″x4″) offers a quick, easy-to-read glance and sometimes that’s all I need.
It’s certainly insect season (she wrote as she swatted a mosquito) and I encourage you to take a closer look. Like everything in the natural world, once you open your eyes to something, you’ll be amazed at what you find.
As a kid, I always thought this was snake spit. Huh? Do snakes climb flower stalks? Do they spit?
No, but spittlebugs (page 41) whip up some slimy froth to cover their eggs in late summer and the nymphs cover themselves while feeding in the spring.
I’m not sure if I’m seeing the nymph in the bubble house, but what I did notice as I looked at various masses this morning is the pattern or Fibonacci sequence. Cool stuff.
Meet my other friends:
Some do good works.
Others–not so good.
I’m amazed by color
veined wings and
Last year, I spent hours stalking the parents or relatives of this little one because the body structure amazed me so. I suspect I’ll do the same this year. Be forewarned.
Notice I didn’t ID any bugs–that’s for you to do if you choose. But even if you don’t, I do hope you’ll take a closer look.
And if you are looking for a great introductory guide, I highly recommend Golden Guides Insects. My copy was a gift, but I’m sure your local, independent book store (aka Bridgton Books–always like to give them a plug) can locate a copy for you.
Book of May
Everywhere we look as we hike (or even drive), be it ground, rock or tree, lichens make themselves known.
Some are easy to ID even if we are driving 60mph (on the highway, that is), like common greenshield. Others, however, require closer examination and consideration. And that’s why this month’s book is . . . Lichens of the North Woods by Joe Walewski. From the get go, it’s another one of those books where it feels like the author is by my side. “Welcome to the Lilliputian world of lichens!” he begins.
Lilliputian indeed! And complex. But Walewski helps the rest of us develop an understanding of such complexity. Through illustrations and photographs, he presents us with Lichen Biology 101. And then he takes us into the field, showing us how to collect and preserve our specimens.
He explains how to use the field guide and then gets into the nitty gritty. I appreciate that the book is divided into the three substrates–ground, rock and tree–though sometimes I need to remember that though the lichen I’ve found appears to be on a rock, it might be listed under ground because the soil has built up over time.
Within each of the three sections, he further divides it by type: crustose (think those lichens that appear to be flat like a crust of bread), foliose (leafy like foliage) and fruticose (branching like grape branches). Common greenshield is leafy–therefore a foliose lichen.
For each lichen, Walewski includes a photograph, description, chemistry, similar species and nature notes.
Finally, there is a glossary, followed by titles of interest, and a list of lichen groups and Web sites.
It’s a small book, measuring 8 x 4.5 and only about a half inch thick, so it’s easy to toss in the backpack.
Walewski’s study focuses on Minnesota, but here in the Northeast, we have many of the same varieties.
I’ve encouraged you to develop your bark eyes in the past. This summer, look out! We’re going to work on our lichen eyes. And any puns you wish to share are most welcome:-)
I found my copy of Lichens of the North Woods at Bridgton Books. Look for it at your independent book store.
Lichens of the North Woods, Joe Walewski, Kollath+Stensaas Publishing, 2007
Book of April
Sometimes the biggest gems arrive in the smallest packages. Such is the case with this month’s book–and this isn’t an April Fools’ Day joke, though I did briefly consider posting an upside-down photo of the cover.
I picked up a copy of TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND at a book swap during the Maine Master Naturalist Program’s first conference this past year. This third edition was compiled by Frederic L. Steele, Chairman of the Science Department, St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains, Littleton, NH, and Albion R. Hodgdon, Professor of Botany, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, and published in 1975 by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.
One of the things I like about it is that it measures 4.5 x 7 inches and fits easily into my pack. Plus, it includes more shrubs than many of my current books.
And check this out from the introduction: “In the preparation of this guide, the authors have received help and encouragement from a number of people. The following, in particular, should be mentioned . . . Mrs. Priscilla Kunhardt and Miss Pamela Bruns have done the illustrations . . . ” Mrs. and Miss! Ah, what happened to those days?
The descriptions are not lengthy, but enough for a quick reference. I choose the Trembling Aspen, which I’ve learned as Quaking Aspen (I know–that’s the problem with common names say my Latin-oriented friends) because two are located right out the back door. They are the trees of life in our yard.
Catkins slowly emerge from waxy-coated buds
and grow longer with lengthening days.
Tufts of hair adorn tiny seeds.
Soon, leaves on flat stems quake in the breeze,
until visitors arrive.
Very hungry caterpillars.
They aren’t the only ones. Porcupines nip off branches.
Eventually, leaves that survive fall to the ground.
All year long, birds visit to dine
and view the world.
The world looks back.
Ice slowly melts
and life continues.
TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND doesn’t include photos, but that’s OK because I have my own. Instead, as any good guide, it’s a jumping off place. So many books, so much different information–and sometimes guides contradict each other. Just the same, I love to read them and then to pay attention. For me, it’s all about forever learning. And wondering.
TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND, by Frederic L. Steel and Albion R. Hodgdon, Society for the Protection on Northern Forests, 1975.
Book of March
In 1980, after I’d spent time studying in York, England, my sister gave me a copy of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden. I’d kept diaries on and off over the years and continue to do so today, but nothing will ever match this masterpiece filled with poetry, personal observations and thoughts, plus enchanting watercolors.
Written in 1906, the book wasn’t actually discovered and published until 1977. Ms. Holden passed away in 1920.
Printed on yellowish paper, each page has darkened edges that give the reproduction an aged appearance–making me feel as if I’m holding the original in my hands.
She included her daily wonders and wanders, and poems and quotes that caught her whimsy. She was a teacher and a thinker who captured the physical world of the flora and fauna that surrounded her and combined it with a sprinkle of her own soul.
On the opening page for March, she quotes Bryant:
“The story March is come at last
With wind, and cloud, and changing skies;
I bear the rushing of the blast
That through the snowy valley flies.
Ah! passing few are they who speak
Wild stormy month in praise of thee;
Yet though they winds are loud and bleak
Though art a welcome month to me.
For thou, to northern lands again
The glad and glorious sun dost bring
And thou hast joined the gentle train,
And wear’s the gentle name of Spring.
And in thy reign of blast and storm
Smiles many a long, bright summer day
When the changed winds are soft and warm
And heaven puts on the blue of May.”
As I sit here this morning , I gaze upon trees whose limbs are embraced in snow and twigs glazed with a coating of ice while the rain falls. Since daybreak, the male cardinal has been singing at regular intervals. On March 12, 1906, Ms. Holden noted: “After a wet, windy day, we wake this morning to a regular snow storm, the air was full of whirling flakes, but in the midst of it all I heard a Sky-lark singing.”
Though she doesn’t know it, Ms. Holden has long been one of my mentors as she explored, catalogued and enjoyed nature. I can only hope to continue to pursue the daily wonderment she knew so well in my own way. I’m grateful to her and to her family for publishing the book posthumously. (Apparently there is a new edition, but I love my 1977 version) And to my sister for giving me this gem so many years ago.
The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, written and illustrated by Edith Holden, published 1977, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Book of February
A constant in my field bag is the laminated set of Trackards created by Naturalist David Brown in 1998. I’ve had the good fortune to spend time tracking with and learning from David and continue to do so each time I use his cards.
The prints and scat are hand drawn and life size so I can place them beside the sign to help make a determination about which mammal was on the move.
No print or scat is too small! You’ll notice that measurements are on the side–helping to determine the size of the print and the straddle (width from outside of one print to outside of other)..
David has also included the mammal’s preferred method or pattern of locomotion, which is also useful in correct identification. In this case, the fisher, a member of the weasel family, moved from a slanted bound to an alternate walking pattern.
Another handy thing–he’s made it easy to locate the particular cards by adding the mammal’s name on the edge.
These two photos are from David’s Web site.
David has found a publisher so the Trackards you purchase may look a wee bit different than mine, but the information is still there. And where I have thirteen cards because he made use of the front and back of each, the new decks contain 26 cards.
While you’re at it, take a look at his books. I have the older version of The Companion Guide to the Trackards and plan to order his newest book, The Next Step.
Trackards by David Brown: Don’t leave home without them.
Book of January
I have a number of winter nature books, but one of my go-to favs is A Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald W. Stokes. My copy is old (1976–it was a very good year–I graduated from high school) and a bit weathered, but that’s because it has seen frequent use.
Divided into eight field guides, Stokes covers all aspects of winter: winter weeds; snow; wintering trees; evidence of insects; winter’s birds and abandoned nests; mushrooms in winter; tracks in the snow; and woodland evergreen plants.
For each topic, pen-and-ink drawings by illustrator Deborah Prince and the author are included in the key, as well as natural history descriptions.
The natural history descriptions are just that–Stokes’s descriptions are part of the story that Kevin Harding of the Greater Lovell Land Trust reminds us to share with others. Here’s an example: “St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum)–An old country custom in Europe was to hang a special yellow-blossomed plant in your window on the eve of St. John’s Day (June 24), in order to repel bad spirits and counteract the evil eye. In general, the presence of this plant was considered a good omen, and since it was thought that the plant warded off lightning and revealed the identity of passing witches, St. Johnswort was allowed to prosper around the farmhouse. It became known as St. John’s Plant or St. Johnswort (wort meaning “plant” or “herb”). When the plant immigrated to North America it left its traditions behind, and although still as effective as it probably ever was against evil, St. Johnswort is now seldom used for that purpose.” Of course, then he goes on to describe how the plant grows and the seed heads that will appear in the winter landscape.
One of the things I’ve learned from this book is to keep it simple. In the chapter about winter trees, Stokes encourages the reader to begin with the six most common deciduous trees: oak; maple; ash; beech; birch; and aspen. Learning these along with the evergreens provides you with knowledge about 80% of the trees in your forest. I’ve spent the last couple of years developing my bark eyes. I still have much to learn, but can eliminate the common species when I encounter bark I’m uncertain about.
