Pond Friends

My day began with an exploration of the edge. The edge of a favorite place I hadn’t explored much lately. And so it was to old pals that I had a chance to say hello.

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The first was so old that it almost wasn’t. Okay, so that makes no sense, but it was no longer the Fishing Spider it had once been . . . and since become. Rather, it was the exuviae of the spider–a shed skin dangling by the water’s edge.

Much tinier by comparison was a Jumping Spider, its spotted patterned-body contrasted in size upon the Bracken Fern leaflet upon which it quickly moved.

In the same space Northern Bluet damselflies graced the landscape and I realized I need to give them more notice for they are as important as their dragon cousins I spend much of my summertime focusing upon.

And so . . . I present to you another old friend, a male Eastern Forktail. This is one of my favorites for I love the contrasting coloration with bright greens and blues offset by black.

Among the Brackens another did fly . . . and land. This Flesh Fly is known not only for its red eyes, but also its red “tail” or butt.

Speaking of red, by mid-afternoon, my guy and I headed off in the tandem kayak as the sky darkened.

After making the acquaintance of a daughter and son-in-law of an old friend and recalling the tornado we all survived three years ago and sharing favorite spots on the pond, we paused ever so briefly by an active beaver lodge. Do you see the fresh mud? Don’t let that and the ripples in the water lead you to believe that the beavers came out to greet us.

I was with my guy, remember, and he has a need to be as active as the rodents within. Oh, the mud wasn’t his doing, but the ripples were.

The beavers present activity was, however, noted by the Spadderdock roots floating upon the surface of the pond. That’s a carbon-loading beaver treat.

A treat for my eyes is always a turtle sighting and though this painted one seemed to be surfing, as I explained in my ever-knowledgeable way to my guy, it was basking in the sun as a means to absorb the UV rays of the sun. He was sure it was just preparing to slip back into the water and as we approached it of course did so, thus proving him right. Um, but I was as well.

All the friends I’ve mentioned till now we’ve met before. And actually, I’ve had the privilege of meeting this last one once before, but sometimes it’s the second meeting that drives the characteristics home.

I mean, seriously, how many times have you met someone for the first time and forgotten their name? But upon that second meeting you focus on how their nose sticks out further and they have such a dark shell and a line of yellow dots under their double chin and they hang out in the shade more than the sun and you realize you do remember them: Common Musk Turtle.

I love my pond friends who are my best friends, whether we met for the first time or again and again and again.

Hunting the Common

I knew when I headed out this morning that there was one member of the Odonata family that I wanted to meet. But . . . where oh where to find her.

Her habitat includes muddy-bottomed ponds, lakes, and streams, as well as disturbed areas. Hmmm. That should make the quest easy.

With that in mind, I first stopped beside a muddy-bottomed pond that flows into a brook, which at its start more resembles a stream. It is there that Slaty Blue Skimmer and I got reacquainted after so many months have passed since our last encounter.

He reminds me that dragonflies belong to the suborder Anisoptera, which means “different wings” since their hindwing differ in size and shape from the forewings. Those differences may be subtle, but they are there.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

As I watched Slaty Blue come and go, defending his piece of the shoreline from his family members, I suddenly spied something under the Winterberry leaves: a newly emerged skimmer resting while its wings dried.

And then one shrub over a Racket-tailed Emerald, with neon green eyes paused longer than I expected. (This one is for you, Kate Mansfield Griffith–it doesn’t have the full green body of the Eastern Pondhawk that walked down your Connecticut driveway today, but the eyes were a good match of color, don’t you think?)

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

Upon a Pickerel Weed in the water I notice a favorite of mine, this one also recently emerged and drying its wings before taking flight: a female Calico Pennant Skimmer. For some who have been watching, you’ll be happy to know that there were males about, but they were busy and didn’t wish to pose for a photo shoot.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

Old friends, like Kate who was one of my first playmates and even if we can’t spend time together we can still share moments of wonder like we did as kids, make themselves known such as this male Chalk-fronted Corporal. I’ve described it before as being kid-like in behavior because its kind love to play leap frog and land three feet ahead of me with each step I take.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

I soon leave the pond behind and find myself walking with intention along a woodland pathway and into an old log landing located near another brook. Guess who greets me? Yes, another Chalk-fronted Corporal, this one a female.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

As I continue to look, one with whom I struck up a conversation last summer flew in and snatched a moth before settleing on leaves to partake of the meal. Meet my friend: Black Shouldered Spinyleg, a clubtail so named for its black shoulders and spiny hind legs.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

Next, a Spangled Skimmer with black and white stigma on its wings took me by surprise and I vowed to remember it for no other has the dual-colored stigmas.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

In the shadows I spotted another I’m getting to know this year, the Four-spotted Skimmer. This dragonfly was stunning, but I found it amusing that its common name refers to tiny spots when so much more could have been honed in upon for a descriptor.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

I was about ready to head for the hills when another dragonfly caught my attention. Okay, so that’s a bit of an understatement as so many more than I’ve shared made themselves known to me and I stood still and watched how they moved, where they rested, and how big their territory was.

How common are you? Very, and I AM the one you seek.

I wanted to find this female Common Whitetail Skimmer because she hardly seemed like an every-day dragonfly to me. Those zigzag stripes on her abdomen. The way each segment stood out more 3-D than most. And those three black patches upon each wing. Words fail to describe her beauty.

How common are you? Very and yet . . . not at all.

I set out to hunt for the common and along the way I met others equally common, but in the end the one I sought was hardly common at all . . . despite her common name.

Secret Brook Mondate

After a delightful morning following friends in New Hampshire as we traversed their trail adjacent to the White Mountain National Forest, they told us of a different route to try before we headed off for our afternoon adventure. From the parking area at the trailhead, they said, begin hiking in a certain clock-face orientation and you’ll reach the falls that only the locals know about.

Bingo. We did as they further suggested and listened for the water, crossed a dry stream bed, and then made our way carefully down a steep embankment to the very spot they’d described. After pausing and enjoying the sight and sound for a little bit, we both came to the same conclusion. Rather than head back up to the trail, why not follow the stream to its source.

That meant walking beside moss-covered rocks as the water flowed forth.

At first it was on the easy side as we followed its course.

Our route became more challenging when we crossed slash at various times. (Can you see my guy?)

And ducked under and crawled backwards to get past some downed trees.

Hobblebush and Witch Hazel slowed us down. Well, maybe it only slowed me down. Again, can you spy him?

And then there were boulder fields to work our way around and through. Despite the sometimes challenging terrain . . .

as we continued to follow the water flowing south to its northern source . . .

the bushwhack provided us with delightful moments, such as the sight of a few Wood-sorrel flowers still in bloom.

The same was true of a Mountain Maple, its flowers splashing forth like a display of fireworks.

Occasionally damselflies known as Emerald Jewelwings landed nearby, he of the darker colors and she with a white dot at the tip of each wing.

At last we arrived at the pond that is the source of the brook. Whenever we are there we scan the landscape in hopes of spying a moose. A few tracks along the brook reminded us of their presence, but no actual sighting on this day.

We did spy more than a dozen Chalk-fronted Corporal dragonflies sunning on a rock.

And what I think was a Frosted Whiteface stuck in a spider web. Of course I had to free it.

Before setting it upon a Steeplebush, I did try to unfold its wing for the mosquitoes were thicker than thick and we’d been the source of their lunch. We only hoped this female could fly again and gobble up the pesky insects.

We could only imagine that the man in the buff we encountered as we hiked beside the brook must have provided the mosquitoes with an appetizer and dessert. We don’t know for sure because as he walked toward us, we quickly diverted for a short distance before returning to the brook, all in the name of social distancing, of course.

For our return trip, we stuck to the public trail, but gave great thanks to our morning hosts for telling us about the secret brook.

P.S. Happy Birthday Dr. Bubby! Thanks for letting us be a part of your birthday celebration.

Transformation of a Different Sort

Late afternoon found me heading to the vernal pool behind our home, mostly out of curiosity for we’ve had a week of dry, steamy days and I suspected the worst.

Not only by sight, but also stench did I know that my fears had come true.

There was merely a drop of water left, hidden below the leaves as it were.

I stood in the center for the first time all year, where the odor reminded me of New Haven Harbor at low tide, though the pool was perhaps more rank. The harbor has a mud-flat smell that entered my nostrils as a youth and has remained in my memory since, becoming that upon which I judge all other such scents.

Directly above, the sky veiled only by the canopy, offered a few clouds to occasionally shade the hot sun, but not a drop of rain was to be felt as has been the situation of late.

The source of the stench was my little friends who unfortunately didn’t get to hop out.

