May the Wonder Never Cease

I’m pretty sure everything others and I see are ordinary, but we manage to make them extraordinary because we feel like we’ve been honored with gifts when we notice them. And so it has happened that in the last three days I’ve had the opportunity to notice some rather mundane sights.

First, there was the Solitary Sandpiper foraging for insects in a kettle bog. I was with six others and we weren’t exactly silent as we stood by the muddy margin of the water, and yet the bird never acknowledged our presence, but we were certainly in awe of its company.

In that same space a Catbird crying its meow calls also foraged and our eyes flickered from one to the other as we tried to keep track of their movements.

It wasn’t just “our” feathered friends who garnered our attention for we love mud and happened to be standing in some and what’s mud without mammal prints? As in . . . Black Bear prints.

Indeed. We even took time to measure the straddle or distance from the outside of the hind print on the left-hand side of Ursus Americanus’ body to the far side of its front foot print–about 20 centimeters in total. Also in the corridor, prints of raccoons a many, and a fox.

Though bears and raccoons and foxes may all be omnivores, taking advantage of whatever meal might be available in the moment, there were a few carnivores in the mix–including the most beautiful of all: Pitcher Plants with their tree of life decorated pitcher-style leaves.

One more carnivore who had somehow survived being consumed by a bird or another member of the Odonata family also honored us–in its last moments of life: a Sedge Darner Dragonfly.

We studied its markings on both abdomen and face, which helped in identification, and then watched as it cocked its head and let forth one last sigh. We were there for it in the moment and now it rests upon my desk.

If that wasn’t enough, the next day three of us walked another large swath of land in the same vicinity and one among us with a keen eye spotted this little gem upon a Bracken Fern. (Thanks M.Y.) The baby Gray Tree Frog was not larger than a Spring Peeper and it struck us that it was a wee bit cold as the morning had dawned and indeed when we passed by again an hour and a half later, it was still in the same position, though as we approached we did notice it move, so we knew it had more life in it than the Sedge Darner.

In the same woodland, we spied a Hermit Thrush, who made itself know not by its melodic song that we enjoyed for much of the summer, but rather by its behavior as it stood upon the stump and then darted to the ground as it foraged before hopping back on the stump. These swaths of land–how important they are to support all of this wildlife that needs each other to survive. And us to notice so that we don’t go crazy and alter the land so much that they lose their habitat.

Today, the offerings continued. And in the midst of some important information being shared about a conserved property, a wee Painted Turtle was spotted. The acorns offered a certain sense of size.

You know how puppies seem to need to grow into their paws? That’s how I felt about this turtle. Not only did it have to grow into its feet and claws, but also its head. And then there was the attitude as exhibited on its face, though that may have had something to do with the fact that a bunch of us were in its space and we tried once or twice to reroute it, but it had its own idea of a mission and really, who are we to tell it where to go?

One might think that all of that was enough. But . . . was it? Well, in another space that is a private property under conservation easement, a metallic Oil Blister Bug made itself known.

It’s not one known to fly and if you take a closer look, you’ll note that its wings are rather limited given its overall size. But that color. Oh my!

The crème de la crème, however, may not be the clearest photo, but it was the coolest find of all: a black Eastern Chipmunk. One other and I had been listening to a Barred Owl call when we heard the sound of scampering nearby.

I’ve been receiving reports of the black chipmunk’s existence in the area the past few weeks, but was still totally surprised to make its acquaintance at least a half mile or more away from where others had seen one. Is there more than one?

As I understand it, the black color is caused by too much of the pigment melanin, which with elevated amounts results in dark skin, feathers, scales, or in this case, fur.

From the ordinary to the extraordinary, may the wonders never cease.

A Spider’s Feast

In the changing light of the early afternoon, I began chasing male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies. That’s no surprise, I’m sure.

But what did surprise me was that I didn’t notice any females. And that reminded me of the Calico Pennants, for in the early summer it was the males of that species that I spotted most often. Where were the females?

Perhaps mating was no longer on the minds of the meadowhawks and given the cooler temp of the day, I could convince one to climb upon my finger to gain some warmth.

And so it did . . . until in a flash, it flew off. In pursuit of what? I didn’t know.

And so I turned my attention to a Mottled Grasshopper, also known as a Pine Tree Spur-throated Grasshopper, or more scientifically Melanoplus punctulatus. Had it been on a tree, I might have missed spying it, but upon the rock it posed thus allowing me to spend some time in admiration. Ah, the eyes. Two segmented antennae. Those teeny, tiny feet that support such a large body. And that body suited in armor. Its colors and patterns reflecting an artistic creator. Lest I get carried away, I moved on in search of more dragonflies.

And suddenly I spotted a canoodling pair that flew past me and landed on an oak tree, where their bodies formed the mating circle. But again, just as they’d flown in, off they went in tandem, toward the pond so he could make sure it was his sperm that fertilized the eggs she deposited along the shoreline.

What was I to do? Why, look around, of course. And that’s when I spotted a huge orbweaver in action as it dangled from the camp shed.

I was immediately mesmerized as I realized it was a grasshopper that must have climbed the building and become ensnared. The red squirrel above me was not as enchanted with my presence and so he scolded.

Looking up into the white pine, I searched for the branch upon which he sat.

It took a moment for he was rather high up in the tree, but at last I spied the chatterbox.

But my main focus was on the feast waiting to happen. First it had to be wrapped.

I’ve seen wrapped insects in webs before, but I what I found most fascinating about this one was the size of the predator and its prey. The spider was hardly daunted.

From different angles, I tried to gain a better understanding. Not only was the wrap so intriguing, but have you ever wondered how such a large spider can dangle upside down, held only by thin threads of silk? Then again, have you ever broken through a spider web? Some are mighty strong and sticky.

While that action continued on the front of the shed, I looked to the side to see if there was any evidence of an old feast. None was evident, but I did see another grasshopper heading toward the roof line.

And then it turned . . . toward the front of the building. A wrong turn?

Indeed. Slowly it advanced . . . until it encountered an entanglement and realized its poor choice of direction.

With care, it retreated.

And so I returned to the front of the shed to check on the action where the well wrapped meal could have been mistaken for a small fish.

Orbweavers typically bite their prey to kill them, then wrap their meals in silk for later consumption. Really wrap. I watched for well over an hour and then headed off for a hike with my guy.

Just before leaving I glimpsed at the side where the live grasshopper had tried to escape. In the moment, it was a success story for I didn’t see it anywhere.

Upon returning three hours later, I immediately checked upon my friend. Wait. Did I just call this incredibly huge, hairy/spiny arachnid “my friend”? I do suffer like many from arachnophobia, but at the same time, their structures and behaviors garner my awe.

As for the wrapped grasshopper, I guess you could say it was “toast.” The spider had turned and it appeared that meal was being consumed.

I looked for crumbs this morning, but found nary a morsel. Somewhere there may be a small ball of indigestible parts on the ground that I overlooked. Even the web had been destroyed, which is typical spider behavior–consume the silk as morning approaches, thus reabsorbing any moisture used in its construction, as well as the dew. Perhaps it’s like a sip of juice to help with digestion.

A meal of toast and juice–a spider’s feast.

In-DEED Day

Down by the brook,

in a place I’ve determined is the Secret Garden,

Daddy Longlegs, aka Harvestmen, do roam.

Those who are diurnal in nature, dehydrate easily.

Detecting light intensity with two eyes, they don’t see images, but rather rely upon other senses to locate prey.

