Sunday, December 30, 2012


With back-to-back snowstorms behind us, the Town of Waldo where I live has approximately 18 inches of snow on the ground. And with that amount of snow covering the banking around my cottage, the indoor temperature has risen by several degrees. Besides that, before the insulating blanket of snow came, even with the woodstove pumping, it was hard to feel totally warm and comfortable. Not now, though. As long as the snow lasts, keeping warm inside will present far less of a problem.

My morning was spent shoveling snow, probably my least-favorite activity in the world. The acquisition of one of those snow scoops, the kind that you push instead of lift, has made things at least somewhat easier. But when snow gets just so deep, it’s difficult to dump the snow from the scoop. The best I can do is to partially upend the thing and push on it. Then, when pulling back on the handle, the snow stays in place, as long as it was well-packed. That just goes to show that nothing comes easy.

The accumulated depth of snow now has caused me to re-think my plans for January 1, the first day that we may go ice fishing and keep trout, togue (lake trout) and salmon under general law rules. Wallowing through knee-deep snow to get out on a lake isn’t fun. Besides, I’m not totally sanguine about the thickness of ice on local lakes and ponds. Safe ice had only begun to form and now the snow will act as an insulator, making it difficult to add ice.

So after my morning’s labors, I’m just happy to come back inside and plan dinner…what I refer to as dinner, anyway. It’s an old-time country term for what most everyone now calls lunch. But lunch, in my vernacular, can happen anytime, as in, “I think I’ll stop and have a little lunch.”  

And of course dinner to everyone else is supper to me. It’s stuff such as this that I ponder now, what with my reinforced confinement in the house. The plow man hasn’t come yet and with all the driveways he has to plow and the depth of the snow, it’s possible I may be stuck inside for several days. And goodness knows what deep thoughts (as in lunch, dinner and supper distinctions) I’ll ponder in the meantime?

But not to worry. I have thawed out a package of squid from last summer. These, I vacuum-sealed in special bags and they are as good as fresh. And later, the pack of lamb chops I took from the freezer last night will make for an elegant supper (dinner, if you will).

Tonight is supposed to come off clear, albeit cold…the Weather Channel calls for temperatures of 0 Fahrenheit. But as long as it’s not too windy, cold won’t present a problem. I hope to set up a telescope and do some stargazing. Skies are often quite transparent after a storm front departs. And transparent skies, meaning a lack of upper-lever turbulence, mean excellent viewing.

And if the full moon poses a problem, then I might dispense with the scope and do some limited stargazing with my image-stabilized binoculars. These keep shaking to a minimum, the end result is something like a great leap in magnification. With these 10 X 30 Canon binoculars, I can plainly see all four of Jupiter’s Galilean moons. And of course, star clusters and other celestial goodies come to life in the Canons.

So being stuck at home because of snow is really no big deal. It used to happen to people all the time and they easily took it in stride. It’s only today, with the demand for unhampered access to stores and whatnot, that being snowbound makes folks uneasy. As for me, it doesn’t make much difference. I’ll use the time to write a few columns and work on some new jigs and reels. Besides, I have three bottles of Sam Adams Boston Lager in my refrigerator. It could be worse.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

We Have Much To Be Thankful For

Right about this time of year, I become quite appreciative of all the good food that I either caught, grew or picked in the wild. The Highland Scots have a saying that kind of sums this up in a nice way: “A fish from the river, a staff from the woods and a deer from the moor, three thefts no Gael was ever ashamed of”       

Of course in our case here in America, we needn’t steal a fish or a deer and in Maine, we have more than enough wood to supply staffs for all. But still, the saying illustrates what was important to those braw, kilt-clad lads across the pond.

And speaking of all that good, wild stuff, I am everlastingly grateful to those who pioneered the art of food preservation and brought it to the current level of technology. Now, we can have wild greens, picked fresh in spring and summer, frozen and served at any time of the year. The same goes for fish and game. Vacuum-sealing machines keep air out and freshness in.          

My freezer brims with frozen goodies from the woods (or the moors, if you will), the streams, the ocean and even my own garden. And my shelves are lined with home-canned goodies, such as goosetongue and dandelions. And of course, garden stuff too goes into canning jars. I particularly enjoy my home-canned carrots.

While somewhat demanding, it was enjoyable and rewarding to gather and process all these wonderful things. And now, while reaping the fruits of my previous labor, I can relax and contemplate the wonderful blessings available to us all.

Today at noon, my meal consisted of mackerel fillets, fiddleheads and corn-on-the-cob. The mackerel were placed on ice as soon as the came off the hook, taken home, filleted and sealed in vacuum bags. The fiddleheads were given equal care and the corn was from my own garden. All in all, it was a taste of summer on a raw and dreary winter’s day.         

Now, during the holiday season, I like to mull over my blessings and give thanks for all the lovely things that the good earth provides. And likewise, I hope all readers of Wild Plants And Wooly Bears, wherever dispersed, have a chance to sit down, relax and count their blessings too.

Season’s greetings and my best wishes for a happy, safe and prosperous new year for all.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Silent Killers

A silent killer stalks our woods and fields, meadows and hedgerows. It strikes quickly and efficiently and shows no mercy. Its predations account for a near-mass slaughter of certain native creatures. This is an introduced predator and we introduced it. And we bear responsibility for its existence.

By now I can hear readers thinking, “Oh, my, what terrible creature might this be?” Well, the answer may come as a surprise. The introduced predator is the common housecat, gone wild. The feral cat population continues to swell as the exurban push continues.

With every new house that sprouts up on formally wild land or agricultural land that was sold out of inability to pay continually-rising property taxes, the number of housecats roaming those places increases exponentially. And when that happens, the number of native bird and small mammal species diminishes accordingly.

My interest in this topic was piqued by the decreasing number of ruffed grouse, woodcock and also, snowshoe hares on my woodland property. It took me a while to figure out what the problem was. I blamed fishers, weasels, foxes, bobcats and coyotes. But coyotes don’t catch too many game birds. They instead, concentrate upon small mammals. And while coyotes are a relative newcomer to these parts, foxes, bobcats and the rest were here well before we were. Something different had to account for the sudden slackening in small game and game bird numbers.

