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.

Returning to Wonder

For three hours this morning I wandered across the crusty snow in the forest behind our home, all the while wondering what I might see. Occasionally, I sat on a stone wall or tree stump and let the sun’s warmth embrace me on this brisk day as I listened.

There were a few sights that gladdened my heart, including the woody capsules of pinesap, Monotropa hypopitys. Monotropa means once turned, while hypopitys refers to its habitat under pine or fir trees. This one had grown under white pines by a stone wall. And from the looks of it, the capsule had not yet split open from the tip to the base, thus the seeds hadn’t been released.

As I sat there, I looked across into an area of forest succession. About 15-20 years ago, one section had been almost clear cut and pine, beech, oak, and birch saplings now vie for air space. They aren’t the only ones, for wasps had apparently flown their own route among the branches as evidenced by the nest that was now in disarray.

I’m not sure if the wasp nest was from this past summer or a previous year, for some of the pulp had been threaded into a nearby bird nest. But then again, I’ve found other wasp nests in these woods in previous years.

Within minutes, I changed my focus from tree branches to the icy snow carpet. Where the forest was young, snowshoe hare scat was abundant. Oh, how I wanted to see one. But, my movements were too loud and quick.

Where the forest was a bit more mature, but still included coppiced trees (coppiced means a trees ability to make new stems from the roots or stump after its been cut down), moose tracks and scat were equally abundant. My favorite sight was of a moose print filled with scat–including the two dew claws a the back of the foot. Since this is a sideways photograph, the dew claws would be those two little scat-filled circles, one atop the other, just right of the center.

Oh, how I wanted to see a moose. But, I had to settle for the prints, scat, and possibly another sign. Many coppiced red maples’ terminal buds had been heartily consumed and so I studied the branches. An voilà, hair stuck behind one lateral bud. You many not be able to see it, but the fibers were tubular, as the winter coat of our northern mammals usually is–thus allowing the critter to trap air inside and remain warm(er). Moose and deer don super-insulated jackets of long, hollow hairs. They also sport a dense, soft undercoat that allows them to stay cozy and warm. I’m not certain, but some of the hair specimen may have included the wispier undercoat.

I was grateful for my findings, but all along I kept thinking about the fact that I really wasn’t seeing anything exceptional and perhaps my sense of wonder had disappeared. And so I decided to head home and along the way I recalled a few fun sights I’d made from behind the glass in our back door. Can you see the red squirrel’s tongue?

And do you spy the gray squirrel that tried to hide during a recent icy rain storm?

That same day a chickadee watched intently as an icicle dripped from the feeder’s overhang.

Then there were the red foxes. One or two pass through our yard almost every day. Sometimes we see them more than once in a day. During our most recent snowstorm (when all of one inch or so coated the snow we already had) the duo graced us with a lunch time visit (our lunch time, that is).

The bird feeding station is always one of their stops for it’s a gathering place day and night of birds and other mammals.

And then, on Christmas Eve morning, one of the foxes got down on all fours in anticipation, ready to pounce . . . on a gray squirrel that ran up a tree. Red foxes don’t climb trees, but had it been a gray fox, it could have outsmarted the squirrel for they do climb.

I was almost home, and indeed back in our woodlot, when I remembered first hearing and then watching a male pileated woodpecker the other day. How do I know it’s a male? Because it has a red “mustache” on its cheek, and the red crest on its head extends to its bill.

At last I was back behind the window in the back door and periodically I checked on the activity. A downy woodpecker didn’t let me down. Check out the red heart on the back of its head–thus it was a male.

The downy’s bill is about a third the size of its head and rather narrow when compared to other woodpeckers that frequent western Maine. What I find fascinating are the light brown rictal bristles as the base of its bill, which are thought to offer some sort of sensory mission.

And then as if on command, in flew a hairy woodpecker, so named apparently for the long, filamentous white feathers in the middle of its back. I find that a curious distinction because the downy seemed to have a similar feature. But the differences I do recognize are the red color–in the male you’ll see two bars on the back of the hairy’s head, not joined together as on the downy; and the bill again–for the hairy, the bill is thicker and almost as long as the bird’s head. And easy mnemonic: huge hairy for the huge bill.

It was a while before the hairy left the long-damaged quaking aspen in the yard. Have you ever watched one? It can stay in one position for a long time, all the while looking about. Was it listening for insects? Looking for something? I don’t know, but eventually it flew to the feeder and began to eat the suet. And if you look closely, you’ll see the rictal bristles that looked like a bushy mustache atop its upper mandible.

