Lake Living Magazine: fall/winter 2019

For the past few years, we’ve either produced a limited winter issue or no issue at all of Lake Living magazine because those who purchase ads have been wary about spending money during those lean months. And it’s ads that support this free magazine. Everyone wants to be written about, but . . .

After some back and forth discussion with editor/publisher Laurie LaMountain, we decided to produce a fall/winter issue that would encompass the usual “at home” features of the fall magazine, but also include the book reviews written by the Pam and Justin Ward, plus their employees, Sue and Perri, of Bridgton Books, that typically appear in the winter issue.

Tada. Click on the link above and you can view the magazine in its entirety.

Laurie tackled four topics, while I worked on three ideas. Hers include “The Big Idea” about a Maine inventor, “Maine Dwelling” about a guy who flips houses locally, and “A Good Keeper” about winter squashes.

Her most interesting article, however, is one that everyone should read–whether you are a male or female. Don’t let the theme of it scare you. Entitled “Fierce Girls,” and yes that is Laurie in the photo, it’s about WOMEN. And more specifically . . . men-o-pause. When she proposed it, I was curious but not certain it would work. You have to read it.

My articles all ended up with a Lovell theme–probably because I spent most of the summer in Lovell and it was always on my mind.

The first is entitled “Resurrecting the Past,” about the Harriman Barn that Robin Taylor-Chiarello (board member of the National Council on White House History and associate member of the American Institute of Architects) lovingly restored with the help of Timberframer J. Scott Campbell of Maine Mountain Post and Beam in Fryeburg and Builder Bryce Thurston of Lovell.

The marriage marks above were chiseled into the beams when the barn was built in the early 1800s. Scott used his own system as he pulled the timber frame down, and then reassembled it on a different site a couple of years later, but the early marks are still visible.

My second article is about two couples who chose to move north rather than south in retirement. Rather than snowbirds, as we fondly refer to those who spend six months in warmer climes, they are birdsofsnow. Okay, so I made that term up, but really, it does describe them.

In their retirement, they’ve discovered ways to get involved in their communities and that has made all the difference. Heinrich Wurm fills his days with environmental activities, especially as related to Kezar Lake Watershed Association or Greater Lovell Land Trust. Here, he’s studying a spider web. And that’s only part of his local involvement.

Linda, Heinrich’s wife, is a docent with Greater Lovell Land Trust, where she also enjoys looking at the finer details of the natural world.

But one of her main fortes is sharing those details with youth, whether they be her own grandchildren, or kids involved in GLLT-sponsored events, like those in the after-school Trailblazers.

For Elna Stone, retirement gave her an opportunity to pursue her artistic talent and painting local landscapes has consumed much of her time. On the left, she poses beside a painting of Shawnee Peak Ski Area at Pleasant Mountain that she donated to a fundraiser for Gallery 302 in Bridgton. For years, Elna created calendars of local scenes that were sold as a fundraiser for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.

Helping others either via the St. Peter’s or Bridgton Hospital
Cafe has long been a passion for the Stones. Even cleaning windows at church can offer Tom a sense of satisfaction.

In the end, though they all love the life they’ve created in Maine, they admit there are some downfalls. One is that the winters seem to get longer each year. Linda Wurm has found a way to overcome that: a bowl of shells to gaze upon from time to time.

And then there’s my final article. It’s about three entrepreneurial men. They each bring a different talent to the . . . table. Literally. Eli Hutchins of Hutch’s Property and Tree chops the tree down.

Brent Legere of Lovell Box Company and Western Maine Slab Works cuts it into live-edge slabs.

And Eugene Jordan of Jordan Custom Carpentry, Inc, turns it into a beautiful piece of furniture. You can read all about it in “A Tree Falls in Lovell.”

So, yeah. Brew a pot of tea, curl up in your favorite chair, and enjoy this issue of Lake Living magazine.

Oh, and please support the advertisers, including my guy, so we can keep doing what we love to do: learn about the many talented people in this area. I am constantly amazed. I hope you will be as well.

Lake Living magazine: Summer 2019

I’m always excited to share the latest issue of Lake Living magazine with you. Here ’tis: https://issuu.com/lakelivingmaine/docs/ll.summer.19.web

As Laurie comments in her editor’s note, a theme emerged while we brainstormed article ideas. You’ll have to read this from cover to cover to get the full effect.

My first contribution: “The Maine Event” about four local wedding or retreat venues–each one with a unique twist. Even if you aren’t planning a grand event, it’s still fun to peek into the places and meet the people who make the magic magical.

A second contribution: “Summer Living,” which is a listing of what’s happening in the lakes region of Maine this summer. There are several shout-outs throughout this section, including one for our local land trusts and LEA as we collaborate to bring history alive through a series of walks along our trails.

And my final contribution: “You Get What You Give.” This is probably my favorite for this issue because, well, I won’t tell you why. You have to read it. And figure out. Let’s just say I was completely moved by the experience.

Laurie has written about a new venture for a young couple in “A Passion for Play,” cuze Becca and Scott, plus their son Parker, do love to do that. Especially on our lakes and ponds, as well as mountains.

She also wrote about a local farmer who does more than that–something about music and feet in “Geof’s Farm Pedals.” Another gotta read.

And her final piece is about Cannabased Wellness, aka “The Back Room at Nectar.”

Then there are the book reviews a la Justin, Pam, Sue, and Perri of Bridgton Books.

Plus all the colorful ads. If you do live locally, please let the advertisers know that you saw their ad in Lake Living. It helps with ad sales, which are key because the magazine is free to you.

Finally, I just LOVE the cover–thanks to Mary Jewett’s fine photography. It makes me grin every time I look at it.

Lake Living magazine: Summer 2019 is upon us now. 😉

LOVE ME, love, me: Bradbury Mountain State Park

For Valentine’s Day 2018, I gave my guy the “Amazing Race–Our Style,” which included a list of monthly adventures. And if you kept up with us, you soon discovered that we had challenges to meet along the way as we competed with “imaginary” teams.

And then dawned Valentine’s Day 2019 and I wasn’t sure how I could outdo myself until . . . the proverbial light bulb went off, or rather, on, and a plan took shape.

With that in mind, I walked into Bridgton Books to find just the right card. What could be better than a Maine original by woodcut artist Blue Butterfield in Portland? I did enhance the card a wee bit when I added the heart on the trail. But one of the things I love about this card besides the subject and colors–the shadows: of the trees and the people and the people shadows could almost be bears. Just sayin’.

