Lessons from the Earth

Dear Earth,

This year found me once again staying in my home territory to honor you and so while my guy did some yard chores, I chose to visit a few of your vernal pools.

Along the way, I stopped to smell the roses! Opps, I mean admire the flowers of the Red Maples, their pistils and stamen all aglow.

As I approached the first and nearest pool, I new love was in the air for I heard the deep wrucks of the Wood Frogs. That is, until I got to within about ten feet, and then the only sounds were small splashes that barely created ripples as the frogs sought cover under the leafy pool lining.

But, as you’ve taught me in the past, I stood as still as possible and waited patiently. It was then that my eyes began to focus on the pool’s tenants. And I realized that the usual population of larval mosquitoes, aka “wrigglers” already somersaulting their way through the water. That may be bad news for me, but it’s certainly good news for the birds and dragonflies of the neighborhood. While I try to practice mind over matter when I’m stung by a mosquito, I have to remember that your plan to offer “Meals on the Fly” sustains so many others.

And then, and then I spied something disturbing. Actually it was two somethings. Frog legs of two frogs. And even a head. Dinner? For whom? Typically, I rejoice at a kill site for I realize that one species feeds another, but this one disturbed me. Perhaps, dear Earth, it was because I think of this pool as mine even though it’s located on a neighbor’s land, and I want to protect it and all that live within, as well as all who venture to it for nourishment. Eventually, I realized that perhaps someone had been nourished by the frogs, but why didn’t they consume the entire beings? Could it be one of their own species who went into attack mode? I don’t have the answer–but once again you’ve given me more to question. And so in the end I realized I should be grateful for having the opportunity to wonder.

The good news–right behind the two dead frogs was a recently deposited egg mass. Its form made me think Spring Peepers, but I’ll need to watch them develop.

Death. Life. The cycle plays out as if a best seller in this dramatic genre.

I circled the pool looking for any other unusual sights or clues, but found none. Eventually I stood on my favorite rock and appreciated that you finally rewarded me, dear Earth. A Wood Frog appeared by my feet and we both remained as still as possible–that is until my feet began to fall asleep and I needed to move on.

As you know, dear Earth, I located several more pools, their wruck choruses giving them away. And within one, it was obvious by the egg masses that the lover frogs had found their mates.

Walking back toward home, I got a bit nosey, as you know, and turned over some bark that had fallen from dead trees. To my delight: millipedes, earth worms, bark beetles, slugs, and . . .

At least five Red-backed Salamanders. That reminded me, dear Earth, that though I wasn’t able to join Lakes Environmental Association for Big Night on Saturday, that rainy night when the temperature ranges about 40˚ and the amphibians decide to return to their vernal pools to mate and folks try to help them cross our roadways to do so, I trust that you made sure the Red-backed Sallies and worms made their presence known in the grass behind the Masonic Hall. Did you?

As for my walk today, I followed our trails and then an old logging road, where the deer and moose and coyotes and foxes and turkeys also roam.

And because part of my journey took me along the snowmobile trail, I picked up some empties and realized that not all turkeys are created equal.

But you don’t judge, do you dear Earth. Nor do you pretend that the world is perfect.

That being said, the sight of my first butterfly of the season, the pastel colored Clouded Sulphur, was rather perfect in my book.

Thanks for once again taking the time to teach me a few lessons . . . lessons from the Earth on this, your day, Earth Day 2019.

Lake Living–spring 2019 issue

If you are receiving this for a second time, I apologize, but the link to the magazine was incorrect.

I am beyond excited to announce that the spring issue of Lake Living magazine is now available on a store shelf near you . . . or right here!

It’s our At Home” issue, where we feature articles about home-related items and projects. One of the projects is very close to my heart:

Yup, that’s our current kitchen. But as you can see by the title, change is in the air. You’ll have to read about it. The plans continue to evolve as I write, but we’re close to finalizing them. All that being said, nothing will happen until this summer as we still have a couple of feet of snow in the yard and after that melts, it will be quite wet for a few months. But stay tuned for The Evolving Home, part 2 in the fall issue.

