Spring flowers
autumn moon
summer breezes
winter snow:

With mind uncluttered
·  this is  ·
the finest season!

-Wúmén Huìkāi

Empty larder

Spring is sprung, temperatures are (for the moment) well above freezing, sap riseth and green shoots peek out everywhere. But for critters used to more concentrated food sources, it will be some while yet before flowers, eggs, pupae and other rich dishes are again widely available. So the persistence of this squirrel in clawing up a silicone-slick plastic window-frame and—after several falls—squashing itself into a “squirrel proof” feeder is not so surprising.

0402_1019 DSCF2473fp

Somewhat more remarkable is the pain this animal is willing to suffer for its pleasure: with these sunflower hearts are mixed an almost equal volume of mammal deterrent. The proprietor of a local Indian grocery store, asked for the hottest chili powder in stock, proffered a bag marked “XXX” with some Hindi script in warning red. Queried “Is there anything even hotter?” she took a long look at the customer, shook her head, and retrieved from the back room a box of something presumably still more incendiary.

It takes squirrels here about a month of hard winter to nose into such a mix. (Birds are not affected by capsaicin, and like early Mesoamericans, may even benefit from the extra vitamins.) Then, if the food be worth it, they tuck in—afterward furiously brushing face and whiskers free of the red scourge.


Perhaps they become accustomed to the kind of endorphin rush that brings some humans back to habanero and bhut jolokia? Perhaps this ordeal has taken its place among sciurid rites-of-passage? Or perhaps they are just very devoted to collecting calories for the benefit of soon-to-arrive offspring.

Shaking all under

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

Not depicted on the Geography page are the rock formations underlying all those soils and topographic features. Several maps are available, including static and interactive ones from various federal and state agencies (key here); the Physical Resources > Bedrock Geology entries in OLIVER are as beautifully rendered as they are revealing to the informed eye.

Local geology remains an active topic for academic research. Even within the past decade, a new map (excerpt shown here) has been in preparation:


Though research is incomplete, and this map still very much an evolving project, one striking feature may be of special interest to area residents and visitors—the Sedge Meadows Fault, passing right beneath Pincushion Island:


While this and intersecting Bloody Bluff Fault do not appear to pose any immediate danger, it is well to consider the living memory of 1940’s Ossipee earthquake and the more consequential 1755 Cape Ann temblor, widely perceived by victims as an act of divine retribution for Boston’s errant ways.

Our own higher standards in both morality and building codes would likely limit damage were such a catastrophe to strike this semi-rural area, though the downtown financial district might not fare so well. However, it is not always seismic shock and sustained shake that cause the greatest damage to persons and property. In the case of Farrar Pond, the relatively well-hydrated high banks of the southeast shore might loosen and slip, displacing most of the water in the pond. This churning tsunami of malodorous meadow mud could rush the length of the pond, shooting across the Sudbury River to wreak havoc at Nashawtuc Country Club and the southern reaches of Nine Acre Corner, even imperiling the hallowed ovens at Verrill Farm.

Various early-warning and other defensive measures are under consideration by responsible parties.

A warm bath


Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

A  new arrival to the Farrar Pond area some decades past queried local conservation experts on the best ways to encourage mammalian and avian wildlife on land intended to become a nature preserve. The obvious answer—put out food—was only third on the resulting list of suggestions. Second was to create habitat for feeding, breeding, and protection from weather and predators. This led to a landscape plan focusing on edges rather than broad areas of uniform texture, and the construction and maintenance of brush-piles in several configurations. And these measures proved effective in supporting populations of both transients and permanent residents.
The main recommendation, however, was to provide water. This is a naturally wet environment: so much so that where in much of the US the natural life of large trees is limited by wildfire, here it is mainly blowdowns, followed often by quick decay. But between percolation and runoff, all that rainfall tends not to persist in forms locally available to our various creatures. Strolling a few hundred yards for a drink is slightly inconvenient for a deer or coyote, a serious burden for a rabbit, impossible for a mole. Birds are more mobile, but still pay in exposure and in energy, more so if a significant elevation change is required. So placing some kind of water source every hundred feet or so can yield rapid dividends in visible wildlife. The only needed maintenance is replenishment every ten days or so in warm weather, to prevent the hatching of mosquito larvae. (A small pond with tadpoles, fish or dragonfly larvae—three predatory categories to a degree mutually exclusive—will take care of itself.) Absent strong sun and wind, monthly precipitation close to 4″ year-round obviates the need for frequent filling.
The two examples above show a valued attribute: a way of providing accessible shelter and/or limited access to evade raptor attacks. The dish immediately above rests on a recently coppiced maple; fast re-sprouting will soon make a protective thicket. (Don’t try this on an oak or pine…)
And water serves purposes beyond quenching thirst. The “bath” aspect gets plenty of use year-round, more so in warmer weather. In this sequence a robin deep-cleans his coat,
afterward flying to a sunnier and breezier perch to dry and preen.
A reliable spectacle, especially when multiple species perch at or near the water to await turns at the splash party. Unfortunately, the most aesthetic earthenware dishes are rarely the most robust; most inexpensive glazed pottery is neither high-enough fired nor free enough of recurved surfaces to survive more than a few winters’ freeze/thaw action:
Solid granite in thick-walled forms is more robust, if a bit weighty:

