The Art of Nature

Following a cart path that led away from the main trail at Shepard’s Family Farm Preserve in Norway, Maine, today, Master Naturalist Jackey Bailey and I suddenly found ourselves in an undulating field of wooden sculptures.

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Our intrigue was instant. Recycled and found wood transformed into artwork. I’d seen two of the sculptures before, but had somehow missed the other four that graced this property. The first on our tour–“Birdhouses,” their eyes hollowed out for entry; and faces reminiscent of fellow travelers on our Earth journey.

birds

“Birds” also gave us pause as we admired motion.

cat

And nearby, “Cat.” It struck me that “Birds” flew toward the “Birdhouses,” while “Cat” sat nearby, much the same as the neighborhood cats frequent our birdfeeders at home.

mrs-noah-2

I’d previously visited with “Mrs. Noah,” but our reverence today was just the same as we watched her gather feathered friends two-by-two.

bird-in-flight

“Bird in Flight” offered a sense of movement through its feather-tipped wings.

owl

And finally, “Owl.” Of all, this was my least favorite because the wise old predator appeared mad with the world. But then, he had all the wisdom and perhaps he really was not happy with what he saw and knew.

All of these were the creations of artist Bernard Langlais. According to The Langlais Art Trail Web site: “Despite his commercial success, by the mid-1960s Langlais became disenchanted by the pressures of New York gallery culture. Interested in working on a larger scale, he purchased a farmhouse in Cushing (Maine) and moved permanently to his native state. In the last eleven years of his life, he constructed more than sixty-five monumental wood sculptures on the land around his home, including his best-known commission, the over seventy-foot-tall Indian for the town of Skowhegan, Maine. During this period he also produced a massive oeuvre of two- and three-dimensional works exploring the patterns, textures, and expressive powers of the animal kingdom.”

These sculptures and others at the Roberts Farm Preserve are on loan to  Western Foothills Land Trust through The Kohler Foundation of Colby College.

As Jackey and I noted, it was a totally different take on the natural world. Art made of wood, much of it repurposed, and left to the elements. Worth a wonder.

s-tree-stump

Soon after, we parted paths. I journeyed home and felt instantly drawn to take a look at the sculpture park behind our home where nature’s artwork is always on display and frequently offers an opportunity to reflect upon the relationship between man and nature.

The sun highlighted one of the many tree stumps that spoke to logging operations and demonstrated the process of returning from whence it once came as lichens and mosses and balsam saplings took advantage of nutrients offered.

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Other cut stumps reminded me of the circular movement leading toward the center of a labyrinth–appearing quick and easy, and yet providing a time to slow down while following the path.

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In some ways, the target fungi that attacks Red Maples, demonstrated a similar pattern and journey.

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Because I’d discovered it last year, I knew where to look for the Orange Mock Oyster mushroom (Phyllotopsis nidulans), and found the underside gills to be equally contemplative.

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Then a different look–another take on birds in flight; these sewn into paper birch bark slowly decaying on the ground. Do you see them?

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Ice needles offered the most temporary of sculptures that spoke to frost slowly invading the surface soil.

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Ice formed around fallen leaves never ceased to amaze me.

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And the ultimate in Man and Nature and Art forms had to be the powerline appearing to lead to Mount Washington, where snow swirled in the wind.

birdhouse-glasses

But of all that I saw today, it was the eyeglasses on one of the “Birdhouses” that caught my whimsy the most. I only wish a bird had paused to pose.

Manmade, Naturemade, Manmade with Nature, Naturemade with Man–there’s no denying the beauty of the art of nature.

 

 

 

Sundae School

I went on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon and visited a land trust property I’ve never stepped foot on before. My intention was to scope it out for possible use with a future Maine Master Naturalist class. My realization from the get-go was a happy heart. I can’t wait to return and take others along so we can make discoveries together.

n Preserve sign

I’ve only been on one other Western Maine Foothills Land Trust property, so had no idea what to expect. The small parking area for Shepard’s Farm Preserve is at 121 Crockett Ridge Road in Norway. (Norway, Maine, that is.) This is one of seven preserves owned by the trust. I should have known I’d enjoy myself immensely just by the name. Though we spell Shephard with an “h,” it’s a family name for us. Who knows–maybe there’s a connection.

n-trail sign

On the back of the brochure I grabbed at the kiosk, I read the following: “Originally owned by Benjamin Witt, the high undulating pasture of Shepard’s Farm Family Preserve was transferred to Joshua Crockett in 1799, Charles Freeman in 1853, John Shepard in 1910, and to Bill Detert in 1984.” Mr. Detert and his family donated the property in memory of his wife, Jan, to the WMFLT in 2010.

n-Indian pipe bee 1

My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

n-Indian pipe

As I continued along the trail I found the upturned mature flower and again wondered–who stopped by for a sip of sap? Lessons should evoke further questions and a desire to learn more.

