Morning Glory at Kezar River Reserve

Some mornings the hallelujahs spring forth from my being–and fortunately not from my vocal cords.

k-Kezar River sign

Today was one of those days as I ventured down the snowmobile trail, aka Parnes Landing Road, at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Kezar River Reserve. Just past the kiosk, I veered to the left to follow the GLLT’s trail into the woods.

k-jelly topside1

Within steps I was greeted by Auricularia auriula, a jelly ear fungus. The sun’s beams revealed veins reminiscent of stained glass windows and polished woodwork in an older church.

k-jelly under 2

Flipping the fallen oak branch to look at the underside revealed an equally, if not more beautiful design with its frosted outline.

k-wintergreen

On a steep hill beside Kezar River, actually the sloped side of a ravine I’d never hiked upon before, a southerly orientation presented lives past and present.

k-bench

Below, at the point where the trail, road and river meet, few have paused recently, including no sign of otter.

k-river view

But many have zoomed by with a need to reach the next destination as fast as possible.

k-ravine 1

I followed their tracks a little way out and peeked into the second ravine from a vantage point seldom celebrated.

k-big tooth aspen leaf

And then I headed back up the road to the next trail intersection. At my feet, form bespoke name, such is the manner of the big tooth aspen.

k-ravine 2

Down into the second ravine I tromped as I made my way to view the outlet from the other side.

k-otter 1

Because of the snow’s depth, I traveled to places less frequented and beside the stream I noted previous action. Lots of it.

k-otter activity1

And I spied evidence of the creator–whose prints were hard to distinguish, but other signs easily discernible.

k-my otterness

In my attempt to take a closer look, I practiced my inner otter and managed to find the water and leave my own set of muddy, though not quite webbed, prints. I laughed aloud as I pulled myself up and gave thanks for remembering to bring my hiking pole. Fortunately, the breakthrough was the only sign I left behind.

k-nature's snowball

Heading up the ravine, I smiled at the sight of the universe having fun–nature rolled her own snowballs–perhaps in preparation to build a snow woman.

k-pine cathedral

Through the cathedral of pines I continued–always looking up . . .

k-ice art

and down, where intricate patterns formed naturally in the ice offered a feathery look at the world below.

k-paper birch lateral bud

Sometimes, I stopped to spend a few moments with family members . . .

k-yellow birch

taking time to marvel in their similarities and differences as they stood side by side.

k-oak gall

And it seems there are many hosts throughout our woodlands that offer a spot for others to evolve.

k-oak crown

Despite or perhaps because of that, knowing they’d offered a helping hand, the oaks sported their crowns proudly.

k-pussy willow

Quite unexpectedly, I stumbled upon a picture of youth that warms my heart endlessly.

k-flowers in bloom

My journey wasn’t long, such is the trail. It’s decorated with small bright signs painted by local youngsters. Though I wouldn’t want to see these on every trail, they make me smile as I enjoy their colorful renditions of the natural world.

Not a picture of a morning glory, certainly, but a morning full of glory as I wandered and wondered and sang hallelujah along the trail at Kezar River Reserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Place–Naturally

Once the snow melts it will be more difficult for me to wander and wonder in the woods I explore all winter given its spring/summer water level and logging slash. And so I make the most of these days–trying to notice as much as I can before I can notice no more (or at least until next winter).

l-bushwhack 1

Though I’d promised myself I’d not go again in an effort to not disturb the deer, promises are meant to be broken. And from that came a lesson–the deer are sticking to the snowmobile trail and field edges where tender bark of young red maples and hemlocks, plus swelling buds meet their needs for the moment. So, it was OK that I broke my promise, for the deeper I tramped, the fewer tracks I encountered.

l-spring tails1

Today’s warmer temps in the low 40˚s found the springtails hopping about on any and all surfaces.

l-pileated hole

As is my habit, I checked on a pileated woodpecker hole when I saw bark and wood scattered atop the snow. Deep was this excavation in search of nourishment.

l-pileated scat-seeds and ant

And chock full was the scat below, which contained insect body parts and seeds of the dreaded bittersweet. Beside the scat, a springtail sought to placate its own food needs which among other things includes plant material and animal remains.

l-red maple bull's eye

Turning to another tree, I landed on a perfect bull’s eye! The target fungus that affects many red maples makes for an easy ID.

