Book of May: Identifying Ferns the Easy Way

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.

Book of May

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.

Lessons from Muskrats and Beavers

Cousins they are, but the semi-aquatic rodents are often confused. Muskrats and Beavers are easiest to identify by their tails, but those aren’t always visible when they are swimming. Typically, a Muskrat’s whole body is visible as it swims, its long, skinny tail sticking out behind. With a Beaver, though its tail is wide, flat, and paddle-shaped, it’s usually only the large wedge-shaped head that we spy.

Today, I had the good fortune to search a friend’s property for both. My journey began at an old beaver pond that’s been devoid of water in recent years, but this year’s snowmelt and rain water have filled the space where an old, yet substantial dam does stand. The curious thing about the dam is that the Beavers built it just above an old man-made dam, or did they? I had to wonder: who came first?

For close to an hour I stood and reflected . . . on the reflections before me and past memories of times spent observing this space. All the while I hoped to see two Muskrats my friend had observed mating last week, but they were a no show.

About twenty-five feet to the left, however, I did note a well-worn hole in a tree.

It must have been a flash of action that first drew my attention to it and so in between moments of Muskrat surveillance, I turned my attention to the snag where a Chickadee did pause.

All the while “Hey sweetie, sweetie” Chickadee songs reverberated through the woodland, and then . . . the bird slipped into the hole and a minute or two later flew out. Hey Sweetie, indeed.

When I finally pulled myself away from the beaver pond, my sense of disappointment for not spying the Muskrats thankfully displaced by the thrill of seeing the Chickadee nest snag, I started to hear a certain high-pitched whistle. I looked and looked but couldn’t locate the whistler, though I did spy a nest in the lower third of the canopy.

And then . . . movement caught my attention and it settled on a snag. A Broad-winged Hawk stayed high, but let me know that this was its territory and I was an intruder.

Not too much further along, it was movement rather than song that drew my attention. I knew I was looking at a thrush, and suspected a Hermit Thrush, but I’ve been wrong before. If you know better, please teach me. What I did note was the eye ring and smudges of brown on the lower breast. Again, I’m open to interpretation.

Eventually I reached another beaver pond of sorts.

There, the Hobblebush bouquet shown its sweet face. In reality, it’s an inflorescence or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Those larger, sterile flowers attract insects while the tiny fertile flowers do all the work of seed production. Nature has its way.

And so do the Beavers. As I moved along the wetland, I noted numerous scent mounds and knew that somewhere out there the rodents were active and making their claim on the place.

Everywhere, their works old . . .

and new . . .

and new again were on display.

In the water, a raft of winter chew sticks provided another indication that the lodge had been active.

But even more evident were the birds, their songs and calls filling the air space.

My favorites were the Yellow-rumped Warblers that flew from tree to tree along the water’s edge.

That yellow. White throat. Black mask. And black and white stripes. What’s not to love?

As I walked out, a Song Sparrow didn’t sing for me, but I loved its contrasting colors among deciduous needles.

And finally a Veery.

So, I went in search of two Muskrats and the Beavers. Perhaps I was too late in the morning to see them. But because of them I was treated to a variety of birds and appreciated the opportunity to spend some time with them and learn a little more about their habitats and habits.

My gracious thanks to M.Y. for the opportunity yet again. I have to admit that I covet your property.

Holt Ponderings Mondate

If you are me, and be thankful you aren’t, then playing with words is part of your persona. And making them up when you can’t find one that fits the application is fine in your mind as well.

Our Mondate began not at the parking lot most are familiar with for Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve, but rather in a spot that has our name on it at the end of the rather short Knapp Road. You see, it was time for our annual spring clean up of the Southern Shore Trail, which my guy and I have been maintaining for more years than either of us can remember.

It was immediately apparent that numerous trees and branches had blown down since last fall and so we began to work.

But, it was a Mondate, and thankfully, with work came play. Just below our starting point we checked on a particular boardwalk I made famous last year when I fell hard against the edge of the wet, wooden slats and broke my wrist.

Water flowed across the wood again today and we both knew instantly that it would not be part of our circumnavigation plan. But, by pausing beside it, we did have time to admire a Water Strider as it used the surface tension to walk, or rather skate.

And then we carried on, soon realizing not all blowdowns were created equal and we hadn’t brought a chainsaw so some will either need to wait for another day or another person to complete the job.

What we could do was take down smaller trees that crossed the path, and pick up twigs and branches that decorated it. Oh, and between, take time to admire the beech leaves bedecked in fringe, much like the fancy hem of a skirt.

And there were the ever so scaly Christmas Fern fiddleheads to note.

Along with the smooth stipe of the Royal Ferns.

As we always do, whenever the trail provided an opportunity to look out at the pond, we took it. If you are familiar with the place, then you’ll know that the Quaking Bog is across the way where the taller trees stand out toward the left on the opposite shore.

