All Twigged Out

In preparation for a senior college class I’ll be teaching this week entitled “All Things Spring,” I headed out the door in search of twigs.

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Of course, it doesn’t look like spring quite yet. But then again, it does. And on this crystal clear day, the silhouette of the buildings atop Mount Washington were visible.

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Before I could settle down to the work at hand, I visited the vernal pool, where all was quiet. But, I know the time is nearing. I could smell spring in the air and feel it in the warm sunshine that enveloped me and my surroundings.

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And then I slipped into the gray birch grove to begin my hunt,

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while a black-capped chickadee wondered what I was up to–no good, as usual.

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At last, I filled my satchel, but only enough–never wanting to take more than necessary. In fact, since I don’t know how many students will be present, they may have to share.

My plan is to begin with a slide show of flowers and ferns, mammals and birds, and of course, life evolving at the vernal pool (all photos were taken a year ago). I’ll bring some fun things to share, including scat–I sure hope they (whoever they are) think it’s fun.

And then we’ll look at twigs through a hand lens so together we can examine the idiosyncrasies of our common deciduous trees,

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such as these sugar maples and . . .

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a few striped maples.

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We’ll look at beech,

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quaking aspens and several others.

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My materials are almost ready, though I still need to pull something together about fern crosiers. Oh my!

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I’m nervous, but excited. My hope is to instill a sense of wonder, but maybe no one will show. That would be okay–I’d just quietly slip back into the woods.

Until then, I’m trying not to feel all twigged out.

 

Dear Aunt Ruth

My memories are snapshots of times spent with you and Uncle Bob and all the cousins. I loved visiting your home–whether we drove down the long road and driveway with Dad or walked via the old dump road and skeet field with Mom. Each time we arrived, you welcomed us with grace and your unassuming manner.

I remember sipping lemonade on the back porch, riding the wooden horse, and checking on Dale’s bunnies, especially Peter who soon became Mrs. Peter. I remember lunches at your kitchen table, and the time we bit into our tuna sandwiches only to discover the bread was filled with ants. Why that sticks with me, I don’t know, but we all thought it was funny. I remember family reunions, where food and laughter and aunts and uncles and cousins were abundant. Eventually, it evolved into a musical gathering–such was the talent of the clan.

But most of all, I remember your flower and vegetable gardens and your love of all things natural.

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And so today, as my guy and I ventured to a park we’d never before visited, I took you with us. I wanted to share with you our findings, just as you used to share stories of your gardens and wildlife sightings with us in Christmas cards after I moved north.

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Our first observation–a moose! Well, not really.

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But we did see evidence of deer and I knew you’d be glad they were running away–leaving your gardens alone. Oh, and those pesky raccoons! Raising eight children didn’t seem to phase you, but those raccoons in the corn field–that did rattle you.

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The gardens in these woods differ from yours–and right now, given the snow cover, the only ones visible were high up in pine trees, where yesterday’s snow offered nourishment to the mosses and lichens that grow there.

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We did, however, find one similarity–the legume-like seed pod from a locust tree. It’s almost time to sow the peas.

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In these woods, we also found a symbol of the past–it was once farmland as signified by the apple trees. If memory serves me right, there was a very climbable apple tree beside your driveway.

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And then we spied one impossible possibility–an acorn tucked into red maple bark. How did it get there? And will it germinate? If it does, what then?  I trust, you too, would have noticed such and wondered.

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We followed the trails through the woods and sometimes beside the brook for which the property was named–Pratt Brook. It was a bit more bubbly than the creek in your yard, but such is the snow melt right now.

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Along the way, I noted a family of artist conks decorating a tree. And, that, of course, brought to mind the box of colored pencils you (or perhaps it was the cousins, though Neal had no qualms about telling us that our gifts were really chosen by you) gave me long ago. I cherished that box and used those pencils with care. They lasted into my early adulthood.

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And then my guy gifted me another box, which I again revere. One of my favorite pastimes is to sit and sketch and then add a dash of color. Whenever I do, Aunt Ruth, you are with me.

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For a while we followed the power line trail, aka Bear Trail. As you can see, we tramped in the footsteps of many others who’ve traveled this way just today–via skis, snowshoes and hiking boots like us. We were an hour from home and close to the ocean, so the snow level was about six inches compared to at least two feet we walk upon daily. But today’s sun warmed us and initiated a meltdown.

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I didn’t mind being on the power line for a bit, for it was here that we saw our only sign of wildlife.

