The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

The Other Nature Crafts Festival

Posted by | September 1, 2013

Hang this in your home and waitA beautiful handmade decorative piece... or something more?

The following was published in the Biddeford-Saco Journal Tribune Sunday edition, 9/1/13:

More than 100 artists will converge on the Wells Reserve at Laudholm next weekend for our 26th annual Laudholm Nature Crafts Festival. They’re all very talented, and if you attend, I promise you’ll find some unique, beautiful, and affordable Christmas gifts months ahead of schedule.

But exceptional as these local New England artists are, I think their finest work meets it match up against the “other nature crafts show” put on by the animal kingdom on a daily basis.

Nanne Kennedy may be one of our favorite yarn dealers and weavers, but she’s no orchard spider (Leucauge venusta). E.B. White’s classic “Charlotte’s Web” takes place in Maine and is usually the first positive encounter children have with spiders; if they only recognized sooner the miracle a web is. Its silken strands, up to seven different varieties, are stronger than steel [on a per weight basis], more elastic than nylon, and thinner than human hairs. The silk is also edible -- a typical orb weaver, who must knit a new web every morning, recycles as she goes.

Tom Hamel is a skilled woodworker from northern Maine who crafts exquisitely lathed pieces. However, I doubt he can break off suitable tree branches while flying at high speed, as a male osprey does when building its enormous nest. Nor do I think Tom can mill and shape his own logs with the aplomb and efficiency of our Maine swamp beavers, using only his teeth. And even if he could do all that, I know he would still envy the fanciful curves and wood fluting a spruce gall adelgid can achieve with mere saliva.

At the Laudholm Trust, we have two architects on our Board of Trustees. While I greatly admire their work, I respectfully wonder whether either could compete with a humble sea snail. Dogwinkles (Nucella lapillus), common enough in our Maine tidepools that even my tireless children get bored of throwing them into the surf, are uncommonly good architects and engineers. Nucella build their homes around their bodies from readily available molecules. These snug shells, geometrically precise in ever-decreasing ratios, are customized with ridges and smooth sections to best survive the intertidal zone. They can withstand waves 400 times their height, 10-story drops, huge temperature swings, and the prying claws of invasive green crabs. Can your home do that? If so, is it also mobile?

Glow worms routinely create their own bioluminescent chandeliers, butterflies and beetles their own perfumes. Crows and chimps use tools every day; there’s even a wasp with a zinc-tipped drill in her abdomen [click for video] who can pierce the toughest hardwoods.

Now, some might say comparing our Crafts Festival with this animal art show isn’t a fair contest. Our human artists have been working their crafts for, at most, thirty thousand years, while these insects, mollusks, rodents and birds have a hundred million years of practice. Well, it shows. Their work is beautiful, ephemeral, and free.

Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His Sunday Journal Tribune column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from the intersection of art and science, past and future, nature human and otherwise. More at

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