Hodgepodge Lodge, and Considering the Lillies

frogs

Since I can’t share my own hodgepodge of a collection firsthand, this blog is sprinkled with some Deep River wonders. These frogs live at Fountain Hill.

When I spout reminiscences about the Hodgepodge Lodge show to other people my age, I get a lot of blank looks. I guess I should be grateful my mom steered me over to PBS. Because the Lodge was a big influence during my formative years. If you’ve never been initiated here’s a clip from YouTube.

I have fond memories of the kindly woman who starred in the show and her many lessons in the ways of wildlife. Miss Jean was very pragmatic also, and sometimes the wildlife -while clearly appreciated -got eaten. For some reason, the episode I remember most is one about cooking food  (fish, I think) in a Dutch oven buried underground. I perceived the results as nothing less than magical. But most episodes didn’t center on cooking. I remember cocoons, frogs, caterpillars, kids with butterfly nets,  and a meadow. I researched the show and Miss Jean and the actual Lodge just now, and was touched to learn that the original Lodge, built to be a set for the show, was restored and moved to a nature conservancy in Maryland. It also seems that Miss Jean is still an active contributor to the nature scene (and I have just written her an email fan letter, nearly 40 years after the show went off the air!).

Over the last decade or two, I’ve been returning to my Hodgepodge Lodge roots, which harken back to the days when I still wore many hand-me-downs, blissfully unaware of how I looked or why that could ever matter. When I show up at local nature events—at places like Connecticut Audubon Society or The Stewart B McKinney National Wildlife Refuge or the Flanders Nature Center, I am garbed in attire that might be described as anti-fashion. Practical, comfortable shoes; layered clothes that can get dirty; something to cover my head should it rain; back pack stuffed  with more practical items. More and more often, binoculars dangle from my neck. I am nature nerd central. (Speaking of nature nerds, a fellow naturalist has a good blog named just that: Nature Nerd).

Aside for word nerd readers: the term hodgepodge “comes from hogpoch, alteration of hotchpotch (late 14c.) ‘a kind of stew,’ especially ‘one made with goose, herbs, spices, wine, and other ingredients’,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

When I look around at my fellow nature lovers, they are – almost without exception – fashion challenged as well. But the appeal for me is in their alert eyes and interested expressions. They are asking questions, or peering into the water, or trying to recall something they read. Sometimes, an expression of amazement surfaces, with the sighting of a creature or a prized new fact learned. These are my adopted people.

Recently, I was part of a small gathering of Edwin Way Teale fans. We met at Trail Wood, the place where I had my writing residency this past summer, and shared our favorite passages from his work. We sat in a circle surrounded by inquisitive (but not biting) may flies, reading aloud and pausing to comment or look up at a bird or wonder aloud if we might spot the various species Teale recorded on the surrounding land. It was nice to think of Edwin and his wife Nellie having their many adventures on the nearby trails.

The information shed on the Trail Wood property has its own Hodgepodge Lodge type of accoutrements that come and go over time, like a wasp’s next or feathers or the white board where visitors can note the creatures they spotted that day. A side room houses some taxidermy, and curious visitors can also thumb through the musty guidebooks and other nature-themed reads shelved there.(See this CT Woodlands issue for mine and a fellow nature writer’s pieces on Teale and Trail Wood).

Teale cabin quote.jpg

This sign is inside the Teale cabin at Trail Wood. The glare obscures the attribution, but I believe it is from an old tombstone in England.

 

I relish collections like this; the more eclectic the better. In an older entry I wrote about one enviable cache kept by an archaeologist and cartographer. The original name for my book – Cabinet of Curiosity (recently submitted to an interested publisher, now with a different title!) – reflected the happy collecting of talismans from nature. And a great read from Vermont Quarterly that my sister put aside for me, about Bernd Heinrich, included snippets about what he’s accumulated in his rustic Maine cabin. His laptop sits amid a set of watercolors, field notes, field guides, etc, with hawk feathers and binoculars nearby and a whole tree trunk holding up the ceiling. I love this part of the article:

On the way out the door, I stop to photograph three items on the window ledge: a pair of desiccated spiders pinned to a block of foam; a pile of animal poop which includes a bird’s claw; and an embossed circular medal. “Those barn spiders had just laid their egg clutches,” he tells me later, and the scat was probably deposited by a coyote who had eaten a grouse. “I saved it to quiz the winter ecology students,” he explains. “They should be able to tell me the season too—because a piece of toe skin has fringes.” Heinrich makes no mention of the medal sitting next to the poop: it’s the John Burroughs Medal, the highest honor in American natural history writing.

