Category Archives: October 12

When setting out to make a personal contribution to the community brings concrete results

Hugh and Elizabeth Blackmer

When Hugh and Elizabeth Blackmer moved to Martinsville in 2005 to be near Hugh’s older sister, Alice Skinner, and her husband Wickham, it was natural that the couple should take to the town’s roads.

“I had done some running,” says Elizabeth. “So I did the St. George Days 5K and the Lobster Festival 10K. And we had hiked—we hiked the whole Appalachian Trail in pieces when we were in our 50s [and living in Lexington, Va., while Hugh worked as a science librarian at Washington and Lee University]. It was all day hikes. We would drive to Georgia, to Connecticut for the weekend. We had a sabbatical one year and took a month off just to do it in Maine.”

“For me,” admits Hugh, “walking in St. George was at first mostly a matter of, ‘Okay, it’s necessary to get some exercise if I’m going to eat the way I want to.’ And the roads connect in interesting ways and there is always something nice to look at. So it has been several years that I’ve been doing the seven-mile loops of walking Ridge Road to Glenmere and back along Route 131 or walking Ridge Road and going north.”

When the possibility of doing the Blueberry Cove half marathon as walkers came up in 2013, the Blackmers began doing that as well. The walking made them aware of the trash that gets thrown from cars, so they also began participating in the annual roadside cleanup event sponsored by the town’s Solid Waste and Recycling Committee each May.

Between the walking/hiking and the roadside cleanups, the Blackmers acknowledge that the stage was pretty much set for what came next—an intense combination of the two that has involved the regular clean-up of 15.8 miles of road (and two public parking areas) over the last 11 months and a commitment to continue for the foreseeable future.

“Well, this was my idea,” says Elizabeth as she sets out to explain why the couple began doing this. “After the presidential election last November l decided I wanted to make a contribution to my community and I wanted to make it be something nonpartisan. I also wanted to see the results, I wanted it to be tangible. I thought about it for a while and what I came up with was picking up the trash. I figured I’d be walking by the driveways of all the people, not just one group of people. And I appreciate the beauty of the area and I enjoy walking the roads—we’d been out on the roads all this time, walking, hiking.”

The criteria she set for pickup was anything larger than a cigarette butt and within 10 feet of the pavement.

“So I went out myself and started picking up the trash,” Elizabeth continues. “The first couple of times I could only walk about a tenth of a mile picking up the trash before the bags got too heavy and I had to walk back home. The next day I’d go pick up the next tenth of a mile. There was a lot of trash on the roads at the time. When people pick up in May there never seems to be enough people to pick up all the roads and it’s only once a year. So things had accumulated and some places are never gotten to. Eventually I got more effective at it. I got a grabber stick and I got a vest and I learned to leave the bags by the side of the road and then drive back to pick them up.”

Gradually, Elizabeth covered a larger and larger area that eventually covered most of the roads in the southern portion of the peninsula. And after a while Hugh joined her. From November 4, 2016 to September 19, 2017, one or both of the Blackmers picked up trash on each of 114 days. They filled 70 standard black trash bags with pure trash and 190 grocery bags with recyclables and returnables. They brought in 2,890 returnable cans, glass bottles and plastic bottles valued at $144.50, which they donated to the town.

“I really don’t feel judgmental about people throwing trash out their windows,” Elizabeth says by way of reflecting on how she feels about all that trash. “Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, they kind of stratify in different ways in different communities.”

But she does note that she and Hugh noticed a shift in the amount of trash they were picking up this past summer. “The first time around these roads was the most. After that it was things we hadn’t seen or things that somebody had thrown since then. We went away for a month in the summer and when we came back I thought, ‘Okay, there’s going to be a lot of trash.’ But there was hardly any trash. Since then there’s been a difference. There are many fewer returnables.”

Accounting for the change is difficult, but Elizabeth is convinced that seeing her out picking up the roadside trash has had an impact on people’s attitudes. “At first when people would see me picking up trash by the side of the road they’d swerve around me like I was a cow or a moose. Then people slowly started to nod or wave. Or if I was at their driveway they’d thank me for picking up the trash.”