ware tada taru wo shiru

Plastic, if less attractive, lasts much longer (and costs much less). But before hairline cracks break apart completely, leaky dishes still serve as both playgrounds
and tray feeders for wildlife:
This is a dry time of year. Even a week from the vernal equinox, Farrar Pond remains frozen hard enough for walking, and most pond-edge surface water runs are hidden below the ice. The only open water is near the dam or the main stream entrances. And erstwhile bird baths look like this:
–Interesting as mutable sculpture,
especially when they grow ice spikes,
but either uninteresting to or frustrating for thirsty wildlife habituated to finding refreshment at these places.
In summer, even a brief lapse or statistical variation in that 4″ monthly average can leave puddles, rock hollows and other features natural and man-made entirely dry, with only sparser ponds and streams as persistent water. In winter, even an extended drought usually leaves some snow available in north-facing gullies and hollows. But as Mary Holland observes in her excellent daily nature column, snow is very much a last resort for thirsty critters. Consider: surface snow, even on a warm day, cannot be above 0°C. A typical bird or small mammal wants to maintain its core at about 40°C. Warming a single gram of water from 0 to 40°C requires 40 calories; warming ice from any lower temperature up to freezing requires about an additional ½ calorie per °C. An even bigger issue is the exceptional latent heat of fusion of ice, nearly 80 calories per gram just to melt without warming it at all. While these “gram calories” are 1000 times smaller than the “kilogram calories” used in our own diet planning, a sparrow or chipmunk is about 1000 times smaller than a human; a bird or small mammal pays a real price in added foraging or lost body fat to “drink” snow or ice.
The solution? If we want to distort nature by helping creatures whose livelihoods we have in most other ways disrupted, one easy way is to provide unfrozen water in winter. All it takes is a readily available heater, properly connected to a GFCI-protected outlet.
A stone holds the heater in place, keeps birds and animals from singeing toes and noses, and provides a warm perch especially favored by mourning doves.
As well as avians of all sorts,
a full range of animals—from mice and voles to fox, deer and coyote—will brave a close approach to human habitation when they see or smell water (or perhaps the tracks, scents and bodies of other seekers). And they sometimes leave souvenirs of far travels, like these colorful but ill-omened Celastrus orbiculatus seeds, many more of which are no doubt being cast about into mischief:
In addition to prudent and mandated electrical safety, a consideration for bath-warmers is that most were designed for large animal husbandry, and are seriously over-powered for a small dish. The result is excessively rapid evaporation; in windy conditions, one can dry up completely in just a day. Reducing power avoids wasted energy for both people and planet. There are many ways to do this, easiest perhaps being a fan/motor speed controller or lamp dimmer of the plug-in or hard-wired type; one of these may pay for itself in a single winter.
If the bath is successful in attracting customers for both bathing and drinking, it will still empty quickly. One way to deal with replenishment, refreshment and removal of mosquito larvae is to use roof water, shortening an existing downspout and guiding the flow directly or by guiding part of it along a “rain chain” or simple string. Or for Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson aficionados with an odd corner to fill, more complex arrangements are possible. This one, with a frost-proof guardian frog and backsplatter shield,
offers fresh water year-round to all and a higher-level bath for birds in fair weather. Since the supplying roof has snow cover for much of the winter, some of which melts off each warm and sunny day,
only infrequent topping-up is required to maintain a supply of clean water for all comers.

Snow Man


The Snow Man

 by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


Winter is here

Spring flowers, autumn moon;
   summer breezes, winter snow:
With mind uncluttered,
   this is the finest season.

      –Wumen Huikai


Winter is, in some respects, the most interesting season. Sparse simplicity and more measured movement bring clearer focus on what is, what changes, and what may come. Over the scenes where dramas of spring with new life and the reappearance of old, summer with relaxed ripening, and autumn’s dropping away of the unneeded and broadcasting of the future is drawn a fluffy curtain through which only the largest forms protrude into unsoftened light.


Flying Squirrel Hollow

Omnipresent life—warm and dry, furry or feathered—hides patiently in the reliably tempered depths below iron-hard topsoil; scampers and flutters madly in search of gleanings or prey;



Vole, from pole to hole

or—slick and moist—swims beneath ice, burrows in mud, or (with adaptive biochemical preparation) freezes into soft humus. And the carefully wrapped packets of life-to-be


—seeds, spores and others—


rest where they fall, if not eaten first, counting cycles of warmth and other signals against their internal programming to decide when it might be safe to emerge into a new year.

Winter begins, by our convention, at the beginning of the coldest season, rather than its depth around the midpoint: at Imbolc, as some who lived closer to nature’s cycles styled it. So winter begins as the mercury drops,


but also as the days lengthen and brighten.


When frost embraces both waters


and windows


we tend to observe nature—and perhaps our own natures—through different filters.


(For those who care, the progression from more or less uniform clouding


to chiaroscuro


is the result of a somewhat lifelike process called “Ostwald ripening” (AKA “the Matthew effect”), in which even very cold water molecules freely skate about the surface to enhance larger crystals at the expense of thermodynamically disfavored smaller ones or amorphous films.)

