The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode six

The clue was rather vague as clues go: Drive five hours south to the second dot to the right in Harbor View. And so we did.

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The map provided helped–sorta.

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And just before dark we located the spot that included not only a view of the outer harbor, but also the back side of Hammonassett Beach State Park on Long Island Sound in Connecticut. It was like we knew exactly where we were going.

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As it turned out, we were joined by another couple with whom we’d formed an alliance for the race and so we decided to spend the weekend completing the challenges together. Funny thing–I think we felt so comfortable with them because she looked very much like my sister and he reminded us of my brother-in-law. With them was a young man who is about to celebrate his 24th birthday (in two more days) and so we all celebrated with him–but even his presence was part of the challenge. And so Team Budz (the alliance couple) and Team Wonder (us), shared the responsibility of his presence. They picked him up at the train station. We provided the cake, which he decorated himself. We also offered the musical accompaniment, much to his dismay. And together, presents, much to his delight.

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Refreshed after a good night’s sleep in that delightfully salty air, we faced new challenges, such as sighting three mammals. Together, Team Budz and Wonder spied cottontail rabbits, which were probably the eastern species that was introduced into New England in the late 1800s/early 1900s and have expanded in range ever since, rather than the native New England Cottontail. Both feature large hind feet, long ears, and a short, fluffy tail that resembles its namesake–a cotton ball. Suffice it to say: it was a cottontail. We also saw a red fox that looked a bit mangy and was too close to home, poking up as it did on the rocks in front of our accommodation, and a momma raccoon that, sadly, had been struck by a car–ever so gently struck.

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Challenge number two found us seeking two sea birds. We found adult Osprey standing guard,

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and scanning the water for a fishy meal.

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Meanwhile, their young patiently awaited breakfast in the nest built of sticks upon man-made platforms that were installed at least thirty years ago. And actually, while we watched them, we noted something disturbing–tangled fishline dangling from the construction site. That led us to send out a word of caution–dispose of your tangled fishline so the birds and other aquatic species with whom we share this Earth don’t get wrapped up to the point of no escape, aka death.

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We did note that while some of the young Osprey stretched their wings to capture the sun’s warmth and waited for mom and pop to return with a meal, a couple of smaller birds used the nest structure as a great place to pause below and contemplate the surrounding world. Osprey eat fish and perhaps the smaller birds knew that? Or they just made the right decision.

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The Great Egret was the second bird we were assigned to watch . . . as it watched.

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And preened.

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And exclaimed its beauty.

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And watched some more.

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And focused.

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And then . . . the splash.

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And success.

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A meal.

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To pull in.

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And swallow.

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And swallow some more.

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Suddenly, in a flash of time, for so it seemed, Team Wonder needed to hold up its end of the alliance bargain and get this guy back to the train.

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But–we needed directions to the railroad station, for we wanted to make sure that he made his connection in New Haven.

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We were told to look to the sky for a message–and it was there that we found an advertisement unfolding in what struck us as a strange place, but perhaps it wasn’t so strange after all, for it was above some train tracks. Another Happy Birthday Message?

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Whatever, it turned out to be the right one. First, the Shoreline East to New Haven and then the Metro North to Grand Central. And off he went–to his home of the past year and his career in the film editing industry (and his 24th birthday in two more days).

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Meanwhile, back at the ranch, aka Alliance Inn, the tide was slowly coming in, but we headed out, two teams as we were, ready to take on the next adventure.

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My guy and Mr. Budz led the way through the shallow water the outer harbor has long been famous for.

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It’s a tradition of the neighborhood–this gathering place at low tide.

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Team Wonder did get a wee bit worried when Team Budz paired up ahead–where they going to ditch us at the channel?

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But they didn’t. Instead, they paused with us to look at one of the wonders we needed to find by the sandbars–what was it?

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A sand collar–which felt like sand paper above and was smooth below. It was actually a mass of snail eggs. A rather amazing form.

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On the sandbars and in the water, Spider Crabs appeared fierce, but were really quite nonchalant. Note the round and spiny carapace, with small spines running down its back. The crab is known to attach bits of algae, mud, and seaweed to many sticky hairs all over its bodies for camouflage, thus giving it a frightening look, but don’t take it seriously. It moves quite slowly and won’t pinch your toes like some of its relatives.

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And then we saw the wicked cool Lady’s Slipper of the Sound. Slipper shells they may be, but their natural history is amazing. The following is from the University of Rhode Island: This shell is shaped like an egg or oval that has been cut in half with the top of the shell turned sharply to one side. Looking at the underside of the shell, it is easy to see how it got its name. Underneath the shell is a ledge to support the internal organs; this ledge extends about half the length of the animal. Different slipper shell species are characterized by different shell textures, including rough, smooth, ribbed, corrugated, and flat. Although they have a foot for locomotion, by the time they reach maturity they anchor themselves to a hard substrate and remain stationary.

And there’s more: All common slipper shells start their lives as males, but some change to females as they grow older. A waterborne hormone regulates the female characteristics. Once they change into females, they remain females. They often stack up on top of each other for convenient reproduction. The larger females are on the bottom, the smaller males are on the top, and the hermaphrodites are between the two. If the ratio of males to females gets too high, the male reproductive organs will degenerate and the animal will become female. Eggs are laid in thin-walled capsules that the female broods under her foot.

Common slipper shells also form stacked aggregations when there is no hard substrate on which to attach. They attach to objects in large numbers and can sometimes suffocate the animal on which they are attached.

Who knew? I just thought they were common slipper shells.

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We’d finished the sandbar challenge and had no idea how the other teams might be doing, though we did wonder if some of them were thrown off for we spotted a sign that said “sanbars” instead of “sandbars” and we could only hope that they’d gone off in search of the former–to no avail.

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Alliance Inn beckoned, as did the incoming tide, and so we headed back toward the shore.

