The Secrets of Life Found Among the Dead

Dear Mr. Charles,

In 1882 you passed
from this life to the next,

but it appears
that your story
didn’t end there.

Today was the day
that in your nymph stage,
you chose
to emerge
from your underground burrow
where the sap
of plant roots
had sustained you
for several years.

While I walked about
and noticed
other forms of life
taking place within
the fenced land,

such as Robberflies
canoodling in their
tail-to-tail fashion,

and a Chipmunk
who made me think
the dead were walking
until I saw it
checking on me,

I also spotted
the larval skins
left behind by
many of your kin

who had chosen
a nearby tree trunk
and surrounding ground
for such a transformation.

Their thickened legs
spoke of the digging
your species endures
while in that
subterranean habitat.

You, however,
preferred your stone
for metamorphosis.

Ever so slowly
through a split
along your back,

your body,
pale-colored at first,
extended outward.

Large and chunky
with bulbous,
yet beady eyes,

and long,
thick-veined
and translucent wings,

you looked like
something out
of a sci-fi movie.

Hues of salmon.
pale green.
and aquamarine.

At first
your coloration
reminded me
of a pastel painting,

but over time
it became apparent
that your palette
changed with maturity

and eventually
looked more like
a camouflaged adult
who will spend time
in the nearby tree.

Left behind
was an empty shell
of your former self.

Our time together
came to an end
after periodic checks
over the course
of three hours.
I suspect by now
you’ve flown
to a tree
in search
of a mate.
The resulting eggs
will be laid
on a branch,
and your story
will come
to an end
once again,
Mr. Charles.
But never fear,
for the next generation
will carry on
the circle of life
as the larvae hatch
and fall to the ground,
where they’ll burrow
into the earth beneath
or somewhere very near
your resting place
before resurfacing
as young nymphs
ready as you were
to burst forth from
their exoskeletons
three years from now.

Thank you
for allowing me
to watch
on this day
as you shared
the secrets of
a Cicada’s life
while I wandered
among the dead

.

Mind-ful, Wonder-ful Art

I’m thankful for today’s art-ful offerings.

The day began with a sketching workshop at Hewnoaks Artist Colony that was led by visual artist Pamela Moulton as part of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wellness Series.

I sketched the circle of life for a Mica Cone 😉

And then the fun continued as I tramped along the Leach Link Trail in Evans Notch with Pam Katz and Bob Katz.

A mountain. Train tracks. Topographical map. Zippers. Stitching sample.

Radiating out. In. Chunks. Lines. Shades. Puzzling.

Zigzag. The end?

Hardly the end for lines continue. Into. Infinity. Over. Under. Indents. Outdents. Is that a word?

Waiting for a pollinator. Already pollinated. Color. Lack of color. The past. The future. Was. To be.

Pearly Eye. Circles. Lines. Stained Glass. Overlap. Shades of brown. Shades of gray. Bull’s eye. Target. 

Water. Rocks. Flowing. Refreshing. Life giving. Carved. By. Nature. Nurturing. Cold. River.

Ebony. Jewel. Big eyes. Little guy. Damsel. Fly.

Thanks to all for letting me be a part of your day. Mind-ful. Art-ful. Nature-ful. Wonder-ful.

Blame it on the Monarchs

Some days I head out the door with eyes as big as those of a fly and then I try to stand in one place and watch what might pass by.

Unfortunately, I’m not always as patient as a robberfly and soon find myself pacing in search of the next great sight.

Even when it turns out to be a Japanese Beetle munching on a leaf, I’m not totally disappointed. After all, it does have such an incredible sense of color and fashion.

But what I really hoped to see I suddenly became aware of as first one, then two, three, four and even more Monarchs fluttered in their butterfly way, seeming to glide for a bit and then make an almost apparent decision to land before a change of mind until at last . . . upon the Milkweed it did pause.

Curious thing. So did another Japanese Beetle. That led me to wonder: how will these two get along and negotiate the territory?

