It was a beautiful day today—bright and sunny and about 70 degrees—so we decided to take Betty on a lunchtime walk down Indian Point Road to the beaver pond. When we arrived we noticed this baby turtle (in the lower right hand corner of the photo above) sunning itself on a lily pad, without a care in the world.
I hope the turtle enjoyed its prime pad position, because it won’t be able to do so much longer. When the turtle reaches its full-grown size the lily pad won’t support its weight, and it will have to crowd with the adults onto sturdier logs or rocks when it wants to sunbathe.
Some Mainers say their state is like “America’s tailpipe.” With prevailing winds blowing from the west, the exhaust fumes from daily life in other states head east and often find their way to the skies above Maine before spilling out over the Atlantic.
We had evidence of the “tailpipe” experience last night, when photo above was taken. We suspect that some of the smoke billowing from the enormous Bootleg wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington has been blown to our neck of the woods in coastal Maine, creating a dense layer of haze that shrouded the sun. The sun was like an orange pumpkin in the sky; you could look directly at it, and it cast an orange shimmer on the ocean waters below. The haze was so thick that at the horizon, where the filter of haze was the greatest, the sunset was entirely blocked from view.
“America’s tailpipe” is subject to an air advisory today, with an AQI of 101, which means the air is unsafe for specific sensitive groups. Our experience with haze shows how we are all connected by virtue of the environment, and why wildfire problems out west should concern us all.
Recently I’ve started trying different routes on my morning walk, just to mix things up a bit. One new route takes me away from the shoreline and downtown Stonington and instead follows Route 15 up the hill to Cemetery Road, then across the interior of the island, and then back down the hill toward home on the Greenhead Peninsula. That inland, tree-lined route gives a decidedly different perspective on our little town.
On foggy mornings, like this morning, the mist rolls up the hillside and encases the countryside in a blurry, moist white blanket. It gives the landscape a kind of mystical look that makes for a very pleasant, and very quiet, walk. Earlier this week, on a similarly misty morning, I saw a large herd of deer that included a few youngsters that hadn’t lost their spots nosing around in this same spot. I surprised them as I walked past, and they looked up, startled, and then bolted gracefully into the tree line and vanished into the mist.
One of the great incidental benefits of living in a seaside community is driftwood.
I like pretty much everything about driftwood—starting with its name. It’s not “washed-up wood,” it’s driftwood—as if it has been out for a pleasant journey, leaving the forest behind, taking its time and seeing the sights, without a care in the world. And the physical characteristics of driftwood reflect its ocean journey. Driftwood has a special feel. Its bark has been washed away, and the water and salt and sun and wind exposure somehow have left the driftwood with a smooth, silky feel. It’s warm to the touch, but also feels lighter than branches of similar size, as if its waterborne experience has sucked the weight away, leaving just the essential sturdiness behind. It’s one reason why gnarled pieces of driftwood make great walking sticks.
And the other great thing about driftwood is its innate air of mystery. Where did it come from, and how far has it traveled, and how long did it take for it to reach its destination on a rocky beach? Consider this huge piece of driftwood, below, that we saw on the beach at Barred Island this past weekend. From the notching, it’s clear it has been shaped by human hands for some purpose—but what? We’ll never know for sure, which makes it all the more interesting.
They say that timing is everything. In the case of the hike to Barred Island, that’s literally true.
We’ve taken the rooty trail out to Barred Island multiple times, but when we’ve reached the vantage point of the photo above we’ve always encountered a full channel of frigid, leg-numbing seawater—which is why it’s called Barred Island. But on our hike on Sunday, we timed our arrival perfectly, and instead of seawater we found that at low tide a sandy, golden path had appeared, beckoning us over to Barred Island itself.
Once we got to the little island we learned that there were no interior trails, because of an ongoing restoration project. The only option for the visitor is to scramble around the shoreline, which can be treacherous due to slick, algae-covered rocks along the channel separating the island from the mainland. You really have to watch your step, and our sturdy, gripping hiking shoes came in handy.
Once you turn the corner and start to circle the island, the rocks—primarily striated granite—become larger, sun-baked, and a lot easier to navigate. In this area of the shoreline we saw a small furry critter—perhaps an otter?—scampering among the rocks. At this point of the circumnavigation of the island, you begin to see the other islands, and the lighthouse out in the Penobscot Bay.
On the far side of the island, the big rocks give way to a stunning collection of different kinds of smaller rocks, which meant that careful attention to path planning and foot placement was important. It was fun to hop from rock to rock and enjoy the colorful mosaic of the different colored rocks in the bright sunshine. If you like rocks and subtle colors, it’s a very cool area.
Following the shoreline inevitably took us back to the sandy spit linking the island to the mainland. We were glad we timed our visit so as to finally allow us to cross over to Barred Island and see what it had to offer. And speaking of timing, as we noticed the sun moving slowly toward the western horizon and glimmering brilliantly on the water, after a full day of yard work and hiking, we decided the timing was also perfect for some soft-serve ice cream.
