Wishing for the Emerald Isle on this St. Patrick’s Day 2021

Like so many others, we had hoped to venture back to the Emerald Isle in 2020, but “you know what” prevented that from happening. And so it sits on our “To Do” list, right there beside clean the barn and replace the stairway carpet.

In the meantime, however, we have memories from an Irish honeymoon in 1990 and a return visit in 2016. You might have read the latter here, but maybe like us, you’ll enjoy refreshing the memory on this St. Patrick’s Day. So sit back with a glass of Guinness and enjoy the journey.

My guy and I journeyed via bus, car and foot across northern and eastern Ireland these past two weeks. Our main agenda–a vacation in the land where twenty-six years and two months ago we celebrated our honeymoon. We both also had semi-hidden agendas–his to seek out ancestral roots, mine to search as well, though my quest wasn’t quite so clear.

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Our journey began after we dumped our bags at the hotel, where our room wasn’t yet ready, and crossed the River Liffey in Dublin. It was to the right that we’d parked a rental car 26 years previously as we searched for traditional music and supper, only to return hours later and discover that the driver’s side window had been smashed and our video camera stolen. All these years I’ve held a sour view of the Fair City and so I felt a bit nervous as we stepped forth.

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The feeling began to wane immediately, for as we approached a street corner and chatted about locating the library, a Dubliner overheard us and assumed we were looking for Trinity College (founded in 1592). We decided to play along and followed his directions–thankfully. It was “Welcome Freshers” week and the quad swelled with activity tents, music and students anticipating the year ahead. We passed among the frivolity and found the self-guided tour of the 18th century Old Library and that most ancient of manuscripts–the Book of Kells, a 9th century book featuring a richly decorated copy of the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. A favorite discovery: the monks used oak apple galls to create ink–apparently, they crushed the galls and soaked them in rainwater, wine or beer until they softened. I’ve got to try this.

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While (or whilst as the Irish say) no photos were allowed in the Treasury where the manuscripts are stored, equally impressive was the Long Room, which houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books in ancient oak bookcases. Just thinking about the centuries we were encountering was mind boggling, enhanced of course, by a lack of sleep.

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A few hours later, we made our way back to the hotel, enjoying the architecture and flowers as we walked along. At last, we could check in and so we checked out–a rejuvenating nap essential to our well being.

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Rested and showered, we hopped aboard a bus–our next destination, the Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate Brewery. The 250-year story of Guinness® is portrayed on five floors in a building designed in the shape of a pint. What’s not to like about that.

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We learned about the process of creating beer, and then there was the whistling oyster, one of the many icons of the Guinness® brand.

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After taking in the full story, we reached the Gravity Bar, where ticket holders may each sip a complimentary foam-topped pint. The museum was preparing to close and the bartenders made the last call. My guy asked if we could purchase a second pint and we learned that they don’t sell any, but he kindly slipped us two. Don’t tell.

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The Gravity Bar offers 360˚ views of the city.

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And the view includes the Wicklow Mountains, our intended destination for week 2.

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If you hear my guy tell this story, he’ll say that we were told it was a 45 minute walk from our hotel to the Storehouse, but a short bus ride. We rode the bus there, but later weren’t sure where we should queue for the ride back, so we decided to walk instead. According to him, it took us five hours to make that 45 minute walk. I’m not sure it was quite that long, but we did stop at The Temple Bar for the music and a few other prime spots to eat and sip a wee bit more.

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The next morning we set out for the National Library, which had actually been our intended destination the previous day–but who can deny enjoying the Book of Kells exhibit. My guy was hopeful that the genealogists at the library would help him make some connections, but without knowing parishes he hit a bit of a stonewall.

And so we left the Fair City with much fonder memories, took a bus to the airport, picked up our rental car, and ventured on. Oy vey. If you’ve ever watched the BBC program, “Keeping Up Appearances,” you’ll appreciate that I was Hyacinth to my guy’s Richard. “Mind the pedestrian,” I’d say. “I’m minding the pedestrian,” he’d respond.

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Our first stop, 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 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. Our guide told us that bones were found here and it may have been a place for worship as well as where people were laid to rest. We were in awe of its structure and the fact that the passageway is oriented northward allowing the sun to illuminate it during the winter solstice.

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Yes, the railings are new, but this is possibly the oldest building in the world. That’s worth repeating–the oldest building in the world. We had to bend low to enter and then squeeze between the walls as we walked toward the center, where three small chambers with stone basins created a cross-like structural plan. Even as we stood with others in darkness and waited for a beam of artificial light to demonstrate the real thing, we couldn’t quite fathom what we were witnessing.

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Our awe continued within the center and by the entrance stone, where we witnessed megalithic art. The spirals reminded me of labyrinths, but we’ll never know their true significance. And that’s OK.

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By the time we arrived at Carlingford, it was pouring and we had no idea where to stay. We stopped at a hotel, which was full–thankfully. They suggested the Ghan House, a Georgian House set within three acres of walled gardens. It was our most posh stay and we didn’t truly appreciate it until the next morning when the sun shone brilliantly.

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The Ghan House is located just a stone’s throw from the Thoisel or town gate leading into the narrow streets of the town centre, where we found Ma Baker’s in the rain, a welcoming pub frequented by the locals, who laughed and joked and reminded us that the Irish love to sip a pint, tease each other and tell stories no matter what the weather might be out the door. And they don’t care about spelling, punctuation or run-ons. Life is too short for that–note to self.

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The tide was low when we walked along the lough the next morning and took in King John’s Castle, which was initially constructed by Hugh De Lacy in 1190, though it wasn’t completed until 1261. Purportedly, King John, the brother of Richard the Lionhearted, visited in 1210, and thus the name for this Norman structure.

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From Carlingford, we travelled north and did what we had wanted to do 26 years prior; we crossed into Northern Ireland. On our previous adventure, we’d journeyed as far as Letterkenny in the northern part of the Republic of Ireland, only a half hour from Derry. But that was then, the time of The Troubles, and we didn’t dare to cross the border. Again, my guy was seeking ancestors and at the Welcome Center he was told to visit the Tower Museum where Brian Mitchell would be able to provide some help. We were too late when we climbed down from the wall to the museum, so we did what the Irish would do–when in Rome–we found a pub and had a nice chat with a young man who had recently returned to Derry in search of work. We also walked around the city, taking in the sites made famous by The Troubles. And the following morning we again returned to the museum, where the curator told us that Brian would probably show up around 11am. So, we paid for a self-guided tour and learned about the town’s colorful and dramatic past through “The Story of Derry.” At 11:30 we once again went in search of Mr. Mitchell, only to learn that he was out and about somewhere. Since we needed to check out of our room, we decided that our Derry experience was over, but Mr. Mitchell did respond to an e-mail and so my guy has some more resources to consider.

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Our next stop, Portrush, a resort town along the Atlantic and on the northern fringe of Ireland. After checking in at the Antrim House B&B, we headed off along the Coastal Scenic Route to Carrick-a-Rede Island. Carrick-a-Rede is from the Scottish Gaelic term, Carriage-a-Rade, meaning the rock in the road.

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And the road is presumably the sea route for Atlantic salmon that were once fished here prolifically. In fact, so prolifically, that the fishery is no longer viable. In order to reach  the best places to catch the migrating salmon, for 350 years fishermen crossed regularly to the island.

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One hundred feet above the sea, the fishermen crossed the 60-foot chasm via a rope bridge to check their nets. Of course, they had only one rope, not the steel and plank structure that we crossed. That being said, it was quite windy and the bridge did sway.

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We put our fear of heights behind us and made our way across.

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Did he just do that? Yup.

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And I followed.

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Our views included Raithlin Island, the northernmost point of Ireland.

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Our next wonder–the Giant’s Causeway, a geological phenomenon of 40,000 basalt stone columns formed by volcanic eruptions over 60 million years ago.

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These hexagonal tubes stacked together like cans on a shelf offer yet another mystical and magical look at the world, one that the Irish embraced by creating legends to explain their existence–Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), an Irish giant, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Good old Fionn accepted said challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two could meet. There are two endings so take your pick: In one version, Fionn defeats Benandonner, but in another,  he hides from Benandonner because he realizes his foe is much bigger. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises her husband as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the “baby,” he fears that its father, Fionn, must be the biggest giant of them all. Benandonner flees back to Scotland in fright, but makes sure to destroy the causeway behind him so he won’t be followed by Fionn.

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My guy found a spot to take in the giant’s viewpoint.

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As we made our way back toward Portrush, we paused at Dunluce Castle. We couldn’t go in because it had closed for the day, but we could still see part of the castle town that was developed in the early 1600s.

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Originally built by one clan in the early 1500s, it was seized by another in the mid 1500s. Its history includes rebellions and intrigue.

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Included in its dramatic history are tales of how the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639. We couldn’t help but wonder if the same happened to the wall.

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Back in Portrush finally, our own tale continued. At the suggestion of our hostess, we walked to the Harbour Bar for dinner.

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While we waited for a table, we paused in the wee pub, as they call it. A few minutes later, two guys walked in with a trophy and made a big fuss about its placement among the best bottles of whiskey.

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At the time, I was standing to the right of the gentleman in the middle and so I asked him about the trophy. He explained that when you participate in the Ryder Cup you receive a replica. My guy immediately realized that I was talking to a famous Irish golfer, he just couldn’t put a name with the face. On the wall above, we could see photos of him, but we weren’t close enough to read the signatures.

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It turns out we were in the presence of Darren Clarke, the European Ryder Cup captain for 2016. We didn’t know that until we went to check on our table and asked. One of the bartenders encouraged us to stay for the send-off, so we did. Everyone donned a D.C. mask (at 00:16, if you look quickly to the back left, you might see my scraggly hair behind a mask)–and sang “Shoulder to shoulder, we’ll answer Darren’s call.” We were included as the North American entourage.

