Last Thursday I went to a basket making event organized by Scarborough Land Trust in collaboration with Rewild Maine. Scarborough Land Trust is an SMCC member, and the class was held at Frith Farm in Scarborough. Rewild Maine is focused on educating the community with skills that can enhance their relationship with nature by offering classes, workshops, and other learning opportunities about rewilding. Before I dive into my basket making experience, I want to make a shout out to Frith Farm.
My family has a CSA at Frith and we go each week to pick up our vegetable and egg share, as well as fresh herbs and flowers. This 14-acre, no-till, organic farm was founded in 2010 by Daniel Mays (he’s referred to as ‘our farmer Daniel’ at my house). What we get from this farm really is a win-win. My family and I get quality food to fuel our bodies and Frith Farm gets the support it needs to continue putting their principles and practices that show environmental stewardship and emphasize community relationships, into action.
Each year we get to know the other CSA participants who pick up their share the same day we do. When you hear someone mumble under their breath “what on earth am I going to do with this”, it’s all about sharing your recipe for the greatest pesto, squash spaghetti, or other creative dishes you’ve cooked up and recommend they try it too! Over the years Frith has knit new members into the CSA and farm community, and it has been encouraging to be part of it, all while supporting our farmer and his family. Frith Farm also has a farm store, so if you don’t have a CSA you are able to purchase whatever is currently available from the store. This basket making class was perfectly timed so I could help my mom load up our weekly produce, then get to work weaving a basket.
Basket making required a lot more attention to detail (and patience) than I was expecting. Zach from Rewild Maine was enthusiastic and skilled, making the couple of hours I was there fly by. He started by giving a quick introduction to the bittersweet plant, calling attention to its invasive status and telling us when it’s best to collect the vines for future basket making endeavors. He said fresh bittersweet would be easier to work with since the vines are still able to be bent carefully, whereas dried bittersweet is more brittle and easier to snap. The large bittersweet pile Zach brought was one large, knotted ball that we had to unwind to separate the vines, it almost felt like we were playing tug of war.
Once the long, thin vines were separated we cut them into segments and stripped the leaves. We started to make the base, and work up to create the sides (and an optional handle). I felt like I could have used another set or two of hands, I had vines going in all different directions and pieces slipping out of my fingers. Slowly, I could see progress on the basket and my weaving technique. The final product did turn out a little crooked and there are some large gaps in places, but I am proud of my basket and have more appreciation for basket making and the process that goes into it!
Hi again! Just a heads-up this is a collaborative piece, including writing from myself (Lily) and Jared.
Last Wednesday, Jared and I took a ferry over to Peaks Island with our bikes to explore some of the property one of our member organizations, Oceanside Conservation Trust of Casco Bay, oversees. When I rolled out of bed Wednesday morning, I could tell we were going to be treated to a beautiful day on the island!
The first stop on our journey was Battery Steele, which proved to be more difficult to find than we were originally led to believe. After realizing we’d made a wrong turn, we consulted a map and retraced our steps to eventually find an entrance to one of the battlements, dense with greenery and colorful art. Originally, Battery Steele was a coastal WWⅡ battery defense, which was built to defend Casco Bay. The 14.3-acre easement is owned by Peaks Island Land Preserve and is maintained by the Oceanside Conservation Trust.
After thoroughly examining the forts it was time to move on… I was biking, admiring the funky mailboxes shaped like lobsters, and looking at all the flowers along the way. Lilacs and Rhododendrons were in full bloom, lightly perfuming the air and making me glad I had taken my allergy medicine earlier that morning.
I was a few yards behind Jared, trying my best to keep up, who at one point looked back and hollered “Hurry up, we’re working, this isn’t a vacation!”
We both chuckled.
The Daveis Sanctuary, composed of both woods and waterfront, was next on our list of places to explore. We headed through the wooded area first and finished by the rocky coastline. The Daveis Sanctuary was allocated by Mary and Mabel Daveis in 1946 originally as a songbird sanctuary. In 1977 it was transitioned to the Audubon Society, and later to Oceanside Conservation Trust in 1994! Since Daveis Sanctuary borders another OCT property, we were able to also easily explore Everett and Mildred Skillings Woods. This property was donated by Sarah and Robert Skillings in 2001. I enjoyed the canopy of the vibrant green hues as we wandered throughout the wooded properties. On the waterfront area of Daveis Sanctuary, there was a rocky shore and some big boulders that made a great place to stop and eat lunch!
We also briefly stopped by Ice Pond before heading back to catch the ferry. Peaks Island Land Preserve, as well as OCT, are working in tandem to protect and preserve Ice Pond. Our SMCC director and Peaks Island resident, Jessica Burton, shared that this is a favorite place for island residents to ice skate on in the winter.
