Going back…to some of the NFCT’s treasured corners of Maine

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Paul Heintz (third from right) was on the thru-paddlers panel at NFCT’s 2015 Freshet Fest.

Last summer, I kayaked in Honduras, Norway, and the Netherlands, but not anywhere on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Surprising indeed, since every other summer since moving to Maine in 2003, I have. I think I first heard about the trail in 2008, at the Lobster Stream boat launch, where Mom, Dad, and I met thru-paddler Paul Heintz. Paul was a cheerful guy, tall and bearded, with a canoe full of an impressive amount of gear.

In those early years, I paddled the NFCT many times, without knowing it. For sure, I was on Mooselookmeguntic, the Richardsons, the Allagash, Flagstaff, the West Branch of the Penobscot, Moosehead, and Chesuncook, all without benefit of NFCT’s great maps. This year, I promise to do better. In fact, I already have one NFCT sojourn in the books.

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Paul and Janie Hartman welcomed me to their Mooselookmeguntic cabin, Cup o’ Tea, for a couple of days of kayaking, restful reading, chilly swimming, and, of course, their amazing and warm outdoor shower. Janie has the perfect apron for the hostess of Cup o’ Tea.

The Hartmans’ cabin was my home for one night during Paddle for Hope in 2011 and two during my 2015 thru-paddle. A week or two ago, I returned for a more relaxing visit. Paul and Janie have owned their place for almost fifty years and have a lifetime of natural discoveries to share with visitors. This year we hiked to Angel Falls, off nearby Bemis Road, not far from where the AT crosses the road.

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Paul and Janie rock hopping at one of several stream crossings on the way to Angel Falls
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Angel Falls, with a 90-foot drop, is among the top three highest waterfalls in Maine. Janie says that it used to be called Angel Wing Falls, until a stone “wing” cracked off decades ago. Some online sources say that the shape of an angel’s wing can still be seen in the moving cascade.
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Most of the crew for the next planned NFCT adventure, up in the Jackman area. Phil, Dad, Mary, Bill, Linda, and I (taking the photo) warmed up with a paddle on the Pemaquid River last week. Don’t you love the color palette?

 

No need to be perfect…a lesson from blueberry pie


There’s plenty of time for reflection when you’re making a wild Maine blueberry pie from scratch. Up on the hill behind our house, at least this summer, there’s a good patch of berries, at the peak of ripeness. Dad’s been wishing for a pie, so I pulled out the cookbook to see how many berries it would take – five cups – then started picking.

Big berries, tiny berries, blue ones and black, they slowly began to fill my bucket. My hands fell into a rhythm, getting less fussy about stripping off a cluster at a time, including a few that were less than perfect. After all, they were soon going to be bubbling in a piecrust. My mind drifted. Long ago, people had harvested the summer’s bounty just as I was. Not concerned about perfection, but about feeding their families.

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Later, I washed the berries, then picked them over, a handful at a time, pulling out the leaves, finding stubborn stems still clinging here and there. I felt proud to be baking my first blueberry pie from my own berries. The sun and heat had gotten me tired, so I sat for a few minutes rereading the recipe. Sugar, flour, lemon juice, and cinnamon would all go in with the berries, then I’d make the same homemade crust as for my apple pie.

As I measured out the sugar, I happened to glance into the bowl.

“Oh, I missed a couple of stems!’ was my first thought. Then those stems, thin and reddish-green, began to wiggle and crawl across the glistening blue berries. Two tiny worms, hunching their way across my pretty bowl of blueberries! After close examination, I think I found seven, enough to make me hesitate before blithely dumping in the sugar. Mom and Dad didn’t seem concerned, though, so I plunged ahead.

I cut the shortening into the flour, still thinking about long-ago pies. My great-grandmother, Grandma Searls, had lived in the Jersey Pine Barrens, with blueberries in her yard. I remember picking them there. For her pie crusts, way back when, she’d collected fat from cooking, her favorite being chicken fat. It wouldn’t have looked anything like the pure white uniformity of my can of Crisco, but her pies were delicious.

Then it was time to roll out the piecrust, and I knew from experience not to even hope for perfection there. The bottom crust cooperated and was soon filled with berries dotted with pats of butter. The top crust bore a much closer resemblance to a patchwork quilt. Tomorrow, though, when we have it for breakfast, that pie will be perfect!

Sleuthing in the littoral zone, the fight against invasive aquatic plants

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Roberta Hill, from the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program, helped us sort and identify the aquatic plants we collected from Pemaquid Pond during our Invasive Plant Patrol workshop.

Back in 2009, a man named Dick Butterfield did what I did yesterday. He attended his first workshop with the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program (VLMP), to start learning to identify dangerous invasive aquatic plants. His thirst for knowledge, combined with concise, effective training, soon saved one of our local lakes.