Inside the card I informed my guy that our next challenge would be to ❤️ ME, ❤️, me. Get it? LOVE Maine, Love, me. Naturally! I thought it was rather brilliant and had no idea at the time that Maine will turn 200 years old in 2020.

The plan is this–we’ll get to know our state better by visiting its 34 state parks. Mind you, this won’t all happen by March 15, 2020, and we may not even finish for another five years, but that’s fine. Nor will we have to compete with anyone along the way or complete challenges. All we need to do is show up, hike together, and appreciate our surroundings.

And so today we finally had a chance to begin and decided to launch our LOVE ME, love, me adventures at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal. Though we’ve visited some of the parks before, neither of us had ever stepped foot on this one that had been acquired from the Federal Government in 1939 and became one of five original state parks in our grand state.

Others had, for more years than we’ll ever understand, but we did see lots of remnants from the 1800 and 1900s, including this boxy looking structure that we assumed was a pound.

Thank goodness for signs to confirm our assumptions. The pound was used to keep stray cattle, sheep, and pigs once upon a time.

Not only did the pound give us a hint, but by the stone walls, we knew the property had been farmed. By the ledges, we knew where some of the stones had come from.

Trail conditions were such that we walked on well-packed snow and lots of ice, so a break in the wall offered the perfect spot to sit and pull on micro-spikes.

Though the snow wasn’t deep like it is here in western Maine, the ice was quite thick, though water coursed through carving a trough providing a glimpse of the glacial activity that formed the natural features of the mountain.

In fact, striations from the glaciers were still visible upon stones in the trail.

Or not. For really, they were scratches created by snowmobiles because the park is open (for a fee) to hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. There are also picnic tables and camping areas. What’s not to love?

And did I mention that it’s also open to critters? With a large swath of it being a hemlock grove, we weren’t surprised to see deer activity. And pileated works as well.

Of course, I had to check out the pileated wood pile, and delighted in seeing the cinnamon color of its inner bark. Salmon also came to mind.

And what else should I find within the wood chips–why bodies galore from a scat broken open. Based upon all the holes in the trees we knew the pileated had found the mother-lode of carpenter ants and the scats proved the point.

A little further along, we spied watery ice of a different color than that under our feet and suspected that hiding below the leaves and rocks under the snow cover of the surrounding woods are some amphibians waiting for a certain Big Night when they’ll make their traditional journey to their natal vernal pool.

At the far end of the pool, another shade of salmony-cinnamon greeted us.

A springtail frenzy was taking place where the ice had started to melt. Ahhhh.

Not far beyond the vernal pool, we reached the 485-foot summit. It’s not much as mountains go, but . . . the view was expansive–and we could see the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s also a favorite place to watch the hawk migration and we spent some time chatting with hawk counter Zane Baker who spends six days a week from mid-March to mid-May scanning the sky for raptors. Today was slow, he informed us and you can see by the chart that he’d only recorded four sightings. But today was on the cool side and Zane suspected some birds had ventured north in last week’s bit of a warm-up and the rest were waiting to make the journey.

We sat below and dined on leftover chicken/cranberry relish salad sandwiches while Zane continued to scan the sky with his binoculars and scope. Nada. But still, it was a beautiful spot and we were happy to be there before the crowds arrive.

On the way to the summit, we’d circled around the base of the mountain via a couple of trails, but chose the .3 mile descent via the switchback trail. Steeper and well shaded by an overstory of hemlocks, it wasn’t quite as quick of a descent as it might have been. Thank goodness for spikes. Because I was always looking down to see where to place a foot, I was happy to finally discover that the canopy was changing as evergreens gave way to beech and witch hazel.

We had almost completed the downward climb when we happened upon a chasm that didn’t make sense.

Until we learned that it once served as a feldspar quarry. According to the Maine Geological Survey for Bradbury Mountain compiled by Henry N. Berry IV, “Feldspar is the most abundant mineral in granite, and in pegmatite the individual feldspar crystals can be very large. Feldspar was mined from pegmatite bodies like this in many places across Maine in the early 1900s. The quarry itself, now overgrown with large trees, is about 150 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. It was crushed and separated to be used in making ceramics or as an abrasive. By the mid-1900s, feldspar mining had moved to other parts of the country and the world.”

Once we’d finished hiking on the West Side, we decided to walk across Route 9 and explore the East Side of the park. We covered lots more miles of trails, but noted only a few things along the way. One was the sweet sight of partridgeberry poking its evergreen leaves through the melted snow. There was even one tiny red berry still intact.

Again, the stone walls were numerous and by the time we had finished hiking, we suspected we’d zigzagged through a few, crossing them more than once.

The terrain was much more level and the mixed forest more open, so the trail conditions were easy.

As we neared the end of our journey, we spied a foundation of stone with a brick fireplace near the Old Tuttle Road.

It reminded us of our own old farmhouse, though our utensils are a bit more up to date. That being said, I’m always a wee bit annoyed when I discover artifacts lined up by a foundation. I guess I’m of the opinion that they should remain where they were and if someone stumbles upon something–great. Let people make their own discoveries. (Enough of a rant for today.)

At last we reached a monument we’d seen denoted on the map. We’d been wondering what it meant.

It turns out that the generous Spiegel family, who’d founded Quoddy Moccassins, had gifted some land to the people of the state of Maine. As two people of the state of Maine, we gave thanks.

Four hours and lots of miles later, our first in our ❤️ ME, ❤️, me Series had come to an end. Bradbury Mountain State Park. ✓ One down, 33 to go!

Book of September: wishtree

When Alanna Doughty, education director at Lakes Environmental Association, mentioned she’d watched a trailer about a book entitled wishtree by Katherine Applegate and immediately walked to Bridgton Books to purchase it and that night began reading it to her girls and thought I might like it as well, I listened and then drove to the bookstore and purchased it yesterday and here I am today to tell you that you should do the same.

wishtree

In fact, this should be required reading for every child and every adult. Every. Adult. You see, the story is about a northern red oak, but not an ordinary Quercus rubra, for Red, as it is known, can talk. And tell corny jokes. And philosophize, though not in a tedious or pompous way. And teach. All of us. About life. And tolerance.

On one level, it reminds me of our barn, which just happens to be painted red and is towered over by a red oak, and serves as a home, or at least a pass under, for skunks and raccoons and woodchucks and porcupines and red and gray squirrels and mice and the neighborhood cats and all seem to live in perfect harmony beneath it. Well, all except the mice that is.