And that something was housecats. As more and more people moved out my way (a large agricultural landowner had gone out of business and subdivided their land…after cutting all the useful timber), I began seeing more and more housecats in the woods. And only shortly thereafter, the small game population went south.

In addition to the heavy toll these feral cats take on small game, they also kill songbirds. I can no longer maintain a bird feeder, since these cats hide in nearby bushes, patiently waiting to leap on any ground-feeding bird that might chance to pick up a sunflower seed that had dropped to the ground.

These cats are of two types; fully wild and part-wild. The fully-wild cats have litters outdoors and the offspring grow up as genuine wild animals. The other variety is cats that people feed sometimes and might even let in their houses on occasion. But that’s as far as it goes. These animals have the run of the woods and only show up at home for a meal or when bitter cold weather prompts them to go for creature comforts. They, of course, are not properly cared for in that the irresponsible owners do not have them vaccinated against rabies, distemper or any of the other diseases that cats are prone to.

Maine law states that cats, like dogs, must be under the owner’s immediate supervision when off the owner’s property. But of course no one bothers with obeying that law. I have even had cat owners scoff at the suggestion that they keep their cats home.

So who is to blame here? Well, the cats are animals and simply follow their animal nature. So the fault clearly lies with the owners.

Sadly, I don’t see any help for this situation. Perhaps some day more people will exercise responsibility in this regard, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. 

By the way, the mystery item shown in my "What's It?" quiz posted a while ago is the interior skeleton of a common squid, also known as a "pen." These are of a translucent, cartiliginous material and they are found inside the body, or "tube" of a squid. 

Nobody got the answer right, by the way. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Insect Pests

Insects are necessary for plant life to exist. From symbiotic relationships that benefit both plant and insect, to pollinating efforts, insects have their place. But on the other hand, that doesn’t mean we have to like them.

In fact, I really dislike them. At one time I had no feelings one way or the other. But in recent years, with spiders, ants, ticks and a host of other creepy-crawly critters gnawing on my poor old hide, I have had it.

And yes, I know that spiders are arachnids, a separate category. But for purposes of this conversation, I’m lumping them all into one, homogenous group: insects.

For the last five years, I have gotten tick bites in March. That used to be the month when glorious spring arrived and with the warm, southern breezes, also came a feeling of freedom. And that freedom was borne of knowing that it would be another month or more before the first biting insects showed up.

But no more. These disease-carrying deer tick are fully active in March. And each tick bite presents not just the problem of Lyme disease, the bites themselves take a long time to go away…as in years. I’m still scratching a tick bite on my thigh that I got in March, 2010.

Spiders live in my house (they come in on firewood) and they purposely and with malice aforethought, attack me in my sleep. I have slapped myself awake, only to find a squashed spider in bed with me. Yekkk!

Wasps and hornets build their nests in the eaves of my cottage, in the barn and in my woodshed. Every year, one of these aggressive beasts nails me. And every year, I become more intolerant of bee stings. My physiology has changed and now I become swollen and experience shortness of breath. Benadryl has become a household staple.

So with all of this, now I see that “winter moths” are descending upon Maine en mass. Who ever heard of “winter moths?” I certainly didn’t. On the other hand, I never thought much about ticks, either, not until perhaps 10 years ago.

I know this post sounds sort of tongue-in-cheek, but it has a serious tone. Insects such as emerald ash borer and wooly adelgid are already a serious threat to our forests. And now winter moths are here to destroy the trees (hardwoods and fruit trees) that emerald ash borers and wooly adelgids can’t be bothered destroying.

Again, I write in a semi-humorous vein, but there is nothing funny about this. My thoughts now are, “what’s next?” Would it come as much of a surprise to learn that still another as-of-yet unknown insect pest has invaded the Pine Tree State?

As for me, I can’t see much hope for stopping any of this, a pessimistic, but honest point of view.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Last-Minute Chores Keep Tom Hopping

Winter sometimes comes in with a bang. Some years, the first major snowfall stays on the ground until the spring thaw, meaning that anything left on the ground outdoors remains out-of-bounds until spring. Knowledge that this may happen at any time serves as a great inducement to get yard work done, tools and machinery safely stored and also, to get every stick of firewood under cover for future use.

I recall the year that a major blizzard hit us on Thanksgiving Day and the snow lasted throughout the season. My boat wasn’t covered and much of my wood was still in a pile outside, waiting to get stored in the woodshed. That was a lesson for me, one that I haven’t yet forgotten.

So these last few days, beginning on Thanksgiving, were devoted to doing my last-minute tidying-up chores. The boat has now gotten its wooden frame installed and a cover over the frame. Gas was drained from the water separator on the fuel line and the gas container stored in the barn, where it will soon get funneled into another container and put in the gas tank of my car.

Because of ethanol, that nasty additive to modern gasoline, many of us must take extensive measures to protect our 2-cycle engines from danger. Ethanol rots gas lines and hoses, among other things. And while fuel stabilizer helps, it does not completely solve the problem.

Fortunately, 93-octane fuel mixture does the trick and this is available from many hardware and building supply stores. I bought a can and followed the instructions, which dictated draining the old (yeah, right…five-week old gas. But it wouldn’t last through the winter) gas and filling the tank with this 93-octane stuff. The final thing requires running the motor so that the new, snazzy fuel stays in the lines all winter.

By the way, the guy who sold me the 93-octane stuff tells me that we can expect gasoline, even gasoline with fuel stabilizer added, to last no more than six weeks. This seems like a terrible waste and it may even pose environmental problems, since the “old” gas must be disposed of in one way or another.

Getting back to my labors, I used the chainsaw to cut a bunch of limbs to firewood length, so I’m sure that the high-power fuel has thoroughly circulated. After that, the saw and also, my garden tiller, were stored in the barn.

But I wasn’t done yet. The house needed banking, which I did. Now, bitter winds will have a hard time sneaking inside and freezing my water pipes.

Finally, a pile of cut-up firewood needed splitting. Rather than haul the splitter out of storage, I chose to use a maul and wedges. After several hours of hard labor, the wood was split and stacked in the woodshed.

Now, with all this done, the time has come to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labors. My freezer brims with frozen vegetables, both wild and cultivated. And my shelves bulge with canned veggies, including dandelions from my lawn and goosetongue from the seashore. And here and there throughout my little cottage sit winter squash, properly seasoned and waiting for me to prepare them as needed throughout the winter.

