Witherle Woods / by Greg Westrich

This morning I stood in front of my college composition class explaining how an essay was like a story. Outside, almost-too-small-to-see snowflakes streaked by on a light breeze. My passionate explanation of Narrative Theory stopped mid-sentence. I pointed to the windows. The whole class turned noisily in their seats and looked out the windows at the back of the room. Several students groaned. Ah, spring in Maine.


Less than a week ago, I was down in Castine hiking in a t-shirt. It was a birdy day. Through April and May birds arrive from their wintering grounds. Some are just stopping by on their way farther north. Others are settling in to territories and beginning to sing. It's a good time to see birds, many that are nearly impossible to find the rest of the year.


In Witherle Woods, I stood on Moore's Hill as a bald eagle drifted over on wide, stiff wings. Its feathers rich dark chocolate; its head impossibly white. As it passed over, we made eye contact. Yellow eyes locked onto mine. Then it was gone carried on by the wind. Down the hill two crows noisily chased the eagle off Blockhouse Point and out over the bay. The sky was TV start screen blue with meringue clouds on top.


Witherle Woods covers a rocky hill covered with boggy ground and scraggled forest. The four miles of trails pass the sites of gun emplacements and batteries from the War of 1812. The British, French, and finally Americans understood the strategic importance of Castine. It sits near the head of Penobscot Bay below where the river flows around Verona Island and spreads out into the bay. To the south of town is Bagaduce River—a long sinuous bay. Castine therefore has a protected harbor and offers gun placements to fire on enemy ships as they tried to sail up the Penobscot River.


Castine changed hands several times during the Colonial Period because of its strategic importance. It was also the site of the first naval engagement during the Revolutionary War. The pair of Nashville warblers I watched hop from one leafless branch to another didn't care about such history. I saw them near one of the gun emplacements that overlooked the bay. The yellow warblers with russet crowns hopped from branch to branch, seeming only interested in each other.


Maybe the male was showing his new mate the fine nest site he'd found. Or she was inspecting his territory with him in tow. Maybe they, like me, were just visiting for the day before heading onward to home. If I was a better birder, I might know.


I continued on my way exploring the rocky coast, the grassy paths, the greens and blues of a warm spring day.