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It was also the spot where I knew we’d find wildflowers–and I wasn’t disappointed. Asters like these, and goldenrods, spireas and berries displayed their winter forms.

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Back into the woods, we were almost done, when we spied this woodwork, carved by bark beetles.

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And I was again reminded of my past observations when I moved a log and discovered a gnawer on the job.

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The intricate work reminded me of Uncle Bob’s woodworking skills and I knew you’d appreciate that. You’d also appreciate that as I write, my guy is watching a National Geographic show about Wild Scotland.

Thanks for the memories, Aunt Ruth. And thanks for making time for us and showing an interest in all that we did–always as curious about our adventures as those of your brood. You were a remarkable woman and a genuine Yankee whom I was blessed to have as a part of my life.

Fondly, Leigh

 

 

 

Book of April: How to tell the Birds from the Flowers

It’s April Fools’ Day and I can’t think of a more appropriate book to share as Mother Nature showers snow upon us than How to tell the Birds from the Flowers and other wood-cuts by Robert Williams Wood.

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A friend found this delightful little ditty at an independent book store in Brattleboro, Vermont, several months ago and couldn’t resist purchasing it for me. Thank you, A.J. 

Can you see from the cover what Wood had in mind? 

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And his language–Flornithology? Oh my. Artistic license met poetic license. 

The first edition was published in 1917–in Kent, England. According to a little research, Mr. Wood was born in England, but went on to become a physicist at Johns Hopkins. And they say (whoever they are) that he had no sense of humor.

Read on: 

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After this introduction, it gets even better (in my humble opinion). 

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Whimsical rhymes and . . .

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clever sketches;

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Similarities and . . .

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differences.

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All found in the natural world. 

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Doesn’t this just make you smile? The man lacked a sense of humor? Hardly.

And we know the Mother Nature also has a sense of humor. This isn’t the first time it has snowed on April first.

At the back of the book is a list of other facsimile reissues from Pryor Publications. Here are a few titles worth considering: Punishments in the Olden Times, Manners for Women, Manners for Men, A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Class and Why Not Eat Insects.

And on the back cover: “This updated edition originally published in 1917 now includes how to tell ‘The Eel from the Elephant,’ ‘The P-Cock from the Q-Cumber’ and ‘The Elk from the Whelk’ to name but a few. This book will be invaluable to those who are short sighted or just plain confused, the rest of you may even find it amusing.”

I think I fall into the latter group and that’s what A.J. had in mind (right?) when she gifted it to me because I find it quite amusing. 

Happy April Fools’ Day. 

How to tell the Birds from the Flowers and other wood-cuts (is he referring to himself?), versus and illustrations by Robert Williams Wood, 1917.

Tickling the Feet

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

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Meet the feet? Yes, mammal feet. It was an Advanced Seminar prepared for students and graduates of the Maine Master Naturalist Program by one of our founders and past president, Dorcas Miller.

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Dorcas has gathered mammal feet from road kill and gifts. And we gathered to take a closer look at them, determine if their stance was plantigrade (walking–entire foot on ground as we do), digitigrade (tip-toeing like a fox or coyote), or unguligrade (en pointe in ballet, like the ungulates–deer, moose, sheep), and sketch what we saw.

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Sketching is a fabulous way to take a closer look.

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And so we did,

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with intensity,

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curiosity,

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smiles,

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and giggles.

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From tiny

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to big, we had them all to study.

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We wondered what we’d find.

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And survived some interesting scents (think skunk).

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Probably the best part was that we renewed friendships formed through a combined interest in learning about the natural world.

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My own sketches were rather primitive.

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But it was noticing the details that appealed to me most.

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One of my favorite pairs–the opossum with its opposable thumb, puffy pads and grip bumps.

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When we finished sketching, we made some casts in clay. These illustrate the opossum better than I ever could.

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My final cast was the red fox–I love that the chevron shows in the print on the left and the hairiness of its feet is evident.

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At the end of the seminar, we celebrated the release of the second edition of Track Finder, written by Dorcas.

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And coveted her bear claw shawl–a gift from her guy.

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As she gave me my signed book, she told me to take a look at the Acknowledgements. She acknowledged me! I’m not sure why, but I’m certainly humbled and honored.

I also love her note to her guy–about the road kill in the freezer.

Yup, we stayed indoors today and tickled some feet. They tickled us back.

 

 

Books of December: A Holiday Wish List

In the spirit of changing things up a bit, I decided that I’d include five books I highly recommend you add to your holiday wish list and two that I hope to receive.

