Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Universal Access Conversations

A Universal Access Program outing at Halibut Point State Park
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Universal Access Program sponsors special events and provides adaptive recreation equipment to expand access to State parks for people with disabilities.

Everyone Outdoors, the DCR Universal Access website blog, features articles such as "The Power of Play!," "Paragolfers," and "Want to Learn to Steer a Kayak? No Vision? No Problem!"

LeeAnn LaRue in hat
"We come to Halibut Point State Park for the accessible trails. It's one of those unique opportunities to see something different from other places in the State," says DCR staffer LeeAnn LaRue. "It's visually appealing....One of the things you hear over and over again is people say, 'I never thought I'd be doing this ever again.' Or as parents, 'I never thought my child would be able to do this.' And here they are, out here doing it."

LeeAnn's own daughter, partially disabled by a brain tumor at three, is thirty years old now. "In the wintertime we go to Wendell State Forest where they have a program. She sits in the ski seat. One way or another they pull her up that hill. When I can get her outside doing things with me it's awesome."

Matt Mitchell lending a hand
DCR Equipment Specialist Matt Mitchell delivers and maintains adaptive equipment across the Commonwealth with a mission of helping people do "what they once were able to do, or what they normally wouldn't be capable of. That's the coolest thing. I think everyone deserves that opportunity."

He recalls stories about submersible beach chairs that enable people with disabilities to cross the sand on inflated tires for their first ocean experience. "Huge smiles! From some nonverbal participants, a lot of yelling, and that is yelling out of excitement. Little things like that really, really matter. They're life-changing things for some people"

Park Interpreter Ramona Latham recounts the Halibut Point story
Matt notes "one of the special things about Halibut Point is this place has history. We love to be interactive in our hikes. We look for the social aspect and the sociability for the whole group. We look for the exercise. We take a step back and enjoy nature."

A Freedom Chair
" One gentleman who comes to our programs a lot was injured when he was 20 years old. He's 29 now. He said that for nine years he never went outside because he didn't know what to do. Then he jumped in one of these Freedom Chairs. Now he's taking his nieces and nephews hiking. The guy's life is officially changed. He's a vegan now. He's healthy. He exercises. His motivational level has increased through the roof."

"I would say that a lot of the people we work with have a better understanding of life and more appreciation for life because of the limitations they have or how they are looked upon. This is a way of embracing their disability, of proving everybody wrong, or proving themselves wrong in some cases."

For more information or to see the calendar of upcoming events please visit the website

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Gypsy Moth Dispatch 2018

Winter in July at Seaside Cemetery--
defoliated oak trees make a morbid landscape
We're experiencing a gypsy moth outbreak such as hasn't struck our area since the early 1980s. Back then we feared massive deforestation or at least the elimination of vulnerable tree species. The threat abated after a few years, possibly due to the importation from Japan of Entomophaga maimaiga, a fungus lethal to the gypsy moths' insatiable larvae. Few other solutions have effect. There are too many of the critters, and we've come to understand the folly of counter-attacking broadly with chemical pesticides.

Caterpillars skeletonizing an oak leaf
The past couple of years have brought widespread destruction by gypsy moth larvae during the spring months. Uncountable numbers of the caterpillars are suddenly, voraciously present. Eating and growing through several molts they have gained the attention of anyone outdoors, crawling over every surface and suspended by silk threads that carry them wind-blown to adjacent trees. Their resurgence may be due to relatively dry conditions in recent spring seasons that impeded the dispersal of Entomophaga maimaiga spores.

A male gypsy moth on the wing this week
Last month the caterpillars pupated, meaning they secreted themselves within cocoons to accomplish the metamorphosis into winged adults. The moths won't eat again in their brief maturity, having the singular goal of procreation. The males hatch first and fly ceaselessly in search of a mate. Myriad numbers of them are filling the air just now building up tension for that primal imperative. The flightless females will soon emerge with an alluring fragrance.

