My friend, Marita, joined me today for a walk along the trails at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road.
Though we moved rather quickly, frequently picking up sticks and branches that had fallen as a result of last week’s nor’easter (Marita deserves trail crew credit), we did stop occasionally to appreciate the world around us. Our first point of wonder occurred when she noted a burl of sorts on a beech tree. A closer look and we spotted shiny black spots that turned out to be five or six black ladybird beetles, their red spots offering a contrast. I’ve since learned they are Twice-stabbed Ladybeetle bugs, and beneficial as they feed on scale insects, aphids, and mealybugs, including Beech Scale Insects.
Maple-leaf Viburnum, still holding onto its leaves and fruits called our attention next. Only last week, we were finding its magenta fall coloration decorating the woods, but when the calendar turned to November, it seemed the world transformed and took on its late autumn look.
Via a spur not marked, we ventured forth and stood in admiration of the colors before us as we looked out toward the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake.
And then we looked in the opposite direction and embraced the view toward the north where hills formed the backdrop . . .
and found their reflection in beaver lodges. Though we never saw any sign of recent beaver works, it appeared that at least one of the lodges was being mudded for winter, a beaver’s form of insulating the house.
Our route back to the trail was circuitous for I wanted to show her the Pitcher Plants that grow in the edge between the land and water.
No matter how many times I see this plant’s urn-shaped leaf, I am in awe and today was no exception. The hairs on the leaf’s “landing pad” stood out on a younger version as well as its aging elder.
We weren’t the only ones curious about the plant for the snow fleas, aka spring tails, had also discovered it. And it them. How many snow fleas does it take to create a meal? Many I would think given their teeny tiny size, but . . . many found their way down the hairs and into the plant’s digestive fluid.
Back on the green-blazed trail we finally continued, and a display of mushrooms begged for a Kodak moment. As I often do with mushrooms, I’m going out on a limb and calling these Late Fall Oysters (Panellus serotinus), which aren’t oysters at all but the rippled edge did remind me of the shells I used to pick up as a kid. What really sang out about this moment though was the fact that the fungus grew on a beech tree and the husk of a beech nut had stabbed into the fruit, giving the entire display a layered cake look with a candle on top.
We also discovered a Red-belted Polypore, Fomitopsis pinicola if I’m correct, the size of a dinner plate.
Onward, we swished the dried leaves, hit a few mucky spots, and continued to pick up sticks. At last we reached a second scenic view that again provided colors demarking this month.
All along we’d tramped beside Sucker Brook, though we couldn’t always see it. But that’s what made the scenic views even more spectacular.
Our journey was quick and we covered over two miles and followed the blue-blazed trail back, but it was the waypoint that I marked at Marita’s suggestion, which was our final find of the day.
Well, really, it was her final find for I made her hunt for it. I gave her a general area to scan and after a few moments of looking, we turned it into a hot/cold game. At last her eyes cued in on the bear claw marks upon a beech tree.
You, too, may spy some of the same for next Sunday the GLLT will host a walk at John A. Segur East (as we refer to this part of the wildlife refuge). We’re offering something a bit different for this hike.
November 10 12:30 - 3:00 pm Sunday Beside Sucker Brook Let's get a head start on Thanksgiving, and journey the trail at John A. Segur East where we'll take in the afternoon views of Sucker Brook, its plants in their winter forms, beaver lodges, and mountain vistas. In honor of the upcoming holiday, we'll think of our neighbors as we gather. Please bring one or more items to give to the Sweden Food Pantry, which serves the towns of Sweden, Lovell, Fryeburg, Stow, Stoneham, Waterford and Bridgton. Popular Items: Tuna Fish Peanut Butter and Jam Hearty Soups like Progresso Staples other than pasta Gluten Free items Canned Beans (NOT vegetarian) and Canned Beets Personal Hygiene Products Also: Be thinking about something or someone for which you'd like to offer up thanks, either silently or verbally. Location: John A. Segur East, Farrington Pond Road, off Timber Shores Road, Lovell Degree of Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
I hope you’ll join us for something special beside Sucker Brook.
At the top of a lane in South Bridgton, Maine, sits the homestead of the Peabody-Fitch family.
A pioneer settler of Bridgton, William Peabody married Sally Stevens on August 14, 1797, in Andover, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Jacob Stevens, a ranking member of the surveying crew who came to Bridgton in 1766 to survey the plots of land. He returned in 1768, under contract with the proprietors to develop water power along Stevens Brook and make it serve early settlers.
William built this house in 1797, just three years after Bridgton was incorporated. The house was 30 x 45’, 2.5 stories with a center chimney and six fireplaces: 3 up and 3 down. The Peabodys had ten children, though four died at a young age.
Their fourth daughter, Mary, married George Fitch of Sebago on Dec 21, 1823, and in about 1828 the Fitches took over the hilltop farm. At the time of their marriage, William was in his late 50s and Sally not well. That meant that the house needed to accommodate two families: Mary’s parents and three of her younger siblings, plus Mary and George and their growing brood.
George Fitch added an ell with a new kitchen, larder, pantry and two bedrooms. A shed and carriage house were also included.
By 1856, George Fitch owned 80 improved acres and 128 unimproved acres. The farm produced wheat, Indian corn, oats, buckwheat, maple syrup butter and cheese. In addition, he had a stand of mulberry trees for silk worms. The cocoon, when unraveled, can be spun into silk.
A 40 x 60’ barn was built by Mr. Fitch and friends beside an already existing 40 x 40’ barn to help house his two horses, six milk cows, six working oxen, six other cattle, sixteen sheep and one swine. Hay would have been stored there as well.
The lore of what’s always been known as the Temperance Barn, is that it was supposedly constructed during prohibition without the usual swigs of rum for all who helped in the building process. Following a blog post I wrote in December 2018 about this very property, a granddaughter of Margaret Monroe who gifted the property to the historical society in 1987 wrote the following message: “Hi – I am glad you enjoy my grandmother’s property. A heads up that there is no written documentation from the period re: the barn actually being built without alcohol. My grandmother was prone to making up history. I want to give respect to hardy native Mainers: Monroes were largely summer people. My grandmother also said sherry wasn’t alcoholic and would drink a big glass of it every night before dinner, Lark cigarette in her other hand. Rebecca Monroe.”
But it was the granite foundation that drew part of our attention today. Apparently, when Mr. Fitch first built the barn, it sat upon a two-foot foundation, but he later raised it by eight feet, perhaps to store manure below.
To take a look at where the granite came from, I headed up the trail behind the house, which is owned by the Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo Land Trust’s new Peabody-Fitch Woods that surround the farm with companions Marita, Mary and Steve. Along the way, we saw numerous delicate Purple Milkworts still in bloom.
And really, we took a detour because we wanted to first honor another granite structure that has long stood upon Fitch Hill.
According to an August 17, 1963 article in the Bridgton News, “Enoch Perley, early settler of South Bridgton, built his first house in 1777 and brought his bride to their new home in 1778. (Five Fields Farm location)
As Enoch acquired livestock, he was much troubled by depredations from bears. He built a bear trap on the hill back of his first home . . .
Tradition says that four bears were caught in this trap–not enough! So Mr. Perley later had an iron bear trap made which took care of eight bears. Without a doubt, many were disposed of by him personally. A story is told that in an unarmed encounter with a bear and two cubs beside a wood road at dusk, Mr. Perley allegedly strangled the mother bear with his garters . . .”
The article continues, “The bear trap is built of stone. A large stone door is suspended and as the bear takes the bait, he trips the lever and is caught in the stone enclosure.”
Hiking back down the trail to our second destination located along a spur, we were stopped by an anomaly on a White Pine. An individual Pine Tube Moth caterpillars bound together 10 – 20 needles with silk to form a hollow tube. Though we couldn’t see it, we could see by the evidence that it had moved up and down the tube to feed on the tips of the bound needles, which were much shorter than those that were free. Eventually, the caterpillar will eat itself out of house and home, and move to another set of needles to repeat its tube-making, needle-feeding behavior before it pupates within one.
Our second destination was to a quarry we’ve all visited periodically over the years. This was the spot from which the foundations for the barn and other buildings were quarried so long ago.
Spaced about six inches apart are the drill marks made by Mr. Fitch and perhaps hired hands. Today, I asked a hand modeler to kindly provide a sense of depth for the drilled holes.
After a brief pause at what we now think of as Quarry #1, the four of us bushwhacked around the side of the hill, following my nose to the next location recently discovered by Jon Evans of both Loon Echo Land Trust and the Bridgton Historical Society.
Quarry #2 was much bigger and deeper.
We poked around and found old drill marks on slabs still in place.
Perhaps one of our favorite finds was a stone that slightly resembled a keyboard, the holes only two or three inches apart.
At a ninety degree angle, they continued down the side of the same stone. What made us wonder the most was the curve in the rock–usually they follow a straight line in the grain, thus giving the stones a uniform shape. This one did not. Maybe the Temperance story really is a legend.
And then we spotted another beauty.
Again, the hand modeler showed off the depth and width of a much wider hole, created with a much deeper and wider instrument.
Below the quarry, we found two slides of rocks and between, what might have been a “roadway” used by oxen pulling sleds in the winter to haul the stone out. We followed it for a few minutes because we thought we’d spied the Narrow Gauge Train Track below, but realized we were fooled by a few patches of reindeer lichen that were lighter in color than the surrounding woods, thus mimicking an open route. One of these days, we’ll explore further. The question remains: Was the rock quarried here and used to support the rail track at certain points along the way, or was it shipped out via train to other destinations?
We didn’t know the answer, but did spy a few of my pet species, including Rock Polypody Ferns growing upon granite as is its habit.
The underside of its fertile fronds were still decorated with mounds of sporangia. While many other ferns feature a membrane covering the sporangia during development, this one does not. Each tiny bubble within the larger “mound” is packed with spores, waiting their turn to catapult into the air.
After a couple of hours, we returned to the field and my companions, Marita, Mary and Steve, kindly posed with Narramissic in the background.
In the end, we departed knowing that there’s much more to the story of this land that perhaps only the eye of the weathered barn board knows as it peeks out from behind fringed bangs, gray from watching all that has taken place for almost two hundred years. If only it wood share those stories.
We got a later than normally late start to our hike today and didn’t arrive at the trailhead for Puzzle Mountain until 11:45 am. It’s a trail we’ve hiked only once before, but knew the chance to see trees with bear claw marks would be numerous.
The Mahoosuc Land Trust and Maine Appalachian Trail Club maintain the trails. Our starting/ending point were at the trailhead on Route 26 in Newry. The plan, should we wish to complete it, was to hike up the Grafton Loop Trail to the summit, then veer to the right and follow the Woodsum Spur Trail in a clockwise manner back to the GLT.
Our other plan to locate bear claw trees . . . was soon fulfilled. The first we spotted about twenty feet off trail, but once our eyes became accustomed to the pattern, we realized they were everywhere.
And some trees had been visited repeatedly.
A few had hosted other guests such as Pileated Woodpeckers.
For about two miles, we traveled under the summer green leaves of a hardwood cathedral. And within such we noticed numerous bear claw tree both beside the trail and beyond.
Occasionally, we noted others worth mentioning such as spring ephemerals like False Solomon’s Seal that showed us the season on the slopes is a bit delayed as compared to our lower elevations.
At last we reached a false summit where the views to the west enhanced the mountains and their natural communities, so defined by shades of green: darker defining conifers and lighter the deciduous trees.
Sunday River Ski Area was also part of the display.
It was at this ledge that we met two young men. They started up a trail behind us and then made their way back and asked us to take a photo. When we asked where they were from, the older of the two said he lived in a small town outside of New Haven, Connecticut. Being a Nutmegger by birth, (and in fact having been born in New Haven), my ears perked up.
“Where in Connecticut?” I asked.
“A small town called Wallingford,” he said.
“I grew up in North Branford (about 15 minutes or so from Wallingford),” I replied. “And have friends in Wallingford.”
Turns out he’s a teacher at Choate-Rosemary Hall, a private school. And his hiking partner was his nephew from New Jersey. They were on their first day of a multi-day backpack expedition.
I took photos for both and then we sent them on the right path, which was behind their first choice. We paused before following them as we didn’t want to be on their tail, but heard the older of the two exclaim, “Wow, that was fortuitous. If we hadn’t gone back for a photo, we wouldn’t have known where the trail was.” We didn’t have any treats to give them as trail angels do, but perhaps our gift of direction was just as important.
While we waited, I honed in on the newly formed flowers of Mountain Ash. I love these trees for the red stems of their leaves and fruits to come.
At last we began the push to the summit, but I had to pause much to my guy’s dismay for the black flies swarmed us constantly. I discovered, however, one reason to celebrate them–besides the fact that they feed birds and members of the Odonata family. I do believe they pollinate Clintonia for we found them on the anthers of those in flower.
Not long after the false summit that the two guys we’d met thought was the top, we reached the junction with the Woodsum Spur Trail. Our plan was to continue to climb and then locate the other end of the spur to follow down from the top. It would take longer, we knew, but be a wee bit gentler in presentation. A wee bit.
As we continued up, another ledge presented a view of Sunday River and so my guy took a photo and sent a text message to our youngest son, who works in Manhattan, and lives in Brooklyn with two buddies he meet while skiing at Sunday River when they were all in high school.