But the book isn’t just about the animals that call the hollows of the tree home, it’s about the people who live nearby. And really, it’s about all people. In the neighborhood. In the town. In the state. In the nation. Across the globe.

The tale of tolerance is told in such a manner that each short chapter with its surprise ending could stand alone like delectable little nuggets. And maybe they should be read in such a way. One. Chapter. At. A. Time. I rushed through it last night, mesmerized,  but this morning I began reading wishtree again. And actually, I think it shall become a bathroom book, that place where many of my favorites end up so I can return to them frequently for short intervals. Wink.

Scientific terms are subtly introduced. And the sketches enhance the story.

Published in 2017, its a book that is written for our times, but should become a classic, much like The Giving Tree. I don’t want to give the story away, but I do want you to read it. You can learn more by visiting the wishtree website, where you can even add your own wish.

Or be like Alanna, read the story aloud to your children or partner or the air around you, find your own “Red,” and leave a wish and some yarn and snippets of paper for others to do the same.

But especially, don’t forget to take the message of wishtree with you everywhere you go. I hope I remember to do the same.

wishtree by Katherine Applegate, published 2017, Fiewel and Friends, an imprint of mackids.com.

 

 

 

Lake Living Summer 2018

For your weekend reading pleasure, here’s a link to Lake Living–hot off the press.

Of course all of the articles are worth a read, but my favorite is the one I wrote about The Hazel and Owen Currier Doll Museum in Fryeburg, Maine entitled “Dolls on Display.” Even if you don’t like dolls, I think you’ll enjoy the article.

And if you read it, then you’ll understand these next two photos better.

Midge 1

I don’t know when Midge actually stuck her hand out to wave, but I only noticed it this week.

m2

And I have to admit that it’s been a few or more years since I last took a peek. I think she could use some of Hazel’s tender loving care.

There’s plenty more to the magazine, including book reviews from the owners and staff of Bridgton Books. So . . . brew a pot of coffee or tea, open up the link to the magazine, and enjoy.

 

Lake Living Magazine: Winter Issue

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but indeed, I do. Especially if the book isn’t really a book, but rather a magazine called Lake Living. One look at those vibrant hacky sacks against the snow on the cover of the new winter issue and I find myself mindful, each time seeing a different configuration of the whole or focusing on a single feature.

And then there is the content, from Laurie LaMountain’s editorial comment ending with “Our collective differences have the power to both define us and unite us,” to the book reviews by the staff of Bridgton Books.

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Of course, thrown into the mix are the articles, including Laurie’s eloquent feature about hacky sack and relationships, ending with a challenge to all of us. A must read.

And don’t miss my two contributions, “digging for roots” about genealogy and the Fryeburg Historical Society’s Kendal C. and Anna Ham Research Library; and “forever green” about . . .  evergreen trees.

Laurie’s been producing the magazine for twenty years and I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with her for the last twelve. Here’s to the future.

P.S. If you live locally, please mention the mag when you are shopping. Remember, the mag is free and therefore totally dependent upon advertisers. It can’t survive without your support.

Book of December: A Beginner’s Guide to RECOGNIZING TREES of the NORTHEAST

Fellow master naturalist Alan Seamans recently sent me an e-mail with this message: “I found a new book that might be of interest to you. It’s called A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees of the Northeast, by Mark Mikolas, published Oct. 3, 2017. Rather than leaves, buds or flowers, he focuses on bark, stature, habitat, and some other techniques to teach beginners how to recognize about 40 common tree species. It’s a compact softcover guide, very educational, lots of photos illustrating his points. Not text heavy. I like it, and learned many things.”

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Book of December

And so I did what I often do when I hear of a book that might interest me and marched into Bridgton Books in search of a copy. Alan was correct. It isn’t text heavy and indeed simplifies things in a way a dichotomous key cannot. Actually, this book includes so many of the nuances I like to share along the trail with folks who are looking at trees for the first or hundredth time and as I read it I felt like I was on a guided tour with a new friend.

Mikolas begins this tree identification book by restricting the focus area to the Northeast–in a zone those of us who live in New England may find amusing for it ranges from our grand states south to West Virginia and west to Indiana and Michigan. As he explains, though, that’s the Northeast as defined by the World Geographical Scheme of Recording Plant Distributions.

The book is divided into two sections–deciduous or broad-leaf trees and coniferous–or cone-bearing trees. And within each section, it’s broken down into individual trees with plenty of photographs to explain each characteristic.

Mikolas keeps it simple and I wish I’d had this book when I first began my journey into familiarizing myself with different tree species. Similar to the approach taken by Donald W. Stokes in A Guide to Nature in Winter, who suggested learning six deciduous trees and the evergreens, Mikolas also encourages the reader to start with the most common, though he prefers the number twelve.

I wondered what I might learn or relearn as I began reading. And found plenty of information, some of it already stored in my brain, and more to be tucked away.

s-target

The book begins with red maple, which always has something red to display, but Mikolas also mentions the target fungus that affects only this species, creating a round bull’s eye on the bark. I know from experience that once your eye focuses on the target, you’ll begin to see if on so many maple trees. And as he said, and a forester told me several years ago, here in western Maine, 90% of our maples are Acer rubrum. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about, except for one instance that I could find, he doesn’t use the Latin names. For some folks, that may be a downfall, but this is a beginner’s guide.

b-twisted maple

I was pleased that he included the twisting of a sugar maple. Other trees twist as well and I can remember first realizing this while tramping with a friend. We couldn’t understand what was going on. The reason for the spiral growth is on page 26–you’ll have to read it for yourself.

