Mother Nature Abounds

Monday afternoon I was delighted to find a great horned owl perched high in the limbs of a pine tree about 200 feet from my back deck.  I had followed a very specific sound into the woods, hoping to identify the animal responsible for the intermittent shrieking that has been piercing our sleep for several weeks.  I’m not sure I found the culprit, but I did find this amazing owl.  I have never seen a great horned owl so I was very excited.  I didn’t have a great deal of time to stay and take pictures, and I didn’t want to bother the owl anyhow, so I did my best and the result is the top row of photos.

Tuesday afternoon I went looking for this same owl and found a juvenile great horned owl.  The juvenile was perched in a tree that overlooks the abandoned stump that was, I believe, the place where my murder mystery/kayak attack began a few weeks ago.  (See I Swear I’m Not Making This Up if you need to come up to speed.)  So now I’m wondering if the predator in that crazy showdown was an owl and the prey was in fact a family of raccoons that nested in the top of the stump (which is more of a 12 feet broken tree than a stump, but you get the idea).  I think I may be on to something here.

Seeing the owls would have been enough to last me for the entire month.  (Though of course I’m greedy and already hoping to see them again, or at least for my husband to see them.)  But Mother Nature is really outdoing herself at the moment.  This morning I saw a doe and two fawns.  No camera on hand.  I also saw a little brown rabbit twice, but again I was without a camera.   Monday and Tuesday I saw a lone turkey (a female, so a hen) and her baby (a chick).  Wondering where the other chicks went.  Guess I might know.  The first time I saw the mama and baby turkey I scared them when I opened my always-stuckish garage door; the second time I didn’t have my camera.

Did my milfoiling yesterday and today.  Loads of fun, that.  Thankfully my milfoil sector has been changed from one (nearly free of green stuff growing) across the lake to the sector where I live, which is so full of green stuff growing you can hardly paddle through it.  I guess the only reason I’m thankful for the switch (aside from not needing to inconvenience my husband, who would have had to motorboat me to the other sector) is that while I’m paddling around mumbling “whorled, feathered, whorled, feathered” to remind myself of the key features of variable-leaf milfoil, I can also take note of the osprey adult clutching a fish in its talons and flying back to screaming nestlings, the great blue heron poking about for a meal, the swallows swooping low for dragonflies, the loon calls echoing in from further down the lake…

I also have to make time to water the flowers that I insist grow on the front and side of my house.  I find myself doing this in the late afternoon most days, after I have given up on rain coming through in the night.  Watering these flowers requires a fair amount of watering-can-lugging, and so I make it into an exercise task, this lugging, since I never do seem to exercise as much as I’d like.  My lugging route takes me past the back deck, which means I simply turn my head to the left and look for baby phoebe beaks in the nest.  Finally – three beaks!

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I think these birds are way too hot under the deck. I’ve considered a fan, or a small wading pool, but decided I should leave well enough alone and let their parents handle the care and feeding of hot birds.  Observant readers  will quickly note that my concern for these hot birds is a minor obsession (see Dog bowl bird bath).

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Whenever I peer through the space between the deck boards to check on these babies all I see is heaving sides – birds trying to breath through the July heat.

And July’s heat has arrived.  June’s Strawberry Moon has come and gone.  The 4th of July is behind us. My neighbor’s garden is going gangbusters, so I’m looking forward to grilling zucchini and summer squash soon.  (Okay, my husband will be grilling.  I’ll be eating.)  Sort of like that phoebe on the left. That gal is always beak open looking for a snack.

The farm stand down the road from us is boasting two cabbages and some garlic.  Yes, two cabbages.  Cut them some slack – it’s a hobby stand at best and besides, I certainly haven’t grown a cabbage yet.  (In fact, I’m not even trying.  But I’m sure hoping that the pumpkin seedling I bought last month does amazing things.)

Wildflowers keep changing in the field beyond the farm stand.  We’ve gone from a wave of lupines to a wave of Rudbeckia hirta, or black-eyed susan’s.   Rasberries are ripening.  And old axes have been sunk into deadwood to rest.

Yes, folks – summer in Maine has arrived.  Get some while it lasts!

 

 

The Fresh Air Fund

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I am pictured here with my sister (left), two Fresh Air Fund children (right) and two neighbors (front left and center front).

In the summer of 1877, a  particularly virulent tuberculosis epidemic swept through New York City’s tenement buildings.  Mycobacterium tuberculosis spread rapidly through the sputum released in the coughs and sneezes of the sick, most of whom were children.

That same summer, Willard Parsons was a young clergyman whose first assignment after graduation from the Union Theological Seminar in New York was to minister to a rural Pennsylvania community located a few miles west of the NY-PA border.

At the time of this epidemic, fresh air was considered a cure for many respiratory ailments.  (Consider that Maine became a state in 1820, the Civil War ended in 1865, x-rays were discovered in 1895 and penicillin was discovered in 1928.)  As the story goes, Parsons was on a horseback ride in the countryside when he realized that his parishioners could offer NYC’s sick children exactly what the doctor ordered – fresh air.  From the pulpit of the Sherman Mission Chapel, Parsons urged his congregation to open their homes and give these children the opportunity to experience the wide open beauty of a countryside in the full bloom of summer.

That summer nine children left New York City and stayed with families in Sherman, Pennsylvania. Today, over 1.8 million children have stepped off hot city pavement and onto buses headed for volunteer families on the East Coast and Southern Canada. (There is also a Fresh Air Fund camp 60 miles north of NYC in the Town of Fishkill, NY.)