Onward and upward, the conifer cones added a bit of color to the view.
And then we reached a cairn just below the summit. Mind you, the Black Flies were so incredibly thick that we could barely talk without devouring a few. In fact, we gave thanks for eating our lunch much lower on the trail, but even then we’d devoured PB&J with a side of BF.
The view, however, was one to be envied and as long as the wind blew, we could enjoy it in all its panoramic glory.
Again we spied Sunday River. But what always makes me wonder is the tallest tree in the forest. What makes it stand out?
Still, we weren’t quite at the tippy top and had a few more feet of granite to conquer.
There we found the second of two survey markers. Why two? That was puzzling.
Equally puzzling as had happened to us before, where did the trail go?
From past experience we knew that the descent wasn’t all that well marked, but we found it much more quickly today than in the past. And we made sure to point it out to our fellow hikers from CT, whom we’d somehow passed on our final ascent. Our hope for them is that they made it to the shelter on the GLT where they planned to spend the night and that they were well prepared for the bugs. As we left them at the summit, they looked a bit like deer in headlights.
The descent via the Woodsum Spur is as varied as the ascent, but not always as easy to follow. There were downed trees, overgrown sections, lots of mud, and times when we had to search for the trail, much unlike the carpenter ants who knew exactly where they were going on a tree snag.
We passed through one section that reminded my guy of the Munchkins in the The Wizard of Oz, his favorite movie. Just after that we entered an enchanted forest where the giant in my fairy tale, The Giant’s Shower, could have lived happily every after with Falda the fairy.
It was ledges to woods and back to ledges as we descended. But the mileage was questionable for the signs we encountered that indicated distance didn’t necessarily agree.
What did agree with the Woodsum Trail was a moose or two or three. For much of the trail we spotted scat indicating they’d traveled this way all winter.
It was natural signs like that which we most appreciated, but . . . once we finished the spur trail and rejoined the GLT, we spotted a boulder filled with messages we’d missed upon our ascent. You might be put out that some left messages in the moss, but as Ralph Pope, author of Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts, told us on a Greater Lovell Land Trust walk in 2017, this sort of activity won’t hurt the bryophytes.
When humans leave their initials upon beech trees, however, it does affect them. And I suppose the bear claw marks do as well, but still we are thrilled each time we spy the latter.
Our plan had been to stop for a beer on the way home and make this a Bear to Beer Possibility. But we were pooped for we hiked almost nine miles on a hot summer day and knew if we stopped we might not be able to drive home.
As it happened, driving south on Routes 5/35 and just before the intersection with Vernon Street, a Black Bear ran across the road. For us, it will be another in our shared minds’ eye as I couldn’t take a photo.
Thus today’s hike was a Bear to Bear rather than Bear to Beer Possibility.
I love it when people recommend books to me and even more when I discover the the recommendation is spot on. Thus was the case when at the Maine Master Naturalist Board Retreat last month, Beth Longcope suggested Identifying Ferns the Easy Way by Lynn Levine. She’s also the creator of Mammal Tracks and Scat, a life-size tracking guide that I don’t use as often as David Brown’s Trackards. And she has authored several other books.
But it’s this newly-released little guide that will find its way into my pack on a regular basis this spring and summer. Within the 74 pages of the 4.5 x 6.5-inch book are simplified explanations with illustrations.
Levine begins with general information about how to use the guide, general tips, and how to observe ferns. Under general tips, I especially appreciated the second: “Ferns that usually grow in clusters will sometimes grow alone.” The key “read-between-the-lines” takeaway is that if we just go by what most books say or people tell us, we’ll become totally confused when we meet an oddball choosing to strike out on its own. Not all ferns have read the books. And that goes for any and all species. It’s best to familiarize ourselves with the various species so that when one does behave in a different manner, we recognize it for what it is.
I also appreciate tip #4, but you’ll have to purchase the book to understand why. 😉
Being thorough with her topic in such a short space, she includes information about the ancient history of ferns bringing them from past to present structures. Their unique reproductive system is also discussed with the life cycle illustrated by Briony Morrow-Cribbs.
And then, the nitty gritty part of the book. First, she shows how ferns are grouped as once-cut, twice-cut, thrice-cut (I’ve always loved that word: thrice), three parts, and unique. Another sketch, as you can see, illustrates the parts of the blade and defines the terms. I appreciate that at the bottom of page 9, Levine compares the terms she uses with those used by others, aka Leaflet/Pinna.
For those who are visual learners like me, on pages 11-17 are silhouettes for each group of ferns based on their cut type. That becomes valuable information for once you recognize the type of cut, you can simply go to the group pages devoted to it. For instance, Group 1 covers once-cut ferns on pages 18-27. All are denoted by a staggered black tab on the edge of the page, therefore making each group a quick find.
Group One begins with Christmas Fern. For each fern within a category, the reader will find a two-page description with illustrations. The description includes the Common Name, Scientific Name, Where it Grows, Tips for Identification, species it Can be Confused With, and Interesting Notes.
From these, I noted some different ways to consider the fern and picked up some new ID tips to share with others. I did find it funny that what I long ago learned was either Santa in his sleigh or the toe of a Christmas stocking, Levine refers to as an ear on the leaflet/pinna.
Right now, Christmas Fern fiddleheads have sprung forth in the center of the evergreen blades and they are mighty scaly.
Fiddlehead is the term used to describe the crozier shape (like a Bishop’s crozier) of an emerging frond. And not all fiddleheads are created edible. In fact, I know of only one that is. This is not the one. But do note those mighty hairy scales.
Another Group 1 species, Maidenhair Spleenwort. In her tips for ID, I love this line: “Leaflet pairs are opposite each other (like a bow tie).” This isn’t a species I typically encounter in western Maine. In fact, this photo was taken in the Glendalough monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century–in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland.
Under “Interesting Notes” for Rock Polypody, Levine clears up the meaning of the name for me, for though I knew that poly means “many” and pod refers to “foot,” I didn’t understand why the fern should be named thus. “Rock Polypody has many ‘feet’ connecting one fern to the next by their roots.” Now I can’t wait to revisit them.
I chuckled when I read under her tips that Sensitive Ferns grow in large colonies. Indeed.
They are so named because with the slightest bit of cold they turn brown. Levine says it’s sensitive to the first frost, but I’ve noticed it turns brown in mid-August if not sooner, when the nights have that wonderful chill, but we haven’t yet had a frost.
Group 2A are those ferns that are twice-cut and form a vase-like cluster. The first in the group, Cinnamon Fern, like all others, is slowly unfurling and if you head outdoors you might see the splendid display.
Soon, the cinnamon-colored fertile stalks will be visible in the center of the plant formation. But, once they have done their duty and dried up for the season, you really have to look to locate the fertile frond. And Cinnamon Fern can be easily mistaken for Interrupted Fern.
But as Levine reminds us, the give-away is on the back of the leaflet/pinna. By the center rachis, that main part of the frond to which all leaflet/pinna are attached, do you see the wooly tufts? In this neck of the woods, those only occur on the backside of Cinnamon Ferns.
Its cousin, Interrupted is best identified also by its fertile fronds, with the interruptions occurring in the middle of the blade. Levine sees them as butterflies when they first emerge and face upward. You’ll hear that pass through my lips going forth.
Here’s the thing with Cinnamon and Interrupted Ferns in their fiddlehead form. They are both covered in a veil of hair. But at least you know it’s one or the other and once they unfurl, the determination becomes easier.
Levine’s tips for IDing Marginal Wood Fern included a note about the subleaflet/pinnule’s wavy appearance making us think it might be thrice-cut. She makes the point, however, that it belongs in Group 2 because they “are not cut deep enough.”
Do note the spores dotting the margin of the backside.
At last, she comes to Ostrich Fern. This is the one edible fiddlehead that I know of in our area. Notice how bright green it is? And the lack of scales? There’s another clue that you may or may not see in this photo, but it’s also important for ID if you plan to dine for the stalk is deeply grooved. Deeply. Always double-check.
The vase-like form of Group 2A is especially evident in this display of Ostrich Fern, but there is an intruder. Can you name it?
Like Levine states, the “fertile frond may remain standing during the winter.” I took this photo last spring.
Group 2A ends with one of my favorites: Royal Fern. She describes it as having an “airy appearance.” I like that. And again, she uses that bow tie description.
It’s the location of the spore cases that give this fern its name. Curiously, though she says the cluster appears at the tip, she doesn’t mention that they are like a crown on top of a head.
I did find it interesting to note in her “Interesting Notes” that “Roots are a source of fiber (osmundine) that is sometimes used as a growing medium for orchids.”
Group 2B are those ferns that are twice-cut but do not grow in vase-like clusters. Such is the case for the Beech Fern, so named according to Levine because it is common where Beech trees grow. Another thing to pay attention to going forward.
All together, there are seven ferns described in this group.
Group 3 are those that are thrice-cut. Did I mention that I’ve always loved that word: thrice. Say it thrice times. Thrice. Thrice. Thrice.
Lady Ferns are part of this group and their scaliness can be referred to as hairy legs. They also have spore cases on the underside of the leaflet/pinna that remind us of eyebrows.
What I liked about Levine’s description is the following: “Fronds grow in asymmetrical clusters, but it sometimes grows in small groups of just 2 or 3 fronds.”
Group 3 includes five different ferns.
Group 4 consists of those ferns with a blade divided into three parts. The tallest among them is Bracken Fern. If you look closely, you may see a young friend of mine hiding under one.
With this species Levine issues a word of caution about the consumption of Bracken Fern fiddleheads: Don’t eat them. Buy her book and on page 62 you can read why.
While the Bracken Fern grows 3 – 5 feet, most of the other members of Group 4 are rather diminutive in stature, such as the grape ferns. I do love that she notes how the sterile blades range from being finely cut to less finely cut. The illustration on page 65 helps clarify that. You’ll have to buy the book. 😉
A species not included because it’s not all that common in the Northeast, at least in the woods, or rather associated wetlands I frequent, is the Virginia Chain Fern. It looks very similar to Cinnamon Fern, but . . . while Cinnamon has a separate fertile frond that forms in the spring and then withers, Chain Fern’s sporangia are oblong and on the underside. I’ve seen this at Lake Environmental Association’s Highland Research Forest and Holt Pond Preserve. That being said, you do have to get wet feet.
So, I hope I’ve convinced you to buy this book. It includes the twelve most common ferns of Maine: Christmas, Polypody, Sensitive, Cinnamon, Interrupted, Marginal, Royal, Beech, Hayscented, Lady, Evergreen, and Brachen, plus a variety of others, most of which we do stumble upon either often or less frequently depending upon habitat.
My favorite local bookstore, Bridgton Books, was not able to get a copy of the Book of May: Identifying Ferns the Easy Way, so I ordered via Amazon on Tuesday and it arrived today.
Identifying Ferns the Easy Way by Lynn Levine, illustrated by Briony Morrow-Cribbs, Heartwood Press, 2019.
Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
And so it was that upon arrival home from a short hike with my guy this morning, we discovered a package addressed to me in the mailbox. When I saw the town in Florida I knew exactly from whence it had come, but still didn’t know what was inside.
Well, much to my delightful surprise it was a children’s book.
I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor with illustrations by Peter Parnall.
Upon opening to the inside cover, several pieces of paper fell out. The first was a letter from Ben and Faith Hall; though actually it was written by Ben. Here’s an excerpt: “One of my favorite children’s books is Everybody Needs a Rock. It was written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall. When Byrd Baylor’s name appeared on the cover of the book I saw, I purchased it for fifty cents.“
Ben and Faith, you see, are part of a group of twelve retired residents in their Florida town who tutor second graders struggling with reading comprehension. Given that, they are always on the lookout for appropriate books to share with their students.
Ben continued in his note to me, “After reading the book, I left it by Faith’s chair without saying anything. Obviously, I wanted to see if her reaction was similar to mine. It was. The story reminds us of your blog with its information and imagination. Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Keep going!
My ulterior motive in sending you the book is that hopefully you will write a children’s book. In no way should you take time away from your blog, but with your depth of spirit it would be worthwhile.
The illustrations in the book are fascinating and remind me of your skill with photography.”
Well, Ben and Faith, thank you so much for this gift. And for your love and support for what I enjoy doing. As for the children’s book, ideas fly through my brain all the time, but . . . I’d have to self-publish and it isn’t going to happen.
As for I’m in Charge of Celebrations, I totally get it. My guy wasn’t in the house when I sat down to read it and it’s a book that needs to be read aloud. And so I did. When he walked around the corner into the living room, he thought I was talking to someone on the phone.
For those of you not familiar with the title, Baylor begins the story with an explanation of how she’s never lonely as she explores the desert.
I feel the same way and on January 11, 2019, I actually wrote, “People often ask me this question: Aren’t you afraid of hiking alone. My response is that I’m more afraid to walk down Main Street than through the woods, the reason being that it’s a rare occasion I encounter a mammal. Oh, I do move cautiously when I’m alone, but there’s something uniquely special about a solo experience.”
As Baylor goes on to say, part of the reason she’s not lonely is this: “I’m the one in charge of celebrations.” Indeed. Each celebration marks the day she made an incredible discovery.