After describing these two trees, as he does periodically throughout the book, Mikolas gives clues on how to tell them apart. For these two, he describes their habitat, bark, twig and bud color.

m-beech sunshine

One of the clues he provides for beech trees is the fact that the leaves remain on the trees all winter. What I like about his comment is that he says this happens on young trees, for indeed, since I started paying attention, that’s what I’ve noted.

b-marcescent leaf

He also described the habit of oaks retaining their leaves, but what he didn’t mention was the term to describe this habit: marcescence or withering. Maybe I was disappointed because I just like to say marcescence.

b-ash bark

When it came to ash trees, I was pleased that he described the bark as being diamond-shaped, but he added an X to the pattern and that may help when I next look at an ash tree with others. Some have a difficult time finding the diamonds. They don’t exactly glitter in the sunshine.

b-aspen bark

I was thankful that when it came to the quaking and big-toothed aspen trees, Mikolas acknowledged that they are difficult to identify by bark alone. A few years ago, I spent some time practicing my tree ID with two different foresters and when I asked about these trees, they too, had a difficult time pinpointing the differences. Both were sure we were looking at quaking, but a quick scan of the ground below showed us big-tooth leaves.

b-aspen 2

One thing I’d add to Mikolas’ description is that on the lower portion of older trees, the vertical lines are similar to that of a red oak. One of the really cool tricks I picked up from the book in reference to aspens is what he calls “birds on a wire.” Again, you’ll need to purchase a copy to find out what he means. Or join me for a tramp.

b-grandaddy birch

Another description that brought a smile to my face was how he casted a mature and shaggy yellow birch as “the granddads or old wise men of the forest.”

b-yellow birch

I had the good fortune to meet one such character just the other day.

b-basswood

In reference to basswood,  Alan Seamans wrote in his e-mail message: “I didn’t know you could confirm i.d. of basswoood by the sound it makes when you hit it with a stick!” I didn’t either, but you can bet that’s on my list of things to do–frequently.

b-paper-birch-old

Mikolas’ photo essay on the aging of paper birch bark from a teen to an old man is well worth a look. My only disagreement with him in this section is that what he sees as an inverted V over the branch, looks more like an inverted U to me, or as I’ve always described it–a fu manchu mustache of sorts.

b-gray birch

Likewise, Mikolas sees black triangles under the branches of gray birches. I could agree with him on that for when I say it’s a chevron, people don’t always get what I’m talking about. One friend, in keeping with the paper birch’s mustache, suggested the gray birch may have a beard–a gray beard. Mikolas also says that gray birches are chalkier than paper–experiment for yourself  by rubbing your fingers on the bark and come to your own conclusion on that one.

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Turning to striped maples, I was tickled to learn a new common name. He used goosefoot, which describes the leaf shape,  and moosewood because deer and moose like to leave their scent by rubbing their antlers on the bark, but a name I hadn’t heard before–whistle wood. Apparently, slip-bark whistles can be carved from striped maple or willow in the spring.

n-Central Park 1

I do wish I’d read this book before venturing to Central Park a few weeks ago. I was in awe of the American elms that grow there, and wondered about their health given that so many elms have succumbed to Dutch elm disease. What I didn’t realize is that what I saw before me was one of the largest and last stands of these majestic trees.

b-red pine plantation

Heading back into a woodland setting, and this one was actually in Vermont, occasionally we stumble upon red pine plantations. It was my understanding that these were planted by the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps between 1938 and 1942 to provide farmers with a hill crop and others with employment. When walking in the woods and suddenly encountering a sterile environment where trees stand stalwart in lines and there is no undergrowth due to the thick needle cover below, and little diversity in wildlife, one may have entered such a plantation. At the time, it seemed like a good idea and provided work.

hemlock petioles (stems) and stomata lines

In the forest, I often discover hemlock and balsam fir saplings sharing a space. One word of caution when it comes to differentiating between the hemlock shown here and balsam fir needles that are shown on page 188–both have two white stripes of stomata on the underside. There are other clues to help tell them apart and I’ve actually written about such in the upcoming issue of Lake Living magazine so you’ll have to stay tuned.

spiky spruce

And then there are the spruces and I have to admit, I have a difficult time with red versus white, though forester friends have said they hybridize. I noticed that Mikolas mentions both, but doesn’t provide the fine details about scent and twig hair. Perhaps it’s enough to know it’s a spruce–especially if it’s spikey to the touch.

b9-tamarack gold

The tree descriptions conclude with the one and only deciduous conifer of our woods–the tamarack–the cone-bearing tree that loses its leaves (needles) each winter.

And with that, I will conclude this rather lengthy review. I’m so glad Alan recommended it to me, for it really is a gem. I hope you’ll purchase a copy and together we can head out on the tree trail and get to know our local species even better.

Put A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING TREES OF THE NORTHEAST on your wish list and shop local.

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING TREES OF THE NORTHEAST, by Mark Mikolas, published 2017, The Countryman Press.

Post script, or maybe it should be post post. This comment appears on my About page, but I couldn’t resist including it here. I’m always tickled and honored when an author responds to one of my posts:

Thanks so much for the detailed and positive review of my book, A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees. It sounds like it would be great to take a hike with you. I really appreciate the good press. –mm

Liked by you

  1. Mark, Thank YOU so much for taking the time to read this and comment. I think A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees is a fabulous addition to my book shelf and back pack. In fact, I’m on the board of the Maine Master Naturalist Program and asked our curriculum coordinator to review it. If it doesn’t become one of our text books, it should at least be on our recommended reading list. Well done, indeed. Oh, and if you’re ever in western Maine–give a shout. LMH

 

Book of October: The Secrets of Wildflowers

It hardly seems right to be choosing a book about wildflowers as the book of the month for October, but . . . I have. And for so many reasons. Therefore, the book of October is The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History  by Jack Sanders.

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First and foremost, there’s the cover! I know . . . I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But . . . I do. And this one appeals to my sense of color. My eyes are soothed by it, and therefore, so is my brain, and I find it a lovely addition to my summer kitchen office or the upstairs library (aka bathroom).

Then there’s the subtitle: “A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History.” And it is . . . a delightful feast, for its varied in format, offering prose and poetry, stories, descriptions, comparisons, suggestions, and a vast variety of tidbits during this time of harvest.

On the introductory page, Sanders writes, “The Secrets of Wildflowers covers natives and immigrants, friends and foes, because both kinds are here and both are interesting.” Oh my . . . isn’t that enough to make if perfect for right here and now. And I don’t mean just flowers.

The book is divided into three sections, based on approximate blooming seasons, (bringing me to another reason to choose such a book for October–it seems our growing season has extended and my day lilies have new leaves. That’s scary.), beginning with a section on spring, then summer, followed by late summer & fall. Within each section, several pages are devoted to a particular flower, including photographs and sketches–and oh, so much information. The only drawback that I can see, is the fact that I can’t see–the type is a wee bit small, perhaps because Sanders had so much to share and the book is already quite lengthy at 304 pages.

The book concludes with a two-page list of websites, a brief glossary and an extensive bibliography.

