The roads were coated in black ice when I drove toward Jefferson, Maine, early this morning to meet up with the Maine Master Naturalist class. The morning sun, brilliant blue sky with scattered cumulous clouds, and mist rising from open waterways, made me want to pause along the highway and take some photos, but I wasn’t sure how I’d explain to a state policeman that indeed it was an emergency. Instead, I continued on to Gardiner, got off the highway and followed backroads over rolling hills and through farm country to my destination–Hidden Valley Nature Center.
Aptly named, the 1,000-acre natural education center consists of contiguous forest dotted with vernal pools, a kettle bog, ponds and 30 miles of trails.
Bambi Jones, a Master Naturalist and co-founder of HVNC, spent the morning with us, showing us the vernal pools and sharing her knowledge. Things aren’t exactly hopping at the pools yet, but . . . the weather is supposed to warm up this week and once the snow melts–look out!
When I first looked at this vernal pool photo, I thought it was upside down–such is the reflection.
A wee bit of info and a reason why we should pay attention.
This is a kettle hole bog apparently, caused by glacial action. I was looking up the difference between a bog and a fen and found this on The International Carnivorous Plant Society’s Web site: “People commonly describe wetlands with words like pond, bog, marsh, fen, and swamp, thinking these are mostly interchangeable. Actually, there are careful definitions for each of these names. The only problem is that a hydrologist may use one set of definitions, while a botanist may use another, and an ecologist may use yet another.”
While we stood looking across, someone in the group spotted what they thought was a bobcat across the way and coming down a hill. I never saw it, but I did note lots of ledges in the area and on the way out saw some potential bobcat tracks.
Another view. Lots of black spruce, sheep laurel and pitcher plant seed pods visible.
The seed pod of a pitcher plant, one of our carnivorous plants.
And a beaver lodge along the edge.
There were so many things to see, including a second beaver lodge that may have more action. Do you see it in the center of the photo?
This dam is nearby and had seen lots of activity. Due to yesterday’s rain, it’s a bit hard to decipher the tracks.
Remember when I mentioned snow fleas or spring tails in my post entitled, The Small Stuff? Well, this is one of our students enjoying a circus performance.
You never know what you might see when you take the time to look.
So they did–look that is. And almost fell in.
More observations–whatcha got in your Dannon container?
One of my joys was meeting two new trees. I was excited to make the acquaintance of White Oak (Quercus alba) today. Rather than the ski trails and redness of Northern Red Oak, this species features bark that looks like irregular blocks.
And sometimes it looks shaggier, with long, vertical plates. Like its red brethren, the leaves are marcescent, meaning they stay on the tree through the winter months.
What I love about the White Oak leaf is its rounded lobes.
Here’s a middle-aged (just like me!) Northern Red Oak for comparison. The flat-ridged ski trails are forming and the red is clearly visible between them.
Then there’s the bristle-tipped leaf.
My second new encounter was with the American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroloiniana). Again, a thrilling experience. OK, it doesn’t take much. Now I understand why it’s called musclewood. It could easily be mistaken for a beech tree because the bark of a young tree is smooth, but there is a sinewy beauty to it. My bark eyes are now cued into this one.
The fun part was that not far away stood this old friend. Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginians) has thin, flaky vertical strips. Both species, members of the birch family, are known as ironwood.
As the day went on, though our focus was on vernal pools and communities, we often got distracted by other things–which I’ve dubbed Nature Distraction Disorder.
What I began to notice was a natural waviness. I saw it in the snow along the edge of this stream.
In the folds of the rocks.
And more folds.
In the scar on this beech tree.
And the growth on this red oak.
But probably my favorite, this naturally wavy sculpture on display by the barn where we convened a few times. It invites reflection.
Thanks for joining me for today’s wonder-filled wander.