Also featured: “Finding Home” by Laurie LaMountain–about rescue dogs and organizations that place them in forever homes; “Shaker Inspired”–a collaborative effort by Laurie and me about furniture built in Bethel, Maine; “A Patch of Land, part ii” by the up-and-coming writer Marguerite Wiser–describing the efforts of a local couple who have worked hard to turn their farm into a vibrant, year-round enterprise; “Cooking with Clay” by Laurie–highlighting the ever-delightful and creative Rusty Wiltjer, a local potter, and also featuring some cooking with clay recipes; “An Improved State of Home” by Laurie–offering fresh ideas for organizing and getting rid of some of your “stuff;” and finally, “Dear Earth” by yours truly–a heartfelt and funny homage to our wise and wonderful, but challenged Earth.

Please, please, please support the magazine’s advertisers (including a certain hardware store). Without them, we can’t continue to produce this little gem of a magazine (yes, I’m biased.)

And get ready . . . for soon, I promise, the snow and ice will melt and the wood frogs and spring peepers will come to a vernal pool near you.

Dear Earth

Dear Earth,

In your honor, I decided that on this Earth Day I would head out the back door and travel by foot, rather than vehicle.

e1-Mount Washington

My journey led me down the old cow path to the power line right-of-way and much to my delightful surprise, Mount Washington was on display. It was so clear, that I could even see the outline of buildings and towers at the summit. Thank you for providing such clarity.

e2-vernal pool

Rather than walk to the mountain, I turned in the opposite direction and found my way to the vernal pool, where ice still covered a good portion. You know, Earth, as much as I want this to be a significant vernal pool because it does usually have two qualifiers (and only needs one): more than forty wood frog egg masses or more than twenty spotted salamander egg masses, I know that it is not. I believe it was created as part of the farm based on the rocks at the far end, not exactly forming a retaining wall, but still situated so close together in a way that I haven’t found anywhere else in my extensive journeys of the hundreds of acres behind our house. Plus, it dries up much too quickly to be a natural pool. And each year I’m surprised to find wood frogs, their egg masses, spotted salamander spermatophores, and their egg masses, given that the water evaporates before the tadpoles finish forming. If these species return to their natal vernal pool, Earth, then how can that be since no one actually hopped or walked out as a recently matured adult? Or were these frogs on their way to another pool and they happened upon this one? You know me, Earth–lots of questions as I try to understand you better.

e4-dorsal amplexus

Whatever the answer is, each year you work your magic and on a visit yesterday afternoon, I spied a male wood frog atop a female in what’s known as amplexus, aka, mating. According to Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Aram J.K. Calhoun, and Mark McCollough, “When mating, the male clings tightly to the females back. Visible contractions of the female’s body signal the onset of oviposition, at which time the male’s hind feet are drawn up close to the female’s vent. As the eggs are expelled, the male releases sperm into the water and strokes the egg mass with his hind feet, which presumably aids in distributing the sperm more evenly.” I looked this morning, but didn’t find any sign of eggs. Don’t worry, Earth, I’ll keep looking because perhaps they were there but hadn’t absorbed water yet.

e5-dead frog

One other thing I saw yesterday that greatly disturbed me was a dead frog in the water. Last year I also found such. My concern is that it was caused by a virus, but perhaps it was old age. Or some other factor. I do have to confess, though, Earth, I intervened and removed the body from the pond. I know, I know, it’s all part of the cycle of life, and I should leave nature to its own devices, but disease was on my mind and I didn’t want others to be affected. I may have been too late. Only time will tell.

e7-leaf variety

When I arrived this morning, I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any dead frogs. For the longest time I stood upon a rock–you know the one I mean, Earth, for you’ve invited me to stand there before. It’s sunny in that spot and the frogs know it well, for that is where they’ll eventually deposit their eggs. As I waited, I looked down at the leaves on the pool’s bottom and noticed how they offered a reflection of the trees above, beech and oak and maple and pine and hemlock. All still displayed their winter colors, but when the pool does dry up, they’ll turn dark brown and form a mat that will provide nutrients for the plants that colonize the area. You’ve got a system, don’t you Earth.

