Category Archives: Nature

The Quiet Beauty of Viles Arboretum

With this post, I’m joining Robin at Breezes at Dawn for her annual Walktober tradition. Here’s how she describes Walktober:  “In a nutshell, Walktober is a group walk. We all go out for a walk, we all post about it on our blogs, and I round up all the posts in one big post here at my blog so we can join one another in our various walks.” Anyone is welcome to join, and the link I’ve provided will give instructions on how to do so.

It’s a well-known fact that people will visit places far from home while ignoring those that are in their own backyard, so to speak. For me, this has certainly been the case with Viles Arboretum in Augusta, about fifteen miles from where we live. While I’ve been there before, it was many years ago, when the arboretum was a simple place with a network of trails and not much else.

On Saturday, Clif, Dee, and I went for a visit and discovered that the arboretum has grown over the years. The trails are still there, but now there are also orchards, bees, community gardens, a visitor’s center, and a lovely new barn where a wedding was being held.

Just as I did with Wolfe’s Neck Park in Freeport, I pottered around the edges of the arboretum while Clif and Dee went on the trails. My creaky knees were made worse by a spill I took going up our front steps. I know. Tripping going up the stairs. How foolish is that? But this is what I did. Anyway, other than a few plates, I didn’t break anything, but I have been very sore for the past few days.

Still, I had a lovely time going at my own slow pace, taking pictures and resting on some of the many benches placed at various intervals along the trails. While central Maine might not have the dramatic beauty of the coast, it has its own quiet pleasures. As I sat on one of the benches, I heard chickadees singing their sweet chickadee-dee-dee song. I could smell the nutty fragrance of fallen leaves, and the sun shone at a slant, casting a golden glow on everything.

Here are some pictures from my walk.

This striking sculpture greeted me in the parking lot.

Behind the barn and the visitor’s center, a trail leads to the woods.

On one side there are orchards,

and community gardens. The cosmos, planted at the edge of the gardens, caught my attention.

On the other side, more sculpture, which pleased me as I am a huge fan of outdoor sculpture. If your budget allows—the golden leaves go for $2,500—you could buy one for your very own garden. Alas, not in our budget.

Not far away, were the bees.

Through the fields and into the woods I went, down a charming path with hostas, past their best, and white birches, lovely in any season.

very, very

Farther down, was a bench, just barely visible on the right, where I waited for Clif and Dee. As I waited, I took notes.

Truly, Viles Arboretum is a place worth visiting even if you don’t live in the area.

 

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Nifty Posts from Some of the Lovely Blogs I Follow:

This week, Ju-Lyn of Touring My Backyard, features low-hanging fruit. Literally.

Ever heard of Bohemian Catsody? No? I hadn’t either until I read This Week’s Small Pleasures from Thistles and Kiwis.

I love Halloween—its spookiness coinciding with the chill of fall, and, of course, the candy. From Cimple, here is a deliciously wicked Halloween display.

Lagniappe, with exquisite photography, features little jewels of nature.

As part of her What’s on Your Plate series, Donna, of Retirement Reflections, shares a recipe for mini-cheese cakes. They look both delicious and easy to make. My kind of recipe.

More Halloween fun, this time with the color of fall—orange flowers from Susan Rushton, whose blog’s tagline exactly matches my own philosophy: Celebrating gardens, photography and a creative life.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve shared an NPR Tiny Desk concert. Lately I’ve been listening to Tom Misch, an English musician who incorporates jazz, funk, and R&B into his music.  In this unrestful world, I find Misch’s music wonderfully restful.

Yellow Jacket Update

In a previous post, I wrote about how we were being bothered by yellow jackets, a type of wasp common in Maine. They were buzzing the hummingbird feeders. They were buzzing us. No fun at all.

Sadly, we took down the hummingbird feeders. This took care of yellow jackets terrorizing the hummingbirds, but they still continued to pester us. Online, we read a tip about drawing away yellow jackets by putting sugar water in a bowl and setting it some distance from where you sit.

Easy enough, and that’s exactly what we did.

I am happy to report that this plan is working beautifully. The yellow jackets are so drawn to the bowl of sugar water that they leave us alone. Japanese beetles and ants are also attracted to it, and it seems that many of them can’t figure out how to eat without drowning. Every day, there is a collection of insect corpses—including yellow jackets—and the dish must be emptied, cleaned and refilled.

No matter. Cleaning and refilling the dish doesn’t take long, and it’s wonderful to sit on the patio and not have to worry about being stung by a yellow jacket.

As for the hummingbirds…the bee balm is still in bloom, providing plenty of nectar for those little Wills-o’-the-wisp.

In a week or so, we might put up one of the feeders to see what happens. We’ll see.

In the meantime, no pesky yellow jackets and hummingbirds that are getting what they need.

Enter the Yellow Jackets

Life is not always idyllic at our home on the edge of the woods. True, we have trees and birds and a patio in our backyard where we can enjoy the cool mysterious green of the forest. But this year we also have yellow jackets, lots of them, swarming the hummingbird feeders and scaring away those whizzing beauties.

