Mallards, Beavers, and NOT Squawroot, Oh My!

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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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?”

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 . . .

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

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The floor was swept . . .

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door locked, banner posted . . .

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and final sweep made.

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And then the waiting . . . his arrival imminent.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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But his eyes–oh were they focused.

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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.

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Kyan’s Kabin.

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

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

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Hugs . . .

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and handshakes.

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

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two sets of stairs lead to two lofts,

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and I suspect his sister has claimed one,

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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.)

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

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