I could only hope that a few did leave the water of their own accord, but sadly most were fried.

All that realized, it didn’t mean the pool was a static place. There were Flesh Flies with brick red eyes who found this habitat of tadpole carcasses to be to their liking.

And Rove Beetles who surprised me with their presence, though they shouldn’t have for they also have a preference of feeding upon decaying matter.

Both the Flesh and Rove moved quickly through the neighborhood, but for a brief second each paused and posed, as if it was meant to be.

Others included the metallic Green Bottle Fly,

a cricket,

canoodling moths,

and a spider or two or many. There were also birds in the canopy and I suspected they were waiting for me to leave so they could bring food home to the nest.

In the midst, a splash of color was offered by the wee Northern Crescent butterfly whose presence perplexed me at first . . . until I realized that the pool still held moisture and other nutrients, and it offered just the right habitat for butterflies who need to puddle or suck the fluid and minerals to enhance their breeding relationships.

Right beside the pool I spied another of the order Lepidoptera in the pupal form of a Viceroy butterfly.

As has happened year after year, the vernal pool didn’t follow quite the path I had hoped since early April when the ice went out, but still, it’s a place where transformations of a different sort occur . . . and despite the demise of the tadpoles, life goes on.

Myrtle’s Morning

Meet Myrtle. Yes, she’s a turtle.

A Snapping Turtle to be exact. Chelydra serpentina is her scientific name: Chelydra meaning “tortoise” and serpentina deriving from the Latin word serpentis, which means “snake,” in reference to her long tail.

Myrtle’s neighborhood is one where carnivorous plants grow in abundance and right now show off their parasol-like flowers.

I spend some time with the old girl who certainly deserves a parasol to shield her from the sun. Turtles of her type don’t reach sexual maturity until their carapace, or upper shell, measures about eight inches in length and that doesn’t typically happen until they are at least seven. Myrtle’s is at least eight inches, maybe even longer, but I didn’t dare get too close and risk disturbing her. Nor do I ask her her age, cuze after all, we women stand together on such issues.

Below her Pitcher Plant bouquet grow its leaves shaped like . . . pitchers and filled with water and digestive juices. Downward facing hairs attract insects into the trap, and once within the pitfall, there is no escape. The prey drowns in the nectar and body gradually dissolves, providing the plant with nutrition it can’t possibly get from the acidic soil in the community.

Myrtle doesn’t really care. Her back legs are busy digging in the sand and it isn’t to plant a garden full of Pitcher Plants.

Also at home in Myrtle’s neighborhood are Crimson-ringed Whiteface dragonflies, the male showing off a brilliant red thorax.

While the dragonfly poses, waiting for a moment before taking flight to defend its territory or find a gal, Myrtle begins to press her front toes down while simultaneously lowering the back end of her carapace.

Within minutes, the male Crimson finds a date and the two become one, so engrossed in each other as such that they don’t really notice what Myrtle might be up to today.

In a form all her species’ own, Myrtle stands up on her tippy toes and moves that carapace up like the bed of a dump truck ready to make a deposit.

All the while, songs birds ring forth their joyous sounds accompanied by the strums of Green Frogs.

Sometimes Myrtle winks or perhaps its a grimace and other times she smiles with absolute glee. That or she captures a fly or a breath.

Another neighbor also uses its mouth for more than just its usual chitter. Despite the acorn in its mouth, Red Squirrel speaks around the edges and greets Myrtle without dropping its great find.

Meanwhile, Myrtle’s back end dips lower and lower.

I offer her a word of warning for I notice that there’s evidence of some neighbors she may not appreciate–raccoons to be exact based on their tracks.

In that moment, however, Myrtle doesn’t give a hoot about who might be lurking in the shadows waiting to dig up the contents of her hole during the dark of night that will fall hours and hours later.

She’s spent over an hour digging a hole with her hind feet and depositing eggs as evidenced by the plop, plop that I hear. Even though I cannot see them, I trust that more than 40 have filled the hole as she continues to dig and tamp, dig and tamp. It will be several months before they hatch and then, even another week at least before the wee ones slip into the water, and the fact that she lays so many is important because truly predators such as raccoons and skunks and foxes and coyotes may help themselves to Eggs Myrtle.

But for today, Myrtle’s morning was the most important thing on her mind and I delighted in being able to share it with her and her neighbors.

Stumped by the Star

I knew from the get go where I wanted to spend some time because I suspected I’d meet up with old friends. And I did. 

Not all, however, had as much success and so it was for a Common Spreadwing damselfly wrapped in a spider web. Oops. 

The closer I got, however, the more others, such as a Four-spotted Skimmer, showed that for the moment they were still on the prowl, despite the fact that at least the tip of one wing had been compromised.

Who might have been responsible for that wing nip? Perhaps a female Red-winged Blackbird?

She certainly looked intent.

There were other hungry ones in the midst like the large Green Frog who sat so still and waited.

His realm was below the home of the fairies for some had seen fit in the not too distant past to create a roof that covered a space that provided a place for those who fly to live and launch.

In their nymph or naiad form, they preside as spirits over the water world.

But then they take on their terrestrial/aerial being.

One seemed to be hiding, perhaps waiting to fly, but I thought I’d offer a finger and an opportunity to get to know each other a wee bit better. Much to my glee and surprise, my finger was accepted.

The Common Baskettail, as it is known, is member of the family Corduliidae (the Emeralds), and so it seemed apropos that with such a jewel-colored face it should choose the fairy home as its place to transition from one world to the next.

Unlike other Emerald family members, baskettails lack the kryptonite-green eyes, though as they age the color does change. But they make up for it by being super hairy. As a naiad, the hair serves to trap tiny pieces of debris, thus hiding it from predators in the muck. In its adult form, the hair serves as a spring jacket, holding in heat.

Though called “common,” it was hardly such with that furry coat, those dark wing spots, and the yellow stripes on its abdomen.

Nor was its behavior common for its species since typically they hover in swarms and are difficult to see clearly.

I gave thanks for the short time we shared and will be forever grateful that I was stumped by this star.

Dragonfly Whisperer Whispers

We had no intention of eating lunch in this spot today, but while looking for a mountain to climb, we kept encountering full parking lots and so our backroad meander put us beside a bog at lunch time and voilà, we managed to walk all of less than two tenths of a mile. Total.

But in that short distance, our eyes feasted. First it was all the Painted Turtles basking in the sun.

And then a Grackle flew in with a meal in beak.

I didn’t realize what that meal was until . . .

while expounding on one topic or another of which I’m sure I thought I was the authority, I stopped mid-sentence with a mouth open wide in surprise for upon a tree trunk a newly emerged dragonfly showed off its slowy unfolding wings as it moved back toward the exuviae from which it had just emerged. Why did it move back? I don’t know, but they often cling on nearby as they let their wings dry before flying. It was at that point that my lecture changed focus and suddenly I knew that our being there was important for we were saving this vulnerable being from becoming the Grackle’s dessert.

As for our lunch, my guy found a spot and . . . dined alone. I was beside myself with joy and knew there were more discoveries to make. Thankfully, he has the patience of Job in many situations, and this was one of them.

A brisk breeze blew, which kept the Black Flies at bay, a good thing for us, and perhaps it was also a welcome treat for the dragonflies as they dried their wings in preparation for first flight.

Some managed to keep wings closed over their abdomens, but again, that was another sign of new emergence for as adults, wings are spread while resting.

In the sunshine of the early afternoon, those cloudy, moist wings glistened and offered a rainbow of subtle colors.

Upon a variety of vegetation different species clung in manners of their ancestors until ready for takeoff.

At one point I turned and was surprised to find this friend upon a sapling beside my knees.

And so we began to chat . . . until he’d heard enough and flew off.

But in that same second another flew in even closer, and I just had to find out. Would he or wouldn’t he?

He would and did. Yes, I quietly placed my finger on the leaf and he climbed aboard, then struck a rather relaxed pose.

The Dragonfly Whisperer whispers once more.

Before Spring Leaps Away

Spring. How can it be that she marches in as expected yet takes us by surprise every year? Oh, we expect the buds to burst, flowers to blossom, birds to sing, and all forms of life to give birth, but still . . .

It never grows old to worship her display that transforms our world of winter’s gray and whites to subtle reflections changing with each dawning day.

Life forms long spent hiding in the mud suddenly emerge to bask in the sun.

Some listen dubiously as their male counterparts sing the ok-a-lee songs.

Others tuck into their surroundings, seeking warmth among foliage both old and new.

There are those who weave.

And others who appear to dance upon webs woven.

While fall is most often revered, spring begs to be noticed as more than a novice for as often as autumn occurs does her vernal season come before.

