Poking About Among the Trees

My intention this morning was to meet up with a few old friends, namely a porcupine and a beaver family. Added into the mix with any luck would be a barred owl.

But alas, it was not to be as I wandered on and off trail through the northeast corner of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

Instead, it was those who seemed inanimate that came to life repeatedly.

Right from the start the trees pulled me in for I needed to, well, it wasn’t exactly a need, but still, I needed to check on the swelling red buds of a basswood that grows near the edge of the parking area.

And I could hardly pay homage to one and ignore its neighbor, and so I moved a few feet to enjoy the glory of a beaked hazelnut catkin and bud as they began the countdown toward spring.

Climbing the Flat Hill trail, an old tree grinch tried to sneer, but I noticed a tweak of a smile and knew he was glad to have me there.

He must have been for he made sure that I saw . . . such things as a beech leaf layered upon an oak atop the snow–mirroring the skyspace above.

And speaking of beech, I noticed one spiky husk, which actually surprised me with its presence for so few were the beech seeds this past summer.

The same was true of acorns and without a mast production, the squirrel middens were rather sparse in the landscape, but I did find two, both a couple of feet deep. But there’s something else to note–the trickle of yellow pee by the pine needles to the upper left of the hole. By its skunky scent, I knew that while the squirrel sought sustenance in the form of an acorn, a red fox hoped to dine on the rodent. The latter meal didn’t happen anywhere nearby, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur.

With lots of meandering on the way up, I finally reached the summit of Flat Hill, where the mountains beyond hinted at today’s snow flurries and this weekend’s impending storm. But it wasn’t to the mountains that I spent much time focusing. Instead, I scanned all the trees around–hoping for the sight of another spiky one–a prickly porcupine.

I suspected that I wasn’t alone in my search for just below the summit ledge, I spotted a bobcat track.

The evidence of the porcupine’s presence was everywhere as it had left its mark on so many trees where it scraped the outer bark to reach the softer inner tissue.

Shallow and narrow tooth marks were all that remained. I love bear trees, but porcupine trees rank right up there.

And the same is true for pileated woodpecker trees, which are easy to sight not only by their oblong holes, but the woody debris below them as well.

Who can resist searching the debris for scat? I know I can’t. What I found today was an exploded version with ant body parts spewed about in such an array that I almost wanted to glue them back together. Almost.

My wander continued as I walked a portion of Perky’s Path where the wetland mounds were so littered with snow drops that it was impossible to decipher any mammal tracks. I did make my way to the old beaver lodge in the center of the photo, the mound standing tallest toward the background, but the sight and sound of water meant caution was necessary.

The same was true at the rock stepping stones to the south of the wetland and though I have an affinity for water, I chose not to cross for a chilly bath wasn’t in my plans.

Instead, I backtracked and then followed the snowmobile trail for a bit until I reached the outlet of the old beaver pond.

It was there that I turned off trail and followed the stream through the woods.

Water gurgled below its frozen form and ice bridges offered crossings for those who dared. I did not.

My purpose was to check on another lodge that had been quite active a year ago. Today, I was surprised to find no one at home in the stick-built inn.

Beyond, the dam stood high, but the water behind it was low–another indicator that the beavers had moved on by their own doing. At least I hoped it was their own doing.

Evidence of their previous works was apparent all along the brook, where many a tree had been logged by the rodents, including this yellow birch.

Though that birch and others had been toppled, upon the snow old catkins, their fleur de lis scales grown large, added texture to the scenery and seeds to the future.

Finally, I made my way out and smiled at the smiles in the ice and water that mimicked my own. Today, my heart rejoiced with the affirmation this morning that my friend, Jinny Mae, had received good news about her health. She is one of my pokey hiking friends and I tried to emulate her as I celebrated. From Jinny Mae I’ve learned to do what Mary Oliver recommended in “Sometimes”:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

And so it was that as I paid attention just before leaving, I was astonished–by the tree I saw in the ice. I knew Jinny Mae, had she been beside me, would have taken the same photograph, for that’s what we often do when we’re together.

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

~Mary Oliver

Today, I stayed awhile, poking about among the trees that shined in honor of these two women who have shared the gift of bowing often.