Roughly 25 years ago, my parents opened our home to a Fresh Air Fund child.  Our neighbors, who were an extended family in practice (and remain so in my heart today) did the same.  Blond hair, blue eyes, black hair, brown eyes.  Families are made from love, not biology.  When this picture was taken in the early 1990s, both my parents and my “next-door parents” had already opened their hearts and homes to non-biological children.  For years people found the most terribly intrusive and awkward ways of asking about this.  How sad, even if they were just being curious.  I hope it isn’t the same today for rainbow families – and I mean any damn kind of rainbow that makes a family. Missing from the picture is my older brother with his light red hair; older brothers do not typically run around with a gaggle of girls.)

For several years both my nuclear family and my next door family invited Fresh Air Fund children into our homes.  My Family Next Door owned a piece of heaven on a quiet pond an hour away, and because they were brave and kind in equal parts they would take all of us to camp to swim, canoe, catch crayfish and sail.

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You might note that I appear to be bossing the other children around.  For anyone who knows me this will not be a surprise.  My sister stands in the shadow on the left, probably wondering how to make a quick get away.  Missing from the photo is the oldest of my two Next Door Sisters.  She probably had already made a run for it.

I remember the great hesitation with which our host child approached camping.  I also distinctly recall her swatting something edible (strawberry? pea pod?) from the hand of one of the Maine natives in our group, yelling “Cucka” for emphasis.  Not an unreasonable reaction at all, if you consider her viewpoint.

For most of us, exposure to sunshine and fresh air provides significant benefits to our mental and physical health.  Additionally, numerous scientific studies link urban living to higher stress levels.  (I can’t imagine why.)  Factor in the poverty that these children live with and you can quickly see how a few weeks away from the heat and chaos of New York City would be welcome.  (But imagine the courage it takes for a young child to board a bus and head into the woods to live with strangers for a few weeks.)

The next time you enjoy a lungful of Maine’s fresh air remember how lucky you are. But know this: even if we took every vehicle off Maine’s roads we would still have air pollution problems, since wind patterns carry pollution to us from coal plants in the Midwest and the more densely populated portions of the eastern seaboard.

How to keep the air breathable for future generations?  Take a look at tips from the United States Environmental Protection Agency on how you can help curb air pollution: https://www3.epa.gov/region1/airquality/reducepollution.html

While certainly better than the air in New York City, Maine’s air quality is far from perfect. If you have respiratory ailments or care for the young, old or ill, you can check Maine’s air quality forecasts on the DEP’s Air Quality page: http://www.maine.gov/dep/air/ozone/.

Summertime fun

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My favorite shot is the one where he is flipping onto his back and both feet are in the air.   I think that what we saw was a mix of preening, bathing and playing.  Since I spent the day playing at Popham Beach with some of my dearest loves I will leave off here for now…..

Summer was…

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Box fans.  Kool-Aid.  Chlorinated pools.

The top bunk.  A lake breeze fluttering the homemade curtain all night.  Listening to wavelets kiss the rocky beach.  “No digging in the clay!” –  and digging anyway.

Mosquitoes in the tent, buzzing in my ear.  Sunburns.  Crab shells by the seashore.

Green quart baskets filled with strawberries.  A garden growing corn, carrots, pumpkins, peas.

A tree cabin in the woods.  A stream conjured up from the outflow of a drainage pipe, with plans for a fish pond and flower garden.  A hammock strung between two oaks.  Bike rides. Sparklers in the backyard. I am eight, nine, ten and the summers are endless.

 

Hoop dreams

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The rain we needed finally came today, at least partially.  I’m guessing we could have used a longer, steadier rainfall to really soak the earth, but it’s the best we’ve had in awhile.  (I’m not usually anxious for rain, but my goodness the earth has been looking thirsty.)

The rain had faded to insignificance by the time I was headed out the door for my second milfoil identification class.  (Oh yes, good stuff, this.  Let me know if you want a laminated card and a quick tutorial.  Milfoil is coming soon to a lake near you, most likely.)

Just before getting into my car I noticed this rose-breasted grosbeak on our basketball hoop.  I watched while the bird landed, paused, turned, turned again, jumped to the other side of the rim, circled out behind the backboard and repeated the entire performance.  I watched the bird do this about four times before it flew out of sight.  Just as well – I had milfoil class to attend.

Annabessacook Lake

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Summer seems to have arrived Saturday, judging by temperature readings in the high 80s to the lows 90 in Central Maine.  Across the state, Mainers who were fortunate enough to have some or all of the weekend off from work jumped to put in their gardens (we enjoyed a quick stop at Longfellows Greenhouse in Manchester), or packed up their gear and headed out on camping trips.  (Did you know that in addition to dozens of great private campgrounds, Maine’s state parks and public lands offer memorable camping opportunities?  Check out Camping in Maine’s State Parks FMI.)

Sunday’s weather was cool and cloudy, and by the evening the temperature had dropped to the mid-50s.  I wondered about the campers at nearby AugustaWest Campground and Beaver Brook Campground and hoped that they had brought warm clothing or extra blankets.

Today’s forecast included enough steady rain that many Memorial Day parades were canceled, though by early afternoon the sun burned away the clouds by about half, certainly enough to get outside to enjoy the last stretch of a long weekend.

Summer in Maine goes so quickly.  Already the black flies are gone and the mosquitos have come in droves.  Trees have leafed out.  Several days ago the dragonflies started zigging around our yard, gobbling up bugs.  And today we finally got out act together enough to repair a damaged hummingbird feeder (we are nothing if not frugal) and fill it with sugar and water (the pre-made mix is not necessary, and in fact the red dye in it is said to be dangerous).   How lucky and lovely to trade such a simple potion for such fine views.

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