Sunday, June 26, 2011

Good Intentions

June 25, 2011
A half- mile up the road

I have just been through the process
of killing the cistudo for the sake of science;
but I cannot excuse myself for this murder,

and see that such actions are inconsistent
with the poetic perception,

however they may serve science,
and will affect the quality of my observations.

I pray that I may walk more innocently and serenely through nature.

No reasoning whatever reconciles me to this act.
It affects my day injuriously.
I have lost some self-respect.
I have a murderer’s experience in a degree.
-- HDT Journal, August 18, 1854. He had been working with naturalist Louis Agassiz, providing specimens of local flora and fauna.

Today I am driving down Meadowbrook Road, and up ahead, I see a turtle slowly walking across the road. It is a small snapping turtle, several years old. She is heading for a large puddle of water on the other side of the road.

It is heartening to see her, since this month -- the month of turtle-nesting -- I have seen more dead turtles by the roadside than living ones.

In fact, I have "rescued" several turtles who were crossing a road. This year, I have gone so far as to keep garden-gloves (for handling smaller turtles) and a small plastic shovel (for turtles who are too large for me to want to put my hand anywhere near them) in my car. Nature Girl to the Rescue is the title of the self-congratulating movie now playing inside my head.

My joy turns quickly to alarm, as it becomes apparent that this will be an almost impossible journey for her, given the number of cars going to and fro at this spot.

So, lover of turtles that I am, I pull over as soon as possible, to the nice wide shoulder of the road, next to the spot where she is trundling across the pavement toward the other side. I throw the car into park and get out. I know another car is approaching right behind me, and there isn’t much time.

Fortunately, the turtle has made it as far as the yellow center line of the road. It seems she is at least safe from that car behind me.

But as that next car comes swiftly along, it doesn’t slow down, but instead swerves away a little bit, and

whump whump

That sickening sound – as the car passes,
the turtle is now belly up and most certainly dead,
and I am jumping up and down in the middle of the road,
yelling at the unseen driver “you ass ! you stupid ASS !”
though by now the car is a mile down the road,
and it is myself who is the ass.

All too late I realize that the car must have swerved to avoid ME,
that if I had not been standing there, that turtle might have LIVED.
In my efforts to help it, I killed that turtle,
as surely as if I had run over it myself.

I slowly put on my garden-gloves.
My heart is a heavy, heavy stone.
I walk out morosely between oncoming cars, whose drivers stare uncomprehending at me,
and carry what’s left of the turtle
over to the water she had been seeking.

It is a costly lesson.

Like Thoreau, I cannot excuse myself.

But can you tell me, has this sort of thing ever happened to any of you?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Meeting on the Musketaquid

June 3, 2011
Concord, Massachusetts

The Musketaquid, or Grass-ground River, though probably as old as the Nile or Euphrates, did not begin to have a place in civilized history, until the fame of its grassy meadows and its fish attracted settlers out of England in 1635, when it received the other but kindred name of CONCORD from the first plantation on its banks, which appears to have been commenced in a spirit of peace and harmony. It will be Grass-ground River as long as grass grows and water runs here; it will be Concord River only while men lead peaceable lives on its banks.
-- HDT, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

While in Concord, I had hopes of meeting a friend from the Blogosphere who lives near there, Suasco Al, aka Trashpaddler. In his spare time, he patrols the rivers he loves, and picks up what trash he can. Over the years he has removed thousands of pieces of litter from the waters, quietly and without a lot of fuss. (You can follow his exploits at

He’s one of my real-life heroes, and keeps me inspired to improve my environment, in ways however small. Dixit et fecit, indeed !

He sometimes travels far afield, and so I wasn’t at all sure we would be able to connect.

We emailed before my trip, and it so happened that he would paddling right in his own home waters, on the Sudbury and Concord Rivers, with Erik, a blogging friend of his from Rhode Island. (That blog is They would be scouting that stretch of water in preparation for a paddle trip that Erik was leading the following week.

In his email, Al gave me a rough estimate of when they might be passing by the Lowell Bridge, so Friday after noon, Jackie and I took our lunch at the Calf Pasture.
We sat on a bench with a fine view of Egg Rock, where the Assabet and the Sudbury rivers meet to form the Concord River. It was the site of important councils between the Native people and the first settlers.
Rivers come together, people come together.
It is a natural meeting-place.

We tidied up a little patch of waterline, in anticipation of their arrival. Didn't want them to land upon a trashy shore ! Jackie was happy to find lance-leaved violet growing along the soggy banks of the river.

Being without internet access back at our B&B, I had to resort to using my new and hardly-ever-used cellphone, and calling the number that Al had given me in our last email. Well, I’m a convert now as to their usefulness.