It’s well worth taking the time to read A Guide to Nature in Winter from cover to cover–it’s an easy and enjoyable read. I say it won’t take long–unless you are like me and you pause to underline (yes, I mark my books up–even write in the margins, oh my!) details and take time to understand what you do see along the trail. I probably should invest in a more up-to-date copy, but I feel right at home engrossed in the one that I have.
And it’s also easy to turn to a particular chapter to figure things out. The simplified, illustrated keys should bring you quickly to an identification. And as I said before, the natural history description will further enhance your learning.
The book is available at Amazon.com, but if you live near an independent book store like Bridgton Books, then I strongly encourage you to shop there.
A Guide to Nature in Winter: Northeast and North Central North America, by Donald W. Stokes, illustrated by Deborah Prince and the author, published 1976, Little, Brown & Company.
Book of December
I never thought that I would develop a fondness for fungi, but alas, I have. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t know them well, but am in the continual process of developing a deeper appreciation for the fruiting bodies I see and the mycelia that probes beneath the surface forever in search of nutrients.
For a beginner like me, Fascinating Fungi of New England by Lawrence Millman is the perfect guide. First of all, it measures 8 x 6 x .25 inches and slips easily into my pack. But what I like even more about this book is that Millman talks about mushrooms in a manner that a layperson like myself can understand. Combined with the artwork of Rick Kollath, whose visual cues aid in my learning, Millman compresses key points in this little book that has become one of my go-to sources in the field.
I think what I admire most is Millman’s voice. I’ve never met the man, but feel as if he’s standing beside me chatting about any particular species and telling the story. My friend and mentor, Kevin Harding, strongly advises that we should spend less time naming and more time sharing the stories of what we see in the woods. And that’s precisely what Millman does, with a splash of humor added to the mix.
To illustrate, in a sidebar about Birch Polypores, he writes the following: “Multi-faceted Fungus — 5,300-year old Tyrolean Ice Man Ötzi, discovered in 1991, had two polypores — the Birch Polypore and the Tinder Polypore among his possessions. He probably made a decoction of the former to rid himself of intestinal worms. Early New Englanders used the Birch Polypore as a razor strop; until recently, entomologists used it for mounting insect specimens; and the present-day Cree of northern Quebec (like Ötzi) make a medicinal tea from it. The Cree don’t like the polypore’s bitter flavor (due to a compound called Betlinic Acid), so they assume their alimentary parasites also won’t like the flavor and will thus vacate the premises upon coming into contact with it.”
And I love this: “Non-Gilled on Other — In this catch-all category, the species are not only parasitic, but most of them would also seem to be emulating Hollywood mad scientists in the way they transform the ‘Other:’ the Hypomyces turns a Russula or Lactarius into an entirely different species called a Lobster; an Entoloma causes a Honey Mushroom to lose its characteristic cap-and-stem shape; Rhizopus stolonifer turns a bowl of strawberries into an inedible, gooey mess; and a Cordyceps eats away at its truffle host until that host completely falls to pieces. You would think a movie producer would approach one or more of these species with a contract, wouldn’t you? Well, it hasn’t happened yet . . .”
The book is divided in an easy-to-use manner. So easy, in fact, that recently an 8-year-old friend began using my copy within minutes to identify species we found on a walk through Pondicherry Park. Sections include Gilled on Ground; Gilled on Wood; Gilled on Other; Non-Gilled on Ground; Non-Gilled on Wood; Non-Gilled on Other; Slime Molds. There are sidebars and measurements, spore prints, details about habitat and season, plus a glossary and other resources for those who want to take the next step in fungi ID.
For me, for now, this is enough.
Fascinating Fungi of New England by Lawrence Millman, foreword by Gary Lincoff, illustrated by Rick Kollath, published 2011, Kollath+Stensaas Publishing.
Book of November
As I walked a woodland path late this afternoon, I was thinking about my curiosity. About how much I don’t know, but also, about how much I’ve learned over the course of 50+ years.
And the book of November is written by a woman who shares that insatiable need to learn more. Curiously, though she’s probably half my age and grew up in the Bronx, she spent her childhood “collecting and categorizing shells, studying horseshoe crabs undersides and swallowing salt water.” The same was true for my early years spent scouring the mudflats in Clinton Harbor.
While she continues to live in the city, she discovered nature right outside her apartment door–in Prospect Park. Obviously a labor of love, Julia Rothman, with the help of her friend, John Niekrasz, created Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of the Natural World.
It’s a book you could read from cover to cover, but why do that? I like to open it to a random page and savor it.
Julia’s voice reminds me of my own. I love the titles of her chapters: Common Ground–about layers of the Earth, minerals, the rock cycle, fossils, landforms, mountains, North American landscapes, field succession and–loose landscape painting. Other chapters: What’s Up; Come Close; Take a Hike; Creature Feature; A Little Bird Told Me and Head Above Water. I won’t tell you what each is about, but you can see that she covers multiple topics within each category.
