A Layered Life

Perhaps some can walk in a straight line, but I’m not one of them. Even in our home, I find myself darting here and then there as one thought or another enters my mind and I need to check on this or look into that. So it was when I entered a wetland today.

My journey began with a destination toward a certain coppiced (many trunked) Red Maple but I knew ahead of time that I’d divert from the path that didn’t exist and scramble through the Buttonbush shrubs to visit a kettle hole that is groundwater dependent. Only two weeks ago, it was filled with much more water and I was surprised to find it so low today. And thrilled.

Behind the first “hole” or kettle is a second and between the two: tracks galore. The baby-hand look gave away the ID of the most frequent travelers: Raccoons.

But . . . where two weeks ago some friends and I spied Black Bear prints, today I noted the track of a large moose that had headed in the opposite direction of my foot. If you look carefully from the bottom of the photograph to the top left-hand corner, you’ll see three dark indentations, giving a sense of size: Mighty big.

After enjoying the first kettles for a while, I decided to bushwhack toward another. Again, my path was a zigzag and again the ground water was significantly lower. Why? Given that we finally had rain this week, I expected it to be higher, but by the state of the leaves on the trees, and the color of the plant life, it’s obvious that the drought has truly affected the landscape. Because of all the undergrowth and downed trees and branches that snap as one walks, I was hardly quiet in my approach, thus several Wood Ducks sang their “oo-eek, oo-eek” song as they took flight.

That was ok, for still I stood in silent reverence and thought about the soils under the water and how it must differ from that under the American Bur-reed, and how that soil must differ from that under the Buttonbush and Winterberry shrubs, and how that soil must differ from that under the Red and Silver Maples.

Pulling away at last, I journeyed forth in a continued erratic fashion, made even more erratic by the shrubs that acted like Hobblebush and persisted in trying to daunt my procession. Each foot had to find placement among branches only to then be confronted by fallen trees that don’t decompose so readily in this acidic neighborhood.

The obstacles were unsuccessful in pulling me to a complete stop and at last I arrived. Well, I’m not sure I’ll ever really arrive . . . anywhere. But I reached a point on my quest and zigzagged through the grasses and Leatherleaf and Swamp Candles. Once again, it was obvious by the plant life that the soil composition differed from one zone to the next.

Meandering about, occasionally I heard a slight “pop” at my feet.

You see, growing upon the Sphagnum Moss are thousands of Cranberry plants and I spent some time picking from the offerings, though I did note many soft ones–the result of last week’s frost. Still, they’ll make a good relish or sauce.

And in the same community, though a bit closer to the water and therefore finding a home on a soil that probably differed a bit from that which the cranberries preferred, a few robust Pitcher Plants showed off their always intriguing leaves and flowers gone by.

The now woody structure of this carnivorous plant is as interesting as the plant’s way of seeking nutrients in hydric (low-oxygen) soils. Though the petals had long since fallen, the round, five-celled fruit remained intact. The rusty-brown seed capsule, about ¾ inch in diameter, had begun to split open and exposed within were numerous seeds. Upon a closer look, I realized I wasn’t the only one observing this unique structure.

Do you see the teeny, tiny black and white insect? It wasn’t there for pollen, and so I began to wonder.

Would the insect eventually find its way down to the pitcher-shaped leaves and be enticed by the terminal red-lipstick lips, nectar glands, and brightly colored veins?

Would it follow the downward-pointing hairs into the trap below and not be able to crawl back out?

Would it become a snack, much as the insect in the water of the leaf on the left? You see, once the prey slides down through the hairs, it reaches a smooth zone where it encounters some sticky goo, thus making it even more difficult to climb out. And then, there’s the water, rainwater. It is there that the insect drowns, and is digested by bacteria and enzymes in the water. The resulting nutrients are then absorbed by the plant that grows in a habitat low in essential nutrients such as nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Actually, the tiny insect might not become a meal because it just might be a Pitcher-plant Midge, who has anti-enzymes to counteract the digestive enzymes in the fluid, and feeds on the plant’s decomposed insects. There’s also a type of mosquito and flesh fly that survive in the same manner.

Mostly hidden by other plant forms, another Pitcher Plant grows a few feet away, but its leaves are much greener due to its shadier habitat.

As I looked at the plants at my feet, suddenly I heard the bugling, rattle-like sound of Sandhill Cranes. Take a listen.

Rather than return via the “path” I’d created into the bog, I had to go in search, certain that I might be disappointed.

I was so certain I’d be disappointed because my approach was rather loud.

At last I reached the edge of the largest kettle of all. And scanned the scene.

Suddenly to my right three large birds emerged from behind the Buttonbush. I’d found the cranes. But as I fumbled switching cameras, they flew off, rattling all the way.

Still, there was more movement where they had been and for a few seconds I watched three Greater Yellowlegs Sandpipers until they also flew off.

And so I began to wander back, at times totally uncertain of my whereabouts, though by the sky and trees ahead I thought I was headed in the correct direction. Still, it felt rather jungle-like among so many Winterberries. The curious thing: two weeks ago there had been many other berries including Witherod or Wild Raisin. Apparently the birds that I heard all around me had been feasting.

A flock of Northern Flickers darted here and there. I know they are seed eaters, but they’ll also eat fruits. Perhaps it was they? And so many others in the midst of migration.

I know it wasn’t the Great Blue Heron who suddenly flew up into a tree and preened. His intention would have been on the aquatic life in the kettles.

Adding my stomach growls to the scene, I knew it was time for me to depart. Still I stood, taking it all in.

A layered life. Where hours pass like moments. And life transpires while fruits form.

I am grateful to wander and wonder and wonder and wander some more.

Glee on Zle Mondate

I suggested this mountain to my guy the night before last. But yesterday morning I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive to it and so I offered two other possibilities much closer to home, including the one in our backyard. The original choice, however, still resonated with him because . . . there might be a pie involved. We could only hope.

We certainly found berries, though most weren’t meant for our pie, unless, of course, we were of the avian or mammal sort. This one the fruit of a Stinking Benjamin.

Along some parts of the trail Mountain Holly’s raspberry red berries mixed with the smell of the surrounding fir trees made us feel as if we’d stepped into the Christmas aisle.

The reds were delightful, but my favorite of all, the porcelain blue of Bluebead Lily, aka Clintonia. To think that its yellow spring flower transforms into this brilliant blue fruit astonishes me each time I have a chance encounter with it. Chance because as was the case along most of the trail, the berries had been consumed. Not edible to us, but obviously there are those who can enjoy the feast.

We could have eaten a Creeping Snowberry or two, but again, it’s always such a surprise to see these fruits that we left them for the animals to bake into their own dessert of choice.

For a long way, the trail passes through mixed woods but as we climbed higher the natural community gradually changed and soon we were among the evergreens, where a break offered a sampling of the view to come.

Staying out of view was a shy garter snake.

Until we reached the bald ledges, much of our vision was consumed by the forest floor for we had to pay attention to the exposed roots and rocks that thousands of others had trodden, knowing that somewhere in the midst we’d left our prints previously.

At times boulders bordered the trail in the form of enormous outcrops and I kept expecting to see a bobcat hiding within, but no such luck.

At last we reached the summit and took in the panoramic view. And rejoiced in the day, the opportunity to hike and encounter few others, and especially the temperature for it was really quite comfortable.

Beside the cairn we found lunch rock and . . . lunched. (Is that a verb?)

And then I began to poke around. I really wanted to get a photo of the dragonflies that kept zooming past and the butterflies who fluttered nearby but never paused. Instead, a White-spotted Sawyer flew in and took up a few minutes of my time.

That is until a hawk’s shadow drew our attention to the sky.

It suddenly turned and flew straight at us. I thought I was taking the most spectacular photograph just before I dove for cover. Apparently I missed that photo op but it will remain forever in our minds’ eyes . . . and we think it was a Goshawk based on its colors and behavior. That said, it was time for us to skedaddle.

And so we began our descent, choosing to make the loop that tried to allude us the first time we ever climbed this mountain. Now we know where to look for it, but if you go, know to keep searching for the cairns at the summit because otherwise there are a lot of false paths. Well, they aren’t actually false for they do exist, but they won’t lead you down the “easy” way.

Knowing that I was bummed not to snap a shot of the dragonflies at the top, my guy stopped when we encountered them again in sunny spots along the trail. No, he wasn’t saying “Peace be with you,” but rather he hoped to be a dragonfly whisperer. They’d have none of it, though they flew at us and over us and we repeatedly thanked them because we’ve been in this place when the biting bugs think we’re meant to be the feast.

At long last, my guy spotted this guy dangling as the darner family does. You might also find one resting upon a tree trunk. The lighting wasn’t right for me to make a precise identification because I couldn’t see the markings on its face and thorax, but still . . . I got my dragonfly and was happy.

Further along he pointed to scat and I said, “Weasel.” It was right beside a small critter hole and I suspected it had feasted upon the residents within.

To follow the loop takes a lot longer than had we chosen to descend the way we’d climbed up; but eventually we were back on the main trail where we’d completely missed this sign-in rock. We chose not to sign in or out and tried our best to leave no trace.

We took only photos, including a selfie as we ascended.

And though there were blueberries here and there along the trail and I suspect some of you expected us to pick and me to bake (LOL), we only sampled a few because on our way we’d stopped at the roadside bakery and made a selection, not wanting to take a chance that upon our return the shelves would be empty.

Our choice de resistance and reward for completing an over nine-mile hike: Blueberry Cherry Pie.

Indeed Glee upon Zle Mountain Mondate.

P.S. All along we talked about this pie and fully expected to dig in last night, but ended up eating too late because we had chores to do at home and it’s on the counter right now and I hope the grand moment will follow lunch today. That or we’ll just savor the sight of it for a while and remember that we love hiking that mountain because it offers such variety . . . and pie.

Grateful For Your Company

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Today’s hike found me traveling solo, as is the norm in this current time, but I took each and every one of you along with me because so excited was I by all of our finds.

We began at parking lot #5 of Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

As I showed you in the parking lot, our plan was to begin on the Roger’s Family Trail and then circle around on the orange Heritage Loop Trail with a side trip to the summit of Amos Mountain in the midst of the journey. You all agreed that it sounded like a great plan.

I had previously warned you that part of the route could be a bit wet and was pleased to see that some of you had remembered to don your rubber boots, but those who forgot managed to find a way around. I trust no one had wet feet by the time we finished. Was my assumption correct?

Of course, I love water and so before we crossed over the bridge, I insisted that we take a look and try to spy tracks in some mud or aquatic insects or plants springing forth.

Bingo on the latter and we all rejoiced at the sight of False Hellebore with its corrugated leaves so green.

Finally, after poking about for a bit, I suggested we move along. It seemed like we managed to walk about five steps and then something would catch our attention and all forward motion came to pause. But that’s the way we like it for we notice so much with such slow movement. Do you remember this spot? Where we paused to look for Trailing Arbutus buds and noticed Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain growing in a colony. And remember how I told you that the only way I can remember the common name of this latter species is because it doesn’t look “downy” to me.

As often happens, the trail enhanced the lesson for not too much further along we practically stepped on another family member, this one bearing the name Checkered. Really, had Mr. Linnaeus asked me, I would have switched it around for the dullness of these leaves seems more downy in my mind and the other more checkered. Alas . . . he didn’t ask.

By this point, we’d hit drier trail conditions, if you recall, as we started climbing uphill. Drier, but rockier, that is. And then upon one, we spied a little package that you knew would delight me. Fox scat, indeed. With a blunt end and even a twist. Classic fox scat.

It took us a while, but we managed to reach the intersection with the orange trail and turned to the left to proceed. It was there that we began to meet common polypody ferns. Some of you explained that you know it as rock cap fern or rock polypody fern. What we all know is that it’s most often found growing on rock surfaces in moist, shady woods.

