Marking the beginning of pilgrimage season—with gratitude for the support

PHOTO: Don Moore

PHOTO: Don Moore

The noticeable increase in traffic that comes down the peninsula along about Memorial Day weekend reminds town residents that this is the beginning of the pilgrimage season in St. George—specifically, the pilgrimage thousands of visitors make each year to the 1858 Marshall Point Lighthouse.

“First to come are the local people, and by that I mean people from Maine,” says Dave Percival, volunteer coordinator for the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum, which is located in the lighthouse keeper’s house that was built in 1895. “They say they love coming to the lighthouse, but not during the peak season. So they come in June, when things are relatively quiet and uncrowded.”

Beginning in July, Percival says, the flow of people to the lighthouse increases considerably. Citing the signatures in the museum’s guest book as evidence, he notes that each year for the past two years over 13,000 people have passed through the doors of the museum. “Remember, the museum is open only four hours a day during the summer, except on Saturday when we’re open from 10am to 5pm. So I always like to add that at least double that number come to the lighthouse each year because they come whether the museum is open or not.”

Another interesting fact that the museum’s guest book reveals is that the lighthouse gets visitors from over 40 U.S. states each year and from many countries as well. “I remember one time when over a two- to three-week period we had folks from 21 different countries, including places like Zambia,” Percival notes. “I couldn’t believe it!”

Percival thinks many people are drawn to lighthouses because of the romance of their lifesaving mission. “Of course, there are also the ‘lighthouse’ people who simply want to see every lighthouse they can—they have lighthouse earrings, jackets, you name it.”

David Percival

David Percival

The Marshall Point Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1981 and the lighthouse keeper’s house was boarded up (the Coast Guard continued to maintain the light and foghorn as navigational aids). The St. George Historical Society took possession of the property in 1986 and began raising money for restoration of the house, which began in 1988. With the opening of the lighthouse museum 25 years ago, visitors began making the pilgrimage to Marshall Point not just to see the lighthouse, but also for another reason. “The volumes we have here about local history draw people with a genealogical interest,” Percival points out.

Still, it is the particular beauty of the view from Marshall Point and its distinctive lighthouse, Percival says, that makes Marshall Point such a popular venue for weddings, memorial services, photography and art classes—and even rallies. “There was a vintage Rolls Royce rally here last year. And we even get advertising directors asking to use us as the setting for their ads.” Percival pauses, chuckling over an incident involving Ford Motor Company. “They came out here, liked the site, but when they returned to do the shoot they found that in the meantime the walkway to the lighthouse had been repaired but not yet painted. So some of us scrambled to get the walkway painted for them, but just the side the camera would see.”

Accommodating advertising clients like Ford, Mercedes Benz and Nautica is something the lighthouse museum committee is happy to do, Percival admits, because the income from these shoots helps defray the expense of maintaining the lighthouse property. “We don’t get funding from anybody. We’re self-supporting. We have a tenant upstairs who pays rent. We have a wonderful gift shop. We have a donation box and sometimes people send money for memorials.”

In this respect, the Marshall Point pilgrims—however congested they make the town’s roads in summer—play a valuable role in ensuring the ongoing life of one of St. George’s most treasured cultural resources.—JW

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News from St. George School

At the Washburn Norlands Living History Center

At the Washburn Norlands Living History Center

As we’re wrapping up our last months of school, there are many things going on at St. George. Grades 3-8 have been taking MEA (Maine Educational Assessment) tests recently, which are a lot different from the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) tests that we usually take. [Ed. note: The MEA tests are a critical thinking test of math, reading and writing and takes more than eight hours overall. The NWEA test was a multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blanks test of math and reading.]

Fun at Norlands

Fun at Norlands

The 2nd grade is learning about some of the different parts of the human body, like the heart, lungs, and brain. They even had a surgeon come in who operates on feet. The kids are also learning about continents.