Romancing the Stone Mondate

Visiting a site in winter that is so popular in the summer we actually avoid it unless hiking past offers an entirely different appreciation.

And so between errands in North Conway, New Hampshire, this afternoon, my guy and I donned our micro-spikes to traverse the hard-packed snowy ice trail into Diana’s Bath in neighboring Bartlett.

Upon reaching Lucy Brook, the history of the area was briefly documented on an interpretive panel that provided information about George Lucy who built a sawmill in the 1860s powered by an undershot wheel on the brook and a home not far from its banks.

About 1890, when tourists began making regular visits to the brook, Mr. Lucy added a boarding house and barn, but business never took off the way he’d intended.

By the 1920s the water wheel was replaced by a turbine fed from a penstock pipe, the remnants of which remained for us to gain a better understanding of the passage of power.

Above the turbine we could see another piece of the penstock pipe burrowed within the ledge upstream.

Before climbing up to it, I walked below the turbine site while my guy stood over and thought about the Lucy family’s history, which in a professional way is connected to his own for the sawmill idea was eventually abandoned as the Lucys realized they could use a portable mill to harvest wood and later descendants owned a lumber yard and then one of them opened a hardware store and he and my guy periodically touch base to share ideas or stock and both could be known as Mr. Hardware.

Upon the interpretive panel, we appreciated a photograph of the sawmill for it aided our comprehension of the view before us.

To our best understanding, the cement located above the penstock was part of the mill and dam created by Chester Lucy in the 1930s. Today, water swirled through and flowed over.

Below, the natural formation of rocks obscured was reflected in the shape of icy indentations.

Above, water hugged rocks in mid-cascade and created designs and colors that changed with each moment frozen in time.

We finally moved upward where more baths were plentiful but on this frigid day the thought of a dip was quickly suppressed by reality.

Still, we were intrigued by the power of it all as water gushed between curtains of ice.

As for the name, Diana’s Bath, I’ve heard several renditions including this from Robert and Mary Julyan’s Place Names of the White Mountains (a great bathroom read):

These curious circular stone cavities on Lucy Brook originally were known as the Home of the Water Fairies; tradition says evil water sprites inhabited the ledges, tormenting the Sokokis Indians until a mountain god answered the Indians’ prayers and swept the sprites away in a flood. But sometime before 1859 a Miss Hubbard of Boston, a guest at the old Mount Washington House in North Conway, rechristened them Diana’s Baths, presumably to evoke images of the Roman nature goddess. The pools are also called Lucy’s Baths.”

In the midst of wondering, I noticed a rare sight that added to the mystique of this place. Do you see four circular discs in the water? All spun at the same rate despite their varied sizes.

They were ice discs spinning counterclockwise much to my delight. This rare phenomenon was caused by the cold, dense air formed within the eddy at the base of the fall.

After that sight, we continued to climb until the brook leveled out. And then we pause before the spirit of one made from the same crystals that flowed beyond; one who wore a smile indicating he knew the ways and whys and wonders of the brook even if we didn’t.

As it turned out, he wasn’t the only one.

The woods were full of those who listened like old sages,

and smiled with a secret knowledge tucked within their grins.

Through it all, we felt the love of the universe as we tried to interpret the romance of the stones–icy though they were. And on this first Mondate of 2019, we were grateful for our “dip” into Diana’s Bath. It’s so much better in the winter than summer, especially on a weekday, for there are far fewer people about. But the sprites and fairies. They are there. Some you might even find among the rocks and boulders; I know. I saw a few. And others, might be upon the tree trunks. Or in the midst of the water.

If you decide to Romance the Stones, do know that unless you have a White Mountain National Forest Pass, you will need to pay the $3 fee to park. For some reason, the sprites don’t take care of that. Hmmm . . . one would think.

Book of October: Writing My Will

Judy Steinbergh has fed me repeatedly. She’s nourished my body and soul with actual food, but also with her poetry and prose. And recently, she gifted me one of her books entitled Writing My Will.

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Though it’s her poems about Maine that I love the most in this collection, I feel honored not only to have been the recipient of such a gift, but also to be offered the opportunity to peek into her life and share the path that she’s walked through marriage and motherhood, divorce and death.

