The Magic of Maine

Our group was small but our experience enormous as five Maine Master Naturalists met in China, Maine, this morning to participate in a workshop about experiential learning presented by one of our own–the teacher of teachers, Anita Smith.

c-osprey 1

Upon arrival at the China School Forest where we met up, our nature distraction disorder (NDD) immediately kicked in for there was an osprey nest on a light post overlooking the ballfield between the middle and primary schools. The forest is a 50-acre tract behind the primary school that serves as a hands-on, outdoor classroom for grades K-8 and all of us really, for it is open to the public.

c-green heron 1

And then our attention was directed to the fire pond, where a stocky green heron displayed its streaked chest and dagger-like bill.

c-green heron crest

We watched him work the edge and loved when he showed off his crest–adding to our agreement about his ID.

c-trail map

At last, we pulled ourselves away and let Anita begin, starting with an overview of the forest’s history and a look at the map posted on the kiosk.

c-yellow rattle 1

We headed off down the trail to a pavilion, but again were easily distracted. This was a plant I didn’t recall meeting previously, but its bladders and yellow faces reminded me of  fish faces. Karen later ID it as yellow rattle for when the seeds form in the bladders later in the season, they rattle.

c-lady's galore

At last we arrived at the pavilion (only a few minutes walk down the trail if one wears blinders) where Anita had us help set up a work station and explained how she has students help cart the supplies. We started to help her, but within seconds Sally spotted the lady’s slippers and again we were distracted.

c-lady's by the dozens

They were so plentiful that we couldn’t resist admiring them.

c-pink lady's slipper

Most were princess pink.

c-white lady's slipper

But a few were pure white (not rare, just a form of the pink, but still . . . ).

c-lady's slipper pod

And even others spoke of transformation, with last year’s pods still standing.

c-nature journal

Again, she pulled us back to the subject of the day. Because we were there to learn about activities we might use in our work with children of all ages, Anita had us create our own nature journals. Stamps and markers and pipe cleaners and solar beads and fabric and we were happy campers–each expressing our own creativity in designing the covers.

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While we worked, baby phoebes watched from above.

c-damselfly nymph1

Our next stop was the wildlife pond and bridge, where we did some pond dipping and were thrilled with our many findings, like damselfly larvae and tadpoles,

c-caddisfly larva and salamander

damselfly and salamander larvae,

c-water scavenger beetle larva and salamander larva

and water scavenger beetle larvae beside a salamander. There was so much more and we again had a difficult time pulling ourselves away.

c-examining aquatic species

It was the water scavenger beetle larvae that stumped us most, but we had fun identifying as many species as we could and were wowed by the variety available.

c-bird nest

Leave we did at last–only first we checked out a nest Sally had discovered. While it sat upon balsam fir branches, we thought it had fallen from above. And marveled at its construction–balsam fir twigs, fruticose lichen and balsam fir needles, all in their own layers.

c-twin flower

There were other things to see before we moved on, like the delicate twinflowers that bloomed.

c-pondweed and raindrops

An artistic display of pondweed.

c-fragrant water lily

And spadderdock,

c-fragrant water lily 2

whose flower reminded me of the inner formation of pitcher plant flowers.

c-Anita reading to us

At last, lunch time arrived. And so we returned to the pavilion where Anita shared some of her favorite books. And then she read to us All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan–warning us first that she would cry when she got to the end. Indeed she did, but we were touched for we got it.

c-board feet

After lunch, she took us on a tour to visit some of the seventeen learning stations, including the forest measurements station, where students learn about common measurements related to the forest and wood product industry, including board feet for dimensional lumber.

c-reading tree

Every time I visit the China School Forest, I’m in awe. And today, I knew others, like Kathy and Cathy, felt the same. The forest was full of diverse species and twenty years ago the Town of China and folks like Anita turned it into an incredible space for children and the child in all of us to learn. My favorite spot of all has been “the reading tree” built around a weeviled white pine. Even those in wheelchairs may access it and find a spot to read or watch or listen. After we climbed up, we climbed down, and Anita led us through several fun activities, the last ending with M&Ms. What’s not to love about a seminar that ends with chocolate?