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And the next challenge–completing the Sunday crossword puzzle. My guy read the clues and told us how many letters and the four of us shouted out answers–whether they fit or not. I silently kept score (sorta) and was sure that Team Wonder was in the lead, but didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, for we had agreed on an alliance after all. At least for this weekend.

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At last the sun set on the day. And the outer harbor.

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And we celebrated the day’s discoveries with a bottle of The Cottage for it seemed apropos. I think we were all in agreement, however, that the bottle was much better  looking than the flavor and we aren’t exactly wine connoisseurs.

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And then this morning dawned with another bird ID challenge. First up–who had taken up housekeeping in the apartment building meant for the Purple Martins? House Sparrows.

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And we wondered if they might have some young in Apartment D for come and go did the male and female, both attentive to whomever hung out within.

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Overlooking it all, a Purple Martin–though he never defended his territory.

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And immature Starlings . . .

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as invasive as ever . . .

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stood ever so ready to move in to Apartment B.

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Who stood on the right-hand jetty? A Greater Yellowlegs Sandpiper, its bill longer than its head.

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And on another jetty to the south–a Cormorant gathered warmth in its wings, first turning to the right.

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Then to the left.

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And finally slipping back into the water and cruising by.

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At last, much to our dismay, our time with Team Budz drew to an end, quite like the way a day lily such as those my mom so loved and planted everywhere, shared their pollen and then closed up. Who knows what the next episodes will bring. Will we continue to join forces with Team Budz to complete the next challenges? Will they pull ahead of us? Or we ahead of them? We’re only halfway through the Race and as we all know–anything can happen.

But–as we lived in the moment, we certainly loved this episode’s opportunity to celebrate a certain young man’s 24th birthday, ID birds we hadn’t paid attention to since we were kids, explore the sandbar once again, and enjoy the camaraderie of this couple we’ve grown quite fond of. As we go forward, may the best team win . . . and if it can’t be Team Wonder, then we sure hope it’s Team Budz.

 

 

Remembering Sue

Our greater community has lost a remarkable woman with the sudden passing of fiber artist and historian Sue Black. Though we didn’t tramp together as often as we would have liked, when we did my journey was enriched as Sue added an historical observation to the context. And she was just plain down-to-earth and fun.
For years, she chuckled when she saw me in the audience of her talks about the mills along Stevens Brook that she gave each summer at Lakes Environmental Association. The talk was always the same, but each time I came away with a new understanding.
 

And then I’d join her guided walk beside the brook the next morning. As time passed, Sue couldn’t always lead the walk and so I had the honor of trying to fill her shoes. I was humbled by the experience, and though I could hear her whispering facts into my ears, I couldn’t add the personal touch that made Sue’s walks so enjoyable for she’d raised sheep and as she often demonstrated at various fairs and fests, she’d processed the wool, creating her own fiber. At the mill sites, Sue brought the former activity to life again–albeit in our minds–with her detailed descriptions.

Once or twice a year, Jinny Mae, Sue and I tramped together along other routes than the brook, always a journey that included stonewalls, dam sites and cellar holes left behind. Our mission, which we delightfully accepted, was to become sleuths and interpret the various scenes, looking for evidence of those who had come before.

I last saw Sue and her husband, Sam, two weeks ago and she and I started chatting about our next adventure with Jinny Mae. We knew the location, but hadn’t yet set the date.

Jinny Mae and I will continue to tramp, and will take Sue along in spirit, our lives forever imprinted with her smile and voice and love for the next adventure.

Two years ago I posted this blog about the mills along Stevens Brook and here it is again:

For Sue . . .

 

Milling About Stevens Brook

I must begin with a thank you to fiber artist, historian and friend, Sue Black. Sue has led numerous walks along the very trail I followed today and I’ve often been in her presence–usually with notebook in hand so I could jot information down and gain a better understanding of this place.

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Though she wasn’t with me today, I could hear Sue as I mosied along examining the old mill sites of the Stevens Brook Trail in Bridgton. And many of the words that follow are probably hers. I also gleaned info from the Bridgton Historical Society several years ago, when Sue couldn’t lead the walk and asked me to fill in. So I guess, really, what follows is like the confluence of the Stevens and Willet Brooks–two streams that meet to form one.

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Bridgton was once a thriving mill town and Stevens Brook its source of power. Of course, to do this properly, I should begin at Highland Lake, the source of the brook, but  I’m not a proper-sort-of gal and you’ll have to bear with me. I didn’t begin at Pondicherry Park either–for the boardwalk was under water.

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Instead, I slipped onto the trail at Depot Street, beside the Bridgton Community Center. By this point, Willet Brook has joined forces with Stevens, thus increasing the power of the water. I was backtracking, and again didn’t get far because of water flowing over the trail, but along the way I made a discovery. Those beautiful trees that lean over the brook–silver maples (Acer saccharinum). It never occurred to me that they grew here, but made perfect sense.

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The backside of the deeply-lobed leaves are silvery gray in old age and silvery white during their prime.

I should have taken a photo of the old Memorial School because that was the sight of the train depot (Depot Street) for the Bridgton and Saco River Railroad that was built in 1883–a narrow gauge operating from Hiram, but didn’t think of it at the time. Instead, I followed the stone steps down, walked beside the brook as it ran below the deep bank by Stevens Brook Elementary School and came up behind a few old buildings, back on Depot.

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And then I stood on the bridge overlooking Food City. I should note that this is power site #4. Yup, I’ve skipped the first three for now. Stick with me. We’ll get there. In 1822, this area of town wasn’t part of the main village–that was confined to Main Hill. A water-powered carding mill equipped to prepare wool for spinning, thus replacing the tedious hand work of disentangling, cleaning and intermixing the fibers was in operation in this area at the time. By 1825, James Flint and Aaron Littlefield built a sawmill, which they operated for 15 years. In 1840, this was the site of the Walker Saw Mill and Grist Mill. And then things changed. The Pondicherry Mill was built in 1865 to manufacture woolen goods. It was one of the most extensive manufacturing plants in Maine at that time and employed 50 operators. Standing where I was on the bridge, I could see the stones related to the mill and dam. The dam disintegrated in the 1960s.