Except where dynamic flows


supply enough energy to prevent it, Farrar Pond now is largely


if not always securely frozen,


allowing dry-shod access by people to interesting sights


Clethra alnifolia


Loosestrife-threatened cattails

and by hunters to a broader field:


At this time of the Cold, Wolf and Hunger Moons, for most endothermic creatures food equals warmth equals life. The flicker that until snowfall pierces earth for fat- and protein-rich grubs


must now prospect in bark furrows already explored by nuthatches and squirrels


or make do with a calorically inferior meal of corn and millet


when it can find an opening;


while its more orientationally flexible cousin can dine from the bottom of a crow-proof suet feeder:


Nonetheless, it is not always such a time of famine as many imagine; feeders may remain largely unattended even when snow cover is complete, while native seeds sit for many weeks, ripe and plainly visible for the plucking, like this red, white and blue trio of staghorn sumac, northern bayberry and eastern red cedar:




Birds are not alone in consuming seed, by preference or necessity, like these four-footers



who, well after, dark come snuffling and licking around whatever spillage remains from the afternoon



and evening cleanup crews.


Of course, birds themselves represent a concentrated food source for both fast-moving animals and other birds,


as the ghost of this mourning dove might attest:


And in accord with the principle that there is always a bigger predator until, at the top, we are all consumed by minutiae—

Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.

And the great fleas, themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.

(after Swift, De Morgan et al.)—night brings sharp senses and sharper teeth


often lurking perilously at the very edge of vision


Look again – you’re under surveillance

to harvest the incautious.


Not all contests are so bloody, unless sap be counted. Instead of feathers, scattered foliage


and spherical droppings show where a lagomorph ate just the youngest shoots—disdaining both bud and leaf—


of a rhododendron valued by bipeds for less vital purposes. Sweet bark, too, is at risk. Sometimes, as with this buckeye, the shrub will survive;


others, as this hibiscus, perhaps not:


Nor is predation the only means by which herbivores do harm to herbs. At this time of year, for example, bucks rub turf boundary and social-position marker scents from forehead gland. Fragrant bark seems to be the preference, so magnolias, arbor vitae and virginiana juniper are especially at risk:


Though most arthropods have long since died, hidden deep or departed for warmer climes,


another seasonal plant pest remains: the dread and teeming winter moth, implausibly active well into the new year.


We wish well to the birds that devour its eggs before they hatch to inchworms consuming many times their weight in valued greenery.


Winter is a season of flowers and what follows them. Not colorful or fragrant as those of summer, but as beautiful in quieter ways. Like climbing


and mop-head hydrangeas,




evening primrose


wild carrot


and goldenrod (here with mountain laurel).


A few dried leaves persist into winter, all the more spectacular for lack of visual competition;

Acer triflorum

Acer triflorum

as do a very few herbaceous perennials like this slightly chewed fern


and of course that nearly immortal fungus/alga (or cyanobacterium) symbiont, the lichen:



And speaking of fungi… While mycelial life goes ever on below (and sometimes above) the frost line, last year’s fruiting bodies in many splendid forms may persist uneaten until warmth hastens their decay:




And as ground-warmed waters seep and flow steadily beneath and across the ice throughout a long winter,


and creatures of all sorts hasten toward reproductive assignations,


so does sap rise to plump what will, absent late frost, become the darling buds of May:


Rhododendron carolinianum


Magnolia amoena (or biondii)


Pieris japonica

Columbus Day in Massachusetts

It’s not just the colors, actually. After all, the colors are all bunched on one side of the color wheel—greens, and yellows and oranges and reds. And it’s not just the brilliance, mostly pastel—although shafts of occasional sunlight do make the colors glow. What it is is the surprise of it all.

Foliage 03

The same thing that makes a Fred Allen joke, or a Fats Waller solo, or a Sinatra song—the unexpected twist. You round a bend or top a rise and there it is, visual overload. A field of weeds backed up by a row of pines and maples, a rather bland vista during most of the year, now shimmers and vibrates, shouting at the senses and tugging at the tear ducts.

Even the dull old oak tree assumes a saucy demeanor, as if the washerwoman had suddenly become Kim Novak. And the gnarled and stunted apple tree is transformed into a tapestry.

Your entire span of awareness becomes an event, a happening, and this remarkable feeling gets branded into your memory. It fades—however gradually—until almost forgotten. Then, when you find it again in a later season, it returns with that sudden rush and the poignance that accompanies a sweet surprise.

Words come close, but pictures don’t. You have to see it.

A Good Walk Made Better

Farrar Pond Place Names

If you like to walk along the Farrar Pond trail on our south side of the pond, you may enjoy this reprint and update of an article first published in the October 1999 issue of the Farrar Ponder, the Farrar Pond Village newsletter.  The article points out certain landmarks from the dam to the eastern end.  The place names were given by various members of the Winchell family who owned the land now occupied by Farrar Pond Village and Lincoln Ridge, and the surrounding conservation land.

