Sandy Stott, BTLT Board Member and local writer, recently began a regular series published in the Times Record all about the Mere Brook Watershed here in Brunswick.
By Sandy Stott on June 11, 2020
Perhaps the days have you talking to yourself, or, better yet, revisiting an old ability many of us developed in childhood — that of talking with imaginary friends, perhaps from other eras. Surely they can be helpful making sense of a time that seems beyond our experience.
The other day, I did what I do daily: I went for a walk in the woods, and, after a long, stuttering start, I noticed that our coastal Maine woods have begun to say, “It’s the warm season; take a look at this.” Three favorite flowers colored this voice in my head — the trout lily, trillium and, finally, the pink lady’s slipper. I love each, and they arrive each spring in an overlapping sequence of their mention above.
Just so in the woods I walk or run often — our Town Commons and the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s trails at Crystal Spring; each flower has been a welcome flag of the season. and each has nudged me to pick up a reread a favorite small volume, Wildflowers of Maine — The Botanical Art of Kate Furbish, and resume conversation with the painter.
Furbish (1834 – 1931) lived in Brunswick throughout her life and became one of the era’s better known botanists, and then, late in life and after her death, as her illustrations gained a broader audience, a revered painter. She was, it turned out, that rare combination — scientist and artist (though by now we should be alert for the core of curiosity and close observation that brings alive both disciplines; they seem deep complements). This little book (DownEast Books, and available at Bowdoin College’s museum) of narrative and illustrations helps me look more fully at what’s rising.
Being brought to season by the emergence of flowers and imagined talk with a former resident seems a steadier route than that of our daily weather, which often packs all seasons into short stretches of time. Frost and rogue snowflakes can give way to sudden sun and intense warmth, especially in corners away from the wind; then the clouds can make muddle of what just was. What to wear, what to be? seem fair weather questions each day. “Be aware; pay attention to what’s at your feet,” Kate Furbish says to me.
For me, spring’s emergence culminates with the pink lady’s slipper, our common orchid of the woods, and my habit of notice spans enough years so I know specific patches of them, look for them each spring in remembered places. There is, for example, a stretch of lady’s slippers to the left of the main trunk trail just as it leaves the second development and turns left to the central Commons.
Like many slipper-gatherings in the Commons this one exceeds my numeric tic of counting these flowers as I pass by, though, during one spring, that impulse grew strong enough so I’d end my foot-time with tallies in the hundreds. But what keeps me swinging my eyes side to side as I walk or run are the outliers, those lady’s slippers that rise solo or duo, that possibly foretell a collection of descendants some years from now.
Just yesterday, I stepped off a trail near Crystal Spring to allow another walker good distance for passing by, and there, next to my feet, was a lady’s slipper, the only one visible in this patch of forest.
Neighbors tell me that, before the Bowdoin playing fields south of the campus were hewn from forest some years ago, those woods were rife with lady’s slippers. Now, they say, there are none in the narrow, big-treed remainder between
those fields and the first of the Meadowbrook neighborhoods that fringe also the Commons. Ah, but there has been one flower in recent years, not far above the gully that guides Mere Brook in an intermediate mile.
And this year, they are two, with a third plant that hasn’t flowered. Solo, duo… perhaps trio next year? And then?
What, I wonder aloud to Kate Furbish while we are searching our local woods, is the word for a grouping of lady’s slippers? It turns out that there is no word, even as aardvarks — for instance — have their own collective noun. They, in their numbers, are an armoury. Some snakes too — you may one day meet a sum of adders, or you may hope to avoid such an addition. But flowers? Bunch or bouquet of…ho hum. Shoes? pair…yawn; but, shoes, scandal of…ears perk.