Katydid, Didn’t She?

I have the extreme pleasure of being in touch with my first two playmates, the sisters who lived next door, on a somewhat regular basis. And even when we don’t see each other for a long time (Girls, we still owe ourselves a lunch in Newburyport), like any great friendship, we pick right up as if no time has passed.

While they both love the natural world, for that’s where we spent much of our childhood, one in particular frequently shares photos of her finds with me. And so I took her along, riding on my shoulder this morning when I headed out into the rain because I know that she, too, likes rainy days as much as, if not more than sunny days. So does her garden and she’s got a green thumb to envy.

Since my thumbs aren’t great at turning the soil, I support a local farmers’ market and had time to pass waiting for my turn to pick up the pre-ordered produce, bread, chicken, flowers, and treats. Thus, as we started to hike, a grasshopper known for its two stripes greeted us.

Not far along, at the base of a certain pine tree, I showed her the Pippsissewa now in bloom. Not only do I love to say this plant’s name, but the blossoms . . .

oh my. We both squatted for a closer look at the anthers within. And sniffed its sweet scent.

Our next great find was an oak apple gall and of course I had to tell her that a non-stinging and wingless female wasp injected an egg into the veins of the leaf as it was just beginning to grow. Chemicals released by the tiny larvae that developed within altered the growth and over a few weeks, the little orb formed.

By the circle hole on the underside, I explained that the wasp had pupated and chewed its way out and was probably now feeding on the very roots of the same tree . . . that is if it hadn’t been consumed by birds or small mammals.

We moved on, but a tiny spot of brown on a berry leaf was the next to beg for our attention. Check out those toes. Sticky toe pads on their webbed feet provide support for these plant and tree climbers known as spring peepers.

At last we reached a wetland and that’s when the rain really began to fall. And so my friend and I . . . we stood and looked about and enjoyed the raindrops on the grasses and sedges, the water’s surface, and us.

For a while, we left the path, and slipped into the woods, trying to follow a recently created trail, but mostly meandering about in the land where nurse logs provide a start for so many others as they decompose.

As it turned out, that wasn’t the only nursery in town. Once we returned to the trail, which by the way, she was impressed that I could find my way back . . . and so was I, I took her to a nearby meadow where we spotted a momma tending her young’uns.

I knew my friend would love this sighting because she not only saves salamanders and deer, but also spiders from any demise. This momma wasn’t so sure about us, however.

As large as she was, we were even bigger so she continued to work on her web to make sure her children stayed safe.

When she wasn’t looking, we did peek inside and saw a few of the babies.

We spotted another spider of a much more diminutive size upon one of the meadow flowers. You might see it, though it is a master of camouflage. Two insects also hung out as if they were trying to stay dry. Though the beetle is quite obvious, a discerning eye will spy the legs of the other.

We had actually gone to the meadow to see the Canada lilies that tickled our fancy for they looked like streetlights in the midst of the rain drops.

All of our finds had been great, but the best one of all . . . a Katydid. My friend’s name is Kate or as she was known when we were kids: Katy. And when quizzed by our moms about who was responsible for something, the rest of us always said, “Katy did it.”

While standing in the meadow today with Kate on my shoulders, my cell phone rang and suddenly I was looking at . . . my dear friend via FaceTime.

“Did I call you, or did you call me?” I asked as I looked at her beautiful and familiar grin while she stood aboard her cabin cruiser on Long Island Sound.

“You tried to Face Time me twice and so I called you back,” she said as she looked a me–soaking wet and rather bedraggled but happy (except maybe for the mosquitoes and deer flies).

I’d been using my phone to snap most of the photos but kept putting it in my pocket and I think I may have inadvertently contacted a few people.

So maybe this one time I did it and not Katy, but forever when I see a Katydid and many other things in the natural world, she’ll be right there with me as we were so many moons ago–Katy got me then and thankfully she still does.

Ides Bog'ling: Beware. Be present. Be still.

When the world goes haywire, the perfect antidote is a day spent outside soaking up the sights and sounds and sun and most of all, fresh air.

Today, that spot offered so many sights including Mount Washington’s snowy covering in the great beyond.

And Pleasant Mountain’s ridgeline at a closer range.

But the sights also included selections much smaller such as Buttonbush’s winter structure–offering a half globe rather than the full orb of its summer form.

And Rhodora giving off its own glow as with buds and flower structures waiting in the wings.

What’s not to love about an infusion of color to the late winter/almost spring landscape.

Speckled Alders, their male catkins growing long below the females, also bespoke the season on the horizon.

Having developed last summer, the males are slender spikes of tightly appressed scales. Above, the females are more bud-like in manner. Both persist throughout the winter and soon will bloom before summer leaves appear.

While new buds showed off their reddish faces, last year’s alder “cones” remained woody in form. Not truly cones for those grow only on conifers, there is a strong resemblance. Thankfully, Mary Holland of Naturally Curious explains the difference best: “Angiosperms, or flowering plants such as Speckled Alder, produce seeds that are enclosed within a covering (the ovary), whereas gymnosperms (conifers) have un-enclosed or “naked” seeds. Alder “cones” open to release seeds in a manner similar to many conifer cones and, like most cones, do not disintegrate immediately after maturity. Female flowers/catkins of Speckled Alder, if fertilized, will develop into ‘cones.‘”

That said, there were some of last year’s structures that showed off a much different form. It was almost like they had tried to flower. In reality, they were Alder Tongue Galls–resulting from a fungus rather than an insect infecting the female catkins.

Other sights included Morse Code representations of the dot dot dash work created by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers upon many a birch.

I traveled this day with a friend and in our quest to clean out the innermost recesses of our lungs, we walked across ice, snow, mud and through water. it was totally worth the effort to get to the other side.

For on the other side, we encountered Maleberry shrubs with ornaments of a different kind.

Each had been sculpted in a unique manner, but we suspected all resulted from the same creator.

Our best guess, after opening one or two, was that some insect had created a home in the Maleberry leaves last fall but once again, we were stymied by a new learning and suspect the lesson hasn’t ended yet.