Here is how yellow jackets are described on The Home Depot website: “Yellow jackets are a type of wasp that typically live in the ground…Yellow jackets are extremely aggressive insects that are drawn mainly to sugary liquids and meats. Each insect stings multiple times and injects venom into its victim.”

No wonder the hummingbirds have stopped coming to the feeder!

Funny thing is, we have had hummingbird feeders for ten years or more, and we have never had a problem with yellow jackets.  Perhaps there is a nest nearby? Readers, if you have had a similar experience, please do share it in the comments section.

Yesterday afternoon, in an uncharacteristic act of bravery, I took down the feeders and moved them to the far edge of the yard. As I removed the feeders, there were lots of yellow jackets buzzing around, but Chance was on my side, and I escaped injury. The yellow jackets did not follow me. Instead, looking for the absent feeders, the yellow jackets circled the pole. I suppose they were wondering where their sweet cornucopia had gone.

Hummingbirds have been sitting forlornly on the post where the feeders once hung. As soon as the yellow jackets went away, which they did after a while, I hung up the feeders. I’m sure you can guess what happened. The yellow jackets zipped back faster than you could say “blueberry pie.” Away went the hummingbirds and down came the feeders again.

Fortunately, the bee balm is still in bloom in the back garden. Hummingbirds adore bee balm, which appropriately are a-buzz with bumble bees, who are not as fierce as yellow jackets.

Such is life in the backyard. I never hold it against animals or insects for doing what is, after all, in their best interest. The yellow jackets were looking for food, which they need to survive as all living creatures do. Bingo! They found a sweet, plentiful source.

That’s not to say that anything goes in the garden—if there were a ground nest of yellow jackets right by the patio, we would have to get rid of it. However, I do try to be as tolerant possible. When a bear raided a feeder with sunflower seeds, we took the feeder down for a couple of weeks, and the bear never came back. When a racoon raided the same feeder, we found a baffle that foiled the clever creature. Sometimes sterner measures must be taken, but we save those as a last resort.

Now to end on an up-note with a bit of beauty, another picture of these daylilies. I wish I knew their name. I think it might be “Summer Wine,” but if anyone knows differently, please tell me.

 

 

 

 

Walktober: Back to the Narrows

“Walkers have walked to gain a sense of place, to improve well-being, to harness attention, to cultivate awareness, to gain new experiences, to explore new territories, to march for freedom, and to express care and devotion for others.”  –Bonnie Smith Whitehouse

Robin, at Breezes at Dawn, is hosting Walktober, where you take a  walk or a bike ride or a paddle and then share your journey. I borrowed the beginning quotation from Robin because I thought it beautifully expressed the many roles that one simple activity—walking—can provide. Symbolic, practical, protest, curiosity, devotion, exercise— all from walking. No fancy equipment necessary. Just a pair of sneakers and willing feet.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, not long ago walking was painful because of my weight and my arthritic knees. After having lost thirty pounds, walking is no longer as painful, which means I can go short distances and actually enjoy it. (Looking forward to losing more weight and going for longer winter hikes.)

One of my favorite walks is to the Narrows Ponds, about one-quarter of a mile from my house. There is lots of water in Winthrop, but surely the Narrows are among the prettiest.

Yesterday, was one of those October days that makes a person glad to be alive. All the humidity was gone, the air was crisp, and the sky was a piercing blue.

Leaving our driveway, Clif and I turned left, down the long hill to the Narrows. See? I am not exaggerating one bit when I refer to our home “in the woods.”

On the way we saw a yellow fern glowing in the sun,

a chipmunk on a rock,

and walls made long ago when the trees were chopped down and fields stretched all the way to the Narrows. Hard to imagine our road looking like this and comforting to think about how forests can make a comeback.

At the bottom of the hill, we saw a glimmer of deep blue—sky and water—through the bright lace of leaves.

Then a sign reminding us how important this water is to Winthrop.

A short ways later,  the Lower Narrows glittered to our right,

and the Upper Narrows to our left.

There’s not much color this year with the changing leaves. Perhaps it’s because of the drought. Or maybe it’s the many storms we’ve recently had, bringing relief to the drought but blowing the bright leaves off the trees. No matter. It’s a place of beauty, with or without colorful foliage.

After gazing at the water and taking pictures, we headed back up the hill, where we saw mushrooms by the side of the road,

as well as our neighbor’s chickens pecking and looking for tidbits.

Finally, our own snug home tucked in the trees.

Once inside, I made cup of cranberry-orange tea, given to me by a friend, and wrote this post, a record of a short but oh so lovely walk in October 2020,

 

 

 

 

 

A Satisfying Sunday

Sunday was one of those happy days where everything just chugged along in a quiet but satisfying way. In the morning, we Zoomed with “the kids.” It’s always wonderful to see their faces, especially since we won’t be seeing them in person until next summer at the earliest.

After Zoom and lunch, I made a lentil soup for our supper. My blogging friend Mr. Tootlepedal frequently makes lentil soup, and I vowed that as soon as the weather was cool enough, I would make some, too. Well, it’s October in Maine, and the weather is certainly cool enough now for lentil soup.

