Category Archives: Volume 6

Lessons from the road, the back woods and the neighbor’s yard

 Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Mostly mummified star-nosed mole

November is a tricky month for a nature observer in Maine. The problem is that you are supposed to wear orange because it is hunting season. Wearing bright colors in the woods does not allow for a close, calm approach to wildlife. But you know it’s only for a month, right? So what’s an observer to do? Hit the road of course!

Bicycle rides are full of natural history lessons year-round. And you know it’s fall in St. George when multiple preying mantii bodies are encountered on a single ride!

A few warm, non-windy days this month found this observer on the road and learning from some road kill. A dead ring-necked snake in November felt unfortunate­—how many days could there have been until it was to hibernate? It may have even been on its way to an overwintering burrow (so close!). The score of the day though, was a mostly mummified star-nosed mole! With long claws and short arms for digging, it was easy to see it was (had been) a mole, and upon closer inspection I could see a few remaining “fleshy tentacles” on its snout. I don’t cross paths with moles too often (dead or alive), so a find like this increases “mole awareness” dramatically. I often carry bags on my bike and needless to say this star-nosed mole is now on display in “the clubhouse” museum. No two bikes rides are ever the same and we like that!

Coyote claiming the compost

A simpler strategy for November nature observations, and one that requires minimal time in orange, is through the use of motion-triggered game cameras. These are the cameras that you put up in the woods where you find signs of wildlife, let the camera do the work for a couple of weeks and then come back to retrieve the memory stick and see what’s turned up. A basic ethical consideration, of course, is that it is a good idea to place cameras away from human trails (people don’t like being spied on in the woods) or anywhere hunters may pass. For this hunting season I focused my camera on a bucketful of compost I dumped just off our backyard field—an unlikely spot for hunters to be. It was no surprise to see photos of skunks and raccoons making repeated visits to the pile. One deer was so curious about the smell (or sound) of the camera that she stood in front of it, staring, seemingly forever. (That’s what deer do and that’s why they are prey). The highlight though, was a series of photos of a coyote (or ‘coy-dawg’) that took interest in the small heap. In the earliest photos, coyote eyes and silhouettes were limited to the background, but over time this one coyote couldn’t fight the temptation and urges that the smell of eggshells and coffee filters inspired. It took a while but the coyote completely overcame its initial shyness and marked the compost for its own! He just strolled on up, hunched his back and left a pile himself, essentially claiming vegetable bits as his own! So glad I put the camera up­—he can have the pile all he wants!

Muskrat at home in the neighbor’s pond

There also are times when wildlife comes to you, even when not attracted to discarded food bits. The other day I was backing up the truck when I spotted a brown lump across the street in the neighbor’s pond. I pointed it out to my son Leif at which time he exclaimed, “it’s moving!” And with that the lump went from stump to muskrat in a matter of moments. There is a healthy population of muskrats nearby in the Tenants Harbor marsh, especially in the northern stretches of the wetlands. But sightings and observations are few and far between. So now we keep a close eye on the pond, ready to observe whenever this “brown lump of a critter” appears, which happens a few times a day. No orange is required when using a spotting scope in your own driveway, and fortunately the pond is off to the side enough so it doesn’t appear that the scope is pointing at the neighbor’s house! That wouldn’t be very neighborly now would it? What is downright neighborly, however, is to provide muskrat habitat so my family can watch the chunky rodent’s activities! Thanks neighbors!

There is so much life to see throughout St. George that essentially giving up the woods for one twelfth of a year seems like a small sacrifice. We don’t stop observing though, we just change how and where we look a bit. We’ll see you out there!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

St. George ‘First-Grade Crew’ helps P.A.W.S.

During the month of October, St. George School’s First-Grade Crew—which consists of all first-grade students and their teachers—focused on completing a service project. First graders were inspired to help P.A.W.S. Animal Shelter, located in Camden, after meeting Oakley, a rescue pup who was adopted by Miss Betsy, one of the school’s bus drivers.