And so, as the October breezes send leaves dancing off the trees and the color begins to wane from the landscape, despite the small type, I find myself drawn to this treasure trove of information. I can pick it up and read a short section, while in the “library,” or spend an hour focusing on one plant while drinking a cup of tea in my office. I can skip around from season to season and not feel out of place. In the midst of it all, my hope it that I’ll retain some of what Sanders shares and I, too, can share when I lead future walks–adding to the story and helping others make connections.

With all of that in mind, I think The Secrets of Wildflowers is the perfect October book, for now that I own a copy, I have the rest of fall, on into winter, and next spring to devour this delightful feast. You might think the same and add it to your Christmas list. (Along with a magnifying glass–just in case).

Oh, and it was published in Guilford, Connecticut, next to my hometown–so that, of course, makes it special.

I found my copy on the shelves at Bridgton Books.

Book of October: The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History by Jack Sanders. Lyons Press, Guilford, CT, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Flying on the Wild Wind of Western Maine

My intention was good. As I sat on the porch on July 1st, I began to download dragonfly and damselfly photographs. And then the sky darkened and I moved indoors. Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the wind came up. Torrential rain followed. And thunder and lightening. Wind circled around and first I was making sure all screens and doors were closed on one side of the wee house and then it was coming from a different direction and I had to check the other side. Trees creaked and cracked. Limbs broke. And the lightening hit close by. That’s when I quickly shut down my computer and checked my phone to see how much battery life it had. And saw two messages. One was an emergency weather alert. Tornado Watch. And the other was from my friend Marita, warning me that there was a tornado watch for our area. I stood between the kitchen door and the downstairs water closet, where a hatchway leads to the basement. But, there was stuff in the way and I really wanted to watch the storm. At the same time, I was frightened. Of course, in the midst of it all, the power went off.

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It didn’t last all that long, as storms go, but the damage was incredible, including telephone poles left standing at 45-degree angles. Soon, the neighbors and I assessed our properties. We somehow lucked out and only two branches plus a bunch of twigs fell. Others were not so fortunate. Trees uprooted along the shoreline or crashed onto houses, sheds, vehicles and boats. Our neighbors float shifted about thirty feet north from its usual anchored spot. And the National Weather service did indeed determine it was an EF-1 Tornado with winds of 90-100 miles per hour.

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At first traffic along the causeway moved extremely slowly because fallen trees had closed the south-side lane, but eventually the police shut the road down and the fire crew arrived to begin the clearing process. After the first storm, it rained on and off, but once my guy got back to camp (he dodged a detour–don’t tell), we still managed to grill a steak and sat on the porch in the dark, which is our evening habit anyway. Central Maine Power worked most of the night and they’ve been at it all day–resetting poles and lines while neighbors’ generators and the buzz of chainsaws filled the air.

And my focus returned to others who also fill the air–though in a much more welcome manner, to we humans that is. Damselflies and dragonflies. Other insects don’t necessarily agree with us–as they become quick food.

Therefore, it seems apropos that the Book of July is the Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, with Donald & Lillian Stokes.

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It’s not a big book by any means, and doesn’t include all species of the insect order Odonata, but for me right now, it’s enough. And it fits easily into my pack. I can not only try to give a name to what I see, but more importantly to recognize the subtle differences in these favorite of insects.

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One of the features I really like is that it has a key on the inside cover, first divided between damselflies and dragonflies, and then further divided by families based on size, percher or flier, flight height, wings, body colors, eye position and other clues. As you can see, there are color tabs and I can quickly move to that section and search for the species before me. I’ve discovered that I’m now looking at eye position and colors as a quick key, with other features falling into place.

The book also discusses the life cycle and behavior of damselflies and dragonflies.

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Of course, it all begins when he grabs her–for damselflies such as these marsh bluets, he clasps her by the neck. Dragonflies do the same, only he clasps his female of choice behind the eyes.

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Eventually damsel love occurs as the mating couple forms a “copulation” wheel, thus allowing him to remove any sperm she may have already received from another, and replacing it with his own. Sneaky dudes. Soon after, hundreds to thousands of eggs are deposited, either in the water or on vegetation, depending on the species.

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Emerging from an egg, the larvae develop underwater. Damselflies such as this one, obtain oxygen through the three tail-like projections at the end of their abdomens. From 8-17 times, they molt, shedding their outer shells, or exoskeletons.

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In the spring, the big event happens. We all celebrate the emergence of the last stage in the larval skeleton, when the insects climb up vegetation or onto rocks, or even the ground, and make that final metamorphosis into the damsel or dragonfly form we are so familiar with, thus leaving their shed outer shell (exuviae) behind.

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On a warm, sunny spring day toward the end of May, there’s no better place to be than sitting in the presence of an emerging adult.

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I encourage you to look around any wetland, even as the summer goes on, for you never know when those moments of wonder might occur.

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In the guide, the authors include all kinds of observation tips. And then, the real nitty gritty. The first thirty-six pages of the Identification section are devoted to damselflies. And those are divided into Broad-winged damsels, Spreading, and Pond damsels. This is a river jewelwing, and for me it was a first a few weeks ago. I spotted this beauty beside the Saco River in Brownfield Bog–its iridescent green body showing through the dark-tipped wings.

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In the same category, the ebony jewelwing is equally stunning with brilliant green highlighted by black accents. This was a male; the female has a white dot or stigma toward the tip of her wings.

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Spreadwings are next and so named for their spread wings. This one happened to be a common spreadwing, though really, I don’t find them to be all that common.

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The pond damsels are the ones I do see often, including the female variable dancers. Check out her spotted eyes.

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And one of my favorites for its colors and name–the sedge sprite. If you noted the dancer’s eyes, do you see how the sprite’s differ?

From page 79-155, dragonflies are identified. I don’t have one from every type, but I’m working on it.

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Clubtails have clear wings, and their coloration is often green, yellow or brown. Check out those eyes–and how widely separated they are. Meet a lancet club tail, so named for the yellow “dagger” markings on its back.

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The emeralds are known by their eyes, which are often green. This American emerald has a black abdomen with a narrow yellow ring at the base near the wings.

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Also included with the emeralds is the common baskettail. Notice how stout this handsome guy is.

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Among the easiest dragonflies to actually get a good look at are the skimmers. And it seems that on many paths I follow, the chalk-fronted corporals are there before me. His thorax has two bluish-gray stripes with brown on the sides. And his wings–a small brownish-black patch.

