And this our life exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.
Summer is its own song and drama. The song of summer in Maine is in the notes of the hermit thrush echoing through the spruce and fir along the shore. Or it is in the white-throated sparrow’s “Old Sam Peabody.” Or it may be in the lyrics of the loons calling to each other far over the water.
Maybe the song of summer is the wind in the white pines, the thunder rolling down off the mountain, the “gronk” of the great blue heron, the honk of the Connecticut car alarm.
The drama of summer is in the towering clouds watering the lush fields overflowing with wild flowers of intricate design, each bearing seeds of artful symmetry ready to reenact the play next year. Or it is the hatching of millions of eggs of every varied speckle and hue from millions of nests in tree and swamp and hollow.
The drama of summer is the fuzzy or furry or fledging young leaving nest or den, some to live, some to die. It is the flaming sunrise over Campobello or lingering sunset over Penobscot Bay. Or it is the ebbing and flowing of the tides bearing the schools and blooms of life in the warming sea. All these make up the drama and symphony of summer that play on the stage of these longest days.
Seedpod to carry around with you
From Linda Hogan: “There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, not quiet enough to pay attention to the story.”
Mountain report, early June
As this is the beginning of the tourist season, a quick guide to the mountain located in our town of Blue Hill and the inspiration for this column might be useful for the uninitiated.
Blue Hill was called Awanadjo, which means Small Misty Mountain, by the native First People. It is called Blue Hill Mountain by the locals. And it is called a monadnock by geologists. Many sailors will tell you that this singular landmark appears blue when approached from down the bay, and, of course, there are still lots of wild blueberries on its slopes.
For a shady and quiet half-mile hike up through old-growth forest by sparkling streams and vibrant ferns, mosses, lichens, and fungi, and over ledges with long views, take the Osgood Trail beginning by the small parking area on the Mountain Road. On the trail, look for some of the largest spruce, fir, and hemlock around. Also look for a huge yellow birch with an arrow stuck high in its trunk and an old stone culvert with water running under the trail.
For a slightly shorter climb through fields of wild flowers and blueberries in season, second growth forest with beech and moosewood, sweeping views of the coast from Acadia to Camden and out to sea, and alpine vegetation near the summit, take the Hayes Trail beginning at the larger parking area on the Mountain Road. At the top of the meadow, go left for a shorter, more difficult climb up the stone steps leading to the East Cliffs and the most spectacular views.
For a more leisurely climb, go to your right to the service road that switches back and forth along the eastern slope to the summit. About halfway to the summit look for the Rolling Rock, a glacial erratic that has been rolling slowly down the mountain for ten thousand years.
Once at the summit, look for eagles, ravens, and turkey vultures riding on the updrafts, stunted bonsai spruce, misty woods, and awe-inspiring memories to bring home. Wear sturdy shoes, bring a hiking stick, and always watch out for the Windigo.
That’s a quick guide to the mountain. If you would like a free mythic map of Awanadjo, send a SASE to me at P.O. Box 911, Blue Hill, ME 04614.
Natural events, early June
As soon as possible after Memorial Day it’s customary in Maine to open up the camp. “Camp” can refer to anything from a rude handmade cabin with sleeping loft, outhouse, and hauled water to a custom-built multi-roomed home with full bathroom(s), garage, boathouse, sauna, cable, Internet, and a Cabela’s catalog on the lobster-pot coffee table for authenticity. Our camp is more like the former. It is off a clamming road off a town road on the shores of Cobscook Bay looking toward Eastport about six miles away across the water.
After a whole winter of neglect the camp sometimes looks a little ramshackled and out of sorts, like a dog that has been left alone for too long. But after a little bit of sprucing up the place really starts to look good again, and warm memories of the past 30 years start flooding back.
The quiet at Cobscook takes some getting used to: it can make your ears ring for a while. You can hear a dog barking a mile away and scoters, long-tails, and eiders quacking halfway across the bay. Early on the first morning last year the ravens launched a loud and sustained campaign to harass the eagle who perches in a big spruce just down the shore. The ravens shouted orders at each other as they dove between the tall spruce and fir, and cursed and insulted the eagle at the top of their avian lungs. The great bird of prey twittered his innocence in a ridiculously high voice for a bird of such majestic reputation and finally took flight across the bay. The ravens then settled down to their everyday business of just being the Ancient Tricksters and Creators of the World.