After brainstorming different ways to assist P.A.W.S. Animal Shelter, first graders agreed to host a pet supply drive at the school. Students created posters and stationed four collection stations around the school asking for donations of various supplies on P.A.W.S.’s wish list. First graders also wanted to provide the animals at P.A.W.S. with some homemade treats as well. Students baked homemade dog treats and sewed small cat toys to donate to the shelter.

To culminate the service project, the First-Grade Crew headed to P.A.W.S. to donate the supplies they had collected and the treats they had made. First graders were treated to a tour of the facility and got to peek at all of the animals. Our crew also participated in an animal craft and got to eat our lunch at the shelter!

“I liked when we got to peek in and see the dogs,” said Violet Bedell. And Bentley Robinson added, “I was very happy when we gave the donations to the animal shelter.”
—Meghan Smith (Smith is a first-grade teacher at the St. George School.)

PHOTO: Heather Weeks

Teaching law in China

Glennon and Adam with the class in Qindao, China

Last spring St. George residents Karen Adam and her husband Robert Glennon were offered the opportunity to spend three months teaching law at Ocean University in Qindao, China. It was an opportunity they embraced because at the very least they thought the assignment could be a fun—and enlightening—adventure.

“Part of why we wanted to do this was to be part of [an unfamiliar] community and figure out how to live there,” says Adam, who in November 2015 retired after 34 years as a Tucson City Court magistrate, Superior Court commissioner and Superior Court judge. “We knew no Chinese, but we rode the subway, Robert found a gym and a cleaners, we shopped in the local stores. We often were the only Westerners around.”

The chance to go to China arose because the University of Arizona’s Roger’s College of Law, where Glennon is a professor, has in recent years been moving toward being more international and global in its orientation. “We’ve always had an international law curriculum,” Glennon explains, “but now we are bringing international students into our JD program here in the U.S. and we are pursuing joint programs with universities in other countries.”

The University of Arizona’s partnership with Ocean University is one such new joint program. The way it works is that for four years Ocean’s undergraduate law students study both Chinese and American law, earning both an undergraduate degree from Ocean University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona.

“The first two years the students are studying English, studying some Chinese law and taking some basic introductory classes in common law subjects and legal writing,” Glennon says. “They’ve had instructors during those years, but we were the first real American law school professor and the first real American judge to be there in person to teach. We were there from the end of April to the end of July, teaching 63 undergraduate juniors. Karen taught procedure and I taught public law.”

The reason for creating this kind of joint program, Glennon says, is the increasingly global nature of legal practice. “China and the U.S. are the two biggest economies in the world and there’s an awareness in China that even if the students don’t ever practice law—and most Chinese law students don’t end up practicing law—they feel that knowing how the legal system works in the U.S. can help them in whatever they do. Mostly they are interested in intellectual property, business, trade.”

For Glennon, teaching public law meant he could use the curriculum he has developed for his constitutional law classes at the University of Arizona (these days, however, his primary focus is water law, a specialty he’s been developing since 1988).

For Adam, the preparation for teaching American procedures, which is basically about due process—a citizen’s right to fair treatment under the law—was more involved.

“I’ve never been a law school professor, so it was lucky that I had access to the curriculum used by the law professor who is teaching the procedure class for Arizona’s new undergraduate major in law. So I had a PowerPoint presentation and I had the cases, but I still had to learn the material. I hadn’t thought about any of those cases since law school, which was 42 years ago. And I’d been busy since then being a judge. It was incredibly hard work—Robert is delighted that I figured that out, that being a law professor is hard! He thought I thought it was easy,” Adam says with a laugh. “So I spent last winter working on it, reading all the cases, reading interpretations of the cases and getting prepared to teach these students.”

But much of that preparation went by the wayside after the couple’s first class with the students, a four-hour session that Glennon and Adam taught together.