Distinguished by black antennae banded with white, an ichnuemon wasp hunted below a Royal Fern that offered contrasting colors.

Flying and landing, flying and landing, was a tiny dragonfly known locally as an Autumn Meadowhawk, so denoted by its legs of brown.

And dangling below a goldenrod, an assassin bug searching for a meal.

Another dangler was the discarded exuviae of a Dog-day Cicada, who’s buzzy love song filled the daylight hours.

Before I left the garden, I noted one more harvestman on the downward side of Pearly Everlasting.

Filled with insects and spiders as any garden should be, the secret one was brought to us by the letter D as defined by a curled fern frond.

In–DEED. To-DAY.

Crowning Glory

The theme of the week didn’t dawn on me immediately, but a few days into it and I knew how blessed I am.

It all began when this young man and I went on a treasure hunt Tuesday afternoon. I didn’t actually take this photo Tuesday because our focus was so much on the leaf litter at our feet that I forgot to pay attention to anything else. We were hunting for a rare plant and had been given a circle on a map to consider. We knew we were in the right place. But still it evaded us.

There were others to admire, however, such as the upturned form of the fertilized Indian Pipes. and Rhyan Paquereau, Greater Lovell Land Trust’s new Land Steward, and I didn’t really mind that we couldn’t spot the plant of our attention because we enjoyed the quest. As well as the opportunity to explore off trail together. I gave thanks that I get to work with this young man and learn from and bounce off of him about the wonders of the natural world.

A day or two later I headed out to the same property with docent Parker Veitch, who also happens to own White Mountain Mushrooms. He was the one who’d noticed the plant and drawn the circle on the map. Again, it was into a beech/oak/hemlock forest that we hiked and focused upon leaf-filled depressions.

Exactly where Rhyan and I had tramped previously, Parker showed me the plant of intention and I realized the mistake we’d made previously. I hadn’t paid complete attention to Parker’s note and the wee structure was no longer in flower, but had gone to seed. It was a lesson learned. As often happens, once my eyes and mind understood the location and features, it was everywhere. But wait, Three Birds Orchid, Triphora trianthophora, is listed as S2 in Maine: Imperiled in Maine because of rarity (6-20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) or because of other factors making it vulnerable to further decline.

FMI: https://www.maine.gov/dacf/mnap/features/tritri.htm

As good as the find was, however, and we found more Three Birds than we could count, was a chance to spend time hiking and talking with this young man. Not only did we catch up for we hadn’t had an opportunity to share the trail in a while, but also to ponder questions such as what are the characteristics of an old growth forest. We looked at the canopy, saplings, and ground. The land hadn’t been cut as far as we could tell for there were no stumps. But when we tried our best to age the trees, we realized there is so much more for us to understand.

And then there were glacial erratics thrown into the mix and we knew we were in over our heads.

That didn’t stop us from appreciating their place in the forest. Or . . . the forest’s place upon the rock island.

One of our final discoveries before departing was a Beech Drop that had twisted and turned and grown into a downed branch. I gave thanks that I got to hike with this young man and learn from and bounce off of him about the wonders of the natural world.

Later that same day I met with this group, Dan, Jon, and Mary, all members of Bridgton’s Pondicherry Park Stewardship Committee. We walked the trails, made a few tweaks, considered some issues, and once again I gave thanks for these were three more young people in my world who care about and for the natural world.

And then today dawned. Like icing on the cake, or Witherod fruits upon the leaf, it was one I looked forward to for I’d been honored to receive an invite to help a young naturalist celebrate her birthday. She asked two of us to join her this morning and we were both tickled for the opportunity.

Her eyes, like those of Rhyan and Parker and Dan and Jon and Mary, are big and constantly seeking.

Like them, she knows that her wings may get tattered, but . . .

that will never stop her need to gain more knowledge, much like the Silver-bordered Fritillary sought nectar.

Other times, she’ll take on the attitude of a Katydid and just do it, whatever “it” might be–as it relates to the natural world.

She knows that sometimes there will be hangups just when she thought she had life figured out.

But always I suspect she’ll seek creative and colorful solutions.

At the end of the day, she may feel like she’s dangling by a spider’s thread because sometimes that happens.

But always, there should be Bullfrog and Green Frogs in her mind’s eye and memories of them running across lily pads to view like reruns any time life drags her down. Oh, and a Ruffed Grouse that refused to be photographed.

Today was the day that Alanna and I were invited to join another and so we joined together and wove a head wreath and a talking stick as memories.

And celebrated this young woman, Hadley.

Before we departed, the three Musketeers posed for a photograph in honor of Hadley’s birthday. But really, as I know she’ll appreciate, this week was more than celebrating Hadley.

It was a week for me to realize how important all the young people in my life mean, from our sons whom I can chat with on the phone to those who have chosen to make this area of western Maine their home and to get to know their place in it. And then to go beyond and share it in a way that benefits the wider community.

Thank you, Hadley, for the opportunity to celebrate your birthday. And thank you Rhyan, Parker, Dan, Jon, Mary, Brent (whom I didn’t get to photograph), and Alanna: it’s my utmost pleasure to share the trail with you whenever we can. And to know that the future is in your capable hands.

Likewise, I don’t mean to snub Erika, Pam and Bob K, David P, Basil D, and Susan W, with whom I’ve also shared the natural world this week, but I know that you all also appreciate all these young people.

We are all blessed. Today we crowed Hadley, and in so doing, gloried so many others.

P.M. Gathering

A friend and I met this afternoon and ventured forth upon a path that was quite different from those we usually travel. Our finds began as soon as we stepped out of our vehicles.

First there was the White Admiral Butterfly, preparing to puddle with its straw-like proboscis, at the moment curled but ready to extend into the gravely parking area to search for nutrients he might share with a gal.

And after only a few minutes into the woodland habitat, as is its preference, a Northern Pearly-eyed Butterfly fluttered into the scene, and posed–also with its proboscis curled.

Keen eyes of my friend spotted the next mention of wildlife–that of a very young garter snake who slithered across our path and then found a stick upon which to blend into the scene.

There was so much to see, such as a giant burl upon a White Cedar, its growth a consequence of an injury, virus, or fungus, creating a vase-like base enhanced by the tree’s shaggy-lined bark.

The tree’s leaves were as interesting as the bark with scaly leaves offering another texture to the forest.

Occasionally, as we continued, we stumbled upon Indian Pipes in their clustered colonies. Though some were just emerging and had their single flowers dangling low, many had been fertilized and showed off a dash of maturity with upright flowers. Eventually a woody structure filled with dust-like seeds will be produced, though it is doubtful many will germinate and grow into these most interesting plants that lack chlorophyll and depend upon a fungus and tree root to survive. And yet they will.

In the midst of it all, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, Raven, and Bluejays considered our attention and as we practiced using the Merlin App for bird identification, two little brown things flitted here and there. Turns out they were House Wrens with their upright tail feathers and barbed wings, an exciting find for us.

That was, until we met a fungus we couldn’t identify, but could certainly appreciate for its formation upon a couple of Balsam Firs.

It poured forth out of the tree like pancake batter on a Sunday morning.

Further along, where the red and gray squirrels made sure to announce their presence, a lone chipmunk posed for moments on end and so we all stood still, thinking at first its cheeks were full, but then realizing it had elbows reminiscent of favorite aunts’ flabby arms. OK, so maybe we’ve reached that age when such flabbiness gathers despite our efforts to exercise and we’re now trying to find ways to laugh about such features. .