17

I hear Judy’s voice even when she isn’t reading to me. And I covet her descriptions and command of lyrical language and imagery, especially as she captures the natural world:

“. . . after speculating on the slap of water, whir of wings,

out of the grainy dusk, some creature bursts

from the forest. Before we focus on its shape,

almost before it can be named,

it twists back, leaps, makes its escape.”

~ excerpt from “Wild Things”

or this one:

“. . . roughs the lake up like the wrong direction of fur

until it is leaping dolphins and whales in rows

until it is sleek stampeding panthers in droves

until we, in our small boats, are driven to shore.”

~excerpt from “The Wind”

1b

Each summer, she’s gathered her own poems, and those of other landscape poets, and shared them with an intimate group of writers through a workshop co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust, Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, and Hewnoaks Artist Colony at the Hewnoaks property overlooking Kezar Lake in Lovell, Maine. After talking about rhythm and form, and having us read her works and others, she sends us off to find a comfortable spot in which to contemplate and write.

1a

Poets young and old flock to her and she embraces all with a listening ear and mentoring manner.

1c

And sometimes we travel the path together, either hunting for mushrooms, looking at plants and any of the millions of other things that capture our attention, or spending time writing and sketching.

Judy has written five books of poetry, three poetry teaching texts, and recorded other works. She’s the Poet Laureate for the town of Brookline, Massachusetts. And she teaches and mentors students and teachers for Troubadour, Inc. throughout greater Boston and serves as Poet-in-Residence in various communities.

This particular book, Writing My Will, is an assortment of Judy’s treasures from her family, including her dying mother, to the natural world that embraces her. Based on the theme, she’s divided it into sections: Heirlooms; My Mother Comes Back to Life; What Memories Will Rise; Talking Physics With My Son; This Wild; Meeting the Birthmother; Long  Distance; The Art of Granddaughters; Working on Words; Elegies; Writing My Will.

And it ends with one most apropos for this month:

October Song

Wild asters and the birds whir over

in flocks, Queen Anne’s Lace curls up

by the docks, the tide runs out,

runs out like it hurts, our step

is so light on this earth.

I love these times alone, thinking

about how my children have grown,

and how I come into this age

illuminated, softened

as the marsh’s edge.

And the tide runs out, as forceful

as birth, as if nothing else mattered

but rushing away and rushing back in

twice a day. Our step

is so light on this earth.

We’re given October like a gift, the leaves

on the warp, the light on the weft,

and the gold drips through

like cider from the press; we know,

we know that our lives are blessed.

But the tide runs out, runs out like it hurts,

what were fields of water only hours ago

are meadows now when the tide

is low; our step is so light

on the earth. Wild asters. All

we are sure of is change, that maple

and sumac will turn into flame, this softness

will pass and the winter be harsh

till the green shoots push

up through the marsh. And the tide

rushes in like a thirst and will keep

its rhythm even after our time,

the seasons, too, will repeat

their design. Our step

is so light on the earth.

And so, dear Judy, as my thank you for the gift of your book, I want to now share a melody of photos from previous autumns, all taken during Octobers past in your beloved Maine locale when you can’t be here. (Well, maybe one is from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont–shhhh!)

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7

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11

12

13

14

15

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“Our step is so light on the earth”

Book of October: Writing My Will–Poems and Prose, by Judith W. Steinbergh, Talking Stone Press, 2001.

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Race–Our Style: episode eight

The clue arrived as mysteriously as usual on Sunday and we had to quickly book a seat for two on a seaworthy vessel. Thankfully, we got the first time slot for 10:30 Monday morning. And so, despite some fog, we drove northeast.

But . . . before we reached our destination, we had a challenge to answer to along the way. My guy needed to complete the crossword puzzle in the Portland Press Herald on his own. And then, while I did the driving, he needed to give me a clue, word by word until I’d completed the puzzle orally. Unfortunately, one letter held me up and we knew we’d loose a few moments if everyone else in the Amazing Race–Our Style finished it without flaws. We wouldn’t know for sure until the end. My glitch–the “r” in Urdu–the language spoken mainly in Pakistan.

1-Camden Harbor

Two and a half hours later we reached the location where our next challenge would begin. Of course, we had to pay attention to the signs and not park where permission was granted only to those who worked the waterfront.