“Even though these students had been studying English at the college level for two years and some had very good English, others did not,” Adam says. “And we realized that the way they learn is very different. It is based on code, which is Chinese civil law, and in which there are clear answers to every question. In the U.S. we have a constitution and a judge rules on a case in light of that and interprets it and then other people disagree with the interpretation and it’s all about that, about the analysis of what a case says and how it applies.”

In addition, Adam points out, in China the students never talk in class. “There’s no give and take. A Chinese professor comes to class, stands at the podium and delivers information. And then the students regurgitate it on a multiple-choice final exam. That’s how it is done.”

So taking these factors into consideration, Glennon and Adam made some decisions during that first class. In many ways it was Adam’s judicial experience with self-represented and non-native English-speaking litigants that suggested the direction those decisions took.

First, Adam says, she knew that reducing stress in the courtroom, particularly when litigants are unfamiliar with the law and/or unconfident about their English, led to a better performance for all involved. So to reduce stress for their Chinese students who were not used to answering questions in class, let alone in uncertain English, she and Glennon told the students that neither of them would call on the students during class. “We said that if they wanted to volunteer that would be fine and if not, that would also be fine.” With a wry smile she adds, “And it turned out, of course, nobody would volunteer, so that meant we had to be prepared to lecture for two solid hours each time we went to class since we couldn’t count on a lot of engagement as we might in the U.S.”

Second, because when Adam was on the bench she had found it very important to get everyone’s names right, to be respectful as a matter of fairness, she and Glennon told the students they would call them by whatever name they wrote down on the seating chart. “Ninety percent of them wrote down their Chinese names, not the English names they had been assigned in English class to make it easier for Western teachers like us,” Adam says. Pronouncing those names was not easy, however, since in Mandarin there are four different ways to pronounce every word. So Adam made phonetic notes below each name as an aid, hoping this would give herself and Glennon a chance of getting the names right.

Finally, for her procedure class, which required that Adam be able to assess each student’s ability “to research a legal issue, employ legal reasoning and then argue a position effectively”—in a climate where students were not engaged in dialogue with the professor—she staged a moot court exercise for which they could prepare in advance and work with a teammate. This also gave her the chance to call each student by name (as best she could) at least once during the term.

Not surprisingly, both Glennon and Adam say that over the course of their time at Ocean University there were many situations which highlighted for them that they were teaching American law to students who live in a country with a completely different legal framework. In an essay Adam wrote after coming home she gives this anecdote by way of illustration: “One of the sharpest students in class … challenged her grade on the midterm. She got an A but was upset that her answer to a multiple-choice question about the balancing of private vs. government interests was wrong. ‘I’m Chinese,’ she said, ‘the government’s interest is always more important.’ I respectfully reminded her that this was a class in American legal procedure and that, though she might think us silly, her answer was still wrong.”

Reflecting on this aspect of their experience Glennon adds, “We were in an awkward position because it is a communist country. The rulers exercise total power. Yet at the same time it is a full-blown capitalist country with people making tons of money—it was not unusual to see cars that cost six figures parked on the street. But it’s an oppressive place. Everything is censored. There are cameras everywhere, including in our classroom. There’s no accountability, no transparency. So by the end of three months we were ready to leave.”

That said, Adam also is clear that her Chinese experience “was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. Yes, the government is oppressive, but the people everywhere were so amazing to us. We considered ourselves so lucky to be living there for three months and not to be blowing through. And our students—we just loved our students!” —JW

(The article Karen Adam wrote about her experience at Ocean University, “Teaching Law in China: What works in the courtroom works in the classroom,” can be found at the website of the National Judicial College,­­

‘LBJs’ on the side of the road

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

White-throated Sparrow

Animal migration is a wonderful phenomenon to observe. Be it lobsters, monarchs, or in the case of this column—birds—watching the comings and goings of animals can bring a lifetime of lessons about the earth’s tilt, weather patterns and survival in general. Connections between water depths, different countries and even hemispheres can be made, and after a while the earth starts to feel a little smaller. Power of migration.

