Let's see, where to start?
It has been a memorably busy week at The Naturalist's Notebook, which has been filled with athletes, naturalists, artists, honey-tasters, puzzle-solving kids, therapy dogs, visitors from at least four countries (France, Chile, Canada and England) and, alas, a grim-faced courier from the Maine Department of Transportation. More on that later.
Perhaps I'll start with the athletes. Two exceptional ones stopped in. One was Jessie Stone, a member of the national whitewater kayaking team, fresh off the world championships in Germany. As if world-class paddling weren't enough to keep her busy, she is also a doctor who founded and runs a medical clinic in Uganda, where she saves lives with her work protecting residents from malaria and other diseases (check out http://www.softpowerhealth.org/home.htm. ).
A few days after Jessie's visit we greeted the Notebook's first-ever Olympian, runner Lynn Jennings.
Lynn was a member of the 1988, 1992 and 1996 U.S. teams and in '92 became the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in a distance track event (a bronze at 10,000 meters). She also won three world cross-country titles, a feat no other U.S. runner (male or female) has matched.
While seeing Jessie wasn't a total surprise (she spends parts of her summers in Seal Harbor and is a friend of the Notebook), having Lynn walk in the door was utterly unexpected—and felicitous. I had covered Lynn as a writer for Sports Illustrated and found her immensely likeable, smart and down-to-Earth. We included her in a set of athlete trading cards we put in the magazine when I was the editor of Sports Illustrated For Kids. She looked familiar to me when she walked in the door this week, but I hadn't seen her in two decades. Neither of us made the connection until she recognized my name on a sign.
Lynn's trading card from my days at Sports Illustrated For Kids.
These days Lynn splits her time between Oregon and Vermont, working as a running director and competing as a single sculler. She drives back and forth across the country with her dog, Towhee, riding shotgun and her 24-foot scull atop her car. She and Towhee do a lot of trail running together, but she leaves him ashore when she climbs into her scull. She's currently training to compete in this fall's Head of the Charles regatta in Boston.
Lynn is something of an amateur naturalist who has a great ear for bird songs.
As good fortune would have it, she was about to head up to a hand-built cabin in the hills of western Maine to visit Bernd Heinrich, the renowned biologist/naturalist/author whose books on nature and natural history are among our most popular titles at the Notebook. Bernd is also an accomplished ultramarathon runner, so he and Lynn share more than one passion.
Several days later Lynn shared with me her account of visiting Bernd. I'm excerpting it below. I'll pick up the story as she is nearing his cabin:
"With Towhee aboard, I followed [Bernd's driving] directions. When I saw the ancient truck with the cracked windshield (apparently it hasn't moved in 15 years) on the side of the road with his red pickup truck near it, I knew I was in the right place.
"Towhee and I trekked up the rocky hillside and saw him just ahead on the trail. He'd come looking for me (took longer to travel from way Downeast Maine than I had figured) and we proceeded to have a most fascinating multi-hour social. Among other things, I told him all about the Vaux's Swifts [small insect-eating birds] who come to Portland every September and showed him my iPhone iBird Explorer Plus, which fascinated him. The ability to listen to and compare various bird songs had him utterly focused on how to use the iPhone and the app. He'd never seen such a thing before and took copious notes on not only what he was learning but also about the Vaux's Swifts. He showed me all sorts of ongoing projects concerning a raven he is following and observing and other such things, including his latest book project.[CLICK BELOW FOR COOL 1-MINUTE VIDEO OF VAUX'S SWIFTS SWARMING AND ROOSTING IN OREGON]
Bernd's book on the intelligence of ravens is just one of his many fascinating works.
"He showed me his two cabins, his beginning sugarbush and the beetle he's kept and has been observing. He's got 400 acres and his home is cozy, beautiful with exposed birch trees and other beautiful parts of trees integrated into the interior. He loved Towhee and threw his head back and laughed when I asked him if he'd ever pet a towhee bird before.
"He's as old school as they come and he answers deeply and with great care about how he turns notes into one of his famed books and about the entire writing process. It was a conversation that drew from running as well. The act of writing and creating is not so different from the act of running and creating. Creating chapters and creating races and turning each into either a book or a racing career are part and parcel.
