Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Can You Help Tom Find Nut Trees?

I have a question for my readers. I’ve just agreed to write a new book for Globe Pequot Press: Nuts and Berries Of New England. I have until October to finish the project.

My problem is with nuts. We don’t have that many wild nuts, so I’m going to have to really dig for anything else besides acorns, beech nuts and beaked hazlenuts. I know walnuts and butternuts grow here in Maine, as well as a few straggler chestnuts. But given the spate of development over the last 25 years or so, all the trees I knew of have been cut down. And I would love to include these in my new book.

My question, then, is do any of you have on your propterty or know of the whereabouts of any nut trees? If so, I would like to get photos of it or them…photos of the bark and of the nuts.

I’d be exceedingly grateful for any help in this matter. In fact, if you have a tree and can take a digital image of it, I could use your photos and give you photo credit in the book.

Any interested persons can contact me at (207) 338-9746, or write me at Tom Seymour, 194 East Waldo Road, Waldo, ME 04915.

Next, I’m a featured speaker at Rural Living Day, to be held at Mt. View High School in Thorndike, Maine, on Saturday, March 31. My talk begins at 11:00 a.m. and should last at least one hour, possibly longer.

For more information on this event, contact:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Anatomy Of A Pothole

Spring has made a cameo appearance here in Mid-Coast Maine. The road I live on, East Waldo Road, is infamous for being in a continual state of disrepair. This is made worse in mud season and now, in late February, the thing is a virtual trap for motor vehicles.

Of course ruts occur when the ground thaws and vehicles continually roll over soft portions of a road. But it is a demonstrable fact that some unpaved roads don’t succumb to mud season in a big way, while others seem to only have waited for the occasion to arise before turning to mush.

The reason for this disparity has to do with content. Gravel roads mean just that…gravel. But some municipalities, the Town of Waldo in particular, cut corners and instead of laying true gravel on roads, use a mixture of sand and silt…mud, in other words. This is cheaper than good gravel. In the case of Waldo, however, the taxpayers do not pay less for low-quality fill, but instead are assessed an amount for road upkeep commensurate with the introduction of actual gravel.

This situation leads to not only ruts, but also truck-swallowing ruts. As of now, East Waldo Road is nearly impassable. Unfortunately for those who live here, it is not a question of “Shall we drive on the road?” but rather, “Will we make it in and out one more time?”

This next bit of information I will entitle, “Anatomy Of A Pothole,” with due apologies to Robert Traver, author of Anatomy Of A Murder.”

East Waldo Road, in addition to being composed of substandard material, does not benefit from competency in the grading department, either. To grade a road lightly means to brush the tops of potholes, pushing surface duff and dirt around so that in the end, the thing appears fairly smooth. This is the accepted mode of upkeep for East Waldo Road. But Band-Aid remedies are sometimes worse than doing nothing.

In the case of Town of Waldo, the road gets graded approximately twice each year. And for 35 years or more that I am aware of, the grader operator pays close attention to the weather report, ear to the radio speaker. When conditions are ideal, by that I mean that torrential rain is predicted for the next day, than the road gets its “grading.” The next day, and this happens 99 percent of the time, heavy rains totally undo any good that the grader may have accomplished and turns the road into a minefield of potholes.

In order to conquer a pothole, the grader blade must, by virtue of succeeding slow passes, pass beneath the hole. This eliminates the pothole. Brushing the top of the hole with the grader blade only tends to exacerbate the situation, particularly when driving rain follows the grading, as it always does in Waldo.

So drivers on potholed roads such as East Waldo Road, must weave their way from one side to the other, often compelled to patiently wait while a vehicle from “away” or perhaps, from out-of-town, whose uninformed and innocent driver insists upon remaining on the right-hand side at all times despite potholes that could engulf a hippo, slowly wend their way past.

The reason for this need to pick a path through the pothole minefield is based upon the way tires interact with potholes. As a rolling, spinning tire meets a pothole, it immediately slips just a wee bit, carving a sharp lip on the leading edge of the hole. Subsequent vehicles continue to worsen the situation.

Fortunately, the far side of the pothole becomes rather smooth-sided. So driving on what most people would consider the wrong side of the road, becomes the only viable alternative to trading the old sedan for a Humvee, tank, or other such vehicle that could stand up to such trying conditions.

All this may sound tongue-in-cheek, or purposely humorous. It is not intended to be, however. Instead, it is a real-life vignette of what people on East Waldo Road must contend with.

All gravel and dirt roads are subject to wear, of course. We in Waldo are not the only ones to have to deal with inhospitable conditions. But our road is among the very worst in the State of Maine, and that is due to municipal malfeasance.

To wit, Northern Maine has more gravel roads, owned and maintained by paper companies, than the rest of the state combined. And guess what? These roads are always in a far better state of repair than many roads that taxpayers must cough up hard-earned dollars for. Private industry takes care of their roads, for sure. The same cannot always be said for municipalities.

I would pit the worst paper company road in Maine against East Waldo Road, regarding neglect and bad going. And I make no doubt that East Waldo Road would win.