As our journey continued, we suddenly found ourselves in the presence of wind dancers for so did the marsescent White Oak leaves appear.

On the ground we found a comparative study between the White and Red Oak leaves, their lobes and colors bespeaking their individuality.

And upon some of the White’s saplings, another gall of this place–Oak Marble Gall. Growing in clusters on twigs, they turn brown in maturity and their emergence holes show the site of escape for mature adults who flew out in the fall. They are also called oak nuts.

Today’s sights included the landscape and its flora, birds of the trees such as nuthatches and chickadees, plus those of the water including woodducks, and sky birds like two eagles we watched circle higher and higher until they escaped our view. We also found bobcat and coyote scat. And then in some mud, signs left behind by others such as the raccoon’s close-toed prints.

Among the raccoon track, there were also plenty of bird prints that we suspected belonged to crows.

And in the water beyond, a rather active beaver lodge.

On this day, my friend and I slipped away into the land beyond known locally as Brownfield Bog, where we at times were boggled by the offering of this Ides of March. Beware. Be still. Be present. It’s the best way to be. Be.

Perennial Mondate

It’s an old fav, Bald Pate Mountain Preserve in South Bridgton. And we love to visit it in any season. That being said, winter will “end” in a few weeks and this morning we realized we needed to head on over.

Our plan was to follow the Moose Trail for its entire length, then continue on the South Face Loop to the summit, start down the Bob Chase Trail, veer off to Foster Pond Lookout and then make our way back by rejoining Bob Chase.

One might expect to see a moose along the first trail, and we hoped to have such luck, but it was not to be. Instead, do you see the ski tracks? Portions of the preserve are groomed for cross-country skiers as part of the system at the adjacent Five Fields Farm.

What else did we spy? Some wicked cool finds in my book of wonder. For instance, you may think that this broken off piece of a twig is merely dangling from its counterpart, but . . . it is solidly stuck in place by a fungus known commonly as glue crust. It glues together twigs and branches that touch each other.

And sometimes twigs meet the bark on the trunk of a tree and hang in what you might think of as an unnatural stance.

The fungus is the dark bumpy structure that the second twig is stuck to, much like a magical act performed by nature. Really though, this fungus doesn’t let the twig fall to the ground where it would be decomposed by other fungi. Pretty tricky–making a claim all for its own benefit.

Continuing on, we scanned every beech tree in hopes of finding bear claw trees. We did find a beech worth honoring for we loved how it rested an elbow on the boulder below and with two arms formed a frame of the scene beyond.

Ever so slowly we climbed upward, our pace not my guy’s usual because of the bear paw challenge. When one is looking, however, one discovers so many other things upon which to focus like this rather common birch polypore in a rather uncommon shape, almost like a Christmas bell jingling in the breeze.

And then there was a display of snipped hemlock twigs scattered across the snow-covered forest floor.

We looked up and saw not a silhouetted form, but by the debris, which include diagonal cuts on the twigs, comma-shaped scat (some a bit more rounded than others), and even the soft, curly belly hairs of the creator, we knew a porcupine had dined overnight.

We looked a wee bit, but found not its den. By its tracks, however, we could tell that it had made more than one visit to this fine feasting spot.

Had we climbed the Bob Chase Trail we would have reached the summit in twenty minutes, but our choice to circle about before hiking up meant we spent two hours approaching the top where the bonsai trees of the North grow–in the form of pitch pines.

The true summit is a wee bit higher and so we continued on and then turned back to take in the view of Peabody Pond below.

It was there that while looking for insect cocoons I came across the gouty oak gall caused by teeny wasps no bigger than fruit flies. The structure was woody as it’s a couple of years old. And almost creepy in its display, like a head with many eyes looking every which way.

We did take the hint and looked every which way ourselves, the next point of view beyond Hancock Pond and beyond.

And then we moved on, until that is, we reached the wall of tripe, which always invites me to stop.

Water had also stopped in the form of several frozen falls.

And again, more of nature’s magic for the icicles facilitated photosynthesis by the algal partner of the lichen’s symbiosis. It’s a thing worth liken.

Nearby, a relative also begged a notice. Do you see the black flat-headed disks upon the surface? Those are the fruiting bodies or apothecium where this lichen’s spores are produced. The common name for this umbilicate structure: toadskin.

Just above the tripe and toadskin offerings, Pleasant Mountain came into view. Hidden behind a cloudy veil was Mount Washington, which typically sits in the saddle of the Pleasant Mountain ridgeline.

As we wound down and around, polypody ferns spoke about the weather–some were curled as it was cooler in their location upon a boulder in a hemlock grove, but others were flattened bespeaking the rising temperature.

Our last focal point before heading back to the parking lot was the lookout to Foster Pond. Where once stood a tall cairn, there are now two shorter ones marking the point of view and turn-around.

It was there that we discovered another gouty oak gall, its size at least that of a golf ball; a rather holey, warty golf ball.

This preserve is forever a fav in any season, which on this Mondate offered a flash ahead (think the opposite of flashback, rather like a preview) of what is to come. We love winter. And we especially love snow. But . . . we also love all the other seasons and the perennial plants on the southern side of the mountain where the snow has melted a bit, showed off their evergreen shades and hints of future events. Wintergreen and Trailing Arubuts, the later with the long buds atop a hairy stem.

Stepping Out For Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mondate Preserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and splashes of ice. 

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

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

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

to fox . . .

to bobcat! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to icy reflections, . . . 

man-made sculptures, . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Marches On

Today I attended a celebratory parade.

0-Subtle colors

The route followed the old course of a local river and along the way the trees stood in formation, some showing off their bright new coats.

5-colors in the field

Each float offered a different representation of the theme: transition.

3-ash seed raining

Upon some floats, seeds from the Ash rustled as they prepared to rain upon the ground like candy tossed into the gathered crowd.

4-crystalline tube gall on red oak

Oak leaves showed off their pompoms of choice–some being crystalline tube galls and others . . .

19-hedgehog gall?

possibly called hedgehog.