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The trail offered other familiar flowers, like hawkweed,

n-pearly everlasting

pearly everlasting, goldenrods and asters, Queen Anne’s lace, boneset and jewelweed.

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And then I come upon a wildflower I don’t recall meeting before. The lesson included a look at the leaves, their arrangement on the stem, and the flowerhead.

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The answer to the quiz–lavender-flowered Sharp-winged Monkeyflower. Monkeys in the woods! You never know. Sometimes I think that red squirrels sound like monkeys when they chit at me, but in this case, it’s the fact that the flower looks something like a monkey’s face.

n-thistle young and old

Further on,  I spotted a favorite that I don’t see as often as I’d like. What I didn’t realize is that thistles are in the aster family. Always learning. Its presence here is referenced by trail conditions, which change periodically from mixed hardwoods to softwoods to open places. Thistles prefer those open places–fields and waste places. Hardly waste in my opinion. Rather, early succession to a woodland.

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A bee worked its magic on the flowerhead so I moved in for a closer look.

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As with any flower, it was a pollen frenzy.

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Seconds later–maturity! Well, maybe not quite that fast.

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But the seeds had developed their downy parachutes and the breeze was a’blowing.

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They knew it was time to leave the roost and find a new classroom.

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Another lesson worth more time was a look at the natural communities along the trail. Bikers and hikers share this space, but what I found fascinating was the constant change.

n-trail hay

The original trail for the Shepard’s Family Farm Preserve was located on a 19-acre parcel. Recently, the Witt Swamp Extension was added, which almost circles around a 250+ acre piece. Hay covers some of the new trail right now–giving it that farm-like feel and smell.

n-trail 1

I’m not certain of the mileage, but believe that I covered at least 4-5 miles in my out and back venture over undulating land and through a variety of neighborhoods. The trail conditions–pure bliss. No rocks or roots to trip over. Instead, I could look around for the next lesson.

n-cedar bark

One of the things I love about hiking in Norway is that I get to be in the presence of cedar trees–Northern white cedar.

n-cedar leaves

I’m fascinated by its scale-like leaves.

n-deer tracks

So are the deer, who feed on the leaves during the winter months.

n-dry stream

I found only deer tracks, and noted that all stream beds were dry, though the moss gave a moist look to the landscape. We’re experiencing a drought this summer.

n-red leaf

Due to that lack of rain, some red maples already have turned and colorful leaves are beginning to float to the ground.

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Deer aren’t the only mammals that inhabit this place. From the trail, I noticed hemlock trees with bases that looked like perfect gnome homes. And then I spotted this one that invited a closer look.

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A pile of porcupine scat–the pig-pen of the woods. Even Charlie Brown would note a distinct odor.

n-toad camo

And in true “Where’s Waldo” tradition, a young American toad crossed my path. The camo lesson–blend in for safety’s sake.

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Being former farmland, stonewalls wind their way through the preserve. And my childhood fascination with turtles was resurrected. Do you see it?

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How about now? Hint: the head is quartz.

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And this one? They’re everywhere. It makes me wonder if it was a style of the times.

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I crossed through a gap in the stonewall and noted two smaller stones topped by a large flat one. A reason why? The questions piled up. I need to ask the teacher.

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And then there were the stone piles. Why so many smaller stones around a boulder? What I love about this spot is that a hemlock took advantage of the boulder and grew on top of it.

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And another favorite find–a stone structure.

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Created with rather flat field stones.

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It’s near a stonewall, so I surmised it was a shed of some sort rather than a root cellar for a home. I could be wrong, but am thrilled by the opportunity to see it.

n bird sculpture

One of the coolest features of this property is that it’s home to sculptures created in the 1970s by Bernard Langlois, including this bird in flight. The sculptures were made possible recently by the generosity of his widow, Helen Langlois, Colby College and the Kohler Foundation.

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Mrs. Noah is my favorite. She has stories to tell and I have lessons to learn.

It’s Sunday and by the time I finished hiking I was hot. I’d intended to check out a few more preserves, but the thought of a creamsicle smoothie at a local ice cream shop had my focus–until I pulled in and saw this posted: “Cash and local checks only.” No cash. And though our checks would be local, I didn’t have any with me either. Lesson learned.

I drove home and made my own sundae.

Leaping Mondate

My guy happens to be Irish so it seemed only appropriate that I propose to him today following the example that St. Brigid set when she struck a deal with St. Patrick. Yes, we’ve been married for 25+ years, but I proposed anyway.