At times, bird migration can be subtle and tricky to see. The hundreds (or even thousands) of Saw-whet Owls that pass through mid-coast Maine each fall (passing through as I type) may go largely unnoticed by humans except for the random, stressed owl(s) that remains active during daylight hours. Observing fall songbird migration can be tricky as well, as male songbirds aren’t singing as they do in spring. Instead, some songbirds get shy and stick to the shrubs and thickets, or go high in trees during migration–meaning the average nature observer has to use patience and maybe even a little work to get a good view.

Dark-eyed Junco

For every tricky migration observation, however, there is an example of a more readily accessible migration observation. Such is the case with species each fall that use the not-so-subtle bird habitat and migration corridors that line the sides of our roads. These birds feast on seeds and insects while following safety-in-numbers survival strategies. Within a group word of incoming threats spread quickly in the form of “alarm calls” and groups will erupt in flashes of browns and whites at the drop of such a call. These groups of birds can be impressive in number and, depending on weather conditions, may show up where a single bird had not been seen the day before.

Some drivers of St. George’s roads have been referring to the roadside birds as “Kamikaze birds,” as they seem to play with death while darting in front of cars, buses, and bikes. Others describe such roadside birds as “Little Brown Jobs” or “LBJs.”

White-crowned Sparrow

The vast majority of LBJs along Watts Avenue I saw recently were Dark-eyed Juncos (easy to identify in flight as their outer tail feathers–both left and right sides–are white in contrast to the dark central tail feathers) and White-throated Sparrows. Both are members of the Emberizidae and both species breed in the midcoast. The large numbers of roadside individuals, however, tells a story of birds from further north stopping at our “roadside diners” before heading to their wintering grounds in the south.

White-crowned Sparrows also made up a healthy part of the LBJ groups I saw in St. George. This species breeds up north, Hudson Bay, Labrador and above. But, for a few weeks each fall we get to see this species as individuals pass through on their way to wintering grounds in the southern half of the U.S. Along the coast most White-crowneds seen in migration are first-year birds (hatched just a few months ago) and “white-crowned” can seem like a misnomer for them as their crowns are red-and-cream colored. Song, Chipping, Swamp, and Savannah sparrows rounded out the sparrows I crossed within the LBJ groups.

Hermit Thrush

Two larger bird species that I also saw in this year’s roadside groups were Northern Flicker and Hermit Thrushes. Flickers–state bird of Alabama!–are a woodpecker that spends a lot of time on the ground eating ants. When they take to flight, the white rump patch at the base of their tail (dorsal side) is easily seen and makes identification just as easy. Hermit thrushes–state bird of Vermont–have been extremely tame this fall, especially those with the roadside groups, and approaching close for great views has been the norm! That is never the norm at all!

All in all, I picked out nine species of birds in the St. George roadside LBJ groups and there were undoubtedly other species that passed through. It was hard not to note the sheer numbers of LBJs. They showed up almost magically overnight and seem to have disappeared as quickly as they appeared. The power of migration–a quick show along a roadside near you! See you out there!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

High School Choice: An important part of the 8th grade year

8th grade students at the St. George School browsing high school handbooks and brochures

This year’s 8th graders are currently going through the High School Choice process as it is their last year at St. George School. This month we are taking tours and getting presentations about the main schools we have to choose from: Oceanside High School, Camden Hills Regional High School, Watershed High School, Lincoln Academy High School, and Medomak Valley High School. The choice process is an important part of the 8th grade year because the school we choose is the school we will be attending next year. It may be stressful for some of us, but St. George students are fortunate to have this choice of schools. The High School Choice process helps each of us pick the right high school best suited to our way of learning.

The High School Choice process begins in September, starting with High School Choice Night. This is when representatives from each of the main high schools as well as Midcoast School of Technology (MCST) sets up a small table with handouts, brochures, and schedules. The representatives each give a brief presentation about their school and what it offers, including different programs or clubs they have and graduation requirements. After the schools have presented, students and their families are free to walk around to the different tables and ask questions or take handouts that the high school representatives provide. This year, in addition to the regular schools, we also had presentations from North Haven Community School and the Maine Ocean School in Searsport.

