Currently viewing the tag: "On The Wild Side"

by Christine Maccabee 

Seed Savers

Most people who have been gardening for many years already have their favorite seeds in mind for planting this spring, be they hybrid or non-hybrid. It can be a bit bewildering when looking through the various seed catalogs, as there are so many varieties of seeds to choose from. However, I highly recommend buying some good heirloom/old-variety/non-hybrid seeds if you wish to be somewhat independent of catalogs in the future.

Seed-saving is not possible with hybrid seeds, as they do not carry the germ of the past, the genes of antiquity, and so will not germinate. Thankfully, the best seed catalogs do have heirloom seeds identified as such, so keep an eye out for them. In fact, some of the descriptions have short stories as to their origins, which I always find fascinating.
One such story is about “Mrs. Maxwell’s Big Italian tomato.” A friend from Italy gave her some seeds that they swore by. Mrs. Maxwell planted them, cultivated them, and shared them with other seed-savers. Eventually, the seeds made their way to a catalog company where the fruit is described as “the largest, earliest, and most crack-resistant.” My favorite tomato for 30 years now is the Brandywine Red, a Pennsylvania Amish heirloom, dating back to 1885, but this year I think I will try a Mrs. Maxwell as well!

There is a mysterious bean that I bought in Amish country years ago, called Mostoller’s Goose Bean. The story goes that Mr. Mostoller, a homesteader in the Appalachians shot a goose for dinner, and as he cleaned it, he found one beautiful seed in its craw. As he was a survivalist, like most settlers were, he planted the seed. It grew abundantly, and so he shared extra seed with friends and family. It is a wonderful soup and stew bean, and it also made its way to a seed catalog. I bought some in the 1990s and grew it for many years until I decided not to, and now I miss it. It is rare, and so I must find some seed savers online in order to plant it again.

As for peas, I can brag that I have not had to purchase pea seeds in 25 years. The seeds of Tall Telephone pea are a must for me to grow, eat, and save. They are a perfect space-saver—and back-saver as well—since they grow very tall, usually higher than five feet on stable fencing. Last year mine grew eight-feet-tall due to my rich soil and lots of rain. The yield is always great, and I don’t have to bend over to pick the pods.

Many settlers who came to the New World from Europe and elsewhere brought their seeds with them, fully aware that seeds were essential for survival. Think of the example of Johnny Appleseed sharing old variety apple trees with grateful settlers. Of course, Native Americans had their specialty seeds as well. I like to think that the bean, Mostoller, found in the craw of a goose was one the Natives grew! A Cherokee friend of mine told me her great-grandmother remembered pow wows in this high mountain valley I now inhabit. As I plant my heirloom seeds in the rich soil of my gardens here, I feel a deep connection with the Natives. They were the first inhabitants here and seed-savers as well!

Now is the time to look through seed catalogs and make your order. Why not try some different seeds this year by looking for seeds that will live on and on. Join the committed society of seed-savers. As you plant, eat, save, and share your heirloom/old variety seeds, know that you are participating in an ancient tradition, a heritage unlike any other.    

Some old variety/heirloom seeds of Christine’s, stored in jars and tins.

by Christine Maccabee

Winter Musings

“When the wintertime cold wraps the garden in snow, in my bed I am dreaming of Spring!”                                             

~ from CD Songpoems by Christine

As of this writing, there is no snow, but there is lots of cold! Somehow, we gardeners, ever busy during the planting and growing seasons, must adjust to the slower pace, the wearing of layers rather than shorts and light tops, and be satisfied with nothing much to do in our gardens.

This break from gardening may be easy for some, but for many of us, we find ourselves a bit bored with the routine of filling birdfeeders and taking refuse out to the compost pile. Sure, we can fill the time with taking long walks, or reading, or perhaps planning for this spring’s planting, but for me, it is a restless time. I miss the warmth of spring and summer days, less clothing to fuss with, and above all, the colors of all the flowers, the buzzing of the bees, and the green leaves of trees.

In my song “Dreaming of Spring,” written in late 1990s, I waxed poetic when I thought about Spring:

…and I dream of happy hours spent 

   as I turn the soil, my soul invent

    with each seed I sow,

     nature’s wonders to know.”

Planning our gardens on the small amount of space we have—be it a backyard, front yard, or an acre or two—is for me a sacred ritual. I count my blessings that I have had several gardens throughout my lifetime, ending with the one I have here on my Mystic Meadows, where I have ample space to grow native wildflowers, wild edibles, and herbs for teas, and lots of trees. I guess you might say it’s a calling for me to grow habitat for wild plants, insects, and animals. I encourage anyone with some spare space to start dreaming of how you can contribute to the cause.

As many of you know, if you read this column or other sources, habitat loss is a very real threat to the diversity and health of our planet and our people. Just mourning the loss of species is one thing, activating is another. I encourage you to begin planning, to activate, to do anything you can, large or small, so that together we can help restore the integrity of this amazing creation we call Earth.

OK, I’m off my soapbox. For today, during this very cold time, I will water my house plants, care for my pets as usual, do my stretches, and work at removing my anxieties about the state of our nation and the world. For now, I will leave you with a little saying I wrote in the style of Sufi writings, which are always so uplifting :

“Walk placidly in your world,

   doing good as you are able

    in small ways with heart,

     in larger ways with courage,

      finding peaceful moments

       of beauty along your way.”

Until next time, I continue to wax poetic, and wish you all good health. God bless.

Ring Out the Old!   Bring In the New!

by Christine Maccabee 

“As certain as the turning of Fall into Winter,
     there can be no stopping the changes,
             for change is the very nature of Nature.” 

~ from Life Poems by Christine

Life changes can be challenging, sometimes sudden, sometimes sad or happy, but at all times, occurring.

To say that we are the captains of our own ships, or fates, and can choose the direction our lives take, is far too simplistic for my taste. There are many subtle, and not so subtle, things occurring inside us and around us, that also determine the course our lives will take.

Some things are not a choice, like a wildfire or a mudslide that consumes our home, precious possessions, and sometimes the humans and animals we love. I think of the horrible mudslides in Central America recently or the ongoing wildfires in California. Was there a choice for the homeowners in California? I guess the choice was building one’s dream home near forests, not realizing factors way beyond their control were looming on the horizon. Once the combination of drought, heat, wind, tinder, and a power line that fell or a campfire left unattended happen, they had very little control. I think most of us in Upper Frederick County are counting our blessings to live in such a relatively safe place. I know I do!

The question is: What DO we have control of? Daily, we all work on how we can make better choices for our lives, for our futures, and for our children’s futures. There are so many unknowns at play, I dare to say that there are, indeed, no answers to fit every situation. Ultimately, we must ride the waves with all the wit and will we have to survive. Perhaps, that is the only real choice we have, to use our wit and will to make sense of and learn how to make the best of whatever situation comes our way.

Somewhere I saw, maybe on Facebook, that it isn’t correct to say that we are all in the same boat. Rather, we are all in different boats, but on the same ocean. I like that. However, I believe we could also say that we are all in it together, here on this planet we call Earth, this unique blue marble floating in space, all sharing the same air and water, though some have it much worse than others. The hope is that as we work to save others, including wildlife, from pollution and climate disruption, we are also saving ourselves and our planet as well. I am always thrilled to read about people who give their lives to save habitat and wild animals. I think of a few who touched me with their courage such as Jane Goodall and Julia Butterfly, who lived in a huge Redwood tree for over a year, ultimately saving it and the grove around it. They are my heroes, along with so many others.

In the New Year, it is all our problems to figure out what course we will take for our lives. We consumeristic humans have made a huge negative impact on the environment. So, the wisest of choices are needed to be made as to how to cross that ocean with leaky boats—and they all have leaks. We likely will not all make it, but we must try our best. Not trying is not an option, either on a personal or political level. We can all do something, no matter how small.

Yes, the Old has affected us in unavoidable negative ways, though there have been many positive ways as well. So, now the challenge is to fix the leaky boat, embrace the inevitable changes with courage, and build on the Old to create something New…or at least, something Better!

by Christine Maccabee 

The Facts About   Christmas Cactus

I always wondered why my two “Christmas Cacti” plants bloomed way before Christmas. The mystery was cleared up when I went on Google and discovered that mine are of another species, commonly known as the Thanksgiving Cactus. They do indeed bloom before and during Thanksgiving. Perhaps, you have one, too.

There is a slight difference between the two species, just two of the six species in the genus Schlumbergera. Mine, the Thanksgiving or crab cacti, have small flattened serrated stem segments. These are not leaves, though many of us thought they were. These cacti are leafless, which is a common feature of all the genus Schlumbergera (okay, now let’s all repeat that name seven times, then you’ll never forget it, right?! )

Christmas Cati bloom around Christmas in the Northern hemisphere, but the blooms are just like the other species. Its stem segments are roundish, not flat. It is also a hybrid. How do I know all this? Well, I went to an expert, Melissa Petruzello (another name to memorize). She is the assistant editor on plants and environmental science for the Encyclopedia Britannica, so I am indebted to her and Britanicca for clearing up this mystery!

