Books of the Month: Stone Walls–Stories Set in Stone

It’s March, that most indecisive of months. And so, I decided to follow in the same pattern by choosing not one,


or two,


or even three,


but four–


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.

e-pine whorls

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.

~Isabel McArthur, 1920

Bogging with Barb

Passing off a copy of the book, From Grassroots to Groundwater, about how two small Maine towns fought Nestlé and won, was the perfect excuse to head to Brownfield Bog. I told Barb I didn’t mind driving to her home or somewhere nearby to give her the book because I’d then go exploring and she welcomed the opportunity to do the same.

b2-Kathy's sign

As we began our journey, I asked if she knew Kathy McGreavy. Of course she did. I mentioned that Kathy walks in the bog daily and we might encounter her. Of course we did. Kathy and “her friend” were just coming out after walking their dogs and so we chatted for  bit. Our discussion included mention of the sign Kathy made last year as her capstone project for the Maine Master Naturalist Program. It’s an incredible piece of artwork and as she’s learned, I’m not the only one who thinks so. Recently, she discovered that a woodpecker had taken to pecking it and so the bottom is now protected with a piece of plexiglass. Crazy birds.

b1-Bog view from the road

Eventually, Barb and I said our goodbyes to the McGreavys and walked down the unplowed road where I did warn her about my obsession for stopping frequently to take photos. It began from the start–when we spied the bog through the trees and noticed the contrast of colors and layers.

b3a-pussy willows

And then–specks of white were ours to behold.

b3-pussy willows

Pussy willows. Was it too early she wondered. No–in fact, I spotted some a year ago on February 23 at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve.

b4-red-winged blackbirds

Our next reason to stop–the red and yellow shoulder patch or epaulet providing their name: Red-Winged Blackbirds. Again, Barb asked if it was too early. This time, I referenced Mary Holland for the February 27th entry in her book Naturally Curious Day by Day has this headline: Returning Red-Winged Blackbirds Survive Cold Temperatures and Few Insects. Bingo.

b5-water obstacles

Sometimes our stops were to contemplate our next steps–especially when it came to the water that covered the cobble stones on the road.

b6-Barb charges through the water

But sometimes you just have to go for it. And we did. As the morning continued, we ventured through deeper water and plowed ahead knowing that we would need to dry our hiking boots out when we arrived home.

b7-bird's nest

We found a bird nest and wondered about its creator. We did note some acorn pieces inside, so we think it had more than an avian inhabitant.

b8-beaver lodge

And we paused to look at an old beaver lodge. The mud looked recent but none of the sticks were this year’s additions so we didn’t know if anyone was home.

b9-map in the snow

All along, we’d been talking about places we’ve hiked and other topics of interest to both of us. We even learned that we’d both worked in Franklin, New Hampshire, just not at the same time. But speaking of hikes, with her finger, Barb drew a map in the snow and now I have another trail to check out soon with my guy. Should I forget the way, I’ll just reference this map. 😉

b10-raccoon prints

Because we were near water, though most of it still frozen, and the temp was high (actually, too high–in fact, it felt HOT as it soared into the upper 60˚s today), we weren’t surprised to find this set of prints created recently by a raccoon. I love the hand-like appearance and opposite diagonal of each two feet. Can’t you just see him waddling through–in your mind’s eye, that is?

b11-the bog

Our turn-around point offered an expansive view of the bog. As much as we may have wanted to head out onto it, we sided with caution and kept to the edge of the shore.


On the way back, there were other things to admire as there always is even when you follow the same route: winterberries drying up;


rhodora’s woody seed pods and flower buds swelling;

b14-willow gall

and the pinecone-like structure created with leaves by a reaction to a chemical released by the larva that allows a gall gnat midge to overwinter on the willows.

b16-carrion-flower tendrils

And then we stumbled upon a plant neither of us knew. With it’s long stem and curly tendrils, we were sure it was a vine.