There was so much more to see, including a Purple-fringed Orchid,

Arrowhead flower,

and Joe Pye-weed topped with a green iridescent sweat bee.

Our journey was almost over when we spotted a bluet damselfly dining upon a crab spider,

and a Ruby Meadowhawk dragonfly with its straw-colored face pausing upon a boardwalk.

Said boardwalk offered the most abundant selection of species, but there was still more to accumulate on this long weekend. And my friend knew that though our time together had been special, there was still more to rejoice in.

You see, our youngest son and his gal had ventured north from New York City because they could.

And their smiles filled our souls as they took in the sights and sounds and smells of our most delightful western Maine locale.

Eventually, they honored us by preparing a meal, and chuckled as they worked for she slaved over a large pan while he managed the smallest of the collection.

Several times we sat around our new kitchen table, grateful to those who had created it, the dishes and food upon it, and those who at last could gather round it as we’d intended.

Thank you P and M, for heading north from the Big Apple, enjoying the fresh air, sharing talents and gifts and laughter, and just being YOU. And thank you, P.M. for sharing the trail and appreciating the gathering that was happening in our midst.

Pleasant Web Wanderings

Meeting at a local ski area, my friend followed me and we found our way to the boat launch located on a pond in the shadows of a certain mountain.

After riding the waves of jet skis and other boats, we paddled into quiet wetlands where stump islands radiated beauty in their death.

Not long into our journey among the slower flow of water, dragonflies became the focus, at least from my perspective, and it seemed apropos that one Slaty Blue Skimmer should serve as the helmsman of my kayak.

We moved among shadows and shallows and delighted in the sounds and sights.

Soon another mate joined the crew, this a female Frosted White-face who rested momentarily before being pursued by a suitor.

Her sweetheart sailed in and out and occasionally paused. A closer look at the underside of his abdomen showed tiny red mites found a place of their own upon which to rest.

In the midst of frequent sightings of Slaty Blues and Frosted Whitefaces, a not so Common Eastern Pondhawk in the form of a female paused, her beauty deserving celebration.

Not all celebrations needed to be about dragonflies, though I do think they are pretty darn special–if you haven’t already figured that out. Therefore, I offer you an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feasting upon the flower of a Buttonbush, its fringe of pistils bursting forth as if part of the butterfly’s body.

When one floats nonchalantly in such a wetland, life of all forms take shape. Much of it is too difficult to classify for the scene is ever changing, but sometimes it’s subtle idiosyncrasies that make a name known. Such was the case for the male Spangled Skimmer, its black and white stigmas at the tip of the wings a certain marking known only to its species.

While we watched, a female Mallard and her young’en preened and we got to thinking–why only these two? Where was the rest of the family? Had dad taken the other kids off for a Sunday picnic while mom and runt stayed behind for a mother/junior playdate?

Eventually, we left that wetland behind and paddled on to another, discovering an active wasp nest mere feet above the water.

And then we slipped into that other wetland where layers marked the landscape.

At the base, a Pitcher Plant showing off its Tree of Life logo with red venation highlighted by green.

“Come inside,” invited the Pitcher’s leaves modified into insect traps with hairs directing the downward path.

Resist if you can, but I’m not sure how one can deny the incredible design of this most interesting plant’s leaves.

And then there’s its flower: It begins with five somewhat pointed sepals, their tips incurving. The sepals are generally tinged with dark red or red-purple on the outside and yellow on the inside that curve around a yellowish-green style, which expands into an umbrella-like structure, sometimes splashed with deep red.

In the midst of the Pitchers, Sundews and Sphagnums showed off their cherry view.

And then a beaver lodge came into view, reflecting the mountain summit behind it.

Upon closer look it became obvious that it was active and in the moment the residents perhaps took a Sunday siesta.

As we floated, so many others flew and occasionally paused including a male Eastern Pondhawk with its face so green.

Before finishing our adventure and paddling back to the boat launch, we encountered a predator feeding upon a predator, in this case a spider dining upon a clubtail dragonfly.

It was then that we realized that the quiet wetlands featuring stumps and other natural landmarks that radiated joy also knew the importance of death as a source of continuing the circle of life.

Today’s web wanderings in the shadow of one Pleasant Mountain: always a joy.

Castle Rock Mondate

Please bare with me as my guy did today. I kept telling him he was living in a fairy tale. Heck, his ancestors are Irish, so he should believe in fairies and tales the way I do. Right? Maybe.

Our hike began with a climb up the stairs to the fortified building above where we intended to retreat for the day. Certainly we wouldn’t have to worry about any invasions from such a stance.

Almost instantly, we were greeted by a court jester hovering in the hallway. Do you see him? My guy certainly did and I ensured him that there would be no sting from the jokes of this little flying one.

The jester added one command at the end of his greeting–bring a bouquet to the queen. And so we looked about. St. Johnswort with all its yellowy rays would add a note of sunshine to her day and we knew it was meant to be given since the sweat bee who pollinated the flowers wore metallic green gems. There’s another hiding in this part of the bouquet. Do you see him?

The bee flew off, its pollen sacs full, but the other who hid among the petals remained. We picked the flowers anyway because bouquets that come from the field always have hitchhikers who enhance the scene.

No bouquet is complete, just as no room is complete, without a dash of red, this time provided by the fruits of a Mountain Ash tree.

A dash of green in the form of Smooth Solomon’s Seal’s fruit finished off the arrangement and we were sure the good queen would appreciate our efforts to bring a gift.

Continuing our upward climb, we suddenly spotted one of the inner chambers. He passed by.

I paused and looked upward at the spiral staircase that climbed into the turret. It was full of old tapestries and even a few cobwebs.

The staircase led us to a side window upon the kingdom’s view.

I think my guy secretly coveted the vista owned by the royal family, but he kept his envy to himself because after all, we wanted to be considerate guests.

At last, after many flights of steps, we reached a view of the castle’s entryway.

In the Hall of Statues, generations upon generations of aristocracy were represented in stone.

Each family showed off their stalwart idiosyncrasies.

At last we reached the dining hall. It was there we sat to eat the Croque Monsieur Ham and Cheese Sandwiches offered to us.

Once finished with a tasty repast, King Red-breasted Nuthatch greeted us and encouraged my guy to again look outward at the empire beyond.

To which my guy did, keeping his envy under his baseball hat.

The view included Mount Washington in the distance, with snow still on its ravines and buildings slightly highlighted at its summit.

King Nuthatch then looked down for he knew his love was by our feet.

And so Queen Fritillary was, her eyes also focused on the kingdom beyond.

As we hiked down we noticed that the good queen stored her slippers everywhere. You never know when you might need a pair of moccasins.

At last we crossed the drawbridge over the moat and bid farewell to our royal hosts.

As we exited Castle Rock on this Mondate, Princess Banded Hairstreak, with her colors all browns and oranges and blues, bid us adieu. We said the same and gave great thanks for today’s royal treatment.

Does my guy believe he was living the fairy tale after all? Maybe.

Midges I Have Known

Some may be surprised to learn that my friend Midge still shares a bedroom with me. Oh, there was a period of time when our lives were separated, but a few years ago my sister decided that Midge and I need to reconnect and so she made that happen.

My childhood pal, who was also Barbie’s best friend (I never had a Barbie doll–just saying), found her way north. To ward off the cool spring temps, she dons a skirt and headband my mom knitted for her, but I now realize as I gaze upon her disheveled attire how alike we still are. One shoe on, one shoe off. Mussy hair. And that face.

