Holey Mysteries

It all began with a photo sent to me by a friend two days ago. “Any ideas? 8 inches wide. 20 yards from a bog,” he wrote. 

I asked him about tracks in the area, but other than deer, he saw none. He did, however, see two track makers–a fisher and a weasel. 

And so, I contacted a few other friends and invited them to join me on a quest to figure out what the hole was all about. 

We met at the designated location, determined it would probably be in our best interest to wear snowshoes rather than Micro-spikes, and set off to search for the hole and clues. 

But first, something else stumped us. Oh, wait. I wasn’t stumped. I knew it was sumac and a bird must have been munching on the seeds. But . . . I didn’t remember sumac having such long hairs and there certainly were strands associated with the droppings. 

The color, however, made it incredibly obvious. Sumac indeed. 

Until . . . 

it wasn’t! Corn on the cob? On ice? And then we remembered that there was a cornfield located directly across the road. So . . . that made sense. But, how did it get to the other side? We’d noticed plenty of turkey tracks. Would turkeys carry cobs of corn? Not the ones that visit my backyard on a daily (sometimes twice daily) mission to eat as much bird seed I’ve tossed on the ground as possible. They scratch about and eat whatever is available on the spot rather than carrying it–as far as the four of us knew anyway. 

Did the deer bring it across? Again, we’ve always seen them dine on site. And . . . we noticed that the cobs, and even occasional husks, were left within their prints, so the corn arrived after the deer. 

As we continued to look around, we began to see kernels in small piles everywhere. 

And with that, we suddenly spied something else that looked oddly familiar. 

The hole! Notice its spiral shape. Discernible tracks? No. Dirt? Yes. Hoar frost? Yes. Hmmmm . . . 

We looked around for signs. “So and So lives here” would have made it too obvious. But, we found hoar frost on an adjacent hole, which raised a few questions: 1. Were the holes connected? 2. Was a critter breathing within? 3. Or, because we were near the bog, was there warmer water below that was creating the frost? 

Then we found something none of us had ever seen before. A smattering of sawdust on the snow located about five feet from the hole. Scat? Upset stomach? Two of us got down with a loupe to take a closer look and came to no conclusions. 

As we continued to look around, we noticed that though there wasn’t a discernible track, it did seem that activity led to two hemlock trees.

And there were snipped off twigs cut at an angle below the trees, plus some comma-shaped scat. 

With that in mind, we returned to the hole in question. 

Bingo! There was a sign that clearly read “So and So lives here.” A quill! When I first looked at the photo the other day I’d suggested porcupine or fox. Porcupine it was. 

Within the hole which we could tell was deeper to the left, we spotted more quills. 

Mystery solved–almost, for we didn’t know about that smattering of sawdust. Porcupine scat consists of sawdust because their winter diet includes tree bark and needles. Did the animal have a bellyache? 

Our excitement at finding the hole wasn’t diminished by the unsolved portion of the story. And still, we continued to find corn cobs as we moved closer to the water in hopes of finding tracks. 

Indeed, there were some and we tried to figure out the pattern to determine what mammal had crossed the ice. 

But before taking a closer look, there was ice on the bog’s edge to admire and we each found artistic displays to our individual liking. 

Back to the tracks on the ice.

At first, with porcupine on my mind, I thought I recognized the pigeon-toed behavior. 

But my companions couldn’t see it. And then I realized that I was seeing a different pattern instead. Opposite diagonals became important in the overall look of two feet together. 

Studying that one pattern of a waddling animal, we soon realized another had crossed over it–in a leap and a bound. Do you see the intersection of the two in the middle of the photograph? 

And, there were a couple of corn cobs on the ice. 

It was all too enticing, and so we got up the gumption, threw risk to the wind, and stepped out. One of us, stepped onto all fours as she slid across, the better to distribute her weight. It also gave her a better view of the tracks. 

Another came forth with caution, though she admitted she’d hoped we’d go for it. 

Her husband was the smart one and he stood on shore–looking at tracks in the snow created by one of the critters we were examining on the ice. And ever ready to call for help should we need it. 