Farrar Pond Dam and Gut

We begin our walk at the dam (Site 3 on the map of Farrar Pond) at the western end of the pond. Ed Farrar, who then owned the land, constructed the dam in 1900 from dirt dug out of a hillside near the dam site. He constructed a spillway of oak boards in the northwest corner of the Gut (Site 4), the cove in front of the dam. It is so named for its shape and its function as the outlet for water and detritus from the pond to the Sudbury River.

The dam washed out during the winter and spring of 1946-1947. The Winchells installed a saddleback spillway of boulders and concrete in the present location. In September 1978, with the development of Lincoln Ridge and the deeding of the continuous lakeshore property to the Farrar Pond Conservation trusts, the Farrar Pond Association accepted responsibility for the dam. In 1992, a level-control tank was added near the dam to draw down the pond for weed control. In 1993, the first spillway was replaced by a gunnite structure that washed out in the spring of 1994 and was repaired to form the present spillway.


Heading east along the Gut, you see the skived-out hillside on your right where Ed Farrar got the earth used for the original dam. Guilbert Winchell says earth was also taken from that hillside to repair the dam in 1946, and foxes had a den there for many years.

Well Point

Further along the trail, very near the opening to the Gut, the Town well building stands on the right. The point just beyond it at the opening of the cove is called Well Point (Site 5).

Pincushion Island

From Well Point, the trail goes right. After going down and up hills, you see a small island close to shore. Mrs. Winchell, the family matriarch, named it Pincushion Island (Site 6) because its tall pines reminded her of a full pincushion. Last Memorial Day, my wife and I counted 113 Lady Slippers along this section of the trail!


 Birch Point

Continuing along the trail, you come to Birch Point (Site 7) at the entrance to the large cove halfway down the pond. The point gets its name from the white birches extending out at a steep angle over the pond. At the inner shore of the large cove, you pass by the Farrar Pond Village dock and canoes belonging to residents.

Perch Point

Perch Point (Site 9) is on the eastern end of the large cove and was named not for the fish, but because of its location halfway between Pine and Birch Points. Further east, you pass a small swamp on your left where the trail goes by a large stand of sweet pepper bushes and another trail joins from Hemlock Circle. In July and August, the pleasant aroma of the blossoms — like the odor of honeysuckle, only spicier — is quite noticeable.


Pine Point

Further east, you come to Pine Point (Site 10), named for the giant pine tree leaning out over the pond. This pine grows over the remains of an even older tree, whose branches are still visible in the water.

Flying Squirrel Hollow

The trail widens and is covered with pine needles and bordered by high bush blueberries and red pines. After a long stretch, you go by the Winchell’s toboggan run and reach the southeast corner of the pond, where water leaches in from the hillside on the right leading up to Hemlock Circle.  Skunk cabbage and ferns grow in profusion at the pond’s edge. The elder Mrs. Winchell named the corner Flying Squirrel Hollow (Site 11) after skiing down the hillside trail at dusk long ago and seeing a flying squirrel.



Winchell Cove

Turning left you come to Winchell Cove (Site 12) at the eastern end of the pond. Take another left at the fork and continue past the dock and boathouse still used by the family.

Pole Brook

A short way after the boathouse, the trail turns left and goes along in a meadow onto a boardwalk built by the Winchells to cross the newly formed beaver swamp and across Pole Brook (Site 14), the main feeder to the pond. Gordon Winchell relates “When Esther Wheeler, the eldest of an old Concord family, was in her nineties and a patient at Rivercrest, she told me that the brook was called Pole Brook because farmers used to harvest hay in the surrounding meadow and haul it up along the brook on poles dragged by horses. The Wheelers owned the field on the eastern side of the river and had a camp at the Gut. They planted the mountain laurels you can still see along the trail. They sold a four-acre piece to Ed Farrar, including the Gut, in the late 1800’s.


Pole Brook begins in the wetlands in the field opposite the Codman House and behind the Police Station. It runs down the western side of a rocky esker located close to the end of Hillside Road. Then it runs near the gas station on Route 117, crosses under 117 and flows down Meadowbrook Road into a wetland pond in the woods. From there, it turns right, flows under Route 126, and down the slope.  Beside Gordon Winchell’s home, the brook tumbles over rocks before it levels out and flows into the pond.

The next time you walk the trail, try to find the key spots again and remember their names!

By Harold McAleer, assisted by Kathy Garner


Fall is here

Spring flowers, autumn moon;
   summer breezes, winter snow:
With mind uncluttered,
   this is the finest season.

      –Wumen Huikai


Autumn is, in some respects, the most interesting season. It is a time of drying, crackling, shedding, of pulling vital juices back into deep roots and preparing for death, deep dormancy, rebirth in situ or at a new location. Fall is when the superfluous is shed: that which does not sustain hibernation and recrudescence, the excess expressions that would hold ice, tangle wind, put all at risk. The spare flesh that need be returned to earth, in decay to sustain other life from mycelium to bacterium, ant to beetle grub, closing one loop in the great cycle.

