Turning the Wheels Mondate

Three years ago I’d had the pleasure of spending two days bushwhacking along City Brook in South Waterford, Maine, with naturalist, historian, and author Robert “Bob” Spencer as he told me the stories of the mills that once operated there and the two of us pondered life long ago. And so, when I saw that part of the trail Bob has long dreamed of had opened, my guy and I decided to head to the city.

Waterford City, that is. As Bob had explained, “In the 1870s, South Waterford was dubbed “Waterford City” for the noise and bustle brought to the town by nine mills and many supporting outbuildings lining the brook.”

The water was rather on the low side today, but we began our tour by Watson’s Falls, the fifth power site that had been identified by the proprietors.

The mill, which Bob and his wife, Gere, have repurposed into their home, was originally granted to Isaac Smith in 1795 for a saw mill. Over the course of its lifetime, the building served as a cloth and linseed oil mill, saw mill, salt box factory, and cider mill.

Beside it, we stopped to read an interpretive sign that shares a bit of the story about what has happened in this spot and all along the brook over the centuries.

Later, at home, I started looking at the US Census reports, curious about the people and their work. I should have taken a close-up image of the map that shows the industrious neighborhood, but let me share what I found on a Products of Industry page for 1870:

William Watson: water power; box factory; 2 machines, employed 5

Bisbee Pingree (I may have that name wrong, it was difficult to read): water power; carriage shop, wagons, sleighs & repairs; employed 2

Charles Watson: blacksmith; iron and steel; employed 1

Zebedee Perry: water power; wool carding and cloth dressing; employed 2

Monroe Briggs and Company: water power; tannery; leather; employed 2

Samuel Miller: water power; iron foundry and machine shop; employed 6

Cobb and Hapgood: water power; lumber manufacturing; employed 2

Cobb and Hapgood: water power; grist mill; grain; employed 1

Emerson Wilkin: water power: tannery; leather; employed 1

Charles Saunders: blacksmith, iron and steel; employed 1

McKensy Buswell: water power; tannery; leather; illegible # of employees

John B Rand: cooper shop; staves and shook; employed 6

As you can see, they didn’t all need to be located beside the brook, but nine mills did use water as the source of power.

Today, we looked down at the brook that flowed below Watson’s Falls in the center of the city, and then decided to see if we could follow it downstream at all.

Our walk took us past the children’s park where I’m sure the locals have a name for this delightful swingman who speaks to the past with a grin and stars in his eyes.

Not far beyond the park, we found another sign by the site that belonged to Zebedee Perry in 1870. By 1880, Walter K. Hamlin and his son, Albert, operated the carding mill. As you can see, in 1963, it was purchased by Old Sturbridge Village, where a sign still commemorates its Waterford heritage.

When we looked out toward the brook, unfortunately all we could see was a mass of invasive plants where the mill was once located. Such is the case for areas open to the sun.

And so we continued on to the closed bridge. There wasn’t a “No Trespassing” sign and so we did. But do you see the lovely red and yellow leaves by my guy’s feet: Poison Ivy. Given that, we decided to backtrack back to city center at Watson’s Falls and then make our way to the mill sites above.

For a wee bit, we had to walk along Routes 35/37; but really it was a pleasure because not only did our friends, David and Darbee Percival, stop to talk briefly about the trail awaiting us before driving on, but also it gave us an opportunity to take a look at the area where a sluice and bucket shop were once located.

And remnants of yore as well; this a truck in its former life.

On Routes 35/37 by the Mill Hill intersection and just below the Wesleyan Church, circa 1845, we found the unmarked opening to the trail and slipped off the road.

Recently, Bob, with the help of others including our friend, Dave, posted trail blazes to denote the path. Though we could hear the traffic and sometimes see it through the trees, we felt like we had entered a time capsule and no one was aware of our presence.

We had hoped to find more interpretive signs to help us understand what we were looking at, but I suspect those will come, given that we saw one sign post all ready for a placard. In the meantime, we wondered if the smaller rocks to the right formed the wall of a sluiceway.

And we noted split stone in various locations. I’ve not yet found a census report stating who owned what farm animals in this area, but suspect oxen were among the keepings. How else would they have moved those large slabs?

A boulder pile strewn among the brook offerings to the right of my guy gave rise to several questions: Had someone intended to build a structure here? Had a structure been taken apart? And where-oh-where might the quarry be located? So many questions must lead to further explorations.

All along the way, more artifacts revealed themselves.

I love that people respect these by leaving them be as they give us a glimpse into the distant past.

