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.