Sulfur polypore

Sulfur polypore

And autumn, at least in the United States, is also pronounced “fall.” But leaf-drop does not often begin with the equinox; with first killing frosts weeks yet to come, this date brings only hints of the cold fire to come in the leaves of trees stressed by circumstance like this bug-bitten sassafras


thirsty dogwood


or sun-struck Japanese maple (here resting on a healthy native magnolia leaf)


–though swamp maples are ever in a rush to display their style:


And interpreting “foliage” more broadly than its roots dictate, we enjoy some spectacular (if difficult-to-photograph) native clumpgrasses, like this one propagated via a pinch of seed collected from an old meadow



or this uninvited but welcome arrival:


From spring through summer, they look like coarse low weeds; just as we begin to trade swim trunks for school clothes, they send up tall stalks from which to broadcast seed. Clumpgrasses make a fine foundation for a low-maintenance native wildflower patch: no watering, fertilizing, weed-killers or pesticides; just mow once each year to inhibit woody interlopers, and enjoy a year-round play of texture and color, plus more birds, butterflies and small mammals than any lawn or formal garden could ever support. And even our commonest graminoids can rival store-bought hybrids for beauty when allowed to achieve their natural proportions:


At night they provide safe cover to allow shy visitors closer in:



But not all creatures want to abide here. With the first chill come Canada geese, in flocks small and large, to rest and replenish at the Farrar Pond salad bar


until, after a lengthy conference of motivational squawking, they form up and head south:


Some who cannot escape the cold above prepare to do so below, like this green frog


that on some rainy night will, long before its upland pool freezes over, hop down to the big pond and bury itself in the mud until March. Or the ever-present but rarely seen beavers that created the beautiful low pool system—reminiscent of the travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Spring—at the pond’s Halfway Brook inlet, and keep those who maintain the outlet clear busy preventing a rise in water level that could flood  abutters’ basements.


Beavers chew wood for a number of reasons, including keeping their ever-growing teeth to a suitable length and killing trees they do not esteem to make room for others they do. Those that are felled serve many purposes, including structural (for both dam and lodge), immediate consumption and winter food stores. All around Farrar Pond are both old and fresh drops, easily identified by the color of chips and exposed wood,


as well as some still in process:


Not everyone can get out of Dodge by sundown; some just have to keep eating—often a rather calorie-sparse diet—building fat reserves for an active winter. Like this cottontail, still-small product of the season’s third litter:


In a normal, healthy ecosystem, the smaller outnumber the larger according to a power law. If the square mile around Farrar Pond can sustainably support (let us say) a pair of coyotes, a dozen deer, 1000 assorted squirrels and 5000 meadow voles, we might expect beetles, insects, spiders and others of their size to number in the millions. It is not that simple, of course; each requires a particular habitat (or several), and many of the wildflower meadows that supported butterflies have reverted to forest or been converted to monoculture, permanently juvenile lawns. Still, one does not have to look far to find fabulous variety. And in these changing days, the search is still shorter. Nectar-feeders have fewer oases by the week, so following the remaining color reliably leads to hymenoptera of many species


Sweet autumn clematis




Paniculate phlox



that sometimes mob the last ripe blossoms in a sunny area:






Rosa rugosa


Evening primrose

Lepidoptera means “scaly-wings,” a design that provides certain defensive and other advantages. But these butterflies show a long season’s wear, as neither scales nor wing regenerate:





And then there are the ones that feed on the ones that feed… Pickin’s get slimmer for them as well. Odonata will soon move on or perish


 and harvestmen huddle together in the lee of a milkweed leaf:


Some arthropods abandon the outdoors entirely, like these ants, sipping a borate soup that will not enhance their longevity


and this spider, hunting gnats attracted to a computer display:


The flowers that remain so late are often of introduced species not yet optimally adapted to our seasonal timing, like


Asiatic dayflower





Most native wildflowers have run their course, like this August candelabra now reduced to dry wicks,


Blue vervain


(Same plant)

nonetheless welcome as they will spread seed for more color next year.

And when flowers have done their job, the result is viable seed: naked, winged, enclosed in succulent pulp, or otherwise arrayed for dispersal by vectors living and meteorological. Some plants hold their produce until all is ripe, then release the load to ground or wind, bird or beast. Others spread theirs over days or weeks, whether to focus resources on at least some sure seed, or to attract a range of birds and animals as these move within and through the area. Smartweed is more of the former, pokeweed very much the latter, goldenrod somewhere between:



See the bee?


Virginia creeper and spikenard (a key ingredient of true root-beer) are extended producers


Parthenocissus quinquefolia


Aralia racemosa

while bayberry holds its fruit until well into the snows: native, nourishing, but apparently a food of late resort for winter birds.


Myrica pensylvanica

Not so the winterberry,


Ilex verticillata

a great favorite of bluebirds that will spend several minutes choking down one of the big fruit in apparent preference to pecking them apart. Likewise colorful are the flaming tips of staghorn sumac


Rhus typhina


that ripen all at once but are devoured over weeks. And many others are similarly spectacular, by themselves or in contrast with adjoining foliage:





Others, perhaps to avoid predation of seed that is adequately dispersed by natural forces, lose much of their flash as they ripen, like Eastern redbud


Cercis canadensis

and larch:


Larix laricina

A particularly felicitous phenomenon, not so common, is the simultaneous appearance of this year’s ripe fruit with next year’s well-formed bud. Examples include this Asian magnolia


Magnolia biondii or amoena

and our own, under-appreciated native dogwood:


Cornus florida

Still, no matter what weather may come and pass, some of our most subtly appealing biota live beyond the change of seasons, stable as the rocks—or yet more so, since rocks and trees are what they grind into their meal—the eternal slow lichens:




The immortal chestnut/3

In our previous episode, a chestnut tree in the last throes of blight put forth its second and last crop of nuts. –Last, at least, for another few years, until one of the young basal shoots matures enough to bear before the blight takes it in turn.