I did hear the hushed groans when I turned it over, but what could I say? I can’t resist checking to look at the underside. Like little pompoms, the organs or sori that housed the dust-sized spores or sporangia are arranged so neatly in two rows upon each leaflet. In their old age, the sori of these common polypody are orange-brown.

You, however, were eager to move on and so we did. Until we didn’t. For we stopped once again at “El Pupito,” the pulpit rock.

And did what one should do at the pulpit–honor the view through nature’s stained-glass window.

Oh yeah, and on the back of the boulder, you knew the minute you saw it what was going to happen next.

Out came my water bottle as I sacrificed some H20. But really, you are also equally amazed each time the magic happens and the greenish color of algae on rock tripe lichen makes itself known.

I saw a few of you gawk.

With a snap of our fingers and twitch of our noses (no we didn’t touch our fingers to our faces), we soon made it to the summit of Amos.

It was there that while zooming in to note the glorious red maple buds we spied another in the form of a spider. And we all took a closer look, one at a time, of course, allowing for six feet of space.

Then we backtracked down to where the blue trail met the orange trail and continued on the orange. That is . . . until sweet bird songs stopped us in our steps.

The trills lasted a few seconds and began again.

Most of us couldn’t recall who it was and gave great thanks to have Peter and Joe along for a positive ID: Pine Warbler indeed.

At our next stop I was so sure that one of you would provide a definitive answer to the structure’s use and history, but you only asked more questions to which I didn’t have the answers and so it shall remain a mystery. Who built it? Why? What? When? We do know the where and have some ideas about the how, but can’t quite respond to the Five Ws and an H in a complete manner.

And so we left there and moved on to the spot where we chatted about all the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties that seemingly followed us through the woods.

Each time we heard a sound from one of the above, if it wasn’t a dried leaf blowing across the forest floor, it turned out to be a chipmunk. Why is it, we wondered together, that they can be so still one moment, but in the next insist upon calling attention to their presence?

Moving along, we eventually crossed over the wall and onto what was once the property of Amos Andrews.

Here, only a few years ago, one among us, yes Alice, that would be you, realized that in this spot grew white oak, a tree that we had previously believed no longer grew in these parts given its use in barrel making and other purposes. That is, until we recognized the chunky blocks of bark that helped to negate that assumption.

The leaves below also defined the new story, with red oak’s bristly pointed lobes on the left and white oak’s rounded lobes to the right.

As it would be, we realized we weren’t the only ones looking. And again, we had to take turns getting close to ohh and ahh at the alternating light and dark markings on the abdomen’s edge, legs and antennae of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. Okay, so we know these beasts inflect considerable damage to some fruits and crops, and can be a nuisance when it takes shelter in our homes, but still.

Around the corner from the oak tree we paused beside the homestead of Amos Andrews and wandered about his walled property for a bit, each of us trying to answer the question, “What was Amos thinking?” We haven’t answered it yet, but time will tell as perhaps more understandings will be revealed.

Down the former road we walked, grateful that being two rod wide, (a rod at 16.5 feet), we had plenty of room to spread out.

At the intersection with the Amos Mountain Trail, our route crossed over and we continued on to the lookout point where the Balds to the left, Mount Washington a wee white pyramid in the background, and Kezar Lake below held our focus.

And then we began to retrace our steps, back toward the parking lot where we’d first gathered. But there were two more things to notice, the first being a skeleton of a paper birch, its roots till seemingly intact.

And finally, water striders not doing a very good job of practicing social distancing.

We, on the other hand, had nailed that one, for while you all walked with me, I was alone. And ever so grateful for your company.

Perennial Mondate

It’s an old fav, Bald Pate Mountain Preserve in South Bridgton. And we love to visit it in any season. That being said, winter will “end” in a few weeks and this morning we realized we needed to head on over.

Our plan was to follow the Moose Trail for its entire length, then continue on the South Face Loop to the summit, start down the Bob Chase Trail, veer off to Foster Pond Lookout and then make our way back by rejoining Bob Chase.

One might expect to see a moose along the first trail, and we hoped to have such luck, but it was not to be. Instead, do you see the ski tracks? Portions of the preserve are groomed for cross-country skiers as part of the system at the adjacent Five Fields Farm.

What else did we spy? Some wicked cool finds in my book of wonder. For instance, you may think that this broken off piece of a twig is merely dangling from its counterpart, but . . . it is solidly stuck in place by a fungus known commonly as glue crust. It glues together twigs and branches that touch each other.

And sometimes twigs meet the bark on the trunk of a tree and hang in what you might think of as an unnatural stance.

The fungus is the dark bumpy structure that the second twig is stuck to, much like a magical act performed by nature. Really though, this fungus doesn’t let the twig fall to the ground where it would be decomposed by other fungi. Pretty tricky–making a claim all for its own benefit.

Continuing on, we scanned every beech tree in hopes of finding bear claw trees. We did find a beech worth honoring for we loved how it rested an elbow on the boulder below and with two arms formed a frame of the scene beyond.

Ever so slowly we climbed upward, our pace not my guy’s usual because of the bear paw challenge. When one is looking, however, one discovers so many other things upon which to focus like this rather common birch polypore in a rather uncommon shape, almost like a Christmas bell jingling in the breeze.

And then there was a display of snipped hemlock twigs scattered across the snow-covered forest floor.

We looked up and saw not a silhouetted form, but by the debris, which include diagonal cuts on the twigs, comma-shaped scat (some a bit more rounded than others), and even the soft, curly belly hairs of the creator, we knew a porcupine had dined overnight.

We looked a wee bit, but found not its den. By its tracks, however, we could tell that it had made more than one visit to this fine feasting spot.

Had we climbed the Bob Chase Trail we would have reached the summit in twenty minutes, but our choice to circle about before hiking up meant we spent two hours approaching the top where the bonsai trees of the North grow–in the form of pitch pines.

The true summit is a wee bit higher and so we continued on and then turned back to take in the view of Peabody Pond below.

It was there that while looking for insect cocoons I came across the gouty oak gall caused by teeny wasps no bigger than fruit flies. The structure was woody as it’s a couple of years old. And almost creepy in its display, like a head with many eyes looking every which way.

We did take the hint and looked every which way ourselves, the next point of view beyond Hancock Pond and beyond.

And then we moved on, until that is, we reached the wall of tripe, which always invites me to stop.

Water had also stopped in the form of several frozen falls.

And again, more of nature’s magic for the icicles facilitated photosynthesis by the algal partner of the lichen’s symbiosis. It’s a thing worth liken.

Nearby, a relative also begged a notice. Do you see the black flat-headed disks upon the surface? Those are the fruiting bodies or apothecium where this lichen’s spores are produced. The common name for this umbilicate structure: toadskin.

Just above the tripe and toadskin offerings, Pleasant Mountain came into view. Hidden behind a cloudy veil was Mount Washington, which typically sits in the saddle of the Pleasant Mountain ridgeline.

As we wound down and around, polypody ferns spoke about the weather–some were curled as it was cooler in their location upon a boulder in a hemlock grove, but others were flattened bespeaking the rising temperature.

Our last focal point before heading back to the parking lot was the lookout to Foster Pond. Where once stood a tall cairn, there are now two shorter ones marking the point of view and turn-around.

It was there that we discovered another gouty oak gall, its size at least that of a golf ball; a rather holey, warty golf ball.

This preserve is forever a fav in any season, which on this Mondate offered a flash ahead (think the opposite of flashback, rather like a preview) of what is to come. We love winter. And we especially love snow. But . . . we also love all the other seasons and the perennial plants on the southern side of the mountain where the snow has melted a bit, showed off their evergreen shades and hints of future events. Wintergreen and Trailing Arubuts, the later with the long buds atop a hairy stem.

Mondate with Pam and Charles

Don’t tell her husband who wasn’t able to join us today, but Pam fell fast and hard for another guy. His name is Charles.

It was supposed to be just the three of us kayaking when we launched this morning, Pam, my guy, and me.

But it soon became apparent that this other guy was trying to woe her with bouquets of wildflowers, including Cardinals so red,

Turtleheads so white,

Arrowheads with broad leaves,

and those whose leaves overtopped the flowers.

But I think Pam was most wowed when he presented her with Ground-nut, its maroonish flower with a pair of upper petals forming a hood or keel, a pair of lower lateral wings, and a lower keel that curled upward.

And then Charles made a point of inviting his friends to meet Pam, though we wondered if the Painted Turtle always grimaced or if perhaps he was jealous of all the attention bestowed upon her.

The male Emerald Jewelwing Dragonfly was much friendlier and happy to say hello in its lighthearted manner.

And the Dragonhunter Dragonfly made frequent visits to get . . .

to know . . .

Pam better. We’re grateful he didn’t decide to gobble her up.

But perhaps Pam’s favorite moment was when Charles presented not just a Pickerel Weed in flower, but also a Clearwing Hummingbird Moth pollinating it.

Oh, he wasn’t one to make things super easy, that Charles.

But he’d asked my guy to help us portage around the dam, and so we never had to get out of our kayaks. Chivalry at its best.

Continuing our paddle, we began to think of Charles’ estate as Brigadoon for such were the colors each time we rounded a bend.

Around a final corner, Charles revealed his mansion with promises of many happy days to come.

It was so large that we knew it was an example of a big house, little house, back house, barn, which made sense given that Charles’ family had long lived in the area.

On one of the walls inside, he’d painted a scene that reflected the outdoors, including the mountains in the background.

From the backdoor it was a straight shot and suddenly we emerged onto his pond. The man was wealthy, but we told Pam that if she was going to fall for him, she had to do some serious thinking for her guy Bob is really the one who holds the strings to her heart.

In the end, though she thanked him for sharing his place with us today, Pam did inform Charles that they could remain friends, but not get any closer than that. And she added that the next time they meet, Bob will be with her.

My guy and I were thankful that she introduced us to the kind man as the three of us explored his property: Charles River and Charles Pond in Fryeburg, Maine. But we’re equally grateful that their relationship will remain merely aquatic.

Spying Like an Eagle

Working in tandem, we paddled against the wind and despite its force gave thanks for the relief from the heat offered. Our intention was to explore the islands of Moose Pond, a place where the two of us can get lost in time.

It was movement above that caught our attention as we watched a large bird fly into a tree. And so we paddled even harder in hopes of getting a better look. About midway up a White Pine, an immature Bald Eagle sat upon a branch . . . and panted, feeling the heat like we did. Since birds can’t sweat, this was its way of dissipating the sweltering weather.

We watched the bird until it finally flew off and headed south.

Then we continued our journey north.

My guy jumped ship to wander an island or two and I stayed aboard to see what I might find, like the Spatterdock petals hiding within the petal-like sepals.

There were Buttonbush flowers with their funky orb shapes and spiky protrusions.

And I was delighted to see a Rose Pogonia, its fringed beard hiding among the grasses and reeds.

The damselflies wrote love notes on almost every stem, but this gathering I found most comical–as the guys each attempted to be her suitor. In the end the top Bluet gracefully acquiesced.

And then there was the Variable Darner Damsel to wonder about as she posed upon a Pickerel Weed of matching color. Were her wings so shiny because she’d just emerged? And though its difficult to see the left-hand wing, they appeared to be spread–perhaps another indication of her recent adventure from aquatic nymph to sky dancer.

Our discoveries were many, but I’ve shared just a few from this afternoon as my guy and I . . . we spied like an eagle.

The Old and New Friends of Mountain Pond

Friends Pam and Bob Katz, whom I haven’t known forever but feel like it’s been at least a lifetime, invited me to join them to circle Mountain Pond outside Jackson, New Hampshire today. The trailhead is located off Town Hall Road that follows Slippery Brook.

At the sign we turned in to the parking area and began our journey on foot.

Only a few steps in, we were stopped in our tracks by the wooly growths upon the Speckled Alders. The soft, fluffy fibers could have been cotton plants. But then they moved. In a creepy sort of way.

As we looked more closely we began to see that some were winged in form, a sight new to our eyes and understanding. Meet the Wooly Alder Aphids.