Christmas cacti mostly grow in the Brazilian rainforest on trees, shrubs, or shady places (just one of a million reasons we have to save the rainforest…hear that, Brazil?). Over many years, my habit has been to put my tropical house plants outside in the shade of an arbor that my father made before he died. That way, they get the benefit of rain and weather, which is their natural habitat. Of course, I water them during dry periods, but pretty much all my plants are independent and take next to no care once outside.

Of course, the ceremony of bringing my potted rainforest into the house for the winter is always a wonderful challenge as I work to find appropriate places for them all. Some need repotting, and this summer, my avacoda tree grew way over my head!

Yes, life with house plants is always interesting. The diversity is astounding. They are fun to care for during the winter, and they have the extra benefit of purifying my air, much like the rainforest is needed to purify and replenish Earth’s air—all the more reason to control the destruction of rainforests by beef, palm oil, lumber, and other consumeristic interests. I can pretty much live without all of that, and I definitely do not purchase foods with palm oil ingredients—just one small contribution on my part.

To end, I will say that you are very fortunate if you have one or two beautiful Shlumbergera in your home. I am always astounded by their colorful blooms, which add so much beauty to my world, to our world.

May your world, our world, Earth’s forests, continue to be so blessed for centuries to come.  

Christine’s Thanksgiving Cacti

Thanksgiving Cactus come in a range of colors, mostly pastels, including red, pink, peach, purple, orange, or white, and typically bloom at Thanksgiving.

by Christine Maccabee 

Our Precious Water

From the Mountains to the Bay, and Beyond

Everyone knows that human beings are a part of nature, not apart from it. An ecological understanding of how everything is connected should be included in every child’s education. Sadly, I personally never learned it in school as a child, though innately, I felt the connection through my love of nature. Plus, my parents were involved in the Better Air Coalition in Baltimore, so through them, I had an even greater awakening in my early twenties.

Not only are we all connected to the natural environment in so many intricate ways, but our consumerism profoundly affects our air, land, waterways, and wildlife and human life on the entire planet. Up here in Frederick County, and in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia, our habits and lifestyle choices, our cars and our livestock, all affect the health of people, crabs, oysters, turtles—you name it, downstream as far as the Bay and the Ocean.

So, why should we care? In an article written by Whitney Pipkin for the Chesapeake Bay Journal, “swimming in streams and stormwater runoff can be dangerous and hazardous to your health.” It can be dangerous and hazardous to the health of aquatic animals as well. A frequent concern is E. coli bacteria, bacteria present in high numbers after a rainfall, which can flush animal waste and raw sewage into the water. Upper Potomac RiverKeeper Brent Walls made a documentary about this problem, citing the runoff from cattle allowed to roam right up to, and into, the water’s edge. Legislation is underway to restrict cattle and other livestock within a certain footage of river and stream banks, but it’s not an easy battle.

In that same documentary, I was shocked to learn how coal mining holding ponds are overflowing and polluting long-time residents’ wells. They now have to buy bottled water, have developed health problems, and some have moved away from their dream homes. Chemicals used in fracking (the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, and so forth, so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas) can do the same harm. As well, waste from a paper mill is discharged directly into the Potomac, killing all aquatic life for a stretch of one mile. Certainly, I would not want to wade, or permit my children to play, in waters downstream from all that.

Over the last four years, federal pollution regulations have been loosened, not tightened. That must change. As the population grows, and the need for paper, gas, oil, and food continue to grow, I and others fear for the ongoing quality of human, aquatic, and plant life—both here and downstream. Remember, everything we do affects everything else; we are all connected. From suburban areas with small lawns to larger acreages of soybeans and other crops where some people use pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers, the runoff after heavy rains runs quickly to the sewer, making tracks for our streams, rivers, and, ultimately, the wonderful Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean.

These lines from my favorite patriotic song encapsulate my sentiment exactly:

From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans                   white with foam. God Bless America, my home, sweet home.

So, be a patriot, and do your part. Fight pollution!

A Thing of Beauty

by Christine Maccabee

If ever there were proof that nothing lasts forever, the moonflower’s flower is it. Most of the great civilizations throughout world history were transitory, as are our little lives. Of course, most civilizations endured far longer than my moonflower flowers, though their seeds may come from ancient stock. As well, if you are reading this you are likely still blooming! 

Throughout this difficult pandemic, nature lovers like me have been hard at work growing and planting and preserving things of value, such as food, and yes, things of beauty. Yesterday, I went to the dentist, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a wonderfully colorful display of zinnia flowers in a vase, obviously well-cultivated and cared for by the person who grew them.

Such love of nature and beauty is not unusual here in Northern Frederick County. I see evidence of such caring in many yards throughout Thurmont. Even some larger areas are abloom right now with woodland sunflowers (see photo), goldenrods, and tiny wild aster flowers. Certainly, we do not want to lose sight of what is important for the continuance of wholesome, healthy life on our planet, and such late blooming plants are not only providing beauty but also the nectar our pollinators need to survive a cold fall and winter. 

It is mid-September as of this writing, and here in my mountain home I await with great expectation the opening of two more moonflower buds, which are growing in pots on my deck and under an arbor. I bought my seeds through a catalogue and always thought they were annuals. However, I recently learned that it is a perennial tropical plant and can be cultivated, with great patience and plenty of water, in more northern climates. Surprisingly, it potentially can even winter over if planted in the ground and not in pots, even spreading by seed, even as far north as Maryland, though I imagine very rarely. Somehow, I don’t think it would survive up here in the Catoctins where temperatures are at least five degrees or lower than in Thurmont, but I might try it next year.  

Then there is the wonderful woodland sunflower, which can be seen in spots behind the guard rail along Rt. 550 north. Many years ago, I was given some of their tiny seeds, which I planted in a wild area just off my deck. Their small golden heads are a joy to behold amidst all the golden rods. These flowers are summers’ final display of its transitory glory. Of course, bees love them, too, as well as any monarchs drifting in for a quick snack on their long migration south. 

There are many contentious things we could discuss and argue about these days, especially now before elections, but I pray we do not lose sight of the things we all have in common, such as the need for clean water and air, protecting and planting trees, wild areas to feed bugs and birds, our family and friends, and of course, enjoying things of beauty.  Politics aside, for me, all these things are the most important elements in my daily life, and for ongoing life and joy on Earth.

So, I choose to focus on the beautiful things, no matter how fleeting. Enjoy your precious days ahead, no matter the storms, taking the good with the bad, the beautiful with the terrible…and remember…nothing lasts forever.

by Christine Maccabee 

Tall Beauties and Late Bloomers

Where I live in upper Frederick County, I get to enjoy the various flowering plants blooming on our roadsides, truly making rides in our cars “scenic,” as many signs say along the roads. For me, it is not just the wonderful wide open landscapes of fertile farmlands and ancient mountains that make it scenic; it is the various wildflowers that bloom at their own pace, in their own time, some in early summer and others in late summer. Unfortunately, most are mowed down before they can bloom.

It is hard to believe we are in late summer with autumn soon to come. Meanwhile, the late-blooming Joe Pye weed and wild evening primrose are blooming here and there, attracting butterflies and bees with their wonderful, essential nectar and pollen. Just today, I saw some of these tall beauties along Hampton Valley Road, very near the Eyler Valley Chapel. It takes a discerning, and interested, eye to see them and appreciate them for what they are. They are mostly misunderstood and underappreciated, much like human late bloomers.

Being a late bloomer myself, I learned to love all the natural plants and animals around me at a young age. There wasn’t a day I did not go out exploring and observing. I was not a popular girl like many others. I was similar to wild plants, taking a long time to grow and bloom. Years later, at a class reunion, my neighbor, Bobby, told me that he and the other boys had admired me for my interest in turtles. I had a Turtle Town, as I called it, composed mostly of box turtles and some mud turtles. His words surprised me. If only I’d known the boys admired me back when…if only

Unfortunately, over the years, I have seen so many wild places destroyed, it makes my head spin. Healthy habitat for wildflowers, which bloom all the way until frost, is essential for our pollinators. So, when I see these wildfloweers cut down before they even get a chance to grow a foot tall, I get depressed. Many people get cut down before they have a real chance to bloom, too. However, humans, as well as plants, are resilient. In between the cracks, we somehow continue to flourish. The mowers cannot always reach beyond the ditch, so the wildflowers can flourish there. And, thankfully, there are also some caring people who nurture and appreciate us and keep us around!

Joe Pye weed and evening primrose will soon fade away for another year, another whole year! I will miss them, as will the bees and butterflies.

However, soon to come, and right on their heels, are the really late bloomers: the goldend rods and wild asters. In this area, there are several varieties of wild aster that I know of: the white wood aster, the panicled aster, small-flowered white aster, and the purple Canadian aster. Of the 16 varieties of goldenrods throughout North America, we have around 4 in Frederick County: the lance-leaved goldenrod, tall goldenrods, stiff goldenrods, and rough-stemmed goldenrods. I’m using the common names, not scientific names, as they are descriptive. I recommend getting a good identification book such as the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers for greater understanding of these, and other, important wild plants.