The 3rd graders have recently been working on their colonial unit. They’ve been designing slots for a deacon’s bench, and they’re going to be going on multiple field trips to Colonial Pemaquid, the Henry Knox Museum, and the Washburn Norlands Living History Center.

Kindergarten registration is a chance to test toys.

Kindergarten registration is a chance to test toys.

Also, Kindergarten registration is coming up!

In sports news, the St. George boys’ baseball team is undefeated! They’ve played the Lions with a score of 32-0; Fisher, 20-3; they’ve played the Elks twice, with scores of 13-2 and 11-0; Kiwanis, 11-0; and KDK, 17-9. One of the season’s highlights so far is that Obie Miller hit two home runs. “We mesh really well together,” says Aaron Benner, a player on the team, “We haven’t even played a whole game yet!”(because of “mercy” rules).  Drew Minery, another player, agrees, “We play really well as a team.”

The St. George girls’ softball team have played 6 games so far, and won 4.

—Sophia Campbell (Campbell is a 7th grade student at the St. George School)

PHOTOS: Norlands by Christine Knutson
Kindergarten by Shasta Minery

 

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Making music together—mostly at home—in St. George

The Georges River Consort

(Left to right) Susan Bates, Jo Ann Parker and Gail Ladd make up the Georges River Consort.

(Left to right) Susan Bates, Jo Ann Parker and Gail Ladd make up the Georges River Consort.

When I asked Jo Anne Parker —“What role does music play in your life?”—her response was immediate. “Music holds me together. I’ve always had it, beginning when I was singing as a four year old.” I play in the Georges River Consort, a recorder trio, with Jo Anne. “She’s the one that keeps us going,” says Gail Ladd, the third member. “Jo Anne selects music for us to play, and she’s arranged some pieces for us. She has the wonderful ability for hearing when one of us plays a note that doesn’t belong. She can direct us while she’s playing.”

We each learned to read music with early piano lessons, and picked up the recorder as adults. We coalesced as a trio about three years ago, arising from a conversation Jo Anne and I had in the frozen food aisle of Hannafords. We’d known each other for a number of years, and had played together in other groups in Cushing, Rockland and St George. After the trio had been playing together for about a year, Jo Anne suggested we were ready to work towards playing in public. That was a brand new element for Gail and me, but not Jo Anne, who many know as the Director of the Midcoast Community Band. She’s also the organist and choir director of Friendship United Methodist Church.

Baroque music—Bach, Purcell, Handel, etc—makes up a large part of our repertoire. We’ve performed three times in public, and it gets easier every time. Our most recent performance was at Montpelier in December, when we played an eclectic collection of Christmas music, drawing on songs from different countries. One of my favorites was a jazzy piece called “A Mixolydian Fa La La.” Seeing how much the audience enjoyed the music made it fun. We’re looking forward to our next public performance, when we find the right venue and have time to polish up some new music. Life gets in the way of practicing.

Between the three of us we play six different types of recorders.  The most well-known recorder is the soprano, which is the type used in schools to teach music. Getting longer, and playing lower notes, there is the alto, and then the tenor. I play the bass recorder, which is taller than your average toddler. Jo Anne plays the two smallest recorders—the sopranino and the tiny garklein, which is about six inches long. Switching to a different recorder, say playing alto for one piece and then picking up the bass for the next piece, requires mental gymnastics to go from treble to bass cleff. Gail is especially skillful at being able to play soprano, alto and tenor, with their different fingerings.

The group is taking advantage of Jo Anne’s talent for arranging music and versatility as an accomplished piano player, and we’re currently working on some pieces for two recorders and piano. “It makes us not quite as portable,” says Ladd, “but I think the piano helps make Susan and me sound pretty good. Most importantly though, we have a lot of fun.”
—Susan Bates

The Thugs (Tenants Harbor Ukulele Group)

Left to right:Amy Barnett, Johanna Lindsay, Susan Levett and Anne Cogger are the Thugs.

Left to right:Amy Barnett, Johanna Lindsay, Susan Levett and Anne Cogger are the Thugs.