Back to the pattern–do you see three sets of two feet? In the lower set the diagonal is higher on the left and lower on the right. It switches with the middle set of prints. And goes back to the same with the upper set. 

Where debris had frozen into the impressions you can almost see the toes. The smaller, almost rounder right hand print is a front foot and the longer left hand print is the opposite back foot. That’s how it goes with a waddler such as this. 

We’d actually seen clear prints near where we’d parked and so we knew this mammal had been in the area–those baby hand-like prints belonged to a raccoon. Raccoon tracks and corn on the cob. Hmmmm. We were beginning to make some connections. 

With that figured out, we moved on to the next set of tracks and determined they belonged to a snowshoe hare–the larger front prints actually representing its back feet as they had landed after the front feet bounded forward. 

As we studied the hare track, we noticed lots of movement had previously been made by another critter and I’m going to go out on a limb to say based on its size and behavior that it was related to the next mystery we encountered. 

First, there was a hole around a couple of tree stumps and it was the layers of ice that drew our admiration. 

Right near it, however, was another frozen over hole and we could see some tracks that were difficult to read. 

But the ice was glorious and there was another small tree stump in the center. 

We weren’t sure who had made the holes until we spied another and some prints in the snow. 

The five tear-drop shaped toes provided a huge hint. 

And a bigger hint–a hole nearby. 

As usual, it commanded a closer look. 

And what did we find? Fish scales. With that signature, and the prints and even the pattern of the older tracks near the snowshoe hare activity, we knew a river otter had recently eaten. 

Eventually, we made our way back to the road, crossed over and checked the cornfield for we still weren’t sure who had brought the cobs to the bog. It made sense that the raccoon may have, but all of them? 

We found plenty of deer tracks, many of which were again filled with either kernels or nearly complete cobs. 

But it was the one stuck up in a broken red maple limb and the chitting nearby, plus scat below, and the actual sighting of a particular mammal that we think gave us the answer as to why so many piles of kernels–red squirrels. 

With that, it was time for us to take our leave. First, we gave great thanks, however, to Parker for sending me the photo of the hole. When I’d shown it to another friend, he asked why the spiral. I think that was the lowest point and the porcupine climbed out and then made its typical swath around until it reached the higher ground each time it exited and entered.

The question none of us could answer–what about that sawdust smattering?  

Ah well, we saved that for another day and left thankful for the opportunity to solve most of the holey mysteries. 

Bird Brain

Wrote Aldo Leopold, “Everyone knows…that the autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a Ruffed Grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.”

And so it was that I tramped with a couple of friends today who had the delightful pleasure of meeting ArGee (R. G. for Ruffed Grouse). We’d been chatting and searching for a few red blooms on a tall staghorn sumac when suddenly we spied him crossing over a stone wall and approaching us. 

He circled and circled for a while as we stood still yet continued to talk–sharing admiration and awe at the opportunity to be in his presence. 

We watched him forage for seeds and wondered about his behavior. Typically, Ruffed Grouse are loners, except for mating season. But this one seems to greet visitors to its territory with somewhat regular frequency. 

When we moved, he did likewise–usually a few feet to either side of us. 

And when we stopped, he did the same, seeming as curious as us. 

It was a brisk morning, so periodically he did what birds do to warm up–turned into a football of sorts as he fluffed up his feathers to trap warmer air. A bird’s body heat warms the air between its feathers and the more trapped air, the warmer the bird. After all, he didn’t have the luxury of hand warmers. But then again, we didn’t have the luxury of trapping air within our feathers. 

While we watched, I couldn’t help but notice the auricular feathers–those stiff feathers that cover the bird’s ear and form a triangular patch that extends back from the bill and the middle of the eye. 

Do you see what I mean as they fan out below ArGee’s eye? 

Here’s another look. And notice that beak–sturdy and down-curved for eating buds and twigs, the bird’s staple in winter. 

Survival isn’t easy for a Ruffed Grouse, but despite his affinity for people, ArGee knew to take cover occasionally and perhaps that is why he is still among us. That and maybe the fact that we’re honored to be in his presence and learn more about his species as we have the ability to study him. 

