Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Shmoozing Strangers

My 2006 Honda CRV’s passenger-side front airbag was recalled, so I drove through Evans Notch to the border of the towns of Gorham/Berlin NH to the dealership to have it replaced.  It’s the closest dealership to my home one hour away, although when they close the mountain pass to vehicular traffic in the winter, the roundabout detour ride is at least 30 minutes longer.  Therefore I always avoid scheduling service from Winter through the end of Spring whenever possible.

Seated alongside and across from me in the car repair waiting room were 9 other people.     At the end of the room was a huge flat-screen TV, and turned to very high volume was a show called The View.  I had never watched this before.  Actress Whoopi Goldberg was talking about all black people being victims of racism and targets by police.  The white co-hosts apologized on behalf of all white people.  But Whoopi went  on and on and on, and it turned into an anti-white hate fest.  It was ugly and her language was crude.

Finally one of the people waiting for their car spoke up. “Would anyone mind if we turned the volume down?”

That was all I needed.  “Would anyone mind if we shut off the TV altogether?” I piped in.

Immediately there was a tangible release of tension; everyone had been afraid that they were the only one who didn’t want to watch the show.  Everyone was happy for the silence – – only there wasn’t silence.  People began to chat with one another, and everyone participated.

What I loved was that no one mentioned current events.  No one said “Hillary” or “Trump.”  So what do people in rural NH talk about?  Where I live, in a district that has many lakes and ponds, people tend to swap fish stories.  But Berlin/Gorham is moose country… so people swapped moose tales.  We all concurred that no matter how long we’ve lived in the White Mountains, and no matter how many times we’ve seen moose, it doesn’t get old, and that each time we are thrilled anew.

There was a young man in his twenties, who was a policeman.  He told of some of his encounters with wildlife, which he said were his favorite part of his job.  He confessed that when things are quiet, and he sees a moose nearby, he often parks his patrol car off the road and turns his speed trap radar on, so he can convince himself that he is doing something productive, but in reality he’s just enjoying watching the moose, whom he called “goofy creatures”  much to the agreement of the crowd.

Once he came upon a moose who looked sickly and dazed, who was walking around and around in circles.  He realized immediately that the moose suffered from the end stages of a terrible tick-borne disease which eventually affects the moose’s brain.  After conferring with headquarters and Fish and Game, he took his rifle from the trunk and shot it, putting it out of its misery.

“It was delicious,” he added.  (He said that the Fish and Game told him the disease does not taint the meat for human consumption.)

When he was a brand-new rookie, during his first month on the job he was not allowed to go out on calls solo, and was accompanied by his sergeant.  One night, they got a call from a resident in town, complaining of a neighbor’s barking dog.  When they arrived at the house, the dog was indeed barking, and would not stop.  When they knocked on the owner’s door, he apologized profusely.

“I don’t know why he won’t stop barking,” the man said.  “I swear he’s never done this before.  I tried putting him in the house but he just kept barking.  This has been going on for hours.  I looked around outside but couldn’t find anything out there.  I’m at my wit’s end.”

The rookie and his sergeant decided to investigate.  They walked around the property with their flashlights, but couldn’t see or smell a thing.  All the while, the dog was barking incessantly.  As they stood in the driveway talking about what to do, they suddenly felt a whoosh and  heard a huge thud.  A sleeping bear had fallen out of the tree above them, and missed the sergeant by only a couple of inches!  The bear scampered away; the dog stopped barking; and everyone was happy.

Another time, he got a call about a skunk whose head was stuck in a peanut butter jar.  The rookie cop figured this might not end well and that he would be the laughingstock of the guys back at the station.  He decided to video the encounter from the dash-mounted camera of the police car.  If it didn’t go well, he would be subject to a lot of ribbing, but if he was able to free the skunk without getting sprayed, it would make him look good.

He slowly approached the skunk, whose head was indeed stuck.  The cop gingerly put his boot on the jar at an angle, holding it steady.  The skunk was able to free himself and scampered off without incident, and the rookie cop breathed a huge sigh of relief.

It was only later, when he reviewed the video, that he noticed that the skunk had lifted his tail!  To this day he doesn’t know why he wasn’t sprayed but he’s not complaining.

