Category Archives: February 14

‘Farmhouse Frost’—seeing ‘a little more than what you’re used to’

For those of us who don’t live in a completely weather-tight home, frost on a window is a commonplace of wintry mornings in St. George. But in 2010 Martinsville resident and macro-photographer Elizabeth Root Blackmer began to realize that the ordinary frost she was seeing on her farmhouse windows had become provocative enough to take out her camera.

“I think that on the edge of our vision there’s more we’d like to see, just as we’d like to see the stars better. The main thing with macro-photography is that you get to explore just a little more detail than you can actually see. But you sort of know what it is or you may know or not know—it is on the edge of that. You can play with ambiguity about what it is or you can choose it where you know what it is but you see a bit more. That arouses curiosity, to see a little more than what you’re used to. And that’s what happens with the frost images.”

After eight winters of photographing her farmhouse’s frost, Blackmer sent LensWork a submission of 70 images for possible publication, resulting in an extraordinary 23-page color spread of 28 of Blackmer’s photographs titled “Farmhouse Frost” in December 2018. LensWork, its homepage stresses, is “a bimonthly photography publication about photographs (rather than cameras!),” with “articles, interviews and portfolios all about images and the creative process.”

Blackmer, who is now retired from a career in academia, says she “ended up doing photography on the two ends of my career.” She first became interested in photography in high school and then continued with it in college (while studying fine arts at Harvard) and graduate school (while getting a PhD in communication research at Stanford). Macro photography was an early interest.

“In my teens I discovered that I could reverse a lens, tape it to my camera, and explore a new world,” she noted in the introduction to her LensWork “Farmhouse Frost” spread. But time for photography soon gave way to other priorities—her family (she and husband Hugh raised two children) and her academic career. It wasn’t until 2008, after retirement, that she found herself wanting to learn digital photography and to start taking pictures again. Coincidentally, an invitation from their son to come to California to watch him and his wife run in the Big Sur marathon, she says, provided an unexpected impetus to do just that.

“There were several events of different distances connected with the marathon and Hugh and I decided we would do the 21-mile walk while the younger ones did the 26.2-mile marathon. We had to train for that during the winter because the marathon was in May. But walking all winter, I thought I’d get bored so I said, okay, I’ll take a picture every day and post it publicly on Flickr. So that was the way I reentered the world of photography.”

Those 2008 shots were taken around the roads of St. George—pictures of nature, houses and anything that caught Blackmer’s interest.

“Then I got a macro lens in the late winter of 2010. I went crazy! That was just what I wanted! But I wanted to get even closer to my subjects so very soon I also got extension tubes which go between the lens and the camera and they allow more magnification. That launched me into my macro-photography.” Between getting this new equipment and Maine’s house-confining wintery days, the ever-changing patterns of frost on her home’s windows became a compelling photographic focus.

One of the things she likes about macro-photography, Blackmer says, is that “there’s something familiar about the subject matter even if you don’t know what it is. And one of the things I see is that there are patterns you can observe in macro-photography that you observe at other scales. For instance, I took a picture of some sand ripples at Drift Inn beach and I saw that they looked like mountain ranges, that they looked like they were taken from an airplane. I like to have that ambiguity in my photographs, where you don’t know the scale.” The frost in most of her images, she notes, covers an area of only about one square-inch although the pictures don’t give any indication of that.

Blackmer also observes that with her frost images, in particular, there are aspects that are philosophical. “You look at a photo of frost and it is inorganic, but there it is reminding us of patterns that we see in feathers or ferns that are organic. So there are patterns that cross the organic/inorganic boundary, our perception of what that seemingly fundamental distinction is.”

In addition, if at one level Blackmer’s frost images are fascinating as records of what randomly-occurring conditions produce, these photographs also owe a great deal to her manipulations of those images. “I like to play with the lines, and with the boundaries of the photograph and how those interact. I also sometimes intensify the colors that the frost picks up. There’s quite a few elements to what I’m doing.”

