Sweet liberty

“I sent my book to the editor yesterday!”

How long (twenty-one months) I have waited to say those simple words! For a couple of weeks, someone else will meticulously read and reread the manuscript – moving commas, detecting typos, and double-checking the spelling of Caucomgomoc, Seboeis, and Wassataquoik. Meanwhile, I can do the fun stuff, like finalizing the photos.

Snowy Katahdin

Taking off from my house up north, I spent my first day of freedom exploring. Snow still clung to the high peaks. At the greenhouse in Patten, buying cages for the peonies I’ve uncovered in my wild, untamed garden, I asked about the recent freezing temperatures. Local wisdom, it turns out, says frost can be expected until the first full moon of June. For 2020, that will be on June 5th.

Shin Brook Falls

The descent to nearby Shin Brook Falls is made possible by an indispensable system of ropes beside the steep trail.  Climbing above the main 30-foot drop, the trail follows the tumbling stream past a succession of smaller cascades, equally lovely.

Ropes to Shin Brook Falls

Above Shin Brook Falls

My goals for the day included: (1) finally hiking a portion of the Seboeis River Trail, (2) visiting the Christianson family at Matagamon Wilderness, to see how they were faring amid the cautious reopening, and (3) spotting a moose, of course.

The moose spotting took the longest. Pleasantly weary from hiking and pleasantly full from cheeseburger-eating, I drove up to the Francis D. Dunn Wildlife Management Area. So far, I’d seen moose tracks and moose poop, not to mention bear poop, a ruffed grouse, and a garter snake. The marshy Sawtelle Deadwater that comprises this state WMA has always looked moose-y to me and that afternoon it was. A small bull with fuzzy antlers emerging was accompanied by two cows, all looking shaggy and scruffy. Only one caw was brave enough to continue feeding while I watched from afar (too afar for a photo) through my binoculars.

My first day of liberty had been well rewarded.

Fading trillium
Painted trillium on my two-hour Seboeis River Trail hike
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Summer has begun at Matagamon Wilderness, where my friends are “bearing” up well. While I was there, I dropped off a fresh stack of books for the busy months ahead.
Old track
Giant, immensely heavy relic abandoned along an old road

Raw

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I have just come from the lake.

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It was raw – the weather, and more – yet beautiful. The shores were thick with ducks and geese, that erupted in whirls of dismay at my approach. My body remembered the rhythm of the paddle. It was the first merging of boat and woman this year.

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I went into the light wind, for an easier time on the way home. Near the lake’s far end, moss on the bank shone a brilliant green, the most contrast there’d been in the still-wintry landscape. It was enough, in this raw, wild day borrowed from summer. One hour on the water would be my bright moss in the winter landscape of recent days.

Yesterday was not good. To be honest, embracing hope was not working. I couldn’t settle into my writing, and there was not much joy in the busy tasks I thought up to take its place. I soldiered on, though, driving the canoe from its winter resting place down to the lake, stacking firewood, writing to a few old friends. And today is better. Hope is back.

Not long after the moss came the haunting call of a loon. My heart thrilled, as I did not know they had returned to inland waters. A patch of white against the distant shore, though, turned out to a bufflehead, one at first and then two pairs.

When the loon popped up, he was darker than he would be in summer plumage and seemed to be engaged in some sort of acrobatic struggle. My binoculars brought him closer, where I could see he was straining to swallow a large fish, perhaps a bass, far larger than any I’d ever seen a loon tackle. He apparently had a good grip and got it lined up. His neck stretched high and his whole body wiggled. The fish was slowly sliding down, down, down, until even the tail was gone. I watched to see if he could still breathe or float, but with the task over, he looked unfazed. That was very cool.

A chill rain set in as I turned homeward, ready to write by the woodstove once more.

Sleuthing in the littoral zone, the fight against invasive aquatic plants

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Roberta Hill, from the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program, helped us sort and identify the aquatic plants we collected from Pemaquid Pond during our Invasive Plant Patrol workshop.

Back in 2009, a man named Dick Butterfield did what I did yesterday. He attended his first workshop with the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program (VLMP), to start learning to identify dangerous invasive aquatic plants. His thirst for knowledge, combined with concise, effective training, soon saved one of our local lakes.

No doubt armed with his mini waterproof identification key to the 11 most-unwanted suspects, he ventured out on his very first patrol, on nearby Damariscotta Lake. And found hydrilla, which the Maine DEP calls “the most problematic invasive plant in North America.” The lake is huge, with 45 miles of shoreline, but volunteers and experts sprang into action to contain the hydrilla in the tiny cove where Dick had found it. Dick caught it early, which is critically important in the fight against invasives.

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Paired up with buddies, we went out into our assigned sectors to collect plant specimens in the littoral zone, the zone of richest diversity along the lake’s shoreline.

Our workshop was information-packed, but my message for you is simple. In Roberta’s words, “The work of citizen scientists [volunteers] on the the front line is the most important piece in this fight.” Training focuses on just those 11 likely culprits, which fall into three main structural categories. That means that some types of plants (like hairy, grass-like stuff) you see can just be ignored. To demonstrate how easy screening samples can be, VLMP recently set up a table at L.L. Bean and taught willing shoppers how to use the key. Their average time to key out a sample was just two minutes.

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The sorting pan for one of the three broad categories that the eleven-most-unwanted invasive plants fall into. Although we were just learning, and made some mistakes, visible in the photo are some innocuous native milfoils and bladderworts that we collected on our plant patrol.

I was invited to yesterday’s workshop by the Pemaquid Watershed Association, which I’ve belonged to for many years. One of my resolutions for 2017 was to become a more active PWA volunteer. I’ve been writing some press releases and plan to volunteer for plant patrols on McCurdy Pond, where I often keep my canoe. If you’re interested in learning more, visit the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program or take a peek at the Key to the Eleven Most Unwanted Invasive Aquatic Plants.