His last story involved seeing a white (albino) deer.  His only wish was that it would not fall victim to hunting season.  He passed around his cell phone so we could all see pictures of this beautiful creature.

Next, an older gentleman who was an avid hunter told us his moose stories.  Of the time a few years back when he saw 21 moose on his property in a single day, and how this year due to the tick scourge there are almost no moose.  He also told a story that happened a few years ago when he got into his Ford Ranger pickup truck one morning to go to work.  Before he could turn on the ignition, a bull moose in rut (mating season) approached his truck, apparently mistaking his vehicle for a moose cow (female).  The moose began rubbing against the car, and pushing it back and forth like a toy, trying to get this weird truck-moose to respond to its amorous endeavors.  At first the man was amused, but after 20 minutes of continued moose-humping against his truck he realized that not only was he going to be late for work, he was in danger of the entire truck tipping with him inside of it.  He quickly turned on the engine and sounded the horn, and the disgruntled moose lumbered away.

Then a different man spoke up.  He was on his father’s farm one day and he saw  three deer, two moose, and a bear, all side by side, munching away in the corn field.

This man was the black sheep of his family, since he was the only one in his family who hadn’t followed the farming path of his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents.

He told about growing up on his father’s farm.  His father harvested 60 acres of potatoes annually.  They had one measly tractor but most of the work was done with draft horses or by hand, with the entire family involved in sowing, reaping, and harvesting from sunup to sundown for many weeks.  In Aroostook County in northern Maine, children to this day have “Harvest Recess” for 3 weeks during the school year, in order to help their families bring in the potato harvest.  (You can read about it here.)  But things are changing.  With the industrialization and mechanization of farming, school boards are evaluating the need for such a break.  But traditions die hard in Maine.

The man continued, “my brother is 77 now, and he is still out there farming every day.  He wouldn’t do anything else.  But his farm is very very different from that of my father’s.”

His brother owns not only his father’s original 60 acres; he now owns an additional many thousands of acres, 600 of which are devoted strictly to potato farming.

“It took my father weeks to harvest his 60 acres,” he said, “but my brother harvests 60 acres in a single day.  That’s 20,000 lbs. of potatoes right there!  He has a shed that looks like an airplane hanger.  It’s the size of a football field, with the highest point in the center being 45′ tall.  And do you know what?  It’s absolutely chock-full of potatoes! One of his fields is 2 miles long!”

Our conversation was interrupted by the service manager.  “I’m so sorry,” she told me, “but we’re running very late today.  It looks like we won’t get to your car for another hour.  Would you like to come back another day?”

I explained that I lived an hour away, and that I’d be leaving town this weekend; so it was today or nothing.  I was enjoying the conversations so much, I honestly didn’t mind waiting.

“How about if we give you a loaner for the next few hours – – maybe you can do some shopping in WalMart?  Or we can drive you home, and then bring the car back to be fixed?  Or we can pick up the car from you tomorrow, so you don’t even have to come here, and bring it back to you tomorrow at the end of the day?”

I assured the service manager that I didn’t mind waiting, but I was amazed that they were so accommodating.  “This would never have happened at my Honda dealer back in my home town,” I thought to myself.

From another person waiting I learned that he was a survivor of a terrible car accident, along with his wife.  “We used to love hiking just like you,” he told me, “and we hiked to the top of Mt. Washington and all the other Presidentials numerous times.  Then, in an instant, our lives changed,” he said.  “I was driving with my wife at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a pleasant day, when we were hit head-on by a drunk driver who had just turned 18 years old.  At one o’clock in the afternoon, and he was drunk!  My wife was in a coma for 76 days.  And she was in the hospital for five months, and needed many surgeries.  Then came months of rehab.  We shouldn’t have survived, so I feel blessed.  But even though it’s a miracle she can walk, she can’t bend her knees very well, and she’ll always be in pain.  So our lives are very different than how they were just a year ago,” he sighed.

Due to their accident, with too much free time on their hands, they became amateur genealogists.

“I was able to trace our families back to the 1640s,” he said proudly.  They came to Maine from Nova Scotia at a time when Maine was a territory fought over by the French and the British, long before the United States entered the picture.  “The only other people around were Indians.”

Eventually the service manager returned with keys in hand.  “We washed your car for you, and it’s ready now.”

