Stepping Out For Others

With the most recent snowstorm now history, I strapped on my snowshoes this morning with a sense of eager anticipation about the possibilities. And then it hit me like the snow plops that fell from the trees and landed on my head or slid down my neck: I could do this while others could not and it was for them that I needed to focus. 

I hadn’t gone far when my first moment of wonder stood before me. Actually, just prior, I’d been looking at some pileated woodpecker works–ever on the search for the bird’s scat, and in the process had noticed other bird scat soiling the snow. But . . . what was all the amber color? 

Had snow collected on mushrooms that decorated the bark? If so, why hadn’t I seen them yesterday or the day before? 

Upon a closer look, I realized it was sap. But why the big clumps? And why so much on a dead snag? 

I poked it with my finger and found it to be of snow consistency. And so . . . the mystery remained. But it was certainly worth a wonder and I knew that those I was intentionally walking for would appreciate the sight. And yes, I did see plenty of other examples of dripping sap at the base of trees, but nothing like this. As usual, if you know what was going on, please enlighten me.

My next moment of wonder was one that always gives me pause–and again I knew that my friends would feel the same. A miniature evergreen world momentarily encapsulated in a droplet of melting snow. 

Everywhere, the meltdown offered a variety of shapes and designs, each worthy of reverence . . . and a photograph, of course. 

One of my favorites was plastered to a tree in such a way that it looked like it was flat against the bark until further study revealed otherwise. As it melted before my eyes, its ever changing formation resembled a series of little flowers scattered here and there. Just maybe you have to see that through my eyes. 

And then I stumbled upon another mystery–a web of sorts like Charlotte might have woven? I studied the shrub and found numerous examples of a similar pattern, but no arachnids in sight. Besides, the silky lines seemed too thick. But, what could it be? It took me a while as I studied the area and then I remembered. Before the snowstorm, I’d taken some photographs of the winter structure of a thistle. The storm had knocked down the fruiting form, but I think my gaze was upon the filaments that had served as parachutes for the thistle’s seeds. 

My journey into the winter wonderland continued, though not all the trees along the way were fortunate to withstand the weight of the snow that was quickly melting. It sounded like a rain storm as I walked under the arched branches. 

At the the other end of the snow tunnel, I emerged into a field with its own offerings. Typically, I pass by, but today I was inspired by those who virtually walked with me to explore. And I don’t think they’ll be  disappointed by the findings. First there was the Goldenrod Ball Gall. The round gall occurred in the middle of a stem, the top of which had broken off. In the spring, the Goldenrod gall fly laid her eggs on the stem. Hatched larvae chewed their way into the stem and the gall started to develop. And from the looks of the hole on the side, it appeared the creator had chewed its way out and flown off. 

Also in the field, a Rose Bedeguar Gall, aka Robin’s Pincushion Gall on Meadowsweet, which happens to be a member of the rose family. Burrowing in to the leaves and stem of the plant was a two-fold offering for the fly larvae it hosted, for the insect benefited from the nutrients while it was simultaneously protected from predators. 

There were also numerous examples of a structure that might baffle the onlooker. Beaded formations of the fertile stalk from a Sensitive Fern poked up through the snow. Typically, the beads or capsules remain intact with their brown dust-like spores waiting inside for the structure to break open during the rains of early spring. 

I moved on from the field and eventually reached a wetland that I couldn’t cross. But, I could stand and listen and so I did. All around me the forest orchestra performed its Plop, Plop, Swish, Plop, Splash symphony. 

 At first, it sounded and looked like I was surrounded by a million wild animals, but really . . . all the sound and sights were a result of snow falling, either gently with a whisper of the wind or harshly with a thud and splash. 

As I stood there looking for the million wild mammals, my eyes focused on the works of something much smaller. Insect egg tunnels on a dead snag’s trunk read like a story on paper. 

The longer tunnels were bored by a female Bark Beetle. From the sides of her tunnels, larval mines radiated outward. The overall design could have been an abstract drawing. 

At last  I started for home, thankful that I was retracing my steps for often new sights are revealed when one does that. And so, I believe it was a crust fungus and perhaps it was an oak curtain crust fungus, but let it remain that I discovered a fungus I don’t think I’ve seen before, with a warty, rust-colored underside and dark upperside. Suffice it to say, it was a mushroom of some sort. 