3-Schooner Surprise

Our mission was to sail upon the gaff-rigged schooner Surprise. According to her website, Surprise was “built by the Waddell Shipyard in Rockport, Massachusetts, for Martin Kattenhorn. Surprise began her life as a racing and cruising yacht. Mr. Kattenhorn had commissioned Thomas McManus, the most famous American designer of fishing schooners, to design a vessel of about 45 feet, which could be safely sailed by a crew of no more than three persons. In early 1918, Surprise slid down the marine railway.

Her final dimensions were: Length overall 57 feet, Length on deck 44 feet, Beam 12 feet, Draft 7 feet, Displacement 21 tons.

Her topsail schooner rig allowed Mr. Kattenhorn to fly a mainsail, foresail, staysail , jib,  and a fisherman staysail. Her working sail area, not counting topsails, was just under 1000 square feet. Surprise was a respected racer. In 1923, she captured sixth place in a fleet of 22 vessels in the first race to Bermuda after World War I. Mr. Kattenhorn was a founding member of the Cruising Club of America, and Surprise carried the club’s ensignia from Bermuda to Nova Scotia and ports in between from 1918 until Mr. Kattenhorn’s death in 1959, an incredible sailing career!”

All of that history, and we realized we needed to pay attention. (Note to self: remember these facts) Already into the eighth leg of the race, we had a feeling that the historical value of some of our adventures would play a key part if we stay in the race until the final episode.

4-Captain Will applies sunscreen

At the established time, we boarded the boat and looked around at our shipmates. No fellow contestants. Huh? How could that be? But perhaps the rest had chosen the alternate activity that involved some baking and deliveries. We were much more comfortable setting sail with Captain Will, who when he wasn’t applying sunscreen, used his left foot to steer the boat out of Camden Harbor.

5-we raised the mainsail

Half way out, First Mate Laird asked for help in hoisting the sails. We knew this offering was intended for us. I quickly jumped up and my guy followed. My job–to use the hand-over-hand method to raise the raise the main gaff at the top as my guy kept the main boom parallel.  Of all our challenges thus far, this was among the easiest and we felt right at home.

6-Surprise

Finally under sail rather than motor power, the boat moved away from Camden Harbor and out into Penobscot Bay.

7-First Mate Laird

As we continued, the captain and first mate exchanged roles, because really, they are both comfortable and supportive in each. While Captain Will explained that Surprise was celebrating her 100th birth year, First Mate Laird looked up.

8-100 years old

Above, a flag blowing in the breeze commemorated the celebration.

9-ghost ship on the horizon

As we headed out to Mark Island in Penobscot Bay, so named because early mariners used the island to mark their bearings, we noted a ghost ship on the hazy horizon.

10-sailing Penobscot Bay

Will and Laird both exclaimed about what a perfect sailing day it was. Indeed.

11-Lobster Boat surrounded by gulls

The further out we moved, the more we noticed lobstermen checking their traps as gulls circled in hopes of an offering.

15-pulling traps

These were the folks who had headed out onto the water at 4 am as they surveyed the  grounds where they’d set traps. A Maine lobsterman is allowed to set up to 800 traps, but as we learned today, it not only takes time to gain a lobster license and no longer is it a tradition handed directly from father or grandfather to son or daughter, but one doesn’t set the full amount of traps to start. And we learned that Lobsterman Toby is the local God of the Traps and the one to consult before dipping into a lobstering career.

16-third lobster boat

Some collected lobsters while others replaced traps. It’s not an easy life, but don’t tell a lobsterman that. Oh yeah, and one more fact, women who lobster are also called lobstermen . . . with pride.

17-different tack

Once we changed tacks, positions on the boat shifted, as should be expected.

18-Curtis Island Light

From all sides, we viewed the Curtis Lighthouse. The station was first established in 1836. As the lighter rocks tumbled down in front of the current house indicated, when the first building was demolished, the rocks were not intended to be reused or repurposed. The present lighthouse was build in 1896 and automated in 1972. (Note to self: remember these facts)

19-Camden Harbor

Slowly we tacked and then motored back into the harbor, with Mount Battie’s domed shape, a reflection of the harbor’s outline, standing tall in the background.