"It was a most companionable afternoon and it was hard to say goodbye at 6 p.m. He gave me a handful of blueberries and Towhee and I trekked through the grassy meadow and headed back down the hill and on to Vermont. As I walked away, he said, 'I'll be inviting you back again.'"
The Monoprint Workshop
Two other Notebook guests this week were Cynthia Gallagher and Roni Henning, a pair of highly accomplished New York-based artists who put on a day-long workshop on drawing and water-based, non-toxic monoprints. Cynthia teaches at the Fashion Institute of Technology and her work is in the collections of the Metropolitan and Whitney Museums. Roni is a master printmaker who has worked with the likes of Andy Worhol and Red Grooms and has been a pioneer in the field of environmentally-friendly, non-toxic printing. Here are just a few shots from the workshop:
Update on Our Sweet 16 Honey-Tasting Tournament
For those of you who haven't been following our third annual Sweet 16 event on Facebook, here's a quick recap of the first four matches and the vote totals:
Maine Blueberry 21, Washington State Fireweed 15. Fireweed, the 2009 champion, has been struggling for two seasons; Blueberry advanced to the quarterfinals and has Final Four potential.
Italian Sunflower 34, Arizona Mesquite 26The Sweet 16's first international honey could be a champion; this week's showdown with Maine Blueberry could be one of the best matches of the tournament.
Maryland Bamboo (actually Japanese Knotweed) 25, Pennsylvania Alfalfa 24. The emotional wreckage of Pa. Alfalfa fans was still on display a day after this titanic battle. "That was the best honey I'd ever tasted! Ever!" said one despairing Alfalfa-ite. The Maryland entrant, our first invasive-species honey, is darker than most competitors and carries a peppery kick. It seems a long-shot to reach the final, but then again, like Japanese knotweed plants, it could be hard to eradicate.
California Eucalypus 31, Colorado Sweet Clover 23As with the knotweed and alfalfa, these two honeys polarized voters. The looming quarterfinal between Maryland and California could be as nasty as an East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry.
By the way, I heard from a Midwestern beekeeper this week pointing out that his/her region of the country was unrepresented in this year's Sweet 16. A jar of Prairie Wildflower arrived a few days later from Illinois. I admire the lobbying effort. Prairie Wildflower may well join the field for 2012.
I could post a whole gallery of the spiders we're seen lately outside either the Notebook or our house. The one below intrigued me because it was white (except for a red stripe) and was attached to our white car—a near-perfect camouflage job. My research indicates that it might be an Enoplognatha ovata, otherwise known as a Candystripe or Polymorphic spider. Any of you know for sure?
The Seal Harbor Detour
It's virtually never good to receive a notice from the government. The missive we received on Tuesday from the Maine State Department of Transportation informed us that because of the reconstruction of a tiny bridge, traffic will be detoured around the village of Seal Harbor from August 29 until late fall. That means for the final seven weeks of our season, we won't be getting any drive-by visitors. Not good. This will be a challenge.
Four Coming Events
These are in addition to Kathy Coe's four-day-a-week art workshops and our Wednesday morning Earth News sessions for kids:
1) Saturday, Aug. 20 (starting at 10 a.m.): Come see a 25-foot traveling greenhouse on wheels (powered by recycled vegetable oil) and learn the secrets of environmentally-friendly, high-yield gardening from the young experts at the non-profit Compass Green.
2) Also Saturday, Aug. 20 (3-5 p.m.): Find out the science and history of gemstones and meet Portland jewelry artist Nance Trueworthy, whose beautiful gemstone necklaces will be on sale for 20% off.
3) Wednesday, August 17 and Thursday, August 18 (2-3 p.m. each day): Sunprint-making workshop for kids, run by 8-year-old Sarah Knox and her assistant, Haley Harwood.
4) Thursday, August 25: Jane Goodall Day at the Notebook, culminating with a talk about Jane and the latest efforts to protect chimpanzees, by Lilian Pintea of the Jane Goodall Institute.
Are You Listening?
I meant to post this a couple of weeks ago, but here it is: a short, interesting TED.com talk that is...well, worth listening to.
Answer to the Last Puzzler:
If you take the word AUTHOR, add one letter and rearrange all of the letters, you can spell the name of a famous naturalist author—THOREAU.
What is the heaviest flying bird in the world? And roughly how much does it weigh?