Did you know that the pollen of goldenrods is not the major allergy problem? Their pollen is too heavy to travel far. It is ragweed pollen that creates problems for people, with its inconspicuous blooms that develop at the same time as goldenrod. However, in the wild, ragweed seeds have oils that help wild birds survive throughout the fall and winter.

Everything has a purpose, even you and me. Let’s make sure we all honor one another during the trying days ahead. We need to appreciate the diversity of all living entities and their contribution to the health and wholeness of life on our precious planet, Earth, of which we are all caretakers.  

Late-blooming Joe Pye “weed” along Hampton Valley Road.

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Another tall beauty, late-bloomer: wild evening primrose in Christine’s garden.

My Wild Gardens,

“Oh the place that I’m from is the place that I won,

            It’s the joy of my heart, it is my own.

        It took many a year but I’m finally here…

         With a hey and a hoe to the field I go.”

~ from Song of a Homesteader by Christine

For 30 years now, I have been intentionally integrating wild native plants as habitat for insects and birds, with multiple beds for organic veggies and fruit. When I first found this 11+ parcel of fertile land in the Catoctins 30 years ago, there were no trees, no flowers, and no house. It was part of a 200+ acre homestead, which previously grew corn and hay, but later was mowed regularly in order to sell. It was pretty much a blank page when I found it, perfect for an artist’s/gardener’s creative activity!

 The first thing I did to start a garden was to plow an acre up and then let it rest for one year to see what wild plants emerged. I had taught myself how to identify wild plants from the time they first emerge, and I was blown away by the diversity in the soil. There were, and still are, multiple varieties of wild aster and goldenrod, wild evening primrose, medicinal herbs like St. John’s Wort, mullein and vervain, wild edibles such as the delicious lambs quarters, ground cherries, and purslane; smaller less conspicuous flowers like blues, and pinks, lots of milkweed, and a host of other mostly native plants.

So, as I laid out the beds for my mostly heirloom veggies, I kept those various wild plants in mind. Continuing to read and study, I learned that I was naturally practicing what is called ultra-organic gardening, where wild plants are allowed to grow—with some discrimination— between, and even in, the beds of vegetables. Also, on the property trees like locust, sassafras, ash, redbuds, and dogwoods came forth on their own so that presently, along with species I brought in over the years, I have a nice diversity of trees. I also reduced lawn size to mostly pathways, and now have a solar mower. Due to the slow progression of blossoms from spring until fall, I have a wide diversity of insect life such as honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and I am always finding new and unusual insects. I literally have no more bad bugs like the asparagus and bean beetle and have not seen squash beetle in years. It feels like a well-balanced ecosystem!

As primary caretaker here, I have always felt that by allowing the wonderful botanical diversity of Creation, I am working hand in hand with the Creator. If I never become famous for anything, at least I will have done this. I deem it my most important work, and want to share it with others.

If you’d like to experience my wild gardens, you are welcome to visit. Most of all, I hope you eare enjoying the discovery of wild plants on your own properties!

For the Earth, Christine   (, Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist, State of MD.

by Christine Maccabee

Slowing Down

As of this writing, it is still spring. I find springtime goes much too fast and comes much too slowly after a long, messy winter. In winter, I am dreaming of spring. I miss the green leaves and the wonderful life that springs from the soil…maybe that’s why it is called spring!

This spring, every time I passed by my purple iris, I took the time to smell its heavenly perfume, knowing its blossoms would come and go so quickly. Slowing down to do so becomes a few seconds of bliss during a busy day, a bit of aromatherapy to put a smile on my face and joy in my heart.

After an amazing rain the other night, I knew the box turtles would be trying to cross the roads to get to better hunting grounds, or so they think. So yesterday, unbeknown to me, a lone male turtle was in the middle of Black Road, leaving the safety of his woods and thinking the 15-acre lawn across the road might be better. Luckily, I was in no hurry to get home, so I stopped my car and rescued him from a life-threatening situation. He was peaceful as I carried him back to his wonderful woods, and I hope he never comes onto the road again.

Years ago, on a quiet Sunday morning, I found a turtle injured on Hamptown Valley Road by a car likely going too fast to be observant. I took the poor guy home. With surgical tape, his frontal shell was fused together again. After a month, fully healed, I released him. It only takes one.

As for gardening, I must admit that somedays I go non-stop,  practically forgetting to breathe as I multitask. Perhaps, innately, I feel I have to keep up with springtimes’ springing! However, since yesterday was going to be my day to go slower, I stood up frequently,  stretching and breathing in deeply the wonderful mountain air in between planting lupine and squash plants. Grown from seed in the greenhouse, these plants, like so many others, took their good old time getting to outdoor planting size. They were as eager to get out of their pots as I was to plant them, yet patience was needed, forcing me to go slow. 

Now summer flowers, berries, and veggies are slowly coming out, and gardeners are busier than ever. I know I am not the only avid gardener. Our backs and arms are aching from all the work. Still, the wisest of us know how important it is to slow down and smell the flowers, to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and spend quiet time listening to and observing nature’s miraculous springing forth during this time of “Greenleaf” (taken from the bestseller Warriors series about cat clans).

I will leave you with a few lines from a poem I wrote years ago:

 The most glorious sunrise                                              a newborn’s first cry,

            the blossom of bluebells

              in the welcome springtime.

  The beauty of summer

     all decked out in green;

         the lupine and poppy,

           a colorful scheme,

  All gone in an instant it seems,

  All gone with the passae of time.

Seeking the Things That Unite Us:

An Ecological Necessity

by Christine Maccabee

Lately, I have been pondering a lot about the necessity of thinking and living ecologically, that is, with awareness or consciousness of the intricate web of life within which we all live. Certainly, everyone knows how the balance of nature becomes disturbed when one essential part is destroyed or disrupted. One example might be the use of toxic herbicides to control plant growth along streams, roadsides, and elsewhere.

Of course, for every problem there is a solution; thus, the planting of trees and wild plants along stream banks, creating what is called a riparian buffer. Small native trees and shrubs check the erosion and keep the water cooler so small fish can thrive. The same goes for ponds, which should always have wild plants around them as shade for reptiles and fish. 

To remain rigid and unyielding in our beliefs and actions usually results in prejudice, judgment, and sometimes harm done. This is something all humanity must be aware of and we must all work to correct. For instance, if I had maintained my vegetarian stance, I very well might have fallen into judgment of people who hunt the beautiful deer for meat. As it is, I love venison now and acknowledge hunting as a way to keep the deer population down. However, I do not have tolerance for the terrible waste of trophy hunting, especially of endangered species.

These days, the necessity to find the things that unite us, be it ecological or political, is greater than ever. Throughout human history, crises have occurred over and over again, shattering the human web of brotherhood, as well as the natural ecology through warfare and exploitation of the land and its people—case in point, the Native Americans tribes.

These days, due to the global health crisis related to COVID-19, it is even more imperative for us to put aside our judgments and work together as a whole. In my opinion, this present effort to avoid contagion and preserve human health is just the beginning of an even greater imperative to work together to save the health of our precious planet, Earth. Everything is indeed connected, and always lessons to be learned.

Deep understanding of such connections and the necessity of reverence for all lifeforms is exemplified in the words of Chief Luther Standing Bear, lecturer and writer in the late 1800s, who said:

The Lakota was a true lover of nature. Kinship with all the creatures of the earth, sky, and water was a real and active principal. The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart apart from nature becomes hard. He knew that lack of respect for growing things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.

May we be so wise…

Climate Change: A Hoax?

by Christine Maccabee

No matter where you stand on the subject of climate change, no matter how skeptical or how impassioned you are, I am sure there are many things we all can agree on. Of the many concerns I have, personally, the one that stands out the most for me is the future of our children and what kind of world, or earth, we adults will be leaving them—climate change or no climate change.

Everybody knows that our modern-day lifestyles have led to multiple problems such as plastics in our oceans, what to do with all our garbage and recycleables, oilspills, danger to wildlife habitat from development and toxic chemicals, and on and on. We are all aware of these problems through TV, newspapers, and the internet. Fortunately, the human being has been beautifully equipped with problem-solving abilities, which all of us must use each day with everyday problems, be it surviving a heavy workload, or jobs that do not pay enough to do little more than help us with bills, or a place to live and healthy food to eat.

By the time we get through dealing with our personal needs and challenges, who in the world has time to think about climate change?

In truth—and thankfully—many people do find the time, and are actively doing things to help solve this huge problem we are having as a human race on earth, our only home.

If you think I am being overly dramatic, well, think of it this way. Our precious baby is in the bathtub with the water running. Meanwhile, we adults are out in the hallway with the door closed, debating whether there is enough water in the tub and if it is too hot or too cold. Meanwhile, the tub is filling, the water temperature might be dangerous, and the child is suffering. It does not take much to open the door and check, making adjustments as necessary.