I am sure Heinrich must have felt honored by the medal and that its proximity to scat is not a reflection of his thoughts on John Burroughs or his namesake award. But I also think that Heinrich has his priorities in order. He needs  to be outside, studying the denizens of the natural world. In his world, scat with a revealing history is just as important as accolades (and likely more so). I am guessing fashion isn’t high on his list, either. I would treasure the nature-centered hodgepodge in his cabin more than any decor or wardrobe that you could offer me.

Which brings to mind something I learned quite young, in Sunday School:

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. (Luke 12:27, NASB)

small white flowers

Somewhere along Bridge Street

 

Found nest

Spotted this nest today along the shore of one of the quarry ponds, near Plattwood Park

 

 

Frog Pond

Yesterday, I looked down into a transient ecosystem that thrived in a large bucket at my feet. I took my son Gavin and a friend frogging at our local pond. No matter that it’s in a cemetery—the modest body of water is quivering with life, and our bucket hosted at least 6 frogs, probably twice that many tadpoles, a host of minnows, and a large beetle that swam circular laps with the vigor of an Olympiad. (Or was it a Giant Water Bug, often mistaken for a beetle?).

The boys conferred about the gauge of the nets and the length of the sticks that they were attached to, and what they might garner with each plunge into the muddy depths. I wished I had a stop-action camera to get real-time shots of all the incredible skyward frog escapes. The most impressive creatures of the day were the two thick, ropy Northern Water Snakes that the boys reported (they actually called them rat snakes, but after some research I think this was a misidentification). We released the whole, squirming bucket in the end, washing the sludgy mud off shins and hands with baby wipes before heading back to the commercial world of pizza, chips, Slushies, and candy.

I believe that every town should have at least one well-frequented frog pond, and Googling around for other fine, civic frog pond examples I ran across Save the Frogs! Our frog populations are dwindling because of a variety of factors, among them climate change, invasive species, and habitat loss, and this nonprofit does a lot of education, also encouraging citizen scientists like you and me to build our own frog ponds. So get digging!

Sometimes it makes me sad when I am out and about walking, or taking another turn around the pond, and I don’t see many other interested individuals or families outdoors—I am fervent in my hopes and prayers that we, as a society, reunite with the outdoors and learn from the connections that we can make there. Science, philosophy, spirituality, medicine, relationships–it’s all there for us to learn! I am borrowing a quote by Chief Seattle (1854) that Save the Frogs showcases on their site, plainly put but it rings so true, especially at the lively height of summer:

 And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of a whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night?

Playing Hooky: A Crucial Nature Skill

I’ve set my sights on a day off alone before the long days of summer disappear.  I have a particular locale in mind, at least for a good part of the day. Fountain Hill Cemetery right here in town boasts a small but lively manmade pondone we have walked to after many school days to hunt for tadpoles and frogs. If we’re lucky, we see the rare heron, coyote, or fox. It’s no wilderness, and some might say a cemetery is an odd choice for spending time, at least before your time has come. But I like my nature mixed with history sometimes, and don’t feel any distaste for the residents who share the spacehopefully they have some knowledge that they are surrounded by beauty.

Our visits to the pond have always been times between–after school drop off and before work I have had walks there alone among the grassy hills , and strolls there after school have been limited by homework and dinner deadlines. On my last visit, I found myself wishing I could just sit quietly and watch the pond, and then sit quietly and watch some more.

I picked up an old favorite today–Flat Rock Journal by Ken Carey.  My timing was only a little off–just past summer solstice here and what I read was about an April or May tradition he and his wife kept. They’d each get a chance to “throw a few things in a backpack and set out to enjoy a day in the forest…Appreciation of the natural world draws out a self within us that knows what we, in our busyness, often forget.” His words that follow have me recognizing the urgent need for this kind of day:

I remember things in the forest, things I never intended to forget. Things that, as a child, I would not have believed could be forgotten. Johnny, our four-year-old, sometimes tells me of having seen faces in doorknobs or hearing voices among the trees–as if he senses some dimension within and behind what is culturally seen, an alam al mithal, as the Sufis say, where awareness saturates every particle, and beings inhabit all things.

Outdoors, immersed in nature’s season of renewal, there are moments, I find, when such perception comes. Moments when my awareness recognizes itself in all I see, and every pebble and leaf and tree looks back at me, mirroring some facet of myself.

When I feel I have been too long without this awareness, I know it is time once more to strike out alone into the forest, to experience a day among animals, trees, and open sky.