Author Archives: BetsyWelch

A ceramicist inspired by her Clark Island world

Clark Island artist, Gayle Bedigian, combines her ancestral ties to the island and its natural beauty to create uniquely inspired ceramic art. Working on many projects at one time, her studio is populated by a myriad of clay forms that capture her natural surroundings in which nearby granite ledges slope down into the ocean, birch trees sway in the breeze, sea birds soar overhead and fish dart through the shimmering water. Her home is part of her family history. She says her most recent project, Clark Island Stonewear, “is designed to capture the beauty of the natural granite ledges where I grew up, a place where my mother grew up and her mother and grandmother before her. These granite stones were the trade of my grandfather and his father before him. And these granite stones provided a dry sitting place, a picnic spot for freshly caught lobsters, a warm place to rest after picking blueberries, a forever place to carve your name, and a place to view the breathtaking Milky Way at night.”

Bedigian’s process for creating this unique “Stonewear” begins along her shoreline, a tract of land given to her by her aunt many years ago. She begins by taking a large slab a clay and pressing it onto the granite rocks where she used to sit. The imprinted texture of the rock forms the inside face of a clay sculpture. She then cradles the moist and pliant clay into a form to shape it into a low-profile bowl as it dries. This is called “slumping.” After drying, the clay is fired in one of the large kilns in the corner of her studio. Afterward, Bedigian adds sea water mixed with mason stains and grit and fires it again. Depending upon how many different treatments she applies to the form, she can fire the clay up to seven times.

Other ceramics created by Bedigian are hand painted with dynamic and sometimes whimsical designs inspired by birch tree bark, sea gulls, puffins, fish, landscapes, and commissioned designs. Each design is hand-formed and painted so that no two are alike. Although most of her ceramics are fine art meant only for display, some pieces also have a utilitarian purpose, like a cup or platter. In either case, they all bear the unique shapes and marks of this artist.
Bedigian was not always a ceramicist. Born and raised in Boston, but spending her summers on Clark Island, she was encouraged in the fine arts by her father, Robert Briggs, who was a well-known commercial artist and by her mother, who was a copywriter. Their entrepreneurial free-lance careers taught Bedigian to trust her instincts and to take risks. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1971 from the University of Massachusetts, where she met her husband. There, her concentration of study was etching and print making, but she did take one course in ceramics. This qualified Bedigian to teach art. Because the newlyweds moved to Bar Harbor so her husband could join Jackson Laboratory, Bedigian had the opportunity to teach art at the one room schoolhouse on Cranberry Island for five years. This was a challenge, since, by that time, she ferried back and forth from the island to the mainland with her own young children and art supplies in tow.

Eventually, Bedigian turned to sculpting, making Christmas ornaments for commercial sale. Her business took off and in one year her company employed 26 craftspeople. Simultaneously, she joined with two other women to open a store in Bar Harbor called “Driven Women.” They sold their own creations as well as those from other women. After eleven years, her husband transferred jobs to Maryland where Bedigian taught ceramics to high school students. This transition also marks a transition in her ceramics from craft to fine art. By 2003, one of her former business partners died in a tragic skiing accident and Bedigian turned her creativity to painting a ceramic memorial for the family. This was the start of commission work for the artist and she soon had more work than time to make it. In addition to private commissions, Bedigian has done custom work for the National Cathedral in Washington and the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Gift Gallery. The artist is represented by Port Clyde Art Gallery. You may read more about her on her website: ­—Katharine Cartwright


Colby College and the Up East Foundation recently sponsored a benefit for Herring Gut Learning Center featuring a trip to Allen Island, owned by the Wyeth family. Pictured, left to right, Peter Harris, Board Chair of Herring Gut, David A. Greene, President of Colby College and Jamie Wyeth of Up East.

A life of following a full harvest-to-table schedule—at a seasonal pace

Don Wilson with his future “cold-smoker” smokehouse

When Don Wilson’s forebears arrived in what is now St. George and took up residence on Teel Island in 1777, they adopted what he calls a “subsistence” lifestyle that sustained that generation and those that followed until the early 1960s. It was Wilson’s great grandfather’s funeral that N.C. Wyeth depicted in his famous 1939 painting, “Island Funeral.”