While aching muscles tell me that it was a good thing to finally get done with this preparing for winter, I also feel sort of let down. I ask myself, what’s next? Well, next can consist of anything. In addition to regular columns and feature articles for magazines, I have another book revision to work on.

And part of what’s next will probably include some serious music study, learning new fingering patterns on the Uilleann pipes and pennywhistle.

Certainly at night, what’s next will include stargazing with both telescope and image-stabilized binoculars. I’ve come to enjoy searching for star clusters, galaxies and nebulae.

Finally, what’s next will surely include some late-season partridge hunting and when ice finally becomes safe for foot travel, a bit of ice fishing.

In only a wink of an eye, the winter season will end and another hectic spring and summer will begin. But for now, it gives me great contentment to know that I have done everything in my power to prepare for winter and also, to know that the time has come for peace, contentment, rest and relaxation.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What's It?

This blog is the first of a new feature I plan on running every so often. I call it my “What’s It?” feature.

Readers who think they know the identity of the item or items shown in the accompanying photo may email me at or, if they wish, reply directly to the blogsite. The first person with the correct identification will get mentioned in my blog.

Good luck and have fun.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tick Horror Show

Tick Horror Show

The following is the letter my friend Dan Ladd of Belfast recently sent me. I offer it here in its entirety, since not only is it full of information that everyone who goes outdoors ought to read, Dan is an excellent and entertaining writer. So here is a guest appearance from Dan Ladd:
Here is a creepy story I should have sent on Halloween.
Walter Guinon and I hiked the southern section of the Georges Highland Path Saturday Oct 27. It was a fairly long section of 6.7 miles, but mostly flat along the Oyster River and through the Oyster River Bog. It does climb two hills, one near the beginning of the trail after Baker Woods just outside of Thomaston and one near the end of the hike which stops at Route 90 in Warren.
The Georges Highland path has 40 miles of hiking trails from Thomaston to Montville. They are not contiguous trails and are made up of  lands from about 50 private land owners who offered public access to their land. The Oyster River Bog has over 1200 acres held in conservation easements and was founded in 1977.
We packed a lunch, water, maps, socks, and a walking stick. We wore blaze orange because it was the first day of deer hunting season. We got a decent start at 10:30 and even carried matches and flashlights just in case we couldn’t finish before the 5:30 sunset. I felt that we were well prepared as we even spent a few hours scouting the trail at both ends and the parking situation.
 After a couple of hours on the trail we were packing our outer shirts and hiking in tee shirts as the temperature climbed to a very pleasant October day. We crossed a power line that was cut though the landscape straight as an arrow. It afforded us a clear view of the distant mountains and an opportunity to argue as to whether it was Dodge Mt or not and if it was northwest or north northwest. I had a compass in my pack but it mattered little and was more fun to debate than settle the point.
We hiked down through a beautiful oak grove and noted the lack of acorns and heard a pileated woodpecker. We talked about how far we had to go to reach Keene Brook which we would hike along for half a mile and once we crossed the brook we would be more than half way through the hike. We planned to eat our lunch as soon as we crossed the stream.
Shortly after we started along the stream bank we encountered thigh high grass. I looked at my legs and saw little dots moving up my pants. Walter was hiking in front of me and I saw his faded jeans speckled with climbing black dots. I didn’t need my glasses to tell that we were covered with ticks. We stopped and picked the ticks off our pants but we had miles to hike through this terrain and were nearly at the half way mark.
Fifteen minutes later we stopped and picked another dozen ticks off our clothes including our shirts. Walter said that we were fighting a losing battle. I could see the ticks land on my pants as the grass rubbed on my jeans when I walked through it. It was easy to flick them off but if they were not dislodged the first flick they were much harder to pick off as they dug in and held on.
We stopped on some high ground a little later and stripped our packs and shirts off. We did a thorough delousing but soon we were hiking in the tall grass once more. We stopped again and found ticks on our skin and one that had burrowed into Walters side. I could not dig it out with my fingers but Walter had a Swiss army knife which has tweezers in it. We crossed the foot bridge and didn’t stop for lunch as land was low. For the next half mile, we just pushed onward. We hiked into a timber cutting operation and the area was free of grass.
We stopped and picked ticks off and ate our lunch. Two hunters came down a woods road on an all-terrain vehicle with rifles slung on their shoulders. I was glad we were wearing blaze orange vests. They came over and asked if we had seen any moose or moose sign. We told them we had seen tracks. We also told them about the tick infestation but I don’t think they grasped the magnitude of it as they headed toward the bog. Ironically they were from Jay, Maine and had to come to hunt on the coast as that was their moose lottery hunting area. Walter said that they most likely passed more moose on the trip down than they would see here.
The tick situation improved as we hiked toward Spit rock which would be five and a half miles into our trip. The trail was flatter and was bisected with many woods roads which were cut for the logging operation. We were still finding a few ticks on our pants but not like hiking on the edge of the bog or stream. My ankle had been bothering me as we hiked near the bank of the stream which was uneven but after the lunch break and a good self-massage I could pick up the pace.
We were deep into a discourse on the merits of early voting when we came upon spit rock. From here forward it would be downhill to the Oyster River and then slightly uphill to Walter’s truck parked on Route 90. We crossed a dry stream bed with a foot bridge and wondered if it could be the Oyster River. But shortly we crossed the Oyster River and it had a nice water flow and a new log bridge with a plank seat which we utilized. We reached Walter’s truck at 4:30 after walking though Johnson’s boat storage yard and commenting on some of the sail boat designs. Walter suggested we check for ticks. We found that he had two and I had none.
Walter drove us back to the starting point where my truck was parked and on the way my right triceps started itching. Once we arrived I could see in the truck mirror I had a tick digging into my arm. Walter scraped it off and I got my magnifying glass from my truck and we took a good look at the tick.
This was a deer tick (Ixodes Scapularis) the black leg tick, the only type according to the medical authorities that spreads Lyme’s disease. The other common tick is the brown dog tick which (according to medical authorizes) carries Lyme’s but does not transmit it. I have seen deer tick which look like brown dog ticks and visa versa. The only way I can tell the difference is with a magnifying glass and checking the size of the mouth parts. The deer tick has much longer mouth part than the dog tick and after a few comparisons it is easy to see the difference.
In addition to Lyme’s (spirochete bacteria) New Englanders better be on the watch for Anaplasmosis, a white blood cell parasite transmitted by ticks and Babesiosis, a red blood cell parasite known as Nantucket fever. There is also evidence that the lone star tick bite can cause an allergy to a sugar protein found in meats. This allergy can cause a sever reaction to beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. A hike in the grass can make you a vegetarian.
The next time I hike I will carry a can of bug spray with DEET, even in December. Walter found one more tick on him after he got home, well embedded. I inspected my clothing and pack when I returned and washed it all in hot water and dried it on high heat. One can only wonder what other change the warmer weather will bring to New England. I never worried about ticks until the late 1980s.  It was the same time the turkeys were introduced in Maine. I wonder if there is a connection between the two?”

