Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Finally Spring!

This post is a week late. I keep thinking about blogging, but then I spend the time doing other things instead (turns out there are only so many hours in the day—and only so much creative energy in the day). In any case, we had beautiful, warm, sunny, dry, perfect weather on Easter (a week ago this past Sunday), a day that finally ushered in spring.

The first flowers appeared in the lawn—blue-striped squill and yellow crocus (I know, not exactly wildflowers, but still, spring!!).

And the first flowers appeared in the wild. Coltsfoot.

And willow catkins. Other trees and shrubs have been flowering, too—aspen, alder, red maple. I've been remiss in getting out with the camera (maybe next Wednesday).

Meanwhile, our gravel pit is dry, dry, dry. This is the same pond where I saw a pair of otters three years ago. I don't think any otters will be stopping by anytime soon. And I wonder where all the turtles have gone (especially the snapper the size of a trashcan lid I saw down there once). I don't hear any frogs coming from the pond, either (but I do hear them in a nearby alder swamp—spring peepers, wood frogs, and American toads so far).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Poetry of Hope

On Saturday we headed to the nearby town of Gardiner for a stream cleanup/awareness raising event, put on by the organization Upstream, which was created by my fabulous friend and fellow naturalist Tina Wood to restore fish passage around the three dams that block Cobbossee Stream.

I had originally thought I would go to Boston for the March for Science, but as the time drew nearer, I became less and less enthused about the drive…and even the March itself. Yes, I support the responsible use of science, I oppose hiding, burying, denying, failing to fund, or destroying scientific research. But the idea of a march for science had me feeling a little ambivalent. Because science is not inherently good (or bad), but science can be put to good use, for the betterment of humanity, or it can be abused for financial gain while hurting people and the environment. And that's way too complicated a message for a picket sign.

Also, the three hour drive on Earth Day didn't sit well with me. So I was happy to join Upstream and their event, which had a clear focus and end goal for the day—get the trash out of the stretch of stream between Bridge Street and Maine Street—and long-term—get the alewives back to their native breeding grounds in Cobbossee Lake.

C, E, Z, and I were joined by the boys' best buddy and his parents. We left the kids on the sidewalk to ring cow bells and hold signs with the other marchers while us grownups headed down to the stream banks to fill up several large garbage bags with cigarette butts, Dunkin' Donuts cups and straws, sodden sweatshirts, and random hunks of plastic. The worst we found was four hypodermic needles and this bird's nest, made of strands of vine, fine rootlets, and cigarette pack wrappers.

The previous day, I had attended a poetry festival which had included a panel on poetry and climate change. The panelists spoke of nature poetry becoming more elegiac, and one said she had trouble writing a poem of celebration after the large dams were removed from the Penobscot River and fish passage restored. The big question in the room was: where was the hope? As I scrambled up and down banks, invasive multiflora rose brambles clawing at my jacket and my skin, filling my bag with other people's garbage, it occurred to me that hope is in action. In cleaning trash out of one small section of stream. In ringing a cow bell to let passers-by know that people are out there working to bring back the fish. In restoring anadromous fish runs that have been blocked for more than 250 years.

There's a lot to despair about these days, for those of us who care about clean air and water and fish passage and birds not nesting in garbage, who want more love and inclusiveness in our human communities, but nothing good comes of despair (I think in some ways despair brought us to where we are now—the despair of people who have been left behind by the modern world, looking for  an "other" to blame and a quick ride back to imagined "golden days"). The antidote to despair is hope, and hope comes from action. So we must go out and do the work that is important to us, and we must write poems about our work and our hope. We must write poems that celebrate being alive and all of the small victories we achieve, even if it's only cleaning up one small section of stream.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Thirty-Minute Almost-No-Sew Bandana Bunting

We had some friends over for Mexican food this past weekend, and I wanted to make a special decoration to make the house festive. In the past, I've bought papel de picado—those beautiful punched-paper flags—but they get faded and tattered very quickly (especially when you have kids who shoot them with Nerf bullets), and then they look sad and you feel bad wadding them up in the recycle bin. So I thought I'd make something almost as festive and much less expensive and more durable—a bandana bunting.