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While I got Darren’s autograph on one of the masks, my guy befriended Willie, the bar manager.

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The next morning, after a traditional Irish breakfast, we toured the downtown. Ireland amazes us–the temperature was chilly and yet the flowers were gorgeous. And palm trees grow throughout the country.

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Upon our departure, our hostess suggested we follow the coastal route to Murlough Bay and so we did. And took a wrong turn that lead down a dead-end to a gate with a sign warning us that guard dogs were on site. With caution, my guy backed up the lane until he could turn the car around. Our hostess had also told us not to park at the upper lot for Murlough Bay, but instead to drive down. I insisted upon the upper lot given that the road had at least a 10% pitch. So we walked down. And down. And down some more.

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Upon our descent, the light at a distant lighthouse beckoned in the background as Fairhead came into view.

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The coastline was as dramatic as we’d been promised. And I was glad we’d walked because the drive would have been even more dramatic with Hyacinth in the passenger seat.

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This area may appear familiar to viewers of Game of Thrones–including the site of Stormlands.

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After a hike back up the road, we drove on to take in the scenery of Torr Head. The road narrowed significantly as it twisted and turned along the coast. And then . . . we met a porsche rally. As best he could, my guy squeezed our car past them. And as soon as he could, we got off the coastal route and drove on to Belfast. It was late in the day and pouring when we arrived. By the time we parked in city centre and walked to the Welcome Center, we were drenched. And disappointed. There was no where to stay in town and we’d have to move on. But . . . then one final effort proved that a hotel was available. We should have questioned if for the price. Well, actually I did, but we were told that it was a fine place and served as a conference center. So we took it. And couldn’t wait to get out of there. Fortunately, we found some Irish music back in town and a delightful meal of locally harvested food. All we needed to do was sleep in the rathole, though even that didn’t work so well.

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The next morning we took in the Titanic Museum and stepped aboard one of its tenderfoot boats, the Nomadic.

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A dose of coffee and I was ready to take the helm. And if you are wondering if it’s windy every day in Ireland, the answer is yes. It also rains at some point each day. Our time in Northern Ireland was over, but except for that one accommodation, we’d had a wonderful and wonder-filled time.

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As we worked our way south, we spent a night at a delightful B&B in Navan, which featured  more traditional music and a place to relax. On Monday morning, we finally headed to the cottage we’d rented in the town of Laragh–Glendale Holiday Cottages–we highly recommend. Our host, Christy, was extremely accommodating, the cottage spacious and amenities plentiful.

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We’d chosen this location because it was a five minute walk to the pub and restaurant in Laragh, located in the Wicklow Mountains, and near the Glendalough monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.

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Forty shades of green and Brigadoon all came to mind as we approached the monastic settlement and its round tower.

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St. Kevin’s kitchen is actually a 12th century church, so named because it was believed that the bell tower was a kitchen chimney. Apparently, however, no food was ever cooked there. But . . . if you think of the word of God as food, then perhaps many a feast was actually served.

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From the altar window in the cathedral, the largest of seven churches within the monastic city,  a view of the world beyond was offered.

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Likewise, we could see the world within, including the Priest House in the background.

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And everywhere, gravestones told the story of many who’d passed this way.

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A little closer to Laragh, Trinity Church.

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Upper Glendalough was the jumping off point for our initial hike upon the Wicklow Way.

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We paused beside Poulanass Falls before zigzagging our way up the first trail.

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Sheep merely looked up to acknowledge our passing. We, however, needed to pay more attention for sheep shit was prolific.

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Tree felling was also a frequent sight, but we noted a unique (to us anyway) method of reforestation–in this case the Sitka spruces and Scots pines being felled were replaced by mountain ash saplings. One other thing we wondered about–the plastic sleeves–we saw some that had fallen away as trees grew, but were left in place. Biodegradable? We could only hope.

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We spent three full days on the trail, not covering all of it, but a good portion as we hiked 10-15 miles each day.

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Our journey took us over boggy portions,

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down grassy sections,

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on village lanes,

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over boardwalks,

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through the black forest,

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and into the future.

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Frequently, we had to stop, reread the directions and study the map, but more often the route was self-explanatory.

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Along one section that was particularly muddy due to frequent horse crossings, we made a discovery unique to us.

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A badger print. Sadly, or maybe happily to locals, we saw a dead badger on one of the lanes not far from this print. Related? We’ll never know.

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We saw deer, one rabbit and two red squirrels.

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Writing of the latter, we chuckled when we encountered this sign because we have frequent encounters with them at home. But considering we only saw two in two weeks and spent most of our days outside, we had to wonder.

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Bessie One,

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Two,

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and Three (pronounced Tree) tolerated our presence.

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And Bessie Four made us laugh–as she stood upon a wall.

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Though we passed through pasture after pasture and by many a farm and barn, we never saw any farmers, but knew that they were hard at work preparing for winter.

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And one even offered us nourishment.

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Our path included obstacles, though most were easy to overcome from a rope loop

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to a simple step or

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ladder crossing.

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Only once were we uncertain. The stile was padlocked and there was no step or ladder. We finally decided to climb up over the gate in hopes that there wasn’t a bull on the other side. Usually though, a beware of bull sign announced their presence and no such sign marked that particular crossing–phew.

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Our days ended with a stop at the local pub because Guinness® is good for you. I actually overheard an older woman telling her significant other the truth behind this. Apparently, when this woman’s mother had been in hospital years before, she was given Guinness® to drink each morning and evening–perhaps for its iron content. Or perhaps just because it’s good for you.

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One of our stops was at the smallest and oldest pub in the nation–the Dying Cow. Mr. Dolan sat behind the bar sipping a Guinness® along with us as he and my guy got into a discussion about American politics. We noted that to be a hot topic. Our reason for finding this pub was because we’d walked into Tenahely after a fifteen miler and were about to step into Murphy’s for a pint when a gentleman sitting outside started chatting with us. He suggested we head off down the road because we needed to experience this tiny bar and he would have joined us but he’d just ordered his pint and didn’t want to waste it.

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We followed the directions he wrote out for us, and missed the 1798 monument at first, but retraced our route and found it. We only wish he’d then told us how to get back to Laragh. That took a while, but eventually we found our way home.

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Our views from the Wicklow Way were worthy of wonder.

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And the ever present clouds added to the drama.

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The land resembled a patchwork quilt.

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No matter where we looked, it was forever changing.

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Some of our fun discoveries included chestnut trees,

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black slugs, and . . .

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the crème de la crème–bear claw marks! Did Bear Gryllz really leave his signature on the trail behind the Glendalough Hotel?

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When we weren’t hiking, we explored the area, including Wicklow and its stone beach.

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We didn’t understand this ship at first until my guy asked–meet Wavewalker, a maintenance boat for Ireland’s Offshore Windfarm.

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Across the harbor, we spied the remains of a castle that invited a closer look.

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It seems Black Castle was constantly under siege and totally destroyed in 1301. And yet–I felt a presence still there.

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Do you see his face?

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The oldest mill in Ireland also drew our attention–Avoca Handweavers Mill was established in 1723.

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It was the home of color with attitude.

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Upclose and personal, we saw the inner workings.

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And marveled at the creative results.

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Our last full day in Ireland found us in Carlow. Standing beside the River Barrow, this castle was thought to once be a stronghold and it survived attacks in the 1400s and 1600s. According to local lore, a physician set out to remodel it into an asylum in the early 1800s. As he tried to demolish the interior, he placed explosive charges near its base and accidentally destroyed all but the remaining west wall and twin towers. Uh oh.

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As happened daily, the weather quickly changed from blue sky to raindrops. Swans in the River Barrow didn’t care. They were in their element.

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My guy counted while I photographed. Thirty some odd–all wishful that we’d brought good tidings in the form of bread. Not to be much to their dismay. Despite that, we were treated to several displays.

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And later that night, a display of sun and clouds as we went in search of supper.

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Our final night was spent at the Green Lane B&B in Carlow where Pat and Noeleen took special care of us. My guy watched the GAA football game with Pat, their grandson Sam helped us print out our airline tickets and Noeleen made sure we had toll money for our journey to the airport. And then there was the breakfast–the finest we’d enjoyed.

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Think eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, sausage, white pudding, toast and Irish soda bread. And they wanted to know if we wanted porridge and cereal. Really?

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Before we checked out, I made my guy drive to this field ensconced in an Irish mist.

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The fog seemed apropos for our walk out to the Browneshill Dolmen. This was a burial chamber that may have originally been covered with earth.

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My guy stands almost six feet tall, so his height provided a sense of size.

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The two more pointed stones on either side of the squared stone were known as portal stones that would have supported the granite capstone or chamber roof. The squared stone in the center was probably the gate stone that blocked the entrance. This site has not been excavated so there’s no other info about it, but just standing in its presence and considering those who came before and created such was enough.

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And then there were the spider webs. I’d missed them as we’d walked toward the dolmen, but they captured my attention all the way back. From prehistoric to present, the structures before us were breathtaking.

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And when we finally pulled out of the B&B driveway on our way to the airport, I asked my guy to stop while I jumped out of the car. What a sight to behold–web ornaments. A perfect ending to our vacation.

My guy meet several roadblocks on his search for roots, but at the same time, he learned about some new avenues that may help in his quest. And I, I wished for more time to understand all that was before me from prehistoric to present–but maybe I sought answers that don’t need to be. Having the questions might be enough.

Together, we were grateful for our Hyacinth and Richard Adventure on the Emerald Isle. And glad to return the car safely to the rental agency.

Happy 6th Birthday, wondermyway

It’s hard to believe that six years ago I gave birth to wondermyway as a means to record the natural world and all I met along the way.

There’s no need in reminding everyone that since last February it has been quite a year, but I have to say that I’m especially grateful to live where I do, in a place where I CAN wander and wonder on a regular basis.

