Posts Tagged ‘autumn’

More Than Meets The Eye

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The narrow channel opened up into the huge third bay of Kezar Lake

Even though I’ve lived in Maine for several years now, I had never kayaked the bottom section of Kezar Lake, known as Lower Bay.  Unlike the Upper Bay, which is spectacular, the section of Lower Bay visible from the road doesn’t look like much.  But much to my surprise there is more than meets the eye. Starting from the put-out I passed the marina at The Narrows, went under a low, narrow bridge, and continued down an unexciting and rather narrow channel until its end…only to have it open up to the HUGE hidden section of Kezar Lake that I ignorantly didn’t even realize was there (it’s clearly visible on maps so I don’t know why I never bothered to notice this before).  Kezar Lake is 9 miles long but there’s a total of 33.9 miles of shoreline.  I ended up kayaking about 6 miles of it and had a blast. Talk about a good upper body workout!

(This was a great lesson for me metaphorically speaking:  we do not always see the entire picture; we often lack complete information about situations that impede our judgment.  Just sayin’…)

One of the neat things I noticed was a platform built for a loon’s nest. Loons are territorial ducks with haunting cries and beautiful black and white feathers. Their heads are black and they have beady red eyes.  They are famous for their haunting cries and diving skills; they can stay completely submerged under the water for minutes at a time.  Both parents raise 1 or 2 chicks, teaching them how to dive and fish.  They don’t walk well and live mostly on the water.  The problem is that they build their nests at water’s edge on the shoreline.  If heavy rains make the water levels rise too much, then that year’s nest is wiped out. So some conservation groups have been experimenting with different styles of man-made platforms at some of the lakes with great success, and this has helped stabilize or increase the local loon population.  I took this picture in telephoto mode; getting too close to a nest stresses the loons and could make them abandon the nest completely.

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A platform for nesting loons, topped by a spiffy roof

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Autumn vs. Winter

An old barn in Evergreen Valley, Stoneham, Maine.  Speckled Mountain is in the background.

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Leaf Peeping 2013

Basin Pond, Evans Notch Oct 17, 2013

Basin Pond, Evans Notch Oct 17, 2013 (Make sure you click this photo to see an enlarged version.  It is really gorgeous!)

2013 has arguably been one of the most amazing autumns on record here in the White Mountains.

The success of leaf peeping is based on two factors:  intensity of color, and the amount of leaf drop.  You can have gorgeous color, usually precipitated by warm days and cold nights; but if there is wind or rain, it might cause most of the leaves to drop from the trees, thereby hastening the end of leaf peeping.  If the nights are too warm, or it’s too cloudy during the day for prolonged periods, the colors will be blah.

October was unseasonably warm and clear, yet the nights were cold enough to help with leaf coloration.  Unusually, there was almost zero rain and no wind – -which meant the leaves “aged” on the trees and changed from their full gamut of green to red to orange to gold and yellow without any noticeable thinning.

Basin Pond

Basin Pond

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Basin Pond

Basin Pond

Basin Pond

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Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Kewaydin Lake

Kewaydin Lake

Another factor in my favor was that I was able to return to Maine a few days before the colors changed.  This year, the Jewish holidays (Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah) were “early” relative to the Gregorian calendar.  Usually I return to Maine around mid-October, when the colors are well past their peak; this year I was back at the end of September.  What a difference, color-wise, those two weeks makes!

I was hoping for an especially colorful autumn this year because not only would I be here for its entirety, I was also entertaining guests from Israel.

Historically, the Land of Israel had been covered in deciduous forests and woods, but through the centuries various conquerors – – Romans, Crusaders, Turks – – had decimated its forests, leaving the land bare.  What American Jew who went to Hebrew School or Sunday School in the 1960s and 70s,  doesn’t remember donating a few coins into  a little “pushka” (charity box) from the Jewish National Fund every week?  The money raised would go to reforesting Israel, transforming the barren land green.  While the program was largely successful, the JNF  almost exclusively planted a single type of scrawny non-native pine tree, which was drought-resistant, could survive in poor soil, and grow quickly.  What they didn’t realize is that it is a fairly short-lived tree, and useless for fuel or lumber.  Today Israel still must import all wood products, and the oaks, cedar, ash and cypress of Biblical times is extremely rare.  (More common are fig, olive, palm, acacia, and the above-mentioned non-native pine trees.)  Because of the abundance of evergreens and the dearth of deciduous trees, not to mention the mostly-warm autumn season there, fall colors are  unknown in Israel.  Therefore it was a special thrill for my Israeli visitors to experience the change of colors in the White Mountains.

