Sunday, November 27, 2011

SCENIC SUNDAY- Phippsburg, Maine


The Branch, Small Point Harbor, Phippsburg Maine
November 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

SCENIC SUNDAY - Tip Toe Mountian, Vinalhaven Maine

View from atop Tip Toe Mountain, looking down on Crockett Cove, Vinalhaven Island, Maine
November 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fire In The Fall - Inaba Shidare, Family And Friends

Inaba Shidare in my garden
This Japanese maple is by our kitchen door. It rewards us with this fire every November. We rescued Inaba Shidare from a big box store at the end of the season several years ago. Languishing in a gallon pot and all but dead, it had suffered a season of being under watered and over watered. Many of its branches had been snapped and torn, so it was also badly miss-shaped. It was a homely wreck of a struggling tree. 'Shidare' means cascade in Japanese, but there was no cascading going on there. Had we not spent  the five dollars, it was headed to the dumpster that night. This variety of Japanese maple has been cultivated in Yokohama since the early 1800s. Inaba Shidare won the prestigious Award Of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. A dumpster would have been an unceremonious end.
Inaba Shidare is unique amongst the Japanese maples as it is an upright grower. They reach between five and seven feet in height. Ours is about six feet now.
My husband gave this fountain to me for my fiftieth birthday. My daughter dubbed it "The Puking Fish."
The Puking Fish and Inaba Shidare greet visitors at our front door. I see them from the kitchen, too.

These Japanese maple leaves are from a different tree in our yard. Unlike Inaba Shidare, it has a horizontal form. It was also a rescue from the brink of death and destruction. One August, we dug it up from a property where it was hours from being bulldozed. I don't know what variety it is, nor do I care. It thanks us every fall with this outrageous crimson. Ferns grow at its feet and this Pulmonaria volunteered amongst them. Who could blame the Lung Wort for wanting to be with them? 
The iron pagoda was given to my husband by a dear, elderly friend, Louise. Louise died. She was ninety five and had lived a rich, bawdy life. We loved her and she loved us. Louise would have loved being in the middle of this riot of fall color. The Japanese Painted ferns by the pagoda, the dwarf, false cypress and the hostas were also end-of-season, big box cast offs.

Japanese maples do well here in agricultural zone five. They like humidity, of which we have plenty on the coast. These trees thrive in the conditions that make your hair frizz. They do not do well in wind, nor too much sun. The leaves dry out very easily, so they must be protected. We have seven of them on our postage stamp sized property, each tucked into a protective nook with afternoon shade. Every one of them is a rescue, nursed from the brink of death to the glory that was intended for them. 

      I am a gardener. It's a hobby to which I have been deeply devoted for decades. For money, I garden for other people in the summer. I call it "Weeding For Dollars."  I am also, by license and education, a Registered Nurse. I don't work in health care anymore, though I still have a license. I'll probably always have it. It was a hard won token and nurses don't give it up easily. For more than half of my life, it was part of what defined me.
     You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out that I am a nurturing, caring person. I have such a bad case of helping hands that I spent three years in the Peace Corps! I was twenty-two and thought I could save the world!  And, I did save a couple of people. But in the end, most of my energy was spent on trying to save myself. I was profoundly depressed and physically, seriously ill more than once. It took a lot of work simply to survive that experience.
     I've always felt guilty about that, too. Somewhere in my dark, little heart I've believed that I should have been able to do more, to save everybody. That didn't go away with the Peace Corp, either. All my life I have been driven by a fix it force from deep within. It would lead me to marry a physically and emotionally abusive man, a destructive force with whom I stayed for eighteen years. I clung to the belief that I could repair his life.
     It has inclined me to collect friends who are wounded, crippled people. The weak light coming from their little planets gets sucked right into my orbit. Then, we are stuck with each other forever, spinning around in anguished, late night phone conversations. We huddle on each other's sofas, deep into bottles of wine and tales of despair. We clutch cups of coffee in each other's kitchens, the crying kitchens.
     I love my friends as deeply as I have loved my sisters, most of whom have had horrific problems in their lives. I've been drawn into their pain as if it were my own. But while listening to their stories, I have been strategizing solutions. Though I've listened to them, in the back of my mind a play has been going on. On the stage, I am the heroine who saves them all. 
     When I was young, I believed the screen play ending. But as I've gotten older, I've learned that there's damned little I can fix and less that I can save. The most that I've got for anybody is listening to them with a lid kept on the advice - a windless nook with shade. I wish for us all it was as easy as the little broken trees.

Friday, November 18, 2011

FLYday - Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper in flight, Phippsburg Maine October
These birds are very fast fliers and are difficult to photograph in flight.

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Friday, November 11, 2011

FLYday - Red-winged Blackbirds and European Starlings In Flight

Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds and European Starlings on flight take off, Maine

Flyday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Hoarding Heart - DeKay's Northern Brown Snake

DeKay's Northern Brown snake, Phippsburg, Maine October, 2011
The brown blotch on the side of the face is an identification mark.
To give you an idea of how tiny this poor thing is, here it lies against a measure. Four to five inches sounds like a lot. But, in my hand it barely had presense at all. By the way, it was not made in Japan.
The rows of little spots running parallel along the body are identification marks, too.
The underbelly of the DeKay's Brown Snake.

