The View From Here

  • Record of a Perfect Day

    Cleaning out my field bag recently I came across a crumpled paper. Eli's unique, 6-year-old letterwork caught my attention:  "What We Saw". Immediately I remembered our visit to Moulton's Mill Preserve in Unity, one of the most enjoyable in our weekly series of explorations on SRLT's Community Lands this past summer.

    The launch site at Moulton's off Route 139 is a favorite destination for Eli. The water is easily accessible. Frogs are abundant. And the old mill structure provides just the right amount of mystery. Often, our trips are cut short by the intensity of mosquitoes. On this day, however, the absence of mosquitoes was cause for celebration.

    A September 2014 visit to Moulton's Mill Preserve

    The two of us waded intoTwenty-five Mile Stream and, over the course of 30 minutes, slowly worked our way the short distance from the boat launch to the mill site. At first slow and timid, he held my hand tightly and carefully picked his footing. By the time I retrieved the third or fourth "cool rock" he saw on the bottom, he had untethered himself and was splashing ahead, independent and free.

    Ten minutes in, we were both squatting in the water, oblivious to our wet backsides, futilely trying to catch the tiny fish darting around our feet. Were they minnows? Dace? ("They're not minnows mom; they're dace. I know it.") Then we were startled by the appearance of an American eel, which bolted from one boulder to another before disappearing into the cobbles.

    We watched a kingfisher speed past, caught frogs, explored the mill site, and followed a fisherman's path along the shore. By the time we left, we were soaking wet, holding hands again and laughing, despite the burn of stinging nettles on our legs.

    At the car, he dictated as I recorded his list of observations. Now that I've recovered it, it will forever remain taped to my field book, the record of a perfect day as mom and conservationist.

    What We Saw

    eel

    dace

    green frogs

    caddis fly with case

    leopard frogs

    baby frogs

    slime

    dragonfly

    dead crayfish

    hummingbird moth

    eagle

    leech

    water striders

    whirligigs

    garter snake

    crow

    mussels

    slime

    kingfisher

    nasty nettles

    mill stone

     

  • Escape and Exploration

    The SRLT has enjoyed a diversity of interns the past two years, but they have all agreed on one thing:  the Albert J. Sousa Preserve is a pretty special place. During a two-hour visit this morning, I began to relate.

    Acquired from wonderfully supportive sellers in 2013, after literally years of work, the Sousa Preserve has long been for me a source of lessons learned and battles both lost and won. Before today, the very real work of conserving this wonderfully diverse property had largely overshadowed the special features that drove the SRLT to commit to its purchase.

    Situated between the Sebasticook River and Twenty-five Mile Stream in Burnham, its 200 acres include lush floodplain, upland forest, beaver swamp and agricultural lands. Within the woodlot, with its steep slopes and big trees, wildlife tracks speak to the importance of this property that hugs the northern edge of an extensive block of wild, undeveloped habitat. 

    Last summer on a family adventure here we found the passable remains of a stone ford over to the island in the Sebasticook. Even more exciting to my 6-year-old was the old cattle crossing under the railroad tracks. Today I add an ancient oak tree and towering pines - and a new found commitment to establish a trail to encourage more folks to venture out.

    But don't wait for a trail to discover the Albert J. Sousa Preserve for yourself. Without a trail, you just might find for yourself what makes this place so special.

    For a map and more info, visit our web site.

  • It was a really good ski

    You know that moment? That instant in time when you know your day just headed south?

    Last Wednesday was a day full of property and donor visits - a good day in and of itself. But even better, I was on skis - on skis for the first snow of this winter. Awesome sauce.

    I parked my car for the last property visit of the day, psyched to squeeze in one last ski out to the old hemlocks on a 100-acre parcel off the Rutland Road in Newport. I am pretty certain there was a smile on my face as I worked through the mental checklist for the visit and thought about the landowner conversation I'd had just a few minutes earlier. Perfect day. Perfect job. Then I turned off the car and took my foot off the clutch. Smile fades.