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Like a little child all prepped for a blizzard, I hunkered down Monday, prepared in every way for Hurricane Sandy. But despite some 15-mile-an-hour gusts of wind, nothing much happened until after sunset.

Then the wind picked up and gusts hit perhaps 30 m.p.h., not enough to cause concern. By bedtime, it blew in earnest, but still not yet enough to create alarm. And like the little child waiting for that big snowstorm that would cause school cancellation the next day, I harbored something akin to hopeful anticipation for hurricane winds and torrential rains.

Don’t get me wrong…I was hoping and praying that the worst of Sandy would bypass Mid-Coast Maine and my prayers were answered. But still, that feeling of unfilled expectation lingered. Just admitting this helps to get a certain feeling of guilt off my chest. And now I think I have a slight inkling of the thing that possesses extreme athletes to risk life and limb, that pushes race car drivers to the fullest measure and that causes people to do any number of otherwise irrational and probably stupid things.

Looking danger in the face and coming out the other side unscathed does something for the psyche. It probably even provokes beneficial chemical changes in our bodies. So when we go to bed thinking that the biggest storm in 200 years is about to swoop down upon us only to wake up to complete serenity, something in our innermost beings looks out at the world and says, simply, “humph.” 

At noontime Tuesday, the day after “Frankenstorm,” the sun broke through the overcast and shone upon my little cabin in Waldo, Maine. Dragonflies swooped about, darting here and there, picking some unidentified insects from the air. The rain from the previous night, what there was of it, had obviously benefited my Swiss chard, since it stood thick and green.

Meanwhile, I must now pour out all that water I had stored up in a dozen different containers. And the oil lamps will go back into storage, as will candles and lanterns.

Am I pleased and grateful that we were spared the big hit? Absolutely. But somewhere deep down, that little child begrudges having to get up and go to school.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Scarcity Of Beech Nuts

This past season was a busy one for me and unfortunately, my travels precluded my making regular posts to this blog. But things have slowed down to a more manageable pace.

So here we are in late October and temperatures remain on the mild side. In fact, we here in Waldo, Maine, saw only two frosts so far this season. And wouldn’t you know it, these were severe freezes and although few in number, sufficed to kill most of my garden vegetables.

The hardy survivors, parsnips and Swiss chard, can stand up to most anything nature throws at them. Parsnips, I leave in the ground until spring. The prolonged freezing makes them much sweeter. Besides that, it’s reassuring to know that as soon as the ground thaws in my garden, I’ll have some delicious fresh vegetables.

The chard I just keep using, although eating chard every day does lead to me becoming rather tired of it. But it’s green and it’s fresh, two big points in its favor.

One of the things that took my time this past summer and fall involved taking photos of Maine’s nuts and berries for a new book I just completed. At the beginning of this project, it never occurred to me just how difficult it can be to find nuts and berries at just the right stage of ripeness for photographing. I soon learned that I had undertaken a daunting task.

For instance, since we have so few wild nut trees available, beech nuts were one of the biggies in my book. But despite me searching Knox, Waldo, Penobscot and Somerset Counties, I could not find one beechnut. My salvation came when on hands and knees on my own woodlot, I found an intact beech nut from last year, one that the squirrels and chipmunks had somehow missed.

Juneberries, or serviceberries, were another tough subject. What few I found had some kind of blight and were wrinkled like little prunes. I shot photos of the best of the best, but it was difficult to get a keeper shot.

And barberries, those thorny, often invasive shrubs with the little red, oblong berries that dangle from the branches, proved evasive. I finally recalled seeing some on the (wouldn’t you know it) opposite end of Sears Island. It took three trips to this location to finally find the berries in their red-ripe stage. It seems that barberries don’t ripen until quite late in the year.

By the way, the berries are useful in jellies. Wear gloves if you go to gather some, though, since the thorns are quite sharp.

But finally my picture-taking came to an end and I sent my photos in, along with the completed manuscript. The book probably won’t come out until some time next year at the earliest. I find that these bigger publishing houses have something like a governmental bureaucracy. They have the copy editor, the proofreader, the project editor, the assistant editor and the associate editor and every one has a shot at messing with a new manuscript. It’s tough dealing with these people, since most of them know little, if anything, about the topic at hand. In fact, I had to wrestle with someone who kept changing correct grammar to bad grammar. Even worse, one bright light changed botanical names from what I had, the correct usage, to outdated and otherwise wrong usage. Frustrating beyond belief, it was. 

Far better, it seems to me, to deal with a smaller publisher and work hand-in-hand with that person. That’s just a suggestion to any would-be book authors out there. Of course the topic has much to do with the difficulty of dealing with publishers. Guidebooks are terribly structured and the editors are professional nit-pickers. Books on other subjects are far easier to deal with. In fact, the biggest names in publishing are the easiest of all to work with, or so I'm told. The trouble there is getting them to go with your project in the first place.

But enough of my trials and tribulations with the publishing world. I’ll soon be posting blogs on what I hope will be an array of interesting topics. Until then, happy fall.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

                                          Summer Nights

It’s that time of year when sultry, humid nights bring out a host of animal and insect species. Of these, Luna moths number among my very favorite critters.

These huge, pale-green moths with the “tails” have become increasingly scarce, mostly due, I’m told, to pesticides. So when a Luna moth does show up, it’s a very big deal…at last for me.