We also spotted barbed wire. I remember finding some in about this place with Bob three years ago, but it didn’t look quite like this. He and I had wondered if among all the mills, there may have been some farm animals roaming about. Perhaps oxen? Certainly not sheep, because their fleece would have been ruined by the barbs.

And could all of these rolls that still remain have been intended to become more barbed wire?

There was also a cellar hole of sorts to ascertain. Within in it were some boulders that made no sense. But to someone in a day long ago, it all had a purpose.

At last we reached the access road to Keoka Lake, its bridge having withstood the test of time.

And beyond it a stone-lined sluiceway where today barely any water trickled.

The sluiceway was created beside a more recent power site, located where Bob had previously told me the first dam for the lake stood.

The structure was impressive, despite the fact that I didn’t quite understand its ins and outs.

And couldn’t help but question once again why the dam had been abandoned and a more modern one built a quarter of a mile north. Did the lake once extend a quarter of a mile south from its current impoundment?

While I stood below the large structure, a little nature admiration seeped into my soul–thankfully. We’d been moving rather quickly (because I was with you know who and we had an appointment that made us cognizant of our timing) but I couldn’t help but say a quiet thanks for the sight of Sensitive Ferns’ beady fertile fronds.

At last we reached Keoka, where a strong breeze greeted us with a blast of cold air.

We spent a moment looking at the current dam–which is really quite ugly, especially when compared to all the granite structures we’d passed.

But it now marks the Keoka Outlet and beginning of City Brook, so named for the “city” that once existed at a time when people needed to saw their own wood, grind their own grain, card their own wool, build their own carriages and sleds, etc. Theirs was an industrious time. And water power was a necessity to many enterprises.

After a few minutes beside the lake, we followed the access road back and actually walked out to the state road for a quicker return.

As best it can, Waterford City clings to its past . . .

though a fresh coat of paint here and there may help preserve it a little better so those monuments still standing don’t become mere foundations like their neighbors.

We were excited to see one bit of renewal–for Kimball Hardware has added lobsters to their offerings. Kimball Hardware & Lobsters. Someone has an entrepreneurial mindset. Why not?

With that, our Mondate hike came to an end near where the water wheel continues to turn as it celebrates the history of South Waterford, aka Waterford City.

Walking Among Mysteries

We knew not what to expect when we met this morning. My intention was to visit a structure of unknown use, then follow a trail for a bit before going off trail and mapping some stone walls. Curiosity would be the name of the game and friends Pam and Bob were ready for the adventure when I pulled into the trailhead parking lot.

We traveled rather quickly to our first destination, pausing briefly to admire only a few distractions along the way–if you can believe that.

It’s a stone structure on the back side of Amos Mountain. Three years ago we visited this site with Dr. Rob Sanford, a University of Southern Maine professor and author of Reading Rural Landscapes. At that time we came away with so many questions about this structure located on a mountainside so far from any foundations. Today, we still had the same questions and then some.

Who built it? What was it used for? Was there a hearth? Did it have a roof? Was it ever fully enclosed? Was there originally a front wall? Could it be that it extended into the earth behind it? Was it colonial? Pre-colonial?

Why only one piece of split granite when it sits below an old quarry?

And then there’s the left-hand side: Large boulders used in situ and smaller rocks fit together. One part of the “room” curved. For what purpose?

Pam and Bob stood in the center to provide some perspective.

And then I climbed upon fallen rocks to show height.

We walked away still speculating on the possibilities, knowing that we weren’t too far from a stone foundation that belonged to George Washington and Mary Ann McCallister beginning in the mid-1850s and believed the structure to be upon their “Lot.”

As we continued along the trail, we spied several toads and a couple of frogs. Their movement gave them away initially, but then they stayed still, and their camouflage colorations sometimes made us look twice to locate the creator of ferns in motion.

At last we crossed over a stonewall that we assumed was a boundary between the McAllister property and that of Amos Andrews. It was the walls that we wanted to follow as there are many and our hope was to mark them on GPS and gain a better understanding of what seems like a rather random lay out.

The walls stand stalwart, though some sections more ragged than others. Fallen trees, roots, frost, weather, critters and humans have added to their demise, yet they are still beautiful, with mosses and lichens offering striking contrasts to the granite. Specks of shiny mica, feldspar and quartz add to the display.

The fact that they are still here is a sign of their endurance . . . and their perseverance. And the perseverance of those who built them.