Although the December spread in LensWork represents what Blackmer feels is a body of work that is complete and can stand on its own, she says she’ll persist in taking pictures of frost, noting that she just recently posted a new frost photo on Flickr. “Still,” she admits with a wry smile, “these days the frost has to be pretty attractive to me for me to get out the camera and go for it.”—JW

Blackmer’s frost images were taken with a Nikon D800 or D5000, a 60mm macro lens and a 36mm extension tube, braced against the inner window pane. Further information about Blackmer and her work can be found at www.brootphoto.com. There will be a show of her photographic work this summer at Granite Gallery in Tenants Harbor from July 12-17, with an opening reception with live music and refreshments on July 12 from 5-8pm.

PHOTOS: Elizabeth Root Blackmer

Marsh a-track-tions

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Bobcat register trail

A good snow can mean freedom in the woods. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and you are no longer restricted to trails (not that you truly were before, but anyway). You can follow your own path, go your own way, wander around to your little heart’s content! Grab a friend, exploring is sweeter when shared!

Ice can be quite liberating as well, and not just for humans. For much of the year, marshes and wetter wetlands are largely “walk arounds” for animals that “would prefer not to enter the muck and get stuck.” Areas that are sloggy, mucky and downright impassable to many four-(and two-) legged critters become hunting zones, thoroughfares and even skating rinks when a layer of ice is added. No canoe is necessary here!

Combine the two (thick ice and a fresh layer of snow) and the wandering can be heavenly. Animal trails from the night before can often be seen at a distance, and much can be interpreted from answering a couple of questions even before you get a close look at a single track.

Are the tracks in a straight(ish) line of what appears to be single tracks? If so, the animal you are tracking may have been “direct registering” its steps. Direct register is when a walking/trotting four-legged critter places its back foot directly where the corresponding front foot had been. A track in a track, two tracks in one, appearing to be a single track. This walking style is efficient in snow, grasses and most habitats and is used by wild dogs and cats. Some domestic dogs may direct register a bit, but rarely do they maintain this formation for lengths of time without jumping and having fun–and they are fun to track! On the marsh in Tenants Harbor, though, the main direct registers are coyote, fox and bobcat.

Take a closer look at a couple of tracks in the trail you found. Do they have four toes? Any claw marks above the toes? Simple questions that often have clear answers. If it’s “yes” to both four toes and claw marks, then you are looking at a wild dog track. Narrow, long and with clear detail means coyote tracks. Red fox tracks are small and usually lack detail due to the amount of fur they have surrounding their toe and heel pads. There is no shortage of coyote trails on the marsh (and just about everywhere on the peninsula) after each snow. They are a presence you can count on.

Bobcat track

Four toes but no claws? Is the track “rounder” in shape when compared to a coyote’s? Most likely a feline track. Bobcats and other cats have retractable claws and thusly do not show claw marks in their tracks. Small cat tracks may be from a local cat on the prowl, but large cat tracks and trails are sure sign of local bobcats. In the marsh they hunt on the ice—stealthily weaving through cattails close to the shoreline in search of an unlucky rodent. Follow the bobcat trail into the woods you’ll likely see they like to hop up onto hung-up logs. Is it for a better view or possibly to scare a snowshoe hare that might be hiding in the space underneath the log? Or both? In general, bobcats do whatever they want to do for whatever reason they choose.

Bounding trail

A bounding trail is made from a walk or run of “leaping strides”. Animals that bound will jump forward with front legs outstretched. As they move, their back feet will land pretty much where their front feet had been, leaving a trail that looks as if the animal leapt from one set of tracks to the other. Weasels are bounders, moving in an undulating flow that can look awkward but appears to work for them. On the marsh a local mink leaves a bounding trail through the cat tails after most snows, while bounding fisher trails are found throughout the woods surrounding the wetlands. Fishers are known to avoid water if possible, even the frozen style.

If your bounding trail is large and has belly slides mixed in you are tracking a river otter, “everyone’s favorite weasel.” Otter trails may be short and sweet–a quick bound between ice-holes or a visit to a latrine. Or they can be long and meandering as an otter goes across land to the next water and food source. Finding a river otter trail often results in smiles.

These are some of the main winter attractions on the marsh, and no visit is complete without finding their tracks and trails. Its usually not too hard once you start looking. In fact, its often harder to stop once you begin to follow!

Get to know your neighbors! Track your neighborhood wildlife! There is so much of it in St. George.