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Then there’s the slaty skimmer, in a shade of blue I adore. His wings are clear, except for the black stigmas toward the tips.

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The common whitetail is also a skimmer. Not only is his abdomen different–with white markings on the side, but he has wings with black and chalky white bases and broad black bands in the middle.

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They’re all pretty, but I think that so far, my all time favorites are the calico pennants; the male with red highlights including stigmas on his wings and hearts on his back, plus a hint of red everywhere else.

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For once the male isn’t to be outdone in the color department, and the female looks similar except that she’s yellow.

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There’s so much to admire about damselflies and dragonflies. I mean, first there are those compound eyes. But look at the thorax–where both the three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings attach. I find that attachment to be an incredible work of nature. It’s awe inspiring at least.

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Then again, nature is awe-inspiring. When I awoke as the sun rose yesterday morning, I wondered about the damsels and dragons. Did they survive the storm? I stepped outside to once again check for damage and look who I spotted on the porch screen. Mrs. Calico stayed for about an hour or two, letting her wings dry off before heading out to perform today’s duties–flying on the wild wind of western Maine.

Damselflies and dragonflies are one more point of distraction for me these days. I won’t always get their ID correct, but I’m thankful for the Book of July, Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies, that I found at Bridgton Books.

Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, with Donald & Lillian Stokes. Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

Book of June: Bogs and Fens

My wish was granted when I asked for a copy of Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada by Ronald B. Davis for Christmas.

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The idea for this book came from many years spent by Davis as a biology and Quaternary studies professor at the University of Maine and Colby College, plus his services as a docent at the Orono Bog Boardwalk in Orono, Maine.

Since I spend a lot of time tramping through a few favorite bogs and fens as well as visiting others, this seemed like the perfect guide to help me better understand the world of these special communities. And then I realized that on our own property grows some of the vegetation associated with these wetlands. With them right under my nose, what better way to learn?

Davis begins by describing the occurrence and indicator species of peatlands and then he goes on to give a lesson on the ecology of wetlands, including a description of peat, fens and bogs. A bibliography is provided for further reading and terms are defined.

What really works for me though, is the species descriptions, which he’s taken the time to divide into their various layers–trees, tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and ferns. Within each section, a specific plant is described, including its Latin name, common names, family, characteristics such as how tall it grows, number of petals, fruit, if any, etc., and its occurrence–whether in a fen, bog, dry hummock or other. All in all, he features 98 species, but also mentions 34 comparative species and includes an annotated list of 23 additional trees, shrubs, herbs and ferns that may grow in one or more community. And finally, the book ends with a description of pathways and boardwalks worth visiting.

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And so this morning, I walked out back to look at our wetland, where the sphagnum moss’s pompom heads were crisscrossed by spider webs donned with beads of water.

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It’s there that the round-leaved sundews grow, which I only discovered last year. Notice those bad-hair day “tentacles” or mucilaginous glands and the black spots upon the leaves. Dinner was served–in the form of Springtails or Collembola–their nutrients being absorbed by the plant to supplement the meager mineral supply of the sphagnum community.

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And in the plant’s center, the flower stem begins to take shape. This summer, it will support tiny white flowers that will turn to light brown capsules by fall.

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Sheep laurel also grows in this place, its new buds forming in the axils below the newly emerged leaves. I can’t wait for its crimson flowers to blossom. Its flowers provide an explosion of beauty, and yet, danger lingers. This small shrub contains a chemical that is poisonous to wild animals, thus one of its common names is lambkill.

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Another short shrub is the rosy meadowsweet or steeplebush with its deeply toothed leaves.

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Being only June 1st, it’s too early to flower, but last year’s steeple-like structure still stands tall in the landscape.

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Low-bush blueberries grow here as well and it’s only now that I realize I need to return and study these some more for Davis differentiates between velvet-leaved blueberries and common low-bush. I assumed these were the latter, but according to his description, the leaves will tell the difference. Apparently velvet-leaved, which I’ve never heard of before, feature “smooth-edged, alternate leaves, and bear fine, short hairs on the underside, edges and along veins of the upper side,” while low-bush leaves “have a finely serrate edge and a lack of pubescence, except rarely a sparse pubescence along the veins.” The next time I step out there, I will need to check the leaves to determine whether we have one or both species.

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Of course, my favorite at the moment is the black chokeberry because the flowers provide a wow factor.

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I’m not alone in my fascination.

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Because I was nearby, I walked to the vernal pool, where a wee bit of sunlight highlighted another fascination of mine–my most recent discovery of water scavenger beetle larvae. Check out those heads and eyes.

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Today, the tadpoles weren’t as shy as the other day and so they let me get up close and personal.

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I’m holding out hope that the pool doesn’t dry up before they are able to hop away. Already, I can see their frog form beginning to take shape. This is a shout out to one of the Books of May: Vernal Pools–A Field Guide to Animals of Vernal Pools.

But back to the Book of June, and really the book of all summer months–Bogs and Fens by Ronald B. Davis. It’s heavy as field guides go and so I don’t always carry it with me, but it’s a great reference when I return to my truck or home. I appreciate its structure and information presented in a format even I get.

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

My copy came from Bridgton Books, my local independent book store.

Book of March: Upstream

As friends often do, one, whom we fondly call Señora because she was our sons’ high school Spanish teacher, recommended a book to me.

And as I often do, I visited my favorite independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, took a quick look and made a purchase.

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Book of March: Upstream

Upstream by Mary Oliver is a collection of essays, many which she previously published elsewhere. In 175 pages, the essays span a lifetime of writing–but even more so a lifetime of living. And noticing. And contemplating. And wondering. And making connections. And wondering some more. But all the time, believing, even in that which she could not see or quite comprehend.

She speaks to the writing process, a process I have embraced for what seems like forever. Only a few minutes ago I shared with a friend that a final draft is never really final. Each time we return to the words, we find other ways of playing with them.

She speaks to the natural world that she has spent a lifetime observing and recreates it on the printed page with elaborate detail. And so, with each sentence, I travel beside her, whether she wants me to or not, for Ms. Oliver embraces solo moments of exploration. I get that.

She speaks of Emerson and Whitman and Wordsworth and Poe. And actually, about the latter, she turns my head for she writes about him with such compassion.

She speaks of the reality of the universe and reminds us to exist. She is. We are.

She speaks of observing a mother spider and her egg sacs in the cellar of a rented home over the course of several months, and I sense her wonder. As a child, I was afraid of those cellar spiders. As an adult, I’m intrigued by them.

