Hard Pressed

Ever find yourself between a rock and a hard place? How ‘bout between a leaf and a flower? Come see why The Mountain Farmgirl finds herself hard pressed on one of the last glorious autumn days of the season along the coast of Maine, as she shares with you some very ‘pressing’ news…

(Mountain Farmgirl Note: The hurricane has passed, and for those of us in New Hampshire, at least, we escaped relatively unscathed.  Not so for my family and friends in New York and New Jersey, however. They’ll be cleaning up in the aftermath of Sandy for quite some time. Thanks so much to everyone for your kind thoughts and well wishes, as we continue to keep those in the mid-Atlantic states in our prayers).


I’m not in the Mountains today, Farmgirls; I’m on the coast of Maine, soaking up the short, fleeting  rays of the sun that shine down here, though  briefly, this time of the year.  I’m also soaking up some R&R after a busy leaf season at our inn. But I had an ulterior motive, too, as I traveled here yesterday. It was to visit the woodworking studio of an amazing local artist, Lynette Bretton, from Harpswell, Maine.

As you know, I’m a mountain person through and through, and the coast of Maine, (which my salty dog of a husband loves dearly) is a far cry from my beloved White Mountains. Initially the large open expanses of  sea and sky, dotted by islands on the craggy and rugged coast made me feel exposed, vulnerable and yes, a tad bit agoraphobic. I’m not a water person by nature. Nevertheless, our family owns a beautiful  little peninsula here on Middle Bay, and this topography has grown on me over the last year and a half until I now love it as much as he does! Strangely enough, my beloved Mount Washington (and most of the Presidential range),  stand clearly visible across the bay from our picture windows! What a coincidence, huh?!

Anyway, for the last year I’ve been aware of a very interesting woman through her website, http://www.holdingpatternsflowerpress.com/ . She’s a member of the Harpswell Arts Guild, so when we first bought our getaway  property there I had to check her out. We’d never met until this morning, although thanks to email and websites, we have corresponded a number of times. She is an extraordinary  woodworker, rating up there with the very best of contemporary fine woodworkers and furniture makers.  She and her work have been showcased in books and magazines, and she is an extraordinary woman/artist/farmgirl/hearty New England mix. While I am not in the market for her caliber of fine furniture unfortunately, I discovered her through a small sideline of beautiful wooden flower presses she produces.


These pressed flowers are by Patty Olds of Holding Patterns, Harpswell Maine

I love pressing flowers! It was a hobby I discovered in college, and my children and I made rudimentary (compared to Lynette’s!)  flower presses when we were homeschooling, as part of our botany studies. Lynette’s business partner, Patty Olds, creates extraordinary works of art from the presses leaves and flowers that come off of Lynette’s presses. While I am definitely going to get back into pressing flowers for framed collages and greeting cards that I make, I was drawn to her presses for another one of my avocations: bookbinding. I studied bookbinding when I was in my twenties, and had a refresher last spring with a local bookbinder of great reknown. Had I a chance to live my life over again, I think I would have pursued this field as a career. But no regrets! Bookbinding is still a fulfilling  hobby for me, despite the fact that I don’t have an essential piece of equipment needed for this trade: a press. Well, up until now, that is!

This is a recent book I made for my daughter

Lynette Breton lives on a beautiful back road on a peninsula on the coast of Maine. The drive to her house and studio this morning was beautiful. Despite the fact that she lives not 20 minutes from our own place here, I somehow managed to drive back and forth on her winding road for 15 minutes before I actually found it. It should have been a no-brainer, as everything about her place screams “ARTIST LIVES HERE!”, without actually saying it in so many words! From the shed in the front yard with the living sod roof, to the elaborate twig furniture and matching arbor that leads to the gardens in back, I asked myself afterwards how I could have possibly missed it! 

I met Lynette in her studio in the woods, a short walk from her little house, and my first reaction was disbelief at how HUGE and well-stocked with tools it was! Walls of wood clamps were lined up and well-organized along with every power and hand tool imaginable.   It was then I realized that furniture making and one-of-a-kind kitchen design was her mainstay, and that flower presses – the reason for my visit -- were just a tiny sideline.

Home-grown acoustic music filled the spacious  post-and-beam workshop with glorious sound as I walked in the door, and there was Lynette, a Maine artist about my age, reaching out her hand to welcome me.  She seemed independent, creative, artsy, and a slight bit eccentric in all the best ways, all through that solid, working-woman’s handshake! I liked her instantly! 