I said goodbye to these wonderful strangers, who were serendipitously brought together out of onerous necessity, for a delightful afternoon in a car dealership waiting room.  With all the strife affecting the United States, it made me realize that we have plenty of “average,” kind people in this country who don’t judge others based on how they vote even if their personal, religious, cultural  and political agendas might differ from one’s own.  (In fact, they believe it’s none of anyone’s business but your own as to who gets your vote.)  It was also an affirmation of the life I’ve chosen to lead in the White Mountains, where people value human interaction as well as spending time with Nature, instead of running marathons with their techie devices, seated immobile indoors; alone and anonymous.

 

 

 

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GLLT

Just down the road from me is the Greater Lovell Land Trust (GLLT), a non-profit conservation organization.  Their aim is to buy large parcels of the raw land in the area from private owners to prevent further development; to conserve essential resources; protect plants, wildlife, and watershed; to open these areas of conservation for public enjoyment via hiking trails, guided or not; and to provide education in the form of lectures on a variety of topics including history of the area, geology and geography, and nature.  Much of the work is done by volunteers, who do everything from trail building to acting as naturalist docents and guides.

I came across an article written by one such docent in an older newsletter published by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association which I think you might enjoy.  I have taken advantage of many of the GLLT’s programs which run throughout the year, most recently a presentation about Barred Owls.  It’s fun to be able to identify what you are seeing and hearing in the woods whether it’s the call of the owls, or knowing just how fresh that bear scat is on the trail!  When I convey the many factoids I’ve learned over the years to my grandchildren when they visit, they are fascinated, and as a result, they too have become lovers of nature to varying degrees, whether hiking or camping or kayaking or quietly observing wildlife.  There is an abundance of free educational opportunities provided by local non-profit wilderness organizations, as well as the Forest Service.  Ultimately, it transforms us from vicarious admirers of nature to stewards of the land.

 

Organizations that offer natural wilderness education, hikes, etc. in the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire:

 

 

Butterflies

A Monarch butterfly, photgraphed near our house in Maine

A Monarch butterfly, photographed near our house in Maine

The magnificence and perfection of HaShem’s world of creation is an unending source of amazement to me, especially since I’m immersed in nature on a daily basis in the Maine woods.  Maine is in the pathway of the Monarch butterfly migration, but it was only when I visited Chicago to celebrate the birth of a new grandson, that I learned just how special these butterflies are.

How did I come to learn about Monarch butterflies in Chicago?  We visited the Chicago Botanic Garden where we happened upon a special butterfly exhibit.   There were 56 types of live butterflies there; most were from Mexico, South America, and Southeast Asia.

Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

The Monarch butterfly’s migratory path is from Canada to Mexico.  But here is the fascinating part:  a Monarch butterfly is incapable of covering that tremendous distance in its lifespan.  So a butterfly starts out in Canada, gets only so far, lays eggs, and dies.  The offspring hatch, continue the migratory path southward, get only so far, lay eggs, and die.  And so it continues until 3 or 4 generations later, the Monarch reaches Mexico.  Then, the entire instinctive migratory process repeats in a northerly direction.  How wondrous!  (You can read more about Monarchs here.)

Had I known about this special  exhibit beforehand I would have chosen a different lens for my camera, but the results were pleasing nonetheless.  Click on images for a close-up enlarged view.  A few species I simply couldn’t identify – – please write in the comments section if you know the names of those uncaptioned butterflies.

Banded Peacock (Southeast Asia)

Banded Peacock (Southeast Asia). Out of focus and to the right is the orange-colored Julia Longwing (Brazil north through Central America, Mexico, West Indies, peninsular Florida, and southern Texas)

Another view of the Banded Peacock

Another view of the Banded Peacock

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The Atlas Moth, the second largest moth in the world. It was the size of my hand!