HaShem was good to us.  Not only did we get wonderful colors, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was unseasonably warm.  We rode to the top of Mt. Washington on a day with 100-mile visibility and almost no wind (nearly unheard of for Mt. Washington, which is home to the country’s wickedest weather).

Mt. Washington on a very clear day, seen from below

Mt. Washington on a very clear day, seen from below

About halfway up the mountain on Mt. Washington Auto Road, looking down

About halfway up the mountain on Mt. Washington Auto Road, looking down

The entire coloration process is nothing short of miraculous, really.  While scientists understand the process of fall color, the reason for it remains unclear, despite many theories.  Truly autumn is a beautiful gift to us from The One Above.

The trees on our street in Maine

The trees on our street in Maine

An abandoned barn just up the road from my house

An abandoned barn in Evergreen Valley

Blueberry Mountain

Shell Pond Trail

Shell Pond Trail

On Sunday we decided to take a short hike of 2 or 3 miles.  We live very close to Shell Pond in Evans Notch.  We had hiked the easy Shell Pond Trail loop 4 years ago, and to tell you the truth, it wasn’t the most exciting hike in the world, neither visually nor in terms of challenge.  It was interesting, though:  it is home to the Stone House, which is one of the few houses in the area constructed, well over 100 years ago,  with a stone facade  (surprisingly rare since we are surrounded by granite, but in the White Mountains, wood rules) from a quarry dug behind that house.  The land abutting the Stone House and Shell Pond was cleared by colonist settlers, and in the 1940s it was the site of an airstrip, used for practice landings and takeoffs by the military during training exercises during WWII.  Today it is a perfectly flat, grassy meadow.

This newly built home sits adjacent to the old airfield and the Stone House.

This newly built home sits adjacent to the old airfield and the Stone House.  (click to enlarge)

The most popular approach to Shell Pond is via Stone House Road off of Rte. 113 in Evans Notch; but just up the road from us on Deer Hill Rd. there is a small sign indicating a hiking trail that cuts in to Shell Pond, and that’s the route we took.  It’s always thrilling,  knowing that hiking trails, snowmobile trails, colonist history, stories of Indian wars of the 1760s and natural wonders are literally in our backyard.  Incidentally, the entire hike was on private land – – the owners have graciously allowed hikers on their property under the guidance and maintenance of the all-volunteer Chatham Trails Association, provided outdoor enthusiasts  stick to the trail and respect privacy boundaries of the owners.

It was a particularly lovely autumn day, the air cool but the sun kissing our faces; a strong wind the previous night had resulted in a deep carpet of golden leaves covering the trail.  It was a bit of a slog since walking in the leaves was slippery, and necessitated the use of hiking poles to probe the ground to see if the downed foliage was covering up large stones, mud, or deep, hidden puddles.

Shell Pond Trail

Shell Pond Trail

Weird but beautiful fungus growing on a rotten tree trunk

Weird but beautiful fungus growing on a rotten tree trunk

The route was very short and mostly level, and since the day was so nice we decided to continue on an adjacent trail to Rattlesnake Gorge.  A footbridge spanned the narrow granite flume some 30 feet below, fed by a pulsing waterfall.

Before our ascent of Blueberry Hill, this footbridge took us over Rattlesnake Gorge.  My husband, a geek gadgeteer, spent a lot of time consulting his GPS, which he installed with all the trails found in the White Mountains

Before our ascent of Blueberry Hill, this footbridge took us over Rattlesnake Gorge. My husband, a geek gadgeteer, spent a lot of time consulting his GPS, which he loaded with software containing all the trails found in the White Mountains

We continued a few hundred feet up the trail to Rattlesnake Pool.  We almost missed it – the trail marker blended in so well with the woods.

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This magnificent swimming hole would provide perfect relief after a hot day of hiking, but we were not in the correct season for dipping in its freezing waters.  Fed by yet another waterfall, the round pool – really a giant glacial pothole – has incredibly green, clear water and is truly magnificent.

This glacial pothole is fed by a rushing waterfall to its left, unfortunately not shown.

