Drawn to Water

Ducks in Brook

On my morning walks, I am always drawn to water.  Often happily surprised by other creatures who are also drawn to water.  Like these three ducks at Capisic Brook.  Is this some ancient DNA memory, the walk to the water?  Women walking to water through untold centuries.  Before the water came to us in pipes, which was not so long ago. Before the water in brooks became no longer drinkable–though the animals still drink there.  And yet, even with all that has been lost, still so beautiful to my soul.


River of Rock

river of rock

Yesterday, with the ice and snow thawing, I ventured all the way down the path by the brook and discovered that the way was blocked by this new river of rock. There used to be a small wooden bridge over a small drainage ditch that led down to the brook, but now there was this huge thing.  And an orange mesh barrier blocking the way on both sides.

Today I went back and discovered that someone (a dirt bike?) had pushed the mesh barrier down, so I stepped over the mesh too.  I walked across the rocks consciously imagining that the path will be restored with a new little bridge.  Don’t our feet have some sort of magic to trace the energy of our intentions, and create or preserve the trail we want to walk on?  As poet Antonio Machado wrote, “Traveler, there is no path. The path is made by walking.”

So perhaps all of us who walk or ride this small path are preserving it by our collective energy, by our love and attention, and by moving through barriers. Perhaps there is a lesson in this.  Thank you kindred travelers.

mesh down


The Old White Pine

White pine familyContinuing my passion of learning about the mature trees in our yard, I found myself drawn to the biggest tree here–a white pine near the southwest corner of our land.  It is among several smaller pines that extend into the undeveloped land near our yard.  I found a resource that helps estimate the age of a tree.  It goes like this:  measure the circumference of the tree at about chest height (54 inches).  Divide by 3.14 (pi) to get the diameter of the trunk.  Multiply that number by the “growth factor” of the tree, which can be found on a chart.  In the case of white pine, the growth factor is five.

So today, I measured its girth as about 102″, which gives a diameter of about 32.5″.  Multiplied by five, the estimate of the tree’s age is 162 years old.  That means it might have begun its life around the year 1856.  I was intrigued by what might have been going on during that time, and discovered some interesting historical facts about our land.  At that time, we were part of Saccarappa–in 1871 Saccarappa divided into Westbrook and Deering, and we were likely part of Deering after that, before Deering was incorporated into Portland.  In 1855, the Evergreen Cemetery was established, just several blocks around the corner from us. In 1854, S.D. Warren bought the mill in Westbrook at Amancongan, which had in ancient days been a Native farm site.

I followed my questions down the internet wormhole, and made some other discoveries. This land first came into the record of English settlers when the sagamore (leader) Skitterygussett signed a deed with the fisherman Francis Small in 1657.  In many historical accounts, they claim Small bought the land “from the marshes and uplands of Capissic” to the fishing falls at Amancongan on the south side of the Presumpscot River. But my new favorite book by Lisa Brooks, Our Beloved Kin, actually talks about this very deed on page 21.

She says that Small pledged an annual “pay” of “one trading coat,” which was a symbolic recognition of Skitterygusset’s leadership, and “one gallon of liquor.”

The exchange of wampum and tobacco, as Small later testified, in this and subsequent agreements, sealed a pledge to share space, creating a negotiated relationship as much as an economic transaction.  He later sold the rights to part of this tract, including a mill privilege at Capissic, to John Phillips, who transferred it to his son-in-law George Munjoy, both of whom had come to Casco from Boston.

Brooks explores the significance of this and other deeds from the perspective of the Indigenous people who contracted them.  In reference to a similar deed, she says:

…these leaders of Cascoak were entrusted with diplomacy. Thus, part of their role  was to create responsible relationships with the newcomers.  With [these agreements], they gave [particular families] permission to live [on these lands,] but negotiated some of the terms of sharing space and required “acknowledgement” of their continuing relationship to and leadership in this place.  As Alice Nash has observed, such “deeds should be read more like proto-treaties” or councils in which rights, land use, and jurisdiction were negotiated, rather “than as simple property transactions.”

While I was looking at a modern day map to place these descriptions, I noticed that the public housing development in our neighborhood is called Sagamore Village–most likely in a (perhaps misguided) recognition of the sagamore who negotiated that first deed about this land.

There were many more complications after that first deed–all of the settlers were gone from the area during 1690 to 1730, because of conflicts with the Indigenous inhabitants.  Later, when people came back or new settlers came, they had disputes on who actually “owned” the land, the heirs of the first deed makers, or the new settlers.  But that is a different story than today’s.

The white pine tree inspired me to explore the history it may have seen, and I found myself drawn much deeper.  I wonder now, was this pine descended from earlier pines that were cut down to send posts for ship’s masts to England?  How many other stories might be hidden in its branches and roots?


Robins Flocking

Robins in Tree

Almost every morning, I take a walk around my neighborhood.  Even on cold days, or icy days, I never regret going outside.  I never know what I might see.  One day, a whole flock of robins had gathered in these ice-coated branches. I heard them before I saw them.

Today it was very icy.  I walked a few blocks down the street, and then ventured over a slick snow mound to get to the path by the brook.  Someone had cut a few steps into the huge pile, but once I reached the top, I just sat and slid the rest of the way down the other side.  After I stood up again I realized that I was committed now–there would be no way to get back up from that side.