But the fashion of these particular walls has stymied us for years. As we stood and looked down the mountain from near the Amos Andrews foundation, we realized that the land was terraced in a rather narrow area. And so we began to follow one wall (perspective isn’t so great in this photo) across, walk down the retaining wall on the right edge and at the next wall follow it across to the left. We did this over and over again and now I wish I’d counted our crossings, but there were at least eight.

Mind you, all were located below the small root cellar that served as Amos Andrews’ home on and off again beginning in 1843.

And below one of the terraced walls just beyond his cellar hole, there was a stoned off rectangle by the edge. Did it once serve as a foundation for a shed?

Had Amos or someone prior to him tried to carve out a slice of land, build a house, and clear the terraced area for a garden?

It seems the land of western Maine had been forested prior to the 1700s and there was plenty of timber to build. A generation or two later, when so much timber had been harvested to create fields for tillage and pasture, the landscape changed drastically, exposing the ground to the freezing forces of nature. Plowing also helped bring stones to the surface. The later generation of farmers soon had their number one crop to deal with–stone potatoes as they called them. These needed to be removed or they’d bend and break the blade of the oxen-drawn plowing rake. Summer meant time to pick the stones and make piles that would be moved by sled to the wall in winter months. Had the land been burned even before those settlers arrived? That would have created the same scenario, with smaller rocks finding their way to the surface during the spring thaw.

As it was, we found one pile after another of baseball and basketball size stones dotting the landscape. Stone removal became a family affair for many. Like a spelling or quilting bee, sometimes stone bees were held to remove the granite from the ground. Working radially, piles were made as an area was cleared. Stone boats pulled by oxen transported the piles of stones to their final resting place where they were woven into a wall.

Occasionally, however, we discovered smaller stones upon boulders. Were they grave markers? Or perhaps spiritual markers?

There were double-wide stone walls with big stones on the outside and little stones between, indicating that the land around had been used for planting. But why hadn’t all the piles been added to the center of these walls? That’s what had us thinking this was perhaps Pre-colonial in nature.

Pasture walls also stood tall, their structure of a single stature. I may be making this up because I’ve had an affinity with turtles since I was a young child and own quite a collection even to this day, but I see a turtle configured in this wall. Planned or coincidence?

My turtle’s head is the large blocky rock in the midst of the other stones, but I may actually be seeing one turtle upon another. Do you see the marginal scutes arching over the head? Am I seeing things that are not there? Overthinking as my guy would suggest?

I didn’t have to overthink when I spotted this woody specimen–last year’s Pine Sap with its many flowered stalk turned to capsules still standing tall.

And a foot or so away, its cousin, Indian Pipe also showing off the woody capsules of last year’s flowers, though singular on each stalk.

As we continued to follow the walls, other things made themselves known. I do have to admit that we paused and pondered several examples of this plant because of its three-leaved presentation. Leaves of three, leave them be–especially if two leaves are opposite each other and have short petioles and the leader is attached between them by a longer petiole. But, when we finally found one in flower we were almost certain we weren’t looking at Poison Ivy. I suggested Tick-Trefoil and low and behold, I was correct. For once.

Our journey wandering the walls soon found us back on what may have been a cow or sheep path and it was there that we noted a cedar tree. Looking at it straight on, one might expect it to be dead. But a gaze skyward indicated otherwise. Still, the question remained–why here?

A Harvestman Spider may have thought the same as it reached out to a Beech Nut. After all, the two were located upon a Striped Maple leaf.

Onward we walked, making a choice of which way to travel each time we encountered an intersection of walls. This one had a zigzag look to it and we thought about the reputation Amos Andrews had with a preference for alcohol. But . . . did Amos build all or any of these walls?

We continued to ponder that question even as we came upon a stump that practically shouted its name all these years after being cut, for the property we were on had eventually been owned by Diamond Match, a timber company. Do you see the mossy star shape atop the stump? And the sapling growing out of it? The star is actually a whorl–of White Pine branches for such is their form of growth. And the sapling–a White Pine.

And then . . . and then . . . something the three of us hadn’t encountered before. A large, rather narrow boulder standing upright.

Behind it, smaller rocks supported its stance.

The stone marked the start of another stone wall. And across from it a second wall, as if a road or path ran between the two and Bob stood in their midst adding coordinates to his GPS.

We chuckled to think that the stone was the beginning of Amos’ driveway and he’d had Andrews written upon it. According to local lore, he had a bit of a curmudgeon reputation, so we couldn’t imagine him wanting people to stop by. The road downhill eventually petered out so we didn’t figure out its purpose. Yet.