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In 1898, the neighboring town of Harrison wanted to be joined to the railroad and the RR owners obliged. From this spur, a trestle was built that carried coal in dump carts to the Pondicherry Mill. The structure has deteriorated immensely, but still stands as a monument to this moment in history. So wait, think about this coal situation. The mill had grown to employ 225 people and water power from the brook was no longer dependable. An immense coal-burning chimney about 100 feet in height had been added to the mill. Sixty looms produced 18,000 yards of cloth weekly. Though the building stood until the mid-sixties, the industry moved south long before that. The stones by the brook and trestle are all that are left to tell the story. A now-deceased resident, Reg Fadden, used to tell the story of knowing what color they were dying the wool on any particular day–he’d see the color in the water as he walked to school.

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Above power site #5, the land was flat and indicative of a former mill pond.

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A stone dam and some other foundation work is all that’s now left. The first mill to be located here was a sawmill built in 1868. By 1871, a shovel factory was built on the west side, which was the side I stood upon. By 1899, the Bridgton Lumber Company had located to this power site, with two mills operating–one for boxes and house furnishings; the other for lumber. This apparently was a successful site because in 1911 it became the Burnham and Newcomb Sawmill, which was purchased by Harry Bisbee in 1920. He used a turbine since the water power wasn’t dependable. Though it gushed over the rocks today, in the summertime, this is the perfect place to sit on the flat rocks and dangle ones feet. I can’t remember if Sue told me this or I read it, but apparently there was a treacherous footwalk that crossed the brook in this area and even at age 90, Mr Bisbee would walk across. The sawmill eventually burned, with only the office remaining. This time using a diesel engine, Mr. Bisbee started a smaller sawmill. In 1953, the dam washed out with a flood and local lore has it that Mr. Bisbee walked out one day, leaving it all behind. He died a couple of years later, gifting the mill to the public library.

Charles Fadden and his son, Reg, bought the mill at auction and operated a box mill, using a turbine for power. The office was still standing until about ten years ago, when it collapsed.

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By the mill, the Harrison Narrow Gauge crossed over a trestle; today only the stone stanchions remain. A sixth power site was never developed.

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It was here that I recognized another tree I don’t always encounter–a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). The bark appears almost braided.

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And below it, an old flat pod that contains bean-like seeds.

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I followed a new trail (possibly private, but it wasn’t posted) and was delighted to get a better view of what I believe was power site #7.

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If I’m correct in my thinking, this is Lower Johnson Falls, and was the possible 1859 site of the Milliken Bedstead Factory.

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A foundation is still visible on the eastern side of the brook.

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Below power site #7, I came to the coffin shop. Hey, somebody had to build them. Lewis Smith built the two-story building with a basement in the late 1860s. It was a sash and blind factory, but he also built furniture, and yes, coffins. More local lore: he was the town’s first undertaker. While the building has had several owners since then who have tried to restore it, it still needs some (way more than some) tender loving care so it doesn’t go the way of all the other mills.

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All that remains of a water-powered turbine still reaches over the brook. Originally, all the water wheels along the brook were overshot wheels. While an overshot wheel had horizontal axils, a turbine wheel had vertical axils, thus making it smaller, more efficient and more dependable given the rise and fall of the water.

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And on the front lawn of the coffin shop, the real deal–a Perry Turbine Water Wheel. In 1877, Richard Bailey and Samuel Miller operated an iron factory and machine shop built by William Perry and George Taylor across the road from the Smith factory. When they sold their business to Forest Mills owed by William  Fessenden Perry, it was renamed the Bridgton Machine Company with George and Frank Burnham taking over as managers. In 1887, the Perry turbine was invented and it received nation-wide popularity for use in mills along small streams.

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Power site #8 is one of my favorites. This is where Perry and Taylor erected a mill in 1862 to manufacture woolen goods. The dam was built to provide a fifteen-foot fall with a mill pond above.

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Today the sluiceway is dry, but I can imagine the water pouring through here.

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With the advent of Kansas Road in 1865, the woolen mill expanded to 200 feet by 45 feet and stood two stories tall. With more looms than any mill in the area, outerwear was produced here and shipped to Boston. During the Civil War, attention turned to creating war materials.

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Across the street, I ventured down the wrong trail at first and found myself on the upper side of the dam built at power site #9. The 13′ dam built by Boothby and Chadwick in 1864 was near Kennards Stocking Mill. It was originally intended that Kansas Road would cross the dam, but the turn would have been too sharp and too steep.

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Today, a vernal pool sits below the former dam. I checked it and several others along the way. No signs of life. I’ve yet to hear spring peepers.

Anyway, Taylor and Perry purchased this site in 1865 and built a three-story carding mill with an overhead walkway that crossed Kansas Road and connected their two mills: Forest Mill #1 and Forest Mill #2.  By 1879, Mr. Taylor had died and Mr. Perry re-organized as the Forest Mills Company, which employed 130 workers and produced cashmere. As Sue has told me, this was not from cashmere goats but rather a lightweight fabric consisting of wool fiber that had either a plain or twill weave.

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A railroad spur and trestle were built in 1900 to unload coal and other supplies for the Forest Mills Company. The American Wool Company purchased the mill, which was large for Bridgton, but small compared to those south of Maine. Eventually, business moved south. In 1925, a shoe shop moved in, but it wasn’t successful either. The building was torn down in 1962.

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The scene changed briefly when I followed the trail onto the present day power line.

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Typically, this boardwalk is under water in March and April. But this year is far from typical.

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And then I reached power site #10. This is the most modern of them all, but again, it has a history. It’s possible that this was the site of Jacob Stevens’s first sawmill built in 1768.