It’s as much a joy to read the brief facts as it is to look at the illustrations. Julia was the illustrator, with a little help from her mom.
This is just a sneak peak at this delightful book which provides a combination of “drawings, diagrams and dissections” to explain the wonders of the natural world. You’ll also find a few art projects and recipes between the covers.
The book ends with a shout-out to conservation organizations. Rothman writes, “No matter where you live, connect with the nature near you in a conscientious way.” Amen.
A must have for your bookshelf. I found Nature Anatomy at Bridgton Books.
Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of the Natural World, by Julia Rothman with help from John Niekrasz, published 2015, Storey Publishing.
Book of October
There are many reasons why I love living in western Maine, and the fact that I can walk into Bridgton Books, an independent bookstore, and be handed a book that shop owner Pam Ward thinks I would enjoy is one of them. Pam was so right.
Reading Rural Landscapes by Dr. Robert Sanford, professor of environmental science at the University of Southern Maine, is a perfect follow-up to Tom Wessels book, Reading the Forested Landscape.
Sanford takes us one step further in looking at the remnants in the woods. Here in western Maine, I often stumble upon stone walls, barbed wire, foundations, mill sites and other evidence of life gone by. All of this appears in places that seem so far away from civilization. How can it be? Did people actually live in these out of the way places? Why?
Sometimes, it’s difficult to imagine that the make-up of the neighborhood was completely different from what we know. We forget that following the Civil War many people left the area for greener fields and less of that good old stone crop. We forget that numerous farms once decorated our landscape. We forget that all the trees we love, didn’t exist.
Reading Rural Landscape’s size (5″x8″) means it fits easily into a backpack and has become one of the guides that I often carry. Sanford includes information about plants and trees at homesites, transitions that occur after fields have been used for pasture or agriculture, examinations of house, barn and outbuilding foundations, mill sites and early commerce, indications of rural roads from farming and stagecoach to logging and trolley, the meanings of stonewalls and barbed wire, plus cemeteries and symbols on gravestones.
Sanford includes a glossary, chapter notes that are as interesting as the chapters, and an extensive reference section. For $19.95, this is a valuable resource.
Ultimately, Sanford encourages stewardship of the land–protection of these historical places. He also encourages us to support those who continue to farm the land and work in the forests in sustainable manners.
Reading Rural Landscapes: A Field Guide to New England’s Past by Robert Sanford, PhD, published 2015, Tilbury House Publishers
Book of September
Our friends, Ben and Faith Hall, recently invited us to their summer camp to share their Maine place with us. We hiked and wondered and chatted for several hours, but it was what they showed us at the start of our visit and the end that really bookmarked the day–their friend Bob swam up to the dock and smiled at us. Oh, I know, that sounds like life the way it should be at the lake–friends pulling up to the dock to visit. But this is no ordinary friend. This is a fish. And after our hike, Faith pulled out several books Ben has written for their grandchildren–filled with photographs of stone pictures he creates to tell a story. Ben is quiet and humble and incredibly talented. Below is a pdf of his book about Bob. Please click on the link and enjoy. It’s only eight pages long, but well worth a look. (I hope you are able to open this as it’s a pdf) Thank you for letting me share this, Ben.
Book of August
Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a botanist by training. She’s a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation by birth. And she’s a gifted writer.
In her latest book, Braiding Sweetgrass, she once again interweaves her scientific knowledge with indigenous wisdom.
By design, Kimmerer has divided the book into sections, like one might divide a braid of hair, or in her case, sweetgrass, into different strands. Within a section, each chapter could be a stand-alone essay, but it is more than that. It’s part of the layering experience; the wisdom the reader gains from each intertwines with the teachings of the next.
As a storyteller at heart, Kimmerer wants us to listen—to understand the science; to respect the traditional ways; to pull the strands taut so they will remain strong. I smell the wild strawberries growing in the fields. I struggle with her to construct a basket from black ash. I kneel beside her graduate student, Laurie, as she labels and harvests sweetgrass, and ultimately produces a thesis based on scientific knowledge that honors what the basket makers knew from experience. I’m at first disappointed with her as she learns why her father poured the first sip of coffee on the ground in his daily thanksgiving offering. I’m frustrated with the work she does to clean a pond on her land. And through her, I gain a better understanding of and appreciation for the Ancients who were deeply connected to this land we call our own.
Through plant wisdom learned from her Native American heritage, scientific experiments and personal experience, she pulls us in—body, mind and spirit. Through her narrative voice, she plants the seed in hopes we will renew our relationship with nature and begin to develop a reciprocity with the land that sustains us. She reminds us that gifts are meant to be shared again and again.
With each new chapter, I’m sure I’ve found my favorite. Sometimes I underline words or sentences in a book, or jot notes in the margin. But with this one, I find myself turning up the bottom corner of pages so I remember to go back and reread them—I don’t want my eyes to focus on only one thing, but rather to take it all in. If I discover something on the next page, I fold the corner back again.