l-crustose, liverwort and moss

Lichens have also been a focus of late. What I like about this one, the circular green with the black disks of a crustose lichen (possibly bark disk lichen), was its location beside a liverwort (the beaded brown Frullania eboracensis) and a moss that I didn’t key out. Tree bark has its own structure and texture, but so often others also call it home.

l-shield lichens on rock

Rocks also serve as a substrate and this one featured a couple of leafy foliose shield lichens, their colors enhanced by yesterday’s inch of snow.

l-hair lichen and beard lichen

And dangling from a branch, two forms of fruticose (branching or fruit-like structure–) lichens. The dark is a hair lichen, while the green a beard–seems about right with the hair above the beard.

l-lichen garden

On another maple I spied a garden–you’ve got to liken it. (Corny joke that always manages to enter a lichen conversation.)

l-frullania 1

I’ve often paused beside Frullania eboracensis, a liverwort with no common name, but today several trees shared displays of mats called Frullania asagrayana, so named for a botanist and natural history professor at Harvard University from 1842-1873–Asa Gray.

l-frullania asagrayana 1

Its shiny, overlapping chain of red-brown leaves reminded me of caterpillars crawling along the maple bark.

l-spirea:steeplebush

Casting my eye elsewhere, steeplebush in its winter form offered an artistic presentation.

l-bracken fern1

And as the snow melts, last year’s bracken fern made an appearance.

l-speckled 3

One last shrub made me stop. Minus any catkins or “cones” for which it is known, I had to think for a moment about the speckled alder. But those speckles or lenticels through which gas exchange occurs, and the buds and leaf scars were give aways.

l-speckled buds and leaf scar

The two bud scales meet at their edges and look like miniature footballs. But it’s the bundle scars where leaves were formerly attached that make me laugh. That vascular system looks like a face–two round eyes, a funny shaped nose and a round mouth, as if it’s exclaiming, “Ohhh” or “Wow.”

l-Pleasant Mtn in background

At last I reached my turn-around point. I could see Pleasant Mountain in the distance and knew where I was in the world. This is my place and I love every opportunity to celebrate it–naturally.

The Sun Always Shines

In the grayness of the day sunlight lit my way.

o-skunk tracks

Oh, it wasn’t as bright as yesterday when I wandered in brilliant light under clear blue skies and saw hints of spring, including skunk prints in the snow,

o-algae

and some blue-green algae in a vernal pool that is slowly opening up.

o-ice goddess

But given the temperature and wind, the ice goddess reminded me that winter prevailed.

b-deer 2

This morning presented a different picture that didn’t feature Mount Washington in the background because it was obscured by clouds. Rather than don my snowshoes, I decided to stick to the snowmobile trail for the most part. I wasn’t the only one who ventured that way. Because I wasn’t making as much noise as usual, the deer didn’t hear me approach. And so we stood for many minutes contemplating each other. I didn’t want to scare her for I knew she wouldn’t just stick to the trail and the snow depth continues to be such that she sinks with each step. It was in those shared moments that I began to think about energy and how much she put forth all winter and now continues to do the same as spring evolves. Every day I spy more and more young hemlocks trunks that have been scraped. She and her family are feeding on sunlight, which first feed the insects in the soil and then the trees. At each stage or tropic level of the food chain only ten percent of biomass from the previous level is retained. Thus, a thousand pounds of plant biomass is necessary to support a hundred pounds of an herbivore–that’s a lot of little buds for a deer.

b-bobcat prints

Eventually, she made her way across the powerline and joined her family. I decided to turn around so I wouldn’t disturb them further. And it’s then that I recognized some prints I’d missed previously. My micro-spike print is on the left, beside those of a carnivore–a bobcat, or rather, two. Usually bobcats travel in a solitary manner, but their breeding season is upon them. And those thousand pounds of plant biomass that supported  a hundred pounds of herbivore, in turn support ten pounds of carnivore. The hunt becomes important.

b-motherwort

I did find a few spots where the snow had melted and winter weeds, such as this motherwort, provided hints of future buffet items for the herbivores and omnivores to consume.

b-junco and hemlock needle

And then I came upon junco feathers and knew that a different consumer had benefited from the sunlight offered forth by this little bird. The hemlock needle provides a perspective of size.

b-junco feathers 2

Despite its demise, the feathers surrounded by melting snow created an artistic arrangement. That was my attempt at positive thinking, for like us, all things must eat to survive.

b-white ash opposite

And then a few producers caught my attention and I found myself focusing on young trees and shrubs. I’ve walked past this young tree numerous times and never saw it until today.