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

Phyllis Wyeth: She made a farsighted idea come true for hundreds of St. George youth

Phyllis Mills Wyeth died this past January 14 at her home in Chadds Ford, Pa., with her husband Jamie by her side. Obituaries published following her death rightly celebrated her as a philanthropist who generously supported the arts and environmental causes and who advocated for the rights of handicapped and disabled people. But for the community of St. George, where she was a seasonal resident, Wyeth’s most memorable and honored contribution will be her very concrete impact on the lives of our youth through Herring Gut Learning Center.

Founded by Wyeth in 1997 as Marshall Point Sea Farm, Herring Gut embodies Wyeth’s conviction that a fishing community in today’s world will not survive the effects of changing conditions unless its youth become knowledgeable about, and well-grounded in, the technologies, science and economics of aquaculture. Coincidentally, she realized some important truths about education.

In the beginning, the kind of educational program Wyeth sought for St. George students was termed “alternative education,” something reserved for students at risk of failing academically. Jim Masterson, the original director of the St. George Alternative Education program worked closely with Wyeth on developing the Herring Gut model. “In the years I knew Phyllis she tried her best to truly provide a wonderful experiential education to those ‘at-risk’ students,” Masterson says, adding parenthetically, “Of course Phyllis was Phyllis—strong-willed and mischievous with a good sense of humor—you definitely didn’t get in her way or talk her out of much. She was a hoot.”

Over the years, as the Herring Gut project’s curricula and reach expanded, it and other programs like it began to shift educators’ thinking even more profoundly. “Phyllis Wyeth believed that all students can learn, that students learn best by doing, and that place and community should ground, shape, and inspire curriculum,” says Mike Felton, the superintendent of the St. George School. “Ms. Wyeth’s vision shaped Herring Gut Learning Center and forced educators to rethink how we approach teaching and learning. Rather than ask students to conform to a traditional classroom and curriculum, change the classroom and curriculum to engage, challenge, and inspire students. Let learning take root in the community’s shore and soil, its history and traditions. Let students work with their hands, build and create, take responsibility for their learning and share that learning with the community.”

Jaden Petersdorf, from 2013 to 2016 a student in the St. George alternative education program, is only one of many former Herring Gut students who continue to value their involvement at Herring Gut. “I was lucky to be able to go to Herring Gut,” he says today. But as Peter Harris, the chair of Herring Gut’s Board of Trustees notes, Wyeth wanted Herring Gut to be more than a lucky opportunity. “Phyllis was a true visionary. She didn’t just have a farsighted idea, she made it come true for hundreds of kids here. I loved watching how excited she was when a 7th or 8th grader told her what they had learned.”­—JW
(Thanks to Sonja Schmanska for her help in preparing this tribute to Phyllis Wyeth.)

Support our band—the Kanicki legacy

Senior luncheon

In 2016, St. George School created the Carolyn Kanicki Music Fund to honor and recognize Mrs. Kanicki, who taught band to hundreds of students during her 25 years at St. George School. Mrs. Kanicki believed that all students should have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and that participation in band enriches a child’s life and provides a lifelong skill. We at St. George School have made it our goal to continue this legacy.

Our alumni are encouraged to stay involved in instrumental music into high school and adulthood. Just the other day, I ran into a St. George School alumni at the grocery store. This former student told me that band is what helped her “get through middle school.” She became a gifted flute player, participating in the Georges Valley High School Band and music festivals around the state throughout her high school years. And currently, Caleb Wight—a very enthusiastic alumnus and sophomore at Lincoln Academy—joins the Middle Level Band for rehearsals whenever he can, performs concerts with us on his tuba, and provides help and encouragement to an up-and-coming 7th grade tuba player!

The students in the St. George School Band love to share their sound and talent with the community on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, at Senior Citizen Luncheons, and in several concerts throughout the school year. On Memorial Day, the band is an integral part of the town parade and ceremony. Our trumpeters perform Taps for the wreath drop and rifle salute at the town landing and then again during the ceremony at the Kinney-Melquist American Legion Post. The band then performs the National Anthem and several patriotic pieces while our community reflects. The St. George School Band performs a similar program on Veterans Day, when several of our community’s veterans are honored in a special ceremony at the school. Every December, our 8th Grade Band is invited to the Senior Luncheon at the Town Office to dine with the Senior Citizens and then provide music, often holiday-themed, for the group. Last March, in celebration of “Music in our Schools Month,” we invited the Mid-Coast Community Band to our annual Music in our Schools Concert. As a grand finale, all musicians, ages 10 to 90, performed together an arrangement of “We Will Rock You.” What we were able to convey through this performance is that music really is a life-long experience that connects us within our school and community.