So yeah, I don’t really play with dolls anymore, but I do like having my old friend nearby–maybe because she reminds me of a childhood well spent with family and neighbors. It was one that included playing with dolls and playing outside. And that outdoor play and discovery is still a huge part of my life. Thus it was that this afternoon found me heading to the vernal pool out back and noticing an insect pupating on a pine I often pass by. What is it? I don’t know. When did it find this spot upon which to attach? I don’t know. I swear, I walk by this spot every few days and it had not made itself known previously. But look at the structure. WOW.

I finally left it behind and journeyed on to the vernal pool that I wish could be listed as significant for this year it supports way more than 40 wood frog masses and certainly more than 20 spotted salamander egg masses. Either of those would deem it important, but . . . it appears to have been created to support the farm life of old, rather than being a natural pool. Still, to me it will always be significant for its taught me so much over the years.

You might laugh to see that I get excited about any form of life within the pool including the mosquito larvae.

They really are everywhere within the water column.

But even more importantly, my babies were swimming . . .

and feeding, including on the green algae that served a symbiotic relationship with their egg masses. If you look closely at this photo, you may notice other lives worth acknowledging.

Meanwhile, the spotted salamander embryos were developing at their own rate of life.

And then I began to look at another: the larval form of a Chironomid Midge. To get a sense of its size, notice the tiny birch seed floating on the water’s surface.

Like the mosquitoes in their larval form, the midges are also contortionists who wriggle and wraggle through the water column.

And then they morph into flying insects.

Although from what I noticed today, there wasn’t much flying taking place. Instead it seemed like the oak leaf that floated on the pool’s surface served as a place for males and females to get to know each other, much like my friend Midge may have met her boyfriend, Alan.

To better understand the size of the midges, note the half inch length of the hemlock needle I drew a line around.

Life at the Oak Leaf Bar got a little more interesting when Alan’s friend stepped onto the scene.

First she was going after Alan 1 and then it seemed that Alan 2 pursued her, while her little sister, Skipper, showed up as an even smaller fly species.

At last, Midge made a choice.

And the canoodling began.

But at the Beech Leaf Bar two other Midges toyed with another Alan.

And tada–more canoodling.

And then at Oak Leaf Bar Too, even more drama played out.

He inquired about her well being and seemed to find it quite healthy.

At last they pulled apart, much to the liking of their nearby friends.

It seemed after that meeting that all the Alans convened.

Each postured and claimed a somewhat dominate position.

And then two of the four Alans turned on one.

And the sibling rivalry began.

Bodies crossed and legs interacted.

Two duked it out while the other two moved on.

In the end, each went its own way, but I suspect that after I moved on they met again. And again.

In the same way I again met my friend Midge. And again realized our similarities including the shared name of our guys despite their different spellings.

Midge, along with Skipper, a doll I also had but seemed to have lost, was apparently created to counteract criticism that claimed Barbie was a sex symbol. After watching today’s midges, I have to wonder . . . I’ve never met a canoodling Barbie in the insect world. Just maybe the Midges I have known aren’t second fiddle after all.

wondermyway turns 5

Five years ago today I turned from taking a hundred million photos on each tramp to taking a hundred million photos and writing about them.

Typically, on the anniversary I scan the past year’s posts and choose one from each month, providing a photo to represent it, with a brief (or not so brief) comment and link to the full read.

But . . . because this is a milestone I never imagined reaching (posts: 733; views: 76,793; visitors: 44371; followers: 578), I thought I’d take the time to thank you, the readers, for wandering through the wonders with me

THANK YOU

This afternoon I decided to step back into my happy place where the journey began on February 21, 2015. I had no idea back then what I might write about, but I was so excited, and a wee bit anxious, no, I was wicked anxious (don’t you love that Maine descriptor?) to share the little things with others.

It felt a bit egotistical to invite people along, but I took the first step and so many others have followed.

Over these five years, I’ve been humbled by the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and greet new ones through this effort.

Please know that typically it is late in the day when I sit down to write a post, first having spent at least a few hours tramping (“You’re stating the obvious, Mom,” my sons would say if they actually read this; nor does my guy just so you know–those of you who comment to him about something that you read may have noticed his bewildered look; and then he realizes you must follow the blog), more time downloading photos in hopes of finding a few key ones to use, and then figuring out what the story is and how to tell it.

As I wander, whether alone or with you, the first draft often forms in my head, but by the time I stomp the snow or mud or pine sap off my boots, it shakes loose and disappears. I trust, however, that whatever phrase I thought was brilliant in the field will flash back through my mind at some point. Does it? Perhaps, but I’ll never know because that first draft doesn’t get recorded.

Writing is a process, one that I’ve forever enjoyed, but what you read is only part of the whole picture. Because it’s late in the day, as I said earlier, and I’m tired, I make mistakes, which I don’t always catch before I publish. For those who are email followers, or those who quickly read one of my “stories” just after I’ve posted it to social media, please forgive me. You see what I consider draft 2 without any further edits. Laurie LaMountain, the editor of Lake Living magazine, for which I’ve worked since 2006, knows full well that draft 3 is not the final from me. Sometimes it takes 18 drafts before I’m ready to go to print, and even then I know that when I turn the page to one of my articles, I’ll cringe with frustration for I missed something.

Thank you to all of you who catch my grammatical errors and gently let me know. I love having you along to share the journey.

And thank you to those who do the same when my identification or explanation is not quite correct. As in, it’s downright wrong. I appreciate your engagement.

Thank you to all of you for reading this long story and so many others that I’ve written. I know some of you just scan the photos, and I can’t say I blame you.

For me, wondermyway is a diary that I can look back upon to recall all the amazing sights and insights the natural world has shared with me. I’m happy to be able to share that with so many others–to invite you into this part of my life.

Thank you also to those of you who, because of the blog, have bestowed gifts upon me from books and calendars to ornaments, pillows, wrist warmers, scat, feathers, and even a camera on loan for an extended period of time when mine went kerplunk into the water.

No, I am not asking for more gifts; I just want to say that I am often surprised to know that what I shared or time I spent with you touched you as much as it did me.

As a parting gift, today, for helping me celebrate this fifth anniversary, let me share one post that I thought stood out this past year.

Do you remember The Secrets of Life Found Among the Dead?

Each journey has offered refresher courses and new learnings and I appreciate that you let me share them.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I celebrate the wonder that has been revealed on so many wanders thus far.

Again, thank you.

Amazing Race–Our Style: The Grand Finale

At last–the day we’d anxiously anticipated for the past month. Actually, for the past year.

I was sure the post-it note we found attached to the door would instruct us to drive to Lincoln, New Hampshire for a visit to the ice castle. My guy thought we’d find ourselves on a dogsled journey.

But no . . . either of those would have been too easy I suppose. Instead, we had to end this race in the same manner we had begun. Aboard a snowmobile. Egads! My least favorite mode of transportation.

To top it off, my guy’s two-seater is headed to the shop for some engine work. But his brother came through and lent us a machine so we were able to stay in the race. Our task was five-fold. 1. Ride through Sweden, Waterford, Lovell, Fryeburg and Bridgton; 2. Identify an interesting natural wonder; 3. Frame a picture; 4. Conquer the moguls; and 5. Pull the entire Amazing Race–our style together in a coherent order.