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Great Mormon (Southeast Asia)

Great Mormon (Southeast Asia)

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Small Postman (Brazil north to Mexico; occasionally Texas)

Small Postman (Brazil north to Mexico; occasionally Texas)

This Grey Cracker (Argentina to Mexico) seemed to be attracted to the pattern in my son-in-law's shirt

This Grey Cracker (Argentina to Mexico) seemed to be attracted to the pattern in my son-in-law’s shirt

Giant Owl (Mexico south to Costa Rica)

Giant Owl (Mexico south to Costa Rica)

Atala Hairstreak (Southern Florida, the Keys, Bahamas, and Cuba)

Atala Hairstreak (Southern Florida, the Keys, Bahamas, and Cuba)

Banded Peacock (Southeast Asia)

Banded Peacock (Southeast Asia)

Spicebush Swallowtail (Eastern half of the United States, south to Florida. Occasionally strays to North Dakota, central Colorado, and Cuba)

Spicebush Swallowtail (Eastern half of the United States, south to Florida. Occasionally strays to North Dakota, central Colorado, and Cuba)

Unsure if this is the Green-Veined Charaxes (Sub-Saharan Africa) or the Ghost Sulphur (Argentina to Mexico)

Zebra Longwing (South America north to Central America, West Indies, Mexico, southern Texas, and parts of Florida)

Zebra Longwing (South America north to Central America, West Indies, Mexico, southern Texas, and parts of Florida)

Paper Kite (Southeast Asia)

Paper Kite (Southeast Asia)

Tailed Jay (India and Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Queensland, and the Solomon Islands)

Tailed Jay (India and Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Queensland, and the Solomon Islands)

Another view of the Tailed Jay

Another view of the Tailed Jay

Another view -- Identification pending

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Impromptu Tour Guide

Due to cutbacks by the United States Postal Service, our local post office has dramatically reduced its hours.  Now it’s open for transactions only M-F from 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m, and 2:15 pm  – 4:15 p.m. in the afternoons.  The post office delivery truck drops off the mail around 8:30 a.m., and it’s placed in PO boxes around 9 a.m., so the window to get one’s daily mail in the morning is very narrow indeed.  The lobby without counter service is open during the middle part of the day if you have a post office box, but if you get a notice in your box that a package has arrived and you aren’t there during counter service times – – too bad.  You must return during one of the two-hour windows to claim your package.  It gets worse:  the routes of both FedEx and UPS work out so that they arrive at the post office between 12:30 – 1:30 pm, when the post office is closed, so packages headed to the post office cannot be delivered or redeemed if they are being delivered to your post office box as an address.  A solution to this problem would be for UPS and FedEx to place a delivery box outside, so the postmaster could access it during open hours, but UPS and FedEx have so far been uninterested in doing so.  It is very likely that in the next 2 years, our local post office branch will cease operating altogether.

I try to coordinate a visit to the post office with our transfer station – – also known as the garbage dump — which is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 – 4.  We have no trash pickup here – all self-generated refuse must be taken to the dump in our car. The post office is 6 miles away and the dump is another 2.5 miles further up the road, and what with the cost of gas nowadays, I try to limit my visits.  Also on Tuesdays, our tiny library is open from 5 pm – 7 pm (the other day is Shabbat, so I can’t visit then).  It’s a 3-mile trip one way from home to the library but it’s on the way to the post office and dump, so I try to stop by the library on the way home.  Still, I do have time to kill from the post office closure at 4:15 to the library’s opening time of 5 p.m.

So yesterday I stopped by the lake.  I couldn’t go swimming or kayaking due to it being the Nine Days (leading up to Tisha B’Av), but I was content to sit there and watch a 5-year-old boy fishing with his father.  The look of joy on the little boy’s face when he caught a fish (as well as the proud dad’s) was priceless, and I never tire of the serene view of the lake, clouds, and surrounding mountains, and the quiet.

Suddenly a minivan with Illinois license plates turned into the parking area, and a married couple with 2 preteen daughters stepped out and started taking pictures of the beautiful view.  I couldn’t resist asking if they were from Chicago – – one of my daughters lives there and I will be going there to visit next week.

“No, we rented this car from New York,” the man replied.  “We are from Denmark.  We are doing a driving tour of the eastern United States.”  He explained that one of his daughters had hurt her ankle, and as a result they had to cancel many of their planned activities for the day.   They were limiting themselves to sightseeing from the car on this day, and had driven about 90 miles from western New Hampshire, extemporaneously wandering the scenic mountain roads.  He had many questions about what there was to see in this part of Maine, as well as questions about Maine culture, the people, the lifestyle, etc.

Well, I had nothing better to do until the library opened . . .