And so, I took a look back at some of my blog posts, and it’s all your fault Ben and Faith that this is a long one. But you inspired me to review some exciting discoveries I made just in the past year. With that, I attempted to follow Baylor’s style.
Friends, while reveling in the colors of dragons and damsels, their canoodling resulting in even more predators of my favorite kind, I met Prince Charming, a Gray Tree Frog who offered not one rare glimpse, but two. And so it is that May 30th is Gray Tree Frog Day.
For over thirty years I've stalked this land and July 14th marked the first time I noticed the carnivorous plant growing beside the lake. Droplets glistened at the tips of the hair-like tendrils of each leaf filled to the brink as they were with insect parts. On this day I celebrated Round-leaved Sundews.
A celebratory parade took place on September 22. The route followed the old course of a local river. Along the way, trees stood in formation, showing off colorful new coats. Upon some floats, seeds rustled as they prepared to rain down like candy tossed to the gathered crowd. My favorite musicians sported their traditional parade attire and awed those watching from the bandstand. With an "ooEEK, ooEEK," and a "jeweep" they flew down the route. Before it was over a lone lily danced on the water and offered one last reflection. And then summer marched into autumn.
With wonder in my eyes and on my mind I spent November in the presence of a Ruffed Grouse. The curious thing: the bird followed me, staying a few feet away as I tramped on. I stopped. Frequently. So did the bird. And we began to chat. I spoke quietly to him (I'm making a gender assumption) and he murmured back sweet nothings. Together we shared the space, mindful of each other. As he warmed up below a hemlock, I stood nearby, and watched, occasionally offering a quiet comment, which he considered with apparent nonchalance. Sometimes the critters with whom we share this natural world do things that make no sense, but then again, sometimes we do the same. Henceforth, November will always be Ruffed Grouse month for me.
At 6am a flock of crows outside the bedroom window encouraged me to crawl out of bed. Three black birds in the Quaking Aspen squawked from their perch as they stared at the ground. I peeked but saw nothing below. That is, until I looked out the kitchen door and tracks drew my attention. It took a moment for my sleepy brain to click into gear, but when it did I began to wonder why the critter had come to the back door and sashayed about on the deck. Typically, her journey takes her from under the barn to the hemlock stand. Today, as the flakes fell, and the birds scolded, she sat on the snowpile, occasionally retreated to her den, grunted, re-emerged, and then disappeared for the day. I went out again at dusk in hopes of seeing the prickly lady dig her way out but our time schedules were not synchronized. I don't know why she behaved strangely this morning, but I do know this: when the crows caw--listen. And look. And wonder.
April 8th will be the day I celebrate the Barred Owl for he finally flew in and landed. As I watched he looked about at the offering of treats. Cupcakes and cookies were for sale to the left in the form of Juncos and Chickadees. And then he turned his focus right, where drinks were on tap as the snowflakes fell. He even checked out the items below his feet, hoping upon hope to find a morsel of a vole to his liking. Eventually, he changed his orientation to take a better look at the entire spread of food. But still, he couldn't make up his mind and so he looked some more, swiveling his neck. In the end, he never did choose. Instead, off he flew without munching any of the specialty items. But I finally got to see my owl.
Ah, Ben and Faith, there are moments when one miraculously arrives in the right place at the right time, such as when a dragonfly emerges from its exuvia and slowly pumps blood into its body and you get to be a witness.
It strikes me as serendipity that this book should arrive today. You see, all month I’ve been debating what book to feature and time was of the essence as May approached. And then today, your lovely note, a copy of I’m in Charge of Celebrations, and the Christmas homily you wrote, Ben.
You are both the salt of the earth and I am honored to be your friend. Thank you for your kindness. (I’m only now realizing that we’ve shared a few celebrations that we’ll never forget including the fawn at Holt Pond and your smiling Bob the Bass.
Once again, the April Book of the Month: I’m in Charge of Celebrations.
I’m in Charge of Celebrations, by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986.
A few weeks ago I’d contacted my friend Parker Veitch of White Mountain Mushrooms, LLC, to make sure he was willing to co-lead a couple of fungi walks this summer and in his response he included this paragraph: “I have a book for you. Should I leave it at the office? The first 20 or so pages are a little slow, but I think you will really like it.”
Like it? I LOVE it. And I haven’t even finished reading it. So you must be curious by now. As I was when I saw it sitting on the table at the Greater Lovell Land Trust office. You see, I was sure the book would be about fungi because Parker is always trying to help me learn about the principal decomposers of the world. Ah, but one should never assume.
May I present to you the Book of March: Entering the Mind of the Tracker by Tamarack Song.
This book is like no other tracking book that I’ve read. As I wrote back to Parker, “Thank you so much for sharing the book with me. I’m in the midst of reading Eager by Ben Goldfarb, The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf, which is about Alexander von Humboldt, and a book of essays by E.B. White (thanks Judy and Bob for gifting me that gem), but right now I’m most captivated by the teaching of Tamarack Song and I am going to have to ask Bridgton Books to order a copy for me. I want to be him and have the understandings and slow down and ask the questions he asks. And teach others to do the same.
At first I couldn’t put the book down. But now I’ve changed my tune a bit because I want to savor it. Typically, when I read a book such as this I underline key phrases, write notes in the margin and turn page corners up. But, because I’m only borrowing this copy I’m not doing that. (Did I have you nervous for a minute there, Parker?) And that’s making me soak it all in and savor each chapter more fully than I might.
You see, Tamarack, according to the back cover blurb, “has spent his life studying the world’s aboriginal peoples, apprenticing to Elders, and learning traditional hunter-gatherer survival skills. He has spent years alone in the woods as well as living with a pack of Wolves. In 1987, he founded the Teaching Drum Outdoor School in the wilderness of northern Wisconsin, where he runs the yearlong Wilderness Guide Program.”
In each of the sixteen chapters, Tamarack plays the role of guide, but not by telling. Rather, he takes the reader along on an exploration with one of his students, and encourages all of us to question what we see. In other words, to never assume, which is what I did when Parker first mentioned the book and what I often do when I’m tracking.
Instead, he wants us to notice and think about why the animal might be behaving in a particular manner, even if we know what it is by its tracks and its sign. What’s the rest of the story?
In fact, why did Opossum suddenly appear toward the tail end of the snowstorm on Sunday night?
And why is he in western Maine? How has he survived this winter with its frigid temps (mind you, it’s finally starting to warm up a tad). Where has he been since I last saw his prints in the snow a few months ago? What brought him to our yard again? Does he live under the barn with the rest of the neighborhood?
And what about last night’s visitor, Raccoon. Where has he been all winter? What brought him out? I have to say I wasn’t surprised to see him as once the temps do begin to rise the slightest bit, he appears. I also know that the bird seed attracted him, though he surprised me by not stealing the suet.
Tamarack encourages us to become the animal, especially if we don’t see it, but do see the signs it left behind. Had there been snow on the deck, I imagine I would have recognized the raccoons prints, but I would have wondered about other lines that probably would have appeared. Having the chance to watch Raccoon as I did, I now know that those lines would have been his nose and tongue as he tried to vacuum the seeds.
But then there was Raccoon’s coloration. Why the mask? Why the striped tail? I have so much to think about and learn.
And then late today, I headed out the door through which I’d taken those photos the previous two nights, and noted the Hemlock tree that Porcupine had denuded this winter. It used to be one of my favorites in the yard. But today it occurred to me that though we pay taxes on this property and try to “maintain” it, it really isn’t ours. It never has been. It belongs to the animals and the trees, and yes, even the fungi. Maybe especially the fungi.
One thing I have noticed is that all of Porcupine’s activity has aided Deer who also stops by daily.
As I continued over the stone wall, noting the six or seven other Hemlocks Porcupine has visited, a shape high up in one tree caught my attention.
I moved under Hemlock for a better look. Well, not all the way under, for I sometimes know better than to stand below such an exhibit.
As I looked with the aid of a telephoto lens, I noticed that Porcupine had apparently dined briefly and then fell asleep. Hmmm. I know some people who do that.
But the sight of Porcupine got me thinking–was this friend who lived under the barn a he and not a she after all?
And how did he/she sleep as the breeze swayed that not so thick Hemlock bough upon which Porcupine was balanced?
I did gain a better appreciation for the various types of hair that cover Porcupine’s body.
But still, so many questions, some that haven’t even formed in my mind yet.
I give thanks to Tamarack and his stories within Entering the Mind of the Tracker for that. Now I must practice the art of slowing down and paying more attention.
And I give special thanks to Parker for the offering of this book. In many ways, he emulates Tamarack Song, for both are hunter-gatherers and Parker understands the ecological systems in a way I will never know. At less than half my age, he has already slowed down and learned to pay attention.
To be attuned to the hidden nature–that is my wish. To that end, I shall purchase a copy of this book. And hope you will consider it as well.
Book of March: Entering the Mind of the Tracker: Native Practices for Developing Intuitive Consciousness and Discovering Hidden Nature.
Entering the Mind of the Tracker: Native Practices for Developing Intuitive Consciousness and Discovering Hidden Nature, by Tamarack Song, Bear & Company, a division of Inner Traditions International, 2013.
In this factual, yet delightful story, Mary tells of Ferdinand’s birth, childhood activities, and growth as he and his siblings are born and eventually weaned. Her amazing photographs fill the pages and alone are worth a reason to purchase this book. But there’s so much more and one doesn’t need to be 3-8 years old to enjoy it. Even those of us who are more “mature” can surely learn from the information shared on each of the book’s 32 pages.
And there’s even more to the book because at the end is a section her publisher labels “For Creative Minds.” Though one can’t copy other pages in the book, we are encouraged to use the material in this section for educational, non-commercial purposes.
Included are “Red Fox Fun Facts and Adaptations” with photographs and brief blurbs to describe various behaviors of these canines. (I remember a time when I had to get it through my brain that a fox was a canine and not a feline.)
One of my favorites from this section: “Red foxes are most active at dusk and dawn (crepuscular). In summer, they are more active at night (nocturnal) because their prey, mice, are more active then. Foxes may hunt during the day (diurnal) in the winter because it’s harder to find food.”
Bingo! That brings me to the reason why I chose this book for February.
Remember that motion I mentioned observing this morning. Well, I went to the kitchen door and there on the snowbank by the back deck was my neighborhood fox.
He was on the prowl. Do you see all the gray and red squirrel tracks on the snow? And Mary’s comment that foxes will hunt during the day in the winter. One would think that given all the squirrels and mice folks were dealing with last fall, a result of the previous year’s mast crop production of acorns, pinecones, and beechnuts, the foxes and coyotes and bobcats would have plenty to feast on. But . . . there wasn’t so much food for those little brown things to cache this winter and so it’s a rare occasion that I find a squirrel midden or even mouse tracks in the snow right now. Instead, they are all at my bird feeding station. And my daily fox knows this. Though I haven’t seen him find success, he returns repeatedly and follows the same route each time so I suspect he’s helped himself to a few local delicacies.
Notice that long snout–the better to smell you with, my dear. Oh wait, that was the big bad wolf, not the big, bad fox.
Just after I shot this photograph, he pivoted and dashed off in the direction from whence he’d come.
And then he returned, with nothing dangling from his mouth. His eyes, in the front because he was born to hunt (eyes on the side, born to hide–like a deer), focused on something in the quaking aspen that I couldn’t quite see from my vantage point.
He went back to the tree and for a second I thought he was going to climb it. Hmmm, gray foxes climb trees, not red.
Again, this was from the edge of the door and I couldn’t quite see what had captured his attention. Prior to his visit, the feeders and ground had been a party spot for a slew of squirrels and birds. I doubted a bird would hang out in a tree while a fox lurked below, but wondered if a squirrel was trying its darnedest to blend in with the tree trunk. And if it was a red squirrel, it was keeping its mouth shut for a change for I heard not a bit of its usual chatter.
After a minute or two, Fred, as I’ll call him (after all, Mary named her fox) moved a few feet away, sat down and began to scratch behind his ear. Those darn fleas.
He sat there for a few minutes and then got up and began to walk away. But his eyes . . . still they were focused on that tree.
At last he gave up on that particular quarry and ran off, following his usual route across the yard toward the neighbor’s house. I wonder how many cats they have left.
I gave Fred a wee bit of time to move on so I wouldn’t disturb him and then I headed out because, after all, who can resist the opportunity to check out brand, spanking fresh tracks? Remember that red fox’s feet are quite hairy so their prints look rather muffled, even in the fresh dusting of snow that fell overnight.
Do you see the X between toes and pad? Some semblance of nails? And can’t you just envision him loping across the yard?
Remember how he sat down to scratch behind his right ear (looking head on it would have been his left to us)? Well, I found the spot where he’d left an impression on the snow. And more. A tad of pee and SCAT! He’d dined on something.
I backtracked him for a while, crossing over stonewalls and into neighboring tree lots curious about where he comes from, but as Mary Holland reminded me, “As the weather turns cold, Ferdinand and his siblings sleep outside on the ground and no longer use their den.” Instead, they curl up and their bushy tails keep them warm. At last, I came to a tree where he’d dillydallied.
And then I spied a tiny amount of yellow snow–he’d tinkled (what fun to write “tinkled”) there. The sniff test results: skunky scent. Has he not mated yet? One day more than a month ago he did bring a gal by, but I haven’t seen her since. Red foxes typically breed in January and February, and it is, after all, still February for a few more hours.
