In Hancock County

For some old-timers here, March is the time to check their Christmas wreathes to see if there is any green left that needs to be used up; if so, April will do fine to take down those decorations.  No sense being wasteful.

Our March contains no dazzling clouds of pink and white Japanese Cherry blossoms to distract us. Instead, we get displays of every kind of weather and a few subtle stirrings of a Spring that will come when it’s ready.

Nonetheless, March this year was more than enough for those who are willing to take their beauty where they find it.  One place we found it was in the perfect clarity that occurs when a low sun eases through a very cold day to light up a working harbor.

There also were unexpectedly warm days of sepia light when jackets and sweaters were peeled off while walking the graceful curves of country lanes. There was March snow, but not like last year’s revenge of the Winter Witch.  This year, we had a designer snow of about six tailored inches of white purification.

During all this, the Canada Geese returned in their arrow-head flights and American Robins swarmed the fields; the male American Goldfinches began to blush yellow and grow black caps; Purple Finches appeared like large raspberries on drab bushes, and all the birds showed signs of surging hormones.

The Maple Trees did their own surging, surrendering their precious Spring sap drop by drop through embedded spiles (taps).  (Maine ranks third among the states in maple syrup production, after Vermont and New York, but the Canadian provinces are the really big producers.)

The surging continued with the annual March migration of American Eels (Anguilla rostrata) in their Elver phase.  Except for dark eye dots and a spinal cord, these young eels are transparent; hence, they’re commonly called Glass Eels.  They’re usually between three and four inches long at this time and almost invisible to predators. 

They were spawned south of Bermuda in the Sargasso Sea by parents that grew up mostly in North American east coast fresh water lakes, rivers, and streams. By some instinct that is not fully known, the Elvers swim to their dead parents’ fresh water origins.  Once there, they have to run a gauntlet of Fyke (“Fick”) funnel nets set by fishermen near the mouths of these waters.  (Some fisherman use less efficient dip nets.)

These eels are valuable at this young stage, usually selling for over $1000.00 per pound.  (Their daily price yesterday was $1200.00 per pound in Ellsworth.)  Elvers caught here usually are air-freighted live to Asia, where they are raised to maturity in aqua farms and then sold as a delicacy.  (They’re the only aquaculture species that has to be caught in the wild, which is one of the reasons why they are expensive.) Those that survive the nets, ospreys, eagles, and other predators here spend years maturing in our fresh waters and then, as 20-inch, nontransparent adults, they get a mysterious feeling and swim off to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.

A different form of migration occurs here on March 17, St. Patrick’s day, when the Irish and the Irish-at-Heart can return to another liquid source: the Irish Pub beneath the Brooklin Inn, both run by neighbor Chip Angell. The day was celebrated here differently by neighbor Jean Fuller with one of her more enigmatic road banners -- a pink flamingo wearing an Irish buckled top hat, dancing on green shamrocks! (Irish dandy Oscar Wilde probably would have loved the paradoxes.)

Speaking of enigmas, we studied Common Eiders during March and were puzzled by some of their behavior when they weren’t aware that we were watching. Hundreds of these large ducks would float into fast-moving water, intentionally get caught in the current, and then return to calm waters by collectively churning the water with their big webbed feet and “swimming” with their wings in the water; then, they would repeat the process three and four times.  They didn’t attempt to eat from the churned bottom.  (Gulls would dive into the churn to eat, but the Eiders would eat before or much later.)  Any theories as to what was happening?

If you want to take the whole 60-second virtual tour of moments that we'll use to remember March, click the link below.  We recommend that your initial screening be a full-frame slideshow.  (To make that happen, click on the Slideshow button above the featured [largest] image on the gallery page to which the link will take you.)  Here's the link:


Barbara and Dick

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