b-ash 2

White ash or green? They both look similar, but the leaf scar is the giveaway. It’s shaped like a C or misshapen horseshoe with a deep notch at the top.

b-ash bud

And its terminal bud is domed. In these woods, the ash trees aren’t a preferred food source of the deer–lucky for them.

b-silky 2

Nearby, another neighbor caught my attention and it, too, I hadn’t met before.

b-silky dogwood 1

My assumption was dogwood, given the bright red/purpishish color of its shrubby stems, long-gone fruits and opposite leaf buds. But–red osier or silky? I’ve leaned toward the latter but will have to pay attention as the season moves forward. These did seem to tickle the herbivores fancy from time to time, though not nearly as much as the maples that grow nearby.

b-peanut

As I headed toward home, I stumbled upon another site I’ve seen frequently all winter. Actually for the past few winters. There must be a peanut plantation somewhere in these woods. That, or the blue jays have discovered a good source at someone’s bird feeder.

b-ice goddess

Before heading indoors, I paused to acknowledge another ice goddess, one who also knows the sun’s power and found relief in today’s shadows . . .

b-snow

and flakes. It’s snowing again, this fourth day of spring. Liquid sunshine, for the snow also provides nourishment to all who live here.

You see, the sun always shines . . . even when you can’t feel the warmth of its rays.

 

Lake Living–spring 2017

I always get excited when an issue of lake living is published. This spring issue contains great articles including three by moi (so of course they are great!)–groundcover (a quiet garden oasis in Bridgton) , Into the Box  (Lovell Box Company) and The Art of Collaboration (where glass meets wood at Studio 448 in Norway). Click on the link and enjoy!  lake living (1)

Spring In Our Steps Mondate

Our usual celebration of the vernal equinox begins with a hike up Bald Pate Mountain with Loon Echo Land Trust, but either we missed it or we slept through it this morning even though we awoke before sunrise. Given that, we chose a different summit on which to welcome this new season.

a-kiosk

Our great debate, be it all one-sided, centered around which trail to follow in order to reach the top of the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s Amos Mountain. Knowing that the route from the Flat Hill parking lot would be mostly via the snowmobile trail, we (or I) decided on the Gallie Trail located off Route 5.

a-breaking trail

From the start the snow was a bit crusty and hadn’t been traversed since the last storm, though a few critters had crossed it. We plodded along at breakneck speed, my guy trudging first while I followed and packed those spots between his prints.

a-beech scale 1

The hike begins with a gradual rise, but still I welcomed opportunities to take a rest, so quickly were we moving. It was the white target on beech bark that slowed me down. I knew what I was looking at but hadn’t seen it in this formation previously. In several spots on this tree, the beech scale insect presented itself in bull’s eye formation as it filled in small crevices on the bark.

a-beech scale 3

All winter the insects, in their nymph stage, have been blanketed with a wooly wax. Now that it’s spring, I need to keep an eye on this tree for the nymphs will emerge as short-lived second instars that will soon molt to become adult females. Will I see it happen? Will I know what stage I’m looking at? Stay tuned.

a-picnic table

My guy tolerated my curiosity and then we moved on, bypassing the old foundations where I suspect everyone was undercover. Certainly, the picnic table at the base of the Amos Andrews Trail had kept warm all winter.

a-Amos Mtn sign

A picture of the man for whom the mountain was named hangs from a tree by the table.

a-rock walls

And along the way, terraced stonewalls on the east side speak to his occupation.

a-rock tripe

It was a boulder on the west side of the trail, though, that made me stop again. This time I really needed a break. The temperature had risen and black snow pants were absorbing the heat. Gloves–off. Hat–off. Sweater and turtleneck sleeves–pushed up. What caught my eye was the rock tripe that showed off its dry and wet forms. Lichens come in a variety of colors, but once wet, they turn green as the algal component kicks into action. Snow topped the boulder and its melting pathway was obvious.

a-approaching summit

I wasn’t the only one who was shedding clothing as we neared the summit.

a-sweet fern

Just before we got there, I spied some dried sweet fern leaves poking out of the snow. Sweet fern is a woody plant, rather than a fern, and its developing catkins were a sign of the transition that is slowly occurring. The good news about sweet fern is that not only does it smell wonderful, but it’s also a good insect repellent.