At the end of our cowpath, he’d turned south as he always does and his track became but a memory.
Mary’s book can help keep that memory alive. It’s only one of numerous children’s books she’s now written. All have cross-curriculum teaching activity guides that one can download from www.SylvanDellPublishing.com.
Mary is also the author of Naturally Curious, which is now out of print (though someone told me there is an updated edition, but I’m not sure its been published yet), and Naturally Curious Day-by-Day, and she shares a blog post about five times a week with those who wish to learn more.
I’ve had the honor of being in her presence twice, both times here in western Maine, and she is delightful, down-to-earth, and extremely gifted as a naturalist, photographer and author. She’s also quite approachable and I’m always amazed that she takes the time to answer questions via e-mail.
If you follow her blog or read her books, you’ll feel as if she’s either walking beside you or just ahead. Mary, if your ears are burning, it’s because those of us who do follow in your tracks often comment on the fact that what we see you just happened to post. Thank you for helping all of us, no matter our age, become naturally curious.
Once again, the February Book of the Month: Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer.
Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer by Mary Holland, Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2013.
When we gathered at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Fairburn parking lot on Slab City Road at 9:30 this morning, the thermometer registered 4˚. But the good news–no wind. And . . . the six Tuesday Trackers who decided to join me and brave the elements were dressed for the occasion.
First though, it seemed I wanted to test their endurance so we circled up for a few minutes and they used mirrors to see how a deer might see (and I should have taken a photo, but didn’t) and then I shared some casts I’d made of track prints. This one was a red fox and not only was the hair a bit visible, but so was the shape of a chevron, which some see as a boomerang in the heel pad of the front foot. I should note that this particular cast was made from a road kill specimen, so the toes and nails aren’t exactly as close together as they typically would be, especially on a cold morning in January.
The next cast to view–a coyote in mud. I love this one because it demonstrates the direct registration of a back foot stepping into the impression made by the front foot. And the X we always associate with the canines, including Eastern coyotes, red and gray foxes, was visible. Notice the parallel toes close together and nails that point inward–all for the sake of retaining heat.
And finally in this morning’s demonstration, a bobcat cast with more of a C shape between the toes and heel pad.
I chose this trail for today’s adventure because I had a feeling we might see what we saw–an otter slide! It’s a rare winter day when such activity isn’t visible there.
I was thrilled to note that a few people had beat us to the sight and observed the same. As we stood above the dam, we spied where the otter had come up out of the water, made its way around several trees . . .
then slide down into Mill Brook below. By the tracks and impressions in the trail we could envision his motion. And if folks had wanted to quit then, it would have been okay because we’d been so honored already.
But they are a hardy group and right near the otter slide, prints of another were noted and based on their wee size and the diagonal angle of their presentation we knew we were looking at the track of either an ermine or long-tailed weasel. It’s difficult to tell the difference between the two by the print size. But the cool thing was that though they appear light in the photograph, the prints that we saw were a mirror image of what David Brown drew on his Trackards. (I think I should get a commission for promoting his cards, but really, they are the best.)
Following the weasel prints, Tom found a hole by a tree and got down to check on any activity within. His report came with a grin: “It’s deep.” Was the weasel successful in finding a meal? We don’t know. But we do know that it’s typical of them to check out every little hole and make some of their own.
Continuing our journey, we’d hardly gone far from the dam when we happened upon another creator of fine tracks. Bingo! A red fox by its shape, size, and chevron.
And then. And then we found prints left behind by a mink, their size a bit larger than the weasel. By now, we were in seventh heaven. Or so we thought. For there was more.
I’d just said to one of the group that we’d seen otter, weasel and mink–all members of the Mustelid family. It was due time for a fisher . . . and what to our wondering eyes should appear?
Tell-tale prints left behind by a fisher that had loped through the woods. Do you see the five tear-drop shaped toes?
Being good trackers, we decided to back track it, for one shouldn’t follow an animal and put stress on it. And so we headed toward the pond.
One in our group had gone ahead and under a hemlock Heinrich discovered a meal partially eaten. The fisher prints led directly to and from it. A mushroom? That was my first thought until I took off my mitten and played with it. A roll? Whole wheat? Had the fisher stopped at Burger King or raided someone’s ice fishing party? Did he eat the meat and discard the roll? Not into whole wheat? Certainly he prefers a gluten-free diet.
Behind the hemlock, we followed his tracks and noted a spot where he’d sat and fussed about for a bit. Was this his lunch site? If so, he’d at least not left any wrappers behind.
As the morning went on, one set of tracks led us to those made by another and near the fisher we found more red fox impressions.
Astute eyes for we’re all so trained, also noted a dash of pee by a broken branch. Typical red fox behavior, especially given that this is mating season. But . . . in the air we couldn’t smell that delightfully skunky scent we associate with fox pee.
That is . . . until Pam got down. It was not as strong as we sometimes notice so we wondered if it was because of the cold air.
Despite that, Tuesday Tracker initiation involves getting down on all fours like Bob did. . .
and sniffing just like Paula. Come on–you know you want to join us and gain some bragging rights.
We decided to follow the fox for a while doing what we shouldn’t have done as we followed its forward motion rather than back, but suspected it was long out of range. We weren’t sure if it was one or a pair. At a tree, rather than pee, it or they seemed to dance around and possibly poke a nose into the snow. By now, the cold could have been getting to us and we were making up the story we read on the powdery page.
Eventually we did come to two sets of fox tracks and split our group in half, each following one set to see if they’d intersect again.
Well, the fox tracks led us back to the fisher and suddenly to the snowmobile trail. We saw that the fisher had headed up hill and thought we might spy it again if we followed the trail that leads toward Whiting Hill, so up we did climb. In no time at all, we found a pattern left behind by a little brown thing (LBT by tracking standards) and knew it was either a deer mouse or white-footed mouse out on a risky mission in search of seeds.
Next, a snowshoe hare had crossed the trail and we recognized it by its snow lobster shape. If you look at the second set of prints in this photograph, you’ll note that the animal was moving toward me and the two larger prints in the front were of its hind feet which had wrapped around and landed as the two smaller front feet leaped forward. Thus the overall impression looks like a lobster–at least in our minds.
Just beyond the hare, we met what we’d been looking for, the fisher. And then on a stone wall, Paula discovered two holes where it must have dug down looking for a meal. Was it successful? We so wanted a kill site to know what the critters had been eating, but saw no signs of blood or hair or bones or carcasses.
What we did see–a dribble of fisher pee that Pam checked out.
In the midst of fisher tracking, we came upon intersections, including one of a coyote and red fox. What kept us guessing was the apparent foot drag of the coyote. Was some of it tail drag? The snow under the powder was quite crusty so most of the fresh prints we found today didn’t require the mammals to break through the snow. But . . . had this coyote injured a foot on a previous journey when it was breaking through?
As the morning went on, the Trackers had to leave one by one and two by two until it was only Pam and me still on the prowl. We followed the fisher for a long way, and noted where it paused momentarily upon humps, but never discovered any sign of eating.
Eventually, we too, had to find our way out of the woods. It was rather easy for we followed the tracks the others had left behind. And chuckled at the patterns we all left in the snow. Not exactly discernible. What will the mammals say when they pause and study our prints?
Crazy humans! Ah, but I think they’ll also call us intrepid travelers, for like them, we prowled about on a frigid winter day.
We all left thrilled for we’d seen the tracks of so many in this mammal corridor. And curiously we noted those we hadn’t seen: deer and squirrel in particular, as well as moose and bobcat. Another day perhaps.
Today’s Tuesday Trackers included Pam, Heinrich, Nancy, Paula, Bob, Tom, and yours truly. Intrepid indeed.
It all started with an email message from my long-time mentor and former education director of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, Kevin Harding.
Wrote Kevin, “I rarely find a book that I’m willing to recommend to friends and colleagues. I rarely read books on saving the environment because I find them too depressing. I am guilty of feeling totally overwhelmed by the chaos and daily news of political disfunction that makes any kind of progress toward “saving the environment” seem impossible. Despite these feelings, I would like you to consider reading Rewilding Our Hearts by Marc Bekoff. No doubt many of you know this author and you may have already read some of his work. Bekoff can help us understand that the work we do in Lovell is in fact meaningful and productive.”
A professor emeritus of ecology and evolution at the University of Colorado, Boulder, (our youngest son’s alma mater), Bekoff is the author or editor of twenty-five books.
Since receiving the book, I’ve turned up the bottom corner of pages in the foreword and introduction that I want to reread and taken copious pages of notes.
In this book, Bekoff’s intention is to use the big picture challenges of “climate change, population explosion and constant damage to Earth’s ecosystems and loss of diversity” as the backdrop to encourage us all to change how we think and act–especially as it pertains to nonhuman animals.
“Rewilding our hearts is about becoming re-enchanted with nature. It is about nurturing our sense of wonder. Rewilding is about being nice, kind, compassionate, empathetic, and harnessing our inborn goodness and optimism,” writes Bekoff.
In the first chapter, he states, “Our effects on other species are wide-ranging and far-reaching, and we most likely understate the extent of our destructive ways. As with climate change, we often don’t know or fully understand what we’ve done or the extent of our negative impacts. Even worse, we have no idea how to fix the ecological problems confronting us, whether we are at fault for them or not.”
He encourages us to open our hearts and form a compassionate connection with nature–even in those moments when we don’t understand. For instance, in November a friend and I discovered two spiders in the water-filled “urn” of a pitcher plant on a land trust property. The larger spider was alive, while it seemed to play with the smaller dead spider that it kept moving with its hind legs. Was it trying to revive the youngster? Would the two or even the one be able to escape the carnivorous pitcher plant?
Watching something as small as the spiders or as large as young great blue herons is something some of us could easily take for granted, for we are fortunate to spend many hours as observers. Thankfully, we are constantly filled with awe and wonder.
As I read Bekoff’s book, numerous visions flashed through my mind and I thought of the corridors that our local land trusts have worked diligently to create. And with that came the memory of an article I wrote for Lake Living magazine in 2015 entitled “Land That We Trust”:
My happy moments are spent wandering and wondering in the woods of the lakes region. And photographing and sketching what I see. And writing about the experience. And trying to find out the answers. Honestly though, I don’t want to know all of the answers. For the most part, I just like the wandering and wondering.
Passing through a stonewall, I’m suddenly embraced by the fragrance of white pines that form the canopy over what was once an agricultural field. Beech and hemlock trees grow in the understory. Lowbush blueberries, Canada mayflowers, bracken ferns, Indian pipe, partridgeberry, sessile-leaf bellwort, Indian cucumber root and a variety of mosses and lichens add to the picture.
I follow a former cowpath that opens to the power line. At the edge, taller hemlocks and northern red oaks stand high, with a few beech trees in the mix. But my eye is drawn to the ground cover, varied in color and texture. Sphagnum moss, several species of reindeer lichen, British soldier lichen, wintergreen, bunchberries, junipers and sheep laurel appreciate the bogginess and sunshine of this space.
To the right of another opening in the wall, the neighborhood changes. This time it’s gray and paper birch that grow side by side. Nearby, a vernal pool teems with life.
In each space, I encounter evidence of animals, amphibians, birds and insects. Sometimes I even get to see these neighbors with whom I share the land. Gray squirrels build their dreys up high in the hardwood trees, while red squirrels prefer the white pine forest. Deer bed under the hemlocks. Snowshoe hare browse among the birch grove and its vegetative undergrowth. Yellow-spotted salamanders and wood frogs lay egg masses in the vernal pool. Snakes slither nearby. Frequent visitors to each area include porcupines, raccoons, skunks, turkeys, gray and red foxes, deer, woodpeckers, thrushes, chickadees, nuthatches and warblers. Occasionally, I’m treated to moose and bear evidence and sitings.
People, too, are part of this habitat. They recreate along the snowmobile trail that follows the power line. The stonewalls, dug wells and rusty equipment speak to the area’s history.
It’s land like this that our local land trusts work diligently to preserve.
A wee disclaimer: I’ve been a volunteer docent for about eight years and am now education director for the Greater Lovell Land Trust. My involvement stems from my desire to learn about what makes up the landscape that surrounds me.
Sometimes alone, sometimes with my husband or friends, I hike all of the GLLT properties on a regular basis. Trekking along trails with like-minded people who pause frequently to identify and appreciate what they see in any season puts a smile on my face. Something stops us in our tracks every time we explore and we gain a better understanding of ourselves and this place we inhabit.
This past winter, I started recording my outdoor adventures, wonders and questions in a blog entitled wondermyway.com. Sometimes those hikes on land trust properties became the subject for a post.
February 23, 2015: Bishop’s Cardinal Reserve, I’m fascinated by bear sign and love to find claw marks on beech trees. Oh, they climb other trees, but beech show off the scars with dignity for years to come. While bark on most trees changes as it ages, beech bark is known for retaining the same characteristics throughout its life . . . Seeing all the animal tracks and sign, some decipherable, others not so, makes me thankful for those who have worked hard to preserve this land and create corridors for the animals to move through.
March 31, 2015: John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge, It’s one of those places that I could spend hours upon hours exploring and still only see a smidgeon of what is there. I’m overwhelmed when I walk into a store filled with stuff, but completely at home in a place like this where life and death happen and the “merchandise” changes daily.
