Books of December: A Holiday Wish List

In the spirit of changing things up a bit, I decided that I’d include five books I highly recommend you add to your holiday wish list and two that I hope to receive.

These are not in any particular order, but I’m just beginning to realize there is a theme–beyond that of being “nature” books.

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Book of December: Forest Forensics

Tom Wessels, forest guru and author of Reading the Forested Landscape, published this smaller work in 2010. Though only 5″ x 7.5″, the book is rather heavy because it’s filled with photographs. Despite the weight, Forest Forensics fits into a backpack and is the perfect guide for trying to figure out the lay of the land. Using the format of a dichotomous key, Wessels asks readers to answer two-part questions, which link to the photos as well as an Evidence section for Agriculture, Old Growth and Wind, plus Logging and Fire. In the back of the book, he includes Quick Reference Charts that list features of particular forest and field types. And finally, a glossary defines terms ranging from “age discontinuity” to “Uphill basal scar,” “weevil-deformed white pines” and “wind-tipped trees.” In total, it’s 160 pages long, but not necessarily a book you read from cover to cover. If you have any interest in rocks, trees, and the lay of the land, then this is a must have.

Forest Forensics by Tom Wessels, The Countryman Press, Woodstock, VT, 2010.

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Book of December: Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest

Michael L. Cline is executive director of Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, New Hampshire. In September, I had the pleasure of attending a talk he gave at the center about Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest. The 6″ x 9″ book weighs about the same as Wessels’, and will also fit handily into your pack. Of course, you might want to leave the books in your vehicle or at home and look up the items later–thus lightening your load. Using Brownfield Bog as one of his main go-to places, Cline describes 70 species of shrubs from Creeping Snowberry to Mountain Ash. The book is arranged by family, beginning with Mountain Maple and Striped Maple of the Aceraceae (Maple) family and ending with the American Yew of the Taxaceae (Yew) family. Each two-page layout includes photographs (and  occasionally drawings), plus a description of habit, leaves, flowers, twig/buds, habitat, range, wildlife use, notes and other names. I have no excuse now to not know what I’m looking at as I walk along–especially near a wetland. That being said, I’ll think of one–like I left the book at home, but I’ll get back to you.

Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest by Michael L. Cline, J.S. McCarthy Printers, 2016

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Book of December: Bogs and Fens

Ronald B. Davis’ book, Bogs and Fens, was a recent gift from my guy. I hadn’t asked for it, and actually didn’t know about it, so I’m tickled that he found it. I’m just getting to know Dr. Davis’s work, but trust that this 5.5″ x 8.5″ guide about peatland plants will also inform my walks. Again, it’s heavy. The first 26 pages include a description of vegetation and peatlands and even the difference between a fen and a bog. More than 200 hundred pages are devoted to the trees, plants and ferns. In color-coded format, Davis begins with the canopy level of trees and works down to tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and finally, ferns. He also includes an annotated list of books for further reference, as well as a variety of peatlands to visit from Wisconsin to Prince Edward Island. As a retired University of Maine professor, Davis has been a docent and guide at the Orono Bog Boardwalk for many years. Field trip anyone?

Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada by Ronald B. Davis, University of New England Press, 2016.

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Book of December: Lab Girl

I’d never heard of Hope Jahren until this summer and then several people recommended her book, Lab Girl, to me. Rather than a guide, this is the story of Jahren’s journey from her childhood in rural Minnesota to the science labs she has built along the way. As a scientist, Jahren takes the reader through the ups and downs of the research world. And she does so with a voice that makes me feel like we’re old friends. Simultaneously, she interweaves short chapters filled with  information about the secret life of plants, giving us a closer look at their world. I had to buy a copy because for me, those chapters were meant to be underlined and commented upon. I do believe this will be a book I’ll read over and over again–especially those in-between chapters.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

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Book of December: The Hidden Life of TREES

And finally, a gift to myself: The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben. I’d first learned about this book in a newspaper article published last year and had to wait until recently to purchase it after the book was translated from German to English. Again, it’s not a field guide, but offers a delightful read that makes me think. And thus, you can see my bookmark. I’ve not finished reading it yet, but I’m having fun thinking about some different theories Wohlleben puts forth. As a forester, Wohlleben has spent his career among trees and knows them well. He’s had the opportunity to witness firsthand the ideas he proclaims about how trees communicate. And so, I realize as I read it that I, too,  need to listen and observe more closely to what is going on in the tree world–one of my favorite places to be. Maybe he’s right on all accounts–the best part is that he has me questioning.

The Hidden Life of TREES: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben, Random House, 2016.

And that’s just it–the underlying theme of these five books you might consider is TREES. I can’t seem to learn enough about them. One word of caution, each author has their own take on things, so the best thing to do is to read the book, but then to head out as often as you can and try to come to your own conclusions or at least increase your own sense of wonder.

