Gallivanting Around Great Brook

It’s been a couple of months since Jinny Mae and I last checked in on the doings in the Great Brook neighborhood off Hut Road in Stoneham, Maine.

H-Forest Road 4

Forest Road 4 isn’t plowed in the winter. That’s OK. We welcomed the opportunity to admire our surroundings as we hiked above the brook. So much to see that is so often missed as one drives.

h-paper birch blue

Though the temperature was on the rise, the blueness of a few paper birch trees reminded us that it’s still winter.


We found sphagnum moss looking a bit frosty but cheering us on with its pompoms.


On more than one yellow birch, chaga offered its medicinal qualities in quantity.

h-yellow and white partners

We came upon a special relationship–a yellow birch and a white pine. Rooted in this place, they embrace and share nutrients.

h-yellow birch:white pine

Forever conjoined, they dance through life together.


Finally beside the brook,  we couldn’t see the rocks below very well, but watching the water race over them gave us a better understanding of the forces that have smoothed their surfaces.

h-GB south

In a few more months, we’ll stand here and wonder where all the water went.

h-ice drips& bubbles

But today, it was the ice formations that we couldn’t stop admiring. Bubbling water below and dripping ice above, each adding to the other and both constantly changing.

h-ice 2

So much variation on the same theme as coursing water freezes into ice while at the same time carving into the rocks below.

h-ice pedastle support

Looking beneath, we noticed pedestals shaped like elephant legs providing support to shelves above.

h-gb ice castle

Occasionally, we saw crystalline turrets, translucent arches and frozen chandeliers of castles captured in ice.

h-sets of ice feet

Sometimes, it seemed like ballerinas danced on their tippy toes. That’s what water really is, isn’t it–a dance through time with changing tempos along the way?


We crossed Great Brook and then paused for a moment as we decided which trail to follow.  We took the road less traveled by. I laughed when Jinny Mae referenced Robert Frost’s poem. My former students don’t read this, but that was one of the poems they had to learn and recite. And my guy–poor soul–knows it through association. Actually, he’s a better soul for that reason.

h-tree owl 2

So you may not see it, but Jinny Mae and I did–an owl hidden in the ash bark. Not a live owl, mind you. Well, that depends on your perspective, I suppose.

h-heal all

Within minutes, we knelt to admire Selfheal or Heal All (Prunella vulgarism) and its hairy calyces.

h-survey sign

We stood by the survey marker sign and realized it had been attached for many years.

h-survey marker

Perhaps 51 years!

h-frullania 1 on red oak

h-frullania 2

On a red oak, we pause to look at the reddish-brown liverwort–Frullania. There’s history in this species–dating to the earliest land plants. No matter how often we see it, and we see it often, we feel privileged.

h-leaves and ice

The trail switches from snow to ice to water and back again. Ice covered leaves draw our appreciation.

h-fnd 1a

In the neighborhood, we pause to check on the local families.

h-fdn 1 chamber

I climb down to the root cellar and discover that the porcupines haven’t visited all winter. Old scat still present in there, but nothing new.

H-Fdn 2

Moving up the colonial road, we come to the second residence.

h-fdn 2 yellow birch on mantel

Atop the mantel grows an old yellow birch. Like any TV screen above the fireplace, it offers an ever-changing display.

h-brook upland

We moved toward Shirley Brook, where we were once again in awe of ice.

h-water and ice1

Water and ice: a relationship in constant flux–at the moment.

h-brook structure

Beside the brook is a stream that’s currently dry. We look edat the snow-covered stonework that crosses over it and realized we need to return and try to figure out what the structure might have been and why it was built here. Stuff like this adds to the intrigue. Man-made. When? Why?

h-spider 3

Poor Jinny Mae. She had to wait for me constantly as I shifted from one lens to the next. But check out this spider.

h-stone piles 1

We are the queens of bushwhacking and love discovering the stories hidden in the woods. In this neighborhood, lots of stone walls tell part of the story. Rock piles enhance the chapters.

h-moose scat 1

And then we found more. Fairly fresh moose scat insisted upon our attention. We’d noted that there were some old snowshoe hare runs and we found some moose browse on a nearby striped maple, but we were surprised that there weren’t many fresh tracks. Where have all the mammals gone?

h-moose scat 2

This scat is some of the biggest moose scat we can recall seeing. A few gems followed me home.

h-lady's slipper

And then we happened upon something neither of us have seen before–at least that we are aware of. We had our ideas about what winter weed this is, but since we haven’t encountered it before our sense of wonder kicked in.

h-lady's slip pod 2

Back home, I looked it up in Weeds and Wildflowers in Winter by Lauren Brown. The capsule is woody and about two inches long. As you can see, it’s closed at both ends, but opens along slit lines–six in all, actually.

h-lady's bract at base of pod

At the back end, a long, curved bract.


And at the front, the slipper gone by. Yup–Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule). And the reason we didn’t recognize it–because it’s a rare find in the winter woods. Wow.

h-bear 1

We’re on our way out when we spotted these marks on beech bark. We’d looked and looked because we know this is bear territory.

h-bear NW

Compared to other bear trees, these claw marks are newer than most I’ve seen. Jinny Mae was as excited about the find as I was. I’d told her earlier as we scanned the trees that my guy has come to an unconfirmed scientific conclusion that bear claw marks appear on the northern side of trees. This one didn’t let us down. Based on the location of the sun that’s grew lower in the sky, these are on the northwestern side of the tree.

At last it was time to drive home.

Gallivant: go from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure or entertainment. Over five miles and almost five hours later, we were thankful for the opportunity we shared today to gallivant around Great Brook.










2 thoughts on “Gallivanting Around Great Brook

  1. Love it! I did see the owl right away, and love the ‘relationship’ photo…yellow birch and white pine! Reminds me of one of my sons and his wife….I’m forwarding the photo to them…… 💕

    Faith sent from my Ipad


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