a-tent caterpillar egg mass 1

Speaking of insects, next to the sweet fern I saw this tent caterpillar mass–a matrix of 150-400 eggs. It’s a shiny, varnished structure that encircles the branch and is a bit wider than a pencil.  The sweet fern won’t have any influence on the tent caterpillars or beech scale insects, but will help keep mosquitoes at bay.

a-You Are Here map

An hour after starting, we reached the summit, having followed the Homestead, Gallie and  Amos Andrews Trails.

a-lunch rock

Lunch bench offered a great spot to sit and cool down.

a-summit view of two lakes

And take in the view–of Heald Pond on the left and Kezar Lake on the right, plus the mountains beyond.

am-1

Our trek down was like a walk in the park and we practically floated. The snow had softened and our trail was packed making for a quick descent.

a-yellow birch

But, we still had one more stop to make and I reminded my guy to turn left at the yellow birch–the most beautiful yellow birch on this route.

a-spring 1

I wanted to locate this very spot that is off the beaten path.

a-spring 2

And I wasn’t disappointed as we watched the water boil up through the sand in mesmerizing  movement. We’d found the spring once again.

Indeed, we found spring in our steps on this Mondate.

 

 

 

 

Changing Focus Sundate

Because we’d traversed the trails along the western portion of Sebago Lake State Park a few weeks ago, my guy and I thought we’d try the eastern portion today. The sun shone brilliantly and there was a slight breeze as we drove down the park road to the boat launch parking lot.

s-map (1)

Studying the map, we decided to follow the Outer Loop in a counter-clockwise fashion.

s-following my guy (1)

Snowshoes were a must, but the trail was well traveled. My guy’s attire spoke to the breeze and a bit of a chill that greeted us.

s-songo 6 (1)

Whenever we could, we took in the view of the Songo River that winds its way from nearby Brandy Pond in Naples to Sebago Lake on the Casco side of the park. This river has been the focus of the Lakes Environmental Association for the past ten years as it was once heavily infested with variable-leaf milfoil. Thanks to LEA’s good works, the invasive aquatic plant has been eradicated, though the milfoil crew conducts routine check-ups each summer.

s-sandbar 2 (1)

When we reached the lake, we chose a diversion and followed the trail along the sandbar.

s-Songo from sandbar (1)

It offered a backward view of the lagoon and we could hear Canada geese honking from the open water.

s-picnic tables (1)

And then we turned and headed to the beach. The park service grooms the trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, making for an easy hike when we stayed on trail, which we did for the most part today. Picnic tables and outdoor grills were abundant and we had our choice.

s-Sebago lunch view

We chose one in the sun for it had little snow on it. This was our lunch view. As Maine’s second largest lake, Sebago Lake is twelve miles long and covers a surface area of 45.6 square miles. The maximum depth is over 300 feet and its mean depth is just over 100 feet. The 105-mile shoreline touches the towns of Naples, Casco, Raymond, Windham, Standish, Sebago, and Frye Island. All that and we’ve never spent any time on it. We’ll have to fix that in the future.

s-water (1)

Water clarity is excellent and the bottom can be viewed at 45 feet. That’s all good news for Portland and surrounding towns for the lake is the source of their drinking water–thanks to the Portland Water District.

s-songo river out of focus

We followed the trail along the boundary of the park, passing through hemlock groves and mixed hardwood communities. But really, there wasn’t much change in the terrain and we decided we much preferred the west side. A couple of hours later, we were happy to be back beside the Songo River, having completed the loop. And we were ready to change our focus.

s-wasp 3

Back at home, my guy decided to revamp our grill. And I decided to snowshoe some more. By 2:30, the temp had risen into the 40˚s and I didn’t bother with a jacket or gloves. Right off the deck, I found my first great find–a wasp moving sluggishly on the snow’s surface. Those wee claws at the end of its foot (tarsus) must have been frozen.

s-script lichen

I didn’t go far, but spent lots of time in quiet admiration. There were things to notice, like many, many mammal tracks. And this crustose lichen which is a script lichen. It’s “script” could easily be mistaken for a branching plant.

s-oak gall

Each time I stopped, I wondered what I might see that I hadn’t viewed before. And I wasn’t disappointed. One oak had several twigs with woody growth forms where buds should have been swelling. I decided they were galls and conducted some research when I returned home. I think the tumor-like swelling is a gouty gall that grows on oaks. Apparently, it’s created by a wasp. Hmmm. Not the one I saw, but a tiny wasp of the cynipidae family. The galls provide food and protection for the developing larvae.

s-red bud insect

I found another protective covering on the maleberry that grows near the cowpath. I’m not sure what insect created this cozy home, but being in the wind tunnel that comes down the powerline, its rather impressive that it still exists.

s-vernal pool

My last stop was the vernal pool. I wasn’t the only one who paid a visit. I found snowshoe tracks created by a neighbor who had stopped by to look and deer tracks that crossed the front edge of the pool. I think the snow will melt eventually and life will begin again for the spring peepers, wood frogs and salamanders–it always does.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I love winter. But . . . I can feel a change of focus in the air and see it in all that surrounds me. I guess that’s why I love being a New Englander.