8-bald-faced hornet

Playing their instruments were the Bald-faced Hornets,

9-autumn meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonflies,

11-immature green stink bug

and even an immature Green Stink Bugs.

10-green frog

On the percussion instruments at the back of the band were the green and . . .

23-pickerel frog

pickerel frogs.

15-yellow-rumped warbler

Adding a few fainter notes were a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers.

16-yellow-rumped warbler

They didn’t want the chickadees to get all the credit for the songs of the woods.

17-hairy woodpecker

A Hairy Woodpecker also tapped a view beats.

12-wood ducks

Probably my favorite musicians, however, sported their traditional parade attire and awed those watching from the bandstand.

13-wood duck

Even a non-breeding male made the scene look like a painting.

14-wood ducks taking off

Their real contribution, though, came from the modestly plumaged females who offered a squealing “oo-eek, oo-eek”  each time they took flight.

18-sensitive fern

Though green attire was the most prominent of the day, others sported colors of change from yellows and browns to . . .

6-red emerging

brilliant reds.

21-Brigadoon

As is often the case along such a route, vendors offered works of art for sale, including local scenes painted with watercolors.

22-lily reflection and aquatic aphids

Before it was over, a lone lily danced on the water and offered one last reflection.

24-season transformation

And then summer marched on . . . into autumn.

Mondate of a Rare Type

Aha. So our Mondates are hardly rare, though we don’t spend every Monday on a hiking date. What, therefore could the title mean?

d1

Follow us down the trail at the Dahl Wildlife Sanctuary in North Conway, New Hampshire, and I think you’ll soon understand. The property is owned by NH Audubon and located adjacent to LL Bean, though the parking is in a tiny lot across from Burger King on Route 16.

d2

It’s not a long loop, but it’s chock full of wildflowers like the Black-eyed Susans beginning to burst open into rays of sunshine.

d3

We also passed an abundance of shrubs such as Staghorn Sumac and my mind raced ahead to a future visit with Michael Cline’s book, Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest.

d16a-silver maple floodplain

Because we were near the Saco River, part of the loop took us through a Silver Maple floodplain where the trees arched above in cathedral formation.

d17-ostrich fern

In the same habitat, but at waist level, Ostrich Ferns grew in their vase-like fashion..

d18-Tortricid Moth gall

And among them, growth of another kind was apparent for possibly a Tortricid Moth had used the terminal part of the fern’s frond for its larvae to feed and pupate.

d5-Saco River

Stepping out of the forest and into the sunshine, we suddenly found ourselves beside the Saco River, where we looked north.

d4-Saco River

And then south. A few kayakers passed by, but for the most part we were alone.

d4, spotted sandpiper

In reality, we weren’t for a solitary Spotted Sandpiper explored the water . . .

d7-spotted sandpiper

and cobbled beach,

d23-sanpiper foraging

where it foraged for insects, small fish and crustaceans.

d8-silver maple samaras

Silver Maple seeds were not on its grocery list and they sat in abundance along a high water mark, waiting in anticipation . . .

d9-silver maple saplings

to join their older siblings and create their own line of saplings next year.

d10-South Moat

After standing at the water’s edge for a bit longer and enjoying the ridgeline view from South to Middle Moat Mountains, it was time to search for the rare finds that brought us to this place.

d24

The first was a clump upon a small sand dune–Hudsonia tomentosa.

d25

One of its common names is Sand False Heather, which certainly fit its location and structure. This mat-forming plant had the tiniest of flowers, but it was by its heathery look that I spotted it. It’s listed as rare and threatened in New Hampshire.

d15-silverling

While I only found two clumps of the heather, the second rare plant featured a larger colony.

d12-silverling1

Paronychia argyrocoma is also listed as rare and threatened in New Hampshire (and extremely rare in Maine).

d13-silverling

Also known as Silvery Whitlow-wort, it prefers the ledges and ridges of the White Mountains and . . . gravely bars along rivers. Its whitish green flowers were ever so dainty.

d14-silverling3

From a side view they were most difficult to see for silvery, petal-like bracts hid their essence.

After those two rare finds, my heart sang . . . a song that had started a couple of hours earlier when my guy and I dined with my college friend, Becky, and her daughter, Megan. Another rare and delightful event.

They say three times is a charm and I certainly felt charmed for this rare type of Mondate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flexing My Wings with Jinny Mae

It’s been a while since Jinny Mae and I had wandered and wondered together, but this afternoon the opportunity finally arose. And so we agreed on a time and place (though she did change the time 😉 ), and pulled into the parking lot of the Mountain Division Trail located closest to the Eastern Slopes Airport on Route 5 in Fryeburg, Maine.

m6-Mtn Division Trail

Rather than a rail trail, this is actually a rail-with-trail even though the rail is not currently active.

m2-lupine

From the start, we were surprised and delighted to see so many lupines in bloom along the edge. Lupines are members of the pea or legume family, Fabaceae. As such, the flowers have a distinctive upper banner, two lateral wings, and two lower petals fused together to form a keel. Those lateral wings earned the plant’s place in this contemplation.

m2a-lupine aphids

Of course, being that not everything in nature is as perfect as we might desire, we did discover destruction in action on a few stems and flowers. Lupine aphids seeking honeydew suck the juices from a plant. They’ll continue to feed until midsummer, even after they’ve destroyed the flower.