In the neighborhood we also found trees that excited us–for until ten months ago we didn’t think that any White Oaks existed in Lovell. But today we found one after another, much like the piles of stones. With the nickname “stave oak,” it made sense that they should be here since its wood was integral in making barrels and we know that such for products like rum were once built upon this property.

Trees of varying ages grow quite close to Amos Andrews’ homestead.

Also growing in the area was Marginal Wood Fern, its stipe or stalk below the blade covered with brown scales and fronds blue-green in color, which is often a give-away clue that it’s a wood fern.

We know how it got its name–for the round sori located on the margins of the underside of the pinnules or leaflets. Based on their grayish-blue color, they hadn’t yet matured. But why are some sori such as these covered with that smooth kidney-shaped indusium? What aren’t all sori on all ferns so covered?

So many questions. So many mysteries.

As curious as we are about the answers, I think we’ll be a wee bit disappointed if we are ever able to tell the complete story of the stone structure and the upright stone and all the walls between.

Walking among mysteries keeps us on our toes–forever asking questions and seeking answers.

Romancing the Stone Mondate

Visiting a site in winter that is so popular in the summer we actually avoid it unless hiking past offers an entirely different appreciation.

And so between errands in North Conway, New Hampshire, this afternoon, my guy and I donned our micro-spikes to traverse the hard-packed snowy ice trail into Diana’s Bath in neighboring Bartlett.

Upon reaching Lucy Brook, the history of the area was briefly documented on an interpretive panel that provided information about George Lucy who built a sawmill in the 1860s powered by an undershot wheel on the brook and a home not far from its banks.

About 1890, when tourists began making regular visits to the brook, Mr. Lucy added a boarding house and barn, but business never took off the way he’d intended.

By the 1920s the water wheel was replaced by a turbine fed from a penstock pipe, the remnants of which remained for us to gain a better understanding of the passage of power.

Above the turbine we could see another piece of the penstock pipe burrowed within the ledge upstream.

Before climbing up to it, I walked below the turbine site while my guy stood over and thought about the Lucy family’s history, which in a professional way is connected to his own for the sawmill idea was eventually abandoned as the Lucys realized they could use a portable mill to harvest wood and later descendants owned a lumber yard and then one of them opened a hardware store and he and my guy periodically touch base to share ideas or stock and both could be known as Mr. Hardware.

Upon the interpretive panel, we appreciated a photograph of the sawmill for it aided our comprehension of the view before us.

To our best understanding, the cement located above the penstock was part of the mill and dam created by Chester Lucy in the 1930s. Today, water swirled through and flowed over.

Below, the natural formation of rocks obscured was reflected in the shape of icy indentations.

Above, water hugged rocks in mid-cascade and created designs and colors that changed with each moment frozen in time.

We finally moved upward where more baths were plentiful but on this frigid day the thought of a dip was quickly suppressed by reality.

Still, we were intrigued by the power of it all as water gushed between curtains of ice.

As for the name, Diana’s Bath, I’ve heard several renditions including this from Robert and Mary Julyan’s Place Names of the White Mountains (a great bathroom read):

These curious circular stone cavities on Lucy Brook originally were known as the Home of the Water Fairies; tradition says evil water sprites inhabited the ledges, tormenting the Sokokis Indians until a mountain god answered the Indians’ prayers and swept the sprites away in a flood. But sometime before 1859 a Miss Hubbard of Boston, a guest at the old Mount Washington House in North Conway, rechristened them Diana’s Baths, presumably to evoke images of the Roman nature goddess. The pools are also called Lucy’s Baths.”

In the midst of wondering, I noticed a rare sight that added to the mystique of this place. Do you see four circular discs in the water? All spun at the same rate despite their varied sizes.

They were ice discs spinning counterclockwise much to my delight. This rare phenomenon was caused by the cold, dense air formed within the eddy at the base of the fall.

After that sight, we continued to climb until the brook leveled out. And then we pause before the spirit of one made from the same crystals that flowed beyond; one who wore a smile indicating he knew the ways and whys and wonders of the brook even if we didn’t.

As it turned out, he wasn’t the only one.

The woods were full of those who listened like old sages,

and smiled with a secret knowledge tucked within their grins.

Through it all, we felt the love of the universe as we tried to interpret the romance of the stones–icy though they were. And on this first Mondate of 2019, we were grateful for our “dip” into Diana’s Bath. It’s so much better in the winter than summer, especially on a weekday, for there are far fewer people about. But the sprites and fairies. They are there. Some you might even find among the rocks and boulders; I know. I saw a few. And others, might be upon the tree trunks. Or in the midst of the water.