The next step in the process is when 8th graders tour each high school in October. This is helpful because students can get a feel for each school and can even see classes or activities they are interested in. So far, our 8th grade class has visited four of the five schools. Each tour has been excellent; many of us have had a great time exploring the schools’ music programs, their theaters, and their visual arts. Others enjoy checking out the hands-on programs, international options, sports programs, and electives.

The third step of the High School Choice process is the potluck for families of students who have gone to St. George in the past. At the potluck supper, students and their families can chat with high schoolers to get an idea of how they like the school they are attending and answer questions we might have about their schools.

After the potluck, students have a chance to shadow a student at the high school that they are considering. For some students, it may be two schools. Eighth graders get to spend about one school day at that high school shadowing a student who has the same interests and a similar schedule as theirs. By shadowing a high school student, St. George students can get a good feel for the school they are considering.

The final step of High School Choice is when you have made up your mind about what high school is the best fit for you. To complete this step by January 31st, you must fill out a form stating what high school you will be attending the following year.

In the spring, the counselors from the high schools help get us registered for courses, and we each attend orientations at our school of choice to help ease the transition and meet other students. No matter where we go to high school, we will always know that we can come back to St. George School for advice and support or to give back to our community.
—Adeline McPhail, Grade 8

Upcoming ceremonies to honor veterans

A Veterans Day ceremony is to be held at the St. George School on November 9th at 9am. Members of St. George American Legion Post 34 will be in attendance and will be honored by the students. The message given to the students is the importance of service to our country.

In conjunction with “Wreaths Across America” on December 15th, Legion members will also lay a wreath for each branch of service in a noon ceremony at the First Baptist Church in Wiley’s Corner. The noon service will occur at the same time as the wreath-laying service at Arlington National Cemetery and across the country. The local Girl Scouts will also participate with the American Legion. — Dave Percival

Share the warmth!

This year the St. George Community Development Corporation (CDC) will be accepting donated coats in all sizes for distribution in the community through Thanksgiving. Residents are welcome to bring donations to the CDC office located at 47 Main Street in Tenants Harbor during office hours: Mon.-Tues. 9-2, Wed. 9-12, and Thurs. 2-7. Please donate items that are either new or have been laundered and are in good condition.

Those residents or families that would like to pick out a coat (or coats), please come to the St. George Community Cupboard, the food pantry located at 47 Main Street, during open cupboard hours on Thursdays from 2 to 7.

Taking to the town’s hiking trails both for recreation and service

When Tom Gorrill and his wife Barbara moved to Martinsville from Gray in September of 2015, aside from addressing needed renovations to their new-to-them mid-19th-century home, high on Gorrill’s agenda was finding a way to make a hands-on contribution to local conservation efforts. As vice-president of the Maine Appalachian Trail (AT) Club, he was naturally drawn to volunteer opportunities involving trail maintenance and development.

“When I first got here, I began looking around for local volunteer opportunities. I’m still involved very much with the AT, but that work has become more administrative now that we’ve moved further away.” For quite a few years, Gorrill notes by way of explanation, he had been Overseer of the Baldpate District of the Maine AT, with 31 maintainers working with him to keep that portion of the AT clear, groomed and in good repair. “So when we moved here I wanted to get back to being more involved with trails, to get out in the field.”

He checked out some midcoast conservation groups’ websites looking for ways to get involved. “Coastal Mountains Land Trust has a nice website. I hit the “Volunteer” button and they got in touch with me within a day.”

In short order he was going to Camden every Wednesday to join what he calls “an old-guy group” that went out and did maintenance. “And that was fun. But what I didn’t know about, and gradually got to know about as I was here longer and began attending Conservation Commission meetings, were the trails in St. George.” 

