Dying To Get In

When I told my guy that Connie was taking me to Evergreen Cemetery in Portland today, he gave me a questioning look and asked, “Why?”

‘Why not?” I responded.

But really, it was because both she and I have friends who have posted incredible photographs of the natural world that is part of the cemetery and we wanted to discover what it was all about.

e1-evergreen cemetery

At first glance, Evergreen Cemetery may look like Anytown Cemetery for it features gravestones, memorials and tombs throughout. But . . . as we read on a panel near the entrance: “Established by the city in 1854, the cemetery was designed by Charles H. Howe as a rural landscape with winding carriage paths, ponds, footbridges, gardens, a chapel, funerary art, and sculpture. It also includes extensive wooded wetlands. Evergreen was modeled after America’s first rural cemetery, Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The cemetery, the second-largest publicly-owned open space in the City at 239 acres, has been host to a variety of wildlife such as geese, ducks, pheasants, swans, turtles, blue heron, fox, mink, deer, and moose. Its spaciousness combined with old growth pine and oak, vegetation, ponds, and surrounding wetland, provides a true wildlife oasis. It is considered a premier birdwatching sanctuary. Maine Audubon utilizes the cemetery for field trips, to include their annual Warbler Weeks conducted in May. Evergreen Cemetery is also a wonderful location to enjoy the vibrant colors of fall foliage in Maine.

e2-sunburst lichen

We didn’t actually spend much time exploring the cemetery itself, though that would be fun to do on a return trip, but as we waited for Connie’s friend Linda to join us, we did look at a few gravestones and were especially enamored with the sunburst lichen that lightened a stone gray morning.

e3-male mallard

Linda was only a few minutes behind us and then we all traveled to the back end of the cemetery, where the Mallards stopped us in our tracks. While you might ask why, remember that we are women of wonder and wonder we did: about his iridescent head,

e4-famale mallard

her lack of ducklings despite four attentive males,

e5-mrs. mallard

why their feet were orange,

e6-duck tweed

and the tweedy pattern of their feathers.

e7-ducklings

And then we spied a couple of other females with ducklings, this one standing tall as she allowed her youngsters to explore.

e7-chipping sparrow

They weren’t the only ones exploring–a Chipping Sparrow was doing the same, though it was almost impossible to see given that it blended in so well with its surroundings.

e8-black swallowwort

At last we pulled ourselves away from the ducks and our view of the car, and started down a trail where flowers and leaves made us take note. Last year, I first met the dark maroon flowers of Black Swallowwort, an invasive. Diminutive and pretty, it was difficult to dismiss them, especially when juxtaposed as they were against a sensitive fern frond.

e9-ragged-robin

Connie introduced us to another invasive that she immediately recognized as Ragged-robin. Linda and I were wowed by the pink petals, irregularly cleft.

e10-sunburned oak meat

The natural community kept changing and suddenly we found ourselves under a power line where dried spaghnum moss made us wonder if the land was typically wet. And then we saw something red, and the discarded outer shells nearby spoke to its source. It was the “meat” of an acorn, the red being its “sunburned” presentation.

e11-oak setting root

The evolution of an oak tree–it begins with an acorn.

e12-song sparrow

In the same opening, we watched several Song Sparrows move among the shrubs, and then one paused to serenade us.

e13-song sparrow

Upon finishing, it waited as if for our applause.

e14-arrowwood viburnum

Before moving on, we had one more plant to ID. Thanks to iNaturalist, Connie informed us that it was Arrowwood Viburnum. While we appreciated its umbel of flowers and large-toothed leaves, one stem in particular drew our attention. In a symbiotic relationship, ants stroked brownish-red aphids with their antennae, while the aphids released drops of honeydew sucked from the stem. The process was much like a cow being milked. It was actually rather creepy, but wicked cool and all three of us used a loupe to take a closer look.

e15-American honeysuckle

Back along a woodland trail we continued, again stopping periodically to take in the sights, ask questions, and appreciate our surroundings. Among our finds we discovered the newly forming fruits of a native honeysuckle.

e16-beaked hazelnut

We also rejoiced when we encountered the beaked fruits of Beaked Hazelnut.

e17-mallards

At last we’d completed a short loop, and found ourselves drawn in again by the Mallards, both young and old.

e19-snapping turtle

But then our eyes focused on other residents in the shallow water.

e20-ducks and turtle

And we feared that we’d witness a snapping turtle devour a duckling. We kept encouraging mama to move her kids out of the way.

e21-3 turtles

Especially when we realized the pond was full of snappers and they all seemed focused on swimming to the same focal point.

e22-injured duck

But mamma took her time and let the kids roam freely. We did realize that she had an injured foot or leg and moved with a hop, which added to our anxiety. I also felt a certain affinity with her, given my current one-armed bandit situation due to a broken wrist that is slowly healing. Here’s hoping that she heals as well.

e22-mouth open

As we watched the drama play out before us, we noted two adult ducks hanging out under some alders beside the shore. Suddenly, a snapper approached them quickly and opened his mouth wide. Was he exhibiting aggressive behavior?

e23-mouth closing

We weren’t sure, but as suddenly as he’d approached, he closed his mouth and turned away.

e18-ducklings all in a row

We noticed that turning away was typical turtle behavior. They seemed to get within a couple of feet of the ducks and then turn. Why? We were, however, glad when momma got her ducklings all in a line and moved on.

e25-green heron

We, too, moved on . . . a few more feet toward the car. And then we stopped again to check on the action in the pond. That’s when a Green Heron flew in.

e26-green heron

He was also looking for lunch, though we never saw him succeed in his search.

e27-turtle wars

We did see the ducks and turtles again. And our turtle questions continued for we noticed that they would gather and then one would go after another and the water would boil. An act of aggression? Or a mating ritual?

e28-turtle face

We didn’t have all the answers, but one thing we knew–we’re dying to get into the cemetery again.