Much more to our liking were the tracks we found in mud, including Bobcat and . . .

a small Moose. The Bobcat had crossed perpendicular to the trail as one might expect for its preferred corridor is about forty feet wide and doesn’t necessarily follow a man-made path. The Moose wasn’t so particular and we followed its prints for a while before it disappeared into the wildness of this place.

While we loved seeing the mammal tracks, it was the insects and flowers that really pulled us in, including a Flower Longhorned Beetle.

And the ever delightful and dainty Wood Sorrel that makes me think of the Candy Strippers who worked as hospital aides in the books of my youth.

If the Candy Strippers needed slippers, they’d come to the right shop for there were moccasins available nearby in the form of white Lady’s Slippers surprising us since they still looked a wee bit fresh.

At last we began to catch glimpses of the pond for which the trail had been named. But really, a Loon sounding a distress call pulled us toward the water’s edge. We only saw one in an aggressive mode, it’s body extended across the surface as it moved forward, but still heard the wild call of the other and assumed they were protecting a nest.

Our wildlife sightings continued as we continued and took turns spotting the wonders of the path, including a Garter Snake slithering away from us.

Once we were close to the water, our dragonfly sightings increased significantly, as did the bug detail and insect bites decreased giving us reason to celebrate these winged warriors, such as the Chalk-fronted Corporals that made a point of being our guides as they often paused in front of us and then flew a few feet ahead at our slightest movement.

The fact that I can occasionally sneak up on one and capture a close-up photo is always amazing.

Our next source of wonder, a lodge built by beavers beside the bank. It was one that didn’t appear to be currently in use, but had been mudded last fall.

Eventually we found a second lodge with a huge hole on the back side of it. The hole wasn’t necessarily a vent, but it did provide us a glimpse into the inner workings of the pond-side inn. This one hadn’t been mudded and so we suspected it had been abandoned, maybe due to the presence of parasites. Perhaps in the near future it will again host guests.

It was near the lodge that we began to spy Bullfrogs, their Ga-dunk voices every once in a while rising in a chorus.

Notice the tympanic membrane or eardrum located behind the eye–it was bigger than his viewfinder, thus indicating his gender.

Not too far away a few ladies-in-waiting hung out on a log.

And in the water, two year old tadpoles, their bodies extra chunky, swam.

And morphed. Can you see the hind legs that had formed?

At last we pulled away from the water and continued on our way, when the Fly Honeysuckle gave us pause with its flowers of orange and yellow.

We weren’t the only ones in awe of it, for we spent some time watching this Canada Tiger Swallowtail flutter in a rather drunken way from one blossom to the next.

Because the flowers had been pollinated, some had already turned to their shiny red fruit form.

The butterflies were numerous and all the way around the pond we saw White Admirals either in flight or on the ground puddling, the latter a way of seeking nutrients from the damp soil.

An Atlantis Fritillary also graced us with its presence.

Another flyer insisted upon being noticed and I handed Pam a field guide to determine its name. A second or two later she announced it was a Powdered Dancer Damselfly, based on the coloration of its eyes, thorax, and abdomen.

My favorite flyer of the day, however, was the Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly with its thorax so red and abdomen a combination of green-black.

Even when we paused to gaze upon the lake and mountains in the distance, the Crimsons flew.

And landed–showing off their white faces for which they were named.

One couple even chose Pam’s arm and bracelet upon which to land and canoodle, appearing oblivious to our gawking eyes and awe-filled conversation.

I travelled around Mountain Pond today with “old” friends Pam and Bob and recognized others I’ve met numerous times before like the Bobcat, Moose, Garter Snake, and Wood Sorrel, but new relationships were also formed and I hope I’ll soon move from being a Crimson-ringed Whiteface’s acquaintance to a life-time friend.

Heaven on Heath

When Alanna Doughty, of Lakes Environmental Association fame, and I pulled into the parking lot of Saco Heath this morning, we had no idea what to expect. It is described as the southern-most coalesced domed bog in Maine. I have to admit, I need to learn so much more to understand the real meaning of that. According to The Nature Conservancy, for this is one of their preserves, “the heath formed when two adjacent ponds filled with decaying plant material called peat. Eventually, the two ponds filled completely and grew together to form a raised coalesced bog, where the surface of the peat is perched above the level of the groundwater.”

Our first steps found us walking through a forested bog rich with wetland plants including Cinnamon and Royal Ferns.

And then we entered the peatland through the pearly gates.

It was a place where one could disappear for a few lifetimes and eventually emerge completely preserved. With Pitch Pines and Black Spruce towering above, the colors gave us our first pause for the Rhodora was in full bloom and neither of us could remember ever seeing so much of it before.

As it was, we seemed to have been transported into a still-life painting of spring where even the toppled Gray Birch might have been intentionally placed for such a contrast it provided.

Taking a closer look, it was suddenly obvious that life was not still at all and the flower drew our eyes in and out and in and out again with all of its lines.

We even found a few with brand new hairy leaves complementing the presentation.

This was a place where old friends live and greeting them again with a friendly handshake seemed only natural.

The Tamarack’s needles so soft and bright green graced the tree with a feathery appearance.

The flowers of the Black Chokeberry gave us pause for a few minutes for we had to get our shrub eyes adjusted to the brightness that surrounded us.

We weren’t the only ones with large eyes noticing all the goodness in our midst.

Being in a heath, members of the heath family made their presence known, such as the Bog Laurel. Some of the flowers had fallen to the sphagnum moss floor below the boardwalk, so we sat down to take a closer look at the flower, its petals fused into a shallow, five-lobed bowl. The interior of the bowl was interrupted by ten indentations where the pollen-bearing anthers snuggled as if in individual pockets. Each awaited a pollinator to trigger the spring-like tension and thus get showered with pollen. We may have unintentionally aided in sharing the goodness.

Because we were looking and trying to gain a better understanding, Alanna ran her fingers down the Bog Laurel’s stem, reveling in the recognition of the longitudinal ridges between each pair of leaves. From one set of leaves to the next, the ridge orientation and next set of leaves shifted 90˚. In the land of wonder, we were definitely wallowing in awe.

Another member of the heath family stumped us for a few minutes until it reminded us that its “pineapple” form atop the rhododendrum-like leaves was not the fruit, but rather the start of the flower.

It was a few plants later, that we noticed the flowers beginning to burst.

While we watched, a male Painted Lady paused atop one of the laurels as if it was a pedestal, the better place from which to possibly entice a mate.

Shortly thereafter we made a new acquaintance. By its shiny, parallel-veined leaves we thought we knew it, but then we spied the tiny white flowers. We know False Solomon’s Seal, but join us in greeting Three-leaved False Solomon’s Seal. Ronald B. Davis writes in Bog & Fens, “In bogs, it commonly occurs on a peat moss mat at the transition between a mineorotrophic black-spruce wooded area and a more open ombrotrophic area.”

Indeed, I have a lot to learn, but the natural community was transitioning again.

And within the transition zone, we met another new friend: Mountain Holly. In retrospect, we may have met in a past life, but it’s always good to spend some time getting reacquainted with the finer details such as the tiny flowers at the end of long, fine petioles.

At the end of the boardwalk, the trail loops around through a forest of pines and oaks.

At the shrub level, Bumblebees acted as bell ringers while they flew from one flower of the Highbush Blueberry to the next, making sure that all were in tune.

It was in this same neighborhood that we met another for the first time. Velvet-leaved Blueberry’s leaves and stems were as soft as any robe an angel might wear.

Below, her bell-shaped skirts dangled.

A surprise along the loop trail was a spur to an outlook where a sturdy bench offered time for contemplation and meditation.

Several signs beyond our reach warned us not to step off the platform and into the bog, but . . . it was soooo tempting. And weren’t we in the garden?

As we stood and wondered about what we might be missing, we spied several Pitcher Plants with their urn-like leaves.

And directly behind the bench stood one of the rare species for which this place is known: Atlantic White Cedar

Though we never did see the Hessel’s Hairstreak Butterfly, another rare species associated with Atlantic White Cedar, we honored the tree by taking a closer look at its foliage.

And then it was time to return back across the boardwalk, upon which we immediately noticed a huge Pitcher Plant we’d missed on our previous pass. In its center the bulbous red flowers posed as cranberries.

We also spotted a couple of Pink Lady’s Slippers in bloom that we’d previously walked past, giving thanks that we’d had to follow the same route and because of that made some new observations.

At the end of our time we knew we’d visited a very special place that allowed us to come to a better understanding of old friends and make new acquaintances. It certainly felt like we’d spent the morning at Heaven on Heath.

Stop, Look, and Listen

I’m a wanderer both on and off trail, and sometimes the path has been macadamized. Such was my following this morning as I paused on the way home from running an errand in North Conway, New Hampshire.

I’d stuck to the backroads on my way out of state to avoid road construction on Route 302, but knew that upon my return I wanted to stretch my legs along the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg.

The delightful four-mile rail trail, so named for the railroad line it parallels, intended for walkers, runners, bikers, roller bladers, etc., extends from the Maine Visitors Center on Route 302 to the Eastern Slope Airport on Route 5 and can be accessed from either end or several points between.

The wind was blowing and the bug count low, so though it wasn’t a warm, sunny spring day, it was a purely enjoyable one. And the cheery cherry flowers enhanced the feeling.

All along the way, it seemed, the Red Maples had not only leafed out, but yesterday’s flowers had magically transformed into today’s samaras that dripped below like chandeliers.

Lovely tunes and chips were also part of the landscape and I have no idea if I’ve identified this species correctly, but I’m stepping out on a branch and calling it an Alder Flycatcher. I’m sure those who know better will correct me. The naming isn’t always necessary, however. Sometimes, it’s more important to appreciate the sighting, the coloration, and the sound. For this bird, it was the dull olive green on its back that caught my attention.

And then up above on the other side of the track, it was the “Cheery, Cheery, Cheerio” song that helped me locate the American Robin in another maple raining with seeds.

Maples weren’t the only trees showing off their flowers, and those on the Northern Red Oaks reminded me of grass hula skirts below Hawaiian-themed shirts.

Even the ordinary seemed extraordinary like the Dandelion. Each ray of sunshine was notched with five “teeth” representing a petal that formed a single floret. Fully open, the bloom was a composite of numerous florets.

Nearby, its cousin, the early blooming Coltsfoot, already had the future on its mind and little bits of fluff blew in the breeze.

Eventually, I reached Ward’s Pond and after scanning the water found a Painted Turtle seeking warmth. The day was overcast and there was a bit of a chill in the strong breeze. Being down below the trail, at least the turtle was out of the wind and I had to assume that the temperature was a bit higher than where I stood.

This is a trail that may look monotonous, but with every step there’s something different to see like a Pitch Pine showing off three generations of prickly cones. What was, is, and shall be all at the tip of the branch.

It seemed like every time I looked to the left, such as at the pine, a sound on the other side of the trail caught my attention. And so it was that I realized a White-tailed Deer was feeding on grasses behind a fence by a now-defunct factory (so defunct that the roof had collapsed under the weight of snow). Notice her ears.

And now look at her again. A deer’s ears are like radar and she can hone in on a sound by turning them.

I don’t know if she was listening to me or to the Eastern Towhee telling us to drink our tea.

After 2.5 miles, I decided to save the rest for another day and follow the path back. Though loop trips are fun, following the same path back brings new sights to mind, like the Interrupted Fern I’d walk past only a few minutes before. Notice its clump formation known in the fern world as vase-like.

And the butterfly wings of its interrupting leaflets covered with sporangia. My wonder came with the realization that within the interruption not all of the pinnules or subleaflets were covered with the bead-like shapes of fertility. Spores stored within essentially perform the same function as a seed: reproduce and perpetuate the species. So–is part of the pinnule fertile while the rest remains sterile? Do I need to check back? Oh drats, another trip to make along the Mountain Division Trail. Any excuse to revisit it works for me, though one hardly needs an excuse.