About a year ago, in line with the Commission’s informal way of welcoming volunteers and sharing responsibilities, Gorrill began coordinating with Ingrid Mroz, who up until then had been overseeing the Commission’s responsibility to “enhance public access” to town conservation lands “through the establishment and management of trails, kiosks and parking areas,” as it states on the town’s website. “Ingrid shifted over to helping me on the trails and I help her with her new focus, which is invasives,” Gorrill explains.

So now Gorrill no longer needs to make the weekly 50-mile round trip to Camden to satisfy his desire to do trail work. “These trails are local. It’s wonderful to have this system here. I can go out and walk my dogs, but I can also contribute locally and to me that’s important. I don’t want to have to drive an hour to get an opportunity. I don’t want to have to leave the peninsula.”

Gorrill hopes other St. George residents will discover how easy it is to support this particular part of the Conservation Commission’s work. 

“The Commision has always done a trail clean-up day, or a spring trail-maintenance day. And unofficially some people from the Commission have sort of looked after a trail, but the trail network has been expanding. We’ve now got High Island, which Les Hyde and the Commission worked with Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) to acquire, and there’s the Bamford property, which is a 35-acre tract down off Long Cove where the MCHT has just finished putting in a trail to the water. And then there’s the Meadow Brook preserve off Turkey Cove Road. That was purchased by the MCHT but turned over to the town so the town has all the maintenance responsibilities. There’s no trail there yet, so we will build it with the MCHT, but then we will have to maintain it. So the network is expanding, which is great—to preserve these areas and give everyone the opportunity to get out into these places to enjoy them, but we’re going to need more volunteers to help with the maintenance as that happens.”

There’s a wide range of volunteer opportunities, Gorrill says, starting with simply monitoring a particular trail every week or two to see if there are any maintenance needs to report such as blowdowns, a drainage issue or a need for clipping. “All that person has to do is call or email me the information and we’ll line up some trail maintainers to take care of the problem.” The biggest need in the summer, Gorrill says, is for clipping. “It’s amazing how quickly a trail can disappear. You want to keep the trail three feet wide, but stuff grows in the summer so if someone wants to get out and clip that’s very definitely a summer volunteer opportunity.”

Another way to help is to add your name to a list of volunteer maintainers who will be notified of work-day opportunities to help with trail construction or larger maintenance issues such as bog bridging replacement, setting stepping stones or installing waterbars. These are mostly seasonal activities.

Building the trail at the Meadow Brook preserve is a special case, where the fun is in creating a trail that users will find interesting. Here the new trail will likely be more of a wetlands nature walk similar to the St. George school’s nature trail. “In building a new trail you try to go by certain features so people can learn about them. And there are always some areas you can’t avoid, so bridging or stepping stones have to be put in. And obviously you have to clear the trail with the aim of making it accessible for all ages.”

The big thing to realize, Gorrill says, is that people don’t need many skills other than a willingness to go out and work and learn. “I’ve always found it’s a great time out there working with people. You can learn on the job so you don’t really need any particular skills. And you don’t need special equipment, either.”

Gorrill acknowledges that, despite its expanding nature, the trail system in St. George is very small-scale in comparison with the AT. But what Gorrill says he appreciates about St. George’s trails is the “variety of experiences for a variety of abilities” the system offers. 

“So for a guy like me who tends to like a longer trail, the Jones Brook Trail is great—you can go from the Town Forest Trail off Kinney Woods Road right over to Route 131. It’s about 2.5 to 3 miles, so you can really get a good hiking experience in. And from Route 131 it links up with the Fort Point Trail, which is a short trail that doesn’t take very long and you’re rewarded with a great view.”

Dogs are welcome on the trails, but should be leashed, more as a precaution against encounters with other dogs than anything else. And the trails are accessible much of the year, including winter (another option for volunteer work is painting trail blazes to mark the trails for all-season visibility). Hikers should avoid damaging muddy trails in the spring, respect the limitations hunting season brings and take common-sense precautions against ticks.

