Everyday Thoughts- The Blog


  • We Have Milkweed

    We Have Milkweed

    The Monarch Butterflies did not make it to Troy, Maine this year. Not the end of the world, as they say. Monarch migration pathes vary from year to year but still, it's disappointing and makes me take notice. We have lots of milkweed in Maine. Asclepias syrica and incarnata, common and swamp. It grows along the roads, in the fields and on the powerlines. What we do not have are Monarch butterflies. Why not? 

    As far as I can tell it's mostly a Roundup problem between here and wintering areas such as Florida or Mexico and everywhere in between, especially in the midwest. Roundup ready farmers spray everything that is not corn or soy including milkweed. Farmers are not the only ones that spray the deadly herbicide. The elimination of native plants better known as weeds is a mission in the suburbs and along the roadsides. If Maine's Monarches come from Florida up the East Coast, they are likely to find a food and breeding desert.  The herbicide Roundup will eliminate weeds and at the same time  disrupt the breeding cycle of pollinator insects. 

    One factor that makes the  Monarchs so susceptible is that th cannot get from Mexico  or Florida to Maine in one generation. Their lifespan is too short, so it takes several generations to make the trip and each generation needs milkweed to complete its breeding cycle. Every breeding cycle requires milkweed for pupation and native plants for food. 

     Up until now we have thought about protecting areas of special interest but now we need to start thinking in corridors. More than that we need to pay attention to the effects of our gardening and landscaping habits. Migrating animals of all sorts need to eat, pollinate, pupate. I am starting to devote more and more of my garden to pollinator/food plants, native plants that serve the birds, bees, and butterflies. In an era where we have projected a human handprint  just about everywhere we need to step up and help. 

    Reductions in milkweed and agricultural regions of the United States[edit]

    167 million acres of monarch habitat has been lost since 1996.[107] The reduction in milkweed habitat in agricultural regions of North America has been cited as a major cause of population declines.[108][109] Prior to the introduction of genetically altered corn and soybeans, milkweed was common in the crop fields. Conservationists cite the use of pesticides and herbicides as a cause of population decline. Public criticism of GMO crops continues of corn and soybeans which have Bacillus therigenes genes as part of their DNA, (pollen from these crops is thought to increase monarch mortality).[104] that produce pollen that can fall onto larval host plants negatively impacts the survival of larvae. More acres of GMO crops are planted yearly, partly in demand for the ethanol that is required in gasoline, the so-called ethanol mandate, the Clean Energy Act of 2007[110][111]The of a connection between the use of GMO crops and the decline in population has been called 'suggestive but not conclusive'.[112] Milkweed habitat is also destroyed by the expansion of urban and suburban areas.[113]

    Conservationists also call attention to the decreased habitat that allows the growth of nectaring plants.[104][114][115][116]

  • Roadside Pollinators

    Roadside Pollinators

    I have lived here for thirty years next June. I have had a garden every year and grown fancy foreign ornamental plants for sale. I planted invasives (flowering raspberry, porcelain berry, hardy kiwi) unwittingly. Still working to get rid of them without Roundup.

    I have just begun to  see our landscape as a place with a job to do : support the pollinators and provide oyxgen and forage in a changing climate. (More on that later) Edges are becoming more important in the twenty-first century.

    My garden feeds us and  I am arranging the rest of my backyard to feed birds and butterflies and bees, encouraging the scraggly old apple trees to feed turkeys, and deer, planting berry shrubs and trees, mostly hardy natives. I am eyeing the roadsides as fuel and food for the really important members of the tribe, the pollinators. I am trying to teach my human self to act as a helpful partner in the ecosystem. We humans are such a strain on the planet and our attempts to engineer positive change often make things worse. I am the kindergartner here.  I need to be patient and watch.

    I have lots of questions like -  should the roadsides ever be mowed? In the years when they weren't mowed, birch trees grew up, and pussy willows and redstemmed dogwood.  These get thatchy and are good for rabbits and birds who nest on edges. It's not simple. Nature is complex and dynamic and always changing. We need to let it get thatchy and weedy and messy. We need to stay out of the way and allow. We need to observe.

     I am walking slowly on the side of the road taking pictures and notes on  what's plentiful and what survives. I just keep watching and take notes. This year was warm late but not dry in September and the roadside is lush with several different clovers along with the Queen Anne's Lace from the carrot family. All these clovers are native (rabbits foot, crimson, red, and the little yellow one). They thrive on the edge as well as in the hayfields. They are well established and resilient and covered with bees. Even I can follow the bees. Rule number one for helping nature is: don't  be in charge. Follow the bees.  

     p.s. I just ordered a few native pollinator plants for my garden from The Wild Seed Project and I have set up a notebook for my   observations.

    When I have data  I will make a recommendation to the town on roadside mowing. Some folks mow their roadsides themselves and constantly. They probably won't change but I can try.

  • Migration


    We have become pretty good at understanding the complexities of nature such as the intricate relationship between milkweeds and monarch butterflies. We can see the need for whole ecosystem  management such as the need to strengthen  small fish populations to feed the big fish. What we have not been able to wrap our brains around is the mechanism of  human species survival. We need hybrid vigor to survive.