Such is the case in “The Three Sisters,” where she describes the story of the small packet she received years ago from Awiakta, a Cherokee writer. Awiakta warned Kimmerer to not open the pouch until spring. “In May, I untie the packet and there is the gift: three seeds. One is a golden triangle, a kernel of corn with a broadly dimpled top that narrows to a hard white tip. The glossy bean is speckled brown, curved and sleek, its inner belly marked with a white eye—the hilum. It slides like a polished stone between my thumb and forefinger, but this is no stone. And there is a pumpkin seed like an oval china dish, its edge crimped shut like a piecrust bulging with filling. I hold in my hand the genius of indigenous agriculture, the Three Sisters. Together these plants—corn, beans and squash—feed the people, feed the land, and feed our imaginations, telling us how we might live.”
From a botanist’s point of view, Kimmerer describes how the plants grow together, supporting each other on several levels. And then she tugs on our hearts again. “It’s tempting to imagine that these three are deliberate in working together, and perhaps they are. But the beauty of this partnership is that each plant does what it does in order to increase its own growth. But as it happens, when the individuals flourish, so does the whole. The way of the Three Sisters reminds me of one of the basic teachings of our people. The most important thing each of us can know is our unique gift and how to use it in the world. Individuality is cherished and nurtured, because, in order for the whole to flourish, each of us has to be strong in who we are and carry our gifts with conviction, so they can be shared with others. Being among the sisters provides a visible manifestation of what a community can become when its members understand and share their gifts. In reciprocity, we fill our spirits, as well as our bellies.”
I am thankful for the gift of Kimmerer’s writing and teaching.
I’m thankful for each little nugget of information, observation and tradition that is woven together like a braid of sweetgrass.
I’m thankful for the opportunities I have to pay attention—the realization that place matters.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, published 2013, Milkweed Editions
Book of July
Summer may be in full swing, but I just received a copy of a special book created by a young friend and I wanted to feature it this month. The photos will cool you down on a steamy day.
This past February, Abby Littlefield, her younger brother and their mom, invited me to snowshoe with them at Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton. Abby was in fourth grade and needed to complete a project based on an ecosystem. She chose wetlands and wanted to learn more about the flora and fauna of the preserve.
I was thrilled to receive a copy of the book Abby made about our journey and delighted to discover how much she remembered from our trek. She and her family were real troopers that day–the temp was quite low, snowshoeing was a new experience for them and we spent about three hours on the trails. She reminded me of myself as she jotted down notes and we examined everything closely.
I did notice that her story doesn’t include the pileated woodpecker scat–not her favorite find. (Her brother thought it was rather special. :-))
Here are some pages from Abby’s book:
Mighty impressive for a fourth grader. Congratulations, Abby, on a job well done. And thank you for letting me wander along with you and your family. It was a pleasure and I look forward to future expeditions.
© A Snowshoeing Winter Walk: Where Am I? by Abigail Littlefield, 2015.
Book of June
Since it’s June and Midsummer’s Eve occurs in June, I thought I’d post this fairy tale I wrote years ago.
Once upon a Midsummer’s Eve, on Sabattus Mountain, a group of fairies gathered in a circle for a night of magic and merriment. All wore crowns of wood sorrel and ferns about their heads. Their sparkly skirts matched the color of their hair, purple and green and yellow and orange and blue. Together they danced and sang this tune:
We whirl and twirl and dance around, Our feet, they barely touch the ground. We wish and wish and wish tonight, For a Midsummer’s Eve that is fun and bright.
Aisling stopped suddenly and stared at the delicate pink lady’s slipper they circled around.
“What is it, Aisling?” asked Carys. “Why did you pause?”
“I had a vision,” Aisling said. Her wings fluttered as fast as a hummingbird’s, which they always did whenever she had a vision.
“Tell us,” insisted Imma.
“It’s about Falda,” said Aisling.
“Oh, will my wings work again?” pleaded Falda, for her wings were folded and though she could dance and jump, she could no longer fly.
“No, Falda. It’s not that, but something even better, I think. And there’s a nice ogre too,” explained Aisling.
“Tsk. Tsk. A nice ogre. Whoever heard of such a thing?” demanded Biddie. “The only ogre we ever knew was a devil. Remember his sign in Crawford Notch: ‘Devl Hom.’ That ogre was so mean, he couldn’t even spell.”
The fairies continued dancing and forgot about Aisling’s vision for a few hours. When the merriment was over, Falda and Biddie, the older fairies, returned to their homes beneath the thick foliage and moss-covered tree stumps. Imma, Carys and Aisling used pine needles to sweep the area so no hikers would discover them.
“Tell us more about your vision, Aisling,” said Carys. “Who is the ogre? And what does he have to do with Falda?”
“I don’t know for sure,” said Aisling.
“Biddie always says that there was a giant who lived near our old home in Crawford Notch. He was cursed and not to be trusted,” said Imma.
“Let’s go back there and check him out,” suggested Carys.
“Yes, let’s,” said Aisling. “Remember, we can always avoid contact with him by reciting the backward chant: Ogres bad big with contact eye avoid always.”