If you decide to Romance the Stones, do know that unless you have a White Mountain National Forest Pass, you will need to pay the $3 fee to park. For some reason, the sprites don’t take care of that. Hmmm . . . one would think.

Merry Christmas from Narramissic

With Christmas rapidly approaching I decided to visit Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Farm gifted to the Bridgton Historical Society in 1987 by Mrs. Margaret Monroe of Providence, Rhode Island.

I had the honor of knowing Mrs. Monroe’s daughter, Peg Norman, who essentially grew up in the house having spent all of her summers there. Her mother purchased the house in 1938 after the death of her father. In Peg’s words as recorded in an essay entitled “Narramissic – Hard to Find” that she wrote when the deed was transferred from her mother’s estate to the historical society, she said, “[Mother] was searching for a refuge, a place to heal.” 

Peg continued, “Inside the house I remember only clothes hung everywhere and an unmade bed in the upstairs sitting room. My mother saw beyond. She saw the fans over the doorways, 

the granite hearthed fireplaces, Nancy Fitch’s name engraved in the wavey glass window pane, the sweeping arch of the carriage house entrance . . .

and the mountains, purple massifs unfolding out of the sky. She felt the history and eternity and peace.”

Peg went on to mention that her family spent “many Christmas holidays and ski weekends up there throughout the years — just the way the Peabodys and Fitches had (the original owners of the farm), heated by the kitchen stove and blazing fireplaces — and an old Franklin stove my mother finally allowed to be set in the living room fireplace ‘just for winter.'” 

Peg’s mention of the outbuildings included the barn, “the huge barn with the biggest horse I had ever seen munching contentedly in the front stall.”

Still standing, though its had some help recently to that end, the barn was erected by the Fitches and has come to be known as the Temperance Barn; historical records claim it to be so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum.”

I chose to explore on this delightfully warm day(45˚ feels like summer given the recent temps), but also to gain a better understanding of the collaboration between the historical society and Loon Echo Land Trust as they raise funds to purchase the 252-acre Peabody-Fitch Woods from the Norman family and place it under conservation easement while adding to a contiguous forest with other protected properties both adjacent and nearby. As I crossed the field, I kept turning back–to admire the farm and the mountains, including the ridge-line of our beloved Pleasant Mountain. Between Loon Echo and The Nature Conservancy, almost 3,000 acres of the mountain is protected and LELT maintains the 10 miles of trails that we frequent. 

It occurred to me that I didn’t realize the blue trail that crossed the field and continued into the woods, as designed by Adam Jones for his Eagle Scout Project in 1999, wasn’t part of the historical society’s property. 

And yet, it’s just as important for many species depend on it. Should the property be developed, the historical and natural features might diminish.

Should it be developed, I won’t be able to return in the future to figure out why the squirrel condominium featured a muddy carpet between doorways. 

Should it be developed, I’d miss out on ice formations along the trail such as this miniature pony — saddle and rider included. 

Should it be developed, new understandings would bypass me, such as the fact that white oaks do indeed grow in Bridgton. Well, at least in South Bridgton. This one was speckled with spring tails on this warm day. 

Should it be developed, the pileated woodpeckers will have fewer trees upon which to excavate. 

And selfishly, I’ll have fewer opportunities to search for their scat — filled with insect body parts. 

Should it be developed, there will be fewer toadskin lichens to admire. Thanks to the melting snow, many of the examples I found today were bright green, making the black-beaded apothecia where its spores are produced stand out in contrast. Toadskin lichen may be indestructible, but should the property be developed I wondered about the lichen’s immortality. 

Should the property be developed, where would the snowshoe hare scat? 

And the same for the ruffed grouse? 

Should it be developed, what would happen to K.F. and T.B.? 

Should the property be developed, would I see sights such as this and come to another new understanding?

I was actually searching for bear claw marks that alluded me (and I know they are there for I’ve seen them before) and instead saw this red bloom decorating some beech bark. It was quite pretty and festive given the season. 

At first look, I thought it was the apothecia of a crustose lichen, but do you see the tiny white spots mingled occasionally among it? Those white dots are the minute beech scale insect. The holes the tiny insect makes in the bark create a perfect entry point for nectria pathogen to make its way into the tree. The pathogen, a type of fungus, kills some areas of the tree at the point of entry. In reaction, the tree develops a canker as a defensive attempt to ward off the invader, but by doing so the canker blocks the vascular tissue of the infected beech by stopping nutrient flow in that one area.