In so doing, she seems to combine the colors of both fringe seasons as if it came naturally. Because . . . it does.

Within seconds of opening her fountains of the future, pollinators find a fine source of nectar.

And those who teach gather to announce a local cooking class.

Into the woods and beside the waters I travel on almost a daily basis and with each tramp, life begs a notice.

Sometimes it’s in the form of a green pretending to be a tree–frog that is.

Other times it’s a female fairy shrimp who doesn’t seek the attention of a male, much to his dismay, because the brood pouch at the base of her abdomen is already full of future life forms.

And there are other signs of the future as seen in spotted salamander embryos forming and mosquito pupa tumbling.

Predators such as the predaceous diving beetle make themselves known because when you stay in the same neighborhood for a period of time, bumps in the road, or pool as it may be, are bound to happen.

Despite such roadblocks, life happens . . . in abundance.

Over and over again, the sunshine above . . .

finds its form in the forest floor below.

Sadly, it’s all so fleeting. I want it to stop. To pause. We’re all in pause mode right now and though we miss so much of the past, the present is a beautiful thing . . . if only we could hold onto it . . . before the spring that marched in leaps away.

Bugged by the Otherworldy

There was a time when insects bugged me. Apparently, I’m long beyond that for though I morn the loss of snow and tracking season, I can’t wait for insect season to begin. Ah yes, that is, except for the blackflies, aka Maine’s state bird, or so they should be. But even the blackflies I can endure because I know that they provide food for actual birds and for other insects such as dragonflies. By now, you’re probably thinking I’m about to present a series of dragonfly shots. Not today, but that day will be upon us very soon for in the natural world everything seems to be on time and there is no such thing as The Pause.

Pause, however, I did beside another wetland setting today in a spot where my boots slowly sunk down into the sphagnum moss for the longer I stood the deeper they went, and the stoneflies crawled, their veined wings showing off a stained-glassed window naturally.

If you look closely at the tip of the abdomen that curves out from under the wings, you may see the cerci or paired appendages. They are one of the clues to identification and sighting stoneflies is a great thing because they are intolerant of water pollution.

Of course, when one is looking one sees . . . caddisflies everywhere, though because I was in a different wetland habitat today as compared to yesterday’s vernal pool journey, the shelter of choice differed. Notice how this caddisfly’s home resembles the equisetum upon which it climbs.

But at the risk of boring you with too many caddisfly photos, I moved on (after taking too many caddisfly photos). About an inch to the left, that is. And that’s when I spied a mayfly larva with cerci of three. The thing with mayflies–they can have two or three tails. At this stage mayflies are called nymphs or naiads.

Eventually I made my way over to some false hellebores and what should I spy at the tip of one? A teenager! Well, not exactly, but the subimago or dun form of a newly emerged dragonfly. Notice the cloudiness of its wings–a clue that it isn’t an imago or adult. Mayflies are the only insects that I know of which also molt as adults. Once the final molt occurs, the clear-winged adult will live for a day or two, mate, lay eggs, and then become part of the detritus upon which they fed as nymphs.

Checking the next false hellebore was worth it not only to embrace the design of the ribbed leaves, but hiding within–yes, another subimago.

Again, the cloudy wings were the giveaway.

At a different spot along the water’s edge, a giant of sorts scanned the scene in hopes of snagging a meal. Yesterday I looked for giant water bugs. Today I found not one, but two. My next hope is that someday I’ll get to see a male carrying the nursery his mate deposits upon his back.

But then another sight forced me back into the world of the mayflies for I spotted the exuviae or cast skin of . . . a mayfly larva. Can you see where it split at the top (bottom actually) of the structure.

And just a few inches away, the one who had just emerged from aquatic life . . .

found its feet and began to march toward a new life . . .

as it tried out its balance in the terrestrial world.

Being bugged by insects is one of my favorite ways to be. Even if there are some who annoy or predate, they are all still worthy of our wonder for they each bring something to the natural world–otherworldly or otherwise.

Aqua World

It’s never the same, any visit to a wetland or vernal pool, and such was the case today when I got my feet wet in three different aquatic habitats.

The first was at the edge of a wetland that borders a local lake and it was there that the crazy little springtails taught me a lesson.

I’d gone to see what I might see and first it was a spider, mosquito larva and a few springtails that caught my eye.

But then, I began to notice white springtails floating across the watery surface. Oh, and a water bug of sorts climbing a submerged twig.

For a bit my focus turned to the latter as I noticed his antennae and legs.

And for a second, I considered him to be a small grasshopper, but that didn’t make sense for he was in the water, after all. For now, he’ll remain a mystery until I gain a further understanding.

But then I turned back to the springtails in pure white form. They didn’t move. How could that be? Was I missing something? Or were they actually the molted skins of some of the slate-colored ones that did jump about? My later learning: Some springtails can molt up to forty times, leaving behind white exuviae. After each molt, the springtails look the same.

While watching them, something else caught my eye–a small circle . . . with a thousand legs.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a millipede in the water before. Moist places like our basement, yes. But swimming? Perhaps I just haven’t paid attention.

Or perhaps all the rain that graced our world yesterday caught this one by surprise.

With that find, it was time for me to take my leave.

But my next stop brought pride to my heart.

And I found myself promising a hundred million tadpoles that I will keep an eye on them since their parents have left the nursery unattended. As their surrogate mother, I’m going to worry each day and pray the water doesn’t dry up, the garter snake doesn’t return, and that these little ones will be able to mature and hop out.

A little further on at another vernal pool I met more caddisfly larvae than I ever remember meeting before.

Each sported a log cabin built of shredded plant material and I got to thinking about how they carry their houses with such agility.

Each is a wee bit different and some are messier structures than others. As I watched, one actually flipped over a few times and I finally realized it was adding another layer to the building.

A few took it upon themselves to meet at a social closeness we’ve come to avoid of late, for this one long structure is actually three sharing the same space.

Even the mosquito wrigglers, such as the one in the upper-right-hand corner, captured my sense of awe today. And all of these species got me thinking about their good works. Most feed on algae, detritus and other organic material, so yes, even mosquito larva should be celebrated.

Aqua World–it’s a wonder how it works.

Transitioning with my neighbors

From sun to rain to sleet and even snow, it’s been a weekend of weather events. And like so many across the globe, I’m spending lots of time outdoors, in the midst of warm rays and raw mists.

I’m fortunate in that I live in a spot where the great beyond is just that–great . . . and beyond most people’s reach. By the same token, it’s the most crowded place on Earth right now.

On sunny days, water scavenger beetles swim about in search of a meal to suit their omnivorous appetite.

Preferring decaying plant and other organic matter as the ideal dinner menu are the mayfly larvae. Some call them nymphs, others know them as naiads.

To spot them, one must really focus for they are quite small and blend in well with the bottom debris, but suddenly, they are everywhere.

And then, another enters the scene, this possibly one of the flat-headed mayflies. If you look closely, you may see three naiads, two smaller to the upper far left and lower on the stick to the right. In between is the larger, its paired gills and three tails or caudal filaments easier to spy because of its size.

Switching to a different locale, a winter stonefly, its clear wings handsomely veined, ascends fallen vegetation on its tippy toes and my heart dances for this is probably my last chance to see one of these aquatic insects until next year. Then again, none of us can predict the future.

In the mix, green insects move and I surmise by their minute size, shape and coloration that they are leafhoppers all set to suck sap from grasses, shrubs, and trees.

Who else might live here? Why a caddisfly larva in its DIY case.

Of course, no aquatic exploration is complete without sighting mosquito larvae somersaulting through the water.

And a wee bit away from the watery spots, the pupal stage of a ladybug, a form that has perplexed me for months. It is my understanding that motion stops and so does feeding, the insect scrunches up its body and color changes . . . but the transition should last five to seven days–not since last fall. Or perhaps this species has a lot to teach me about waiting and what is to come.

Another one for the books is a translucent green caterpillar not much more than inch-worm size that I discover clinging to a red maple twig only hours before snow descends upon the setting.

Mind you, I also spotted three crescent or checkerspot butterflies, their small orange and black wings adding a quick flash of color as they flutter across my path.

And then my mind shifts, as it has a lot in the last few weeks, and between patches of snow and a fresh snow fall, I welcome the opportunity to remember others who share this space, including an opossum amidst the turkeys and deer.

Following a Tom turkey who seemed to walk with determined speed, I get to meet another neighbor and note by Tom’s toe print that his path intersected with that of a coyote after the predator had passed by. Phew for the Tom.