While I’d previously noted the comb-like scales on his feet that act as snowshoes and perhaps add stability somewhat like a porcupine as he’ll search for buds in trees once winter advances, today’s understanding included noting how ArGee moved–with one foot placed in front of the other. 

 I’ve seen it displayed in the tracks left behind including this old set we found further along, but watching the proximity of one foot to another as ArGee moved added a vision and understanding to the signs left behind. 

Sometimes it seemed the feet were practically touching and other times there was a bit of space between them. Then again, at times ArGee paused and that seemed to be when his feet where closer together and other times he marched or ran beside us and there was a bit of distance between the two feet. 

Our time with ArGee lasted maybe a half hour or less. And he wasn’t always puffed up to stay warm. When he returned to his original size, his chicken-like form seemed more apparent.

Always, he searched for buds to consume. Ruffed Grouse have a special internal adaptation, most helpful for their winter diet–similar to that of deer and moose, which is rather funny when you think about the fact that most Ruffed Grouse burst out of the snowpack and scare the daylights out of us as we approach and make our hearts beat rapidly as we’re certain we’ve encountered a moose. Maybe they should be named Ruffed Moose instead.

So back to that internal winter adaptation: they store food in their crops (esophagus) until later and then within their bodies are two offshoots of their intestines, called caeca, which grow enormous each autumn and allow them to break down cellulose so they can get nourishment from the woody aspen and birch buds that they prefer. Come spring, the caeca atrophy for the warmer months.

Our lesson from ArGee ended in much the same time frame as it usually does, but he left us wondering all the same. After we’d spent time moving and stopping together, suddenly he started to gently attack the backs of our legs. It was at a spot that seemed to delineate his territory given past experiences, but why the attacks? Did he want us to leave? Not leave? Were we suddenly seen as the aggressor? All along he’d seemed as curious about us as we him and so we were left to ask questions which we did for the rest of our journey. But wow. We were given the opportunity to wonder. 

And wonder we did. What did ArGee see in us? 

And what was he thinking? 

Bird brain? What passes through it? We may never know, but we do know that our lives were enriched and the landscape is alive. 

P.S. Pam and Bob–this one is for you! Wow! 

Boothbay Aglow

Yes, it was the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens that drew us to Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor this past weekend, but we found the Christmas light show to be only a part of the attraction. 

One of our favorite haunts in the harbor is the 1901 footbridge that connects the western and eastern sides of town. It’s renowned as being the longest wooden footbridge in the USA. And so as my guy settled in to watch a football game before heading off to the gardens, I set off to stretch my legs, the bridge being only a block or so from our “front” door. 

We’d booked a brief stay at The Harborage Inn, where our wee room was quiet and comfortable and we especially loved the pillows! Huh? I’ve become a bit of a pillow connoisseur in recent months–well, not really, but I know what I like and what I don’t and I wanted to take the pillows from our room home. But my mom would be proud for I refrained from stuffing them into our bag. 

Standing on the bridge, I could look north (or was it south for so confused do I get when I’m on one of Maine’s coastal fingers), and see our “place” and its dock, the last in line. 

Halfway across the bridge sits the bridge house, which has served many functions from bridge tender’s house to art gallery, and it’s accompanied with rumors of a prominent position during Prohibition when rum was smuggled through a trap door. This weekend its only activity was to provide a Christmas postcard look. 

Actually, much of the town was decked out in Christmas finery. Greens and reds and golds and a variety of other colors defined this seaside locale. 

But . . . others had their own display to share, including a non-breeding loon who spent some time by the bridge. 

Though I stood still, it was in constant motion like the waves that surrounded it. 

There was a reason–feeding time! The water shallow, a crab was captured in a flash. 

And then played with–dunk . . . 

toss about with a happy face, . . . 

dunk again, . . . 

grab, . . . 

let hang out of the mouth much like a teenager does a mouth guard, . . . 

toss in the water one more time, . . . 

and then swallow. Notice the bulge in the loon’s neck? And the glow of the sun on its bill? 

A final gulp and the crab was completely consumed. A meal complete. 

Finally, back across the footbridge I walked and near the shore the pigeons drew my attention. Okay, so they are pigeons. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, they are rather exotic. 