That crop was collected from open burrs before squirrels or other critters could scarf them up. All were stored wet in the refrigerator for the winter. (For those unfamiliar with so-called “stratification,” many plants use such a step both to ensure dispersal of seed and to delay sprouting until reliably persistent warm weather.)

Within a few months, the three largest nuts had germinated:


(The smaller ones, as expected, never did.) These three seedlings were placed in a potting medium mixed with a little native soil, to supply an appropriate microbiological community; kept in a sunny window until after the last killing frost;



and then moved outdoors to full sun:



 By early September, all had developed pencil-thick trunks and dense foliage:


They will be treated to one more winter in an unheated greenhouse—adding a few weeks to the growing season—then planted in some suitable woodsy location to naturalize. This is an exercise in optimism: however unlikely, there is always a chance that one sport seedling from the relatively few productive native chestnuts will bear a gene for resistance to the blight, thereby naturally restoring the native population in parallel with the hybrid breeding program being carried out nearby.






Summer is here

Spring flowers, autumn moon;
   summer breezes, winter snow:
With mind uncluttered,
   this is the finest season.

      –Wumen Huikai


Summer is, in some respects, the most interesting season. Its entrance is “the end of the beginning”—a turning where, just as the sun rests in its ascent and prepares to depart the zenith, the skyward reach of stem and bloom turns and energies shift from extension to consolidation. Petals drop in favor of ripening seed; as leaves thicken and send rich syrups back along phloemy pathways, greenwood hardens off and trunks gain in girth and vines grow like—well, vines.


Schizophragma hydrangeoides

This is a good time to loosen belts in advance of the zucchini flood, and plant tags before they embed in swelling sapwood.

We rejoice in perennials, which in the main show for a few days or weeks at most: the last azaleas


and kalmias


and, where chance and habitat permit, spectacular and sometimes deliciously fragrant native rhododendron and magnolia


R. viscosum?


M. virginiana, sweetbay

and other-worldly spiderwort:


Biennials and annuals, meanwhile, show themselves for a much longer season; with one life to live, they live it in full, bringing pleasure to us and sustenance to all kinds of small winged creatures



Herbs of augury and Derby




as well as others that find among the foragers their own preferred nourishment:


This is a good time to extirpate unwanted invasives, when they are easiest to identify, and well before they set seed. It is likewise an opportunity to transform high-maintenance turf- or crabgrass lawn into the eco-haven of a wildflower meadow, mowing or string-trimming what isn’t wanted and leaving patches of diverse desirable species to naturalize into an effortless quilt of many and changing colors.

Some trees and shrubs show promise of fruit to come, like exotic beach rose


and domestic persimmon,


our own implausibly native cactus


and, likewise delicious to ourselves and other creatures, staghorn sumac:


 Seeds a-ripening depend from Eastern redbud


bubble up from viburnum


or condense in the haze of a smoke-tree:


 Neither flesh nor fowl nor good red herring, slime molds of several kinds creep forth, when food runs thin or the weather just right, pulling  a dispersed society into a slow-seething mass


that in part will differentiate again into spores, sent on the wind to new homes of humus and duff.

Just-weaned mammals may be cautious and timid


Marmot Sinatra


accepting but watchful


or (at least when young) insouciant and bold


and, in the main, ever-inquisitive:


 The solstice brings the last turtle nestings, most of which end badly for the eggs but bounteously for predators of all sizes,


and a rainbow of snake species slithering forth in search of crickets and the like:


 Their winged cousins keep busier with regeneration; the eggs of March and April


April 27th



sometimes laid in awkward places


have hatched







and fledged;



where food and mood align, second (or, rarely, third) nestings may help give voice to the heavens:

June 20th

June 20th


Nor are the skies themselves still: with maximum insolation come the greatest differentials of temperature and humidity, strong winds and fast-changing weather. Though the passing torrent may be sometimes a bit extreme, the result, at the end of the day, is very often the most elegant of transient illuminations:


Old pine, young sycamores


Gold above; perhaps below?


And even the rocks are growing


Fear and Hiding on April 19, 1775

Very near Farrar Pond Village, an event related to the American Revolution occurred on April 19, 1775. The story involves Mercy Hoar Farrar, wife of Lt. Samuel Farrar, Jr., a Lincoln Minute Man who fought in the Battle of Concord and Lexington. The event involving Mercy Farrar may have occurred because of fears aroused on April 19 when news of the fighting in Lexington and Concord and the burning of Colonial military stores reached Lincoln. The Colonials did not know which route the British would take to return to Boston, and many families gathered their household goods and fled because they feared their homes might be burned or shot at by retreating troops.