And so today, I took Ms. Oliver with me when I stepped into the woods.

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It was a snow-eating foggy  sort of day and the dampness grazed my cheeks.

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As my snowshoes slapped the hardened snow pack, rain drops drew my focus. On this particular pine sapling, I was drawn to the crosses formed by raindrops and needles, which seemed apropos given that today is Ash Wednesday. And then I noticed the spider silk.

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Every where I turned, long beaded strands of miniature raindrops connected one branch to the next.

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What I soon realized, however, was that the strands weren’t merely on single trees. Each tree was connected to the next throughout the forest. As I moved slowly about, I inadvertently snapped some of those lines and felt a sense of sorrow for all that work lost.

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And because I was looking, I found other curious sites that I didn’t expect. That is one of the take-away messages of Ms. Oliver’s book–get outside and even if you are searching for something specific that you may not find, it’s what you see along the way that is more important.

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As I often do when a book such as this one pulls me in, I turn back the bottoms of pages to remind myself that there are passages I will want to revisit. If the corner is turned back and back again, as this one, it means there is something to reread on this page and the one to follow.

For me, Upstream is that type of a book. It’s broken into five sections. Ah, the word broken–it doesn’t feel right in that last sentence because there is nothing broken about the book. Perhaps divided is a better word. Or maybe there’s another that will come to me eventually. That’s the thing about the writing process–it’s never final as I said above. Anyway, I found myself relating to each section with a different part of my soul.

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And give thanks that Ms. Oliver chose to share her reflections in this manner. I also thank Señora for the recommendation.

Upstream by Mary Oliver, Penguin Press, 2016

Book of February: The Stars–A New Way to See Them

If you don’t mind stepping outside on a crisp winter night, it’s the perfect time to turn your eyes skyward. With less ambient light and no humidity, the stars and constellations (and the cold air) will take your breath away.

The first thing to do is move away from any house or street lights to orient yourself. With arms outstretched, point your right hand toward sunrise and your left toward sunset–thus you’ll now face north with the east to your right and west to your left. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, your backside should face south.

Now, if you were an Ancient Greek or Roman, you’d look at the stars above and draw elaborate pictures in the sky to represent the gods and goddesses you knew so well. But you aren’t. Nor am I.

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Book of February

Instead, I connect the dots in a manner learned from H. A. Rey, author of the Curious George series (think Man with the Yellow Hat). Mr. Rey also wrote The Stars: A New Way to See Them, which guides us amateur stargazers in how to look at the constellations in a graphic way that shows the shapes implied by the name.

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Almost everyone recognizes the Big Dipper, the seven stars that form a large scoop–or dipper. The curved handle is created by three stars while four others form the bowl. Though we may think of the Big Dipper as a constellation, it is actually an asterism or group of stars within a constellation. In this case, the asterism is within Ursa Major, the Great Bear constellation. The tip of the dipper serves as Great Bear’s nose and the bowl forms part of his back–like a bicycle saddle bag. If you follow Rey’s diagram, you’ll see the rest of the side view, including the bear’s front and back legs and paws, plus his rump.

With Rey’s help, you can use the pointer stars in the Big Dipper to locate Polaris, the North Star, and then navigate your way around the night sky to other constellations. It’s a fun journey to take, especially when the sky is clear and wind calm.

Other winter favorites include Orion the Hunter and Gemini the Twins.

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An easy way to locate Orion is to first find the three bright stars lined up that create his belt. Do you see his sword dangling from the belt? He’s the heavily armed guy that dominates the sky right now with one arm raised high and holding a club, while the other extends forward and grasps a shield. The constellation includes the brightest star–Betelgeuse (pronounced beetle juice), which marks his left shoulder (leading to the club in his hand).

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Above Orion stand the Twins or Gemini (to the south),  who remind me of the stick figures I used to draw in elementary school (and beyond). Their heads are the bright stars–Castor and Pollux. I love how they stand side-by-side, holding hands.

There’s so much more to see and I like the simplicity Rey has taught me to find my way about the night sky. Yeah, you can hold your phone up and use an app, but that takes the fun out of it.

Go ahead, treat yourself to Rey’s The Stars and turn your eyes to the sky.

I found my copy of The Stars: A New Way to See Them at Bridgton Books. Where did you find yours? (I hope you’ll join me in supporting local independent bookstores whenever possible.)

The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H.A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008 (with update on the solar system and our planets), originally published in 1954.

Books of December: A Holiday Wish List

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

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

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Book of December: Forest Forensics

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

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

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Book of December: Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest

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

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

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Book of December: Bogs and Fens

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

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

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Book of December: Lab Girl

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

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

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Book of December: The Hidden Life of TREES

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any other suggestions for me?

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

 

Book of 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 September: Forest Trees of Maine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenneth G. Stratton, Director.

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

Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Joyce Kilmer

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

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

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

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

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

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1981

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1995

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

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

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And like the conifers, the broadleaves are portrayed.

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

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

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

 

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 January: A Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald W. Stokes

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Book of January

I have a number of winter nature books, but one of my go-to favs is A Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald W. Stokes. My copy is old (1976–it was a very good year–I graduated from high school) and a bit weathered, but that’s because it has seen frequent use.

Divided into eight field guides, Stokes covers all aspects of winter: winter weeds; snow; wintering trees; evidence of insects; winter’s birds and abandoned nests; mushrooms in winter; tracks in the snow; and woodland evergreen plants.

For each topic,  pen-and-ink drawings by illustrator Deborah Prince and the author are included in the key, as well as natural history descriptions.

The natural history descriptions are just that–Stokes’s descriptions are part of the story that Kevin Harding of the Greater Lovell Land Trust reminds us to share with others. Here’s an example: “St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum)–An old country custom in Europe was to hang a special yellow-blossomed plant in your window on the eve of St. John’s Day (June 24), in order to repel bad spirits and counteract the evil eye. In general, the presence of this plant was considered a good omen, and since it was thought that the plant warded off lightning and revealed the identity of passing witches, St. Johnswort was allowed to prosper around the farmhouse. It became known as St. John’s Plant or St. Johnswort (wort meaning “plant” or “herb”). When the plant immigrated to North America it left its traditions behind, and although still as effective as it probably ever was against evil, St. Johnswort is now seldom used for that purpose.” Of course, then he goes on to describe how the plant grows and the seed heads that will appear in the winter landscape.

