A Sanctuary In Our Midst

Written 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






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