Though we were headed to a place we frequent, we thought we’d change up our trek by hiking in the direction that is opposite our norm along the trail system.
And so for us, 12 o’clock was at the point where the trail was closest to Grist Mill Road. As we stepped on to it, I wore micro-spikes and my guy just his hiking boots. Within about fifty feet, I’d already banged snow off my spikes twice and decided they’d serve me better by being in my backpack.
It meant being aware of the boardwalks, most of which were covered with ice and snow, and post holing occasionally, but even if we’d worn snowshoes, we’d have ended up taking them off for the temp was in the 40˚s and snow not too deep.
One of the things I love about visiting a place often is that each time it has something different to offer. As we made our way to one and two o’clock on the map and passed through a hemlock grove, we discovered a bear den. Bears don’t always hibernate in caves and this one chose an old tree stump to spend the winter.
I was with my guy, so it was no surprise that within no time we were at 3 o’clock, where we had to shuffle across the ice covered boardwalk in the quaking bog.
On the way back to the main trail, I mentioned that I’d be a bit slower, for there were reasons to take notice, like the bog rosemary leaves . . .
and dried pods of a pitcher plant.
Moving on toward 3:15 on the map, we began to notice snow lobsters everywhere. This particular hare, whose pattern reminded me of our marine crustaceans, had come from the quaking bog and passed into the red maple swamp. Do you see the pattern I’m referring to? The snowshoe hare had hopped toward the point where I stood, its front feet landing on a diagonal first, while its larger back feet swung around and landed in front. Consequently, the front feet served as the lobster’s tail, and the hind feet its claws.
Through the red maple swamp we journeyed to 3:30 with my guy obliterating more snowshoe hare prints as he went. Notice how his tracks were rather sloppy–he was again trying to keep from slipping off the icy boardwalk.
At about 4:00 by following the map, we stepped precariously onto the boardwalk that led to the Muddy River. Where once stood one beaver lodge, there were two–and both looked active.
In the opposite direction, we looked out to Holt Pond, from which the frozen river formed.
The canoe launch, further along the river, is located at 4:30. The only ones using it recently were some red squirrels who had created a midden beneath. But should you choose to venture out, bring your own pfd and paddle.
As we moved on toward 5:00, we began to encounter beaver dams–at least three of them, for so active had been this community of large rodents.
And at 5:30, as we followed the river out to Chaplins Mill Road, we started to encounter tracks on a diagonal that spoke of their creator–a mink. Notice how one print in each pair is just ahead of the second. That’s a typical characteristic for all members of the mustelid or weasel family.
Lunch stump was at 6:00, where the trail veered back off Chaplins Mill Road and returned to the pond. As we ate, we realized we weren’t the only ones who chose to dine in this spot, such were the pinecone caches under every white pine and hemlock.
Continuing on toward 7:00, we spied more mink tracks. I didn’t have my usual tracking gear with me, but the AARP card measured about three inches, the trail width or straddle of a bounding mink.
For straddle, we typically measure the distance from the outside of one foot to the outside of the other within a set of prints. Stride, or the distance from one set of prints to the next, varies greatly with bounders like a mink, so that’s not important. But that diagonal orientation–rather consistent.
As we made our way toward 8:00, a hemlock tree gave me pause–for the intersection of lines and color upon its bark–the vertical white snow enhanced the horizontal green ribbon lichen.
By 8:45, we had reached the northern end of the pond, which was to our right. It was there that we realized another traveler had joined the dance–as evidenced by its larger prints. A fisher.
And then we kept encountering a red fox from 9:00 on. Well, not the fox exactly, but its own telltale prints.
All along, we wondered what we’d encounter at our 10:00 point, the trail intersection closest to Fosterville Road. We could hear the water before we saw it. And then my guy met it up close and personal, breaking through ice and coming up with wet feet. I, too, had one wet foot for one of my Sorel boots had a blowout and the upper split from the sole–a major disappointment for though the boots are old, they have plenty of traction left.
Anyway, we contemplated the underwater boardwalk and knew we had an escape route behind us, for we could have walked up to the road. But . . . we didn’t. The water was about four inches deep and we went for it, figuring we were already wet and we only had about a half mile left to cover in the five mile journey.
On the map, we were at 10:15 when my guy noted fresh pileated woodpecker works.
I had to look. And wasn’t disappointed. Several scats were visible, filled with seeds and insect body parts.
We moved on to 11:00 and passed through another red maple swamp . . .
where the color of winterberries had changed from bright red to wine,
frozen tracks spoke of an earlier journey by a mink,
and a yellow warbler nest remained attached in the crouch of a shrub.
Our last look at the pond was through the shrub level and though we couldn’t actually see it, we knew it was there, outlined to the south by the evergreens.
At last I followed my guy out. We’d reached 12:00, the beginning and ending point of our clockwise circumnavigation around Holt Pond.