While there isn’t much to celebrate about these garden pests, it is worth noting that all aphids are female and give birth to live young, without mating. And another cool fact–once the population grows too large, they will develop wings and fly to a new host plant.

m3-chalk-fronted white corporal

We continued our journey at our typical slow pace and stopped frequently to admire the dragonflies. There were quite a few species, but many spent time patrolling in flight and so we couldn’t photograph them. We did, however, give thanks for the work of all for we felt the sting of only a few mosquitoes. And we appreciated the perchers as well, for by letting us get a closer look we could learn their characteristics, and therefore ID: Chalk-fronted Corporal;

4-four-spotted skimmer

Four-spotted Skimmer;

m5-calico pennant

and Calico Pennant.

m7-ant dragging grasshopper

We also noted a crazy ant act. The ant apparently got a great deal at the grocery store and somehow managed to single-anticly drag the remains of a grasshopper home–that’s one flier we won’t see in the air again.

m8-wood sower gall wasp gall

We also stumbled upon another interesting find–the galls of a wood sower gall wasp. As I told Jinny Mae, I’ve seen them before and knew they were associated with oak trees, but couldn’t remember the name in the moment. Maybe if I say it five times fast and spin around three times I’ll remember its name the next time I encounter it. Doubtful.

m8-wood sower gall wasp

The cool facts about this fuzzy white gall with pink polka dots, which is also known as oak seed galls: it only grows on white oak; the fuzziness is actually secretions from grubs of the gall wasp; and within are seed-like structures that cover the wasp larva.

m9-tiger swallowtail

Finally, it was a swallowtail butterfly that stopped us in our tracks and mesmerized us for moments on end. The question was this: which swallowtail–Eastern or Canadian, for both fly here.

m11-eastern tiger swallowtail

Earlier in the day I’d photographed an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in the backyard. Tiger comes from the four black stripes, while swallowtail refers to the long tails extending from the hind wings that these butterflies often lose to their prey as spring gives way to summer.

This was a female given that her hind wings featured blue with bright orange accents when viewed from the top. The areas that are blue on the female are black on the male.

And notice her main body, which is a rather muted combo of black and yellow.

m10-canadian tiger swallowtail

Now look at the butterfly Jinny Mae and I each took at least fifty photographs of and do you see the darker body? The Canadians have more black hairs covering their bodies.

m11-probiscus

Also look at the underwings. I regret that I didn’t get a shot of the Eastern’s underwings, but for the Canadian this matches the pattern: Note the yellow band just inside the outer edge on the underside of its forewings. Had it been an Eastern, it would have featured a series of disconnected yellow spots on the black band. The Canadian has a continuous yellow band. And then there are the orange and blue markings.

m13-canadian tiger

At the end of the day all that detail really didn’t matter–Eastern or Canadian, both were tiger swallowtails.

And I gave thanks for the opportunity to flex my wings beside Jinny Mae. It felt so good to fly along the path together again. For those who don’t know, Jinny Mae’s journey has been one of varied wing beats as she’s lived with cancer for the last three years. Her current treatment is going well and we look forward to more flight paths.

 

 

 

Bogging with Barb

Passing off a copy of the book, From Grassroots to Groundwater, about how two small Maine towns fought Nestlé and won, was the perfect excuse to head to Brownfield Bog. I told Barb I didn’t mind driving to her home or somewhere nearby to give her the book because I’d then go exploring and she welcomed the opportunity to do the same.

b2-Kathy's sign

As we began our journey, I asked if she knew Kathy McGreavy. Of course she did. I mentioned that Kathy walks in the bog daily and we might encounter her. Of course we did. Kathy and “her friend” were just coming out after walking their dogs and so we chatted for  bit. Our discussion included mention of the sign Kathy made last year as her capstone project for the Maine Master Naturalist Program. It’s an incredible piece of artwork and as she’s learned, I’m not the only one who thinks so. Recently, she discovered that a woodpecker had taken to pecking it and so the bottom is now protected with a piece of plexiglass. Crazy birds.

b1-Bog view from the road

Eventually, Barb and I said our goodbyes to the McGreavys and walked down the unplowed road where I did warn her about my obsession for stopping frequently to take photos. It began from the start–when we spied the bog through the trees and noticed the contrast of colors and layers.

b3a-pussy willows

And then–specks of white were ours to behold.

b3-pussy willows

Pussy willows. Was it too early she wondered. No–in fact, I spotted some a year ago on February 23 at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve.

b4-red-winged blackbirds

Our next reason to stop–the red and yellow shoulder patch or epaulet providing their name: Red-Winged Blackbirds. Again, Barb asked if it was too early. This time, I referenced Mary Holland for the February 27th entry in her book Naturally Curious Day by Day has this headline: Returning Red-Winged Blackbirds Survive Cold Temperatures and Few Insects. Bingo.

b5-water obstacles

Sometimes our stops were to contemplate our next steps–especially when it came to the water that covered the cobble stones on the road.

b6-Barb charges through the water

But sometimes you just have to go for it. And we did. As the morning continued, we ventured through deeper water and plowed ahead knowing that we would need to dry our hiking boots out when we arrived home.

b7-bird's nest

We found a bird nest and wondered about its creator. We did note some acorn pieces inside, so we think it had more than an avian inhabitant.

b8-beaver lodge

And we paused to look at an old beaver lodge. The mud looked recent but none of the sticks were this year’s additions so we didn’t know if anyone was home.

b9-map in the snow

All along, we’d been talking about places we’ve hiked and other topics of interest to both of us. We even learned that we’d both worked in Franklin, New Hampshire, just not at the same time. But speaking of hikes, with her finger, Barb drew a map in the snow and now I have another trail to check out soon with my guy. Should I forget the way, I’ll just reference this map. 😉

b10-raccoon prints

Because we were near water, though most of it still frozen, and the temp was high (actually, too high–in fact, it felt HOT as it soared into the upper 60˚s today), we weren’t surprised to find this set of prints created recently by a raccoon. I love the hand-like appearance and opposite diagonal of each two feet. Can’t you just see him waddling through–in your mind’s eye, that is?

b11-the bog

Our turn-around point offered an expansive view of the bog. As much as we may have wanted to head out onto it, we sided with caution and kept to the edge of the shore.

b12-winterberry

On the way back, there were other things to admire as there always is even when you follow the same route: winterberries drying up;

b13-rhodora

rhodora’s woody seed pods and flower buds swelling;

b14-willow gall

and the pinecone-like structure created with leaves by a reaction to a chemical released by the larva that allows a gall gnat midge to overwinter on the willows.

b16-carrion-flower tendrils

And then we stumbled upon a plant neither of us knew. With it’s long stem and curly tendrils, we were sure it was a vine.

b15-carrion-flower

Upon arriving home, however, I wondered about the umbel structure that had been its flower and now still held some fruits. A little bit of research and I found it: Carrion Flower (Smilax herbacea), which apparently smells rather foul when it’s in bloom and thus attracts carrion flies as its pollinator. Now I can’t wait to return and check it out in the next two seasons. Any excuse to get back there.

b17-bog to Pleasant Mountain

At last the time had come to say goodbye to the bog and then goodbye to each other. Thanks Barb, for giving me an excuse to go bogging with you. It was indeed a treat.