I follow a recipe from a Moosewood cookbook. I make modifications—that’s the kind of cook I am—but the results are always good. This soup that will be on a regular rotation for our supper until it gets too hot in the summer. Best yet, a serving size has a reasonable amount of carbs. It’s a hearty and filling soup with lots of spices. Perfect for a cool, fall evening.

Back before I lost weight—about 30 pounds ago—making soup would have pretty much done my knees in, and I would have had to rest before doing anything else. But losing that weight has put a new spring in my step, and after cleaning the kitchen, I was ready to head outside for a fall chore.

What to do? How about rake the driveway? Because we live in the woods, this must be done regularly when fall comes.

Before:

And afterward:

When I was done, I went out back to sit on the patio—something I won’t be able to do much longer. Naturally, I took my camera with me, and I was able to snap a picture of this fine fellow.

I think it is a purple finch, but I know house finches look similar. Any thoughts, blogging friends?

For the past week, this finch and his mate have been coming with a gaggle of fledglings, and how I love to watch those youngsters flutter and beg for food from the adults. I always have tender feelings for fledglings who look full size but are still immature and uncertain.

Right now, their parents feed them, but the day will soon come when the parents decided that it is time for the fledglings to feed themselves and make their own way in this wild, beautiful, dangerous world.

It is the way of things. But nonetheless it makes me teary eyed to think about it.

 

That Nip of Fall

Just like that, fall is here. It seems that only a short time ago we were using the air conditioner. However, the temp has dipped so low  that there have even been frost warnings all over the state. So far, our cozy home in the woods has escaped being nipped by frost. Nevertheless, we have to use heat in the morning and at night.  Too sudden? You bet. But this is Maine, and that’s how the weather rolls here.

Fortunately, it gets warm enough in the early afternoon for lunch on the patio. Yesterday, Clif grilled Beyond Beef burgers, and as a side, I had some little tomatoes courtesy of our own Farmer Kev. How nice it was to eat in the sun. (Again, what a change from a mere couple of weeks ago.)

The garden is definitely past its best.

But along the edge of our yard, asters are still in bloom.

And the leaves are just beginning to change.

This is a busy time for me. The proof copy of my YA fantasy Out of Time is in. Now begins the extremely picky task of going over the book line by line to catch any errant typos or formatting errors.

Onward, ho!

Once More to the Narrows

Time was when I walked to the Narrows every day with my trusty Sheltie Liam beside me and my wee camera tucked in my pocket.

But Liam died two years ago, and without a dog to walk, my creaky knees grew even creakier. Walking down the hill to the Narrows and back up again proved too painful.

But this year, facing Covid-19, Clif and I resolved to do what we could to become more healthy. I have chronicled Clif’s successful low-carb diet. For me, becoming more healthy meant losing weight and exercising regularly.

I am happy to report that after losing twenty-five pounds and riding my exercise bike at least five days a week, my knees are no longer as creaky. I can walk to the Narrows and back again without any great discomfort.

A wonderful feeling, and I plan to walk at least weekly to these two beautiful bodies of water—the Upper and Lower Narrows—that are called ponds but are really deep and big enough to be considered lakes. I’ll chronicle the seasons, because the Narrows are beautiful any time of year, even in March, when Maine is in peak ugliness.

Here is what they looked like in mid-September, with the leaves just starting to change.

First, the Lower Narrows.

Then the Upper Narrows.

Sometimes, you even find surprising creatures like, say, a dragon or an orca.

Like our hummingbirds, the dragon and the orca will soon be going away to someplace safe, albeit much nearer than where those tiny winged creatures fly.

I imagine the dragon and the orca tucked away in a snug, dry shed or garage. As the snow falls and the Upper Narrows freezes, they wait, wait, wait until soft spring comes and then summer, when they can return to the water.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Technically, fall isn’t here at all, and there might be a week or two left of swimming. But the nights have been getting colder, and in northern Maine, there have been frosts.

Winter is coming, and we all know it, but until then Clif and I will revel in autumn, surely one of the best and glorious times in Maine.

Sounds of Late Summer and Other Things

At our home in the woods in mid-August, crickets have begun their late summer song that will continue until a hard frost nips their sweet, high voices.

On Sunday, I sat on the patio, and two hummingbirds whirred by, chasing each other as they tried to defend the feeders. The fountain bubbled and flowed—a comforting sound. A male cardinal sang its trilling song. In the dense green of the late summer woods, the red flash of his feathers eluded me.

Next door, the rooster crowed, a high pitched warning to any roosters that might be nearby. (There were none.) The hens clucked softly as they pecked and scratched at the lawn, looking for tasty tidbits. Get those ticks, hens!

Cars went by. Even though we live in the woods, the road is nearby.  On this hot afternoon, there were no walkers.

Little Miss Watson meowed and trilled hello as she came onto the patio for a visit. I admired those little white whiskers.

The garden is nearly past its best, but I still enjoyed looking at it.

Sunday on the Narrows Pond Road.  I could almost pretend it was just another lazy afternoon in August, that a silent invisible enemy was not out there doing its worst.

At the same time, it’s hard to envision returning to the free and easy life we once had. Will we, even when a vaccine comes out?

That is to be determined.