“We didn’t care for New York too much, to tell you the truth,” he confessed.  “Such a big city is not really our thing; we really prefer being in nature.”  He proceeded to tell me how surprised he was “that many of the natives we encountered there spoke English with very strong accents that we couldn’t understand.”  I had visions of him encountering chassidim who not only dress differently than the mainstream, but speak “Yinglish.”  But he said, “I’m talking about Hispanics and Chinese people.  I couldn’t believe it, but we met people who are Americans who could not even speak English!  That was very surprising to us – – I don’t understand how citizens can live in a country and not speak its language!  How is this possible?”

As we chatted,  I made several suggestions of places they could visit nearby that were off the beaten track and were known only to locals.  “You won’t find these suggestions in any tour book,” I said, “but if you love nature, you won’t want to miss them.”  Still, I realized that many of the places lacked signage and were accessed by hidden dirt or gravel roads, and he was unlikely to find them based on my directions alone.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I will take you to some of these places if you’d like.  You can just follow me in your car.”

I guess I looked trustworthy, because they were game.

I had a great time taking them all over the place – – I probably used up $20 out-of-pocket in gas.  I would stop my car every so often and they’d pull up behind me.  “Look – here are some moose hoof-prints!” I’d point out.  Or, “Check carefully along the road – last year at this time I saw a bear cub foraging here for blueberries.”  And:  “This little library was a one-room schoolhouse from the 1800s until 1963.  Now it’s used as a library, and the author Stephen King, who lives nearby, helps to fund it.”  And:  “This area used to be a heavily forested valley, until 1983, when a severe storm with 100-mph winds created a blow-down. The entire forest was destroyed.  Then the beavers took over, and gradually the dammed area became the desolate bog you are looking at now.  Isn’t the power of nature amazing?”  I also took them to a hidden glen with a beautiful stream and small waterfalls.  “Salmon spawn here in November!” I gushed.  They were impressed!

Again and again, they thanked me profusely at each new stop for being able to see things and learn things that would otherwise not have been possible.  Together we ended up spending about 90 minutes touring the area.  We developed quite a rapport.  I discussed everything from logging and woodsmen, to moose and bear hunting, hiking, fishing, locals’ acceptance of strangers, politics, racism (the lack thereof), local education and jobs, cuisine, odd Maine laws – – you name it.   I said that the motto of Maine should be “live and let live,” since people are quite accepting of letting people do their own thing, as long as they don’t try to stuff their personal agenda down another’s throat.

“Oh, you mean everyone in Maine is very liberal!” the man exclaimed with glee.

“Well, I guess that depends on how you’d define ‘liberal,'” I replied.  “I mean, just about everyone here owns a gun,” I said.  The poor man’s eyes grew wide as saucers.  Then I realized:  who knows what they were thinking as I led them with my car through narrow mountain passes, through pocked and pitted gravel roads, through forest lanes so laden with foliage that you needed headlights to turn the shadows back into daylight, in places where no other people or buildings were in sight?  And now that I had said that everyone in rural Maine owns a gun, they probably felt like they were in a replay of “Deliverance,” only I was the one who could have been the bad guy!

Alas, it was now 6 p.m. and I still hadn’t made it to the library.  I recommended yet another isolated mountain road that would ultimately lead them back to their point of origin in New Hampshire, and after ensuring that their GPS recognized my suggested route, we wished one another well and said our goodbyes.

I don’t know what made me offer this impromptu goodwill tour to a family of complete strangers from a distant land.  I know they loved it – – they told me so, repeatedly, and remarked many times how fortunate I was to live in such a place.  But I confess, I do not know who enjoyed it more:  I had a wonderful time sharing the beauty and lore of my surroundings, and making my experiences a part of their experience, however vicariously or fleetingly.

Amazingly, after we parted, I realized that neither of us had told one another our names!

Only a week before I had read a wonderful book called “All Natural:  A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier” by Nathanael Johnson.  The concluding paragraph reads,

It wasn’t the Yosemite sunsets that had filled me with such hale energy as a child, it was watching those sunsets with my family, the four of us huddled together, windbreaker against windbreaker.  It wasn’t the close clarity of the stars, but Mom pointing out the Milky Way, that gave me the vertiginous feeling of falling into the vast heart of our galaxy. It was not only the place that mattered, but the fact that in that place the family was together and uninterrupted. I’d gone looking for Eden in the places where human fingerprints disappeared, but paradise was empty without the human touch.