Along the way was a script lichen, which looked to me like someone had doodled. Commas and apostrophes decorated that page. 

And then, and then, Tetragnatha viridis, a green long-jawed orb weaver. I actually saw two of them. Typically, the translucent green color helps them camouflage amongst pine needles, their usual habitat, but they can frequently be seen on snow, especially if the temperature is in the 25˚-35˚ range as it was this morning. 

The orb weaver’s characteristics: eight eyes in two parallel sets of four; long chelicerae (jaws); enlarged pedipalps; long legs with spines; and that color–oh my! 

It was for eight parallel eyes that I walked today, the eight representing Jinny Mae, Dick, Kate, and Carol. 

Where trees didn’t cover the trail the snow was about fourteen inches deep and as you can see I chose the wrong boots and forgot my gators. But that was okay because I knew that I would eventually wander home and change my sopping wet socks. What mattered more was the fact that I was honored to step out for others when they couldn’t necessarily do the same. Here’s to the four of you–thanks for letting me be your eyes. 

Black Friday Lit Up, Naturally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Spy . . .

This afternoon’s goal: To find a Christmas Tree to decorate for the Christmas at Ladies Delight Walk on December 1st. For the reconnaissance mission, I joined the Coombs family at the GLLT’s Chip Stockford Reserve.

The Coombs children are homeschooled by their amazing mother, Juli, and though they learn many lessons at home, they are also well educated in the outdoors. In fact, they are among my favorite naturalists.

And they belong to a 4-H Homeschool group that will decorate a tree(s) with biodegradable ornaments prior to the December 1st walk.

1

And so we set off on our tour looking for just the right tree. But . . . as is always the case with this family, there was so much more to see.

2

Since Juli is a Maine Master Naturalist Program student, so are her children. And every topic she studies, they study, so it was no surprise to me that six-year-old Wes picked up stick after stick loaded with various forms of lichens.

3

Of course, they are children, ranging in age from six to eleven, and puddles are invitations. The family motto is this: No puddle shall remain unsplashed.

4

But just after the puddle, at the start of an old log landing, we began to notice something else. A mushroom drying on the whorl of a White Pine.

5

As we stood and looked at the first, someone among us spied a second.

6

And then a third, and so it went. We knew that squirrels dried mushrooms in this manner, but never had we seen so many. It dawned on us that we were standing in a squirrel’s pantry. One squirrel? Two squirrel? Gray Squirrel? Red Squirrel? One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

7

For a while we paused by an erratic boulder and looked at the lichens that grew atop it. The kids and their mom also checked the sand under and behind it and I told them that the only critter sign I’d ever noticed was that of a Ruffed Grouse sand bath–and I only recognized it as such because I’d startled the two birds and they startled me as they flew off. In fact, on another hike this morning at the GLLT’s Five Kezar Ponds Reserve, friend Teresa and I had startled a grouse and we talked about how the bird’s explosive behavior makes us feel as if we’ve encountered a moose.

Well, just beyond the boulder, as we all chatted and moved about with quick motion, Caleb spotted something and told us to stop. A Ruffed Grouse!

8

It threw leaves about as it sorted through them in search of seeds and buds and we all watched in silence.

9

As we stood or sat still, the bird moved this way and that, making soft clucking sounds the entire time.

10

Ellie stood in front as the bird moved a few feet ahead of her and crossed the trail. I kept looking back at Juli in wonder. How could this be? Why wasn’t it disturbed by us? I’ve spotted Spruce Grouse in higher elevations and they are much “friendlier” or less wary of people, but I’d never been able to get up close to a Ruffed Grouse.

11

Our fascination continued and we noted its feathered legs, making us think perhaps it had pulled on some long johns for a cold winter night.

12

It eyed us and we eyed it back–our minds filled with awe.

13

Think about this: four children and two adults and we were starting to get fidgety because we’d been still for fifteen or more minutes and we had begun to whisper our questions and still . . . it let us watch.

14

And it let Ellie be the Grouse Whisperer for she began to follow it off the trail. Eventually, it climbed up a fallen tree and she knelt down beside, taking photos as it stood less than a foot from her. How cool is that?