Upon arriving home, however, I wondered about the umbel structure that had been its flower and now still held some fruits. A little bit of research and I found it: Carrion Flower (Smilax herbacea), which apparently smells rather foul when it’s in bloom and thus attracts carrion flies as its pollinator. Now I can’t wait to return and check it out in the next two seasons. Any excuse to get back there.

b17-bog to Pleasant Mountain

At last the time had come to say goodbye to the bog and then goodbye to each other. Thanks Barb, for giving me an excuse to go bogging with you. It was indeed a treat.

Wondermyway Celebrates Third Anniversary

Three years ago this journey began as a quiet entry into the world of blogging, of sharing my finds and questions found along the trail. And ever so slowly, you joined me to wander and wonder.

So really, today is a celebration of you, for I give thanks that you’ve continued to follow and comment and wander and wonder along, whether literally or virtually.

I absolutely love to travel the trail alone and do so often. But I also love hiking with my guy and others because my eyes are always opened to other things that I may have missed while hiking on my own.

I’m blessed with the community of naturalists with whom I’m surrounded–and this includes all of you for if you’re following along and taking the time to actually read my entries, then you share my interest and awe. And you may send me photos or I may send you photos and together we learn.

t6-cecropia cocoon

Just yesterday, while tramping in Lovell, Maine, with fellow trackers, I spotted a cocoon  dangling from a beech tree. My first thought–Cecropia moth, but I contacted Anthony Underwood, a Maine Master Naturalist who has great knowledge about insects, and learned that I was wrong. He said it looked more like the cocoon of a Promethea moth. “They hang down whereas Cecropia are usually attached longitudinally,” wrote Anthony. And there you have it.

Now I just have to remember it, which is part of the reason I value my post entries. The information has been recorded and I can always plug a key word, e.g. Promethea, into the search bar and today’s blog will come up–jogging my memory.

And so, without further ado, I present to you my favorites of the past year. It’s a baker’s dozen of choices. Some months, I had difficulty narrowing the choice to one and other months there was that one that absolutely stood out. I hope you’ll agree with my selection. I also hope that you’ll continue to follow me. And if you like what you read here, that you’ll share it with your families and friends and encourage others to follow along.

February 23, 2017:  Knowing Our Place


Holt Pond is one of my favorite hangouts in western Maine on any day, but on that particular day–it added some new notches to the layers of appreciation and understanding.

March 5, 2017: Tickling the Feet

CE 3

I don’t often write about indoor events, but while the rest of the world was out playing in the brisk wind of this late winter day, a few of us gathered inside to meet some feet.

April 22, 2017: Honoring the Earth

h-spotted sallie 2 (1)

It would have been so easy to stay home that night, curled up on the couch beside my guy while watching the Bruins play hockey. After all, it was raining, 38˚, and downright raw. But . . . the email alert went out earlier in the day and the evening block party was scheduled to begin at 7:30.

May 21, 2017: On the Rocks at Pemaquid Point

p16-fold looking toward lighthouse

Denise oriented us northeastward and helped us understand that we were standing on what is known as the Bucksport formation, a deposit of sandstone and mudstone metamorphosed into a flaky shist. And then she took us through geological history, providing a refresher on plate tectonics and the story of Maine’s creation–beginning 550 million years ago when our state was just a twinkle in the eyes of creation.

June 9, 2017: Fawning with Wonder

p-fawn 2

Though fawning is most oft used to describe someone who is over the top in the flattery department (think old school brown nose), the term is derived from the Old English fægnian, meaning “rejoice, exult, be glad.”

July 3, 2017: Book of July: Flying on the Wild Wind of Western Maine

d-skimmer, yellow legged meadowhawk, wings

My intention was good. As I sat on the porch on July 1st, I began to download dragonfly and damselfly photographs. And then the sky darkened and I moved indoors. Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the wind came up. Torrential rain followed. And thunder and lightening. Wind circled around and first I was making sure all screens and doors were closed on one side of the wee house and then it was coming from a different direction and I had to check the other side. Trees creaked and cracked. Limbs broke. And the lightening hit close by.