Squirrels too, attracted my awe. Earlier in the day I heard one chastising me and thought, “Oh, it’s just a red squirrel.” Then I reminded myself that I like squirrels. I’m fascinated by them. And am having fun watching them move across the landscape, which is bringing a new understanding to my mind and will possibly be the topic for another post.

You wanna know one cool fact about red squirrels? Of course you do. Do you see the tufts of hair on the tips of its ears? During early fall, the tufts grow like a crown on their heads. It seems apropos since despite their size, they think they are the kings of the forest.

One of the resident gray squirrels (possibly the one that survived the fox treeing episode) joined the feeding frenzy out the door. It showed an outline of white fur behind its ears, but no tufts at the top–more visible if you look at her left ear.

And then there was the titmouse–a tufted titmouse to be exact. Yes, it too has a tuft . . . all year round. And the largest eyes. But why the tuft? And isn’t a cardinal also tufted? Why isn’t it called a tufted cardinal?

At the end of the day, I know there’s more for me to see and notice and question and I realize that I’ve returned to wonder. Thankfully.

Secret Giver of Gifts

Though I first posted this two years ago, I keep returning to it. Thought you might want to as well. Peace and joy be with you.

Snow quietly drifted earthward as baking scents wafted through the house and, Christmas lights sparkle from the living room. The spirit of the season has settled upon me at last. And today I was reminded of a time when our youngest asked, “Mom, are you Santa?”

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He’d held onto the belief for far longer than any of his classmates. And for that reason, I too, couldn’t let go. And so that day long ago, as we drove along I reminded him that though the shopping mall Santas were not real, we’d had several encounters that made believers out of all of us.

The first occurred over thirty years ago when I taught English in Franklin, New Hampshire. Across the hall from my classroom was a special education class. And fourteen-year-old Mikey, a student in that class, LOVED Santa.

Each year the bread deliveryman dressed in the famous red costume when he made his final delivery before Christmas break. To Mikey’s delight, he always stopped by his classroom. That particular year, a raging snowstorm developed. The bread man called the cafeteria to say that he would not be able to make the delivery. School was going to be dismissed after lunch, but we were all disappointed for Mikey’s sake.

And then  . . . as the lunch period drew to a close, Santa walked through the door and directly toward Mikey, who hooted with joy as he embraced the jolly old elf. As swiftly as he entered, Santa left. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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And about nineteen years ago, as the boys sat at the kitchen counter eating breakfast on Christmas Eve morning, we spotted a man walking on the power lines across the field from our house. We all wondered who it was, but quickly dismissed the thought as he disappeared from our view, until . . . a few minutes later he reappeared. The second time, he stopped and looked in our direction. I grabbed the binoculars we kept on the counter for wildlife viewings. The man was short and plump. He wore a bright red jacket, had white hair and a short, white beard. The boys each took a turn with the binoculars. The man stood and stared in our direction for a couple of minutes, and then he continued walking in the direction from which he’d originally come. We never saw him again. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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Another incident occurred about seventeen years ago, when on Christmas Eve, our phone rang. The unrecognizable elderly male voice asked for our oldest son. When I inquired who was calling, he replied, “Santa.” He spoke briefly with both boys and mentioned things that they had done during the year. I chatted with him again before saying goodbye. We were all wide-eyed with amazement. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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Once I reminded our youngest of those stories, he dropped the subject for the time being. I knew he’d ask again and I also knew that none of us wanted to give up the magic of anticipation for those special moments we know as Christmas morning, when the world is suddenly transformed.

I also knew it was time he heard another story–that of Saint Nicholas, the Secret Giver of Gifts. It goes like this . . .

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The nobleman looked to Heaven and cried, “Alas. Yesterday I was rich. Overnight I have lost my fortune. Now my three daughters cannot be married for I have no dowry to give. Nor can I support them.”

For during the Fourth Century, custom required the father of the bride to provide the groom with a dowry of money, land or any valuable possession. With no dowry to offer, the nobleman broke off his daughters’ engagements.

“Do not worry, Father. We will find a way,” comforted his oldest daughter.

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Then it happened. The next day, the eldest daughter discovered a bag of gold on the windowsill. She peered outside to see who had left the bag, but the street was vacant.