“They had sheep, oxen and chickens and relied on the outward islands for duck eggs and gull eggs,” Wilson says, adding with a grin, “Whatever swam by or flew by pretty much was eaten if they could catch it. They came ashore for shoes, molasses, tobacco, salt and that sort of thing, but other than that they lived off the land and sea.”

As with many people with deep roots in St. George, that subsistence approach to putting food on the table—taking advantage of the bounties each season has to offer—has exerted a strong influence on Wilson throughout his life, from boyhood through a career as a commercial fisherman and through a second career in residential construction (he built the house at Seavey’s Cove where he now lives with his wife, Marilyn).

As a boy, Wilson says he spent a lot of time watching his mother, who came from an Italian family, cook. “She made hardy food, but it was different from what everybody else in town ate. At the time, I would have traded anything for a hot dog or something simple,” he laughs. Still, he absorbed a great deal from watching her make minestrone soup, boil bones and pull the marrow out, and make her own pasta. “I had a chance to see it all. She always said recipes are just a suggestion and I sort of maintain that myself.”

From the beginning, Wilson notes, smoked fish was something he particularly enjoyed. “I’ve loved smoked alewives from the time I was a little tiny kid. My dad used to take my brother and me and we’d go over to Warren in early to mid May and we’d watch the alewife run. In those days it was a big run and they didn’t shut the river off and try to trap them—the entire river would be full of alewives for days and days. There was a guy across the street who had a store and he had smoked alewives—they called them “bloaters”—in old soda boxes, big piles of them.”

Eventually, the young Wilson discovered neighbors in St. George were also smoking fish. “I found out there were guys in town who smoked herring and then I got to trying that. By the time I was in my early 20s I was smoking lots of fish.”

Once he began commercial fishing, the scale of Wilson’s smoking activities during his leaves at home increased. “I’d come in from fishing and of course we’d been catching a lot of haddock—we’d catch haddock by the thousands of pounds. I had friends who liked the old finnan haddie, so I’d fillet some haddock on the last day and bring them home and I’d smoke them. It got to be it would take every minute of my time to do all the orders I had. From there I went to smoked herring and it just never stopped. So that’s been a continual thing for me since age 25. I’ve tried smoking deer meat, moose ribs and I’ve tried everything I could try.”

Smoked cheese is a current passion, Wilson says. “I used to try to smoke cheese a little bit because I like smoked cheese, but I couldn’t get the temperature low enough. If you get to 75-80 degrees, it just drips.But just recently I finally built a ‘cold smoker’ from parts I found at the transfer station. The smoke that comes out of the nozzle doesn’t get hotter than 70 degrees at best—it never has a chance to go beyond a smoulder.” This summer, he says, he’ll be putting the finishing touches on a new smokehouse to use with this latest piece of smoking equipment.

Another, “old school” way of preserving a seasonal marine harvest that Wilson has enjoyed doing since his mid-20s is pickling conchs or whelks. “My family used to pickle whelks on the islands and Metinicus people did it. I just happened to come up with a little bit of a recipe with a few alterations that modernized the old recipes a bit.” Today pickled whelks are uncommon, so when Wilson brings them to social gatherings, he notes, they are often the unexpected hit of the party, especially for people from away.

As it was for his ancestors, Wilson’s harvest-to-table schedule is full, but paced.

“I follow the seasons. October 1 we go grouse hunting in northern Maine, it’s venison after that and from venison it usually goes into rabbit hunting and then from rabbit hunting we mix in a little smelt fishing (ice fishing) right here at Turkey Cove and different places. Then in the spring fiddle heads take me through Mother’s Day and by then the striped bass are in. And then I’m into the pickled conchs, followed by picking a little crabmeat.”

In mid July, he adds, he was catching squid for calamari with which he likes to make ceviche (which is also good with fresh scallops or fish, he notes). And as August was approaching he began watching the tides for when it would be optimum for harvesting big quahogs. “I like eating the muscles that close the shells—we always called them sweet meats, like a small scallop.They are to die for! If you cook them, they would be like rubber, but if you eat them raw they’re just tender and sweet, with a briny ocean taste.”