Here in Frederick County, we are very fortunate to have many individuals who care deeply about the future well-being of our planet and its inhabitants. It takes political engagement in a bipartisan way to make broader significant progress. Individuals in Sierra Club, the Multi-Faith Alliance group, and certain council members, are wanting to form a working group that will be actively problem-solving for one year and presenting their resolutions to the Frederick County Council. Their goal is to ensure that future legislation around development, agriculture, air, and water quality will be enacted, as seen through the lens of climate change and protection of our precious natural resources.

However, too much skepticism at this critical time will inevitably work against positive progress. With all hands on deck, perhaps we can steady this ship, and save the baby as well! 

Even if you are not involved in politics, there are still many things you can do to make a difference. Some things may seem inconvenient, like not buying water in plastic bottles or using cloth bags for shopping, or perhaps driving 55 mph (something my parents did throughout their lives to save on gasoline).

However, if we accept these small inconveniences as a way of life, they will eventually become less of a burden and more of a benefit, and a joy. For it truly is all about taking care of that precious child in the bathtub. No debate there.

by Christine Maccabee 

Winter Musings: Seed Stratification

Through the many days and nights of this long, cold winter, trillions of seeds lay sleeping. They rest in their icy cradles of earth, awaiting the warmth of spring. Offspring of last year’s flowers, herbs, grasses, and trees, these seeds—though inactive—are preparing for change. Naked, these small capsules of life lay exposed to all the elements, without one word of complaint.

Yes, seeds of plants are in a state of dormancy, being prepared for germination by a process we humans call, stratification.

I have learned through trial and error that the germination rate of wildflower seed mixes is much higher if the seeds are sown in the fall or winter, or put in sealed containers in the freezer until late winter or early spring. Also, some vegetable seeds we save from the past year of gardening need a period of freezing, such as spinach. However, I find most vegetable seeds do quite well kept in a cool, dry place in sealed glass or metal containers to keep moisture and mice out. Mice will chew through plastic if desperate.

As humans, we experience many cold, sometimes difficult, times in our lives, perhaps a form of human stratification. Surely, out of struggle and depth of feeling have come some of our greatest symphonies, art masterpieces, writings, and other creative works. Even out of the depths of depress-ion, and through sheer determina-tion and inspiration, creative potential and genius are released through the cracking of a sort of protective epidermis.

I am thinking of Van Gogh’s prolific paintings, Beethovan’s music—in spite of deafness—and so many others whose flowering of inspiration inspire us all.

One of my favorite songs to sing is by Dottie Rambo, whose pain nearly drove her to suicide. Instead, she wrote a song called “Beside Still Waters,” a powerful song expressive of her pain, yet also of the faith and hope she had in order to overcome it. Human stratification…hmm.

Sitting by my window on this icy, cold day, I gaze out at the gardens, fields, and mountains, painted in shades of greys and browns. Difficult as it is, I must acknowledge my own need for this “down” time. For many of us, January and February can be too cold, too solitudinal, even depressing. To comfort myself, I reflect on the seeds out there of my favorite wild edibles, as well as medicinals for teas. Many of those wild plants depend solely on their seed progeny in order to come again in the spring. As I drink teas from the plants I dried last year, I find myself dreaming of spring, which cannot come soon enough.

Time passes all too swiftly, some say, so we must embrace the moment, finding joy beyond the sorrow. Even lonely, frozen days in January and February will pass more pleasantly if we contemplate the flowers to come, the potential within the soil, the seeds which are stratifying, and the potential within ourselves. All we need, like the seeds, is to weather the elements of our lives with patience and hope.

Spring is on its way! See you in March.    

by Christine Maccabee 

Where Have All the Large Moths Gone?

I will begin this article by asking a question: Have you seen many large moths, such as the luna, cecropia or polyphemus, these days? I am starting to research moth populations in upper Frederick County, and I would appreciate knowing of your sitings of these beautiful, large moths, as well as the slightly smaller ones, such as the gorgeous sphinx in the family of hawk moths.

I guess you might say my research started in high school in my back yard, south of Baltimore. It was there that I discovered a few fascinating green caterpillars of large moths. I put them in gallon jars with appropriate leaves, resupplying with fresh ones as needed. I watched the awesome green caterpillars grow to full size until they spun their cocoons, and I was rewarded for my efforts by seeing them emerge from their large cocoons in the spring. Of course, the best part was freeing them to fly away, back into my yard and sky beyond.

Since then, my personal sitings have been quite rare. Smaller moths of many species—some with colorful patterns, others quite plain—have found sanctuary on my property, yet, no large moths. When I say large, I mean with wingspans up to six inches. Just this past summer, I did see evidence of the luna moth up here in the mountains, but it looked like it had been shredded by either a predator or a mower. Where there is one dead luna moth, there will hopefully be a few more live ones!
Last month, I read an article in the National Wildlife magazine about the importance of litter (meaning dried leaves), dried stem of plants, and general yard debris, for the ongoing cycles of a host of wildlife species. In her article, “Life in the Litter,” Emma Johnson confirmed my understanding by writing about the importance of leaving litter in our gardens, where many insects (including moth pupae) go into a hibernation-like state called diapause, lying dormant until the ground warms. “ I will add that it is likely a death sentence to heap up thick mulch around our plants and trees, possibly inhibiting the emergence of these moths.

Fortunate to own property way off the track, I don’t care if my gardens portray a littered look. Unfortunately, in a suburban or city environment, people feel they must rake up all the leaves and dead stems around their azaleas, trees, and so forth, to have a kept appearance, little knowing that they are likely bagging up more than leaves. I shudder to think of all the moth larvae that are bagged up as well. Doug Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware, says that 94 percent of moth larvae drop off the tree (or host plant) and immediately dig into the litter and soft soil to pupate.

I also have to wonder if the occasional spraying of the hills and ridges near my property, to control gypsy moths, has killed off other harmless moths as well. Even though I was reassured that the spray was specific for the gypsy moth, I am still suspicious. Did the spraying affect other moths and insects as well? 
    So, I continue to observe and to allow ample habitat on my 11-plus acres, no matter how scruffy it may look to critical eyes. My little offering to the health of ecosystems and endangered species may ultimately count for nothing, or it may serve as a tiny Noah’s Ark for the little-understood and unappreciated creatures under our feet and all around us in Natures litter. By this spring, I hope to see more moths of many species—that is, if I stay up all night with the porch light on!

If you have seen any of these large moths or have any other questions or thoughts about habitat, I welcome you to write to me at

Polyphemus moth is a North American member of the family Saturniidae, the giant silk moths. This moth is tan-colored, with an average wingspan of 15 cm; its most notable feature being its large, purplish eyespots on its two hindwings.

The Holly and The Ivy

by Christine Maccabee

The Holly

There are about 15 native hollies in America, which, if grown in moist soil, are quite beautiful if you are fortunate enough to have one around your home. They can grow tall, but tend to be more shrub-like. Hollies are famous for their reddish berries, which only the female bears, and shiny green leaves. Cuttings are sometimes used at this time of year to decorate our homes, churches, and businesses. Most importantly, the female’s white flowers provide nectar for pollinators, and the berries are an excellent source of food for birds throughout the fall and winter into spring.

Ironically, the raw berries are poisonous for humans, though I do not know about cooked ones. I don’t think I will try it!

In the 1990s, I found my holly tree, half dead in a large pot at a roadside stand where the owner was shutting his business down for the winter. Selling it to me at half price, since it was half dead, I brought it home with great hopes that it might thrive at the corner of my house where the soil is consistently moist. Over many years, I watched with joy to see it become a thriving, and very tall, holly tree. However, disappointingly, it bore no berries.

This tale could have a sad ending since over time it looked like it was dying, its leaves turning brown and dropping off, with no sign of new life. It was becoming an eyesore, so sadly I cut it down. However, the following spring I noticed new growth, beginning at the base of the stump. I watched with great interest and excitement, as over the summer the holly resurrected itself into what is now, after many years, another gorgeous tree. It is even producing some berries!

I know of a few female hollies in our area, mostly brought in by a kind arborist or naturalist. Two of those hollies were planted at the back of the Presbyterian Church in Emmitsburg (where I am an organist), and they are thriving beautifully. I love seeing their many berries turn slowly through the season from green to orangish red (see photo above).

There are several holly forests in Delaware, and one near the Bay Bridge, which I visited a few decades ago. I can only hope it is still in existence; one day in the future, I will explore that possibility. I worry that it may have been demolished to make way for more development, as has happened to many wild areas in my lifetime.

The Ivy

There are at least two ivies that most people are familiar with: the English ivy and the dreaded poison ivy. English ivy is not a native to America and by many naturalists is considered an invasive. Even though some homeowners value it as a ground cover, it sadly does its job all too well. It is an unstoppable creeper, taking over habitat where fern and other wild plants would ordinarily grow. Also, English ivy is very vulnerable to spider mites, scale and mealy bugs, fungus, and so forth, all of which are easily transferable to other wild or domestic plants. Thus, it is a good idea to avoid planting it in your yard.

Some homeowners like to have English ivy creep up the walls of their homes, and it does look beautiful to some eyes. However, its strong roots work their way onto mortar of bricks or cracks in wood, thus damaging the house. I try not to be in judgment of other people’s choices, so I can only make my recommendations, then let it go. This is true of many other facets of life, be they political or lifestyle choices. We cannot control everything, but we can try to help with damage control.

