Symplocarpus foetidus in the Mill Brook Swamps

Bushwhacking along the brooks and in the swamps keeps getting more and more enticing. Every time I go on another expedition I see something amazing, find something fascinating, or just plain have a good time.

Yesterday I drove through town to the Old Mill Pond and parked the truck in a nook off the dirt road to the old Maley place. The old place for me was full of memories. The old Maley place was once the summer home of Steve Courtleigh — “The Shadow” of old-time radio fame. The Maleys bought The Shadow’s house. They added and added to the house and to the property, over the many years they lived there. The Shadow’s original structure and Maley’s additions have all recently been torn down.What was once a soulful and artistic  assembly is being replaced by a rich person’s palace.

I won’t go there right now.

What I will do is cross the brook and head for the swamp. My ostensible goal is to find the old Stepping Stones, but success is not certain. There’s a lot of unknown, mucky, wet territory to cross. My boots aren’t even 11″ high. They should be knee boots, not just calf-high, but that can’t be helped. They’re my most comfortable pair, and this trip is for comfort, not for speed.


Mill Brook, just south of the State road.

This whole area used to be cranberry bogs. Old bog ditches crisscross the swamp. They’re mostly filled in with leaves and muck now. They’ll help keep me from getting too lost.


Old cranberry bog ditch.

I hop over the ditch at a narrow spot and consider the swamp.


The swamp

I notice with pleasure that Symplocarpus foetidus is coming up throughout the swamp.


One Symplocarpus foetidus.

Symplocarpus foetidus, or, as most everyone says: skunk cabbage.

The aboveground structure you see is called a “spathe”.

I break the side of one to see if it’s in full bloom yet.



Skunk cabbage in bloom.

During the blooming period, the plant keeps the inside of the spadix about twenty degrees warmer than ambient temperature. Which makes the interior a welcoming and hospitable place for insects, for flies and bees, who come to collect the pollen. These plants offer some of the earliest food available.

Sometimes the spathes open enough to fully expose the spadixes.


I noticed an interestingly marked spathe, with the surface fractured like the craquelure of an old oil painting. I’d never seen that before.


Craquelured spathe.

There were groups and clumps of skunk cabbage everywhere.


A pair of skunk cabbage.

So many variations on a theme.


A trio of skunk cabbage.

There were clumps of six, seven, and more….


Seven skunk cabbage.

I moved on through the swamp. There was a lot to see, too.

I found something I’d been looking for for years, all my life, actually.

More about that in another post.

After a few hours of criss-crossing and circling, and crouching and crawling, and wading and slogging, I heard rushing water sounds not too far away.

Could it be?

After another minute or so, I saw…

The Stepping Stones.


I hadn’t been here in decades.


The Old Stepping Stones. They were here long before I was born. I have no idea how long they’ve been there or who put them there. Does anybody know?

(Addendum) Who put them there? I asked my friend Jim Athearn, whose family has been here since the 1600’s. He said:

That’s a good one!  Manters and Athearns  were to the east of there so would have a desire to cross the brook at that angle, as well as the people who may have occupied Hope Gray’s house (now Eppel).  There was a house on the site of Simon’s house (Leonard’s) before the current one, so before 1875.  That doesn’t tell us much.  Also, there wasn’t much of note on the other side of the Mill Brook before 1870-ish.  I only know that my father walked to school at the Academy building over the stepping stones.  His mother and father attended school in the building by the Mill Pond.  

Did Indians put stepping stones in?


The stones haven’t gotten much use lately, and are out of adjustment a bit.

I could have waded across.

I had boots on, but I hopped from stone to stone to cross the brook.

It sure felt good to do that.


5 responses to “Symplocarpus foetidus in the Mill Brook Swamps

  1. Another fine story. I’m constantly amazed at the amount of unspoiled wilderness that remains on your too-popular island. I didn’t understand the connection of The Shadow to the Maleys. Perhaps I missed an earlier post.

    • I’ve edited the paragraph to try to clear up your confusion. The Shadow was Steve Courtleigh (there were other Shadows), and he built his summer house there. Then came the Maleys.

  2. Wonderful! I’ve been thinking of a similar search, but since I’d never been there, I wasn’t sure where to start. I’d read of them in Dionys Riggs book.

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