Standing on the bank of the river, with the water lapping at my feet, I dialed the number and pushed SEND.
Al promptly answered – from his kayak !

“Excuse me a moment, my hat just blew off.”

He was some distance upriver on the Sudbury, and said they would soon be passing by Egg Rock.

Ahoy ! Here they are ! paddling against the wind.

Erik comes in for a soft landing.

It was great to meet them at the very spot where the rivers also come together. To meet friends from the internet, from hundreds of miles apart, and to affirm that we live in more than just 2 dimensions.

We chatted a while, as the guys stretched their legs ashore.

Al and I talked trash.
I marvel at his methods of stowing things on the boat.

He sorts things into recyclables, non-recyclables, and trash.
This is just the overflow:

We even got to see him spring into action, as a beer bottle floated past us, down the middle of the river. It soon joined the other trash that Al had pulled from the river that day. His year-to-date count is approaching 3,000 items.

Erik lined us up for a group photo, which he posted on his blog –
yes, for a brief moment in time, we were
The Four Musketaquideers.

(Without apologies, I share Thoreau’s weakness for dreadful puns.)

Then it was time for them to continue on their journey, and we on ours.

We stood on Lowell Bridge to wave goodbye.

It was a beautiful day to be anywhere near the river.
And the river, a little more beautiful than before,
thanks to people like Al and Erik.

Great to meet you, guys !

And congratulations, Al, on winning a well-deserved
River Stewardship Award at the 2011 Riverfest the following week.

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious
as to have friends at a distance;
they make the latitudes and longitudes.

--HDT letter to Lidian Emerson, May 22, 1843

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pictures of Paradise

June 2nd and 3rd, 2011
Framingham, Massachusetts

Painters are wont, in their pictures of Paradise,
to strew the ground too thickly with flowers.
There should be moderation in all things.
Though we love flowers,
we do not want them so thick under our feet
that we cannot walk without treading on them.

HDT Journal, June 15, 1853

Thoreau would have had a hard time of it, then, at the Garden in the Woods, which is just a short distance from Walden. It’s a fantastic place for anyone remotely interested in native plants, and it’s chock full of botanical wonders.

I had never been there, and it was my great fortune to be invited on this field trip by Jackie and several of the Thursday Naturalists.

We all ended up staying at the B&B in Lincoln, where I usually stay when visiting Walden. Ed, Ruth and Nan would be staying only one night, but Jackie and I stayed a little longer. All were charmed by the house and by our host Barbara, who makes everyone feel right at home.

We spent the better part of 2 days at the Garden, and did not get to all the trails. Plants are labeled (huzzah!) and arranged by habitat. There were guided tours available, but I had the best guides possible in my knowledgeable companions.

To say we were like kids in a candy store, is an understatement!

The first stop was to the Rare Plants section. Since I am relatively new at this, I don’t know enough to even know if a plant is rare or not. And it was a little confusing in this section, since many of the plants, listed as rare in New England, were fairly common in upstate New York. Which, I suppose, is good news for us.

Still, I was seeing plants I never expected to see – I lost count at how many were new to me.

We were not the only flower afficionados here, either.

My companions were calling out to one another at each new discovery. They huddled frequently, their quiet discussions peppered with Latin. It was fun to watch them parse out an unfamiliar plant.

They were very patient in answering my endless questions.

A high point for me was that at one section of a trail, Ed called me over to look at something that was well-hidden along a shady path, something he knew I was looking for: Lygodium palmatum, Thoreau's Climbing Fern !

For an interesting article about Thoreau and those who successfully re-discovered this fern in Concord, click here
Mostly what I learned is that even folks who know an AWFUL lot about plants can still see new and exciting things, in any walk. Their enthusiasm is certainly contagious.

As I followed along the paths, seeing all the labels, I wondered, what sort of plants would each of US be?

Well, let’s see,
there’s Jackie: loves poor soils (for therein lie riches), likes bright open canopies, not showy

Ed: a perennial, evergreen in all seasons, slightly spicey 


Nan:  grows on the “wild side,” known to favor mountain slopes

 Ruth: low-growing, tenacious and hardy

ALL of them would be listed as rare treasures in my book.

And me, I’m just a water-lily, floating along.
I like bogs and frogs and turtles.

Which was my favorite habitat section of the Garden.

While standing in the sun, watching the dragonflies, I saw a school group coming along the boardwalk. One teacher was reading a sort of scavenger-hunt list to the kids; I heard her say, “… and find something beautiful.”

A little boy by her side eagerly pointed here and there,
repeating each time:
“ I found something beautiful,
I found something beautiful …”