And if you are super familiar with it, you’ll know that this stand of pines and hemlocks was once the log landing. (Bridie McGreavy, if you are reading this–it’s a whole different landing than when you first introduced us to it as we trudged through the snow and out to Fosterville Road from this point.)

Just beyond the landing we crossed a small stream via an old beaver dam, and fancied the formation of suds on the water’s surface.

Delightful surprises greeted us along the way, including the evergreen leaves of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain. I love the leaves of this woodland plant and find that the easiest way for me to remember its common name is by the snakeskin pattern, but also the fact that it doesn’t look downy–especially when you compare it to those beech leaves that are bursting forth from their buds. So . . . the rattlesnake plantain that doesn’t look downy is.

After reaching the section of trail that follows a snowmobile route briefly, we again snuck down to the pond. And spied . . . a beaver lodge that is either new or we were looking at all over again for the first time. We also noted the subtle colors of the spring palette reflected by the water.

Our journey took us out to Chaplains Mill Road, and then across the “Emerald Field” and back down to the Muddy River, which empties out of Holt Pond. Recently, I was on a Beaver Caper with LEA’s Alanna Doughty. With the snow and ice melted completely, there was more evidence that the beavers were continuing to do some work and I think she and I may need to try again to figure out which lodge is truly active.

As it was, a tree that appeared in photo #20 of the Beaver Caper, had since been cut down. We were going to move it off trail, but decided it was worth encouraging others to pause.

And so we left it be and hope it gives you something to gnaw about.

Again and again, we picked up sticks and moved trees. And celebrated small wonders like the blossoms of Goldthread.

Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower, was also in abundant bloom with blossoms of white, pink, and white-pink. I do have to wonder what determines their color.

As we walked beside the Muddy River, slowly making our way back to Holt Pond, I got my guy, who can be a bit of a bull in a china shop, to slow down any time we heard a bird. The Veery posed longer than most.

And so we stood silently and gave thanks for the opportunity.

At last, it was into the Red Maple Swamp that we marched, continuing our work habit, though not quite as frequently.

While my guy got ahead, I rejoiced at the sight of Leatherleaf in bloom; its blossoms lined up on the underside like bloomers on a clothesline.

Giant Bumblebees also enjoyed the bell-shaped flowers from below.

And I can never walk past without paying reverence to the Pitcher Plants that grow abundantly in this place.

One should always bow down and take note of the hairy veins on each pitcher, for those not only attract the insects that meet their demise within, but also trap them. Such is the way of this carnivorous plant.

We stepped out onto the boardwalk to the Quaking Bog, but not much was in bloom. Oh, and yes, we did get out feet wet because with each step the wooden structure sank a bit, but unlike the one I’m waiting to cross, the bog boardwalk dries out between visitors so it isn’t slippery. At least I didn’t think so. My guy was surprised as he followed me out.

Soon our journey took us along the Holt Pond Trail where the False Hellebore showed off its broad leaves. The curious thing, I’ve never seen any of these plants present their floral structure, but I shall continue to watch.

One plant that is beginning to flower is the Hobblebush, with its showy sterile displays on the outer edge. It seems like only yesterday I was admiring their naked winter buds. And now . . . this.

Before exiting out to Grist Mill Road to walk back to where we’d parked, we passed through one last Hemlock Grove. And there, sitting atop a large tree stump . . . a hen incubating her eggs. She murmured not a word. Nor did we. But again, in our minds we were most grateful for the opportunity to see her at such a challenging and dangerous time.

Quietly, we moved on and a few minutes later our Mondate came to end. I think the most amazing thing is that no matter how often we go there, there are always a few familiar friends to meet, but often something we’ve not seen before. Today, it was the turkey that fit the latter. Holt Ponderings indeed.

P.S.Why doesn’t my computer like those two words: Ponderings and Mondate? I surely know what they mean.

One more P.S. Mary Jewett and Ursula Duve will lead a bird and flower walk at Holt Pond on Friday, May 17. I wish I could join them for the two will spot incredible sights. If you’d like to, please contact Mary. FMI: mary@mainelakes.org.

Cinco de Mayo Maine-style

When Pam asked at the end of our slow tour today what my favorite finds were, I named at least five.

First, there was the Painted Turtle that I spotted on Kezar Lake Road as I drove toward the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Long Meadow Brook Reserve. After I pulled over and approached him, he did what turtles do and retreated into his shell. Though he wasn’t feeling it, I was in celebration mode, for he represented my first turtle of the season. And I helped him cross the road.

I felt safe calling him a he for males have long fingernails. Can you see him peeking out at me in a not too pleased manner? Can’t say I blame him, but our time together was brief and soon he wandered his way while I wandered mine.

And then, another reason for celebration–Coltsfoot in bloom. I know it’s invasive, but its sunny face and scaly purplish stem that predate its leaves offer a first hint of the season’s promises of colors to come.