Looking toward Heaven, her father gave thanks. The gold served as her dowry and the eldest daughter married.

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A day later, another bag of gold mysteriously appeared on the sill. The second daughter married.

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Several days later, the father stepped around the corner of his house and spied a neighbor standing by an open window. In shocked silence, he watched the other man toss a familiar bag into the house. It landed in a stocking that the third daughter had hung by the chimney to dry.

The neighbor turned from the window and jumped when he saw the father.

“Thank you. I cannot thank you enough. I had no idea that the gold was from you,” said the father.

“Please, let this be our secret,” begged the neighbor. “Do not tell anyone where the bags came from.”

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The generous neighbor was said to be Bishop Nicholas, a young churchman of Myra in the Asia Minor, or what we call Turkey. Surrounded by wealth in his youth, Bishop Nicholas had matured into a faithful servant of God. He had dedicated his life to helping the poor and spreading Christianity. News of his good deeds circulated in spite of his attempt to be secretive. People named the bishop, “The Secret Giver of Gifts.”

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Following Bishop Nicholas’ death, he was made a saint because of his holiness, generosity and acts of kindness. Over the centuries, stockings were hung by chimneys on the Eve of December 6, the date he is known to have died, in hopes that they would be filled by “The Secret Giver of Gifts.”

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According to legend, Saint Nicholas traveled between Heaven and Earth in a wagon pulled by a white steed on the Eve of December 6. On their doorsteps, children placed gifts of hay and carrots for the steed. Saint Nicholas, in return, left candy and cookies for all the good boys and girls.

In Holland, Saint Nicholas, called Sinterklaas by the Dutch, was so popular for his actions, that the people adopted him as their patron saint or spiritual guardian.

Years later, in 1613, Dutch people sailed to the New World where they settled New Amsterdam, or today’s New York City. They brought the celebration of their beloved patron with them to America.

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To the ears of English colonists living in America, Sinterklaas must have sounded like Santa Claus. Over time, he delivered more than the traditional cookies and candy for stockings. All presents placed under a tree were believed to be brought by him.

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Santa Claus’ busy schedule required he travel the world in a short amount of time. Consequently, as recorded in Clement Moore’s poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer replaced the wagon and steed.

Since Saint Nicholas was known for his devout Christianity, the celebration of his death was eventually combined with the anniversary of Christ’s birth. December 24th or Christmas Eve, began to represent the Saint’s visit to Earth.

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Traditionally, gifts are exchanged to honor the Christ Child as the three Wise Men had honored Him in Bethlehem with frankincense, gold and myrrh.

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One thing, however, has not changed. The gifts delivered by Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, or whomever your tradition dictates, have always and will continue to symbolize the love people bare for one another.

Though they are now young adults, my continued hope for my sons is that they will realize the magic of Christmas comes from the heart and that we all have a wee bit of Santa in us. Yes, Patrick, Santa is real.

May you continue to embrace the mystery and discover wonder wherever you look. And may you find joy in being the Secret Giver of Gifts.

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. 

Black Friday Lit Up, Naturally

With a mantra of “Shop Locally,” I did just that on this Black Friday 2018. Thankfully the time to take advantage of the doorbuster sales wasn’t limited and so it was okay that I didn’t pull into the Flat Hill parking lot until 1pm. 

Turns out, as in any shop today, the aisles were a bit crowded with customers searching for items on clearance and other great deals. 

I paused for a bit in aisle one, where I contemplated the Made-in-Maine artwork and thought about those on my Christmas list. Perhaps a water scene for Marita  because she likes the gurgling sound of a brook. 

For Pam K., I decided on an ice sculpture to add to her winter home. 

And for Pam M., I was sure that an abstract piece would be just right–especially as it echoed the mountain range and transformed into a bird, only sorta/kinda M.C. Escher in style. 

There were others on the list to consider and the decisions became more difficult as the selection increased in aisle two. Mouse, vole, squirrel both red and gray, deer and coyote tracks all were on display and the sign indicated I could buy one and get one free. But which one to buy? And for whom? 

And then just like that, it became clear–the coyote track for Simon because he’d caught on quickly to the squirrel patterns and appreciated that the predator was hungry. 

For every one set of tracks, there were fifty others, especially those of the mice and squirrels. But I chose the porcupine trough as my “get one free” when I saw it on the climb up the hill. 

The trough with its pigeon-toed prints and sashaying tail would be perfect for Bob.