Clear, cold Rattlesnake Pool.  This glacial pothole is fed by a rushing waterfall to its left, unfortunately not shown here.

Now we were truly energized, so we kept going.  And going.  We decided to climb to the top of Blueberry Hill, hoping for some nice views.  A couple we met on the trail who were on their way down told us that the climb was well worth the effort.  “And make sure you take the Lookout Loop Trail after you get to the top!” they added.

The climb wasn’t long, but it was extraordinarily steep.  I was huffing and puffing and my heart was beating so hard I thought it would burst out of my chest.  I needed to stop frequently to calm my pulse.  I am up to a challenge, but that nagging little voice inside of me wasn’t so sure.  “It’s going to get dark, and you’re going to be stuck,” it told me.  I was so tired, so winded.  My husband assured me we had plenty of time to complete the hike, but even if in the worst-case scenario it got dark, we could manage with our flashlights.  (We also had appropriate clothing, food, water, and first aid kits in our backpacks.)  “Ok,” I said doubtfully, and continued climbing and resting, climbing and resting.  I tried talking myself out of negative thoughts.  “We can turn around now if you want,” my husband said, and he meant it without any malice, but even though I was filled with doubt, I pushed grimly on. Surely we were so close to the top!  Despite his best intentions, my husband’s constant, cheerful GPS reportage (“1000′ feet to go!  950′ to go!”) was incredibly irritating and got old, fast.  Still, I kept climbing.

Finally, through the dense tree cover:  peeks of blue sky a few feet ahead!  The end really was in sight.  We finally made it to the top.  Blueberry Hill was indeed aptly named.  Although we were long past the July blueberry season, the blueberry leaves had turned a burnished maroon, and the surrounding green lichens were now a frosty white.

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The view was shrouded by pines, and with the clock ticking, we hurried along the Lookout Loop Trail to a series of clear granite ledges.

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It was then that we were blessed with our reward:  probably one of the all-time nicest views I’ve ever seen on a hike, and that’s saying a lot here in the White Mountains!  We felt like we were on top of the world – literally and figuratively.

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(Click to enlarge) A five-star view:  from Blueberry Hill on the Lookout Loop Trail. Shell Pond lies below, and in the far distance on the left you can see a sliver of Horseshoe Pond and beyond it, Kezar Lake.

Our dog Spencer checks out the view at the top

Our dog Spencer checks out the view at the top

Despite his age (70 in dog years), Spencer still enjoys hiking.

Despite his age (70 in dog years), Spencer still enjoys hiking.  Here he smiles for the camera.

Although we couldn’t linger as long as we might have liked, the arduous climb had been absolutely worthwhile.  The steep, slippery descent was punctuated by my worries (“it’s going to get dark!” and my husband begging me to slow down (‘if you go fast you’re going to take a fall or stress your knees!”)  but soon enough we were indeed down the mountain and walking the last mile of trail.  Never had a soft, grassy, and “boring” flat former airfield been so welcoming to my poor, tired, sore feet!  And indeed, we did make it to the car before dark.

My husband, the gadget geek, was agog with the information spewing from his cellphone apps and GPS.  If you had asked me earlier that day if I was in the mood for a 5.5 hour, 7.2 mile hike climbing 1,870 feet and walking 18,500 steps, I would have said “No way!”  Instead, our spontaneity led to a challenge I wouldn’t have thought I could muster.  Besides being in awe of the incredible beauty we were privileged to see, it was such a positive life lesson.  Go!  Live!  Just do it!  Try!  You might fail, but you can achieve!  Choose happiness!  We had just experienced a taste of heaven, and being a bit tired and sore nevertheless seemed a small price to pay (not to mention the 950 calories my husband’s phone’s app said we burned) – – especially after the hot bath and cold beer that followed 🙂

I was sure HaShem has placed those two people on the trail at the moment I needed the most encouragement, and without the Providence of meeting them we would probably not have attempted the fantastic Lookout Loop Trail since the hour was late.

Since this hike was impetuously conceived, although we could rely on the GPS trail map, we nevertheless had no real information prepared in advance as to what glories awaited us. In the words coined by hiker and author “It’s Not About the Hike” Nancy  Sporborg, we were truly “riding the grace wave.”

Cranberries

For the past few years during autumn, I’ve noticed a sign just up the road from my house.   (“Up the road,” in rural Maine, as a friend from the city noted sardonically, is relative.  In my neck of the woods, that means 1 – 10 miles away.)