As fall moved into winter this past year, several of my friends and I started to play the ukulele. Our practice sessions evolved from occurring occasionally to weekly. In our “quartet,”one woman had played the ukulele decades ago, two had played guitar and one woman was introduced to strings for the first time.

Not too expensive and easy to play, the ukulele has rightly been dubbed a “”happy instrument” that has been having a resurgence during the past few years throughout the country. While even a beginner can quickly play a recognizable song, there is always room to improve and move in a more sophisticated musical direction.

Playing the uke together has offered us an opportunity to become more engaged with music. Especially in the throes of this past winter, it was a great diversion. We are definitely not ready for prime time but we are strumming along, building our repertoire and our skill.

Here are some thoughts from the four group members about what drew them to the ukulele:

Amy Barnett:
I got into the uke because my good friend Anne was so enthusiastic and it sounded like fun!  I have a family member with one to spare and an interest in supporting my effort.  It is a fun and easy way to engage in making music and especially fun if you have grandkids to impress!  I have family members who play guitar and banjo and I hope to one day take a seat among them as they sit by the campfire or woodstove!

Anne Cogger:
The ukulele has intrigued me for a few years. I love its unpretentious character and I imagined playing songs for my grandchildren.  When fall is in the air, I often get inspired to begin something new.  It has been a long time since grade school, but I still get a hankering to buy a new pair of shoes and take a class. This year I bought a ukulele instead of shoes and I signed up for an Adult Education Class with Celia Jones to learn to play the  ukelele. It was only four sessions but it was so much fun that I had to continue.

Susan Levett:
At about age 11, I taught myself to play my father’s banjo uke, learning such old-time tunes as “Swanee River” and “Old Black Joe.” Then my sister went off to college in the folk era of the early 1960s.  Caught up in the craze, we made a special trip to Chicago where we each bought a baritone ukulele.  We were then playing tunes like the Kingston Trio’s “MTA” and “Dominique,”by the Singing Nun.  Since then my uke has pretty much languished in the back of a closet until a casual conversation with Amy brought this group to my attention.

Johanna Lindsay:
I was drawn to the uke, because of the guitar.  I had played in college, but it got away from me.  Although I still have a guitar, the ukulele seemed less daunting.  I missed playing, so I thought this would be fun.  It is.
—Anne Cogger

The Clark Island Trio

Jocelyn Pacquette and Len Greenhalgh are two thirds of the Clark Island Trio.

Jocelyn Pacquette and Len Greenhalgh are two thirds of the Clark Island Trio.

We don’t have a TV.  That’s how it all started.

The Wheeler Bay Wildlife Sanctuary that we manage consumes a lot of physical effort.  And Len’s academic job consumes a lot of mental effort.  At the end of the day, we want to wind down and tap into the artistic side of our personalities, so we play music—not very well, but we’re improving. We do this every night, year-round, for about an hour.

Len had dabbled with a guitar and a banjo, and knew some basic chords. When he met Jocelyn, she was intrigued with the banjo, so Len taught her all he knew—which wasn’t much, but enough to get her started.  It turned out that Jocelyn has a natural talent for picking up patterns in movement. When she was young, her dream was to become a professional dancer, since she learned the steps very easily and instinctively moved her body to the music. Her mother vetoed that career path, saying that being a chorus-line dancer wasn’t a respectable career for a young lady. It turns out that the adaptable muscle-memory that made her a good dancer makes it easy for her to learn a chord-sequence on a banjo.

That’s how we became a Clark Island Duet. But we were just a rhythm section: Neither of us was good enough to play the melody. The obvious solution would be for one or both of us to sing.  But Len couldn’t carry a tune if it had a handle on it, and Jocelyn is shy. So we invited our friend Jane Larrabee to play with us. She plays violin at approximately the same level as Len and Jocelyn, and can pick out melodies well enough that you can usually tell what we’re playing. So now we’re the Clark Island Trio.

