Summer arrived through the back door as we walked out the front on our way to the Raymond Community Forest for a lunch hike. We’d last hiked the property conserved by Loon Echo Land Trust on a fall Mondate and were curious about its offerings in a different season. That and we knew it would be a quick venture, which would serve us well today.
The minute we stepped out of the truck, we were greeted by the cheerful cluster of flowers spraying forth from the tip of a False Solomon’s Seal. I immediately reminded my guy that I’d be taking photos, like he needed to hear it again. But really, it was too hot to move fast and we were thankful for the shaded route. I don’t think our blood has thinned yet as only a week ago we wore several layers.
One of the blessings of such a habitat is maple-leaved viburnum, with at least one already sporting flowers about to open, plus last year’s dangling fruits. We weren’t the only ones happy to view it up close, a pollinator already at work.
A bit off the trail, the sun shone through the canopy, casting rays of light upon spider works worth noticing.
Though not long in length, the trail provided some upward movement that got the heart ticking. And tickled my fancy along the way for some of its trees like the hop hornbeam, which prefers rich soils and often is found on warm slopes. It also made me chuckle to see that this was the tree chosen for the trail blaze. Given the hardness of the wood, it couldn’t have been easy to pound in the nail.
Most flowers had either already bloomed or are still to come. But we found a fruit of another kind–its waxy cap shining brightly at our feet.
The shiny bright tops of the scarlet waxy caps were hard to miss in a couple of spots.
But even more attractive were the gills below with their arched formation and orangy-yellow coloration.
As we approached the summit, the understory changed from woodland shrubs and much leaf cover to grass, bracken ferns and wild sarsaparilla–a signature to the forest’s past life before the trees grew tall.
Last fall, we got mixed up at one point along the Highlands Loop, but today we noted how well marked the entire trail system was. And so, when we reached these signs, we turned right and headed to the bluff.
Stopping briefly for a water break, we rejoiced in the breeze and realized that we’d dealt with nary a mosquito.
Next, we decided to travel the Highland Loop in the opposite direction we’d followed in the fall. Being my guy, he was often far ahead, but then would find a stump or rock to sit patiently and wait. And while he waited, he noticed things. I love that for it’s not his intention to gawk about every flower or leaf, but he does see. So it was, that the only lady’s slipper we curtseyed to today was across from one of his perches.
Overall, the trail was well-maintained, but my guy did offer a hand by moving a recently fallen tree out of the way.
I told him he’d earn brownie points for his efforts. Perhaps I should bake him some brownies.
Today’s lesson came along the loop. And I’m still not sure I completely understand for this was the first time that I recall such a sight. But there are so many firsts in my life and once I’m finally aware of something, it seems to appear everywhere as if it had been there all along. Because . . . it had. Confused? Me too. I found these beech flowers on a tree that stood about two or three feet tall. I can’t recall ever seeing flowers on such a small beech before. And I know they have to be about 40 years old before they produce fruit. Beech can grow for a long time in the understory, but could such a short tree be so old? Did this tree not read the books? Do beech trees put energy into producing flowers that won’t be viable? Do I need to contact my district forester for a better understanding? Yes. Fortunately, he doesn’t mind when I pick his brain. And obviously, I have much to learn.
(NOTE: As promised, I contacted our district forester for the Maine Forest Service, Shane Duigan. Here’s what he had to say: “Hi Leigh, Those are good questions. The easy answer is, no, the trees never read the books. Beyond that, it is possible that such a little shoot could be 40 years old but more likely it is a root sprout–a young shoot arising from an old root system. Beech stumps sprout readily when cut and beech trees also produce root sprouts as a result of stress or physical damage to roots. In that scenario, though the shoot appears too young to flower, the organism (root system) is old enough to flower. Does that all make sense?” Yes, Shane–that does make sense. Another lesson learned.)
After wondering so long before the beech tree, I had to pick up my pace. But that only lasted for a bit because another of my favorite trees that also likes the richness of the soil stood tall beside the trail. I couldn’t resist running my hands over the smooth sections of bark on the basswood (linden) and admire the leaves already big on an offshoot below.
We knew we were completing the loop and approaching the trail to the bluff when the understory once again turned to grass.
From the same rock where we’d taken our earlier water break, we sat for lunch as we looked out at Crescent Lake and across to Rattlesnake Mountain.
The wind continued to blow, causing the leaves to swish and sway with its language.
On our descent I spied various plants including a small patch of bedstraw not yet in flower.
And because I was looking down, a cranefly couldn’t escape my focus.
It didn’t take us long to descend on the path carved by others along the side of Pismire Mountain. In the end, though we wanted to venture on the Spiller Homestead trail that is part of the forest, we had to head home. My guy has worked way too many hours this week, including all day yesterday and again this afternoon, on this, his weekend off, due to a customer appreciation sale that this year benefited the Lions Club (each year a different local charity is the beneficiary). But . . . we were thankful we carved out some time to be together doing what we most love to do.