Category Archives: Nature

These Are the Days

This morning Clif said, “My underwear is in the mailbox.”

My first thought: What a place for underwear!

But this is life during the time of the coronavirus: Underwear in the mailbox because we don’t want to go to Target. Instead, we have been ordering online the necessities of life.

In the days before the coronavirus, we ordered online maybe five or six times a year. Now, it’s about five times a fortnight. I wonder how it will be when this is all over. Will we go back to shopping the way we did before?

Or, will this new habit of online ordering become a trend? It’s hard for me to predict. However, after a year or a year and a half of doing something, it could become permanent. We shall see.

In other groundbreaking news…Because Clif is still recovering from his sprained ankle, I hefted the round table up the bulkhead stairs from the cellar and onto the patio. Although my knees did not thank me when I was done, what a sight for sore eyes to see the table on the patio.

Soon it will be warm enough to have a glass of something nice as we sit on the patio.

After cleaning the table and taking pictures to celebrate the arrival of the table on the patio, I poked around a bit and discovered the that the ferns have begun to unfurl.

By the basement, where it’s warm.

But even a little farther away, in the leaves.

Despite having underwear in the mailbox, despite covid-19, despite the isolation and confinement, spring has arrived. The trees are in blossom, the ferns are coming up. As Natalie Merchant so beautifully sings, these are the days.

 

First Lunch on the Patio

On Saturday, the weather was so fine—at least by Maine standards—that Clif and I had our first lunch on the patio. The temperature was about 65°F with a gentle breeze. For two winter-weary elders, it was warm enough for us to leave our jackets inside as we sat and ate.

Clif made potato pancakes for our lunch. In the picture, they look like regular pancakes, but they had a lovely mashed potato and Parmesan taste. We slathered them with butter and liberally sprinkled them with salt. Very tasty indeed. Especially when eaten on the patio.

As we ate, we were treated to all manner of fluttering birds and their spring songs. The wary goldfinches, cheeping loudly, clustered in a big cedar as they waited for us to leave.

But this bird was a little braver. (I’m thinking it’s a flycatcher. Eliza, what do you think?)

And the mourning dove felt perfectly comfortable patrolling for spilled seeds not far from where we sat.

Watching over everything was the backyard Spirit of the Woods.

I know. It’s really a dead tree that should come down before it falls where we don’t want it to fall. But I will be sorry when the tree no longer stands. Not only will we lose the wood spirit, but the birds will lose a place to hunt for tidbits.

But there. For several years, Clif and I have talked about taking that tree down, and still it stands. I am hoping the tree will be there for several more years.

After lunch, I worked on removing leaves from the beds in the front yard. Why is it that outside work is more satisfying than inside housework? It probably has something to with the sun and the sky and the birds, none of which are as present when you are inside.

Later on during the weekend, thanks to technology, I visited with my daughters and my son-in-law, and much of the talk was about politics and the coronavirus.

I also “attended” Rassemblement, a yearly gathering of Franco-American artists, writers, and creatives. Usually it is held at the University of Maine at Orono, but in this time of the coronavirus, it was held virtually.

The theme of this year’s gathering was legacy. This is from the Franco American Programs website: “The dictionary definition of legacy is, ‘Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past.’ As Franco Americans, what was handed down to us? And how does this gift act as both an impetus to create and as a restriction on our creations? What are we handing down to those who come after us? What was and is our legacy?”

Someone—ahem!—might have brought up that one of the legacies of Franco-Americans is that it was a patriarchal ethnic group, with an unhealthy separation of men and women. A spirited discussion ensued.

But more about that later.

 

 

 

 

 

Saving Soup

In a little swampy swamp just down the road, the peepers have finally started singing their spring song. For those who are unfamiliar with peepers, here is what they look and sound like. Peepers are tiny—one inch according to National Geographic-–but when they sing together, they make a sound and a fury. Clif and I wait for their song every year, and it wouldn’t be spring in Maine without peepers.