Occasionally we get requests to play at public events—usually by people who don’t know how low our skill level is. But we do it for free, and, as they say, you get what you pay for.  The audience is usually the over-50 generation, who like the tunes, if not our rendition of them. We play Beatles, BeeGees, Rolling Stones, Eagles, and The Dave Clark Five. That kind of music.  We take requests, but usually keep on playing anyway.

So here’s our advice for people who like music.  It’s best if you start to learn an instrument before you’re five years old, even though you’ll resent being made to practice. But if you’re over 50, all is not lost: Making music is a good pastime if you’re having fun and you’re better at it today than you were yesterday. And if you like what you’re doing, buy the best instrument you can afford.  A bad instrument is difficult to play, and you’ll soon get discouraged by your lack of progress and your sore fingers. A good instrument will feel better, sound better, and motivate you to practice more. Finally, playing music is much like exercising in that it’s better to do it with someone else than to do it alone: You’ll practice for longer each time, get better much faster—and you’ll have more fun. We don’t miss the TV at all.

—Len Greenhalgh and Jocelyn Paquette

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Port Clyde

Cold Storage RdSMHermie Simmon’s Fish Market on Cold Storage Road.  Hermie is sitting out front talking with Irene Marshall Wilson and daughter Joan (Mrs. Robert Polky).

PHOTO:  Courtesy of the Lighthouse Museum, George French Collection

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A spring of pruning

Heavy snow snapped this mugo pine’s branch.

Heavy snow snapped this mugo pine’s branch.

This year, much of my spring clean up work—now that spring does seem to be here at last—has been pruning trees and shrubs damaged in the winter snows.

Some plants had miraculous recoveries. I am amazed at how my mugo pines have recovered: They spent January into April with their branches pinned to the ground by snow. But once the snow was gone they popped right back up. The same with the beautiful big spruce by the barn.

Others had significant damage. I’ve noticed birch and larch (hackmatack) that have not recovered from the early November storm, their trunks now permanently bowing. That was the same storm that snapped my sweet, draping, Japanese maple right at the trunk, where those lovely arching branches caught snow and ice until they just couldn’t endure the weight. I haven’t had the heart to remove the tree yet, but I know I must.

Many of my clethra (summersweet) had broken and snapped branches. They are easy to repair since they bloom on new wood, so I cut them back—first the snapped branches to where the break occurred and then the other branches to match so the shrubs had some shape. My inkberry, which, admittedly, I had been ignoring and letting get a bit leggy, snapped all over the place. These I just cut all the way to the ground, knowing that they will re-sprout. The same with a rhododendron that would have been totally misshapen and silly looking if I had just cut back broken branches. Elsewhere I have just been looking for broken branches and cutting them back with good clean cuts.

Vole-damaged clethera

Vole-damaged clethera

We have also had significant damage from various mammals around the peninsula. The deer were hungry and once they could move around on a crust of snow, and then as the snow receded, they nibbled on every green thing they could find, it seems. So I have seen rhododendron that were nibbled very high up because, although we had hoped they would be protected from deer with a six-foot fence, the snow had elevated the ground so the fence ended up being only a two-foot curbing, if that. I have seen hollies totally denuded and junipers stripped of needles. And the voles. There were some serious vole parties going on under the snow. In one place I found five clethra and a small mugo pine shredded, with nothing left.

I know the large rhododendron will recover, so I am just waiting to watch new leaves form before I do any shaping of the plants. For those vole-chewed shrubs, the only hope they have of recovery is being cut to the ground, on the chance they can regrow from the roots—at least that might be true for the clethra. The mugo pine, however, is gone.

It is definitely spring, but last winter continues to leave its mark.

 —Anne E. Cox (Cox is co-owner of Hedgerow in Martinsville)

PHOTOS: Anne Cox

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A knack for matching goods with needs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“There’s pretty much anything you’d want here,” remarks Alisa Beal as she gestures to the rows of shelves packed with what at first glance is a bewildering array of old shoes, cutlery, lamps, pot lids, dishes, books and gadgets of every description. “And people generally get things for very cheap.”