Further along I looked to the other side of the tracks for I’d spotted bird movement. Behind it was the reason–my White-tailed Deer friend. I have a feeling people feed it for it seemed not at all disturbed by my presence, unlike the ones in our yard and the field beyond that hear my every move within the house even in the middle of winter and are easily spooked.

The deer, however, wasn’t the only wildlife on or near the trail. Suddenly, a Red Fox appeared and we each considered the other. He blinked first during our stare down and trotted away.

Passing by Ward’s Pond once again, I stopped to check on the turtle. It was still in the same spot I’d seen it probably a half hour before.

Not far from the visitors center, a Big-Toothed Aspens chose to be examined for the soft downy feel as well as color of its leaves. The various hues of color in leaves during spring is caused by the presence of pigments called anthocyanins or carbohydrates that are dissolved in the cell sap and mask the chlorophyll. As the temperature rises and light intensity increases, red pigment forms and acts as a sunscreen to protect the young leaves from an increase in ultraviolet rays.

Because I was standing still and admiring the leaves, I heard another bird song and eventually focused in on the creator.

And so I have the Big-Toothed Aspen to thank for showing me the Indigo Bunting. My first ever. (Happy Birthday Becky Thompson.)

A turtle. A deer. A fox. A towhee. A bunting. All of that was only a smattering of wonder found along the Mountain Division Trail. If you go, make sure you recall the old railroad signs: Stop, Look, and Listen.

Holt Ponderings Mondate

If you are me, and be thankful you aren’t, then playing with words is part of your persona. And making them up when you can’t find one that fits the application is fine in your mind as well.

Our Mondate began not at the parking lot most are familiar with for Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve, but rather in a spot that has our name on it at the end of the rather short Knapp Road. You see, it was time for our annual spring clean up of the Southern Shore Trail, which my guy and I have been maintaining for more years than either of us can remember.

It was immediately apparent that numerous trees and branches had blown down since last fall and so we began to work.

But, it was a Mondate, and thankfully, with work came play. Just below our starting point we checked on a particular boardwalk I made famous last year when I fell hard against the edge of the wet, wooden slats and broke my wrist.

Water flowed across the wood again today and we both knew instantly that it would not be part of our circumnavigation plan. But, by pausing beside it, we did have time to admire a Water Strider as it used the surface tension to walk, or rather skate.

And then we carried on, soon realizing not all blowdowns were created equal and we hadn’t brought a chainsaw so some will either need to wait for another day or another person to complete the job.

What we could do was take down smaller trees that crossed the path, and pick up twigs and branches that decorated it. Oh, and between, take time to admire the beech leaves bedecked in fringe, much like the fancy hem of a skirt.

And there were the ever so scaly Christmas Fern fiddleheads to note.

Along with the smooth stipe of the Royal Ferns.

As we always do, whenever the trail provided an opportunity to look out at the pond, we took it. If you are familiar with the place, then you’ll know that the Quaking Bog is across the way where the taller trees stand out toward the left on the opposite shore.

And if you are super familiar with it, you’ll know that this stand of pines and hemlocks was once the log landing. (Bridie McGreavy, if you are reading this–it’s a whole different landing than when you first introduced us to it as we trudged through the snow and out to Fosterville Road from this point.)

Just beyond the landing we crossed a small stream via an old beaver dam, and fancied the formation of suds on the water’s surface.

Delightful surprises greeted us along the way, including the evergreen leaves of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain. I love the leaves of this woodland plant and find that the easiest way for me to remember its common name is by the snakeskin pattern, but also the fact that it doesn’t look downy–especially when you compare it to those beech leaves that are bursting forth from their buds. So . . . the rattlesnake plantain that doesn’t look downy is.

After reaching the section of trail that follows a snowmobile route briefly, we again snuck down to the pond. And spied . . . a beaver lodge that is either new or we were looking at all over again for the first time. We also noted the subtle colors of the spring palette reflected by the water.

Our journey took us out to Chaplains Mill Road, and then across the “Emerald Field” and back down to the Muddy River, which empties out of Holt Pond. Recently, I was on a Beaver Caper with LEA’s Alanna Doughty. With the snow and ice melted completely, there was more evidence that the beavers were continuing to do some work and I think she and I may need to try again to figure out which lodge is truly active.

As it was, a tree that appeared in photo #20 of the Beaver Caper, had since been cut down. We were going to move it off trail, but decided it was worth encouraging others to pause.

And so we left it be and hope it gives you something to gnaw about.

Again and again, we picked up sticks and moved trees. And celebrated small wonders like the blossoms of Goldthread.

Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower, was also in abundant bloom with blossoms of white, pink, and white-pink. I do have to wonder what determines their color.

As we walked beside the Muddy River, slowly making our way back to Holt Pond, I got my guy, who can be a bit of a bull in a china shop, to slow down any time we heard a bird. The Veery posed longer than most.

And so we stood silently and gave thanks for the opportunity.

At last, it was into the Red Maple Swamp that we marched, continuing our work habit, though not quite as frequently.

While my guy got ahead, I rejoiced at the sight of Leatherleaf in bloom; its blossoms lined up on the underside like bloomers on a clothesline.

Giant Bumblebees also enjoyed the bell-shaped flowers from below.

And I can never walk past without paying reverence to the Pitcher Plants that grow abundantly in this place.

One should always bow down and take note of the hairy veins on each pitcher, for those not only attract the insects that meet their demise within, but also trap them. Such is the way of this carnivorous plant.

We stepped out onto the boardwalk to the Quaking Bog, but not much was in bloom. Oh, and yes, we did get out feet wet because with each step the wooden structure sank a bit, but unlike the one I’m waiting to cross, the bog boardwalk dries out between visitors so it isn’t slippery. At least I didn’t think so. My guy was surprised as he followed me out.

Soon our journey took us along the Holt Pond Trail where the False Hellebore showed off its broad leaves. The curious thing, I’ve never seen any of these plants present their floral structure, but I shall continue to watch.

One plant that is beginning to flower is the Hobblebush, with its showy sterile displays on the outer edge. It seems like only yesterday I was admiring their naked winter buds. And now . . . this.

Before exiting out to Grist Mill Road to walk back to where we’d parked, we passed through one last Hemlock Grove. And there, sitting atop a large tree stump . . . a hen incubating her eggs. She murmured not a word. Nor did we. But again, in our minds we were most grateful for the opportunity to see her at such a challenging and dangerous time.

Quietly, we moved on and a few minutes later our Mondate came to end. I think the most amazing thing is that no matter how often we go there, there are always a few familiar friends to meet, but often something we’ve not seen before. Today, it was the turkey that fit the latter. Holt Ponderings indeed.

P.S.Why doesn’t my computer like those two words: Ponderings and Mondate? I surely know what they mean.

One more P.S. Mary Jewett and Ursula Duve will lead a bird and flower walk at Holt Pond on Friday, May 17. I wish I could join them for the two will spot incredible sights. If you’d like to, please contact Mary. FMI: mary@mainelakes.org.

LOVE ME, love me: Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park

It had been four years since we last visited Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park and that venture took place at the end of November. We must have been Christmas shopping. Today, we were in search of a bug-repellant shirt for me (Spring shopping) and so our journey took us to Freeport. Not being a shopper, it was a quick in and out of the store and then onto Wolfe’s Neck Road.

There’s a 4.4 mile network of trails in this 200-acre park gifted to the State in 1969 by Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence M.C. Smith of Freeport. One of the stand-out features is Googins Island where Osprey have been entertaining visitors for years as they raise their young on a huge platform nest they’ve built high up in a pine. Can you see it?

Here’s a closer view–and I assume (never assume) that Momma was the one sitting on eggs. The nest has been added to each year and though I have no idea of its actual size, Osprey nests can reach 10–13 feet in depth and 3–6 feet in diameter. The depth of this one appeared to be a few feet, but the diameter was substantial.

We followed the trails and enjoyed journeys to the water where we could take in the views of Casco Bay and its islands.

And before our feet, the mix of granite pegmatite and metamorphic rock. As much as my mom always loved to walk along a beach, she was equally enchanted by the rocky coast of Maine and whenever I encounter it, I feel her presence.

I know mom would have appreciated the artistic rendition of waves created by the water and mimicked by the rock.

Again and then again, the trail was interrupted by a set of wooden steps that led us back to the water’s edge.

It was there that we spied the Common Eiders as they floated and fished.

And . . . the first Dandelion blossom of the season–for us, at least. In my modest opinion, Dandelions are under-appreciated and that fact was driven home when my guy asked, “You’re photographing a dandelion?” Yep. Check out each golden ray of sunshine with its five “teeth” representing a petal that forms a single floret. Yes, each petal is a floret. Therefore, the bloom is a composite of numerous florets. And notice how each stigma splits in two and curls. What’s not to love. Oh yeah, and though we didn’t witness it today, the pollinators love them. (SO don’t pull up the dandelions in your yard!)

The thing about Dandelions is that they leaf out first and then flower, while their cousins, Coltsfoot, which we also found along the trail, flower first and leaf out later. The wonder of it all.

Our journey took us across stepping stones,

along park-like paths (because we were in a park, after all), over roots and rocks, with ups and downs, and even a couple of bog bridges.

The sights along the way included patches of Equisetum, a living fossil. These vascular plants reproduce by spores rather than seeds and dominated the understory of late Paleozoic forests. Just imagine.

While that was a treat, one of my favorite surprises was the patch of Trout Lilies that decorated the forest floor. It’s one I don’t encounter often, but because of its maroon-mottled leaves that remind some of brown or brook trout, I’ve remembered it each time we’ve met.

The nodding flower that could have been a lantern in the forest with its petals and sepals bent backward, exposed six brown stamens hanging low.

And then, and then, one of my all-time favorites in any season, a Hobblebush, showed off its May glory in new leaves and flowers. Those in our western Maine woods aren’t as advanced yet, but trust that I am watching.

Our journey was quick for we had another commitment, but still . . . we made some wonderful discoveries and especially loved the opportunity to see the Osprey on its nest.

The second in our LOVE ME, love me series had come to an end. Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park. ✓ Two down, 32 to go!

Wondermyway Celebrates Fourth Anniversary

My comings and goings are often a tramp through the woods, where I pause frequently to contemplate the world through which I wander. These provide me with glimpses at a small portion of the wonders of the universe. Please join me for a few minutes as I share the mysteries of the hills that have been revealed to me this past year.

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

And then . . . as we looked, a motion captured our attention. We were blessed with the opportunity to spend a few moments with a mink as it bounded down the hill before realizing it had an audience.

Next a splash startled us. What caused it? There was no snow high up on the trees that might have fallen. At last we saw the creators. There were actually three–swimming about slowly. Suddenly splashing again, they disappeared into the depths below. And the chambers within. We were in awe and felt honored to have shared a few minutes with members of the beaver family.

Sometimes our stops were to contemplate our next steps–especially when it came to the water that covered the cobblestones. Spying a bird nest, we wondered about its creator. There were some acorn pieces inside, so we thought it had hosted more than one inhabitant. Because we were near water, though most of it still frozen, and the temp was high, we weren’t surprised to find a set of baby handprints created recently by a raccoon.

As I stood there looking for a million wild mammals, my eyes focused on the works of something much smaller. Insect egg tunnels on a dead snag read like a story book page. The overall design could have been a map leading to hidden treasures.

Within each soft snowflake I felt millions of wings brush against my face–reminding me of those I know who are at the moment downtrodden and have hurdles to conquer. Some tiny, others immense, all were angelic in nature. As the flakes gathered together, they enhanced the reflection of harmony with illumination. They brought Heaven down to Earth . . . and reminded me that even in the darkest hours I hope my friends remember that grace surrounds them.

Life, it seems, is always in transition. So it feels, when one season overlaps another.

The scene is never the same, nor is the light. What may have appeared monochromatic was hardly that. When the sun began to set, the water harbored reflective moments as it transformed the views from crisp representations into impressionistic paintings.

