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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on: 

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

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Whimsical rhymes and . . .

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clever sketches;

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Similarities and . . .

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differences.

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All found in the natural world. 

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

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

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

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

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

Happy April Fools’ Day. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. Thanks Lynn 😉

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

Book of October: HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION

Better late than never is the name of my game. And so it is that I’m finally posting the Book of October. Since I was away at the beginning of the month, I’ve been playing catch-up, but also, I had three different books I wanted to write about and couldn’t choose one. And then, the other day after hiking with my friend, Marita, and mentioning her book, I realized when I tried to provide a link from my Book of the Month posts that though I’ve mentioned the book several times, I’ve never actually written about it. And so, without further ado . . .

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the Book of October is HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION by Marita Wiser.

Of course, since we’ve been friends for a long time and I’ve served as editor on several editions of the book, I suppose you might deem my review as being biased. It is.

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And if you find the typo that has survived several editions, I might give you an extra candy bar for Halloween. Just remember, only God is perfect.

As you can see from the table of contents, trail descriptions are organized based on location and she ranks the difficulty, making it easy for the user to make a decision about which trail to hike. Do you see the blue box on Mount Cutler in Hiram? I actually had a brain freeze there and couldn’t put mind over matter and get to the summit. I was stuck in one spot for at least a half hour before feeling a slight bit of bravery and making my way down. I laugh at that now because I’ve completed all the black diamonds except for Chocorua–guess that needs to go on my list. Of course, my guy and I did have a heck of a time descending one trail on the Baldfaces, but we survived and have a story to tell.

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The trail descriptions include directions, distances, time allotment, difficulty and often history. I think knowing the history of the place is extremely valuable so you can better understand the features around you.

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For one of the local favorites, Pleasant Mountain, she includes five pages to describe the various trails and even includes an old photograph of the Pleasant Mountain Hotel. Standing at the summit, I often imagine the horses and carriages that carried visitors up the Firewardens trail, that is after they’d arrived by Steamboat, having followed the Cumberland and Oxford Canal from Portland to Harrison. Their journey makes any hike we take seem so easy. Well, maybe not, but still.

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The centerfold provides an overview of all the areas Marita writes about.

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And while she begins the book with a variety of hiking tips about everything from water, food, trash and clothing to ticks, hunting and trail markings, she ends with a scavenger hunt and information on how to reorder the book.

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With time comes change and her covers reflect such. Marita started this project when she wrote a hiking column for The Bridgton News years ago.

The beauty of her book is that she actually goes out and explores all of the trails over and over again, and in each edition she provides updated descriptions. She also adds and deletes trails, so even if you have an older version, you might want to purchase the current copy.

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I’m thankful for the book and my friendship with Marita. And glad that I often get to join her on a reconnaissance mission. (We also co-host the rest stop at the teepee on the Southwest Ridge Trail of Pleasant Mountain each September for Loon Echo Land Trust’s Hike ‘n Bike fundraiser before we traverse the ridgeline to the summit of Shawnee Peak Ski Area–thus our southern-themed headwear.)

This Book of October is a must have if you live in or plan to visit the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region area. And it’s available at many local shops, including Bridgton Books.

HIKES & Woodland Walks in and Around Maine’s LAKES REGION, fifth edition, by Marita Wiser, © 2013.

 

 

Book of August: BARK

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Book of August

It was my journey through the Maine Master Naturalist class several years ago that lead me to this book of the month: BARK–A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech.

The book actual evolved from Wojtech’s work, under the tutelage of Tom Wessels, toward a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology at Antioch University New England.

Between the covers you’ll find information about bark structure, types of bark and bark ecology. There is a key for those who are so inclined.

And then the biggest chunk of the book is devoted to photographs and descriptions for each type of tree that grows in our New England and eastern New York State forests. These include the common and Latin names, family, habitat, range maps, leaf and branch pattern, leaf shape and notes.

For me, there are two take away items from this book. First, I learned to categorize bark based on its pattern from smooth to ridges and furrows, vertical strips, curly and peeling to others covered in scales and plates. He breaks bark type into seven varieties that I now find easy to identify.

Second, I came to realize something that I may have known but never gave much thought to–except for  American beech bark, which remains smooth all its life (unless it’s been infected by the beech scale insect), bark differs from young to mature to old for any particular species. Oy vey!

Though this book is useful in the winter, now is the time to start looking. To develop your bark eyes. The leaves are on and will help with ID, thus you can try the key and you’ll know if you’ve reached the correct conclusion or not.

Go ahead. Purchase a copy and give it a whirl. I must warn you, it becomes addictive and can be rather dangerous when you are driving down the road at 50mph. As Wojtech wrote in the preface, “If you want to experience a forest, mingle among its trees. If you want to know the trees, learn their bark.”

While you are at it, I encourage you to visit the small western Maine town of Bridgton, where the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge leads into Pondicherry Park. Each of the sixteen bridge beams is constructed from a different tree and the bark is still on them. Test yourself and then grab one of my brochures at the kiosk to see if you got it right. If there are no brochures, let me know and I’ll fill the bin.

And while you are there, stop by the independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, to purchase a copy of BARK.

BARK: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech, University Press of New England, 2011.