The Monarch poked its straw-like proboscis into the heavenly-scented flowers as it sought sweetness while the beetle continued to move toward it.

But the beetle was on a mission of its own and the two seemed to co-exist side by side.

In fact, they were practically oblivious of each other. Unlike when a Common Yellowthroat tried to land and the Monarch chased it away.

Finally the butterfly crossed over to another flower on the tall stem and left the beetle behind.

I moved on as well, in search of others to focus on like the female Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly. How can it be that it’s already Meadowhawk season, the late bloomers in my book of dragonflies?

And yet, the colors of summer today included not only the pinks of Steeplebush, but also the yellows of goldenrods beginning to blossom.

Mixed into those colors and because of their movement and then moments of pausing, the Monarchs kept tugging at the strings of my heart and pulling me back into the moment.

And in that real time moment, I had the pleasure of spying couples in their canoodling fashion, though they tended to be much more elusive than some insects. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought the female was dead as the male flew along with her dangling below until he landed on a stem of choice. From what I’ve read, their mating can take up to sixteen hours. Oh my.

As it turned out, I soon discovered that at least one mating had resulted in at least one caterpillar. I suspect there will be more soon, but this one will have a head start on munching its way through the Milkweed kingdom.

All the while that I stalked the Monarchs, a Common Yellowthroat did its own stalking, constantly announcing its location with chirps. And then I realized it had a caterpillar in its mouth as it moved among the stems of the Spreading Dogbane. Oh dear. Fortunately it wasn’t a Monarch caterpillar, but will it be only a matter of time?

A few more steps and I noticed a Katydid on a Milkweed leaf. Oh yikes. So many visitors who like to munch.

For the moment all bets are placed on only one Monarch caterpillar to continue the life cycle.

Blame it on the Monarchs for calling me back to the same spot I’ve been stalking for a few weeks and giving me the opportunity to notice them mating and the results of such actions and other insects as well.

Want to learn more? The Greater Lovell Land Trust will offer these two programs:

July 31, 7:00 pm, Monarchs at Risk with Don Bennett 

Recent censuses show the smallest Monarch butterfly populations in Mexico and the west coast hibernacula in recorded history. Why is this happening? Is there anything we can do?  Are drastic declines in the Monarch populations a sign of something more insidious? Come listen to Naturalist Don Bennett, PhD, and discover why this is such an important message for all of us. 

Location: Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, Route 5, Lovell

August 1, 9:30 am – noon: Monarchs in the field: Monarch butterflies need milkweed plants to survive — as caterpillars they only eat milkweed and Monarch moms lay their eggs on the milkweed plant. We’ll take a walk along a dirt road that abuts a farm field and river, where milkweed grows in abundance and search for Monarchs and other butterflies. 

Location: Meet behind the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library to carpool.

Degree of Difficulty: Easy

Spying Like an Eagle

Working in tandem, we paddled against the wind and despite its force gave thanks for the relief from the heat offered. Our intention was to explore the islands of Moose Pond, a place where the two of us can get lost in time.

It was movement above that caught our attention as we watched a large bird fly into a tree. And so we paddled even harder in hopes of getting a better look. About midway up a White Pine, an immature Bald Eagle sat upon a branch . . . and panted, feeling the heat like we did. Since birds can’t sweat, this was its way of dissipating the sweltering weather.

We watched the bird until it finally flew off and headed south.

Then we continued our journey north.

My guy jumped ship to wander an island or two and I stayed aboard to see what I might find, like the Spatterdock petals hiding within the petal-like sepals.

There were Buttonbush flowers with their funky orb shapes and spiky protrusions.

And I was delighted to see a Rose Pogonia, its fringed beard hiding among the grasses and reeds.

The damselflies wrote love notes on almost every stem, but this gathering I found most comical–as the guys each attempted to be her suitor. In the end the top Bluet gracefully acquiesced.