Being retired, Wilson says, has made it possible to follow the seasons more fully than he was able to do during his working life. “Now I have the time to really do it. It’s an inexpensive pleasure. It’s a hobby that costs me only my time.”

Being retired, too, has allowed Wilson to do some culinary exploration—often inspired by chance exposures to different cuisines such as Thai, Mexican, German and Japanese.

“I made salsa there for a while—my wife loves it and then some friends tried it and the next thing I know I’m making mixing bowls of it and passing that around. I’d go down to the General Store and I’d buy tomatoes—the ones they call the “drops” that you could get for $.80 a pound—and I’d get 20 pounds of those and make salsa and pass it around.”

Anyone who knows him, also knows that in recent years Wilson has been making sauerkraut at a nearly commercial scale.

“One evening in the fall of the year, winter was coming on and I had everything I could do done, and I thought about Morse’s sauerkraut and I wondered how do you make sauerkraut? So I started looking at recipes on line and I kept looking and looking and finally I tried it and it came out good. I think I made 20 pounds the first year and the next year it went from 20 to 40 and then 40 to 60, 80, 100, 150, 200 pounds and it just kept going and going. So eventually I bought a kraut slicer because I couldn’t keep up with it. I just couldn’t slice all that cabbage. I give all of it away other than what we eat ourselves.”

Sharing what he prepares from the harvest—or what his culinary experimentation yields—is clearly a big part of the satisfaction Wilson gets from his seasonal and specialty food “hobby.” And that, too, has a lot to do with his heritage.

“I pass what I make around to anyone who likes it, that’s sort of what I do. I do this for myself and my friends. I like to keep it fun. Everything has its season and when you do it that way you get more pleasure. When I grew up, nobody had a lot of things, but when you had extra you always shared it with the neighbors and it was just what you did. Whatever it was, blueberries, deer meat, fish. They dropped them off and you dropped off whatever you had extra in return.” After a reflective pause, he adds, “It’s not a bad way to live.” —JW

PHOTOS: Julie Wortman

Become a ‘Master Gardener’

Master Gardener and community volunteers grow produce for Blueberry Cove Camp.

August 24 is the deadline for applications to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteers program in Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties.

The 45-hour program offers research-based information from Extension specialists and industry experts. Core classes include an introduction to Extension and volunteerism, understanding soils and organic matter, basic botany, integrated pest and disease management, and pesticide safety. Specialized classes include growing vegetables, trees and small fruit for Maine, and food safety.

Participants will also plan and choose two hands-on workshops and after the course is completed in late spring, will begin volunteering at approved community sites. Projects include school and community gardens, conducting educational talks and workshops, growing and gleaning produce for food pantries, and civic beautification.

Classes meet from 1-4:30 p.m., Oct. 4 through Nov. 15., and resume March 21 through May 2.  The program will be held primarily at the UMaine Extension Knox-Lincoln office, 377 Manktown Road, Waldoboro; some classes will be at the Waldo County Extension office, 992 Waterville Road, Waldo. Carpooling is encouraged. Tuition is $220 per person; limited financial assistance is available. Apply online by August 24. Applicants will be notified of acceptance; a required background check will be paid for by UMaine Extension. For more information or to request a reasonable accommodation, contact Liz Stanley, 207.832.0343, or email

As a trusted resource for over 100 years, University of Maine Cooperative Extension has supported UMaine’s land and sea grant public education role by conducting community-driven, research-based programs in every Maine county. UMaine Extension helps support, sustain and grow the food-based economy. It is the only entity in our state that touches every aspect of the Maine Food System, where policy, research, production, processing, commerce, nutrition, and food security and safety are integral and interrelated. UMaine Extension also conducts the most successful out-of-school youth educational program in Maine through 4-H.

Another roadside attraction: broad-winged hawks

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Broad-winged hawk

Unless you’re a rodent (and you know who you are), you’re most likely a fan of raptors, aka “birds of prey.” I would hope readers have had the pleasure of watching an osprey splash and snag a fish out of water, or have become absorbed in the majestic beauty of a red-tail hawk riding a thermal of hot air to greater and greater heights. Maybe it was the sight of a bald eagle dive bombing a school of fish (or a group of baby eiders), or when the sharp-shinned hawk picked off that annoying, bully blue jay at your bird feeders. But somewhere along the line a raptor has probably put a smile on your face. They are good like that.