We started in the frigid morning air and no one else was about so we had Highland Lake and Stearns Pond to ourselves. Our journey took us whizzing across lakes and ponds, along open trails such as ITS 80 and 89, and through some narrow connecting pathways–or so they seemed to this untrained eye. I’d brought along my Trackards and the tracks were many, but all remained a blur.

You have to realize by now that for the two of us riding a snowmobile is like the tortoise meeting the hare–my desire to move slowly through the world met his need for speed. In the end, I did OK, and he went as slow as was safely possible, and even slower than that when he felt my knees nudge his back. But really, my teeth did chatter. Oh, maybe that was because of the temperature.

In Lovell, we got in line to gas up.

Funny things can happen when you’re standing around waiting for your turn at the pump. A nature moment presented itself in the form of a willow gall. Now I can’t wait to return to look at the willow blossoms in the spring.

From there, we made our way across to the Kezar River Reserve for the roadway had been groomed. Alas, at the kiosk, for some unknown reason, the groomer had backed up and headed out to Route 5, so we had to do the same. That wasn’t our only roadblock. We found our way onto a road that had previously served as the trail for a short bit, only to discover where road should have rejoined trail a house had been built. Again, we had to backtrack. Yikes. How would these affect our time?

We also noted historic sites as we cruised along, including the old Evan Homestead in Sweden, the Brick Church in Lovell, and Hemlock Covered Bridge in Fryeburg, which served as our lunch stop at 2pm.

It was there that I found the photo to frame for challenge three–the mixed forest reflected in the Old Course of the Saco as taken through a bridge window.

And then, after the bridge, we meet our fourth challenge: the moguls. For at least two miles, maybe more, between Hemlock Bridge Road and Knights Hill Road, we bounced up and down as if we were riding a bucking Bronco. Truly, I spent more time in the air than on the seat and each time I landed, it was with a thump. I was certain I’d fall off or at least my body would be flying behind the sled while I’d still be attached–via the vice grip I had on the backseat handlebars. Talk about white knuckles. Oh wait, maybe that was from being cold.

Somehow, we survived . . . and so did our relationship.

As for the other contestants, we weren’t sure where they were because as it turned out there were many riders out there and they all looked the same! Well, maybe they had their idiosyncrasies and I wasn’t paying attention to the little details of jacket and helmet color and design, but I’d much rather look at tree bark, mammal tracks, and winter weeds this time of year than people apparel.

Soon after the moguls, it was time for the last task. We encountered a display of twelve photographs; each represented a moment of wonder we’d encountered during the race and one of us had to place them in order from start to finish.

My guy had done all the driving and maneuvered us successfully through the mogul course (I didn’t fall off, remember) so it was my turn to complete this final challenge.

Episode one: The elephant face we discovered along the Narrow Gauge Trail.

Episode two: A rainbow in the Harpswell sea mist.

Episode three: The exotic kissing pigeons with heart-shaped white cere on their bills.

Episode four: The gallery of midnight artists at the Battery on Peaks Island.

Episode five: A Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly beside Shingle Pond on the Weeks Brook Trail.

Episode six: A sand collar in Clinton, Connecticut. While it felt like sand paper above and was smooth below, it was actually a mass of snail eggs.

Episode seven: After climbing Table Rock, a couple paid for our pie at this roadside stand and so we did the same for the next vehicle that pulled up.

Episode eight: The 1930 122 ft. steel-hulled yacht Atlantide, that served in WWII and was featured in Dunkirk.

Episode nine: (possibly one of our favorites) The cribbage board in the two seater below Piazza Rock on Saddleback Mountain.

Episode ten: An alpaca at America’s Stonehedge in Salem, New Hampshire.

Episode eleven: Finding an H to represent us while looking for decorated trees in the Maine Christmas Tree Scavenger Hunt.

Episode twelve: The final episode and another framed photo of the Old Course of the Saco from Hemlock Bridge.

Phew. I was pretty certain I had them all correct. And so on to the mat we drove, arriving at 3:36pm. And then as we stepped off the sled we discovered that we’d lost our backpack somewhere on the trail. The only item of any value in it was my cell phone.

We were concerned about that, but also found out that without the pack we couldn’t cross the finish line. So, we made a quick decision because we needed to be done by 5pm. I hopped off the sled and my guy took off in a spray of snow to search. We were sure it had fallen off near the moguls. Apparently, along the way he questioned people and learned that someone (thank you whomever you are) had hung the pack on a tree. Over the moguls he went, but to no avail. He was in a dip on his way back to the covered bridge when he spied it. Wowza.

At 4:41pm he pulled up to the mat.

And we crossed it together–As. The. Winners. YES, we WON!

But, of course, we won. For if you have followed us from the start then you’ll remember that in episode one I wrote: I created a Valentine’s gift for my guy–our very own Amazing Race. My rationale was that we enjoy the show, but know that while there are certain stunts one or both of us could handle with ease, there are others that would certainly cause us to be last to the mat–and lose. So, why not create an Amazing Race that we have a 99.9% chance of winning. If we lose, we’re in big trouble.

I do feel bad that I fibbed to some of you, but you got caught up in the challenge and I didn’t want to let you down. Some of you asked me about it and I have a terrible poker face so I was sure you’d figure it out. In the spirit of it all, I was glad that you didn’t. That added to our fun.

And all of the characters–they were real people we met along the way. Team Budz in episode six was my sister and brother-in-law. Team Purple was a hearing-impaired woman full of moxie we met during episode eight in Camden. She hiked in sandals and had spent the previous month camping solo. The others we named for their attitudes, hometowns or some other attribute. I don’t know if you noticed, but we began the journey as Team Wonder, which I probably only mentioned once, but by episode eleven I’d forgotten that and called us Team Hazy–thus the H to represent us. Ahhhh.

Of course, my mom always washed my mouth out with soap when I fibbed, so if you want to do the same, I can’t say I blame you.

Thank you all for following us on this adventure. We’ve had fun looking forward to and participating in a variety of adventures. Though I’d given my guy a list of locales for each month, I didn’t know what the various additional challenges would be until they presented themselves.

Today’s activity was supposed to be a dogsled ride in January. But, the weather gods and price gods weren’t on our side and when the weather didn’t cooperate on his days off we chose not to spend the money. An alternative was the ice castle, but we’ve done that before and were too late in trying to purchase tickets this year, so . . . why not end as we began. On a snowmobile journey. The third of my lifetime and longest one yet. We spent over five hours on the sled. Well, my guy spent even one more hour. And now we’re snug at home and sipping some Bailey’s Irish Creme before we tune in to British comedies and fall asleep on the couch.

The Amazing Race–Our Style has come to an end. Thanks for tuning in. We had fun and hope you did too.

Book of January: Trackards

Three years ago I featured Naturalist David Brown’s Trackards as the Book of February. It seems apropos that I bring attention to them again as they are my “go to” guide for tracking. Oh, I have the works of Miller, Rezendes, Elbroch, Stokes and the like on my bookshelf as you can see from the titles below. And I do refer to them frequently, but they don’t all agree on everything.

What I’ve learned is that David’s cards are accurate, easy to carry, show up well in a photograph, and provide me with enough information to make a determination about a print, track pattern, or scat. And then I can go home and check to see what the rest have to say. At the end of the day, though, it’s my observations, aided by David’s Trackards, that tell the real story.