And curious. And colorful. Pay attention to the colors. They provided a foreshadowing of what was to come. 

On Main Street another exotic, aka invasive, caught my attention by its song–that of the Eastern Starling. But those colors–again a sheen and pattern to admire. 

There were more traditional colors on display everywhere for this is a season that Boothbay has embraced. 

Back at the room, my guy was ready to depart for our next destination, but he had his radio and ear buds ready so he could listen to the Patriots football game. 

We’d no sooner stepped onto the property of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens when I heard him exclaim. Apparently the Patriots lost on a play gone afoul, but you would have thought it was the end of the world. Despite that, he quickly turned his attention to New England’s brightest and most colorful display.

We arrived for the 4pm entry so we could watch the world transform before our eyes. 

The sun set as we moved from one section of the garden to another, remembering along the way our past visits in warmer months. Typically in summer and early autumn our eyes were drawn to the display of colors from foot to hip, but on this evening, it was from foot to sky that we needed to note. 

With every minute that passed, the scene changed and we were grateful to our friend Marita for the suggestion to arrive at 4 and watch the transformation. 

Silhouetted trees and iced reflections enhanced the experience. 

We were wowed by the fact that over 650,000 light bulbs had been strung to create such a scene. How? When? Who? We learned the next morning from a local gentleman with a handlebar mustache who pulled up a chair to join us for a chat before our breakfast arrived at a local bakery that volunteers help, the process begins months prior, and the locals are invited to attend for free one night before the event opens to the public. 650,000 bulbs. My hardware guy tried to fathom that sale. 

In the twilight, beauty shown. 

But it was in the darkness that magic beset the scene. And even though we moved among thousands of people, we managed to find spots to ponder the glory. 

Our initial journey lasted about an hour and then we spent an hour more circling about again, revisiting favorite spots before taking our leave. 

If you go, note where you park! Yes, that’s a warning. We thought we’d walked further to the entrance than we had. Thank goodness we remembered a few key features about our parking spot. Periodically, we did press the key fob as we looked for familiar lights to come on. At last . . . success. 

The next morning found us up and out early, again enjoying the footbridge, though it was a bit slippery with frost. 

I walked across, but my guy chose to run. Can you see his breath? 

And yet again, it was the pigeons that pulled me in. Notice the color of those neck feathers. 

And the need to puff up in an attempt to keep the cold at bay. 

I’m always amazed how birds can transform from their skinny selves to plump renditions in an effort to keep heat in and stay warm. 

Again, those neck colors. Don’t they remind you of the nighttime display? 

And then I found them reiterated in the rocks below. 

I could have stayed on the footbridge forever (perhaps I should move into the bridge house), but at last I moved off. Not before, however, marveling at the lobster buoy decoration that marks the bridge’s center. 

And the town reflected upon the calm water. 

My walk continued along water and some town roads. And I had to chuckle for though I wasn’t haunting my usual neck of the woods, old friends still made themselves known. 

I did note some differences. In the woods, a red squirrel chooses rocks or downed trees or sawed off tree trunks upon which to dine. Beside the water, apparently any railing will do. 

The mergansers seemed to have arrived not too long before us for just a week or so ago I saw a large flock of them on Kezar Lake in Lovell. Was the middle one getting the last laugh in my honor? 

And then there was a crow who shouted, “Har, har, har,” over and over again. And I heard a woman respond to him and thought he must be a regular. He seemed soooo black in this town of so many other colors. But apparently he had his own colorful character to maintain. 

Colors. Everywhere. Into. The. Focal. Point. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Gardens Aglow. Worth a visit. Just remember, it’s more than the gardens. And even more than I noted. Boothbay Aglow. 

When You Go

My goal was simple. Walk the blue trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Chip Stockford Reserve and add a few more decorations to the Christmas Tree. 

If you recall, two weeks ago the Fairs, Farms, and Fun Homeschool 4-H Group decorated a tree(s) as part of the Maine Christmas Tree Scavenger Hunt.

Their biodegradable ornaments were mighty tasty, smeared in peanut butter and bird seed much to the good licking of birds, squirrels, and deer. 

