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.