e8-frog 1

I knew if I stood as still as I could, I would be rewarded. While beech and oak leaves, the last to fall from their trees, danced somersaults across those already on the ground and matted by the past winter’s snow, red and gray squirrels chatted and squawked, and chickadees sold cheeseburgers in their songs, my eyes constantly scanned the pool. And in a flash, a frog emerged from under those leaves.

e8-wood frog 1a

For a while he floated, allowing the breeze to push him to and fro within a two square-foot space. But then he decided to climb atop a downed branch. Perhaps he was trying out a calling sight to use once I left.

e9a--wood frog 3

And then, there was another. And after that another. Yesterday I saw a total of six. Today only four. But that doesn’t mean the others weren’t hiding until I left, right Earth? I hope that’s what it meant. One thing you have taught me via the frogs is patience. If I stand still long enough at least one will swim to the surface. And they, too, are patient as they wait: for me to leave; for the gals to come. Well, maybe when the gals do come they aren’t all that patient.

e10-mosquito larvae

I actually returned to the pool a second time today and more of the ice had melted. While in the late morning I couldn’t see any insects on the move, in the early afternoon I eyed thousands of mosquito larvae. Everyone moans about mosquito larvae, Earth, but . . . they provide food for salamanders and the adult form for birds. I’m just trying to look on the bright side.

e11- snowmobile trail

This afternoon, I waited and waited for the frogs to emerge, but either my eyes didn’t key in on them or they decided to wait until I left. So . . . I finally did just that, and did head toward Mount Washington after all, following the snowmobile trail. As you well know, Earth, it was a bit tricky between the snow, soft mud, ruts and rocks exploding from your earth.

e11a-boots

My right foot managed to fall through the icy snow into a hidden rut filled with water that covered my Bog boots. And then my left foot found some mud that squelched with glee. Or was that you squealing with delight, Earth? I had one wet sock, but ventured on.

e11b-Mansion Road

At the junction, I turned to the west, following the log road and remembering the days of yore when my guy and I, as well as neighbor Dick Bennett, used to work up a sweat on a winter day following a snow storm, for it was our duty to you, Earth, to release the snow from your arched gray birch trees. And then, a few years ago, the road became the main route to the timber landing/staging area again, and all of those trees we’d worked so hard to protect year after year were cut to make way for machinery. As much as my heart broke, it does give me time to watch forest succession in action, and I gave thanks that you have such a plan in mind.

e14-deer dance

It also provided a blank stage upon which the does danced and left behind their calling cards.

e12-buck

And Buck sashayed each partner across the floor. The deep dew claw marks and cloven toes indicated he’d made quite an impression.

e11c-coyote scat

All along the way, upon raised rocks in the middle of the “road,” coyote and fox scat was prominent and in the sandy surface I also found their prints.

e18-vernal pool near landing

At the left-hand turn that led to the landing, I was surprised when I shouldn’t have been, for suddenly a million “wrucks” filled the air. I knew the water was there but it had slipped my mind. Thank you for the song of many more wood frogs. Thanks for filling my ears with joy.

e15-wood frog egg masses

And the chance to spy their good works. Thankfully, you make sure that life continues. At least in the form of wood frog egg masses.

e17-wood frog egg mass

I loved their gelatinous blob-like structure, all bumpy on the outside they were. Actually, I believe what looked like one mass, was several, but I didn’t dare step in to check and disturb the frogs that hid below.

e16-wood frog 5

Again I stood as still as possible, and again I was rewarded. For a bit I thought that the frog before me had no arms, but then I realized that they were just plastered to its sides.

e19-wood frog under log

A squirrel sounding bigger than itself caught my attention briefly and I turned unexpectedly. When I turned back, the frog was no longer at the water’s surface, but appeared below a downed gray birch. For a while the two of us remained still. I hoped another frog or two or three or three thousand would pop up, but that wasn’t your plan, was it? It’s okay. One was enough.

e21-log landing

I finally left my one, oops, I mean your one frog alone and continued on to the log landing, noting all the mammal tracks and looking for other signs. There was more scat, but I was disappointed not to find bobcat or moose prints. Where were you hiding them? I suspect the moose had moved to the swamp below.

