Native plant corner

Veronicastrum with bergamot

We have passed that point in mid-summer when native plants turn their attention to flowering and now in late August, the real extravaganza of the native meadow begins its work. Monardas and mountain mints, garden phlox and black-eyed Susans, cardinal flower and Joe-pye to name a few, employ their complex blooms, masses of color and sweet scents to attract an exciting array of pollinators by day and night.

Amid this riot of bloom, sending its wispy, white racemes high above the tops of its companions, the elegant veronicastrum virginicum or Culver’s Root, puts in a stately appearance.

This hardy native sends up straight, sturdy stems with sets of 3 to 7 lance shaped leaves in whorls climbing the erect stalk. The last few sets of leaves then send out graceful tall spires of delicate white tubular flowers. Smaller, branching racemes give Culver’s Root a candelabra-like effect when it reaches full bloom and indeed lights up the garden.

You will find native veronicastrum virginicum easy to grow in average, medium-wet soils in full sun. The soil should remain consistently moist. The flower spires provide a strong vertical accent for borders or in the meadow’s midst. Add this under-used Maine native to your wildflower meadow. A myriad of pollinating insects and hummingbirds will join you in appreciating this lovely addition.

Native Plant Corner suggests planting “straight species” native plants instead of “named” cultivars. —Jan Getgood

 

PHOTOS: Jan Getgood

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Living light—at the lighthouse

by Sean Fowlds

As new residents of the light keeper’s house at Marshall Point, my wife, Linda, and I are given a unique perspective on life on the St. George peninsula. And since moving here from Rockport in May, we have not only encountered some of the nicest people anywhere but have also experienced the strong sense of community that we have sought elsewhere.

Allow me to share some of our backstory so you may better understand our journey here to Port Clyde. I am a native Virginian who married a Florida beauty more than 30 years ago. We spent the bulk of our marriage in the quaint Central Florida town of Mount Dora, which is the antique capital of Florida and has billed itself as “The New England of the South.”

We built our dream house in Mount Dora and enjoyed living close to family and friends for several years. Yet we frequently visited the local library to read Down East and Yankee magazines and dreamed of living in New England. We even decorated our Cape Cod-style cottage with a nautical motif and enjoyed living close to Lake Dora’s yacht club and, yes, lighthouse.

So, when a neighbor’s huge oak tree fell onto our house about a decade ago it served as a wakeup call for us and caused us to consider moving toward our dream sooner rather than later. While we had always strived to live simply, it was during this time that we became acquainted with the popular lifestyle of minimalism and decided to start downsizing our possessions to live and move more freely and lightly.

It was at our area lighthouse that we first discovered this motivational quotation attributed to Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” And thus began our journey from there to here.

My communications business specializes in editing and writing content for print and online clients and my wife managed customer service for a publishing company for several years, so our initial challenge was parting with our library of a couple thousand books. Once we donated the bulk of them to the local library and gave most of the rest to family and friends, we only kept our very favorite titles to lighten our load.

Despite a mediocre real estate market, we sold our house for cash, liquidated our furnishings, and housesat for a friend in the Disney-planned community of Celebration for several months before heading to the island of Nantucket for a wintertime sabbatical. From there we moved closer to other friends and family in the Nashville area for a few years but continued to yearn for a return to the New England seacoast.

Subsequently, Linda reconnected with a distant relative up the Maine coast in Northport who invited us to lease her guest cottage for the mild winter we had a few years ago. We moved here with all our belongings stuffed in an all-wheel-drive vehicle, with me running my communications business remotely and Linda landing an analyst position in the healthcare field. Afterward, we leased a condominium in Rockport for a few years before landing at the lighthouse. Suffice it to say it has been a winding journey here but well worth it.

Invariably, people wonder what life is like at the lighthouse and for us it is literally a dream come true. Even the grey, foggy days appeal to us as creative types who savor the solitude of our location. As with any move, there was a transitional period of getting settled in our new digs. Given that the keeper’s house was unfurnished and we had been leasing furnished places, we purchased the necessary furniture for delivery up the winding staircase to the second story.