One of the things I’ve learned from this book is to keep it simple. In the chapter about winter trees, Stokes encourages the reader to begin with the six most common deciduous trees: oak; maple; ash; beech; birch; and aspen. Learning these along with the evergreens provides you with knowledge about 80% of the trees in your forest. I’ve spent the last couple of years developing my bark eyes. I still have much to learn, but can eliminate the common species when I encounter bark I’m uncertain about.

It’s well worth taking the time to read A Guide to Nature in Winter from cover to cover–it’s an easy and enjoyable read. I say it won’t take long–unless you are like me and you pause to underline (yes, I mark my books up–even write in the margins, oh my!) details and take time to understand what you do see along the trail. I probably should invest in a more up-to-date copy, but I feel right at home engrossed in the one that I have.

And it’s also easy to turn to a particular chapter to figure things out. The simplified, illustrated keys should bring you quickly to an identification. And as I said before, the natural history description will further enhance your learning.

The book is available at Amazon.com, but if you live near an independent book store like Bridgton Books, then I strongly encourage you to shop there.

A Guide to Nature in Winter: Northeast and North Central North America, by Donald W. Stokes, illustrated by Deborah Prince and the author, published 1976, Little, Brown & Company.

Book of October: Reading Rural Landscapes

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There are many reasons why I love living in western Maine, and the fact that I can walk into Bridgton Books, an independent bookstore, and be handed a book that   shop owner Pam Ward thinks I would enjoy is one of them. Pam was so right.

Reading Rural Landscapes by Dr. Robert Sanford, professor of environmental science at the University of Southern Maine, is a perfect follow-up to Tom Wessels book, Reading the Forested Landscape.

Sanford takes us one step further in looking at the remnants in the woods. Here in western Maine, I often stumble upon stone walls, barbed wire, foundations, mill sites and other evidence of life gone by. All of this appears in places that seem so far away from civilization. How can it be? Did people actually live in these out of the way places? Why?

Sometimes, it’s difficult to imagine that the make-up of the neighborhood was completely different from what we know. We forget that following the Civil War many people left the area for greener fields and less of that good old stone crop. We forget that numerous farms once decorated our landscape. We forget that all the trees we love, didn’t exist.

Reading Rural Landscape’s size (5″x8″) means it fits easily into a backpack and has become one of the guides that I often carry. Sanford includes information about plants and trees at homesites, transitions that occur after fields have been used for pasture or agriculture, examinations of house, barn and outbuilding foundations, mill sites and early commerce, indications of rural roads from farming and stagecoach to logging and trolley, the meanings of stonewalls and barbed wire, plus cemeteries and symbols on gravestones.

Sanford includes a glossary, chapter notes that are as interesting as the chapters, and an extensive reference section. For $19.95, this is a valuable resource.

Ultimately, Sanford encourages stewardship of the land–protection of these historical places. He also encourages us to support those who continue to farm the land and work in the forests in sustainable manners.

Reading Rural Landscapes: A Field Guide to New England’s Past by Robert Sanford, PhD, published 2015, Tilbury House Publishers

The Need for More

Yesterday I stopped into our local independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, to purchase a title recommended to me by a friend (thanks D.B.), H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. While there, Pam, one of the proprietors, showed me Reading Rural Landscapes by Robert Sanford because she thought I’d be interested. Of course I was, and so for all of two seconds I debated about which to buy and guess what–I’m now the proud owner of both titles. I had earned a $10 credit (for every $100 spent, you receive $10 off if you belong to their book club and there is no book club fee–truly independent).

At camp, I was also reading another book (purchased at Bridgton Books a year or two ago). Well, actually rereading it because I like the author’s style/voice and maybe just a wee bit because she’s an Episcopalian. And she lives in Alaska–another draw for me. If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from small-town Alaska by Heather Lende.

3 books

Both last evening and this morning, I read from all three. Not simultaneously, of course. It’s always been that way for me. Skipping from one topic to the next. Easily bored? I don’t think so because being bored is not part of my makeup. More like an insatiable need to know more.

The bees and wasps and flies and ants and hummingbirds have the same insatiable need right now, as they flit and walk and crawl from one plant to the next, sucking nectar and exchanging pollen along the way.

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This busy bee was well-laden with pollen. Its bright orange sacs bulge on its hind legs like a kid wearing arm floaties in the water.

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Every time a bee visits flowers, the pollen sticks to its fuzzy body–its antennae, legs, face and body. Think pollen magnet!

The middle legs are equipped with comb-like hairs that scrape off the pollen and transfer it to the pollen presses located on the hind legs.

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Like our calves, the bee’s legs have a tibia or lower leg section. The tibia is shiny and surrounded by hairs, including some that are rather long and stiff. These form the pollen basket. Located at the lower end of the tibia  is another comb-like structure (ankle), and on the metatarsus (heel or foot) is the press. When it comes to pollen collection, the two structures work together like levers.

Nectar moistens the pollen, making it sticky. The pollen is transferred to the press, and then is manipulated between the press and comb until it sits flat on the bottom of the tibia. Each time a new batch of pollen is added, it’s pressed onto the bottom, forcing the pervious batches to move further up the tibia.  A full basket (think one million grains of pollen) bulges, but hairs hold the pollen in place as the bee flies from one plant to another before heading home to stock the nest.

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It’s not just hairy bees who are active in the gardens.

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Gathering for the family is important business.

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Thanks to the goldenrods and asters, there’s plenty of pollen and nectar still to be gathered.

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The mint seems to be the biggest hit among the variety.

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And there is other action as well. A funnel weaver tried to challenge the larger spider, but quickly retreated.

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Whenever I take a closer look at the crawling and flying members of the gardens, I’m in awe of their colors, patterns, hair or lack of, and overall body structure.

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You may have to look closer to find the visitor on this coneflower.

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This red-legged grasshopper tried to make itself invisible.

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The camouflage worked better once it climbed to the top of the fence. When grasshoppers fly, I can hear their wings make a rasping sound. But moving as this one was, there wasn’t a peep. The crickets and cicadas, however, I couldn’t see, but they’ve been contributing to a chorus all day.

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And then there is the hummingbird–ever swift and beautiful with its iridescent colors. Whether it is dining on nectar or insects attracted to the nectar, I don’t know, but it always returns, seeking more.

We all have the need for more. The frightening thing is that oftentimes we take more than we need. For the sake of the birds and insects, we need to think about that and how we might change our ways.