Right away, the trail’s tree spirit whispered a welcome. And another of my favorite trees begged to be noticed again. It’s an ancient yellow birch that has graced the granite for more than a century. The tree itself, wasn’t in good health, but the roots atop the rock splayed out in support of a life to be continued.

Beside it stood one that some know as white; I prefer to call it paper. The curled-back birch bark offered hues of a different color reminiscent of a sunrise in the midst of a graying day.

And not to go unnoticed, bark from another birch had fallen to the ground. It too, offered subtle pink hues, but it was the stitchery created by the tree’s pores that drew my eye. They reminded me of a million zippers waiting to reveal hidden secrets.

Near the stonewall along the cowpath stood tall an old pine that perhaps served as the mother and grandmother of all the pines in my forest. Today, bedecked in piles of flakes, her arms reached out as if to embrace all of her offspring.

I had only walked a wee distance when I heard a Barred Owl call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It was noon, after all, so it seemed totally appropriate. Suddenly, I heard a response somewhere ahead. For about five minutes they echoed each other. And then the world was silenced.

At last we reached the boardwalk, where we embraced stillness and listened to the green frogs strum their banjo voices and red-winged blackbirds sing their conk-la-ree songs. Our gaze became more focused when we realized we stood in the midst of a newly emerged dragonfly. We felt a sense of caretakers for suddenly it was our honorable duty to watch and protect this vulnerable being from becoming prey. With wonder, we observed it slowly change position and suddenly spread its wings. For at least an hour we stood sentry and noted the slightest movements while we delighted in how the breeze occasionally fluttered through the dragonfly’s wings. And then, in a flash, it flew off and we were proud parents who had sent our offspring into the world.

I have no idea how much time had passed, but suddenly we all stirred a bit and then someone who was noticing redirected our attention. We were encouraged to focus on another who was also paying attention. And narrowing in . . . on lunch. When the young bird flapped its wings, we were all sure the meal was meant “to go.” But thankfully, the bird stayed. And played with its food. Ever so slowly, the fish was maneuvered into its mouth. And gulped. Down the throat it slid, a slight bump in the long neck. And then the feathers were ruffled–rather like a chill passing through its body. Wing motion followed. But still, the Great Blue Heron stayed. And stalked some more.

A blanket of fog enveloped the view. It didn’t matter, for my focus zeroed in on what was before me rather than being swept up into the beyond. I began to look around and felt an aura. It was as if I stood in another place and time. The fog. The green. The gray. The world disappeared. And the scene before me opened. One yellow lichen inched across the granite face. Beside it, another stood out like tiles in a mosaic work of art. Meanwhile, the fog danced across the ridgeline, twirling and whirling in a ghostly quiet manner, its transparent gowns touching the ground ever so tenderly before lifting into the next move.

We watched him forage for seeds and wondered about his behavior. Typically, such birds are loners, except for mating season. But this one greeted visitors to its territory with somewhat regular frequency. When we moved, he did likewise–usually a few feet to either side of us. And when we stopped, the Ruffed Grouse did the same, seeming to share our curiosity.

One doesn’t necessarily step into the woods and expect transcendent events to occur, but then again by learning to live in the moment one never knows what to expect. 

These are my thin places, where I see the light more on this side of than the other. May the answers slowly reveal themselves by day and by night, while the questions and awe never end.

Thanks to all of you who continue to wonder and wander with me whether literally or figuratively. I truly appreciate our time spent together.

Wandering the Wilson Wing Way

We’ve wandered there before, my friend and I, and we’ll wander there again. For as she said, “No matter how often we come here, there’s always something new to see.” And so it was that we found ourselves crawling over the crusty snowbank to get onto the trail of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Reserve.

Virgin snow greeted us as we sauntered ever so slowly beside Sucker Brook, which drains out of Horseshoe Pond. All along, we were serenaded with water songs, but bereft of such from any birds, which seemed eerily odd.

We did, however, have plenty of sights to admire, including the beaded fertile fronds of sensitive fern standing stalwart in the cold water. And then it dawned on us. Yes, the fern was standing in water. We know it prefers the edges of wetlands, but today’s offerings were at least ankle deep. And then we remembered. During the summer, it would have sprouted at the margin for the brook barely trickled through the landscape prior to the rain and snow that have fallen since then.

As we stood there, we noted reminders of others, such as the basal leaves of the Cardinal flowers that grace the brook in late summer. Visions of their red heads danced through ours.

And within our crowns, we mentally gathered the fertile fronds of royal fern. Already the days are lengthening and in a flash we’ll wonder how winter passed so quickly (well, some of us will) and dried brown leaves gave way to lush green.

Then we let the brook gather our attention again. The late morning sun played with the water and snow-covered mounds, casting shadows to its liking–and ours.

Beside the brook grow hardwoods and soft, but none were as brilliant as the yellow birch. Perhaps it was the glow of a winter day that encouraged their golden sheen to stand out among the rest.

For a few moments we stood before one of my favorite yellow birches. I love how its spindly legs stand tall above the rocks in the middle of the brook. Today, all were but another memory as they stayed snug below the blanket of white.

The boulders were also skirted in a coating of white, and hemmed with an icy floral display.

Eventually, we moved on–but only a few steps at a time. In this wintry landscape one might think there is so little to see. And one might be wrong. The trees know, their bark displaying crustose lichens of various shades and shapes overlapped by frullania.

Frullania is a genus of leafy liverworts that you’ll see on many a tree as it splays across the bark in a spiderweb-like manner. Each leaf consists of two parts, giving it a three-dimension look. On this particular tree it could have been a work of art–a scene that included the branching arms of a tree against a blue sky, the blue being a trail blaze.

Given the conditions, the blazes were hidden by many works of nature. But staying on trail wasn’t always our focus.

Between the two of us we spied one sight after another that begged to be noticed, like the fruiting bodies of a lichen possibly called Snag Pin that topped small stems sticking out perpendicular to an old tree stump.

And then there was the fungi to note, like witch’s butter, this particular specimen reminding me of a duck posing in a frilly gown and crown.

Almost hidden by the snow, an old false tinder conk with its cracked black upper surface sporting a velvety margin below.

We also found tinder conks with their equally velvety spore surface, concave as opposed to the convex form of the false tinder conk. Both are known as a hoof fungus for their shape somewhat resembles that of a horse’s hoof. Somewhat. Perhaps this particular horse high stepped through the woods.

My friend’s affinity is more to the fungi, but she knew I was equally drawn to the hobblebush, their leaves tucked inside praying hands embracing the global flowerhead. Do you see the touch of green peeking out? Again, for those of you who would prefer to wish winter away, spring isn’t far off.

It took us a while to reach the viewing platform along this not so long trail and we chose not to climb up.

Instead we opted for the view beside the brook as it flowed forth into Moose Pond Bog.

Our main reason for such was that we were curious to know if any others had traveled beside the water as well. And we weren’t disappointed when we immediately spied mink tracks.

If you look closely, you’ll also note a slide, for why bound all the time when occasionally you can take advantage of the snowy landscape and save some energy. And have a little fun.

The Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve was born prior to the organization of the Greater Lovell Land Trust. Outside the White Mountain National Forest, it was the first parcel to be conserved in the area. Behind the scenes, retired Episcopal Bishop and outdoor enthusiast George Cadigan, who summered in Lovell, encouraged his Lower Bay of Kezar Lake neighbor Wilson Wing to purchase some acreage along Sucker Brook in the early 1970s and donate it to The Nature Conservancy since the GLLT didn’t yet exist. Additional acreage was added in the late ’70s, but because the nearest office of the conservancy was located closer to the coast and the GLLT was beginning to take shape, the land was deeded to the land trust with the request that it be named for Mr. Wing.

The 32 acres beside the brook is a preserve managed primarily in its natural state for preserves are deemed to be forever wild due to fragile ecological conditions. That means that when a tree falls at Wilson Wing, its voice will resonate in a variety of ways before it finally decomposes because it can’t be touched. It will serve as habitat to a variety of species whether on land or in water.

Across the street, the Bishop Cardinal Reserve is managed to protect water quality and provide recreation and habitat.

Today, I had the pleasure of meandering beside Sucker Brook with Jinny Mae in a fashion that I imagine Wilson Wing would approve–wandering the Wilson Wing way.

Stepping Out For Others

With the most recent snowstorm now history, I strapped on my snowshoes this morning with a sense of eager anticipation about the possibilities. And then it hit me like the snow plops that fell from the trees and landed on my head or slid down my neck: I could do this while others could not and it was for them that I needed to focus. 

I hadn’t gone far when my first moment of wonder stood before me. Actually, just prior, I’d been looking at some pileated woodpecker works–ever on the search for the bird’s scat, and in the process had noticed other bird scat soiling the snow. But . . . what was all the amber color? 

Had snow collected on mushrooms that decorated the bark? If so, why hadn’t I seen them yesterday or the day before? 

Upon a closer look, I realized it was sap. But why the big clumps? And why so much on a dead snag? 

I poked it with my finger and found it to be of snow consistency. And so . . . the mystery remained. But it was certainly worth a wonder and I knew that those I was intentionally walking for would appreciate the sight. And yes, I did see plenty of other examples of dripping sap at the base of trees, but nothing like this. As usual, if you know what was going on, please enlighten me.

My next moment of wonder was one that always gives me pause–and again I knew that my friends would feel the same. A miniature evergreen world momentarily encapsulated in a droplet of melting snow. 

Everywhere, the meltdown offered a variety of shapes and designs, each worthy of reverence . . . and a photograph, of course. 

One of my favorites was plastered to a tree in such a way that it looked like it was flat against the bark until further study revealed otherwise. As it melted before my eyes, its ever changing formation resembled a series of little flowers scattered here and there. Just maybe you have to see that through my eyes. 

And then I stumbled upon another mystery–a web of sorts like Charlotte might have woven? I studied the shrub and found numerous examples of a similar pattern, but no arachnids in sight. Besides, the silky lines seemed too thick. But, what could it be? It took me a while as I studied the area and then I remembered. Before the snowstorm, I’d taken some photographs of the winter structure of a thistle. The storm had knocked down the fruiting form, but I think my gaze was upon the filaments that had served as parachutes for the thistle’s seeds. 

My journey into the winter wonderland continued, though not all the trees along the way were fortunate to withstand the weight of the snow that was quickly melting. It sounded like a rain storm as I walked under the arched branches. 

At the the other end of the snow tunnel, I emerged into a field with its own offerings. Typically, I pass by, but today I was inspired by those who virtually walked with me to explore. And I don’t think they’ll be  disappointed by the findings. First there was the Goldenrod Ball Gall. The round gall occurred in the middle of a stem, the top of which had broken off. In the spring, the Goldenrod gall fly laid her eggs on the stem. Hatched larvae chewed their way into the stem and the gall started to develop. And from the looks of the hole on the side, it appeared the creator had chewed its way out and flown off. 

Also in the field, a Rose Bedeguar Gall, aka Robin’s Pincushion Gall on Meadowsweet, which happens to be a member of the rose family. Burrowing in to the leaves and stem of the plant was a two-fold offering for the fly larvae it hosted, for the insect benefited from the nutrients while it was simultaneously protected from predators. 

There were also numerous examples of a structure that might baffle the onlooker. Beaded formations of the fertile stalk from a Sensitive Fern poked up through the snow. Typically, the beads or capsules remain intact with their brown dust-like spores waiting inside for the structure to break open during the rains of early spring. 

I moved on from the field and eventually reached a wetland that I couldn’t cross. But, I could stand and listen and so I did. All around me the forest orchestra performed its Plop, Plop, Swish, Plop, Splash symphony. 

 At first, it sounded and looked like I was surrounded by a million wild animals, but really . . . all the sound and sights were a result of snow falling, either gently with a whisper of the wind or harshly with a thud and splash. 

As I stood there looking for the million wild mammals, my eyes focused on the works of something much smaller. Insect egg tunnels on a dead snag’s trunk read like a story on paper. 