As far as I am concerned, the holly does indeed take the crown with its beauty and usefulness. The French carol “The Holly and the Ivy” is all about the thorns and blood inflicted upon Christ. It is not my favorite carol, but I do love its melody! As for ivy, it is not my favorite plant.

 I suppose we can find the desirable and undesirable in everything in life. May you find true joy this season in many desirable and lovely things.                                                                            

by Christine Maccabee 

I listen to C-SPAN on the radio, though some people watch it on TV. It is a great station that invites all sides of issues to be discussed, and even though I do not agree with every opinion expressed, I try to keep an open mind.

However, one issue I am passionate about is climate change, or disruption as I prefer to define it. I believe, after all the information I have read and heard, that many of the problems we see devastating the Arctic ice—and, yes, now the Amazon rainforest—are man-made. You may disagree, or not even want to think about it. However, I believe the vast majority of people do care and want to make changes that will improve quality of life on our planet.

Back in the 1970s when I lived and worked in Baltimore, my parents were actively advocating for improved air quality in that polluted city. The Better Air Coalition held hearings in order to let the peoples’ voices be heard, and they came by the hundreds to speak and to listen. I had just written a song called “Nature, I Apologize,” one of my first songs ever. My heart was thumping wildly as I went up to the mic with my guitar and boldly sang that song instead of speaking. The result was a standing ovation and an invitation to come back in two weeks and sing it again so it could be aired on national news, which it was. Those were the days, my friend…

Now, these days may be worse. From what I am learning, large corporate interests are, and have been for decades, expanding their profit-making interests into the rainforests of the world, not just the Amazon. Most consumers do not know that 80 percent of the Malaysian rainforests have been decimated, slashed and burned, in order to grow palm oil plantations. Going through a local grocery store with a friend, we made a survey of products with palm oil in them, and easily half of the products use palm oil, palmitate, or palm kernels. Palm oil is a huge business, and sadly all the rainforest animals and plants are being killed in the worst possible way, by fire and bulldozers. In addition, indigenous people are being driven off their land and some are being used as poorly paid workers, basically slaves. The icing on this cake is horribly polluted air and water.

So, now that the planet is losing precious habitat for a wide diversity of animals, plants, insects, and birds, and depleting Earth’s essential oxygen output, what are we to do? Many folks are following the lead of the well-spoken 17-year-old from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who practices what she preaches, traveling to America on a sailboat in order to speak before the UN and rally others who care. Then there is Pope Francis, who has been a long-time advocate of taking care of our precious planet Earth (God’s Creation, not ours), our “only home.” Millions of children and adults around the earth are speaking out in large and small ways by changing their consumer habits. Some are advocating for real political change, for maintaining and improving pollution regulations, which sadly are presently under attack.    

The issues of clean air and water, and preservation of ecosystems, is a consumer issue, is it not? We all eat, drive, use paper products, etc. So, in late 1900s-style, here is a short list of things we all can do to make a difference:

•    Plant trees and native plants on your property or in your yard, creating habitat and oxygen for all of us.

•    Try to eat lower on the food chain since methane from beef and pork is a potent greenhouse gas. Also, holding ponds of excrement overflow into creeks and rivers that is toxic to aquatic creatures.

•    Buy recycled paper products, which are rare in local stores, so let managers know of your interest. A good source is the Common Market in Frederick.

•    Use less gasoline by combining shopping trips to various stores, and going 55 mph on open road.

•    Use less electricity by turning off unneeded lights and your computer and TV when not in use.

•    Use your consumer power by checking ingredients in food you buy, boycotting anything using palm oil. Write to companies explaining your stance and share information with a neighbor.

•    Discontinue use of pollinator killing herbicides and pesticides.

•    Practice regenerative and permaculture gardening techniques (contact me for more information).

•    Take more time to be quiet in nature, cultivating a deeper relationship with the natural world. As you do, you will be more inclined to care for it.

I heard a fellow on C-SPAN expressing his feelings of helplessness about the fires burning out of control in the Amazon. I believe doing nothing is not an option, for helping to preserve the goodness of the Earth for future generations is all our job, every day. Be glad that you are doing something, and know that you are not alone in your efforts. We are all in this together!

by Christine Maccabee 

Summer Flowering

“When the pink mimosa blooms,

                   it fills the air with the sweet perfume

  of summertime fair,

butterflies everywhere.”

~ (lyrics from songpoem “Dreaming of Spring”

by Christine)

It is nearly impossible to believe that spring is over already. No sooner do the crocus and violets appear that they seem to be gone. Other spring flowers such as the wild phlox that graced our roadsides have also gone, with all their purple, white, and pink beauty. Luckily, their seeds, roots, and bulbs live on for next spring’s show.

Now that summertime is upon us, another stage of flowers is here, some coming sooner than others. The common milkweed, with its broad leaves as habitat for the Monarch butterfly, is beginning to get its round cluster of flowers. I have been surprised to learn that many people are not aware of these wonderful flowers, which smell heavenly to me. Bees and butterflies flock to these flowers for nectar and pollen, pollinating them at the same time, so as to produce their fluffy seedpods we all love to see in late summer.

Another favorite of mine is a non-native tree, mimosa, which also has wonderful pinkish flowers, serving as food for our pollinators. Native or not, I allow it to thrive here at Mystic Meadows. It, too, delivers an incredible fragrance to the air that, in my experience, is nature’s aroma therapy. Just to walk out my door and breath in the sweet air while it is blooming transforms my mood.

Other wonderful pollinator magnets—as I call them—are the light purple bergamot flowers and amazing red monarda. On the verge of blooming in my gardens, as of this writing, they attract not only bees and butterflies, but the fascinating hummingbird moth as well. The hummingbird moth looks like a tiny hummingbird, but it is actually a daylight feeding moth that needs nectar as its food. Most moths do, but usually at night. If you ever get a moonflower vine to grow with its large white flowers, which only open at night, you will see a wonder. I am attracted to its wonderful perfume like a moth.

So many flowers come and go, all too quickly, though there are always “second blooms” (another subject for another time). The variety of flowers in the world is astounding; just in our little corner of the world, the diversity is one of which some people are only now discovering. For 30 years, I have been allowing many wild plants to grow to maturity on my property, and have been rewarded by the tall evening primerose with its yellow blooms, orange day lillies, jewelweed’s yellow or orange flowers, the powder blue flowers of chicory, more subtle flowers of edible ground cherry and lambs quarters, wild blue lobelia, the flower spikes of mullein, various clovers, and many, many more. As well, I love many non-native flowers, such as the amazing red poppies and blue larkspur that pop up wherever they planted a seed last year. Sunflowers and zinnias are favorites of many, including our neighborhood bees!         

Yes, from season to season, the sometimes slow, sometimes fast, appearance and then disappearance of these flowering multitudes, leading to colorful late summer goldenrods, purple ironweed, and Canadian asters, is a show not to be missed.

Indeed, flowers are Creation’s painter’s pallet. Exquisite colors and shapes. Enjoy them while they are here, before the bitter, cold winds of winter blow in and we begin to long for spring all over again!

The common milkweed attract bees and butterflies, which flock to these flowers for nectar and pollen, (right) Non-native tree, mimosa, delivers an incredible,  pleasing fragrance to the air.

Noise Pollution

by Christine Maccabee

It is hard to believe that Charles Lindbergh, who made the first transatlantic flight in his plane in 1927, would say such a thing as in the above quote, but he did. Upon retirement, he and his wife, Anne, started a foundation that gave grants to persons who were working to “improve the quality of life through a balance between technology and nature,” discerning nature’s essential wisdom so as to “balance technological power with reverence for life.”

Through the Lindbergh Foundation, Gordon Hempton, author of the book One Square Inch of Silence, applied for and was given a grant in 1989 to explore and understand the problems with excessive noise, as well as the beauty of natural sounds. His mission was to cross the country in his old VW bus, starting in Washington State and ending at the nation’s capital to deliver his proposal to reduce sound pollution in national and state parks. Armed with his recording equipment and a decibel-measuring sound level meter, he preserved soul-soothing natural soundscapes, as well as the ever rising din of man-made noises.

I, too, have problems with mechanical noises, not necessarily as an ecological issue, but as a personal one. As I am getting older, my intolerance for traffic noise, loud music, and mowers has increased. However, as I reflect on my life, I realize that I have always had problems with loud noises. Sometimes, I think I am more bird than human! I love the songs of birds and have recorded many of them with my pencil on staff-lined paper, bits and pieces of exquisite notes, raw material for the creation of enchanting music on the piano.

Everyone loves birds, I am sure, but where loud noises are present, their mating calls can be disturbed and may never be heard by a potential mate. Noise also impacts young children, as I witnessed at an indoor concert, where the music was even too loud for me. The young children were fussy, even crying, but when the music stopped, they became peaceful and happy. That’s how I feel when I get back home after a long road trip or an open mic, where the twang of amplified steel strings and strident voices practically chase me out of the room.