Coltsfoot is known by some as Filius ante patrem (the son before the father), because the bright yellow star-like flowers appear and wither before its broad, green leaves are produced.

The next sight to be considered: a small spider that, like the painted turtle, continuously eluded our focus by quickly moving to the opposite side of the beech twig. Can you spy it?

And then there were those tree buds bursting forth with life ready to unfold from within. We were offered a few early glimpses of the future and rejoiced at each sample.

At last we reached Long Meadow Brook, for which the reserve is named. And stood and looked and listened and waited and absorbed. Oh, Pam absorbed some water in her boots thanks to a leak. But she didn’t let that stop her and we each enjoyed the opportunity to let this place soak through our pores for moments that turned into a string of minutes and suddenly an hour had passed.

At long last, we pulled away and began a bushwhack through the woods beside the brook.

In so doing, we found more to celebrate, like a red squirrel refectory upon a rock and we suspected a large hole below the tree trunk and boulder had served as the larder.

Continuing on, we saw mats of black upon moss by another tree and almost wrote it off as perhaps a fungi we hadn’t met before.

But. It. Moved. As we watched, we realized the constant motion was created by springtails writhing en masse. To say it wasn’t creepy would be lying. Likewise we were fascinated and leaned in closer to watch the swarm upon the moss.

Resting nearby, perhaps having just gorged on some of those tiny little morsels, was another reason for celebration–a spring peeper. We spotted two, but heard a hundred million more, each adding its song to the symphony that arose from the wetland. And suddenly, an interval of silence would interrupt the music, and then one male would peep, and the rest would join in again until they arrived at the next rest symbol upon their sheet music.

Others added their own notes to the orchestra, including a couple of White-throated Sparrows that trilled in our midst.

Near the end of our journey, we reached a point where we could see that there was still some snow on the the Bald Face Mountains in Evans Notch, but we spotted a dragonfly and honored Trailing Arbutus flowers and rejoiced. Though our celebration didn’t have a Mexican theme, we still had at least cinco reasons to give thanks from the Painted Turtle to Coltsfoot to Bud Bursts to Squirrel Larders to Creepy Collembola to Spring Peepers to White-throated Sparrows. Really, it was more a Siete de Mayo on this Cinco de Mayo–Maine-style.

Peeking with my Peeps

As has been our custom for the past six years, on a quarterly basis an email is sent out with a date and location and at the agreed upon time any number of grads, teachers, and mentors from the Maine Master Naturalist Lewiston 2013 class gather. Today was one of those days.

The plan was to explore a vernal pool or two at the Cornwall Nature Preserve on historic Paris Hill, but . . . it didn’t take us (Pam, Beth, Alan, Dorcas, and yours truly hiding behind the lens) long to get distracted when we saw green poking through the many shades of brown on the forest floor.

Together, we scrambled through our brains searching for the name. With the season finally feeling like it’s transitioning, we realized we have to dust off the floral flashcards in our minds and start reviewing them. And then it came to us. One year ago, on May 5, we had seen the same at Smithfield Plantation as we celebrated Cinco de Mayo, Naturally. Then, however, we had keyed it out minus the flower. Today, the memory of last year’s ID slowly sifted to the forefront and by its leaves and colonial habit, we felt safe to call it Clintonia borealis or Bluebead Lily.

A few more steps and we started dipping containers into a potential vernal pool that was really too shallow and offered no apparent key characteristics. But . . . there was an owl pellet filled to the brim with hair and bones, the one sticking out by central vein of the leaf a hip bone. (Yeah, so I may sound like a smarty pants, but Dorcas pulled it out and quickly identified the bone by its structure.) Some little mammal, or two, or three, had provided a bird with a meal.

Stair-step Moss (Hylocomium splendens) was the next great find. I would have dismissed it as Big Red Stem or Pleurozium schreberi, and in so doing missed its finer points. Do you see how each year’s new growth rises from the previous, rather like ascending stair steps?

And then there was another new learning, for I’m always referring to this species of fungi as jelly ear or wood ear. But, with Alan the fungi fun guy in our midst, we learned that it’s really Brown Witch’s Butter or Exidia recisa. (Drats–it’s so much more fun to say Auricularia auricula.)

As we admired the Exidia recisa, we realized others were doing the same for we’d interrupted a slug fest. If you bump into Alan Seamans sometime, do ask him about the numbing qualities of slugs. 😉

A few more steps and we began to notice trilliums, especially the reds with their leaves of three so big and blossoms hiding. All of a sudden we know the flowers are going to burst open and we can’t wait to witness such glory.

At last we reached the pool of choice, located maybe a half mile from the parking area. Two years ago, MMNP students from the South Paris class discovered Fairy Shrimp in this pool.