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Mr. Stevens would have built a boulder and gravel dam, not one of cement certainly. He lived nearby and raised eight children; the four oldest worked beside him. Mr. Stevens was a ranking member of the survey crew that came to what is now called Bridgton in 1766 from Andover, Massachusetts. He returned in 1768 under contract with the Proprietors to develop water power and make it serve the early settlers by creating mills that provided building materials and grain for food. Stevens was the one who identified twelve power sites along the almost two-mile brook with a drop of 156 feet from its source at Highland Lake (known originally as Crotched Pond) to its outlet at Long Lake (Long Pond). It made sense for him to build a site here for both a saw mill and grist mill, as this is near the mouth of the stream and would have provided him with easy access to the main thoroughfare of Long Pond and beyond. The proprietors required that the saw mill operate for fifteen years and the grist mill for twenty.

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I don’t know what happened between 1768 and 1896 when the Bridgton Water and Electric Company took over as the first source of electricity and water for the village. The concrete dam was built in 1931 by Central Maine Power after several transfers of ownership. The greatest power could be found between this site and power site #11, where the brook drops 25-30 feet.

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A 790-foot penstock was built to regulate the flow of the water.

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Evidence remains of its position and actually, it’s easiest to see right now before the summer foliage obscures so much.

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Somewhere in this area was power site #11. The Hart Tannery may have been built on an island in the middle of the brook.

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The exact location of power site #12 is also elusive, but rumor has it that a shingle factory was located between site #11 and the outlet.

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Early on, a wooden structure was used as a power house. That was replaced by a brick building built in 1922 by the Western Maine Power Company. Notice where the penstock entered. And above it, a turbine generator.

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All was calm by the time Stevens Brook emptied into Long Lake today.

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Though it’s easy to miss, this area still offers a source of dams and industry.

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Beaver style.

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I walked back up Main Street and headed to the first three power sites, which I present in backwards order at the risk of confusing my tired readers. Power site #3 has a storied past: 1813-fulling mill (put weaving on hot water and beat it to close fibers); 1822-saw and grist mill; 1830-saw, grist and plaster mill; 1845-mill burned; 1857-rebuilt two stories; 1877-never rebuilt. Yet this was long known as the Dam Site and a Dam Site Restaurant stood here for years. Across the street was a tannery, which didn’t need water for power, but did need water to fill the 140 vats. Using hemlock bark, 10,000 hides were tanned each year.

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I’m only just realizing that I missed power site #2. I looked at it as I walked by, but must have been tired. Anyway, it’s below this split stone dam and served as a grist mill in 1798 and a sash and blind mill in 1835.

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Power site #1 was originally a saw mill built by Asa Kimball at the head of Stevens Brook. The lay of the land has changed since roads were constructed and Highland Lake (Crotched Pond) had a different configuration and lower depth. The pond served as Mr. Kimball’s mill pond, where he floated logs from Sweden (Sweden, Maine, that is). The split stone dam was erected in 1849-50 by Rufus Gibbs and others, thus providing power for the first big mill in the village that stood four stories tall, employed 50 workers, ran 20 looms and made blankets for the Civil War. By 1941, is was demolished.

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This is the mill pond as we see it today, but if my vision is clear, before Highland Road intercepted it, this was part of Crotched Pond.

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And the start of it all, the thing that got me milling about today, Highland Lake and the source of Stevens Brook.

Dear reader, if you are with me still, thank you. It was a long journey and I appreciate that you came along.

P.S. Addendum, June 24, 2018. Thanks for all of your contributions to our greater western Maine community, Sue. May you rest in peace.

 

 

Left-handed Mondate

Yesterday I discovered a male ring-necked pheasant in our backyard–a most unusual sighting. As I watched, he headed over a stone  wall and into our woodlot where he cackled and beat his wings in hopes of attracting a mate. The only responses he received were gobbles from Tom Turkey. And so it went for a while . . . cackle . . . gobble . . . cackle . . . gobble.

This morning we were awakened at 5 a.m. to the same mating calls. Who needs a rooster?

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When I stepped out the back door, neither bird was anywhere to be seen or heard.

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But the double daffodils that came with our house showed off their cheery faces to all who looked.

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And by the road, the magnolia we planted about fifteen years ago added its own pastel palette to the scene–however momentary.

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By late morning, we changed our focus from the yard to a woodland a few miles away for today was the day we chose to work on the section of trail we steward at Lake Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve. 

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There were trees and limbs to clear. And trimming to be done as well. The last time we were on the Southern Shore Trail, which was only a couple of months ago, we noted a few trees that would need our attention, but today there were between fifteen and twenty.

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Occasionally, as my guy used the chainsaw and I waited to clean up, I spied old friends like a wild oat or sessile-leaved bellwort in bloom.

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And then I made a discovery that had eluded me in the past–a spotted wintergreen. It was an exciting find for it’s listed as S2 ranking, meaning “Imperiled in Maine because of rarity (6-20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) or because of other factors making it vulnerable to further decline.”

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We were close to an outlook by Holt Pond when we saw the spotted wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, and so we paused to take in the view looking across to the quaking bog as we dined atop a stump.

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From there we moved on, making rather quick progress to the “field,” a former log landing where the forest is slowly reclaiming its ground.

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As we approached we startled a ruffed grouse and came upon a familiar sight at this spot for the trail through the field has always provided a dust bath for these birds.

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And on the edge of the “tub” a telltale downy feather.

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Typically, when doing trail work, our turn-round point is the field for that’s what we’d agreed to years ago. Today, we decided to keep going and made a small stream our end point. We shifted a bridge and watched the water striders for a while. Apparently, love wasn’t just in the air, but on the water as well.

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On the way back, I was delighted to discover my first painted trillium of the season. I sensed my guy’s groans for he knows I’ll exclaim over and photograph each one I see–not satisfied until I reach a trillion trilliums.