As I look back through posts of these expeditions, I realize how often nature presents itself in such a way that moments of awe make everything else going on in the world seem so foreign. If only everyone could whisper to a dragonfly upon his or her hand; watch a cicada emerge from its larval form; and even appreciate a snake or two or three.

Join me for a look back at some of my favorite natural encounters of the past year. If you want to remember a particular adventure, click the titled link below each photo.

Transitioning With My Neighbors:

From sun to rain to sleet and even snow, it’s been a weekend of weather events. And like so many across the globe, I’m spending lots of time outdoors, in the midst of warm rays and raw mists.

I’m fortunate in that I live in a spot where the great beyond is just that–great . . . and beyond most people’s reach. By the same token, it’s the most crowded place on Earth right now.

We’re all in transition, my neighbors and me. What the future holds, we know not. The best we can do is hope we come out on the other side–changed by the experience, of course.

Under the Bubbles

Wander outdoors if you can and let the anomalies pull you into their realm. I promise, your eyes and your mind will be opened to so many wonders that you’ll resist the urge to move along for so enamored will you be by your finds. Slow down and look and be wowed.

In the end, may it not be an end. May it be a beginning. May you live under the bubbles and give thanks that your bubble is attached to so many others as you share a brain.

Dragonfly Whisperer Whispers

We had no intention of eating lunch in this spot today, but while looking for a mountain to climb, we kept encountering full parking lots and so our backroad meander put us beside a bog at lunch time and voilà, we managed to walk all of less than two tenths of a mile. Total.

But in that short distance, our eyes feasted. First it was all the Painted Turtles basking in the sun. And birds. And dragonflies.

I just had to find out. Would he or wouldn’t he? He would and did. Yes, I quietly placed my finger on the leaf and he climbed aboard, then struck a rather relaxed pose. The Dragonfly Whisperer whispers once more.

Marvels of the Meadow

“My lupine meadow is in full glory!” a friend wrote in an e-mail. And she encouraged visitations. So . . . I went. Actually, we went, for I invited another friend to join me.

Fortunately, I guess, though unfortunately on some levels, we pulled ourselves away by mid-afternoon. But our bug eyes were wide open. In the end, we offered up thanks to our hosts, Linda and Heinrich, for inviting us to enjoy the full glory of their lupines and all the marvels of the meadow.

Celebrating Cemetery Cicadas

Beings who once walked the Earth
support new life as summer's serenade
begins to take shape 
upon stones that memorialize the past...

On this summer day, hollow cast(ket)s left behind
provide a memory of vulnerable forms.
From soft pastel bodies to wide-faced creatures with bulging eyes,
I get to celebrate cemetery cicadas. 

Frog Alley

I’m pretty sure I said to the friend whom I met on the dirt road that I never see frogs there except for the painted boulder that has faded with age and I no longer even think to honor with a photograph.

But still, she reminded me, “I’m sure we’ll see something interesting.”

No way.

After walking one stretch of the road and only pausing a few times in the hot sun, we hopped back into our vehicles and made our way to a much more shaded location. As we stepped toward the river, in flew a Kingfisher. And we knew we were in for a treat or two or three.

Crowning Glory

The theme of the week didn’t dawn on me immediately, but a few days into it and I knew how blessed I am.

It was a week for me to realize how important all the young people in my life are from our sons whom I can chat with on the phone to those who have chosen to make this area of western Maine their home and to get to know their place in it. And then to go beyond and share it in a way that benefits the wider community.

Thank you, Hadley, for the opportunity to celebrate your birthday. And thank you Rhyan, Parker, Dan, Jon, Mary, Brent, and Alanna: it’s my utmost pleasure to share the trail with you whenever we can. And to know that the future is in your capable hands.

We are all blessed. Today we crowed Hadley, and in so doing, gloried so many others.

Making Sense of Scents

Last week, while walking along a trail I later intended to share with some local kids, a subtle movement caught my attention.

About two thirds of the way along the trail, exactly where I’d spied it two hours prior, the Garter Snake still posed. And the kids got to examine it. And wonder. And exclaim. They went in for a close-up look, thus the snake stuck out its tongue repeatedly in an attempt to get a better sense of who or what might be in its midst.

Snakes have poor eyesight and their hearing ability is limited. Thus they use their nostrils and tongues to pick up scents of prey or predator. By flicking the tongue, they collect odors that the forked prongs relay to two holes in the roof of their mouths, aka Jacobson’s organ. With information transferred from the organ to the brain, they can interpret scents.

For the kids and me, it was this sense: Best. Moment. Of. The. Afternoon.

For the snake: it decided we weren’t worth getting excited about as it made sense of our scents.

All In A Day’s Walk

My mission was two-fold. Hike up a small mountain and capture a one minute video to post on a work website next week, and retrieve a game camera so we can download the photos and then place in a different location.

First there was the porcupine den, then a beaver tree, and along the way a fungi.

My final sighting of the day, that still has me smiling, occurred in the middle of the adventure, but I wanted to save it for last. Do you see what I saw?

Who cooks for me? I wish this Barred Owl would, for I must now prepare dinner. But that’s okay because I’ll take him with into the kitchen in spirit and give thanks that I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him . . . all in a day’s work.

My Heart Pines

Fourteen months ago I wrote Ode to Pinus Strobus, showing my respect for the mighty pines that inhabit our woods. Curiously, it was a rainy day then. And today dawned the same, though even more curiously, today we turned the calendar to December 1, yet the temperature rose to 57˚, like a summer day as we approach winter in western Maine. Because of the temp, the day offered some incredible wonders.

For those who love to wander and wonder, I hope you’ll be still and have an experience similar to what this tree offered me today.

My heart pines . . . naturally.

Sharp Observation

I was early–a rare occasion as usually I’m the one who arrives at least ten minutes after the agreed upon time. It wasn’t always that way, but has become a bad habit. That said, it was a creature of habit that I went in search of because I had some time to spare.

He was up there enjoying the cambium layer of the bark as witnessed by the goldeny color of the branch by his feet. All those downed twigs–apparently they were in his way so he nipped them off and dropped them to the ground in order to get to the nutrients he sought for his winter diet.

Check out his eye. We were both sharp observers as we eyed each other from a distance.

Ghost of the North Woods

For almost thirty years I’ve roamed this particular wood and for the most part you’ve eluded me.

After finding so many signs year after year, today . . . today I spied an uprooted tree at the very spot I thought might be a good place to stop and spend a few hours in silence. As I made plans to do such in the near future, the tree moved.

And transformed into you!

When at last you and your youngster departed, despite your sizes, it was as if you walked through the forest in silence. My every move comes with a sound like a bull in a china shop, but you . . . Alces alces, you weigh over one thousand pounds, stand six feet at your shoulder, and move through the forest like a ghost. For that reason and because you let me spend some time with you today, February 11 will henceforth mark the day that I celebrate the Ghost of the North Woods.

Thank you to all who have joined me for any or all of these journeys. With each learning or sighting, I get excited and can’t wait to share it with you. I’m not only grateful to be able to wander and wonder, but I’m also thankful for all of you who take the time to read these posts.

Cached In My Heart

I knew it was going to be a great day when snowflakes began to fall. And when asked the day before how I intended to spend yesterday, I said I’d probably read, bake, and knit. But . . . those plans were postponed for a few hours because that white stuff was falling and I heard it calling my name.

Thankfully, it was only my name that it called and for the first time since March, I stepped back into Pondicherry Park, a place that I love, but have intentionally avoided because so many others have discovered it as a tonic to the worries of the pandemic and I wanted to give them space, knowing I could find plenty of other places to explore with the same quest in mind. But . . . it was snowing, and I suspected that others might be home reading and baking and, well, maybe even knitting, and I would have the place to myself.

Soon, however, I discovered that I wasn’t really alone for even though the snow wasn’t piling up, tiny tracks on boardwalks indicated others were scampering about.

A few minutes into the hike, bright green moss invited me off trail to examine the base of pine where a hole beneath the tree . . .

and a cone still intact made me wonder: If this was the home of a little scamperer, what might it be eating other than this cone?

And then I twisted right–in more ways than one. And spread out along a downed pine and all around the base of another–a huge cache/midden: the cache being a collection of cones gathered and stored; and the midden being the refuse pile of scales and cobs left behind after the seeds were consumed.

I’ve been looking for one of these for a few weeks as the air temperature has dropped and wondered when the little guys would get their acts together and gather a supply to see them through winter.

One among them had, indeed, been busy, not only gathering, but dining, and with today being Thanksgiving, you might think this critter had the longest dining room table because it intended to invite everyone over for a meal.

But, its a feisty diner, and each meal is consumed quickly, with some chits and chats warning others to stay away–social distancing naturally.

Peeking under the dinner table, I discovered some cones tucked away in the pantry . . .

others in the fridge, with the door left open, thus exposing them to the elements . . .

and a few in cold storage.

On the other side of the pine table, holes in the midden showed the downstairs and upstairs doorways: all leading to Rome–or rather, the cache that must have been huge based on the size of the midden left behind. I did feel concern that so much had been consumed and there might not be enough for winter survival.

No need to worry. On the backside of the tree, three were tucked into furrows–making me think of a $20 bill stored away in a wallet, just in case.

My journey through the park eventually continued and meant a few pauses at favorite haunts, including one where the reflection nourishes my little friends . . . and me.

Occasionally more boardwalks curve through the landscape offering their own reflection–of this past year, which has taught us all that when there are curves in the road, we should follow and embrace them.

And if a hemlock grows beside a pine, it’s okay to cache your pinecone supply atop the former’s roots. You don’t always have do what the rest of us expect you to do.

Especially if you are the creator of the caches–a feisty Red Squirrel, ever ready to give chase to your siblings and chitter at any intruders such as me.

Of course, if you are a Gray Squirrel, you’ll take a different approach to winter preparations and store one acorn at a time and hope you remember where you left each one.