To make your own bunting, determine how many flags you want your bunting to have, divide by four, and purchase that number of bandanas in the colors of your choice. I wanted a 12-flag bunting so I bought three bandanas.

I had a very specific color scheme in mind—yellow, orange, green—and unfortunately my usual bandana source didn't have any of those colors, so I bought some instead at the craft store. They're not quite as nice of quality, either in color, the printing of the design, or the squareness of the bandana, but they served the purpose.

Step 1. Iron the bandanas.

Step 2. Cut them into quarters.

For each bandana you started with, you'll end up with four equal squares.

Step 3. Place a bandana square on the ironing board in front of you, wrong side up, and turn it 45 degrees so that the two finished sides come to a point at the bottom and the two cut sides come to a point at the top. Fold the finished sides toward the center and press.

Step 4. Open the sides back up and fold the top down even with the tops of the side folds and press (You could also cut the top off, but pressing seemed easier to me.)

Step 5. Fold the sides back in. Now you have a triangle.

Repeat with the remaining bandana squares. So far no sew.

Now comes the time to put your bunting together. This is the only sewing part, although you could use pins, fabric tape, or glue. Double-fold bias tape would be ideal for the string part of the bunting (what is that? garland?), so that you can fold it over the raw edge at the top of the each flag. The craft store did not have any bias tape so I bought ribbon instead (a 5-yard spool). I thought I might be able fold the ribbon, but it was too narrow. It occurred to me belatedly that I could have bought two ribbons, one for the front and one for the back to give it a more finished edge on the back side, but I think it's fine how it is. 

Step 5. Figure out how you want your flags spaced on the ribbon. I could probably have used math to do this, but instead I laid the ribbon out on the floor and lined the flags up in a pleasing arrangement. They ended up about 3 inches apart with about a foot-and-a-half or two feet of extra ribbon on each end. Pin flags in place and sew (or tape or glue).

A few guests requested recipes from the dishes I made. Almost everything came from Rick Bayless's Mexico—One Plate at a Time cookbook (including the gorgeous flan M made with my help—a first time making flan for both of us and it came out perfect). I found a couple of recipes on his web page:

Chipotle chicken salad tacos
Mexican-style zucchini tacos

One dish I did NOT use a recipe for was the cheese enchiladas—for those I just rolled up grated cheddar in corn tortillas, laid them in a baking dish, topped with a magic secret ingredient, sprinkled on more cheese and baked until melty and bubbly.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Slow Spring

Spring has been very slow in coming this year (as it is every year), but we finally got some warm weather this week. I went out today to take some pictures of the melting snow, but most of them came out blurry (I've spent so much time away from my camera of late I've forgotten how to use it!).

Signs of spring I've seen and heard (but have no photographic evidence of) this week: spring peepers singing the last two nights in a row, the phoebes are back, and the aspen trees have unfurled their catkins. Spring is surely on its way.

Monday, April 3, 2017

March Reads

Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book. For past months, see:
January Reads
February Reads

Nonfiction. I badly broke my rule about having only one book in each category going at a time this month. I started one book (which isn't even on this list because I haven't finished it yet) and then started two more and read a fourth after I finished one of those two.

Rad Dad and Rad Families. I'm not going to say much about these here, because I read them in order to do a profile of editor and rad dad, Tomas Moniz, for Literary Mama's Father's Day issue in June. So, you'll just have to wait to read that, but if you're a parent or know anyone who's a parent, and/or if you care about gender equality, inclusiveness, social justice, and just generally raising kids to be decent human beings, get yourself a copy of both books.

Suburban Safari. I read this for my naturalists' book discussion group. The author, Hannah Holmes, explores just about every facet of her backyard in South Portland, Maine, from insects to soil to geologic history to human history, right down to the spider in her office window. It's surprisingly interesting how varied and full of life a small suburban lot can be. Holmes invites experts, from the state entomologist to Amory Lovins to her home to talk about different aspects of what's going on in her yard and also travels around the country to look at things like lawns in the desert and wildlife habitat yards in California,  I was at first annoyed by Holmes's very perky voice. But it grew on me after a while and I began to think I need to perk up my own writing.