My friend Suzie Gowie has kindly sent me a photo of a Luna moth that visited she and her husband Art’s place in Bangor. That is the photo you see posted here. Thanks, Suzie.

Next, I mentioned this to someone recently and I don’t think they believed me. On these hot summer nights, you can actually hear corn grow. Remember, the stalks have striations and these help the thing vibrate as it literally shoots from the ground. Just put your ear next to a cornstalk on a good, warm night and listen for a gentle, squeaking sound. I’m somewhat hearing impaired and I can hear it, so I’m sure most everyone else can as well.

It’s time now for a bunch of wild plants and prominent among these are common cattails. Go now and collect the green spikes atop the plants. To test for ripeness, try and crumble the spike with a thumbnail. If it is too hard and resists, it isn’t quite ripe. But when you can easily make a dent and crumble it, it is at a peak of ripeness.

Pick as many of these as you want and boil them for perhaps 10 minutes. Season with butter, salt and pepper and eat like corn-on-the-cob. Delicious.

Meanwhile, back to nighttime doings, rural people hear the constant trilling of gray treefrogs. These lend a pleasant background accompaniment to the croaking of aquatic frogs and the distant howling of coyotes.

So enjoy these summer nights. This season won’t last long, so embrace it while it lasts. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

                                                    Wild Strawberries

A singular incident occurred today, which I will share with you. I am working nonstop on my new book, Nuts And Berries Of New England and realized that while I had already written my chapter on wild strawberries, I didn’t have any fresh photos to accompany the text.

I had been keeping track of some strawberries in front of my house, but they were slow in ripening. Today, I thought surely they must be dead ripe, fresh and juicy, so I wound my way through the brush to where they grew and found them gone. Some critter had pre-empted me.

So drawing upon memory, I went down the road where I live, searching places where strawberries previously grew. But the open areas had grown in, as they will, making it too dense and shady for strawberries. I gave up and headed home and on the way, saw my neighbor and his fiancé walking down the road, taking a stroll, or so I thought.

As it turned out, the pair was heading to a fine patch of ripe strawberries. Who would have thought that at the same time I was out searching for berries to photograph, my neighbor was headed to a large patch of ripe berries, just waiting to be picked and, of course, photographed. This is, I believe, called “the law of synchronicity.”

This place was just a short distance past where I gave up my search and turned around. So the two hopped in my car and we drove to the designated area and sure enough, it was red with berries.

My neighbor and partner began picking and I began shooting photos. Anyone who has ever attempted to photograph wild strawberries will immediately know the trials and tribulations involved in the process. Focus on one berry and all the others go out of focus. Try and focus on a wider view and the overall photo becomes less sharp. Besides that, grass, weeds and leaves all vie for center focus, making it a poke-and-hope procedure at best.

Anyway, I shot lots and lots of photos and of them, perhaps three were “keepers.” But that’s not bad, all things considered.

I find it odd, that I make a living writing about nature and wild foods and at the moment, am so busy writing about it that I haven’t time to devote to gathering the wild produce. Or at least, I haven’t as much time as I would wish. But better busy than not, I suppose.

Anyway, lots of plants are coming online right now. I see buds on daylilies swelling, about right to pick and cook as per green beans. Lots of seaside plants are up and ready, too. These include sea blite, orache, goosetongue and sea rocket.

So if you can, I do hope you can make time to get out and harvest some of the wonderful wild fruits and vegetables that grow so abundantly here in the great old State of Maine. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

The Amazing Transit of Venus

This past week of continual rain, cold and clouds surely dampened my spirits. Several outdoor events went forward despite the rain, but the weather put a damper on both.

Additionally, mosquitoes, enlivened by the cool, damp and gloom, have made it difficult to spend time foraging for potherbs. Consequently, I was and am consigned to foraging for lettuce, chard and turnip tops in my greenhouse…thank goodness for that.

Amidst all of this, I looked forward to the Venus transit on Tuesday afternoon. This would be the last time Venus passes between earth and sun for over 100 years, essentially making it an once-in-a-lifetime event for most of us.

So when Tuesday rolled around and with it, rain and leaden skies, I only naturally assumed that we here in Maine would be cheated out of this one-time opportunity to witness a spectacular astronomical event.

But with perhaps one hour to go, a patch of blue showed up in the western sky. I had an appointment to meet a fellow amateur astronomer in Brooks. We planned to each bring a telescope and set them up on the bridge in town. This place offered a wide-open view to the west.

Rain returned after the little bit of blue sky, that teaser, had me thinking that just maybe things would turn out okay. But again, the rain stopped and the blue sky returned. So I loaded the scope in my car and headed for Brooks, not really expecting to see the transit.

My friend was already there and had his scope set up. I wasted no time in erecting mine and at that point, the sky to the east, south and north was dark and cloudy, but the sun shone brightly to the west. At about three minutes before the appointed time for the transit to begin, several rainbows appeared to the east and some people standing nearby ooh’d and aaah’d at the sight. But my friend and I had our gaze riveted on the eyepieces of our respective telescopes, waiting for the transit to begin.

The time came and went and nothing happened. Perhaps my watch was set too fast. Or maybe it was all a sham. All manner of thoughts flashed through my mind. And suddenly, a tiny dimple appeared on the bottom edge of the sun. This was the leading edge of the disc of Venus.

I hollered out, “I see it. It’s beginning.” My friend confirmed the sighting. We both kept our gaze upon the scene, watching, as the disk grew larger and progressed further into the larger disc of our sun. Then in a wink it was fully inside. But for a brief moment, I saw what looked like a black link between Venus and the Outside edge of the sun’s disc. Was this the famed “black drop” I had read about? I don’t know, but I am certain that I saw it, whatever “it” was.

At this point, some passers-by had stopped and we invited them to look through our scopes. Each person had a different reaction, but my favorite was from a young lady who simply exclaimed, “Wow.”

And so it went. People stopped and we beckoned them to come and look at this once-in-a-lifetime scene being enacted before our very eyes.

And then the sun grew low in the sky and trees intervened. So we called it quits and packed our scopes and headed home, awed by what we had witnessed and completely satisfied.