21-boat featured in movie Dunkirk

Captain Will shared a third point of interest to add to our bag of potentially important historical points should we make it to the end of this race: The 1930 122 ft. steel-hulled yacht Atlantide. The boat played a life-saving role in World War II as allied troops pinned down by the invading German army were evacuated at Dunkirk, France. And it was featured in the movie Dunkirk.

23-sails coming down

As we sailed closer to shore, in a pattern of symmetry that matched our departure, everything was restored to its original position and the term shipshape revealed.

25-old boat railway

Back under motor power, we passed by an old marine railway, which probably resembled the one Surprise originally slid down.

23-female mallard

At last, our sailing experience of the day slowed. And a female mallard swam beside the boat, perhaps her hope for a handout redeemed occasionally by others.

2-Comorant

Meanwhile, a cormorant bathed.

24-docking

With precise precision as a neighboring boat docked, we pulled in, Laird jumped off the boat and all ropes were secured. Our journey had ended and we needed to hustle to a lunch spot.

25-beer at Peter Otts

We chose Peter Otts and a Maine Beer Company Peepers Pale Lager for me, while my guy enjoyed a Guinness–because it’s good for you! Two delish haddock sandwiches rounded out our menu choices.

25-Climbing Battie

But we still had one more task to complete–to locate a symbol of WWI while hiking. And so up Route One we drove to Camden Hills State Park in hopes that we’d chosen the right place. It was rather deceiving at the start of the hike for across one boardwalk after another did we walk.

26-changing terrain

Eventually, however, the incline steepened and terrain became more of what one might expect along the coast of Maine–rocks and roots to navigate around and over.

27-wavng hello

We hadn’t seen a single other contestant and had no idea how we were doing, but knew we’d lost a wee bit of time on the crossword challenge, and so we paused for a second and my guy expressed his inner Cousin Itt.

28-Camden below

The funny thing we noticed about the trail system was that no matter how much further we had to go, many of the signs indicate 0.5 miles, and even after we’d covered a section of 0.25, the next sign stated the summit was still 0.5 ahead. It amused us and from then on we knew everything was a mere half mile away from somewhere.

At the summit of Mount Battie, the view encompassed the harbor below.

29-tower

But it was what stood behind us that became significant.

31-tower dedication

We’d found our WWI symbol, a memorial to those local people who served our country. And another piece of history to tuck under our hats for future reference.

30-view from the tower

Though we couldn’t see Acadia because of fog, the view was still breathtaking from the top. It was there that we encountered another contestant who actually asked us for some help with the trail system. Team Purple is legally deaf and her partner had deserted her, so we were happy to offer assistance.

32-Edna St. Vincent Millay

To that end, we gave her a head start while we paused to honor Edna St. Vincent Millay. And give thanks that we saw what she had seen.

34-Team Purple

Eventually, we did catch up with Team Purple, but she was a hearty hiker and we let her continue to lead.

35-Crossing the mat together

She, however, had another idea in mind, and in true alliance fashion, the three of us, our shadows lengthened as the sun slowly lowered, crossed the finish line of this episode together. We weren’t the first to complete today’s challenges, but we’re still in the race.

Going forward, we wish Rebecca of Team Purple the best.

Phew, eight episodes of the Amazing Race–Our Style completed. Only four more to go. Will we survive? Stay tuned.

A’pondering We Will Go

August 3, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
A’pondering We Will Go: Get inspired by the beauty along the trail at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. This will be a stop-and-go walk as we pause frequently to sketch, photograph, and/or write about our observations, or simply ponder each time we stop. Location: John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East, Farrington Pond Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

j1-pickerel frog

That was our advertisement for this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust walk, but we weren’t sure the weather would cooperate. Docent Pam and I emailed back and forth as we looked at various forecasts and decided to take our chances. As it turned it, it did sprinkle occasionally, but we didn’t feel the rain until we finished up and even then, it wasn’t much. Instead, the sound of the plinking against the leaves in the canopy was a rather pleasant accompaniment to such a delightful morning. Our group was small–just right actually for it was an intimate group and we made a new friend and had a wonder-filled time stopping to sit and ponder and then move along again and were surprised by tiny frogs and toads who thought the weather couldn’t get any better, as well as other great finds. Here, a pickerel frog showed off its rectangular spots for all of us to enjoy.