After all, he has a job to do. Suddenly, I note a change in his pace, which slows down considerably based on the closeness of his feet. And then I spy wing marks on the outer sides of the prints and know that he is in display mode. The curious thing: on average, he takes ten steps, then displays, takes ten steps, then displays. I know this because I counted, over and over again. But then . . . he must hear his lady friends for he makes an about turn.

And struts his stuff.

I’m not sure they are impressed for they move on and head in the direction of other neighbors, specifically a squirrel and porcupine. Others presenting tracks include chipmunks, snow lobsters, I mean snowshoe hares, moose, and a bobcat.

This is my little space on the Earth and I love spending time trying to understand it and find out more about my neighbors.

Watching over all of this action is a Fox Sparrow, whom I greet as a welcome visitor, knowing he’s on his way north to the boreal forest.

Like him, we’re all in transition, my neighbors and me. What the future holds, we know not. The best we can do is hope we come out on the other side–changed by the experience, of course.

Power of Line: Matter of Seeing

I could have followed the wood poles all the way to Mount Washington today, for such was their invitation . . .

but the mighty mountain was veiled in clouds, so instead I chose a different direction to venture.

Walking into trees, their height drew my eyes to a vanishing point on the horizon.

It was a place where ragged curves framed towering angles.

Occasionally, in that same place, geometric designs provided camouflage.

And man’s creation of horizontal, diagonal, and vertical found imitation in curved shadows.

Upon another structure reflections stood still before flowing forth.

Further on, intersections were noted upon several levels.

Ripples created movement with quiet wedged between.

Into the mix, nature added a triangular archway.

And allowed jointed legs to cross needles of ice.

At one pause beside a tree trunk, wing venation offered a tiny stained-glass presentation.

Nearby, venation of a different sort peeked out from under its winter blanket.

A story was written upon a crustose in squiggly calligraphy beyond my interpretation.

Slowly, I returned to the anomaly in the landscape . . .

Where paddlers constantly reinvented ovals and circles.

And then I headed home and noticed Mount Washington was lifting her cloudy shroud, thus adding more curves and angles to the picture.

The power of lines, a familiar part of the landscape. It’s all a matter of seeing.

LOVE ME, love me: Three state park gems in a row

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you: Maine that is. And more specifically, its state parks. To that end, my guy and I have been traveling at a snail’s pace since we began this journey a year ago,. In 2019, we checked two off the list. But today . . . the number finally more than doubled.

Our journey began with lunch at Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth. Shout out to several local businesses and friends: Pam and Justin Ward of Bridgton Books for the book bag in which we packed today’s picnic, Sierra Sunshine Simpson for the bee’s wax wrap that kept our sandwiches fresh, Fly Away Farm for the sourdough wheat bread and grape jam that enhanced our Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, and my sister for the chocolate-covered McVitie’s digestive biscuits that rounded out the meal.

Lunch completed, we began to look around and right beside the picnic table grew ever-hairy Staghorn Sumac twigs with heart-shaped leaf scars surrounding new buds. What’s not to love?

At last we headed off onto the trails. Do you see what I see? Or rather, do you not see what I don’t see? Snow. Back home, it’s quite deep, but along the coast, it seemed to be non-existent.

Eventually the trail led to the Atlantic Ocean and the infamous rocky coast of Maine. It’s really my mom’s rocky coast of Maine for she was always in search of such. Having grown up in Connecticut like she did, I understand her fascination.

My limited understanding of geological folds created by heat and pressure during the mountain-building process was enhanced by crashing waves.

Within the complexity of the geological formations was another with its own history written throughout its structure.

Sunburst lichen, foliose to umbilicate, spreading extensively, yet loosely attached, smooth to somewhat wrinkled, featured a complex organism that arose from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of fungi in a mutualistic relationship that included yeast in the mix. How’s that for a simple life form?

Step by step, one amazing feature after another made itself known, including a quartz vein cutting a quartzite bed.

Eventually we came a rock that could have been a sculpture of a bald eagle. Or perhaps a story written that still needed to be deciphered.

We continued to walk along the edge, enjoying the action of the waves as juxtaposed beside the prehistoric rocks. Part of the splendor, in fact, a major part, included the color. Our western Maine eyes don’t mind the blues and browns and greens and whites of winter, but beheld the beauty and bounty that was the splendor of this winter day.

We stood in wonder as the waves moved in, met the rock with splashes high and lo, and then retreated.

At last we walked higher ground, but still noted buckets of wonder as waves interacted with rocks to the southwest.

Beside the well-worn path we walked, others who have known this way from one generation to the next offered their winter forms, such as this Queen Anne’s Lace.

The woody form of Evening Primrose also greeted us in the midday midst.

Bulbous and colorful, yet equally full of flavor (so noted in days of yore by my father) and vitamins , rose hips offered their own take of winter.

I soon learned as we stepped away from the coastline that we weren’t the only soles who wandered the area. A vole had traveled in the subnivean layer between the ground’s surface and snow that had been–leaving its telltale tunnel.

After we circled about the edge of the 41-acre property, we headed “inland” toward the reason for its special upkeep as a state park. Once upon a time this had been a prime piece of land that offered a protective layer to Portland’s port. While a battery had been constructed, with clear points of view and contact, as well as enemy protection, no guns had ever been fired.

About a tenth or two down the road, a mini harbor provides protection for any who travel the fingered coast of Maine.

Because it offered smaller rocks among its mix, I asked my guy to look for hearts. Seek and ye shall find.

Seaweed and seashells added to the array and provided another colorful hue to this mid-winter day.

Across the harbor from our stance stood one of the two former lighthouses for which the area was known.

No longer in use, its light warned ocean farers of the rocky coast. Life has changed since its day of service, but as we stood nearby we could hear the toll of its well-revered friend, a bell buoy.

In the opposite direction of the lighthouse, the folded rocks bespoke their ancient form.

Beside such, we could feel the bend and imagine the creation.

Stepping atop, we looked back and took in the landscape.

And then we moved on, stepping out toward a beach whose shape rendered its name.

Walking upon its much softer coastal offering, we noted artistic “trees” that appeared to be deer hiding in the sandy forest.

And then there was the moss-colored seaweed making us think of the Emerald Isle miles and miles beyond.

After crossing from the seaweed-covered rocks to an upland piece, we then stepped down toward the water again where red sand greeted us and if your imagination is in as full gear as ours was, you may see a heart within the sandy artwork.

In places where water flowed over rock faces, we rejoiced in the interface of ripples upon ridges.

Up close and beyond, the scenery and the scents filled the innermost recesses of our souls.

And the artwork of those who had come before touched our whimsical sides.

After we’d reached the southwestern edge and turned back, the reason for this state park’s name became most obvious: Crescent Beach.

Walking back, we continued our quest for the shape of a heart. I found one in the suds of the retreating tide.

At exactly the same moment, my guy found one in a more rounded form among the stone offerings.

And then a gull captured our attention. He appeared to have found a hamburger roll upon which to dine.

For a few minutes he played with his meal, perhaps softening its texture in the low water.

When he finally did partake of his meal, he swallowed it all in one piece and if you look carefully at his neck, you may see the bulge on its way down.

Our third and final park of the day, for so are they closely located along the roads of Cape Elizabeth here in Maine, was Kettle Cove. Of course, it’s located between the other two, but we saved it for last.

On another day we’ll revisit it and take a look at the tidal pools that it offers, but the sun was growing low in the sky when we arrived and so our journey was on the rather quick side and didn’t do it the true honor it should receive.

In the end, however, we were thrilled with the opportunity to explore three state parks in our quest to get to know Maine better. Today’s LOVE ME, love me tour included Two Lights State Park, Crescent Beach State Park, and Kettle Cove State Park–three gems in a row.

The Magic of Holt Pond

I’ve recently felt like the wonder disappeared from my wanders. And so I hoped a tramp late this afternoon around Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve held the tonic.

We parked at the corner of Perley and Chaplin’s Mill Road, and hauled our snowshoes to the trailhead about a half mile down Chaplin. A few steps in and we decided to stash the shoes and proceed, sure that the snow depth would be on our side and we wouldn’t posthole too much. Until we did. And abruptly turned around to fetch the snowshoes, proving time and again how wise we are.

I was following my guy, so of course it didn’t take us long to get down to the pond, where love was written across the sky in the form of a squished heart and I knew my sense of wonder was about to kick back into gear.

Back on the trail, it was a pileated hole that stopped me in my tracks. Okay, so that happens on a regular basis, but take a closer look with me.