    It was only a subtle shift, the slightest glide of the back end into the fresh snow of the ditch. My heart sunk, but I decided to head out and ski anyway. I had a shovel. I had a Subaru. It was a minor snowstorm. I was skiing.

    Fast forward an hour, skis are loaded back into the car and first attempt to drive away not successful. I shovel out a bit and confidently hop back in the car. Epic fail. Scooby's back end is now fully in the ditch. I pull out my phone to humbly call for a tow. Battery dies as I dial AAA. How quickly a day can go bad ... to worse.

    So I head off on foot with a sinking sun, hoping to find someone home and willing to make a call for me. At least I wasn't driving the Prius I thought; that would really make me look like a clueless environmentalist. The first person I saw shoveling snow ran off and hid inside until I went away. (I forgive you; I can look intimidating.) Then I found Gerry.

    Instead of a phone, Gerry had a serious truck and a big heart. He warmed up both and we headed off to get me out of the ditch. No worries he said, you're barely off the road. Tow strap attached. 4WD engaged. Gas pedals punched. And we were both in the ditch.

    Clearly frustrated but not one to accept defeat, Gerry headed home to get his ATV. I hung back, with my shovel and the hope of flagging down someone with a phone. Gerry returned, with his ATV and his wife, Beverly. We set to work hauling the truck out of the ditch. Wheels spin. Sparks fly. Tempers flare. Truck and Scooby nearly collide, both still in the ditch. I gently suggest a phone call is in order, but no, he says, no need.

    And then that fateful moment arrives for Beverly. She remembers the cake - left in the oven as she ran off to save her foolish husband who ran off to save this foolish young lady. Beverly runs off to save her cake, or at least the oven.

    A good 45 minutes in, we now have two vehicles in the ditch, two very cold drivers, a very hot ATV left in the middle of a dark road, and a burnt cake. And then something wonderful happens: three young guys arrive, and they quickly observe Gerry did not enable the 4WD on one tire.

    A quick fix, three strong backs pushing, and we are all soon back on the road. Gerry and I, sharing in the embarrassment of our respective failures, shake hands and part ways quietly.

    Driving away, I remind myself that it was a really good ski. Watch your doorstep Beverly. I owe you a cake.

    *While this story is real, the names are not.

  • Re-discovering a love of hiking ... despite a much heavier pack

    My ability to motivate and mobilize for a weekend hike has been severely hampered in the past year.  The boys and I occassionally make it out to the back field at our farm, even more rarely out into the woodlot. There are chores to be done, bickering to mediate, and abundant toys (and snakes!) in the barnyard to negate any need to travel for a big adventure.

    Last fall we briefly fell into a routine of exploring SRLT Community Lands each weekend, a short flirtation with combining work and play. So the fact that I hiked not once but twice over the Fourth of July weekend is cause for celebration. Forget the nation's birthday; those fireworks on Saturday were in honor of the Irving clan breaking the inertia and re-claiming a love of hiking. 

    On Friday, we ventured up Haystack Mountain in Liberty. For years, my husband has looked up at Haystack each afternoon as he walked out of work at ReVision Energy - and the trailhead is just down the road behind the Walker School! This is a lovely short climb through hemlocks, mixed woods and rocky outcrops on a primitive trail maintained on private property by Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance (SWLA). It's well worth breaking out of the routine and lacing up your boots for a short stretch.

    A 20 minute walk with two boys in tow was rewarded with panoramic views and the unexpected treat of a handful of early blueberries. There's even a storywalk along the first half of the trail - propeling Elijah to race between story boards to read his favorite story, The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer. Big props to SWLA and Audrey O'Clair with the RSU3 Literacy Program for this family-friendly addition.  