15

We were all wowed by the experience, but when Ellie finally turned back, we continued on . . . sometimes running and other times pausing to ride imaginary horses.

16

Or listen to Birch Polypores! Yes, Juli did listen for it’s part of an assignment for the Maine Master Naturalist class. So what exactly does a Birch Polypore sound like? “I couldn’t hear the ocean,” she said with a smile.

17

And what does it smell like? “Wood.”

18

The next moment of glee–poking Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold and watching it ooze.

19

“It’s cool and gross at the same time,” said Ellie.

20

Onward and again, more fungi drying in trees as Aidan pointed out.

22

We even found a few stuck on spiky spruces much like ornaments might be and we reminded ourselves that we were on a mission and still hadn’t found the right tree to decorate.

23

At last, however, we did. And then we made our way out to the spur and recently opened view of Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay and Cranberry Fen, plus the mountains.

24

This became our turn-around point as it was getting cooler by the minute and the sun was setting. We promised Wes we’d look only at our feet as we followed the loop trail down, though occasionally we stopped again to admire more fungi tucked onto tree branches and a set of trees that formed a rainbow arched over the trail.

As for the fungi, we wondered if we were seeing so many because last year’s mast crop of pinecones, beech nuts, and acorns didn’t exist this year. And when the 4-H club returns in a couple of weeks to decorate the tree, will the mushrooms still be there? Will there be more? How long do the squirrels wait before consuming them? So many questions and so many lessons still to be learned.

25

And so many things to spy. We were honored with the opportunity to do just that and my heart smiled with the knowledge that the kids appreciated it as much as their mom and I did.

I spy . . . we spied . . . INDEED!

Oh, and  please join the GLLT for Christmas at Ladies Delight. I have the inside word that there will be hot cocoa and cookies somewhere along the trail.

December 1, 9:30 – noon
Christmas at Ladies Delight: The Maine Christmas Tree Hunt is a fun holiday scavenger
hunt to find decorated trees in western Maine. We’ll search for the decorated tree along the Bill Sayles Loop at the Chip Stockford Reserve and may add a few of our own biodegradable ornaments along the way. Location: Chip Stockford Reserve, Ladies Delight Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

Election Day Tramp

It always strikes me that no matter how often one travels on or off a trail, there’s always something different that makes itself known–thus the wonder of a wander.

And so it was when Pam Marshall, a member of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, joined me for a tramp at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge West on Farrington Pond Road this morning. She had no idea what to expect. Nor did I.

13-puff balls to pop

It was misty when we met, but neither of us was daunted by the weather. Ever so slowly, we made our way over the wet leaves, roots, and rocks, pausing frequently–especially each time we saw puff balls. How can one resist poking or squeezing them to watch the spores waft out like smoke. The skin of mature puffballs split prior to releasing spores. And we . . . we helped the process a wee bit.

20-blue stain fruiting

Green stain fungus also drew our attention. Its fruiting bodies were minute, but well worth wet knees for a closer examination.

19-hexagonal-pored polypore

With Pam in the lead for most of the way, she kept finding cool stuff, like this hexagonal-pored polypore.

1-Sucker Brook Outlet

It took us a while, but we finally reached the wetland by the Sucker Brook Outlet where blueberry, maleberry and leatherleaf shrubs added color to the otherwise gray day.  For a while we stood under the protection of a large hemlock and took in the scene in silence.

2-Silhouettes on Lower Bay and cotton grass

From our vantage point, an island in Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay looked like a ghost ship. And in the foreground, cotton grass still touted its tufted heads.

3-beaver lodges

At our feet we could see some aquatic plant roots floating in the water, a beaver treat, and trusted by the mud on the lodges that there had been recent activity. Perhaps they rested indoors before planning to spend time later in the day preparing for the cold months ahead.

4-Pitcher Plants

After a while and because I knew they were there, I took Pam along the edge of the brook for a short distance to locate several pitcher plants. Someone once photographed them in their young green form and described them as rare. While helping Dr. Rick Van de Poll, principal of Ecosystem Management Consultants (EMC) in Sandwich, New Hampshire, set up study plots at Lakes Environmental Association’s Highland Lake Reserve in Bridgton during July 2017, we had to watch where we stepped to avoid crushing pitcher plants. It was a perfect time to ask Rick about the green color. Were there green pitcher plants in Maine? And if so, were they rare? He explained that it was just a matter of sunlight and age, all would eventually take on a redder hue in veins and then overall leaf coloration as they matured.