Natural sounds are indeed soothing, even healing, as many of us know. In my research, anything above 120 decibels can be very painful, even harmful. A chainsaw can get as high as 85 decibels, depending on how close you are, and a large mower, though not as loud, can adversely affect a person who is just trying to quietly enjoy working in their gardens. A brief 20-30 minutes of mowing is one thing, but 3-4 hours is another. Those days, as the mowers drone on where I live, I stay in my well-insulated home, even though I would rather be outside. When the mowers stop, my entire body stops vibrating and I feel a physical drop in anxiety.

Some people have no problem at all with such noise. I suppose it depends on your disposition and your ability to ignore noise, but I just cannot. Having really good hearing can be a curse at such times. Also, a love of natural sounds and quiet are like food for my soul.

Gordon Hempton had great success reaching his goal of presenting Congress with his proposal to the National Park Service. I only hope legislators continue to take the noise issue to heart. There is a sign in the Rocky Mountain National Park that reads:

“The call of an owl,

The music of a flowing stream,

  The hush of a winter forest…

  Nature’s sounds and natural

quiet are just as rare as the

native plants and animals of

this park.”

Early June, out here in the Catoctin mountains where I live, there will be a couple Saturdays for people to come and just stop, look, and listen. Give me a shout if you are interested in visiting my nature sanctuary. I welcome any people willing to be quiet for a spell and learn about critically important plants as habitat for wildlife.

Meantime, I hope you find the quiet you need where you live. Sometimes, that even means turning off the TV and radio! Seek quiet time, soul-soothing time, as a gift to yourself.

Better Living Through Chemistry

by Christine Maccabee 

I am finding it difficult to decide what to write about during this magical time of year, when the crocuses are beginning to bloom and when the grays and browns of trees and fields will again become green. This is the time of year we all wait for with eagerness and joy.

At the same time, no sooner does the first bug appear and dandelions begin popping out on our lawns that a sort of warfare begins against the natural world. Bug zappers, which are helping diminish insects we deem as pests, have actually contributed to the depletion of vital food sources (bugs) for birds such as swallows and other birds, dependent on insects for food and survival. Frogs, toads, and dragonflies—even fish—need insects to survive.

Dandelions and clovers are also critical early-season food for our bees, so why poison them? Weed them out if you must, but don’t use chemicals. You may ask “why not?”

Actually, multiple herbicides and pesticides that consumers use regularly are killing both “bad” and “good” insects, as well as threatening the health of soil micro-organisms and human beings. Awareness of such problems in these difficult, even perilous, times is important. Aware consumers can be a powerful source for healthy change and a healthy planet.

Surely everyone has heard of the decline in honey bee and bumble bee populations, globally, and we wonder and worry as to why. Asking “why” is one of the first questions as we come into the world and start to observe the world around us, one of many questions we must continue asking into adulthood in order to learn and to come up with better solutions to our many on-going problems.

You may have heard of the detrimental effects of herbicides and pesticides to insect, bird, and human populations. According to the recent book White Wash by Carey Gillam, agrochemical industries such as Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, and others, have taken over the west side of the Hawaiian island Kauai, popularly called the “Garden Isle.”  However, now that these agro-chemistry corporations have bought thousands of acres to experiment with their chemicals, there is a toxic soup poisoning this piece of paradise— air, water, and human. Serious health problems, such as cancer, are occurring in communities that live near what residents are now calling the “poison valley,” and alarm has spread as more and more people are sickened by such secret testings. I became horrified when I read the details of this misled corporate effort to get rid of unwanted insects and plants.

Similar experiments are carried on by Monsanto out west, the most popular product being Roundup, which contains glyphosate. It was embraced by everyone as the wonder herbicide until unintended impacts on the environment and human health were discovered, and now Roundup Ready crops are all the rage, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms….no space to write about that here, nor the heart.

Worldwide, chemicals in commonly used herbicides and pesticides are silently doing more harm than people know. Sadly, ever since DDT and Agent Orange were banned from use in the 1970s, other similarly potent chemicals with different names have taken their place. Chloropyrifos, a neurotoxin, which along with many other problems are linked to Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological disorders. Enlist Duo and Glyphosate are highly toxic herbicides used on corn cotton and soybeans in thirty-four states. They are potent weed killers, wreaking havoc on all insects by killing vital host plants such as milkweed (though they also poison insects and birds, too). As for the bees, Neonics confuse their ability to navigate back to the hives. Once they do make it back, they contaminate the entire hive, creating problems with grooming themselves that, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to mites and disease. Also, because neonics disrupt bees’ gut bacteria, thus weakening their immune systems, the entire hive dies.

Since reading Rachael Carson’s intelligent research and book called Silent Spring (1962), I have not used any chemicals on my property. Instead, there seems to be a wonderfully balanced ecosystem here on my 11+ acres, with a wide diversity of insects, birds, and plants. However, I cannot control what others are doing, and so I am also affected—as are we all—by agrochemical farming. Traces of Glyphosate are found in far too many foods commonly sold at local stores, so I buy organic as much as possible.

 Better living through chemistry? Perhaps we should all continue   asking the question “why?”.

by Christine Maccabee

To De-Ice or Not to De-Ice, That Is the Question

I was a bit shocked, but not really surprised, when I read of the harm that is being done to the environment by the salt we throw on our sidewalks, steps, parking lots, and roads. After the Second World War, when the economy began to boom and more cars were manufactured—and, of course, more roads were built—the salt industry began to expand as well. Keeping people safe was the premise, but the environmental consequences became increasingly dire, and over many decades of use, has led to consequences most people did not see coming.

Until I began digging into some facts and figures on the subject, I worried a bit as to how the streams and rivers—the watershed, generally—was able to handle large influxes of salt during icy, snowy winters such as the one we have been experiencing this year. Increasingly over the years, I have used less and less salt on my walkways and porch due to this suspicion, and now I have some facts to support my concern that I thought I would share with you.

According to a 1991 study made by the Forestry Commission in the UK, 700,000 trees were killed annually in Western Europe by salt. Studies made by our U.S. Geological Survey has estimated 19 million tons of salt are used annually on our roads and other impervious surfaces each year. The increased use of salt since the 1950s has created long-term salination in 44 percent of 284 freshwater lakes in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. According to this study, lake ecosystems, human drinking water, fisheries, and certain aquatic lifeforms require pure, fresh, water. Our fresh water is increasingly being attacked on all sides by other pollution sources, such as overflow of coal and animal holding ponds, herbicide and pesticide run-off from farms and lawns, oil spills, other chemical spills, etc.

A pretty gloomy picture, eh?  Well, there are solutions, at least to the salt problem, and everyone can help out, if willing, especially caring homeowners and store owners and town and county officials. This winter, I have noticed a different approach to my road up here in the mountains, where the salt is applied in stripes, not thrown out loose. This may help. Also, there is salt with an additive called “deicer,” which is a combination of beet juice, alfalfa meal, or calcium magnesium acetate. However, it is still  recommended to use it sparingly.

One suggestion by National Wildlife is to shovel or sweep sidewalks early and often. I know I do, and it works quite well as melting can then occur more quickly, and sometimes even drying, all without the use of salt. Guess you might say I am on a low-salt diet!

When there is truly dangerous ice, however, I will sprinkle a bit of salt only on the area of the steps I plan to walk on. Otherwise, I am just careful, and sometimes I just rough it without any salt. I suppose roughing it, however, is not very popular anymore in this age of convenience, yet there are likely less broken bones and sprains.

Living lightly and with less is always best, as many of us are learning. As Hilary Dugan, a freshwater scientist from the University of Wisconsin said, “Chloride is an environmental problem that we could solve by purely stopping putting so much of it into our environment.” Most of us know that globally fresh water is increasingly less available as human populations increase, and this is becoming more and more of a problem every year.

So, the next time you begin to overdose with salt on your sidewalk or driveway, stop and think about where all that salt will ultimately go as it flows into our storm drains and further into our streams, rivers, and lakes.

If not this year, then next…stop and remember. Our precious Earth thanks you!

by Christine Maccabee 

Nature’s Valentine

Years ago, I began exploring design in nature and pressing many flowers, mostly dissecting them for their basic components of petals, stamen, pistil, and sepal. Once pressed, I used them to create designs—mandalas mostly—framing them and sometimes selling. I also pressed leaves of many shapes. Basically, I was exploring the infinite diversity of shape and form in nature, a rather mind-boggling adventure to be sure!

As I continued to explore, I discovered a petal design, which most serious gardeners know; I was thrilled to see rose petals with heart shapes! Even the multiflora rose, an invasive brought over from the British Isles, has wonderfully shaped hearts. So, I began seriously collecting and pressing hearts from them, and many other rose bushes, to incorporate in my mandalas. I also discovered little bird shapes in locust and red bud flowers, as well as the white and yellow sweet clovers, which grow here on my property. These, I sometimes added to my meadow scenes. It was my heartfelt craft.