Poetry. For poetry I read Blue Window by Ann Fisher-Wirth. A very long time ago (12 1/2 years or so) I went to my very first writing workshop—a week away at a small college here in Maine. I managed to get work to pay for it, and to make the trip appear more legit, I signed up for the environmental journalism track, but it turned out there weren't enough participants to run two separate tracks, so we spent the morning with the journalism guy and the afternoons with the poet, Ann Fisher-Wirth. In her sessions I rediscovered a long-dormant passion for creative writing. I usually try to buy a copy of at least one of the author's books whenever I take a class or go to a reading, and while I read this right after the workshop, I was due to read it again. Her poems touch on life and death, California during Viet Nam, when she was young; Mississippi, where she lives, and it's heavy burden of history. The poem's are heavy with atmosphere, rich with imagery, and unafraid.

Fiction. My sister bought me Magnificent Vibration by Rick Springfield for my birthday a couple of years ago and I only just now got around to reading it. Normally, I object to celebrities writing books other than the obligatory ghost-written memoir—stay in your own wheelhouse, dammit (although in one of my writing workshops we had a great time comparing Molly Ringwald's writing to Virginia Woolf, which I suppose is a tad unfair to Molly). But this is Rick Springfield, so I totally give him a pass, because he was my first heart-throb when I was but a mere teeny-bopper. And it's also a fun, weird, funny, and surprisingly thoughtful book (though the narrator does have an inordinate obsession with his, ahem, anatomy). Look! My copy is signed and personalized with a heart (swoon), and you'll note that rick also illustrated it, which is just one too many talents for a single human being if you ask me. This was supposed to be my escapist book for the month, but it turns out to be kinda about the end of the world…there is no escape.

How-To (I'm still not sure what to call this category-"self-help" makes me squirm, "self-improvement" is almost as bad, and "craft" is not quite broad enough. 4/417 edit: I thought of a category name: Inspiration!!). I finish up the 12-week The Artist's Way program tomorrow. I'm actually a little astonished that I stick with it the whole time and did almost all of the exercises, including three "morning pages" every single day (that's 252 handwritten pages!!). I did not experience any dramatic results and very little "synchronicity" as some people report happening, but I did, about halfway through, kick back into gear on writing book that had been languishing since November, so that's something. And I enjoyed writing my morning pages, taking myself on artist dates, and doing small things to treat myself, so I plan on sticking with it—Artist's Way for life. And I'm also moving on to another creativity-generating activity which I'll tell you about tomorrow.

What are you reading this month?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Upcoming Nature Journaling Workshops

If you're local and you want to learn more about nature journaling, I have a whole slate of workshops scheduled for the next year, starting in April at Viles Arboretum and Hidden Valley Nature Center. 

Viles Arboretum
At Viles Arboretum I will hold four classes over the next year Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., one for each season.
Spring Nature Journaling ~ Birds, April 29Summer Nature Journaling ~ Bugs and Blooms, July 22 (tentatively)Fall Nature Journaling ~ Event Mappping, October 14Winter Nature Journaling ~ Trees, January 20
The workshops are suitable for both beginners and experienced journalers. Each class will include an introduction to nature journaling during which participants will learn a variety of drawing techniques designed to help even the most reluctant artist overcome their fears. From there we'll explore a different aspect of the natural world using a variety of journaling techniques specific to the topic and the season, so that participants may come for just one session without feeling they have missed anything or enjoy all four while learning new ways to journal at each one. Choose one or register for all four. Registration fee: $35 per workshop for Arboretum members, $45 for nonmembers.

Workshop Descriptions:

Spring Nature Journaling ~ Birds! In this workshop we'll use our nature journals to learn more about the birds that populate our fields and forests. We'll employ a variety of nature journaling techniques—from field sketching to detailed drawings, note-taking to poetry-writing—that will help participants become acquainted with our feathered friends. 

