The Changing Landscape
Much of my life was spent in denying the truth that change is inevitable. But as much as I have fought it, change has become even more pronounced.
These and similar examples of change rank as nothing but the natural cycle of things and can not be considered either good or bad.
Other kinds of change, though, have a more sinister character.
Deforestation in the form of “liquidation cuts” makes me cringe. This is often done because someone plans on putting their property up for sale, trying to reap all the financial benefit possible in the process.
Woodcutting for the sake of sustainable harvest is a good thing. But as a friend once said: “In northern Maine they cut trees and grow trees. In southern Maine they cut trees and grow houses.”
That practice is creeping northward. So when you notice that someone has cut every tree down to those the diameter of a coffee can, you can rest assured that the place is going on the market soon. In the case of a large woodlot, liquidation cutting serves as a prelude to subdividing the land.
Nowadays, houses spring up like mushrooms after a September rain. Places where once people like me hunted, fished, foraged and communed with nature become someone’s backyard in less time than it takes to tell about it.
In the end, the character of a community becomes completely changed. New people move in, people who never knew old Mr. Peavey who lived in the ramshackle house atop Peavy Hill, people who have no idea that the place where they built their houses was once a milk stop on a long-forgotten railroad. People who never knew and don’t care to learn about place names and how those names were acquired.
My point is not to criticize any person, persons, group of persons or anything of the sort. Instead, I bemoan the loss of a simpler culture, one that fostered me and was always kind to me.
Here are some examples of how things went in simpler times.
When someone caught a 12-inch or bigger brook trout, it became the talk of the neighborhood. Ditto for a buck deer. In fact, a common practice for country people on a Sunday afternoon was to drive around and stop in where a deer was hanging. The visit was to congratulate the successful hunter. That was just kind of nice. Today, few display their deer because of growing anti-hunting sentiment.
The first person to pick a mess of fiddleheads was always a celebrity, although that fame was short-lived.
When someone drove too far to the right during mud season and became stuck in the mire, there was never a need to call for a tow truck because sooner or later someone would come by and would hook a chain to your vehicle’s frame and pull you out. And never would one of these good Samaritans accept a dime for their service.
I once got stuck on a back road. In less than ten minutes, a man came by with a team of horses and, “twitched” me out. He wouldn’t accept any money and instead, was only too glad to help.
Back then, April vacation meant seeing two or more bicycles pulled up at every stream crossing. Youngsters loved to fish and this was their week-long opportunity to get out in spring and fish for native brook trout. Today, computers and video games have largely supplanted such endeavors. And instead of seeing school children on their Schwinns, we see adults, mostly clad in brilliantly colored, skin-tight raiment. Kids don’t ride bikes much anymore.
The white perch run was always a huge, community event, even more popular than public suppers. White perch, a tasty fish that finds itself equally at home in fresh or salt water, spawn in spring and typically run up from a lake or pond into some shallow river to spawn.
Best fishing occurred in late afternoon and early evening, which worked out well for working folks. When the run was at its hottest, every bridge and stream crossing saw hoards of anglers, good-naturedly jostling for a place to stand and cast for hungry perch.
It was a carnival-type atmosphere but despite that, I never saw anyone become irritated or mad. It was all just good, clean fun.
I could go on. But there’s really no need to.
None of what I have listed really matters much in the long run. Wishing for things to return to the ways of the past is time misspent. Like the Plains Indians partaking of the Ghost Dance, where they thought if they danced hard and long enough, the buffalo would return and the white man would move away, there is not a single thing we can do to co-opt change.
“Progress,” that’s what they call it.
But as Hank Williams famously said, “Memory is one gift of God that time cannot erase.”
And so I live in the present and have hope for the future, while relishing the past. That, it seems, is a healthy attitude.
Five Things I Like About Winter
As a wild plant enthusiast, winter stands as a downtime with few redeeming qualities. But there are five things I like about winter. These are:
Okay, these sound redundant. But when cooped up inside with no place to go and nothing to do except feed the woodstove, redundancy becomes the norm.
By now, you see that I really don’t care much for winter, despite the deceptive title for this blog entry. I just did that to gain your attention. But now, since we are nearing mid-February, the light at the end of the cold, dark tunnel has begun to shine. Soon, we’ll see tangible signs of spring.
So coltsfoot really stands as the plant world’s truest harbinger of spring.
In another sign of spring, a friend told me that yesterday, he saw a flock of Canada geese flying north. It’s easy to assume that these are returning from the south but that’s just not so. It can’t be, because our lakes and ponds are all frozen solid. These geese must be going from one protected Penobscot Bay harbor to another. The real deal will happen soon, though, and it’s only a matter of weeks before we will see those long, ragged ‘Vs’ of migrating geese and hear their echo-chamber chorus of honking.
And despite snow, freezing rain and cold temperatures, the sun rises higher in the sky with each passing day. Soon, the deep slant of the winter sun will give way to our star casting a more direct light, not so offensive to drivers and more conducive to starting new plants on windowsills.
For me at least, winter takes a beating when people begin calling and asking me to do wild-plant presentations come spring. Just discussing spring, wild plants and an end to winter sets my spirit soaring.
Finally, and there’s no denying it, we are on the downslope, winter has passed its prime and spring, with every wonderful thing that accompanies it, will soon arrive. Now that’s what I really like about winter.
Wintertime Photo Adventure
Every once in a while in winter I’ll go on a photo, “adventure” with friend and wildlife
photographer David Small.
Dave introduced me to this cold-weather activity and now I’m hooked.
It amazes me just how much wildlife a person can see by just looking out over a
protected harbor. Seabirds, many of which are only present in winter, swim past in wild
Too many people have the mistaken idea that our bays and seashores are bereft of life in winter. Instead, though, winter sees a great deal of wildlife activity. You just have to get out there and watch in order to see it.
Cabin Fever Reliever
For me, getting out on a photoshoot in winter means getting out of the house. A freelance writer, I am cooped up all winter, sitting at my writing desk in a wood-heated office. So going to various harbors up and down the Midcoast region gets me out and breaks the “cabin fever” stranglehold. It’s also a time to dine out. Hot beverages never taste as good as when consumed after coming in from the cold.
The Truth about Groundhog Day
I have seen subzero temperatures and serious blizzards in the middle of March. So the woodchuck’s less appealing weather forecast still sounds good for folks here in Maine. And if the garden-destroying marmot (the scientific name for a woodchuck is Marmot monax) predicts an even earlier spring, so much the better.
Most everyone views the idea of a woodchuck coming out of its den on February 2 as rank superstition. And of course, it’s true that animals have no way of reckoning any speciﬁc date. However, a woodchuck’s hibernation period usually ends sometime in late February. And if a warm spell hits Maine around Groundhog Day, the animal may well stir, go outside its den and walk around for a bit and then return to its den for some more hibernation. So woodchucks do, in fact, walk around outside in February, snow or no snow. In fact, I have been temporarily puzzled by woodchuck tracks on the snow. The answer came when I tracked the critter to a known woodchuck den. Anyway, as per forecasting the arrival of spring, the woodchuck is indeed a poor prognosticator. So there you have it. Woodchucks may in fact leave their den on or around Groundhog Day. Just don’t believe what they have to say about the weather.
An avid writer and naturalist, Tom writes four regular columns and a multitude of features. He wrote a long running award winning column "Waldo County Outdoors" and a garden column for Courier Publications