Recently, while reading Dr. Rachel Remen’s book about healing, I learned that the rose “is one of the oldest archetypical symbols for the heart…appearing in many Christian and Hindu traditions and in many fairy tales.” Learning  this greatly inspired me, so for Valentine’s Day I am sharing with you some of her deeper understandings, for who does not love hearts? As children, many of us enjoyed creating special hearts for others out of red and pink paper, sometimes decorating them creatively with glitter and frills around the edges. Some people may still do this with heartfelt love. I find this affinity for hearts and roses very intriguing and deeply symbolic, not sappy.

Dr. Remen, besides being a compassionate, spiritual therapist for people in their last days of cancer, has also had an illness of her own that she has lived with all of her life: Crohn’s disease. In her short essays, she sprinkles stories of  her own suffering in small doses, but mostly focuses on the stories of others. One of her clients, being treated for ovarian cancer, said that she had no heart, and that her amazing success in business was a direct result of her ruthlessness. As her client’s therapy continued, she began to speak of her traumatic time as a young child during the Vietnam War and how she saw her family ruthlessly killed. She became homeless, was brutalized herself, even killed others to survive, leaving her filled with hate. She proclaimed herself to be a bad person—selfish and unloving—with nothing but darkness in herself, and she was despairing because of this.

Just as she thought she might die in despair from her cancer and the lack of love in her heart, with no resolution, she had a dream about a beautiful rose, its color an exquisite shade of pink. Weeping, she said “It is still there. All this time it is still there. It has waited for me to come back for it.”

This was a part of herself she had kept safe, hidden even from herself, said Dr. Remen. Perhaps, this was even a rose in the garden she remembers from her life before the war blew it apart. The rose was symbolic of a part of her that had never been touched, pure and unscathed by terror.

All of us have that rose with heart-shaped petals in our lives, in our gardens or in our own hearts. The Earth itself is filled with wonderful healing flowers and is, in fact, the heart of our hearts. Without Earth’s purity, we will die from fear, distress, and abuse; and we will take the Earth with us, unless we recover our hearts.

 Personally, I have had a love affair with the natural world since I was a little girl and feel profoundly blessed to have survived my trials and not lost heart.

So, if you are cynical about the heart shape that appears everywhere on Valentine’s Day, maybe this year try looking at it differently, perhaps even picking up a rose and discovering its heart shaped petals.                         

                                        Pressed Flora Mandala with rose petals.

Winter Greens: A Prescription for Health”

by Christine Maccabee

Are you eating your greens this winter? I ask this question because years ago in the winter, I neglected to eat as many greens as I did during the summer.

During the growing season, I could easily go out to the garden and get my hands full of fresh organic kale and collards, not to forget beet greens and my very favorite wild edible: lambs quarters. However, in the winter, store bought greens just didn’t make it for me, so I stopped eating my greens and wound up in the hospital. Tests revealed I was low in potassium and calcium.

Dark green leafy vegetables have high levels of potassium, calcium, and vitamin A, too. I have learned that bananas have far less potassium than greens, so I rarely eat them, except to flavor my cream of wheat. At the hospital, I learned that lack of potassium can contribute to irregular heart rhythms and can lead to an imbalance of inter cellular fluids, creating nervous and muscular irritability. I had all the symptoms; sickness has a peculiar way of educating us.

Spinach is a great green, with more potassium than kale and also rich in iron. Over many years of planting spinach and a few other greens in my cold frames out back, I eat greens well into the new year. However, with the onset of extreme cold, temperatures remaining in the twenties for weeks, the plants do stop growing, but they come back with gusto in the early spring!

I highly recommend growing greens in a cold frame. The frames I have cost me nothing. Back in the early 2000s, I saw long glass windows and shower stall glass, by someone’s curb, with a sign saying “TAKE”… so I took. With the help of a skilled handyman friend, I now have nice, long cold frames that at this very moment have lettuce, tah tsai (an oriental, slightly spicy green), purple mustard, and spinach growing. I plant in a French-intensive gardening manner, meaning all plants grow tightly together due to scatter sowing, which I believe contributes to their ability to survive even in very cold weather. Of course, when it gets below thirty degrees, I cover the cold frames with quilts.

Every other day, no matter the weather, I go out and selectively thin the tender plants, breaking off the roots and placing them in a container to eat with dinner. I also have created a small hutch (with the skill of a dear friend with engineering background), over an area of lush edible chickweed. Chickweed? You ask. Yes, wild edible chickweed, with its smooth leaves, is wonderful with an earthy flavor and delightful crunch. Ground cherry is another wild favorite of mine, which I allow to grow anywhere it appears. It is encased in a small Chinese lantern-like husk and the berry inside is exquisite. They ripen with colder weather, so they are not to be eaten until golden in color in autumn. For me, they are nature’s vitamin pill. Sweeeet.

I find there is nothing more satisfying then growing your own food, even if it is just a pot of tomatoes on the porch. However, for me, the more the merrier. Gardening of all sorts gets me outside to listen to bird songs; watch the hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies on my flowers; and breathe deeply the fresh air. I also believe in stretching now and then to get rid of any pain from leaning over. For me, gardening has become my prescription for health, with greens as the centerpiece.

“Try it. You might like it,” I say to my grandson about eating his winter greens, but he might have to learn the hard way, like I did. I hope not.


“Amazing Insect Migrators”

by Christine Maccabee

Most commonly, we think of migration as a ritual birds and Monarch butterflies undertake, but a surprising variety of insects also migrate hundreds, even thousands, of miles to spend winters in warmer habitats. Like most people, I was unaware of these amazing aeronautical feats until I read an article about it in the National Wildlife Federation magazine, which I receive due to my membership in this great conservation organization (to read the entire article and see photos of these heroic insects, look up its August-September issue).

In the article, I learned that two of my favorite and regular visitors to our flowering plants here in North America are the painted lady and the common buckeye, which are both in the same family of brush-footed butterflies. They are considered inconsistent migrants, as some die with early onset of cold weather. In more southern states where the weather is a bit warmer, they can successfully winter over in log piles, old sheds, and loose bark on trees. However, brave painted lady butterflies (which weigh less than a paperclip), flying south from frigid northern climates, such as Canada, have been detected on radar to be traveling together in massive clusters of thousands!

Reading on, I learned that the large milkweed bug, which we commonly see on milkweed seed pods and which have the same coloration as monarchs, develop wings as they mature and fly south to Mexico in the autumn. In the spring, their progeny return north following the emergence of milkweed, along a pathway similar to the Monarchs. Such amazing journeys earth’s small, beautiful, orange and black winged insects travel in order to survive treacheries of weather. I cannot help seeing parallels between them and our southern human neighbors migrating north in order to escape danger, all of us together enduring impediments such as wind and rain of hurricanes, hunger and fatigue, even other human predators. In the case of insects, unfortunately many will die from the inordinate amount of pesticides and herbicides we use on our fields to grow our food.

The champion of insect migrants is the Wandering Glider which is a small dragonfly or damselfly which I see frequently around my pond and fields during the summer; they are busy all day feeding on airborne plankton and smaller flying insects such as gnats and mosquitoes. This amazing insect has been known to cover 11,000 miles in the Eastern Hemisphere, 2,200 miles of that while crossing the Indian Ocean.  It is the only transoceanic insect migrant. Are you blown away yet?!

There is not yet, and may never be, a complete record of all the insects which migrate, but researchers have compiled a list of at least 71 species ranging from butterflies and moths to grasshoppers and even some beetles. So far, butterflies are the largest group at 27 species, followed by 20 species of moths and 15 different dragonflies, according to entomologist Mike Quinn.

The diversity of lifeforms on our planet is astounding and all of them require natural habitat and have patterns of behavior which we as human caretakers/stewards should not only be amazed about, but also should protect to the best of our abilities. So, as I continue my research and work at providing habitat on my own property, I hope you too will join me and many others in this great, important effort to preserve precious life on our planet.

Go to and become a member in order to help their efforts and to receive their great magazine.


by Christine Maccabee

“Survival Time”

There are so many issues and problems in our faces every day that it is nearly impossible for us to navigate them all, either mentally, physically, or spiritually. I say “nearly” because, personally, I need to know what is happening in the world, and I believe most people do as well. However, the clamor of TV news and radio talk shows can become oppressive after a while, so I simply turn them off. Then, they go back on in short order, so I can keep up with problems related to Florence, such as toxic waste in the water from coal ash and hog farms; or the latest problems in Syria, our own refugee problems, the inner workings of our government, etc. etc.

Survival is definitely different things for different people. I am not hungry, while others are starving. I have a comfortable bed while others are sleeping on hard concrete. I have clean well water, while others have no water at all, except if they are lucky enough to have bottled water from some charity. You get the gist. Basically, most of us are spoiled by our comfortable lifestyles; yet, I believe everyone struggles with something. Everyone has personal problems they must deal with in order to survive. Rich or poor—and everyone in between—we all can count on something to happen to throw us off-kilter, and then we must be strong or clever enough to survive our capsizing boat.