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Oh, and there were fern crosiers to celebrate, especially the scaly spiral of the Christmas fern.

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At last we reached the beginning of our section of trail and I told my guy that I wanted to go down by the water for a moment, but not cross the boardwalk because my hiking boots leak. He put the saw down, contemplated the water, and made the crossing. From the other side he suggested I join him since the water wasn’t that deep. Before I did so, however, he asked me to move the saw off the trail and out of sight. As I started to hide it, he crossed back over and said, “I’ll take it in case we need it.” And back again he went, the saw in his left hand for he’s a southpaw. He’d just reached the other side when I stepped on the boardwalk and began to carefully move, ever mindful of my boots . . . until those very boots slipped out from under me. Down I went. Crash. Bam. Smash. On the wood. My right forearm took the brunt of the fall and my camera ended up in the water.

My guy came to the rescue as he lifted me up . . . though first I insisted on the camera being saved. And now I have used the hunt and peck method to type this story for I am a southpaw for the next six to eight weeks as I recover from a fracture to the ulna and radius. That’s how today became a left-handed Mondate.

The camera is also in recovery mode–here’s hoping a rice bath will work wonders.

 

 

Cinco de Mayo, Naturally

The hour and a half drive to Litchfield, Maine, was worth every second on this fifth day of May. The spring tapestry that spread before my eyes had me oohing and aahing around each bend in the road for such were the colors–so many shades of greens, mixed in with reds and magentas and pinks and yellows. It was almost intoxicating.

But . . . a photograph will have to wait for another day for I needed to reach my destination and catch up with my peeps–fellow classmates from our 2012-13 Maine Master Naturalist class. For the last five years we’ve tried to get together quarterly. It doesn’t always work out, but this year we’re making a concerted effort.

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Today’s destination was the vernal pool at Smithfield Plantation, a 103-acre property the town of Litchfield conserved. If you look carefully, you might see a reflection of Sharon, who has lead many a school group along the trails and knows the property intimately.

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Before we headed to the pool, she oriented us to the site.

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One of the things Sharon explained was that a Boy Scout had created an interpretive tree trail and so we paused at one of his stops to admire the craftsmanship.

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Indeed, right behind the sign, a striped maple, aka moose maple, shared its newly emerged pastel buds and leaves.

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And then we lifted the lid to reveal the information. OK, so there were a few typos for the grammar police, but on each of his cards, he included a joke. What a great idea as that would certainly appeal to the younger set. It definitely appealed to those of us who are still ten years old in our minds.

s4-hobblebush

And on the opposite side of the trail, we spotted another type of moose wood–hobblebush just beginning to flower. Both striped maple and hobblebush are favorite foods of moose, thus their nicknames.

s3a-clintonia

Onward we walked until a patch of leaves stopped us. And our brain-sharing began. We thought we knew what the plant was, but then questioned ourselves as it wasn’t in flower yet. Each season, we need to relearn some. Despite the lack of flowers, we decided to key it out in Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide using two other descriptors–leaves both basal and entire.

s3-clintonia 1

For those familiar with Newcomb’s that meant of the three numbers in the locator key, we didn’t know the first, but went with 22 for the second and third representing basal leaves and entire leaves. Then we tried, 122, 222, etc.

s3b-clintonia buds

And landed on our first suspicion: 622–Yellow Clintonia or Bluebead (Clintonia borealis).

s6-vernal pool

The trail wasn’t long, but as one might expect, it took us a while to reach the vernal pool. And then we were stopped in our tracks and didn’t approach it right away.

s7-solitary sandpiper

Instead, we stood back and spent a while watching a solitary sandpiper on a downed tree.

s7a-solitary sandpiper

As we watched, it bobbed its tail. And at one point we were sure it took a mid-morning nap. Eventually, the bird flew to another part of the pool and a few minutes later departed.

s10-setting up camp

And so we set up camp, dropping some of our gear on the bench.

s10a-setting up camp

And more of it on and beside a log. We had macro-invertebrate charts and vernal pool pamphlets and books, plus all kinds of containers for pond dipping.

s9-Pam's journal

Pam was the smart one and she’d packed her sketch book and colored pencils. That’s one skill we all appreciate for it slows us down and makes us really notice. I, for one, haven’t done enough sketching in the past year and so this was the perfect incentive for the future.

s8-mosquito larvae

As we looked into the pool and Sharon told us what we might find, we immediately noticed the most abundant residents–mosquito larvae doing their whirligig dances.

s11-first fairy shrimp

But on her first dip, Sharon pulled up the crème de la crème–a fairy shrimp. Bingo–a significant pool it was as she knew, though not so documented with the state.

s12-examining the fairy shrimp

With her loupe, Jen took a closer look.

s13-five fairy shrimp

On Sharon’s next dip she pulled up not uno, not dos, not tres, not quatro, but cinco fairy shrimp.

s13-Pam sketches the fairy shrimp

And so Pam settled in to sketch them in all their glory.

s13-Pam's sketches

And added a caddisfly larva for we’d also captured one of those.

s14-female fairy shrimp

One of the cool things that Sharon pointed out, the brood pouch at the end of the abdomen, so indicating a female. How cool is that?

s15-caddisfly larvae

And here is our caddisfly, his casing created out of fallen hemlock needles. Caddisfly larvae that create their bodies from woody material are the log-cabin variety. We watched it move about in the tray, sometimes extending its soft body out of the case.

s17-spotted salamander egg mass

The dipping continued and a spotted salamander egg mass was pulled out, but only for us to take a closer look. And then it was returned from whence it came. Notice the individual eggs within the greater gelatinous matrix.

s18-egg mass

After that, Sharon found another reason to celebrate. She’d worn her waders and so was able to go deeper into the water than the rest of us.

s18-tadpoles

A quick dip and she’d pulled up an egg mass that almost melted as life burst forth–tadpoles. The first of the season for all of us.

s20-predacious diving beetle larvae

One last dip revealed one not so kind to all the other species we’d located. Known as a water tiger or toe biter, you can tell that it’s one mean little thing. This was the larval stage of a predacious diving beetle and the tadpoles had everything to fear for like its adult form it was a predator.

s23-Cinco Amigas

After that last find, it was time for us to pack up our gear and leave the pool behind. But, we took with us memories of a delightful spring morning spent exploring together. And . . . we had a chance to catch up, show each other field guides we thought might be of interest, share experiences of our volunteer opportunities, provide suggestions for ways to make a nature program work be it for kids or adults, and realize that we were not alone in any obstacles that may cause an issue during those programs.