Rather than go much further, for major ruts from the logging equipment were filled with water, I turned around just beyond the landing and headed back across it. Twenty-five years ago it was a much smaller clearing with a few pine trees. Over the years, I’ve watched it change and the mammal activity as well. And then, about five years ago it was converted back to a landing and I can’t wait for it to fill in again, but my desire and your plan are not necessarily the same, are they?

It all seemed like so much destruction, but I had to remind myself that I am part of the equation, with my own needs for power and wood and food and everything that you provide. And cuts do bring about a change, sometimes for the better, for the trees and the mammals and the birds and the plants and the decomposers and the consumers and all who call this place home. Am I convincing you, Earth? Am I convincing myself?

e22-frog 7

As I passed by the lengthy vernal pool again I decided to revisit the egg masses. I stood on the rock and slowly scanned the area. No frogs. On second glance, there was one right beside the rock on which I stood. And it looked like the same one I’d seen previously. I wondered why. Why didn’t I scare it? Was that you, Earth, taking a peek at me?

e23-Mourning Cloak butterfly

I had one more surprise on my journey–the first butterfly of the season, a mourning cloak. With its wings closed, it wasn’t all that attractive.

e24-mourning cloak

But upon opening them, I saw its beauty hidden within–another lesson, eh Earth? Oh, and your sense of humor. For yes, that was coyote scat on which the butterfly sucked as it sought amino acids and other nutrients. A fly also dined. Yum.

What a day, Earth. Your day. Dear Earth Day. May I remember to treat you so dearly every day.

Sincerely,

wondermyway

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honoring the Earth

It would have been so easy to stay home last night, curled up on the couch beside my guy while watching the Bruins play hockey. After all, it was raining, 38˚, and downright raw. But . . . the email alert went out earlier in the day and the evening block party was scheduled to begin at 7:30. And so, I piled on the layers from a wick-away shirt to Under Armour, a turtleneck, sweater, LL Bean vest and rain jacket. I slipped into my Bogg boots and made sure I had the right gear–smartphone for photos, reflective vest, headlamp and flashlight. With a visored hat on my head to shield my glasses from the rain, I was finally ready. Out the door and down the road I went, headed to the Lakes Environmental Association‘s office for Big Night.

h-Big Night Patrol 3 (1)

I wasn’t the only one crazy enough to attend the party. Our number was about twenty. I think the best part was that we ranged in age from 6 to almost 60, the latter being me–the oldest kid on the block. And in that mix, one teen who was celebrating his 15th birthday (Happy Birthday, Kyle), and several teens who had never attended before but came because one of their crowd was an annual participant. We even had two policemen in the mix–and though their job was to slow traffic and keep us safe, they had as much fun as we did completing our mission.

h-spotted sallie 2 (1)

Said mission–to help spotted salamanders . . .

h-spring peeper 1 (1)

and spring peepers cross the road.

h-redback salamander (1)

We did so for a while and then headed back to our vehicles. Just before reaching the spot where we’d all parked, someone spotted this redback salamander–I smiled because its the symbol of the Maine Master Naturalist Program.

We were wet. We were cold. And we were happy. As nature would have it, Big Night preceded Earth Day–a perfect beginning.

h-candy lichen

Earth Day began appropriately with a board meeting at Lakes Environmental, where among other topics, Dr. Ben Peierls, the new research director of LEA’s Maine Lake Science Center, shared with us his plans for the water quality testing laboratory. Ben addressed us first so that he could drive to Portland and join the March for Science. We continued our meeting, but were thankful for his representation. Meanwhile, directly outside and all around town, another gathering was taking place as many people participated in an Earth Day cleanup.