April 15, 2015: Otter Rocks, A princess pine club moss shows off its upright spore-producing candelabra or strobili. Funny thing about club mosses–they aren’t mosses. I guess they were considered moss-like when named. Just as the mills take us back in time, so do these–only much further back when their ancestors grew to 100 feet tall during the Devonian Period. They make me feel so small and insignificant. And yet, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in awe of them.
May 3, 2015: Chip Stockford Reserve, There’s something about the Chip Stockford Reserve on Ladies Delight Road in Lovell that keeps pulling me back. I think it’s the history associated with this property that fascinates me. And the questions it raises. From the start, there is a cellar hole and barn foundation. Eldridge Gerry Kimball had purchased 200 acres on January 31, 1880 from Abraham E. Gray. Various journals from that time period include entries about driving cattle over to the Ladies Delight pasture, picking cranberries over by The Pond, as they called Kezar Lake, picking apples, driving sheep to pasture, picking pears, mowing oats and trimming pines. Today, it’s the huge pasture pines, stonewalls and a couple of foundations that tell part of the story. I’ve also heard that this area was used as a cattle infirmary. According to local lore, diseased cattle were brought to Ladies Delight to roam and die, thus preventing disease from spreading to healthy cattle. . . Another story about Ladies Delight hill is that this is the place where people would come to picnic in the 1800s. Did the women get dressed up to enjoy a day out, a break from their farming duties? I have visions of them wearing long dresses and bonnets and carrying picnic baskets. But could they really afford a day away from their chores?
May 10, 2015: Bald Pate Mountain, The “bald” mountain top is the reason I am who I have become. Being outside and hiking have always been part of my makeup, but when our oldest was in fifth grade, I chaperoned a field trip up this mountain that changed everything. The focus was the soils. And along the way, Bridie McGreavy, who at the time was the watershed educator for Lakes Environmental Association, sat on the granite surrounded by a group of kids and me, and told us about the age of the lichens and their relationship to the granite and I wanted to know more. I needed to know more.
June 16, 2015: Bishop Cardinal Reserve, Though we never plan it that way, our journey lasted three hours. Suddenly, we emerged from the wet woodland onto Horseshoe Pond Road–all the richer for having spent time in the land of the slugs, bears and caterpillar clubs. Oh my!
We are fortunate to live in an area where five trusts protect land for us and the species with whom we share the Earth: Greater Lovell, Loon Echo, Western Maine Foothills, Mahoosuc and Upper Saco Valley. This strikes me as a valuable reflection of who we are and where we live.
Land trusts work with community members to acquire land for permanent conservation through purchases and donations. They also create legal and binding conservation easements that allow residents to protect land holdings in perpetuity, while retaining private ownership. Scenic views, wildlife corridors, flora and fauna, and topography remain, subject only to the whims of nature itself, which is ever-changing.
Conserving the land doesn’t mean it can’t be touched. The organizations develop management plans and steward the land. Timber harvesting, farming, residency and recreation continue, while specific wildlife habitat, wetlands, unique natural resources and endangered or rare species are protected. And in the process, they strengthen our towns. Ultimately, they give us a better sense of our place in Maine and opportunities to interact with the wild.
The service area of each of the local trusts include watersheds and wildlife corridors. Greater Lovell Land Trust is committed to the protection of the Kezar Lake, Kezar River and Cold River and adjacent watersheds located in Lovell, Stow and Stoneham.
Loon Echo Land Trust serves seven towns: Bridgton, Casco, Denmark, Naples, Harrison, Sebago and Raymond, and their efforts actually reach beyond to the 200,000 residents of Greater Portland for whom Sebago Lake is the public drinking water source.
Western Foothills Land Trust serves the Greater Oxford Hills towns of Buckfield, Harrison, Norway, Otisfield, Oxford, Paris, Sumner, Waterford and West Paris. The watersheds they protect include Lake Pennesseewassee, Thompson Lake, Crooked River and Little Androscoggin River.
The Mahoosuc Land Trust works in central Oxford County, Maine, and eastern Coos County, New Hampshire. It strives to protect the watersheds and natural communities of Albany Township, Andover, Bethel, Gilead, Greenwood, Hanover, Milton Plantation, Newry, Rumford, Shelburne, Upton and Woodstock.
Likewise, the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust crosses the border and includes the communities of western Maine and northern New Hampshire that make up the upper watershed of the Saco River. Its service area flows from the source of the Saco in Crawford Notch toward the Hiram Dam and includes Harts Location, Jackson, Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Albany, Madison and Eaton, New Hampshire and Fryeburg, Denmark and Brownfield, Maine.
In addition to their service areas, the land trusts collaborate with each other and local lake associations. Most recently, the GLLT, LELT, WMFLT and USVLT, plus the Portland Water District have joined forces to protect the fifty-mile Crooked River. The river is the largest tributary flowing into Sebago Lake and it provides primary spawning and nursing area for one of four known indigenous populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon in Maine.
Protection is key. So is education, which develops understanding and appreciation. I know for myself, my relationship with the landscape continues to evolve. The mentors I’ve met along the way have played an important part in my involvement and caring for the environment.
All five land trusts offer numerous hikes open to everyone, providing a great way to explore and learn more about the diversity of the natural communities. Staff and volunteers lead walks, stopping frequently to share a bit of knowledge, ask questions and wonder along with the participants. These organizations also offer indoor programs featuring knowledgeable guest speakers.
I’m thankful for the work being done to protect the ecosystem. There’s so much I still don’t understand, but with each nugget of knowledge gained, the layers build. Maybe someday I’ll get it. Maybe I never will. Either way, I’m happy for the chance to journey and wonder on land trust properties.
Even though we can’t all endow the future of our properties, we can get involved to ensure that these organizations continue to protect land for future generations of humans and wildlife so it will remain in its natural state for the benefit of all.
So back to Bekoff’s book, he quotes many biologists and others as he makes the point that when we experience alienation from nature we make bad decisions including “wanton killing of wild species, clear cutting, pollution and other human impacts, and caging of nonhuman animals.”
“What we do,” writes Bekoff, “does make a difference and rewilding our hearts is about fostering and honoring our connections to one another and all life.”
After all, as evidenced in our yard each day and night when the visitors are many, we share this place with and in fact live in the world of our nonhuman neighbors. We need to figure out how to live together–and that premise is at both nonhuman and human levels since we are all interconnected in the web of life.
Though Bekoff’s focus is on nonhuman animals, I do wish he’d also addressed other forms of life, such as fungi, insects, plants, and the like.
He does list what he calls the “8 Ps of Rewilding” as a guide for action: Proactive, Positive, Persistent, Patient, Peaceful, Practical, Powerful, and Passionate. “If we keep these eight principles in mind as we engage one another and wrestle with difficult problems, no one should feel threatened or left out,” says Bekoff.
As the book continues, there are definitions provided for catch phrases such as compassionate conservation and stories of unsung heroes who have made it their life’s work to “rewild our hearts and to expand our compassionate footprint.”
Bekoff is a realist and so am I. He would love to see us all become vegetarians or vegans, but realizes we will not. He knows that it will take people time to unlearn preconceived notions, especially given that the media thrives on misrepresenting animals. He knows that his rewilding our hearts is a concept with a broad agenda.
One of my take-away thoughts was that all of local environmental organizations are working hard to create corridors and raise awareness and awe about the natural world. Of course, we could all do better. But, we’ve already got a good start on doing what Bekoff suggests: “Figure out how to foster a love of nature and other animals so that every generation sees this connection as precious and vital and worth nurturing.”
But . . . he concludes that “if we all made some simple changes to our lives, the world would soon become a more compassionate place for all beings and landscapes.
And he reminds us to be humble and able to laugh at ourselves. Yeah, so um, I was the one who stopped a small group of friends as we moved along a trail on private property because I was the first to spot a great horned owl this fall. Yeah, um. It was plastic. And a set up. I’m still laughing.
Dear readers, if you’ve read this far, you deserve a reward. I know I got a bit off track by including my own article, but I do believe that we’ve got a start on rewilding our hearts in western Maine. Yes, we have a long way to go. Let’s do this. Together!
And remember, my guy purchased this copy of Rewilding Our Hearts at Bridgton Books.
Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence by Marc Bekoff, 2014, New World Library.
All month I’ve been thinking about which book to recommend and then a recent purchase came to the forefront. Finally. It’s a good thing given that this is the last day of November.
Here’s the scoop: I was scanning book titles at Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm Bookstore and happened upon Kaufman’s Field Guide to Nature of New England. Since I already had National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England on my bookshelf, I wasn’t sure I needed Kaufman’s guide. But my friend Karen Herold highly recommended it and said she preferred it to the other book. I’m am hear to state that I wholeheartedly agree.
Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England was written by husband/wife team Kenn Kaufman and Kimberly Kaufman. Both are naturalists extraordinaire, he being the author of other field guides (which I don’t yet own) and she the executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ohio.
The Kaufmans have color coded each section of the 7.75 X 4.75-inch book, making for easy reference. And though it’s a wee bit heavy (no heavier than the other book), it fits easily into the small pack I carry for explorations of the natural world. Of course, David Brown’s Trackards, accompany it.
Speaking of tracks, the Kaufmans do offer a few identifying features of such, but they also recommend two other sources: the Peterson Guide to Animal Tracks and Paul Rezendes’ Tracks and the Art of Seeing. I highly recommend both as well,
which just happens to include me in the acknowledgements. But . . .
my go-to guide in the field remains David Brown’s Trackards.
Back to the Kaufman guide: I wish I’d had it with me this past summer when I encountered sulphur butterflies puddling on a dirt road in the western Maine town of Fryeburg. First off, the section on butterflies and moths begins with an explanation of their life cycles and the differences between the two, including an illustration of their antennae.
In addition, a feature I really like is the view of the upper and underside of the wings since . . .
some butterflies “keep their wings tightly closed above their backs when at rest,
showing their bright undersides mainly in flight,” state the Kaufmans on page 302.
I could have fluctuated between Clouded Sulphur and Pink-edged Sulphur in my determination, but the description on page 302 reminded me that the latter prefers bogs and blueberry barrens and I was standing in the midst of a farm where milkweed, other wildflowers and hay grew. The other thing that supported my attempt at ID was that though my butterflies did have pink-edged wings, the dots matched those of the Clouded in the book.
And since it is now winter, the guide will be handy to pull out when showing others what a critter looks like–especially if we have the joy of spying one.
Occasionally that happens, such as on one occasion last winter when a few of us saw this mink. Please forgive the fuzziness–a result of my excitement.
And had I purchased the book sooner, I could have pulled it out as two friends and I watched an otter frolic in early summer.
But . . . now I have it and it is the perfect addition to my pack, whether for solo hikes or with others when we question what we’re seeing.
I think one of the things that I really appreciate about this book is the voice of the authors, which echoes my own thoughts. (And their sweet dedications to each other on page 4.)
In the introduction, Kenn writes, “Once a person goes outdoors with senses attuned to nature, the sheer diversity of living things is both delightful and maddening, both reassuring and overwhelming.” Just this morning, Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and I exchanged an email conversation about the very same thought and gave thanks that we still have so much to learn.
Kaufman continues, “If we try to look at everything in nature, we find so many things that we never get past the edge of the parking lot.” I chuckled when I read that because my peeps and I have said the same thing, whether I’m tramping with the docents of the Greater Lovell Land Trust or a group of Maine Master Naturalists.
Does the book cover every single species to be discovered in New England? That would be impossible–or at least too heavy to tote along on a tramp. “Our intent has been to cover those things that people are most likely to notice, so we have exercised a bias toward the most conspicuous plants and animals.” With that in mind, my suggestion: purchase Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England and throw it into your pack. Then purchase any other guide books and refer to them when you get home.
Book of November: Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England by Kenn Kaufman & Kimberly Kaufman, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.
Judy Steinbergh has fed me repeatedly. She’s nourished my body and soul with actual food, but also with her poetry and prose. And recently, she gifted me one of her books entitled Writing My Will.
Though it’s her poems about Maine that I love the most in this collection, I feel honored not only to have been the recipient of such a gift, but also to be offered the opportunity to peek into her life and share the path that she’s walked through marriage and motherhood, divorce and death.
I hear Judy’s voice even when she isn’t reading to me. And I covet her descriptions and command of lyrical language and imagery, especially as she captures the natural world:
“. . . after speculating on the slap of water, whir of wings,
out of the grainy dusk, some creature bursts
from the forest. Before we focus on its shape,
almost before it can be named,
it twists back, leaps, makes its escape.”
~ excerpt from “Wild Things”
or this one:
“. . . roughs the lake up like the wrong direction of fur
until it is leaping dolphins and whales in rows
until it is sleek stampeding panthers in droves
until we, in our small boats, are driven to shore.”
~excerpt from “The Wind”
Each summer, she’s gathered her own poems, and those of other landscape poets, and shared them with an intimate group of writers through a workshop co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust, Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, and Hewnoaks Artist Colony at the Hewnoaks property overlooking Kezar Lake in Lovell, Maine. After talking about rhythm and form, and having us read her works and others, she sends us off to find a comfortable spot in which to contemplate and write.
Poets young and old flock to her and she embraces all with a listening ear and mentoring manner.