First there was the inner bark, call it cinnamon or mauve, or some crayola color between, with a delightfully bumpy texture, and I knew I had a winner. But there was more. Take a closer look. Do you see the horizontal lines where the woodpecker must have scraped its beak against the bark? And the fibers of the wood? And the depth of the hole? Certainly, this woodpecker must have found something worth drilling for in the depths of this hemlock.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that once I spy a pileated woodpecker’s excavation hole, the debris below becomes a focus of my attention.

I was not disappointed. What some may see as a silver caterpillar, I knew to be the cylindrical scat of the Woody Woodpecker of the woods. The compact package was coated with the bird’s uric acid, but it was the contents that really mattered. While I looked, so did a few others–do you see a couple of springtails, aka snow fleas–at least one on the wood chips and another on the snow?

With my continued perusal, a second scat appeared. Look closely at the darker sections and you may see some body parts of the carpenter ants and tree beetles that the pileated woodpecker sought from the inner confines of the hemlock tree.

My guy was patient as I looked and then we continued our journey. At the first stream crossing, where a bog bridge seemed to have disappeared, he practiced his inner ballerina (don’t tell him I said that) and leaped to the other side, landing a jeté: a leap taking off from one foot and landing on the other.

Since the pileated’s scat leant itself to my insect quest, I continued to look and smiled each time I spied a funnel spider’s holey web no longer in use. Check out all the points of attachment that strengthened the structure when it was in use.

In what seem like no time we reached a former log landing where he was astonished by the fact that pine saplings had grown into teens. And then he looked at one and asked, “Is that a red pine?”

“Yes,” I replied as I took a closer look and spied the tiniest of tiny homes among its needles. Do you see the circular cut in the center? It was the former home of a pupating pine “circular” sawfly. Their cocoons are everywhere and once you see one, you’ll see a million. If cut like this one, the insect departed when conditions were right, but if completely intact then life grows within.

At places along the trail, it was other compositions that bore witness to the nature of the community, such as this icy ornament that dangled like a stocking from one hemlock twig to another.

Another hemlock offered the vision of a forest wizard, his face, albeit, rather long and gnarly. His lips, pursed. His eyes, narrow. Certainly he had a lot to contemplate.

Throughout much of the preserve, which made sense given that it was a wetland habitat, fisher prints prevailed, its five tear-drop shaped toes adding a clue to its identification.

Check out that diagonal orientation that trackers look for because it tells them that the mammal who bounded across the landscape was a member of the weasel family.

Reading tracks isn’t easy, but learning the idiosyncrasies of family patterns, preferred community, and finer details such as number of toes and measurement of prints adds to the knowledge bank and enhances the trek for suddenly, even though you may not see the mammals that have left behind their calling cards, you can still get a sense of those with whom you share a presence in the woods.

The more we tramped today, the more I realized that there were sweet things to notice, like a snow-plop spotted hemlock twig that offered a suggestion of winter’s Swiss cheese.

An enlarged yellow birch catkin, formed by the tree to protect its seeds held tightly within, mimicked a wreath on the snow, and reminded me of the circle of life it represented.

And then I spotted one who perhaps best represented life. Foremost in consideration was the fact that it was alive. And second, that an antifreeze we can hardly comprehend allows it to remain active throughout the winter. Spiders on snow? Worth a wonder.

Our journey progressed as the lighting changed given the late hour of the day and our position on the globe. At times it seemed night would descend any minute.

And into the night tramped my guy, crossing a bog bridge he built several years ago. But . . . slow yourself down rather than try to keep up with him. What do you notice? Clue: to the left of his bridge?

Do you see the muddy line extending upward from the water? And the finger-like prints left on the snow. Yup. The signature of a local raccoon left behind like a done deal on a piece of property.

At last we reached my nemesis, the very spot where almost two years ago my feet flew out from under me, my wrist hit the edge of the boardwalk with a wallop, and suddenly I was a southpaw. It’s become my place of pause and contemplation. To go or not to go. Today, my guy did the same.

And then he went, assuring me from the other side that all was well. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard those words before.

I followed as I often do and gave thanks that I safely made it to the other side, where the snowy mounds and reflections offered a taste of mid-winter reflection.

Our journey across the snow-covered boardwalks through the wetland showed off the fruiting structures of many wetland shrubs, but surprisingly, winterberry offered the most brilliant form.

Eventually, we found our way out to the pond again via the quaking bog, following a fox track that we’d encountered during much of our journey.

Given that there were no dragonflies to spy at the pond’s edge, after a few moments we headed back into the woods.

At the next spur choice, we took it, and headed out to Muddy River, where the beaver resort included its big house, little house structure, bespeaking the New England tradition of home construction.

A bit of open water prevented us from taking a personal look.

But, freshly carved logs at the peak of the lodge bespoke recent activity. Similar activity below was questionable, but my whimsical mind wondered if they’d tried to set up a fire pit.

Our journey was coming to a close as we continued across the boardwalks through the wetlands, where within blueberry stems a baker’s dozen of wasp larvae pupate. The gall’s kidney-shaped form is easy to spy.

Following the Muddy River out, we couldn’t resist its late afternoon relections.

Beside the river another weasel showed its form in the prints of a mink.

Diagonal, diagonal, diagonal, so is a weasel pattern.

At last, before climbing up to the Emerald Field that would lead us back to our starting point, we paused beside the brook and let it work it’s magic in the sound of flowing water, but also the forms and reflection and colors and wonder. Moments of wonder. I gave great thanks for yet again Holt Pond had worked its magic.

Stars in the Circle

I never had the good fortune to meet John A. Segur, but I’ve given him thanks repeatedly over the years. You see, Mr. Segur left a bequest to the Greater Lovell Land Trust to preserve habitat so that native wildlife might thrive.

It was my choice today to check on how that was playing out as I circumnavigated the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge from Farrington Pond Road. Since the parking lot isn’t plowed for the winter, I pulled off at the cul-de-sac at the end of the road, which actually was a better spot because I didn’t want to be enticed to follow the trails.

A wise decision it was, for as I tramped along the property line on a northeasterly route to start, a grin immediately emerged. It was the downhill slide that made me instantly happy for I knew that rather recently an otter had also visited the refuge. As it should.

The bottom of the slide ended at the shore of Farrington Pond, a view those of us who visit the refuge rarely see for there is no path to it. But I rather like it that way for bushwhacking allows for new discoveries that aren’t as sterile as a maintained trail. And I suspected Mr. Segur would have felt the same. Plus, his vision was all about a wildlife corridor.

He also would have smiled when he realized that the beavers by Farrington had been active at some point in the fall. Unfortunately, (or as I’m sure some neighbors feel: fortunately) I didn’t see any other “fresh” beaver works, though I didn’t walk all the way around the pond, so I’m not sure of their status in this locale.

But, they had visited in the past including at least ten years ago, based on the growth rings on display around the wound. It’s my understanding that Eastern Hemlock is not a favorite species of beavers and they will often girdle a tree by eating the bark and cambium layer all the way around the trunk, perhaps in hopes it will die. I’ve heard a few theories on this including that beavers do such so that their preferred species will have a chance to grow where the hemlock once provided so much shade that no other trees could set root. But here’s another to throw onto the table: what if the beaver starts to dine and then realizes the flavor is not to his liking? And so he moves on to another tree. Hey, it’s just a theory.

Another thing about beavers is that sometimes they chop down trees that don’t exactly fall as planned. In this case, the entire upper portion dangles from another in the form of a widow maker–as in, don’t stand, or in this case sit, below it.

While studying the tree and thinking about the beaver, I looked down to the pond and saw more mammal sign. Can you spot the otter slide?

Eventually my bushwhack led me toward a stream crossing where the ice wasn’t exactly solid. But the bubbles that had formed within it were like little round spirals that reminded me of the inside of abalone shells. Or perhaps snails.

Suddenly, leaf cracklings filled the air that had been silent except for the sound of wind whooshing at a higher elevation. It took my eyes a few moments to discover the source of the noise, and then I realized I was near a flock of robins. My movement disturbed them, but they didn’t fly far and so we each spent a few moments contemplating our next moves.

As I stood there, I noticed a small tuft of feathers stuck to a hemlock branch, which reminded me that I need to stand still more often for it’s in those moments that things make themselves visible.

Finally I carried on, pausing again, however, when an old, old Yellow Birch showed off the stilts upon which it grew. From their height, I could just imagine the long rotted trunk that once served as its nurse tree, allowing its seed to germinate and set down roots.

Nearby was another ancient, this one a hemlock that preferred to begin life in the same manner as the Yellow Birch. I was sure it had stories to tell and know I’ll return one day soon to spend some time enwrapped by those roots as I listen.

The trees led the way to the wetland and I really, really wanted to explore it, but because I was alone (well, not exactly alone for Mr. Segur was with me kinda sorta, not really) I thought that that too should wait for another day.