j2-Sucker Brook

After a first 20-minute pause in the woods, we continued on until we reached Sucker Brook.

j3-Colleen

Each of us settled into a place to listen . . .

j4-Bob

photograph . . .

j6-Judy

and write.

j7-heron

I have no idea how much time had passed, but suddenly we all stirred a bit and then someone who was noticing (I think it was Ann) redirected our attention.

j8-heron

We were encouraged to focus on another who was also paying attention.

j9-heron

And narrowing in . . .

j10-heron and fish

on lunch.

j11-wings

When the young heron flapped its wings, we were all sure the meal was meant “to go.”

j12-securing the catch

But thankfully, the bird stayed.

j13-lunch

And played with its food.

j14-lunch making its way down

Ever so slowly, the fish was maneuvered into its mouth.

j15-gulp

And swallowed.

j16-down the throat it goes

Down the throat it slid.

j16-feathers ruffled

And then the feathers were ruffled–rather like a chill passing through its body.

j17-movement

Wing motion followed.

j18-searching

But still, the Great Blue Heron stayed.

j19-next course

And stalked some more.

j20-Isaiah

We continued to watch until we knew we had to pull ourselves away.

j21-the journalists

If we didn’t have other obligations, we might still be there. Gathered with me from left to right: Judy, Colleen, Isaiah, Pam, Ann, and Bob.

j22-owl pellet

On our way back, again we made some interesting discoveries that we’d somehow missed on the way in, including White Baneberry, aka Doll’s Eye, a bone we couldn’t ID, Indian Pipe, and this owl pellet smooshed, but full of tiny bones–vole-sized bones.

j22-Pam reading what she wrote

We stopped one more time, to share our morning’s observations.

j23-Judy reading her poem

Reading aloud is never easy, but because our group was small and we’d quickly developed a sense of camaraderie and trust, the comfort level was high.

j24-Ann's landscape sketch with heron

Sketches were also shared, including this one of the landscape that Ann drew–including the heron that entered the scene just before she quietly called our attention to it.

j25-stump and lichen

And my attempts–the first of a tree stump from our woodland stop, and then a lichen when we were by Sucker Brook.

A’pondering We Did Go–and came away richer for the experience. Thanks to all who came, to Pam and Ann for leading, and to Isaiah for his fine eye at spotting interesting things along the way.

 

 

Dear Clouded Sulphur

Just as a butterfly goes through a life cycle known as complete metamorphosis with stages including egg, larva, pupa, and adult, so is the poem you are about to read.

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You see, last week, I had the honor of attending a poetry workshop at Hewnoaks Artist Colony co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library. After listening to poet Judith Steinbergh share her poetry and the works of others, and listening to her talk about form as she laid eggs in our minds, we were sent off for a half hour to write our own nature-inspired poem. It was raining lightly at that time and my larva stage was a celebration of the rain that made the aspen quiver with joyous sighs and the lichens transform like a chameleon. When the group came back together and we read our first attempts to each other, I ended by mentioning that I wanted to somehow work the Clouded Sulphur, a small yellow butterfly, into my great work. And then, over the course of the past week, the larva began to mature, to pupate as I wrote draft after draft and suddenly the poem was only about the Clouded Sulphur. Yet, the language wasn’t quite working and though I sent a copy to Judy, and she responded with the most encouraging comments, and then I sent another draft, and again she was encouraging, I told her that I didn’t intend to read my draft at the evening celebration of poetry. The celebration was planned for last night.

As I often do in the summer, I awoke at 5:30 yesterday morning, brewed a pot of coffee, sat in the rocking chair on the porch and realized I was ready to write about the butterfly in an entirely different form. The words flowed forth and what you read is maybe not the adult, or even a teenager, but perhaps a ‘tween and I know my habit of revising constantly so perhaps one day this poem will reach full adulthood.