    What is hybrid vigor? It is the strength that results from cross pollination. Why do populations need to shift and disperse? We do it to survive and thrive. Not only do we have a moral obligation to help those in need. We must do it for the survival of our species. We welcome new blood to strengthen the line.  We are not so different from the milkweed or the Monarch Butterfly. 

  • gratitude


    I've posted this bird a lot but she is my Thanksgiving icon. Local wild turkeys travel all winter through deep snow and cold, eating where they can including our bird feeders and  crabappples off the tree in our front yard. Always comic to see a turkey fly up into the tree. In this picture I think she looks vulnerable, if you will excuse my anthropomorphizing, and sort of beautiful. 

    I just read Nic Kristof's column from Greece.  It touched me deeply. We often entertain the question as to whether or not we should impose Western values on traditional countries. That conversation ends for me here because  it almost always entails  torture and abuse. When a nation or group tries to impose ancient perversions on women and children, we need to say NO. If we can impose anything on another country let it be this.  We will do everything in our power to help those who have been and are being abused nd who are trying to escape that abuse. 

    As of right now there is no organization in the US sponsoring Syrian refugees. This needs to change now. Write to the US Office of Refugee Resettlement  . Ask them how to get this done. 

    warm clothes for a refugee family

    Donate for shelter or clothing for refugees.

    UNHCR has many good choices for giving

    Please stand with me. We can help.

  • Revelations of a Snapping Hazel

    Revelations of a Snapping Hazel

    The name Witch in witch-hazel has its origins in Middle English wiche, from the Old English wice, meaning "pliant" or "bendable".[6] "Witch hazel" was used in England as a synonym for Wych Elm, Ulmus glabra;[7] American colonists simply extended the familiar name to the new shrub.[citation needed] The use of the twigs as divining rods, just as hazel twigs were used in England, may also have, by folk etymology, influenced the "witch" part of the name. "         Wikipedia

    Everything is done blooming, even the geraniums in pots on the porch. It's late November. Winterberries rule accompanied by small golden apples littering   the side of the road. There is still one more surprise, one more elegant moment for which I have been waiting.

    Sometime in late October when it's leaves are still citron green , it begins - the long slow bloom of the witchazel. In a good year the blooms will last a month, ending reluctantly in December, leaving seed pods that may not snap open late into the coming year shooting seeds outward to find fertile ground to start again.

    Two days ago we had snow in the night, three wet inches that are still hanging around. The days are terminally short now. The sun never gets above the trees at noon and fades by two. With only three or four protected leaves left dangling she's still not done. In some ways this is her most glorious time. Her  grace,  the flow of her soft brown branches is fully revealed and she is most emphatically  enjewelled with filaments of gold. This is our native witchazel, undoubtedly worth waiting for.

    The witch-hazels are deciduous shrubs or (rarely) small trees growing to 3–8 metres (9.8–26.2 ft) tall, rarely to 12 metres (39 ft) tall. The leaves are alternately arranged, oval, 4–16 centimetres (1.6–6.3 in) long and 3–11 centimetres (1.2–4.3 in) broad, with a smooth or wavy margin. The genus name, Hamamelis, means "together with fruit", referring to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with the maturing fruit from the previous year.[5] H. virginiana blooms in September-November while the other species bloom from January-March. Each flower has four slender strap-shaped petals 1–2 centimetres (0.39–0.79 in) long, pale to dark yellow, orange, or red. The fruit is a two-part capsule 1 centimetre (0.39 in) long, containing a single 5 millimetres (0.20 in) glossy black seed in each of the two parts; the capsule splits explosively at maturity in the autumn about 8 months after flowering, ejecting the seeds with sufficient force to fly for distances of up to 10 metres (33 ft), thus another alternative name "Snapping Hazel".[4]"    Wikipedia

  • Tar Sands And Chickadees

    Tar Sands And Chickadees

    Canada continues to rape and pillage its boreal forests and arctic tundra as seen in these most wonderful flyover photographs.

    The forests which are being destroyed are some of the last virgin forests on earth. The carbon beneath them is the most valuable carbon sink. It just seems insane. The trees that are being destroyed, the tar sands that are being extracted, these are the very ecological tools we have for turning global warming around. 

    The black capped chickadee is one of the bellweathers in war on the planet. It lives in a very specific climate zone. It's southern cousin, the Carolina Chickadee and the Black capped only meet in a very narrow band of habitat in Southeastern Pennsylvania. The Carolinian chickadee can not survive farther north and the Black Capped not farther south. With the changes in the climate the zone is moving north, slowly steadily north. 

  • CHCHChanges

    I've been looking around. 

    We are fifteen years into the 21st century.  We are in the midst of a very contentious transition from an oil based industrial economy of explosive growth in population and  disastrous impact on the Earth's ecology.  The unfortunate anthropological name for the coming era is Anthropocene or human era. I am pretty sure this is a misnomer. Nature is quickly overthrowing us as we approach the point of no return through climate change. Storms, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes on a scale not seen in the last ten thousand years are killing humans at an ever increasing rate.