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I’ve gone to many u-pick farms over the years, harvesting apples, cherries, peaches, blueberries, pumpkins, peaches and beans, but picking cranberries, one of the United State’s few native plants, and almost exclusive to New England, would be a first.

Really, I should have been home stacking wood.  Since our sometimes-handyperson Bill felled more of our trees and chunked the logs into manageable pieces, my husband and I have been busy shlepping them into a pile so at a later date he can come and split them.  (By “manageable” I mean 10 – 30 lbs. per log.  The oak is a lot heavier than the pine or birch.)  Once split, the wood needs to be stacked in the woodshed so it can dry for an entire year before it becomes fuel for our woodstove.  (If you burn “green” wood without seasoning, it doesn’t burn very well, produces lots of creosote, and smokes heavily.)  But like unmade beds, dirty dishes in a sink, or laundry that needs to be folded and put away, that woodpile was not going anywhere and waiting a little longer was not going to hurt.

In the foreground are the cut logs we dragged in from our woods.  In the middle ground is a pile of split wood that needs to be stacked in the woodshed behind it.  That's our house on the left.

In the foreground are the cut logs we dragged in from our woods. In the middle ground is a pile of split wood that needs to be stacked in the woodshed behind it. That’s our house on the left.

I followed the sign down a dirt road and it led me to Woodward Cranberry Farm.

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I asked the owners, Rick and Linda Woodward, for a tour of their operation, and they graciously complied.

Linda (l) and Rick (r) Woodward

Linda (l) and Rick (r) Woodward

This is a good year for cranberries – their best ever.  The Woodwards expect to harvest 7,000 lbs of cranberries in 2013!  (Last year, one of their worst ever due to a late spring freeze, they harvested only 600 lbs.  Their average is 1200 – 3000 lbs. per year.)

“Wow, seven thousand pounds!  Are you going to sell to Ocean Spray?” I naively asked.

“Perish the thought!” said Rick.  The Woodwards are very proud of the fact that their cranberries have always been farmed organically (Ocean Spray uses insecticide) and that they supply local customers and small businesses (such as bakers, eateries and health food stores) in New England.

About 25 years ago, Rick, a contractor, and Linda, a dental hygienist for the Massachusetts prison system, were looking for a place where they could be weekend farmers and supplement their retirement.  Someone suggested cranberries, so they took a few university extension courses and they were hooked.  They bought land in Albany Township in western Maine adjacent to the White Mountain National Forest, cleared about 2 acres of trees in boggy ground, and started planting.

“We made tons of mistakes over the years,” said Linda, “but we have two major advantages:  my husband is good with his hands, and I am physically very strong!” she said.  Which is a good thing, because they do just about everything themselves, and that includes a lot of kneeling, bending, and lifting.

Their cranberries are certified organic and the Woodwards are members of MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association).  Birds control the harmful insect population; their 2-acre bog is bordered by many nesting boxes.

“Bluebirds,” says Linda.  “Swallows only eat the flying bugs but bluebirds eat them at the larval stage too.  We love bluebirds!”

Nesting boxes (left) edge the bog

Nesting boxes edge the bog (click to enlarge)

The gentlest, most thorough way to harvest the berries, albeit not necessarily the most efficient,  is by hand rather than machine.  Each picker is supplied with a kneeling pad to provide a cushion for one’s knees, along with a small bucket.  The cranberries actually grow on small, thin vines, and they share the space with moss and sandy soil.  Infringing tree saplings are vigilantly picked and discarded, lest they overtake the bog and threaten the crop.

A close-up of cranberries growing in their natural state

A close-up of cranberries growing in their natural state, close to the ground amid moss and sandy soil

Linda Woodward picking cranberries

Linda Woodward picking cranberries

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I had been under the impression that cranberries are always harvested from water, but the Woodwards prefer a dry-pick method since there is less likelihood of mold.  The bog is flooded when frost or snow is expected, however.  The water (or snow or frost) that ices over the ripe berries actually serves as a form of insulation against the severe cold, and make for a juicier berry.  The Woodwards dug a pond next to the bog, and built a pump house.  The pump transfers the water from the pond to the bog when needed, and then can pump the water out of the bog and back into the pond when drier conditions are called for.  Due to the standing water and surrounding woods, the blackflies and mosquitoes are prolific in springtime, but to my amazement the Woodwards were unfazed.