I am a great admirer of creatures other than human, and I am guilty of worrying as much about them as I do people. I wonder how this last hurricane Florence affected the populations of bees and butterflies and rivers, which are so vulnerable and yet so essential for the health of Earth’s ecosystems. Fluctuations in weather affect them as much as humans, and yet all of us are resilient to varying degrees. A young child or a Veteran living through wartime trauma may or may not overcome it according to their own inner resources or whether or not they get help from others.

So, survival is variable, and messy. I have seen bumble bees drowning due to torrential rain, and I have saved some. Then there are the larva of certain butterflies rotting in their pupae beneath cold, month-long precipitation, which I cannot save. I weep for children separated from their parents at the border, and the parents who will never recover due to the loss of those children. Somehow, however, life goes on. The sun comes out and a few bees smart enough to hide out during the onslaught of rain can be seen buzzing and feeding on golden rod flowers. Then, my heart rejoices when I see a lone swallowtail flying gracefully and gratefully from flowers that I provide, flowers which also survived the storm. As for people, well…

A friend of mine said that survival of people in difficult situations mostly depends on others to reach out to them, or to reach back when they reach out for help. This is a mutual give-and-take that takes a lot of heart and courage. It takes courage to reach out and humility to receive. It takes courage to survive together, but it takes heart to even want to in the first place.

I suppose I am a survivor for sure. It has been a long, rocky life, and even though my boat is still unsteady, I have friends—and even angels—who come, and have come, to my rescue. All of us have, I hope. Now, however, it is more important than ever to help others in this fragile web of life to survive, be they human or bee or sea turtle or so many other entities in deep trouble. It heartens me to read about efforts being made to rid the oceans of plastic, or people challenging the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides, or people eating lower on the food chain. Happily, I am allergic to pork and beef.

The will to survive even our own inventions, not all of which are life giving, must remain strong. The north pole is melting, so what are we going to do about it? Drive less perhaps? Maybe there is not a whole lot we as individuals can do to change the ways of the world, but we can try by joining with others who also care. It is never too late to reach out.

It is survival time.

“Late Blooming Native Wildflowers”

by Christine Maccabee

By now, you have likely seen the beautiful golden flowers of goldenrods along highways and back roads, and any other place they managed to escape the summer mowings. This is the beginning of the final amazing showing of wildflower blooms before colder weather comes in October.  Presently, the yellow flowers of the wild evening primerose are blooming and have been since July, serving pollinators very well. One place they are growing profusely are on both sides of the railroad tracks through Thurmont, but especially on the Boundary Avenue side. The beauty of this is that no one planted them there. They are happy volunteers!

All wild native plants are in a real sense, volunteers. As humans we often volunteer our time and talents for good causes, but so do wild plants and flowers. Spreading as they do by both seed and root, they feed precious pollinators their essential nectar and pollen. Therefore, I allow them to grow profusely on my eleven-plus acres and encourage others to do the same. In my gardens and fields, I have four species of goldenrods, ample evening primrose, lovely purple flowering teasel (which has bloomed out by now), four varieties of wild aster, yet to bloom, and many others. All of these can be very tall, especially this year with all the rain we have had.

These essential late-blooming, tall—sometimes gangly—plants are by far the most misunderstood wild natives, and yet, critically important elements in a healthy eco-system. Without their late season nectar and pollen, bees would perish during the winter, and what a sad world it would be without the wondrous buzzing of busy bees and the variety of colorful butterflies, and, yes, hummingbirds and moths as well.

You may have seen the pinkish purple flower clusters of Joe-Pye weed, which grow best in wet areas, even marshlands; however, many plants I’ve seen in the past have been mowed down along the sides of roads up here where I live. Folklore tells us that an Indian, Joe Pye, used this plant to cure fevers and aided early American colonists when treating an outbreak of Typhus. Many wild plants have such herbal remedy qualities if used properly, such as boneset, which happens to be blooming now. Early herbal doctors used it to help set bones, and it can be made in to a tea to treat colds, coughs, and constipation. Personally, I mostly admire these plants for their beauty and usefulness as food for our pollinators, though I have not yet tried them to cure fevers or set bones!

Soon to bloom on my property are the amazingly tall and graceful woodland sunflowers, though I have seen a smaller variety blooming already behind the guardrail off Rt. 550. Unlike the common striped sunflowers, which can win prizes for their size at county fairs (or our Community Show), these plants have multiple one- to two-inch flowers up and down the stems, which my bees ravenously feed upon. Then, after tiny seeds develop on each flower stem, small birds such as goldfinch, peck away at them, loading up on nutritious food for the winter.

There are many plants that I would like to write about here, but I have limited space. At least let me invite you to travel down the length of Woodside Drive in Thurmont and marvel at all the wild aster beginning to bloom. They will be flowering all through September and in to October, and the bees will be busily buzzing with joy!

One of the highest callings we have as humans is to protect the earth’s biological and botanical diversity. To have dominion over creation does not mean to usurp and pollute and mow it until earth is uninhabitable. It means to take responsibility for it. Many people are heeding this high calling, which gives me hope. Won’t you volunteer some of your property for the botanical volunteers just waiting to serve our important pollinators? As we become servants of all by preserving and creating precious eco-systems we will be preserving our own health and future. Have we any choice?

Christine Maccabee stands along the side of the railroad tracks on Boundary Avenue in Thurmont, admiring the yellow flowers of the wild evening primerose.


~Emily Dickinson

I awoke this morning to the sound of soft fluttering of wings, unsure as to whether it was in the cottage or just outside my window.  I wondered what it could be: a bat, a large moth, a bird? It was flying around, but I could not see it, as it was too dark yet at 5:00 a.m. After a couple of minutes, the sound stopped, but I was now fully awake and full of wonder to get back to sleep.

Living as close to the natural world as I do, with wildlife of all forms very near me and all around me, my usual state of being is one of wonder. My cottage is located down a short wildflower pathway from the back of the big house, and summer is a great time to sleep out here, and to write. At the call of the first bird, I am awakened (no need for an alarm clock here!), and the musical chorus of bird songs swells as grey skies lighten, awakening the world.

I was going to write about Reverence for this article, but a sense of wonder naturally leads to a feeling of reverence for life. From the time we are born, we begin to wonder at the world, watching and soaking up everything as little babies, truly like a sponge. Not only do we grow healthy because of the goodness of our mother’s nurture, but our spirits are fed as well by our sense of wonder, of curiosity. I wish all children had the loving care I experienced, the opportunity to expand their spirits with a sense of wonder, but sadly this is not always the case. Too many children in the world are traumatized from a very early age by war, cruelty, negligence, and/or loss of a parent to begin that essential nurturing of their souls through wonderment. However, the spirit is unceasingly at work to heal all wounds, so there is always hope. I also know that Nature can be a healer.

I was fortunate to have a blessed childhood and grew up with adults around me who were sensitive to the beauty of nature. One of my first memories as a child of two or three years of age is standing at the base of my grandfather’s butterfly bush, which was flush with purple flowers and loaded with tiny butterflies of all varieties. I know I watched this phenomenon for long periods of time and was in a state of awe and wonder, which never left me.

Yesterday, I discovered a tiny insect on my wild spinach, otherwise known as lambs quarters, which is one of the best wild edibles (I eat steamed with other garden greens like kale and collards). This exotic-looking insect barely moved on its leaf, and looked like something straight out of the rainforest. Putting it on a fresh leaf last night and giving it a drop of water, I saw that it had moved about half an inch over night. I wonder if perhaps I have found a new, yet undiscovered insect. Here on my 11+ acres, I have an amazing variety of wild native plants, each one in service of specific insects. Such diversity is imperative to the web of life as we know it, and so much of that web is still not understood—or appreciated— by humans so busy with human things. I guess that is the awesome wonder of it all: There is always something amazing to discover. Everyone experiences that, even if it is just the wonder of another caring human being or a pet in your life. There are infinite, unending wonders here, where we dwell in the midst of this mystery called Life.

I don’t know what the fluttering was, and still is, that woke me up this morning. I am beginning to believe that it is a poor bird trapped between the inner and outer walls. Somehow, I will try to rescue it. I also do not know what that strange insect on my wild spinach is, though I intend to find out. Perhaps, I will have made a discovery worth writing about in a nature magazine!

Soon, I will be off on a vacation to see the awesome ocean. As much as I love the ocean, I also worry about the terrible assault upon it by the industrial world. I do wonder, or question, how and if we can deal with all the challenges we have ahead of us to clean up our materialistic messes of plastic pollution and on-going spills of toxic chemicals, etc. People dedicated to such cleanups have a strong sense of what is important. They, no doubt, understand the importance of wonder in our lives and are working to preserve that for our children and our children’s children. These warriors for the earth are my heroes.

I pray you and your loved ones and friends are having some awesome moments this beautiful summer, filled with wonder.

As for me, every day I walk out my door and smell the sweet perfume of mimosa and milkweed flowers, I hear bird songs, I see the bees and butterflies feeding voraciously on my Bergamot and Monarda flowers, my mood shifts from ponderous to wondrous. I guess you might say my sense of wonder since childhood remains intact, and for that I am grateful. May you never loose yours. God bless.