If you peer closely at the snow-covered ice beginning from the lower right hand corner and moving toward the shrubs, you may spy the track of another mammal. Do you recognize the pattern? Once you learn patterns, you don’t always have to see the prints up close to know the creators.

Finally, I decided to turn away from Farrington Pond for there was another wetland on the property that I wanted to visit. But first, I found an old beaver dam. Given the lower level of water behind it, I knew that it was not in use, but it looked like a mighty sturdy structure.

Across the landscape I made my way, noting tracks of a million wild animals. Well, maybe not a million, but certainly many including coyote, fox, deer, raccoon, squirrel, vole, mouse, hare, weasel, and fisher. Some were fresh, while others a bit diluted from fluctuating temperatures. This was a place where the mammals wander freely as Mr. Segur intended.

In so doing, I also spied some puff balls that reminded me of applehead dolls with their weathered faces.

There were others who also offered a different take on their natural form–one might call this the star steeple for aster seeds had landed upon the woody structure of steeplebush capsules.

And then in a field I made a “new to the property” discovery: Tamarack trees. I love the nubs that once supported their leaves (aka needles) and the upright cones. Cones remain on the trees for about two years. I wondered about them being upright, but I suppose that as the scales open to release the winged seeds, they catch the breeze and rather than merely rain down below their parent, they are uplifted to a new location.

Continuing my bushwhack, I also continued to keep a keen eye on the world.

But there were a couple of locations I wanted to check on before my time with Mr. Segur ended. At last I reached Sucker Brook and again I chose not to venture onto the ice. One of these days.

From there, it was on to another place more secret than the last that I had my sights set upon. First, however, I stopped to look at the marcescent beech leaves, some like this one that were mere skeletons of themselves so thoroughly had they been munched. It was almost like all that was left was the backbone and rib cage.

Seeing this reminded me of a spring day on this property about four years ago: A Perfect Beech Day. On that day I’d been wowed by the unfurling beech leaves and noticed how hairy they were. In my book, the hairs are meant to keep insects at bay, and yet beech leaves are attacked by many, many little bugs. On that day I also made a bunch of other cool discoveries. You really should click the link above and read about it.

Speaking of little bugs, I also found a pupating ladybug beetle, its form so unique. If I hadn’t known, I never would have guessed it was a ladybug.

At last I reached that spot that I think of as the secret garden. There isn’t an official trail to it, but over the years many have had the opportunity to discover it on their own and been wowed. That’s how I think Mr. Segur would have liked it. We don’t need trails bisecting every inch of a property. We just need more curious people.

This is a spot where three beaver lodges are located as one gazes north.

In the distance to the south there are two more, but you’ll have to visit the secret spot in order to see them.

While you are there, don’t forget to honor the Rhodora, which is slowly preparing to wow all of us in the spring.

And if you choose to bushwhack out, eventually you might stumble upon the inflated capsule of Indian Tobacco. (Hint: it’s near the edge of an opening)

A little more than three hours and over three miles after beginning, my time wandering the property with Mr. Segur had drawn to a close.

I gave thanks to him for showing me all the stars within and surrounding the circle.

Giving Thanks Mondate

Today’s adventure found us exploring another “new-to-us” trail system, this one located beside the Swift River in Albany, New Hampshire.

The Albany Town Forest is protected with a conservation easement by Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. It seemed apropos that we should choose such a trail for today marked the last day with the land trust for their Outreach and Office Manager, Trisha Beringer. Trish is moving on to new horizons, for which I commend her, but at the same time, I’ll miss bouncing collaborative ideas off of her, searching for anacondas as we paddle local rivers, and giggling till we almost wet our pants as we try to strap kayaks onto our vehicles. (Wait, what? An anaconda? In Maine or New Hampshire? Well, when you’re out in the wilds with Trish, you never know what to expect. We did once encounter three otters.)

The route my guy and I chose for the day was posted at the kiosk located on the Kancamagus Highway, aka the Kanc. Our plan: follow the outermost trails in a counterclockwise pattern–just cuze we felt like going against the grain.

But first, there were other things to appreciate including a tiny beetle on the wood of the kiosk. It looked like a shield bug, but was ladybug in size and had an interesting blue coloration. If you look to the insect’s right, you may note more of the blue hue. I suspect this curious insect somehow met a bit of chalk or paint.

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A few more feet and we found apples decorating the forest floor. Though some had nibble marks, these appeared untouched. Perhaps the critters kept them in cold storage with thoughts that on Thursday they’ll make a delightful addition to a turkey dinner.

A small bird nest also decorated the forest floor, though we suspected it had fallen from the limbs above.

It seemed ornaments were everywhere and we found this Polyphemus Moth Cocoon dangling from a shrub’s branch. This is a member of the giant silk moth family who draw their collective name from the fine silk they use to spin their cocoons. The cocoons serve as protection for the pupal stage in their life cycle. I don’t know about you, but every little thing in nature astonishes me. How do all Polyphemus moths know to spin this shape?

Maybe the wise old chipmunk knows for he seems to be the keeper of the forest this year. And there are plenty of acorns on the ground to add to his pantry.

Through the forest we walked, enjoying the grade of the trail and feel of the place.

And then the community changed and we found ourselves moving beside bent over coneflowers, gum-drop shaped in their winter form. And do you see the baseline for a spider’s web?

Next door was a goldenrod bunch gall created by a midge. Looking like a mass of tiny leaves, it’s also known as a rosette gall for the shape at the top of the stem. In both cases, it’s amazing that insects can change a plant’s growth pattern so dramatically.

As the natural community changed, so did the material world and suddenly we heard the buzz and saw a jet zoom by.

We were fooled momentarily for it circled round and round, came in low for an almost landing as we approached and then took off again. We’d stumbled upon the site of the Mount Washington Valley Radio Control Club.

Airplanes and helicopters weren’t the only ones waiting to lift off into flight. Part of the field was filled milkweed pods, their parachute-equipped seeds waiting for the control tower to give the signal so they could fly.

And where there are milkweed pods, there are also milkweed flowers in their winter form, for such did the structures look with petals of five or six creating the display.

The Davis Farm trail passed by the milkweeds and cut through the fields and I had visions not only of my guy in front of me, but of summer visitors. I’m thinking butterflies, dragonflies, pollinators, oh my.

For now, the fields are dormant, save for a few lone pumpkins adding to the autumn landscape.

And the Moat Mountains providing the backdrop.

By the far edge of the field, hardly cuddly thistles added more texture to the scene.

Staghorn Sumac’s offering was its raspberry color.

At the edge of the field we reached the Swift River and train trestle that crosses it as memories of rides on the Valley Train of the Conway Scenic Railroad when our “boys” were young flashed through our shared memory.

Meeting the river meant that our journey along the Davis Farm Trail had morphed into a western path beside the river and we welcomed its voice as it moved slowly at first over the river rocks.

We did discover one patch of berries that had we not known better, we would have rejoiced over the color for it reminded us of the “white” pumpkins that decorate the season. But . . . we knew better and stayed on the trail in order to avoid Poison Ivy. Yes, it is native. But equally yes, it is a nuisance. Especially if you are allergic.

The trail was shaded beside the river and therefore more snow/ice cover had resulted from a slushy weather event yesterday, but that didn’t stop my guy. You see, I had introduced him to Geocaching.com and my guy loves a challenge.

He found the first and read off the trail names of previous discoverers.

I’ll give you a hint other than the one on the site: look for the Grape Fern. 😉

A wee bit further we came upon a couple of granite blocks and wondered where they’d come from and how they’d ended up in this spot.

Following the compass, we eventually made our second geocache find–this one to my credit. It was enough–my guy is hooked and I see geocaching adventures in our future.

If you can’t locate the second site, ask this chipmunk. We saw no squirrels as has been our experience this year (but do expect a payload amount of squirrels next year in response to this year’s acorn and beech nut mast), but the chipmunks dart across trails and roads on frantic missions as they prepare for the coming season.

My guy wasn’t on his own frantic mission for a change and paused beside this burl to point it out to me. That being said, I did chuckle as he moved on while I paused to admire it. Those folds. And curves. Inlets and outlets. It was like arms, long arms, that circled around and over. All because the tree’s growth hormones were disrupted when its metabolism was hijacked by some other organism, be it a virus, fungus, or bacterium.

Our time beside Swift River began to draw to a close as the sun started to set behind the mountains.

We were almost done with the hike when we noticed deer tracks–indicting they’d travelled to and fro with the river as a main point of their destination.

An individual deer print is heart shaped and such described our journey on several levels–as I continued to appreciate Trisha of Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, and also my guy who has put up with me for over three decades.

