A Naturalist’s Maine Summer Reflection

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Roy Day at 101 – Author

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Loon sitting on her nest – Author

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Rose Breasted Grosbeak – Author

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Author on North pond

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Green frog – Author

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River walk. Author

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Pink water lily – Author

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Mushrooms. Author

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Sacred Datura – Author

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Friend and fellow hiker Mike smelling sweet Datura – Author

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Loons swimming – Kathy Hurd

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Loon with adolescent chick still catching a ride! – Kathy Hurd.

 

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Two historians enjoying each other – Author

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Eaglet  – Kathy Hurd

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Wood frog  – Author

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Bruce and Sara in front of the Day homestead – Kathy Hurd

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Fawn – Author

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Mourning Dove warming himself in the sun.

I am beginning to write listening to the rain fall on the leaves of the apple tree outside my window, the one the deer and the bear love, the one that I planted as a seedling from Roy Day’s garden the first year I lived here. There is something about the soothing sound of raindrops that whispers softly write now while the rain is falling…

I do my best to answer that call.

Tonight the weather report said that after this watery interlude, sun will shine for the next week, and I know what this means. The silence will be shattered. Once again I will be shutting out “summer” in order to survive the gunners’ assault…

It wasn’t always this way. Now there’s an edge of barely concealed violence that manifests in thundering machines that drown out the voices of every creature who lives here, including the birds and frogs. The only constant is change, I remind myself ruefully, even as I mourn the loss of the peaceful valley I once lived in.

But North Pond is just down the road.

Walking to the pond by the old Day farmstead is something my dogs and I have been doing on a daily basis each summer for a number of years. This June, arriving home from New Mexico after leaving the steaming heat of a steel white blazing star behind in Abiquiu, I was anxious for cooler temperatures and for the sky blue waters of this pond that I came to love long before I moved here 30 years ago – North Pond – a small pristine lake marked by a looming granite hump and ledge, and once, an untouched forest of evergreen trees.

The first few weeks of rain and moisture that sweetened the air kept the gunners and motorcycles indoors gifting me with a few moments in time of summer peace and blessed stillness.

Simple things like leaving my windows open at night to listen to the cacophony of grey tree frogs, the sound of the occasional owl, the nightly chorus of insects – all these bring joy into my life. During the day the sight of so many tiny toads makes me wonder if the toad eggs I brought from North Pond a year ago last spring had matured from tadpole to amphibian here after all, even in the drought. A gorgeous emerald green frog has been sunning himself in the lily pond, and a deep pink water lily spread her lotus like petals upon wind – rippled water. Scarlet runner bean flowers burst into burnt orange splendor as they reach for the sun. The Datura that came east with me continues to sweeten the night air. Curiously, her spiral shaped buds, some still tightly coiled, are the most fragrant of all.

Although at the time of this writing I still have grosbeaks, most of the adults seemed to have moved on, but mourning doves warm themselves in the late morning sun front of the pines outside my door. Returning from a summer spent in the forest, the raucous Blue -jay calls greet me at dawn, heralding the change of the seasons. The adults are followed by many scruffy screaming youngsters! It seems early for the male hummingbirds to be leaving but I note less adult activity and the absence of some of the ruby throated males, while many young ones hover anxiously around the two feeders. Little gold birds, goldfinches in summer attire, perch on my hanging feeder along with the chickadees, nuthatches and purple finches. I have yet to see a woodpecker. A few nights ago I was sure I heard the stark staccato chirp of the cardinal but never glimpsed one on the wing.

My first paddle on the pond occurred not long after I got back while my dear companion, Bruce, the physicist turned painter, was still here. Although he has climbed many mountains in Maine, this is the first time he had ever been in a kayak and he liked it immensely.

Kayaking in my little blue otter, exploring the marsh areas looking for bull frogs and my favorite painted turtles, watching and listening for loons, gazing into a mirror of blue glass that sometimes revealed a solitary statue of a vaguely reptilian gray – blue heron stalking his prey and then watching him swallow the fish whole, the fierce yellow-eyed downward gaze of the brown striped bittern, the bald eagles that regularly fly overhead, and me peering down through clear water to watch the sunfish with his distinct black spot gently nip at my toes are siren calls that draw me back to North Pond again and again.

I have been kayaking about once a week or more during the past couple of months. Having my kayak at Blaine’s gives me access to the rest of the ponds and the new bridge allows me to enter the northern end of North Pond without ducking spiders overhead! After a paddle I am often invited in by Margaret for cold refreshments and have the chance to listen to some more of Blaine’s stories as we sit on their porch under towering red pines. I love to munch on their abundant sweet blueberries on the way up the hill to the house.

On my very first kayak ride Bruce and I came upon the loon nesting in the marsh. I was so excited to see her sitting on what I thought were eggs. A week later (and for the remainder of the summer up until early August) I witnessed a pair of loons fishing near the rock in deep water. I concluded that something had happened to the eggs/chick(s) when I did the Audubon loon count in the middle of July. That rainy morning I heard only one haunting loon call out to another at the northern end of the pond.

I was delighted to discover that I had been wrong and that we have two pairs of loons on the pond, after all. Only one pair was nesting. Kathy Hurd, Roy’s niece and I, first saw two fluffy babies swimming with a parent around the first of August (Last year, the solitary chick was killed by an eagle). Just in the past few days I witnessed a loon floating under the shadow of the trees in the shallows with the two youngsters swimming alone in deeper water beyond her/him. I wondered if the young ones were learning how to fish for themselves under a watchful parental eye.

Kathy and Chris Hurd, both friends of mine, went kayaking this past week. When I complemented Kathy on her stunning photographs (loons and eaglet) which appear in this article, Chris chimed in that she couldn’t have taken those photographs without her “guide” who led her to the best places to take pictures of wildlife! Kathy and I laughed uproariously at this remark. What a team those two make!

