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
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