Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is there summer out there somewhere?

Oh, it just won't stop raining.

It truly does not feel like the last week of June around here and while temperatures in the 60's suit me just fine, I need to see the sun!!!

And so do my bees.

The bees are doing well, building comb and filling it with honey and when they are able to fly out of their hives they have a smorgasbord of nectar awaiting them but they need a stretch of sunny days.

Other than the bees, I have two other summer projects and both require dry weather.

Project #1
In 2005, I began hiking the mountains above 4000 feet in New England with the hope of finishing the 67 mountains by my 50th birthday in 2009. Well, this is it and so far 23 days into June, I have not added a single one to my total. Last year was not a big year for climbing accomplishment either as we had rainy weekend after rainy weekend. I consider myself a fair weather hiker and a viewbagger more than a peakbagger--translation: I don't like to hike in bad weather.

In Maine, I still have 6 of the 14 to climb including two in Baxter State Park. One of the Baxter mountains is called North Brother--I got within 2/10 of a mile of the summit of North Brother last summer but turned back in the rain and slippery conditions--gotta try again.

In New Hampshire, I still have 7 of the 48 to climb. Two of those mountains can be combined into one hike, so with six hiking days I should be able to finish up those.

In Vermont, I still have three of the five which I can do in two hiking days and hope to accomplish my goal at the summit of Mt. Mansfield on my birthday in September IF it ever stops raining and I can get out on the trails.

Project #2
The beaver lodge and dam that I watched last fall, seems to be abandoned. If we get a dry stretch and the water level goes down in the pond, I want to try accessing the lodge with a flashlight and camera in a ziplock bag--that adventure will definitely be bloggable! So far my mother, my daughter and my husband are adamantly against this idea. Molly at least agreed to stand on the bank with a cell phone ready to all 911 to report her mother attacked by rabid beavers but so far my husband and my mother have not signed on even for that duty. My father, thinks it's a great idea although his idea is to take the top off while I insist on accessing it through their underwater tunnel even if I have to enlarge it a bit. I don't want to make it too hard for them to come back and make it their home again.

Some sunny days, please?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Solstice Snapper

Yesterday Charlie was sitting at the dining room table writing a paper for a class he's taking and he looked up and noticed a big piece of something in the road. As he watched, the big piece of something made its way across the road and into the yard of the abandoned house next door.

He and the cats went out to check it out and discovered a large common snapping turtle looking for someplace to lay her eggs. There are a lot of sandy spots closer to the river than our yard so it was surprising to see a turtle prowling around. It's been a very, very rainy Spring/Summer and it could be that all of the lower spots close to the river were too wet. Who knows, but in 100 days, I'll be watching for a crop of baby snapping turtles trying to find their way to the river.

I had been off visiting my parents during the turtle invasion and when I got home Charlie had the kitties safely inside and was outside watching it. He dubbed it the summer solstice snapper.

From what I have read about snapping turtles, the mother will travel great distances from her muddy bottom home to find the right spot to lay her eggs. Once she finds the right spot, she will moisten the ground with her urine, dig the hole with her powerful hind legs, lay her eggs and then smooth the nest out by sliding over it with her smooth underside (plastron). Apparently, this nesting time is dangerous for everyone involved. Racoons and foxes often dig up the nests and eat the eggs and mother turtles traveling from their safe water homes must cross roads exposing themselves to predators and cars and cajun cooks looking for the title ingredient in turtle soup.

I was able to watch the turtle for a little while as she made her way to wherever she was going. She had a very long tail that was thick at the base (apparently the thick part of the tail is the tastiest meat for turtle soup afficionados). When she would stop and stretch out her neck it was very long. She could draw both the thick part of her tail and her head deep inside her shell.

Snapping turtles mothers (like queen honeybees) can hold the sperm inside of them for more than one season, releasing it when necessary to fertilize her eggs. A few weeks ago, Seabrooke wrote a very interesting piece about snapping turtle eggs here.

So, one hundred days takes us to late September--not very much time for the little turtles to make it to the river and burrow into the mud before the winter.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blasts from the past

Charlie's son Jacob recently graduated from Northeastern University and one of his professors was former Massachusetts Governor and former presidential candidate Dukakis. I don't know where Jacob got this Dukakis bobblehead but somehow it made its way to our kitchen counter.

It reminded me of a funny story that daughter Sara told me. When she was in college in DC, one of her friends applied for a White House internship and hit a snag on the security clearance. When the young man asked for clarifiation on the problem, he was told that the security investigation revealed that he had caused a disturbance at the White House in 1989. Well, the aspiring intern would have been 2 years old in 1989.

Further investigation and a phone call to his parents provided clarity on how a toddler could wreak such havoc in the White House that he would be banned from a internship during his college years.

Apparently, during the election of 1988, this young man's parents had been Dukakis supporters and had taken their little son to rallies and other events where he repeatedly heard people chant "Dukakis for President"

After the 1988 election that sent Governor Dukakis back to academia and the first President Bush to the White House, the family of the young man was on a vacation in Washington DC and on a White House tour. When the precocious tot heard the word President being bandied about during the tour, his memory circuits kicked in and he immediately began the chant "Dukakis for President, Dukakis for Presdient, Dukakis for President". The embarrassed familiy was asked to leave and the incident became part of their family folklore only to re-surface when the young man tried to intern in the White House of another President Bush. The Secret Service cleared it all up and he did complete his internship and had a pretty good story to tell over lunch.