A post or two back, I wrote about giving a toy dinosaur to the boy next door for his birthday. Via Facebook messaging, his mother sent me a short video she made of him thanking us for the dinosaur. He was wearing a dinosaur t-shirt and was holding the dinosaur we had given him. Oh, that made us smile. Ingenuity in this time of the coronavirus.

On Facebook I also read some sad news. Scrummy Afters Candy Shoppe is closing their sweet little store in Hallowell. Recently, I posted a picture of some of the delectable chocolates that I had ordered online and had come through the mail. Here they are again. After all, who gets tired of looking at pictures of chocolate?

Fortunately, Scrummy’s is not going out of business entirely. They will continue to have an online store and a Scrummy’s van that will go to events when they are allowed to do so. But still, a blow for Hallowell, and I fear a harbinger of things to come for many small businesses.

But I am going to end this post on an upbeat note of how I saved some soup I made at the beginning of the week. It was a white bean soup. I simmered three cups of white beans, and when they were tender, I dumped them into a crock-pot. I added a bay leaf, dried thyme, sage, oregano, a little soy sauce, celery, and carrots. Onion and garlic and more water. When it was done, a half-cup of nutritional yeast.

And how did the soup taste? Well, it was edible, but it was blah. The thought of eating this for the next few days did not excite me. In truth, it filled me with a sort of dread.

But then I remembered something that the cook Samin Nosrat explained in her excellent series Salt Fat Acid Heat. That is, most soups and dishes benefit from a dose of something acidic. Lemon would have been perfect for this Mediterranean-flavored soup, but I did not have lemons.

I did, however, have diced canned tomatoes, which are acidic. I didn’t want the soup’s flavor to be dominated by tomatoes, but what if I added two cups to this big batch of soup? What then?

I’ll tell you what then—those tomatoes saved the soup without overpowering it. It jazzed up the soup in exactly the right way. No longer did I dread eating that soup until it was gone.

Instead, I actually looked forward to it. Clif felt the same way, and we ate every single bit.

I think this falls under the category of an old dog learning a new trick.

Earth Day 2020: In Celebration of Trees

“When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with large machines.”
–Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees

Being a Mainer, I love trees too much to live in a place without them.  All my life I have been surrounded by trees—first in a neighborhood, then in the country, and now in a small forest.

Around our home we have tall dark pines, massive oaks, solid maples that blaze in the fall, and slender beeches that keep their leaves all through the winter. When I sit on my patio and look up through the tree branches, I feel as though the trees are holding me.

Trees tell the story of the seasons. They harbor birds and give shelter to many other creatures. They provide food, oxygen, and shade. According to the writer Peter Wohlleben trees are even able to form a kind of society.

Why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old.

On a deep, psychological level, trees give us rich material for myths and stories, and  Arthur Rackham’s illustration is a haunting example of this.

And who could forget Tolkien’s ents, sentient creatures that lived in a slow time of their own?

Is it too much to claim that trees embody the life-force of the planet?  Not for this tree lover.

Therefore in honor of Earth Day, here are a few pictures of trees through the seasons, in my yard and around town.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

And now for a complete change of tone. Shannon is our Earth-Day daughter, born on April 22 many years ago. This is a hard time for celebrating much of anything. Therefore I am posting a picture of happier times, when our dear Liam was just a puppy and Shannon was having a jolly trot with him along the public beach in town. Makes me smile just to look at it. Happy, happy birthday, Shannon.

 

I’m Dreaming of a White Easter

Yesterday, Mother Nature brought us a nasty little April surprise: A sizable snowstorm with wet, heavy snow. In central Maine, we got about a foot. The farther north, the higher the snowfall, with foot and a half in some areas.

That much wet, heavy snow can mean only one thing: Power outages. According to Maine Public Radio, 250,000 homes are without power, no small number in a state with a total population of just over a million.  Exactly what we need in this time of the coronavirus.

However, by some miracle, courtesy of the weather gods, we still have our power. We were ready with pots of water on the stove and a well-heated house. (Normally, we keep the temperature a little on the cool side. But it’s best to start out from a warm place if the power goes out.)