Beal (who people know as Lisa) has been the sole proprietor of Larry’s Second Hand Shop at the St. George Transfer Station for the past several years, having taken over from the shop’s namesake following two winters of covering for him while he was snow-birding in Florida. She’s never bothered to change the name because, she says,“It’s still ‘Larry’s’ to everyone.”

Speaking of the reason she agreed to take on this quirky—extremely popular—enterprise, this quiet-spoken woman says with a wry smile, “I guess I must like junk.” She got the bug when she was a child, she notes, trailing after her grandmother to flea markets looking for bargains.

Still, there is a lot of work involved in dealing with the cast-offs the town’s residents bring in. For one thing, Beal spends long hours sorting through the shop’s constantly changing inventory, deciding what is worth keeping and what needs to be eliminated.

“I do have to weed things out,” she admits, noting that selling things is, after all, about earning some compensation for her efforts. “But I also don’t want to throw anything away.”

In this respect, Beal has become one of the most dedicated and accomplished recyclers in St. George.

While she recycles lots of unsellable items in the usual way, by taking them apart and then putting the pieces into the appropriate bin or pile (thereby benefitting the town’s recycling program), she also works hard to match up goods with needs—sometimes to her financial advantage, and sometimes not.

“I do have a list of people who are looking for certain things,” she explains, noting that she started this year’s “lawn mower list” in April. “And I usually know what will spark someone’s interest.” Regular patrons of the shop in this category include artisans or artists looking for objects they can use in their work. There is also a lobsterman who often gives lobsters away and is always wanting coolers because he seldom gets his “gift” coolers back.

“And then there are people who tell me they need certain things but have limited means to get them. So if someone like that tells me they need, say, a couch and I have a couch that I’d have a hard time selling, I can price it real cheap for that person.”

Knowing that the St. George School’s teachers always need notebook binders in the fall, Beal makes a practice of putting any that come in to one side for that purpose. Snow shoes have been another priority. “The teachers have been trying to get enough pairs so the whole class can go out snow shoeing together in the winter,” she says, pointing to a recently acquired pair she is saving under her desk. “And if I have baby things that have been hanging around a long time I’ll take them to Care Net, the pregnancy center in Rockland.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s also a bit of a spooky element to the matching-up-goods-with-needs aspect of what Beal does. She tells the story of one of the shop’s “regulars” who came in with a single wheel chair leg and asked her if she wanted it. “So here’s this wheel chair leg that goes to who knows what kind of wheelchair. I said he could put it on the metal pile, but he didn’t want to do that because he said it was brand new. So he took it away. The very next day someone came in to the shop to say a lady up at the school had broken her foot. They had a wheel chair there but it didn’t have any legs. Did I have any legs?” It turned out that man with the single leg still had it in his truck and it fit the wheelchair. Two weeks later he found the other leg.

“It’s just weird how things connect. You almost have to say it out loud—‘I’d like a nice pair of black cowboy boots’—and then it will show up.”

Summertime can be “pretty crazy,” Beal admits. “The summer people arrive and this is the first place they come. Sometimes it’s pretty crowded in here—and there’s a lot of socializing. People have a good time.”

Beal says she has a good time, too. “I have fun and I meet all kinds of people—I just never thought that when I grew up I’d be a dump store lady.”—JW

PHOTOS: Julie Wortman

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An intriguing pursuit of history, geography and culture—through stamps

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the past 15 years or so, Jim Quinn, who lives with his wife Fran off the Clark Island Road, has been collecting stamps—at least, he says, he’s been “accumulating” stamps.

“There’s a big difference between collectors and accumulators,” Quinn stresses. “True collectors tend to be experts. They’ve done a lot of very thorough research about the stamps they search out. I’m shotgun all over the place.”

But in 15 years Quinn’s “shotgun” approach has taught him a lot about stamps and about what makes many stamp collectors—including accumulators—so passionate about this field of interest. In his case, Quinn says, he was “hooked” when a neighbor gave him a shoebox full of stamps the neighbor had acquired from his Swedish father.

