Posts Tagged ‘bugs’

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.

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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.

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Lapham Ledge

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A pink lady’s slipper along the trail. These wild orchids are protected flowers in Maine.

In the midst of a heat wave of 90 degrees (but thankfully, not humid!), we decided to go on an easy 2-part hike, knowing that if the heat became too strong we could easily turn around or just do one of the parts.  One thing we have learned, is that we are not in a competition.  Hiking for us is more about fun than physical prowess or putting ourselves under pressure to be superjocks.

We decided to hike Bucks Ledge and Lapham Ledge, a hike so easy a two-year-old could do it.  These two ledges offer magnificent views of western Maine mountains, rivers and lakes.  Almost immediately, however, we knew we were in trouble.  Much of the hike offered little protection from the unrelenting sun.  There were also plenty of mosquitoes who made mockery of our bug repellant.

The good news is that when we made it to the top of Lapham Ledge, there was a nice breeze.  It was still plenty hot, but the breeze made it tolerable and the bugs were at a minimum since they prefer still air.  The views of Bryant Pond were lovely, too.

The view from Lapham Ledge to Bryant Pond

The view from Lapham Ledge to Bryant Pond

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That said, it was hard to gather the momentum needed to continue further up the trail to Buck’s Ledge, so we decided to quit while we were ahead.

Upon our return we awaited the predicted severe afternoon thunderstorm, and severe it was!   It only lasted 15 minutes, but the trees were nearly bent double by the force of the wind and torrential rain that followed.  In fifteen minutes, the temperature dropped 15 degrees, from 90 degrees down to 75!  Thankfully it meant that it would be nice and cool by bedtime.

Fortunately, thanks to the super-insulation of our house, really hot days have been manageable, which is fortunate considering we don’t have air conditioning.  Usually there is a 15- to 20- degree difference between interior and exterior temperatures.  Twice since our move to Maine the temperatures have hit over 100 degrees, but our house was never hotter than 85 degrees.  The biggest difference is that days with high humidity are rare, and heat waves only last 2 or 3 days at most, unlike my hometown where a heat wave lasts the entire summer amidst humidity that makes everyone’s minds go to mush.

That said, there is a major downside to Maine that is seemingly inescapable:  bugs!  We have blackfly season, deerfly season, mosquito season, ladybug season, cluster fly season, and, for me, the most terrible of all:  midge season.  Midges are also referred to as “no-see-ums” with good reason.  They are so tiny they are mostly invisible.  They fly right through screened windows and attack mercilessly, leaving bites that leave you insanely itchy and scratchy for weeks.  For the past two years they were so bad that we simply couldn’t take it anymore, and we left Maine for our hometown, hoping for some respite.   Fortunately by the end of July most of Maine’s  biting insects are gone until the following Spring, with August, September and early October among the most enjoyable months to visit Maine if you are “from away.”