The pots of water remain on the stove. The forecast is for high winds this afternoon, which means we might still lose our power.

In the meantime, as I write this, Clif is out there with Little Green, cleaning the driveway yet again. We sure do hope this is the last time until next winter.

Onward and upward!

Coronavirus News from Maine

From Maine Public Radio

Around the state extraordinary efforts are underway to help care for people during the pandemic. One example is in Lewiston where high school students with the Regional Technical Center’s culinary arts program are making and distributing 400 meals a day to those who either can’t get around or who don’t feel safe going out in public. It’s a student-led initiative that’s being supported by donations of all kinds.

It took root in their tip jar. The 60 students in the culinary arts program regularly serve up lunches and sell to-go dinners in the Green Ladle restaurant during the week. They’d saved up $1300 in tips for an annual school trip to Portland for a fancy meal, but when classes were suspended a few weeks ago, their instructor, Chef Dan Caron, says a student came to him with a question.

“’How many community members could we feed with that $1300?’ And at the time it was 500 people. Within seconds we were communicating through text messaging. They all said, ‘Let’s do this chef! Let’s do this, chef!’ and they donated their tips.”

From Maine CDC

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 586  (Monday’s numbers: 499)

Deaths in Maine from Covid-19:  17   (Monday’s numbers: 10)

The News from All Over

From Dr. Sanjay Gupta

New York state now has more cases than any country in the world except the United States, but there is a glimmer of hope: the number of people hospitalized in the state is going down as deaths have gone up. The nation’s top coronavirus expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says it’s a sign social distancing is working.

The Latest Numbers

Global Cases: 1,612,646    (Monday’s Numbers: 1,280,046)

Global Deaths96,787       (Monday’s Numbers: 69,789)

My Own Take: A tiny sliver of hope for New York, but very small indeed. In Maine, at least, we are holding steady. Perhaps because of all the social distancing? Or the calm before the storm?

Peak Ugliness, but Also Resilience and Sweetness

Here we are in March, which in Maine means peak ugliness. The snow is melting. There is mud. There are dirty snowbanks.

This little beauty is not far from our home.

See what I mean? I wasn’t exaggerating even one little bit about peak ugliness in Maine in March.

Flowers are still only a dream. Instead, we have last season’s dried remnants clinging to branches.

But, but, and but. I am an American, and even in this time of the novel coronavirus—whose true name is now SARS-CoV-2—and the terrible lies and incompetence coming from those at the top who should know and do better, I wanted to find something good in this God-awful month.

And, lo and behold: I did find something. Two somethings, actually.

Just up the road from us is a magnificent tree that was horribly damaged during the Great Ice Storm of 1998. After the ice storm, the tree looked as though it had been maimed. (Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the tree when it was in that sorry state.) Even though this tree is not on our land, we love it dearly and worried about it.

But twenty-two years later, the tree is thriving, beautiful in any season, even March.

Not far from this magnificent tree there are other smaller trees providing sap to a neighbor who taps them every year.

While March brings peak ugliness, especially this year, it also brings the running of sap, which in turn is boiled down to one of nature’s sweetest gifts—maple syrup.

Can pancakes be far behind?

 

 

 

Brooding about Politics and Coronavirus

“It appears we are in the chaos that churns in between more stable eras.”  –Heather Cox Richardson

As an American, I know I have a cheerful reputation to maintain, especially for my blogging friends across the pond. And mostly I am pretty cheerful, no small thing for someone who worries. A lot. But there you are—we all have contradictions, and for the most part, I am a worried optimist.

However, lately events have come together to leave me completely frazzled, worn out. First and foremost, there is politics. Between the Democratic primaries and Trump’s responses, everything is on full screech. What got us to this point has been building over the years and isn’t likely to go away soon, but how I wish this country would regain its footing. Everything feels off-kilter to me, off balance. And oh so ugly.

