Back in October 1947, catastrophic wildfires erupted throughout Maine during what became known as “The Week Maine Burned.”
It hadn’t rained for 108 days and the dry woods were like tinder. Here in western Maine, Fryeburg, Brownfield and Denmark thought they had a fire under control, but overnight a strong wind blew and gave it new life. About 2,000 acres burned by the next night as the fire spread to the edge of Brownfield.
With the winds continuously shifting, town folks began to panic. Farmers either turned their livestock loose or herded them to neighboring towns. Others packed as many belongings as they could and evacuated.
By morning, most homes and public buildings in Brownfield were mere piles of ash. Stately places including the Farnsworth Place where Dr. Philo Farnsworth, a pioneer in the field of television, spent his summers, had burned. Churches, schools, the post office, Grange hall, library and town hall all went up in smoke–only twenty houses survived. In the end, 85% of the town was destroyed, including a mountain trail.
Today, Marita and I ventured to Burnt Meadow Mountain for a loop hike. It used to be that one had to hike up and back on the same trail, now known as the North Peak. Though that’s the shortest way up and back (about an hour each way), I for one, am thankful to the Friends of Burnt Meadow Mountain, who sought landowner permission to create a loop and spur–Twin Brook Trail and Stone Mountain Trail.
From the parking lot and kiosk, it’s a bit of a climb to reach the trail split. We followed the blue blazes of the North Peak trail, which though it is shorter, is also the more difficult of the two.
Immediately we noticed that the white oaks that grow at the bottom of the mountain play host to numerous leaf miners and other insects.
Some are decorated with pronounced galls. I always think about how a bud protects the whisp of a leaf all winter long, and how hairy it is as it slowly unfolds and then–kaboom–the insects have to survive too. And they do. Until something eats them. And their energy passes up through the web, where it’s enhanced at each level by sun and air and rain and . . . even when life doesn’t look so good, it is.
As we climbed, the blueberries became more prolific. And bluer.
Spreading dogbane showed forth its tiny pink bells.
And the trail became a scramble. If I said we scampered up the ledge quickly, I’d be telling a fib. (Do people still tell fibs?) Near the summit is a section of hand-over-hand climbing. It doesn’t really last long, but in the moment it seems like forever.
And so it invites a pause to take in the view to the south and east.
The relatively flat summit is rather barren–in memory of those 1947 wildfires.
We were glad it was cloudy as there are no shade trees at the top.
Our view included Stone Mountain and the saddle between it and Burnt Meadow Mtn.
Normally in the landscape, red pines stand tall and proud. At the summit, however, their scrubby form presents their features at eye level–bundles of two needles, pollen cones and older seed cones. Young red pines typically germinate and grow only after forest fires or some other event that causes tree loss.
While we took a break, an Eastern Towhee sang its metallic yet musical “drink your tea” song.
Descending via the much longer, but a wee bit easier Twin Brook trail, we were treated to mountain views to the west.
And driftwood. Oops. Wrong setting. But still, mountain wood can be as beautiful as ocean wood.
One of our pleasant surprises was the discovery of bear claw marks on rather small beech trees. Perhaps made by even smaller bear cubs who scampered up and down a year or two ago, leaving their marks much the way we left our own today without knowing it.
Further along, the hole in this older beech stopped Marita in her tracks. We noticed saw dust on the ground below. And numerous bear claw marks on the bark above.
Another oft visited tree.
From bare to bear, Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield is worth the trek. (You probably thought we saw a bear today. No such luck, but my guys and I encountered a bear on the North Peak trail on a summer day years ago. It seemed content to lumber along about fifteen feet from us–probably full of blueberries.)