St. George School 5th graders participate in our Exploratory Band Program, which puts instruments in the hands of all 5th graders, who are taught how to play their instruments in a full band setting as well as in small group lessons. Here at St. George School, out of 87 students in grades five through eight, 74 are currently in band! With this incredible level of participation comes the challenge of making sure that all students have access to quality instruments. The expense of purchasing or renting a quality instrument ranges from $200 (second-hand) to $2,000 (brand new). Since its creation, the Carolyn Kanicki Music Fund has paid more than $3,000 in repairs and maintenance for dozens of school-owned instruments. We were also able to use the fund to purchase a quality, second-hand instrument for a student who otherwise would not be able to participate in the band.

In order to continue providing our students with the unconditional opportunity to play an instrument in the band, we would like to invite our community to contribute to the Carolyn Kanicki Music Fund. Donations can be made by sending a check, payable to “St. George School” with “Carolyn Kanicki Fund” written in the memo line to: St George School, P.O. Box 153, Tenants Harbor, ME 04860. —Kristin O’Neal, St. George School Band Instructor

Kitchen garden talk: Favorite varieties

“Nancy” lettuce

Last issue we introduced this new column about kitchen garden topics that commonly come up when gardeners stroll among one another’s vegetable beds by asking some gardeners we know about where they get their seeds (Johnny’s and FEDCO seemed to be the hands-down favorites). At the end, we invited readers to respond to this question: Pick any vegetable(s) you plan to grow this coming season and tell us what your favorite variety is and why. Here are the responses we got:

George Tripp, Hart’s Neck: Enjoyed the kitchen garden talk article. One of our favorites is the “Fortex” pole bean from Johnny’s. Unfortunately, we may be giving up gardening due to the problem we have with deer. They have cleaned us out two years in a row. Perhaps an article on deer prevention would be helpful?

Chris Bly, Turkey Cove: When it comes to nasturtiums… they’re all lovely! But I highly recommend “MilkMaid,” a creamy slightly yellowish white bloom, and very prolific with at least half sun and ample water. I had really good luck growing them both in a large pot and in the ground as well.

I have also had great success growing “Ailsa Craig” onions. They grow to softball size if pampered with ample water and occasional fertilizer. But starting them from seed in February in a sunny window is the main key to success OR buying seedlings (not sets) if you can find them.

Fresh sweet lettuce is very popular and my all time favorite is “Nancy.” It’s a lightish green butter that will grow very large with a very sweet and tender heart. It really likes water, especially when young.

Anne Cox, Martinsville: I love the “Masai” haricot verts (skinny green beans). They are a bush bean, very productive and deliciously tender. One year I couldn’t get the seed and tried “Provider” instead. Good, but I returned to Masai as soon as I could.

Last year our neighbor, Fiona, asked if we grew “Marfax” dry beans, rumored to make the best baked beans. So I did, and will continue to grow and dry Marfax.

As for lettuce, there is nothing like “Nancy,” a lovely bright green butterhead. For a couple of years, there was a seed crop failure from the suppliers; fortunately, we are back in business again this year. Last year I also grew “Antonet,” a red lollo and “Ilema,” a green lollo, and will again. These frilly Italian lettuces were tasty, with a nice texture.
I couldn’t get the “Mellow Star” shishito pepper seed last year, but have it this year. Very productive, thin-skinned sweet peppers. Perfect for grilling.

There are so many favorites. “Silver Slicer” cucumber, a white slicing cucumber is delicious.

I used to grow “Ailsa Craig” onions, and they were huge, sweet onions—had one close to the size of a bowling ball I think (it was a good onion year). Instead, I now grow “Walla Walla” onions for sweet summer onions. The rest of my onions are good storage onions, but it is definitely worth having one particularly sweet one in the harvest.

And if I grew only one tomato, I think it would be “Aunt Ruby’s German Green.” Yum.

Next issue: What works best for deer prevention? (Thanks, George!). Send your replies to julie@stgeorgedragon.com, or to Julie, St. George Dragon, PO Box 1, Tenants Harbor, ME 04860.

PHOTO: Anne Cox