Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mt. Abraham

The expansive view from the summit of Mt. Abraham in western Maine was breathtaking, and well worth the climb. From the trailhead, the first part of the hike entailed a pleasant hike up moderate slopes through mixed forest canopy, but the last section got tougher. The grade became steeper as the trail passed through spruce woodlands, open granite faces, patches of krummholz, and finally a talus peak! When I reached the talus field, both calves seized in cramps which made the climb all the more interesting. Standing atop the piles of rock, I turned around and the strain and pain was forgotten, replaced by awe and wonder.

The purpose of the climb was to access areas off-trail and record botanical species in different natural communities - the canopy and understory trees, shrubs, and plants in the herbaceous layer - as well as terrain features, soil conditions, and any signs of human disturbance. This was one of my first experiences as a conservation aide in the summer of 2011, and one against which subsequent hikes were compared... "Was it as strenuous or take as long as Mt. Abraham?"

Sunday, November 06, 2011

White Wake Up Call

Last weekend, while it was still officially October, we were treated to a heavy, wet blanket of fresh snow. In preparation, and not knowing how long the first dumping of white stuff might last, I raked the yard with furious intention so that, in case the snow never melted again until spring, the yard would at least be tidy and easier to deal with in April. Note in the photo above that the oaks STILL HAD A LOT OF LEAVES!
Under no false assumptions that my labors wouldn't need repeating, I simply enjoyed the task - even as more leaves drifted downward on gentle breezes, even as the cleared green lawn became sprinkled with gold and russet, even as the snow clouds and dark of night approached. It took all of Friday afternoon and the entire day on Saturday but I managed to rake the entire lawn. And then it snowed.

And the oaks continued to drop their leaves onto the fresh snow. I have to admit this occurs to me like Mother Nature's had a great big party with leaf-confetti while I slumber away the night-time hours. It took a few days for the snow to start melting, but it finally did, leaving the lawn beautifully decorated and in need of another rake-up. Over the past few days I've gathered my rake and gloves, wheelbarrow and basket, and either a morning cup of coffee or an afternoon gin-n-tonic.

With the bulk of the leaves already removed, these rakings have been even more enjoyable: gentle winds dry out the leaves, making them fluffy and light and easily swept toward their respective dumping areas; a little more time is spent in the perennial bed where the leaves get hand-picked from stiff, dense thickets of stems and stalks; standing in warm sunshine while cool air brushes my cheeks provides momentary refreshment before continuing the task.

The October snowstorm was a wake-up call to get the outdoor chores completed - and raking the leaves wasn't the only thing on the list here. Richard cleaned the chimneys , the brought in the rest of the firewood , turned off the outside faucets to prevent freeze damage, and readied the snowblowers and shovels for what lies ahead. I've taken out the winter & holiday CD collection for the next snowstorm!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Carrot cake anyone?

Carrots! We still have quite a few carrots in the garden and, even though the deer have eaten off the lacy green tops, the veggies are storing themselves nicely beneath the soil so we just go pick them fresh whenever we want them. We've enjoyed them in chicken stew, coq au vin, and beef pot roast - and occasionally just on their own with a little bit of brown sugar and butter. Yesterday I got my mind (and taste buds) wrapped around the idea of fresh carrot cake. I found a recipe in my dog-eared food-stained much-loved-and used Fannie Farmer cookbook, but I didn't have exactly the called-for ingredients so, as I often do, I improvised. Oh, what a carrot cake!
The cake is very moist thanks to a good basic recipe, and to adding applesauce. I put the carrots through the food processor instead of grating them by hand which was a) much easier and b) created small chunks of orange to highlight the key ingredient. More color and texture was achieved by adding some dried cranberries, coconut, and finely chopped walnuts. Then, instead of topping the cake with a typical cream cheese frosting, the recipe suggested glazing the top of the warm loaf with honeyed butter - I definitely recommend this because the flavor and texture of the cake itself really shone through without the distraction of creamy sweetness. I know I'll be making this recipe again and again... if I can only remember how much of each "extra" ingredient I added!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Field Notes

This is how I spent a good portion of the past five-month internship as a MNAP conservation aide: hiking into natural areas and recording things like plant species, soil conditions, terrain and topography, and any signs of animal use of the habitat. It was an amazing hands-on experience. There's another component to assessing natural areas, though - somehow it all has to be documented in some useful manner. So that's how I spent the rest of my work time - filling out field forms, creating maps with GIS, updating databases, and reviewing photographs. Once home at the end of the day, my backpack got emptied and the plant specimens pressed (most of them anyway), photos downloaded onto the computer, and GPS points transferred from the Garmin.
The internship is over now and I'm searching for the next great job, one that will pay enough to keep up with the school loan payments, purchase some fuel to see the grandkids & kids, buy a plane ticket to Colorado, and contribute to our regular household expenses. Just as important, a job that will challenge and further build my botany skills.
The job search began a month or so ago. Relatively few postitions and limited experience seems to be the biggest obstacles to finding an entry level job as a botanist, naturalist, or ecologist. Hopefully I'll hear back soon about one of the many applications I've submitted. Until then, I have a stack of dried pressed plants and a computer file of photographs on my desk and there are still a lot of trails and natural areas to explore!