    If you try this hike with children, be prepared to spend a bit of time at the school. We hit a bit of a speedbump at the bottom of the hill, the school playground proving too appealing to the kids to allow a speedy transition to Lake St. George for a swim.

    Buoyed by the success of the Friday excursion, on Sunday I loaded Balin into the Kelty and explored the Inland Woods & Pine Ridge Trails maintained by Kennebec Messalonskee Trails in Waterville. Good hills (especially with Balin, affectionately referred to as Half Ton, taking the place of my daypack), large pines and stream crossings made us both happy - a well-spent hour in the woods before braving Hannaford on a Sunday. When you check out this spot behind Kennedy Memorial Drive, be alert to users on mountain bikes - or stay on the foot trails for more solitude.

    In two weeks we'll be camping in western Maine, leaving next weekend open for new adventures. Where should we hike? Send me your suggestions!

    Ready to make time in your schedule for a short hike?  How about Sebasticook Regional Land Trust's Kanokolus Bog Preserve in Unity, Freedom Forest Preserve in Freedom or, something a bit longer, Pleasant Lake Preserve in Stetson?

  • Every summer I wait for his return to Carlton Stream.  Could there be anything better?

    Whip poor will

    Whip poor will

    A bit more distant this year than in year's past (his first year he adopted the lilac outside my bedroom window).  Perhaps he doesn't wish to compete with Rudy the mammoth donkey in the barn yard, another 4 a.m. singer.  Thank you Sandy Olson for loaning me the recording equipment to capture this beauty at Chain Meadow Farm.

    Photo credit Paul Coombs. Birding is Fun.com

  • Bear Behavior

    photo credit PD Photo

    In my last post I shared news that the Unity College Bear Study has confirmed the presence of black bears on some of SRLT's conserved lands.  For some, that news was met with questions about the safety of using our properties.  The odds of encountering a black bear on an SRLT hiking trail are low.  I have worked in the woods in and around Unity for 10 years, and in that time I have never seen a bear.  I have heard what I believed to be a bear once, and was observant enough to notice tracks only a handful of times.   If you do encounter a bear, here's the advice of the Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife:

    • Stop, remain calm, and assess the situation. If the bear seems unaware of you, back away quietly when it is not looking in your direction. Continue to observe the animal as you retreat, watching for changes in behavior.
    • If the bear walks toward you, identify yourself as a human by standing up, waving your hands above your head, and talking to the bear in a low voice.
    • Don't throw anything at the bear.
    • Avoid direct eye contact, which the bear could interpret as a threat or a challenge.
    • If you cannot safely move away from the bear or if the bear continues toward you, scare it away by clapping your hands, stomping your feet, yelling, and staring the animal in the eyes. If you are in a group, stand shoulder-to-shoulder, raising and waving your arms to appear intimidating. The more the animal persists, the more aggressive your response should be. If you have pepper spray, use it.
    • A bear can run 35 mph, so don't run unless safety is very near and you are absolutely certain you can reach it.
    • Black bears are adept climbers, so do not climb a tree to escape. The bear may follow you.
    • Report all aggressive bear encounters.

    Visit the Department's bear faqs web site for more great information about this great creature.

  • Where the Wild Things Are

    Where the Wild Things Are

    The Unity College Bear Study has returned for another summer of research at one of Sebasticook Regional Land Trust's preserves in Unity.  Two live traps set on this property last year failed to yield any success.  But to researchers' surprise, when the location information was downloaded from one of last year's radio-collared bears, they found that she had routinely walked all over this property, within feet of the traps.  Apparently she was smart enough to outsmart the researchers but not lucky enough to avoid traffic, as she was unfortunately killed by a vehicle strike on Route 139 last fall.

    Bear Study students Jonah Gula and Leon Burman were anxious to set traps again this year on the property, and we were happy to grant permission.  In our view, the bear study represents a wonderful opportunity to learn more about how our lands benefit the region's wildlife while giving students critical field research experience.  And this being a fairly inaccessible site for the public at present, it is well-suited for this type of activity.

