Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shadblow And Alewives

 
     _MG_6879A Amelanchier canadensis
The Service Berries are in bloom. The diaphanous shrubs almost look like puffs of smoke across the marshes and meadows. Indigenous to North America, the small trees are not only lovely, but important to wildlife for the fruit they bear. I just planted one for a gardening customer at the bottom of their serene meadow. It’s in a perfect setting where the soil is consistently moist and the flowers will be back lit by the evening’s setting sun. It has plenty of space to send out suckers and make a clump which it prefers IMG_6606_2ato do. Maybe I’ll talk to them about putting in some ferns around it’s legs. It’s also fiddlehead season, so it seems like an appropriate combination; they like the same conditions. The tight fisted crosiers of Ostrich ferns are a traditional Maine spring food. Like the flowers of the Service Berries, they are only around briefly before they unfurl and aren’t edible any longer. It has been a record breaking warm spring making us tend to forget that often at this time of year, there is still frost in the ground in the deep woods and in Aroostook County - “The Crown” of Maine. ‘Service Berries’ were given the name because their bloom coincides with when the ground has thawed and can reliably be dug to inter those who died when it was still frozen. When the Service Berries bloom, winter is over. They are also called Shadbush and Shadblow because they bloom when the shad or Alewives run. ‘Blow’ is an old fashioned word meaning full bloom. The Alewives have just started to run. When I was young, my father took me up the coast from here to Damariscotta Mills to see them. Alewives are a type of herring that lives out at sea, but travels up freshwater rivers to breed and spawn. Damariscotta Mills is narrow so thousands of the fish can be seen clearly from the shore. The Osprey, gulls and eagles go crazy feeding. At night, the raccoons come around for the dead ones that line the shore. For many of us, like eating fiddleheads, it’s a spring ritual to go there to see the fish and birds. I remember kneeling down and putting my hands in the water to feel them when I was a kid. The water was so thick with them you could literally grab them with nothing more than your hand. So many people go there now that there is a parking lot and traffic jams. When I was a kid, though, my father and I had to climb down the banking through the bushes risking poison ivy and a slip and fall on wet rocks. We could hear the water and feel the cool mist from the little falls above the pools of fish before we came through the bushes. It was thrilling!  Alewives are caught en masse by netting. Today they are used mostly as bait fish for lobster trapping. When eaten, they are usually smoked, though I’m told they have a very mild flavor. Traditionally, a little vinegar is served with them which is true of fiddleheads, too. I can only imagine, back in the days of our settlers in the late 1600s and early 1700s, how thankful folks must have been after surviving winter to have fresh fiddleheads, bountiful fishes and to be able to bury their dead. They must have wept when the Shadbush bloomed.
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13 comments:

  1. Thank you for the great pictures. In past years, when my wife was still able to enjoy things, we would find a place to park and she would run her wheel chair as far up the path as she could. She marveled at the fish and all the birds swooping and calling. Thanks for reminding me. I will have to go again one last time before leaving Maine.

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  2. Hi DH,
    I don't know you nor did I know your wife, but this really touched me. It made me sad, the missing in your written voice. Thank you for telling me this and for your positive regard these past few months for what I do. The State of Maine will be less rich for your leaving her.

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  3. loved the blog(when I finally got it) and the
    fish photos.Good job.

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  4. WOW, that's some photo of an alewive with its mouth open!

    I had a great day at Damariscotta Mills yesterday, although the winds made it tough for the Osprey. Even had a Harbor Seal "coralling" the fish just below the parking lot.

    Where are the Hummingbirds? Had 2 at the end of April, and none since. Orioles finally showed up today!

    John

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  5. Thanks, John. I had to lie down on my stomack on the cement walk with my lens about 5" from the water surface for those shots. I could see that the fish were 'mouthing' up to the surface like that, so I knew if I was patient enough to wait, I could get that shot. Not to comfy a position though and some people had to walk over me which I wasnt' thrilled about and I'm sure they were'nt either!

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  6. So nicely written! And I never knew why service berries were called that. Or where they do best planted, and why. Or about the Damariscotta Mills alewife run! Must go see this spectacle!

    Chris

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  7. Thank you, Chris. Damariscotta Mills in spring is a must see on the coast of Maine.

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  8. Hi Robin - My friend, {.........}, sent me your blog on service berries and I have happily spent the afternoon reading all of your material for this year! As a birder and gardener, I particularly appreciate your topics, photography, interesting facts and your humor.......the piece on lobster teeth (never knew they existed) and twelve year old boys....spot on!
    I live in Kentucky, but am a New England wannabe. My husband and I try to get there once a year and we look forward to visiting the {...} this September. Anyway, would you please add me to your blog list? Thanks so much for sharing your corner of the world

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  9. Thanks Robin! A lovely essay. My father used to take us out in the car on Sundays in May to see the shadbush blowing on the hills. Even the tiniest wisp of a wind would make them move. I feel so fortunate to have them here along the swale behind the house to enjoy and to remind me of him. Other reminders--he loved the spring peepers calling and the first wild sweet scented violets. And today the catbird came, which my mother was very fond of. She also was fond of starlings that nested in our apple tree, thrush song and wild roses. So both parents are always with me here.Jo

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  10. Another great story and photos! I remember the Winnegance alewives run- is that still up and running? It's be alot closer than going all the way to Damariscotta!!! I can't remember the old Captain's name- but he was wonderful- he told my kids stories about his life on the sea, before he retired, and took on the alewives business for bait.
    Ms. Boo

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  11. That might have been Capt. Spears, though I'm not sure and I think he recently died. :(

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  12. Dear Robin, A student here at Fairfax High used my computer to print out the poem 'Hope is a tattered flag' by Carl Sandberg which in its second line compares hope to 'the shadblow in white'. We had wondered if shadblow was an invented word with references to shadows and blows, but these did not seem to make any sense. Looking for shadblow led us to serviceberry with its white flowers, but I began to wonder how it was serviceable. We quickly found that it produces edible fruit that can be used to make jam etc. But why 'shadblow'? what a strange name that seems to be connected to nothing. Looking further we discovered the connection to the spring shad run, which of course my west coast student had no idea of since there are no shad out here. The last thing we found was your beautiful explanation of the meaning of the blooming shadblow to the early settlers of Maine. The whole poem is residing in that little phrase, hope is "the shadblow in white."

    Thanks for the insight---George Waddell Physics teacher, Fairfax High School, Los Angeles CA

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  13. George, I am truly flattered that you went to the trouble to write of your appreciation for my essay. It's real thrill for me. Thank you, RRR

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