5-pitcher plant runway

This morning, we found some sporting brighter red leaves.

6-spiders within and webs above

And another plant that was duller in color. Since we were in the locale where the green plant had been discovered, I trusted that it was beginning to show its age. It was the duller one that drew most of our fascination. Carnivorous pitcher plants obtain nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Their oddly-shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: an insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Do you see what we saw? A spider web across the top of the leaf? And within?

8-larger spider manuevering the smaller one

Dueling fishing spiders.

9-pulling it under its body

And so we watched.

10-and out again

The larger one continuously manipulated the smaller one, which appeared to be dead. Back and forth under its body, it kept moving the smaller kin.

11-and back under

Was it trying to eat the other? One last meal before it too succumbed to the plant? Was it trying to move past the dead spider so it could try to climb out? Should we save it?

12-let 'em be

In the end, we left the action with questions in our minds and didn’t interfere.

7-watching the spider action

Except, that is, to take photographs and make a film. Again, our knees were wet and we didn’t care.

14-pigskin puffball 1

Back on the trail, we found an area where Earthballs decorated some old lumber slash. Their warty outer skin drew our attraction.

15-skin of pigskin

Another common name for Scleroderma citrinum is Pigskin Poison Puffball. Since it’s football season, it’s good to note that footballs used to be made of a pig’s . . . bladder and not its skin, though historically they were called pigskins. Rather than feel leathery, these seemed more rubbery, thus the reference I guess.

15-popping pigskin

And because they were puffballs, they invited a poke.

16-an explosion of spores

From a couple of slits, mature blackish spores erupted. I had to chuckle for no matter with whom I share a trail, puffballs always invite the same reaction–pick up a stick and give it a jab. And each time we share the same moment of glee. And our inner child is released one more time. Thankfully.

18-insect within pigskin

Of course, we found ourselves on our knees yet again when Pam spied something within an Earthball that had exploded prior to our visit. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an inanimate insect that looked like it was covered in spores. Canary in the coal mine?

25-Pam and the bear scat

Our next great find was of a different sort and I had to pull the Trackards from my pack while Pam got down for another upclose and personal look. Notice her knee?

22-bear scat

Black bear scat! Indeed. Cylindral and large. We looked for tracks, but conditions were such that we didn’t find any. The scat was enough for this day.

24-Tamaracks

If you go, we strongly encourage you to follow the green trail all the way to the bird/wildlife viewing point along Sucker Brook. Today, the tamaracks on the shore to our right added a tone of bright beauty to the overcast day.

25-Sucker Brook--beaver lodge

And another old beaver lodge also looked like it had received a mud treatment. We could see some beaver chew sticks in the water by the edge of the brook and so we knew again that there had been recent activity. It just means we’ll have to return for another visit if we want to catch some action–perhaps earlier in the day.

In the meantime, we let the view point become our turn-around point and quickly (sorta) followed the blue trail back for we both needed to move on to the rest of our day.

But . . . despite the mist and occasional raindrops, we elected to tramp. And were delighted with the results. Here’s hoping the rest of the day goes like that.

 

Bishop Cardinal Reserve: Where (Wo)Man and Nature Intersect

Perhaps we should have tiptoed and tried to silently pass through the woods much the way a fox or bear might, but that is not our habit. And so on today’s Tuesday Tramp for the Greater Lovell Land Trust, we chatted and wondered aloud as we hiked along the  trails of Bishop Cardinal Reserve on the upper side of Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell. Consequently, our wild mammal sightings were non-existent. Despite that, we saw soooo much.

9-docents Bob and Pam

Our team was small this morning, with only docents Bob and Pam joining me, but still we made plenty of noise as we looked about.

4-bear pole

The first sign of mammal and human interaction, of course, was the telephone pole beside the trailhead. If you’ve traveled with me either literally or virtually before, you know how I LOVE a telephone pole. It’s not the fact that such brings electrical power and other modern day amenities to our homes, but instead the realization that bears are attracted to them and like to leave a mark as they claw and bite at the anomaly in the forest surroundings. I always check for hair left behind, but today was disappointed to find none.

5-scratches on bear poles

Despite the lack of hair, there were a few newer scratches worth celebrating.

6-spider

And a small spider tossed into the mix. The temperature was on the chilly side as the wind blew, but not cold enough to begin the process of accumulating glycols in its blood (e.g., antifreeze) that would allow the spider to supercool. By physiologically adapting via special antifreeze compounds, the tissues of some Maine spiders remain unfrozen at temperatures well below freezing, and thus avoid turning into little blocks of ice once winter sets in. Of course, had it been a little bit cooler, this spider probably would have hidden in the leaf litter below rather than trying to send a telegram via the phone pole.

7-bear tree

A little further along the trail, however, we did find more bear sign in the form of claw marks on beech trees. And that raised the question: Do bears only climb beech trees? No. But, beech bark is one of the best to show off their signature scratches.

10-Pam's bear tree 1

After I showed Pam and Bob a couple of trees with claw marks, they began to look about and Pam spied one I’d not noticed before.

10-Pam's bear tree

Congratulations on your First To Find (FTF) Award, Pam! Well deserved.

11-deer skull

It wasn’t only bear sign that made the walk intriguing. A year and a half ago, this same couple had spied an entire deer carcass along the lower part of the trail. And so when we arrived in the vicinity today, we looked around. And eagle eyes Pam spied half the skull atop the leaves. What had happened to the deer? Human interaction? Old age? It was a rather large skull.

12-herbivore teeth

My, what flat teeth it had. Because herbivore teeth are highly specialized for eating plant matter which may be difficult to break down, their molars tend to be wider and flatter, thus allowing the animal to grind its food and aid in digestion.

13-lower jaw

We looked about for other bones and had to satisfy ourselves with a lower jaw. Had the rest of the skeleton been scattered and we just couldn’t see it below the recent leaf cover or had mice and other rodents dined on the bones from which they sought calcium? Coyotes, bears, and even another deer may also have moved the bones and found their own nourishment. Whatever happened, we knew it had been recycled . . . naturally.

14-coyote scat

And not far away on the edge of a bridge over a stream . . . coyote scat. It was not fresh, but fresher than the deer skull event, and full of hair. On what did the coyote dine? Snowshoe hare? Gray squirrel? Some other delectable offering? We weren’t sure.

15-squirrel storage

Dinner in the woods came in many forms, however, and on a fallen tree about four feet from the ground we found a mushroom turned upside down. Despite recent wind storms, we didn’t think it had blown up to that spot. Instead, a squirrel had set it there to dry. A squirrel’s food pantry is far bigger than a kitchen cupboard. Would it remember where it had placed the mushroom? Probably. Would another squirrel discover and snag it? Possibly.

16-squirrel storage

But there were others set in different spots to dry, so the original cacher might have some success in retrieving the food it had stored.

17-icy formation

As our time drew to a close, we noticed patterns in the mushrooms imitated by icy spots in a stream that spoke to the morning’s chill.

18-Horseshoe Pond Road

But the sun had come out and we relished its warmth as we headed back to our vehicles and on into the rest of our days.

16a-man-made wonder

Before doing so, however, there were two more sights to commemorate–the man-made line up of doors found deep in the woods . . .

2-Sand castle

and rain-made castles along the road side.

Bishop Cardinal Reserve–where man and nature intersect.

 

A Keen Eye for the Wonders at Our Feet

As beautiful as the trees are right now with their autumnal display in full force, if you walk slowly in the woods and on the bald faces of our local granite, I think you might find yourself amazed. I know a friend and I always are and this afternoon was no different. We didn’t journey far; we didn’t need to journey far. We just needed to be present in the moment.

1-bird's nest fungi

Our first find was actually a discovery she’d made the other day. In her front yard, mixed in with the acorn caps, were teeny tiny examples of Cyathus striatus or Splash Cup Fungi.

2-bird's nest

Only two weeks ago, she’d shown me a larger version of this Bird’s Nest Fungi in the form of Fluted Bird’s Nest, but today she had this miniature version to share. They really do resemble their common name.

3-beads of slime mold

Because our eyes were focused on the minute, it was no surprise that Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold, all beady in structure, should attract our attention.

4-stink horn

Our next great find discovered by my friend with the eagle eyes was a Common Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii). She said it stunk. I didn’t notice, but the flies loved it. Love, in fact, seemed to be a common theme, for on the stalk, which is typically white, appeared a heart, with arms/hands wrapped around below. Even though it’s “common,” I don’t often encounter any form of a Phallus fungus, so I’m not sure if the two-toned stalk is a common feature.

6-green stain fungi

The next discovery–the fruiting form of Green Stain Fungi (Chlorociboria aeruginascens). The turquoise fruiting body was only about a third of an inch in diameter and so it’s another one that’s easy to overlook. But . . . our movement was intentionally slow as we moved without expectation and were constantly excited by our discoveries.

7-onto the granite

At last, we stepped out of the forest and onto a bit of a bald spot where granite greets sky, with lots of life layered between the two.

8-liliputian world

And onto our knees we knelt for life on the granite was lilliputian in nature.

9-candy lichen

And varied, but it was the lichens that really pulled me into the fold. Some, like the Candy Lichen, a blue-gray crustose lichen with orange to salmon colored fruits, grew so abundantly that we practically ignored it.

9a-pixie cups

Then there were the delightful pixie cup goblets scattered throughout awaiting a visit from the wee folk.

10-British soldiers

And British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) standing tall yet branched as they watched over all, their crimson red caps bespeaking their ancestral heritage.

11-lipstick powderhorn

Beside them were a few Lipstick Powderhorns (Cladonia macilenta) with bright red caps above single stalks, rather like the lipstick I’ve never worn.

12-red-fruited pixie cups

And rounding out the red-cap series were the Red-fruited Pixie Cups (Cladonia pleurota), with their multiple red fruiting bodies outlining the cups.

13-red-fruited lichens

Pixie cups would have been enough. But pixie cups with bright red caps–and we were wowed. The other cool thing–like the Bird’s Nest Fungi with its splash cup form, these lichens offered something similar. The Bird’s Nest depends on droplets of water (think rain) to release its spores from the tiny “eggs” situated within each cup. For the Red-fruited Pixie Cups, it’s the same idea–the splash cup goblets allow the lichen to disperse its reproductive materials.

14-red-fruited brown

We found a few with the red caps turned brown and assumed they’d done their duty.

15- Ladder Lichen Cladonia verticillata

Just when we were about to move on my friend made another exciting discovery. Ladder Lichen (Cladonia verticillata) with its brown fruits reminded me more of fountains containing chocolate treats at the outer edge of each level.

16- Ladder Lichen Cladonia verticillata

Or perhaps a way for Jack to ascend from the world of the minute to the giants in the sky.

17-milkweed seeds

And with that, our eyes moved upwards–to the milkweed seeds that awaited their turn for release and a chance to find their own place in the world.

18-large milkweed bug

A Large Milkweed Bug reached the end of one pod, but the future possibilities seemed endless for it–as long as the spider web didn’t hinder any progress.

19-ash leaves

With upturned attention, we noted a young ash tree presenting its fall colors ranging from golden green to magenta all on the same trunk.

20-oak leaves

And even higher up, a Red Oak already showing off its carotenoid chemistry with yellows and oranges overtaking the green pigment.

21-colors

While fall foliage is at or near peak in western Maine and causing all of us to stop in our tracks to note the beauty of the live paintings that surround and embrace us in their ever changing way, its the color and variety and wonders at our feet that drew the attention of my friend and me today. And I’m forever grateful for her keen eye.

(And help searching for a needle in a haystack a little while later–thanks J.M.)

Postcards from Sweden

Sometimes I forget when traveling that I should share my surroundings with those back home. A photograph of a local scene and a quick note are enough to say that though I was away, you were on my mind.

1-splash cup

And so dear readers, these are for you. The weather is great, I wish you were here. For if you were, your jaw would drop as mine did at the sight of these little morsels that so look like candy wrappers. Of course, the right thing to do would be for me to purchase a few to share with you.

2-splash cup

But, looks can be deceiving, and really, these are a fungi called Cyathus striatus, or Fluted Bird’s Nest. While they remind me of marshmallows covered with burnt coconut, they are really the young fruit bodies of the species. The lids, known as epiphragms, cover the structure and prevent rain drops from entering until the eggs within are ripe, for it’s the drips of the drops that release the spores of this fungi.

3-splash cup fungi

More mature structures, those that look like chocolate cups also coated in coconut, contained the “eggs” or lens-shaped structures known as peridioles.

4-eggs in splash cup fungi

This fungi is difficult to spy because it is teeny and inconspicuous and prefers a dark, moist habitat, but my hostess had her eye on these for a while and couldn’t wait to share them with me. And now, I’m excited to share them with you. The flute darkens with age, and that pale lid falls away or collapses inside the structure which does resemble a bird’s nest. Within each nest there are typically four or five silvery flattened “eggs.”

5-turkey tail fungi

We moved along and our next destination made me think of home. Back home, it seems the wild turkeys are taking over the world as we spy them in the yard, field, forest, and beside many a road. In the forest my hostess knows best, it was a turkey of a different kind that she shared. Trametes versicolor or more commonly, turkey tail fungi, grow prolifically in her woods. And their tail feathers are just as colorful and neatly arranged as the ones I know so well.

10-slime mold

Our next stop on the tour found her sharing a parlor trick with me. She poked a fruiting body of Lycogala epidendrum, or Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold, with a stick. Out oozed some goo, which had the fungi been mature would have been a more powdery spore mass.

10a-slime mold being slimy, parlor trick

You might say, “YUCK.” But it’s almost magical. The salmon-colored balls deflate instantly when poked and as the goo leaks we smile and think about sharing such a finding with others. When next I wander with you, we’ll have to look for slime molds.

11-Aleuria aurantia--orange peel funit

Because we’d been walking for a bit, you might think that my hostess offered a snack. The fun thing about exploring a place she knows so well is that sometimes there are surprises and such was the Aleuria aurantia or Orange Peel Fungi. We were looking at something else in the vicinity when suddenly we both spied the bright orange color and then realized there was a colony of it all about our feet.

14-earth tongue forest

In a different habitat, one where the sphagnum moss grows, we encounter a different fungi that I know, but had never seen in such an abundance: Trichoglossum farlowii is also known as Black Earth Tongue. I had never visited an Earth Tongue garden before but in a foreign land it apparently reigns.

15-singular tongue

Most of the structures are singular fruits, but . . .

15-forked earth tongue

we found one forked tongue.

16-green-headed jelly baby fungi

Nearby, on a rock covered in Bazzania, a liverwort, we found a small colony of Leotia viscosa or Green-headed Jelly Babies. Much like the Fluted Bird’s Nest, it looks like a another candy I should bring home to share, but I left the souvenirs behind and took only photographs.

17-green stain fungi fruiting

Our forest journey wasn’t over, but our fungi finds were complete when she showed me the fruiting bodies of Chlorosplenium aeruginascens, or Green Stain Fungi. Really, it should be called turquoise-stained, but I didn’t come up with the name. It’s difficult to photograph these beauties for so petite are they, and always a thrill to see.

18-Sweden forest

Many of our finds were located in the vicinity of a forest bog where cinnamon ferns grow tall and wild and add texture and color to the scene, making it look rather pre-historic.

6-beaver pond

Not only did my hostess share her woodland habitat, which is so different from my own, but she also took me to a beaver pond. Our intention was to say hello, but by the depth we noted that the beavers aren’t currently home. We’ll have to call on them another day during my stay.

8-green frog

What we did find were green frogs that squeaked as we approached and then leaped into the water to hide.

9-sundews, both round-leaved and spatula-leaved

As a gift for her hospitality, I was able to share something with my hostess–in the form of round-leaf and spatula-leaf sundews that grow at the water’s edge. Both are carnivorous and so she can now add another parlor trick to entertain her guests–feed insects to the plants.

7-solitary sandpiper

One final scene to share because she and I shared the same view: a Solitary Sandpiper on the hunt. We watched for a few minutes before it flew off.

And now it’s time for me to fly home. But the airmail has been stamped and if you have read this then you are on the receiving end of postcards from Sweden. Sweden, Maine, that is.

Thank you to my hostess, J.M., for your kindness and willingness to share so many special scenes with me. I can’t wait to return to your neck of the woods.