Since the first decorating party, we led a fun walk where participants adopted a scavenger hunt attitude and examined all evergreens along the way until they spotted the special tree(s). And then, because we’d packed more peanut butter and bird seed, and some of the youth had gathered pinecones on the way, we spent time creating new ornaments. That was on Saturday. By Monday, those had also disappeared. 

 As has been the case in the past, only the hearts cut from fallen birch bark remained. 

Taking a tip from our neighbors at Western Foothills Land Trust, which is also participating in the Maine Christmas Tree Hunt, I added orange and apple slices to the tree(s) and a few higher branches. 

I hope you’ll challenge yourself and your family and friends to go on the hunt.

I also hope that some of the ornaments will still be there. But if not, know that the mammals and birds are dining in style. 

In fact, their style reflected in scat I found included more than the offerings we’d supplied. On this rock, it looked like the local staghorn sumac had provided some nourishment. 

That wasn’t the only scat in the area. It took me a moment to realize what I was seeing atop the snow. The scat of larger birds also decorated the trail and I wondered what predators might be about. 

So here’s the thing–when you go in search of the tree (or on any walk in the woods) take some time and look for scat. And while you’re at it, see what else might draw your eye in. 

Maybe you’ll spy an empty sawfly cocoon. 

Or one that will protect the larvae as it pupates within over the winter months. 

When you go, look for the unusual among the usual. I found this pine tree snag that struck me as most intriguing. How tall had it grown before its life tumbled down? 

No matter. What did matter was that its whorled limbs still reached outward in star-like fashion. 

And inward as well. 

Above, its kin stood tall. 

When you go, make time to enjoy the scenic view opened this past summer by staff and volunteers. 


When you go, look for interesting sights like this one, where one pine embraced another. 

Pines typically self prune, but these two chose to keep their lower branches and snuggle together for the rest of their lives. 

So close did they grow that the “arms” of the tree to the left had grafted to the tree to the right so that their hug included shared energy. 

When you go, look for the other old pines along the stone wall–those that grew up when the landscape was more open and their structures could stretch out more than up. 

And below them, notice the squirrel middens. I wasn’t sure there would be many middens this year since it wasn’t a mast production year and few cones had formed.

When you go, let your imagination see the discarded pine cone scales and cobs as toppings on a bowl of ice cream. 

When you go, look for the amber nuggets of pine sap hardened on old bark. 

When you go, if the apple slices remain on the tree(s), notice the star shape of the core. 

When you go, look for all of these . . . or better yet, make your own really cool discoveries. 

I do hope you’ll go to the Chip Stockford Reserve or any of the three other sights in western Maine where trees are decorated. But . . . if you can’t go here, go somewhere. And when you go . . . have fun! 

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. 

Mondate Preserved

The other day a sign caught our attention as we drove to Overset Mountain and we realized we had new trails to explore. But, we, or rather I, drove by  so fast that we didn’t know which local organization owned the property. 

If my guy read these posts he would chuckle or guffaw at my comment about driving too fast for he is of a different opinion. But suffice it to say that we didn’t read the name of the land trust on the sign and so this morning I contacted Loon Echo Land Trust because in my online research, their name was associated with the property. Maggie quickly let me know that I needed to contact Lee at Western Foothills Land Trust and violà. 

Both have been involved in the Crooked River Forests Project for as is stated on the LELT website: The Crooked River has been identified as a priority for conservation as it is the largest tributary to Sebago Lake, with 38% of the inflow, and it offers local recreational opportunities and is situated above high quality sand and gravel aquifers. The river has been identified in the state’s Natural Resources Protection Act as an Outstanding River Segment with AA status; free flowing with the best water quality. This trout fishery is home to one of only four native populations of landlocked salmon in the state and is known to host one species of anadromous fish (American eel) and is thought to historically host Atlantic salmon and sea lamprey.

As I pulled up to the sign today, however, the ownership was obvious. The name, Two Bridges, was not so. The area has long been named such, and all we could imagine is that twin bridges once spanned the Crooked River in the area where we stood. 

Since the parking lot was under construction, for the property won’t officially open for another two weeks, we parked on Plains Road rather than Route 117 in Otisfield. 

