Summer Solstice Sweetness

My dear friend Carissa sent me an e-mail about this week being Pollinator Week and challenged me to write about it. Her inspiration came from an e-mail she’d received from Natureworks Horticultural Services in Northford, Connecticut–part of our old stomping grounds as babes, toddlers, tweens and teens. (She grew up in Northford, while I grew up on the other side of the tracks in North Branford–two distinct villages that formed one town.)

Part of the message included this passage: “Happy Pollinator Week. There really is a week for that? You betcha. Pollinators are vital to life on this planet. And, at Natureworks, we are teaching our customers to protect and help pollinators every single day. It all starts with an organic garden. It includes planting lots of pollinator-friendly flowers. It continues with the way you manage your landscape and the way your community manages their public spaces. Pollinators are in decline around the world. We need to take this seriously. Let me just say . . .  we have the plants for that!

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And then another friend, Pam, invited me to join her on a mini-hike to Foss Mountain today in Eaton, New Hampshire, and it all came full circle. To travel here with Pam was an incredible opportunity because she had some personal experience with the property and shared the local lore, including a story about a peddler who long ago repeatedly traveled a road that crosses the mountain and apparently spent some time canoodling with another man’s woman. And then, on one of those journeys, the peddler vanished into thin air–never to be seen or heard from again.

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Pam’s brother and sister-in-law had previously owned the land we were about to explore, but it’s now owned by the Town of Eaton and is protected in perpetuity by the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. The property is managed by the Eaton Conservation Commission, which maintains the trail and blueberry fields.

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The blueberry fields were really a sign of early succession following a 150+ year history as pasture land. According to information posted on one of the three kiosks, there was a description of the farming heritage that included along the timeline the decade that the fields reverted to blueberries, juniper and gray birch, and the man who oversaw the blueberry crop–Frank French.

At some point along that timeline, the Brooks family homesteaded there, but not much was known about them. Pam and I wandered about the remaining cellar hole as we tried to interpret the scene, but didn’t quite understand all that we saw. (We sure wished our friend Janet had been able to join us and add her understanding of such historical sites.)

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We continued on the short journey upward, passing through a pleasant White and Red Pine forest along a well-defined trail with switchbacks to help eliminate erosion.

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Suddenly, the natural community changed and we entered an open area where White-throated Sparrows serenaded us with their “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” song. Sheep Laurel surprised us with its bright pink flowers, but . . . we spied no pollinators.

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We also discovered a cinquefoil growing abundantly among the rocks, and though it had a few pollinators, it was just that–only a few.

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Now allow me to interrupt with an explanation of the common name for this cinquefoil or Sibbaldiopsis tridentata: it’s known as Three-toothed (tridentata) for the three teeth at the tip of each leaflet. Do you see them?

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Though we only saw a few pollinators among the cinquefoil, the abundance of blueberries suggested a lot of previous action. A few blueberries had already ripened. We conducted a taste test and suggest you totally avoid Foss Mountain this summer for we certainly couldn’t taste the sunshine in those little blue morsels. (And my nose just grew longer–Pinocchio-style.)

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As we reached the summit, we shifted our attention from flowers and pollinators to the 360˚ view that surrounded us.

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In every direction . . .

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we relished the sight . . .

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of blueberry plants . . .

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and mountains–including the Ossipee, Belknap and Presidential ranges.

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After a lunch break in the middle of this longest day, we started down and made more discoveries–including the sweet flowers of Blue-eyed Grass and its fruits indicating it had been pollinated.

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And nearby on a Red Clover . . .

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a bumblebee sought nectar while simultaneously filling its pollen sacs.

But in the whole scheme of things, we saw few pollinators and wondered–what’s up? This is an organic field and public space, as Carissa’s contact at Natureworks encouraged. And yet . . . Pam and I weren’t able to answer all our questions today.

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But . . . as we looked upon the abundant blueberry crop before us on this first day of summer, we gave thanks for those who had protected the land and those who had performed the mighty act of pollination despite adversity and we looked forward to the sweetness that will follow this Summer Solstice.