My guy and I spent this morning roaming about the woods in Lovell with several friends who are docents for the Greater Lovell Land Trust. We had been invited to explore a 20-acre property and the owners, Barb and Bruce, were in hopes that we’d discover interesting things.
As it turned out we explored much more than their property because we got a bit mixed up with boundary lines, and came away with some questions to ponder about the lay of the land as well as a scavenger hunt for their grandchildren to conquer.
Before we headed off into the woods, Barb wanted us to see a neighbor’s off-the-grid tiny cabin. To get there, we passed through a red pine grove that immediately put me into question mode. Why a grove here? Who planted them? When? I know that the Civilian Conservation Corp did this sort of thing in the 1930s and had been in the area–Stoneham and Bridgton, Maine, as well as Chatham, New Hampshire. But my research didn’t indicate that they’d done any projects in Lovell.
What I did learn, however, is that the farmer who once owned this hilly land may have received a subsidy to plant the trees in order to control soil erosion and turn them into a cash crop. An article in Northern Woodlands states the following: “The government further subsidized red pine seedlings throughout the twentieth century as a way of providing hill farmers with a future cash crop that would grow on otherwise played-out soil. Red pine seemed the perfect candidate for this, as it’s fast growing and susceptible to fewer serious enemies than most pine species. (White pine can be bedeviled by white pine weevil and white pine blister rust – neither of which affect red pine.)”
From their size and close proximity to each other, its apparent that the “cash crop” never paid off. Instead, Barb and her husband have a stately cathedral overlooking the mountains and a quiet passageway to visit their neighbor.
We returned from our quick house tour and followed a double-wide stone wall to an opening. Again, we questioned the wall’s purpose. A way to get rid of stones? Did they use the bottom portion of the land below the wall for agriculture and let cows or sheep roam above? We didn’t come up with the answers, but continued on.
It was time for us to find some treasures that the grandkids can seek. Rock tripe is first on the list.
It’s gray-brown upper surface turns dark green when moist–so be sure to bring along some water to pour on this lichen. Then watch the transformation.
Though edible in a last ditch effort by someone who doesn’t mind chewing and chewing and chewing some more, rock tripe is neither delicious nor nutritious. Some Native peoples used it as a soup thickener and others as a last resort tidbit. If you soak it for a while it will soften up.
The temperature was cooler this morning than the last few so a skim of ice covered the surface of this vernal pool. I’m not sure how long it will last, but if it’s still there, dip a pail in and look at the assortment of species that swim about. Maybe you’ll even see some frog or salamander egg masses if you visit in the spring.
Here and there we found the pods of Indian pipes. In the summer, look for their ghostly white form–they look like their name, with the flower part hanging down. If it’s turned upright like this one, it has been fertilized.
Though long since spent, puff balls are another fun find. Poke them and watch the spores float out like smoke from a chimney.
The pileated woodpeckers love this mixed hardwood forest, so you might find evidence of their work on the floor. And then look up into the tree to locate the cavity they’ve excavated.
We found several bird nests, including this one made of grasses and wiry stems. A fraction of a blue egg shell sits inside.
Wait until late winter/early spring to search for these, when the wind has blown them to the ground. But leave them be. According to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, “It is illegal to collect or have in your possession live native birds (adults or young), bird feathers, nests or eggs, to try to incubate wild bird eggs, to keep nests or eggs even for “show and tell” educational purposes, or to have road-killed birds in your possession without a permit.” Do you know why? Do some research to find the answer.
There’s a variety of fungi growing on the trees right now, and come summer, you’ll find more on the ground. We had our favorite mushroom guru with us, who helped us ID this species as mock oyster.
Tinder polypore is one of my favorites because it looks like a horse’s hoof. Another research project for you–why did the Ice Man carry a sample of this?
There are numerous nurse logs, but this one struck me as especially beautiful. Mosses and liverworts grow abundantly along its upper surface and provide a place for all kinds of action to happen. Look for small saplings taking hold. Can you find the shelled remains of an acorn or the scales of a hemlock cone? Who do you think left those? Any small, twisted scat?
Or how about something that looks like this–lots of hair and bones matted together? This is an owl pellet and with the help of your adults, you can actually pull the bones out and reconstruct the skeleton(s) of the prey–be it vole or shrew or even red squirrel. Sometimes the pellets contain the skeletons of more than one critter.
I would love to learn that you found this–a young beech tree growing through paper birch bark. Which came first? And why?
Another sight for you, and one to certainly watch out for–barbed wire. We found it all along the back boundary, where it grows through the trees. This is rough country and there are no stone walls. The wire probably dates to the 1880s or later. Be careful.
The land had us wondering about esker ridges as it dipped and rose. We’ll try to ask those who know more about local geology to help us gain a better understanding.
We realized we’d zigged where we should have zagged, but didn’t care because we share a passion for the exploration.
As we headed down, we stumbled across another garden wall and
small rock piles like this one. My first thought–a well. That was until we found several others. Maybe just rock piles.
Our final find as we stepped through a wetland making our way from a neighbor’s property to the road–the winter look of shinleaf (Pyrola elliptic).
I’d promised everyone a two hour tour, but those who know me best know better. Three hours later we knocked on the door to thank Barb and Bruce for the opportunity–for sharing their land with us and giving us the opportunity to share our Mondate with others.