The longer tunnels were bored by a female Bark Beetle. From the sides of her tunnels, larval mines radiated outward. The overall design could have been an abstract drawing. 

At last  I started for home, thankful that I was retracing my steps for often new sights are revealed when one does that. And so, I believe it was a crust fungus and perhaps it was an oak curtain crust fungus, but let it remain that I discovered a fungus I don’t think I’ve seen before, with a warty, rust-colored underside and dark upperside. Suffice it to say, it was a mushroom of some sort. 

Along the way was a script lichen, which looked to me like someone had doodled. Commas and apostrophes decorated that page. 

And then, and then, Tetragnatha viridis, a green long-jawed orb weaver. I actually saw two of them. Typically, the translucent green color helps them camouflage amongst pine needles, their usual habitat, but they can frequently be seen on snow, especially if the temperature is in the 25˚-35˚ range as it was this morning. 

The orb weaver’s characteristics: eight eyes in two parallel sets of four; long chelicerae (jaws); enlarged pedipalps; long legs with spines; and that color–oh my! 

It was for eight parallel eyes that I walked today, the eight representing Jinny Mae, Dick, Kate, and Carol. 

Where trees didn’t cover the trail the snow was about fourteen inches deep and as you can see I chose the wrong boots and forgot my gators. But that was okay because I knew that I would eventually wander home and change my sopping wet socks. What mattered more was the fact that I was honored to step out for others when they couldn’t necessarily do the same. Here’s to the four of you–thanks for letting me be your eyes. 

What the Tree Spirit Knows

As I drove to Lovell this morning to take a photo for the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s winter newsletter, the crisp outline of a snow-covered Mount Washington made me realize that I had a short, unintended hike in my immediate future.

1a-Flat Hill view

Yesterday, I’d climbed the Flat Hill Trail at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve to take another photo for the newsletter–that one of the view from the summit of snow falling in the White Mountains. This past summer, staff and volunteers of the land trust had made some trail changes and opened several views, the one from Flat Hill being the most dramatic and the foliage, snow and sky enhanced the opening. But . . . today’s view was different and I knew I needed to capture it again.

Page 3 a

So . . . after a staff photo shoot at the Kezar River Reserve of Stewardship Associate Dakota, Associate Director Aidan, and Office Manager Alice, I headed north.

1-voss sign

And laughed at myself for yesterday I never noticed the yellow Voss blazes that had been mounted to mark the trail. The hope is that eventually all the trails will be signed with different colored diamonds that will ease navigation.

2-big tooth aspen

It’s a trail I know well, even with a new backwards S curve about two thirds of the way up that erased a steep and slippery portion and so instead I focused on those sights at my feet. While many leaves had already begun the long process of decomposition as they slowly break down and give nutrients back to the earth from which their trees grew, a few still sparkled like gems, including this Big-Tooth Aspen, aka poplar.

3-sugar maple

I was thrilled to discover Sugar Maple, defined by the U shape between its pointed lobes;

4-red maple

its V between lobes and toothier cousin, Red Maple;

5-striped maple

and even toothier kin, Striped Maple, known ’round these parts a goosefoot because its shape is similar. Some of us also refer to it as nature’s toilet paper for it’s large, soft, and easy to identify. You wouldn’t think of confusing it with poison ivy.

The curious thing about the Maple family, like all families in our northern New England forests, is that while the shape and color of the leaf helps us specify the family origins, each leaf within the family is different–whether in color or flaws or insect bites or galls. But despite their differences, they are all family.

6-large red oak

With the Striped Maple, I thought I’d found the largest species of the day, but a few more steps toward the summit revealed a rather large Northern Red Oak leaf.

7-even larger basswood leaf

And then the biggest of all–Basswood. My hiking boots are size 8. And the leaf–also a size 8, with an asymmetrical base. That must prove a challenge when trying to find the right fit.

13-polypody ferns

Focusing on the leaves took my mind off the climb and within no time I’d reached the summit where Polypody ferns in their evergreen form decorated the northwestern corner of an otherwise bald rock.

14-red maple flower and leaf buds awaiting
From the ferns where I’d planted my feet, I looked skyward and noticed the leaf and flower buds of a Red Maple, all tucked inside their waxy scales. It was the right place to be for as the north wind blew and my cheeks turned rosy red, I looked to the west.

9-Baldfaces to Carter Dome

Yesterday’s view had been transformed. No longer was it snowing from the Baldfaces to Carter Dome, with Mount Washington the whitest of all, posing between them. But still, it was chilly.

10-telescoping in on Mount Washington

A slight push on the camera lever and I pulled the scene a wee bit closer.

16-Perky's Path

At last I pulled myself away and hiked down, but so delightful was the morning, that I knew my newsletter work would have to wait a few more minutes at the intersection with Perky’s Path, for I felt the calling.

17-wetland--old beaver pond

It’s a wetland I visit frequently and once upon a time about five years ago it was filled to the brim with water because beavers had dammed it for their convenience.

18-suds reflect leaf

The only water today was found in a small stream that flowed through, its origin at Bradley Pond and terminus at Heald Pond. I stopped at the rock stepping path to admire what the water had to offer, including suds forming their own rachis or mid-vein from which side veins extended, a sideways rendition for the birch leaf caught between twigs.

19-view from the rock

In the middle of the stepping stones is a large flat rock. It was there that I settled in for a while, enjoying the feel of its sun-absorbed heat and the sound and views offered as the brook flowed slowly forth.

21-view from the bench

At last I pulled myself away and continued toward the bench that overlooked the wetland. All was quiet on this brisk day, but its a place of life and love and change.

22-back to the wetland

From there I continued to circle the old beaver pond to the point where I knew it had formerly been dammed. Climbing over and around moss-covered rocks, and into former stream beds, I made my way to the edge of what I used to call an infinity pool for the water was once at the dam’s upper level.

23-view from the beaver dam

Once I reached the dam, making my way one step at a time, for it was rather tricky footing at times, I discovered life on the other side. For all the years I’ve been involved with the land trust, I’d never seen this edge from this view. My surprise included the almost bald rocks.

25-coyote scat full of bones

Stepping from boulder to boulder, I made my way into the wetland a wee bit, but along the way realized someone had visited prior to me. Actually probably almost a year prior given the conditions of the scat left behind. Based on its shape, size, and inclusion of multiple bones plus lots of hair, I suspected a coyote had feed on a hare.

26-spider view

The coyote and I weren’t the only ones who knew of this secret place. A wolf spider darted in and out among the leaves, more afraid of me than I was of it.

27-spatterdock

And then I discovered something that perhaps they both already knew: the water supported a small colony of Spatterdock, a plant that will need to be added to the list of flora for this property. Do you see the ice on the Micky Mouse ear leaves?

28-ice

Ice had also formed around a fallen log, its swirls portraying a high-heeled boot that certainly might be appropriate in an ice sculpture but not on ice.

28-tree spirit

All of what I saw the tree spirit already knew. And yet, it allowed me to make discoveries from my feet to the sky.

29-Mount Washington summit

And every layer between. I know he’s not there anymore, but can’t you imagine Marty Engstrom on top of Mount Washington?

 

A “Fen-tastic” Afternoon

I was on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon for next week I’m leading some middle school students into a wetland and talking about forest ecology before sharing the joy of foraging with them.

1-Into the jungle

To reach the wetland, it was like walking through a jungle where the ferns grow tall, their fall coloration enhancing the scene. Cinnamon Ferns are a species that easily grow in medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. The moist, rich, acidic soils, I walked through were much to their liking.

1a-cinnamon fern

It appeared that they were named for their autumn presentation, but really it refers to the cinnamon-colored fibers found near the frond bases.

1b-hairy underarm

Because they look so similar to their relatives in the Osmundaceae family, the Interrupted Fern, I looked to the back of the frond for confirmation. Sure enough, where the pinnae (leaflet) met the rachis (center stem), a tuft that we refer to as the hairy underarm was present.

2-kettle

Onward I continued, not sure what the moisture situation might be. So, in the past, I’ve paused by the kettle hole, but never actually entered it. All that changed today and my plan is to take the students into this special place. A kettle hole is a basin created when a large block of glacial ice was left stranded and subsequently melted in place, producing a basin or depression. These basins fill with water up to the depth of their surrounding water table, which currently happens to be rather low.

3-white face meadowhawk

Because the temperature had risen after a damp, chilly start to the day, the meadowhawk dragonflies flew . . . and landed. This one was a White-faced Meadowhawk, aptly named for that face.

4-white face meadowhawk abdomen markings

Its abdomen markings of dark black triangles also help in identification.

4b-autumn meadowhawk dragonfly

Flying in the same airspace where the Autumn Meadowhawks, with their light-colored legs. All other meadowhawks have dark legs.

4c-autumn meadowhawk love

Love was in the air and on the leaf as a pair of Autumns took advantage of the warm weather to canoodle in the sunlight.

4c-dragonfly love everywhere

They weren’t alone.

7-kettle 2

What I learned as I explored was that the kettle was actually a double pot for a second one had formed behind the first. Notice the layered structure of the area from trees on the outer edge to shrubs to grasses and flowers to water.

5-mammal tracks

And everywhere–deer and raccoon tracks crisscrossed through mud and water.

5a-racoon and bird tracks

Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.

6-six-spotted fishing spider

And because I was interested in learning who lived there, I had to pay homage to the six-spotted fishing spider.

8-spatterdock leaves and root

The spider flirted with me as he moved quickly among the spatterdock leaves that sat in the wee bit of water left in the center of the kettle.

9-another kettle

I finally left the kettle only to discover another and again the formation of layers.

10-green teal ducks

The water was a bit deeper and a family of Green Teal Ducks dabbled.

11-bottoms up

Bottoms up!

12-my destination

It took some time and steady foot placement as I climbed over downed trees hidden by winterberry and other shrubs, but at last I reached my intended destination, a cranberry bog.

13-cranberries

And then I spent the next hour or so filling my satchel for so abundant were the little gems of tartness. The best where those hidden among the leaves–dark red and firm were they.

14-some nibbled cranberries

As I picked, I realized I wasn’t the only one foraging. It appeared that either chipmunks or squirrels also knew the value of the flavor–though they only nibbled.

15-October colors layered

Occasionally, or even more often, I looked up to take in the colors and layers that surrounded me–from leatherleaf bronze to blueberry red to Gray Birch and Red and Silver Maples with a few White Pines in the mix.

16-buttonbush

Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.

17-finding my way out

At last I decided to find my way out. (Sorta for I did get a wee bit disoriented.)

18-royal fern fertile fronds

Among the offerings were ferns of a different kind–though still related to the cinnamons I’d seen earlier. The Royal Fern’s fertile crown had months ago shared its spores with the world and all that was left were salmon-colored structures.

21-buttonbush galore, but more

I picked my way carefully and eventually found one of the kettles. And . . . drum roll please . . .

22-two sandhill cranes

two Sandhill Cranes. Others can tell you better than I how long the Sandhills have returned to this area, but it’s been for a while now and some even saw a nesting pair this past summer. My sightings have been few and so it’s always a pleasure.

23-sandhill cranes

I stood still as they moved about and they didn’t seem to notice my presence.

24-sandhill cranes

While they foraged for roots, another also watched.

25-great blue heron

The Great Blue Heron was cautious as they strolled in his direction.

29-bald eagle

And then . . . and then . . . in flew a Bald Eagle. And out flew the heron.

30-cranes flew out

The cranes waited a couple of minutes and then they flew, bugling on the wing.

And I rejoiced. Oh, I still had to find my way out and did eventually cross through a property about a quarter mile from where I’d started. But, all in all from kettles to cranberries to birds, it was a Fen-tastic afternoon as I explored an outlet fen.

 

Speaking to the Future, Jinny Mae

As a kid, science and history eluded me. Reading, and writing, and even, ‘rithmitic, I embraced. Well, only a wee bit of the latter, though my father thought my abilities were far greater than they were and he saw a bank position in my future. He was the mathematician. It wasn’t a subject for me to pursue. And so I became an English teacher.

