One of the great privileges of living in central Maine is the ever-present nearness of nature, beckoning from just outside the window no matter where you might happen to be. From the end of my dead-end street in Orono, I can wander into the Marsh Island Natural Area, a 57-acre parcel of land owned and managed by the Orono Land Trust.
Tucked between Route 2 and the storied Penobscot River, this peaceful place offers four seasons of natural beauty. After crossing an open area behind an apartment complex and skirting an unlovely drainage pond, the footpath leads through overgrown farm lands and enters deep pine woods, eventually connecting with a hilly network of trails that extend north along the river and west toward the University of Maine campus.
I’ve had many memorable encounters here. One spring day, I spied a sleek young female fox . The next morning, I met up with her handsome mate. Realizing they must have a den nearby, I kept my eyes open and discovered it in a sand bank, with four fluffy babies playing in the dappled sun just outside the entrance.
On my most recent excursion, I wore snowshoes and encountered a bold pair of pileated woodpeckers demolishing a rotting yellow birch beside the trail. I stood within 15 feet of their work site — level with my waist and in full view — and they paid me no mind at all.
In another month, the snow will be gone and spring will reclaim its hold on Marsh Island. Then the woodland shadbush will break into bloom above the river, as delicate and graceful as any cultivated ornamental.
Getting there: The Orono Land Trust maintains nonmotorized trail access on more than 1,000 acres of public and private land in Orono and Veazie. Information and maps are available online at www.oronolandtrust.org.