Therefore, when something like, say, the Coronavirus comes along, it makes everything feel even more unbalanced. I know. The virus isn’t supposed to be that bad, no worse than a usual cold or a mild case of the flu, at least for most people. (Some people have indeed died from it.)

But do I have any faith in the leadership at the top to steer us safely through what will more than likely be a pandemic, however mild it might be? No, I don’t. So I do what I can on a small scale. I have a nice stockpile of supplies, and because I am someone who is, ahem, more than a little food obsessed, this makes me feel secure. Dry milk, cereal, canned pineapple? Check. Green lentils, plenty of chocolate, and eggs? Ditto. If things go to heck in a hand-basket—and I sure hope they don’t—we are well stocked. If things don’t go to heck in a hand-basket, then I won’t have to go grocery shopping for quite a while. No harm in that.

Along with having plenty of food, I also live in a beautiful place. For me, the Maine landscape always provide great solace—the blue of the sky, the trees in every season, even when the branches are bare, the hushed feeling of the winter-white woods, the lush green ferns. Every season brings something different. All I have to do is look out my windows to see it.

So I’ll end with a picture of a tree by the town’s public beach, about a mile from our house. Right now, the tree is stark against the sky, but soon spring will come, and with it buds. Then green leaves to provide shade in the summer followed by a glorious burst of fall colors. The leaves drop, and we are back to dark branches against blue sky. A lovely cycle to console me.

 

 

 

Looking up in Late February

I am happy to report that I’m coming to the end of the umpteenth revision of my YA fantasy novel Out of Time, the third in my Great Library Series.  Phew, what a tangle of words a novel becomes when you give it close reading after close reading. My plan is to get Out of Time to the editor by the beginning of March, which is a week away.

This means it’s chop-chop time. Therefore, blog posts will be relatively short and filled with pictures. Lucky for me, Maine is a photogenic place to live.

Readers might recall that at the end of last week, the temperature was below zero.

Here was yesterday’s temperature, and the thermometer is in the shade. Quite the contrast!

A perfect time for a walk. In the last post, I looked down. On yesterday’s walk, I looked up. I think it was the glorious blue of the sky that drew my gaze to all the little things that were either growing on branches or that were still attached.

Now, onward ho! Back to the tangle of words.

 

The Overlooked, the Unnoticed, the Underappreciated

Last night was a cold one. When I got up this morning, the house was a chilly 55°F, and outside it was even chillier—dead calm and two below zero.

It was cold enough for a frosty garden on the storm window in my bedroom.

But by the time I went outside to take more pictures—around 10:00 a.m.—the temperature had risen to 18°F.  Not balmy, to be sure, but  warm enough to take pictures without wearing gloves.

As many readers know, we live in the woods, and in the winter little cones, twigs, leaves, and branches are blown into the snow. Easy to pass by without seeing their modest beauty.

While I love scenic photography as much as the next person, I have always been interested in nature’s small vignettes—the overlooked, the unnoticed, the underappreciated.

Imagine my delight, then, when thanks to John Poole’s piece on NPR, I came across the photographer Janelle Lynch.

At first glance, you might see a jumble of weeds, a thicket of twigs, a heap of dying leaves. You might be inclined to stop looking at this point.

Janelle Lynch invites you to look closer, and slower. She’d want you to see each image as a world in itself — not an accidental grouping of plant matter, but a well-ordered composition created by nature and fixed in time and space by her 8-by-10-inch large-format camera.

Her implicit message is that one needs only to be still, take your time and pay close attention to find the beauty that surrounds you. But, like meditation, this seemingly simple act is often more difficult than it appears.

How I was drawn by Lynch’s exquisite photos, and how I would love to have a bigger camera, which would allow me to take better pictures.

But I have the camera I have, and despite its small size, my wee camera does a pretty good job of capturing nature’s tiny delights. Therefore, out I will go in weather cold, mild, and hot, looking for the overlooked and making do with what I have. After all, that is the Maine way.

I will, of course, also take pictures that are broader in scope, to give readers a sense of what central Maine is like. But Lynch has inspired me to continue following my inclination for the small.