From Bear to Beer Possibilities
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.”
Bear to Beer: Middle and Peaked Mountains
My guy opened his Christmas Bear to Beer box and considered the possibilities. The winner was . . .
Middle to Peaked Mountains in North Conway, New Hampshire.
The day had dawned warm after the recent deep freeze and so we had to consider how to dress and what to use for footwear.
Given that our route would take us uphill as we ascended via the Middle Mountain Trail to Middle Mountain, retrace our steps to the connector before summiting Peaked Mountain and then follow the Peaked Mountain Trail down, we knew we needed to dress in layers, but not quite so many and not quite so heavy.
We also weren’t sure of our footwear until we arrived at the parking area and saw the well-packed trail. Our choice–micro-spikes over snowshoes. We only hoped that when we reached the intersection of the Middle Mountain Trail and the Connector Trail, we wouldn’t regret our decision. But time would tell.
In the meantime, after we climbed over the snowbanks to get to the trailhead, we had to conquer the gate. We’ve climbed Peaked in the past, as well as walked the Pudding Pond Trail, both part of the Green Hills Preserve, so we knew that typically one walks around the gate. Today, we merely stepped over it–which tells you something about the snow depth.
At .2 miles, the trail comes to a T. The right hand route leads to Pudding Pond, while the left requires a brook crossing before continuing on to the mountain trails.
A bit further along, we came to one set of several that denote the trail system. In terms of following it via the signs, trail blazes, and well worn path, it was easy. Given the soft snow conditions and contour, we’d rank it a moderate hike.
It was one that got the hearts pumping, which is always a good thing. And when one of us needed a rest, we pretended that we just wanted to admire the sound and sight of the gurgling brook.
We passed through a few natural communities, including hemlock groves, and mixed forest. But our focus was really on any beech trees and by the leaves that littered the path, we knew there were plenty.
We scanned the bark every time we spied a beech, and saw not a nail scrape anywhere. But . . . sad to say we did notice tarry spots which oozed out of the cracks in the bark caused by cankers a tree develops as a defensive attempt to ward off beech scale insects and the nectria pathogens that follow their entry points.
The community changed again as we approached the summit of Middle Mountain, where red pines dominated the scenery. And in the warm sun, the snow became softer.
Two miles and some sweat equity later, we’d shed some clothes and reached the top.
From there, my guy went in search of lunch rock and I eventually followed.
It was actually more of lunch ledge and we set up camp, using the jackets we weren’t wearing as our seating area.
The view beyond our feet included Conway Lake in the distance. Lunch consisted of chicken salad sandwiches made with our own cranberry orange relish offering a taste of day in the fen picking berries, a Lindt peppermint dark chocolate ball, and an orange, topped off with frequent sips of water.
While we sat there, I did what I do. There were no beech trees to look at and so I focused in on the bonsai red pine in front of us. It’s form, unlike its relatives who stood tall behind us, was the result of growing on the edge of the ledge where it took the brunt of the weather.
I took the liberty of turning a photo of a lower branch 90 degrees because I could see the face of the tree spirit reaching out as it formed a heart. It is February after all.
But enough of that. We were on a mission to find a bear paw tree. When I chose this trail, I had no idea if we’d see one. Yes, we’d climbed Peaked in the past, but never had we noticed any trees with such marks left behind.
So, down we slid, I mean climbed, off Middle Mountain until we reached the connector and could see Peaked’s summit in the background.
We weren’t too far along when our constant scanning paid off! Bingo. A bear paw tree. Some people bag peaks. We bag bear paw trees.
Our mission accomplished, though we continued to look, we journeyed on to Peaked Mountain.
From there, we had more of a view of North Conway below, the Moats forming the immediate backdrop, and Mount Chocorua behind.
In front of us, we looked across to Middle Mountain from whence we’d just come.
And behind, Cranmore Mountain Ski Area and Kearsarge North in the background.
With my telephoto lens I could pull in the fire tower atop Kearsarge. It’s among our favorite hiking destinations.
We didn’t stay atop Peaked as long as we had on Middle because the wind was picking up. On our journey down, the mountain views included Washington.
We continued to look for bear trees but found no others. That being said, there were plenty of beech trees on the Peaked Mountain Trail, but the sun was in our eyes for much of the journey, and we had to pay attention to where we placed our feet because traveling was a bit slippery given the soft snow. Maybe there were others after all, and we just didn’t notice.
We completed the 5.5 mile hike about four hours after beginning, ran a few errands, and finally found our way to the finish of today’s bear to beer possibility at the Sea Dog Brewing Company. Black bears like to sip too!