And those red spots, as pretty as they appear, are actually tarry spots which ooze out of the cracks in the bark caused by the canker. Essentially, it appeared the tree was bleeding. 

Should the property be developed, what would become of the quarry and bear trap? 

This is the spot from which the foundations for the buildings were split so long ago.

Should the property be developed, would the plug and feather holes left behind as reminders of an earlier time disappear from the landscape?

The land already has been developed around Bear Trap, which is located at the end of the trail. We used to be able to hike or drive there; now one can only hike and you kinda, sorta need to know where it is.

How did the bear trap come to be? According to an August 17, 1963 article in the Bridgton News, “Enoch Perley, early settler of South Bridgton, built his first house in 1777 and brought his bride to their new home in 1778. [I believe this was at Five Fields Farm.]

As Enoch acquired livestock, he was much troubled by depredations from bears. He built a bear trap on the hill back of his first home . . .

Tradition says that four bears were caught in this trap–not enough! So Mr. Perley later had an iron bear trap made which took care of eight bears. Without a doubt, many were disposed of by him personally. A story is told that in an unarmed encounter with a bear and two cubs beside a wood road at dusk, Mr. Perley allegedly strangled the mother bear with his garters . . .”

The article continues, “The bear trap is built of stone. A large stone door is suspended and as the bear takes the bait, he trips the lever and is caught in the stone enclosure.”

In a December 1954 issue of the Bridgton News, a brief article states: “The old stone bear trap on the mountain in South Bridgton known as ‘Fitch’s Hill,’ unused for more than one hundred years, has been reactivated by Dr. Fred G. Noble and Gerald Palmer and put in readiness to capture a bear.” As the story goes, they never did succeed.

Should the Peabody-Fitch Woods be developed, all of this will be lost.

My hope is that the Bridgton Historical Society and Loon Echo Land Trust will experience a Merry Christmas as they finish out their fund-raising drive to purchase the land.

I think I walked beyond the boundary they are considering, but Bear Trap is one of my favorite historical sites. And with today’s walk I came to the realization of how important it is to protect the land around the farm.

Before I finish, I have one final historical piece of writing to share. In his memoirs, “Ninety Years of Living,” Edwin Peabody Fitch (1840-1931) who grew up in the farmhouse wrote, “Holidays were not much in evidence in those days. Christmas was so far in the shade, we didn’t think much about it. In fact, we felt that it was just a Catholic holiday and not be be observed by us. We went to school on that day and the only notice we took of it was to shout “Merry Christmas!” to the classmates. 

Merry Christmas from and to Narramissic! 

Jolly Mondate

Some Mondates are meant to be shared and this was one of them for I’d made arrangements to join the Fairs, Farms and Fun 4-H Group as they decorated a tree (or two or three) on a Greater Lovell Land Trust property this morning. 

And honestly, my guy was as excited as me to join the adventure for he loves kids.

One of the GLLT’s volunteer docents, Juli, had offered to lead today’s hike since her four children are part of the group. And because she’s a Maine Master Naturalist-in-Training, she made evergreen trees the focus as she explained when we circled up.

All together there were fifteen kids–fourteen of them walking and one young babe tucked inside her mom’s coat. At least I think there were that many. Every time I counted, the number seemed to change. 

After Juli’s initial explanation, we headed off onto the trail. Though most of us sported blaze orange because it’s hunting season, we made enough noise to announce our arrival to deer and their predators within range and beyond, I’m sure. 

We’d gone only a wee bit, when Juli stopped the group to ask them about evergreens. My guy and I were impressed with their collective knowledge.

But it wasn’t only for the trees that she stopped. She’d spied a decoration already dangling and asked if the kids knew how it happened to be there. 

What was it? A mushroom. Did it fall from the sky? Or from a taller tree? No and no. Instead, they figured out that a squirrel had deposited it and Juli explained that red squirrels place mushrooms in trees to dry. Or rather, freeze dry as was the case. 

She hadn’t walked much further when she stopped again. And again asked some questions as she showed off the five needles in a white pine bundle. 

Five needles in each bundle makes it easy to remember as there are five letters in W-H-I-T-E, the color of Maine’s State Tree: Eastern White Pine. 

It wasn’t all a lesson for the name of this 4-H group includes the word “Fun.” And so they climbed atop and under an erratic boulder and added more life on a rock than that one had seen in a long time. 