Later, the sky darkened once again and rain threatened. It was the same this morning. Our open area of sky where the transit occurred, was it just an accident? Or were millions of people’s prayers answered and the clouds kept away so that we could witness a stupendous, heavenly event?

I’ll leave that to the readers to decide.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Contentment is wealth. That’s the title of a traditional Irish tune. And that’s what comes to mind when I sit outside in front of my cottage in late May and early June.

You see, my yard is filled with fragrant wildflowers, notable among them, dame’s rocket, a plant that releases its sweet scent in late afternoon and early evening. I’ve written much about this plant, but now I mention it because it has come to its peak, lending both color and heady aroma to my yard and home.

The chair you see me sitting on in the accompanying photo is placed among blooming dame’s rocket. Sitting here on a humid, still May afternoon, I feel the soporific effect of the setting; still, sweetly-scented and peaceful.

This, to me, represents the height of contentment and for me, contentment truly is wealth.

Looking across my lawn, I see vegetables in my raised bed gardens just popping out of the soil, a sign of plenty to come. Further on, I see the treeline. Several of the larger trees, bigtooth aspen, a form of poplar, reaching up above the treeline. These partially block my view of the ecliptic, the path that the sun, moon and planets take, and where I like to aim my telescope on a summer’s night.

But though the poplars impede my view, I’m reluctant to cut them. In fact, I’m reluctant to do almost anything that takes effort, at least while I sit in my chair, surrounded by sweet-smelling flowers.

In my reverie, I wonder if perhaps I shouldn’t get back to work, writing. Then I ask myself if the salmon or togue might bite tonight at a nearby lake. It would only take a few minutes to hook up the boat and take off. But in the end, just sitting in my chair and enjoying the scent, sounds and sensations here in my own front yard trumps all.

And that, my friends, is true contentment. I don’t know if everyone has access to such as this. I do, but only when conditions permit. Such days as today come far and few between, fleeting and because of that, very dear.

I remember such times as this, sitting in my chair among the flowers, happy, content and serene, watching and listening to hummingbirds as the males perform their seesaw flight only inches from my face. Flickers, or as my grandpa called them, “high-holes,” after their habit of nesting in holes high in dead trees, capture my attention, as do a few perfunctory blackflies. I don’t even mind them; they are so few as to be innocuous at this time.

Once, in fall, I experienced a similarly relaxed and contended time. I wrote about it in my book, Hidden World Revealed. It was a fleeting moment, never to come again. But this late spring, early summer time among the flowers, birds and yes, a few bumblebees and honeybees, comes around every year.

I wish that all my readers can and will experience such wonderful times of peace and contentment. After all, as the Irish say, “contentment is wealth.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An Interesting Afternoon In Nature

Sunday afternoon saw a brief window of mild and mostly sunny weather. So I decided to sit outside late in the afternoon and watch the newly-arrived hummingbirds.

The hummers had announced their presence by buzzing past me as I walked out the door. This is standard procedure every year, and it is my signal to go back inside, boil water and prepare a sugar water mixture to put in my hummingbird feeder.

So after the mixture had cooled and the hummers were happily probing the little roses on the feeder for their nectar, I noticed that one bird broke away and headed for my car. It concentrated upon the left taillight lens of my 2008 Ford Focus.

Totally amazed, I watched as the tiny bird probed the red lens, looking for an entrance for its little needle-like bill. But it finally left in disgust and returned to the feeder.

After this, I decided that it was time to feed my trout. So I went to the pond, threw out a handful of floating pellets and sat back on a lawn chair to watch the surface action. Quiet, warm and generally serene surroundings lulled me into a state of tranquility. But this wasn’t to last.

Just as I was as relaxed as I ever get, something big and loud flew within one foot of my head, buzzing as it went. Needless to say, I yelped, jumped up and covered my head. What was it that had invaded, no, attacked, my space?

It was a ruffed grouse, a partridge, and it no doubt had been walking around near me and did not recognize the still figure as being a person. It then decided to take off and fly to a nearby poplar tree where it began hopping from branch to branch, picking off yet-unopened buds.

So a lazy Sunday afternoon became a time of unusual natural activity and for me, much wonder.

It all goes to show that if we just sit quietly, nature will most certainly provide some form of entertainment. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Plants Are Where You Find Them

Are you tired of fiddleheads yet? I sure am. This morning I froze my winter supply and still, a good-sized bag remains in the fridge for fresh eating.

Dandelions, my very favorite potherb, are going by now. I never tire of them and only wish they lasted longer.

Other wild edible plants are on hold because of the cold, damp and cloudy weather. If and when the rain stops and the sun shines, I expect it to take about two days for things to put on noticeable growth.

Yesterday was an interesting time for me. I have agreed to put on weekly foraging classes at Spruce Point Inn in Boothbay Harbor during the months of July and August. So I went down to reconnoiter the area. The inn owns lots of property and I am to conduct my field trips there. But only one thing bothers me. The place is nearly bereft of plants. Oh, there are enough for me to talk about, but I’ll have to supplement my seminars with lectures and picture shows.

The trouble here is that the land is a monoculture of red spruce, with no openings, fields or anything to let in light. Such places are green deserts and a person could starve to death there for want of edible plants.

It’s the same in the north woods. Thick forests do not present a suitable environment for annual, biennial or perennial plants. It is the edges, places where the sun shines, where we find interesting plants.

In fact, a typical vacant lot in any Maine town or city probably holds a greater variety of edible wild plants than does a 100-acre plot in the north woods.

The Boothbay site is more typical of our offshore islands than inland Maine. Spruce trees dominate and the ground is covered with moss. Little light shines in here and so plants do not take hold.

The seashore is home to lots of great plants, but here again, not all seashores are created equal. In Boothbay, the shore is pretty much rocks and ledge, with no mud, sand or gravel for plants to take root.

In the Mid-Coast Region, things are different in that our seashore has what plants need. Most beaches are gravelly rather than sandy, and that’s good for all kinds of tasty plants. Sand beaches are pretty much barren, though, since nothing grows on sifting sand.

My point here is that good plant environments are where you find them. They can be small but fruitful. For instance, the south-facing side of a hill, field or even a driveway can be a plant paradise. Garden beds, too, once “weeds” infiltrate, provide as many meals of wild plants as they do cultivated vegetables.

