Tag Archives: Maine islands

Wild Things Look for New Haunts, Creep into Our World

Of all the Maine islands I visited during a summer field course on island ecology in summer ’99, Crotch Island seemed to me a ghostland: silent quarry equipment gave way to nature. Grasses and vines snaked over crawlers, ospreys nested atop cranes and frogs swam in pools that filled pockets in the granite. The island had an interesting history, too. When Jackie Onassis arranged for JFK’s Memorial in the Arlington National Cemetery, she picked the pinkest granite from Crotch Island, the last major island quarry operation in Maine. It’s a beautiful rose hue. The day I visited the island, I spotted wildlife that adopted the abandoned machinery like funny characters in an odd Wonderland. Rabbits flashed into view and disappeared through old tires, a magic trick.

But this is not so uncommon! When nature resumes its role and vegetation grows over man-made structures, the creatures return, too. In other instances, wildlife sneaks into buildings uninvited and takes up residence, if only temporary. Recently a young Cooper’s hawk, probably enticed by pigeons that roosted in the rooftop of the Library of Congress, flew around inside of the dome-shaped ceiling for a week. It had to be lured down by frozen quail. Library staff consulted FWS, as the bird is an endangered species.http://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2011/01/watching-our-researchers-like-a-hawk/

Bats often use man-made structures like bridges, culverts, mineshafts, attics, and of course, bat houses, http://www.floridiannature.com/bats.htm. Porcupines, which live in hardwood forests and forested swamps, just want to be left alone to eat their veggie diet, preferably Eastern hemlock. But the tree has been under attack by an invasive insect, and that paired with habitat loss has sent the porcupines into man-made structures, where they will gnaw on anything from furniture to vehicle undercarriages. Supposedly the porcupine likes the sodium.http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Plants_

Wind turbines have been a subject of much discussion over whether their presence will harm bird populations. Birds might think, “hey, this is a neat place to perch,” until they get knocked off when the turbines are in use. Newer models of wind turbines are designed to reduce bird mortality.http://science.howstuffworks.com/

While some people think that certain wild animals are “nuisance” species, others want to attract wildlife to their backyards. Here’s a USGS guide to attracting wildlife to one’s backyard—with some precautions to keep in mind:http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/wildlife/wildback/profiles.htm Eccentric folks like to create a way to enjoy watching wildlife, as seen here (in honor of Squirrel Appreciation Day) in this backyard “Mission Impossible” sequence: http://blogs.discovery.com/animal_oddities/2010/01/squirrel-appreciation-day.htmlThe Huffington Post recently posted a blog by a National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski on how to properly dispose an opossum with a hilarious video that lets viewers know about their options. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-mizejewski/how-to-properly-dispose-o_b_794889.html My favorite part is when “Pink Mama” proposes using cryogenics to freeze the opossum’s head, closely followed by the condolence card. More sensibly, the Southern Californian opossum enthusiast known as “Pink Mama,” advises contacting a wildlife rehabilitator in the event of finding a dead or injured opossum on the side of the road, but only after feeling its stomach to see if there are “squiggly babies” inside.

Basically, animals move into our world all the time, whether we want them to, or whether they’d rather be in more desirable habitat. Beavers and raccoons will travel through culverts and sewers, if there are no other ways to get from one wetland to another. Wildlife stream crossings research has been an important way for biologists to understand the movement of certain species in fragmented habitat, especially where roads have segmented a forest or wetland. For more information, visit:http://aswm.org/wetland-science/wetland-science/327-wildlife-friendly-stream-and-undercrossing-research

Update: Eagles Attack Customers at Post Office in Alaska

Living with Less and an Island Love Story

Lately there have been a lot of stories about the “new” minimalist movement. American homes are getting smaller. Couples are downsizing and getting rid of 80% of their stuff and adopting a minimalist lifestyle http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/
 The Small Home Movement has replaced the desire for “McMansions” and come at a time when many people can’t afford a big home. Jay Shafer founded his Tumbleweed Tiny House Company on the notion that people really only need 89 square feet to accommodate a two-person household. By downsizing this dramatically, he eliminated his debt and now lives more simply. His house designs range in plans from 65-835 square feet, a lot smaller than the average American home.http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ He’s not alone. Others are promoting the same idea. Tiny House Blog http://tinyhouseblog.com/ Not So Big Househttp://www.notsobighouse.com/

The trendy minimalist movement reminds me of the back-to-landers of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. City dwellers, driven by a desire to lead a better, simpler life, migrated to rural areas, including islands off the coast of Maine. But this wasn’t a new thing in the 1960s. It’s been a recurring phenomenon over the centuries, according to the poet Gary Snyder. Homesteading is another name for it. Urban problems such as the energy crisis, water pollution, lack of environmental protection for the natural landscape—these were the issues that prompted the “back-to-landers” of the 1960s and ‘70s to leave the city in search of a pure lifestyle and to work the land. Often this required fetching water from a stream or pond, or digging a well, and growing food.

Helen and Scott Nearing are two of the most recognized “back-to-landers.” They lived on a rural farm in Vermont until 1952, when they settled their “Forest Farm” in Maine. The couple authored a number of books on what they called, “the good life.” The Good Life Center in Harborside, Maine carries on their mission. http://www.goodlife.org/

My favorite love story played out on a beautiful Maine island called Placentia. Arthur and Nan Kellam, an aviation engineer (who worked in Wisconsin http://www.allbusiness.com/environment-natural-resources/ecology/14528751-1.html) and his wife, moved from California in 1949 and settled on the 500 acre island. They built a house in a little clearing and left love notes for one another every time they separated for the day—to explore different parts of their beloved island. Placentia Island has a number of ephemeral streams, seeps and forested wetlands, mainly Spruce fir and sphagnum moss, with wild chanterelle mushrooms and cherry trees.

Art built a great bandstand overlooking the sea, for his wife, a romantic spot. He also had another little building he called his “retreat,” which had ingenious Murphy-style furniture, when folded out one way, became a table; when adjusted, became a bookshelf or storage. The Kellams had two wells, one near the house and one near the bandstand.  They didn’t have running water, electricity or any convenience that the mainlanders enjoyed. They grew vegetables in their garden. They rowed their dory to the nearby Great Gott Island for supplies like kerosene.  Sometimes friends, including the Rockefellers, brought fresh milk and oranges, but the Kellams sustained their private life together on very little from the outside world. Fog encircled the island on most days, preventing casual visits from neighboring islanders.http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/13/garden/living-to-the-power-of-two.html?pagewanted=all

This past spring author Peter Blanchard III published a book about the Kellams entitled,We Were an Island http://www.bangordailynews.com/detail/143608.html partly based on Nan’s writings and unfinished book that she started with her husband. She described in her journal that they had searched for a place, an island that would fulfill their “dream of peace.”

I visited the house in 1999, just a few years before Nan passed away. Inside the house, it is easy to picture how everything had its place; they each had their spot for sitting, a single desk, stacks of TIME magazine (so they kept up on current events!) It inspired the poem, “If I Were an Island,” which was published on the New Maine Times.  The Nature Conservancy manages the uninhabited Placentia Island. The only way to visit the island is to sign up to volunteer to work in one of TNC’s nature preserves—with Placentia Island, a nesting site for bald eagles, being on the list for September 2010: http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/maine/volunteer/art24384.html