What a naturally wonderful way to spend this Cinco de Mayo . .  . con cinco amigas. Thanks Gaby, Beth, Jen, Sharon and Pam.

 

 

Mayday Alert

Each time we explore a Greater Lovell Land Trust property, we have no idea what we might discover and this day was no different. For today’s Tuesday Tramp I suggested we visit the Cohen Property near the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake, which was the last acquisition under the direction of the late Tom Henderson. We’d only been there once before–and that was a few months ago when we explored via snowshoes. At that time we discovered ice-covered depressions and so a journey to check them out as vernal pools seemed apropos.

m2-moose print ID

There are no trails yet and so after parking, we followed the road back a ways to the area of our winter expedition. And what to our wondering eyes did we spy on the road? Moose prints! One should always look through a magnifying glass to make certain the ID is correct. Wes confirmed our suspicion.

m2-scooping

We found sitting water and running water and began to wonder about the wetland and whether what we thought might be a vernal pool really was, for we knew that a v.p. shouldn’t have an inlet or outlet. As the first dips of the day were made, black flies began to swarm around us. We hoped to pick up their larvae in the moving water, but instead we found many springtails.

m3-what did you catch

And a few mosquito larvae as determined by Caleb, Linda and Nancy.

m5-blob and algae

In another spot, we also found a mystery. At first we thought it might be some sort of egg. And maybe it was, but how was it related to the algae that seemed to be a host? We didn’t know, but now that we’re aware of it, we’ll continue to wonder and perhaps become enlightened.

m6-pool?

We checked out “pool” after “pool” and found not one egg mass (except for a false start that fooled us momentarily), which rather disappointed us. Were these really vernal pools? We suspected so as they were shallow and looked like they’ll dry up in the summer, if not before, plus they supported no fish. Were they significant vernal pools? Definitely not. To be a significant vernal pool, the body of water must contain one of the following obligate species: 1 fairy shrimp or 10 blue-spotted salamander egg masses or 20 spotted salamander egg masses (yellow spots) or 40 wood frog egg masses. Fairy Shrimp? No. Salamander egg masses? No. Frog egg masses? No.

m7-examining species

Despite the lack of indicator species, we scooped up water to determine what did live there.

m8-mosquito larvae

The most abundant residents found–mosquito larvae. And do you see the small jar in Ellie’s hand? She created a mosquito larvae aquarium and discovered that they seemed to like the algae she’d added. Perhaps they’d found microorganisms we couldn’t see.

m8a-pointing out antics of mosquito larvae

Watching the acrobatics of the larvae entertained us for a while. They twisted and turned somersaults and wriggled in the water and we soon realized that eggs left behind by last year’s females who had sucked our blood before breeding, must have remained dormant all winter until the snow melted and spring rains began.

m9-chironomid midge larva

We did find another species to admire, that also wriggled in a constant state of contortion–this one being a chironomid midge with blood-red coloration. According to A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools, the color is “due to a hemoglobin-like pigment that helps them retain oxygen. This pigment allows the larvae to survive in water that is very low in dissolved oxygen, as is common in vernal pools as drying proceeds throughout the seasons.”

m10-Trailing Arbutus--May flower

Because I had to meet someone at noon, and Dave knew that it would take us at least a half hour to make the short trek back to our vehicles due to our incessant nature distraction disorder, we had to cut our journey short. Dave was right–as he often is–and we were forced to stop several time, including to sniff a couple of mayflowers, aka trailing arbutus or officially: Epigaea repens.

m11-ribbon snake 1

We finally reached the spot where we’d parked with fifteen minutes to spare when Linda sighted movement beside the tires of my truck and our hearts jumped with joy.

m12-ribbon snake captured

We didn’t want to run it over as we backed out and so Heinrich captured it. What is it? An Eastern ribbon snake, which is a species of special concern in Maine. According to the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website, “A species of special concern is any species of fish or wildlife that does not meet the criteria of an endangered or threatened species but is particularly vulnerable, and could easily become, an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species due to restricted distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or limits, or other factors. Special concern species are established by policy, not by regulation, and are used for planning and informational purposes; they do not have the legal weight of endangered and threatened species. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reviews the list of special concern species at the beginning of each calendar year, and, based on criteria in the Maine Endangered and Threatened Species Listing Handbook , revises the list as appropriate.”

m13-ribbon snake 2

And that is why it’s so important to protect the land. I knew Tom was smiling down upon us due to this find. Interestingly, we also spotted a ribbon snake at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road in early May 2015.

m14-paper birch superhero

Finally, we all departed and I was only ten minutes late for my quick meet-up, after which I headed back down Route 5 to reconnect with my favorite little naturalists at the Kezar River Reserve across from the Wicked Good Store. There’s a tape across the road, which I suspect was put in place by the local snowmobile club when the ice was questionable on the river, but it remains, which given the recent rain is probably a good thing. We’ll take it down soon, but it has prevented the road from becoming more rutted than normal.