August 6, 2017: B is for . . .


Our original plan was to hike to the summit of Blueberry Mountain in Evans Notch today,  following the White Cairn trail up and Stone House Trail down. But . . . so many were the cars on Stone House Road, that we decided to go with Plan B.

September 15, 2017: Poking Along Beside Stevens Brook

s22-cardinal flower

Raincoat? √

Notecards? √

Camera? √

Alanna Doughty? √

This morning I donned my raincoat, slipped my camera strap over my head, and met up with LEA’s Education Director Alanna Doughty for our reconnaissance mission along Stevens Brook in downtown Bridgton. Our plan was to refresh our memories about the mill sites long ago identified and used beside the brook.

October 5, 2017: Continued Wandering Into the World of Wonder

i-baskettail, common baskettail 1

May the answers slowly reveal themselves, while the questions never end.

November 24, 2017: Black Friday Shopping Extravaganza

b8-the main aisle

At last, I’d raided enough aisles. My cart was full to the brim and my brain overwhelmed. I guess I’m not really a “shop-til-you drop” kind of gal. It was time to wind along the trail and end my Black Friday shopping extravaganza.

December 29, 2017: Oh Baby!

s-screech owl 2

We shared about ten minutes together and it was definitely an “Oh baby!” occasion. But there was more . . .

January 21, 2018: Sunday’s Point of View

p17-Needle's Eye

We arrived home with ten minutes to spare until kickoff.

February 8, 2018: Hardly Monochromatic

p18-Stevens Brook

My world always takes on a different look following a storm and today was no different.

To all who have read thus far, thanks again for taking a trip down memory lane today and sticking with me these past three years. I sincerely hope you’ll continue to share the trail as I wander and wonder–my way.

And to–Happy Third Anniversary!


Distracted by Nature

A morning message from my dear friend Carissa set the tone for today. Her Lenten devotional is based on the poetry of Mary Oliver and she thought of me when she read “The Summer Day.”

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~Mary Oliver

A perfect beginning, indeed.

w-Horseshoe Pond

A short time later I joined a couple of other friends and we traveled together to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve. Our snowshoe journey began beside Horseshoe Pond where we paused to enjoy its beauty and recall trips up Lord Hill, whose face was obscured to the left.

w-hemlock cones and seed below

Once we got onto the trail, it was the little things that we noticed, like the hemlock cones with partially opened scales, their seeds all released. One tiny seed sits atop my name in this photo, but we wondered together why we’ve always seen the cones only in their closed up formation, whether fresh or old. Had they always looked like this one in late winter and we just never realized it previously?

w-frullania liverwort with new growth

And then we paused beside yellow birches where the liverwort Frullania eboracensis grew in abundance. Again, a new realization for us. We knew it to have brown stems, but today spied the green. As it turns out, in his book, Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts, author Ralph Pope begins his description with this: “Plant dark green to brown . . .” Our eyes were opened.

w-crowded parchment laterally fused

Next there was the Crowded Parchment fungus that threw us off momentarily. We recognized the cap, but were unsure about the part of the fungus that was spread out flat like a crust. It turns out, the flat parts or fertile surfaces of this mushroom laterally fuse or join together at the dark ridges. This behavior certainly spoke to its name of crowded. In Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman refers to it as “One of the most common fungi as well as one of the most crowded in New England . . . It’s not unusual to see several hundred gregarious fruiting bodies laterally fused or in dense clusters on a single branch.” Common or not, we were wowed.

w-script lichen

And because we stopped to gain a better understanding of the Crowded Parchment, another gift was offered in the form of script lichen writing its own story on an adjoining branch.

w-nectria fruiting bodies?