For those who have never visited the upstairs quarters, it has about 800 square feet of space split among a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room. It is more than ample for the two of us since we intentionally downsized our stuff to live in such a space. For several years now, our mission has been to live with only what we could painlessly pack and move, negating the need for a storage unit or moving company.

Folks also ask about the tradeoffs of living at such a public venue, but we love watching people enjoy themselves at the property. We’ve lost count of all the people who have told us that the Marshall Point lighthouse is one of their very favorite spots to visit and we hope that is the case for each visitor to the grounds. As onsite residents, we consider ourselves ambassadors for the lighthouse and welcome others to experience it.

Blackout blinds provide us with the necessary privacy and help to mitigate the bright light at night. Admittedly, parking can be challenging when visitors park in the spots reserved for tenants and volunteers during the busy season. And some guests periodically need reminding that the site’s posted hours are between sunup and sundown, but any downsides are more than offset by all of the upsides.

As many locals probably recall, the lighthouse was prominently featured in the popular movie Forrest Gump and it is funny to hear people encourage each other on the lighthouse boardwalk to “Run, Forrest, run.” To share how our journey has come full circle for us, we used to pastor a church a couple of decades ago on the very same square in Savannah, Georgia that was the site of the famous bench scenes in the movie.

Since moving here to the lighthouse, we have had the pleasure of meeting many local residents and look forward to meeting many more. Rarely a day passes when we do not pinch ourselves that we live in such a special place and never take it for granted. If you see us out and about please do not hesitate to wave or say hello, as we like to make new friends. The community spirit of St. George is one of our favorite aspects of life on the peninsula.

(The Fowlds are available for professional consultations about lifestyle issues related to downsizing possessions and personal organization. They have taught seminars at the Belfast Senior College and Camden Public Library titled, “Living Large With Less: The Upside of Downsizing” and welcome readers to visit their website at livinglargewithless.net.)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

An artist drawn to ‘the great strength and fragility of the natural world’

Few artists in the world today employ methods and materials that date from the Middle Ages to draw and paint. St. George resident, Banjie Getsinger Nicholas is one of those rare artists. She applies egg tempera paint or silverpoint to prepared gesso grounds made from rabbit skin glue and marble dust. Utilizing these ancient materials requires a great deal of skill and patience. The splendid results are well worth the effort. Nicholas’ works are exquisitely delicate realistic renderings of nature that seem ephemeral, reflecting the fleeting moments we often experience when outdoors.

Nicholas adopted this art form after two decades of working as a wild bird rehabilitator in Connecticut under state and federal permits. Her close relationship to these small creatures became the inspiration for learning how to interpret them artistically. To that end, she enrolled in and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut in 2001. Her final project for the degree was a book entitled “Feathered Guests,” which she wrote and illustrated. Seeking further instruction, Nicholas went on to earn certificates in Botanical Illustration and Natural Science Illustration from the New York Botanical Garden. “It was those courses that made me feel confident enough to present myself as an artist”, she remembers.

The attraction to medieval materials and techniques stems from Nicholas’ desire to engage in making art as a meditative endeavor. “I’m close to the work, making small marks,” she reflects.

“I could do it all day!” Egg tempera, made by combining ground dry pigments with fresh egg yolks, is meticulously applied to prepared board with small brushstrokes. Silverpoint, which is drawing with a silver wire or rod, requires making even smaller marks that, over time, tarnish leaving a slightly reflective luster. Both mediums appropriately serve Nicholas’ idea to “interpret the great strength and fragility of the natural world” in a very detailed and entrancing way.

Nicholas was born to creative parents. Her father was an artist who also played musical instruments and made furniture. Her mother created hooked rugs from her own designs, wove fabrics, made traditional seats for chairs, and gardened. They lived in a rural area of northwest Connecticut where “we grew up with an enormous amount of freedom to be outdoors,” Nicholas recalls. Her love of nature and close observations of all in it began then. Remaining in Connecticut most of her life, where she raised her children, it wasn’t until 2017 that Nicholas and her husband Steve moved to St. George. But, her connection to this town dates back to the 1960s, when her parents built a summer cottage for the family on Birch Lane in Martinsville only a couple miles from her present home. The transition from Connecticut to coastal Maine naturally led to a transition in her art.

