The Art of Nature

Following a cart path that led away from the main trail at Shepard’s Family Farm Preserve in Norway, Maine, today, Master Naturalist Jackey Bailey and I suddenly found ourselves in an undulating field of wooden sculptures.

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Our intrigue was instant. Recycled and found wood transformed into artwork. I’d seen two of the sculptures before, but had somehow missed the other four that graced this property. The first on our tour–“Birdhouses,” their eyes hollowed out for entry; and faces reminiscent of fellow travelers on our Earth journey.

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“Birds” also gave us pause as we admired motion.

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And nearby, “Cat.” It struck me that “Birds” flew toward the “Birdhouses,” while “Cat” sat nearby, much the same as the neighborhood cats frequent our birdfeeders at home.

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I’d previously visited with “Mrs. Noah,” but our reverence today was just the same as we watched her gather feathered friends two-by-two.

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“Bird in Flight” offered a sense of movement through its feather-tipped wings.

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And finally, “Owl.” Of all, this was my least favorite because the wise old predator appeared mad with the world. But then, he had all the wisdom and perhaps he really was not happy with what he saw and knew.

All of these were the creations of artist Bernard Langlais. According to The Langlais Art Trail Web site: “Despite his commercial success, by the mid-1960s Langlais became disenchanted by the pressures of New York gallery culture. Interested in working on a larger scale, he purchased a farmhouse in Cushing (Maine) and moved permanently to his native state. In the last eleven years of his life, he constructed more than sixty-five monumental wood sculptures on the land around his home, including his best-known commission, the over seventy-foot-tall Indian for the town of Skowhegan, Maine. During this period he also produced a massive oeuvre of two- and three-dimensional works exploring the patterns, textures, and expressive powers of the animal kingdom.”

These sculptures and others at the Roberts Farm Preserve are on loan to  Western Foothills Land Trust through The Kohler Foundation of Colby College.

As Jackey and I noted, it was a totally different take on the natural world. Art made of wood, much of it repurposed, and left to the elements. Worth a wonder.

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Soon after, we parted paths. I journeyed home and felt instantly drawn to take a look at the sculpture park behind our home where nature’s artwork is always on display and frequently offers an opportunity to reflect upon the relationship between man and nature.

The sun highlighted one of the many tree stumps that spoke to logging operations and demonstrated the process of returning from whence it once came as lichens and mosses and balsam saplings took advantage of nutrients offered.

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Other cut stumps reminded me of the circular movement leading toward the center of a labyrinth–appearing quick and easy, and yet providing a time to slow down while following the path.

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In some ways, the target fungi that attacks Red Maples, demonstrated a similar pattern and journey.

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Because I’d discovered it last year, I knew where to look for the Orange Mock Oyster mushroom (Phyllotopsis nidulans), and found the underside gills to be equally contemplative.

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Then a different look–another take on birds in flight; these sewn into paper birch bark slowly decaying on the ground. Do you see them?

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Ice needles offered the most temporary of sculptures that spoke to frost slowly invading the surface soil.

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Ice formed around fallen leaves never ceased to amaze me.

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And the ultimate in Man and Nature and Art forms had to be the powerline appearing to lead to Mount Washington, where snow swirled in the wind.

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But of all that I saw today, it was the eyeglasses on one of the “Birdhouses” that caught my whimsy the most. I only wish a bird had paused to pose.

Manmade, Naturemade, Manmade with Nature, Naturemade with Man–there’s no denying the beauty of the art of nature.

 

 

 

Sundae School

I went on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon and visited a land trust property I’ve never stepped foot on before. My intention was to scope it out for possible use with a future Maine Master Naturalist class. My realization from the get-go was a happy heart. I can’t wait to return and take others along so we can make discoveries together.

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I’ve only been on one other Western Maine Foothills Land Trust property, so had no idea what to expect. The small parking area for Shepard’s Farm Preserve is at 121 Crockett Ridge Road in Norway. (Norway, Maine, that is.) This is one of seven preserves owned by the trust. I should have known I’d enjoy myself immensely just by the name. Though we spell Shephard with an “h,” it’s a family name for us. Who knows–maybe there’s a connection.

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On the back of the brochure I grabbed at the kiosk, I read the following: “Originally owned by Benjamin Witt, the high undulating pasture of Shepard’s Farm Family Preserve was transferred to Joshua Crockett in 1799, Charles Freeman in 1853, John Shepard in 1910, and to Bill Detert in 1984.” Mr. Detert and his family donated the property in memory of his wife, Jan, to the WMFLT in 2010.