Nearby, there was a similar cinnamonish color on beech bark. This particular beech was dotted with the waxy exterior winter coating of the beech scale insect. As I’ve noted before, the scale insect or more technically, Cryptococcus fagisuga, is a tiny insect that sucks sugar and other nutrients from beech trees only.

Soon, the beech scale insect will molt into its second, legless nymph stage and emerge. Immediately, it will start sucking sap through its tubular mouthpart or stylet. That instar stage doesn’t last long, and quickly it will become a mature female. For the rest of its life it will remain sedentary, but repeatedly remove and reinsert its piercing stylet, wounding the tree and providing entry points for fungi to enter. An interesting fact about beech scale insects–its a world of females who reproduce by parthenogenesis; there are no known males.

w-closer look

But what about that cinnamon color? Was it a fungus? Or was it related to the insects? Yes and yes. As some further research revealed, two species of nectria fungi are associated with beech bark disease, Nectria coccinea var. faginata and Nectria gallengiaIt is now my understanding that what we examined was a large area of the former’s fruiting bodies. Oh my.

w-lichen garden1

We also paused frequently beside gardens dominated by lichens. Crustose, foliose and fruticose varieties completely enveloped the bark of this toppled tree, their individual colors and textures adding to the visual display.

w-mink 1

And then . . . and then . .  . as we looked, a motion captured the attention of one in our group. I only wish my focus had been better, but still, it was enough.

w-mink 2

We were blessed with the opportunity to spend a few moments with a mink as it bounded down the hill before realizing it had an audience.

w-mink measurements

Of course, after it disappeared down a hole into a stream and we’d waited a bit, we checked out the tracks it left behind. The size of the prints and length of the straddle or measurement from the outside of one print to the outside of the other confirmed our ID.

w-mink prints

From that point on, we continued to find evidence that the mink had traveled to and fro over the course of several days. Our hearts were grateful to have shared such a moment.

w-hairy, bony find

And as we took measurements, we spotted something else on the snow. Something hairy and bony found about three or four inches from the fresh mink tracks.

w-hairy, bony--scapula

A scapula from a little brown thing, possibly a vole. Dropped from the mink or from above by a bird? We’ll never know. But we do know that someone consumed someone else–as it is in the natural world.

w-Sucker Brook

Seeing the mink made perfect sense because we traveled on and off trail beside Sucker Brook.

w-hobblebush flower and leaf buds

It was there that the naked but hairy hobblebush leaves and flower buds reminded us that spring isn’t far off. The three of us don’t necessarily want winter to end for we love how it forces us to notice other things such as the nectria’s fruiting bodies. And we love to track. But . . . we also love the other seasons, so we’re happy exploring at any time of the year.


Beside the water, the icy formations kept calling my name and I honored many by snapping a photograph. But, then we met the suds. Water foam is caused by the decay of twigs and plants and occurs naturally in streams and brooks. As they release compounds, the interaction breaks the surface tension, allowing air to mix in and create bubbles. And just as we found the Crowded Parchment living in a large community, we also found this congregation of bubbles–creating a design all its own.

w-Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog

Despite the short trail, it took us forever to reach the point where the brook becomes Moose Pond Bog, but we did.

w-stream with rattlesnake liverwort

And then we beelined (sort of, for still we kept stopping) to the final stream crossing on the trail for we wanted a glimpse of the rattlesnake liverwort we’d discovered growing there last year. Alas, it was buried under snow. And that means we’ll have to return again. Darn.

w-sucker brook reflections

In the end, it was a morning well spent as we dillied and dallied over the littlest of things. And watched a mink. We got to see a mink!

No, it wasn’t a summer day. But . . . we were distracted by nature. As Mary Oliver asked, “What else should we have done?”





The Books of February: The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS & OWLS of the NORTH

“Who cooks for you?” was the question I heard being asked as I fell asleep last night. And “Who cooks for you all?” the response I awoke to this morning.