The raptor I cross paths with more than any other in St. George is the broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus). Broad-wings are a crow-sized “buteos” of the woods, a smaller version of a red-tailed hawk rather than an “accipiter” such as a sharp-shinned or cooper’s hawk with their shorter wings, and long tails. From mid-April through September it is rare to take a bike ride or trail walk on the peninsula where a broad-winged isn’t spotted hunting from a perch or seen darting through the maze of branches in a forest canopy. These are special times.

Courtship flight

Measuring in at 16 inches in length (tip of the bill to tip of the tail) and with a three foot wing-span, broad-wingeds are relatively compact for a raptor. When perched, the hawk’s reddish head, and reddish scaling on the body make for an overall darkish appearance. In flight, open broad-winged wings show mostly white or light coloration surrounded by a distinctive dark brown border. A broad-winged’s tail has a series of white and black bands that can be seen at a distance, and along with the distinctive wing pattern make identification of this hawk somewhat easy even from far away.

Broad-wingeds prefer the deciduous and mixed forest habitats in St. George to breed. When they return in spring they fill the skies with courtship flight displays such as “pair flap” (when a pair flies close together, with synchronized flapping), “undulating flight,” “soaring in circles,” “talon drop” or straight up darting close to/at each other. The displays are often accompanied by the broad-winged’s high pitched whistle vocalization, which can be a surprising sound when matched up with a top predator. I’ll put it this way, the broad-winged’s whistle makes ospreys’ cries sound really macho and tough. But who are we to judge voices!

Broad-winged chick

A mated pair will make a loose nest of sticks, twigs and leaves in the crotch of a deciduous tree 30’-50’ high. Construction takes about three weeks (plus), with the female making the finishing touches as she lines the nest with softish inner bark strips, lichen, evergreen sprigs and green leaves. Sounds cozy. She then lays two or three eggs which are then incubated for 30 days or so and it’s another five weeks before the young fledge and leave the nest. This is roughly the state of the St. George broad-winged hawks at publication time: woods full of young birds, honing the skills of flight, hunting and survival. Good skills to hone.

In the fall, broad-wingeds (our “local” ones included) embark on a hefty journey that can take them to Central America (Guatemala south) and even into South America to eastern Peru, Bolivia and southern Brazil. Broad-wingeds often migrate in huge groups, and in the right conditions tens to hundreds of birds can be seen forming “kettles” as they catch a “free” ride on thermals (an upward current of warm air, used by gliders, balloons, and birds to gain height). These huge broad-winged kettles are partly what have made hawkwatching hot spots like Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania so legendary.

In the meantime, it’s fun to appreciate and check out the local broad-wingeds while they are still here! Personally, I like to give thanks every time I see a broad-winged carrying a red squirrel (nemesis!) in their talons, but to be honest I’ll cheer for them nailing just about any rodent. We are going to “lose” them soon, so maybe we should “use” them (check ‘em out) sooner before they go! Either way we’ll see you out there!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

An artist guided by themes

Grandmothers have been an important influence on many of our local artists. Port Clyde artist, Angela Anderson ranks among them. When only five-years-old, she recalls overhearing her grandmother, who lived across from the general store in Port Clyde, say to a friend, “Oh, Angela’s going to be an artist!” Anderson says this remark sparked a realization that she would become an artist.

Known for her works in oil, Anderson works thematically. Her close relationship with the famous Flying Walenda family gave her the opportunity to create a series of dramatic paintings based on the beauty and dizzying grandeur of their acrobatics. She has explored other themes such as World War I, animals, bridges and, more recently, a reinterpretation of Marshall Point Lighthouse and buoys. Her distinctive style is immediately recognizable and sparks the imagination.

During her teens, Anderson’s family moved from St. George to Manchester, N.H., where she attended Central High School. The school had a “great art department,” according to Anderson, and “this was when I realized that performing music was scary but painting was not!” So, with her parents’ encouragement she focused on the visual arts. The family relocated for a year to Holland, where she was inspired to sit at home and draw still lives nearly all night. When the family returned to New Hampshire, Anderson was accepted into the University of New Hampshire to study studio art and was awarded a degree in 1986.