c-Eastern forktail damselfly

On our walk back, our NDD was ever on alert. And so we’d not seen too many dragon or damselflies in the morning, perhaps given the cooler temp. But on our way out, an Eastern forktail damselfly drew our admiration for its green, black and blue coloration.

c-bridge classroom

We were beside the man-made pond when we saw it, where the bridge crosses and where we’d earlier done some pond dipping to observe the aquatic insects. It’s there that a bench sits in the midst of an outdoor classroom.

c-dedicated to Anita Smith

That very bench had been dedicated to our Anita.

c-baby robin 2

Back at the pavilion, we gathered all our gear and then followed the trail out. And that’s when Kathy called from ahead, telling us to watch our step. A baby robin sat on the path. We heard a parent nearby.

And wondered in the magic of the day. Another magical day in Maine.

 

 

 

 

life IS good, but we NEED rain

Logger PHil 2

“Einstein said ‘The difference between stupidity and genius,” quoted Maine logger Phil Dow, “is that genius has its limits.'” Whether or not Einstein actually made that statement doesn’t matter. What’s matter is that on a beautiful day in May, Mr. Dow stood beside the reading tree at China Schools Forest in China, Maine, and in his soft-spoken way he informed the students sitting on picnic tables in front of him about Maine’s history and the logging industry. They were mesmerized. So was I. Life IS good. And check out his beard and that reading tree platform. Wow!

China Schools Forest

A friend and I had journeyed to China this morning to observe Forest Days in the 50-acre forest abutting the China Primary and Middle Schools. Six hundred, yes, you read that correctly, 600 kids participated in the program. With their teachers and parent volunteers, they moved from station to station, learning about forest management, pond critters, soil composition, tree id, flower dissection, and so much more from over 30 presenters. They were engaged, happy, polite . . .  and not in school. 600 kids roaming about. We loved hearing their voices wafting through the woodland.

station 4, wildlife pond

We not only wanted to see how the program worked, but also to take a look at the outside classrooms. Created in the 1990s, this demonstration forest is an on-going project. To date, there are seventeen classrooms. At each, an interpretive sign explains what you should notice. (Disclaimer: the signs were created by Anita Smith, a former teacher at the schools and a Maine Master Naturalist graduate, who served as our most gracious guide today. Anita and a colleague have spent the last year developing today’s program. They offer Forest Day every other year, but the outdoor classrooms are always available.)

kids on bridge

There’s a silviculture classroom, a red pine plantation, a tracking pit, den tree and more. And across the man-made pond, is a bridge that expands at the center, creating plenty of room for an entire class of students. Today, they used nets to explore pond life from the bridge.

leach

My friend and I explored pond life as well. Check out this leach.

dragonfly

And a dragonfly. Dragonfly sitings–always worthy of a celebration.

measuring-wood-300x200

Though I didn’t see them work with this today, at the Forest Measurement classroom, they learn how to measure a cord of wood and board feet. And about the clinometer, a hand-held instrument used to measure ground slope, road grade and tree height, plus a biltmore or woodland stick used to estimate tree height and diameter. When we paused today, a local forester had middle school students simulate best forest management practices.

white lady's slipper

As we walked along part of the 1.4-mile path, we also noticed the flora–a White Lady’s Slipper. In Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, this is listed as very rare.

pink

Pink Lady’s Slippers grow abundantly in these woods.

False Solomon's Seal

We also saw False Solomon’s Seal or Wild Spikenard.

job-started-300x200

I have a lot of favorite things about this place, but the two that top my list are the reading tree where Logger Phil spoke and the signs above the pavilion–especially this one: “Congratulations on a job well started.” Indeed.

The driving was a cinch because we chatted non-stop and two hours later, I was home again, home again, jiggity jig.

If you read my post yesterday about the vernal pool, you won’t necessarily want to read any further. The life cycle is complete. Less than 24 hours after my visit yesterday afternoon, the pool has dried up.

VP 1

And, I’m afraid the tadpoles have succumbed.

dead tadpoles

To the earth they shall return in one form or another.

flies galore

The place was buzzing with flies.

Moose Pond

So on a brighter note, I visited my third “pond” of the day–Moose Pond. It was the perfect setting for a late afternoon interview.

life IS good, but we do NEED rain.