Renewing the spirit

My guy and I drove to the central Maine town of Madison this morning to join Master Naturalist Kate Drummond on a walk that combined the natural and historical context of a trail beside the Kennebec River.

The Pines

The Pines, as this area is aptly named, once served as an Abenaki settlement.

Kate D

Kate began by sharing the history of Father Sebastien Rasle, who lived among the Abenakis, learned their language and converted them to Catholicism. For more than thirty years in the late 17th/early 18th century, he served as a Jesuit missionary and built at church here. Father Rasle educated the children and developed a dictionary of the native language. He also helped keep the English at bay when they tried to encroach upon Indian lands–until that fatal day–August 23, 1724.

While Father Rasle had earned the respect of the Abenakis, the English militia was wary of him. They combined forces with the Mohawk Indians to destroy the village and killed at least 80 Abenakis and Father Rasle 300 years ago today.

And so it was that Kate chose to honor Father Rasle and the Indians he lived amongst by sharing the trail with local townspeople (and us–from two hours away) to tell his story and recognize the natural elements that were a part of their daily life.

Kate is a high school chemistry teacher, so captivating her audience is a part of her makeup. To begin, she asked us to stand still for a minute and listen, look, be in the moment. After we shared our observations, she took us back in time, to imagine what the area looked like three hundred years ago.

matching cards to cool facts

matching cards

And then our real work began. We were given a set of cards and had to match the photos to the card listing cool facts about a particular species. Thankfully, there was no quiz at the end, but I suspect this group would have passed with flying colors–everyone was equally engaged.

We found some cool finds along the way:

acorn plum gall

Our first was a mystery. This speckled red ball, about the size of a jawbreaker, had us puzzled. We found several on the ground beneath Northern red oaks and Eastern white pines. Cutting one open, it looked rather fleshy and we could see what appeared to be an insect, but we still weren’t sure. And when we later found an empty acorn apple gall, we realized it was the same size. Well, a quick Google search for “large speckled red ball beneath oak” revealed acorn plum gall. It’s the home of a wasp species that uses this as a nursery. The grub slowly eats the gall’s tissue and metamorphs into a pupa before changing into a small wasp that eats its way out through a hole. This particular gall grows at the base of the acorn cup.

red and sugar maple leaves

A red maple and a sugar maple stood side by side, making for a lesson on leaf id. Red on the left, sugar on the right. Red–more teeth, or as Kate said, R=rough. Sugar–a U between the lobes, and as Kate said, Sugar has a U in it. It’s their sap that the Abenakis knew.

beaver works

Though we didn’t see any fresh sign of beaver activity, we knew by this statue that they’ve been here in the past. I love that those who actually cut the rest of the tree down to prevent it from falling across the path, had the foresight to leave the beaver works for all to see. The beavers were important to the Abenakis for a variety of reasons, including as food, tools and warmth.

basswood leaf

The asymmetrical base of the basswood tree makes it easy to identify. It was the bark, though, that was of prime importance all those centuries ago–the stringy fibers were used to make line or rope.

jer art 1

In bloom were the Jerusalem artichokes. In Notes on a Lost Flute: A Field Guide to the Wabanaki, author Kerry Hardy writes, “Peeking out of the woods at Old Norridgewock are Jerusalem artichokes, the penak [ground nut]of the Abenakis who lived here.  I believe these plants must be descendants of those grown here centuries ago.” How cool is that? The plants tubers are edible.

jersaleum artichoke

On this day of reflection, remembrance and revelation, they shown brilliantly, perhaps a sign that reconciliation is possible.

Kennebec River 2

We spent some time beside the Kennebec where eels and alewives were important food sources.

immature bald eagle and nest

And an immature bald eagle let us know of his presence. He’s in the oak on the right, while his nest is toward the top of the pine on the left.

FR monument 1

FR mon 2

FR school

It is Kate’s hope that more people will want to learn about the history of this place. Kudos to her for embarking on renewing its spirit.

Looking At This, That and the Other Thing

boundary

I’m not the only one to cross boundary lines. You can see a deer run passing between the trees.

Acres and acres of land behind us are maintained under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law that was enacted in 1972. This law allows landowners to create a productive woodland, while supporting the wood products industry. They must develop a management plan, which includes periodic harvests. For the last two years, a lone logger has been harvesting trees on much of the land which is owned by one person. While I complain about some timber projects, this one seems to be well executed. And the deer love the opportunity to find lots of browse as a result.

deer browse

Red Maples that have been cut will stump sprout, thus providing lots of munching opportunities.

red maple bud

They don’t all get consumed in one day, fortunately. These Red Maple buds are beginning to swell. If the deer don’t eat them, it will be fun to watch the transition over the next two or three months.

another boundary marker

While poking about looking at this, that, and the other thing, I found more evidence that this land once had an agricultural use before reverting back to forest. Barbed wire served as a boundary beginning in the late 1800s.

balsam 1

In parts of the woodland, the evergreens are now the most abundant trees. The needles on the balsam firs caught my eye today. Normally, they lay rather flat, but suddenly I noticed that some were standing upright, showing off the two white lines or stomata on their undersides.

balsam 2

Typically, balsam fir has dark green needles that are blunt-ended and about an inch long. Some of the ends feature a small divot or notch. The silvery whitish lines on the lower surface are the stomata (pores). In today’s sunlight, the needles had a bluish hue as they stood up. What’s up? Why are they standing on end?

spruce 2

Spruce, on the other hand, have shorter needles with pointed ends. They feel prickly to the touch. Everything seemed normal with them.

hemlock

And then there’s the ever dainty hemlock with its half-inch long needles. Guess what? It also has two lines of stomata on its underside. So . . . don’t let that be the defining factor when you are trying to figure out what tree you’re looking at. Notice how the needles are attached, their length, their feel and the overall look (GISS) of the tree. Oh, there’s more, but save it for another day.

sugar maple

I was excited to find this Sugar Maple. The bark on a Sugar Maple tends to twist as you look up the tree. At least to my eyes.

sugar maple borer

And when I walked around, I found evidence of the sugar maple borer–the line that is left looks like a frowning mouth. I know I’d certainly frown if something named a borer attacked me.

pileated1

Whenever I see a fresh pile of wood chips created by a pileated woodpecker. I have to investigate.

pileated scat

And I wasn’t disappointed. Pileated woodpecker scat! 🙂 It’s filled with insect exoskeletons, since that’s why the woodpecker excavates the tree.  A few weeks ago I spent some time at Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton with a fourth grader who was working on a school project. We found some of this scat. She wasn’t particularly impressed but took it to school anyway. I hope she wowed her teacher and classmates. This morning, I met with a GLLT docent and the first thing I did was pull out my scat collection. After she guessed at each one, which I keep in separate petri dishes, she looked at me, grinned and said, “I don’t think anyone has ever shown me their scat collection before.” What can I say. My social skills are . . .

deer and squirrel, hemlock cover

I’ll end with this photo. Life happened here. A deer bedded down under a hemlock tree. And sometime later, a red squirrel climbed the tree while holding an Eastern White Pine cone, which it proceeded to strip in order to eat the two little pine nuts at the base of each scale on the cone. And you thought I was showing you more scat, I bet.

Thanks for joining me today on this wonderful wander.