    The first day on the property Leon was exploring the site, looking for a way around one of several beaver ponds.  He looked down and was greeted with the clear, fairly fresh tracks you see here.  Bear!  Hopefully this bear won't be quite as elusive and will let researchers and SRLT learn about its territory, habits and reproduction - all good things that will help guide the management of our existing preserves and the conservation of additional ones.

    Even if the bear itself eludes capture, I'm satisfied with finding its track.  It's like a business card from the wild things letting us know they are here, in our midst, with room to roam in part due to the SRLT's successful conservation efforts these last ten years.  

  • From the Heart

    From the Heart

    photo by Sandy Olson, Watershed Graphics

    Last month I was asked to participate in the Earth Day announcement of federal funding in support of clean water projects in Maine, including $1.6 million for the Town of Hartland's Wastewater Treatment Facility.   Joining me at the press event in Hartland were representives from Central Maine's Congressional delegation, town and plant officials, school children, and someone from the local tannery.   There was much talk about money, and lots of congratulating.  

    Then it was my turn to speak, as requested, on the environmental impacts of the award.  It was Earth Day after all!  The media at the event provided good coverage of the money talk, but not a single outlet spoke to what the wasterwater treatment upgrades will mean for the Sebasticook River, or for the broader Central Maine community.   Perhaps I was not a good speaker, but I suspect that for the media, the story was the money. Times are hard, and $1.6 million in federal funds (plus $1 million in state funds) for the Town of Hartland is understandably a big deal.  But focusing on the money misses the point, which is the protection of this great river in the heart of Maine. 

    After the ceremony, a Hartland resident told me that my speech was his favorite, because "I spoke from the heart. That's how you should talk in Hartland."   I tend to speak from the heart no matter where I am when asked about the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust.  I'm passionate about my work and about sustaining this place where I live, work and raise my family.  So I say 'thank you' (and 'but of course') to that Hartland gentleman, and after encouragement from another audience member, I'm sharing here the base text of what I had to say on a sunny spring morning in Hartland.

    "Good morning. As river advocates, watershed residents and Hartland taxpayers, Sebasticook Regional Land Trust is pleased to be a part of this Earth Day announcement of federal funding to protect the Sebasticook River.  Thank you for inviting us, and we look forward to future partnerships in Hartland. 

    Based in Unity, the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust works with the communities and private landowners of the Sebasticook River Watershed to conserve the resources Central Maine relies upon – clean water, abundant wildlife, working woodlands, family farms and places to hunt, fish and play with our families. Now celebrating our 10th Anniversary Year, the SRLT has forever conserved more than 3500 acres of wild and working lands - including a parcel on Great Moose Lake - for the benefit of our region’s people, fish and wildlife.

    The Sebasticook River Watershed is a mighty watershed.   It extends into 5 counties and 42 towns, from Hartland to Dixmont, Dexter to China.   As so often happens with Central Maine, the Sebasticook is too often overlooked and underappreciated. But its resources are critical not only to the people who call this place home, but to the region’s environmental well-being.  

     A tributary of the Kennebec, the Sebasticook River rises in North Dexter and flows south for roughly 50 miles, paralleling the Kennebec until the two rivers converge at Winslow. Its 985-square-mile watershed includes more than 50 great ponds and a vast network of placid streams and wetlands offering tremendous habitat for fish and wildlife, storage capacity for flood waters (yes, the current flooding could be even worse!), and recreational opportunities.

    The Sebasticook Regional Land Trust has recently undertaken a project to learn from residents just what they value about the Sebasticook River and living in its midst.   We ask people for the first thing that enters their minds when they think of the River.   In our first few weeks of this effort, the words we have collected have started to paint a beautiful picture. I encourage you to add to this picture by sharing your words with me later this morning.