Of course, I could have mixed and matched the prints, but thought it best to keep them separate. 

Continuing the dash for more must-have gifts, I spied a mossy maple polypore on a lower shelf and thought immediately of my guy. He doesn’t like to consume mushrooms, but there’s something about the mossy maple that draws his attention. 

And then on an end cap I saw the kissing beech/maple out of the corner of my eye and turned to read the sign: Limited in Quantity. On impulse I purchased it. Maybe I’ll stick it on my guy’s bureau and he can wrap it up for me. I’ve done that before 😉

There were a few free surprises. Not all freebies are created equal, but I really liked the bronze ornament that would be a nice addition on our Christmas tree. 

At last it was time for a little break at the Flat Hill Cafe. Today, the view offered more bang for my buck as Mount Washington glistened white behind the other mountains. 

Also enjoying the view and the oxymoron of the name Flat Hill were fellow shoppers Bob, Pam K., Marita, Simon and Pam M. I made sure they didn’t see what was in my pack and visa versa. I do so hope they are as excited as I am about the gifts I purchased for them.

When the cafe got crowded, we decided to walk back down the main aisle together toward the check out. And then a few of us remembered we had coupons for the seasonal section. But . . . alas, we were too late. It was the only part of the store that was closed because everything had sold out. The stepping stones were  covered with water and ice to keep us from venturing any farther. We turned around, only a bit disappointed that our shopping adventure was about to come to an end, but understood that being a three-season section we had taken our chances by arriving so late in the day. 

No matter. The view from Perky’s Path thrilled us. All afternoon, we enjoyed the lighting, and especially the sun as it lowered–making this Black Friday light up, naturally. 

I highly encourage you to visit; the doors are open all hours and it’s a great place to shop in style. 

Today’s Black Friday Lit Up, Naturally experience was brought to you by the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Flat Hill, Heald Pond Road, Lovell. 

Nothing to Grouse About

A week ago I shared a unique experience with five other naturalists, the majority of them in the six to eleven age range. For twenty minutes the six of us watched a Ruffed Grouse at it moved about, overturning leaves and foraging on buds. When we last saw it, the bird headed off in the opposite direction that we intended to journey, and so we moved on with wonder in our eyes and minds.

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And then the next day I returned on a mission to study some twigs at the same property. No sooner had I stepped onto the trail when I heard the sound of leaves cracking a wee bit and what to my wondering eyes should appear but the same bird.

The curious thing: the bird followed me, staying about ten feet away as I tramped on. I stopped. Frequently. So did the bird.

And we began to chat. I talked quietly to him (I’m making a gender assumption) and he murmured back sweet nothings.

It was then that I did the unthinkable–I named him: ArGee.

Again I started down the trail, and again ArGee followed about ten feet to my right. And then I thought I got ahead of him, but a few minutes later he caught up and foraged by my feet as I examined twigs and buds for their idiosyncrasies.

When I finally turned back, ArGee did the same. Eventually I ran because I didn’t want him to follow me to my truck. Would he have? I don’t know. Would he survive? I sure hoped so. Would I visit again? I knew the answer was yes. Would I see him again? Who knew?

The next day I dragged my guy along. But much to my dismay, no ArGee. I’d been blessed twice and had to accept the possibility that he’d either flown off or became part of the food chain. My hope was that if the latter was the case, it was a four-legged predator or larger bird and not a human bi-ped.

Since last week, about five or six inches of snow blanketed the area and this morning dawned frigid with the temperature at about 5˚. I dressed for it and headed to a nearby spot in hopes of meeting up with a group that was going to count salmon and redds. But, I missed the link-up and decided instead to wander in ArGee’s territory so I could reaffirm his disappearance and move on.

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As I looked up at something in a tree, I heard a slight noise by my feet and guess who? I greeted ArGee with a quietly grand hello and together we shared the space, mindful of each other. After about twenty minutes he headed under a stand of hemlocks that provided some cover.

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I snapped and crackled through the woods, bushwhacking over to his position, all the while wondering if I was getting too close and perhaps he didn’t want me to spend more time with him.

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But what I discovered was that he’d stopped foraging, stood still, though occasionally turned his head, and puffed up his dappled and barred plumage. While I had donned several layers to keep the brisk air at bay, ArGee needed to fluff up in order to trap air in his feathers. Cool fact (or cold!): A bird’s body heat warms the air between its feathers and the more trapped air, the warmer the bird.