Book of the Month: TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND

Sometimes the biggest gems arrive in the smallest packages. Such is the case with this month’s book–and this isn’t an April Fools’ Day joke, though I did briefly consider posting an upside-down photo of the cover.

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I picked up this copy of  TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND at a book swap during the Maine Master Naturalist Program’s first conference this past year. This third edition was compiled by Frederic L. Steele, Chairman of the Science Department, St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains, Littleton, NH, and Albion R. Hodgdon, Professor of Botany, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, and published in 1975 by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

One of the things I like about it is that it measures 4.5 x 7 inches and fits easily into my pack. Plus, it includes more shrubs than many of my current books.

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And check this out from the introduction: “In the preparation of this guide, the authors have received help and encouragement from a number of people. The following, in particular, should be mentioned . . . Mrs. Priscilla Kunhardt and Miss Pamela Bruns have done the illustrations . . . ” Mrs. and Miss! Ah, what happened to those days?

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The descriptions are not lengthy, but enough for a quick reference. I choose the Trembling Aspen, which I’ve learned as Quaking Aspen (I know–that’s the problem with common names say my Latin-oriented friends) because two are located right out the back door. They are the trees of life in our yard.

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Catkins slowly emerge from waxy-coated buds

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and grow longer with lengthening days.

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Tufts of hair adorn tiny seeds.

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Soon, leaves on flat stems quake in the breeze,

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until visitors arrive.

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Very hungry caterpillars.

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They aren’t the only ones. Porcupines nip off branches.

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Eventually, leaves that survive fall to the ground.

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All year long, birds visit to dine

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and view the world.

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The world looks back.

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Ice slowly melts

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and life continues.

TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND doesn’t include photos, but that’s OK because I have my own. Instead, as any good guide, it’s a jumping off place. So many books, so much different information–and sometimes guides contradict each other. Just the same, I love to read them and then to pay attention. For me, it’s all about forever learning. And wondering.

TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND, by Frederic L. Steel and Albion R. Hodgdon, Society for the Protection on Northern Forests, 1975.

 

 

Book of February: Trackards

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A constant in my field bag is the laminated set of Trackards created by Naturalist David Brown in 1998. 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.

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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.

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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)..

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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.

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

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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.

Book of December: Fascinating Fungi of New England by Lawrence Millman

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I never thought that I would develop a fondness for fungi, but alas, I have. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t know them well, but am in the continual process of developing a deeper appreciation for the fruiting bodies I see and the mycelia that probes beneath the surface forever in search of nutrients.

For a beginner like me, Fascinating Fungi of New England by Lawrence Millman is the perfect guide. First of all, it measures 8 x 6 x .25 inches and slips easily into my pack. But what I like even more about this book is that Millman talks about mushrooms in a manner that a layperson like myself can understand. Combined with the artwork of Rick Kollath, whose visual cues aid in my learning, Millman compresses key points in this little book that has become one of my go-to sources in the field.

I think what I admire most is Millman’s voice. I’ve never met the man, but feel as if he’s standing beside me chatting about any particular species and telling the story. My friend and mentor, Kevin Harding, strongly advises that we should spend less time naming and more time sharing the stories of what we see in the woods. And that’s precisely what Millman does, with a splash of humor added to the mix.

To illustrate, in a sidebar about Birch Polypores, he writes the following: “Multi-faceted Fungus — 5,300-year old Tyrolean Ice Man Ötzi, discovered in 1991, had two polypores — the Birch Polypore and the Tinder Polypore among his possessions. He probably made a decoction of the former to rid himself of intestinal worms. Early New Englanders used the Birch Polypore as a razor strop; until recently, entomologists used it for mounting insect specimens; and the present-day Cree of northern Quebec (like Ötzi) make a medicinal tea from it. The Cree don’t like the polypore’s bitter flavor (due to a compound called Betlinic Acid), so they assume their alimentary parasites also won’t like the flavor and will thus vacate the premises upon coming into contact with it.

And I love this: “Non-Gilled on Other — In this catch-all category, the species are not only parasitic, but most of them would also seem to be emulating Hollywood mad scientists in the way they transform the ‘Other:’ the Hypomyces turns a Russula or Lactarius into an entirely different species called a Lobster; an Entoloma causes a Honey Mushroom to lose its characteristic cap-and-stem shape; Rhizopus stolonifer turns a bowl of strawberries into an inedible, gooey mess; and a Cordyceps eats away at its truffle host until that host completely falls to pieces. You would think a movie producer would approach one or more of these species with a contract, wouldn’t you? Well, it hasn’t happened yet . . .”

The book is divided in an easy-to-use manner. So easy, in fact, that recently an 8-year-old friend began using my copy within minutes to identify species we found on a walk through Pondicherry Park. Sections include Gilled on Ground; Gilled on Wood; Gilled on Other; Non-Gilled on Ground; Non-Gilled on Wood; Non-Gilled on Other; Slime Molds. There are sidebars and measurements, spore prints, details about habitat and season, plus a glossary and other resources for those who want to take the next step in fungi ID.

For me, for now, this is enough.

Fascinating Fungi of New England by Lawrence Millman, foreword by Gary Lincoff, illustrated by Rick Kollath, published 2011, Kollath+Stensaas Publishing.