When Nicholas first moved to St. George she was overwhelmed by its powerful landscape. “I almost stopped [painting]”, she remarked. “I’m not a landscape painter. So I had to wait and go down to the smallest things.” Still passionate about birds and their nests, Nicholas found a new direction. “When I’m walking along the shore, or in the process of doing something, I welcome any suggestion for my next work,” she explains. “My ideas usually come during walks or during dreams.” She now notices on the path shells, seaweed, mosses, and lichen, reflecting, “If I were a bird I would make my nest from all these things.” Nests made of twigs gave way to imaginary nests made of all these found items arranged into intricate delicate avian homes or delightful wreaths.

Over the years, Nicholas has taught botanical painting and drawing, silverpoint, egg tempera painting and an ongoing class, “The Naturalist’s Studio,” which began in 2004. The recipient of numerous Awards and Honors, Nicholas earned the Anthony B. Wallace Award for Excellence in any Medium and the Award of Merit from the American Women Artists. In 2012 she published a “how-to” book on silverpoint drawing for beginners titled Silver Linings. And, more recently, Nicholas illustrated the book Litchfield Country Journal: Notes on Wildness Around Us by Edwin Matthews, published in 2018. Her work has appeared in national exhibitions and galleries. More recently, she was invited to exhibit her work at the Attleboro Arts Museum in Massachusetts, in a show entitled “Tempera: Nature & Narrative.”

You may view Nicholas’ work at www.banjiesart.com.

—Katharine Cartwright

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Summer mushrooms

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Summer mushrooms give credence to the catch phrase “just add water.” A little rain, or even some thick fog, and woods and yards alike respond with a bloom of summer ‘shrooms. They may go quickly, sometimes lasting only a day or two before drying up. Long enough to disperse their spores, and it’s all about those spores.

For any myco-novice (or myco-newbie) the number of mushroom species in mid-coast Maine can seem a little overwhelming, even when focusing solely on “mushrooms that look like mushrooms”—no shelf or coral or whatever. Organize what you find, however, and you’ll see that around 80 percent of mushrooms in mid-coast Maine are members of four mushroom families—Boletaceae, Russulaceae, Cortinariaceae, and Amanitaceae. Understanding this gives mushroom observers a place to start when beginning the identification process.

Yellow Patches

And while I am a self-proclaimed Boleto-phile, in my mind the summer is owned by Amanitas, fungally speaking of course. Amanita diversity can be good after a summer rain, with a mix of Cleft-footed (Amanita brunnescens), Tawny Grissette (A. fulva), Grissette (A. vaginata), Strangulated Grissette (A. ceciliae), Fly agaric (A. muscaria), Yellow Patches (A. flavoconia), Frost’s Amanita (A. frostiana) and the Destroying Angel (A. virosa) lining trails and sprinkled throughout a forest after a moist summer day. I may be a sucker for boletes, but deep down inside I am an amanita man.

In mid-coast Maine the Blusher (Amanita rubescens) is not a rare summer mushroom by any means. In fact, along with Yellow Patches it is one of the most abundant (early) summer Amanitas. And yet, pound for pound, it is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated Amanita. Let’s see if we can change that, shall we?

Blusher showing staining

One issue with Blushers is simply recognition. David Arora says that the Blusher “in many respects is an exasperatingly variable Amanita.” That is true. Blusher mushroom caps are mostly white(ish) to tan(nish) and covered with scales that run a good chunk of the color spectrum—white, pinkish, brownish, to grayish. All parts of a Blusher mushroom stain red when torn, chewed or incidentally bumped (thus, the common name “Blusher”). Arora states that “the “blushing” of the cap, stem and flesh is the one infallible fieldmark for this fickle fungus.” This staining process may take minutes or longer before being noticeable, and so while the blushing may be the reliable fieldmark for this species, the blushing itself is always on the Blusher’s terms, make no mistake of that.

As a family, Amanitas are the deadliest group of mushrooms in North America. And yet, most Amanitas are non-poisonous and a few species—Ceaser Amanitas in the east, Corcorra in the west—are considered “choice edibles.” Field guides describe the edibility of Blushers as “good, with caution,” which is a standard phrase whenever you mention eating Amanitas to strangers. In other words, you can eat it, but its on you to identify correctly. You are taking your life in your own hands. For, you see, even though Blushers are “good,” they need to be cooked thoroughly as they contain “a hemolytic toxin in its raw state and hence causes anemia if eaten raw.” Just another mushroom that is edible in certain states of rawness and when prepared correctly. Do your research before eating any wild mushroom!

