Almanac leaves a natural legacy

  • Francie Von Mertens with a glacial erratic off the Fremont Trail in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Francie Von Mertens with a glacial erratic off the Fremont Trail in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Nature Almanac by Francie Von Mertens of Peterborough. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/23/2020 3:59:26 PM
Modified: 11/23/2020 3:59:06 PM

Francie Von Mertens wants to take you on a year’s worth of field trips to the woods of the Monadnock region – without ever leaving the comforts of home. 

Von Mertens, who wrote the Backyard Birder column for the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript for 25 years until last November, recently put out a Nature Almanac, published by the Harris Center for Conservation Education, that travels through the backyards and woods of the region. It points out the obvious and the not so obvious, the hidden gems and those in plain sight that people of this corner of New Hampshire may take for granted.

“It’s so much of who I am and what I’ve done over the last 25 years,” Von Mertens said.

In addition to her bi-weekly writings in this newspaper, Von Mertens spent time on the board of directors at the Harris Center and the NH Audubon, and volunteered for both organizations in a number of capacities. To say nature is her passion might be the understatement of 2020. She wants to share that love of nature and this is one way to draw people in, just like she did with all those columns.

“I know [nature] needs care from humans,” Von Mertens said. “I want people to know how totally cool it is out there.”

Her years working with the Harris Center made them the perfect publisher for the daily jaunt into the wild. And there had to a balance to it all.

“It’s totally educational and the trick was to have just enough on a topic to digest, but not overload,” she said. “Pretty much it’s a course in how our world works, right out there.” There are pictures on every page, which help tell the story.

But unlike daily calendars that look similar, this is something that Von Mertens wants people to hold on to, and not throw out once Dec. 31 comes and goes. She’s put together calendars before, including a Year in the Wild: Month by Month in the Monadnock Region back in 2011, but she intentionally made this one different – and hopes people see it that way and will keep it for years to come.

“This is more what goes on around us,” Von Mertens said.

On one side, the almanac spans the first six months of the year and then all you need to do is turn it over for July through December.

Of course it includes birds, something Von Mertens said she became obsessed with later in life, but also wildlife and stone walls, trees, weather and so much more. Each month has a moon page and  explores the seasonal nature of the world around. There are things she saw during field trips with longtime Harris Center executive director Meade Cadot, whose wife Sandy Taylor acted as Von Mertens’ editor. There’s even a page for leap year, featuring the snowshoe hare, or the more scientific name of lepus americanus.

And while her knowledge about nature and all it entails is vast, Von Mertens spent a lot of time researching the topics. She wanted it to convey a certain level of expertise all in one place.

“I really researched,” she said. “For me it’s education, but the trick was to be selective.”

She talked about how pollinators and plants evolved together, how hummingbirds are attracted to red, while bees gravitate toward blue.

“You tell that one story about one animal, the hummingbird and the cardinal flower and it’s an obvious connection, but there are so many more that aren’t as obvious,” Von Mertens said.

Stone walls are fascinating to Von Mertens, but each one tells a historical story.

“By these structures, it will tell you how the land was used,” she said.

This was a project near and dear to her passion, and Von Mertens hopes that it spawns others to gain a similar interest.

“Someone said this is your legacy and yeah, I think it is,” she said. “I think this can live beyond me. That’s what I wanted.”

While she hopes it will be found on desks all around the region and beyond, Von Mertens also believes it could be a classroom tool to help students gain an appreciation and interest in the natural world. And even hopes the Harris Center will use it as well.

Because really “it’s a book not a calendar,” Von Mertens said.

As Harris Center Science Director Brett Amy Thelen put it, “I bought one for myself the other week, hot off the presses. Each morning since, I’ve felt a little thrill of anticipation in turning the page to see what the new day has to offer – no small thing in the midst of a pandemic that has upended so many comforting routines.”

The almanac costs $15 and is available at Steele’s Stationers and the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough, and can also be ordered through the Harris Center website at


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