Unexpected Gifts

While vegetables roasted in the oven for the black bean soup that will be consumed during our Christmas gathering, I stepped outside to get some fresh air on this snowy day.

c-junco and cardinal

The bird feeders and ground beneath are always more active during storms and today was no different. At least forty juncos accompanied by one white-throated sparrow have been repeat feeders and occasionally the male cardinal invites his female friend along. Tufted titmice, goldfinches, chickadees, a downy woodpecker, nuthatches and bluejays rounded out the flock.

c-into the woods

Though conditions are expected to change by morning, with an ice storm in the forecast, today’s gift was fluffy and light as it embraced me in silence.

c-hemlock baubles

Because of that fluffiness, it built up quickly, bedecking branches with puffy clouds of white.

c-star-flake

And then, when I stepped into a darker world where the hemlocks grow in a dense grove, I began to notice something.

c-spider garland 3

On every branch of every tree . . .

c-spider garland 2

snowflake garlands . . .

c-spider garland 1

danced. And I was reminded of a story I used to read to my nephew and niece when they were babes–it was based on a legend about a poor family who had no decorations for their Christmas tree. As the tale goes, while the children slept, spiders spun webs of silver around the tree’s branches. The next morning, the family awoke to a Christmas tree sparkling with silver webs. Today’s webs were such and I was richer for the experience.

c-cheddar cheese

I’m also richer for other gifts, such as Washington State University’s white cheddar cheese;

c-ornament

an ornament created with birch seeds and their fleur de lis bracts placed between mica sheets from Mount Apatite in Auburn,

c-heartwood

a box filled with heartwood samples all labeled,

c-Santa's visit

and just a few minutes ago a lengthy e-mail from someone who had read the article entitled “digging for roots” that I wrote for the winter issue of Lake Living magazineThe gentleman who sent the note had gone out of his way to visit my guy’s store and ask for my address. He wanted to share his own experiences of dipping into the past and suggested a few avenues my guy and I might follow with our search for ancestors.

I’m totally blown away by these unexpected gifts. And forever blessed.

 

Whetting Our Apatite

Our hunger is never satisfied each time we gather. We always manage to see more, share more and learn more because of our combined knowledge. We also always come away with questions. And so it was this afternoon when about ten of my Maine Master Naturalist Lewiston classmates and I gathered with two of the programs founders, Dorcas Miller and Fred Cichocki, to explore a public park in Auburn, Maine.

a1a-looking at trees

From the get go, we bounced back and forth along the trail to look at the idiosyncrasies of trees and chat about the book, A Beginner’s Guide to RECOGNIZING Trees of the NORTHEAST.

a1-red maple target fungus

And as they should, teachable moments kept presenting themselves, including a prime example of the bull’s eye target fungus on red maple bark. Suddenly, those who hadn’t quite seen the target in an earlier specimen had the opportunity to meet it and I trust they will recognize it going forward.

a2-slime mold

As much as we zigzagged down the trail, we also bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge. Because we all suffer from Nature Distraction Disorder, and have the tendency to travel at a slower than slow pace, it was no surprise that a stop to look at a fungus closer to the ground meant that one of us noticed a slime mold in the crevasses of pine bark. A poke with a finger nail and the spores oozed out.

a2a-approaching the mines

There were mosses to look at. Ferns to recognize. Lichens to question. And a trench that probably had been used to drain water back in the day.

a3-Dr Fred

Just beyond the trench, the star of the show took over. Dr. Fred was in his element as he reviewed the geological history of this place.

a21

And when he talks, we listen.

a4- Greenlaw quarry 1

We had come upon the first of the quarries, where feldspar had been mined in the early 1900s for porcelain. But, as Fred explained, while mining the feldspar, rare and unusual minerals had been discovered including a phosphate mineral called apatite.

a6a-Maine Feldspar Quarry

From there, we circled down and around and looked across at the Maine Feldspar Quarry.

a6-Maine Feldspar quarry

We learned from Fred that the wall of the feldspar quarry was a demonstration of light-colored pegmatite just above the water, topped by gray metamorphic rock.

a8-basalt dyke

Next, we encountered a fractured wall of fine-grained basalt–an igneous vein that formed a dyke.

a9-basalt:iron

Basalt is fine-grained due to the molten rock cooling too quickly for large mineral crystals to grow. Typically, it’s gray to black in color with rust from iron oxidation.

a12-another quarry

From there we moved on to another quarry, where our attention was not so much focused on the rocks as on other things.

a13-squirrel cache

For deep within, we spied several red squirrel caches and dining tables. Later, we watched a chipmunk take advantage of the squirrel’s work. Minerals aren’t the only gems of choice at this place.

a14-labyrinth

As we made our way around to a quarry dump, we discovered a labyrinth that made its way around the pine trees. I followed it to the center–struck by the fact that we were examining rocks dating back to the Carboniferous period, and I was walking a path based on an ancient archetype dating back 4,000 years. Time. Worth a wonder.

a15-tourmaline 1

In the dump field, we scattered about looking for souvenirs and then paused at a boulder to examine its offerings.

a16-tourmaline crystal

On the back side, Fred pointed out several depressions where tourmaline crystals had been discovered and removed. We were awed.

a20-graphic granite

There was so much to see from milky and smoky quartz to feldspar, mica and garnet, but my favorite find was more graphic.

a17-graphic granite

Graphic granite–a pegmatite of igneous origin that splits in such a way to make it look as if stories have been expressed with a fountain pen. In this case, I was sure the story was about birds flying over mountains.

The quarries were our turn-around point. We had begun our adventure with plans to visit them quickly, then explore the outer trails of the park, but as we knew would happen, two and half hours later we’d only made our way to the quarries and it was time to head out because the sun was sinking.

That didn’t matter for happy were we to spend time exploring together and whetting our naturalist appetites at Mount Apatite.