These are not in any particular order, but I’m just beginning to realize there is a theme–beyond that of being “nature” books.

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Book of December: Forest Forensics

Tom Wessels, forest guru and author of Reading the Forested Landscape, published this smaller work in 2010. Though only 5″ x 7.5″, the book is rather heavy because it’s filled with photographs. Despite the weight, Forest Forensics fits into a backpack and is the perfect guide for trying to figure out the lay of the land. Using the format of a dichotomous key, Wessels asks readers to answer two-part questions, which link to the photos as well as an Evidence section for Agriculture, Old Growth and Wind, plus Logging and Fire. In the back of the book, he includes Quick Reference Charts that list features of particular forest and field types. And finally, a glossary defines terms ranging from “age discontinuity” to “Uphill basal scar,” “weevil-deformed white pines” and “wind-tipped trees.” In total, it’s 160 pages long, but not necessarily a book you read from cover to cover. If you have any interest in rocks, trees, and the lay of the land, then this is a must have.

Forest Forensics by Tom Wessels, The Countryman Press, Woodstock, VT, 2010.

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Book of December: Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest

Michael L. Cline is executive director of Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, New Hampshire. In September, I had the pleasure of attending a talk he gave at the center about Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest. The 6″ x 9″ book weighs about the same as Wessels’, and will also fit handily into your pack. Of course, you might want to leave the books in your vehicle or at home and look up the items later–thus lightening your load. Using Brownfield Bog as one of his main go-to places, Cline describes 70 species of shrubs from Creeping Snowberry to Mountain Ash. The book is arranged by family, beginning with Mountain Maple and Striped Maple of the Aceraceae (Maple) family and ending with the American Yew of the Taxaceae (Yew) family. Each two-page layout includes photographs (and  occasionally drawings), plus a description of habit, leaves, flowers, twig/buds, habitat, range, wildlife use, notes and other names. I have no excuse now to not know what I’m looking at as I walk along–especially near a wetland. That being said, I’ll think of one–like I left the book at home, but I’ll get back to you.

Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest by Michael L. Cline, J.S. McCarthy Printers, 2016

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Book of December: Bogs and Fens

Ronald B. Davis’ book, Bogs and Fens, was a recent gift from my guy. I hadn’t asked for it, and actually didn’t know about it, so I’m tickled that he found it. I’m just getting to know Dr. Davis’s work, but trust that this 5.5″ x 8.5″ guide about peatland plants will also inform my walks. Again, it’s heavy. The first 26 pages include a description of vegetation and peatlands and even the difference between a fen and a bog. More than 200 hundred pages are devoted to the trees, plants and ferns. In color-coded format, Davis begins with the canopy level of trees and works down to tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and finally, ferns. He also includes an annotated list of books for further reference, as well as a variety of peatlands to visit from Wisconsin to Prince Edward Island. As a retired University of Maine professor, Davis has been a docent and guide at the Orono Bog Boardwalk for many years. Field trip anyone?

Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada by Ronald B. Davis, University of New England Press, 2016.

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Book of December: Lab Girl

I’d never heard of Hope Jahren until this summer and then several people recommended her book, Lab Girl, to me. Rather than a guide, this is the story of Jahren’s journey from her childhood in rural Minnesota to the science labs she has built along the way. As a scientist, Jahren takes the reader through the ups and downs of the research world. And she does so with a voice that makes me feel like we’re old friends. Simultaneously, she interweaves short chapters filled with  information about the secret life of plants, giving us a closer look at their world. I had to buy a copy because for me, those chapters were meant to be underlined and commented upon. I do believe this will be a book I’ll read over and over again–especially those in-between chapters.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

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Book of December: The Hidden Life of TREES

And finally, a gift to myself: The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben. I’d first learned about this book in a newspaper article published last year and had to wait until recently to purchase it after the book was translated from German to English. Again, it’s not a field guide, but offers a delightful read that makes me think. And thus, you can see my bookmark. I’ve not finished reading it yet, but I’m having fun thinking about some different theories Wohlleben puts forth. As a forester, Wohlleben has spent his career among trees and knows them well. He’s had the opportunity to witness firsthand the ideas he proclaims about how trees communicate. And so, I realize as I read it that I, too,  need to listen and observe more closely to what is going on in the tree world–one of my favorite places to be. Maybe he’s right on all accounts–the best part is that he has me questioning.

The Hidden Life of TREES: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben, Random House, 2016.