After graduation, Anderson’s career path led her from coast to coast in this country and also abroad. She was a professional model for several artists in California, and again in New York for famed artist, Philip Pearlstein noted for his Modern Realism nudes. While in New York, Anderson participated in group exhibitions, but opportunities in New York were not what she had hoped for so she left for Europe. At this point, Anderson was creating large scale stain paintings in oil in the Romantic genre, and managed to land a solo exhibition in Munich, Germany where her work was well-received. The gallerist there helped Anderson gain a residency in France which led to a second residency with famed German artist Martin Kippenberger, a primary member of the German enfants terribles. Under Kippenberger’s instruction, Anderson’s work matured. “He made me question what I was doing and why I was doing it.” As her work advanced, the famed artist included some of her work in one of his own exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art Paris among many notable venues in Europe.

Returning to New York in 1991, Anderson had the opportunity to join 15 other artists to stage an exhibition entitled “Hit and Run.” An art patron from Germany purchased one of her paintings, but, more importantly, opened another door that led to a solo exhibition in Germany, which led to another exhibition in Vienna.

While her work found success abroad, the American economy was depressed enough to negatively impact the sale of fine art. To support herself, Anderson worked as an associate editor of “Museum Magazine.” Although she was able to paint in her apartment, she longed for a roomy studio. So, in 2001, Anderson moved back to Maine and once again launched her art career while supporting herself as a “sternman” on a lobster boat. Eventually, she bought land in Tenants Harbor and built a house roomy enough to have adequate studio and display space. Newly reestablished on our peninsula, Anderson has built-up her career as a successful artist once again. In 2008 she married Joe Pomerleau. The couple resides in Florida during the winter, where Anderson is a member of the Naples Art Association and the Art Center of Bonita Springs. Here in Maine, Anderson is represented by the Port Clyde Art Gallery, the Kelpie Gallery, and the Sylvia Murdock Gallery. She also teaches painting for fun every Wednesday evening during July and August at The Barn in Port Clyde.

You may read more about this wonderful artist on her website:
­­—Katharine Cartwright

Don’t miss Sally Long’s birthday fundraiser!

August 25 will be Sally Long’s 95th birthday, which she is celebrating by inviting the St. George community to a birthday party fundraiser to benefit the St. George Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance Association. Sally is a lifelong resident of St. George and a longtime supporter of the Association. There will be plenty of good food (think pig and chicken roast), good company and live music.

The party will be held at the St. George Town Office and begins at 5pm.

August’s amazing night skies

On the midcoast of Maine the night skies in August are amazing. We should be able to see nightly meteor showers, like the annual Perseid meteor showers. These “shooting stars” can be seen on clear nights along with the Milky Way. The Perseid meteor showers correlate with the beautiful Swift-Tuttle Comet. The peak of the showers were on August 12, but can be seen throughout the whole month. Don’t forget to turn your lights off and look at our incredible night sky! —Willow Mae McConochie

Celebrating the power of poetry

Jean Diemert and David Riley

Thursday, August 16 will mark the 22nd year that a group of poets have offered a public reading of their work to the St. George community. At first a modest event involving three summertime poetry-writing friends from Hart’s Neck and an audience of 25 packed into the old Jackson Memorial Library on Main Street in Tenants Harbor (the building that now houses Stonefish), the annual event now involves a loose-knit and changing cast of six readers, in some years augmented by extra “guests,” and an audience of more than a hundred that fills the Odd Fellows Hall on Watts Avenue in Tenants Harbor. This year’s readers at what is called the Tenants Harbor Poetry Reading will be Nan Carey, Steve Cartwright, Jean Diemert, Elizabeth McKim, David Paffhausen and Tony Speranza.

David Riley and Jean Diemert, two of the organizers of this year’s event, recently took some time to reflect on the power of a public poetry reading—for both the readers and the audience. Riley was one of the original “Tenants Harbor Poets” who read at the old library back in 1997, and Diemert, a lifelong writer of verse, grew up spending summers in Tenants Harbor and has been a supporter of the annual readings from the beginning.