Brain Share–Naturally

I was thankful I’d thrown my winter coat into the truck for I had a feeling it would be a better choice than a vest given the group I’d be traveling with this morning. And sure enough, though the sun felt warm, a breeze added a chill to the air. Plus, I knew we wouldn’t travel far and would spend much of our time standing around.

r0-life on a rock

Well, not exactly standing, for as Maine Master Naturalists, we’ve been trained to get down for a closer look. Our first stop–to check out the life on a rock that was revealing itself as the snow slowly melted. Karen is on the left, an Augusta grad, and Sarah and Anthony to her right, both South Paris grads.

r0a-polypody

The focus of our attention was common polypody, a fern with leathery leaves and spherical spore clusters on the underside. Rocks are their substrate and they often give a boulder a bad-hair day look.

r1b-speckled alder

Moseying along, we reached a point where we knew we wanted to spend some time–at a wetland beside one of the Range Ponds (pronounced Rang) at Range Pond State Park in Poland, Maine. Because it likes wet feet, we weren’t surprised to find speckled alder growing there, but what did throw us for a loop was the protrusions extending from last year’s cones.

r1a-speckled alder

It was almost like they had tried to flower atop the cones and all we could think of was an insect creating a gall. Indeed, it appeared that the cones were also experiencing a bad hair day. After a little research, it may be alder tongue gall–resulting from a fungus rather than an insect infecting the female catkins. Apparently, the tongue-like growths are green to begin, but transform to orange, red and finally brown. It was certainly a new one for the four of us.

r2a-leatherleaf and sphagnum moss

On we moved down to the wetland where the snow surprisingly held us for most of the journey and we didn’t leave behind too many post holes. Leatherleaf and sphagnum moss showed off their winter hues at our feet.

r4-cranberries

We also spied cranberries hiding underneath.

r3-cranberries among the leatherleaf

And sampled them. A few were tart, while others had fermented.

r1-two lodges

In the middle of the wetland, two well built lodges stood tall. They had fresh wood and had been mudded in the fall. One did look as if the vent hole had been enlarged, so we wondered if anyone still lived there. We heard no noises, but had to assume that we were bothering the residents so we didn’t stay long.

r2-wetland and pond beyond

One last view of the wetland and pond beyond, then we turned and walked toward the opposite side.

r5-bird nest

Just before climbing uphill, we spotted a bird nest in the winterberry shrubs. It was filled with dried berries, and we again made an assumption, that a mouse had cached its stash for the winter and maybe dined there in peace and quiet while the nest was covered in snow. That’s our story and we’re sticking with it. Whose nest it was prior to the mouse? We don’t know, but it was made of twigs. If you have an answer, please enlighten us.

r6-bone

Back up on an old railroad bed, we again stopped frequently, including to talk about the beech scale insect and nectria fungus that moves in and eventually kills the trees. And then something else came to our attention–it wasn’t a broken branch hanging down like an upside-down V on the beech tree. No indeed. It was a bone. A knee bone. And it had been there for quite a while given its appearance.

r7-Introduced Pine Sawfly pupal case

Because Anthony was with us and he’s our insect whiz, we spent a lot of time learning from him–including about the pupal case of an introduced pine sawfly. The sawfly had already pupated and in this case no one was home.

r8-Introduced sawfly pupal case

As the morning went on, we became quite adept at locating more cases of other sawfly species, including one that wasn’t yet opened. We each channeled our ten-year-old selves as we tried to be first to find the next one. But really, Anthony won for he had insect case eyes.

r9-going in for a closer look

And eyes for other things as well.

r10-old spider web case

This time we examined a delicate, almost lacy structure under a branch on a young beech. Anthony suspected a pirate spider, which tickled our fancy for we imagined them raiding the goods of others. But later he e-mailed with another option: “The old spider egg case could also be from an orbweaver of the araneidae family.” Either way, we were happy for the sighting; for taking the time to slow down and notice.

r11-beech leaves

And there was more. Sarah had to leave us a wee bit early, so she missed our finds on the backside of beech leaves.

r12-maroon dots on beech leaves

They were dotted with raised bumps that under our hand lenses reminded us a bit of the sori on common polypody.

r13-maroon dots on beech leaves

Leaf rust? Was it related in any way to the splattering of tiny black dots also on the leaves? We left with questions we haven’t yet answered.

r14-hair on beech leaves

Taking a closer look did, however, remind us of how hairy beech leaves are–do you see the hairs along the main vein? And that reminded us of how the tree works so hard to protect the bud with waxy scales all winter, keeping the harsh conditions at bay. In early spring, slowly the leaves emerge, ever hairy, which strikes me as an adaptation to keep insects at bay, and then . . . and then . . . it seems like every insect finds a reason to love a beech leaf and in no time they’ve been chewed and mined and you name it.

r15-oak gall

We made one more discovery before heading out–a gall formed on oak twigs. Do you see the exit hole? It’s in the shape of a heart–apparently the insect that created the gall loved the oak.

r15-pine tube moth

As we made our way back to the parking lot, I kept searching all the pine trees because I wanted to share an example of the tube created by a pine tube moth. Of course, there were none to be found, but as soon as I arrived home, I headed off into the woods for I knew I could locate some there. Bingo.

Notice how the lumps of needles are stuck together in such a way that they formed a tube. Actually, the tube is a tunnel created by the moth. The moth used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming the hollow tube. And notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and emerge in April. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. Fortunately, they don’t seem to harm the trees–yet.

Three and a half hours later we hadn’t walked a great distance, but our findings and learnings were many and we talked about how we’d added more layers to our understanding. Now if only we can remember everything. Thanks to Karen, Sarah and Anthony for sharing your brains me with–naturally.