And that’s just it–the underlying theme of these five books you might consider is TREES. I can’t seem to learn enough about them. One word of caution, each author has their own take on things, so the best thing to do is to read the book, but then to head out as often as you can and try to come to your own conclusions or at least increase your own sense of wonder.

And now for the books on my list (My guy is the keeper of the list):

Naturally Curious Day by Day: A Photographic Field Guide and Daily Visit to the Forests, Fields, and Wetlands of Eastern North America by Mary Holland, Stackpole Books, 2016

Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast by Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.

Do you have any other suggestions for me?

One final thought about books–support your local independent book store as much as you can. Here in western Maine, we are fortunate to have Bridgton Books. Justin and Pam Ward know what we like to read and if they don’t have a particular book we’re looking for, they bend over backwards to get it for us.

 

Book of November: The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh

My sister knows me well. And so this summer she gifted me a copy of Kathryn Aalto’s The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A walk through the forest that inspired the Hundred Acre Wood. 

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My relationship with Pooh began as a child, though I can’t remember if my sister or mother read the stories to me or if I first meet him on my own. It doesn’t matter. What’s more important is that I had the opportunity to meet him and to stay in touch ever since.

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Our relationship continued when I took a children’s literature course as a high school senior and after reading and writing about the books, I sketched characters from several stories including A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh to complete an assignmentMy framed collage still decorates a wall in my studio. And later, I met Pooh again through The Tao of Pooh here I listened more closely to his lessons about life. When I needed to interpret a song for a sign language class, it was to Pooh I turned: Kenny Loggin’s “House at Pooh Corner.” And Pooh was a dear friend when our sons were young and the oldest formed his own relationship with the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood.

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And so it was with great joy that I opened Aalto’s book and immediately related to her dedication: “To the walkers of the world who know the beauty is in the journey.”

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When a friend noted that Winnie-the-Pooh is 90 years old today, I knew that this had to be the Book of November. Alan Alexander Milne published When We Were Young and A Gallery of Children in the two years prior to 1926 and followed with The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. All are as meaningful today as they were then–perhaps more so.

Aalto is an American landscape designer, historian and writer who lives in Exeter, England. I know it’s not good to covet someone else’s life, and yet . . .  I do.

Her book begins with biographical background about Milne and how he came to be at Ashdown Forest and the Five Hundred Acre Wood. I think one of my favorite facts that she shares is that while at boarding school, his mother sent care packages that included  bunches of flowers grown in her garden. Upon receiving them, he was pulled home by the sight and scent. Perhaps secretly, my sons would appreciate that, but they’d never let on.

States Aalto: “We value the books for simple expressions of empathy, friendship, and kindness. The stories are classics as they express enduring values and open our hearts and minds to help us live well. But as I read about Milne and walked around England with my children, I saw how they also tell another story: the degree to which the nature of childhood has changed in the ninety years since Milne wrote the stories. There is less freedom to let children roam and explore their natural and urban environments. There are more digital distractions for our children that keep them indoors and immobile, and heightened parental fears that do so as well.”

With that, I am reminded of a childhood well spent exploring the environs of our Connecticut neighborhood and beyond and not returning home until we heard Mom shout our names from the back door. (Or a certain next door neighbor told me that my mother was calling.)

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While C.R.’s explorations with his stuffed animals became the muses for his father’s stories, the landscape also provided inspiration.

That landscape still exists, though time has had a way with it. Aalto takes us there through her photographs and words. She begins with a visit to the farm, village of Hartfield, and the forest located steps to the south. Referring to the Ashford Forest, she comments: “It is still a place of solitude where people can walk half a day without meeting another person. There are no overt signs pronouncing your arrival in Pooh Country. There are no bright lights or billboards, no £1 carnival rides, no inflatable Eeyores, Owls, or Roos rising and falling in dramatic flair. There are no signs marking the dirt lane where Milne lived, nor pub grub with names like “Milne Mash and Peas” or a “Tigger’s Extract of Malt Cocktail” on ice. A quiet authenticity–historical, literary, and environmental–has settled over the landscape.” Ah, yes. A place to simply be and breathe and take it all in.

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A photograph of C.R.’s secret hideaway in a tree reminds us that the stories are about real people and real places and based on real life events, all with a dash of real imagination. Aalto examines every aspect of this.

A week ago today, while exploring a similar woodland in New Hampshire with a dear friend, I convinced her to step inside a tree cavity, much the way the real Christopher Robin used to do a Cotchford Farm. At heart, we can all be kids again.

