Sunday, December 29, 2013

Advice on Starting the Hunt for a Lake House

One of our winter-time neighbors is starting to think about buying a cottage on a lake. As she talks about why it would make sense for her family, ideas fill my mind. What to tell her? What not to tell her?

In the end, I had three things to say.

1. Every lake place has plusses and minuses. You will know when you see 'the place' that's meant for you because it will rank just right on the most important features. It will 'speak to you'.

2. Keep an open mind as you look, because setting out to see places for sale may uncover other places that are good candidates. Take the side roads and explore. If there are people around, ask if there are other places for sale. Property owners may just be waiting for someone to ask. Leave a note in the door if you see your 'dream cottage' unoccupied and would like to make an offer. You never know!

3. Plumbing, plumbing, plumbing. Try, if you can, to have more than one bathroom if you plan on entertaining guests for any length of time. Add an outdoor shower too. They are heavenly.

Lastly, I should have said to her that she should try to get a feel for the culture of the lake community. Let's face it, there are party lakes, with lots of pontoon boats, and there are quiet off-the-grid lakes where silence and bird calls reign.

Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bathing in Lichen

In the woods, bird calls are often the loudest sounds we hear. They are a musical feast, a constant conversation in the trees that continues all summer from earliest dawn long into the night.

Our cabin is surrounded by tall hemlocks, white and red pines, and spruce trees, with a few maples and birches mixed in. We have many bird visitors, but most of the time we never see them because they stay high up in the trees. We know they are there because we can hear them calling. Fortunately I enjoy picking out the bird calls, driving everyone around me crazy as I name the bird that is singing. My husband is now used to this after more than 30 years of marriage. Even when I'm in the suburbs walking with friends, I want to say the name of the bird call I'm hearing, even if I'm in mid-sentence. It's an obsession, I admit it. And most of the time, I manage to keep it to myself, unless it's a Wood Thrush. When I hear that bird calling, I have to stop and listen, and create enough silence around me to hear its beautiful timid song.

A couple of weeks ago a warbler was calling in 'front' of our place near the water. I didn't know its call (warbler calls are the biggest challenge for me). I wandered out to investigate, mug of coffee in hand, and strained my eyes high into the branches of a white pine festooned with light green bearded lichen. About 20 feet up, I could only make out the outline of a bird flitting about inside a long thick beard of lichen. It seemed to be taking a bath in it! That was the key to identifying that warbler, a northern parula. I didn't get a good luck at him at all. But Sibley's guide revealed the parula loves to nest in and near bearded lichens. And then I checked the call on-line (Cornell website) and 'bingo', confirmed it was a northern parula.

Northern Parula in some Bearded Lichen
Blackburnian Warbler with his distinctive orange throat
 Another day this week my husband caught a rare low-altitude sighting of a Blackburnian Warbler with his apricot throat coloring. Doublechecking his calls, we confirmed who he was. We also spotted a Hairy Woodpecker and his mate pecking at a red pine that is on the decline. All summer I'd been missing the call of the Black-Throated Green Warbler, and this week his song started up. I wonder where he's been?

These days of early July we hear the songs of a Winter Wren, a Song Sparrow, Robins, Pine Warblers, and other Warblers I haven't figured out yet. The ravens and crows continue their long standing turf wars. Bluejays, nut hatches, and chickadees pass by with a few remarks. Then at dusk each night a mysterious bird flies through the forest with insistent chipping and then a kind of freeet call - and is gone. Then late at night when the weather is fine, the loons call on the lakes nearby.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Summer's Fanfare

The summer solstice at the cabin is magical. The longest day is followed by a lovely evening with a waxing moon rising over the water, then hours of lingering astronomical twilight. Later the moon stands guard over the forest and lake until earliest dawn. Darkness never really falls; light and shadow wander through the woods. Accompanying this spectacle is the chorus of frogs in the early hours of the night, then the dawn chorus of birds. Nature's fanfare for the opening of summer.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Raking the Forest

We are up at the cabin and it is very dry. Northern New England is stuck in a high pressure weather system. Fire danger warnings are up; no one is making campfires.

One of our neighbors at the lake tells me she always rakes away from her cabin in spring to clear out the dead leaves and pine needles. She does it to lower fire danger.

We never rake at the cabin. We let the pine needles, birch and beech leaves pile up as they always have, decomposing and hopefully enriching the soil of the forest floor.

But to each his own. Once a year, my sister rakes the forest around her cabin in the Northwest. I laugh at this, but she swears that it allows the moss to thrive. I also recently learned that another neighbor here at the lake also rakes the forest in spring. Gets up all the pine needles, and pine cones...from the driveway and the mossy rocks.

To me, the forest has not had rakers for thousands and thousands of years. Does it need it? I suppose if one wants to cultivate moss it makes sense. And I suppose if one has a staff to do it, it would be a nice thing to have done. But when I'm at the cabin contemplating such things, a certain woodsy slothfulness takes hold.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Moose in the Morning

Photo from Pinterest -

 Wonderful poem by May Sarton, found today on NPR (and website) of The Writer's Almanac. You can link to it here  and listen to it recited.

Moose in the Morning

Oh wild and gentle beast,
Immense antlered shape,
This morning in the meadow!
Like something ancient, lost
And found now, promise kept,
Emerging from the shadow,
Emerging while I slept—
Wilderness and escape!
You set me free to shirk
The day's demanding work
And cast my guilt away.
You make a truant of me
This moose-enchanted day
When all I can is see,
When all I am is this
Astonishment and bliss.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Midwinter Thoughts

We've passed the midwinter mark, and it's now 43 days until spring. The days lengthen more than a minute every day. Sunrise gets earlier; sunset gets later. Birch tree branches are tipped in subtle pink. Last week we saw Canada geese flying in formation. It couldn't be possible that they are already heading north, could it? No, they must be hovering near the ocean and open waters waiting for the signal to head farther north. In a few short weeks the sap will start to run. One of my favorite bloggers, poet Kristen Lindquist, keeps an eye on bird migration on the Maine coast near Camden. Her blog is called Book of Days and you can link to it here.
No, we're only in midwinter. Lots of snow yet to go, but it seems doable once we pass the half-way mark.