‘Tis the season for owl mating calls, in this case Barred Owls, and therefore the season to promote two books about some species that hoot in our neighborhoods.

o-The Hidden Lives of Owls

The first, The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS: The Science and Spirit of Nature’s Most Elusive Birds by Leigh Calvez, provides a fun and informative read. Perhaps I like it so much because we share a name and an interest in nature. But really, it’s the stories she tells about her experiences in the night world that make me feel as if I’m sitting on a tree stump or rock wall beside her–waiting and watching.  Listening and learning.

Calvez begins her book with silhouettes for eleven owls and a list that includes the scientific name of each, overall length, and wingspan.

s-screech owl 2

The first chapter is about Northern Saw-whet Owls, a new favorite for me since I was honored with the opportunity to meet one at the end of 2017 as I snapped my way through a thicket of hemlock trees, twigs breaking with each movement. Despite all the noise, this owl flew in and our eyes connected. Like Calvez, that sighting quivered in my mind and heart as I tried to remain calm and maintain my focus. I felt like a little kid wearing big girl boots, such was my excitement.

It’s through Calvez that I learned the origin of this bird’s name: the rasping call reminding those who named it of the sound made when “whetting” or sharpening a saw against a file.

And did you know that within mated pairs of these little birds, minute members of the owl family as they aren’t much bigger than a robin, the female sits on the nest for an almost one-month incubation period, while the male dutifully brings food? He actually continues this process even after the young’uns fledge, while momma goes off to the spa in order to regain her strength (or start another brood).

Since she first became fascinated by owls, Calvez had the good fortune to travel to a variety of locations and learn from others–as well as from the owls. She delved into the science of the species and the spirit of some individual birds; her stories are all tucked into this 205-page book. While some are species we may not see in the Northeast, for she writes about those she most familiar with in the Northwest, there’s still plenty to be gained from reading this book.

The book ends with the following: “Notes from the Field: Insights from an Owl.” I wish I could share it with you, but don’t have permission to do so. Let me just say–this list and the silhouettes and comparisons at the beginning make the book well worth the purchase. And the stories in between, filled with wit and wisdom, make it well worth the read.

o-Owls of the North

The second book, which I purchased the same day, is OWLS of the NORTH: a naturalist’s handbook by David Benson.

This book is more of a guide, filled to the brink as it is with photographs and facts about ten owls. For each species, Benson includes a global map and quick list of the following: description, range, size, wingspan, other names, diet, a brief personal story about an experience with the particular owl, identification, sounds, habitat, food, hunting, courtship and nesting, juveniles, and behavior. Almost every page features one or two action shots.

And then there are the sidebars, highlighted within an orange box on each of the odd-numbered pages. One included information about pellets, whitewash and skulls.

o-owl pellet

Of course, that reminded me that I have an owl pellet in my collection of all things natural. I found it in March 2016 at Brownfield Bog. According to Benson’s sidebar: “Owls usually swallow their prey whole. An owl catches a mouse, kills it with its talons or by biting its neck and then bolts the whole thing down. Much of the mouse is not very digestible though–the bones, fur and other tough parts don’t provide much nutrition. These are compacted together in the owl’s digestive tract. Then, about six hours after the meal, a pellet of these indigestible parts is coughed up and it drops to the ground beneath where the owl is roosting.”

o-pellet critters--voles

I’ll probably never dissect the pellet I found, but did dissect one for the Maine Master Naturalist Course–and determined that the owl had consumed two voles. (Don’t look too closely for I know that I put a couple of bones in the wrong place–nobody’s perfect.)

We have an Owl Prowl coming up at the Greater Lovell Land Trust and I’m trying to learn as much as I can. The two books, The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS by Leigh Calvez and OWLS of the NORTH by David Benson, have proven to be valuable resources. I purchased both at Bridgton Books, an independent book store.

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to check out these books, join us for the Owl Prowl, or step outside–tis mating season and the calls can be heard. You might even think about responding. Go ahead–give a hoot.