Our best finds today were log cabin caddisflies! At this point in time, the caddisflies are in their larval stage and as such, they construct their temporary shelters from available materials. Think of them as the original recyclers.

Should a predator be about, like a hermit crab, the caddisfly can retreat into the house of needles or leaves or stones or whatever its preferred building material might be. Apparently, it didn’t mind us and we were honored to watch as the elongated body extended forth while it searched for food. In its larval form, these aquatic insects have a hardened head and first thoracic segment, while the abdomen remains pale and soft. Can you see the three pairs of legs?

The cool thing about caddisflies is that though they may use similar construction materials, no two are alike. Beth called them works of art.

I referred to this one as a she for the case included a Red Maple bouquet.

If you look closely, you might also note some filmy gills on the abdomen. And the grayish thing the Mrs. approached and a second later ignored. It seemed rather leech-like in its behavior, but I think it may have been a Planaria, which is a tiny unsegmented flat worm.

As we dipped for insects, we also noted plenty of Spotted Salamander spermatophores sticking up from leaves and twigs. But we could find none of their milky egg masses and wondered why.

We did, however, spy plenty of Wood Frog masses, some with their tapioca structures bubbling upon the surface, but most attached to the stems below.

And then a chiseled tree section across the pool called to us and so we made our way over to check the wood chips below. Of course, we searched for Pileated Woodpecker scat, but found none. Instead, we spotted a dead frog in the water. And just beyond it, a dead salamander.

It wasn’t pretty, but did make us question what had happened. Were the two amphibian deaths related? We don’t know, but we did note puncture marks on the Spotted Salamander’s underside, and even a nip of the end of its tail. Plus it had one slightly deformed front foot. And we learned that salamanders have poison glands in their skin, mostly on their backs and tails. Did the frog go after the salamander and both died from the experience? Or had another predator entered the pool? And then realized it had made the wrong decision?

We never did figure it out, but had fun asking questions. And as we stood there, our eyes keyed in on a bit of color at the end of a downed branch. Again, more questions and the use of our loupes as we tried to take a closer look. We debated: slime mold or insect eggs?

After looking closely and continuing to ask question, a quick poke with a twig provided the actual answer as we watched the spores puff out in a tiny cloud. Slime mold it was. Should we have poked it first? No, for that would have been too easy and we wouldn’t have taken the time to consider the possibilities.

On our way out, there was still one more discovery to make. I could have dismissed this one as a moss.

But, again Alan knew and he explained to us that it was a liverwort known as Porella platyphylloidea. And upon closer examination we could all see its three-dimensional structure as it curled out from the tree trunk.

Almost three hours later, our brains were full as we’d also examined trees, lichens, and other fungi, but our hearts were happy for the time spent in each others company sharing a collective brain.

I’m always grateful for an opportunity to peek with these peeps, even at something as common as a caddisfly because really . . . there’s nothing common about it.

Book of April: I’m in Charge of Celebrations

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 

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 

tramped 
on. 

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.

Shrouded By Fog

“It was a dark and dreary day.”

Like a thin veil, this morning’s fog attempted to hide Miss Spring.

But instead, it revealed her nuances and enhanced her being as the birds sang and amphibians added their voices to the chorus.

As I listened, I peeked through the thinnest of openings to see what the world wanted to reveal.

Weaving all of life together were the silken lines of spider webs.

Beads of water enhancing their forms.

And the creator turned out to be the most minute of beings.

Flowing forth the remains of melting snow, the stream spoke of nourishment.

Its action creating frothy suds that cleansed.

And within its bubbles the world above was reflected.

The surrounding landscape was mirrored in the drips of raindrops.

Everywhere, there were treasures indicating what is to come . . . in the form of Hobblebush buds growing more global;

Trailing Arbutus showing a glimmer of new life;

And Beaked Hazelnut presenting its most subtle, yet exquisite floral presentation.

As I continued to look about, something different caught my eye.

A moth recently emerged from its cocoon* spoke to another form of new life.

What I learned today is that one needs to watch.

Wait.

And be ready.

Though she has been shrouded, her veil is slipping away. I was grateful to discover that Miss Spring surrounds us when we make the time to look–even on dark and dreary days.

*The moth–I knew it was such, but didn’t know what kind. Upon arriving home, I did some research and the best I could come up with was the worst–Operophtera brumata, or the invasive Winter moth. But . . . I wasn’t 100% convinced of my ID so I reached out to fellow Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood. This was his response: “Don’t panic yet, Leigh. I’ve seen this before. It’s a newly eclosed moth, yes, eclosed. Probably a Sphinx moth. I wasn’t familiar with the term until I encountered one for myself a while ago. Your vocabulary is likely more extensive than mine but just in case I’ll clarify by explaining that it means that it has emerged from its winter cocoon and is looking for a place to pump its blood into those wings and expand them for first flight. Good find!