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I love that Aalto provides us with a closer look at the flora and fauna of the forest. From flowers and ferns to birds, butterflies, moths, damselflies and dragonflies, and red tail deer, she gives us a taste of C.R. and Pooh’s world.

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And she reminds us to get out and play, including rules for Poohsticks. I think it is more important than ever that all members of our nation step outside, find a Pooh bridge, drop a stick and run to the other side. As Aalto says in rule #9: “Repeat over and over and over and . . . ”

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I also like that she mentions one special visitor to Ashdown Forest, who spent many hours examining carnivorous sundews.

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I’m rather excited by that because just yesterday I discovered sundews, though rather dried up, growing on our six-acre woodland. We’ve lived in this house for 24 year and I’ve never spotted these before. The land is forever sharing something “new” with me and I’m happy to receive each lesson.

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I’m also thankful for a feisty faerie with whom I share this outdoor space. Sometimes her statements are dramatic and I can only imagine the cause of her recent frustration.

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It’s not too late to revisit your inner Pooh. To take the journey. And while you are there, I highly encourage you to get to know him and his place through The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh by Kathryn Aalto.

P.S. Thanks Lynn 😉

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh, first edition, by Kathryn Aalto, © 2015

Book of September: Forest Trees of Maine

The other day a friend and I made plans for an upcoming hike. Before saying goodbye, she said, “Don’t forget to bring your tree book.”

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Really? I have at least thirty books dedicated to the topic of trees. But . . . I knew exactly which one she meant: Forest Trees of Maine. I LOVE this book–or rather, booklet. You’ll notice the tattered version on the left and newer on the right. Yup, it gets lots of use and often finds its way into my pack. When I was thinking about which book to feature this month, it jumped to the forefront. I actually had to check to see if I’d used it before and was surprised that I hadn’t.

Produced by the Maine Forest Service, the centennial issue published in 2008 was the 14th edition and it’s been reprinted two times since then.

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In previous years, the book was presented in a different format. Two editions sit on my bookshelf, and I need to share with you two things that didn’t find their way into the most recent copy.

From 1981: Foreword–“It is a pleasure to present the eleventh edition of Forest Trees of Maine. 

Many changes have occurred in Maine’s forest since 1908, the year the booklet first appeared. Nonetheless, the publication continues to be both popular and useful and thousands have been distributed. Many worn and dog-eared copies have been carried for years by woodsmen, naturalists and other students of Maine’s Great Out-Of-Doors.

We wish the booklet could be made available in much greater quantity, however, budgetary considerations prevent us from doing so. I urge you to use your copy of Forest Trees of Maine with care. If you do, it will give years of service in both field and office.”

Kenneth G. Stratton, Director.

From 1995: One of two poems included. I chose this one because it was one my mother often recited.

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

~Joyce Kilmer

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The most recent edition of Forest Trees of Maine provides a snapshot of the booklets history and information about the changes in the Maine landscape. For instance, in 1908, 75% of the land was forested, whereas in 2008, 89% was such. The state’s population during that one hundred year period had grown by 580,457. With that, the amount of harvested wood had also grown. And here’s an intriguing tidbit–the cost of the Bangor Daily News was $6/year in 1908 and $180/year in 2008.

Two keys are presented, one for summer when leaves are on the trees and the second for winter, when the important features to note are bark and buds.

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Terms for leaf shapes, margins and structure, twig structure, plus needle types and flower types are illustrated and various terms defined.

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There’s even information on how a tree works because they do–for our well-being and for the benefit of wildlife.

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And then the descriptive pages begin. Each layout includes photographs, sketches and lots of information, both historical as in the King’s Arrow Pine, and identifiable as in bark, leaves, cones, wood, etc.

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1981

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1995

Though some of the information is the same, it’s fun to note the differences from the two earlier publications.

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At the beginning of each family, major descriptions are noted in an easy to follow format.

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And like the conifers, the broadleaves are portrayed.

Tomorrow, when my friend and I venture off, I’d better remember to pack this booklet. She’s peeked my curiosity about what she wants to ID because I’ve climbed the mountain before and perhaps I missed something. She already has a good eye for trees so I can’t wait to discover what learning she has in mind for us.

This Book of September is for you, Ann Johnson. And it’s available at Bridgton Books or from the forest service: http://www.maineforestservice.gov or forestinfo@maine.gov.

Forest Trees of Maine, Centennial Edition, 2008, published by The Maine Forest Service