“OK,” agreed Imma. “Let’s go.”
In a twinkle and a flitter, the three fairies left their home in Lovell, Maine, and reached Crawford Notch. The rising moon glowed on the giant’s staircase made of carefully placed tree trunks.
Aisling was the first to smell something awful. “What stinks?” she asked.
“I think it’s him,” said Imma, pointing to where the giant stood building a two-hundred-foot high granite wall. “Biddie said his smell is why we left.”
“Shhh,” whispered Carys from her hiding place high up in a beech tree. “Listen to him.”
This is what they heard: “Humph. I sure hope I can find water to flow over this fall. Then I can finally take a shower. And who knows, maybe Sweet Falda will hear that I’m clean and she’ll finally return.”
The three fairies held their noses and giggled.
“That’s your vision, Aisling,” squealed Imma.
“Humph. What was that sound?” the giant demanded. In the gruffest voice he could muster, he said, “Who goes there?”
Imma quickly waved her magic wand and a breeze moved the leaves. The giant could no longer hear them. He returned to his work of stacking granite boulders on top of one another.
“We’ve got to figure out how to get Falda and the giant together,” said Carys.
“Don’t you think he’s a mean, old ogre?” asked Imma.
“Not at all,” said Carys.
“Me either,” said Aisling.
“OK then. I have a plan, but I’ll need to ask my cousin to help,” Imma said.
In a twinkle and a flitter, the fairies returned to Sabattus Mountain and their village under the moss-covered tree stumps in the old pine grove.
“Falda, Biddie, wake up,” they called.
“What is it?” Falda asked as she walked out of her wee house, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
“We just came from Crawford Notch and we saw the most amazing thing,” said Carys.
“Tsk. Tsk. There’s nothing amazing left in Crawford Notch,” said Biddie.
“Oh, but you are wrong, Biddie. We saw a giant staircase, a giant waterfall . . . well, almost waterfall, and a certain giant himself,” said Imma.
“Almost waterfall?” asked Falda.
“Yes, it just needs water,” said Imma.
“Tsk. Tsk. Did you say ‘a certain giant’?” asked Biddie.
Carys fluttered up and down. “Yes, Aisling’s vision is coming true. We saw a certain giant building the almost waterfall and . . .” She was so overcome with excitement that she choked up and cried happy tears.
Aisling continued, “ . . . and he mentioned you, Falda.”
Falda’s cheeks turned as pink as the lady’s slippers that bloomed around them.
“Tsk. Tsk. You talked to that devil? Didn’t I always teach you that he is a cursed ogre and not to be trusted? Did you use the backward chant?” demanded Biddie.
“Oh, Biddie, don’t worry. We didn’t talk to him,” Imma said. The she whispered, “Yet.”
“No, we didn’t talk to him. We just listened to him,” said Aisling.
“I never even knew his name,” said Falda. She twisted her wee hands together. “He used to leave me beautiful gifts though, like a pinecone wreath and an oak picture frame.”
Biddie said, “Tsk. Tsk. He’s the devil, I tell you. And he stinks.”
“Yes, he did have a certain odor,” said Falda. “That was one reason we moved to Maine.”
“Maybe he smelled bad because he was always busy building something and couldn’t take a shower,” suggested Carys.
“Tsk. Tsk. He’s the devil and we’ll not return to Crawford Notch. It’s obvious that he put a curse on Falda and her wings got caught on a branch when we landed here. Now they are folded and she cannot fly,” insisted Biddie. “Enough of this nonsense. Go back to bed all of you.”
Aisling, Imma and Carys returned to their homes . . . momentarily. A few minutes later, when they were sure they could hear Biddie snoring, they met under an oak leaf behind Aisling’s house.
“I’ll ask Cousin Arethusa to provide a spring so water will flow over the boulders,” said Imma.
“Oh goody,” Carys said as she clapped her hands.
“Shhh,” Aisling whispered. “Quiet or they’ll hear us. We must act quickly before the sun rises on a new day.”
Silently, the three fairies formed a circle. Imma held her magic wand high and swung it in a sweeping arch above their heads. Fairy dust sprinkled upon them. Out of the dust, Cousin Arethusa appeared. In a whisper, Imma explained the need for a spring in Crawford Notch to which Arethusa agreed as long as the waterfall would be named for her.
“Thank you, Cousin Arethusa. Now we must go,” said Imma.
In a twinkle and a flitter, the three fairies returned to the Notch. They found the giant placing the last granite boulder on top of the wall.
He blinked when they landed on it. “Humph,” he growled, again using his gruffest voice, which wasn’t really gruff at all. “Who might you be?”
Immediately the three fairies covered their noses and gasped for air.
“Oh my. Do I smell that bad?” the giant asked. His cheeks turned red as the wintergreen berries that grew on the forest floor.
“Yes,” Carys squeaked.
“But if you turn around three times . . .” gasped Aisling.
“ . . . And say ‘water, water, everywhere’ five times fast,” added Carys.
