We met up in a western Maine parking lot: five amateur naturalists and a five-week-old Nigerian pygmy goat. We were ready to caravan a dozen miles and then hike up a rocky roadway into the woods to visit esteemed writer and biologist Bernd Heinrich at his cabin for an event Pamelia and I were calling a vernal pool party. Yes, we were doing serious work for an upcoming Naturalist's Notebook art-science installation-collaboration, but we also had packed cupcakes.
The gathering had been postponed from the previous week because of snow on Bernd's property, but this was a perfect day for studying, sketching and photographing frogs, bugs, insect eggs, plants and whatever else we could find in Bernd's prime vernal pool. Vernal pools, if you've forgotten your high-school biology, are spring wetlands (usually shallow and temporary) that have no fish and are essential to the life cycles of many small animals and plants. Even a small vernal pool can contain hundreds of thousands of wood frog, salamander and insect eggs.
In our group was artist and educator Dorie Petrochko. She is president of the Connecticut Natural Science Illustrators program based at the Yale Peabody and is creating The Naturalist's Notebook's vernal pool installation; you'll learn more about it this summer. She's getting guidance from Yale Peabody Museum preparator Michael Anderson and 86-year-old Ruth Morrill, who is linked to the famous dioramas in the round by James Perry Wilson and Ralph Morrill (her late husband) at the Peabody and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Also contributing are top naturalists such as Bernd and MacArthur Fellow and turtle expert David M. Carroll, whose award-winning book Swampwalker's Journal includes a fascinating and sublimely written vernal-pool chapter.
Marcelene the goat was our companion throughout an afternoon of not just vernal pool studies but also woods walking, tree cleanup, abandoned-cabin exploration, a double-birthday celebration (honorees Bernd and Dorie blew out the cupcake candles) and even an old fashion Maine baked bean dinner at the house of a friend of Bernd's. We all went home with new insights into vernal pool flora and fauna. Marcelene—who lives with Renee and Brett at Sweet Pea Farm—discovered that she likes the forest. Here are some photos from the day:
Nice Surprise As you Facebook followers know, the Notebook was just chosen as a Best of New England destination by Yankee magazine. Not too many places in Maine made the list, and Yankee is the magazine of this region, so we're pretty happy. Thanks for the outpouring of kind words after we posted the news on Facebook!
Earth Day Update The Notebook's Anthea Taeuber and her team took a portion of our traveling, interactive, spectrum-color-coded, history-of-the-universe timeline to the big Earth Day event in Redding, Conn., last Saturday. Anthea is writing a blog post for us on that event and the role the timeline will play at her high school's Palooza celebration later this month. I'll save many of the photos for that, but below is a glimpse of kids going through the timeline last Saturday. Good work, Anthea!
Answer to the Last Puzzler Here's the correct match of naturalist to quotation: a) Jane Goodall: “My mission is to create a world in which we can live in harmony with nature.” b) John Muir: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” c) David Attenborough: “I don’t run a car, have never run a car. I could say that this is because I have this extremely tender environmentalist conscience, but the fact is I hate driving.”
Today's Puzzler How many frogs are in the knot of bodies shown below? Don't worry: They were all alive and apparently enjoying a mating (or post-mating) moment.