Tracking and the Art of Seeing, Paul Rezendes
Mammal Tracks and Sign, Mark Elbroch
Field Guide to Tracking Animals in Snow, Louise R. Forrest
Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior, Donald and Lillian Stokes
Peterson Field Guides: Animal Tracks, Olaus J. Murie and Mark Elbroch
Peterson Field Guides: Mammals, William H. Burt and Richard P. Grossenheider
Trackards and Companion Guide to the TrackardsDavid Brown
Track FinderDorcas S. Miller
Scat and Tracks of the Northeast, James C. Halfpenny
Tracking and Reading Sign, Len McDougall
Critters of Maine, Ann McCarthy
The Tracker’s Field Guide, James C. Lowery
The SAS Guide to Tracking, Bob Carss
Lonesome Bears, Linda Jo Hunter
Bear Aware, Bill Schneider
The Hidden Life of Deer, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
The Science and Art of Tracking, Tom Brown, Jr.
National Geographic Guide: Great Mammals, Carolinda Hill
Golden Nature Guide: Mammals, Herbert S. Zim and Donald F. Hoffmeister Golden Science Guide: Zoology, R. Will  Burnett, Harvey I. Fisher and Herbert S. Zim
The Raccoon Book, Katharyn Machan Aal
Raccoons  (for kids), Jeff Fair
Foxes (for kids), Judy Schuler
Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer, Mary Holland
Stories in Tracks & Sign, Diane K. Gibbons

I’ve had the good fortune to spend time tracking with and learning from David and continue to do so each time I use his cards.

snowshoe 2

The prints and scat are hand drawn and life size so I can place them beside the sign to help make a determination about which mammal was on the move.

Track 2

No print or scat is too small! You’ll notice that measurements are on the side–helping to determine the size of the print and the straddle (width from outside of one print to outside of other)..

fisher tracks 3

David has also included the mammal’s preferred method or pattern of locomotion, which is also useful in correct identification. In this case, the fisher, a member of the weasel family, moved from a slanted bound to an alternate walking pattern.

track 3
track4

Another handy thing–he’s made it easy to locate the particular cards by adding the mammal’s name on the edge.

Bcat_w_card_IMG_2893_edited-2-417x417
TKD_deck_promo_photo_edited-1-274x385

These two photos are from David’s Web site.

David has found a publisher so the Trackards you purchase may look a wee bit different than mine, but the information is still there. And where I have thirteen cards because he made use of the front and back of each, the new decks contain 26 cards.

While you’re at it, take a look at his books. I have the older version of The Companion Guide to the Trackards and plan to order his newest book, The Next Step.

Trackards by David Brown: Don’t leave home without them.

Mallards, Beavers, and NOT Squawroot, Oh My!

Yesterday, I made an ID error. Reread to find out more.

wondermyway

Since posting this blog yesterday, my Maine Master Naturalist mentor, Susan Hayward chimed in and corrected me. If you’ve read this previously, please be sure to scroll down to the Squawroot discovery. (Or not Squawroot). Thank you, Susan, for sharing your knowledge once again and setting me on the right track.

Our intention today when Connie Cross and I visited the wetland at Sebago Lake State Park’s Campground was to . . . well . . . walk with intention. There were several miles of trails to explore during the offseason, but we decided, or rather I did, that we should circle the beaver pond to see what we might see.

b1-horseshoe bog

It was raining as we drove to our meet-up point. And so we piled on extra layers to ward off the damp chill, and thought about snowshoes–to wear or not to wear? Connie chose to throw hers into a…

View original post 746 more words

Secret Giver of Gifts

Though I posted this almost one year ago, I keep returning to it. Thought you might want to as well. Peace and joy be with you.

wondermyway

Snow quietly drifted earthward as baking scents wafted through the house and Christmas lights sparkled from the living room. The spirit of the season has settled upon me at last. And today I was reminded of a time when our youngest asked, “Mom, are you Santa?”

s-barn

He’d held onto the belief for far longer than any of his classmates. And for that reason, I too, couldn’t let go. And so that day long ago, as we drove along I reminded him that though the shopping mall Santas were not real, we’d had several encounters that made believers out of all of us.

The first occurred over thirty years ago when I taught English in Franklin, New Hampshire. Across the hall from my classroom was a special education class. And fourteen-year-old Mikey, a student in that class, LOVED Santa.

Each year the bread deliveryman dressed in the famous red costume when he…

View original post 1,133 more words

Reflection of Grace

My heart was broken when I headed out the door this afternoon. I’d just learned that the husband of my spritely little German friend, Ursula, had died. And though they hadn’t been able to tramp through the woods together these past few years, theirs was a relationship sustained by a love for the natural world and many, many journeys into places I’ll never know. In these evening years of their lives, she’d told me that even though they could no longer follow the path together, they still remembered and reminisced often about their adventures and discoveries. And I trust that it is those memories that will enwrap her now.

w1--hydrangea

As the hydrangea in the garden I passed proclaimed, there is beauty . . . even in death. My hope is that Ursula will find that beauty as time evolves.

w4-yellow rocket

I knew that I wanted to lift her and their shared life up as I walked along, but I wasn’t really sure where I was going or what I was looking for. And then, as the cowpath opened to the power line, I saw a couple approaching. A few more steps and we waved to each other. And with the wave came recognition–my friends Linda and Dick, who are two of the few people who explore these woods the way I do, approached. We shared   questions and observations, and decided to travel a short distance together.

The trail we followed emerged into an open area where what was once a floral display that Ursula would have relished was equally delightful in its winter fashion. Linda and I struggled to recall the name of the yellow-rocket, but knew that it was a member of the legume family by its pod structure.

w5-thistle, evening primrose, yellow rocket

Thistles and evening primroses added more texture to the picture, yet again proving that in death there is life.

w2--trail

We reached a stonewall where I thought my companions might turn toward home, but was thrilled that they wanted to continue on, despite the fact that the trail conditions were ever changing. And I think that’s one of the lessons I’ve learned from Ursula as she’d tell me about things she and Wolfgang used to do and what their more recent limitations were, yet despite the latter they still had stimulating conversations as they remembered the fun of past expeditions.

w6-cinnabar polypore

So it was that today the three of us found many moments of joy, including the sight of cinnabar polypores that reminded us of creamsicle ice cream, fresh moose scat and tracks, and lots of flowers to check on come spring.

w8-Dick and Linda

It was getting dark as we followed the trail out and decided to walk along the road on our way home rather than return the way we’d come. It hadn’t been our intention to meet today, but as grace would have it, we did. And I was thankful for the fellowship as we traveled together while I honored Ursula and Wolfgang.

w9-reflections of grace

Our time with each other was a reflection of grace and it is that same grace that I pray embraces Ursula as she reflects upon a life well shared with her beloved Wolfgang.

Rest in peace, Wolfgang. And blessings of memories to you, Ursula.

Book of November: Half Acre

I am so tickled for my friend and fellow naturalist, Sarah Frankel, who recently published her first book.

IMG_1906

Half Acre is a children’s book both written and illustrated by this talented young lady.

In rhyming fashion, she takes the younger set outdoors to explore her yard, which is a half acre in size. The size, however, is not important because Sarah knows how to look and to wonder. Or maybe in this case, it is important, because she wants others to realize that there are great things to find on their own small plot of land.

And now she and her husband are teaching their young daughter to do the same. Her hope is that the book will encourage others to step outside and notice as well.

In thirty-four pages, Half Acre explores the yard in all seasons and at different times of day. As much as I enjoyed the rhymes, I especially loved the paintings–of birds and leaves, flowers and bees, butterflies and trees, moss and ferns, night sky and nocturnal visitors, and so much more. Can you find the frozen tree frog? You’ll have to buy the book and look for it.

