Exploring with the grandkids teaches interesting lessons about Maine

A summer azure butterfly perches on yellow hawkweed growing alongside the Down East Sunrise Trail near Card's Crossing in Franklin.
A summer azure butterfly perches on yellow hawkweed growing alongside the Down East Sunrise Trail near Card's Crossing in Franklin.
Posted Aug. 07, 2013, at 11:32 a.m.
While climbing Blue Hill via the South Face Trail, Brian Swartz’s oldest grandchildren look south across the Blue Hill Fairgrounds to the distant Mount Desert Island peaks. Summertime is a great time to introduce the latest generation to the natural wonders of Maine.
While climbing Blue Hill via the South Face Trail, Brian Swartz’s oldest grandchildren look south across the Blue Hill Fairgrounds to the distant Mount Desert Island peaks. Summertime is a great time to introduce the latest generation to the natural wonders of Maine.
While hiking with his grandchildren, the photographer discovered this American copper butterfly perched on a daisy growing on the southern slope of Blue Hill.
While hiking with his grandchildren, the photographer discovered this American copper butterfly perched on a daisy growing on the southern slope of Blue Hill.
An American Lady butterfly warms its wings after landing alongside the Down East Sunrise Trail near Card’s Crossing in Franklin. Drawing upon the abundance of summer insects in Maine, grandparents can use bugs to teach their grandchildren about nature’s riotous varieties and colors.
An American Lady butterfly warms its wings after landing alongside the Down East Sunrise Trail near Card’s Crossing in Franklin. Drawing upon the abundance of summer insects in Maine, grandparents can use bugs to teach their grandchildren about nature’s riotous varieties and colors.

Of butterfly fingers, cold root beer, and a bird on a boardwalk is made a perfect day with the grandchildren.

This summer I’ve seen Maine through young eyes. Mine, nearing 60, miss so much amidst nature, as I discovered during recent outings with youngsters blessed to be on vacation in the Pine Tree Street during June, July, and August.

And Rachael and Riley learned a few facts from Grampie, too.

Butterfly fingers

While exploring the Down East Sunrise Trail in Franklin, we encountered beautiful butterflies flittering beneath the warm sun. Sporting different color schemes, butterflies alighted on flowers and gravel alike.

I explained to R & R how butterflies obtain nectar from flowers. Then Riley asked the obvious about a butterfly parked on gravel: “What’s it doing there? It’s not on a flower.”

“Soaking up the sun and warming its wings,” I replied.

Among the butterflies we saw were an American lady and a blue azure, identified after the fact. Later, Rachael knelt beside the trail, circa Mile Marker 14, and oh, so gently slid her left forefinger beneath a tiny black-and-orange butterfly resting on the gravel.

Rachael lifted finger and insect toward me as she stood. Explaining how she had not disturbed the butterfly, she grinned and asked me to ID it.

“A monarch,” I replied.

As if confirming my claim, the butterfly repeatedly closed and opened its wee wings with their distinctive color pattern. I stood mesmerized while watching such delicate beauty express its vitality.

Suddenly I was a kid again; when I was 9 as Rachael is today, I had watched other butterflies flick their wings in other fields far from Franklin.

Bugs on Blue Hill

On another sunny and perfect summer’s afternoon, we hiked Blue Hill outbound via the South Face and Hayes trails and inbound via the service road. Coming and going we crossed that expansive field often adorned with blooming flowers.

Today daisies, Indian paintbrushes, and lupine abounded. A particular patch of lupine painted light blue and white caught my attention — and then a butterfly flitted past and touched down on a daisy.

Riley impatiently kicked the tall grass as Grampie photographed the butterfly, later identified as an American copper. Then Riley spotted a grasshopper — and the chase was on.

Bugs on Blue Hill: what a wonderful concept.

Death and government

After we crested Blue Hill that day, Riley saw a dead baby robin on the summit granite. He asked about the poor bird, which I had walked past without noticing.

Being a few feet nearer terra firma, Riley easily spotted the robin.

Minutes later, Rachael pointed at her feet and asked, “What’s that?” She had discovered embedded in the granite a U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey marker stamped “1862” and “1934.”

“A survey marker,” I replied.

“What’s it for?” she logically responded. Then she learned how government surveyors used high mountains and surveying equipment a long time ago to determine the elevation of many other places in Maine.

Riley ignored the engineering lesson.

Root beer tastes delicious on a hot day

After completing one warm hike, R & R and I hit the soda cooler in a Hancock County store. I let them select whatever they wanted, except for the high-caffeine stuff.

Riley plucked a cold, cold root beer from the cooler. He held the bottle briefly against his warm cheek.

Suddenly I was 7 years old again, counting out my pennies and nickels on the counter at Marsh’s Store on Wilson Street in Brewer. Dripping condensation onto that old battered counter was a cold, cold A & W root beer, just right for a youngster who had spent a summer afternoon aboard his bike.

Boardwalk bird

When the grandkids visited us one afternoon, I invited R & R to tour the Orono Bog. Rachael declined; she and Grammie had interesting crafts to tackle. Riley tossed on his Crocs and baseball cap and bolted out the door.

He asked many questions as we wandered along the Orono Bog Boardwalk, and his young eyes picked out small plants and other natural beauty easily overlooked by my 5-9 height. After we emerged onto the actual bog, we heard a bird trilling melodiously.

Then we stopped at an information station. The bird song stopped. “Look, Grampie! There’s a bird on the boards!” Riley quietly exclaimed.

He pointed to a finch that had landed about six or seven boardwalk sections away. “Take a picture, Grampie!” Riley begged. I explained how the finch was too distant for my zoom lens to “capture” it in a good picture.

The finch flew away. “I wish you had taken its picture,” Riley said.

At my jaundiced age, I would have ignored the finch altogether. To a boy exploring nature with his grandfather, the bird was a big deal.

Suddenly, seeing the bird through Riley’s eyes, I was a kid again; 50 years ago, that finch would’ve been a big deal for me, too.

I love seeing Maine through the eyes of a child.

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