No doubt armed with his mini waterproof identification key to the 11 most-unwanted suspects, he ventured out on his very first patrol, on nearby Damariscotta Lake. And found hydrilla, which the Maine DEP calls “the most problematic invasive plant in North America.” The lake is huge, with 45 miles of shoreline, but volunteers and experts sprang into action to contain the hydrilla in the tiny cove where Dick had found it. Dick caught it early, which is critically important in the fight against invasives.

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Paired up with buddies, we went out into our assigned sectors to collect plant specimens in the littoral zone, the zone of richest diversity along the lake’s shoreline.

Our workshop was information-packed, but my message for you is simple. In Roberta’s words, “The work of citizen scientists [volunteers] on the the front line is the most important piece in this fight.” Training focuses on just those 11 likely culprits, which fall into three main structural categories. That means that some types of plants (like hairy, grass-like stuff) you see can just be ignored. To demonstrate how easy screening samples can be, VLMP recently set up a table at L.L. Bean and taught willing shoppers how to use the key. Their average time to key out a sample was just two minutes.

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The sorting pan for one of the three broad categories that the eleven-most-unwanted invasive plants fall into. Although we were just learning, and made some mistakes, visible in the photo are some innocuous native milfoils and bladderworts that we collected on our plant patrol.

I was invited to yesterday’s workshop by the Pemaquid Watershed Association, which I’ve belonged to for many years. One of my resolutions for 2017 was to become a more active PWA volunteer. I’ve been writing some press releases and plan to volunteer for plant patrols on McCurdy Pond, where I often keep my canoe. If you’re interested in learning more, visit the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program or take a peek at the Key to the Eleven Most Unwanted Invasive Aquatic Plants.

The warmth of family, and the hot Virginia summer

The days when we did everything together don’t seem that long ago. And yet, they are, and somehow it has been six months since I’ve seen my children. They’ve nested and started careers and then they haven’t changed at all. It’s been so good to be here, staying in Megan and Jacob’s log cabin, sampling a bit of their everyday lives.

On Belle Isle, in the James River, at the site of a factory that recycled scrap iron into nails, wire, and horseshoes in the 1800’s

Megan and I visited Belle Isle, site of a former Civil War POW camp, where she told me the story of “Crazy Bet,” the Union spy who hid beneath the cloak of mental illness to pass along crucial information. After freeing her family’s own slaves, she used her inheritance to buy and free their relatives.
  

The falls on the James River that now draw swimmers and rafters, once attracted native tribes, who agreed to short-term peace when the fish were running in the spring. A sign on Belle Isle described the bravado of the teenage boys, who rode the backs of pregnant 8-foot sturgeon here, to impress the girls.

Mom wanted all the details of Taylor’s firefighter’s life at his new station in Goochland County.

   
 

Taylor treated me to an hour-long walk at Charlottesville’s Riverview Park along the Rivanna River. Another day, we all went swimmimg and had a picnic along the same river.
    

  
Jacob’s family included me in their July 4th celebrations, including plenty of great southern home cooking and lots of little girls and bubbles. We also went with Jacob’s mom, Janet, to see fireflies with an entomologist in one of Richmond’s wetland parks. Who knew there were many species, each with its distinctive color, flight, and blinking pattern? Seeing the pitch-black meadow alight with a myriad of twinkling insects was well worth staying up late.  And saying farewell was not too hard, as Megan, Jacob, and Taylor will all be coming to Maine in August.

  

Upwards: Two months to go!

 

Megan at Humpback Rocks above the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we hiked on Saturday

Last Thanksgiving, my daughter Megan and I chose some photos as candidates for the book’s cover. She’s a graphic designer and had been working her magic on them, but hadn’t given me even a peek. So I was beyond excited to see the two versions she liked the best.

 

View of the log cabin from Jacob’s garden. Visiting for a week has given us lots of design time together.

Friday was the evening, and we sat in the darkening living room as the first cover appeared on the computer. My heart jumped. There was Upwards and my name and it looked like a book, a beautiful book. It was absolutely an amazing moment, and then I liked the second version, Megan’s favorite, even more. Yesterday, the afternoon drifted away while Megan fine-tuned the cover and I worked on photo layout for the inside.

Who would have dreamed that publishing a book would have so many steps? I’m frazzled. There’s still so much to finish up. My editor at Maine Authors Publishing has given me his corrections, and each has to be accepted or rejected. I’m digging out childhood photos, getting the last few stubborn permissions, and searching for quotes in the public domain, to replace a few from Dr. Suess and Winnie-the-Pooh that I’m scared to use.

Inspiration comes from every attractive book I see and there sure are a lot of pretty books out there!

 

Katina and Sam treated Megan and me to breakfast at the Iris Inn, where we congratulated her on finishing her AT thru-hike and talked map details.

 

On Wednesday, I’ll head back to Maine and the upcoming design meeting, where we’ll finalize the rest of the interior look. Until then, we have plans to celebrate July 4th with lots of fun family togetherness and wish the same for all of you!