So the typical picture of people waxing fat and happy on wild food from the wilderness is not exactly accurate. It all depends upon the wilderness. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

More Land Posting Keeps Foragers Out

What a letdown. What a sad commentary upon our culture…or lack thereof. I went out to pick fiddleheads this week and found no less than three of my favorite, old-time sites posted. You might ask why I don’t just call or visit the landowners and ask permission. It is certainly the thing to do. But I’m old. And I was brought up understanding something called, “permissive trespass.” That means that if land isn’t posted, anyone can legally venture upon it for whatever reason. So if someone nails one of those gross-looking yellow “posted” signs on every tree and telephone pole, that tells me that they don’t want me around. And I never was much of a one to stay where I wasn’t wanted. In my youth, few people ever posted their land. We all respected each other and it was simply understood that it was mean-spirited to put up those ugly yellow signs. It was demeaning toward the one putting up the signs. In my mind, it still is. I simply cannot like someone who does that. It’s a terrible thing, too, for me to feel that way and I admit it. But the old ways are gone. Things have changed and continue to change, and fast. It is certainly a landowner’s right to post, but so often people do it because they can, rather than because they need to. That needs re-stating. To post for no other reason than it is your right is just plain mean. There is just no other way around it. I was brought up in Mid-Coast Maine and now I feel as though it is no longer my home. Things have gotten that bad. I would move and am considering moving, but don’t know where I could go to find the old-time Maine way of life intact. Is it possible? I don’t know. Where can one go to find a place where people love their neighbors? Where is it that we still have respect for our fellows and welcome them rather than work to keep them at arm’s length? I still don’t know. But enough of this sad philosophizing. I called an old friend today, a friend with lots of land, a friend who does not post because he considers that a mean thing to do. And his land has lots of fiddleheads. I went and picked as many as I needed for myself and also, for the World War II veteran who I supply with fiddleheads each year. So there is still some good in this world. I apologize to my readers for harping upon this topic, but it has become so troubling. A way of life, a culture, is fast disappearing and in fact, is more alive in memory than reality. But old dogs have trouble changing their ways, and I’m surely an old dog of the Maine-woods type. So while my heart breaks every time someone new purchases and posts a beloved bit of wild land that I have roamed since my youth, I also see that it does little good to wallow in despair and longing for the old days. The old days are gone and will never return. We may as well expect our dead grandparents to arise from their graves as to think that things will go back to the way they were. So I, and we, must look to the future, to what remains. And plenty remains. We live in a vast, forested state and thankfully, various private groups are purchasing wildlands for posterity. I do think that land trusts and similar organizations are our greatest hope. By the way, when walking on my friend’s land, with permission, I got enough fiddleheads for myself and also, to give a heaping portion to my almost 90-year old American hero. So that’s good enough for me for the time being. May your days afield be filled with sunshine, warmth and a growing love and respect for the ways of our forbears and for our wonderful natural world.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tick Season 2012

It’s tick time again in Maine, time for a nightly check.

I went fishing in a stream in Camden yesterday and came home with more than I bargained for. I caught lots of trout, which was nice. But on the way home, I smelled something foul. Yes, I had stepped in dog droppings and it was jammed in the lugs of my shoes. This made for an unpleasant ride home.

Then this morning, while putting in eye drops, I noticed something on my neck that wasn’t there before. A closer look revealed little legs…a tick had embedded itself in my hide.

The home health book said to cover it with petroleum jelly prior to pulling it out with tweezers. But all that did was make the thing slippery. It was deeply imbedded and I knew that just pulling out the body would lead to far worse problems down the road. So I called a sharp-eyed friend and he said I could come over and he would try and remove the tick, intact.

But the thing was so deep that parts of the head and mouth remained. He had to use several different tweezers to dig and probe. Again, this was unpleasant for me.

I had been, up until last night, faithful about doing a body check before retiring. But I was so tired…I decided to let it slip. What a mistake. The one night that I failed to check resulted in a deeply-imbedded tick.

Anyone in the State of Maine is susceptible of being attacked by a tick, a tick that carries a potentially-debilitating disease, Lyme disease. So the slight inconvenience of stripping and inspecting every inch of skin each night is far outweighed by the potential results of not checking.

And now when Monday rolls around, I must make a doctor’s appointment and bring the tick in for inspection. It is always important to save the tick for the doctor to inspect. It is more than likely that I will once again need to take a prophylactic dose of antibiotics. This always raises heck with the stomach but again, it beats the alternative.

So please, my friends, take care and do check yourself every night for ticks. It could literally save your life.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Brook Trout Not So Noble

I thought I’d seen it all. But today I witnessed something that totally upset some preconceived notions.

On the way to town to pick up some medicine, I stopped, on a whim, and began fishing a small stream. One thing led to another and I forgot all about going to town and after catching two small trout, decided to head to another stream in order to fill out my catch.

As luck would have it, fish were in. This place holds trout, but only at certain times of the year. My normal calendar for judging these events was skewed this year because of the unusually warm weather in late March. Normally, this stream should not hold fish for at least another week if not another two weeks.

Anyway, luck favored me and I took two more fish, these considerably larger than the trout I had taken from the first stream. My trip to town now long forgotten, I went home to take care of my fish.

Before proceeding, let me say to those who don’t share my extreme enthuiasm for trout fishing, that all fish are not created equal. Salmonids, meaning trout, salmon and togue (lake trout) occupy a lofty position in the hearts and minds of people like me. We attribute all sorts of virtues to trout, while eschewing spiny-rayed fish such as bass.

This goes even further. Of all the salmonids, our native brook trout is most revered. The ephemeral symbol of unspoiled wilderness, the fish of dreams, superior in every way. Brook trout are the pinnical of glory to any dedicated trout fishermen.

We revere our brook trout. We also attribute all manner of characteristics to brookies, attributes which may or may not exist. One of these is trout’s delicate palate. While bass and pickerel, perfectly unsophisticated fish, will willingly bite on the most garish and cumbersome lures, brook trout only dine upon the most dainty fare.

This idea of brook trout sophistry is of course,widespread among trout fans. We fish for trout with tiny lures and flies, using refined tackle. The clothes-pole rods and crude reels used by bass fishermen will not take our sophisticated trout.

