A Sanctuary In Our Midst By Mary Ann Mulvihill-Decker

Mary Ann Mulvihill-Decker

A Sanctuary in Our Midst

 

Great blue herons, broad-winged hawks, ruby-crowned kinglets, red-bellied woodpeckers.

 

Spicebush swallowtails, wild indigo duskywings, pearly crescent-spots, zabulon skippers.  Red

 

bats, muskrats, eastern cottontails, long-tailed weasels.  Northern ringneck snakes, eastern

 

painted turtles, red-spotted newts, northern gray tree frogs. In the exquisitely beautiful

 

woodlands named for my ancestors, these and a plethora of other creatures coexist in the graceful

 

balance of the wild.

 

 

 

Ribbons of birds pass by along the Atlantic flyway, seen only by the alert and fortunate

 

hiker.  Many of these migrants rest upon the ponds, boughs and grasses.  Renewed by the

 

bounty of the wetlands, they then fly on. Others stay and nest in the shrubs and treetops of the

 

now preserved forests, nourishing their eager young with endless morsels from the swamps

 

below.  Prehistoric-looking turtles amble in and around these bogs for which they are perfectly

 

adapted, many living sixty years or more.  Some of the species of tree frog known to

 

inhabit the preserve are rarely if ever seen; they are more likely to be heard, as these colorful tiny

 

amphibians utilize complex calls, choruses and vibrations to communicate across the forest

 

canopy.

 

 

 

Bats, so misunderstood yet so vital to the health of the ecosystem, roost in hidden cavities

 

throughout the sanctuary.  Eating one third of their body weight in mosquitoes and other insects

 

nightly, these mammals critically control many bugs that humans consider pests.  Bats are also

 

important pollinators and like birds and insects, they ensure the health of our more beautiful

 

wildflower populations.  For only the loveliest of flowers are pollinated by animals. They

 

evolved to be showy to attract the notice of those flying creatures that would come seeking their

 

life-sustaining nectar and inadvertently and symbiotically pollinate and propagate them.  Flowers

 

that are pollinated by the wind never needed to evolve a colorful or noticeable bloom.  As we

 

lose our pollinators to pesticides and diseases across the world, so we lose our most treasured

 

and gorgeous wildflowers.  Yet here amid the vigor of our local forest, a vast variety of plant life

 

is alive and well, including the elusive doll’s eyes and rare orchids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My grandparents, Daniel and Anna Mulvihill, purchased the farm nearSag Harboraround 1920.

 

Acquiring the hundred or so acres and the three-story shingled house was their dream come true.

 

The land had been partially cultivated and cleared by previous owners.

 

 

 

Daniel was the son of an Irish immigrant and was a lifelong Navy man who attained the rank of

 

Lieutenant Commander and visited many exotic ports. He served in three wars.  Anna grew up

 

onGlover Street, the eldest of the four children of William and Elizabeth Fraser Brown

 

McDonough.  At the farm, she raised turkeys, pigs and chickens and grew vegetables and

 

potatoes. She played Irish tunes on the fiddle.  She studied medical textbooks. Daniel grew

 

grapes and made wine. They loved planting trees. They loved their many dogs.  The couple had

 

four children, Daniel, Elizabeth, Dolores and William, my dad, and they taught them to love and

 

respect the magnificent variety of living things that surrounded their home.

 

 

 

They let the once tamed land go wild.  The battered acres that had teemed with life now had

 

stewards to protect them.  Species of pioneer plants colonized old fields.  Saplings were allowed

 

to rise tall as they reached for the sun.  Mammals were permitted safe passage across the land.

 

Frogs, turtles, snakes and salamanders thrived in the healthy swamps, both in front of and behind

 

the house.  Their only human annoyance was that of the children who caught them for play and

 

study, only to soon release them back into their primordial world, their luscious wetlands.

 

 

 

My father took an extraordinary interest in the land.  He gathered arrowheads and searched for

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