P.S. Lewiston MMNP grads, et al, I’ll be in touch. Look for a doodle poll soon so we can get out and do the same. Or if you want to take the initiative, please feel free to go for it.

 

 

 

On Tippy Toes with Wonder

Snowshoes were a necessity this morning as I wandered, but with them came the constant sound of breaking glass as the frozen layer of ice atop the snow crackled with each  footstep. I doubted I would see anything amazing for so much noise did I make.

o-hemlock cones and seeds

I was right, of course. It was all the usual suspects that show up ever more clearly now that the earth is draped with a snow coat. I only found a gazillion hemlock cones on the ground, most descaled and their seeds consumed by a certain red squirrel.

o-squirrel cache

The hemlock cones were below trees near the squirrel cache I’ve been keeping an eye on. Curious thing about the cache–no tunnels to the goods within and one new snow-covered cone stashed atop. Did he decide the hemlocks were easier to deal with at the moment? Will he return to the pine cone cache for dinner? Of course, I’m assuming the work is that of one squirrel, but it could be more than one in the same area.

o-pinecone on hemlock

I did spy one that made me chuckle, for one of my pet peeves is when people call all cones “pine cones.” Pine cones grow on pine trees–whether white, red, pitch or jack. Hemlock cones grow on hemlock trees. And balsam cones grow on balsam trees. You get the idea. But what do you call a pine cone on a balsam tree? A tree topper, of course. Or . . . stuck. (And I’ve got the market on corny humor.)

o-turn left

Every which way I turned, there was nothing new to look at.

o-hoar frost on white pine

But the hoar frost . . .

o-hoar frost on hemlock

added crystalized ornamentation . . .

o-hoar frost 1

wherever it gathered . . .

o-rabbit-foot clover 2

from the feathery rabbits-foot clover . . .

o-Queen Anne's lace 3

to Queen Anne’s lace . . .

o-gray birch catkin 2

and gray birch catkins. Oh my.

o-ice waves 1

As the sun rose higher, my fascination with hoar frost melted away, but another ice sculpture begged notice–its formation called to mind hills and valleys of waves topped with white caps. And still, how does it do that?

o-goldenrod gall

I found goldenrod galls as well, this one with no opening, which may mean the gall fly larva was probably still sheltered within.

o-goldenrod bunch gall

The other was a goldenrod bunch gall created by a midge. Looking like a mass of tiny leaves, it’s also known as a rosette gall for the shape at the top of the stem. In both cases, it’s amazing that insects can change a plant’s growth pattern so dramatically.

o-tracks galore

Even the tracks were of all the usual suspects from mouse to moose and I realized yet again how fortunate I am to share this space with them and know all their haunts.

o-right sign

At last I took the right turn toward home.

o-deer beds 1

And under the hemlocks in our woodlot, I counted eleven deer beds and yet, I haven’t seen a deer in a while. This, however, has long been their frequent nighttime hangout.

o-deer beds 2

As I often do when I spy several ungulate beds–I looked at their orientation and as usual each had its back to the other given the smooth curved line–with all eyes and ears on the lookout.

o-moose ice

I also found a rather large print filled with a block of ice–actually, it’s a half block of ice for it fell off of only one of a moose’s cloven toes. I wondered if the moose felt like it was walking on tippy toes until that point.

o-snowshoes

I certainly did, so frozen were the balls of ice on my snowshoes. That’s what I got for working my way through a half-frozen wetland. But it was that same water I had to thank for the creation of the hoar frost.

As awkward as it was, it was certainly fun to observe the world from my tippy toes. And despite the sameness of it all, my mind and heart were filled with wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

Power-filled Mondate

It may not have been a hurricane, but the storm that began as Philippe, left its mark as it whooshed through New England. Along its path, the world darkened. We lost power about 1am, but it was restored by the time we awoke this morning. And yet, many may be without electricity for days.

Our tentative plan had been to hike, but we realized last night that we’d need to consider Plan B. And when the sun shone this morning, we were rather oblivious to the havoc caused by downed trees and flooding. We did check the weather report, however, and saw that there would be a few showers and the wind would continue to blow. So, Plan B it was–yard work between rain drops.

For my guy, that began with work on the back screen door for a bang we’d heard in the night turned out not to be the grill or furniture sliding off the deck, but rather the door banging against a bench. And after that, it wouldn’t shut properly.

o2-bee on lavendar

While he worked on the door, I headed into the kitchen/cottage garden, which had become quite overgrown due to my lack of a green thumb. While my intention was to put the garden to bed, some flowers like the lavender needed to remain for they still invited visitors.

o3-spring tails

As I poked about, cutting some plants back, I made a few discoveries, including the sight of snow fleas or spring tails climbing a stalk.

o1-bird nest fungi 1

And buried beneath, I unearthed bird’s nest fungus, which look like such for which they were named, only in miniature form for they are no more than a quarter inch in height or diameter. Nestled inside the nests, like a bunch of eggs in a basket, are the fruiting bodies that await drops of water in order for their spores to spring out and find their own substrate on which to grow.

o5-beebalms last bloom

And then I approached the beebalm, where a few blossoms still bloomed on this late date.

o4-meadowhawk 1 on bee balm

Most of the beebalm had long since gone to seed, and today one structure became a resting spot as the wind blew. A male autumn meadowhawk seemed to hold on for dear life.

o6-meadowhawk 2

Of course, I took advantage of his moments of rest to take a closer look at the divine body structure . . .

o7-meadowhawk 3

from a variety of viewpoints.

o8-meadowhawk 4

Gender determination is based on the terminal appendages. Male dragonflies have three, known as claspers, which they use to grasp and hold a female during mating. The upper or from this view, outer appendages, are called cerci, while the lower, or middle appendage, is the epiproct–meaning its the appendage situated above the anus. Females have only a pair of cerci, and I’m not sure of their purpose. That beebalm still stands–in hopes he’ll return again.

