As a former employee of the NPR environmental news program, Living on Earth, I have heard my fair share of stories relating to the environment. The "Environment" as a politically charged discussion point has certainly evolved over the years from radically inclined flag of convenience for some to the now very vogue and commonplace vernacular of the many who proudly exult, "Yeah, I've seen 'An Inconvenient Truth." and "Sure, we own a Prius!"
We've come a loooong way, baby!
The stories that most affected me on "LOE" were always the animal related pieces and the preservation of wild places features. I suppose I just enjoy who we share the planet with and all the places they depend on to live.
The following is a short missive about the importance of keeping some already developed lands status quo for the sake of those things wild.
Up in the great Northern Woods of Maine is property owned by family in the town of Forest City. Every summer we venture North close to the Canadian border to escape the carnival that is modern life. Forest City may have a population of roughly fifty people all together. The area is mostly untouched by developers hands but that, too, with the times is sadly beginning to change.
With all that available acreage the larger salable plots of land reveal a newly sprung mansion-esque property or two by the time of our next once-yearly visits. These aberrations mercifully occur few and far between but inevitably are changing the once pristine landscape. The gentle, quietly wooded place of out-of-the-way Forest City is starting to grow up.
People are friendly to a fault there because they rely on each other during the harsh and inevitably cold, snowy winter months. These test of Faith days may call for a neighbors assistance every more than so often. Relationships get tested, though, with the many new comers and their big wallets.
Manly Island, where the Snow family camp resides, has been spared for the most part from the typical Rake's Progress (or, A Shovel's Progress as the case may be...) of developers' whims. True, there are the already established Snow Family and another family, the Morley's, camps, but both are log cabin style retreats mostly devoid of any mod-cons other than gas fired cookers, pump-water sinks and pot-belly stoves. The land surrounding the lots remain forested, blueberry bushed and joyfully erupt with a variety of bird song every morning. Loons will tuck you in with their trilling at night.
My wife, Heather's, grandparents used to spend months up at their part of the island's cabin during the early decades of the 20th Century. Huddled close by a hearth constructed from hand-fashioned bricks gathered from a now-defunct wood pulping mill, they would warm themselves right up on the colder evenings. We continue that necessary tradition whenever the temperatures drop below a comfortable range during late Summer or early Fall evenings (primarily our normal visitation times).
Keeping the island unchanged and in as natural a state as possible now are sincerely important concerns to us. It can certainly be a battle of wills at times to keep it that way, too. One aunt from the family, had she her way, would redesign the cabin for luxury vacation style accommodations and tennis courts, oddly enough. We find ourselves in the unfortunate position of frequently wrestling between environmental sanctity and family politics.
But as a recent visitation from an unlikely guest during our last summer stay up North demonstrates there's more than just the typical reasons for leaving well enough alone.
One morning asleep in the cabin's lake front bedroom shortly before sunrise my wife and I were startled awake by quite a ruckus coming from the commons area. The fireplace is situated in this space and reaches up and out from the green tin plated roof. Families of bats normally make roost of the cathedral ceiling hiding spots throughout the wood beamed nooks and crannies. I figured immediately some of the bats were coming back in rather noisily from a particularly bountiful evening of insect hunting: drunk on mosquitoes again no doubt!
However, when the confused and chaotic scuffling continued for more than a reasonable amount of time we realized it was not any ordinary bat!
I leaped out of bed and trotted into the commons nearly tripping over a tot-sized rocking chair made by the local Passamaquoddy Indian tribe (a gift from Grampy Snow to a young Heather, otherwise, he made his own furnishings from tree limbs and sturdy driftwood logs found around the island!).
A trail of downy stuffing and gray ash had mysteriously wound itself out from the fireplace hearth.
'What, had a pillow exploded in there?' I thought.
Burnt ember dust was still swirling in the foggy pre-dawn light but beginning a lazy descent to the floor around me. All was strangely quiet given the prior commotion.
"What's going on out there?" Heather wondered aloud.
"Not sure yet." I replied in still tired-eyed befuddlement.
Whatever it might have been wasn't going to make itself obvious at first; it was well hidden somewhere now.
Did you hear that?
Those muffled humming-like peeps were coming from somewhere near the right of my feet. Indeed, under the driftwood carved furniture and handmade telescope something was hiding.
Scampering from out under the dining table in a feather-flurried fluster our visitor darted out and ran in a panicked circle around my legs!
"It's a duck!" I exclaimed.
"A what?" Came back the response in disbelief.
"A duck, a little brown duck!"
Indeed, Miss Little Brown Duck had apparently gotten lost in the fog and somehow found the chimney vent on the cabin's roof. Nice choice, ma'am. I suppose it could have looked like a decent enough rotted tree cubby hole making for a perfectly pleasant rest stop. Imagine her surprise, wings a flutter, tumbling down that long, dark, charcoaled shaft to land in a pile of fading but still smoldering orange-hued coals. Youch!
I should mention Forest City is also renowned for its hunting and fishing, so seeing this vulnerable little creature trapped in our cabin made me think of what someone of a more gun-toting persuasion might have done. Real easy target shooting here - if you're foolish enough to fire a loaded firearm in an enclosed living space, that is. Just throwing a net over and bagging it for supping on later would have been easy enough.
But not me.
I felt a compassion and caring for this lost little wayward soul. She would find her way back to the Great Outdoors again if I had any say in the matter.
I grabbed a tattered hay broom stick by the kitchen area for my direction & encouragement tool. I felt silly standing there with this scraggly broom about to go after a duck like it were some rodent with the Plague. Of course, when I did my prods and pushes were of the most gently persuasive kind. Still she would flap her wings anxiously at my every advance kicking up debris and feathers into face and hair.
Heather was now in the room witnessing the Key Stone Cop antics in action.
With dust whipping up into my eyes and me twirling aimlessly around in circles with a broom I did finally manage getting her into a strategic enough location to... to... 'Crap, the front door isn't even open yet! How is she even supposed to get out?'
This took some doing but with both feet asunder I split-leg slid towards the front door, one foot finally hooking a wooden edge and toeing it open while the other balanced me toward the duck stationed broom. At any moment I was certain I would hear the thunderous sound of my shorts ripping in two. In a nutshell, a blasphemously entertaining display worthy of a mentally challenged acrobat.
"Be careful! Don't hurt it. Be gentle. I hope she knows we're just trying to help her. Ohhhh..." cooed Heather.
With a now open doorway in full view Miss Little Brown Duck eventually did find her moment and in a burst of floor dust and puffy down feathers charged the exit and took flight off from the front porch deck heading towards the water. A waddling rocket ship of just ducky majesty.
Moments later she landed gracefully in the quiet ripples of East Grande Lake next to another lone duck taking its morning paddle. Two ducks in a peaceful row.
The both of us were happily dumbstruck at this forest version of a farm rooster's wake up call. We wondered aloud at the notion of where else on Earth anyone could be treated to such a rare and unique experience. Yet wouldn't it be nice, too, if people just forgot about it being here all together?
Deep woods Maine where humanity and nature can still bump awkwardly into one another but with no harm ... no 'fowl'.
I turned to Heather before heading back to the bedroom and declared, "I'm sorry, but there's just no way in hell your aunt's getting her way."