And then there was the Variable Darner Damsel to wonder about as she posed upon a Pickerel Weed of matching color. Were her wings so shiny because she’d just emerged? And though its difficult to see the left-hand wing, they appeared to be spread–perhaps another indication of her recent adventure from aquatic nymph to sky dancer.

Our discoveries were many, but I’ve shared just a few from this afternoon as my guy and I . . . we spied like an eagle.

Because of the Monarchs

There’s a place here in western Maine that I frequent on hot summer days. Oh heck, there are many places I frequent, but this one is extra special and it doesn’t involve a hike. In fact, from my perspective, there’s only a short distance of a road that consumes hour after hour of my time. But always, it’s time well spent.

The road is dirt and crosses through a hay field that has yet to be cut. Smack dab in the center stands a beautiful Elm and though I’m not sure the Bluebirds nest there, I do know that they at least rest upon its mighty branches for I watched them fly down and disappear into the wildflowers and grasses below and then zoom back up into the tree a few minutes later, their wings of iridescent blue mesmerizing me during flight.

As the Bluebirds flew back and forth to the tree, so I walked back and forth below it. And back and forth again. And again. I have no idea how many times I turned or how often I muttered, “One more time and then I’ll leave.”

But . . . because I stayed I had the good fortune to spend some time admiring a Twelve-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly. In true character, it paused for long periods of time, flew off for a moment or two, and then returned to the same perch. And I gave thanks.

The only other dragonfly I saw was also a skimmer, but about half the size of the Twelve-spotted. At about one inch in length, the female White-faced Meadowhawk also paused for long breaks. And I was equally grateful.

With each step, grasshoppers did what they do–scattered from the dirt road to nearby stems. By the dozens. Providing constant motion and sound.

But then . . . I found two who chose a different activity to entertain themselves and ensure that there will be future generations of grasshoppers in the field.

Aren’t they amazing? And I don’t mean in their canoodling, but rather their design.

My pacing included frequent stops to check out the visitors upon the flowers as well. The Steeplebush appeared to offer a feast to any who chose to stop by.

Because the grass was so high beyond the flowers at the edge of the road, I didn’t realize at first that I wasn’t alone. Twice I was startled because I’d startled another. Both times it was a deer that I didn’t see until they ran off. Do you see the white flag of the tail as one bounded toward the woods?

There was more movement in the grasses and among the flowers. It was accompanied by sound. Looking for stalks moving at odds with the slight breeze, I finally spied the creator of the “Cheap” that resounded almost constantly. A Common Yellowthroat Warbler hopped from one plant to another, possibly seeking a meal to share with youngsters relaxing in a distant tree.

Curiously, a different sound could be heard from the other side of the road, where a male and female frequently took flight before settling down for a bit.

The Bobolink’s song hit notes both low and high, offering a serenade that bubbled forth in a rather bouncy and most pleasant warble.

Every which way I looked, something different presented itself. Some I knew, but others I met for perhaps the first time, such as this large bee fly. I’ve since learned that they are also commonly known as humbleflies, and I found that curious given that with the banded abdomen and patterned wings and overall large size, it hardly seemed humble.

What I’d really gone to check on, however, were the Milkweed plants and their visitors. I wasn’t disappointed for there were both big and little Milkweed beetles.

And Tiger Swallowtails seeking nourishment. This one needed all the nourishment it could get to continue its flight and avoid the birds and other predators. Do you see its tattered wing?

Some, like the Fritillary, chose the road for nutrition and did what butterflies often do.

It puddled. To puddle means to extend your mouthparts and probe the dusty road in search of nutrients. There is no actual puddle involved, but there may be raindrops or in this case, morning dew that help the butterflies extract minerals to share with their gals.

What I’d really gone to see, however, were the Monarchs. And I wasn’t disappointed for a few fluttered about and occasionally landed, much to my delight.

At last, my “One more time and then I’ll leave” utterance became reality and I drove off. And then . . . there was one more sight to behold. I stopped the truck and watched as a fawn bounded in its awkward fawn manner.

Because of the Monarchs . . . I experienced a wonder-filled morning.

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.