So you folks with four-wheel drive vehicles who like to go “mud-running,” here’s a chance to try your stuff. Visit East Waldo Road and have a go at one of the worst-kept, taxpayer-funded roads in the State of Maine. And if you get stuck too deep so that a winch can’t pull you out, just call the Town of Waldo (207-342-5400)for help.

For those looking for fun and adventure, Look for East Waldo Road on DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 14, A-4.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Indian Cucumber Stems Are Fuzzy

Every once in awhile the answer to some long-standing question presents itself in a wholly unexpected way. Friends recently made a gift to me of a book on wildflowers called Nature’s Garden, Doubleday, Page and Co., NY, 1900. It’s a big, thick hardcover, with black-and-white photographs. The text abounds with personal thoughts of the author, one Neltje Blanchan.

While I haven’t read this book cover-to-cover, I do sometimes pick it up and read a few pages. The text is divided up according to flower color. This morning I was in the Yellow and Orange section.

The chapter on Indian Cucumber, Medeola virginiana, interested me greatly. Here’s why.

As anyone familiar with this intriguing plant of dappled woodland shade knows, the stem is glaucous, which means fuzzy. I liken the white, loose strands of fuzz to lint and that’s as good a comparison I’ve heard thus far.

My question concerning this and other plants is this. Why are some plants glaucous? What purpose does the lint serve? It does not seem that any feature of any plant was assigned at random, for no apparent reason.

The author offers an answer, and it sounds good to me. She said, “While there is a chance of nectar being pilfered from the flowers by ants, the stem is cottony and ensnares their feet.”

Of course in order to accept this explanation as accurate, I’ll need to wait until next spring. Then I’ll capture a few ants and place them at the base of an Indian cucumber plant. Will the fuzzy stuff “ensnare” their feet? I don’t know, but it will certainly be fun to find out.

And that, in a nutshell, is the essence of what keeps me reading these old-time books. Each volume offers some little bit of wisdom. And while I’m breathing and these books reside in my library, that wisdom won’t be lost.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chives in February

Okay, the end of February, perhaps. Sometime in March seems more reasonable. But February 4th? If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t believe it.

Specifically, I’m talking about chives in front of my house. They are up and growing, despite ice, snow and very cold nighttime temperatures. While still kind of groggy, looking out my glass door this morning, something did not seem right. Vertical growth. Several little stick-like objects.

So I went out and looked. It was chives, all green and happy.

Of course the reason for this is the micro-climate where the chives are situated. Planted in gravelly dirt, near rocks and protected by other plants and facing solar south, the chives are treated to a whopping dose of warm sunlight.

Some time ago I mentioned how in late winter, sunlight penetrates snow enough to melt the middle layer. At night, this layer re-freezes, creating a kind of “ice lens,” and this lens serves to concentrate diffused sunlight upon whatever sits beneath it. In my case, the chives are the beneficiaries of this life-giving light.

So while we have some time to go…after all, it’s only early February, take comfort in the fact that chives and lots of other wild plants are already stirring, preparing for another season of growth.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jumanji Effect Hits Maine

An interesting news item caught my attention this morning. While scrolling through online news items, I saw the following headline: “The Jumanji effect? Extra warm winter playing havoc with hibernating animals.”

Does that sound familiar? It should, at least to readers of this blog. Back in early January, I reported on hibernating animals that had stirred, prematurely from their rest, spurred by unusually warm weather.

Here is a quote from the Fox News story: “But rather than hibernating through freezing snowstorms, nature is being awakened by the weird warmth. Even black bears are likely to rise early from their October to March slumber – and they’ll be ravenous, said Paul Curtis, a professor of natural resources and wildlife specialist with Cornell University.”

The article went on to predict a boom in the tick population…bad news for we Mainers. Deer ticks carry Lyme disease, a debilitating and most miserable illness if left undiagnosed and untreated. The Center For Disease Control now recommends a prophylactic dose of antibiotics for tick bites.

Interestingly, while thus far the winter has been something less than an “old-fashioned Maine winter,” Maine has remained far colder than states to our south. Which reminds me to point out that very often, Maine (excepting Alaska) sees the coldest temperatures in the nation.

Still, even we in Maine are subject to change because of this mild season. Of course it has happened before and will happen again. But looking to the future, we might well anticipate an end to the overly-wet conditions that have kept groundwater at extreme high levels.

Winter snows contribute greatly to spring runoff and when we have little snow, runoff from melting ice happens quickly and water levels soon drop to low levels. Unless spring brings lots of rain, Maine may see low water conditions this year.

Even this is not all bad. Many of us who cut our own firewood have experienced difficulty traversing wet areas, places that because of the extended period of high water would normally be dry.

Fishermen, too, may have an earlier season than usual, especially if runoff occurs quickly. Rivers and streams that would see high-water conditions in early spring may present us with pleasant conditions. That doesn’t make for good news for whitewater canoeists, but for every plus, someone else usually gets handed a minus.

In the end, we will roll with the punches. And just maybe, we’ll get our gardens in earlier than usual. Perhaps dry, warm weather will promote a good, healthy crop of tomatoes.

As for me, I’ll try and look for the good in whatever our local climate dishes out.