And sometimes we travel the path together, either hunting for mushrooms, looking at plants and any of the millions of other things that capture our attention, or spending time writing and sketching.
Judy has written five books of poetry, three poetry teaching texts, and recorded other works. She’s the Poet Laureate for the town of Brookline, Massachusetts. And she teaches and mentors students and teachers for Troubadour, Inc. throughout greater Boston and serves as Poet-in-Residence in various communities.
This particular book, Writing My Will, is an assortment of Judy’s treasures from her family, including her dying mother, to the natural world that embraces her. Based on the theme, she’s divided it into sections: Heirlooms; My Mother Comes Back to Life; What Memories Will Rise; Talking Physics With My Son; This Wild; Meeting the Birthmother; Long Distance; The Art of Granddaughters; Working on Words; Elegies; Writing My Will.
And it ends with one most apropos for this month:
Wild asters and the birds whir over
in flocks, Queen Anne’s Lace curls up
by the docks, the tide runs out,
runs out like it hurts, our step
is so light on this earth.
I love these times alone, thinking
about how my children have grown,
and how I come into this age
as the marsh’s edge.
And the tide runs out, as forceful
as birth, as if nothing else mattered
but rushing away and rushing back in
twice a day. Our step
is so light on this earth.
We’re given October like a gift, the leaves
on the warp, the light on the weft,
and the gold drips through
like cider from the press; we know,
we know that our lives are blessed.
But the tide runs out, runs out like it hurts,
what were fields of water only hours ago
are meadows now when the tide
is low; our step is so light
on the earth. Wild asters. All
we are sure of is change, that maple
and sumac will turn into flame, this softness
will pass and the winter be harsh
till the green shoots push
up through the marsh. And the tide
rushes in like a thirst and will keep
its rhythm even after our time,
the seasons, too, will repeat
their design. Our step
is so light on the earth.
And so, dear Judy, as my thank you for the gift of your book, I want to now share a melody of photos from previous autumns, all taken during Octobers past in your beloved Maine locale when you can’t be here. (Well, maybe one is from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont–shhhh!)
“Our step is so light on the earth”
Book of October: Writing My Will–Poems and Prose, by Judith W. Steinbergh, Talking Stone Press, 2001.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky on this first day of fall and a crisp day it was, bringing smiles to our faces and adding sweatshirts to our attire.
Though we saw a few darner dragonflies and even a meadowhawk, it was the green frogs that we spent the most time trying to spy for they blended in well with their grassy surroundings at the water’s edge.
A bit further out, and unfortunately beyond our reach, we spotted a bobber and fishing line. While it offered a picture filled with color and curves, the reality wasn’t so pleasant.
Nearby, this loon and a youngster swam and fishing line left behind is bad news for them as they could get tangled in it. Please, please, please, if you are near the Horseshoe Pond boat launch, and have the means to retrieve the bobber, do so. And if you are anywhere else in this world, do the same–for the sake of all birds everywhere.
At last, we pulled ourselves away from the pond and followed the brook that flows from it–Sucker Brook.
Right away, we were in awe of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants with fruits still intact. Jack is actually a curious plant and sometimes channels its feminine side. While the plant starts life as a male, if the soil is poor, it turns female, flowers and bears seed. It could turn male again. In the case of what we saw today, meet Jill.
As our journey continued, we noted fungi everywhere. Some had rotted and added to the earthy smell of the woods. Others displayed their unique structures, colors, and lines, including the Thin-mazed Polypore.
We also found at least one Black Earth Tongue, its common name reflecting its tongue-like appearance as it stuck up from the ground.
And in keeping with human body parts, we noticed a singular Dead Man’s Finger. But . . . its presentation offered questions we couldn’t answer. It was our understanding that on Xylaria longipes the young fruiting bodies would be covered with a whitish or gray powder in the spring. The powder isn’t really a powder, but rather the asexual spores of the species. So, did we find a confused youngster? Or was it an oldster parasitized by a mold?
Speaking of molds, we stumbled upon a log featuring a feathery appearance reminiscent of antennae on a moth or butterfly. Well, maybe a collection of antennae. A huge collection.
Turns out it was Chocolate Tube Slime, a new discovery for me. In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, author Lawrence Millman describes it as “dozens of erect, brown tubes mounted on thin, seemingly polished black stems.” Bingo.
Also appearing a bit chocolate in color was another green frog. And being the first full day of autumn, I began to realize that my time spent admiring amphibians and dragonflies will soon draw to an end. But . . . on the horizon . . . tracks and scat 😉
Because we were beside the brook, and we’d seen this species before, we searched each and every rock and weren’t disappointed. Conocephalum salebrosum showed off its snakeskin-like leaves.
The conspicuous grooves of the thalli on this liverwort defined the surface and gave it that snakeskin appearance.
Continuing on, we finally reached the platform and climbed up to look out toward Moose Pond Bog. Of course, we hoped to see a moose. No such luck. We did spy one dog named Bella and her owner, Meg Dyer, the Lovell Rec Director, out for a Sunday walk in the woods. But they were on the trail below us and not in the bog. One of these days . . . maybe we’ll see a moose. When we least expect it, that is.
Back on the trail ourselves, our next great find–winterberries in a recently dug hole about four inches deep. Who done it? We poked the hole with a stick and determined that it didn’t go any deeper or have any turns, such as a chipmunk might make. Nor did it have a clean dooryard, which they prefer. Turkey? Perhaps. Squirrel?
We think we answered the question for on top of a tall hemlock stump that has long served as a red squirrel diner, some red winterberries appeared among the pine scales left behind.
Almost back to the road, we crossed the final bridge and then backtracked. We knew our destination was up the streambed it crossed over and were thankful that it held not much water. That meant we could climb up and take a closer look at the large boulders in the middle. And it was there that we made a new discovery.
You see, in the past we’ve not been able to get too close to the boulders and from a bit of a distance we were sure we had looked at more snakeskin liverwort. But our ability to get up close and personal today made us question our previous assumption. Suddenly, the gray-green leafy structure took on a more lichen-like appearance. Though its color wasn’t the same, it very much reminded me of rock tripe.
We studied its lobes and structure, including the tiny warts and questioned ourselves as we continued to examine it. I kept thinking it was an umbilicate based on the way it adhered to the rock substrate.
A little research and I think I’ve identified it correctly, but know some will alert me if I’ve assumed too much–Peltigera aphthosa, aka Freckled Pelt Lichen, also called Spotted Dog Lichen. The bright green center indicated it was wet. From borealforest.org, I learned that the little warts contain tiny colonies of cyanobacteria, which supply the lichen with nitrogen.
And right beside the lichen, we found a moss that also reminded us of a liverwort for it resembled Bazzania. But . . . if I identified this correctly, it’s Racomitrium aciculare. Some know it as Yellow-fringe Moss.
In his book, Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts, Ralph Pope described it as “common on wet rocks along streams and under waterfalls.” In watery seasons for this particular stream, that would be its exact location–under a waterfall.
Today, the stream bed leading down to Moose Pond Bog and Sucker Brook was just about dry. But . . . because of that we were able to take a closer look.
In fact, it took us almost four hours to follow the mile or so trail, but it was all about taking a closer look through our 10X lenses and cameras, slowing down our brains, and channeling our inner Nancy Drew as we paid attention to clues and tried to decipher the scene around us–all the while detecting the nature of Wilson Wing.
When Alanna Doughty, education director at Lakes Environmental Association, mentioned she’d watched a trailer about a book entitled wishtree by Katherine Applegate and immediately walked to Bridgton Books to purchase it and that night began reading it to her girls and thought I might like it as well, I listened and then drove to the bookstore and purchased it yesterday and here I am today to tell you that you should do the same.
In fact, this should be required reading for every child and every adult. Every. Adult. You see, the story is about a northern red oak, but not an ordinary Quercus rubra, for Red, as it is known, can talk. And tell corny jokes. And philosophize, though not in a tedious or pompous way. And teach. All of us. About life. And tolerance.
On one level, it reminds me of our barn, which just happens to be painted red and is towered over by a red oak, and serves as a home, or at least a pass under, for skunks and raccoons and woodchucks and porcupines and red and gray squirrels and mice and the neighborhood cats and all seem to live in perfect harmony beneath it. Well, all except the mice that is.
But the book isn’t just about the animals that call the hollows of the tree home, it’s about the people who live nearby. And really, it’s about all people. In the neighborhood. In the town. In the state. In the nation. Across the globe.
The tale of tolerance is told in such a manner that each short chapter with its surprise ending could stand alone like delectable little nuggets. And maybe they should be read in such a way. One. Chapter. At. A. Time. I rushed through it last night, mesmerized, but this morning I began reading wishtree again. And actually, I think it shall become a bathroom book, that place where many of my favorites end up so I can return to them frequently for short intervals. Wink.
Scientific terms are subtly introduced. And the sketches enhance the story.
Published in 2017, its a book that is written for our times, but should become a classic, much like The Giving Tree. I don’t want to give the story away, but I do want you to read it. You can learn more by visiting the wishtree website, where you can even add your own wish.
Or be like Alanna, read the story aloud to your children or partner or the air around you, find your own “Red,” and leave a wish and some yarn and snippets of paper for others to do the same.
But especially, don’t forget to take the message of wishtree with you everywhere you go. I hope I remember to do the same.
wishtree by Katherine Applegate, published 2017, Fiewel and Friends, an imprint of mackids.com.
It’s such a sweet trail and so named for Juanita Perkins, a local photographer and naturalist who was an avid member of the Greater Lovell Land Trust. To follow in her footsteps is not an easy task, but today I journeyed along the path trying to see what Juanita might have seen.
Immediately upon stepping down the trail, a clubtail dragonfly landed in front of me. Identifying dragonflies has become one of my passions of late, but still I struggle. And go back and forth. Lancet Clubtail or Pronghorn? I lean toward Lancet only because I’m not sure Pronghorns are a Maine species. But it’s to Dragonflies of the North Woods that I turn, and the abdomen that I try to zone in on. The abdomen consists of ten segments. Lancet: segment 8 has a smaller top spot and segment 9 is all yellow on top, (except for the female’s top spot which is narrower). Pronghorn: segment 8 has a smaller top spot and segment 9 is all yellow on top. Segment 10 has a narrow stripe. The Maine Odonata survey does not include the Pronghorn and so I find myself deciding on the Lancet. Suffice it to say, this is a clubtail.
A much easier species for me to ID is the ebony jewelwing damselfly. Several danced and posed by the brook leading from the wetland the path encircles to Heald Pond. I trust that when Juanita traveled this path, she too saw the jewelwings dance, their bodies as bejeweled as their wings–maybe more so. A female’s wings are smokier in color than the males and each is dotted with one white spot at the tip.
The male’s wings are more ebony in color and body more metallic. This handsome fellow had three ladies in waiting so he couldn’t pause for long.
Though I refer to the entire loop as Perky’s Path, in reality I hadn’t even reached it by the time I encountered the “You Are Here” sign. I’d actually been walking along a snowmobile trail that is part of Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.
It was a couple of tenths of a mile later that I finally stepped onto the path blazed with orange.
One of my favorite hangouts is the bench located along a short spur. Usually I spend moments on end, but today I was eager to move on.
Along the spur trail, I did note one of my favorite fruits beginning to ripen–that of Indian Cucumber Root. And as it ripens, the base of the leaves turn red. All I could think of is that the red is a sign to birds–come dine at this table. You won’t regret it.
Another red fruit stood upright above leaves of three–that of a painted trillium.
It’s been six years since Juanita Perkins passed away and I don’t know when she last walked the path, but at that time, where the stream from Bradley Pond flows into a beaver wetland before continuing on toward Heald Pond, she probably crossed the water via a wooden bridge. Time and weather had taken their toll on the bridge and so at the beginning of this summer a group of volunteers and a couple of GLLT staff members pulled the wood out and placed flat rocks as stepping stones. It makes for a magical crossing, especially as it slows the wander and encourages one to notice the surroundings. Though we never officially met (I do remember her dropping off photographs at a local gift shop where I worked for several summers back in the late 1980s), I trust she would appreciate the change.
Of course, I’ve always been one to enjoy water and all its variations. By the stepping stones (boulders), smaller rocks below the surface added to the overall arching effect, creating an interconnection. I felt a sense of Juanita’s time spent on the path woven into today.
By the water, there were a variety of flowers to note, including whorled asters and cardinal flowers, but it was the jewelweed that brought a smile to my face. I don’t understand why, but one of the sepals forms a pouch-like structure with a long spur. Jewelwings and jewelweed–indeed, a very special place.
Adding to the wonder right now due to recent and much appreciated rain are all the fruiting forms of mushrooms and this path has its fair share. I’m not great on my identification of boletes and others, but there are a few individuals that I remember from year to year. It’s the fact that their spores are everywhere and those spores form hyphae, that then forms mycelium, that then eats anything organic, that when mating is successful forms fruit, is wicked cool. We’re wowed by the fruit, but really, we need to honor the entire system. And so I honor the Golden Spindle,
White Spindle (which I don’t recall ever seeing before),
Scarlet Waxy Caps,
and Earth Tongues.
And then I slip off the path and down to the wetland, wondering what else I might see.
Instantly I am rewarded with numerous sightings of Cherry-faced Meadowhawks, their wings all aglow.