We biked back to the ferry terminal to catch the next ferry back into town. Since we had a few minutes to kill, it only seemed fitting to end the day with a scoop of ice cream from Down Front. I hope you enjoyed this update and keep reading to hear from Jared!
If you’re still reading, thanks for your commitment!
Our day in the sun left me with some thoughts about the island. During our time on Peaks it became very clear why it was so alluring, of course we visited at an ideal time. The residents of the island have carved their spaces in unique ways, shore-front properties abut the coast precariously, speaking to the rising threat of climate change in these smaller communities. The houses are painted with a smattering of colors, and are shaped around the rocks. It was evident that the residents have a particular way of understanding the natural spaces around them.
Communities that live in ecosystems of flux are required to have an integrated understanding of how their environments change. This is particularly true for communities living near tidal zones, and even more true for island communities. In this sense, residents are often more attuned to their surroundings which can serve two purposes. In one way, this attunement can lead to a sense of environmental nostalgia, a yearning for an ecological past. I’m sure that if you asked long-time residents about how their land has changed over the years, you could get a very detailed description of how the island has changed over the past few decades. This is only possible because these individuals are aware of how the tides move around the island, and are able to note changes. These changes can often incite a sort of nostalgia. One that pulls on a hope that everything will go back to the way it was. This mindset is grounded in a perceived understanding of an ecological baseline. It is difficult to understand the interplay that occurs in ecosystems, which is further complexified by climate changes. Inherently coupled with this mindset is a resistance to adaptive change and a leeriness of incorporating adaptive management techniques. From this, we can understand how attunement to ecosystems can lead to inadequate responses to climate-related changes.
This attunement can also push observers to work to protect and maintain the natural spaces around them, especially those that are at risk for being affected by sea level rise and other climate-related issues. These integrated understandings of local environments can be leveraged to better address environmental needs. Communities that access these understandings are better able to be self-determining and play an active role in shaping their environmental futures. By having place-specific knowledge, responses to environmental needs can be tailored to specific places and they can be adaptively managed on smaller scales, promoting longer-term resiliency and adaptation. Within the context of environmental conservation, these communities can serve as models for healthier interactions with the spaces we care for. In my previous blog post we discussed the meaning of conservation; which is important for understanding how communities that are able to use place-specific knowledge to inform their environmental decisions are ensuring that they are part of the evolving definition of conservation and environmentalism.
Thanks so much for reading about our latest adventure! Be sure to look for more upcoming posts soon!
To begin addressing this question, we have to ask, what is conservation? A cursory Google search will tell you that it means a variety of things, ranging from preservation to resource management. Though these may be apt descriptors for conservation on a very logical level, a newer growing definition is centered around the intentional protection and management of natural spaces to ensure their continued role in reconnecting people to the land. To better understand this intentionality, I’m going to take you into my backyard.
Growing up in a small farm town in central Massachusetts, about an hour outside of Boston, I took for granted a casual walk in the woods. We had a big backyard surrounded by tall pines, woods to run through, a steep hill to sled during winter, and a sturdy log home. In the spring, when the snow began to melt, my friends and I romped in the woods behind our house with sticks for swords and old tree bark for shields, fighting off invisible enemies. In those woods, nestled between a few steep outcrops and brambles was a pool, filled with spring snowmelt. When we first found it, it was just water, no visible animals or fish, but one early spring night the air was particularly warm. I remember lying in bed and hearing this cacophony coming from the direction of the pond, a sound like hundreds of frogs croaking together. When I returned to the woods, I could still here the croaking, but as I got closer it stopped. I squatted by the water for a while and it started to move, as if the water itself was writhing. Tadpoles. Thousands of tadpoles were swimming in this pool. It was awe inspiring, so much life and vibrancy in this little pool. I went back every chance I got to watch these tadpoles grow, they grew tails, and then hind legs, and slowly they resembled frogs, eventually leaving the pool for larger bodies of water. For most of my childhood, the frogs would come back every year to lay their eggs in the pool on what I came to understand as “Big Night”; but over the years they stopped coming, the woods weren’t filled with frog croaks and the pool didn’t fill up with snow melt. I never understood why the frogs stopped coming, why the pool dried up, or why my little brother couldn’t watch these tadpoles transform from eggs to frogs like I had.