Do you have any presidential memorabilia sitting around to make you laugh and remember?

Friday, June 19, 2009

......and they're off

So after months of working very hard to dig out from under the consequences of adolescent behavior, Archie graduated a couple of weeks ago and yesterday he and his buddy, Brent, and their cat, Jaeger, hit the road.

The truth is that there isn't much in a small town like this to hold young people and all that Archie seemed able to find for a while was trouble. And, once he found trouble, trouble found him and once that happened it was a spiral that was not leading anywhere good. He put a lot of work into turning it around and showed more courage in changing behavior than I would have at his age but the die was cast, he needed to get out of town.

His plan had always been not to have a plan--just to drive until he ran out of gas money and then stop, pitch a tent and work until there was enough money for a few more tanks of gas but as the time got closer a plan started to emerge.

Archie's big brother is an engineer in central Pennsylvania with one of the coolest jobs ever. He does inspections on bridges while hanging from a harness or diving under water and checks out metal in all sorts of other situations that appeal to young men and scare the heck out of their mothers. He asked Archie if he would like to move down there and live and work in their large college town with the possibility of training to assist with some of the inspections. That call came on a day in late April when all of us needed a boost. Archie's latest brush with trouble had been in the newspaper in an article that had crushed us both with the unfairness of the reporting and the implications. So, the call from Ethan in Pennsylvania tossed out a lifeline.

Yesterday was the day and there were nothing but smiles to be seen around here. Well, there was one very anxious little tiger cat who was afraid of being left.
Good luck, guys. Be safe, be happy and remember to call home.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

On the Big Rock Mountain

On some of the highest mountains in northern New England and in New York's Adirondacks the latitude and the altitude combine to provide an environment for alpine plants that flower in June.

Each June since moving here ten years ago, I have wanted to make my way to the Alpine Garden on the upper slopes of Mt. Washington and each June for the last ten years other things took priority.

This year, the Maine chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club offered a guided hike on the second Saturday in June for the first ten people to sign up--I signed up and on a leap of faith snagged a place for my mother on the hike, too. My mom is 75 and has had various physical ailments over the last few years but she loves flowers and when we were all younger she taught me to love the mountains--so with six weeks until the hike and with a promise from the group leader that it would be a slow and gentle meander through the garden I asked my mom if she would like to go. She jumped at the chance and has spent the last six weeks walking and getting into shape. At the last minute, Molly was able to join us, too, so yesterday we drove up the Mt. Washington auto road to a point just below the summit, parked our car and navigated a short steep section leading to the alpine garden.

We saw Diapensia everywhere. They grow in mats that spread very slowly. A misplaced footstep can wipe out 20 years worth of growth. The pathway is carefully marked with cairns and all along the slopes the ground is littered with pincushion mats of little while flowers.

When we weren't bending our necks to look at the tiny flowers on the ground, we gazed out over the beautiful mountains.

My mom at 75, my daughter at 20 and me turning 50 this year; the rare alpine plants and the magnificent beauty. What a day.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I'm lichen it

Today I spent the first day of the rest of my life walking through the woods with my young cousin.

He is visiting from Texas and staying with my parents so we went walking through their woods to get the lay of the land.

While walking through an area that I don't hike over very often, we noticed some red color under foot in an area of where the path was soft with decaying wood.

The red is the spore of a lichen called British Soldier Lichen (Cladonia cristatella).

Friday, June 5, 2009

June 5

This date has been on the calendar for months and I have hardly been able to focus beyond it. But today--the sun rose, the birds sang, and Archie graduated from high school.

And all the people said........Amen.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today is my Dad's birthday. Here is a picture of him hugging his youngest granddaughter, Molly, last night just after her return from Europe. He went to Europe when he was young, too. Uncle Sam bought him a ticket--although not on Lufthansa--a ship as I remember from the bedtime stories. He traveled everywhere he could get to from his base in Germany and raised my brother and me on stories of castles and rivers, fields of tulips and windmills along with many other stories of his life and adventures or the lives and adventures of which he had read. Besides being a genuinely good man, my Dad is a master storyteller. When our family is together--food and words are all that any of us want.

As I write this, I don't know how I can talk about my dad in a short blog post but it does give me an idea for trying my hand at a longer writing project.

He is 76 today--he was born in the Depression and lived in southern Louisiana, where his father was an oil executive, but with family roots and familial longing farther north in the black dirt of western Kentucky.

In his rebellious teens, he was sent to a boarding school in southern Mississippi where he met a pretty, talented scholarship student who is still the love of his life 54 years later.

As a young engineer in the late 1950's, he tried to convince his boss of the need for computers--rebuffed by management, he studied them on his own and was a pioneer in the field.

In the 1960's when we lived in an upscale neighborhood in a snooty town in Massachusetts he put his engineer's curiosity into practice and bought a pipe organ from an Episcopal church that was "upgrading" to an electronic organ and installed the 15,000 pipe pipe organ in our basement.

In the 1980's he and my mom were able to return to their beloved South and bought a home and built extensive gardens. In 1999, when I headed to a new life in a remote corner of the country, they sold their home and followed me to Maine--I couldn't have made it without them. Within a month they had more friends than people who have lived here their entire lives.

Today, he and my mom are going to drive to Boston to pick up my cousin's son who is flying in from Texas to spend some time in the woods of Maine with the best man in the world.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.