4-crown

While ArGee warmed up, I focused on some of his features, including the crest feathers on top of his head. Their formation brought to mind ocean waves cresting, but perhaps they were actually standing upright because he saw me not as friend, but rather a foe?

5-eye to eye

I knew I was overextending my stay, but I couldn’t leave. And he didn’t seem agitated, so I continued to look. There was that eye-ring to notice, rather bead-like in appearance.  And the contrasting orientation of the feathers above and below his dark eye, their comb-like tips spread out like miniature fans.

6-looking at me

For another fifteen to twenty minutes, he warmed up below the hemlock, while I stood nearby and watched, occasionally offering a quiet comment, which he considered with apparent nonchalance.

7-beak

I had time to consider his robust down-turned beak and figured it must be adapted for the coarse vegetation it consumed. Ruffed Grouse are known to feed on buds or catkins of aspens, birches and cherries, and that was the habitat in which ArGee had made himself at home. They’ll also consume, seeds, fruits, leaves and twigs, insects, and maybe even salamanders, in season of course.

8-coming out of hiding

Finally, my friend seemed to have warmed up and so out from under the hemlock ArGee emerged.

9-dining on leaves

And immediately he found bramble leaves still green.

10-leaf in its mouth

Ripping one leaf off, he made quick work of it.

11-gobbling it up

And in a matter of seconds it disappeared into his mouth.

12-looking for more food

Then it was time to think about another.

12-those feet

Out in the open again, I had a chance to get a better look at ArGee’s feet. Though today’s snow was rather crusty, there’s potential for up to ten inches of fluff to fall tomorrow and then his feet will play a key role.

12a-combs on feet

Where the snow is deep and soft, grouse travel atop it with the help of their “snowshoes”—lateral extensions of their toes. Can you see the comb-like rows of bristles, aka pectinations? They began growing in September and reminded me of a centipede serving as each toe. It’s those bristles that act like snowshoes.

They also have stout legs for walking or running and those were also covered with insulating feathers that looked like an old pair of furry sweatpants.

12b-tail feathers

It’s difficult to tell a male from a female based on appearance, but typically the bird is a female if the color is faded or absent on the central tail feathers, thus I leaned toward ArGee being a male. No matter what the sex of this particular bird, the varied shades of black, gray, rusty red and buff all presented in a variety of patterns, including small hearts–what wasn’t to love?

13-I see you

For a while longer, ArGee and I played “I See You” and I continued to wonder about his behavior. Usually this species is quite elusive and difficult to approach. In fact, most often I am startled by the loud wing beat of a bird exploding, or so it sounds, from the ground or snow in front of me, and my heart responds with rapid beats for a second . . . and then I realize it was a Ruffed Grouse trying to avoid me.

13-so close

Today, and this past week, that has not been the case.

13b-are you looking at me?

ArGee has seemed as curious about me as I’ve been about him.

16-saying goodbye

Is he tame? Or has he been defending his territory? Perhaps it’s a hormone imbalance as the season changes, especially given that winter seems to have arrived early.

I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m grateful for the time I have had to get to know this bird of the Maine woods a wee bit better. As has happened in the past, we parted ways at the same point, so I’ve a better understanding of his actual territory.

I’ve experienced grouse being aggressive when protecting their young in the spring, and wonder if at some point a close encounter with ArGee could switch dramatically from fascinating to hostile as he defends his territory.

Sometimes the critters with whom we share this natural world do things that make no sense, but then again, sometimes we do the same. For now, I have nothing to grouse about!

 

Amazing Race–Our Style: episode ten

I can’t believe we are still in the race, but we are. And so last night the clue arrived as mysteriously as ever and a wee bit vague: Drive west and then south, following Routes 16, 125, and 111. Find your way to Stonehenge.

While we were certain that Route 111 in New Hampshire was not going to put us on a flight to England’s Stonehenge, we decided to follow the directions and see where we ended up.

We did note that Team Speedy was ahead of us as we drove south on Route 16, but in Ossipee they turned right onto Route 25. Oops, wrong number, but we weren’t going to tell them that.

Two and a half hours later and BINGO! We’d found our destination.

0-America's Stonehenge sign

America’s Stonehenge in Salem, New Hampshire. Who knew? I’d lived in New Hampshire for ten years prior to moving to Maine in 1986 and never heard of this place. But . . . apparently the time had come.