I remember how formative this experience was, it was part of how I became interested in science. I used to excitedly bring a few tadpoles into my biology classroom where my teacher would put them in a terrarium, so all the students could watch this transformative process. Even after I went on to other courses, every year around Big Night she would ask me if I had seen any tadpoles. When the frogs stopped coming, we lost this educational tool and I lost a companion space. I went back there last spring, picking my way through the overgrown brambles, pushing through the thickets of briars to get back there. When I stumbled out into the clearing, the place was unrecognizable, there was only a rotted log and some depressions in the ground where the pool used to be. A few small puddles held some murky looking water where a few worms squirmed around. I felt like a stranger in my own backyard, a place where I spent hours running through the woods, watching frogs and tadpoles. The memory is still there, playing in my head, but the colors aren’t as bright now. The buds on the trees aren’t as green and the water isn’t as alive.
For the sake of this discussion, we’re going to call that vernal pool an affective space, a physical natural space that I have emotional ties to. Affective spaces don’t need to be unique or individual, a community can share an affective space and develop widespread connections with a natural space. What remains important about these affective spaces is their protection. These spaces need both protection for us to enjoy them, but also protection from us so that they can continue being integral parts of our place-based experiences. The conservation and protection of these spaces are essential for communities to reconnect with natural spaces in their own individual ways. This is extremely important as our lives continue to be globalized and being to lose ties to our Earth. Without relationships like this tying us to the Earth, we become unmoored and ungrounded in a very literal sense.
To explore one’s own relationship with land, it is often helpful to think of impactful spaces from your youth. These spaces don’t need to be “outdoorsy” in a traditional sense, but rather a physical space that has emotional meaning. It is important to keep this space in mind when we consider the importance of conservation, and its place in reconnecting people to our environments.
I hope you’ll stay tuned for next week’s blog about our visit to Peaks Island to explore some of Oceanside Conservation Trust’s properties!
— Jared Fong, 2019 Southern Maine Conservation Summer Associate
Let’s just say I haven’t spent too much time in the Old Port. This week alone, I’ve spent more time meandering up and down Commercial Street than I ever have in the 20 years I’ve been a Maine resident. I have also used Google Maps more than I would like to admit to get to work with enough time to score a parking spot.
As a Summer Associate at Southern Maine Conservation Collaborative, one of our goals is to get out on the properties and land trusts that are SMCC members. I am excited to be working alongside Jared Fong, rising Colby senior and Environmental Studies major. Although our schools have a contentious relationship, both of us can agree on our enthusiasm for the environment and conservation! We hope that you’ll follow us through some of our experiences this summer.
Our second day in the office was sunny and 70°F so we were urged to check out Portland Trails and enjoy the weather. Portland Trails is an urban land trust that connects people to green spaces and trails all throughout the Greater Portland area. Being in the Old Port, we walked down Commercial Street to the Eastern Promenade Trail and meandered along it until we reached Fort Allen Park. On the way, there were views of beautiful Portland Harbor, Bug Light, and Fort Gorges.
A few minutes into our walk, I noticed some of the wooden pilings close to the Ocean Gateway Pier with lots of seaweed growth. The seaweed seemed to be almost ‘climbing’ up the wooden poles sticking up out of the water. Submerged parts that were underwater were swirling with the movement of the water, drawing my attention to the vast amount of seaweed growing in this part of Portland Harbor.
“Look at all that Ascophyllum!”
Jared gave me a quizzical look.
“Sorry, Ascophyllum nodosum”
Let me pause and say I am quite the marine flora and fauna fanatic and aside from being a commercial shellfish harvester, I am an enthusiast for all things marine biology. Just recently I finished a course called ‘Ecology and Natural History of the Maine Coast’ during Bates’ 5-week May semester called Short Term. We collected marine samples, learned various sampling and analysis techniques; and we ended the course with independent group research projects. My group’s project was to see if tidepool depth and elevation had any correlation with species diversity and richness. One aspect of my research consisted of identifying different marine flora and fauna, so I had a lot of practice learning and studying their characteristics in order to correctly identify them. In the tidepools I was responsible for, I came across a lot of Ascophyllum nodosum so I felt compelled to acknowledge this fascinating and abundant species.
As Jared and I continued along the Eastern Promenade Trail, we saw a diverse crowd. Many were dressed in work clothes and athletic sneakers, taking advantage of the trails to get in a walk on their lunch break. One woman was briskly walking, dressed in a full business suit with the exception of some bright pink running sneakers. Other people were running and jogging, walking dogs, or sitting quietly on a bench taking in the view. Jared and I approached the Fort Allen Trail, leading up to Fort Allen Park, where we were able to enjoy a view higher up and sit on the grass before heading back to the office. Even in an urban setting, I was able to enjoy Maine’s natural beauty that many have come to know and love. Stay tuned for more updates to come as we explore many of our members’ properties.
–Lily Nygren, 2019 Southern Maine Conservation Collaborative Summer Associate