Jon Krakauer, in his book “Into the Wild,” writes about Christopher McCandless,  the young American adventurer who (naively and tragically) planned to live alone with a minimum of supplies in the Alaskan wilderness.  His body was found dead of starvation only 4 months later, along with a meticulously kept journal.  In one of his last entries, trapped there as he lay dying in isolation, he scribbled:    “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”

A Lot Can Happen in a Month

Immediately upon completion of the 30-day mourning period for my brother-in-law (shloshim), we returned to Maine from our home town, driving 10.5 hours through the night.  We arrived at 7 a.m. on July 4th.

The first thing I noticed was the holes in the driveway.  In June, a snapping turtle had been busy sloooowly coming up the driveway each day at dusk for about a week to dig a hole, lay some eggs which resemble ping-pong balls, cover up the hole, and sloooowly make her way back to the bog at the bottom of the driveway.  Now, in July, the eggs must have hatched in the past 2 days, for the shells were still leathery.  The baby turtles had torn their eggs open under the ground, and literally clawed their way to freedom digging through the packed gravel on the driveway, making their instinctual pilgrimage to the bog below.  It’s quite a miraculous journey, as many local creatures such as raccoons, fishers, herons, hawks, crows and snakes prey upon the babies, or manage to dig their way underground to steal and eat the eggs from the nest before they hatch.  Once grown, though, the snapping turtle has only man for a predator (you’ve probably heard of Turtle Soup, a real delicacy in China).  When threatened the snapping turtle’s bite is powerful and could amputate someone’s fingers.

Leathery remnants of hatched snapping turtle eggs.

Leathery remnants of hatched snapping turtle eggs.

Another weird thing was the bees:  I saw that the Bee Man had added some new hives, a sign that the numbers of bees are increasing and honey production is in full swing.  Indeed, the scent of honey was heavy in the air (and smelled heavenly).  The morning of our arrival all looked well, but by the end of the afternoon, shortly before dusk, the bees  appeared to be resting in a swarm on the outside of the hive – – tens of thousands of them!  I looked up this phenomenon on the Internet, and found that this is called “bearding.”

Bearding is a form of hive air-conditioning; the bees depart the immediate brood nest area in order to help keep it at the desired temperature (too many busy bee bodies = too many BTUs). When you see all the bees outside the hive an hour before sundown, you’ll also notice the following morning (early a.m.), most if not all, have gone back inside the hive because the outside air temperature (and thus the hive temp) has dropped – again, just a way they regulate the brood nest temperature.

"Bearding:"  When the temperature inside the hive gets too hot to handle, bees cool of by hanging out around the outside of the hive at the end of a long day.

“Bearding:” When the temperature inside the hive gets too hot to handle, bees cool of by hanging out around the outside of the hive at the end of a long day. (Click to enlarge to see tens of thousands of resting bees “bearding.”)

While we were away, it had rained 10 of the last 15 days, and the first two weeks of June were scarcely drier.  Our house was practically unrecognizable upon our return, due to the heavy foliage.  The lilac bushes and blueberry shrubs I had planted with such care, along with 80 sunflower plants, had been swallowed up and overwhelmed by weeds, brush, grass, thorny raspberry and poison oak.  The trunks of the apple trees were similarly covered.  In the Maine woods, in the battle of Man vs. Nature, nature ultimately always wins.  (Or as a Mainuh once bemoaned the state’s poor economy, “The only thing Maine knows how to do right is grow trees and lobstah.”)  Weed-whacking was the order of the day (not the most ideal way to spend a holiday day off), and it was made worse by a searing heat wave that included lots of humidity.

Once the orchard was trimmed, I could see that the garlic had really grown tall.  The type of garlic I planted is not like the kind you get at the supermarket.  In order to survive the Maine winter (garlic is usually planted in the Fall), a special type of garlic, called hard-necked garlic, is used.  Although its strands cannot be braided due to the stiffness of the greens, it is very potent and delicious.  Towards the end of the growing season, each planted clove forms a curly “scape” with its own little seed bulb.  It is recommended that one cut the scapes off so the garlic bulb under the ground will not divert its nutrients towards the scape, and the bulbs will reach their maximum potential in size.  But the scape cuttings can be used to garnish a salad or sautéed or steamed, and are quite delicious in their own right.