   This bitty, DeKay’s Brown snake was brought to me by a neighbor just two days ago. She found it while she was raking her yard.
     My neighbor, Belinda is obsessed about the leaves; autumn drives her crazy!  She can't stand it when there are leaves around. At night, she lies awake listening for the leaves to fall; before they hit the ground, she whisks them up. Here, the oak leaves are the last to release, so are often bound in snow and ice by the time they flutter from the canopy. Because the oaks' abscission is delayed, leaf clean up goes on for weeks driving Belinda to the brink of distraction.
     A fastidious person, she needs everything in its place and a place for everything. To her, leaves that aren't on trees are in florid disarray. It's as maddening as if someone had taken a dresser full of clothing and dumped the drawers’ contents onto the floor. She can't abide a mess of any kind. Belinda does have a dog, but amazingly, there is not a stray dog hair to be found in her house. There are no piles of newspapers, no crumbs on the counters, no dishes in the sink. She becomes so agitated it makes me wonder what she is really trying to clean up. Is this near-mania to put her external environment in order driven by the some internal filth that she can’t quite reach?
     I'm not an ardent housekeeper. Dog hair blows around my floors like tumbleweeds on the high sierras. Cob webs festoon my curtain less windows and drape from every corner. My kitchen counters are strewn with unimaginable clutter - coupons I think I'll get around to using, newspaper clippings I plan to read, notes with phone numbers, empty jars, wine bottles, you name it.
     Additionally, there are assorted containers housing caterpillars, pupae, frogs and sometimes snakes. Everybody is being tended until hatch day or photo shoot day. Eventually, I release them. But some of them are there through the winter waiting for warm weather to come around again. The jumbled muddle does get on my nerves sometimes. But, generally I have a high tolerance for ambient disorganization.
     It's not that I object to house cleaning. But, there’s so much other interesting stuff to be doing, like reading about snakes. I embrace mind over clutter, because there is only so much time in the day. And mine isn’t going to be spent in the pursuit of nasty neatness.  Besides, bad as my housekeeping is, I probably won't find anything as interesting as a snake. I may have a messy home, but I’ve got a clean heart. At least, that's my current rationalization for my state of affairs that some would call frank hoarding.
     The concept of hoarding in a diagnosable way has gotten a lot of attention lately. There are a couple of television programs devoted to it. The workings of the minds of people who wind up living on top of trash heaps in their own homes fascinates me. Neuro chemical disorders such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder are at the root of it for many people. But, that's only where it starts. The swirling chemistry internally becomes insurmountable chaos externally. Every one of us has this chemistry in our brains. It’s just a question of quantity and what degree of control we may have over it in any given moment. It can start with something as small as a spider in a jar.
     If given the opportunity to survey my kitchen counters, Belinda would declare "Disgusting! Get rid of it!" She doesn't fathom the anxiety it provokes in me to toss things. Because, I might not get that one great photograph or a morphing caterpillar, or web spinning spider. Nor do I understand the turmoil that falling leaves cause her.
     She does get some things about me, though; she brought me the snake. Had her guts not been in a knot over the leaves on her lawn, she would not have found it. Before knowing me, she would have killed it, too. There are probably plenty of these snakes in my yard. But, I've missed them all because they are hiding under undisturbed mountains of leaves. Now that bothers me! Deep inside, Belinda's heart and mine aren't so far apart.
     Pythons are being studied because of the astonishing capacity of their hearts to grow large, quickly. Pythons can go as long as a year without a meal. Their metabolism becomes very slow and their organs small while they endure periods of starvation. When they do eat, their metabolism jump starts, putting huge demands on their organs. Their hearts may grow as much as forty percent in a matter of hours, much as an athlete’s heart grows large over time, to meet the human body’s metabolic demands. Scientists are studying the enzymes in pythons’ hearts. The enzymes may have applications for the human body in treating heart disease. Could a drop of snake’s blood mixed with your own save your life one day? Perhaps so!  
     This is a baby, DeKay's Brown Snake. It was probably born in September. DeKay's snakes only grow to about ten inches or so long. It was on the brink of hibernation, so barely moving. Almost frozen, it did jiggle the end of its tail when disturbed. Like a starving python, its metabolism had slowed to conserve energy. These secretive snakes spend most of their lives underground, but during heavy rains they will sometimes go out into the open. This usually happens in October and November and during late March and April when they are moving to hibernation or breeding spots. 
     DeKay's have adapted to areas inhabited by humans and favor living under trash piles. Widespread and common, they can be found across most of the United States. Because they are small and nocturnal, they are not often seen. They are non venomous. When they do feel threatened they’ll flatten their bodies out to appear larger, position their bodies in an aggressive posture and release a musky smelling fluid. “Snake juice” on your hands has a distinct smell. I know. Though not endangered, the Maine Department of Inland Fish And Wildlife lists their conservation status as of special concern.
     They eat tiny mollusks, slug, small salamanders and worms. They have specialized teeth and jaws that enables them to pull snails out of their shells and eat them. Gardeners should regard them as beneficial for their slug and snail preferences. DeKay’s Brown Snakes are eaten by dogs, cats and hawks, crows, Jays, weasels, other snakes, frogs and toads. James Edward DeKay, for whom the snake was named, was an American naturalist in the 1800’s. He identified over 1,600 species.  Mr. DeKay must have spent a lot of time raking leaves. So, maybe I’ll go out and rake some leaves after all, and maybe find a snake. 

 Thanks in part for some of the information:
Jonathan Mays, Herpetologist Maine Department of Inland Fish And Wildlife
Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2008. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed at
    Phil Roy, Adopter Maine Herpetological Society
Seaholm, L. 2000. "Storeria dekayi" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 07, 2011     

Friday, November 4, 2011

FLYday - Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron in flight Phippsburg, Maine

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

FLYday- Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicenis, Phippsburg, Maine

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.