They aren’t the only shade of red in the vicinity, for some of the hobblebush leaves have taken on their autumn hue already. (Say it isn’t so!)
I almost complete the loop and reach the bridge crossing just before the parking lot at the end of Heald Pond Road, when I decide to follow the stream bed back toward the wetland. I suppose I did so because I wanted to extend my journey and my time honoring Juanita.
Here and there, where pockets of water exist, green frogs either try to hide from me or make sudden leaps.
I bushwhack back into the wetland, not wanting to let go, and forever thankful for Juanita. Every time I wander her way, I discover new perks along Perky’s Path.
If you think I’ve promoted this book before, you are correct, for HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION by Marita Wiser was featured as the Book of October in 2016.
But . . . I’m thrilled to announce that Marita has published the Sixth Edition, aka 25th Anniversary Edition, of her hiking guide and it’s available at local stores as you read this. Or you can order directly from her, and I’ll tell you how later in this review.
Before I tell you about changes since the Fifth Edition, let me say that I’m a bit biased for I’ve had many the pleasure of hiking the trails mentioned within with Marita, and sometimes her lovely daughters, and she once again offered me the kindness of letting me edit. She even paid me. How cool is that? And then gave me a signed copy.
To top it off, I modeled blaze orange with her youngest, Marguerite! If you’d like me to sign your copy, I’d be happy to do so 😉
To keep things fresh, Marita recast her rating system with two green circles meaning easiest and one green equaling easy. That was to differentiate between those like Holt Pond or Pineland Farms, which have well-groomed and fairly flat trails (or boardwalks–just watch out when wet), from Pondicherry Park or Mount Ti’rem, where the terrain varies more, but still isn’t enough of an elevation change to meet her guidelines for a blue square indicating moderate such as Mount Will or a black diamond meaning hard like Mount Chocorua.
She also added some color photos as you can see from above, but I love that she kept some classics, including a few of her daughters that were taken twenty years ago.
The centerfold map is also in color and shows not only where the trails are located, but their degree of difficulty as well.
One of the final new additions is what she’s titled “The Lure.” What is there about a trail that might attract you to it? Marita spells out those keen features such as “wheelchair accessible,” “plenty of vertical for a cardio workout,” “interesting old foundation,” and “the Rock Castle.” There are more, but you’ll need to purchase the book to read them all.
Among the new trails Marita recommended in this edition is the Red Tail Trail that leads to Black Cap Mountain in North Conway. My guy and I had the privilege of introducing her to that one fine day last fall.
Together, she and I discovered the well-built trail that Bruce, the property manager, and his assistant, Larry, were building on Long Mountain in Albany.
I’d give away all the surprises if I told you more.
Oh, and one more thing I like about this book is that it’s an all-local effort with Marita’s writing, her mother’s sketches, an old friend’s work on the map, my fine editing skills, Laurie LaMountain of Almanac Graphics (and Lake Livingmagazine fame) on design, and production of the final product at Cardinal Press in Denmark. Denmark, Maine, that is.
You may purchase a copy of HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION, which is printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink, at your local shop, including Bridgton Books where its long been a best seller. And if you don’t live locally, but still would like to buy a copy, the information on the back cover as seen above provides all the details you need.
HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION by Marita Wiser, designed by Almanac Graphics and self-published at Cardinal Printing, both of Denmark, Maine, 2018
Okay, so maybe I tweaked the words a bit to suit the celebration of my favorite season, but it’s what I do. And it’s a fun way to think about the body parts of dragonflies, those mini helicopters that have finally emerged and started dining on the pesky mosquitoes.
I can think of no better way to honor this special season than to look at dragonflies (and damselflies) up close by purchasing a new field guide: Dragonflies of the North Woods by Kurt Mead.
Of course, his north woods is different from mine since he’s located in Minnesota and I’m in Maine, but our habitats are similar enough that we share many of the same species.
Before I say anything more about the contents of the book, I have to share the “About Kurt Mead” from the back cover because it may just be the top reason to own a copy: “Kurt Mead is a naturalist at Tettegouche State Park on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. (He finally knows what he wants to be when he grows up.) He has also worked in a pea canning factory, as a garbage man, an animal control officer, an urban wildlife trapper, an aquaculturist, a security guard, an acid rain monitor, a substitute teacher, a waiter, a delivery driver, an elected township supervisor, a DNR Fisheries creel surveyor, a log home builder and carpenter in Sweden, a naturalist at environmental centers, an itinerant naturalist throughout the Midwest, an instructor at folk schools, was a stay-at-home dad for 15 years, and he founded the Minnesota Odonata Survey Project, which has since become the Minnesota Dragonfly Society. His scavenging habits lead his wife to believe that he is a reincarnated Turkey Vulture.”
The second paragraph describes his university credentials, wife and daughters, and ends with this line: “Kurt is also passionate about good donuts.”
Indeed, that’s why this guide flew off the shelf and perched in my hands at Bridgton Books not long ago.
The size of the book is 8.5 x 4.5 and it’s a half inch thick so it doesn’t take up a lot of space in my over-the-shoulder field bag. Like all good guides, Mead begins by describing a dragonfly–well actually, he begins with a Lewis Carrol conversation between Gnat and Alice, but you’ll need to purchase the book to read the quote.
In his explanation, he briefly describes the difference between dragon and damselflies, including the most obvious ones as demonstrated by a Chalk-fronted Corporal (Ladona julia) I saw at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Kezar River Reserve this afternoon: dragonflies have a stout build, eyes in contact with each other, and wings held flat when perched.
Mead doesn’t devote much space to damselflies, which overall are easy to differentiate within the order Odonata because their build is slight, eyes separate, and wings held over their backs when perched. I understand why he doesn’t include more than one page with photos of distinctive damsels because the guide would have been too long, but I had the pleasure of making two new acquaintances today . . . Mr. Superb Jewelwing (Calopteryx amata) and his mate.
Meet the Mrs. Notice the white dots on her wings–that always makes for easy gender ID of the jewelwings. These two–superb indeed.
Looking at the Corporal again, Mead includes an excellent diagram of the body parts, the head including those compound eyes, thorax with six legs and four wings, and segmented abdomen.
Mead further describes the life cycle and behaviors of these awesome fliers. Before getting into the nitty gritty of specific species, he offers a Quick “In the Hand” Key to help viewers differentiate family traits. The family key is followed by a Quick Wing Pattern Key. As you can see from this Four-spotted Skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata), some wings have spots and bands.
The main part of the book is divided by families and on the back cover colored tabs indicate those, making for easy reference. At the start of each family section, Mead devotes two pages to specific information that makes them unique. And he includes a sketch of the nymph stage, Within the family, the dragonflies are again divided by genus and two pages are devoted to each species. On each two-page spread, the reader will find photographs, habitat, descriptions and more. This Lancet Clubtail (Phanogomphus exilis) is described on pages 80-81.
Within the spread for this American Emerald (Cordulia shurtleffii), I read about its hunting technique: “Will feed on relatively defenseless and weak teneral (newly emerged) damselflies and dragonflies. Fortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Superb made it past the teneral stage. (I like that word.)
The end of the book includes a glossary, field checklist, dragonfly synonyms and names in languages other than English, phenology flight chart, and other info.
I never knew until I began to pay attention that there are so many beautiful species flying about in mosquito land. One of my favorite finds today was this Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa). If you’re curious about the species you encounter, then I highly recommend Kurt Mead’s Dragonflies of the North Woods. Again, I purchased my copy at Bridgton Books.
Dragonflies of the North Woods by Kurt Mead, Kollath+Stensaas Publishing, 2017.
Each time we explore a Greater Lovell Land Trust property, we have no idea what we might discover and this day was no different. For today’s Tuesday Tramp I suggested we visit the Cohen Property near the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake, which was the last acquisition under the direction of the late Tom Henderson. We’d only been there once before–and that was a few months ago when we explored via snowshoes. At that time we discovered ice-covered depressions and so a journey to check them out as vernal pools seemed apropos.
There are no trails yet and so after parking, we followed the road back a ways to the area of our winter expedition. And what to our wondering eyes did we spy on the road? Moose prints! One should always look through a magnifying glass to make certain the ID is correct. Wes confirmed our suspicion.
We found sitting water and running water and began to wonder about the wetland and whether what we thought might be a vernal pool really was, for we knew that a v.p. shouldn’t have an inlet or outlet. As the first dips of the day were made, black flies began to swarm around us. We hoped to pick up their larvae in the moving water, but instead we found many springtails.
And a few mosquito larvae as determined by Caleb, Linda and Nancy.
In another spot, we also found a mystery. At first we thought it might be some sort of egg. And maybe it was, but how was it related to the algae that seemed to be a host? We didn’t know, but now that we’re aware of it, we’ll continue to wonder and perhaps become enlightened.
We checked out “pool” after “pool” and found not one egg mass (except for a false start that fooled us momentarily), which rather disappointed us. Were these really vernal pools? We suspected so as they were shallow and looked like they’ll dry up in the summer, if not before, plus they supported no fish. Were they significant vernal pools? Definitely not. To be a significant vernal pool, the body of water must contain one of the following obligate species: 1 fairy shrimp or 10 blue-spotted salamander egg masses or 20 spotted salamander egg masses (yellow spots) or 40 wood frog egg masses. Fairy Shrimp? No. Salamander egg masses? No. Frog egg masses? No.
Despite the lack of indicator species, we scooped up water to determine what did live there.
The most abundant residents found–mosquito larvae. And do you see the small jar in Ellie’s hand? She created a mosquito larvae aquarium and discovered that they seemed to like the algae she’d added. Perhaps they’d found microorganisms we couldn’t see.
Watching the acrobatics of the larvae entertained us for a while. They twisted and turned somersaults and wriggled in the water and we soon realized that eggs left behind by last year’s females who had sucked our blood before breeding, must have remained dormant all winter until the snow melted and spring rains began.
We did find another species to admire, that also wriggled in a constant state of contortion–this one being a chironomid midge with blood-red coloration. According to A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools, the color is “due to a hemoglobin-like pigment that helps them retain oxygen. This pigment allows the larvae to survive in water that is very low in dissolved oxygen, as is common in vernal pools as drying proceeds throughout the seasons.”
Because I had to meet someone at noon, and Dave knew that it would take us at least a half hour to make the short trek back to our vehicles due to our incessant nature distraction disorder, we had to cut our journey short. Dave was right–as he often is–and we were forced to stop several time, including to sniff a couple of mayflowers, aka trailing arbutus or officially: Epigaea repens.
We finally reached the spot where we’d parked with fifteen minutes to spare when Linda sighted movement beside the tires of my truck and our hearts jumped with joy.
We didn’t want to run it over as we backed out and so Heinrich captured it. What is it? An Eastern ribbon snake, which is a species of special concern in Maine. According to the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website, “A species of special concern is any species of fish or wildlife that does not meet the criteria of an endangered or threatened species but is particularly vulnerable, and could easily become, an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species due to restricted distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or limits, or other factors. Special concern species are established by policy, not by regulation, and are used for planning and informational purposes; they do not have the legal weight of endangered and threatened species. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reviews the list of special concern species at the beginning of each calendar year, and, based on criteria in the Maine Endangered and Threatened Species Listing Handbook , revises the list as appropriate.”
And that is why it’s so important to protect the land. I knew Tom was smiling down upon us due to this find. Interestingly, we also spotted a ribbon snake at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road in early May 2015.
Finally, we all departed and I was only ten minutes late for my quick meet-up, after which I headed back down Route 5 to reconnect with my favorite little naturalists at the Kezar River Reserve across from the Wicked Good Store. There’s a tape across the road, which I suspect was put in place by the local snowmobile club when the ice was questionable on the river, but it remains, which given the recent rain is probably a good thing. We’ll take it down soon, but it has prevented the road from becoming more rutted than normal.
Anyway, Wes climbed out of the family’s vehicle with his paper birch armor. He’d spied it in a V between to birch trees on our morning trek and his mom climbed up to retrieve it for him.
Birch Man posed again and again, until his older brother Aidan, sporting a missing front tooth, jumped in front.
The boys stood on a hump of earth beside a tree root. And it was through their eyes that we noticed some interesting finds among the tree’s former life support.
We found pottery and cast iron and realized the tree had grown upon an old dump site.
And that hump of earth–the four siblings were sure that it hid a Volkswagen Beetle.
It took us a while to walk down the “roadway” and then the left-hand loop. We made a few discoveries, including coyote scat filled with bones, and the kids did some trail work. At last we reached the canoe/kayak landing at the Kezar River and noted some otter scat and a few slides, plus some fishing lures and line stuck in the trees. It was at that point that the family had to leave, but before they left they asked me what I’d do before I had another meeting in the afternoon. I told them I planned to hike the second loop, which happens to be longer and dips into an interesting ravine.
That never happened. As it turned out, I stood at the boat launch for about an hour. First, I spied one small clump of salamander eggs.
And then realized that the raft before me, which filled the small cove, was equisetum. Where it came from I didn’t know for I couldn’t recall ever seeing it at this property.
But, regardless, it provided a perfect camouflage for aquatic insects. It took me a while to key in on the species before me, but I knew they were there because every once in a while, one took flight. Do you see the mayfly subimago that had recently emerged? The teenager stood atop its nymph exuvia. Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun), they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation.