For more information on volunteer opportunities related to maintaining and developing the town’s trails contact Tom Gorrill at 372-8806 or at—JW

The St. George School nature trail was re-dedicated in memory of conservation activist Les Hyde on October 20. Hyde was a moving force behind the expansion of the town’s trail system.

PHOTOS: Top, Maine AT Club, below, Betsy Welch

This is one honey of a mushroom

Nature bumming’ with Kirk Gentalen—

Pithy stalk

In my humble, fungal experience the two most frequently asked questions on mushroom explorations are, “Will it kill me?” and “Can I eat it?” And while the edibility and toxicity potential of a mushroom adds an air of excitement to any harvesting experience, those potentials just skim the surface of characteristics that make mushrooms cool and interesting. There are plenty of things to think about when dealing with mushrooms. How does it release its spores? Does the mushroom glow in the dark? Does the fungus help, hurt or just turn trees into dirt? Does it have a veil? Does it look like a “mushroom?” Is it found locally, regionally, circumpolarly, or even globally? Can it clone itself or is it at the mercy of sexual reproduction? Classic fungal questions. They can go on forever. 

With so much to think about and so many mushrooms out there, things can be a little overwhelming to the newbie mushroom watcher/fungus tracker. But what if I told you there was an easy-to-identify (pretty much) mushroom that is, was, and continues to represent most everything a mushroom watcher looks for in a ‘shroom? And to make things even better—they call this honey of a mushroom the Honey Mushroom! I know—you can’t make this stuff up!

To oversimplify, September is for Boletes and Amanitas. Then, in early October members of the Cortinariaceae (Corts) take over the spruce and fir forests with their purples, greys and oranges. And just when the dust feels like its settling on the fall mushroom bloom, there is an intense, thick burst at the base of trees, rising from subterranean roots, and erupting through tree bark up to 25 feet or more off the ground. Welcome to the world of Honey Mushrooms (Armilllaria mellea)! Let the dance begin. 

Typically fruiting in large clusters, Honey Mushrooms are known for their decurrent gills (they “run” down the stalks slightly and we love that) and (often) honey colored caps that are covered with dark, scaly tufts. Their stalk/stipes are tough, with a “pithy” interior and a bold white “veiled” ring. Their caps are edible, as are their “pithy” stalks once the tough outer layer is removed. (Pithy stalks cooked in olive oil are dreamy). And yet, Honey Mushrooms collected off spruce trunks and roots are more likely to make one become sick when compared to eating honeys collected off hardwoods. Yes, they are an edible mushroom that may make you sick! To make things even cooler, Honey Mushrooms and the fungus itself within the log or trunk glow in the dark, creating an eeirry green glow known as “foxfire.” These mushrooms are “on” both day and night!  

At times the Honey Mushrooms fungus is saprotrophic—decomposing the heartwood of plants, turning the non-living part of trunks and roots into soil.  And yet, when the decomposer lifestyle isn’t “cutting it,” Honey Mushrooms will send out “hyphae”—thread-like filaments that make up a fungus—through the soil in search of food. The thick, insulted groups of Honey Mushroom hyphae are called “rhizomorphs,” and they attack and begin to digest trees and shrubs with which they come into contact. This can cause and spread the destructive “white rot” throughout a patch of woods! They go from decomposer to parasite in order to feed their insatiable appetite. Adaptable and aggressive, the Honey Mushroom is a true survivalist.

As the fungus grows, it clones itself and continues its “individual” life by enlarging in size and extending its reach. In optimal conditions this results in grandiose specimens–as evidenced by the Honey Mushroom fungus in Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. One Honey Mushroom mycelium—mat of fungal hyphae—in the forest has been measured at 3.5 square miles, and estimated to be at least 2,400 years old—the largest living “being” known to humans on the planet. Honey Mushrooms are not only circumpolar in the northern hemisphere, but are recognized as one of the most widely distributed mushrooms in the world as they can be found at the appropriate latitudes in the southern hemisphere as well. This is why Gary Lincoff says, “With some justification, Earth could be called the Honey Mushroom Planet.” Well put, Gary.