The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS: The Science and Spirit of Nature’s Most Elusive Birds by Leigh Calvez, published 2016, Sasquatch Books.

OWLS of the NORTH: a naturalist’s handbook by David Benson, published 2008, Stone Ridge Press.

Book of January: Winter World

It seemed only apropos as a blizzard intensifies that the January Book of the Month be Bernd Heinrich’s Winter World: the ingenuity of animal survival.

w-Winter World by Bernd Heinrich

In this very readable book, biologist and illustrator Heinrich takes us into the depths of animal adaptation that allows even the tiniest among us to deal with the elements in order to avoid freezing to death. Of course, some do. And others become food.

A main theme of the book is the yellow-crowned kinglet, a bird Heinrich describes as weighing as little as two pennies. I’ve only had the honor of observing these tiny birds a couple of times, but daily watch other birds puff out their feathers to insulate their bodies from the frigid temps we’ve experienced this winter.

w-snow on pines

The bird frenzy was crazy at the feeders all day today. And the blizzard conditions drew me outside for a while on a quest of my own to see what else I might observe. Other than lots of snow, I didn’t see much. A few chickadees flew in to check on me as they worked on hemlock cones–in their attempt to release seeds. And I startled a ruffed grouse, which in turn startled me.

w-no Mount Washington in sight

But really, the wind was strong and view at times quite limited.

w-gray birch

One of the curious things that Heinrich doesn’t address in this book is the affect of a changing habitat on survival. With all the snow and ice we’ve had, gray birches everywhere have bent with their burdens. I know this area to be frequented by snowshoe hares, but suspect that will change as the birches die and red maples take their  place.

w-deer tag

It’s also an area that the deer pass through, not stopping to rest for it’s a bit wet at times, but certainly pausing to browse.

w-deer rub

And leave behind their scent.

w-vernal pool

Nearby exists my favorite vernal pool. In chapter 13: Frozen Frogs on Ice, Heinrich addresses the chemistry that allows the wood frogs and peepers who will sing from this pool in the future to become frost-tolerant. “When the first ice crystals begin to form on or in the skin of a wood frog, it sets off an alarm reaction. Skin receptors relay the message of freezing to the central nervous system (CNS), and the CNS activates the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline into the bloodstream. When the adrenaline circulates to the liver, it there activates the enzymes that convert the liver’s stores of glycogen to glucose. In the wood frog, this response is massive and before the ice reaches the cells they become packed with glucose that acts as an antifreeze . . . in about fifteen hours, the frog is frozen solid except for the insides of its cells. Its heart stops. No more blood flows. It no longer breathes. By most definitions, it is dead. But it is prepared to again revive at a later date.” As he says, the wood frogs (and hibernating bears) are “biological marvels that challenge the limits of our believes of what seems possible.” 

w-goldenrod gall

There’s so much more in his book, including chapter 14: Insects: From the Diversity to the Limits, in which among other things he discusses the goldenrod gall fly larva that is “physiologically specialized to overwinter.” 

While I was out and about, I checked on the red squirrel cache I’ve been keeping an eye on. No action of any kind today. In fact, most critters seemed to have hunkered down to wait out the storm, huddled together in ground or tree holes and dens. Sometimes in the quiet of a snowstorm I meet deer, but not so today. With the wind whipping through the trees, large plops of snow whooshed off of hemlocks and pines, while shards of ice crackled and fell. A few times I felt like Chicken Little as a chunk hit my hat. All of that was reason enough to find a cozy spot.

w-blizzard of 2018

Finally, it was time for me to do the same. To return home, brew a cup of tea, and reread Bernd Heinrich’s book. It’s one of my favorites, although I also love The Geese of Beaver Bog, The Trees in My Forest, and A Year in the Maine Woods. (Note: my least favorite is Summer World. Not sure why, but try as I might, I can’t get through it.)

w-a smile and a wink

Winter World literally and figuratively makes me smile.