My favorite painting is the last one–with her house in middle, surrounded by snippets from each of the other paintings, like a sugar maple leaf floating in midair. There’s more to this painting though, for Sarah takes the reader through the four seasons at the house–in 8 x 6-inches, she begins with winter on the left and every two inches the season changes,  ending with autumn on the right. I wish I could share that with you, but you’ll just have to trust me and purchase the book. Of course, she used the same scene to introduce her half acre of land, but it really stands out in the final mural framed by small portions of all the other paintings.

IMG_1904

Since I’m on the topic of Sarah, though this isn’t a book, I was the recipient of one of her paintings. For the past four years, it has leaned against the wall on a counter in the butler’s pantry and makes me think of both Sarah and Mom.

Of Sarah because she knows winter is my favorite time of year and she included tracks in the snow, a starry night, full moon and a shooting star. When I was a Maine Master  Naturalist student, Sarah was a mentor. At that time, though she lived in Conway, NH, she worked at Lakes Environmental Association as the Education Director. And so, we’d drive to and from class at Bates College in Lewiston together. On our way home one night, we saw a shooting star. And many times we tramped together on snowshoes, following mammal tracks. I have to share one more fond memory–the spring night that it rained and we tried to dodge the frogs and salamanders as we drove home. Finally, we got out a few times and helped the sallies cross the road. We were tired from class, and it was a long drive home that night, but by helping a few, we forgave ourselves for the ones we’d smooshed.

Of Mom, because Sarah gave me the painting after my mother died at the end of January during the year I was taking the course–I’m forever honored by Sarah’s thoughtfulness.

Interested in purchasing the book and meeting Sarah? She’s got some book events coming up in the North Conway, New Hampshire area:

November 11th from 11am-3pm – A book signing at The Met Coffee House and Gallery during the Bring A Friend Shopping weekend.

December 2nd at 3pm – A book signing event at White Birch Books, the best book store around!

December 7th from 6-8pm – A book signing at the Adults Only Shopping Night at The Toy Chest. Shop for the holidays, get a copy of Half Acre signed for your little ones and pick your own discount on the way out.

December 9th at 10am – Read aloud, book signing and outdoor exploration at the Conway Public Library. What creatures can we find in the gardens and lawn of the Conway Public Library? Come and see for yourself!

I can’t wait to attend one of these, give her a hug, and ask her to sign my copy. And I may have to steal a kid to attend the outdoor exploration at the Conway Public Library.

Is there a young’un in your life? Then I think Half Acre should finds its way onto their book shelf.

Half Acre, written and illustrated by Sarah Frankel, LifeRich Publishing, 2017. And available at www.liferichpublishing.com, or a local independent bookstore.

Making a Wish–Kyan Style

In May 2016, our young next-door neighbor was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, which attacks immature blood cells. I’ll never forget that day or those following as we watched his parents drive by our house either coming or going to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, where he underwent two rounds of chemotherapy treatment.

We felt at a loss–what could we do for them while they underwent this life-wrenching ordeal.

Our steps were tiny. First, we tied orange ribbons around the big old sugar maple tree in our front yard and then snuck into their yard and did the same around all the trees that lined their driveway. It was the beginning of saying, “We’re thinking of you.”

We offered to cook a meal and mow the lawn, and even started to head over and do the latter but as it turned out, those were common, every day acts that Bill and Binaca, Ky’s parents, cherished because in that moment life was almost normal again. Sort of.

My next step, since orange is the color that represents leukemia, was to post a photo of something orange found in the natural world on my Facebook page each day. It was a small token, but a way to let Ky, his sister Quinn, and his parents know that they were in our thoughts and prayers. I did notice that though his mother “liked” most, the yuckiest ones were the ones that evoked a comment from Kyan. Typical tween–in a way.

After a spring and summer of ups and downs, the decision was made for a bone marrow transplant. And a donor was located–in the Netherlands. A year ago yesterday, Binaca and Kyan headed to Boston Children’s Hospital to begin the process. That journey was long, for Ky had to be quarantined, and even after they came home, life was different.

I do remember Halloween of last year–I don’t recall how long Ky had been home, but he was given the OK from his doctor to go trick-or-treating, as long as he stayed well covered. It was the first time he’d been with friends since May. When he, his sister and their friends came to the door, the sweetest voice to my ears said from within a Scream costume, “Hi Mrs. Hayes.” I’m not terribly fond of Halloween and costumes–it’s always creeped me out a bit. But for once, I wanted to rejoice and hug that Scream. I didn’t. First, it was a germ thing on his end and he had to be super careful. And second, I would have embarrassed him to pieces.

After that, occasionally I’d see Ky and his family as they rode through the woods on their quad, but he was always covered by a helmet. Still I was happy to see him out. And then this spring, my heart melted when I looked out one day and saw him passing by on his scooter. At first he didn’t go far, but soon he and his sister were off on adventures.

And then last night I received a message from his mom telling me that today he’d be granted a wish from Make-a-Wish Maine and asking if I’d be available to take some photographs. Um, yes!
k-make a wish in progress

When I arrived this afternoon, I was surprised to see so many cars lining their driveway as it was my understanding that this would be a quiet affair at his request when they were in the talking stages of this project. But, the Make-a-Wish people had collaborated with folks from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative to fulfill Kyan’s dream. And all hands were on deck to pull it off.

k-ky's sign

He wanted a cabin of sorts. It began as a treehouse in his mind, but morphed into something a bit larger after he’d watched HGTV’s Tiny Houses. Only, as he said today, he thought it would be much smaller that what the collaborators created. Of course, his mother was hoping for a trip to Hawaii or, being a huge Tom Brady fan, maybe a Patriots game. But this was Kyan’s wish.

k-Bill and Quinn waiting

While his dad and sis waited for Kyan, his mom and his dear friend to return from a birthday adventure to Vermont . . .

k-setting up camp

as quickly as they could, the Make-a-Wish team put everything in order.

k-sweeping house

The floor was swept . . .

k-setting the sign

door locked, banner posted . . .

k-finishing touches

and final sweep made.

k-make a wish and camera crew

And then the waiting . . . his arrival imminent.

k-partnerships

In the meantime, collaborators posed–Kate Vickery, Senior Program Director of Make-a-Wish Maine and Pat Sirois, state coordinator of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Implementation Committee in Maine.

k-roberta scrugg

For me, it was a fun time to catch up with Roberta Scruggs on the left, Communications Director for the Maine Forest Products Council, who used to work for Lakes Environmental Association.

k-packed driveway

Finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived. Word came that Binaca was in the neighborhood and Bill and Quinn went off to meet her. The rest of us kept our eyes on the driveway as we waited for them to pull up.

k-blindfolded

Bill had blindfolded Kyan (and we later learned that Ky was sure his father had used old underwear to do such), and guided him forward where two Make-a-Wish folks quietly took Kyan’s hands.

k-removing the blindfold

A minute later they told him he could remove the blindfold. And his awe began.

k-kyan reacting

Kyan’s not the kind of kid who’s going to jump up and down. But to say he was thrilled and overwhelmed would be an understatement. And by his father’s T-shirt, can you tell who the superhero is?

k-ky entering

At last Ky entered his new digs.

k-ky from new bed

And peeked out from the loft.