Blusher with amanita mold

When you find a patch of Blushers (or any Amanita for that matter), it’s a safe bet you’ll be able to find more in the same general area year after year. Over time you can get a feel for Amanita populations and dispersal in your area, another step in “getting to know your neighborhood.” But the knowledge doesn’t stop there as Blushers are routinely parasitized by Amanita mold (Hypomyces hyalinus). The mold turns Blusher mushrooms into “a phallic, chalky, pimpled mutation of its former self,” says Lawrence Millman. Molds gotta live too. So, as you learn about Blusher distribution, you can also learn where the Amanita molds live as well! The learning, like the music, never stops!

There’s a lot going on with Amanita rubescens. They are mycorrhizal with trees as a fungus, a non-poisonous, “good” edible as a mushroom, and seem to have an endless variety of looks while changing color over time. Blushers are also a great way to learn about Hypomyces mold distribution, for those interested in mold distribution. A species easy to dismiss, but one worth a second viewing for sure. And then a third…

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Old houses in St. George

Willard house in Willardham across from States Point

A lot of requests made to the St. George Historical Society involve the age and history of houses. It seems safe to say that the first houses in St. George were log houses. In Smalley’s History of St. George it is said that inspection of early houses in St. George had shown that the wood used to build the houses was cut by a waterpower saw and that there were no power saws in St. George prior to 1790.

The first town assessment that recorded the type of building on a property was in 1804, the year after the town was incorporated. There was no record of whether or not it was a log house, only its value for tax purposes. Of the 95 houses in the town of St. George in 1804, 29 were valued more than $100 and of these houses, 13 were valued at $200 or more.

One of the pictures accompanying this article is a familiar sight for those who travel Route 131 north of Tenants Harbor. It is located just across from the entrance to States Point. The house is known by many as the old Willard place. According to land records it has been in the Willard family and its descendants since the 1850s. Willard family lore says that this house was originally built by Joshua Smalley who came to St. George by the year 1790 and that the house was originally about halfway down States Point Road on the southern side, but was moved to its current location in the 1850s when it was sold to John Willard by Joshua Smalley’s heirs.

Pierson house around 1900

Another St. George house that has an early history is the Pierson house on Watts Farm Road. There have been claims that the house was built around 1785, but the family tells me nothing has been found to confirm this. The early owner of the property was Joseph Coombs who died by 1810. The property was purchased in 1810 by Isaac Hall, who later forfeited ownership to pay debts. The property was acquired by Archelaus Smalley in 1828. This Archelaus Smalley was a son of the earlier mentioned Joshua Smalley, an early settler to St. George, and an ancestor to the Pierson family descendants who own the house.

More research is needed to gather information on other old houses in St. George. It may just lead to a publication about Old Houses in St George. If you know of an old house in St. George that should be included in this list, please contact the Historical Society at stgeorgemainehistory@gmail.com . —John Falla

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Sal’s Birthday Bash

A 96th birthday party for Sally (Robinson) Long, who was born at home in St. George on August 31, 1923, will be held August 24th, at 5p.m. at the St. George Town Office. Sally’s birthday wish, once again, is to raise funds for the St. George Volunteer Ambulance Service. All proceeds and donations from the party will go to the vital service. This year the party will include live entertainment by a country, gospel, folk music jam as well as a public supper. Anyone who cannot attend but would like to donate to the ambulance service should mail a check, made out to ST. GEORGE AMBULANCE FUND, (put Sal’s Birthday Bash on the memo line) to: Sal’s Birthday Bash, 1066 River Road, St. George, Maine 04860

For more information about the party or about donating, call Sally Jo Kinney 542-8987.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Native plant corner

Native Plant Corner hopes you have the opportunity this month to stand at the edge of a milkweed patch and be mesmerized by the bewildering array of bees, wasps, flies, ants, tiny crab spiders, beetles, day-flying moths and colorful butterflies who have either taken up residence or are nectaring in one of the species of milkweed we enjoy in mid-coast Maine. Attracted by the exceptionally sweet nectar, pollinators are drawn to milkweed blooms by day and night. And, of course, among these are monarch butterflies. The iconic monarch butterfly has a co-evolutionary relationship with native milkweed and is totally dependent on milkweed for its reproduction.