The pond the Woodwards constructed that is to the right of the bog.  At left is the pump house, which transfers the water from the pond to the bog and back again, as necessary.  To the immediate right of the pump house, also in red, is an outhouse with a composting toilet.

The pond the Woodwards constructed is to the right of the bog. At left is the pump house, which transfers the water from the pond to the bog and back again, as necessary. To the immediate right of the pump house, also in red, is an outhouse with a composting toilet.

The pumphouse (r) and the outhouse with composting toilet (l)

The pump-house (center) and the outhouse with composting toilet (l)

Once the cranberries are gathered it’s time to sort out the debris (more prevalent when machine harvested with a mechanical rake) which can include small vines, pebbles, moss and grass.  Mr. Woodward uses a winnower machine with a fan that blows the debris aside and puts the cranberries into crates.

Freshly gathered bushel of cranberries

Freshly gathered bushel of cranberries

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Rick Woodward pours cranberries into a winnower.

Linda was excited to show me their antique sorting machine.  It and much of their equipment, including their wooden crates (dated 1908) came from a farm museum that had closed its doors.  They continue to use the antique machines at Woodward Farm.

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The antique sorting machine that came from a museum and is still used by the Woodwards

The antique sorter searches for berries with the most bounce.  And bounce, they do!  (That’s why to the right in the above photos there is a screen in front of the ejection box.  It helps contain the berries from bouncing all over the barn.)  Those berries that are soft and not bouncy are considered “rejects” but are fine for sauce or juice, known as “utility grade.”

Antique crates, ca. 1908

Antique  wooden crates, ca. 1908

Originally the Woodwards slept in an RV on the property, but eventually they ordered a barn (“It came in a kit!” Linda said) which they assembled and built themselves.  They use part of the barn for their cranberry operation, and part of the barn, which they modernized and insulated, for living quarters.

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Sometimes when the barn gets too cold, Linda sorts by hand on this antique sorting belt, which is located in the part of the barn that serves as their living quarters.

Sometimes when the barn gets too cold, Linda sorts by hand on this antique sorting belt, which is located in the part of the barn that serves as their living quarters.

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Another view of the hand-sorting belt.

readyberries

These berries have been sorted and are ready to be juiced, baked, cooked or dried. They are full of anti-oxidants and are known to be helpful for UTIs (urinary tract infections) and prostrate troubles. The Woodwards are happy to share recipes using cranberries.

When Linda heard I enjoy juicing fruits and vegetables, she suggested I make my own fresh cranberry juice and then use the pulp to make fruit leather.  Cranberries are extremely tart, but I prefer not to use sugar.  I found that juicing cranberries with an apple made the perfect tart-sweet combination.  For the fruit leather, I added 1 tsp. stevia to the apple-cranberry pulp, along with a dash of cinnamon.

Cranberry-apple pulp on parchment paper, to be dried into fruit leather.

Cranberry-apple pulp on parchment paper, to be dried into fruit leather.

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My cran-apple fruit leather.

After a wonderful morning picking cranberries and learning so much, Linda Woodward put some cranberry vines into my hands.

“Try planting these rooted vines on your land, but make sure you cover them with sand if you want them to succeed,” she suggested.  “Maybe you’ll have your own cranberry crop!”

It is so nice to see people like the Woodwards – and there are many like them in their 60s, 70s and 80s  here in Maine — whose idea of retirement is not lying around doing nothing, but remaining physically active by choice as long as they are able, pursuing and enjoying a healthful lifestyle in a pristine and beautiful environment.  The hard-working and cheerful Woodwards were truly an inspiration to me, and gave me yet another unique Maine experience to share with others.

The Woodwards’ website:

http://www.woodwardcranberryfarm.net/woodwardsite/

An informative article about organic cranberry growing:

http://www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Summer2009/Cranberries/tabid/1194/Default.aspx

Reportage from a local newspaper:

http://www.advertiserdemocrat.com/community/story/025-42-com-2011cranberries-31-v-0

To Every Thing, There Is a Higher Purpose

The last days of August were a flurry of activity as we prepared to leave Maine.  We would be returning to our home town for the month of Jewish holidays:  Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

I realized it was a week of “last chances” – – places to fish and swim; because upon our return in October it would be too cold to take a dip in the lake and fishing season would be over until ice fishing season began on January 1st (something I haven’t yet attempted).

