The Friendship of the Maine Woods

Spring and Summer ramblings…

Returning to the woods is  like seeing that long lost friend after many years of separation. Perhaps the one you neglected to keep in touch with, forgot to write to, and maybe even lost track of amidst the clutter in your social networking feed. But once you have locked arms and entered the domain of this friend, past secrets are kept, warm remembrances are kindled, and new loves are spoken. You realize that even though distance separated you and maybe time and space, the memories are there, the knowledge is there, and even though there may be new wrinkles and a few extra pounds, your friend remains the same, and the joy you initially found in the friendship is instantly restored.

So it is with the untamed, unfettered wilds of the north Maine Woods. This is indeed a special place. It is unique. With its remote, pristine undeveloped ponds, easy free access through miles of maintained roads, beautiful mountain vistas, and simple pleasures found along the roadsides, the edges of forest glades, or along the well worn trail of a ridgeline path, or on the boggy shore of a undeveloped pond. I believe once you have truly made friends with the Maine woods, it holds a piece of your heart. Whether you are a logger, activist, hunter, fisherman, photographer, artist, or developer, that connection will be there.

The wildlife sightings this year seem to be quite frequent. Lynx, Bear, Moose, fisher, beaver, otter. Guests are seeing it all!. Recent guests in the aptly named “Moose” cabin have seen moose almost every day this spring in the swamp and on the Winter Wren trail. I myself have seen more mothers with babies than I have ever seen before. Even recently saw a large bull with a cow, which struck me as slightly odd.

The bear are also here, and with them and the season of wild berries upon us, we are in direct competition. It is a race to the ripest patches. With  a mere 22000 acres across the East Middlesex Canal Grant township I can only know a few of the best spots but during every walk and scouting trip I am calculating the week, time, even hour the strawberries within a particular location will ripen. For years I spent the month of July censusing the berries on my family’s farm. My knowledge ran deep, I suspect I have as many words for the types of wild strawberries that the Athabascans have for snow. I am now in the infancy of collecting many data points on the wild strawberries of the township. I guess it is the farmer in me I must watch seek the best soil, watch the berries grow, and add to my sparse knowledge which section of woods reveal the largest delight and harvest at the appropriate moment, always with an eye on the weather.  To my delight there is a wealth of new information to be learned as well as perfecting the timing of the harvest. Dana and the girls easily support these forays because they know that at the end of all the hard work, the slow hulling of berries which at this time of year are picked “singleton” there will be a reward, an amazing shortcake, or a batch of wild strawberry rhubarb jam cooked upon the stove.

Autumn musings… 

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Moose? Where are the moose? If only I had a dollar for each time I answer that question. A simple response: they are here you just have to look for them and be patient. My “easy” button does not seem to work to produce moose sightings on demand. Fresh signs abound in the woods, small maples ripped out of the ground, scraped up and gashed, large piles of droppings, mucky murky tracks in the dirt, huge pawings. Moose “Families” congregating together by the road. I look forward to the time of the year where the leaves drop and the moose can be seen easily in the woods. I love the rich earthy smell of autumn in the forest.. the eruptions of turkey tails, treasure troves of black trumpets, and clusters of other lichen that jut out from the sea of multi-colored leaves. As the moon waxes and wanes I think of the ravines, the ridges, and the old roads that criss-cross the township where I will spend my days this fall. Watching pileated woodpeckers, Canada jays, and flickers float gracefully through  the air.  Hopefully catching sight of that elegant white tail in his prime. Each season brings new patterns and old friends that have been away for a time. It is a joy to visit with them, to have a knowledge deep enough to know that even if you have fleeting moments in their presence they are there carrying on… present over time.

Potato-Bean, Hopniss was discovered here in bloom in late summer. It has been here all along, but has become more prolific.  A unique flower, an ever expanding vine. I marveled at its audacity, taking over my sunflowers and fence, casting aside my feeble sweet peas, crawling with exacerbating speed up the side of the windmill. What exotic has someone introduced. Flummoxed I paused and fumbled through pages of books. Then one night I stumbled upon it, the very same week Dana was enlightened by a charismatic guest as to its origin and identity. We both kept this information in our heads, delighted in our find. Until one night we almost burst out in unison and we remembered we had not yet told the other. I somewhat embarrassed I had not known it before and had been perusing horticultural guides trying to find an invasive. The groundnut was used by the Abenaki and others as a  food source. It is reputed to be found in old settlements where they were well established. Around the same time I learned the “rest of the story” regarding the connection the Abenaki and Gluscape had to Kokadjoweemgwasebemsis and our winter home near Cape Rosier. Eerily I pondered the connection. Connected by geology and time  and old legends, two very different places, we inhabit. Our migration reversed.

This season has made me think about patterns, and the forces of nature, and the continuing circle of life we live in. There has been much death in my family personally, it has consumed some of my mental capacity and made it hard to write. At the same time I don’t think I have ever been as connected to the seasons and nature, life and death before, and the patterns of the woods within the township. From the first bloom of coltsfoot, to the newfound joy of lady’s tresses. To old friends trillium, lady slipper, rattlesnake plantain and daisies, I have found simple joys. The silver moonlight across the pond, the arch of the moon as it travels closer to the mountain as the season draws on. The primeval green of the pond in late spring, the golden light on the mountain face in the sunsets of autumn. The fiery fall sunrises. The blooming of water lilies, the beaver and otter swimming by, the marten in the spruce, and the chipmunk on the log. Each moment I have relished. I look forward to snow on the mountain and the biting cold winds of November. Throughout the chaos of hustle of the world I have been able to be grounded here.  Throughout the season I have welcomed old guests, anticipated their arrival, enjoyed the friendship and camaraderie each visit brings. I have been delighted to meet new friends and forge new connections both within the natural world and human world that I know will carry me long into the future. Indeed each day, each moment, each season brings renewed commitment and the realization that it is truly a blessing to be here. I am deeply thankful for the paths that have lead our family to this special spot.

The clear brilliance of each captured moment is at once like a memory and yet has a new twist, as the seasons spin, I have been here before but there are new elements I may have once missed. My only responsibility is to keep my eyes and heart open to the possibilities.

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