To learn more about the extraordinary life cycle of the monarch, the uniqueness of milkweeds and the imperative importance of native plants please come to an upcoming talk by the incomparable, humorous and charismatic Dr. Doug Tallamy, on August 20 at 7pm at the Ocean View Grange in Martinsville. —Jan Getgood

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a Maine native perennial which occurs in fields, meadows, and along roadsides. It typically grows in full sun to 3-6’ tall on stout, upright stems with large, thick, broad, leaves. Drooping clusters of fragrant, purplish-pink flowers appear over a long bloom period in July and August. Common milkweed grows easily from seed, and spreads by underground stolons (runners) which may prove challenging in a more formal garden. Consider planting in a corner of your landscape where you can enjoy its spread and bounty. Shown here with Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is an upright, clump forming Maine native milkweed which, in spite of its name, adapts and thrives in a wide range of garden soils in sun to part sun. Swamp milkweed grows to 3-4’ tall and its tidy, showy habit makes it a lovely addition to your pollinator garden and an important host for monarch butterfly larvae.

 

 

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is no longer common in the wild in Maine. It is a clump forming, low growing member of the milkweed family with bright orange blooms in July and August. Attractive to many pollinating insects and a host for the monarch, it grows 12–18 inches tall in full sun to part shade in dry, sandy soil. Butterflyweed is a beautiful addition to the garden, forms a deep taproot at maturity and is sometimes finicky about establishing in the garden. Shown with Monarch caterpillar.

 

PHOTOS: Jan Getgood

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

‘This work is what women do—it’s how I grew up’

When someone asks Port Clyde resident Summer Ward what she does for a living, she has a simple response that she delivers with a wry laugh: “What don’t I do?” She then offers a little clarification. “I usually introduce myself as a caretaker/landscaper. I say I have my own business and usually leave it at that.”

The work Ward does for the several dozen seasonal clients currently on her books is wide-ranging. For most, it’s just a matter of cleaning up their gardens in the spring and putting them to bed in the fall. But for a group of about 10 clients, however, the list of services she provides is more varied and time-consuming—she opens their homes for the season, tends their gardens, mows their lawns, makes sure their lawn furniture is in place when they arrive, cleans their houses, makes arrangements for any parties, runs errands, and prepares their properties for the coming winter. “I help my closest clients with whatever they need,” Ward says with a shrug. “It’s anything, really.”

Ward often works alone, but she also has some regular helpers like Cheyenne Robishaw and Hannah Scott. When the need arises, she will also call on her older sister Shannon or her younger sister Ronnie or one of her many friends to pitch in. “It can get intense,” she admits, “but I feel like this work is what women do. To me it’s just normal, it’s how I grew up.”

Ward was born in St. George, which is where her father, Bill Stuart, was raised. “His mom and my grandfather worked at the sardine factory in Port Clyde. My dad ended up taking a care-taking job with Andrew Wyeth, so he and my mother moved the family to Cushing and—I hate to say it!—I was actually raised over there. So I grew up on the Wyeth property in Cushing. That was Betsy Wyeth’s childhood home. She and Andy lived there in the summers before they bought Allen Island. And then when they bought Allen Island we’d go back and forth. My mother was Betsy Wyeth’s personal assistant for 40 years. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that growing up in ‘Wyeth land’ might be considered something special.”

What was special to her during those formative years was her family’s interest in sports, especially basketball and soccer. “My life was always go, go, go. We always had a sibling running to a sport and mom would go with this one and dad would go with that one. So we tried to find a happy medium.”

Ward’s freshman year at Georges Valley High School, she made the varsity basketball team—a big achievement—and when she graduated in 1995, she was offered two scholarships from two different colleges to play soccer. She discloses a little sheepishly that she decided to move to Port Clyde instead. “I had spent a lot of time here growing up and all my friends were here. I was 18 and I didn’t want to go away yet. It was about three years later when I realized I’d made a mistake. So I applied to the University of Maine Farmington, got accepted and majored in psychology. That’s where I met Jake [Ward].”