I really had to focus in order to spot them.
But once I did, they were . . .
And in all forms, including a nymph.
The cool thing is that thirteen mayflies are also on the list of species of special concern. Was this one of the species? I have so much more to learn.
As I continued to watch, there was an incredible amount of activity. And then I saw a predator that was about two and half inches long. Do you see it? Not atop the vegetation, but rather under it in right-hand center of the photo. Behind it, almost to the right edge of the photo, was a bubble at the end of its long breathing tube.
As I watched, it continued to swim forward, the vegetation providing it’s favorite type of habitat. Again, you have to look carefully.
And again. It was a water scorpion with an oval-shaped abdomen. Do you see it?
Finally, it was time for my next meeting, but as I walked back up the trail I reflected upon the wonders of the day and the work of the land trust under Tom’s leadership. Creating corridors is important for mammals, but also for all critters that share the various habitats.
There was no need to put out a distress signal today. Indeed. With others and alone, I was thankful for the opportunity to be gifted with such sightings: Mayflowers and Mayflies! And a water scorpion. Topped off with a ribbon snake. May Day Alert of the best kind.
My guy completely surprised me this morning when I asked where he wanted to hike and his response, “Province Brook Trail.” Though we’ve travelled many trails repeatedly, he often prefers to explore a new place. Me–I love those repeats for there’s always something new to see, as well as the familiar.
From South Chatham Road in South Chatham (pronounced chat-HAM), New Hampshire, I turned onto Peaked Hill Road, which leads to the trailhead.
And quickly parked the truck for the gate was still closed. That meant an almost three-mile hike to reach the trailhead. We didn’t mind as it’s a Forest Service Road and easy to walk upon, even as it gradually climbs.
Along the way, we noted where some of our favorite bear trees were located, but decided to leave them for another day. Instead, we were eager to move on and hoped to be able to get to the shelter. We weren’t sure what the water conditions might be, so promised ourselves only Province Pond. The shelter would be icing on the cake if we got there.
Right away, the trail’s tree spirit whispered a welcome.
And another of our favorite trees begged to be noticed again. It’s an ancient yellow birch that has graced the granite for more than a century. The tree itself, wasn’t in good health, but the roots atop the rock were still dramatic.
Conditions were different on the trail than the road, and though it’s a wide space used by snowmobiles in the winter, we had to watch our step for we encountered snow, ice, rocks and mud. But one rock was especially appealing and I’m not sure we’ve ever seen it before. A perfect split revealed a heart tucked within. As it should be.
Onward and upward, we heeded the sign.
And then hunger overtook our desire to wait until the pond, so we found lunch rock and enjoyed the feast we’d prepared. PB&J topped off with a Clementine and Extra Dark Chocolate Truffle, with water to drink, of course.
Province Brook rushed past while polypody ferns provided a head of hair atop one of the boulders.
After lunch, we had a wee bit further to travel before reaching Province Pond. At the dam, our excitement heightened for we discovered moose tracks in the snow.
And more in the mud.
Before us, the pond and Mount Shaw created a pleasing picture. We listened to the wood frogs wruck, though we couldn’t see them. Nor could we see any moose, but we hoped.
As usual, I got hung up on the reflection of the mountain and the subtle colors of spring, which was about a week later than back down the road.
As I stood on the dam built to prevent beavers from creating their own, my guy took his first ever iPhone photo. I had to chuckle for it was the same view of me that I typically get of him. And do you notice who carries the pack–on the way up when it’s the most full with lunch and water? He always gets it for the descent, which works for me.
From the dam, we looked across the pond toward the shelter, a tiny speck of roofline almost visible on the far shore, just right of center. And still we wondered, would we be able to get there?
Before trying, I noted leatherleaf with buds. Within a month, I suspected those tiny buds will become bell-shaped flowers.
Beside the leatherleaf, the overlapping burgundy and white scales of sweetgale catkins provided a delightful contrast beside the sky’s reflection on the water.
We moved on, following the trail to the hut–and made it, the water we needed to cross over not being high at all. Built in the 1930s, the shelter has many stories to tell, and my guy read a few of them.
We’d actually saved our dessert, our form of icing on the cake, and so enjoyed the view as we finished lunch.
On our way back down the trail, the brilliant green upper leaf of lungwort drew my attention as it has always done. The bright green was due to yesterday’s rain, which set the algae into production. The underside was pale with pockets of cyanobacteria, known as blue-green algae. Though it’s named for its resemblance to lung tissue, it does have a lettuce-like look. According to Lichens of the North Woods by Joe Walewski, lungwort is “found in rich, unpolluted and often very old forests.” Bingo!
What surprised me was that we found some on the ground, this batch on snow. Moose have a preference for lungwort. Had they pulled it off a tree?
More surprising was that some had apothecia, its spore-producing structure. Do you see the tiny tans specks along the lobe margins? It’s uncommon to see these and was a first for me. Typically, lungwort reproduces by granule-like masses called soredia that form on the surface, break off, land on a suitable substrate and grown into new lungwort lichens.
About nine miles round trip and our journey was completed. Old joke, but I can’t resist for I was lichen the Province Brook Trail from the start and it just kept getting better and better.
Those of you who have followed me on the trail or through wondermyway for a while know that I’m not only drawn to mountaintops, but wetlands as well. And I have a few that I frequent including several vernal pools, Holt Pond Preserve, Perky’s Path, and Brownfield Bog.
Book of April
Therefore, when I spotted Take a Wetlands Walk by Jane Kirkland at Maine Audubon’s Nature Store a few years ago I wasn’t surprised that it jumped into my hands and dragged me to the checkout. Since it’s April and the snow is slowly melting in western Maine, and some afternoon in the near future I look forward to receiving an email announcing our local Big Night celebration, it seemed apropos that I should feature Take a Wetlands Walk as the book of the month.
Holt Pond boardwalk
This is a children’s book and I like how the author divided it into three sections, using a phrase often heard at the starting line.
Get Ready–encourages kids to gain a better understanding of wetland terminology in an easy to understand manner. In fact, it’s as if the author is sitting beside you, so conversational is the tone.
Water Snake (notice his tongue)
Get Set–introduces amphibian and reptile species associated with wetlands.
Go!--sends the children outside to read the signs of nature and jot down their observations.
Quaking Bog at Holt Pond
In the Go! section, Kirkland describes what the kids might discover in such places as bogs, estuaries, salt marshes, freshwater marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, vernal pools, swamps, and the Everglades.
Through sidebars, illustrations, and photographs, Kirkland touches on many topics related to wetlands, but constantly encourages further research, including of course, heading out the door. She also includes a wee bit of information about citizen science projects and wetland careers.
Each time she first uses a technical term, she adds a pronunciation key. One of my favorites: The Pileated Woodpecker (Py-lee-ata-id or PILL-e-ate-id). I prefer the latter, but occasionally hear the former uttered. “You like to-may-toes and I like to-mah-toes!”–Although in that sense, I prefer the former tomaytoes.
Throughout, Kirkland shares personal experiences as well as those of her acquaintances. Finally, she includes pages filled with photos to help you identify birds, plants, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and insects related to wetlands.
Yes, this is a children’s book, but adults can also benefit from reading it. And then heading outside.
Get Ready, Get Set, Go! Pick up a copy of Take A Wetlands Walk and visit your nearest wetland.
Take a Wetlands Walkby Jane Kirkland, Stillwater Publishing, 2011
It’s March, that most indecisive of months. And so, I decided to follow in the same pattern by choosing not one,
or even three,
all books about stone walls which are once again revealing their idiosyncrasies. These are the Books of March.
Walk along our woodland trail with me and you’ll know that something different happened there ages and ages ago. To reach the trail, we’ll need to pass through two stone walls. Continuing on, we’ll come to a cow path where several pasture pines, massive trees that once stood alone in the sun and spread out rather than growing straight up, must have provided shade for the animals.
They are the grandparents of all the pines that now fill this part of the forest.
Further out, one single wall widens into a double wall, indicating a different use of the land.
The walls stand stalwart, though some sections are more ragged than others. Fallen trees, roots, frost, weather, critters and probably humans have added to their demise, yet they are still beautiful, with mosses and lichens offering striking contrasts to the granite. Specks of shiny mica, feldspar and quartz add to the display. And in winter, snowy outlines soften their appearance.
The fact that they are still here is a sign of their endurance . . . and their perseverance. And the perseverance of those who built them. and yet . . . . the stone walls aren’t what they once were, but that doesn’t matter to those of us who admire them.
For me, these icons of the past conjure up images of colonial settlers trying to carve out a slice of land, build a house and maybe a barn, clean an acre or two for the garden and livestock and build walls. The reality is that in the early 1700s, when western Maine was being settled, stones were not a major issue. The land was forested and they used the plentiful timber to build. It wasn’t until a generation or two later, when so much timber had been harvested to create fields for tillage and pasture, that the landscape changed drastically, exposing the ground to the freezing forces of nature. Plowing also helped bring stones to the surface. The later generation of farmers soon had their number one crop to deal with–stone potatoes as they called them. These needed to be removed or they’d bend and break the blade of the oxen-drawn plowing rake.
Stone removal became a family affair for many. Like a spelling or quilting bee, sometimes stone bees were held to remove the stones from the ground. Working radially, piles were made as an area was cleared. Stone boats pulled by oxen transported the piles of stones to their final resting place where they were woven into a wall.
Eventually single walls, also called farmer or pasture walls, were built as boundaries, but mainly to keep animals from destroying crops. The advent of stone walls and fences occurred within a few years of homesteads being settled, but during the sheep frenzy of the early 1800s many more were built. Those walls were supposed to be 4.5 feet high and fence viewers were appointed by each town to make sure that farmers tended their walls.
Double walls were lower and usually indicated an area that was to be tilled. A typical double wall was about 4-10 feet wide and consisted of at least two single walls with smaller rubble thrown between.
Drive our back roads and you’ll see many primitive walls created when stone was moved from the roadway and tossed into a pile, or wander through the woods and discover stone walls and fountains in unexpected places. The sheep craze ended about 1840 after the sheep had depleted the pastures and younger farmers heeded the call to “Go west young man, go west.” The Erie Canal, mill jobs, and better farming beyond New England all added to the abandonment of local farms.
Today we’re left with these monuments of the past that represent years of hard labor. Building a wall was a chore. Those who rebuild walls now find it to be a craft.
Sam Black, who lives in Bridgton, Maine and spent twelve years rebuilding the walls on his property, once told me, “It was meditation time, like working in the garden. It’s one of those things you do philosophically and it lets you operate at a deeper level. You have time to think and contemplate as you work on the jigsaw puzzle.”
Frank Eastman of Chatham, New Hampshire, is the caretaker for the Stone House property in Evans Notch, and said when I asked if he’d ever worked on single walls, “No, I ain’t that good at balancing things. You got to have a pretty good ability to make things balance and a lot of the times your rock will titter until you put a small rock in just to hold it. No, I don’t want to monkey around with a single wall.”
Karl Gifford of Baldwin, Maine, told me, “I’m either looking for the perfect stone or trying to create the perfect space for the stone I’m working with. It takes a lot of practice, seeing what I need and being able to pick it out of the pile.” The entire time we chatted, his hands moved imaginary stones.
The more walls I encounter in the woods, the more respect I have for those who moved the stones and those who built the fences that became the foundation of life. Walk in the woods and you’ll inevitably find evidence that someone has been there before you–maybe not in a great many years, but certainly they’ve been there. Their story is set in stone.
If you care to learn more about stone walls, I highly encourage you to locate these books. I found all of them at my local independent book store: Bridgton Books.
Books of March:
Sermons in Stone by Susan Alport, published 1990, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
A history of stone walls in New England.
Stone by Stone by Robert M. Thorson, 2002, Walker & Company.
A geological look at stone walls
Exploring Stone Walls by Robert M. Thorson, 2005, Walker & Company.
A field guide to determining a walls history, age, and purpose.
The Granite Kiss by Kevin Gardner, 2001, The Countryman Press.
A look at repairing walls of stone.
And now I leave you with this poem:
The Old Stone Fence of Maine
Shall I pay a tribute here at home, To the Old Stone Fence of Maine? It was here when you were born, And here it will remain. Stone monuments, to grand old sires, Who, with a good right arm, Solved problems little known to you, E’re their “clearing,” was your farm.
When you see an Old Stone Fence, Weed grown and black with age, Let your mind’s eye travel backward And read its written page. And, as Moses left us words in stone, That live with us today, Almost, with reverence, let us read What these Stone Fences say.
They tell of those who “blazed the trail,” We are walking in today; Those who truly “bore the burdens In the heat of the day.” For every stone was laid by hand, First taken from the soil Where giant trees were cut and felled, Bare handed–honest toil.
The Stone Fence marked the boundary line Whereby a home was known; Gave them dignity, as masters Of that spot they called their own. The Stone Fence, guarded church and school And the spots more sacred far, The silent spots, in memory kept For those who’ve “crossed the bar.”
Then, treasure this inheritance, Handed down from sire to son, Not for its worth, to you, today, But for when, and why, begun. For with it comes a heritage Of manly brawn and brain, That is yours today, from the builders Of the Old Stone Fence of Maine.
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