And then one day I woke up and found I’d developed an interest in the how and why and the science of stuff. Added to that was a desire to know more about the past. And voila, here I am, some days spending way too many hours pursuing insects in the garden or bark on tree or dragonflies buzzing about. Other days, its following trails of yore and trying to understand the lay of the land and those who came before that interests me. My favorite days are probably those that find me pursuing the two subjects simultaneously.

1-Ambush Bug on Hydrangea

Today, I devoted spurts of time to a hydrangea bush that we rescued from a shady spot in our yard about fifteen years ago and transplanted to a sunny spot. What once was a dying shrub that rarely produced more than one flower is now a healthy specimen laden with blooms. And the insects love it.

My biggest surprise, however, was to find an Ambush Bug sitting atop one of the newly opened white flower petals. For the first time since I’ve been paying attention, the bug was on something other than a goldenrod and I could truly see its body. I’ve always thought it exhibited a hint of a smile, and do believe I’m correct.

An Ambush Bug is my “iguana” insect for its body structure always brings to mind a neighbor’s iguana that got loose one day and never was spied again when we were kids. (Or was it? Didn’t we find a dead iguana on the old dump road, Kate and Lynn? Was that Rob’s lizard?) Anyway, I think the Ambush Bug resembles an iguana, on a much smaller scale, of course. MUCH smaller.

2-Ambush Bug

Seeing the bug on the white petals really threw me for a loop. Why was it there? What would it ever find to eat? The pollinators no longer bothered with the shrub on which it stood. They’d moved on to the goldenrods and asters below.

And how could this insect behave as one who ambushes when it was hardly camouflaged on the white petal? It must have questioned the same (if Ambush Bugs can question) for it turned this way, then that, and back again, and then moved from petal to petal and flower to flower. Usually, it hardly seems to flex a muscle as it remains in one spot for hours or days on end.

3-eye to eye with Ambush Bug

We studied each other, eye to eye, or perhaps more correctly, lens to lens, until I blinked and it flew off. I trust it landed on a nearby goldenrod, where a meal wasn’t too long in the making.

4-Tiger Moth Caterpillar

Just after the Ambush Bug and I parted ways, I noticed a subtle movement below and watched a tiger moth caterpillar that reminded me of a soft boa scarf one might wrap around a neck quickly slither down another flower on the shrub until . . .  it reached the edge of the final petal and fell to the ground, climbed up a fern frond, found its way back to the shrub and moved on to the world within.

7-grasshopper 1

I was beginning to think that all of the insects on the hydrangea would move on or in, but then I met the Red-legged Grasshopper. He set his elbow on the leaf bar and we consulted each other. Would he fly away if I moved into his personal space, I wondered. He wanted to know why I stalked him.

8-red-legged grasshopper

I mentioned his body of armor and the herring bone design and the leg joints and the spurs on its legs that drew my awe.

9-grasshopper

As a solo traveler, I knew it didn’t appreciate that I wanted to share the space. But, I couldn’t resist. Notice its feet and the segments on its abdomen and even the veins in its wings. Did I mention its mandibles?

10-caterpillar scat

As it turned out, there may have been a reason it wanted to be alone, but I was there. To. Witness. The. Poop. A blessed moment. It would have been more of a blessed moment had it pooped on me. Oh, and did I mention that grasshopper poop, like all insect poop, isn’t called scat. Rather, it is frass. Thanks go to Dr. Michael Stastny, Forest Insect Ecologist in New Brunswick, Canada for reminding me of that term. Cheers Mike.

14-shield bug

Another moving about was a shield bug, so named for the shield on its back. It does make me think of a piece of metal one might use as protection. Combine the shield with the grasshopper’s suit of armor and you might think you were spending time in an earlier era. Much earlier.

15-shield bug

But this shield bug didn’t care about the Middle Ages. Instead, it had one thing on its little mind.

12a-shield bug eggs?

Depositing eggs.

13-shield bug eggs?

Its offering was almost minute, yet pearl-like in structure.

16-wasp within

The world I watched on the outside of the hydrangea made me wonder what might possibly go on within. As much as I wanted to break through the branches and take a better look, I knew I’d ruin everything and after all, it wasn’t my place. I did, however, get to witness one moving about briefly for a paper wasp left the goldenrods and heading under the hydrangea leaves to move the pollen about on its body. Why did it go under? Why not pause atop a leaf for such behavior? And how did it escape the inner world without . . .

16a-spider web

encountering a spider web? Funnel spiders had practically veiled the entire shrub with their silken structures.

16b-web anchors

Though anchored with strength, they were extremely soft to the touch.

17-spiders

As the day progressed, I kept tabs on three funnel spiders, the mighty weavers that they were. All were wary of daylight.

18-food in front

But one had set up its home on the eastern side of the shrub and so it spent the day in the shade and enjoyed fine dining on a small bee that I assume made a mistake of pausing while shifting some pollen on its body.

19-dining

There wasn’t much left of it by the time this spider had finished its meal.

21-dinner in hand

Later in the day, a web weaver on the western side began to show itself–and it also had a meal secured.

All of the insects and arachnids I saw, and I had to assume even more enjoyed the inner structure of the condo that the shrub certainly was, all spoke not to the past, but to the future.

And with that, I dedicate this blog entry to you, Jinny Mae. You have a better eye and understanding and ask better questions than I ever will. Here’s to the future!

Global Golden Sights

Until I spent time watching, I never realized how global a goldenrod could be. In fact, I must admit that there were years when I tried to eliminate these hardy yellow plants from the garden. After all, weren’t they weeds? You may think thus for so prolifically do they grow, but these days I prefer to think of them as volunteers who add beauty in any season. And during this season, they mimic life as we know it.

1-worker honeybee foraging

First, on sunny days European Honey Bees buzzed about. Yes, they are not native. But don’t tell them that. After all, they think they own the place.

2-honeybee

As quickly as they could, they sought nectar from the flowers and in the process, pollen clung to their hairy bodies. Aha, so in their greediness, goodness happened. How could that be? Or rather, how could that bee? (Corny jokes are forever a teacher’s forte)

3-hoverfly

As I gazed upon the minute flowers of the Rough-stemmed Goldenrod, I had to look for subtle changes of color in order to read the story. Ever a fan of the coloration of the Hover Fly, I was thrilled that I could focus in on this one. Then the realization struck–this fly wasn’t . . . flying. In fact, it was dead. And yet it still held its structure.

4-ambush bug

Looking up a stem or two, I noticed a predator in the waiting, its structure so otherworldly, much like an armored iguana. But it wasn’t a lizard.

4a-ambush bug

It was a common insect that changed position as I changed lenses. The amazing thing is that it blended in so well, but that was all part of the insect’s strategy. Did the Hover Fly’s death have anything to do with the Ambush Bug? All are innocent until proven guilty and I needed to remember that, but I still suspected I knew the perpetrator.

4b-ambush bug

For three days I stalked him as he stalked others. An Ambush Bug is willing to wait until just the right moment to attack its prey with those oversized raptorial forelegs and quickly dispatch it with a stab from his sharp beak. Who knew that in the small world of the goldenrod one needed to be ever on the alert?

6-honey bee

And still, a Honey Bee foraged and farmed.

9-Japanese Beetle

Also on a mission was a Japanese Beetle, another immigrant in the mix. And I know that if I were to point out the unique idiosyncrasies of its body structure, I’d get booed out of town. But  . . . look at those colors, the details, and especially the antennae. It’s tough being the one dude that no others appreciate.

18-Where's Waldo the spider?

For every foraging or unwanted citizen, there was one hiding in the shadows, ever ready to catch the neighbors when they were most vulnerable. Do you see the green and brown crab spider?

25-spider web

Some even set up traps to catch their prey, but after all, we are all hunters and need to dine.

10-pollen all over body

Still the Honey Bees flew in and out and chased off any others, even their siblings who got in the way. All were females, for such are the workers in their society. Ahem. Oh, excuse me. Just clearing my throat.

12-locust borer

For all the time that I watched (and really, I only spent an hour or so each day for I did have work to do) I noticed a Locust Borer on one particular plant. Females tunnel into bark to lay eggs and I probably should have taken a closer look at the quaking aspen in the garden that has been compromised by so many insects. But here’s another thing–do you see the yellow tip on its abdomen? Locust Borers don’t sting, but should you touch one it will try to bore its tail end into you as if it were a stinging insect. Silly bug.

22-Assassin bug 1

Peeking under a nearby stem, I found another seeking others–an Assassin Bug that was related to the Ambush Bug. Assassin Bugs are proficient at capturing and feeding on a wide variety of prey. Though they are good for the garden because they act as tiny Ninjas and prey on enemies of the plants, they don’t always discriminate about their prey. The unsuspecting victim is captured with a quick stab of the bug’s curved proboscis or straw-like mouthpart. I’ve had the opportunity to watch the action in the past, but I couldn’t always locate the little warrior, thought I knew it was somewhere among the drooped stems.

8-honey bags

And still , the Honey Bees flew, filling their sacs being their main priority.

15-drone fly 2

Not everyone could be a bee, but some surely tried to mimic their adversaries. Thus is the life of a Drone Fly that may have a bit of a hairy body, but it can’t sting. Instead, it had to outsmart its predators by being a look-alike. Such is known as Batesian mimicry, so named for the famous English naturalist, Henry Walter Bates. Bates discovered this concept while working in the Brazilian Amazon.  In the course of his studies, he realized that numerous non-toxic butterflies looked identical to a few very potent types.

16-sawfly?

Other non-bees on the flowers included a rather handsome sawfly, its wings so distinctly veined.

17-honey bee moving pollen on body

But the honey bees were on the move the most and managed to control the activity of those smaller and larger by giving chase to all. Occasionally, one had to pause and dangle in order to move some pollen into its sac.

30-crab spider

Also known to dangle, for that’s what spiders do best, was another crab spider, Crab spiders may be tiny, but they can be cunning and ferocious. Like the predatory insects, waiting was the name of the arachnid’s game and I don’t doubt that this one was successful in securing its next meal.

32-inch worm

And while still in a dangling mode, there were the inch worms of varying colors to spy, most of them slithering ever so slightly among the plants flowers, but some were on the move to the leaf that was greener on the other side.

36-dead inch worm

This morning, I did discover a dead inch worm and again, like the Hover Fly that met its demise, I wondered who done it. Ambush or Assassin Bug? Those were my two choices.

39a-hover fly

I did find a live Hover Fly and its presence made me happy. There’s something about its streamlined structure and minute hairs and clear wings and hovering ability that appeal to me.

39-hover fly an dinch worm

One even demonstrated that it could share the space with an inch worm.

37-flesh fly

Equally admirable was the Flesh Fly with its brick red eyes and handsomely striped abdomen. It’s called a Flesh Fly for its habit of locating decomposing carcasses and laying its eggs. I have to admit that thinking about that and the maggots to follow gives me a chill.

40a-metallic green sweat bee

A metallic green Sweat Bee flew in periodically, but never stayed long. Thankfully, it chose to ignore me. In fact, considering how close I was and in the faces of so many, as always, the insects and spiders left me alone. I, on the other hand, continued to stalk them.

42-paper wasp

Surprisingly, even the rather aggressive Paper Wasp ignored me. I could hardly ignore it. Whenever he flew, most other flying insects performed a mini dance, flying up, swirling down and then settling again.

But take a moment to look at that body. It’s as if some insects wear a coat of armor. And in the wasp’s case that coat was dusted with pollen, just as nature intended so fertilization could occur.

44-bumblebee

Even the aggressive Bumblebee let me bumble about without incident. In my three days of watching, there were plenty of Bumblebees buzzing, but they tended to visit all of the surrounding flowers. Today, however, in a frantic frenzy, one sampled this flower and that along the goldenrod stem.