Anyway, Wes climbed out of the family’s vehicle with his paper birch armor. He’d spied it in a V between to birch trees on our morning trek and his mom climbed up to retrieve it for him.

m15-brother bomb

Birch Man posed again and again, until his older brother Aidan, sporting a missing front tooth, jumped in front.

m16-root art

The boys stood on a hump of earth beside a tree root. And it was through their eyes that we noticed some interesting finds among the tree’s former life support.

m17-canister cover

We found pottery and cast iron and realized the tree had grown upon an old dump site.

m19-VW

And that hump of earth–the four siblings were sure that it hid a Volkswagen Beetle.

m23-Kezar River

It took us a while to walk down the “roadway” and then the left-hand loop. We made a few discoveries, including coyote scat filled with bones, and the kids did some trail work. At last we reached the canoe/kayak landing at the Kezar River and noted some otter scat and a few slides, plus some fishing lures and line stuck in the trees. It was at that point that the family had to leave, but before they left they asked me what I’d do before I had another meeting in the afternoon. I told them I planned to hike the second loop, which happens to be longer and dips into an interesting ravine.

m23-salamander eggs

That never happened. As it turned out, I stood at the boat launch for about an hour. First, I spied one small clump of salamander eggs.

m24-equisetum

And then realized that the raft before me, which filled the small cove, was equisetum. Where it came from I didn’t know for I couldn’t recall ever seeing it at this property.

m24-Mayfly 1

But, regardless, it provided a perfect camouflage for aquatic insects. It took me a while to key in on the species before me, but I knew they were there because every once in a while, one took flight. Do you see the mayfly subimago that had recently emerged? The teenager stood atop its nymph exuvia. Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun), they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation.

m25-mayfly 2

I really had to focus in order to spot them.

m27-Mayfly

But once I did, they were . . .

m28-mayfly

everywhere.

m29-mayfly larva

And in all forms, including a nymph.

m30-Mayfly up close

The cool thing is that thirteen mayflies are also on the list of species of special concern. Was this one of the species? I have so much more to learn.

m31-water scorpion

As I continued to watch, there was an incredible amount of activity. And then I saw a predator that was about two and half inches long. Do you see it? Not atop the vegetation, but rather under it in right-hand center of the photo. Behind it, almost to the right edge of the photo, was a bubble at the end of its long breathing tube.

m33-water scorpion

As I watched, it continued to swim forward, the vegetation providing it’s favorite type of habitat. Again, you have to look carefully.

m34-water scorpoin

And again. It was a water scorpion with an oval-shaped abdomen. Do you see it?

m35-ribbon snake

Finally, it was time for my next meeting, but as I walked back up the trail I reflected upon the wonders of the day and the work of the land trust under Tom’s leadership. Creating corridors is important for mammals, but also for all critters that share the various habitats.

There was no need to put out a distress signal today. Indeed. With others and alone, I was thankful for the opportunity to be gifted with such sightings: Mayflowers and Mayflies! And a water scorpion. Topped off with a ribbon snake. May Day Alert of the best kind.

 

 

 

 

Lichen Province Brook Trail

My guy completely surprised me this morning when I asked where he wanted to hike and his response, “Province Brook Trail.” Though we’ve travelled many trails repeatedly, he often prefers to explore a new place. Me–I love those repeats for there’s always something new to see, as well as the familiar.

p1-trail sign

From South Chatham Road in South Chatham (pronounced chat-HAM), New Hampshire, I turned onto Peaked Hill Road, which leads to the trailhead.

p2-gate closed

And quickly parked the truck for the gate was still closed. That meant an almost three-mile hike to reach the trailhead. We didn’t mind as it’s a Forest Service Road and easy to walk upon, even as it gradually climbs.

p3-trail sign

Along the way, we noted where some of our favorite bear trees were located, but decided to leave them for another day. Instead, we were eager to move on and hoped to be able to get to the shelter. We weren’t sure what the water conditions might be, so promised ourselves only Province Pond. The shelter would be icing on the cake if we got there.

p4-tree spirit

Right away, the trail’s tree spirit whispered a welcome.

p6-yellow birch

And another of our 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 were still dramatic.

p7-split rock:heart

Conditions were different on the trail than the road, and though it’s a wide space used by snowmobiles in the winter, we had to watch our step for we encountered snow, ice, rocks and mud. But one rock was especially appealing and I’m not sure we’ve ever seen it before. A perfect split revealed a heart tucked within. As it should be.

p8-slow down

Onward and upward, we heeded the sign.

p9-lunch rock

And then hunger overtook our desire to wait until the pond, so we found lunch rock and enjoyed the feast we’d prepared. PB&J topped off with a Clementine and Extra Dark Chocolate Truffle, with water to drink, of course.

p23-Province Brook

Province Brook rushed past while polypody ferns provided a head of hair atop one of the boulders.

p10-moose tracks

After lunch, we had a wee bit further to travel before reaching Province Pond. At the dam, our excitement heightened for we discovered moose tracks in the snow.

p11-moose tracks

And more in the mud.

p12-Mount Shaw and Province Pond

Before us, the pond and Mount Shaw created a pleasing picture. We listened to the wood frogs wruck, though we couldn’t see them. Nor could we see any moose, but we hoped.

p13-Mount Shaw reflection

As usual, I got hung up on the reflection of the mountain and the subtle colors of spring, which was about a week later than back down the road.

p14-me

As I stood on the dam built to prevent beavers from creating their own, my guy took his first ever iPhone photo. I had to chuckle for it was the same view of me that I typically get of him. And do you notice who carries the pack–on the way up when it’s the most full with lunch and water? He always gets it for the descent, which works for me.

p14a-looking toward the shelter

From the dam, we looked across the pond toward the shelter, a tiny speck of roofline almost visible on the far shore, just right of center. And still we wondered, would we be able to get there?

p15-leatherleaf

Before trying, I noted leatherleaf with buds. Within a month, I suspected those tiny buds will become bell-shaped flowers.

p15a-sweetgale

Beside the leatherleaf, the overlapping burgundy and white scales of sweetgale catkins provided a delightful contrast beside the sky’s reflection on the water.