All these thoughts were pretty much tossed out the window today when I knelt down and began cleaning my fish. The largest trout, a hair over 11 inches long, was extremely fat. I assumed its belly was filled with ephemera, mayfly larvae, the only suitable fare for such a royal fish. I was wrong.

Pulling out the viscera, I notided a long, thin object protruding from the stomach. It looked at first like a stick, but it wasn’t that. Then I assumed it was a partly-digested minnow, a coarse thing for the “sacred” brook trout to eat, but everyone falls short of the mark once in a while.

I grasped the long object and slowly pulled it from the trout’s stomach. It was a frog’s leg. This revolted me, as you may well imagine. I kept pulling and found, much to my horror, that the leg was attached to a body and in fact, it was an entire and very live, frog. The trout must have only recently eaten it.

I recoiled, dropping the frog. It crawled away without even thanking me for its untimely and unexpected deliverance.

I cannot fully express my feeling of disgust. How far the noble have fallen. Chivalry is dead, virtue meaningless.

It will take me some time to recover.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Opening Day 2012

I have faithfully participated in opening day of trout fishing season for nearly 60 years. Floods, blizzards, freezing temperatures often dampened my spirits, but still I went out.

It is my habit to awaken before dawn in order to hit the streams at daybreak. But this year, at least for a while, it appeared that my record would end. I had caught a cold that turned into something even worse and this included chills and even a 4-a.m. case of hives.

So I called my fishing buddy and told him he would have to go it alone this year. He was worried, since he knew how much opening day means to me. But I was physically unable to participate. So I went back to sleep and slept until 9:30, at which point I dressed and prepared for church. I’m a member-in-discernment at Brooks Congregational church, which is to say I’m a lay preacher in the process of becoming licensed.

And this was Palm Sunday, my first Palm Sunday. I had worked hard on the service and dearly wanted to attend, and I did. But it was on shaky legs, to say the least.

While walking into church, I met my friend Ray and the first thing he asked me was “How many did you catch?” I revealed the sad truth that I was ill and did not go fishing…for the first time in nearly 60 years.

During the service, Ray asked to make an announcement and he told the congregation my story about being too sick to go fishing. And then he passed me a can of sardines, saying that now I at least had some fish to take home.

Everyone broke out laughing, including me. I was touched, too, to know that people cared.

After church I went home and sat down. The sun shone outside and the temperature was nearing 50. I still felt poorly, but not quite as bad as earlier. While I wasn’t quite up to a long or extended trip, it seemed that a brief excursion down a local stream (one that few if any people fish because of a dense, alder jungle that makes travel terribly difficult) and at least give a try at redeeming myself.

As it turned out, the stream was red-hot, filled with trout. I lost many, because it was impossible to lift them out of the water on account of the dense canopy of alders, vines and other impediments. But I managed to release four and keep 5.

Returning home, I pondered my day. And while I was grateful that I was able to once again hit the streams on opening day, I thought about my morning’s catch, that can of sardines.

I think if I had to rank the morning and afternoon in order of importance, I would choose the morning. That can of sardines meant more to me than all the trout in the world.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

With all due apologies to Joyce Kilmer:

I think that I will never find,
a thing as loathsome as a sign.
A sign that springs up overnight,
where before the scene was clear and bright.

A sign, black letters, screaming yellow
saying “Posted, no trespassing, my dear poor fellow.”
You may have been here all your life,
But I bought this land and now it’s mine.

To do with as I please, though it may cause strife,
I’ll haul you to jail, you’ll pay a big fine,
If you hunt or fish on land that’s MINE.
I own this land and I don’t want you here.

Your heart resides on this land you say?
I don’t care, I still say nay.
To hunting, fishing, berry picking and more,
Hiking, living, loving the shore.

My posted sign is a warning to all,
though your feelings and senses it may appall.
I bought this land, to do with what I might.
So I tell you, “No Trespassing,” It’s my legal right.

And under the law I put an end to a culture
that once was free and decent and kind.
I did this with money, the law of the land,
By the simple expedient of a “No Trespassing” sign.

Friday, March 30, 2012

March Goes Out Like A Lion

Hope deferred makes the heart sad, so goes the proverb. And in the case of spring, 2012, hope was deferred and it has made my heart sad.

Specifically, my trout pond had thawed nearly two weeks ago. Ice-free, no trace of winter. Snow and ice had become so “last year.”

But news of cold temperatures and an impending snowstorm brought all happy spring hopes to an end.

Thinking on my feet, I decided to take the tarp, which I had used to cover my boat for the winter (I had already un-winterized the boat, a bad idea) and place it over my crocus bed. This trick worked once before. If crocuses get covered with snow, they turn into something like wet crepe paper. But covered, they can weather the storm, literally.

So today, Friday, March 30, my crocus bed remains covered because it is far too cold to remove the cover. Contrast that with a little over one week ago, when temperatures soared to the low 80s.

Now back to my trout pond. The pond re-froze and is once again completely covered with ice. And of all things, the hatchery truck is due to arrive this afternoon to deliver this season’s batch of trout. I had to take an ice chisel and open up a hole in order to accommodate an introduction of fish.

I know this won’t last forever, but taken as a whole, it sure has a dampening effect upon my spirits. It all goes to show how closely we are tied to the climate, the weather and the seasons.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Record Early Phoebe

What a whirlwind spring we have enjoyed thus far. Temperatures in the 80s have finally given way to more seasonable conditions. But before the changeover, I noticed something that seemed hard to believe.

Last week, a bird briefly fluttered over my back door. This is a place where phoebes typically build their mud nests…and a place where I always attempt to thwart them.

But phoebes are flycatchers and as such, do not normally arrive in our climes until at least mid- to late-April. So to see a phoebe in March was astounding.

I doubted myself, too, and wondered if I weren’t mistaken. But today, Sunday, March 25, all doubts were erased. There, on a grape arbor, was a phoebe.

The coming cold weather won’t be good for the bird, of that I’m sure. But I know that lots of other birds have arrived unusually early and also, many plants have erupted prematurely. But this has happened in the past and it will, no doubt, happen again. Nature is a pre-set machine and it makes provisions for such anomalies.

At any rate, it sure is good to see all the spring birds and early plants.