“I started writing poetry about 25 years ago,” Riley notes. “I kind of thought I wanted to, but didn’t really dare. But my wife Mimo encouraged me, so I took some workshops. Reading my poems at the old library was not too intimidating and I found it helpful to me in developing my voice. I learn when I read that I want to make changes.” Riley’s experience highlights the significant impact “performance” reading can have on a poet. As Diemert points out, “When you read, your poem is out there. People often take what you’ve written in a different way than you intended. People come up to me and say they see things I didn’t see.”

That poetry is an ancient form of expression and communication that was spoken before it was written underscores its fundamentally oral nature, Riley believes. “In ancient times the rhyming was a device for remembering the stories being told.” Speaking a poem out loud, he notes, brings the solitary process of writing into the realm of community, which is where the audience comes in at a public reading. “The audience at the Odd Fellows Hall each year is so appreciative, so very attentive,” Riley says. “You can hear a pin drop. And a couple of years ago we began starting the evening with a period of silence, which we think adds to the atmosphere and helps people be more present. It’s a way of creating a space that is set apart.”

Riley believes that part of the reason people attending the annual reading are so attentive is that “people find something in poetry that helps them and leads them to be in the moment.” For many, the impact is life-giving at a very personal level. Diemert , for example, says she turned to poetry more intensely after her husband died 14 years ago. “For the first two years I wrote a lot of poems. It helped me get back into the world even though I was still working. Writing every night brought me back so I could do my work better and so I could share in life better.”

The search for meaning can also be a response to societal factors, Riley says, noting that the 2017 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) showed that the number of poetry readers in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past five years. There is speculation that social media has played a role in garnering poetry this increased public interest, often in response to the social/political climate of recent years.

In addition to the witness of the strong attendance at the August Tenants Harbor Poetry Reading event, a new group called “Encouraging Poetry” that has been meeting monthly at the Jackson Memorial Library (JML) also seems to be in line with the trend the NEA survey has identified. The group, which has been meeting since March 2017, is the brainchild of Susan Bates.

“I put out the invitation to do this as a way to come together with people that was not about politics,” Bates says, “not that discussing politics would necessarily be divisive. I just wanted to encourage people to read, to write, to lift spirits. It’s been fantastic.”

Bates notes that she herself began writing poetry after a career as an engineer. “It just appealed to me to do it because I hadn’t paid much attention to that part of myself.”

The Encouraging Poetry group now routinely has at least six participants and sometimes up to 12. “You’re invited to bring something you’ve written or something to share or to just sit and enjoy it,” Bates explains. “It’s really just reading—we just read, read, read. Some people will reflect on a line that is particularly moving, or share what they found meaningful. But we are not analyzing or doing critiques. What I appreciate about the people who come together is that they make themselves vulnerable, and that they are so affirming and supportive of one another. People are sharing what matters to them. If anyone is curious, they should please come and just try it, because it is one of those experiences that’s hard to pin down and explain.”

Several of the readers at this year’s very public Tenants Harbor Poetry Reading have been attending the more informal and intimate Encouraging Poetry group’s meetings. In both settings meaningful verse abounds—and, most agree, St. George is thereby enriched. —JW

(For more information on the annual Tenants Harbor Poetry Reading event on August 16 at 5:30pm at the Odd Fellows Hall email Contact the Jackson Memorial Library for more information on its “Encouraging Poetry” group. And follow this link for the NEA study mentioned in this story:

David Riley reads in a prior year

PHOTO Top: Julie Wortman

A history of Port Clyde businesses

With this article you will see the business directories for Port Clyde from 1892 and 1932. As was the case in those days, small villages were self-sufficient and provided a lot of the services and products that nowadays we only find when we go to “town.” Port Clyde General Store has a rich history going back to the Trussell family. There were some other general stores in Port Clyde—George Brown’s, Wilson’s and Marshall’s. There was a factory on Cold Storage Road and one on Factory Road where workers packed sardines, lobsters and clams. There have been several shipbuilding businesses in Port Clyde, too.

There were also businesses that catered to visitors: restaurants, take-outs and cafes, PLUS accommodations such as the Ocean House, the Wawenock, and the Drift Inn. And that leads to the long standing debate about the boundaries of the villages. If you notice in the 1932 list of businesses, it mentions the Drift Inn. I was always told that Drift Inn was in Martinsville! Did you know that Drift Inn beach got its name from this business?