45-locust borer waving

While the Locust Borer I mentioned earlier spent the last three days on the same plant, a second one flew in today and settled on a goldenrod about seven feet away from the first LB. Will they meet? I assume so, but in the meantime, it waved.

41-assassin bug

And in a different location than the first day, I found an Assassin Bug. The same one? Perhaps. But again, no food. Still, it waited.

50-ambush bug

As did the Ambush Bug.

39-half-inch worm and ambush bug

In three days, it hadn’t moved far, but finally decided to take a different stance. To its left, a half-inch worm stayed in one spot, though it kept changing position. And I kept waiting–why didn’t the Ambush Bug grab the little thing and suck its guts out?

46-ambush dining on hover fly

Because . . . it was waiting for a more substantial meal I later learned. And my question was answered. What killed the first Hover Fly? An Ambush Bug. And this afternoon it worked on another. Drats. But, in this insect or arachnid eat insect world, finding a meal and gathering energy from it was the most important thing.

43-larvae of brown-hooded owlet moth

Much to my delight because I was looking–I spied the larvae of a brown-hooded owlet moth. Besides a monarch caterpillar, oh and a sphinx moth, and . . . and . . . the brown-hooded owlet moth caterpillar is one of my favorites.

33-forage looper moth

Its mature form wasn’t quite as attractive.

35-I see you

But still, what a sight to see tucked in among the goldenrods.

The garden may be small, but its offerings were global in nature when you think about it. Ah, those golden sights. Worth a wonder.  (And I left a few out!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mast Landing Mondate

What should you do when you come to a fork in the road . . . and a mailbox?

2-mailbox in the woods

Why open the mailbox, of course, enter the date and your names on the notebook stored within, and then follow the trail to the left. If all goes well, a couple of hours later you’ll emerge via the trail on the right. With lots of zigs and zags along the way, that is.

3-foundation

The story of this place dated back to the 1700s when the massive white pines that once grew there were harvested for the British navy. A dam was built and mills as well. In fact, at one time there were four mills, including a saw mill, textile mill, and two grist mills, plus a woodworking shop. We spied a foundation just off the trail, but didn’t know its part in the story.

5-lily of the valley surrounding foundation

Surrounding the foundation in abundance, however, were lily of the valley plants, their fruits taking on their fall hue. And I imagined the lady of the house tending her garden.

4-black-capped chickadee egg?

Though the homesteaders were no longer in residence, we found evidence that others called this place home–possibly a black-capped chickadee egg.

3a-old vechicle

A little further on, we found another artifact dating to an earlier time. Much earlier given its structure and how buried it was. This had once been farmland before the forest grew up again.

6-climbing under blow down

It wasn’t far into our journey, however, that we began to notice something about this land–it had been hit over and over again by windstorms, all blowing from the east, which made sense given that we were less than a mile from the ocean. We found ourselves stepping over, crawling under . . .

7-walking through blowdown

walking between . . .

8-destruction everywhere

and starring in awe at all of the destruction. It was nothing like we encounter in western Maine, and we began to feel trail snobbish.

9-uprooted

But . . . uprooted trees do offer interesting art forms from above . . .

10-underrooted

and directly below. Think of it as nature’s stained glass window.

10a-bark beetle tunnel art

There was other artwork to admire, including those zigzaggy tunnels created by bark beetles. They must dance to their own tunes as they mine their way across the cambium layer.

10b-artist conks

On the same tree we also found fine specimens of artist conk fungi. How apropos.

12-education building

Soon we came to a modern structure. A peek through the window and we knew we’d reached an education center, where cubbies lined a wall, and posters no longer quite secure rolled from the points at which they’d been tacked.

14-tick check

My favorite was a painting on the outside. Tick Check!

15-apple tree

Because the land had been farmed, apple trees danced in their forward leaning forms.

16-apple

And gave forth fruit among the maze of branches.

17-apples on ground

Some trees were more prolific producers than others.

18-eating an apple

And according to my guy, the offerings were delicious.

18-silky dogwood fruit

There were other fruits to admire, including the wedgewood blue of silky dogwood.

18a-hobblebush fruits

And the green turning red, red turning blue, purplish, blue and almost raisin-like fruits of hobblebush.

19-Norway Maple samara

Even the Norway maple showed off its seeds in samara form.

22-more asters

The asters added delightful touches of color to the rather drab landscape.

11-Nephrotoma eucera, tiger crane fly

And among them, insects such as a tiger crane fly, enhanced the scene.

23-turtlehead

We found turtlehead,

24-false solomon's seal

false Solomon seal in its fruit form,

25-beach rose

and beach roses showing their bright florescence.

26-rose hips

And where there were roses, there were rose hips and I was reminded of my father who couldn’t walk past a rose bush on our travels from our cottage in Harbor View, Clinton, CT, to town via the town beach, without sampling such.

27-dam

Eventually today, after a few backtracks, for we occasionally got fake lost and with all the downed trees, every trail began to look the same, we found the dam.

29-dam breached

It had been breached long ago, and according to the property’s history, the mills were “destroyed by fire in the early 1860s, and not rebuilt.”

29-old mill structures

We could see some evidence through the woods, but weren’t in a major gotta-see-more mode I guess, which isn’t really our way, but today it was.

j30-below the dam--low tide

Down below, the mill stream became the Haraseekeet River if we understood correctly. It was low tide in the estuary. And smelled to me like the mud flats in Clinton Harbor and I was transported to my childhood for a moment.

31-caretakers house

On our way out, we passed by the caretaker’s house, built in 1795 by mill master Abner Dennison. Sadly, it looked like it needed some care taking.

32-head start on Halloween

Nonetheless, it was decorated for the upcoming season.

34-tree spirits

At the end of our journey, we decided that the trails were not our favorite given all the blowdowns and a stagnant Mill Brook that seemed like an oxymoron, but we’d still found plenty of delightful sights. And tried not to make too many contrary comments for the tree spirits kept many eyes on us.

35-tree gnomes

And listened from their gnome homes.

On this Mondate, we whispered that we probably don’t need to return to Maine Audubon’s Mast Landing, but we didn’t want them to hear us.

 

 

Wondering With Jinny Mae

It takes us forever and we like it that way. In fact, today a woman who saw us in our typical slo-mo movement commented, “It’s like you’re on a meditative walk. I always move quickly and miss so much.” Indeed we were and when I travel beside Jinny Mae there isn’t much we don’t see. But always, we’re sure that we’ve moved too quickly and missed something. Then again, we realize that whatever it was that we accidentally passed by this time may offer us a second chance the next time.

1-winterberry

Today’s wonder began with the realization that winterberry holly or Ilex verticillata, grew abundantly where we chose to travel. This native shrub will eventually lose its leaves, but the plentiful berries will last for a while–until they’ve softened considerably that is and then the birds will come a’calling.

2-winterberry

Everywhere we turned, or so it seemed, we found them ranging in color from spring green to shades of red. As summer turns to autumn, the leaves will yellow and eventually fall.

3-winterberry

And then the brightly colored berries that cling to every stem will add color where it’s otherwise lacking in the landscape.

4-winterberry

Even while the leaves still held fast, we found some brightly colored berries that offered a breathtaking view.

5-to Muddy River

We passed through numerous natural communities, tiptoeing at times, such as on the boardwalks, for we didn’t want to disturb the wildlife around us–no matter what form it took.

9-dragonfly attachment

And we rejoiced in spying a cherry-faced meadowhawk couple in their pre-canoodling mode. Can you see how he has used his cerci to clasp the back of her head? His hope is that he can get her to connect in the wheel position and they’ll take off into the safety of the nearby shrubbery to mate.

6-Muddy River

At the river, we began to notice other signs that we’ve once again entered a transition between seasons, for subtle were the colors before us.

7-beaver lodge

Across the river and just north of where we stood, we spotted an old lodge, but weren’t sure anyone was in residence for it didn’t seem like work was being done to prepare for winter. Then again, we haven’t done anything to prepare either, for though the temperature has suddenly shifted from stifling to comfortable (and possibly near freezing tonight), it’s still summer in Maine. And we’re not quite ready to let go.

17-Sheep Laurel

That being said, we found a most confusing sight. Sheep laurel grew prolifically in this place and we could see the fruits had formed from this past spring’s flowers and dangled below the new leaves like bells stringed together.

18- sheep laurel flowering in September

Then again, maybe it wasn’t all that odd that it still bloomed for when I got home I read that it blooms late spring to late summer. I guess we’ve just always noticed it in late spring and assumed that was the end of its flowering season. But then again, it appeared that this particular plant had already bloomed earlier in the season and produced fruit, so why a second bloom? Is that normal?

10-pitcherplant 1

As we continued on, we started to look for another old favorite that we like to honor each time we visit. No matter how often we see them, we stand and squat in awe of the carnivorous pitcher plants.

11-pitcher plant 2

But today, we were a bit disturbed for one that we’ve admired for years on end looked like it was drying up and dying. In fact, the location is typically wet, but not this year given the moderate drought we’ve been experiencing in western Maine. What would that mean for the pitcher plant?

13-pitcher plant flower

Even the flower pod of that particular one didn’t look like it had any life-giving advice to share in the future.

14-Pitcher Plant 4

Fortunately, further on we found others that seemed healthy, though even the sphagnum moss that surrounded them had dried out.

14a-pitcher plant

Their pitcher-like leaves were full of water and we hoped that they had found nourishment via many an insect. Not only do I love the scaly hairs that draw the insects in much like a runway and then deter them from exiting, but also the red venation against the green for the veins remind me of trees, their branches spreading rather like the tree of life. Or maybe a stained glass window. Or . . . or . . . we all have our own interpretations and that’s what makes life interesting.

15-pitcher plant flower 2

Speaking of interesting, the structure of the pitcher plant flower is one we revere whenever we see it because it’s so otherworldly in form. And this one . . . no the photo isn’t sideways, but the flower certainly was. If you scroll up two photos, you’ll see it as it grew among the leaves. The curious thing is that it was sideways. Typically in this locale, Jinny Mae and I spy many pitcher plant flowers standing tall. Today, we had to squint to find any.

16-pitcher flower and aster

She found the sideways presentation and this one. But that was it. Because of the drought? Or were we just not cueing in to them?

20-cinnamon fern

We did cue in to plenty of other striking sights like the light on a cinnamon fern that featured a contrast of green blades and brown.

21-cinnamon fern drying up

Again, whether the brown spoke of drought or the transition to autumn, we didn’t know. But we loved its arching form dramatically reflected in each pinna.

18a-swamp maple

But here’s another curious thing we noted. We were in a red maple swamp that is often the first place where the foliage shows off its fall colors and while some in other locales have started to turn red, only the occasional one in this place had done so. Our brains were totally confused. Sheep laurel blooming for a second time; pitcher plants drying up and dying; and few red maples yet displaying red leaves?

19-witch's caps or candy corn

We needed something normal to focus on. And so we looked at the candy corn we found along the trail. Some know them as witch’s caps. They are actually witch hazel cone galls caused by an aphid that doesn’t appear to harm the plant. It is a rather cool malformation.

24-white-faced meadowhawk

On a boardwalk again, we stepped slowly because the white-faced meadowhawk kept us company and we didn’t want to startle it into flight.

25-white-faced meadowhawk dining

One flew in with dinner in its mouth and though I couldn’t get a photo face on before it flew to another spot to dine in peace, if you look closely, you might see the green bug dangling from its mouth.

26-New York Aster

All round us grew asters including New York, water-horehound, cranberries, bog rosemary and so many others.

27-Virginia marsh-St. John's Wort

There was Virginia marsh St. John’s Wort,

28-fragrant water lily

fragrant water lilies,

28-jewelweed

jewelweed,

29-pilewort globe

and even pilewort to admire. The latter is so much prettier in its seed stage than flowering. Why is that we wondered.

30-Holt Pond Quaking Bog

Ahhhh, an afternoon of wondering . . . with Jinny Mae. At LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve. In Bridgton. An afternoon well spent. Thanks JM.