“My neighbor’s father was a major stamp collector. The stamps in the shoebox were his left-overs,” Quinn explains. Still, in the process of sorting through these random surplus stamps Quinn quickly became fascinated by the information they conveyed. “I’ve always been interested in history and geography [Quinn is the former executive director of the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum], but you also pick up on the culture of the countries the stamps come from.”

The first stamp, Quinn says, was issued in 1840 in Great Britain. “It was called the Penny Black. Prior to this mail delivery was paid for by the receiver and the cost was based on the distance travelled, making mail delivery affordable primarily for the upper classes. Making it possible to pre-pay for delivery by buying a fixed-price stamp made mail delivery affordable for common people.”

From there, some countries began issuing stamps for every conceivable purpose. Quinn cites Belgium as an example. “Belgium is totally amazing when it comes to stamps. They used stamps to pay taxes, for train tickets and for many other purposes—they still use stamps to pay for parcel post and to raise money for charity. Their stamps are bi-lingual because the Flemings speak French and the Wallons speak Dutch. And at one point some stamps had an optional ‘Don’t deliver on Sunday’ tab unique to Belgium.” Quinn also points to how the Occupation stamps issued by Germany during World War I—German stamps overprinted for use in Belgium—help bring that era of Belgium’s history very much alive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA serious collector, Quinn says, could focus broadly on acquiring every stamp ever issued by a specific country—”I’m fascinated by stamps from countries that don’t exist anymore,” Quinn notes—or narrowly on just one aspect of a country’s stamp history, like on revenue stamps, charity stamps, or even on the many different sorts of cancellations a postal service made. Complete envelopes or postcards, called “covers” are another popular focus, not only for the stamps that were applied, but also for the postmark, the identities of both recipients and senders and sometimes for the messages.

The artistry of some stamps can also pose a powerful lure. “I think the most beautiful stamp ever made was the United State’s 29-cent Grace Kelley issued in 1993,” Quinn says. “The engraver was a Polish guy named C.Z. Slania who was prolific. He produced 1,000 different designs for Sweden along with many designs for other countries.”

Quinn says the business of stamp collecting is also an intriguing topic. In what he calls the “golden age” of stamp collecting—the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s—an infrastructure of stamp clubs, magazines, dealers, and catalogues developed. “You’d remove stamps from envelopes and then go to the local stamp club and swap them for stamps you’d like. There would also be places that sold pre-printed album pages for the stamps of different countries. Myself, I’m in awe of the homemade albums that many of the old timers created. They did a fantastic job of researching the stamps —all without the help of computers—and then meticulously  organizing them on each page by hand.”

There are even some countries that issue stamps purely as a source of revenue rather than for postal or other applications, a practice that began in the 1970s. Monaco is one example and another is Gambia. In such places, rather than commemorating people or topics of national importance, the stamps produced are more often geared to popular collecting themes such as Disney figures, space, or famous people. “There are people who do nothing but collect Elvis Presley stamps,” Quinn says with an amused shake of the head.

While stamp collecting is no longer the widespread hobby it used to be, the American Philatelic Society counted 32,020 members in 110 countries at the end of 2014. The Society notes that Linn’s Stamp News estimates that more than 5 million people in the U.S. collect stamps. And while there is a high-end aspect to collecting that involves the buying and selling of rare stamps, it need not be an expensive pastime.

“I spend only about $20 to $50 the two times a year I attend the Waterville Stamp Club’s stamp auction,” Quinn says in confirmation of this. “The ultimate thing for a stamp collector is to pay $50 for a package of 1,000 stamps.”—JW

PHOTOS: Julie Wortman

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A Field Guide to Other People’s Trees

OPT coverSMMargot Anne Kelley, Fiddlehead Press, 2015

Book Review by Leslie C. Hyde

Bonding with place is all about establishing relationships and getting to know neighbors. In A Field Guide to other People’s Trees, Margot Kelley describes earlier years in her life marked by moving every few years, “carried from place to place by currents of opportunity and chance” until landing on the Saint George Peninsula and choosing to put down roots. This rooting process results in Margot drawing a tighter circle and delving deeply into the land and buildings she now calls home.

