Christmas in our house requires a bit of creativity and so it was that a light bulb went off and a theme was born.
I found a little brown cardboard box, decorated it with some hiking stickers and then did a bit of research on local trails and pubs. This was for my guy, you see, for on his days off, he’s always asking me where we should hike. I decided to make it easy for him to suggest a trail at least once a month, and the hike would be followed by sipping a brew at a local pub. There was one caveat: the hike had to include the search for bear paw trees. We both love a challenge. Some of the places I chose are familiar to us, and though we know the trees are there, will we find them again? That remains to be seen. Others are totally new on our list and I had no idea if they’d offer one of our favorite sights.
In keeping with the theme, I also gave him a UMaine sweatshirt; UMaine being his alma mater. Of course, back in his day, it was referred to as UMO for the University of Maine at Orono.
And finally, a growler from a local brew pub so he can walk down the street and refill it occasionally.
It was Western Foothill Land Trust‘s Packard Trail that he chose for this first adventure.
The property itself is the Virgil Parris Forest, named for this man who was born in Buckfield in 1807. Mr. Parris attended local schools, Colby College, and Union College in New York, where he studied law. In 1830, he was admitted to the bar and returned to his hometown to open a practice. His career followed a political path both at the state and national levels.
The main trail that loops around the 1,250-acre property was named for the Packard Family. According to the interpretive panel at the trailhead, “the farmstead’s foundations and family cemetery are on site. Daniel Packard was given this land in Buckfield as compensation for his service in the Revolution. Daniel was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts in 1749 and married Elizabeth Connelly of Cork, Ireland during the war. Daniel died in Woodstock, Maine in 1836, and is buried there. It is said that Daniel and Elizabeth were the prototypes for James Fennimore Cooper’s Sergeant Hollister and Betty Flannigan in Cooper’s novel The Spy.”
The sky was brilliant blue as we began our journey, each step of the way scanning the trees. Had it been a couple of months later, we might have mistaken the large burl in a paper birch for a bear cub.
Though bears climb other trees, it’s on beech bark that their claw marks show up best.
When one focuses one sees . . . many a thing that might have been passed by, such as this beech, which began we know not as one or two, and if one, why did it become two we wondered? And then, like a work of magic, it was once again unified.
Another beech offered a snow chute that seemed like the perfect squirrel slide.
And yet another was decorated with the chiseled tooth marks of a natural logger–a beaver.
There were some decorated with cankers from beech scale disease that could have passed for ornamental faces.
And others that hosted squirrels who had built dreys appearing haphazard in construction from our stance about thirty feet below, but were really complex and apparently well insulated.
Fungi, such as this tinder conk, also fruited upon some trees. But . . . where were the bear trees? My guy asked how I’d chosen this particular path, and to be truthful, I couldn’t remember. I just thought it was a new one to us and might have some paw marks to boot.
Down an esker ridge we continued as we approached South Pond.
The wind was cold on the pond and snowmobiles zoomed past, oblivious to our presence, which was just fine with us.
And then we heard voices and framed between beech branches, we saw a dog sled team across the way.
And then, just as we turned from the Packard Trail onto the Cascade Trail, we spied some familiar marks. Or were they? We so wanted a bear paw tree that we convinced ourselves we’d found one.
It certainly did look the part. And so we felt successful.
Onward we journeyed, enjoying the cascades in their frozen form and promising ourselves a return trip in a different season.
As is his style, my guy moved quickly and I accused him of not searching, but he was.
And bingo! Another bear tree.
The cankers were abundant and made it difficult, but our bear paw eyes discerned the patterns.
And once we noticed, it seemed as if they began to pop out at us from every tall beech. Not really so. All in all we counted five. Well, five if you include the first tree, which we continued to question. And there were probably many more that we missed.
At last we’d completed our journey and relished our success. As I drove back down Sodom Road in Buckfield, I knew there were a few final trees that needed to be examined–telephone pole trees. Most were in great shape, but one close to the preserve had been visited by a large furry mammal that scratched it and nipped it and probably left a scent on it.
As planned, we knew exactly where we’d stop following our hike and so we made our way to the Buck-It Grill and Pub, another place we’d never visited before.
Lisa, the bartender, took our burger order and then we sipped Allagash White while we watched the Weather Channel on the TV above. Sitting next to us was Joyce, and she said that the impending storm was named for her partner’s niece, Harper. When did they start naming winter storms? Never mind. The important thing was that the fresh hand-packed burgers and fries were delish. The beer wasn’t bad either.
We went not knowing but came away with smiles after a successful hike–and already we’re looking forward to next month’s “From Bear to Beer Possibilities.”