So I walked over to where the trail began, and looked at the shininess of the frozen rain-covered snow.  In order to keep from slipping, even with yak-trax on my boots, I ended up stomping through the crust at the edges of the path.  Still, this has been my favorite part of my morning walk, to be next to the flowing water, surrounded by trees, breathing in the freshened air.

Even in the city there are these pockets of wild nature.  Even with construction going on just beyond the view of my lens.  Even when I think I want to stay inside, there so many wordless reasons to put on heavy coat, hat, scarf, and boots and greet my earthly neighbors.

icy path



On My Walk

Turkey VulturesOn my walk yesterday, I followed the brook trail by the Hall School. Then, as I was going along the road that crosses over the brook, I happened to look through the chain link fence to my left, and saw these huge birds resting in the underbrush near the brook.  They had not been visible from the trail–in fact I went back to see if I could get a closer look, and they were completely hidden.  Turkey vultures.  I had never seen them in the neighborhood before, but while watching for several minutes, another bird emerged–looking scruffy like a juvenile.  So maybe this was mama and papa’s protected home for raising their baby.

Turkey Vulture Juvenile

You never know what you’ll see in the little thickets and woods along the brook.  Further along my walk, I cross over another branch of the brook.  (My neighborhood is situated between two branches of flowing water that both feed into Capisic Brook.)  Stopping to see what I might see, I almost missed this tiny bird. I want to guess that it might be a black and white warbler–I saw one of those last year on the warbler walk at Evergreen.  But I am not sure.  Anyone?

Black & White Warbler?


Loud Machines and Climate Silence

The other day I read an article in the Guardian, The Great Climate Silence by Clive Hamilton.  I found it easy to agree–no one is really talking about or dealing with the coming catastrophe of climate change.  Having had these issues on my mind for a while, I moved on to other things that day.  But sometimes it is the little things that break through to our hearts.

This morning, I was planning to walk over to Evergreen Cemetery for the Warbler Walk sponsored by Maine Audubon, but though I searched everywhere, I couldn’t find my pair of binoculars. So I left the house feeling that sense of frustration I am sure we all feel when we can’t find something.  As I walked, I opted to forego the warblers, and go by Capisic Brook near the Hall School.  I wrote previously about the cutting of trees that is going on for construction of the new school.

Hall School Tree Cutting 1The big loud machines are still there, but today I was startled to see that they have also cut trees between the school and the brook, a whole section that I thought should be safe. The wide swath of trees that made for a little wilderness in the city, is being narrowed so that the sanctuary is no longer as much a sanctuary.

I am not in on any of the planning or decision-making, so I feel very helpless and sad and angry about all of this, wishing there were someone I could yell at, like, Really, you have to cut those trees too?  Isn’t it bad enough that you destroyed the trail on the other side of the school?  Meanwhile the big machines kept digging up the earth near the pathway, now widened to a road, that goes over the brook.  As I walked back over that pathway, I heard the plaintive chirps of a woodpecker that I have often seen in this little ecosystem.

On my way home, I thought about the article about climate silence.  But this time, my frustration and grief and anger were open, and I felt for the earth as a whole what I had been feeling for my little brook and its trees and birds and newly blooming trout lilies.  Why are we doing this?  Isn’t it bad enough that we’ve already caused extinctions, and destroyed so many ecosystems?  Why do we just keep on destroying more and more?  We’ve got to get out of our denial, face our grief, and break our silence.

And for some reason I also thought about the proposal to borrow money to re-build four of the other elementary schools in Portland.  Most progressives I know are in favor of that proposal, but when I think about climate change, I have misgivings.  It is not about particular trees or construction damage, or not wanting the best schools for our kids.  But just as Clive Hamilton suggests, no one takes into account the coming catastrophes as they go about making plans for the future.  The new Hall School is slated to be a “green building.” So yes, that is good.  But there are other issues, too.

The one that came to my heart today is debt.  I think about cities in Michigan that are under “emergency management” because they went bankrupt from debts they could not repay.  Those managers, with no democratic accountability, can close school districts, sell off common resources like parks and museums, and change public water systems, such that the children in Flint were poisoned by lead.  If we take into account the coming climate catastrophes, wouldn’t it be wise to get our cities and ourselves out of debt?  So that we can preserve local control when things get worse?  Do we really want the banks to be in charge when everything gets more chaotic and difficult?

Everything shifts when we include climate change and the earth ecosystem in our conversations about the future.  What questions might you start asking, that you haven’t been asking up until now?

Loud machine

[Forest City Trail sign, with big machine digging up the earth]



Fern One

Fern One

Today in my walk along Capisic Brook, I took photos of ferns, hoping to identify the different species I noticed.  When I got home, and tried to compare these with fern guides online, I realized it was much more complicated than I realized.  I don’t know the names of any of these yet.  If you do, let me know!  But here are three, four, or five different varieties I found. The differences between one and two and five are very clear to me, related to the shapes of the leaves, and how they are divided.  But the differences between two, three and four seem more subtle, and three and four may well be the same.  So much to learn about the plants of the natural world! Can anyone help me out by identifying any of these?

Fern Two

Fern Two


Fern Three

Fern Three

Fern Four

Fern Four

Fern Five

Fern Five