Three hours later, I finally found my way home, grateful that the stars had aligned, it had snowed, and I had the trails to myself. And then I began to bake, but never got around to reading or knitting or even writing this post for the phone kept ringing and there were envelopes and gifts to open, messages and emails galore to read, and cake to consume, and though we can’t be with our family or friends today, I gave thanks that on my birthday the squirrels let me share their world for a wee bit and I was showered with so much love–that I’ve cached in my heart.

Juxtaposition

Outlined by nature’s tapestry . . .

the crystal ball offers consideration of things to come,

while nearby the brook falls,

chanting fervently on its eternal course.

Some drops choose to remain as frozen spirals,

and extend the reach of the last form touched.

This is a wild place,

where coyote and bobcat do roam.

And seedhead displays . . .

introduce zigzag patterns to match curious footsteps.

Others may make one hobble, but the slow down they encourage causes appreciation.

At the brook’s source, sunshine waves upon open water,

though half the pond shows off an icy coating that shouldn’t surprise.

Embedded within, a frozen summer flyer juxtaposes the seasons.

Black, White, And Red Mondate

During our Staycation, my guy and I hiked a trail new to us that connects one mountain to another. Our intention had been to summit both that day, but because it took us some time to locate the actual trail head once we’d climbed two miles up a ski trail, we ran out of time to complete the route before turning around. At our turn-around point, we waypointed that spot on GPS knowing we’d return and actually looked forward to approaching from the opposite direction.

Today was that day. And so we signed in at the kiosk, and headed up the orange-blazed trail where many beech leaves had already fallen and enhanced our hike with the crunch they provided upon each step we took.

And where there are beech leaves, there are American Beech trees. And where there are beech trees, there might very well be bear claw marks. Though this has been a mast year for acorns and pinecones, it’s not been so for beech nuts, but by the pattern we spied, we knew that in the past this tree provided a few fine meals.

As the trail began to transition from beech and oak to spruce and fir, we found signs of another–perhaps a contemplator who got so lost in thought that he or she left behind a pair of fine specs. A few times in the past I’ve included finds such as this and the owners have been reacquainted with their losses. Perhaps these sunglasses will find their way home soon.

Though we didn’t wish away the hike as we ascended, we were eager to reach the point where the Black and White trail would depart to the right and knew when the substrate changed from packed trail, roots, and rocks to all granite, that it wouldn’t be long.

Indeed it wasn’t. Nor was the turn-around point. Ten minutes in, I looked at the GPS to see how much further we needed to go, and discovered we’d walked about 30 feet beyond the landmark we’d noted. We chuckled to think that a week ago we’d been soooo close.

A week ago, however, the Hobblebush did not look like this. That, in itself, was reason to give thanks that we’d ventured forth today.

Ten minutes later and we were back on the trail where more shades of red greeted us.

Some of it was pinkish in hue and I don’t think we’ve ever hiked past this perfectly split granite boulder without honoring its offerings.

Still, there was more trail to cover, so upward and onward we climbed.

At last we reached the summit and had another good chuckle. Along the way, we met one woman descending who rejoiced in the fact that today was her first day on this mountain. By the split rock, we watched as a younger man ran down the trail and shared with each other that that wasn’t a mode we would have chosen. But we both know those who like to run up and down. A wee bit further on, a man was taking a break as he sat on the granite and he, too, was amazed by the trail runner. It was also his first time to do this climb, and he asked my guy to take his photo. And then, as we stood at the summit and got our bearings with the mountains and man-made objects beyond, a woman approached and said, “I just need to touch that thing.” “Huh?” we thought. “What thing?” She pointed to the Geological Survey marker and we quickly moved out of her way. With one pole she touched it, said, “Now I can add it to the list,” and then pivoted and quickly began her descent. Her behavior drove home the fact that we all come to the mountains for different reasons and even if yours doesn’t make sense to us, it’s still yours.

One of our reasons for being there was to stand in the opposite position than we stood the first time we attempted the Black and White trail. Last week, we posed for a selfie below the radio tower viewed in the distance.

From the other summit, there wasn’t much of a view, but from today’s stance, the expanse was 360˚.

And so around . . .

and around . . .

I turned.

As we began the descent moments later, my guy took in his royal kingdom.

My kingdom was at a much smaller scale, and it was the scales of a Tamarack cone that stopped me in my tracks. Tamarack. Hackmatack. Larch. Call it what you want, but do give it a shout out–at least in our area because it’s always a treat to find such. This conifer (cone-bearer) had begun to show off its deciduous nature as its the only one of its type in which its leaves (needles) change colors as sugars are shut down and photosynthesis ceases, just like the broad-leaf trees.

Eventually, we turned right onto the yellow trail down, and it wasn’t far along when we encountered the last of our human counterparts–two women who had just spotted a Green Snake. A Green Snake near the summit. Another treat of the trail. One woman thought she could catch it, but as she moved in it quickly slithered away for its nature is on the shy side and due to its color you may have been near one more frequently than you know, but it would have been well camouflaged within the foliage it prefers.

Before we left the bald ledges behind, we reveled in the rich shades of red that will become candy in our minds’ eyes for months to come.

The foliage is different this year as a result of the drought and then an early frost, both of which should have enhanced it, but for some reason didn’t. That said, there is still spectacular color to be found, all of it seemly encapsulated in a Bigtooth Aspen leaf.

Nearing the end of our journey, we paused upon a bridge for a snack break: a Kind Bar for him and apple for me.

And it was there that we met the trail ambassador: Prince Charming. By the size of the Green Frog’s large external eardrums (tympanums) we knew it was a male. If the tympanum is larger than the eye, it’s a male. Smaller equals female.

The prince was the icing on the cake for this Black and White Mondate filled in with various shades of red . . . and topped off with a bear tree, a Tamarack, and a couple of shades of green, including one who let me massage his back. And I’m not talking about my guy!

A Layered Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Thanks Beside Sucker Brook

Since it’s deer hunting season in the Maine woods, we decided to host a walk one Sunday in November on a Greater Lovell Land Trust property because hunting is prohibited on this day. And today happened to be that Sunday. But first, this story begins with a few other events. On Friday, I had the honor of participating in a late afternoon program at New Suncook School. Before the young girls in the program, their leaders, and I stepped outside, one of them struggled with a Hannaford bag that was splitting apart because it was full of canned and boxed food. I helped her get the bag into her backpack before she dropped all its contents and the act drove home the need to make sure my guy and I attended the second event.

The second event was the Second Annual Bowls and Brews Chili and Chowder Challenge and Beer Tasting held at the Lovell VFW Hall last night.

The land trust was well represented by participants, including Executive Director Erika Rowland who created a delicious Black Bear Chipotle Chili.

Erika’s chili didn’t win, but she and GLLT’s Office Manager Alice Bragg were still all smiles.

The real winners of the event were the kids like the young girl I helped on Friday. For what she was trying to hold was a bag full of food as is provided to her family by the Sunshine Backpack Food Program. And the Bowls and Brews event was a fundraiser to support that program. Throughout the school district, elementary students in need go home with nutritious, non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food every Friday. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the fundraiser support the program.

That brings me to this afternoon’s walk first advertised as Sunday Beside Sucker Brook. Months ago I wrote this description: Let’s get a head start on Thanksgiving, and journey the trail at John A. Segur East where we’ll take in the afternoon views of Sucker Brook, its plants in their winter forms, beaver lodges, and mountain views.

And so we did. First we stepped off the trail and took in the view to the south where Sucker Brook empties into Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay.

And then we looked north to admired the hills that are reflected by three beaver lodges situated in a triangle. The one to the right had some mud on it and so we trusted the beavers had been adding insulation to the homestead.

It’s a good thing because a thin layer of ice had formed around the edges of the brook and we realized the next season is on the horizon.

Even within the Pitcher Plant leaves ice had formed. Some of today’s participants touched the downward pointing hairs that draw insects into this carnivorous plant, noting the difference between the easy slide down and much bristlier texture one encounters trying to climb back out.

Continuing along the green-blazed trail, one among us spied a Bald-faced Hornet’s nest. When we noticed part of it on the forest floor, we had to step off the trail and check it out.

In the summer we avoid these nests for fear of being stung by the aggressive workers who defend their territory. But by now the workers have all died and the queen has found a snug spot to overwinter under tree bark.

Being able to examine the nest drew our awe as we noted the individual hexagonal cells created by the queen who had collected wood and plant fibers, chewed them into a papery pulp mixed with her saliva, and built brood chambers into which she placed eggs. To enclose the chambers that housed her girls she then constructed a thin papery envelope. The fact that the cells were the same size and shape was worth our wonder as we thought about the queen’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Within the outer envelope, several suspended combs contained chambers for larvae. A two-tiered section had fallen to the ground and Miriam picked it up for further examination. Her findings: brood chambers were papery and the darker gray that glued the combs together was much firmer.

Pam gave the piece the sniff test. Her findings: the combs smelled like hay, but the glue offered a much more offensive odor.

Our examination also revealed a few grub-like larvae that didn’t have an opportunity to cycle through life.

After kinda, sorta, not really bee-lining to finish before darkness fell, we reached the scenic view that again included the brook and mountains beyond.

There was even more ice in our vision. Ripples made it look like the water flowed from south to north, but we knew it to actually be the opposite. The wind blew from the southwest and thus caused the current oxymoron.

Quietly we stood for a minute and then shared “thanksgivings” for the land, the air, the water, the people, and the place.

Before turning around, a short bushwhack revealed another beaver lodge in the offing.

It, too, was covered in the beavers’ form of Typar: mud. And topped with fresh wood. Construction continues.

With one final view of the brook, the clouds shifted and revealed the Baldface Mountains in Evans Notch.

On the way out, we paused for moths as we’d done on the way in. Linda’s eagle eyes spotted this tiny one: Bog Bibarrambla Moth.