A little further on a bit of an incline invited their exploration and what to their wondering eyes should they discover but a long abandoned cellar hole with trees growing in it. For a few minutes that became their playground. 

It took us a while to move along because the kids kept finding cool things to admire, including a variety of mammal tracks and . . . even a dead spider. 

What do you see? Lots of eyes. 

And you? Fangs. 

And you? Hairy legs. 

After that discovery, we had to run to catch up with the rest of the group because they were on their way to the scenic overlook. But one of the boys had borrowed a GLLT Nature Backpack from the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, which I was thrilled to see, and we used the lucite insect box with a magnifier that was stored in the pack so that all the kids could look at the spider up close if they so wished. 

And then it was time to decorate a tree. But first, Juli had the kids identify three types of evergreens in the same vicinity: spruce, hemlock and balsam fir. Their decorating began with the balsam fir. 

One by one, they attached homemade, biodegradable ornaments. 

And added a tree topper in the form of a birch bark “sleeve.”

Some were hearts cut from birch bark . . . 

and coated with peanut butter and sunflower seeds. 

It took great concentration. 

In no time, the tree was fully decorated.

Some changes had to be made. For one, one of the younger boys wanted his ornament to serve as a tree topper, so the birch bark sleeve was placed in a resting place on another tree. 

And then the kids decided to decorate any branch in the vicinity that attracted their fancy.

At least one needed a boost, but that’s what someone else’s mom was for when your own mom was busy with your baby sister. 

Branches all around certainly won’t feel left out. 

And no mouse or bird or squirrel or deer will go unfed. 

The kids quickly realized that they’d created a critter cafe that even included an offering tucked between two hop hornbeam trees. 

At last, the decorating had come to an end and the crew posed for photographs. 

Our journey back to the parking lot was the same distance as we followed the rest of the one-mile loop, but we travelled much more quickly. We did pause once in a while, however, especially in a grove of young white pines, where the kids practiced aging a tree. 

They knew to begin with 5 for the number of years it takes the seed to germinate and begin to grow and then to count the whorls of branches, each whorl representing one year. 

My guy challenged them to find one that matched his age. They found one that was 43–only off by 20+ years. But a few noted that it did match their dad’s age. I chuckled for I’d had that particular dad in class way back when he was in middle school. 

We were almost done when they made one last discovery–ice! Their very own rink. One little boy wanted to live there so he could slide on the ice all day. And then jump in the water come summer. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that the ice was a result of our rainy October and its not a permanent feature. 

 It was lunch time when the group was finally ready to depart. 

All the way home and even still, my guy and I have been smiling about our morning and the fun we had sharing it with the kids and their moms. Thank you Juli, and 4-H leader Wendy, and all of the homeschooled kids who attended. We were blessed by the opportunity to spend a few hours with you on the Jolly Mondate. 

Mast Landing Mondate

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

2-mailbox in the woods

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

3-foundation

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

5-lily of the valley surrounding foundation

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

4-black-capped chickadee egg?

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

3a-old vechicle

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

6-climbing under blow down

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

7-walking through blowdown

walking between . . .

8-destruction everywhere

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

9-uprooted

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

10-underrooted

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

10a-bark beetle tunnel art

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

10b-artist conks

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

12-education building

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

14-tick check

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

15-apple tree

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

16-apple

And gave forth fruit among the maze of branches.

17-apples on ground

Some trees were more prolific producers than others.

18-eating an apple

And according to my guy, the offerings were delicious.

18-silky dogwood fruit

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

18a-hobblebush fruits

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

19-Norway Maple samara

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

22-more asters

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

11-Nephrotoma eucera, tiger crane fly

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

23-turtlehead

We found turtlehead,

24-false solomon's seal

false Solomon seal in its fruit form,

25-beach rose

and beach roses showing their bright florescence.

26-rose hips

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

27-dam

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

29-dam breached

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

29-old mill structures

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

j30-below the dam--low tide

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

31-caretakers house

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

32-head start on Halloween

Nonetheless, it was decorated for the upcoming season.

34-tree spirits

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

35-tree gnomes

And listened from their gnome homes.

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

 

 

Our Home is Their Home

As I sit in my rocking chair on the camp porch, the cicadas still buzz, with chirps of crickets thrown into the mix and somewhere in the background a constant trill from another. Tree frog? Perhaps, but it seems to carry on for longer than usual. Grasshopper? Maybe. And then there is the occasional call of the loon.