The community around Farrar Pond-to-be        (click to enlarge)

The Farrar homestead, which had been built in 1692, was located on Sudbury Way (now Concord Road or Route 126). It stood in a spot near where mailboxes for 216 and 217 Concord Road now stand. On April 19, the house was a gathering place for women and children from Concord. Mercy Farrar fled with her family, including her baby Samuel 3rd, and others, down to Oakey Bottom, a forested area below the rear of the house at the southeastern edge of a marshy meadow (now Farrar Pond) through which Half-Way Brook flowed.


Farrar Homestead, original image available from Lincoln Archives        (click to enlarge)

You might wonder why she wanted to flee, since most of the fighting that occurred as the British retreated from Concord was at the other end of town along the Battle Road of 1775. Though the British returned to Boston the way they came, they could have chosen the route through South Lincoln along Sudbury Way and then east along South Great Road (Route 117) to Waltham, Watertown, and Brookline into Boston. Had they taken this route, the British would have marched close to the Farrar home.

The British had gone to Concord to destroy military stores kept there by the Colonials. In the early hours of April 19, 650 to 900 British troops led by Lt. Col. Francis Smith and Major John Pitcairn left Boston, crossed the Charles River, and marched towards Concord, under orders from Thomas Gage, the British Military Governor of Massachusetts. Soon after the British left Boston, the entire countryside had been alerted to their presence. They reached Lexington around 4:30 AM and met and fired on a company of Lexington Minute Men, eight of whom were mortally wounded.

Minute Men from Lincoln and Concord, having heard about the fighting in Lexington, marched from Concord towards Lincoln until they sighted a large British force coming in the opposite direction. They turned about, marched back to Concord, and went on to the North Bridge. The British searched Concord for Colonial military supplies. Smoke from fires set by the British led the Colonials to believe Concord was being burned. At 9:30 AM they encountered the British at the North Bridge and, during the ensuing fight, fired “The Shot Heard Round the World”. News of the confrontation spread to other towns.

The British retreated to Concord Center where they regrouped, rested, and took care of their wounded. Later, when they finally started back to Boston, “the real battle began.” They were shot at from behind trees and walls and broke ranks in their retreat. Lincoln was the setting for much of the fighting.


The British long march back to Boston from Concord   (click to enlarge)

(This map may be seen larger and in color at http://www.nps.gov/mima/index.htm; look to lower left for Park Tools→View Park Map.)

Back in Boston, six hours after the first troops had left for Concord, Gage sent out a relief column led by Lord Hugh Percy, who met up with Lt. Col. Smith’s demoralized men, collected them back into regiments, and led them back to Charlestown. Before reaching there, they fought with the Colonials in Arlington and Cambridge.

According to historian John C. MacLean, “Whatever they did, it was certain the British would march through Lincoln again. Lincoln’s traditions suggest that many families prepared by hiding valuables and some gathered together for safety.”

Mercy Farrar had additional reasons to fear for her family. Lt. Samuel Farrar, Jr. was a Minute Man and his father, Deacon Samuel Farrar, Sr., who also lived at the homestead, was a respected Colonial leader who had played a prominent role in events leading up to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. In 1773, he was Chairman of the first Committee of Correspondence. In 1774, the British Parliament outlawed the holding of town meetings without consent from the Governor.  After this and other “Intolerable Acts” passed by Parliament, the Colonials held County Conventions to deal with their concerns.  At the Middlesex Convention held in Concord that year and attended by Deacon Farrar, the following measure was endorsed:

…if, in support of our rights, we are called upon to encounter even death, we are yet undaunted, sensible that he can never die too soon, who lays down his life in support of the laws and liberties of his country. (MacLean, p. 244)

Deacon Farrar attended the first Provincial Congress that formed an opposition government after Gage discharged their elected representatives to the General Court. This government created a Commission of Safety to call out the militia. It also initiated Minute Men groups, amassed munitions, and formed a treasury.  At the Lincoln town meeting in January of 1775, the town endorsed the Provincial Congress and sent it representatives and funds. Deacon Farrar was elected to several positions of leadership and responsibility at this meeting.

The story of Mercy Farrar’s hiding out in Oakey Bottom was later told by one of the Farrar grandsons:

The Concord families living nearest to our home fled this way for safety, and with my grandmother and others of the family left this house, and took refuge in “Oaky Bottom,” a retired piece of forest land about one-half mile in the rear of the house [now part of the man-made Farrar Pond]. Grandmother in her haste had sufficient self-possession to think of the cattle tied in the barn. These she let loose, desiring to save them from the flames that she expected would be kindled by Gage’s army. She took her babe, Samuel (the third), in her arms, the large family Bible, a loaf of bread, and a looking-glass, with what little silver she had, and bade farewell to the old dwelling, never expecting to gather her family about her again beneath that ancestral roof. (MacLean, p. 276)

As it turned out, the Farrar home was never endangered. After April 19, Lt. Samuel Farrar, Jr. participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill and helped to fortify Dorchester Heights. He was soon promoted to Captain and led a company of Volunteers throughout the War. At Saratoga, he was present when Burgoyne surrendered. Deacon Farrar died in 1783, soon after the War ended. Samuel Farrar, Jr. became one of the first Selectmen to serve Lincoln after the War and became an important town leader.