    We can no longer afford to think of ourselves as the dominant force in the universe. We cannot pretend to be the top of the food chain. Viruses, and bacteria are quickly unseating us. If we pause but one moment we can see that we are no longer in charge and that we need to quickly find a way to live smaller, quieter, and frugally, or human beings will not be part of the next century on Earth. Nature will find a way to reach an ecological balance by removing the human problem .  

    It is not as simple as just leaving the remaining oil in the ground and turning to wind and solar to provide us with power. It is not just eating local and driving less. We need to approach each other and the Earth with compassion and intention. Less than one hundred years ago most of our parents and grandparents lived in communities, and waited for strawberries to grow in the spring.  Days were long and winters longer.

    I'm not saying all this to depress or alarm but rather to maybe create a space where radical new options for living might grow. It is not the end of us to not be on top but rather it is a better  state of affairs, a place where we can live in community together and functionally integrated with everyone and everything. Humans do not have to be the outliers.

    So what will life here look like a hundred years from now? I have no idea. I just started thinking. Maybe we can be more respectful of ourselves, each other and the place where we live or maybe we'll be gone.

  • Sexy Salmon

     Not so long ago I heard a fish biologist talking about  Salmon . There were many fly fishermen in the audience waiting to hear about the return of the Salmon to the Kennebec. The other half of the program was about Alewives. That is what I was there for. The Salmon guy was talking about putting fry in the Sandy River upstream off the Kennebec. I asked him why. 

    Some background first: I live in the Kennebec/Sebasticook Watershed in Maine. As with most other rivers it is a watershed of dams, some very large, most without fish passage. Add to that the fact that while the health of the river is much improved it is not up to Salmon standards for the most part and few if any (under 5) Salmon come up to spawn in 2015. The height of the dams and the existence of large turbines on route make travelling as a young Salmon treacherous if not impossible. Alewives cannot travel the Kennebec above Waterville much less salmon. In my mind's eye I imagined these tiny Salmon fry coming downstream from the Sandy hurling themselves over 20 foot drops at the several dams between the mouth of the Sandy and the Gulf of Maine, or worse being stuck behind the dams and trying to get down through the turbines or dying there. And what if they make it to the ocean and they can't get back to the Sandy? They were born in a tank. Did they imprint on the Sandy as home or the tank? How exactly will this work? Really.

    His answer to why was: to see what would happen. That's all he said.  Perfectly nice guy but some days I don't get humans.

    How about we get the rivers in shape for the salmon to be able to spawn on their own by cleaning up the rivers, taking out or providing fish passage at the dams, and bringing back the Alewives to keep the Salmon safe in the pack coming upstream? Yes this will take a long time but it would be a true restoration for our watershed. I think we are proving we cannot outsmart the fish.

  • It's history is the iconography.

    It's history is the iconography.

      I was walking up and down the side of the road trying to find the iconic one,THE Bur Oak. The fact that they were plentiful beside Twenty Five Mile Stream actually constitutes its claim to fame. The species  is slow growing, can live 400 years, and is endowed with the largest acorn of the American oaks. The story goes that these oaks were planted in the Kennebec and Sebasticook  watersheds by the Native Americans because of the acorns, a valuable food source. This is substantiated by fact that the  place they grow abundantly in Maine is along the river and streams of our watershed.  It's journey is its iconography.

    Since they grew and grow in the upper midwest one could assume they were brought to Maine from the Great Lakes down the St. Lawrence river by native or French traders possibly 300 or more years ago. We know that the Abenaki travelled and traded with tribes from what is now New York . Meaty acorns would have been a valuable item to trade. However the mighty acorns got to Maine they are now seen and appreciated along the local waterways.

  • signals uncrossed

    September 21, 2014 matching world events with the turn of the earth

     Today there are 400,000 citizens marching outside the United Nations flying the flag of the sun,
    while in  Maine  bumblebees feast on mountain mint, purple asters, and goldenrod.
    Hard necked garlic hangs pungent in the mudroom.
    Rituals of harvest play out in streams, fields, and in the streets.   

    The fish are coming down, the anadromous ones,
    driven by cold Canadian air,
    schooling back and forth,
    stirring courage before pouring out of lakes and ponds,
    making a run to the salted sea where they will feed and nurse wounds garnered in spawning.

    Balls of late hydrangea pinken in graveyards large and small
    bringing a temporary beauty and fruitful bounty to the stones of the dead, 
    outshining the bronze grave markers of fallen soldiers.

    It is the moment of filling the larder  attended by a round of  gunfire from hunters
    just now warming to the season of the kill.

    It will soon be a time of voting with whatever granule of hope remains. 

    Ironically a silence comes precipitously over the land and inside of us,
    even as children chant and shout for the future in the faraway streets of NYC.

    Songbirds depart for warmer climes and
    doors and windows shut against the evening chill. 

    Summer is near done in New England
    giving us a momentary eerie sense of calm.