Summer Nature Journaling ~ Blooms and Bugs! In this workshop we'll take to the fields to seek out, draw, and write about the season's wildflowers and insects. We'll observe dragonflies, bees, and butterflies, practice sketching moving objects, and celebrate midsummer flowers in our journals. 

Fall Nature Journaling ~ Event Mapping! In this workshop we'll learn how to create an event map—an illustrated depiction of a route we take through the landscape—while we wander the Arboretum's trails. Through noticing and recording the sights, sounds, and moments in nature that draw our attention, we'll sharpen our observation skills and deepen our connection to the natural world.

Winter Nature Journaling ~ Trees! Artists from Da Vinci to Cezanne have found inspiration in the spare, bare branches of leafless winter trees. Focusing on those trees, we'll work on several drawing techniques that will help us truly see the natural world before us, practice describing nature using all of our senses, and write our way into stories about the winter world around us.

What to bring: 
We will spend time both outdoors and inside during all four workshops, so please dress accordingly and bring sunscreen and insect repellant as needed. Bring a blank book, notebook, or journal and your preferred writing and drawing tools (pencil and pen, and colored pencils, if you have them), and something to sit on outdoors (lightweight camp chair, sit mat, extra jacket, etc.). If you have binoculars and/or a field guide to birds, please bring them to the bird workshop.

How to sign up: 
The workshops aren't on the the arboretum's website yet, but you can call the Arboretum at (207) 626-7989 to register.

Hidden Valley Nature Center (Midcoast Conservancy) I'll also be holding a summer nature journaling workshop at Hidden Valley Nature Center on Jun 17, 9:00 am - 12:00 pm.


June is an extra-special time at Hidden Valley Nature Center, when the woodland wildflowers carpet the forest floor. Join us on Saturday June 17, as we seek out, identify, draw, and write about some of the season’s blooms. We’ll start the day with an introduction to nature journaling, during which participants will learn a variety of drawing techniques designed to help even the most reluctant artist overcome their fears. Then we’ll head out into the woods in search of pink lady’s slippers, fringed polygala, creeping dogwood, pitcher plants, and other woodland beauties. We’ll sketch, make observations of, and celebrate these flowers in our journals.

If you’re a novice naturalist this class will help you start identifying flowers, with your journal as your aid. If you’re an expert botanist you’ll learn ways to record your observations and deepen your appreciation through journaling.

Please bring a blank book, notebook, or journal and your preferred writing and drawing tools (pencil, pen, colored pencils), as well as water and snacks. We will spend time both indoors and outdoors and will walk up to a mile or more in search of flowers, so please dress accordingly and consider wearing a hat, sunscreen, insect repellant, and whatever tick-proof clothing you prefer.

Register here.

I'd love to see you at any or all of these workshops!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Writing the Colorado Trail

The whole (purported) purpose of quitting my job and hiking the Colorado Trail last summer was to write a book about the hike, a hike on the same trail C and I took 20 years ago, and the social and environmental changes that took place in the mountains during those two decades (there were many ulterior motives as well, but we don't need to get into those here).

Writing a book is a HUGE undertaking. Not only do I have to take journal notes from two separate six- to nine-week hikes and turn them into a coherent narrative, I have to research, digest, and summarize in an engaging way such things as water rights and reclamation, fire suppression, mining, climate change, public lands, grazing, recreation, and about two billion years of plate tectonics, uplift, and erosion. No problem. The writing and research are moving forward apace now, but I did take a little bit of a break from about November into February. I think it was a necessary period of senescence, letting the thoughts and experiences marinate a bit before turning to the monumental task of information-gathering. But I was not entirely idle during that time: I worked on several shorter pieces, some of which pertain to the hiking of the trail, two of which went live last week:

On, "How Being a Mom Helped Me Hike 500 Miles," a short list of ways that my experience of being a mom made hiking the trail easier than it had been 20 years ago.

At Mothers Always Write, "Five Hundred Miles," an essay about sharing the trail experience with my teenage son.

If you're game, please check them out and let me know what you think. And if you do the social media thing, I'd love it if you shared either or both on Facebook or Twitter.
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