    The most common response so far: HOME.     More than 70,000 people call our region Home, and a good many of them rely upon the region’s natural resources for their economic well-being and quality of life. We also make our livings in the mills, farms and businesses situated along the river.

    Other people talk about FISH or ALEWIVES, and with good reason. Anglers cherish the Sebasticook for its fine fishing. The Sebasticook River is the site of one of the greatest fisheries restoration stories in the United States. And it is a remarkable recovery.

    In the 1950s and 60s this river was called the 'nasty Sebasty'.  The river was unfit for swimming and fishing, and older residents tell me the river was different colors and smells according to what vegetable was being processed at the old packing plant. Fish kills were common in the river up until at least the late 1970s.   In the 1980s it was still choked with algae, and though fish no longer died, they had high toxin levels due to historic pollution and were considered unsafe to eat.

    Today, thanks to the clean water investments made by our communities, industries and individual landowners, the Sebasticook River is a much healthier and scenic system.   Today, alewives can now swim freely to the top of the Sebasticook River, 70 miles upstream from the former Edwards Dam on the Kennebec in Augusta, which was removed in 1999. With an estimated 2 million alewives returning to the Kennebec system each year, it is among the largest river-herring runs in the United States! With the Sebasticook’s vast extent, gentle topography and improved passage, the Sebasticook is a critical contributor of fish to the Kennebec and Gulf of Maine ecosystems.

     With the removal of the Fort Halifax dam in Winslow in 2008, and the installation of fish passage at two other dams, the Sebasticook has seen a monumental return of alewives and other fish.   Alewives can now swim the entire length of the Sebasticook to their historic spawning grounds for the first time in more than 170 years. In 2013, at the Benton dam fishlift, the numbers of fish were staggering:

     2,189,000 alewives or river herring

    111 American shad

    6 or 7 striped bass

    100,000+ American eel (elvers)

    1 Atlantic salmon (the third   one since 1837!)

     Alewives are the foundation of a healthy system. Everything eats alewives!   And they bring economic return as well. For several years, The Town of Benton has exercised its right to harvest alewife below the dam, providing income for the town, several jobs and valuable bait for Maine’s lobster industry. These benefits could be realized elsewhere, too.

     American shad, the "poor man's salmon," are now travelling by the thousands upriver to Waterville and Winslow, many of which continue on up the Sebasticook.

    Striped bass, an angler’s favorite, have become the principal recreational fishery in Waterville and Winslow, and on up into the Sebasticook.  

    American eel, the watershed’s most abundant sea-run fish, now have full access up the entire Sebasticook River.

    Atlantic salmon, our most famous and most endangered fish, are increasing in number at Waterville, where the adults are trapped and transported to their prime coldwater spawning grounds in the Sandy River. But a few are known to make it through to the Sebasticook, where one was counted at Benton last year, and another was rumored to have been caught in Unity Pond the year before.

     Sea lamprey, Atlantic sturgeon, short-nose sturgeon, blueback herring. The list is long, and growing, and the improved waters of the Sebasticook River play a vital role in this impressive recovery.

     And it’s not just the fish. People have said they value the GREAT BLUE HERONS, BALD EAGLES, OSPREY, BLACK TERNS, SONGBIRDS, MAYFLIES, TURTLES, BULL FROGS and DUCKS - all critters dependent upon a healthy river system.   It is, in fact, one of the most important flyways for waterfowl in New England.

    The Sebasticook is also popular with PADDLERS who enjoy the scenic landscape of gently rolling hills, forest, and farmland.

    But if not for the ongoing investments in clean water – such as this timely award from the US Department of Agriculture/Rural Development, these values would be lost. We thank the Town of Hartland, its residents and industries, for committing to clean water for the Sebasticook River, and for supporting its continued restoration. And we thank all the participants in today’s river cleanup for celebrating Earth Day in support of our great river.

    Congratulations again, and thank you, and I again encourage you to share your “RIVER WORDS” with me later this morning."