“ . . . Water will flow over the falls and you can finally shower,” finished Imma.
“Really?” asked the giant.
“Try it,” said Carys.
“And hurry,” added Aisling.
“Do it for Falda,” finished Imma.
“Fal . . . da? You know Sweet Falda?” asked the giant.
“Yes, but hurry . . . you need to shower,” said Imma.
“Oh, yes.” So the giant turned around three times, said, “Water, water, everywhere,” five times and water flowed over the falls.
“Look, Arethusa Falls,” exclaimed Imma.
“I can’t believe it. I’m not very good at being mean and scary, but I can make wonderful things with my hands. Only I did wonder how I’d make this shower work,” said the giant.
“Well, you must thank Arethusa for that. And by the way, Biddie thinks you ARE mean and scary,” said Imma.
“Biddie. As I recall, she’s just an old biddie,” said the giant.
The fairies giggled.
“Why are you laughing?” he asked.
“Because that is exactly what Falda always says about Biddie,” explained Aisling.
“Oh, Sweet Falda. I must shower now so I can see her again.”
The fairies told him that Sabattus Mountain was only a few giant steps east of Arethusa Falls. Then in a twinkle and a flitter they returned to their village.
A few winks later, the Earth rumbled. All five fairies quickly gathered at Falda’s house.
“What was that?” they wondered together.
“Sounds like thunder,” said Falda. “A storm must be approaching.”
“But I thought I saw the sun rising as I rushed over here,” said Carys.
Suddenly, the sky darkened. The fairies fluttered closer together. Falda lit a candle. Then they heard a tapping sound near the entrance. She peeked out, but saw no one. Curious, the fairies cautiously walked outside. Standing atop the mountain was a certain giant.
“Oh,” said Falda and her face brightened with a smile.
“Tsk. Tsk. If it isn’t the devil himself. And he’s flattened the trees,” exclaimed Biddie.
“The devil? Why on Earth do you say that, Biddie? And sorry about the trees. I tried my best to tiptoe,” said the giant.
“Tsk. Tsk. That’s what your sign said, ‘Devl Hom,’” said Biddie.
“Oh, that sign. It broke in an ice storm. I just never got around to fixing it. I was too busy building other things. My name is Devlin. That sign should read, ‘Devlin’s Home,’” said the giant.
“Tsk. Tsk . . . you stink too,” stammered Biddie.
“Not anymore. Now I can shower whenever I want. You must come see all the changes in the Notch.” Devlin leaned down, picked Falda up and placed her in the palm of his oversized hand. “What happened to your wings, Sweet Falda?”
“Nothing really. Just a wee accident,” she said.
So Devlin carried Falda over to Crawford Notch for a visit. In a twinkle and a flitter, Carys, Imma and Aisling followed behind him. Biddie tagged along, tsk-tsking all the way.
And they all lived happily ever after. All but Biddie were happy, of course.
Arethusa Falls and Sabattus Mountain Hikes
Guess what! You can hike to both locations mentioned in The Giant’s Shower. First, climb the giant’s staircase to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. Be sure to pack a snack or lunch to enjoy beside the falls. Who knows, you might even see Devlin working nearby. If he smells, remind him to take a shower.
The trailhead to Arethusa Falls is located on Route 302 at the southern end of Crawford Notch in the White Mountains. The hike is easy, but it does take about 45-60 minutes to reach the over 200-foot high falls. Several trail options are available so be sure to check local guides, such as the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide and bring a map.
And only a few giant steps east of the falls is Sabattus Mountain in Lovell, Maine. If you are traveling via car rather than giant steps, Sabattus Mountain is about an hour and a half from Arethusa Falls. Follow Route 302 East to Route 5 North in Fryeburg, Maine. Stay on Route 5 through the villages of Lovell and Center Lovell. Just after the Center Lovell Inn, turn right onto Sabattus Road. Drive about 1 1/2 miles, then turn right onto Sabattus Trail Road.
The trailhead and parking area are a half mile up the road and clearly marked. The round-trip hike takes about 1 hour and is fairly easy, with one moderate spot. From the top, you will see Kezar Lake and Pleasant Mountain to the south. The White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire are to the west.
For more information about this hike, check Marita Wiser’s guidebook, HIKES in and around Maine’s LAKE REGION, which is sold at local stores.
Hike up the right-hand trail. You’ll reach the top in about 45 minutes. Take time to enjoy the view left behind when the giant flattened trees with his footsteps. Some trees still stand tall, because he was only tiptoeing. Continue along the ridge until the trail turns left to descend.
In an old pine grove along this trail, you might suddenly feel the presence of fairies. Their homes are among the moss-covered tree stumps. They enjoy visiting Crawford Notch, but Sabattus is now their forever home. Pause a bit and let the magic of this place overtake you.
Do be sure not to add to or take away from the fairies’ homes. These are natural homes and you shouldn’t disturb them.
Happy hiking! And say hello to Carys, Imma, Aisling, Falda and Biddie for me.