And he accepted. So today’s Mondate found us at Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway. Norway, Maine, that is.

R-sign

In her book, Hikes and Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION, my friend Marita Wiser states that the preserve was “farmed by the Pike and Roberts family for 200 years.” She adds, “The property was purchased by the Western Foothills Land Trust in 2007.”

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Though the trails are mostly maintained for Nordic skiers, we didn’t see any today.

r-trail map

Had it been open to skiers, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did–follow the network of trails around the perimeter of the property.

r-cherry bark

We’d only walked a few feet when I had to pause–the burnt cornflake look of black cherry bark insisted upon being noticed.

R-Northern White Cedar

Visiting here a couple of times previously, one of the things I’d come to like about it is the opportunity to gush over Northern white cedar bark.

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I love its red-brown color, sheddy strips that intersect in diamond formations and habit of spiraling left and then right with age. In his book BARK, Michael Wojtech states of the cedar: “In the 1500s, the native Iroquois showed French explorers how to prevent scurvy using a tea made from the bark, which contains vitamin C. The name arborvitae means ‘tree of life.'”

r-northern white leaves

Equally beautiful are its flat sprays of braided, scale-like leaves.

Since I’m on the topic of tree bark, I have two others to share, including this one–the red inner bark of Northern Red Oak made a stunning statement.

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Displaying its shaggy presentation was the hop hornbeam.

My heart leaped (appropriate movement for today) when I saw these papery fruits on the ground–hop hornbeam is named for its fruiting structures that resemble hops.

r-stone wall

Stone walls crisscross the preserve and provide evidence of its former use as a dairy farm.

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Barbed wire adds to the story.

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Installed long ago, this tree formed a grimace in response.

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Along the edge of some walls stand much happier trees–those that were allowed to grow tall and wide in the sun, like this Eastern white pine. Perhaps it provided a bit of shade for Roberts’ Jerseys.

r-generation gap

The land was farmed until 1968. Since then, it returned to woodland, was sold and logged and sold another time–finally to the land trust. Generational gaps are visible throughout. This is the perfect place to take some youngsters and ask them to locate a white pine that matches their age.

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We cross several streams that I’m sure sustained the farm and its inhabitants. Today, they sustain the wildlife that wanders here, including deer.

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We realized there had been a recent turkey trot and

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vole convention.

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Birds also have played a major role in this community. This pileated woodpecker-created condominium has been around for a while.

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From the trail, I spied the largest pile of wood chips I’ve ever seen and of course, had to investigate.

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The old beech was recently excavated for new condos.

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Below, the wood chip pile was a couple of inches deep.

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The best part–lots of scat cylinders filled with insect body parts. Good stuff to see.

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Pileated woodpeckers aren’t the only ones in the building industry.

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I think you’d agree that Quinn and Mike did a fabulous job constructing this birdhouse.

r-mullein capsules

In several open areas we spotted the winter display of common mullein.

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Its crowded performance of two-parted capsules atop a tall, fuzzy stem made it easy to identify.

 

The pointed prickly bracts of thistles also offered a winter show.

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Lungwort tried to hide on the backside of an ash tree, but I found it. I only wish we’d had rain, or better yet, snow, recently, because I love the neon green that it becomes once it is wet.

r-lunch rock

Be careful what you wish for. Though the day was sunny at the start, it began to rain as we ate our sandwiches on lunch rock overlooking Lake Pennesseewassee, aka Norway Lake.

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It wasn’t a downpour, but enough that it encouraged us to eat quickly and move on.

r-beaked bud

Well, I didn’t move far. Within steps, I found a shrub I was seeking yesterday–beaked hazelnut.

r-beaked hazel

It’s a member of the birch family and features catkins–the male flowers that will release pollen this spring to fertilize the shrub’s delicate red female flowers.

r-christmas fern

Another quick find–Christmas fern–one pinnae topped with a birch fleur de lis.

Typically, during the winter there is only one trail open to hikers. Today, however, we figured it would be OK to walk on the ski trails because they are either icy or bare. It was definitely a micro-spike kind of day, which has been more the norm this year.

r-painted cow

Other than birds and squirrels, we saw no wildlife. But we did stumble upon the “Painted Cows” created by Bernard Langlais in 1974 and gifted to the land trust by Colby College and the Kohler Foundation.

We had planned to explore the inner network of trails, but the cold raindrops drove us out. Despite that, I think my guy enjoyed himself as much as I did. And he was extremely patient each time I paused. Sometimes he even gave me a heads up–I took that to mean he didn’t mind that I had to stop, wonder and photograph. This is one Leap Date I hope we don’t forget.