Margot and her husband Rob are not alone in moving often.  Each year, tens of millions of people in the U.S. relocate from their place of birth or current residence to another location. And yet while the tendency to live a nomadic life is common there also seems to be another countervailing force, a deep-in-the-bones yearning to put down roots and stay put. A Field Guide to Other People’s Trees is, in part, a story about the author setting aside her roaming ways and beginning a new chapter of putting down roots and bonding with place.

Intro_10x10-sSMMargot invites the reader into the process of her bonding experience. She is intrigued by the way the environment has shifted over time. She is curious about a sign in the barn outhouse reading “windy nook.” Was this a bathroom joke? Today the nook is protected by spruce trees and not at all windy.  Following the human history of her home she learns that when first built in the late 1800s the peninsula was nearly barren of trees.The house and barn would have been exposed to the blustery, prevailing west wind, truly making this a “windy nook.”

She discovers there was a succession of owners of their property, each making a contribution, while the surrounding landscape itself was being transformed through natural succession, proceeding from the open pasture of a century ago to the mixed growth forest she finds today. She is fascinated by the dance of human settlement and natural change.

Her connection with the established trees and plants in her yard brings her into alignment with early people who lived close to the land. “Mitakuye Oyasin” is a phrase used by the Native American Lakota people, which translates as “all my relations.” It reflects the worldview of interconnectedness held by the Lakota people. It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys. Margot’s use of rich prose and beautiful photographs bring a spiritual energy to her efforts to get to know her plant-neighbor relations.

Serviceberry_12x12-sSMThe author captures photographs of plants in their natural settings. The images don’t try to make the rather drab grey birch, alder and aspen into something they are not, but rather reflect their natural essence. Her photos are reminiscent of the work of renowned nature photographer Eliot Porter. Twigs, flowers, bark and brushy settings are captured in their simple beauty. An image taken of grass is more like an Impressionist watercolor painting than a photograph.  Photos taken throughout the year display each plant’s unique qualities.

In getting to know her plant neighbors more intimately the author explores how and when the plants became established, their biology and even their sex lives.  She discovers the elm has “perfect” flowers, meaning that male and female parts are found in each flower enabling self-pollination. And, the native winterberry holly has male and female flowers mostly on separate plants. The male plant needs the female and yet one plant cannot chase after the other, raising questions as to how this strategy became evolutionarily successful.

Probing the ability of the alder to thrive in perennially wet soils, Margot uncovers an invisible, symbiotic, living together relationship the plant has with a bacteria, which results in life sustaining nitrates for the alder and root nodules as home for the bacteria. The relationship “leaves the surrounding soil richer, extending beneficence to nearby plants.” Margot expresses fascination by such arrangements made “eons ago” and likens them to an evolutionary promise, which must be kept.

Cedar_8x8-sSMThe author has two plants growing in her yard both having cedar in their names, northern white cedar and red cedar, and yet neither are botanically cedar, Cedrus. Margot raises the questions: “Why (do) species share the same common name but not the same proper name” and “if all those different trees are called cedar, how did folks know what they were buying in the nursery?” In my days working for the University of Maine I received a similar question from a client wishing to start a business making cedar furniture and wanting to know which cedar wood to use. As the author gets to know the plants in her yard she often comes up with more questions than answers, leaving the reader an opening to ponder.

 “A Field Guide to Other People’s Trees” is a beautiful book to be appreciated by the photographer, artist, philosopher, naturalist, local historian and anyone wishing to settle into and really get to know the place where they live. Margot invites the reader to observe and embrace their habitat, which is a good practice for members of every species.

PHOTOS: Margot Anne Kelley

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