A motion of mid-summer reverie
In my back yard I sit in the thin shade of leafless oaks. Begonias beside me are scalded by the unaccustomed penetration of sunlight through the tree canopy. Male moths flutter inquisitively over every surface sometimes brushing against me with fairy kisses. They diffuse through the garden as though trying to maintain equidistance from each other, searching obsessively but without conflict. To innocent eyes they make a delicate if prolific ballet with no apparent appetites.

Defoliated apple tree, Halibut Point State Park
The damage came earlier at the ravenous jaws of the wormy stage. Besides oaks they are fond of apple trees. The trees lost their sugar-producing leaves at an early stage of development of the fruit. They will probably put forth new leaves at a considerable energy cost. We'll have to see if that comes at the expense of maturing the fruit. 

Defoliated oak tree, Halibut Point State Park
  An adjacent Scarlet Oak tree suffered similar damage.

A branch of the same oak tree re-foliating
New leaves are beginning to form on the oak tree giving hope for its survival if not for a crop of acorns to sustain squirrels and turkeys.

Gypsy moth caterpillars at work
The caterpillars' bristly armature and perhaps its foul taste protect them from many foraging birds, although white-footed mice relish them on the ground.

A Black-billed Cuckoo in the oak tree prior to defoliation

Personally I hope that the gypsy moth outbreak supports an influx of one ardent predator, the furtive black-billed cuckoo that I haven't yet managed to photograph clearly.

A male gypsy moth approaching a female
Meanwhile the prospective parents of proliferation begin their courtship.

Females laying egg masses on an oak tree trunk, next to their cocoon shells. That distance from their cocoons spans their life journey.
The impact of gypsy moths on our oak trees exacerbates the damage caused earlier in the year by winter moths whose populations have reached historic proportions locally. Weakened trees become more susceptible to other pests and pathogens. The shifts and imbalances may be related to weather patterns associated with climate change.

The ecological consequences of gypsy moth defoliation are not necessarily catastrophic in the view of Cape Ann naturalist Chris Leahy who has observed the species enrichment and diversification following fires that preserve meadow lands or create open spaces in forests. Flooding caused by beaver dams can have a similar localized effect.

Entomologists have high hopes that the Entomophaga maimaiga fungus will regain control of gypsy moth populations under propitious rainfall patterns in coming years. They believe they understand the mechanisms but acknowledge these operate within uncontrollable complexities.

Property owners concerned to safeguard individual plants can explore various options with an experienced arborist.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Flocking to the Visitors' Center

One dark and gloomy afternoon crows descended like pall bearers on the Halibut Point Visitors' Center. Finding no heartbeat in the building they pronounced it deceased.

They well knew that the structure had been shuttered by mold and deterioration the previous season. They could see signs of exploratory surgery but the Center lay inert.

The crows notified their Brethren of Hades that post mortem gleanings might be had.

The vultures swooped down toward the scent of demise.

They assessed the possible cadaver expertly but realized it had not yet breathed its last.

A  declaration of resuscitation had been posted by the Commonwealth. A security fence went up around the infirmary.

Temporary opportunities abounded within the decrepitude for useful occupation.

Various winged species investigated.

A pair of phoebes recognized that the fence protected their design on an alcove.

They managed to tend to their brood as the clamor commenced in earnest.

The new roof, weatherproofing, and mold removal that the Department of Conservation and Recreation has accomplished have made the building habitable again, not just for the birds. Interpretive displays on flora and fauna, geology, industrial and military history have been developed with an overall unifying theme of being "on the edge" according to DCR preservation planner Jessica Rowcroft.

Amidst all the progress, equipment movement around the Visitors' Center has created some dandy ruts supplying building materials to barn swallows.

They try not to swallow it on the return to their own construction site.