At the start, the trail was wide and straight, and we both hoped for a change. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It was lovely and we had fun naming all the evergreens, including white and red pine, hemlock, balsam fir and red spruce, for those were the most abundant species, with a few young beech, red maples and red oaks thrown into the mix. But . . . we wanted diversity. And we wanted to walk beside the river. 

Soon, thankfully, we came to a Y in the road and a new sign post, or so we imagined it to be. We chose the trail to the right since it was closer to the water. 

And within minutes our reward awaited. That being said, we’d followed a spur to the riverbank and since there were no telltale pieces of flagging we suspected it won’t be marked as a public trail. 

Further along, we again spent time by the river, and noted its sculptures made of decorative roots . . . 

and splashes of ice. 

And in the mix–a rare sight indeed: an ice disc, this one being about three or four feet in diameter and spinning in an eddy. 

Eventually, the trail took us across a bridge constructed by the land trust in October 2017 that will provide the landlocked salmon and brook trout with another mile of spawning habitat.

And that’s not all. We saw plenty of evidence that mammals inhabit the space from deer . . . 

to fox . . .

to bobcat! 

There were several intersections, and we kept turning toward the river, which took us along trails more to our liking as they narrowed and twisted and turned through the forest. 

At one point, a tree arched over the trail and its purple crust fungi added a different color to the display. I think it was Phanerochaete crassa. 

My guy pointed out the hugging cousins–a white pine and hemlock and I was reminded of my finds on Black Friday. “I knew you’d like it,” he commented. He knows me well. 

Because we were in an evergreen forest, we noticed several examples of witches’ brooms. No, they were not the variety that one might have expected on Halloween night. Instead, dense masses of shoots rose from a single point on an otherwise normal branch and created a nest-like structure. Their cause: fungi, viruses, bacteria, mites or aphids. 

Speaking of the latter, aphids created the cone galls we knew as witch’s hats on witch hazels that grew near the river. The little structures provided both food and shelter for the critters that developed within. 

We also spied lungwort on a few hardwoods, its leafy structure springtime green as it photosynthesized in response to the flurries that floated earthward during the morning hours. 

And then the forest’s canvas began to draw our attention, from snowcapped artist conk (Ganoderma applanatum) fungi . . . 

to icy reflections, . . . 

man-made sculptures, . . .

and dazzling trail markers. We spied another made of pipe cleaners and a soggy feather and wondered.

We didn’t walk the entire trail system, but left knowing that we’d return for further explorations. 

Because we were in the neighborhood and my guy had never seen it, I drove along Plains Road to the Ryefield Bridge. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, the structure was built in 1912 as a double-intersection Warren truss bridge. 

The bridge spans the Crooked River between Harrison and Otisfield and is still used today. In fact, we walked and drove across it. 

One of our favorite parts was the sign at the top, which not only stated the construction company, but also honored the selectmen of the day. 

My excitement about the bridge was equally matched by some prints I spotted when I stepped into the snow to take a photo from the river bank. Beaver prints! Like the ice disc in the river, beaver prints have always been a rare find. Often, I can see their pathways, but not decipher their tracks for their tails swish out the features. 

But today, not only the tracks and a trail down to the water, but beaver chews, their snack sticks, left behind on the ice. 

We took one final look before heading home–Crooked River framed by the bridge. And we both gave thanks on this Mondate for a land and a bridge preserved. 

Overset Point of View

Winter hiking is our favorite, but what to wear on our feet is always a question. Today, we chose our hiking boots over winter boots and micro-spikes rather than snowshoes. 

We trusted L.L. Bean would have approved, especially given that we would be hiking in his hometown of Greenwood, Maine. We were, after all, wearing hiking boots purchased in his flagship store and various other products featuring his name. Don’t tell him that while our snowshoes, which remained in the truck came from his place, we’d purchased our micro-spikes at EMS. 

Before turning onto Willis Mills Road and heading toward the trailhead parking area, we first past by a cemetery of sorts, where old trucks and various truck-related equipment have gone to rest. 