Ward and Jake stayed in the Farmington area for a while after graduating college, but Jake decided to pursue an opportunity to work with Summer’s father at the Wyeth property in Cushing and on Allen Island. “They loved him and he loved the area so when they offered him a position on the island he couldn’t refuse. So I finished up the job I had in Kingfield and moved back to Port Clyde a couple of months later. We spent the first winter here living on Allen Island. We were the only ones out there all winter!”

Ward then got a job at Thomaston Grammar School working with students who had behavioral problems. But summer jobs were an important source of extra income. It was a well-liked Port Clyde man, Trebby Johnson, who in 2005 got Ward started gardening.

“I was 27. Jake and I were looking to buy a house, so we were trying to work wherever we could. In the summers I was working at the Harpoon and Trebby wanted me to help him in his gardens. I told him I didn’t know anything about gardens at all. He said, ‘You’ll figure it out.’ So he started me off with just weeding. Then he had me paint in his house. And then he had me paint the parking lines at the lighthouse. So he kept on finding more work for me. Then he started telling all of his friends, ‘Well, I have this girl, she does gardens.’ So I said to him, ‘Trebby, I really don’t know what I’m doing,’ and he said, ‘Start reading.’ So I did. And then he hooked me up with some people and I started working for them—a lot of gardening, but care taking as well. Cleaning houses, opening them and it just went crazy after that. From one job I got another and then another.”

Eventually, partly because of the emotional drain of working with troubled kids, and partly because the landscaping and care-taking work was eating into the school year, she gave up her job at Thomaston Grammar. For about seven years, too, she and her good friend Hannah Simpson, ran Farmer’s Restaurant after Ward’s parents bought it in 2006. “We did very well for several years but the economy was not doing well and prices went through the ceiling so we finally closed it.”

Today Ward works primarily in Port Clyde and on Hupper Island. What was once summer fill-in employment is now full-time work packed into three seasons. She admits it’s hard work but says that at age 42 she’s in the best shape she’s ever been. “Cheyenne and I joke that we do ‘island cross-fit.’ We are always lugging lawnmowers, bags of mulch and plants down the ramp and into the boat—usually at dead low tide—and then we lug all that up the ramp on the other side. Down, over, up.”

In the winter, she says, “Anything I do our kids are part of.” And for Ward, that means sports. Daughter Violet, who is almost 11, plays soccer, basketball and softball. Son Liam, who is almost 8, is also athletic.

Ward is particularly passionate about coaching St. George’s youth on the basketball court and the soccer field. “I’ve coached middle-school basketball and Recreation soccer and basketball for over 20 years. I think the Rec program in St. George is amazing. Everybody down here is so involved—the families of the children are always offering to help fund-raise. We also have coaches who have been coaching for years and years. That provides a consistency of coaching that is unusual in most programs. We work together, we know what needs to be taught at each skill level and you can see the results with the kids—they really progress. They are having fun and everyone gets to play.”

At this point in her life, Ward believes she has found the right balance between her business life and her love of sports. Her work with the town’s recreation program (this is her fourth year to serve on the Recreation Committee) keeps her actively engaged during her “slow” season and when her care-taking and landscaping work begins to heat up, the recreation program slows down. “I don’t sit idle,” she says with a laugh. “I just feel really lucky that I’ve actually found work that I enjoy. I didn’t know I could have a business like this, but I learned. And I love everyone I work for.”­­—JW

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Hooked on nature

As one of only 20 “Maine Masters” named by Maine Fiber Arts, Martinsville artist Anne Cox is recognized for her unique and imaginative hooked rugs. Her life-long dialogue with nature is expressed in the richly textured patterns she designs. “I like how creating things in conversation with the natural world helps me see it better,” she explains, “and my quest is to always understand what I see in untouched, unspoiled, nature.” This quest began when she was a youngster in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

During the 1960s, Cox’s environmentally-conscious parents became leaders of a movement to prohibit the construction of a dam across the Eno River in North Carolina. They helped found an association that acquired much of the land along the river’s banks and established the Eno River State Park. Because of her parents’ involvement with the river, Cox spent her teen years canoeing and backpacking there while closely observing its natural beauty. This kindled in her a love of unspoiled nature and also a desire to draw her observations. So, she took up pen and ink and began detailed renderings of most anything she saw. But Cox also needed the challenge to “make things.” She constructed small houses from cardboard boxes and turned them into artfully designed villages with landscapes.