With so much less trash to pick up, Hugh says, they decided to change their strategy. “A month ago we started picking up cigarette butts. And the funny thing is that when you pick up the butts it is impossible not to count them. We picked up 8,300 in that time. Of course many had been there for a long time. But in a section of road near here that we had already picked up once, two weeks later there were 358 additional butts on the ground.” Elizabeth adds that she has read that worldwide cigarette butts are the most common litter.

Asked what the strangest things the couple has picked up have been, Elizabeth doesn’t hesitate. “Things that nobody has used! A pencil that has never been sharpened, a shot bottle of vodka that has never been opened, bottles of water that have never been opened.”

Of this picking-up-trash project, Hugh says, “It’s kind of a pleasure at this point. There is a feeling I have now of belonging to something. People wave and I wave back.”

For Elizabeth there’s a satisfaction in the concreteness of the results. “I wanted to make a contribution to the community and I feel happy that it has worked out as well as it has. I look at the roads and they’re clean. I look at the Drift Inn parking lot and the Marshall Point parking lot and they’re clean. And I appreciate the people who have gone out of their way to say thank you. And I feel happy that people have changed their behavior. I don’t think it is an oddity or a coincidence that there are far fewer cans to pick up than there were.” —JW

PHOTO: Julie Wortman


A seasonal miracle

This summer I decided to plant an annual flower known as Silky Butterfly Weed  (Asclepias curassavica) in the pots on our pergola deck and in a few places around the gardens. I already had the perennial Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in our pollinaters’ garden. Both of these are members of the Milkweed family, which is the only type of plant on which the caterpillars of the monarch butterfly like to feed. I’d thought I would help the monarchs out and give us some lovely flowers as well. It worked: We had lovely red and orange flowers most of the summer; the monarchs arrived in late August, and shortly after, we began to observe striped yellow, black and white caterpillars munching on the milkweeds. Then I began to see the largest, fattest of these caterpillars (about the size of a pinky finger) attach itself to a near-by branch or leaf (and in one instance, a daisy petal), hang upside down, and then curve into a“J” formation. And the next day, the “J” had turned itself into a jewel-like chrysalis. These are often so well hidden in foliage that they are difficult to see, but one caterpillar attached itself in plain sight on a vine on a post of our pergola. This we observed closely.

The caterpillar attached itself to a vine and prepared to form a chrysalis.

We knew the butterfly that was forming inside the chrysalis was close to emerging when we saw it darkening, and could clearly see an orange wing.

As the butterfly emerged from the now-transparent chrysalis, it was mostly all thorax with wings and legs folded up tightly. It held onto the empty chrysalis as its wings slowly unfolded and expanded.

The wings unfurled and inflated, and in the process, a clear liquid dripped off and the newly emerged butterfly began to dry.

Finally, after drying for several hours and flexing its wings a bit, it inched away from the chrysalis. Then it spread its wings (revealing that it was a male—notice the black dots on its inner wings) and flew away, heading for Mexico, a trip that will take about six months.

Definitely more of the Silky Butterfly Weed is in the offing for planting next spring.
—Anne Cox

PHOTOS: Anne Cox

Hail to the King!

Nature Bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

So I’m not one to exaggerate, but the week of September 17 was probably the best week of my life.

Fungally speaking, the woods exploded (figuratively) with an array of colors and shapes, an exceptionally impressive show of mushroom diversity. And it was an impressiveness matched only by the sheer numbers of mushrooms themselves—there were tons! A typical walk that week turned up mushrooms such as Red-mouthed Bolete, Dark-stalked Bolete, Birch Bolete, Orange Bolete, Dark-stalked Bolete, Chrome-footed Bolete, Slippery Jack, Painted Bolete, Dotted Bolete, Chicken-fat Suillus, Poisonous Paxillus, Silvery-violet Cort, Red-gilled Cort, Cinnamon Cort, Banded Cort, Honey Mushroom, Well’s Amanita, Amanita Muscaria, Citron Amanita, Yellow-patches, False Chantrelles,  Funnel Clitocybe, Spotted Collubia, Orange-gill Waxycap, Blewit, Rufus Milky, Emetic Russula, Rosy Russula, and Blackish-red Russula to name a few…a few that have common names! All were in good numbers as well.“Epic” is a fine word to describe this mushroom bloom event.