The curly, bulbed end of a hard-necked garlic plant is called a "scape."

The curly, bulbed end of a hard-necked garlic plant is called a “scape.”

My husband was completely exhausted after doing the weed-whacking, and had lost probably 5 lbs. in sweat (eeyew).  We jumped in the car and drove to the lake, which was completely devoid of other people, and dove in the cool, clean, refreshing water.  We had a great swim!  From there we returned home, had a light dinner, and decided to go see fireworks.

Fourth of July celebrations are taken very seriously and enthusiastically in rural Maine.  In especially small towns, two or three towns will combine their celebrations and have  several events during the day, including a parade (which most of the residents participate in, so there are few spectators), a 5k charity race, a pot-luck picnic lunch or dinner, with proceeds also going to charity, and of course, fireworks.

Ebenezers Pub in Lovell, Maine is world-famous, which is something of a surprise since it’s basically in the middle of nowhere about 6 miles down the road from our house.  Ebenezer’s is  known for their impressive inventory of beers, with 1000+ beers available at any one time and at least 35 varieties on tap.  Once we took some guests there, and the claim that they are world-famous was met with rolling eyes and guffaws.  But sure enough, a couple of patrons sitting at the bar had motorcycled there all the way from Virginia on a beer pilgrimage, and another couple had come especially from Belgium!  It’s low-key and friendly and despite the many boutique beer offerings, there is not a trace of snobbery or sleaze.  Ebenezers adjoins Kezar Lake Country Club, whose golf course is open to the public, and it’s a perfect venue for watching the fireworks provided by the Lovell Volunteer Fire Department on a hot night, sitting on the grass, glass of (exotic) beer in hand.  (Check out the pub’s website, they have a great list of things to do in the area should you ever decide to come visit us!)

What made it really special, however, was the crowd of 150 people of all ages.  When the fireworks began, the entire audience spontaneously started singing a whole medley of patriotic songs, including the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, and This Land is Your Land.  It was really quite touching, not to mention patriotic.  I guess the patriotism is not that surprising, since most of the residents here are direct descendants of the original patriots, colonists, and founding fathers who created the United States of America.   This is their heritage at the source and by golly, they certainly do embrace and celebrate it.

Today, Sunday, is the last day before the 9 days leading to the Tisha B’Av fast day and prayers, which commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  During these upcoming nine days there are several restrictions.  No swimming or boating.  No laundering.  No eating meat.  So naturally, in between scrambling to get all my laundry done, I made kayaking, fishing and swimming a priority, since I cannot partake of these activities after today.  I did manage to catch several fish:  2 small yellow perch (not known as good eating fish so I threw them back), a brown  trout which was too small to keep and also was returned to the water, and finally, a nice-sized white perch, which, when sauteed with the garlic scapes mentioned above and some freshly-snipped parsley that is also from my garden, made a tasty and healthy lunch.

2 o'clock:  just-caught white perch sauteed with freshly picked parsley and garlic scapes from my garden.

2 o’clock: just-caught white perch sauteed with freshly picked parsley and garlic scapes from my garden.

By being away from Maine during the crucial month of June, I missed the prime planting time for a summer or fall garden.  So my packets of many varieties of kale seeds and beets and cucumbers will sadly have to wait until next year to be planted.  Because frost appears as early as September in Maine, the growing season is very short, and if you do not seize the day to plant in a timely manner, you simply lose out until next year.

It is good to be back!  And this will be a busy summer:  awaiting the birth of a new grandchild in Chicago, and entertaining eleven of my grandchildren at the same time in mid-August here at our house in Maine.  Stay tuned!

Survival of the Quickest

I was suffering from a bad bout of insomnia for several nights and finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  So Friday night, which was layl Shabbat, after dinner and some reading and endless tossing and turning, I made a l’chaim with Nyquil when the clock hit midnight.  I didn’t take more than the recommended dose because one shlug is all it takes for a wonderful night of uninterrupted sleep.

A Nyquil-induced sleep is a beautiful thing, but woe to anyone who is forcefully awakened out of this drug-induced slumber!  If you try to wake before your body is truly ready to be woken, you will feel yourself moving in a slow-mo fog, completely disoriented as you strive to greet the day.  Alarm clocks and previous-night Nyquil do not mix.  But the following day was Shabbat, and I had nowhere that I had to go and other than serving up my cholent, no real obligations to meet, so Nyquil and I had a midnight meeting.