Lynette uses reclaimed wood for her gorgeous flower presses.  They day I visited she had two lines of presses available and on display: her Moosehead Lake line, and “Herbie” a classic, historic  elm tree… (her “Bog Oak” presses having sold out at the Common Ground Fair last month). Let me tell you a little about the historic woods she uses.

The bog oak tree was excavated from a riverbed in Estonia, and is said to have been lying there for 800 years. It fell into its resting place after having reached the ripe old age of 500 years, making it possibly 1200 years old! The photos I saw of its deep rich color is totally natural and has not been treated with dyes or stains of any kind. The wood has been saturated and preserved by the bog itself, the colors coming from a chemical reaction between the tannins and soluble iron and minerals in the subsoil. I wish I could have seen one in person!  (However, ‘Moosehead Lake’ and ‘Herbie’ presses were actually enough eye candy for me, making it a hard decision to choose one over the other).


The ‘Herbie’ tree’s  tale is a thoroughly heartwarming one. The hardwood used for this particular line of presses was cut down in 2010 after 217 years of reign in Yarmouth, Maine.  American elms like Herbie are as old as the nation itself.
In colonial Boston, the Sons of Liberty met under an American elm tree dubbed the Liberty Tree until it was cut down in 1775 by British loyalists. Eventually, American elms became the nation's most popular shade tree, their seeds carried westward by settlers. The trees lined streets in towns from coast to coast. (What town in America doesn’t have a street named in their honor?) But all this changed with startling speed when the Dutch elm fungus, spread by bark beetles in the 1930s wiped out most of our native elms. Once afflicted, these stately giants faced a swift and an all-but-certain death. Diseased trees were quickly cut down to save surrounding ones. As Dutch elm arrived in Yarmouth in 1956, a man named Frank Knight was already middle-aged — married and with a son, running a logging business — when he was named tree warden. Frank was so smitten with the tree that he couldn't bear to cut it down. After all, it had been standing sentinel in his New England village since before the American Revolution. Over the next half-century, Knight carefully nursed the tree, spraying for pests and pruning away the dreaded fungus, even as the town's other elms died by the dozens. As he succeeded, the stately tree's branches reached skyward to 110 feet.  The tree, nicknamed Herbie and acclaimed as the tallest and oldest elm in New England, survived 14 bouts of Dutch elm disease, thanks to Frank Knight's devotion. Knight, who died recently at the age of 103,  had affectionately referred to ‘Herbie’ as he referred to it as “an old friend”. Wood from the tree was secretly made into a casket for him, which is appropriate, as Frank took good care of Herbie most of his long life, and now Herbie will take good care of Frank. Such a fitting and lovely ending to a long love affair between man and tree!


The Moosehead Lake press is the third in Lynette’s line, and the one I finally chose after a long and difficult deliberation.  The wood it’s made from came from a lake of that name, also in Maine, where a small business there today is recovering lost veneer logs that possibly sank to the bottom en route to the mill sometime in the early 1700’s. Since these trees were cut down when they were already 300-350 years old, this wood might very well have been a sapling prior to the coming of the Mayflower.  Talk about old!! Holding this piece of living history in my hands was an amazing honor. I am so excited to take my press home and have the chance to put it to work. All in all it was a great morning; not only am I now the proud owner of a beautiful piece of functional art, but I had also made a new friend in the process. In one of my future writings, we’ll put my new  press to the test and (hopefully) make a book together!


Until next time, Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from
Cathi, The Mountain Farmgirl



By: Margaret Taffi
On: 11/12/2012 12:21:28
What a lovely story! And of course what a craftsperson! The history of the wood used is amazing ! I love all things wood and know the presses are fantastic! Hope to see one in my life time! Enjoy your new piece of histtory and press, press press! Many years ago my daughter started pressing flowers but with working and raising her son stopped. I'm going to encourage her to take it up again! Have a lovely day and Happy Holidays.
By: Ruth
On: 11/12/2012 12:26:01
This was SO COOL! Really enjoyed reading it - as I do ALL your blogs! So sorry to hear you have family hit hard by Sandy! We're near the coast of NC but mercifully were spared. Some of our Outer Banks islands suffered loss, though. Our family decided that we'd pull our Christmas money and send to help Hurricane Sandy victims instead of exchanging gifts. All my siblings work full-time and I'm semi-retired but help our elderly parents, too. Since we couldn't go help in person, we wanted to send financial aid. Hope ALL of your family is able to enjoy the holidays!

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir

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