1-camp

What truly attracted my attention earlier today, however, were the other members of the household. Whose home this is, I think I know. Or rather, I thought I did. I thought it belonged to my guy and me. But really, I should have known better for it has never just housed the two of us. There were the boys growing up, and family, and friends, and renters, even. Actually, the latter three knew it before the boys. (Oops, I suppose I should call them young men, mid-twenty-somethings that they now are.)  But, through all these years, it has also housed many others. And so today, I got acquainted with some of its other residents. Rather than the mammals that we know also share the space, e.g. mice, squirrels, and bats, it was the insects and arachnids that I checked out.

2-cicada exuviae

My first find along the foundation was an exuvia of one I listen to day and night–that of a cicada. In their larval stage, cicadas live down to eight feet underground. When the time comes to metamorphose into winged adults, they dig to the surface, climb up something, in this case the foundation, and molt. The  emerging winged insects leave behind their shed skin, aka abandoned exoskeleton or exuvia. It’s a rather alien looking structure, with the split obvious from which the adult emerged.

3-cruiser 1

The cicadas weren’t the only aliens along our foundation. It seemed like every few feet I discovered a dragonfly exuvia dangling from the porch floor and now encased in spider webs.

3b-cruiser

One of the cruiser exuviae had dropped to the ground below. But still the structure remained intact. And I now realize that my next task is to head out the door once again in the morning and collect these beauties, the better to understand their nuances.

4-cruiser hiding

I found cruisers hiding under the logs . . .

6-cruiser and cast off spider

and even one tucked in by a basement window that had a shed spider exoskeleton dangling from it.

6a-lancet clubtail dragonfly

There were others as well, but nowhere did I find the exuvia of the one with whom I’ve spent the most time, Sir Lance(t) Clubtail. I suspect his shed skin is attached to some aquatic vegetation for he spends so much of his time by the water, even today, pausing only briefly to rest on the dock ladder.

7-bag worms and pupal case of a pine sawfly

There were other species to meet, including the most interesting of structures, those of the evergreen bagworm cases. I assumed that the young had already emerged, but their homes consisted of material from the trees on which they fed, e.g. pine needles. They struke me as the terrestrial form of the aquatic caddisflies.

And beside the two bagworms was a small, rounded brown case–the pupal case of a pine sawfly. The sawfly had already pupated and in this case no one was home.

8-pine sawfly caterpillar on screen

Oh, but they were and have been for a few weeks. I first realized we had an infestation when what sounded like the drip-drop pattern of a summer rain on a perfectly sunny day turned out to be little bits of green caterpillar frass falling from the trees. Everything was decorated. And then I began to notice the caterpillars–many falling out of trees and landing on the surrounding vegetation, and the house. As would be expected, they climbed toward the sky, hoping, I suppose, to reach the top of the trees. Good luck with that.

9-pine sawfly caterpillars

Some didn’t make it above the foundation, where they encountered spider webs and soon had the juices sucked out of them. Such is life. And today, a winter flock of birds including chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, hairy woodpeckers, young robins, and even a brown creeper flew in and some fine dining took place. The raindrops have nearly ceased.

10-Northern Pine Sphinx

That wasn’t the only pine-eating caterpillar to make its home here. On the chimney, I found a northern pine sphinx caterpillar moving full speed ahead.

11-orbweaver

And around the bend, where the chimney meets the camp, an orbweaver spinning some silk in the hopes of fine dining.

14a-calico pennant dragonfly in web

One meal had obviously been consumed–a calico pennant dragonfly. I’d seen a few of those on the vegetation a few weeks ago, but none recently. Apparently, one flew too close to the building. The only way I could ID it was by its wings for the head, thorax and abdomen had been eaten. But the wings have no nutritional value.

11a-Northern Pine Sphinx 2

A short time later I returned to the chimney in hopes of locating the northern pine sphinx caterpillar again. I did. And he wasn’t. He’d apparently turned the sharp corner on the chimney and met his fate.

13- Northern Sphinx 4

Eye to eye. I’m amazed at the size of the insects that find their way to her web. It’s not like they are attracted to it. Instead, they come upon it quite by surprise and she makes fast work of their mistake.

14-pine tree spur-throated grasshopper

Rounding the corner back toward the porch door, one last insect drew my attention. And again, it was related to the pines, such is the local community: a pine tree spur-throated grasshopper on one of the logs that forms the outer wall of our wee home.

Our home is their home and we’re happy to share the space with them. Provided, of course, that they leave space for us to live as well. So far, all is well.