After high school, Cox enrolled in North Carolina State University’s School of Design in Raleigh, where she earned a B.E.D.A. (environmental design in architecture). She then applied for and won a fellowship to the University of Michigan, where she earned an M.L.A. in landscape architecture. But another interest soon developed that would lead her in a different direction.

During her graduate school years in Michigan, Cox attended an Episcopal Church that embraced progressive ideals about social justice. This motivated the young woman to become involved in the church’s outreach ministry to the homeless—and to begin thinking theologically about her environmental design studies. It was a “big eye opener,” she remembers. It was also during this period that Cox met Julie Wortman, who was to become her life partner.

After receiving her M.L. A., she decided to pursue theology more seriously. This led her to Union Seminary in Manhattan, where she earned a Master of Divinity degree. Homiletics was a favorite study for the way it fulfilled her desire to engage in a “conversation between history, theology and what’s happening in the world.” In 1988, she was ordained as an Episcopal priest, and served as interim rector at a parish in New Jersey. Eventually, Cox moved back to Michigan where she served as rector of a small progressive congregation in suburban Detroit.

After serving in the church for 10 years, Cox says she began to feel that her creativity was “getting squelched.” At the suggestion of Maria Marta Aris-Paul, a member of the then active Greenfire community on the Wallston Road in St. George, Cox and Wortman signed up for something Greenfire’s leaders called a “Work Vision” as a means of exploring what sort of changes they should make to achieve a more satisfying and fulfilling life. There, the couple realized they needed to find a place to live that they could love and not think of leaving. New England spoke to them and, although they considered several possible communities, St. George and the people they had met at Greenfire exerted a strong pull. In 1997 they bought an 1820s home in Martinsville which eventually became the center of a fine gardening and landscape design business they launched in 2003 called Hedgerow.

Cox, who when she first came to Maine had focused her artistic energy on making rustic fences and furniture, began hooking rugs in 2007. She had been introduced to the traditional medium during a trip to Nova Scotia the previous year. The possibility hooking offered for pairing fine art with utility was immediately appealing to her. “A couple of things draw me as I hook my rugs. One is that I want to pay attention to the natural world around me and to celebrate it. The other is that I want to create rugs that are rugs—for the floor—more than as hangings on a wall.”

The process of creating a rug is organic for Cox. To begin, she chooses a subject based upon her observations of the natural world. She develops a palette in her mind and dyes lengths of wool accordingly (she cuts the wool into thin strips by feeding it through a Bee-line Townsend cutter). She then draws a very loose concept sketch on a scrap of paper. After that she starts working on the linen backing of the rug (which she attaches to a free-standing hooking frame) using a Hartman hook, inch by inch. The details of each rug emerge as she works.

“I am making decisions every step of the way, not just at the beginning, when I draw out my basic idea. And I like how slow the process is,” Cox says. “As a result, I think the rugs are very different from the way I might paint or draw the same images. I like the surprises that come when a shape gets smushed and rearranged by the loops next to them. I like playing with color.”

Her latest rugs play with geometric borders that break into the interior theme of the rug. Sometimes, the borders become the entire design, transforming the image into a fantastic abstraction of nature.

“I am not sure what my style is. It is what I do, and I think I am continually evolving. I have a decent color sense, and a sense of proportion. Beyond that, what happens, happens.”
Cox’s rugs and paintings may be viewed at the Hedgerow Gallery in Martinsville. She has also shown her work at the Maine Fiber Arts Gallery in Topsham and at the Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild Show in Burlington Vermont, where she has won many awards. Her work may be seen at www.hedgerowdesign.com. —Katharine Cartwright

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Dragons revisited—with different eyes

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Blue Dasher female on a clothesline

It’s been hot. Too hot for a lot of things. Paid a visit to the Town Forest Loop and the slime molds had gone to spore, the mushrooms were dried and shriveled, and I was covered in sweat. There was little inspiration for a nature-bumming column on that trail that day. More perspiring than inspiring. Not too hot for mosquitoes, though, which was a shame. Good day to be a cold-blooded predator, tough day to be prey.