o9-quaking aspen buds and leaf scars

As I continued to work and observe the world around me, my guy found one project after another to complete–each of which required a trip to the hardware store. Hmmmm. And so, I too, decided to go for a trip–into the woods. Donning my blaze orange vest and hat, and knowing that I wasn’t going far, I took off. My first stop was at a branch below the quaking aspen that had fallen in the night. Though it had reached its end of life, the waxy bud scales and leaf scars were a sight to behold. The smiley-face leaf scar showed where the stem or petiole of this past year’s leaf broke from the branch. As the leaf pulled away, it severed the vessels through which water and food moved. The dots within the scar indicate where those vessels had been connected and are known as bundle scars.
o10-pathway in woodlot

In our woodlot, my trail was littered with pine cones and branches, but that was the extent of tree damage.

o13-selfie

I found puddles that invited me in.

o11-jelly ears

Some branches, decorated with a variety of lichens and jelly ear fungi also found their way to the puddles.

o12a-vernal pool

At last, I reached the vernal pool and was surprised to find it only partially filled.

o12-vernal pool leaves

Atop and within it, the mosaic of broad leaves and needles formed a tapestry of shape and color–in the moment.

014-goldenrod bunch gall 1

Nearby, I paused by a goldenrod that sported a bunch, rosette, or flower gall, for really, it resembles all three.

o15-goldenrod bunch gall 2

The Goldenrod Gall Midge, which is a tiny fly, laid an egg in a leaf bud, hatched into grub form, and prevented the stem from growing, though the plant continued to produce leaves that formed a tight cluster.

o16-maple samara between milkweed pods

I finally made my way home, and turned to other gardens on the eastern side of the house, where milkweed pods also needed to remain standing. I even left the sugar maple samara because I thought it was a fun place to land.

o-17-aphids on milkweed

Also at home on the milkweed were a hundred aphids all clustered together.

020-monarch chrisalys

But the best find of all–the delicate remains of a monarch butterfly chrysalis. I had no idea it was there, but presume it housed one of the monarchs that consumed my attention a few weeks ago.

Just after we headed in, my sister-in-law called to say her sump pump had conked out. Off my guy went again.

It wasn’t the hike date we’d hoped for, but our day was filled with power tools and powerful insects and power-filled love.

 

Continued Wandering into the World of Wonder

I’ve spent most of the last two years wandering, not even taking time to seek the answers I thought I sought.

c-ichnueomon wasp female

But along the way, I’ve seen so many incredible things that have been placed before me from the female ichneumon wasp with a disc on her cerci and her body throbbing as she injected her eggs into an insect larvae on tree bark  . . .

i-helleborine wasp 1

to a yellow-nosed wasp, so named by me for the pollen that was stuck to its antennae after it visited a helleborine flower . . .

i-dragonfly and exoskeleton 1

to a dragonfly emerging from its exuviae . . .

p16-fold looking toward lighthouse

to the folds of the earth at Pemaquid Point . . .

c-geology folds

and Mount Chocorua . . .

h-pond-quaking-bog

to fall colors reflected on Holt Pond . . .

r-crescent-view-2-1

and throughout Raymond Community Forest.

p-a future embraced

The answers are wrapped up in the promise of blossoms to come . . .

l-dandelion seed head

and seeds on the fly.

p-today-in-and-out

It’s recognizing the swish of a porcupine’s trail in the snow . . .

m-opossum-print-2

or the realization that a track I’d never seen before was visible in our woods—that of the opossum.

artist conks

And it’s all enveloped in the knowledge that mycelium cover the earth and through the process of decomposition break down most matter (all matter that matters, but not things we’ve created such as our ubiquitous plastic or even this computer).

l-wood fern with sori

It’s the realization that the Earth was formed eons ago and that the word eon refers to geologic time and that plates collided and continue to do so and pressures form and rocks develop. And plants like ferns . . .

l-princess pine

and club mosses were once dominate species and as tall perhaps as our trees. It’s this and so much more.

i-lady beetles canoodling

And all of this brings me to faith. And I realize I do believe in a spiritual being. But my spiritual being is not imbedded solely in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s more than that. In all times, we’ve found people to emulate and follow. The Bible offers one such example and its writers were brilliant. For Jesus was a common person who came into this world in a way I’ve yet to understand. Was Mary really a virgin? Or was she a young woman free of sin? Or?

i-damsel larvae

According to the stories, for that’s what they are, or perhaps they are tales, sagas, lore passed from one generation to the next until all was eventually jotted down and probably revised many times over and edited by publishers, Jesus was a carpenter. A common man. With wise thoughts and perceptions. I know many such people. And so, I think that the Bible offers an example or a way to live. And a way to think. And a way to behave. But, I don’t think it should be taken literally. I don’t know how the universe was created, but it’s too simple to merely state God created it in one day or even one week.

i-baskettail, common baskettail 1

I also don’t understand those thin places where one can see both this side of life and the other side of heaven—if that’s what thin places means. But I do know that I’m intrigued by the concept. Maybe I’ve experienced such without the realization. And maybe I need to practice awareness and be more open to offerings.

i-ambush and bee 2

I have discovered that heaven and hell remain the same, whether I walk through the red doors at the church entrance and partake in communion and fellowship or find my way along a wooded path where other revelations occur before my eyes. And so, after all these years, while I embrace a church service, I’ve learned to leave guilt behind on those Sundays I choose to worship outdoors rather than in.

i-moth

In either case, I’ve so much more to learn. So many things not yet recognized; so many questions not yet formed.

i-hoverfly1

And so today, I invite you to continue the journey with me—into this world of wonder. May the answers slowly reveal themselves, while the questions never end.

 

A Generous Wander

When I donated a guided walk to a recent Lakes Environmental Association fundraiser, I was a wee bit nervous. Would anyone bid on it during the silent auction? And who might bid?