I knew I wouldn’t have much luck fishing at Horseshoe Pond, but my rod and reel anyhow served only as an excuse to paddle my kayak around this beautiful place.  As its name indicates, it is shaped like the letter “U;” I paddled from one end to the other and back again.  I was the only one on the lake, alone in my thoughts on a warm and glorious day.

Horseshoe Pond

Horseshoe Pond (click to enlarge)  My house (not visible)  is just behind the middle hill in background.

I went for a walk with my dog near my house.  The foliage in the woods was so thick; yet despite the warm temperatures the air felt different, truly like the end of summer.  I noticed the sugar maples were just starting to turn, a few giving coy previews of the glories soon to come.

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Soon we passed the old West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse.  It was established in 1860 during Stoneham’s heyday, when the land was settled by farmers and loggers.  Shortly thereafter the population dwindled, victims of poor soil for farming; industrialization in the cities that offered better paying jobs; and the Spanish flu, which decimated entire families in this region.  Even though it was always small – – in 1880 the population was 475 souls – –  it’s hard to imagine our town as once bustling (the 2010 census indicated there are 237 residents, with a density of 7 residents per square mile). Yet in the late 1800s there were five such one-room schoolhouses spread throughout Stoneham.  Today the West Stoneham schoolhouse has been modernized somewhat and is used as someone’s summer cottage.

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The (former) West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse, ca. 1860

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Click to enlarge and see a closeup of W. Stoneham schoolhouse’s commemorative sign

On Friday morning, I decided to go fishing one last time at Virginia Lake.

While I was threading the worm onto the hook, I thought about how we humans tend to think of worms and bugs as the earth’s lowliest creatures.  Yet where would fish and birds (ergo us humans) be without them?  Although they may be an annoyance to humans, worms and insects clearly have a crucial purpose in life as part of the food chain and we would be lost without them.

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(It did not take long before the fish began biting. I caught seven: one was a yellow perch which is not a good eating fish; 2 were too small to keep; but four white perch were just the right size for our upcoming Shabbat dinner and lunch.)

While swatting mosquitoes back at home, the “bugs are beneficial” concept was further driven home by the arrival of the Bee Man.  He was there to harvest this year’s honey crop.  As noted in this article in the Portland Press Herald, this year’s honey crop was one of Maine’s all-time worst.  The Bee Man told me that he averages 1400 lbs of honey per year from his dozens of hives in bee yards spread over a 20 mile radius.  Last year he harvested 1700 lbs.  But this year, he will be lucky to get a meager 500 lbs.  The reason was mostly weather related:  bees prefer hot, sunny days, and 25 days out of 30 in June were rainy, with July and August not faring much better.  The bees were “thin,” he said, and not only could he not harvest whatever little amount of honey they had produced, he would have to add sugar cakes to the hives to feed them supplementally, lest they starve over the winter.

As I stood talking to Bee Man, I was busy swatting the bugs, and I pointed out that his bee suit was covered with gnats and mosquitoes.  “It’s about time!” he said with a smile.  “I’m telling you . . . something is going on.  Yours is the first place I’ve been to today that’s even had bugs!”  I frowned but Bee Man smiled.

“Usually when I empty the hives, I see a lot of ants.  This year I didn’t see any!  And if there aren’t ants, then there are earwigs.  But no earwigs this year, either.  Yep, definitely something is going on, and it’s not good.”  Translation:  pesticides have been introduced to some farms in Bee Man’s area.  True, there are fewer bugs, but the hives are in danger of colony collapse.  For Bee Man, bugs are a measuring stick for the health of his bees . . . and ourselves.

The lowly insect  – – something so small and seemingly insignificant (not to mention annoying) – –  is in fact not inconsequential at all.  Everything, and I do mean everything that was created by G-d has purpose and meaning and is part of a Greater Plan, even if our small minds cannot grasp it.

Seen in this light, even a gnat can inspire us with awe.

It is said there is no such thing as an atheist farmer, because despite his best efforts, he is at the mercy of the forces of Nature, and he recognizes that ultimately his success is up to G-d.  May the New Year reignite our sense of awe and wonder and appreciation of all the good that has been bestowed upon us, and instill us with clarity to recognize Truth.