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My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

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As I continued along the trail I found the upturned mature flower and again wondered–who stopped by for a sip of sap? Lessons should evoke further questions and a desire to learn more.

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The trail offered other familiar flowers, like hawkweed,

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pearly everlasting, goldenrods and asters, Queen Anne’s lace, boneset and jewelweed.

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And then I come upon a wildflower I don’t recall meeting before. The lesson included a look at the leaves, their arrangement on the stem, and the flowerhead.

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The answer to the quiz–lavender-flowered Sharp-winged Monkeyflower. Monkeys in the woods! You never know. Sometimes I think that red squirrels sound like monkeys when they chit at me, but in this case, it’s the fact that the flower looks something like a monkey’s face.

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Further on,  I spotted a favorite that I don’t see as often as I’d like. What I didn’t realize is that thistles are in the aster family. Always learning. Its presence here is referenced by trail conditions, which change periodically from mixed hardwoods to softwoods to open places. Thistles prefer those open places–fields and waste places. Hardly waste in my opinion. Rather, early succession to a woodland.

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A bee worked its magic on the flowerhead so I moved in for a closer look.

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As with any flower, it was a pollen frenzy.

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Seconds later–maturity! Well, maybe not quite that fast.

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But the seeds had developed their downy parachutes and the breeze was a’blowing.

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They knew it was time to leave the roost and find a new classroom.

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Another lesson worth more time was a look at the natural communities along the trail. Bikers and hikers share this space, but what I found fascinating was the constant change.

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The original trail for the Shepard’s Family Farm Preserve was located on a 19-acre parcel. Recently, the Witt Swamp Extension was added, which almost circles around a 250+ acre piece. Hay covers some of the new trail right now–giving it that farm-like feel and smell.

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I’m not certain of the mileage, but believe that I covered at least 4-5 miles in my out and back venture over undulating land and through a variety of neighborhoods. The trail conditions–pure bliss. No rocks or roots to trip over. Instead, I could look around for the next lesson.

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One of the things I love about hiking in Norway is that I get to be in the presence of cedar trees–Northern white cedar.

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I’m fascinated by its scale-like leaves.

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So are the deer, who feed on the leaves during the winter months.

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I found only deer tracks, and noted that all stream beds were dry, though the moss gave a moist look to the landscape. We’re experiencing a drought this summer.

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Due to that lack of rain, some red maples already have turned and colorful leaves are beginning to float to the ground.

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Deer aren’t the only mammals that inhabit this place. From the trail, I noticed hemlock trees with bases that looked like perfect gnome homes. And then I spotted this one that invited a closer look.

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A pile of porcupine scat–the pig-pen of the woods. Even Charlie Brown would note a distinct odor.

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And in true “Where’s Waldo” tradition, a young American toad crossed my path. The camo lesson–blend in for safety’s sake.

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Being former farmland, stonewalls wind their way through the preserve. And my childhood fascination with turtles was resurrected. Do you see it?

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How about now? Hint: the head is quartz.

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And this one? They’re everywhere. It makes me wonder if it was a style of the times.

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I crossed through a gap in the stonewall and noted two smaller stones topped by a large flat one. A reason why? The questions piled up. I need to ask the teacher.

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And then there were the stone piles. Why so many smaller stones around a boulder? What I love about this spot is that a hemlock took advantage of the boulder and grew on top of it.

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And another favorite find–a stone structure.

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Created with rather flat field stones.

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It’s near a stonewall, so I surmised it was a shed of some sort rather than a root cellar for a home. I could be wrong, but am thrilled by the opportunity to see it.

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One of the coolest features of this property is that it’s home to sculptures created in the 1970s by Bernard Langlois, including this bird in flight. The sculptures were made possible recently by the generosity of his widow, Helen Langlois, Colby College and the Kohler Foundation.

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Mrs. Noah is my favorite. She has stories to tell and I have lessons to learn.

It’s Sunday and by the time I finished hiking I was hot. I’d intended to check out a few more preserves, but the thought of a creamsicle smoothie at a local ice cream shop had my focus–until I pulled in and saw this posted: “Cash and local checks only.” No cash. And though our checks would be local, I didn’t have any with me either. Lesson learned.

I drove home and made my own sundae.