We entered and watched a brief introductory film. First named “Mystery Hill Caves,” the name was changed to America’s Stonehenge in 1982 because researchers believed that better reflected their understanding of the site.

Was it built by a Native American culture or a migrant European population? Who knows? But what we did learn is that carbon dating has helped age some of its features at over 4,000 years old, making it possibly the oldest man-made construction of  chambers, walls and ceremonial meeting places in the United States.

The site has been under continuous research and there are a variety of theories about its origin. Our main challenge was to observe and learn.

1-Sundial

But first, one of us had to determine the time of day. My guy rose to the occasion and placed the pole in the center of the sundial.

2-Sundial 2

“2:11 pm,” he said. Pretty darn close for it was actually 2:09, but we were told to proceed.

3-Wigwam

The first part of the journey included a Three Sisters Garden of corn, pole beans, and pumpkins. There’s a replica of a dugout canoe and a wigwam for such were found on the property, plus some pottery and other artifacts.

4-Well of crystals, Pattee Area

And then we worked our way up the hill and into the maze of chambers. Some referenced astrological events; others were the works of Jonathan Pattee who built a wooden structure upon some of the chambers, but it burned in 1855 and his son later sold off some of the artifacts; and William B. Goodwin, the first researcher to own the property.

Fortunately for us, many items worth noting were labeled. Number 8 was an Upper Well, also known as the Well of Crystals because excavations in 1963 proved that quartz crystals were found in a vertical fault twenty-two feet below. Such crystals may have been worshipped or used for tools by ancient cultures.

5-Pattee Chamber, root cellar

By the well was the Pattee area, and so I ventured down and stood before a chamber that may have served as either his family’s root cellar or at least storage space.

6-Chamber in Ruins

Nearby was a collapsed chamber. The roof slab that now stands upright is estimated to weigh 6.5 tons. And here’s the cool stuff–tree roots near the back wall of the chamber were carbon dated to the late 1690s, indicating the walls were built prior to Mr. Pattee’s residency. Further research indicated the following: “In 1969, charcoal that had sifted into the walls was found below these roots at two to four inches above bedrock and dated to 1400 BC. In 1971, a third and even older date of 2000 BC was obtained.” There’s more, but that’s enough to be mind boggling. BC?

7-True south pointing wall

The astrological importance of the site was noted throughout and we found the True South Pointing Wall.

8-south facing chamber

Directly opposite of it was the entrance to a south facing chamber. For me, the curious thing about this chamber was that it was damaged in a 1982 earthquake–and I quickly recalled that quake as I remembered feeling its tremors.

9-The Pulpit

Then there was The Pulpit. It’s believed that quarrymen used this spot as a staging area to load stones onto wagons in the 1800s, thus giving the property another chunk of historical value. It’s also thought that Mr. Goodwin had the upper part of the structure reconstructed by his crew for he believed that the site was built by Irish Culdee Monks.

I have to say that my guy and I weren’t beyond that interpretation for some of the chambers reminded us of Newgrange, a Neolithic passage tomb alleged to be older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. Constructed during the Stone Age, about 5,200 years ago, Newgrange is a large circular mound in Ireland that covers 300 feet in diameter and stands 36 feet high. A stone passageway leads to three small chambers. Some describe it as an ancient temple, a place of astrological, spiritual and ceremonial importance. Hmmm . . .

10-The V Hut

Another interesting chamber from our point of view was the V Hut, so named for its shape. This one reminded us of the Mystery Structure in Lovell, Maine, for part of it forms a similar sort of V shape.

11-East-West Chamber

Throughout the journey, our focus was brought back to orientation of chamber openings. So the curious thing about this particular one and the one opposite of it–they had an east-west orientation. All other openings faced south.

12-Wqll restoration

The outer wall of the East-West Chamber offered a different look than any we’d previously seen. Using photographs from the Goodwin era, the outer walls were restored in the late 1970s.

14-Wall and pathway to Oracle Chamber

They led to a wonder-filled pathway. Do note the white paint–that was used throughout to feature key points. Though I thought it ghastly, it did serve its purpose and the drawing you see on the bedrock was part of a very important drainage system. Curiously, the area was well drained, but when we later walked surrounding trails we had to work around water obstacles–why can’t we figure out today how to make the water move in an effective fashion?