p16-shelter

We moved on, following the trail to the hut–and made it, the water we needed to cross over not being high at all. Built in the 1930s, the shelter has many stories to tell, and my guy read a few of them.

p17-shelter view

We’d actually saved our dessert, our form of icing on the cake, and so enjoyed the view as we finished lunch.

p18-lungwort on tree

On our way back down the trail, the brilliant green upper leaf of lungwort drew my attention as it has always done. The bright green was due to yesterday’s rain, which set the algae into production. The underside was pale with pockets of cyanobacteria, known as blue-green algae. Though it’s named for its resemblance to lung tissue, it does have a lettuce-like look. According to Lichens of the North Woods by Joe Walewski, lungwort is “found in rich, unpolluted and often very old forests.” Bingo!

p19-lungwort on ground

What surprised me was that we found some on the ground, this batch on snow. Moose have a preference for lungwort. Had they pulled it off a tree?

p20-lungwort apothecia

More surprising was that some had apothecia, its spore-producing structure. Do you see the tiny tans specks along the lobe margins? It’s uncommon to see these and was a first for me. Typically, lungwort reproduces by granule-like masses called soredia that form on the surface, break off, land on a suitable substrate and grown into new lungwort lichens.

About nine miles round trip and our journey was completed. Old joke, but I can’t resist for I was lichen the Province Brook Trail from the start and it just kept getting better and better.

 

 

 

 

The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode 3

We were a bit confused by the clue–something about an oven and ice and we felt like maybe we were headed to a kitchen. My guy doesn’t cook all that much and I avoid it as much as possible, so we knew this was going to be a tough leg of the race. Surely, we’d be there all night trying to concoct something and the sky would darken on our chance of winning.

To top it all off, it was an equalizer. That meant that though we were early to the starting point, all participants would begin at the same time. And so we had some time on our hands and a few dollars to spend on lunch and libations.

o1-clue

As we sipped, our clue was revealed. And we were ready to heed it, despite our anxiety over the cooking issue.

o2-footbridge

Following lunch, we still had more time to kill and decided to walk across the footbridge in Boothbay Harbor.

o3-ghost harbor

It was a bit of a ghost harbor on this day, but it won’t be long and people and boats and more people will fill this space.

o5-sign of snow

As we walked around town, we did some window shopping–of the best sort.

o4-clock

And then a view at a clock reminded us that we had a place to be by 1:15.

o6-crooked sign

Look for the crooked sign, the clue stated. We found it.

o8-trail conditions

Follow the trail. We did.

o10-mud below

Note the tide. It was obviously out.

o11-bridge

Locate the bridge that connects Oven Mouth Preserve West to Oven Mouth Preserve East. Bingo.

o13-ice house cove dam

But what was below us, we wondered. And that was our next challenge. We had to figure out the configuration of this land. It looked like an old bridge, but rather, it was a former dam that had been used to create an ice pond on the other side of the bridge upon which we stood. Aha–the icy portion of this leg of the race. Our task was to discover its history. Reading a brochure produced by the Boothbay Region Land Trust we learned the following: “In 1880, in response to a growing demand for ice, [the cove now known as Ice House Cove] was dammed to form a fresh-water pond and an ice house was built. The ice was shipped by schooner, mainly to Boston and New York.” Today, any blocks of ice would surely have melted as happened in our water bottles.

o7-garter snake

While we looped around the two peninsulas we had a several other challenges to complete. First, we needed to find three examples of critter sign–other than the ubiquitous red squirrel middens. We checked off number one with a garter snake that slithered past.

o7b-mammal tracks

Number two: mammal tracks in the mud below. We couldn’t get close enough to identify it, but noted the trotting pattern.

o7a-wasp nest

And number three, the remnants of a paper wasp nest.

Another challenge down. How many more to go?

o12-scavenger 2

It wasn’t long before the next presented itself as we wound our way around the property. First, we needed to find evidence of the land’s former use–as a sheep pasture in the 19th century.

o12-scavenger hunt 1

And then the letter D. We never did learn what the D stood for, but . . . we found it.

o15-sausage-shaped boudins

And finally, a sausage-shaped boudin among the folds, formed by the pinching and swelling from compression and shearing.

o13-Cross river

The tide slowly flowed in as we journeyed on.

o14-rip where Back and Cross River met

And at the point where the Cross River met the Back River, we noted a rip current visible in the swirls.

o14-ice house dam and today's bridge

At last we crossed back over the bridge from east to west and then peeked at the dam juxtaposed as it was in the shadow of the modern-day bridge.

o16-oven?

From the outermost point of the west side, we paused to look back toward the dam and bridge–did the early explorers really see this rounded cove as the inside of an oven, thus naming it Ovens Mouth? It was certainly unique. Fortunately, we could enjoy the view without turning up the heat. If they thought it was an oven, we agreed. If it meant we didn’t have to cook, we definitely agreed.

From the brochure, we did learn more history: “This area has always been inviting for maritime activities because of its deep-water access and protected location. Settled in the mid-1700s, one of the region’s earliest shipyards was located here and both British and American vessels hid in the coves during the Revolution. Soon after the Civil War, the property came into the hands of the Tibbets-Welsh family, who owned it for more than a hundred years.”

o17-kissing tree

We had one last challenge to complete before finding our way to the mat. Our final mission: to note three sights that represented our relationship.

Kissing trees–check.

o17-heart

A heart-shaped rock–check.

o17-pigeons

Whispering sweet nothings–check. (Note the heart-shaped white cere on their bills. And no, he is not picking her nits. Well, even if he is, isn’t that a loving move?)

Once again, we managed to stay ahead of other contestants, didn’t squabble too much, avoided our worst fears and completed the assigned tasks without much stress. In the third episode of our imaginary rendition of The Amazing Race–Our Style, we landed on the mat in first place once again. What’s next? Stay tuned.