Living in an area where five land trusts protect land for us and the species with whom we share the Earth strikes me as a valuable reflection of who we are and where we live. Land trusts work with community members to acquire land for permanent conservation through purchases and donations. They also create legal and binding conservation easements that allow residents to protect land holdings in perpetuity, while retaining private ownership. Scenic views, wildlife corridors, flora and fauna, and topography remain, subject only to the whims of nature itself, which is ever-changing.
One of the biggest re-designers of the landscape is the beaver. And this afternoon, Jinny Mae and I ventured onto land owned by a friend and under conservation easement by the Greater Lovell Land Trust, to see what changes may have occurred in the past two months since we last visited.
First, we tramped off a logging road and checked on a lodge that was active two years ago. Today, the water level was low and there was no sign of activity. And so we continued on.
As we climbed up a small incline we stumbled upon a large patch of pipsissewa and had to celebrate our find.
Back on the logging road, a tree brought down by one of nature’s recent whims introduced us to a fungi we had not met before–or at least as long as we could remember. And once we saw the underside, we were sure we would have remembered it.
Hexagonal-pored polypore (Polyporus alveolaris) caused us to emit at least six ohs and ahs.
Our next discovery–a grape fern. Actually, more than one grape fern once our eyes keyed in on them.
And then the checkered rattlesnake plantain; and again, once we spied one, we noticed that a whole patch shared the space. We just needed to focus for their presence was subtle amidst the brown leaves.
Before we met a snake of another kind, Jinny Mae spotted honey combs on the ground.
A look about and the realization that a raccoon or skunk had probably excavated the nest.
And then we met that other snake. You see, the last time we walked this property, we did see a garter snake. As we began our wander today, we commented that there would be no snakes or toads. But . . . we were wrong. This second snake was a snakeskin liverwort (Conocephalum salebrosum). For us, this was a second in another way for it was our second sighting of the species. Maybe now that we are aware of it, we’ll notice it growing in other places. We do know that its preferred habitat is wet or damp.
In the same area, but across the brook in a place that we couldn’t reach today due to high water, we saw what looked like an umbilicate lichen, aka rock tripe. The color and substrate threw us off and so we’ll just have to visit again for further study. (“Oh drats!” they said with a smile.)
The liverwort and mystery lichen were our turn-around point. On our way back, we decided to follow the water because we were curious. And within minutes our curiosity was appeased. The beavers we’d suspected might be casually active two months ago, had become incredibly active.
Statue . . .
upon statue . . .
upon statue . . .
upon statue announced their presence. And we acknowledged the fact that they have to turn their heads to scrape off the bark.
Any trees that hadn’t been hauled away had been downed and gnawed upon in situ.
It looked as if this one was a more recent dining adventure for there were wood chips upon the thin layer of ice and a hole showing were the diners had entered and exited the refectory.
Because of the ice, we noted other works of art worth admiring.
And occasionally, our downward gaze turned upward when we spied trees covered in lungwort worthy of notice.
But really, it was the beaver works that we celebrated the most.
And the fact that thanks to the beavers we learned that the inner bark or cambium layer of a red maple is . . . red.
No matter where we looked, in addition to recent windstorms, the beavers had changed the landscape. The curious thing is that most often the trees landed in the direction of the water, making it easier for them to enjoy their chews of inner bark and twigs in a relatively safe environment, but occasionally, hang ups occurred. And that brought about the question, how is it that most trees are felled toward the water? But not all?
While our focus was on the trees along the shoreline, we also kept admiring the water view as well.
And noted the most recent activity at this particular beaver lodge, including a mud coating to insulate it for the winter.
We also appreciated that a welcome sign blew in the breeze–in the form of an evergreen branch.
And where one finds water and beavers, there are otters. We knew of their presence by the scat left behind in a trail well traveled. Several times we found examples of the same.
As the sun lowered while we approached the beaver dam, we quietly hoped to see North America’s largest rodents at work, but settled for sky reflections on water and ice. And the knowledge that by their works and sign, we trusted they were present.
At last we reached the dam, an expansive one at that. It’s in great shape and so no time had been wasted repairing it. That’s a good thing given that a few flurries floated earthward on this day that felt like winter. There’s food to gather and a home to prepare so work must be efficient.
Water trickled through in a few places and ice formed, but the infinity pool created by the dam continued to exist.
And below, the water flowed on–to other beaver dams and otter adventures we were sure. For Jinny Mae and me, our adventure needed to draw to a close. But . . . we made plans to explore again in a few months to see what changes may have occurred–with land owner permission, of course.
As we walked out, we gave thanks for the owners and their appreciation of the landscape and those that call it home today and tomorrow.
From the land comes food and water that benefits the critters who live here and us. It also offers us good health when we take the time to embrace it by exploring, exercising and just plain playing outdoors.
Protection is key. So is education, which develops understanding and appreciation. I know for myself, my relationship with the landscape continues to evolve.
I’m thankful for the work being done to protect the ecosystem. There’s so much I still don’t understand, but with each nugget of knowledge gained, the layers build. Maybe someday I’ll get it. Maybe I never will. Either way, I’m happy for the chance to journey and wonder on properties owned by land trusts and individuals.
Even though we can’t all endow the future of our properties, we can get involved to ensure that these organizations continue to protect land for future generations of humans and wildlife so it will remain in its natural state for the benefit of all.