By the time I left the meeting pleased with all that had been accomplished, I was ready for a solo adventure to find out what the Earth wanted to share with me since most of the snow melted this past week. Despite being another raw day, or maybe because of it, the candy lichen brought a smile to my face. I think one of the cool things about this lichen is that even though its salmon-colored fruits stand atop stalks, this is really a crustose (crust-like) lichen, the bluish-green surface being the actual structure.

h-juniper berries

Near the candy lichen, the bright blue of some berries stood out on the common juniper. They remain on the shrubs all winter and it seemed only a wee bit ago they looked all withered. Today’s offerings were plump and pretty.

h-pine droplets

And then there were the raindrops, each waiting its turn to continue the journey toward the earth. I had to wonder what else it might fall upon before reaching its final destination–each little ball encapsulating nourishment.

h-lambkill

One of the receivers, sheep laurel, which displayed its own new life.

h-trailing arbutus

And at the base, trailing arbutus. One year ago, as I noted in my Earth Day post, it was already in bloom. This seemed a reminder from Mother Earth that we need to practice patience.

h-wild turkey

I continued my mosey, as quiet as could be, and so was startled when one large, exotic bird, and then another, and a third flew off from behind a stone wall. And then I realized they were wild turkeys–who truly are exotic if you take a look at all the colors in their feathers.

h-tinder conks on beech

I’d been on the snowmobile trail, but traveling was difficult given some remaining icy snow and deep ruts filled with water. As if I needed an excuse, I decided to slip into the woods. One of my first delights–tinderconks lining a tree as I looked up.

h-moss covering

But really, it was the thick moss coating at the top of the tree that first drew my attention. Several trees in the neighborhood displayed the same fashion.

h1-woods south (1)

My wander was aimless, taking me through boggy areas . . .

h-snow1

and small sections where snow still blanketed the ground.

h-deer prints in snow

Besides plenty of deer scat, I found prints . . .

h-deer hair

and hair.

h-deer hair bubbles

Raindrops enhanced the hair.

h1-moose scat 1 (1)

And though I suspect they’ve moved toward open water, there was plenty of evidence that the moose had also spent the winter in these woods.

h-moose hair

They, too, have shed hair–preparing for the summer scene.

h-moose maple

A couple of months ago, I’d been concerned that the moose had consumed all the tree buds, but the red maples showed me otherwise.

h1-woods south 2 (1)

At one point, I stood for a while atop a rock and looked to the south.

h1-woods north (1)

And then to the north. It was as I stood there that I heard a repeated sound. It began with a few slow beats, and then a swift series of beats. All seemed muffled. It finally occurred to me that I was listening to a ruffed grouse. Eventually, I followed the drumming and came close to the one beating its wings against a log–the work of a displaying male. I didn’t bother to seek out the actual bird for I knew I’d startle it and it would fly off, so I let it drum in peace, thankful for the opportunity to at least hear it. Really, it was a first for me. Oh, I’ve possibly heard it before, but only today did I recognize it for what it was.

h1-widowmaker (1)

For a while, I was fake lost . . . and then I heard another repeated sound that lead me to a widowmaker and I knew exactly where I was. But where was the maker of the sound?

h-owl 1

In a tree above me.

There were actually two barred owls and I was so thankful for the honor of listening to and watching them on this Earth Day.

I was also thankful for all the privileges bestowed upon me. The privilege of living. The privilege of noticing. The privilege of questioning. The privilege of understanding. The privilege of wandering. And especially, the privilege of wondering. Thank you for your offerings, Mother Earth. I am honored to know you.