And just when it seems like this fungus can’t get any more perfect, it turns out the “Honey Mushroom” is actually at least ten different, but closely related and seemingly identical species! For most intents and purposes they are the same species and impossible to separate in the field. As our understanding and knowledge of fungus increases through DNA and other tests there are many “past facts” that will be corrected and will have to be relearned. There is so much “unknown” or “wrongly understood” within our knowledge of fungus it can be interesting to correctly identify a mushroom knowing in the back of your mind there’s a fair chance that the resource you are using will turn out to be wrong. For some reason I like this, the mystery of fungus. “Weird” Al Yankovic was right when he wrote, “Everything you know is wrong!”

Honey Mushrooms have it all, or at least most of it all! And they are growing in a patch of woods near you! We’ll see you out there!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

A special Tenants Harbor welcome

Mary Galbraith Wall and Geraldine Watts Wall stand by the original Tenants Harbor welcome sign on August 5, 1949

As you approach the village of Tenants Harbor through what some old-timers call “The Harbor Woods,” you see a sign that looks like the stern of a lobster boat named the “Welcome II” hailing from Tenants Harbor. Some of the same old-timers may remember the predecessor to that sign when it was located at the intersection of Main Street and Mechanic Street in front of the post office.

A July 1953 issue of the local paper­—the Courier-Gazette—contains a letter to the editor from Fred Romkey recalling the history of the earlier sign. The sign was erected in September 1929 by the Village Improvement Society, with a push from Harriet and Ernest Rawley. The Village Improvement Society was also responsible for such things as the wooden sidewalks that wound through the village to keep residents out of the mud.

Rawley’s letter also talks about “our one and only sign painter Roy” Meservey doing a decent job of painting the sign, even though it was “long over due.”

Rolling the clock ahead by at least 50 years, and with the earlier sign no longer in place, Martha and Bill Iliffe felt a new welcoming sign was needed. Taking on the role of Harriet and Ernest Rawley, Martha and Bill moved forward with the raising of funds, obtained an appropriate design, then had the sign placed on their property at the edge of the road to welcome everyone to the village.

As an interesting footnote, Bill Iliffe was the grandson of the author of the 1953 Courier-Gazette letter to the editor, Fred Romkey.

—­John M. Falla

It takes funds for a fun trip!

The eighth grade has started fundraising for our annual Québec City trip in the Spring. We will be going May 30-June 2. We will explore all of Québec’s unique features. We will go try different foods that we haven’t had yet, we will go to the mall to shop, and we will be staying in a hotel there. We will be practicing our French in all of those places.

Our first big fundraiser was last week’s Italian Dinner. Instead of having the normal spaghetti dinner, Willow’s parents, India and John McConochie, volunteered to make some delicious Italian-style food. They made pasta and red sauce with Italian sausage, polenta, and homemade garlic bread. They, along with other parents, also made some yummy desserts. 

At the dinner, we each had to work a shift, either setting up, serving, cleaning up, or doing admissions. Grandparents, and other family members and family friends came to enjoy this dinner. At $5 a plate, we made over $1,700 (our original goal was $1,000). This was the biggest crowd for the dinner and open house in the  recent history at the St. George School. People were lined up all the way along the gym walls and almost going out of the door. There were people who came who didn’t even have a child in the school. 

Our goal for raising enough money to get to Québec is $11,000. Our next few months of fundraising will be concessions at home basketball games this winter, a school dance in November, the local Christmas Craft Fairs on Dec 1st and 8th, and a Holiday Band Concert dessert. For fundraising in 2019, we will have the bottles at the transfer station in January, a dance in February, our annual March Madness basketball event, another band concert dessert in March, food at the St. George Business Alliance Fair, and another dance in April or May. With all this fundraising and hard work, the eighth grade class hopes to enjoy a trip to Québec City, Canada this spring. We are thankful for the tremendous support from the St. George community. Merci beaucoup!

—Sophia Miller and Gwen Miller, Grade 8