But for now, after such a long explanation, here is what I wrote and was actually brave enough to read last night:

Dear Clouded Sulphur,

As I walk
along the gravel road,
I suddenly realize
I am not alone.
Oh,
there are bees and birds
and dragonflies and grasshoppers
to admire,
but you capture
my full attention.

h16-clouded sulphur butterfly
I notice first
your buttery yellow wings
tinged with a hint of lime,
and margined
ever so slightly
in a subtle pink.
And then I see
your bright green eyes
that remind me of my own
when I spot a buffet and don’t know
which delectable choice
to first taste.

h19-field
So it seems
you are the same
as you dance
over the meadow flowers,
your wings flitting
up and down, up and down,
before you suck nectar
from one clover
and then another.

h18-dark band on upperside of wings
That’s when I notice
the thick black border
upon the topside
of your wings.
Why do you hide it,
only allowing glimpses
in a quick
flash of flight?
Perhaps you feel
it will draw
too much attention?
If that’s the case,
I understand,
for as it is,
I see only
you at first.
And then a sibling. Or is it a cousin?
The relationship
doesn’t matter.
What matters is
that my eyes cue in
and I realize
I am encircled
by you
and all your kin.
In fact,
I no longer know
which one you are,
but that’s fine,
for it is
more important
that you’ve made
me notice.

h17-butterflies puddling

What I thought
was one butterfly
becomes two
and then five,
and suddenly
seven of you
gather upon the road
where only moments
earlier
a few raindrops
slipped from the sky
and dampened the pebbles.
As I watch,
all of you pause,
then fly
at different moments
to a new spot
within the same small square,
and pause again,
dazzling me
with flashes
of your subtle palette,
I realize
you are puddling.

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For the first time
I begin to understand
what “puddling”
actually means
as your extended
mouthparts probe.
The road that seems
so dirty and dusty
to my blue eyes,
your green eyes
recognize
as a source
of the nutrients
you seek.
And though there isn’t
an actual puddle,
mere raindrops
appear to provide
what you need.
But do they?
Are you able
to extract
enough minerals
to share
with your gal?
That’s beyond
my understanding,
but I continue
to watch
for as long as I can.
I wish I could stay all day,
so welcoming
have you been.
Alas, I must
pull myself away.
But before I do,
I want to say
thank you.
Thank you, C.S.,
for capturing
my attention
and allowing me
to observe
a few moments
of your butterfly life.
Thank you
for your minute presence
as you twirl and pivot
in this very place,
for your being here
indicates
a healthy environment.
Despite the lack of rain,
you find goodness
and in so doing,
share good news.

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With that knowledge,
I take my leave
with a smile
upon my heart.

Sincerely,

Leigh

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

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

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or two,

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or even three,

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but four–

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all books about stone walls which are once again revealing their idiosyncrasies. These are the Books of March.

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Walk along our woodland trail with me and you’ll know that something different happened there ages and ages ago. To reach the trail, we’ll need to pass through two stone walls. Continuing on, we’ll come to a cow path where several pasture pines, massive trees that once stood alone in the sun and spread out rather than growing straight up, must have provided shade for the animals.

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They are the grandparents of all the pines that now fill this part of the forest.

Further out, one single wall widens into a double wall, indicating a different use of the land.

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The walls stand stalwart, though some sections are more ragged than others. Fallen trees, roots, frost, weather, critters and probably humans have added to their demise, yet they are still beautiful, with mosses and lichens offering striking contrasts to the granite. Specks of shiny mica, feldspar and quartz add to the display. And in winter, snowy outlines soften their appearance.

The fact that they are still here is a sign of their endurance . . . and their perseverance. And the perseverance of those who built them. and yet . . . . the stone walls aren’t what they once were, but that doesn’t matter to those of us who admire them.

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For me, these icons of the past conjure up images of colonial settlers trying to carve out a slice of land, build a house and maybe a barn, clean an acre or two for the garden and livestock and build walls. The reality is that in the early 1700s, when western Maine was being settled, stones were not a major issue. The land was forested and they used the plentiful timber to build. It wasn’t until a generation or two later, when so much timber had been harvested to create fields for tillage and pasture, that the landscape changed drastically, exposing the ground to the freezing forces of nature. Plowing also helped bring stones to the surface. The later generation of farmers soon had their number one crop to deal with–stone potatoes as they called them. These needed to be removed or they’d bend and break the blade of the oxen-drawn plowing rake.

