Today is the Day Our Mother Died One Year Ago

Young Mom ice skatesOne year ago today, our lovely mother left the Earth. She was 94 and she wanted to go.  Blind for ten years and increasingly unstable, she had fallen and broken bones for the third time. In this episode it was her hip and collar bone. It was just too much. In a completely sound frame of mind, she chose the only way out available to her:  she stopped eating and drinking.

I am furious at our legal system that she could not have help in her passing from her doctors. They could have spared her three weeks of pain from the surgery that had to be done to address her acute fractures, and the ensuing discomfort from lack of food and hydration. My devoted sister, a highly experienced RN, nursed her at home in her own bed through those three weeks with the help of hospice and a team of caretakers. I was one of the team too. Chris made her as comfortable as humanly possible and certainly the worst of the pain was controlled with drugs, but the fact remains that she suffered unnecessarily for three weeks, when she could have simply gone to sleep. There is nothing more excruciating than watching a loved one suffer – nothing!

But there were truly some good points to having those weeks. She lost consciousness for the last five days, but until then she had wonderful conversations with all who came to say goodbye. Each visit with her four children, her grandchildren, and phone calls with her two sisters and nieces and nephews was an expression of gratitude for her interest in them, for her generosity in welcoming all to the family homestead in the upper reaches of Maine that she worked hard to maintain, for her gentle, supporting and fun-loving spirit. When I reached her bedside shortly after she made the decision to leave the Earth, our conversation went like this:

“Oh, Marcia… I’m so glad you’re here to help Chris.”

“I’m so sorry you had this bad fall, Mom.”

“Oh… I am too. It was so stupid. I was turning and was impatient. I was just so mad about how long it takes me to do anything that I turned too fast and lost my balance.”

“Sorry you had to go through so much. So, you decided to stop eating.”

“Yes. I’ve had a good life. So many lovely people, lovely children. But I’m not enjoying life. When you’re not enjoying life anymore….”

“I understand.”

Then she asked, “Are you enjoying life?”

I answered, “Well… it’s not over yet! Yes, I am. But… almost nobody gets through life unscathed.  It’s just the way it is. And you know that I went through some rough times. My cancer was rough and then losing Tim right after finishing chemotherapy. That was a tough go. But… you and Dad gave us a good foundation. With a good foundation, you can roll with life’s punches. I came out the other side and I am now doing fine and I owe it to you.”

She replied with a simple, “Thank you.”

That my sweet, humble mother could finally, in her last days on Earth, say “thank you” when I credit her with my resilience through tough times brought tears to my eyes. Finally, she could fully claim her worthiness. So, the most precious gifts in life were exchanged between her and those who loved her in those final weeks — expressions of deep gratitude for a life well-lived and loved that benefited all those in her sphere.

Here is a poem written by Andrea Mabee, wife of my oldest brother, Carleton, that was written for the spreading of Mom’s ashes on her beloved Maine farm. You should know that my mother was an accomplished sailor who loved to cruise the beautiful coast of Maine:


A  role model

A thinker


Always choosing to project the lime light away from her

Ever keeping her eyes on the horizon.

Eyes and nose into the wind

True and reliable

A smile and twinkle in her eyes

A supporter for worthy causes

The family cheerleader

Abundant with kind words

Stingy with criticism

Generous in spirit and heart

Lover of nature

Ready to laugh

Reluctant to complain

Genuine as “this is the real deal”


Mom, today we scatter your ashes in a place that is so dear to you. You have been and will always be the salt of the earth. We are all blessed to have been touched by your love, good nature and wisdom.


Mom in Chair w. hat


Vegetation Map of Naked Mountain is here!

Early last year, I received a very exciting phone call from Gary Fleming, the Senior Vegetation Ecologist with the Natural Heritage Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. He was calling to let me know that Naked Mountain would be the first Natural Area Preserve to undergo a complete vegetative mapping of its natural communities. Mapping has been done in national parks in Virginia, but never before in one of the state’s own dedicated natural area preserves. I was thrilled that Naked Mountain would be the first, and pleased to know more NAP’s are undergoing mapping.
The principal ecologist on the Naked Mountain project was Kristen Taverna, joined for a couple of visits by Gary Fleming. Kristen collected 59 observation points across most of the 278 acres of the preserve including points at 1080 feet and at the 2000 foot summit. Her work supplemented five vegetation plots that Gary established during visits between 2007 and 2012 within which every plant species is identified. Kristen’s observations are more generally descriptive of the plants that make up a particular natural community type.

From Left:  Kristin Taverna, Gary Fleming, Karen Patterson taking a photo of Spring Forget-me-not, Myosotis verna

From Left: Kristin Taverna, Gary Fleming, Karen Patterson taking a photo of Spring Forget-me-not, Myosotis verna

In all, Kristen and Gary identified five natural heritage resources, also known as element occurrences, on Naked Mountain including three significant natural communities and a small population of the globally rare plant, Torrey’s mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum torreyi). You can see a photo of the mountain-mint on the blogsite header. It is the pale purple speckled plant to the far right in the third slide of the changing header.
The two most important natural communities on Naked Mountain are: Central Appalachian Basic Ash-Hickory Woodland and Central Appalachian Mafic/Calcareous Barren (Low-Elevation Type). These are globally rare. But the most exciting floral display on Naked Mountain are the Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon primula). Botanical experts estimate that as many as 10,000, if not more, bloom across the warren of small openings across the Southeastern face of the mountain. And they bloom all at once in early May. I discovered this magnificent nature show myself ten years ago, and as the mapping report notes, it was the catalyst for the decision to complete a conservation easement with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. This story is captured in my memoir which will be published in September. You can get a glimpse of the Shooting Star display on the second slide of the changing blogsite header.
A part of the report that I find very interesting is the soil analysis. I learned from David Spears, Virginia’s state geologist, that the underlying bedrock of Naked Mountain is amphibolite, a metamorphosed rock. He explained that a, not quite continuous, narrow extrusion of the rock extends from Naked Mountain for about forty miles to the Northeast, running under the great lawn at the University of Virginia, that they have dubbed, “the Great Amphibolite Dike.” Looking at the map segment below supplied by the Virginia Department of Mines and Minerals, the dark green line of the amphibolite begins just a little bit west of Elma and also forms the largest “blob” there. That blob is Naked Mountain.

Amphibolite pic
A few years ago I sent samples of Naked Mountain amphibolite to my brother Steve Mabee, who is the state geologist in Massachusetts. His analysis determined that the rock was metamorphosed from basalt, so volcanic in origins. Not surprisingly, then, the soils of Naked Mountain resemble those underlain by other mafic rock substances. Naked Mountain soils are very high in calcium and magnesium and aluminum, in fact as the report notes,” … at the upper end of the range variation for soils weathered from mafic rocks in Virginia, and indicate very high fertility.” This likely accounts for the significant biodiversity on Naked Mountain and the extraordinary display of Shooting Stars.
I hope you enjoy the report and you can go back to the menu bar and check out the plant list too!