And then, in a matter of minutes we were on the trail and our focus changed to all things natural, including weasel tracks. Notice the diagonal orientation in the pattern. 

It made perfect sense to see weasel prints because we were near the Sanborn River and though I didn’t take the time to measure them, but the size of the straddle I assumed mink. 

For over a mile we walked beside the river and loved the sights and sounds it offered, and especially the splash-created icicles. 

When we weren’t focused on the river, we noted its neighbors including snowshoe hare prints that were rather fresh. Some will remember that I refer to them as snow lobsters, for quite often the impression of the four feet (front two being their hind feet which swung around and landed parallel; back two on an angle being the front feet) looks rather like the large marine crustaceans visitors often equate with Maine. 

With David Brown’s Trackards as a reference, it was easy to imagine the hare’s motion. (Note: visit my book review linked to Trackards in the sentence above and you can locate David’s website. His books and ID cards are available for sale and he mentions that you can get a good deal just in time for Christmas.)

It wasn’t only tracks and ice that drew our attention. As we crossed from the river to the pond via a connector trail, we noted a huge burl that looked like two bear cubs holding fast to a paper birch.

Along the way there were also some examples of my favorite shrub, hobblebush. We always refer to their buds as being naked for they aren’t covered in waxy scales like most. And look at those leaf and bundle scars. Following them down the twig, its fun to note the changes in age from the fresh tan scars to the two below getting grayer and more wrinkled in age–much the way we do. 

As we continued on, the snow depth increased, but fortunately a family of four had passed through before us and created a trench. 

We knew we were close to the pond when we began to see canoes tucked among the trees and snowed in for the season. I’d say “for the winter,” but winter is still a month away. 

At last, Overset Pond stretched out before us. 

And Overset Mountain in the background became our next destination. 

But first, we had to walk the length of the pond as it narrowed, and then cross over a series of bog bridges below an old beaver dam. 

As I waited for my guy to get to the other side before I ventured forth, I noticed something on the dam that brought yet another smile to my face. 

But first, I had to get to the other side–which I surprised myself and did without hesitation. Prior to this crossing, we’d walked on at least ten other bog bridges, some easier to conquer than others. This was the longest and featured several different levels, but we were both successful in our attempts. 

And so I rewarded myself with another look at the dam–and the otter slide that crossed up to the pond. Do you see the otter’s prints? 

Feeling great about the crossing (because I’d been dreading it), we began the upward climb. Our spikes were a good choice because they gave us some traction on slippery leaves and rocks, but they did gather occasional clumps of snow. We got into the habit of banging them against any available rock to declump the frozen snow. As we moved upward, the snow depth deepened to about a foot. 

The family we’d passed on their way out had told us the mountain had been challenging, but they had neither snowshoes or micro-spikes and we could see where they’d slid frequently on rocks hiding below the snow. We moved with relative ease even as our heart rates increased and at last my guy looked down over his kingdom. Actually, it’s the kingdom of Mary McFadden and Larry Stifler. Through their generosity, many trails in the area are open to the public. And through the work of their employee, Bruce Barrett, those trails are well maintained.

Below . . . Overset Pond in the shape of a heart. What’s not to love. 

After a brief apple and water break, we began our descent on the loop trail. The trees growing beside and on the boulders reminded me of the truck graveyard . . . naturally. 

Our overall descent passed quickly. In no time at all, we came upon more canoes swamped with snow. 

At last the trail came to an end and we followed a snowmobile trail for at least a mile back to the truck–our six mile journey completed. 

We’d planned to enjoy a brew and burger at Norway Brewing Company after the hike and were thrilled with our choice. He sipped Life’s a Peach on the left–a new brew just released today and made with Maine peaches. My choice on the right–Left Turn. 

We played Rummy while we waited and then ate our burgers with gusto. We knew they’d serve as lunch and supper, a meal we’ve named lupper in the past. 

At the end of the day, we were beat (still are) but happy. Thought I’d hoped to see some wildlife other than the occasional squirrel, that wasn’t to be. But we saw plenty of tracks and I was especially pleased with those of the weasel, hare and otter. 

And, of course, the tree trucks!

The Overset Point of View–worth a wander.