k-ky interview prep

After he’d walked in and out and in again and up and down the two sets of stairs a few times, and around the back, the news teams stepped up–eager for an interview.

k-ky interview 1a

With a smile that never left his face, he answered a myriad of questions.

k-camera crew

For a kid who doesn’t like to be the center of attention, all eyes were focused . . . on him.

k-ky interview 2

All the while, he kept looking back at his “kabin.”

k-ky interview 1

He never once wavered in a response and the smile never left his face.

k-kyan interview 3

But his eyes–oh were they focused.

k-binaca interview 5

His mom was also interviewed and in her usual and beautifully reflective manner recalled the past year and a half.

k-Binaca's look

Sometimes the emotion of the day shown through.

k-binaca interview 1

But the strength of her character and thankfulness for all blessings flowed through her being.

k-binaca interview 4

As her interview continued, Kyan chatted briefly with his dad and then I noticed that he and his sister and his friend and her friend bee-lined into their home. I suspect they were on a mission to find stuff to make the kabin their own.

k-the house awaits

Kyan’s Kabin.

k-wish team 2

The Make-a-Wish Maine crew with Kyan and family.

k-ssf 2

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative crew, Kyan, family and friends.

k-bill showing his thanks

Hugs . . .

k-bill thanking everyone

and handshakes.

k8-couch and bunk above (1)

And a quick peek inside, where a sitting area awaits,

k6-stairway (1)

two sets of stairs lead to two lofts,

k3-Quinn's bed? (1)

and I suspect his sister has claimed one,

k4-Ky's bed and doggy bed (1)

while the other is for him and his dog. (Actually, I’m thinking that when he’s in school, maybe I can meet his mom there–don’t tell. We can start our own klub.)

k-make a wish sign 1

As of August 17, Kyan will be one year into remission.

k-balloons

Certainly a reason to celebrate. And I think I know where Ky’s sleeping tonight.

Porch Rockers

For my guy, written for the occasion of our 27th wedding anniversary, which was yesterday.

porch rockers

Porch Rockers

Side by side
they sit
on the porch at camp,
reflecting a life shared.
At once
worn and tattered
with scuffed floor below,
but still a comfortable place
in a heavenly spot,
just right
for morning breakfast
and an occasional crossword puzzle,
evening repose
and our days’ story.
They provide a view
on the world beyond
where loons call,
eagles soar,
chipmunks gather,
stars glimmer,
and we watch.
Sometimes we rock in silence
or converse about issues.
A table between
holds our cups and food
and books and newspapers,
giving us space
to be our own selves
while pulling us together
with the loads we carry.
Each piece of cane
and all four armrests
know us intimately,
having heard
our joys and concerns.
And still
they invite us
in the light of the day
and the dark of the night
and provide support
as we grow old together.
These are our porch rockers
and we are theirs—
forever.

Book of August: Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts

Last winter when I scheduled a talk/walk on lichens and another on mosses for this summer, I wasn’t sure what the public response would be, and so it was a pleasant surprise that both were well received. While Maine Master Naturalist Jeff Pengel spoke to us and then led us down the trail taking a close-up look at lichens in July, Ralph Pope introduced many to mosses for the first time on August 1. And then he took us only part way down a trail on August 2, for there were samples everywhere–both at our feet and sometimes even eye level.

m-mosses book

Ralph is the author of Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast. He began thinking about writing such a guide while teaching a course on bryophyte identification at Antioch University New England. “I realized that the available resources were not inviting for a beginning student,” says Ralph.

His book begins with a description of bryophyte biology, taxonomy and ecology for those who are interested. As he states on page 11, “Mosses, hornworts, and liverworts, the three groups making up the bryophytes, evolved from the aquatic ancestors of modern green algae and represent the beginnings of terrestrial plant life, eventually giving rise to our amazingly diverse array of vascular plants.” Beyond words. Beyond our world.

I’ve used another guide, but this one seems so much easier to follow for Pope has formatted it into divisions that make sense to my brain–Spagnaceae: peat mosses; Acrocarpous: (acro-high; carpous-fruit) upright-growing mosses with fruits on the top; Pleurocarpous: (pleuro-side; carpous-fruit) mat-forming mosses with fruits extended on side branches; Liverworts (body of plant flat-thalloid; leaves in two rows-leafy) and Hornworts (uncommon–in fact, I’ve yet to meet one). These are in color-coded sections, making the process even easier.

And while each section begins with a key, for those who don’t like such things, there is a description of preferred habitat, family characteristics and then the species presented in alphabetical order (think Latin, for as Ralph pointed out, we’ve been spoiled by common names for birds and think that everything should have such, but for some species there are several common names, thus making it difficult to know for sure across the globe that we are talking about the same species.–Guess I need to get my Latin on) and illustrated with fabulous photographs.

m-looking at samples

With a few slides, Ralph introduced the audience to bryophytes, which are the most primitive of plants having no roots, no flowers, and no woody structure. They are usually green (as opposed to the gray-green hues of lichens), translucent as they are only one cell thick, and often have spore capsules that last a long time.

m-studying examples

After the talk, he encouraged the audience to take a closer look at species gathered that day along the Westways Trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

lm-checking out the field guide

Behind each species an enlarged poster of the related page from his book included a description, similar species, range and habitat, and meaning of names or tips for identification.

lm-large group

A crowd of 25 spanning ages 5 to 25 a few times over, stepped onto the Westways Trail with Ralph the next morning.

lm-listening to Ralph

His combined knowledge and humor kept us all enraptured with the world below our feet. To get a sense of Ralph’s voice is this sample from page 7, “Remember the old adage that if you happen to lose your compass, your iPhone, your GPS, your ability to see the sun, and your sense of direction, moss growth will show you the north side of a tree? Well, keep the compass handy, but the north side of a tree trunk does indeed get less desiccating sunlight than the rest of the tree trunk, so it just might have more moss growth. Score one for the Boy Scouts.”

m-big red stem 1

On moss-topped rocks, Ralph and his wife, Jean, had marked species to be sure to stop at for our edification. The number referred to the page in the book and for those who didn’t have their own copy, he had loaners. In this case, 255 is Pleurozium schreberi or Big Red Stem.

m-big red 2

He picked samples so we could each take a closer look and see the reason for the name–notice that red stem? Because most bryophytes cells are totipotent–thus they have the ability to grow into a new plant, trampling them or even breaking some off can lead to new growth, so he was happy to pass small samples around.

m-close up

We looked . . .

m1-Aidan

and looked . . .

m-another close up

and looked . . .

m-Caleb

some more.

m-Wes

Of course, sometimes we just had to take a break. Oh to be five again!

m-sphagnum

Our samples included Sphagnum pylaesii, with its pompom head,

m-cushion

an acrocarp–Leucobryum glaucum, or pincushion moss,

m-calliergon 221

the pleurocarp, Calliergon cordifloium, 

m-porella 343

and the liverwort, Porella platyphylloidea. 

m-do you see what I see?

For a couple of hours, we were all thoroughly enchanted . . .

m-Ralph

as we focused our intention on these miniature plants and this man–who opened our eyes.

m-weasel scat

Only once did our attention get diverted–for some weasel scat. Thanks to intern Kelley’s keen eyes, a few of us saw the weasel scampering about thirty feet ahead. Still . . . notice where the weasel chose to make its contribution–on a rock covered in moss in the middle of the trail.

This book was a Christmas present from my guy and I look forward to many more days spent sitting on a rock getting to know my surroundings better.

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