“Normally” that would be enough to satisfy any fungal fan, but the real mushroom story last week was tied to a species not mentioned above—the King Bolete (Boletus edulis).  David Arora, author of the seminal fungal work Mushrooms Demystified, describes King Boletes as “one of the finest of fleshy fungi and certainly the best-loved and most sought-after in Europe, where it has more common names than there are languages. If any mushroom deserves the dubious title of the “king,” this is the one. It is a consummate creation, the peerless epitome of earthbound substance, a bald bulbous pillar of thick white flesh—the one aristocrat the peasantry can eat! The entire fruiting body is exceptionally delicious.” Arora totally nailed it with this description. And, like a dream, King Boletes were everywhere in the woods last week.

There is more to the King story than just being the tastiest thing in the woods these days of course. King Boletes are in the bolete family of mushrooms (Boletaceae), the group of mushrooms that have no gills (except for the gilled bolete but that is another story all together). This family also includes the Porcini, the Cep, the Steinpilz, the Harilik kivipuravik (Estonian). Instead of gills, boletes have pores to release their spores from, and the pores give the cap of the mushroom a spongy feeling when squeezed. This unique feel, in combination with the presence of pores, pretty much make a surefire way to identify any bolete mushroom to family.

Similar to the Destroying Angel described in the last Nature Bummin’ column, Kings and most boletes have a mycorrhizal relationship with trees. Mycorrhizal is the ancient, symbiotic relationship where a fungus exchanges nitrogen and phosphorus for sugars made by the tree during photosynthesis. This exchange takes place under ground on a trees roots, and the relationship will last as long as the tree is alive. We may see the King Bolete mushrooms for a week or two a  year, but the fungus itself is living in the ground and isn’t going anywhere!  In other words, once you find a King Bolete patch you can (somewhat) expect to find them for years to come. We really like this about Kings.

Arora writes about looking for Kings two weeks after a “significant” rain event. So the heavy rain on September 6th could (if Arora’s calculations are correct) result in a King Bolete bloom starting around the 19th. Needless to say the Kings (and many other mushrooms) were right on schedule! A quick explorative walk on the 19th resulted in 10 Kings found and processed. After school my wife, Amy found another 10 by the house and we were off to the races! The next day was a half day at school so my son Leif and I hit the trail and came back with 40 beautiful Kings for the eating (while leaving many older specimens in the woods). What started out as the perfect amount for a side dish had moved quickly beyond a full meal to the point where Leif and I knew we had to share. We took our basket full of boletes to the school and handed out Kings to anyone trusting enough to accept. That ended up being everyone we saw!

It now became a daily venture as Leif would check “Amy’s patch” and then we would work the woods. Kings were to be found everywhere—at the school, by the library, in the town forest, every preserve on Vinalhaven as well. This was an exceptional week to say the least.

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

New French intern hails from Vittel

by Laura Olds and Sophia Vigue

This school year we welcome Nicolas Masson as our new French intern. He is 23 years old and is from Vittel, a town in Lorraine, which is in the northeast of France. This is his first time in the U.S.

Nicolas says he likes it here in America because it is very different from Europe. He says it’s almost like another whole world.

“Where I’m from there are lots of little villages and a church in the middle of every one of them,” he told us. “French school lunches have more courses than here. We also have choices. Every Friday we can choose fish at school because many French people are Catholic. The government regulates the food that can be served in school. Every school works with a dietician to choose the menu. Like here in St. George, we are out in the country, so you have to have a car to get anywhere.”

This is not his first time teaching internationally. He interned in Scotland to help teach a high school class. He told us that Scotland schooling was also different than French, but nowhere near as different is here, because Scotland is also a European country.

Since he has been here, he has experienced many cool things. “I went to the Marshall Point Lighthouse the other day, and before then, I had no idea it was the lighthouse from Forrest Gump!” he said. His host, Steve Lindsay, also took him on his very first sailboat ride. He got to experience a little bit of the coast of Maine with a trip to an island and a sunset sail.

Nicolas will be staying with Steve and Jo Lindsay until Thanksgiving. But after that, host families are needed! If you are interested in hosting Nicolas, please contact Kit Harrison (k.harrison@stgeorgemsuorg).

(Olds and Vigue are 8th grade students at the St. George School.)
PHOTO: Olds/Vigue