Public meeting rooms and possibly a gallery will occupy the second floor when it reopens in the spring, giving the mockingbird something to crow about.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Quarry Scrolls II

 Smooth, clean, definite

        ideas carve alternatives

on fluidity.



        of choice and chance dispute


Lichens pioneer

        a garden on granite for

tissues of perfume.

The lens of the eye

        transfixes swift instances

of concentration.

Two tales of desire

        compose their calligraphy

on witness of stone.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Quarry Scrolls I

Water permeates,

     invents whimsies on a wall,

pools in reflection.

Cormorant's ripples

     across the palette surface

search for blue water.

Sunlight and shadows

     make a nightscape of ghost trees

awaiting summer.

Feathered javelins

     scorch the patinated wall,

igniting water.

A baton rises;

      diverse kingdoms lean in to

propose novelties.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Beaver Perspectives

One inconscient day at Halibut Point about four years ago I was startled by a large form breaking the surface of the quarry, at the edge of my vision. I reached for my camera disbelieving a seal could have wiggled up from the sea. Turning back, only a bubble trail remained. I scanned the quarry surface for several minutes but The Thing didn't reappear. How long could it hold its breath?

Several weeks later one of the Park staff asked if I'd seen Chuck the Beaver. The apparition fell in place. A specimen of North America's largest rodent had crossed the State highway to this ready-made pond for the first time in anyone's memory.

Those of us awaiting a good look at our first beaver began to notice encouraging signs in the 'penciling' of trees near the quarry.

A 'penciled' tree
The work was more precise than what we had been able to achieve in our formative years with Boy Scout hatchets. The top of the tree was missing....

The felling had taken place by moonlight. I tried a few times to be in attendance during the crepuscular hours of dawn and dusk when a few Park walkers had lucky encounters, but fortune (or the creature's good hearing) eluded me.

Beaver in the shadows
Once that summer I thought I noticed shrubbery moving at a distance across the quarry. Enlarging the picture at home I found the beaver munching a stick in the shadows! But this inadvertent prize didn't have the clarity I desired.

Sally and the beaver
Steve Amazeen photo

I imagined that a longer lens would help, or a stealthier approach, somehow, along the crunchy gravel path. These notions were eroded by the trophy photo that Steve Amazeen took one morning on his walk with Sally. The beaver introduced itself to Sally in broad daylight.

The lodge appears
I was concerned that time was running out to get a photo of my own. People said it wouldn't stay, that a ready-made pond wouldn't suit it because beavers' damming instincts are triggered by the sound of running water. Nevertheless domestic building got under way in the stillness of a quarry corner. Was family activity imminent?

Snug winter in the lodge at lower right
No one reported sighting a second beaver. But perhaps Chuck was a pioneer who would attract a mate in the spring.

Logs stored and consumed
Late in the year beavers accumulate food for the winter, storing it underwater or within the lodge. Never fully hibernating they have to eat year round. They find nutrition in the cambium layer between wood and bark.

A beaver-engineered dam and pond in Dogtown Commons
Anticipation of a beaver colony prompted controversy at Halibut Point. Would they become an icon or a pest? Beavers have a nearly human capacity to change environments.

A night's work beside the quarry
Vegetation was disappearing. Some areas of the quarry began looking stark. I worried about the impact on bird life.

The Mallards, of course, were unfazed and opportunistic--qualities they share with rodents in proximity to humans.

One day I got my picture in the briefest of appearances. The creature was long, sleek, and a wonderful rich brown. It was my only sighting.

Beaver speculations continued into this year although no one has reported seeing Chuck since last fall when he was spotted at a nearby watery sanctuary. Then Halibut Point walker Richard Meyer sent me a precious video of beaver doings in the quarry.

One frame of the beaver video
Richard made his recordings with a cell phone! I ate humble pie with delight.

Richard Meyer
Richard hit upon a technique for capturing pictures in the moment. "What you can see out here is just amazing. I walk around the loop holding the camera like this in front of me. Then if anything crosses the path I get it."