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Stone removal became a family affair for many. Like a spelling or quilting bee, sometimes stone bees were held to remove the stones from the ground. Working radially, piles were made as an area was cleared. Stone boats pulled by oxen transported the  piles of stones to their final resting place where they were woven into a wall.

Eventually single walls, also called farmer or pasture walls, were built as boundaries, but mainly to keep animals from destroying crops. The advent of stone walls and fences occurred within a few years of homesteads being settled, but during the sheep frenzy of the early 1800s many more were built. Those walls were supposed to be 4.5 feet high and fence viewers were appointed by each town to make sure that farmers tended their walls.

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Double walls were lower and usually indicated an area that was to be tilled. A typical double wall was about 4-10 feet wide and consisted of at least two single walls with smaller rubble thrown between.

Drive our back roads and you’ll see many primitive walls created when stone was moved from the roadway and tossed into a pile, or wander through the woods and discover stone walls and fountains in unexpected places. The sheep craze ended about 1840 after the sheep had depleted the pastures and younger farmers heeded the call to “Go west young man, go west.” The Erie Canal, mill jobs, and better farming beyond New England all added to the abandonment of local farms.

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Today we’re left with these monuments of the past that represent years of hard labor. Building a wall was a chore. Those who rebuild walls now find it to be a craft.

Sam Black, who lives in Bridgton, Maine and spent twelve years rebuilding the walls on his property, once told me, “It was meditation time, like working in the garden. It’s one of those things you do philosophically and it lets you operate at a deeper level. You have time to think and contemplate as you work on the jigsaw puzzle.”

Frank Eastman of Chatham, New Hampshire, is the caretaker for the Stone House property in Evans Notch, and said when I asked if he’d ever worked on single walls, “No, I ain’t that good at balancing things. You got to have a pretty good ability to make things balance and a lot of the times your rock will titter until you put a small rock in just to hold it. No, I don’t want to monkey around with a single wall.”

Karl Gifford of Baldwin, Maine, told me, “I’m either looking for the perfect stone or trying to create the perfect space for the stone I’m working with. It takes a lot of practice, seeing what I need and being able to pick it out of the pile.” The entire time we chatted, his hands moved imaginary stones.

The more walls I encounter in the woods, the more respect I have for those who moved the stones and those who built the fences that became the foundation of life. Walk in the woods and you’ll inevitably find evidence that someone has been there before you–maybe not in a great many years, but certainly they’ve been there. Their story is set in stone.

If you care to learn more about stone walls, I highly encourage you to locate these books. I found all of them at my local independent book store: Bridgton Books.

Books of March:

Sermons in Stone by Susan Alport, published 1990, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
A history of stone walls in New England.

Stone by Stone by Robert M. Thorson, 2002, Walker & Company.
A geological look at stone walls

Exploring Stone Walls by Robert M. Thorson, 2005, Walker & Company.
A field guide to determining a walls history, age, and purpose.

The Granite Kiss by Kevin Gardner, 2001, The Countryman Press.
A look at repairing walls of stone.

And now I leave you with this poem:

The Old Stone Fence of Maine

Shall I pay a tribute here at home,
To the Old Stone Fence of Maine?
It was here when you were born,
And here it will remain.
Stone monuments, to grand old sires,
Who, with a good right arm,
Solved problems little known to you,
E’re their “clearing,” was your farm.

When you see an Old Stone Fence,
Weed grown and black with age,
Let your mind’s eye travel backward
And read its written page.
And, as Moses left us words in stone,
That live with us today,
Almost, with reverence, let us read
What these Stone Fences say.

They tell of those who “blazed the trail,”
We are walking in today;
Those who truly “bore the burdens
In the heat of the day.”
For every stone was laid by hand,
First taken from the soil
Where giant trees were cut and felled,
Bare handed–honest toil.

The Stone Fence marked the boundary line
Whereby a home was known;
Gave them dignity, as masters
Of that spot they called their own.
The Stone Fence, guarded church and school
And the spots more sacred far,
The silent spots, in memory kept
For those who’ve “crossed the bar.”

Then, treasure this inheritance,
Handed down from sire to son,
Not for its worth, to you, today,
But for when, and why, begun.
For with it comes a heritage
Of manly brawn and brain,
That is yours today, from the builders
Of the Old Stone Fence of Maine.

~Isabel McArthur, 1920