My destination on my jaunt down Indian Point Road this morning was the place the locals call the beaver pond. It probably has a different, official name, but nobody uses it. The beavers have exercised adverse possession—you can see their two ramshackle lodges that look like wood piles across the pond—and they have acquired de facto naming rights in the process.
The pond is a mile or so down the road, after it veers from the shoreline and meanders inland into some piney forest. Sometimes, if you’re lucky and your timing is right, you’ll see the beavers swimming in the pond, hauling wood to the lodge, or gnawing away at the wood at their lodge, and if you’re really lucky they might notice you and slap their flat tails on the surface of the water and then swim away in a huff. This morning, though, I didn’t see any of the critters. I expect they were keeping themselves warm in their lodges, probably enjoying a warming cup of coffee before getting to work.
If you like purple—and who doesn’t?—Stonington is a great place to visit right now. The lupines have bloomed earlier than their traditional Father’s Day arrival, and the vast majority of them are purple. Couple the lupines with the lilac bushes and their fragrant purple flowers, and you have a sweet-smelling purple festival in the works.
Why have the lupines arrived early? Some locals say it’s because we’ve gotten less rain than usual, some say it’s because it’s been sunnier than normal, and some say Mother Nature just decided to give us a post-COVID break and let us enjoy some pretty flowers earlier than she usually does.
Over the weekend I was weeding dandelions, which is a constant challenge in our yard, when I ran across this little plant in one of the flowerbeds near the fence line. In my weeding frenzy, I almost weeded it out, but my rational brain took control, recognized the plant, and stopped me before my crazed dandelion eradication efforts added it to the weed bucket.
“Hey, that’s one of my lupines,” I realized, and then I felt a welling sense of pleasure and pride as I carefully weeded around the little plant to give it maximum room for growth. It was a very rewarding gardening moment.
Last fall, before we left Stonington for Columbus, I harvested a bunch of lupine seeds and prepared them for planting. It’s a laborious process, because you need to extract the seeds from their seed pods, one by one, and then dry them before you can plant them. Lupine seeds then need to be in the ground and experience some freezing temperatures before they grow, and you might experience loss of the seeds as a result of hungry birds and critters looking for a snack during the fall and winter months. But I was willing to try a long-term gardening project, so I planted the seeds on a wing and a prayer, and hoped — and now, eight months later, I’m seeing the fruits (or more precisely, plants) of my efforts.
We’re not out of the woods yet, as I’ll need to give this little guy careful attention over the coming months, but it’s very cool to see that the lupine experiment worked. Some of my lupine seeds didn’t germinate, but some did, and as a result I may have some pretty lupine plants where there were none before. Such small victories are the stuff of gardening satisfaction.
This morning one of the neighborhood foxes —this bold little pup — dropped by to pay us a visit. They apparently live in a burrow behind a neighbor’s house and have been seen around Greenhead, but today is the first time this little guy visited our side yard. He took a look around and, seeing no chickens or henhouse, he opted for an old bone of Betty’s and dragged it off to gnaw on at his leisure.
We see all kinds of wildlife around here— deer, foxes, raccoons, and even a bobcat. Who knows? Maybe having foxes in the ‘hood will discourage unwanted visits from the hungry deer herd.
Winters in Stonington can be harsh, and spring comes later than it does in the Midwest. But it does arrive . . . eventually.
One sure sign of spring is the emergence of the fiddleheads. Our down yard is fiddlehead territory, with lots of ferns growing among the rocks. They get wiped out during the long winter, but they are hardy plants that are used to the cold, wet, windy conditions. When spring growing season is upon us, these little fiddleheads shoot up from last year’s dead debris. Soon they will unfurl like flags to expose their fronds, and then the ferns will grow like crazy. By mid-June we’ll have ferns and their bright green colors dappling every nook and cranny of the down yard.
When the fiddleheads come forth, it’s time to start planting your flowers.
Earlier this week I went to the office. I was working on comparing and organizing and incorporating the contents of two different documents, and I decided that would be easier and more efficient if I would print them out, bring them home, and do the comparison and organization work on paper, where I could lay the documents out side by side.
It’s the first time I’ve actually worked with paper in months, rather than editing and moving things around and cutting and pasting from one document to another on my laptop. When I was working from the office before the shutdown occurred, I was paper-oriented, although I was trying mightily to become more electronic, so as to minimize the need for paper files and storage boxes. But when the shutdown occurred, working on paper really was not an option, so I went full electronic of necessity.