All along we’d noticed male moths flying about, but again on the return trip one among us noticed a few males in one area. If we’re correct in our identification, they were Bruce Spanworms, but what was even more important was the realization that the female is wingless. Yes, these two are canoodling.

One last stop to make before continuing our “bee-line” to the parking lot was a bit of a scavenger hunt: A Bear-claw Tree Scavenger Hunt. Bingo. Brian made the discovery and everyone gathered ’round for a closer examination.

As I said earlier, when I first wrote the description for the walk, I said we’d get a head start on Thanksgiving, but I didn’t really define what that meant. And then a brainstorm a week ago revealed a plan. To offer thanks as we did by the brook, but also . . . to bring food for the Sweden Food Pantry, which serves Lovell, Sweden, Stow, Stoneham, Waterford, Fryeburg, and Bridgton. Our numbers were small today as nine of us traveled the trail at John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge, but our givings big (and we had some items from a few others who couldn’t join us.) We were equally glad to have Linda Bradley (she’s wearing the blaze-orange vest), president of the food pantry, along for the journey.

We’re grateful to all who either joined us or contributed to our offerings as we gave thanks beside Sucker Brook and helped fill the shelves in Sweden.

As we departed we made plans to repeat this event, but choose the following weekend next year so we don’t complete with the Third Annual Bowls and Brews fundraiser.

Bear to Beer: Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge

Our intention had been to explore the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson, New Hampshire, during the summer months, but intentions are just that. An aim or a plan. In our case it was an aim that was a bit off plan.

Today, however, dawned, as each day does, and we honored the plan we’d made last night by packing a lunch and getting out the door by 9:30.

An hour and a half later, we’d driven across Route 302 through Crawford Notch, recalling sites we’d enjoyed from the Conway Scenic Train less than a week ago, and on to Jefferson where we found Airport Road, aka Hazen. At the kiosk, we developed a bit of a trail plan and then ventured forth.

The area is supported by several organizations as noted on a website: “Pondicherry is a Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, and it is owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with New Hampshire Audubon and the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game. A local Friends group also plays a role in the management of the refuge, and the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails has specific jurisdiction for the rail-trails.”

For a mile and a half, we followed the rail trail to its vantage point. Well, not quite all the way, but to the Waumbek Station, where three rail lines once converged.

We thought we’d step out onto the Tudor Richards Viewing Platform, then continue on the rail trail. But, a woman ahead of us had stepped onto the platform to practice Tai Chi and so we let her be and walked for a bit on the Presidential Recreation Trail, a 20-mile link to Gorham, New Hampshire.

Along the way, much of the scenery looked more like November than October, given the fact that we were further north than our hometown. But, a few goldenrods still bloomed. And upon some of their stems, the Goldenrod Ball Gallmaker had made itself a home.

Though we’d planned to eat lunch upon the observation deck, we were delightfully surprised to locate a small bench overlooking Cherry Mountain and so down we sat. PB& Strawberry and Peach, we each enjoyed a half of the others intended sandwich.

Eventually, we returned to the observation deck and enjoyed the fruits of Witherod and High Bush Cranberry that outlined the boardwalk leading to Cherry Pond.

The Pliny Range offered a backdrop on this day filled with sun and clouds.

In the distance, Bufflehead Ducks swam.

Returning to the junction, we continued northeast where rail trail joined rail and one could imagine the clackety clack of trains passing by.

A bit further on, we turned left toward Little Cherry Pond, where the natural community began to seriously embrace all sorts of coniferous trees.

At our feet, the trail cover was a bit more golden and much shorter than our native White Pines.

Looking toward the sky, Tamaracks sang their cheery autumn song as their needles turned golden before dropping. I’m forever intrigued by this deciduous conifer. And thrown into the mix of the cathedral ceiling: spruces of colors I need to spend more time with for throughout the refuge grew white, red, and black spruce. My task down the road: get to know each one individually so that I recognize them in new settings.

While I can tell you that there are five needles in a White Pine bundle, three in a Pitch Pine, two longer ones in a Red Pine, and two shorter needles in a Jack Pine, the needles of the Tamarack are produced in clusters of ten to twenty.

They are attached to the twigs in tight spirals around short spur branches. giving the tree a feathery look.

Upon a downed conifer, a jelly fungus offered its own version of a flower.

At last we reached Little Cherry Pond, where more Buffleheads swam.

And then we noticed another swimmer who made us smile. Yes, that’s a beaver. We couldn’t see his destination for it was around a corner and signs warned us not to venture further in order to protect the area.

Backtracking a bit, all the while admiring the plants including Rhodora, Creeping Snowberry, Trailing Arbutus, Pitcher Plants, and so many more (I need to return in the spring), we found our way back to the Mooseway Trail. (Note: “You Are Here” was taken on the way in, but I wanted to give perspective. Look for the Mooseway Trail toward Mud Pond.)

Not long onto the Mooseway Trail, I was thrilled to discover Lungwort growing up a tree trunk. Its ridges and lobes create a leafy lettuce or lung tissue appearance (thus its common name).

Because lungwort’s main photobiont is a green alga, it is also a type of cyanolichen, thus meaning it contains nitrogen-fixing bacteria. When lungworts fall following a storm, they decompose into the forest floor, contributing their nitrogen reserve to the soil.

The Mooseway Trail seemed easy to follow at first, but soon it became more of a bushwhack and we wondered when the last human had ventured forth. We found all of three blue blazes indicating the way.

But after the third, we had a choice to make. Head north or south. We chose south. And within a short distance the trail completely disappeared. Thanks to GPS and occasional glimpses of Cherry Mountain, we persevered. And startled a snowshoe hare that startled us. I couldn’t capture it in a photo for so quick was its hop, but suffice it to say that the hare’s coloration was gray/white, given the next season that had already visited some of the surrounding mountains.

Maybe it only took a half hour, but it sure felt like hours before we finally found the rail again. I actually considered kissing it, but my guy convinced me otherwise.

There was so much more of the refuge to explore, but we followed the trail back, giving thanks to the shape of the mountain that helped give us perspective on our location as we’d bushwhacked.

And a backward look upon the pond brought to light the snow that had fallen upon the Presidentials, previously hidden in the clouds.

As for that darn Mooseway Trail that led us astray . . . it did have much to offer including this Bobcat scat. We also found a specimen of coyote.

And not only Moose scat, but also some prints. We were rather excited by that.

And then the crème de la crème: bear scat filled with berries. Yes, we’d scanned the trees for claw marks, but if they were there, they were difficult to distinguish (cuze, um, we were moving at my guy’s speed). Despite that, this display made us both happier than happy.

I had no idea when I chose most of the places for our Bear to Beer Possibilities, what the trail’s tales might be, but really, our success rate was quite high.

And we topped off our success by sipping some suds at an old fav in Glen, New Hampshire. For him: Moat Mountain’s Matilda’s Red Rage. For me: Tuckerman’s Pale Ale.

For both of us: Bear to Beer–we got this one. Seven miles later, bear scat to beer at Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge and Red Parka Pub.

All Aboard Mondate

His birthday present several weeks ago was a Cat’s Meow replica of the North Conway Scenic Railroad (from my collection) and a note: October 21, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm. Be there!!

This morning I drove him there. No, I wasn’t the engineer of the train, but rather the conductor of his entertainment schedule.

Our chosen car, the Dorthea Mae, was built in the mid-1950s for transcontinental service in the United States and turned out to be the perfect choice for this adventure. We’ve ridden the Conway Scenic train before–several times when our sons were young and we took the one hour ride from North Conway to Conway, New Hampshire, and once for an anniversary celebration as we enjoyed dinner on the Bartlett Route. But for all the times we’ve driven along Route 302 through Crawford Notch and looked at the scary trestles hugging the mountains, we always said we’d love to take the longer ride. Well today, that became a reality.

Group by group, riders were welcomed to climb on and find their assigned seats. Ours was located opposite a delightful and chatty couple from Iowa, MaryPat and Ron.

For us, part of the fun was recognizing familiar spots along the rail, including a rail crossing on Route 302 by a historic barn.

Through the village of Bartlett we travelled along rails originally laid down in the 1870s for what was once the Maine Central Railroad’s famed Mountain Division Trail.

The church to the left is the Union Congregational Church on Albany Avenue, and to the right the Odd Fellows Hall, a historic fraternal society.

Early on we crossed trestles over several rivers where shadows, angles, curves, and foliage delighted our eyes.

As we headed toward Crawford Notch, again it was the same, only different, with ever the click-clack of motion providing a new vista that captured our awe.

History presented itself over and over again, with old rail ties and power poles dotting the landscape–obscured for a wee bit longer by the golden hues of the forest.

Knowing that today was the only date available when I’d booked the trip, and in fact, that we got the last two seats on the Dorothea Mae, we wondered how much color we might see given that we were traveling north. It was past peak, but still . . . one Red Maple stood out amongst the yellowy-orange-bronzes of the landscape.

There was also some white to view–not only the few clouds, but the summit of Mount Washington with a recent coating of snow and rime ice.

The ridgeline of Mount Webster, forming the eastern side of the U-shaped glacial valley which forms Crawford Notch, stood crisp and clear as we headed north.

The mountain was named for Daniel Webster, a statesman and orator born in Salisbury, New Hampshire, which is present day Franklin where I began my former teaching career in 1980.

From our seat on the train, looking south, Mount Webster was on the left, Route 302 between, and Mount Willey on the right forming the western side of the U.

By Mount Willard, we heard the story of the section house that stood here in the 1900s.

Willey Brook Bridge is Crawford Notch, New Hampshire https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-a2cf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99 Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation

Our narrator, Denise, spoke of the Mt Willard Section House built in 1887 for section foreman James E. Mitchell, his family, and crew who maintained Section 139 of the railroad. Loring Evans became foreman of Section 139 in 1903. He was killed ten years later in a railroading accident at Crawford’s yard, but his wife, Hattie, raised their four children and despite all odds ran the Section House until 1942. It was Hattie’s job to house and feed the men who worked on the shortest yet most treacherous stretch of the rail.