And now for the books on my list (My guy is the keeper of the list):

Naturally Curious Day by Day: A Photographic Field Guide and Daily Visit to the Forests, Fields, and Wetlands of Eastern North America by Mary Holland, Stackpole Books, 2016

Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast by Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.

Do you have any other suggestions for me?

One final thought about books–support your local independent book store as much as you can. Here in western Maine, we are fortunate to have Bridgton Books. Justin and Pam Ward know what we like to read and if they don’t have a particular book we’re looking for, they bend over backwards to get it for us.

 

The Be-Attitudes Sundate

Today marks the beginning of the season of hope and with that in mind, my guy and I climbed Singepole Mountain in Paris. Paris, Maine, that is.

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Our hike began beside Hall’s Pond, where the water reflected the steel gray sky of this late November day.

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And stonewalls and barbed wire reflected the previous use of the land.

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In a matter of minutes we learned of its present use.

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Everywhere we looked, beaver sculptures decorated the shoreline.

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We passed from the hardwood community to a hemlock grove . . .

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where more beaver activity was evident. I’ve been reading The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben and have some questions about tree girdling such as this. There is a theory that beavers chew off the bark all the way around (girdle) to eventually kill trees such as hemlock, so preferable species will grow in their place. But, that’s thinking ahead to future generations. Do beavers really do that?

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On page 18, Wohlleben states the following: “As the roots starve, they shut down their pumping mechanisms, and because water no longer flows through the trunk up to the crown, the whole tree dries out. However, many of the trees I girdled continued to grow with more or less vigor. I know now that this was only possible with the help of intact neighboring trees. Thanks to the underground network, neighbors took over the disrupted task of provisioning the roots and thus made it possible for their buddies to survive. Some trees even managed to bridge the gap in their bark with new growth, and I’ll admit it: I am always a bit ashamed when I see what I wrought back then. Nevertheless, I have learned from this just how powerful a community of trees can be.”

Could this theory be true? Are the surrounding hemlocks feeding that tree via their roots? If so, does that throw out the other theory? So many questions worth asking.

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Soon, we left the Pond Loop Trail and started to climb the Singepole Trail, passing by a gentle giant.

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It’s a snag now, but this old maple offered tales of the forest’s past and hope for the future.

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On a smaller scale, Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain provided a cheery contrast among the leaf and needle carpet.

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The climb was a bit challenging in places, but we held out hope among the ledges that we might see a bobcat.

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No such luck, but we did find this . . .

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a well used porcupine den.

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Water dripped in constant harmony as we stepped gingerly along the narrow ledges and tucked under overhanging rocks.

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About halfway up, we took a break and paused to admire the view.

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The hardwood and softwood communities became more obvious as we looked down.

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And suddenly or so it seemed, my guy reached the moment of truth–the summit.

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From the top, we looked around and embraced our home place, which appeared on the horizon in the form of Pleasant Mountain.

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A slight turn and the view extended from Pleasant Mountain to the White Mountains.

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Below our feet, the granite pegmatite shared its showy display.

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We’d read that there was a quarry at the summit, so we headed toward a cairn, in hopes of locating it. Too many jeep trails confused us and we decided to save the quarry for another day. Instead, we turned into the woods to get out of the wind and munch our PB & J sandwiches, the grape jelly courtesy of Marita Wiser and family.

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As we poked about, something caught our attention and we moved closer.

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A wickiup frame. We admired the efforts of someone to create this traditional structure.

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Emerging from the woods, we took one last look at Pleasant Mountain, and . . .

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one last view of what seemed to be the summit (though it may have been a false summit).

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And then we started down, once again hugging the rocks and trying not to slip.

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On the way, I did note a few things, including this fungi that looked more flowerlike than mushroom like.

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And I spotted a phenomenon that occurred repeatedly. Girdled beech trees too far uphill for a beaver. What or who had debarked these trees?

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I may have been seeing things that weren’t real, but the lines on this particular tree made me wonder about the porcupines. Was I looking at the design they leave with teeth marks created in the distant past? Or were they wounds of another kind?

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When at last we reached the Pond Trail again, we continued to circle around it, noting more beaver works.

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At last, we found the mud-packed lodge built into the edge of the pond. Here’s hoping for a warm winter within.

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Completing the circle, the biting breeze forced us to walk quickly toward our truck and the end of our hike. We have chores to complete tomorrow so our Sundate may have to suffice for a Mondate.

That being said, in this season of hope, we trust we’ll find more opportunities to consider these be-attitudes:

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Be supportive of each other.

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Be watchful of what’s to come.

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Be hopeful of love everlasting.