Francie Von Mertens

Francie Von Mertens

For the Love of Birds

“I got interested in birds, and they led me into the larger natural world.”

Many people know Francie as the “Backyard Birder” columnist for the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript and as a steady and welcoming presence at the Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory, but her interests and impact on the Monadnock Region extend well beyond birding. Francie also holds a passion for land conservation and a deep appreciation of the natural world, which she has put into practice through extensive volunteer work and longstanding service as the Chair of the Peterborough Conservation Commission. Her association with the Harris Center has spanned about 25 years; she’s been named an “honorary trustee” for her invaluable efforts in helping the Harris Center become what it is today.

An Essential Presence

Meade Cadot and Francie Von Mertens

Meade Cadot and Francie Von Mertens having fun on a Harris Center outing.

Francie first became involved with the Harris Center in the 1990s after moving to Peterborough from Massachusetts. In 1998, she joined our Board of Trustees, assisting with an important transition period whereby the decision was made to renovate the building. Francie was instrumental in raising the funds necessary to embark on this ambitious project.

“The board used to meet in a dark lower room with rough barn board walls. An architect came to do an assessment one day and got disoriented. He came in and said, ‘Where’s the cheese?’”

Needless to say, the building renovation was a resounding success, and our beautiful and welcoming “green” building is thanks in no small part to Francie.

Francie dove into land conservation work with equal energy and enthusiasm, often making visits with Meade Cadot to landowners interested in protecting their land.

“Meade and I went on a few very memorable calls together to talk with folks about land protection. Always good fun to remember hanging out with Meade. Also, out on field trips with him, I always learned something new. And still do.”

A Voice for the Wild World

Francie and Meade often co-lead field trips as well, with the Harris Center featured in many of Francie’s “Backyard Birder” columns. After writing the column for 25 years, Francie handed it off to Harris Center staffers Susie Spikol and Brett Amy Thelen in 2020. That will leave more time for Francie to turn her attention to other creative projects she has brewing, including a perpetual nature calendar.

Francie Von Mertens Nature Calendar

Sample page from Francie’s perpetual nature calendar.

“The 365-page desk calendar will have photos with explanations of what’s going on in the wild world and how it all fits together. At the end of the year, you’ll be a pretty accomplished naturalist. And if you don’t get it the first year, you can run through it again. And again!”

Francie’s interest in birds and their world comes from seeds planted in her youth:

It took me a while to see that it was my mom and her love for fishing. She’d sneak out early, observant, blending into the streamside world. It wasn’t about catching fish, really, just as birding isn’t about birds. It’s being respectful of their world.”

Francie remembers discovering a hillside with a mysterious stream emerging from a stone wall — her secret place when she was young. It’s now an industrial park. The missing landscape of her youth helps propel her to save natural lands before they disappear. Her biggest satisfaction is the acreage she’s helped conserve with the Harris Center and other land conservation organizations.

“…but I’m a bit of a curmudgeon. It’s about room to roam for the wild ones. That’s Meade’s phrase: ‘Room to roam.’ We’re so human-centered. Let’s leave the wild ones some land without trails and other human impacts.”

Helping Hands

Carl Von Mertens and Hunt Dowse

Carl Von Mertens (left) and Hunt Dowse relax in front of the generator shed that they built for the Harris Center.

Francie’s husband, Carl, has lent his hands (literally) to the Harris Center for many years as well, building benches, desks, and tables for our renovated building, and even the shed that houses our generator. The couple has also protected two properties in Peterborough through conservation easements held by the Harris Center.

Francie continues to be involved in various Harris Center committees and is an integral part of the pollinator garden that she helped design.

“I feel very good about what’s happening with the Harris Center now. It’s good to see another generation coming on, and it’s comforting to see the Harris Center in good hands. The world would be a better place if there was a Harris Center in every region. I wish it could be cloned around the country!”

That might mean cloning Francie as well — and the world would be a better place for it.

Contact Us

For more information on the Harris Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations, please contact Lisa Murray at (603) 525-3394 or by email.