 

 

 

 

 

Every Day is a Gift

It’s Earth Day and yet, I wanted to hibernate. That didn’t go so well. First, I looked out the living room window this morning and noticed a skunk staggering as it walked in circles–like a dog chasing its tail–only the skunk kept falling to the ground and then getting up and continuing in the same fashion. So I called the game warden. A neighbor did the same and a short time later an animal control officer put the skunk out of its rabid misery.

a-blues1

And then I was supposed to co-lead a hike in Pondicherry Park, but still in hibernate-mode, I managed to get out of it. My excuse–work load. Which was true, but staying focused wasn’t happening. So, I headed out the back door and decided to change my point of view. The high bush blueberry leaf buds began to do the trick as they offered their gift of quiet beauty.

a-red map2

a-red maple 1

Nearby, red maples practically screamed for attention. Male flowers have long, extended stamens that are coated in dusty yellow-green pollen. The females have a well developed ovary with two long stigmas but the stamens are reduced in size and non-functional. Just seeing them lifted my mood.

a-ta1

As I made my way to the vernal pool, I stopped to smell the trailing arbutus, aka Mayflower. But sniff as I did while squatting on all fours, I couldn’t smell the soft scent people rave about. And I have a good sniffer. For me, the gift of this wildflower is all in the joy it brings as one of our first to bloom.

a-tad 4

My next stop, was of course, the vernal pool that I frequent on a regular basis. While something has been disturbing some of the egg masses, others continue to develop.

a-tadpole 1

Each little tadpole swims about in its jelly-covered egg, offering a gift of hope.

a-sally3

Salamander eggs also are enjoying the warmth of being encased in jelly–especially where the sun shines upon them. It’s most helpful for development when the egg masses can float to the top of the pond and take advantage of the sun’s heat.

a-sally 1

For now, each little pod within the orb reminds me of coffee beans.

a-water st2

While standing silently beside the pool, I began to notice other forms of life, including the water striders. Do you see the two mating? These wonders of the natural world appear to skate on water, but really its the water-repellant hairs on their hind and middle legs that allow them to glide nimbly across the surface. They offer a gift of amazement.

a-mosquito1

Their favorite food happens to be abundant in this pool–mosquito larvae. I have to say it’s a food offering, but also a gift to all of us–we should celebrate the water striders as much as we do the dragonflies.

a-tom 2

I left the pool and realized I was among the turkeys. Tom was ready to offer his gift to his harem. Such a handsome dude.

a-grady 4

And with that, I realized that I was ready to join the world again so I drove to the trailhead for Bald Pate to join Loon Echo Land Trust for an Earth Day hike. The leader of the gang was this precocious tyke. At three years old, I kept insisting he’s 33. He kept telling me he’s only three. It can’t be. Though this was his first mountain to climb, I suspect there are many more in his future. He offered just the right tonic today and I fell in love.

a-view

As we climbed, we paused to look west and admire the view. Though the sun wasn’t truly shining, the day was getting brighter, literally and figuratively.

a-pitch cone

At the summit, we took time to examine the pitch pine cones with their prickly scales. Sometimes beauty has an edge.

a-grady and carrie mean pose

Before we descended, our little hiking buddy posed with his mom, the outgoing executive director of Loon Echo. Carrie will be missed and we wish her and her family well as they prepare for their move to Wisconsin in a couple of months. Her dedication to land conservation is to be admired. And that mean-looking grin–oh my.

a-adam 1

Also to be admired and the reason our local community and those beyond have been dealing with extreme shock these past couple of days–Adam Perron, who’s life was snuffed out two days ago in a tragic accident. Adam was the milfoil dude and a naturalist/educator at Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton, where I serve on the board (and chair the ed cmt). He was also a student in the Maine Master Naturalist Program (Falmouth 2014) when I served in my first year as a mentor, so we spent many hours carpooling to classes and field trips and solving all kinds of environmental problems–in our opinions at least.

a-adam2

He was most at home in places like Holt Pond, where he loved to share his knowledge with others. R.I.P. Adam. I’m grateful for the gift of time spent in your presence. It strikes us all that your candle was snuffed out way too early, but as a friend reminded me today, we never know when it is our turn. Here’s to you, Beth and Abby.

And to everyone else, hug the ones you love and don’t forget to wonder. Every day is a gift.