Within moments the Nyquil had its intended effect; I slept a blissful sleep.  When I awoke at 9:30 on Shabbat morning I felt rested and well.  I still had plenty of time to daven the Shabbat morning prayers before kiddush and lunch, so I got dressed at a slowpoke pace and wandered into our dining/living room, where my husband had just finished davening shacharis.

“You aren’t going to believe what I saw!” he said excitedly.  “I didn’t know if I should wake you, but I was worried that by the time you’d get to the window, it would have been too late anyhow!”

It turns out that while davening, out of the corner of his eye, he sensed movement outside the window.  He looked at a tall tree 30′ from the window, and running up the tree was a squirrel.  Chasing the squirrel was a Canada lynx!  The Canada lynx was hot on the heels of the squirrel (do squirrels even have heels?) and my husband thought, “Okay, that’s it for the squirrel – he’s a goner.”  But at the very last second, the squirrel jumped across to a neighboring tree, which stopped the lynx in its tracks – the branch at the top of the other tree was far too thin to support the lynx’s weight.  Slowly, while looking across at the squirrel, the lynx inched its way back down the tree to the bottom, and then scampered off in search of breakfast elsewhere.

Canada lynx are extremely rare – in fact they are on the endangered list – – and many rural Mainers, including outdoorsmen who spend a great deal of time in the woods, will go their whole lives without ever having the privilege of seeing one.  This is our third lynx sighting in 3 years, although the 2 previous sightings were fleeting and at night.  It’s probably the same lynx that is calling this general area its territory, but wow!  It was actually on our property and in broad daylight!  I am so happy my husband was able to witness this natural drama.

“Are you upset I didn’t wake you?”  he asked, feeling a little guilty.

“I am sorry I missed it,” I replied, “but in the life-and-death battle of Nature, animals and mankind . . . Nyquil wins.”

You can find out more about Canada lynx in Maine, and how to tell the difference between a lynx and a bobcat,  by clicking here.

Bereishis

Only a few weeks ago we once again began the cycle of weekly Sabbath Torah readings from Bereishis, Genesis.  The first line is “In the beginning HaShem created” and we learn how G-d makes “something” (our world!) from “nothingness.”

Building a house is, in a small way l’havdil, an act of bereishis (creation).  I am amazed at the myriad of steps, coordination, and work it took to create this something from nothing.

From a piece of raw land, it wasn’t just a matter of hammering lumber together to make a house.  A driveway had to be built- trees had to come down, earth had to be moved and flattened, gravel had to be laid.  A foundation had to be poured – and whatever was done, had to be done with precision since it was literally “set in stone” and could not easily be altered.  Lines had to be laid for plumbing, electricity, sewage.  Each of the multitude of workers labored within his incredible specialty with finesse and craftsmanship.  Each man’s work was separate, yet dependent on the others’ to see the house to completion. Just as each instrument in an orchestra has its own unique sound, lovely in its own right, united they make a symphony.  Perhaps it sounds melodramatic, but it is not without some awe that I look at the completed structure which only months before was a messy sketch on a notepad, and realize: this is an act of bereishis.

Lest a sense of accomplishment go to my head, King David brings me back to reality in Psalm 127 (which I have reproduced on post-it notes placed strategically throughout the house):  “If G-d will not build the house, its builders labor on it in vain.”  Whether it’s the Beis HaMikdash (the holy Temple) or l’havdil one’s own house, HaShem is the true Architect.  As I look at the nature surrounding me here in the woods of Maine – animals,  insects, plants, mountains, the changing seasons – I am truly awed by the incredibly detailed and wonderous miracle of G-d’s Creation.

Here are pictures of the driveway being built from the raw land, so a homesite could be laid out:

 

 

Most people would start building a driveway at the end of spring, but our excavator, a real "Maineah," loves a challenge in the dead of winter

 

 

 

The beginning of the 500' long driveway

 

 

 

The driveway starts to take shape

 

 

 

 

now graded, the driveway still needs a layer of gravel

 

 

 

Looking down to frozen Little Pond, a bog that attracts moose in Spring and Fall