Winter World: The ingenuity of animal survival by Bernd Heinrich, published 2003, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Whetting Our Apatite

Our hunger is never satisfied each time we gather. We always manage to see more, share more and learn more because of our combined knowledge. We also always come away with questions. And so it was this afternoon when about ten of my Maine Master Naturalist Lewiston classmates and I gathered with two of the programs founders, Dorcas Miller and Fred Cichocki, to explore a public park in Auburn, Maine.

a1a-looking at trees

From the get go, we bounced back and forth along the trail to look at the idiosyncrasies of trees and chat about the book, A Beginner’s Guide to RECOGNIZING Trees of the NORTHEAST.

a1-red maple target fungus

And as they should, teachable moments kept presenting themselves, including a prime example of the bull’s eye target fungus on red maple bark. Suddenly, those who hadn’t quite seen the target in an earlier specimen had the opportunity to meet it and I trust they will recognize it going forward.

a2-slime mold

As much as we zigzagged down the trail, we also bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge. Because we all suffer from Nature Distraction Disorder, and have the tendency to travel at a slower than slow pace, it was no surprise that a stop to look at a fungus closer to the ground meant that one of us noticed a slime mold in the crevasses of pine bark. A poke with a finger nail and the spores oozed out.

a2a-approaching the mines

There were mosses to look at. Ferns to recognize. Lichens to question. And a trench that probably had been used to drain water back in the day.

a3-Dr Fred

Just beyond the trench, the star of the show took over. Dr. Fred was in his element as he reviewed the geological history of this place.


And when he talks, we listen.

a4- Greenlaw quarry 1

We had come upon the first of the quarries, where feldspar had been mined in the early 1900s for porcelain. But, as Fred explained, while mining the feldspar, rare and unusual minerals had been discovered including a phosphate mineral called apatite.

a6a-Maine Feldspar Quarry

From there, we circled down and around and looked across at the Maine Feldspar Quarry.

a6-Maine Feldspar quarry

We learned from Fred that the wall of the feldspar quarry was a demonstration of light-colored pegmatite just above the water, topped by gray metamorphic rock.

a8-basalt dyke

Next, we encountered a fractured wall of fine-grained basalt–an igneous vein that formed a dyke.


Basalt is fine-grained due to the molten rock cooling too quickly for large mineral crystals to grow. Typically, it’s gray to black in color with rust from iron oxidation.

a12-another quarry

From there we moved on to another quarry, where our attention was not so much focused on the rocks as on other things.

a13-squirrel cache

For deep within, we spied several red squirrel caches and dining tables. Later, we watched a chipmunk take advantage of the squirrel’s work. Minerals aren’t the only gems of choice at this place.


As we made our way around to a quarry dump, we discovered a labyrinth that made its way around the pine trees. I followed it to the center–struck by the fact that we were examining rocks dating back to the Carboniferous period, and I was walking a path based on an ancient archetype dating back 4,000 years. Time. Worth a wonder.

a15-tourmaline 1

In the dump field, we scattered about looking for souvenirs and then paused at a boulder to examine its offerings.

a16-tourmaline crystal

On the back side, Fred pointed out several depressions where tourmaline crystals had been discovered and removed. We were awed.

a20-graphic granite

There was so much to see from milky and smoky quartz to feldspar, mica and garnet, but my favorite find was more graphic.

a17-graphic granite

Graphic granite–a pegmatite of igneous origin that splits in such a way to make it look as if stories have been expressed with a fountain pen. In this case, I was sure the story was about birds flying over mountains.

The quarries were our turn-around point. We had begun our adventure with plans to visit them quickly, then explore the outer trails of the park, but as we knew would happen, two and half hours later we’d only made our way to the quarries and it was time to head out because the sun was sinking.

That didn’t matter for happy were we to spend time exploring together and whetting our naturalist appetites at Mount Apatite.