On this November day, I gave thanks . . . for this day, for these two people, and for all who have traveled this journey with me.

Blessed be.

Nature’s Denouement

Due to today’s inclement weather, I postponed a Tracking expedition and thought it might be a good day to become a couch potato. But still, my feet itched to get outside as the raindrops fell.

And then a text message arrived: “Potential loon trapped in the ice; rescue happening on Lower Bay.” I was in my truck and on my way before I even knew the exact location.

As I drove, rain changed to big slushy balls that struck the windshield with noisy inkblot-shaped splats. I pulled into a parking area to check on the intended meet-up point and learned I was a bit early, so I went for a walk. All around me, the forest was alive with sounds–of wet snow striking marcescent leaves, and birds chirping as they flew from branch to branch. I’d hoped to meet an old friend, Argee, but he was nowhere in sight.

By the time I did join the rescue group, they were already loading an aluminum boat into the lake.

The Lower Bay of Kezar Lake had sealed over this past weekend and was coated with an inch or more of ice.

Thus the need for the rescue mission. An immature loon got caught by the sudden freeze. Thankfully for it, Susan Clout, a local resident, noticed its situation and put out a call for help.

Responders included Heinrich and Linda Wurm, Paul Buckley, Steve Lewis, and Jim Buck.

Donning life jackets, their only gear: paddles, a net and a box. It all seemed so simple. Paddle out, coo to the bird as it might talk to another, and either make open water for it to fly (loons need at least a quarter mile for take off, this one had a circle that maybe measured twenty feet–it was difficult to tell from the shore) or capture and release it on an open section of the lake. As one of the text messages stated about the plan: Evolving.

The task of breaking the ice was daunting and though it looked like they were crossing the Potomac, all they really wanted to do was maneuver part way across the bay.

Because it made sense for the person in the bow to stand and break ice as the sternman paddled, stability became an issue and within minutes the boat returned to shore and a third passenger climbed aboard.

Though you can see the circle of open water and it may appear close by, it was all a matter of perspective and they had a long path to create.

Meanwhile, back on shore, those of us who remained behind and felt like we might need to rescue the rescuers, were entertained by Susan as she sang the most delightful lines of a song she’d been writing about the loon’s dilemma.

Back on the water, or rather, ice, progress was slow.

And still the loon swam, occasionally calling out. We interrupted its voice to mean, “I see you. Keep coming my way.”

On board the SS Icebreaker, oarsmen shifted positions because it was tiring to chop continuously.

We kept assuming they were making headway given their position.

And they were. But they still had a long way to go. After 75 minutes, with probably two more hours separating them from the loon, and a cold rain falling, they decided to turn around and hope that higher temps and maybe a breeze in coming days will do the trick. All are hopeful.

I was invited to the scene because my friends’ thought it would make a good story. In the end, my story is nothing compared to the one Nature is writing. She, apparently, has Her own plans for the denouement. We can’t wait to read how She resolves this matter.

Update: November 21, 2019

And here is the rest of the story as Heinrich interpreted it for us: “The loon we were aiming our mission toward took off this morning! Just as the Game Warden showed up the loon started flapping its wings and headed east toward the Narrows. Amazing!

created by dji camera

Unfortunately these remnants were left near the other open space
where a loon had been sighted before.

I later learned that two Bald Eagles were spotted near the loons.

Nature’s Denouement: Find a balance.

Women of the Dragonflies

The minute we launched our kayaks, I knew we were in for a treat, for beside bur-reed and water-logged branches and even upon our boats, the Autumn Dragonflies danced, theirs a frantic last-minute mating routine.

Single males watched as couples prepared for the grand event and every once in a while they’d try to interfere, though that usually ended within seconds.

Once they gave up, they were willing to land and hang out with me for a few moments. If you know me, you know I was thrilled–especially given that every time I see a dragonfly of late, I’m sure it’s the last of the season. And then . . .

I heard a loud buzz over my head and upon my friend Pam’s vest, a Lake Darner landed. I told her not to move as I took in its glory. That being said, only moments before perhaps this same dragonfly tried to nab a canoodling pair positioned right below my paddle. For the moment, they survived, and he took a break.

His break over, onward we paddled into the wind and current. But really, it wasn’t a tough journey and around every bend we were wowed as we paused, drifted, and got lost in the scenery. The colors have reached their beyond peak rendition, but still, we were surrounded by beauty.

It showed itself in layers,

reflections,

and a combination of the two.

We paused beside tree stumps and gasped at their intricate structures as we remembered summer sightings of painted turtles.

As one might expect, the littlest things begged our focus, such as the spider only Pam spied through her lens.

While she looked down, I looked beyond to a far stump and Heron Rookery in the distance. And in the midst of my search–a Lake Darner Dragonfly flew in on patrol. Do you see it in the upper right-hand corner?

Our next wonder moment occurred when we realized a certain insect posed upon a drowned branch.

Our spot: a Wooly Bear caterpillar. Having grown up in Canada, Pam didn’t know about the Wooly Bear’s reputation as a predictor of winter weather. According to local lore and backed up by The Farmer’s Almanac, this is how it works: “The Woolly Bear caterpillar has 13 distinct segments of either rusty brown or black. The wider the rusty brown sections (or the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. The more black there is, the more severe the winter.”

The curious thing: this is the first I’ve seen with a wider rusty brown section; all others have had wider black sections. Hmmm. Methinks that by April we’ll know which W. Bear was correct.

But here’s another question: there was water on either side of the downed limb. How in the world did the caterpillar get there? We’ve watched Hickory Tussock Caterpillars squirm their way across the water all summer, so we know they can “swim.” Did W. Bear come from the shore? A bird’s mouth? Or fall from a branch above? We’ll never know, but considering the possibilities opened our minds.

Beyond W. Bear, we found ourselves looking at a familiar view we’ve always enjoyed from the land behind us: a look north toward a Heron Rookery.

High up in the trees sit condominiums that we’ve seen filled with birds. One, two, three, four, even five birds. Large birds. Yes, the nests are large, but how in the world do they survive wild winds and how in the world do the birds co-exist upon them before fledging?

We spent a lot of time looking up, but an equal amount of time looking down, where Equisetum fluviatile, or Water Horsetail grew prolifically. The thing about it was that it had all been browsed as if a field mowed. We suspected the diners were Canada Geese that we knew had inhabited this place for months.

At last we reached a point where paddling further north presented some issues and the sun was lowering in the sky. So, we turned around and paddled south as far as we could go, with the sun blinding much of the sights. But . . . beside another stump we did stop. And were honored with the lines it presented from a complicated spider web intermixed with the tree’s lines.

Wthin sight of the Route 93 bridge, we again turned around to return to our launch site. The temperature had dipped and as we rounded the final bends, we found ourselves in full shade rather than sun. And a discussion of seasonal lighting entered our conversation.

Things are in flux in these parts. But for one more day, we were the women of the dragonflies.

Seeking Red Mondate

When I invited my guy to join me in a wetland today to mark out a trail, I truly expected him to hem and haw about going. And then when we got there, I thought he’d want to rush through the process and be done with it.

But perhaps it was the setting that slowed him down. I know that it always slows me down.

It’s a place where over and over again I’m surprised to discover that others have come before. Last year, it was bear prints that stopped me in my tracks. Today, bobcat. The print is upside down in the photo, but do you see the pad, C-shaped ridge and four toes heading toward you? Notice that the two front toes are a bit asymmetrical. Ah mud. It’s as good as snow. Though I can’t wait to go tracking in snow.

Another reason that this place slows me down is all that it has to offer. The Winterberries were a major part of our stumbling movement, but still they made me smile even though I had to untwist each foot as I tried to step over, around, and through their woody stems.

Among the mix in the shrub layer was Maleberry, its woody fruits of last year displaying shades of brown, while the newer fruits were tinged green.

And then there was the Nannyberry with its oval shaped fruits so blue upon red stems, and . . .

Withe-rod just a wee bit different shape that always makes me question my identification.

Rhodora also showed off its woody structure of last year embraced by this year’s softer fruiting form.

But what we really sought were little gems of red hiding among sedges in a different herbaceous layer.

I totally didn’t expect my guy to develop cranberry greed quite the way he has a penchant for blueberries, but he did. And he also rejoiced in eating the tart berries right off the stem. Even he commented that the little balls of red were like the blue-gold he usually sought during the summer.

Seriously, it got to the point where I gave up picking, and cranberries are much more my thing than blueberries. And I began to focus on other shades of red, like those that the Pitcher Plants loved to display.

The pattern on the Pitcher leaves always makes me think of the Tree of Life. But . . . equally astonishing are the hairs that coat each pitcher. If you rub your fingers down into the urn-like leaf, you can feel the hairs and gain a better understanding of them creating a landing strip for insects. The true test, however, comes when you dare to escape this carnivorous plant. Can you climb out of the leaf? The way out is sticky and rough and by tracing a finger upward, its suddenly obvious why insects can’t find their way out.

Equally unique, the flower structure that remains, waiting to share its 300+ seeds to the future. For now, it reminds me of a windmill on the turn.

My guy wasn’t as taken with the Pitcher Plant as I was. And he certainly didn’t care about the fact that a Funnel Weaver spider had recently taken up home among the plants urn-like leaves. But me . . . I was totally wowed. Why did a spider that likes to wait in its funnel tunnel until something landed on the net it had created, use a carnivorous plant as its home base? Did it have an agreement with the plant? I’ll bring you food if you don’t see me as food? And was that dark V-shape on the web a leg of one devoured?

With no spider in sight, I knew I’d have to let my questions go, but still . . . it was a mosaic web worth appreciating.

The Pitcher Plant grew on the edge . . . of an Arrowhead wetland . . .

growing beside a Sphagnum Moss peat bog.

And as I walked among it all, I felt the bog quake below my feet.

The pom-pom mosses were responsible for the environment in which we travelled . . . and for its inhabitants.

And because of the Sphagnum the cranberries grew. Abundantly.

Our movement continued as my guy wanted to find as many little red balls of tart glory as ever. And in the midst, the natural community came to focus on Devil’s Beggarstick.

Notice the spines along the seed’s structure.

The beggars chose to stick indeed. Volunteers. They hoped we’d move them on to another place, but we chose to pull each one off . . . Not an easy task.

At last it was time for us to take our leave. And so we found our way out as we’d come in, but felt like crowned royalty for all the finds we’d made, so many of them featuring a shade of red.

In the end, a look back was a look forward. We sought red and so should you—head to your favorite cranberry bog as soon as possible for the fruits await your foraging efforts. And wherever you go, don’t share the location with others. It’s much more fun to have a secret spot as you seek red.

Paddling into Autumn

I’ve no idea how many times I’ve driven past the Kezar Outlet put-in on Harbor Road in Fryeburg and noticed others either embarking or debarking from a canoe or kayak trip and always desired to do the same. Occasionally, I’d stop and take photos, and once I co-led a trip from the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake to the dam, but until August I’d not gone any further. And then our friend, Pam Katz, invited my guy and me to join her for a journey from the dam to Charles River, on to Charles Pond, and part way up Cold Brook.

The put-in can be a bit tricky with rocks and stirring water flowing from the dam, but somehow the three of us managed not to tip as we kerplunked into our kayaks. That day inspired all of the subsequent trips for really we were scouting out a route for the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend paddle co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Upper Saco Valley Land Trust.

On that first journey and two that followed, we were wowed by the floral displays including, Cardinal Flowers,

Pickerel Weed,

Sessile-fruited Arrowhead and . . .

Common Arrowhead,

Ground-nut, and . . .

Turtlehead. Today, only a few asters showed off their composite form.

We’d paddled along, my guy, of course, always in the lead so he was the first to reach the old beaver dam. Pam was surprised by it because the water had been higher when she’d last followed this route. But it was obvious from the fact that there were no new sticks and the water wasn’t at dam level on the far side that there was no current beaver activity. My guy, feeling chivalrous, hopped out of his boat and shuffled us around on the wet grassy area to the far right of the dam.

Upon the sticks and branches Emerald Jewelwings flew, males such as this one with the white dot on its forewing waiting for a second before attempting to dance with a mate.

Once all three of us were on the other side, the water was a wee bit deeper and it seemed we’d entered Brigadoon.

And then the community changed again and Swamp Maples allowed glimpses of the mountains beyond.

Before one of the final turns in the Charles River, we reached an abandoned beaver lodge.

And then Charles Pond opened before us.

We crossed the pond to Cold River, found a great lunch spot and reflected upon our sightings, which included a few ducks, an eagle, and a heron.

My second visit was with Trisha Beringer, Outreach and Office Manager for Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. It was an opportunity for me to show Trisha the route and for us to create our plan for the GMOW event. And to bask in the sun much the way the Painted Turtles did.

She was as wowed as I was by the journey and excited to share it with others.

Our turn around point was Charles Pond, but we paused for a few moments to take in the view.

And on the way back, as I contemplated sliding over the dam because the water was a bit higher due to some rain, three otters surprised me as they played below. Only one is visible with its head above water, but the others had just dunked under. Once they realized we were there, they took off. Our portage wasn’t a portage at all for rather than go over the dam, we did the dam shuffle, maneuvering our boats around it with a full-body back and forth motion.

Finally, it was time for the GMOW event, and the night before we decided to let those who had signed up know that we needed to postpone it from last Saturday to Sunday because of the weather. As it turned out, it was the right choice to make and Sunday dawned bright and beautiful with dew drops to top off the gathering.

Just beyond the Harbor Road bridge we passed under, a maple astounded us with the first official glimpse of the season to come and many of us paid it homage with photographs and words of awe.

At the beaver dam, the water was lower than on the previous visits, but thankfully two paddlers hopped out and helped everyone get out of boats and shift them around to the other side.

Continuing upstream, the Swamp Maples that offer the first glimpses of the mountains, showed that they too were trying on their new coats for the next season.

The group took in the view while crossing to Cold River and continuing on until we couldn’t travel easily any more. As always, the return trip was quicker and we finished up in three hours, grateful for an opportunity to explore the water that connects the GLLT’s fen property on Kezar Outlet with USVLT’s Stearns Property on Cold River and make new friends. It was a spectacular day and we were pleased that we’d made the choice to postpone.

One who had to back out of the GMOW trip at the last minute, asked if we’d offer it again, thinking we’d gone ahead with our Saturday plan. She really wanted to check out the course because though she’s lived locally forever, she’d never been below the dam on Harbor Road. And so this morning, I met Storyteller and GLLT member, Jo Radner. As we moseyed along, we began to notice bank tunnel after bank tunnel for so low was the water. In a muddy section, we found prints with a tail impression thrown into the mix and deciphered them as beaver.

It made perfect sense when we noticed a sight not spotted on the previous trips: beaver works on a maple. Given that, we began to wonder what the dam might look like.

Despite the fact that we found more and more evidence of recent beaver works, the dam certainly was bigger, but not because it had been added to by the rodents. Rather, the water level was much, much lower than I’d seen on any previous visit.

It seemed the beavers were active, but we couldn’t help but wonder why they hadn’t added to the dam. That meant that they were probably not at the lodge either, but we still had more water to travel through before reaching that point.

The trip around the dam was more challenging than upon any other visit, and we were both sure we’d end up in the water, but somehow we did it with more grace than we realized we possessed.

And then the spot that I’d called Brigadoon on the first visit showed off a much more colorful display.

Closer to the pond, the curtain hiding the mountains also had undergone a transformation.

Just beyond, we reached the lodge that is longer than tall and always reminds me of a New England farmhouse: big house, little house, back house, barn. Jo’s canoe helped characterize the length of the lodge.

We too, lunched on Cold River as has become the habit, and then turned around.

It was on the way back that the Painted Turtles, basking in the sun in order to thermoregulate, began to show themselves. As usual, they took on a Yoga-like pose with back feet extended to collect additional heat.

Like Jo, I want to come back to this world as an otter because they love to play in summer and winter, but a Painted Turtle might be my next choice if I ever feel the need to let winter pass by while I nestle into the mud.

Speaking of otters, we found stone pile after stone pile above the water, each a copy of the next. They line both sides of the river. In high water, they’re not visible, but with today’s low height, they were quite obvious. Upon this one we found a beaver chew stick that wasn’t there a week ago.

All are almost pyramid shaped, in a rounded sense, and constructed of varying sizes from gravel to stone potatoes. Not only did we find beaver chews upon a few, but fresh water mussel shells and the ever present acorns that are currently raining in such a fashion that one feels like the sky is falling.

The mussel shells would have indicated that the otters had been dining. And so we began to develop a story about otters piling the stones on purpose to confuse us. Beavers also took advantage of the piles so they became part of our interpretation.

I’ve asked several people about these formations and have a few theories of my own, but would love to hear your take on this. I suspect a few fishermen may have the answer about the stone piles.

Four hours after we started, today’s journey ended. I suspect it will be a while before I return, for so low is the water, but . . . you might twist my arm.

Thanks to Pam, and Trisha, and Jo: today I got to paddle into autumn in a most amazing place.