When talking predatory insects, most “normal” minds jump to the insect order of Odonata—and specifically the dragonflies (sub-order Anisoptera). Not only are they fast, cool looking, and amazing fliers, but dragonflies are a major predator of mosquitoes, both in the aerial and sub-aquatic arenas. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single thing not to like about dragonflies.

Twelve Spotted Skimmer

When referring to dragonflies as predators, we are largely talking about times they are away from ponds, lakes or streams. At those habitats eating is not a priority. Instead, it’s all about the mating games. Dragonfly shoreline scenes here are often frenetic in an amped up, breeding sort of way. Male dragonflies aggressively patrolling, defending and chasing anything that enters their eternally morphing patch of habitat. It’s a mating game that makes you appreciate that you are not a female dragonfly. Not an uncommon thought when observing nature.
Go any distance away from water, however, and you are bound to cross paths with dragonflies “on the hunt.” Some will hunt on the wing, flying in a grid-like pattern that would probably make Fibonacci proud.

Painted Skimmer

In between hunts, and sometimes while performing the classic “hunting while resting” maneuver, dragonflies will perch on shrubs, posts, and the random dead twig or branch. It’s a relatively chill scene, where males and females of the same species can perch peacefully near each other. At certain times—maybe when they are digesting—even dragonflies become impressively docile and slow to flush. As someone who likes to document observations through photography, these times are greatly appreciated.

Widow Skimmer

With the heat, ventures have stayed close to “the clubhouse” work area and, more specifically, the fan that’s always spinning. To observe hunting and resting dragonflies, however, there was little reason to go much further. A male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) spent a morning hunting from highbush blueberry twigs, and both Spangled (L. cyanea) and Slaty Skimmers (L. incesta) have been perching daily on the butterfly bush. Twelve-spotted Skimmers (L. pulchella) have been using posts and the few dead trees in the backyard to rest, hunt and pose. Painted Skimmers (L. semifasciata) have even taken to landing on wooden clothespins! Have I mentioned how much I like the genus Libellula?

Female Blue Dasher

Recently I’ve developed an appreciation for female Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis). Sounds a little creepy, I know, especially with that species name, but I’ve been observing male Blue Dashers “playing the game” at ponds for years. They are a very common and wonderful sight. Glimpses of female Blue Dashers at ponds are quite the opposite experience—quick and fleeting (while still being wonderful). This year, however, a couple of female Blue Dashers have decided the clothesline just outside the clubhouse is the perfect perch. It might be a good year for them or maybe my eyes are finally seeing what has perched all along, but they are always there!

Blue Dasher female

One afternoon, the female Blue Dashers allowed me to use my “newest tool” to closely pick up physical characteristics, as well as their intrinsic beauty. In other words, two of them let me get close with my macro lens. Closer than I would have ever imagined and haven’t come anywhere close since. The resulting photos did not disappoint.

The spikey dragonfly legs are funky for sure, but it’s the compact eyes in the photos that slay me. A complex form, dragonfly eyes are made up of thousands of elements known as facets or ommatidia. Within each ommatidia, light-sensitive proteins known as opsin can be found. Color vision in human eyes depends on the use of three different opsin in our retinas. Dragonflies benefit from four or five of the proteins in each of the ommatidia. This allows for vision on a spectrum well beyond the scope of human eyes, including tapping into the world of ultra-violet. It undoubtedly helps when hunting.

In a way this feels a little like coming “full-circle”, as the first column I submitted to the Dragon two years ago focused on dragonflies close to home. Feels like that, except that the learning never ends, and the morphing of perspectives never lets up. It’s inevitable for eyes to differ over time, and thus a re-visitation feels new, as if with “different eyes.” The changes in perspectives and understanding can be on a daily to yearly basis, with the only constant being change. Heck, if the heat can slow a dragonfly enough for an incredible view or two then maybe I could even change my perspective about summer days. Ha! Now I’m talking hogwash!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

Print Friendly, PDF & Email