Our destination was the Otter Rock spur, not very far, but it’s amazing how long it can take us and we were impressed that we actually reached our goal.
Along the way we stopped to admire the blunt-lobe grape ferns and their separate fertile stalks, some still intact.
And then we looked up. We’d been talking about tree bark, and right before our very eyes were four members of the birch family.
Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) features chalky white bark that often peels away in large sheets. The peeled bark reveals pink or orange tints, only partially visible here, but evident on other trees in the neighborhood.
To the left of the Paper Birch stands a Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), with its curly ribbon-like strips of bronze or yellowish-gray bark giving it a shaggy appearance.
And to its left the one that excited us most, Black Birch (Betula lenta), sporting gray bark with long, horizontal lenticels. All trees have lenticels, but they are more obvious on some than others. These slits allow for the exchange of gas so the tree may breath.
Last in the family line-up, a Gray Birch (Betula populifolia) showing off its almost dirty appearance and chevrons below the former branch sites.
At Otter Rock, we found dragonfly nymph exoskeletons still clinging to tree bark
Our discovery of shells made us wonder and smile about others who have passed this way.
Now that the leaves are gone, we delighted in the knowledge that there is so much more to see, including Witch Hazel.
We examined one of the few remaining ribbony flowers, the scalpel-shaped buds, fruiting bodies, asymmetrical leaves and a spiny gall all on one branch.
Our very own Witch Hazel Expert, Docent Bob, demonstrated the way the seeds pop–referencing Henry David Thoreau’s discovery of this phenomenon.
Before we headed back to the main trail, the group posed for a photo call. They all look so sporty in their blaze orange.
A few more finds as we walked back to the parking lot: remnants of a wild raisin (Viburnum cassinoides), so named because the shriveled fruits that remain look like raisins;
Black Cherry bark (Prunus serotina), easily identified by the small scales that curl outward like burnt cornflakes or potato chips;
and Northern Red Oak leaves displaying holiday colors.
Though most of us parted company just beyond the mill stream, a couple of us continued on to the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge off New Road.
We focused our attention on winter weeds, a topic for our January 9th walk. On this old logging road, some of the Selfheal or Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris) stands at least a foot and a half tall. As pretty as it is in the summer, it’s still a sight to behold in its winter structure.
Another to look forward to is the Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennia). Its fruits are four-parted capsules arranged in a spike at the tip of the stem, looking rather like flowers themselves.
There’s more to see, but I don’t want to give it all away.
My last stop for the day was a loop around the Chip Stockford Reserve. I wasn’t the only one trending blaze orange. The glow of the late afternoon sun cast an orange hue across the beech leaves.
November in western Maine. We’re happy to don our blaze orange and get out on the trails.