Meanings of names used in the story:
Devlin–brave, one of fierce valor
Pink lady’s slipper–moccasin flower, large, showy orchid found in the woods of Maine and New Hampshire
How to make your own fairy dust:
Combine dried flower petals, leaves and birdseed in a small bowl. Crush together. Sprinkle outdoors wherever magic is needed.
Best if made from natural materials, e.g. bark, sticks, leaves, pinecones, rocks, grass, moss, berries, wood chips and flowers.
Fairies particularly like the thick foliage of moss and old tree stumps.
Remember, they hope that humans won’t discover them, so be cautious and don’t upset nature.
© The Giant’s Shower by Leigh Macmillen Hayes, first published June 1, 2015, wondermyway.com, written in 2004
Book of May
The book of May is actually any book by Edwin Way Teale. I read A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm several years ago and felt like I was tramping along the farm paths right beside him and his wife, Nellie. Maybe it’s because my Mom’s name was Nellie, though she preferred to be called Nell and I’ve always loved that name. It’s that and more–he welcomes me into their world.
It’s the sense of solitude and peace and wonder that come through his writing. It’s the realization that he didn’t have all the answers either and that was just fine. On the second to last page he writes, “Given our outlook and our interests, it has been our closeness to nature, our daily existence on the edge of wildness that has made the most profound impression. Here we bought sunrises and violets and whippoorwills as well as woods and pastures. If you wonder if this life’s original sweetness did not wear away as time went on, if this life did not become more tame and dull with closer acquaintance, I have news, and the news is good. After a decade and a half, this life is still as satisfying, still as near the heart’s desire, the last minute as fine as the first. Our acres remain filled with freshness and surprise as though we were visitors, newcomers, rather than long-time owners of the land.”
As I typed that paragraph, I thought of my friends, Jinny and Will, and their love for their land (that I covet) and how their daily encounters are filled with freshness and surprise.
Currently, I’m reading Springtime in Britain and traveling along on the hedge-lined roads with Edwin and Nellie. As is my habit, I turn up the bottom corners of pages that contain words, sentences, even paragraphs that sing to me. I’ve also been known to write in margins.
From Springtime in Britian: “The song of a bird may be an enticement for a mate. It may be a warning to trespassers on its territory. But why so musical? Would not barring notes or guttural sounds or shrill and piercing whistles achieve as well these ends? Why does the enticement and the warning have to be so melodious, so moving, so beautiful? All we can say with our sense of wonder aroused, is that it, like the delicate perfume of the wildflower, is part of nature’s endless employment of beauty to achieve its utilitarian ends.”
My May Day Celebration comes to mind, but what I also love is that this man who knew and understood so much, questioned everything and acknowledged wonder.
A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm, 1974, and Springtime in England, 1970, by Edwin Way Teale. They are difficult to come by, unless you know the proprietors of Bridgton Books, who will do their best to locate any title.
Book of April
As the snow melts, the color and texture of moss stands out. It’s the perfect time to read or reread Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
This is Kimmerer’s first book and thankfully not her last. Originally published in 2003, my copy is from the eighth printing in 2012, which I purchased at Bridgton Books–my go-to independent book store.
I’d never paid attention to moss until my eyes were opened during the Maine Master Naturalist course. And then I read this book, which combines Kimmerer’s scientific knowledge (she’s a professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry), her Native American heritage and her personal experiences. She walks barefoot along a moss-covered path and I follow her.
Along the way, I learn to see the world from the point of view of a gametophyte and sporophyte. I learn to look through my hand lens. I learn about patience, choices and landscapes.
I learn about bonding and the importance of place. I learn to look everywhere for moss because it is everywhere.
I still have much to learn, but I thank Kimmerer for opening my eyes to the miniature world that is a key part of the whole system.
Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
Book of March
I thought I’d have a difficult time choosing the first book of the month, but Tales of a Homemade Naturalist practically jumped off the shelf. This is a reprint of a book first published by Philip Morrill in 1966 and it’s available at Bridgton Books for $6.99.
Morrill has taken “two hundred pounds of notebooks” in which Herbert M.W. Haven jotted down meticulous notes about his nature encounters from 1919 to 1949, and turned them into a readable 153-page journal. Haven was a naturalist, with a special interest in Maine minerals and geology.
But it doesn’t stop there. His interests spanned all things natural and his weekend field trips took him across the state–often with a variety of people. Mr. Haven’s formal education ended with seventh grade, but the natural world was his classroom, which is proven by his succinct observations. And in 1947, Colby College awarded him an honorary degree of Master of Science for his contributions to the understanding of natural history.
From the excerpts of his diaries, you’ll learn where he and his friends went, what they saw and who they met. It seems like no matter where in the state he traveled, he knew someone. And he and his friends ate well.
If the name Haven sounds familiar, it should. He’s also the father of Haven’s Candy Kitchen. Chocolate and nature–ahhhh . . .
Tales of a Homemade Naturalist: The Maine Diaries of Herbert M.W. Haven, a reprint of the book first published by Philip Morrill, 1966.