Working with physical documents made me realize that I miss paper. Creating and editing documents on a computer is fine, of course, but there is a tactile element involved in working with paper that you just don’t get with a computer. Writing on the paper, drawing brackets and arrows to shuffle content around, crossing out duplicative sections with a definitive flourish, using an actual highlighter with that unique freshly opened highlighter smell, and then crumpling up and discarding the paper with a set shot at the recycling container when the work is done — each act has its own little satisfactions. If I had a spindle, I’m sure I would enjoy folding, spindling, and mutilating, too.
I suppose that, at heart, I’m a Dunder-Mifflin guy.
My return to paper was enjoyable, but it will be brief. The reality is that paper, for all of its pleasures, is just too bulky for remote work, and it’s easier, cheaper, less wasteful, and more environmentally friendly to do everything on the computer screen. But I did enjoy my brief return to the paper days.
I’m guessing that squirrels prefer Halloween and Thanksgiving over all other holidays. That’s because squirrels have a taste for pumpkin — especially older, softer pumpkin. Over the last few days, the little fellow shown in the photo above and his furry pals have been ravenously devouring the pumpkins that were placed at Schiller Park as decorations. I’m not sure if the squirrels gnaw through the shell to get at the pumpkin seeds, or whether they like the inner flesh, but this guy was stuffing himself to get ready for the winter in that inimitable, hyper-alert, squirrel-like way.
If you’ve got pumpkins and want to be environmentally sensitive about disposing of them, put them out in your back yard where your neighborhood squirrels can get at them. They’ll thank you, and take care of recycling.
I ran across lots of critters in my work in the yard yesterday. Spiders and beetles were out in force, and I also encountered this striking white and black caterpillar crawling on an old birch tree stump.
My rule in the garden is to look — and photograph, where warranted — but don’t touch. I let the creatures go their own way unimpeded. In this instance, that turned out to be a wise policy, because according to the ever-useful University of Maine Cooperative Extension website this particular caterpillar is a Hickory Tussock caterpillar, and those white hairy tufts can cause a powerful and very itchy rash, especially for kids who can’t resist picking up things like caterpillars. The U of Maine also cautions people to be careful not to come in contact with them when raking leaves in the fall.
The Hickory Tussock caterpillar loves hardwood trees, like birch trees, and will be spinning its cocoon in the near future, using leaf debris and its own white hairs. The caterpillars then produce tiger moths, which are pretty common up here.
The spiders of Stonington— industrious creatures that they are—have been busy these days. Every morning the grass spiders have left dozens of their distinctive funnel webs at various locations on the ground and between the flowers of our flower beds. And other spiders, not to be outdone, have left more traditional radial webs on the eaves and railings, as well as the occasional plant.
The spider activity seems to increase as the temperatures cool, and their handiwork is even more noticeable on dewy mornings. Part of my daily activity involves knocking webs off the flowers, which otherwise would look totally mummified and covered in dried leaves and other debris in a few days. And walking just about anywhere poses a risk of stumbling into stray spiderwebbed filaments.
In fact, if you wanted to adopt a scary natural Halloween look, you’d just let the spiders spin their webs undisturbed. By the time Halloween rolled around you’d have a creepy, cobwebbed house and grounds suitable for a slasher flick.
In Maine, we love our lupine flowers, which seem to grow everywhere — even by the side of the road, without any tending. We have three beautiful lupines right in front of our house, and I’m interested in trying to grow lupines elsewhere on our property. But if you want to harvest lupine seeds and grow lupines, you need to work at it.
Later in the summer, the lupine flowers are replaced by lupine seed pods, which look like hairy pea pods. (This is not surprising, because lupines are a part of the bean family of plants.) If you want to harvest the seeds, you need to wait until the seed pods dry out and you can hear the seeds rattling around in the pod. Then you patiently open the pods one by one, free the seeds from the pod, drop the seeds into a storage container — in our case, a coffee cup — and then wait to plant the seeds until the end of the season. If you plant them too early, they’ll be found and consumed by birds and the other hungry critters of Maine. The lupine seeds then need to experience multiple weeks of cold weather before they germinate and new plants can grow.
Unfortunately, I waited too long to do the seed harvest from the plants in the front of the house. By the time I checked them, most of the pods had already burst open and dropped their seeds — and lupine seeds are incredibly tiny and heavy, so I wasn’t going to be able to find and retrieve them from the ground. However, I found some unopened pods, and we retrieved some additional pods from plants along the roadway. With the help of Dr. Science and the GV Jogger, who pitched in with us and enjoyed the simple pleasures of pod opening and seed retrieval, we’ve now collected several hundred of the small black seeds, which I will try to plant this fall.
According to the Mainers, you should try to position the lupine seeds in areas where there isn’t much competition from other plants. In addition, lupines seem to prefer rocky soil — and we’ve got plenty of that. I’ve got several locations in mind where I would love to see some lupine plants take root. I’ll be hoping that some of the seeds avoid the foraging of our neighborhood birds and animals, so that next spring we’ve got a serious lupine bloom on our hands.