A memorial garden still honors her work.

Below Mount Jackson, across the way, two waterfalls graced the scene. Typically, we’ve viewed them one at a time, but from the train, both Flume and Silver Cascades were visible as water raced down the mountain’s face.

This being Silver, but both looked like traces of chalk from our position.

Two hours after our journey began, we arrived at Crawford’s Depot.

Disembarking, and with an hour to ourselves, my guy and I ate a picnic lunch that included chicken salad sandwiches enhanced with home-made cranberry-orange relish, and then we crossed the road to walk the .4-mile trail around Saco Lake, the origin of Saco River.

Beside it a few Dandelions flowered. And my guy questioned me. “You’re taking a photo of a Dandelion?” Yup. Never Call it just a Dandelion is the title of a most delightful and informative book. And sooo true. Notice how each ray is notched with five teeth representing a petal and forms a single floret. Completely open as this one was, the bloom was a composite of numerous florets. And can you see the stigmas? Curled and split in two? “Yes, I am taking a picture of a Dandelion because it deserves to be honored. And not pulled from the lawn. Just sayin’. ”

Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba var. latifolia) also posed, its fruit’s five-parted capsules each containing two to four small seeds. It was the color that made me smile on this fall day.

Upon a small bridge where Elephant Head Brook flows into Saco Lake, most people paused and then turned for so wet was the trail. But you know who kept going. Despite wearing sneakers rather than our hiking boots, we found our way and soon moved beyond the wet trail.

We laughed when we discovered a wooden boardwalk in a drier section.

Others had also ventured here and called it home, although based on the lack of new wood, we suspected the beavers had left the lodge. Perhaps they’d moved across the street to the AMC’s Highland Center.

Upon granite that defined the outer side of sections of the trail, Rock Tripe lichens grew, some turning green as they photosynthesized when I poured water upon them.

Always one of my favorite views is the discovery of Toadskin Lichen beside the Rock Tripe, both umbilicate forms.

Back to Route 302, asters showed their displays of seeds awaiting dispersal and those older empty nesters forecasting their winter form in a flower-like composition all their own.

Just prior to 2:00pm, we reboarded the train for the journey south.

For the return trip, we’d switched seats with those who sat on the western side of the train for the journey north and so got to spy the Willey foundation. Local lore has it that in 1793, Samuel Willey took his wife, five children and two hired men to live in a small, remote house in the mountains. That year, he and the hired men built a house.

As our narrator said, “In June of 1826, a heavy rain terrified the Willey family when it caused a landslide across the Saco River. Sam decided to build a stone shelter above the house where he thought the family could find safety in case of another landslide. On August 28, 1826, a violent rainstorm caused a mudslide. The Willeys and hired men took refuge in the shelter. The landslide killed all nine of them, but the house they’d fled stood still.” Apparently, a ledge above the house spared it from destruction.

We loved the historical aspects of the trip, as well as the scenery, short hike, and good company.

At the end of the day, we were all smiles for this All Aboard Mondate.

Wandering and Wondering the Jinny Mae Way

This morning I chose to channel my inner Jinny Mae in honor of my dear friend who has been in isolation for medical reasons since last January. That meant I had to try to slow down and be sure to notice. And ask questions. Mostly it meant I needed to wonder.

She’s a lover of fungi, so I knew that she’d pause beside the Violet-toothed Polypores that decorated a log. The velvety green algal coating would surely attract her attention. Why does algae grow on this fungus?

I didn’t have the answer in my mind, but a little research unearthed this: “As is the case for lichens, the algae on top of a polypore arrangement appears to benefit both partners. The algae (usually single-celled ball-shaped green algae), being filled with green photosynthetic pigments, use sunlight to make sugars out of carbon dioxide gas. Some of these leak out and are absorbed and consumed by the fungi as an extra source of energy-rich organic carbon. The fungus, in turn, provides a solid platform upon which the algae can set up shop and grow into dense green communities.” (~rosincerate.com)

The next stop occurred beside the fall forms of asters where the seeds’ parachutes could have easily passed as a flower. What’s a seed’s parachute and why does it have one? The parachutes are made up of hair-like structures. As an immobile parent plant, it needs to disperse its young so that new plants can grow away from those pesky competitive siblings. And maybe even colonize new territories. At this stage of life, the seedy teenager can’t wait to fly away from home and start its own life. Do you remember that time in your life?

And then, it was another fungus that asked to be noticed. Those gills. That curly edging. And crazy growth structure. Jinny Mae would have keyed in on it right away, but it took me a while. I think it’s a bioluminescent species, Night Light aka Bitter Oyster (Panellus stipticus). But as I often say, I don’t know mushrooms well, so don’t look to me as the authority. What would Jinny Mae ask? Hmmm. What makes it glow? That’s even further beyond my understanding than naming this species. But I can say that it has to do with enzymes that produce light by the oxidation of a pigment. And have I ever actually seen such a glow? NO. But one of these nights 😉

As I continued to walk along, I noticed movement and realized I was in the presence of a butterfly. A butterfly I don’t recall ever meeting before. It had the markings of several familiar species, but it wasn’t until I arrived home that I figured out its name. Do you see its curled proboscis?

Jinny Mae would have been as wowed as I was by this species that I can confidently call a Faunus Anglewing or Green Comma. Typically it flies from May to September, so why today? I got to wondering if this week’s Nor’easter caught it in a more southern clime and forced it north on the wind? But I discovered that its a boreal species and was perhaps at the southern end of its range. Maybe the storm did have something to do with its presence today after all.

Eventually the journey became a mix of following a trail and bushwhacking. Both provided examples of the next moment I knew Jinny Mae would love. Dead Man’s Fingers, all five of them, in their fall form, the lighter color spores having dispersed and the mushroom now turning black. Why the common name for Xylaria longipes? According to Lawrence Millman, author of Fascinating Fungi of New England, “Certain African tribes believe that if you’ve committed a crime, and you rub the spore powder from an immature Xylaria on your skin, the police won’t identify you as the culprit.”

It seemed these woods were a mushroom garden and one after another made itself known. I could practically feel Jinny Mae’s glee at so many fine discoveries. Resembling cascading icicles (I was wearing a wool hat and my snowpants actually, which turned out to be overdress after three hours), I wanted to call it Lion’s Mane, but to narrow down an ID decided to leave it at the genus Hericium. I suspected Jinny would agree that that was best and it should just be enjoyed for its structure no matter who it really was.

Nearby, another much tinier, in fact, incredibly teenier fungus could have gone unnoticed had the sun not been shining upon it. I was pretty certain 2019 would be the year that would pass by without my opportunity to spy this one. But, thankfully, I was proven wrong. Forever one of my favorites, I knew Jinny Mae also savored its presence. The fruiting body of Green Stain are minute cup-shaped structures maybe 1/3 inch in diameter. I used to think when I saw the stain on wood that it was an old trail blaze. And then one day I was introduced to the fruiting structure and rejoice each time I’m graced with its presence. There was no reason to question these delightful finds. Noticing them was enough.

In complete contrast, upon a snag nearby, grew a much larger fungus.

Part of its identification is based on its woody, shelf-like structure projecting out from the tree trunk. Someone had obviously been dining upon it and based on its height from the ground and the tooth marks, I suspected deer.

The pore surface, however, is the real reason to celebrate this find for it stains brown and provides a palette upon which to sketch or paint, thus earning it the common name of Artist Conk. But the question: while some mushrooms fruit each year and then if not picked, rot and smell like something died in the woods, what happens with a shelf fungus? The answer as best I know: A shelf fungus adds a new layer of spore tissue every growing season; the old layer covered by the new one, which look like growth rings in a tree.

A lot of the focus on this morning’s walk tended to be upon the fungi that grew in that neck of the woods, but suddenly something else showed its face. Or rather, I think, her face. A Wolf Spider. Upon an egg sac. Super Mom though she may be for making a silk bed and then enveloping her young in a silk blanket, and guarding it until her babies hatch, this spider did not make the slightest movement, aggressive or not, as I got into its personal space. Usually the mother dies either before or after her babies leave the sac. What would Jinny Mae think? Perhaps that for some reason Momma waited too long and maybe the cold weather we’ve experienced upon occasional lately got the better of her?

I don’t know entirely what Jinny Mae would think, but I have a pretty good idea because the reality is that today, she and I traveled the trail together for the first time in forever. For each of these finds, it was like we played trail tag–first one spying something wicked cool and then the other finding something else to capture our attention as we tried to capture it with our cameras.

We caught up. We laughed. We noticed. We questioned. We laughed some more.

Our three-hour journey drew to a close as we revisited the Stair-step Moss that grows in her woods.

I’m still giddy about the fact that I got to wander and wonder the Jinny Mae way today.

P.S. Jinny Mae returned to Super Momma spider a couple of days later and as she paused to take a photo, Momma scooted into a tree hole, carrying her sac. She LIVES.

Ponds #1 and #2 Mondate

My friend, Alice, suggested a trail to me over the weekend, and so when this day dawned, my guy and I had a plan. We’d pack a lunch, drove a wee bit north, and let the fun begin. We love exploring places new to us and this was such.

Immediately, the forest floor reflected the canopy above where Sugar Maples, Beech and Red Oak presided.

Other items also made themselves known, including the dried capsules of Pinesap, a plant that features three to ten topaz-colored flowers during the summer. The plant has such cool characteristics: it lacks chlorophyll because it doesn’t have any leaves to photosynthesize, and acts as an indirect parasite of trees. You see, Pinesap’s roots steal nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi, specifically from the genus Tricholoma, that the mushroom obtains from associated trees.

