RENEE ORDWAY

Naturalist Markowsky died on her own terms

Posted Aug. 12, 2011, at 9:18 p.m.

Judy Kellogg Markowsky surely loved a dead tree.

She was a naturalist, of course, and a librarian for a time, but most important of all, Judy was a teacher.

Give her a good dead and rotting tree, a handful of kids or even one clueless adult, and the teaching commenced.

Judy died last week on her own terms in the Penobscot River. She was 65.

She was well known for lots of things, but perhaps most of all for her work with the Maine Audubon Society on the development of the Fields Pond Nature Center in Holden, for which she served as founding director until 2008.

She was such a cherished member of this community and her death is such a loss that some could question whether her choice wasn’t a bit selfish.

But Judy knew what most of us did not, and that was that we were losing her anyway — piece by piece — to dementia.

Judy’s love of everything creepy and slimy most likely began as a child in her own backyard, which ran along the banks of the Kenduskeag Stream. Her brother, well-known stand-up Kenduskeag Stream canoeist Zip Kellogg, told a magazine writer once that Judy enjoyed capturing eels from the stream, placing them in cans and running them up the bank to the family’s home.

As an adult she wrote a teacher’s guide called “Everybody’s Somebody’s Lunch” and she ran a nature program for kids called “Slugs, Bugs, Frogs and Logs.”

She loved the parts of nature that make most of us squirm.

She once wrote, in her BDN column, which appeared weekly, about the experiences of two men who witnessed a bald eagle kill and eat a blue heron. She clearly relished the tale and wrote about it with the kind of enthusiasm that defined her complete and utter connection to the wildness around her.

“As compassionate human beings we tend to feel sorry for prey animals, but predators are killing to eat and survive. Without predators the balance of nature would soon be unbalanced,” she wrote in her column last November.

I first met Judy in the 1980s when she started her Secrets of the Forest tour, which she led in the woods surrounding the University of Maine. I covered one of her early tours and marveled at how easily she convinced knee-high-tall children that there was beauty in a mass of maggots nourishing themselves on a bird carcass and purpose in a nest of insects feasting on the innards of a fallen tree.

As much as she loved bugs and snakes and frogs, she had a great passion for birds, noting that May “is the best month of the year” because of the return of so many species of birds and the ability to see them so well because of the immature leaves on the trees.

“I love May,” she wrote. “I wake up early every day.”

Not long ago she and her son flew to Korea to see her other son, his wife and their new baby girl.

“So I packed my binoculars, scopes, maps and Korean bird book,” she wrote.

Something, I suppose, nearly everyone has.

“Then I packed the baby’s clothing I had bought. Not much room in my suitcase for my clothes, shoes and boots.”

She returned home and went about the business of putting on a slide show of Korean wildlife at the Fields Pond Nature Center.

She shared what she saw and what she learned.

That’s what Judy did for this community for nearly her entire life.

I’m guessing that by her very nature she knew no other way.

Beauty and purpose — but perhaps most of all purpose — slimy snakes and biting insects never scared her. They fascinated her. They made sense.

Perhaps the chance of living, even a day, without purpose didn’t.

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