Book of October: Reading Rural Landscapes

Book

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.

beebee2

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.

bee on mintbee on mint 2

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.

bee 3

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.

beefly on goldenrod

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

large blue wasp

Gathering for the family is important business.

wasp 2

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

yellowjacket

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

spiders 1

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

spider 2

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.

inchworm

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

red legged grasshopper

This red-legged grasshopper tried to make itself invisible.

grasshopper 2

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.

hummer approaching

hummer approaching 2

hummer approaching 3

hummer approaching 4

hummer approaching 5

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.