 

The Irish Colors

With so much snow still on the ground, it’s easy to see the landscape as a monochrome palette of grays. And so I set out on this St. Patrick’s Day to find some color.

f-bridge

My destination was the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s Flat Hill trail and Perky’s Path from the end of Heald Pond Road. The parking lot is almost non-existent, so much snow do we have. And the bridge crossing tricky.

f-cherry bark

As I climbed upward, the thought that some see the world as black (cherry) and . . .

f-paper birch 1

white (paper birch) kept racing through my brain.

f-gray birch 1

And then there are those who accept that gray areas exist (gray birch–a brother of paper birch from another mother).

f-yellow birch bark

Textures visible in shadows reflected differences (yellow birch–a cousin),

f-hop hornbeam

even among family members (hop hornbeam–also a birch relative.)

f-mink tracks

It may have seemed there wasn’t much new to see and wonder about, but . . .

f-mink prints

the straddle (width from outside of one print in a set to outside of the other) and angle of these prints told a different story. A mink had crossed the trail. (My mitten had to hold the Trackard in place or it would have slid down the trail.)

f-porcupine trail

Nearing the top, I went in search of another mammal who has frequented this area for years–and I wasn’t disappointed. The porcupine trough was fresh.

f-view from Flat Hill

And then I reached the summit of Flat Hill (forever an oxymoron) and the whites, greens, browns and blues of mountains and sky opened before me. There was even a hint of red in swelling buds.

f-downhill from Flat Hill

The wind was cold, so I didn’t pause for long. Instead, I retraced my own tracks down the hill.

f-orange trail

And then I turned onto the orange trail that is Perky’s Path and realized the symbolism of the color and this day. My Scottish ancestors smiled down on me.

f-beaver lodge

I’m always drawn to the wetland and had to take a peek at the beaver lodge, which remained snow covered, indicating that no one was home. But there again, the sky enhanced my view.

f-wetland from bridge

The path leads to another set of small bridges, and there I stood for a while, taking in the peacefulness and beauty before me. Oh, and the warmth of the sun as its strong rays embraced me.

f-chickadee 1

While I stood and listened, a chickadee called and I watched as it entered a hole in the birch snag. This was a wow moment, for though I know birds use old pileated holes, I rarely see them come and go.

f-chickadee 3

Out he popped, giving a curious look–perhaps because I was pishing.

f-chickadee 2

He paused for a moment and then flew off, chickadee-dee-deeing across the bright blue sky.

f-brook view

I, too, took off, but not before enjoying a few more reflective moments.

f-ice swirls

The juxtaposition of snow, hemlock branches, water and ice created colorful swirls of artistic design beyond understanding.

f-wintergreen

And then I found a few wintergreen plants, their waxy leaves transforming from winter maroon to summer green.

f-beaked hazelnut

On my way out, I stopped to examine a few buds–and catkins, in this case. I love winter, but I am beginning to crave color and beaked hazelnuts will be among the first to flower.

f-striped maple bud1

A striped maple showed off its waxy buds, leaf scars and growth rings. The bud reminded me of hands in prayer–perhaps worshipping the patron saint of Ireland.

f-striped maple covered

One bud was sheathed in white. Even with my hand lens, I couldn’t figure it out. I’d like to think it was an angelic covering, but suspect it is a cocoon.

f-basswood 2

And then there were the bulbous bright buds on the basswood tree.

f-basswood lateral bud

Indeed, they were a sight to behold. Though winter reduced the color palette to the essentials, slowly the transition to spring has begun.

f-Irish flag in breeze

My journey was done, but I made one more stop along Route 5, where Irish flags flapped in the breeze to commemorate this day. The Irish color–where white signifies the truce between the Orange and the Green.

I always wear a hint of orange on this day in contrast to my Irish guy’s green. And I remind him that St. Patrick was born in Scotland.