I love seeing the loons rafting – that is gathering in clusters. The last time I went kayaking I saw four swimming together. They will soon be leaving for waters that won’t freeze during the winter months. I am hoping that the loon chicks are big enough now to discourage the eagles from hunting them, because as Kathy’s photos show, the two chicks have grown a lot and are already scruffy – brown adolescents.

Eagle watching is also a favorite summer pastime of mine. My friend Barbara and I kept a keen eye on the adults flying in with fish for the two screeching young eaglets as we moored our boats at the big rock that overlooks the island where two nests are perched one on top of the other (The new one looks a bit worse from wear). The eaglets were perching outside the nest in early July. The silvery fish were torn to bits in seconds once they were dropped in the nest by the dutiful parents who then escaped to a nearby island, perhaps to be left in peace! The mottled brown feathered eaglets, now almost as big as the parents, fledged early this month (August). Barbara and I happened to be present as one took its first flight from one tree to another on the same island. The parent responded by rewarding the eaglet with a fish for his or her herculean efforts! Within the next month all four eagles will migrate to coastal waters or south for the winter. The young will not reappear until their plumage turns white and they are ready to mate, about four years from now while their parents will return to the island next summer to raise another brood.

The excellent presentation that Blaine gave a few weeks ago on the history of the ponds was illuminating. I had no idea that all the camps that I now see are so relatively new with one of the cabins on the two islands in North Pond being the oldest, built in 1892, two years after the pond waters had risen.

The river walk I took with Blaine, Margret, Mike and his lovely daughter was a thrill not just because this hike is one of my favorites, but because the forest was full of mushrooms that were dressed in the most brilliant colors. On the trail which parallels the Little Sanborn river I discovered the first crimson swamp maple leaves drifting to the ground. Blaine told me that all together, Mary Mac Fadden and Larry Stifler had preserved 10,000 acres (mountains, gorges, mines) with all trails impeccably kept up for people like us who loved the quiet of the forest and who walked the woodland paths that were free of screaming machines. It is heartening to know that there are some people out there with the means to preserve what is left of our wilder areas. The term wilderness, unfortunately, no longer applies because these beautiful places are already sandwiched in between encroaching civilization.

Roy recently told me a wonderful story about going fishing when he was only five. Even then he had a cat named Tiger Teddy who accompanied him down to the edge of the pond below the Day homestead. The cat apparently liked to fish as much as Roy did and would appear the second Roy rattled his fishing pole. If Roy caught a sunfish, the cat was happy, but a pickerel was another story altogether! Roy has kept a record of every fish he has caught for 101 years (!), and remembers the day that the biggest fish was brought in. This lake trout  – torgue is the local name used to identify this fish  – the term torgue, according to Blaine, is probably Indian in origin) was caught in South pond and was at least 37 inches long and weighed 25 pounds. The fish was so big that it towed the fisherman and his boat all around the lake until it finally was exhausted. The man then was able to jump out of his boat in the shallows at Littlefield beach with his rod to land both fish and boat on shore! Lake trout of this size prefer water deeper than that of North pond and seem to like to be about 45 feet under water. There is a picture of this creature at the Greenwood Historical Society, a place that is full of meticulously researched photos and local history that has been put together by Blaine over a period of thirty years. Both Blaine and Roy have a love of history and are veritable encyclopedias of fascinating information so I was delighted that Roy agreed to visit to see the photos and to talk with Blaine.

Stories of Roy catching his first fish at 5 with his cat, felling trees with a girth over two feet wide using a hand saw with his father, watching over the cows that grazed in the upper field behind the farm, or catching frogs in the pond and selling them for bait just below the old Day homestead where Roy grew up are just a few memories that come to mind when I walk by the Hurds’ beautiful farm, orchard, and vegetable garden, sometimes stopping to climb to the sky on Chris’s swing, or to visit with Kathy to talk about flowers.

On the Gore road today my Chihuahuas and I met a large snapping turtle who was basking in the sun, and no doubt, also soaking up the warmth from the asphalt. When I heard the truck barreling towards us I put up my hands and pointed to the poor animal as I stood in the middle of the road. The truck was forced to stop as I encouraged the enormous, probably 100 year old turtle to return to the pond. As he slipped into the water, I felt a sense of great accomplishment! I had seen him peering at me with coal black eyes and believed he knew that I was trying to help him.

Two months pass quickly; summer in Maine is a brief interlude but I am ready for the changes that I am already seeing, the golden light, the deepening shadows, the grasses turning to wheat, the first scarlet leaves, wild cherries dropping yellowing leaves, apples that thump beneath my window, and my eventual return to Abiquiu…

I am ready for everything except the beginning of the bear hunt, wishing that somehow local folk could be educated out of this idea that we need to keep on killing these last icons of the forest, our very intelligent, normally non aggressive, tree loving bears. If a bear becomes aggressive the question we need to be asking is who hurt that animal because as many Independent bear researchers know, (unbiased researchers not associated with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that is backed by the National Rifle Association) bears have to be taught to fear humans. Bears have amazing memories. Once a bear has been shot at or threatened by hounding dogs it becomes frightened and appears aggressive. We need to begin to interpret a terrified bear’s bluff behavior in terms of the bear’s fear and not our own.

I am finishing this narrative on a lovely cool fall –like day, listening to golden apples still thumping as they hit the ground even as I peer out at three red deer who are grazing below Roy’s apple tree just outside my window. When the spotted fawn finally joined its mother and aunt, I couldn’t help thinking how the wheel of the year keeps turning towards a young one’s new life.

2 thoughts on “A Naturalist’s Maine Summer Reflection

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