It felt like months had passed since our paths had crossed, but finally the stars aligned as they say, and my friend Marita and I found time for a hike this afternoon. Our chosen destination: Mount Tom in Fryeburg, Maine.
Within the foundation at the start of the trail the snow outlined the stones. In other seasons, these structures blend in with the landscape but on this day they were highlighted and we could almost imagine the stories of yore.
Lines intersected and wood interrupted, much as we’ve raised our children both together and independently.
Higher up, again the snow showed off the details in a way that might normally blend in and remain invisible. It all seemed so symmetrical and then in the debris below–a much more random design reflecting the course our paths have taken.
At the edge of the ledges we noted edges. Rounded and straight, interwoven as our families have been with variation along the way.
As we followed the path made by others we caught up on each other’s lives and shared a few memories of the past for ours is a journey that began long before we actually knew each other since we are from the same hometown.
Occasionally, the trail offered shades other than snow white and gray granite; a glimpse into the future was featured by the evergreen leaves of Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower. What will our future hold? A continued friendship we know.
We know not what the future holds, but revel in the possibilities as indicated by fresh Pileated Woodpecker holes.
And when scat happens, we’ll be there–to examine it, decipher it, and help each other through it, or at least listen and offer comments of reassurance and consideration.
Two and a half miles later we reached the summit where the contrast of sky and landscape pleased our eyes and gave us our bearings.
And a view of Little Mountain to the far left and the long ridge of Pleasant Mountain pointed to the hometown we have shared for over thirty years, almost twice the time of the place where we grew up but still have some ties.
Our stay at the top wasn’t long for we wanted to descend before daylight gave way to night.
At last we returned to the foundation where our journey had begun and again admired the stones and their placement.
Lighting the way had been the glory of the January light, but really there was more: friendship, understanding, similarities, differences, and hearts that may sometimes turn sideways, but always love.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.