The Farrar homestead, inhabited by generations of Farrars since the 17th century, stood until the early 1950s. The last owner, a Farrar relative, after deciding the house was beyond repair, removed items of value from it, and, with permission from the fire department, had the house torn down and burned. Artifacts from it are now on exhibit at the Smithsonian and Winterthur Museums.


  1. Glass, Kerry, and Little Elizabeth, Lincoln . . . Lincoln Historical Commission, 1975.
  2. Farrar, Edward R., Birthplace of the Farrar Family in America, Lincoln, Massachusetts.
  3. MacLean, John C., A Rich Harvest, Lincoln, MA, Lincoln Historical Society, 1987.
  4. Minute Man National Historical Park, Massachusetts, Minute Man, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
  5. Ragan, Ruth Molton, Voiceprints of Lincoln, Boston, Northeastern University Press, Lincoln Historical Society, 1991.

This article was written with assistance from the following Lincoln residents: Jeanne Cousins, Mary E. Peterson (a Farrar descendant), and Harold McAleer.  It was originally printed in the April 2000 issue of the Farrar Ponder, a publication of Farrar Pond Village, Lincoln, MA.

© Kathy Garner 2000


Turtle traffic

This is the season when female turtles travel up from permanent water to lay (by usual preference) in loose, sandy, south-facing higher ground. From Farrar Pond, many—hundreds?—of painted (Chrysemys picta) and snapping (Chelydra serpentina) turtles may plod a quarter-mile or more to find or return to their favored spots, and can spend a couple of days testing soils, avoiding predators and people, depositing eggs in one nest or several, then staggering home. When a relaxing bath is available, like this constructed frog pond,

S0618121fpthey may remain there for a few days before laying, and up to a month before returning home. These charming if shy


Up periscope!

visitors are always welcome, even though they may entirely consume a carefully maintained drift of duckweed, apparently easier pickin’s than tough lily leaves and fast-moving tadpoles. Snapping turtles—though generally quite harmless to people even when provoked—are such fine hunters that they can take a dozen or more frogs and hundreds of tadpoles in a few days. Even shyer in the water than painted turtles, they are not easily netted or otherwise sent packing. Life is a balance, even (or especially) when semi-artificially constrained.

Both species tend to lay here between late-May and early June. Typically, more than 90% of nests are predated the first night, leaving a gaping hole and scattered shells as a sad reminder.


(More at A Long First Journey.) Gravid or post-partum mothers may be hit by speedy and inattentive SUVs as they leave the woods


to cross streets


or rest in the sun.


15″ shell

A few are taken by large predators. Tiny creeping newborns


1.5″ shell

that do appear each autumn and spring (developing embryos can overwinter if not adequately ripened before the ground chills), like these of a rarely witnessed hatching,


Look for the eyes


face much greater risks than their parents from automobiles


and predators including carnivorous mammals, birds and even bullfrogs.

Non-vehicular hazards are part of the natural cycle. Offsetting the high mortality of eggs and hatchlings, turtles live for a very long time, not uncommonly half a century or more. Eggs and soft-shelled young are seasonal food for all those other species. Yet with pollution and eutrophication, their shallow-water homeworld ever dwindles. And with ever more of the surrounding land paved,


mowed, built upon, toxified and otherwise rendered unfit, safe passage and safe nesting are ever harder to attain. So it is a courtesy to these species—cautiously recommended by conservation authorities—to lend a helping hand (or, better, calm and divert traffic) when a mother encounters paving. Newborns may safely (for all concerned) be carried across


or even all the way down to near the edge of a nearby body of suitable water


to make their own way in:


Since one theory of navigation is that turtles know “home” by the taste of their first swim, it may be more important than usual not to meddle overmuch.

There are, however, times when it may be appropriate to take more direct protective action, relocating early nests or hatchlings. This pile of sand, shortly due to be relocated, was an inevitable target for both mother and multiple predators drawn by her smell and that of disturbed earth:


But empty shells are absent; one small tragedy was averted as the 36 spherical eggs


had been removed to a safer spot and reburied within the few hours during which they remain soft, flexible and safe to handle. Similarly, this soon-to-be-moved chip pile, though shaded, may have been attractive to both of these moms for easy digging and the internal warmth of fermentation and decay:



One eventually moved on to lay elsewhere; the other’s clutch of 57 was again rescued


and reburied.

A less frequent occurrence is the accidental excavation of a nest. Turtles tend to prefer the same loose, porous and sunny earth beloved of gardeners, and may place eggs near a recently installed planting or in a spot prepared for one.  One chance shovel thrust turned up a small nest with two little snappers, already hatched and just starting to dig their way to freedom:


Though fairly long out of shell, the smaller was clearly less ready for the outer world, yolk sac not yet fully absorbed:


Perhaps the hatching of one triggered the same in its nestmate, with multiple evolutionary advantages including cooperative digging and predator satiation.

Tempting though it be to observe the whole process, it is best to leave the mothers alone until homeward bound.


Though not at all aggressive, they spook easily, and may be driven from preferred(and long-accustomed nesting sites if they observe observers:


Do not tickle my chin

Having left her genetic legacy on dry land, this mother crawls off, with no knowledge of the fate of her efforts:


–though who knows what tales these ladies may be sharing?