It wasn’t long before the carpet changed color indicating we’d entered a Red Maple community.

And again, upon the ground, another cool site worth honoring. Many-fruited Pelt is a foliose lichen that grows on soil, moss and rocks. The rust-colored projections among the shiny brown lobes made me squat for a photo call. Those reddish-brown projections are the fruiting bodies on the leafy margins–thus the name.

Again we moved onward and upward and again the community changed, the leaves telling us we’d entered a Big-Tooth Aspen/American Beech neighborhood.

Wherever beech trees grow this year, it seems the parasitic Beechdrops are also present. Lucky for me, though my guy likes to hike as if on a mission to get to the destination, when I ask him to pause, he quietly does. I’m forever grateful that he understands my need to take a closer look. I’m not sure if he’s amused by it or just tolerates it, but he never complains. And occasionally he points things out for me to notice or tells me the name of something.

Anyway, Beechdrops, like Pinesap, lack chlorophyll, have scales in place of leaves so they have no way to photosynthesize, and are parasitic. In the case of the Beechdrops, however, it’s the roots of the American Beech from which it draws its nutrition. Small, root-like structures of the Beechdrops insert themselves into the tree’s roots and suck away. Do they damage the trees? The short answer is no because the parasitic plant is short-lived.

Our journey continued to take us uphill and really, it wasn’t easy to follow, but somehow (thanks to GPS–I surprised myself with my talent) we stayed on the trail.

Do you believe me now that it wasn’t easy to follow? Yes, that is a blaze, the yellow paint practically obliterated by a garden of foliose and fruticose lichens. Foliose being a “leafy” looking structure and at least two grew on the bark. Fruticose, likewise the “fruity” structure (think a bunch of grapes minus the fruits) also presented itself in at least two forms.

Of course, there were still many other things to admire including the multiple shades of magenta presented by the shrub: Maple-leaf Viburnum. In my book of autumn, nothing else exhibits such an exquisite color, making it easy to identify.

Our luck increased once we began to spy rock cairns marking the trail.

And it got even better when I noticed several classic deposits beside the cairns. Bobcat scat! Check this one out. Have you ever seen anything quite so beautiful? Look at that hair tucked within the packet. Of a snowshoe hare. Oh my.

While taking a closer look, I realized I wasn’t the only one with all eyes on the structure. Yes, that’s a wolf spider.

Realizing we were at the summit of a certain small mountain, suddenly we found ourselves walking along ledge.

And then the view opened up. It became lunch rock view.

Words seemed not enough to describe.

At last we made our way down, for still we hadn’t reached our destination.

And that’s when Pinesap’s cousin, Indian Pipe showed off its one-flowered structure. While Pinesap features three to ten flowers per stalk, Indian Pipe offers only one waxy structure made of four to five small petals. Until fertilized by a Bumblebee, the flower droops toward the earth, but upon pollination turns upward toward the sun. Eventually a woody capsule will form.

Also parasitic, Indian Pipes have a mutually beneficial relationship with many tree species plus Russula and Lactarius mushrooms, as they work together to exchange water and carbohydrates with nutrients from the soil.

At long last, we reached the first of our destinations, Pond #1. The glass-like water offered a perfect mirror image of the scene upon the opposite shore and we both let “oohs” and “aahs” escape from our mouths when we came upon an opening in the shrubby vegetation that protected the shore. I think my favorite portion of this photo is the evergreens that add a fringed frame.

Our journey, however, didn’t stop there, for we had another pond to locate. Again, we referred to the GPS and found ourselves climbing over several fallen trees. Upon one, I spied pumpkin-colored fungi that requested a stop. Of course. But really, it’s another I can never resist–Cinnabar-red Polypore.

As lovely as the color of the upper surface may be, it’s the pore surface that really makes my jaw drop. That color. Those angular shapes. Another “oh my” moment.

And then upon another downed tree, multi-aged tinder mushrooms. It was the mature one that fascinated me most for it looked like happy turtle basking on rocks in the sun.

Last week I met a Snapping Turtle in the shade and he hardly looked thrilled with our encounter.

At last my guy and I reached Pond #2, where we sat for a few minutes and took in the scene. Okay, so we also enjoyed a sweet treat–as a celebration.

We still had another mile or so to hike before reaching my truck, but we gave thanks to Alice for the suggestion and for the fun we’d had discovering Pond #1 and #2 on this Mondate. And all that we saw between.

Go ahead, take a second look at that bobcat scat. You know you want to.

Learning in the Forest

Today was field trip day. Well, actually, every day is field trip day. This week’s trips have included Kezar Lake and the Kezar River Reserve in Lovell, as well as Holt Pond in Bridgton. But today, it was further afield as I drove north to China, Maine, to introduce Erika Rowland, Executive Director of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, and Alanna Doughty, Education Director of Lakes Environmental Association to a special person and a special place.

The special place is one that allows children young and old to use natural materials to build faerie houses. I’ve been entranced by such since my youth–thanks be to my father and his Scottish ancestry, and our “Aunt” Betsy, (she isn’t related, but she’s always been a wonderful aunt) who often took us on a picnic to the fairy table in her woods.

Faeries (fairies) love quiet places and their homes come in many forms. They’re best made from scavenged materials. Imagination rules and nature provides all the things needed for such creative architecture.

This particular village is identified by a sign that provides a list of materials both appropriate and inappropriate.

A wee bit further along the trail, we happened upon another spot that hasn’t been finalized yet, but it’s a collaborative effort between our hostess and last year’s fifth grade class.

The kiddos studied Maine mammals and then created a scavenger hunt. Erika, Alanna, and I continued to channel our inner kid and looked left, right, high, and low to spy the critters that share these woods. From coyotes to . . .

mama bear and her cubs, to . . .

a lynx chasing a snowshoe hare, to . . .

a moose, they were a pleasant surprise all along the way. If you have a smartphone available, you can learn more about them.

And if there are mammals, then there must be tracks.

We checked the gravely mammal “pit” and discovered pointed toenail prints leading us to think coyote. Had the silhouette come alive?

Continuing on, we came to an old log landing, where pine saplings happily inhabited the clearing. Our hostess, Anita, showed off the recent crazy growth years. Each year, a White Pine produces a whorl of branches, thus allowing one to age the tree by counting from one whorl to the next. And in between–well, the tree grows. Some years, the growth is extensive if conditions are right, such as this 18″ spurt one year and a similar one above the next.

A couple of trees, however, showed off the efforts of a White Pine Weevil. Brown, wilted main shoots (terminal leaders) featured tips curved into a shepherd’s crook. More on that later.

In the midst of all the pines, I was wowed by another tree with needles. It’s one that begs a handshake every time.

And really, that hand comes with the softest touch.

Even upon its trunk, the needles do splay . . . like an aster, but they won’t last long for a Tamarack (aka Larch, Hackmatack) is a deciduous conifer and already they are turning their golden autumnal color.

The Tamarack wasn’t the only star, for cedars also added a different texture to the woods.

And then . . . and then . . . we came upon the Treehouse. A handicap accessible treehouse.

It’s known as the Reading Tree, but it’s more than that, which the interpretive sign explains. Remember that White Pine Weevil damage we saw at the log landing? Well, the White Pine that the treehouse surrounds was a long-ago weeviled tree. When a pine is weeviled, the leader shoot dies and the whorl from the previous year take on the task of growing skyward.

The treehouse is built to accommodate its growth and let the sun in.

It also provides a fantastic place for all to blend in to its structure.

Of course, if you climb the tree, you might have to spend a bit of time in “Timeout.” But really, what a pleasure to do both.

We didn’t want to leave the treehouse behind and actually considered moving in, but onward our journey continued to a spot where the story transitions to mathematical computations. A cord of wood in the background, a chance to measure board feet in the foreground. It’s all a part of this special place, where classrooms abound . . . in the forest.

It didn’t stop there. A fence with cut-outs high and low let us peek at more local wildlife. Had we been with a class of twenty or more elementary school children, we surely would have scared the birds away. But . . .

our bird sightings were plentiful.

How many do you spy?

At the end of the wall, the interpretive sign offers clues of those one might see.

Leaving the wall, as we walked toward a wetland, movement at our feet led to the realization that we’d disturbed two garter snakes trying to grasp the rays of today’s limited sun.

Onto a bridge originally built by students twenty plus years ago in the man-made wetland, we paused to covet the outdoor classroom.

The possibilities for exploration were endless.

And they were all possible because of our incredible hostess, Anita Smith. Anita is a retired teacher, Maine Master Naturalist, and Project Learning Tree Advocate.

Her community close to home appreciates her, but so do the rest of us for as I’ve learned, Anita is alway happy to share what she and others have created to educate all ages.

Before we drove back to western Maine, we had one last wonder to fill our day–the woody capsules of Lady’s Slippers gone by that grow in clumps like we typically don’t see anywhere else.

Thanks to Anita and all her volunteers, we spent today wandering the China School’s Working Forest in China, Maine, and loved exploring the twenty or so learning stations set up on the fifty-plus acre forest. Neither Greater Lovell Lovell Land Trust or Lakes Environmental Association can replicate the China School Forest, but our take-away was immense and we loved the opportunities to learn in the forest.

Scavenger Hunt at Kezar River Reserve

As I walked along the trails of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Kezar River Reserve on Route 5 across from the Wicked Good Store today and thought about the fact that the Storybook Trail featuring Pond by Jim LaMarche will come down in another week or so, a brainstorm struck me. Why not create a scavenger hunt that you can download on your Smartphone and look for as you walk along the trail? Why not, indeed.

Give yourself 1 point for every successful find. Subtract 2 points for any that you miss. At the end, a special prize awaits all who complete the hunt.

So, let’s get started. The route will take us from the kiosk to the beginning of the orange-blazed trail on the left (currently this part of the loop is the Storybook Trail). Look up and down and see if you can locate an example of each of these items.