The Historical Society’s website has hundreds of pictures of the area. You can find them at—John Falla

A quick paddle

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Pink Fragrant Water Lily

A was a simple plan—“a quick paddle to take some dragonfly photos.” Of course, I’d also “brake for damselflies” as they say, but the focus was purported to be on the other Odonata–the dragons. They were the goal, and that’s what got me on the water that afternoon.

A broad-winged hawk escorted me (not so happily, if I may add) part way down the trail as I dragged my blue kayak behind me. When I launched my kayak in the Tenants Harbor marsh an adult bald eagle took to the air and took off! I then reflected on the dozens of things I’d probably startled or scared as I pulled the kayak on the walk in.

It didn’t take long to understand that taking photos of dragons was not in my immediate future. Odonata activity levels were high, for sure, but the breeze was just strong enough to keep reeds, grasses, and lily pads moving. Moving perches make dragonfly photographing tricky, or at least too much of a chore for this guy. And that goes for the damsels too! I’d have to “just” watch them. I can do that.

Even with ospreys circling and screeching above and Eastern Kingbirds somehow snatching dragonflies from the winds, it was flowers (of all things) that demanded my attention. Both flavors of Fragrant Water Lilies (Nymphaea odorata)­—white and pink – were in huge numbers—polka dotting the water surface with a colorful alternative to the classic greens and blues of nature. Yellow Pond Lilies (Nuphar variegatum) were scattered throughout, giving the lily scene a yellow undertone. Scan in any direction and hundreds of lilies were there to inspire smiles.

The flower that hijacked my afternoon, however, was neither white nor pink and not a lily at all! In between the lily patches and alongside the beaver lodges were five-to-seven-inch “stalks” poking out of the water. Groups of tiny, yellow flowers clustered on the top and along the sides of these “erect racemes” (sounds racier than it really is). These are the flowers of the Common Bladderwort (Ultricularia macrorhiza—or vulgaris, depending where you look) and with a “lower-lip” petal feature they are rather striking when you take a closer look. The aesthetics of the yellow flowers was all fine and good, but for me the magic of bladderworts is what is going on below the water’s surface.

A Common Bladderwort in the hand

Let’s begin with some bladderwort basics—Lentibluriaceae is the catchy name for what’s referred to as the “bladderwort family.” Ultricularia (bladderworts) is one of three genus/genii in the family, with the two other being Genlisea (cork screw plants) and Pinguicula (butterworts). All the Ulticularia are carnivorous and they catch prey through the use of bladder-like traps. Underneath the Common Bladderwort flowers, for example, are long branching stems called stolons which are covered with up to 600 of these bladder traps. When set, the bladder trap is deflated and a sugary secretion is released around the trap’s opening to attract prey. When a tiny copepod, amphipod, or paramecium makes contact with one of several bristle-like trigger hairs a vacuum is formed as water and critter(s) are sucked into the sac until it is fully inflated. The trapping process takes less than a hundredth of a second, and once trapped the prey are dissolved in a bath of digestive juices and absorbed into the plant. All the while, water is being pumped out of the trap, and once empty of water–takes about 15 minutes—the trap resets and is ready for the next meal. The traps continue to capture prey as the bladders fill with the remains of their victims. This plant’s a killer, don’t let the innocent flowers fool you—it’s pretty gruesome down there!

Bladderwort in the water

The presence of bladderwort in a pond environment indicates a rich abundance of life. It is estimated that a single bladderwort plant can have around 150,000 organisms in its bladders and while I didn’t count carcasses, the stolons I checked out from the kayak that day were lined with traps that were dark and full. To be honest, I can’t ever remember seeing a bladderwort stolon who’s traps weren’t full, which makes me not want to drink the water that much more! There’s a ton of critters in there!

When the Kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus!) angrily escorted a Cooper’s Hawk across the marsh (making it an elusive four-raptor paddle for me) and the eagle returned, I knew it was time to paddle on and paddle back. The bladderworts were neither as large or as numerous as the water lilies around me, but once you got looking you couldn’t help but notice there were a lot of them. Man there is a lot going on out there!

And that’s where we’ll see you—out there!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen