The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode 4

We’d barely set off on episode 4 of The Amazing Race–Our Style when we hit our first roadblock just around the corner from home. A small patch of roadway at the foot of a friend’s driveway was being paved by the State. Our first challenge–how many state employees does it take to repair such a patch? Fifteen. Two to stop traffic, two to operate equipment, one to supervise, and ten to stand around and drink coffee.

Our next roadblock–a stop at our local hardware store to return a rented chainsaw. Well, truth be told, more like a borrowed chainsaw from the rental department. Regardless, the clock ticked on.

And still, there was one final roadblock–a stop at Prompto Ten Minute Oil Change, where we got to sit and watch the action, which actually took less than ten minutes.

At last, we reached the ticket office of Casco Bay Lines in Portland, Maine . . . as a ferry was departing. The ferry we wanted to be on. C’est la vie.

P1-PORTHOLE

Since we’d missed the boat. we decided to use the time until the next departure to our benefit and ate an early lunch at the Porthole, where we both ordered the scrumptious beer-battered fish sandwich.

P2-GATE 5

Following lunch, we hurried back to Gate 5, not sure if we’d be the only contestants on board.

P4-TICKET:CLUE

When it was time, my guy handed over our tickets and received our first clue.

P6-PEAKS ISLAND

We needed to exit the boat at Peaks Island in Casco Bay. That was easy given that this particular ferry only traveled between Portland and the island.

P7-MIKE'S CARTS

Finally, we were ready to get into the nitty gritty of the day’s adventure. We had a choice–ride all the way around the island on bicycles without stopping or complete a loop that only covered half the island via a golf cart, but included a few stops. Because of my current one-armed bandit situation, we chose Mike’s Carts.

P8-LEARNING TO DRIVE GOLF CART

Another set of contestants made the same choice, which made us realize we still had a chance to stay in the race. Mike explained the finer points of island driving.

P10-MAINE COAST AND ISLANDS

As we made our way to the first island challenge, we enjoyed the views.

P11-CAIRN ALLEY

The rocky coast of Maine proved to be much more than that, at least in this section–Cairn Beach. Other contestants passed by this challenge, but we decided to try it.

P12-CAIRN ALLEY

According to the clue, we needed to build a cairn that somehow reflected the surroundings. Examples surrounded us.

P14-CAIRN GROWING

One rock at a time,

P13-BASE OF OUR CAIRN

we created a base until . . .

P15-CAIRN REFLECTION

our final product was an artistic representation of the cattails behind it.

P16-TRAIL TO BATTERY STEELE

Upon completion of the cairn, our next clue suggested the need for batteries. And so we followed a trail away from the water.

P17-BOARDWALK

But really, water was a part of it. And a boardwalk–in much worse condition than the one that flipped my feet into the air on last week’s Left-handed Mondate.

P18-TWO WOMEN AHEAD

With great care I followed my guy–for two women we wanted to overcome were ahead of us. All the way along, birds serenaded us.

P20-sausage-shaped boudin

Thankfully, the boardwalk gave way to solid ground and among the offerings at our feet I noted a sausage-shaped boudin–I could only hope we might earn extra points for knowing such.

P19- APPROACHING BATTERY STEELE

The trail led us to a gallery of sorts for its a place frequented by midnight artists. Were we in the right place?

P22--MIDNIGHT ART

The question remained as we admired the creative works–but what did they have to do with batteries? Did the clue refer to the energy of the artists?

P21-BATTERY STEELE

And then the answer was made obvious–we were exploring the Battery Steele constructed in 1942. According to the Peaks Island Land Preserve: “During World War II, Battery Steele was the most important fortification in Casco Bay. Its two 16″ guns, triangulated by observation towers on Peaks Island, Jewell Island, Cushing Island, and Bailey Island, could shoot a shell weighing 2,240 pounds nearly 30 miles at enemy battleships or submarines to protect Portland Harbor.”

If you look closely, you might see my guy starring into a tunnel. The team of two women challenged us to walk down the dark tunnel. They made it about a third of the way before running out while screaming. We accepted the challenge and made it only as far, using my handicap as an excuse to turn around–I couldn’t spy any obstacles in the dark and didn’t want to risk tripping. Would our calm departure overcome their hysteria?

P23-SHORTCUT BACK

No matter, for we knew the outcome was out of our control. Because we’d chosen a cart over a bike, we next needed to locate the road that cut across the island and back toward the harbor. An islander was out for a walk and we stopped to ask if we were headed in the right direction. She told us to stay to the right, cross over at the four corners, and continue down the hill. Bingo. We returned the cart and received our next clue–to locate the smallest store on the island that is open year round.

P24-DUFFY'S HARDWARE

And that’s how we ended up in Duffy’s Hardware.

P25-DUFFY'S HARDWARE

It’s a one-room wonder that serves an important niche.

P26-TRAVELING GNOME

With the hardware challenge completed, we next needed to walk along until we discovered the Traveling Gnome. We found it subtly hidden in a garden with Casco Bay forming the backdrop.

P27-LOCKED GATE

The gnome’s clue was to find a way to the beach. We began to worry because time was running short and we found one locked gate after another.

P28-BEACH OF SORTS

But, we don’t give up easily and at last found a slice of sand.

P29-NATURE'S ART WORK

While walking along our goal was to locate three natural representations. The first–nature’s artistic palette.

P30-BRICK

The second–something with an historical reference.

P31-BARNICLES

The third–natural homes aka barnacles.

P33-LOBSTER TRAP MAZE

And then we both had to complete the lobster trap maze. Could we do it successfully?

P34-MAZE

Piece of cake.

P37-ICE CREAM

Speaking of cake, we had some spending money and a wee bit of time before the ferry arrived so we visited the local grocery store to satisfy our need for a sweet treat since the ice cream shop wasn’t open. Among the offerings we found sundaes and purchased two.

P38-ICE CREAM

Ahhhh. But when you are suddenly sidelined by a wrist fracture, consuming some treats requires help and so my guy broke the sundae up for me. It also means letting go of the fact that one might end up with sticky fingers for a while. If only The Amazing Race–Our Style included special credit for overcoming personal obstacles. Hmmm–maybe down the road.

P32-?

We’d completed all of the island challenges when one last question (mark) appeared.

P36-LOVE ROCK

Could you find a stone that represented our relationship and today’s Mondate?

We did. And with that we completed another episode of The Amazing Race–Our Style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kinship With All Forms of Life

I walked today with intent, as I sometimes do, only that intention morphed between the beginning and ending of my journey. You see, I awoke with a need to reach a certain heron rookery that I’ve helped monitor for the Heron Observation Network of Maine during the off-season,  before the owner of the land returns. It’s a bit of a bushwhack to reach the site and in the past, I’ve accompanied Tom for this citizen science effort. Each spring, we’ve visited it at least once to count the number of nests and adults. Sadly, Tom won’t be joining me this year and so I headed off this morning to see what I might see–and be his eyes.

m1-squirrel

They were big eyes to fill–as big as the red squirrel who paused to watch me and then dashed along a stonewall on a mission of its own making.

m2-brook peek

Initially, the journey was a bit of a bee line as I followed a snowmobile trail. It was there that I delighted in the color of the sky and realized that most of the ice had melted on the beaver pond and brook below. I could have headed down to the water’s edge then, but chose to continue toward my destination.

m3-beaver dam inactive

I was almost there, when an old beaver dam forced me to stop. And then I heard a loud crash. I scanned the area and stood still–listening, waiting, wishing.

And then another noise–of movement. Again, I stood still. Nothing.

m4-land bridge

Finally, I arrived at the land bridge that would lead me to the rookery, but . . . my journey stalled and I realized I’d have to save the crossing for another day. Water rushed over the mossy mounds and because I was alone I decided not to risk falling in. As I stood and admired the flow, I thought some more about Tom and the crossing he is making from this life to the next.

m6-more ice bubbles

And I thought of his sense of wonder and ability to instill such in others, even over something as simple as ice baubles.

m 5-ice bubbles

I could hear an eloquent explanation flow forth from him about the movement of bubbles within an icicle formed on a branch.

m7-ice fingers

And I knew he would appreciate the artistic rendering before our shared eyes–in this case a wee bit reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s Transformation Prints.

m27-forest

At last I pulled myself away from the crossing I couldn’t make and turned back toward the forest from which I’d come. Tom had a hand in the vision of these woods–as a forester and as the executive director of the Greater Lovell Land Trust. His vision included forest management that would benefit wildlife. From where I stood, I saw turkey, deer, bobcat, and squirrel tracks.

A third time, I heard a sound and knew that I wasn’t alone. We never are, are we?

m8-mergansers

Eventually I made my way to the water’s edge and noted Hooded Mergansers in the distance. Around another bend, I spotted Wood Ducks. Tom would have loved it for birding was also one of his passions.

m10-beaver works

Within footsteps I admired the work of another forester who called this place home.

m11-beaver attempt

It seemed he’d sampled some trees and they weren’t to his liking–at that moment. Or perhaps something had startled him and he quickly retreated to the water. Either way, he treated this land as if it were his. For it was.

m12-more beaver

Everywhere, beaver works both old and new decorated the forest.

m18-lodge

And a lodge stood tall still partially surrounded by ice.

m7a-goldthread

But there was more of  the woods to see this day, like goldthread’s evergreen leaves that reminded me of cilantro. And also of Tom’s garden, for which he actually has some seedlings that will be ready to plant in another month and its produce will be enjoyed at a later date by those he loved most. Their dinners will be enriched for one last season by his green thumb.

m13-tiny shell

Next, I spied a tiny, fragile shell that was iridescent on the inside and brown on the outside. It couldn’t be a bird egg. Was it from a snail?  Tom would have known.

m14-holy leaf

And then there was a striped maple leaf like none I’ve ever seen before–almost stained-glass in its offering. It only made sense that it be so hol(e)y for in its life cycle it had provided energy to insects and as it continues to break down it will nourish the earth. Tom would recognize the significance of such–renewal, rather than devastation.

m15-hobblebush

There were other things to note, including a hobblebush flower bud that formed between its praying hand leaf buds.

m21-lungwort

And lungwort that served as an indicator of a rich, healthy ecosystem. Indeed.

m19-heron

I stood for a long time by the water’s edge, thinking of Tom and then I spied it. A Great Blue Heron flew in and landed across the way. My intention was honored. And Tom’s.

m24-rotten apples

At last I headed back the way I had come and passed through a field where a couple of apple trees grow. As I’d journeyed I had noted scat after scat–some filled with apple chunks and seeds. Of course, I rejoiced because I have an affinity for scat.

But Tom, too, would have rejoiced for what he set out to do so many years ago was to create wildlife corridors–those links of joined natural habitat. For Tom, that’s what it’s all been about–maintaining the ecological processes that allow mammals of all kinds to move and continue to be viable. And for the land on which they traveled to also be viable.

His has been a kinship with all forms of life beginning with the minute, like his shiitake mushrooms and the earth within his gardens and ending with . . . there is no ending, only new beginnings. May Tom’s next beginning be through the eyes of a Golden Eagle. As he soars above us, may he approve of the continued good works of others who try to emulate the legacy he will leave behind.

Godspeed Tom. And thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

Bogging with Barb

Passing off a copy of the book, From Grassroots to Groundwater, about how two small Maine towns fought Nestlé and won, was the perfect excuse to head to Brownfield Bog. I told Barb I didn’t mind driving to her home or somewhere nearby to give her the book because I’d then go exploring and she welcomed the opportunity to do the same.

b2-Kathy's sign

As we began our journey, I asked if she knew Kathy McGreavy. Of course she did. I mentioned that Kathy walks in the bog daily and we might encounter her. Of course we did. Kathy and “her friend” were just coming out after walking their dogs and so we chatted for  bit. Our discussion included mention of the sign Kathy made last year as her capstone project for the Maine Master Naturalist Program. It’s an incredible piece of artwork and as she’s learned, I’m not the only one who thinks so. Recently, she discovered that a woodpecker had taken to pecking it and so the bottom is now protected with a piece of plexiglass. Crazy birds.

b1-Bog view from the road

Eventually, Barb and I said our goodbyes to the McGreavys and walked down the unplowed road where I did warn her about my obsession for stopping frequently to take photos. It began from the start–when we spied the bog through the trees and noticed the contrast of colors and layers.

b3a-pussy willows

And then–specks of white were ours to behold.

b3-pussy willows

Pussy willows. Was it too early she wondered. No–in fact, I spotted some a year ago on February 23 at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve.

b4-red-winged blackbirds

Our next reason to stop–the red and yellow shoulder patch or epaulet providing their name: Red-Winged Blackbirds. Again, Barb asked if it was too early. This time, I referenced Mary Holland for the February 27th entry in her book Naturally Curious Day by Day has this headline: Returning Red-Winged Blackbirds Survive Cold Temperatures and Few Insects. Bingo.

b5-water obstacles

Sometimes our stops were to contemplate our next steps–especially when it came to the water that covered the cobble stones on the road.

b6-Barb charges through the water

But sometimes you just have to go for it. And we did. As the morning continued, we ventured through deeper water and plowed ahead knowing that we would need to dry our hiking boots out when we arrived home.

b7-bird's nest

We found a bird nest and wondered about its creator. We did note some acorn pieces inside, so we think it had more than an avian inhabitant.

b8-beaver lodge

And we paused to look at an old beaver lodge. The mud looked recent but none of the sticks were this year’s additions so we didn’t know if anyone was home.

b9-map in the snow

All along, we’d been talking about places we’ve hiked and other topics of interest to both of us. We even learned that we’d both worked in Franklin, New Hampshire, just not at the same time. But speaking of hikes, with her finger, Barb drew a map in the snow and now I have another trail to check out soon with my guy. Should I forget the way, I’ll just reference this map. 😉

b10-raccoon prints

Because we were near water, though most of it still frozen, and the temp was high (actually, too high–in fact, it felt HOT as it soared into the upper 60˚s today), we weren’t surprised to find this set of prints created recently by a raccoon. I love the hand-like appearance and opposite diagonal of each two feet. Can’t you just see him waddling through–in your mind’s eye, that is?

b11-the bog

Our turn-around point offered an expansive view of the bog. As much as we may have wanted to head out onto it, we sided with caution and kept to the edge of the shore.

b12-winterberry

On the way back, there were other things to admire as there always is even when you follow the same route: winterberries drying up;

b13-rhodora

rhodora’s woody seed pods and flower buds swelling;

b14-willow gall

and the pinecone-like structure created with leaves by a reaction to a chemical released by the larva that allows a gall gnat midge to overwinter on the willows.

b16-carrion-flower tendrils

And then we stumbled upon a plant neither of us knew. With it’s long stem and curly tendrils, we were sure it was a vine.

b15-carrion-flower

Upon arriving home, however, I wondered about the umbel structure that had been its flower and now still held some fruits. A little bit of research and I found it: Carrion Flower (Smilax herbacea), which apparently smells rather foul when it’s in bloom and thus attracts carrion flies as its pollinator. Now I can’t wait to return and check it out in the next two seasons. Any excuse to get back there.

b17-bog to Pleasant Mountain

At last the time had come to say goodbye to the bog and then goodbye to each other. Thanks Barb, for giving me an excuse to go bogging with you. It was indeed a treat.

Otter Spotter Mondate

Fresh snow. Blue-bird sky. Mid-range temperature. Day off. All the makings for a fine Monday date with my guy.

m1-apples

We weren’t sure if snowshoes would be the right choice as we feared the snow might stick to the cleats and make us feel like we were walking on high heels–hardly our style. But, actually, conditions were perfect. Of course, my guy tried going without at first, but after creating one post hole after another, he strapped his on while I headed over to an apple tree to enjoy the view.

We were on a private property in Lovell that is under conservation easement with the Greater Lovell Land Trust.

m2-coyote track

I’d been on this property only a few days ago and the tracks were many, but with the advent of yesterday’s snow, we found only a few. One set was that of a coyote. And fairly fresh was it.

m4-brook below

We moved quickly (of course we did for I was with my guy–but I was equally anxious to get to two destinations) and in no time found ourselves walking along beside a brook.

m5-brook crossing

As we approached we wondered how open the brook might be and decided we’d cross that “bridge” when we got to it. But really, there was no bridge.

m3-icicles at brook crossing

The ice, however, delighted our sense of sight, understanding, and artistic form. Like the water from which it was created, it flowed in much variety.

m6-one coyote became 2

Without any problems, we found our way to the other side and realized we were in the company of others who had done the same. One moment it seemed we’d followed one, but then realized we were on the trail of two coyotes when their path split.

m8-porky body

And it split for a reason. To check out a previous kill site. But they only seemed to sniff and not partake.

m9-porky tail

Just as well for it was a porcupine. But really, I was surprised they didn’t try to flip it over to get at the stomach. Maybe somebody else had already taken the pleasure.

m10-rookery and coyote track

On we trekked, until we reached water again. And this time we stopped to look around, while the coyotes moved on.

m11-heron nests

High in the trees across the way we spied the heron rookery–one of our reasons for visiting. We knew the nests would be empty, but still, it’s fun to take note.

m13-heron rookery

And they’re easier to see in the winter than spring/summer when this rookery is monitored for the state HERON project: the Heron Observation Network of Maine. I’ve had the honor of visiting this particular rookery in the past and helping to document the number of residents. Though it was active last April, something happened later to upset the neighborhood and so I’ll be curious to see what the status will be in the future.

m14-heron rookery

For today, the nests looked like they were in great shape and even two in the condominium were awaiting the return of the snowbirds who’d spent the winter south of this location.

m16-lungwort

Because we were there, I also turned to check on another tree–which sports a healthy colony of lungwort–photosynthesizing because it had been snowed upon.

m15-mesmerizing scene

We stayed for a while, my guy and I, enjoying the peace and quiet and colors and textures of the afternoon that curled around us.

m18-crossing over

At last, we pulled ourselves away and crossed back over the brook. It was a piece of cake. Well, at least we didn’t fall in.

m19-chipmunk

Our next destination took us past a condo of another sort–one created by a chipmunk who kept an eye on us, then swiftly disappeared. We could only wonder about the inner chambers of its home.

m17-striped maple beaver works

It was after that that we began to encounter the works of another rodent, this time upon striped maple.

m20-beaver works

The art pieces were sometimes large,

m21-beaver works small

other times small,

m23-beaver works mistake

and sometimes mistaken–as in logistics of the felling.

m22--false lodge

But that didn’t matter for their buildings were many. Oops, the first one we spied was actually a boulder.

m24-beaver lodge 1

Further along, however, we found the main building. It was topped with fresh wood and well mudded, so we assumed warm bodies dined and wined within.

m25-beaver lodge 2

There was another nearby, and we could see indentations denoting visitors had stopped by prior to yesterday’s storm. We also noted that the ice had melted all around it. Was someone home? We knew not.

m26-looking back from the dam

On we moved and then turned back to enjoy the view as shadows grew long.

m27-beaver dam

Turning 180˚ again,  we looked toward the beaver dam that stretched before us. I’d last visited in late November and wondered what it would look like today.

m28-below the beaver dam

It looked . . . snow covered.

m30-otter track

But . . . in that snow we spied our critter. Do you see him?

m32-otter moving from brook to land

We followed him downstream–he was on the other side of the brook, but moved in his telltale manner . . .

m33-following the brook

across the landscape . . .

m35-otter again

in and out of the water . . .

m43-otter slide and bound

bounding and sliding . . .

m42-otter slide

and sliding some more . . .

m40-prints, trough, scat

leaving behind fresh scat and prints . . .

m44-ice and tree and water and reflection

for our pleasure. We had the time of our lives watching the otter–did you see him?

Truth be told, we never did actually see him, but in our minds eyes we knew his every motion. When we first spied the prints and trough on the other side, we thought he had moved in the same direction as we did. But when he crossed to our side, and we could get an upclose look, we realized we were traveling in opposite directions. He had moved through not long before we arrived. Was he also checking out the beaver lodges? Probably. And hunting for his next meal.

Though we didn’t get to actually see this member of the weasel family, the signs left behind were enough to tickle our fancy and on this Mondate we were indeed otter spotters.

A Beautiful Gray Day

Today dawned sunny with a bright blue sky. A perfect day to travel the trail with Marita.

g1-burl

We wondered what we’d see and didn’t go far before spying a bear hiding behind a tree. Marita was happy to pose beside it in hopes of coaxing the critter to join her in smiling for the camera. Actually, it was the largest burl either of us could remember encountering.

g2-rock castle

After the bear burl, we discovered a rock castle that made us think of kids for we knew that when ours were youngsters they would have loved climbing the towers and hiding in secret cubbies.

g3-morgan meadow 1

But one of our favorite finds on this particular trail was the wetland.

g4-MM 2

A thin layer of ice reflected the changing sky above . . .

g5-MM3

until both were completely gray–but still rich in offerings from color to texture, and we imagined, wildlife.

g6-red maple roots

Beside the water, a red maple offered its own point of interest–and truly, I suspected the fairies lived within.

g7-water feather 1

And then, in another place we found another work of art. While Marita saw a fish, I saw a feather.

g8-water feather 2

From any point of view, we stood in awe.

g9-water feather 3

Such a design of bubbles all because a rock interrupted the flow.

g10-squirrel cache

Red squirrel caches and . . .

g11-squirrel table

dining tables also caught our attention. We heard a few chit and chat at us, but never saw them. Our only wildlife sightings were about a dozen turkeys and a hawk that surprised us.

g11-winterberry

We tramped miles and miles, but only found one spot of truly bright colors as we admired red winterberries juxtaposed behind bent over cattails.

g13-Libby Foundation

And in all our travels, we only found one foundation, where we admired the paper birch that represented the family tree.

g14-mm fav

At the end of the day, we’d walked miles along a variety of trails on a day that began with  blue skies, but ended with gray. Our favorite sight of all remained the first wetland.

In the end, it was a beautiful day in Gray, Maine.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Watch

My feet itched to move along the forest floor and so I followed them and wondered where they might lead.

o-tree buds

The first stop was to examine tree leaf and flower buds packed inside their waxy scales where they will remain protected from the northerly winds until a date unknown.

o-hemlock cones

Beside the red maple, Eastern hemlock cones dangled like Christmas ornaments, with woody scales of their own protecting tiny seeds tucked inside until those northerly winds might release them.

o-squirrel dinner table

Everywhere, any possible surface, particularly those a bit raised, became a red squirrel dinner table meant for dining upon this year’s abundant supply of seeds.

o-squirrel chatter 1

And everywhere I was chastised by squirrel chatter for they seemed so sure I wanted to wrestle with them for a few nibbles.

o-upper side, maze polypore

I paused beside mazed polypores, so named . . .

o-underside, maze polypore

for their maze-like underside from which they release their spores.

o-forest 2

Sometimes, my feet moved with ease despite occasional walls of evergreens–and when I encountered such, I pushed on through.

o-slash

Other times, it was over logging slash that I trudged, my feet taking a moment to choose the right balancing spot.

o-watery trail

There was even some island hopping thrown into the mix.

o-bobcat scat

At last I reached a logging road and then different sights filled my heart with hope for I knew that though I saw more than a million red squirrels and heard a variety of birds, including a ruffed grouse, these woods are filled with life (and death). Based on the size and lack of bones, I think this was bobcat scat and the meal was a white-tailed deer.

o-coyote scat

There was coyote scat, both old and new.

o-fox scat

And fox scat reflecting a recent meal–perhaps Sunday dinner.

o-bobcat tracks

And where there is scat, there are tracks–most of the time.

o-moose tracks

Today, I saw signs of bobcat, moose (more than one), deer, fox and coyote and my heart rejoiced for I love tracking season. I also love knowing that these mammals continue to share this space with me–or perhaps it’s that I share this space with them. I think the latter is more likely. I’m just a visitor.

o-ice art 2

In places, ice also offered sights worth viewing. Atop a frozen puddle, those hemlock seeds I referred to earlier had found their release and their new home–temporarily at least.

o-ice art 1

Leaves, cones and seeds intermixed with the ice and created mosaics worth framing.

o-ice art 4

And branches and seeds imitated trees in another work of natural art.

o-ice art 3

But my favorite was the red maple leaf cut-out that reminded me of Christmas cookie cutters.

Even if roaming through the woods isn’t your comfort level, I encourage you to take a few moments to step outside and look around. In this season of hope, may nature help you find wonder and through that wonder may you find peace within.

Any way you can, please join me in keeping watch.

 

 

 

Black Friday Shopping Extravaganza

I somehow slept in and totally missed the early bird specials today, but still by midmorning I found my way to the store of my choice.

b1-trail sign-cross the threshold

It had been two years since I’d stepped over the threshold into the MDT shop and I’d forgotten what great selections it had to offer. While the last time I approached from the Fryeburg Information Center near the Maine/NH border, today I decided to use the back door and entered by the Eastern Slopes Airport.

b8-the main aisle

Beginning along the main aisle, I was delighted with the display before me. And lack of customers. Oh, I passed several groups, some in a hurry as they ran, others chatting amiably with friends or relatives, but all quite friendly and courteous. Even dogs were well behaved and therefore welcome.

b2-choice of colors--sweetfern 1

Immediately I had decisions to make. Which shade did I want?

b3-shapes,

And would I prefer a different style or shape?

b12-red oak 1

Had I thought about brown and bristly?

b13a-white oaks

Or did I like salmon and rounded?

b13-red oak on line

Though I preferred the salmon color of the white oak, I did like how the red oak leaves dangled in hopes of being plucked by a customer. And if not a customer, then perhaps the wind.

b11-cattails

In aisle five I found some cattails ready to explode into the future.

b11-cattail sparkles

Their tiny, parachuted seeds reminded me of sparklers on the Fourth of July, but because today is the day after Thanksgiving, I suspected these fireworks were intended for New Year’s Eve.

b6-autumn thistle

It seemed that everywhere I looked, the store was decked out with hues of silver and . . .

b4-aster display

gold.

b5-brown lacewing

And while admiring the golden decorations, I discovered I wasn’t the only one looking. A brown lacewing had heard there were deep discounts to be had.

b12-birch beer

As one should when one is spending an exorbitant amount of time (and perhaps money, though in this case no cash or credit was part of the deal), rehydrating is a good thing and the birch had been tapped for just that purpose. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed the unique taste of a birch beer, but thanks to a sapsucker it was on the menu at the snack bar.

b7-bench

And what better place to sit and sip, than on a bench in aisle 6.

b3a-winterberries

Refreshed, I was again ready to shop till I dropped. Everywhere I looked, the Christmas decorations impressed me.

b14-red oak Christmas decorations

The season’s colors enhanced the merchandise.

b19-Sumac decorations

And all ornaments were handsome in their own way.

b9-tamarack gold

As is always part of my shopping adventure, I didn’t know what I was looking for when I entered the store. But as soon as I saw this display, I knew I had to have it.

b10-tamarack 2

Its label was lengthy–tamarack, larch, hackmatack. Call it what you want, it’s our only deciduous conifer for it looses its needles in the winter. But first, the needles turn from green to gold and announce their presence.

b15-pitch pine trunk

Also in abundance as this shop–pitch pines. It’s so easy to confuse a pitch pine with a red pine, but a few identifying tips help. The unique thing about this tree is that not only do the stiff, dark yellow-green needles grow on the branches, but they also grow on the trunk. If you spy a tree that you think may be a red pine, scan upward and if you see green needles along the trunk, then you’ve discovered a pitch pine.

The name, pitch, refers to the high amount of resin within this tree.

b16-pitch pine cones

It’s the needles of pitch pine that also add to its identification for they grow in bundles of three, like a pitchfork’s tines.

As for their cones, you can barely see the stalk because they tend to be clustered together, but their key feature is the rigid prickle atop each scale tip.

b20-Northern White Cedar

I was nearly at my turn-around point of three miles when I realized I was standing beside a row of doorbuster deals.

b21-northern white cedar leaves and cones

I couldn’t resist feeling the scale-like leaves of the northern white cedar. I had to have this item.

b17-black locust bark

I did find one thing I decided to leave on the shelf–for the spines of the black locust would have pricked my fingers, I’m sure.

b18-black locust seed pod

Apparently, others did purchase this, for only one fruit pod remained.

b25-heading back

At last, I was on my way back up the main aisle with hopes to make a bee-line out, but had a feeling something around the bend would stop me in my tracks.

b23-pokeberry geometric display

Sure enough–the pokeberry display was both geometric . . .

b23-pokeberry artistic display

and artistic in a dramatic sort of way.

b27-bird nest

As I continued on, I saw and heard birds flitting about and thought about the fact that I need to visit this shop more often, particularly in the spring and summer for the various habitats made me think that birding would be spectacular. And then I spied a nest attached to some raspberry bushes. I knew not the species that made it, but hoped some small brown critter might use it as a winter home and so it remained on the shelf.

b26-heading back 2

At last, I’d raided enough aisles. My cart was full to the brim and my brain overwhelmed. I guess I’m not really a “shop-til-you drop” kind of gal. It was time to wind along the trail and end my Black Friday shopping extravaganza.