15-Drill marks and wedge marks

The pathway we were traveling led to the Oracle Chamber. And then there was more white paint. But, take notice. The U-shape above was painted around drill marks probably made by those 1800s quarrymen as they broke off slabs.

But it’s the Vs that were of even more interest.

16-Wedge mark

The V wedges were similar to those found at ancient sites in Europe we were told. Before the invention of the steel drill in the early 1800s, stone masons apparently made these V wedges.

17-Sundeck with orbs

Now all oracles need a sundeck and lo and behold, such existed. As we admired it, a few orbs did the same and we had to wonder about the ghosts living among the rocks. They certainly had stories to tell.

18-Oracle Chamber

The Oracle Chamber was known to be the most important area with a variety of features including an upper drain, secret bed, speaking tube, roof opening (see the sunlight coming through at the end of the chamber?), seat, closet, and deer carving. It was actually rather dark and we could locate some of the features, but never saw the deer carving, which would have been a treat.

20-Sacrificial Table

Before we’d entered the Oracle Chamber, we’d viewed one of several tables within the complex.

21-Sacrificial Table 2

But it wasn’t until we were standing above it that it made more sense. The Sacrificial Table was a 4.5 ton slab with a grooved channel. Its a point of controversy for the site, but some believe that because of its size it was used for sacrifices. The oracle had a speaking tube in his chamber located directly beneath it that adds to the assumption.

16a-if lichens and mosses could talk

If only mosses and lichens could talk, the tales they could tell. But then we wouldn’t have mysteries to consider.

30-Marginal wood fern

Speaking of such, one of our challenges was to identify a fern that grew among the rocks. It had several key features, including the fact that all of its fronds grew from a central point in a circle and it was still quite green–as in evergreen. A quick look at its spore arrangement on the underside and the answer was clear–marginal evergreen wood fern.

28-Black and Red Oak

We also had to name three colors represented by the oak leaves on the grounds: Black, red,  and . . .

29-White Oak

white.

23-Astronomical Calendar with view cuts

And then it was time to climb the Astronomical Viewing Platform. I was initially put off by the sight of the modern structure and thought perhaps it was a children’s playground tossed into the mix. But . . . thankfully I was wrong. Constructed in 1975, from the platform you can view the major astronomical alignment stones, including true north for summer and winter solstice. Trees were cleared in 1967 along the various important date sights and are still maintained. When the structure was first constructed, there were probably no trees atop the bedrock. This afternoon, as we looked out, our view included the November 1st sunset.

24-Nov 1 Sunset

We followed the trail toward the November 1 Sunset Stone.

26-Winter Solstice Sunset Monolith

And were equally excited to note the Winter Solstice Sunset Monolith. This was the first monolith that researchers suspected to be a solar alignment. On December 21, 1970, the shortest day of the year, it was photographed. Because the Earth’s tilt has changed, it’s a bit off these days, but would have marked the southern most set of the sun almost 4,000 years ago. Wow!

33-White Pine map

Before we left, we had another challenge: to find something that reminded us of the maze we’d just journeyed through–and in many ways the pine tree’s route system seemed to provide a map.

31-Alpaca

We also needed to pay homage to the alpacas who now call this place home and in their own way bring us back in time. The earliest evidence of man at America’s Stonehenge was 7,400 years ago as proven by evidence from a fire pit, and alpacas were domesticated about 5,000 years ago–in South America.

32-Modern day message

That being said, our final challenge was to find a more up-to-date representation and a message etched onto a rock seemed to fill the bill.

34-Astronomical Calendar and contour model

Back into the museum we journeyed and imagined ourselves into a contour model of the property with yellow lines representing the various astrologically important dates and sight lines. We’d also learned that a line can be drawn directly from America’s Stonehenge to England’s Stonehenge along the Solstice.

When our time was done, we were more than wowed. And had a lot to absorb about our learnings.

But, we were in a race and as quick as we’d wanted to be, we feared we were too slow.

Team Speedy, however, apparently went way off course when they turned onto Route 25. They were the last to cross the mat and have been eliminated. (Quietly we were heard to  mutter: YES!)

Team Purple won this leg as she has done several times even though she’s solo. And still sporting her sandals despite the colder temps.

We actually placed second today and were thrilled. We’re still in the race!

Only two more episodes to go. It’s down to Team Purple, Team Cape Cod, Team Livermore and us. Who will be the final three? Stay tuned for The Amazing Race–Our Style: episode eleven.