Before dawn on the second morning I was awakened by a family of coyotes yipping and howling to their hearts’ content down the beach the other way. Pretty soon a doe and her yearling with their flags up bounded through the clearing in front of the cabin and away from the coyotes. Hermit thrushes played their breathy flutes. It was good to get back to camp.
Going to camp for a few days always makes me feel better about myself and the world. It makes me realize that my people and my problems and my opinions are not the center of the universe. All of this lively action going on around me would still go on if my people and I were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow. The ravens got along fine before we came along. So did the ducks and the eagles and the thrushes and the sparrows. And they would get along fine without us. It’s humbling. And it’s healing. That’s why I would like to offer our camp to the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the various candidates for higher office, or the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Come alone. Stay as long as you need to. Just give us a call; we can work it out. It might make life a whole lot better for all of us.
Field and forest report, early June
The dandelions have gone by and the orange and yellow hawkweed, the buttercups, the red and white clover, and the ox-eye daisies are coming into bloom. In the woods, the Canada mayflower and starflower are in bloom, and the wild viburnum, sometimes called “high-bush cranberry,” is coming into flower with its rosettes of white. The rolling, rock-bound blueberry barrens are now colored brass, copper, gold, and verdigris, and trimmed with white blossoms like froth on a swelling sea. The precious beehives have arrived among the blueberries and away from the woods to stymie any honey-hungry bears. Now the grower and the beekeeper both pray for some warm, sunny, calm days for the bees to do their work to produce our favorite fruit and sweet honey to boot.
The soft translucent new leaves of plants and trees harden into opaque green against the blue June skies as they begin their real work of creating food for all living creatures from nothing more than water, soil, sun, and chlorophyll. The miracle of photosynthesis is the manufactory of all life. Sometimes I tease my vegetarian friends by reminding them that they are consuming the most valuable and essential form of life. Look, I say, if all the animals were gone tomorrow, life would survive just fine. But if all the plants were to be consumed, life on earth would likely come to an abrupt and sorry end. What makes an animal more precious or more to be preserved than a plant? Thoughtful vegetarians will respond that raising plants to feed animals for humans to eat is far more wasteful than simply raising plants for humans to eat. They are right, of course.
Field and forest report, mid June
Things are moving so fast as the parade of summer passes that it’s hard for your reporter to keep up. You’ll notice now that the yellow hawkweed is giving way to the orange hawkweed or “Devil’s paintbrush,” while the buttercups are giving way to the daisies. The lupine goes by, while the hauntingly beautiful wild iris or “blue flag” is having a banner year in damp, sunny places. Seeds are forming on the ashes and lindens, while oval cones with designs like ancient pottery form on conifers. Pink-tinted flower clusters form on valerian, and petals fall from the lupine-like black locust. We stand like spectators entranced by the most magnificent procession of all as the flora and fauna of the season day after day troop in succession before us.
Natural events, July
The rockbound coast of Maine is renowned in story and song as emblematic of its land and people. Our particular piece of shore on Cobscook Bay is cobbled with a mind-boggling mosaic of stones of astonishing variety. They look as though they were hauled in from all over and dropped haphazardly to decorate the monotony of the underlying slate. And, of course, that is exactly what happened.
Most of the stones along the shore were scraped up along the way from the North Pole to here and then dumped by the glaciers when they gave up their most recent attempt to take over the world 12,000 years ago. Shining basalt veined with white, green sandstone shaped like a huge frog or the snout of a breaching whale, flint, fossils, quartz, shale, granite, gneiss, schist, rhyolite—all strewn about as if by the hands of giants. We skip them over the calm water; we stack them in funky cairns; we haul them up to the camp for display. We come back from walks on the beach with our pockets full and our pants at half mast; we can’t help it, these stones are just so enchanting.
If we could collapse into a moment the billions of years in the lifetime of a single wave-washed stone, if we could teach that stone to talk, how lively and dazzling would be the story of its immense journey from the Big Bang to our little beach: the history of the whole cosmos tucked into your right front pocket.
That’s the almanack for this time. But don’t take it from us—we’re no experts. Go out and see for yourself.
Rob McCall is a journalist, naturalist, and fiddler, and pastor of the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill, Maine UCC. This column derives from his weekly radio show on WERU, 89.9 FM, Blue Hill and 99.9 Bangor. Readers can contact him directly via e-mail: email@example.com or post a comment using the form below.