Quilting and the Chesapeake Bay
Guest Blogger, Sigrid Reynolds
I have always loved the humble arts of unknown women who pieced quilts. My own attempts at the craft had resulted in exactly 10 squares in the 1980s when I had small children at home who took afternoon naps. At the same time, I started looking through the piles of quilts at antique stores in the Shenandoah Valley. It thrilled me to see the patterns, colors, and precise stitching of women from the past. So seduced was I by these piles, I knew collecting could get out of control. But then I found a Pennsylvania Dutch unquilted top in an original bold tulip design of blue, red, and yellow colors. I decided to seek and purchase only this color combination. That kept the lid on it since these colors are rare in combination.
Taking up quilting again didn’t occur to me until Spring 2020 when I was asked to join a young friend’s virtual pandemic quilt circle. In a time when we all faced our own mortality and the uncertain path the pandemic and the nation would take, we needed something to calm ourselves. As a retired person, I had nothing filling my time and frankly, felt the need to leave some little part of me behind in the lives of my descendants.
The group chose a striking geometric pattern with many triangular pieces. I purchased material, cut a few triangles, and then I went rogue. My inclination was to go faster, larger and more personal since I’d found piecing tedious in those earlier tries. Besides, I am 30 years older than the members in my group so my “life” time is more limited. I found purpose in a multi-generational family vacation home on the Chesapeake Bay just begging for Aunt Sig artifacts for posterity.
A “Fishy” Quilting Inspiration
My first quilt was a re-interpretation of a fish painting that the family had owned for 90 years. The family has always asked guests to tell them how many fish they see in the painting. So, I added goldfish for a humorous twist and quilted in additional fish. In all, there are 40 fish in this quilt.
A humorous adaptation of the family fish painting.
Remembering sunning turtles.
What came next was an urge to recognize the other birds and animals seen regularly on or near the Bay: herons in the morning and evening along with osprey all day. And then I was remembering sunning turtles in a nearby spring-fed pond. I added more goldfish and quilt fish to keep the puzzle going.
I next needed to represent the loblolly pines that line the shores of that estuary. And, of course, I needed additional visitors: raccoons, foxes, and box turtles. While quilting, I added one ghostly possum in the lower right-hand corner. And why not add some quilted poison ivy since that is always an island hazard? And yes, there are fish quilted into the water to count.
The beginnings of a personal quilt.
Capturing the sunrise
Finally, as this quiet, worrisome time comes to an end, I realized that I needed to turn from nature to hail the Baltimore Light, a caisson lighthouse, that has defined the deep channel for ships going into Baltimore Harbor my entire life. Since it was winter, I recalled the two times that I had seen the Bay had frozen and decided that might be a good subject. And yes, there will be quilted fish to count under the ice floes.
Nature Continues to Inspire
I have pondered what prompts this late-in-life creativity and conclude that the pandemic opened up a fertile field in me that might have remained fallow. I, like many, turned to the nearby nature of our backyard and parks but memories of a barefoot childhood on the Bay persisted. Quilting allowed me to visit the nature of my memories.
Bright sun and warm breezes broke Iowa’s February subzero weather. Being outside unencumbered by thick gloves, boots, and coats felt great, and we even enjoyed a cup of coffee sitting outside on the sunny side of our home. We weren’t alone. A glance at the bird feeder one late afternoon revealed a friend we hadn’t seen in months. An opossum was enjoying a meal of seeds while basking in the relative warmth. We suspect the animal had spent frigid days and nights dormant under a brush pile.
Many people don’t like possums but we do. They’re fascinating – and helpful! The Iowa DNR lists these little-known facts about Iowa’s only marsupial, an animal that cares for its young in a pouch similar to the Australian kangaroo.
This young possum climbs up the compost bin to scavenge food.
In broad daylight this possum feasted on a block of seeds.
Possums have agile hands.
Fun Facts About Opossums
- Possums are virtually immune to rabies.
- A copperhead or rattlesnake might bite a possum and be surprised. These ancient animals are immune to their poison and will likely gobble up the hapless snake for lunch. Not so much in Iowa. Poisonous snakes are rare here and only found in a few areas.
- No other native mammal has as many teeth. Opossums have 50. When approached they’ll often open their mouth and show them off. They also might hiss, but our possums didn’t make any threatening moves.
- Possums play possum. It discourages some predators but doesn’t work with cars. Many are killed as they crossroads. Do avoid hitting them.
- Possums have hind feet that look a bit like a human hand. Their tracks in the snow are distinctive.
- Female opossums have 13 teats. Twelve are in a circle in her pouch with one in the center.
- Babies are tiny. The size of a dime. After birth, they finish developing in mom’s pouch. When they are older, they’ll often ride on her back.
- Some sources say opossums reduce tick numbers. They often groom themselves and consider any tick they find a tasty snack.
We enjoy seeing our opossum friends. On cold nights we sometimes put a little cat or dog food out for them. Life’s not easy for these animals with naked tails and thin fur, so we try to help them.
Below is a guest blog by Arianne Waseen about a visit by an opossum. Thanks, Arianne!
“Possum come aknockin’ at the door.”
“I went out in the afternoon a few weeks ago to look for eggs. I opened up the large door on the front of our coop, and in the nest box was something grey and furry and curled up in a little ball. My first thought was that it was a cat, but looking more closely it was definitely possum fur. I yelled and jumped a bit, and ran in to tell my husband and mother-in-law to come take a look. By the time we got back the possum had woken up. We opened up a little door we have at the back of the nest box and my mother in law encouraged the possum to jump down by prodding it with a broom from the front of the nest box. It jumped down and ran off. The opossum has come back a few times, and while it has not harmed our chickens, we are getting fewer eggs than we should be, and the possum has suspiciously glossy fur.”
We like opossums and are always happy to see one shuffling off when we startle it after dark. This amazing animal gets too little respect and appreciation by people who consider them dirty, stupid, and ugly. They are just the opposite!
Opossums are doing something right. They’re survivors who have been on the planet far longer that humans. Often called ‘possums, they were once common only in southern states. Their fur is sparse and doesn’t cover tails or ears, so winter is rough on them. Warming temperatures are helping this animal move north, and they’re now common in Maine, Minnesota and other more northern states where they once were absent.
‘Possums are our only native marsupial. Like kangaroos, female opossums have a pouch to nourish their young. Born after only a 13-day pregnancy tiny babies make their way into her pouch where they remain for about 100 days feeding on mom’s milk. Once they leave the pouch they follow her around learning how to fend for themselves.
Mostly nocturnal, possums aren’t choosy eaters. They love over ripe fruit, especially persimmons but they’ll also snack on insects, worms, dead animals, and nearly any other animal they can catch or find. Think of them as a gardener’s assistant because they gravitate to decaying material.
New research reveals an important diet item. They enjoy eating ticks! ‘Possums groom often and any tick that climbs aboard one and attempts to bite is in for a surprise. The grooming animal is likely to find the tick and quickly devour it. Fewer than 4% of ticks that climb on a O’possum successfully enjoy a blood meal. The rest become a meal themselves.
We’re lucky to have opossums in our yard. We enjoy sharing space with these ancient, clean, and useful animals. We hope you also have a neighborhood ‘possum. Be sure to share a photo of your ‘possum with us. For information on the opossum/tick relationship go to Cary Institute.