With Halloween just around the corner, the witches must find their brooms–in this case: Witch’s Broom (a deformity caused by anything from mites, aphids, and nematodes to fungi, viruses, and bacterial organisms.)

When the flower of this translucent plant turns upright, it has been fertilized and a woody capsule containing its seeds will form: Indian Pipe.

Decorating the ground, this leafy foliage with its brown fruiting structures is soft and pliable when wet, but crisp when dry: Wrinkle Lichen.

Though this tree has vertical strips of dark gray to black ridges that intersect like ski trails on a mountain, the inner bark in the furrows provide its name: Northern Red Oak.

This plant may lack flashy flowers and height, but the berries are worth noting. Tiny white blooms occur in pairs and both flowers must be pollinated to produce a single viable fruit. After fertilization, the two flowers’ ovaries fuse and mature into a solitary scarlet berry: Partridge-berry.

In case you haven’t heard, the sky has been falling in loud KERPLUNKS for several weeks. Look for this structure upon the forest floor: the cap of a Northern Red Oak Acorn.

How to make an acorn cap whistle (and drive the world crazy with the shrill sound).

1. Position the cap so the inside faces you. 

2. Place your thumb knuckles over the acorn in a V shape, with a triangle of the cap showing between your thumbs.

3. Put your upper lip on top of your knuckles. Position your lips so that when you blow no, air will escape out of your bottom lip.

4. Blow through your top lip right into the triangle that you made in step 3. 

5. Watch your friends and family run for cover. 

So move on to quieter things and look for another foliose (leafy structure) lichen you should be able to identify even as you ride down the road because its common form is easy to spot: a Shield Lichen.

Actually, by now you should have reached the road to the boat launch. Turn left and head downhill. Your next treasure will be located closer to the water because it likes damp feet.

While most trees and shrubs bloomed months ago, this species is only just displaying its ribbony yellow flower: Witch Hazel.

And if you find the right shrub, you may notice some twirled ribbons hanging from it–each bears a wish written by the GLLT’s After-school Trailblazers last year. We fondly refer to it as Wish Hazel.

Another who loves water also grows here and is actually a member of the Cattail family. Notice its beaked fruits and the spider web connecting all parts: American Bur-weed.

As you walk back up the road to the second and longer section of the orange-blazed trail on your left, look at the foliage by your feet, set before you like a colorful tapestry. Can you locate the tree where these two species met: Red Maple on Paper Birch bark?

Once on the trail again, look down at your feet and eventually you’ll find a castle under the pine needles–why this funny formation? Rather than me telling you what it is, I’ll let you tell me what happened here. Five extra points if you can explain it.

A certain insect attaches its 5/8-inch cocoon lengthwise on a tree branch. After overwintering last year, the flying insect emerged in the spring as evidenced by the hole at the left end. Look for these and if you see one that is capped, you’ll know that the insect is pupating inside: Sawfly Cocoon.

This one is my favorite and I always conjure up an image of it when I want to remember which trees rot from the outside in. The answer is conifers for they heartwood is not porous and does contain resins that are toxic to insects. But . . . this tree is a wee bit different than its relatives for its bark is the most rot resistant. It’s long been a shell of itself, but is starting to fall apart at last: Eastern Hemlock.

As you continue on, pay attention to the orange blazes. Can you find the diamond and arrow that decorate this tree? Five extra points if you can identify the tree species upon which they are nailed.

Maybe you’ll see the real deal or another critter as you make your way along the trail. But if not, there’s always this fine artwork: Eastern Chipmunk.

And then nature’s classroom opens up and beckons you to touch and practice some dramatic role playing.

Greet each type of evergreen with a handshake as you get to know it better. Does it feel like you’re touching spikes? Can you take a needle off and roll it in your hand? Does the needle have four sides? If you answered yes to all, you’ve found a spiky Spruce.

Did you notice with the spruce that each needle grew singly from the twig? This one is similar. And both stand up straight and tall as if they were in the military. Can you roll the needle in your hand? If not, then you’ve met: Balsam Fir.

Be like a balsam and stand up straight–believe me, it will help you remember who you are greeting the next time you meet.

A third who also holds its needles in singular fashion, provides a lacier look than the other two evergreens. Again, shake its hand. Can you roll the needles or are they flat? Does the terminal leader stand up straight like the spruce and fir, or does it bend over as if in a dancing motion? Raise a hand high and lean it over the top of your head: be like an Eastern Hemlock.

Two other conifers that call the Kezar River Reserve home feature needles in bundles. The first has flexible needles in a bunches of five, which you can use to spell two words; W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E for it is the state tree of Maine: Eastern White Pine.

Another way to remember this tree is to stick out your arms for its branches grow in whorls, one whorl/year; and shake your five fingers at the end of your branches.

The second has much stiffer and longer needles in bundles of two, which don’t spell its name of three letters: Red Pine.

Take a needle off and snap it in half.

You’re nearing the end of the trail and the last item on your hunt. Did you pass by this flower that is perennially in bloom–at least in this painting created by a local student about ten years ago. You probably noticed that the paintings decorate the entire trail system. They are all sweet and some require more interpretation than others.

And though this flower doesn’t bloom here, we do have it on or near another trail at a different GLLT property–Yellow Lady’s Slipper.

Remember, it was 1 point for each correct find. And minus 2 for any you missed. But plus 5 for a couple of items. If you found them all, you should have a total of 31.

If you need a bonus worth 5 points, look for an interesting insect marching about on leaves, the ground, or tree bark. I found one today: a Green Assassin Bug.

By now, you should have completed the Scavenger Hunt and reached the road to the boat launch again. Rather than turning left toward your car parked by the kiosk, turn right and head back down to the bench overlooking Kezar River to receive your prize.

Drum roll please . . . as winner of the Scavenger Hunt at Kezar River Reserve, you have earned bragging rights and a chance to sit by the river and take in the view. It’s a lovely place to spend a few moments or hours. Congratulations.

OK, so you already know what the prize will be, but still, head on out there and see what you might discover along the path. And let me know how you did.

The Story in the Web

When I invited friends Pam and Bob to join me at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve for a reconnaissance hike, I had no idea what might await us. But isn’t that true of every day, no matter what path in life we choose to follow? With each step we take, doesn’t a surprise await?

Today’s path found us making a few detours for fun, but it was when we followed the route long ago laid out by LEA that we made the most interesting discoveries.

The boardwalk through the Red Maple Swamp led us to the hummock that leads out to Muddy River, where fall’s colors were ablaze on the far side. Red Maple is an early harbinger of autumn as it turns color well in advance of other eastern deciduous trees, especially when it is located in wet sites.

As we continued, we found ourselves on the new/old boardwalk to the Quaking Bog by Holt Pond. The boardwalk is new in that its old self has recently undergone a renovation with corrugated culverts added below in hopes that come high water in spring or fall, the water will flow and the structure will float above.

We were excited to see such a change, but especially wowed by the Pitcher Plants that grew there.

As wild as the Pitcher’s leaves are, the fall structure of the flower was equally astonishing. I’ve forever found it a wonder that the extremely large style of this flower sits below the rest of the structure in order to capture pollen in its upside-down umbrella shape. With leathery sepals above, the large swollen ovary below may house as many as 300 tiny seeds.

At the end of the boardwalk, we stood beside Holt Pond for a bit and did what we frequently found ourselves doing: listened; looked; lollygagged.

At last we pulled ourselves away; but still there was more to see.

Because we were noticing, Pam spied Charlotte, a yellow garden spider, aka Argiope aurantia.

You might think we weren’t actually in a garden, but indeed, we were. Just prior to meeting Charlotte, we’d munched on tart cranberries, and sniffed and tasted Bog Rosemary leaves.

There was also a Lake Darner Dragonfly to admire. Especially given the tattered nature of its wings. Really, the dragonflies controlled their territory throughout much of our journey and sometimes appeared to brazenly want to gobble us up. I’m here to say that they didn’t succeed and we’ll never tire of being in their presence.

Leaving the quaking bog behind, we walked through a huge hemlock grove and noticed one noticing us. Do you see the Chipmunk? He remained still for moments on end, sure that we wouldn’t spy him. And then when we made a sudden movement, he darted into a safety hole.

At the edge of the hemlock grove, the natural community switched immediately to another wetland and offered new opportunities. This time, you need to locate the Phantom Cranefly. Do you see its black and white legs?

At last we reached Tea Garden Bridge, so named if I remember correctly, because the water in Sawyer Brook resembles the color of tea.

What drew our attention was the Water Strider Convention. The shadow of the Water Striders tells their story. To our eyes, it looked like their actual feet were tiny and insignificant. What we couldn’t see were the fuzzy little hairs that both repel water and trap tiny air bubbles, thus allowing them to float or skate along the water’s surface. But still, why was the foot shadow so big while the body shadow was more relative to the strider’s size? Did the movement of the foot against the water create the larger shadow?

Continuing on into the land of abundant Winterberry, we thought about all the birds who will benefit from its red fruit in the coming months.

And then our eyes cued in again. First on a Katydid, with its beady eyes so green.

And then another Phantom Cranefly. And another. And another. I met my first Phantom Cranefly in the spring, but today they seemed to appear from out of nowhere everywhere.

And finally, a male Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly pausing and flying; pausing and flying; all within a small territory it had claimed.

At last it was time for us to turn around and head out, but I gave great thanks for the opportunity to travel slowly and wonder with Pam and Bob as I prepared for a private hike I’m leading tomorrow. Some folks chose to bid on a walk with me in support of camperships (aka full scholarships camp) for Camp Susan Curtis, a camp for economically disadvantaged Maine youth who attend at no cost to their families. I’m honored to lead them and pleased that local kids will benefit from this offering.

I can only hope that I’m able to weave a story for them as Charlotte did for us today. She even signed it. Do you see her zigzag signature?

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.