Thankfully, Carol notified me right away that she’d been the high bidder and my relief was immediate. I knew we’d have fun and the offer brought in a few bucks for an organization that has been near and dear to my heart for a long time. She chose the date, time and location. Plus she got to invite some friends along for the journey.

b-Kathy's sign 1

The chosen place–one of my favorites–Brownfield Bog. We started at the shack, where I pointed out Kathy McGreavy’s tiled map. Of course, they were wowed.

b-heron

And then we followed a short spur from the parking lot for the first view of the bog and a great blue heron flew up and then settled again.

b-buttonbush

It was there that they first viewed a buttonbush. Or at least that it first made its presence known, for I think that so many things we see often and they blend into the landscape until that moment when our eyes are opened–and our minds as well.

b-color 1

We followed another spur and noticed a sampling of fall foliage along the bog’s edge. In our minds it was swamp maple, aka red maple–or so we thought for a bit.

b-interrupted fern

At a fork in the road, Carol, Marylou and Sara chose the left-hand turn and so we entered the land of the ferns. It was here that they began to familiarize themselves with royal, cinnamon, interrupted and sensitive–noting features in their forms to tell them apart. While we walked, and at times we walked quickly for the mosquitoes were ferocious, it was fun for me to listen as they quizzed themselves.

b-meadowsweet

In a field at the end of the road, the spireas bloomed and we looked at the branching structure of meadowsweet with blossoms slowly opening in dainty clusters.

b-Saco River 2

When we reached Pirate’s Cove along the Saco River, we paused for a bit.

b-alder-leaf buckthorn 1

It was there that Sara spotted a shrub I couldn’t identify until I arrived home and slowed my brain down.

alder-leaf buckthorn2

The leaves were alternate and simple, with deep veins. But it was the color that stopped us–for it was a deep green, almost bronze on some. And we’d missed the flowers, but the fruits were spherical and when Sara opened one, she found three seeds. Turns out it was an alder-leaf buckthorn. And as far as I remember, it was the only one we spotted. But . . . as I said earlier, our minds were open and let’s hope it made an impact and the memory  lingers.

b-yellow loosestrife

We finally left the river area and as we started back on the road, they asked me to name a flower. I knew when I said its name I was wrong, but I couldn’t pull the real name out of the depths of my brain. So here ’tis–yellow loosestrife.

b-raccoon prints

Making our way back to the main road through the bog, we saw handprints in the mud and knew a raccoon had passed before.

b-Pleasant Mountain 2

Back at the intersection, we turned left and journeyed on, noticing all the pickerelweed and water lilies at the lower layer and changes in vegetation leading all the way to Pleasant Mountain.

b-meadow rue

It was along this route that we stopped most often, sometimes for things we knew like meadow rue

b-steeplebush

and the other spirea, steeplebush–these presenting several renditions of the same theme.

b-elm

We spied an elm tree and reminisced about elms of the past.

b-willow gall

And then a few willow galls shaped like pinecones called to us. This was a new one for them and though I couldn’t remember that the creator was a midge larva, the gall struck them as being a fruit, especially as we broke it open. Had we opened one in the winter, we might have seen the maggot nestled within a chamber at the center of the structure. In the spring a female midge fly lays a single egg in a terminal bud, initiating the gall formation through a chemical reaction causing the leaf tissue to harden into the shape of scales.

b-maleberry 1

I got stumped again when we kept seeing fruits on long stalks, with last year’s growth among the offering.

b-maleberry fruits 2

Once at home, I spent some more time with Michael L. Cline’s Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest, and realized it was a maleberry.

b-witherrod1

Another shrub that was plentiful throughout our journey was the witherod, aka wild raisin, its fruit ovoid in shape, turning blue as they withered.

b-swamp milkweed 1

Adding a splash of fuchsia along the way, swamp milkweed with its upright umbels.

b-silver maples 1

And then the other color that we’d noticed along the perimeter of the bog earlier and thought was red maples. Turns out those trees are silver maples and the ones with the wettest feet seemed to have already shut down their sugar production, thus allowing anthocyanin to form. This happens when sugar gets trapped in a leaf after the chlorophyll is gone and the leaf is exposed to sunlight–the resulting color being reds and purples.

b-silver maple 3

As hot as the day was, these presented a taste of the future. Some years they seem to turn earlier than others and this seems like one of the early years.

b-three amigos 1

At last we reached a turn-around point and these three amigos posed for a photo–Sara, Carol and Marylou.

b-picking blueberries

Of course, we only walked a few feet on our way back when high bush blueberries begged to be noticed. And gathered. And eaten.

b-carrion flower

Our journey back was much quicker, but still we stopped occasionally. Again I was stumped when one in the party spotted this vine. Turns out its the vine and fruit of carrion flower–one that I had never heard of before. (You know what that means.) According to Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, the green flower is ill-smelling, apparently giving rise to its common name.

b-yellow-legged meadowhawk female

Though the mosquitoes were plentiful, more so at the start than the finish, we didn’t see too many dragonflies and I’m not sure why. But this female yellow-legged meadowhawk did pause briefly.

b-checking out the map

Back by my truck, we stopped again. While Sara went in search of the white and red oak trees and their different leaves, Carol and Marylou studied Kathy’s map as they figured where we’d traveled.

It was a glorious adventure–for me anyway. A casual ramble filled with good cheer and conversation. Thank you, Carol Nugent, for your generosity in support of LEA to make this wander possible. I hope the three of you enjoyed our time together as much as I did and took some of Brownfield Bog home in your hearts.

Spotlight on the Brownfield Bog

When I drove to the Brownfield Bog, aka Major Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area, this afternoon, my intention was to pay attention to the shrubs that grow there.

b-black swallowtail

But, as usual, the distractions were many and a black swallowtail landed as I stepped out of my truck.

b-ant on alder aphid

I did note a tremendous amount of wooly alder aphids coating the alder stems everywhere I walked. In fact, I’ve never seen so much fluff. And I found only one ant eager to milk the sweet honeydew produced by the aphids as they sucked the shrubs sap. Once in a while the white fluff danced in the breeze. Was it an aphid on the fly?

b-willow flowers

Or did it come from the willows that were in the process of sending their seeds forth into the future?

b-Northern Arrowwood

So you see, I was paying attention to the shrubs, especially those in flower like the Northern Arrowwood. There was another with a similar flowerhead, but different leaves and I need to return and spend more time studying it.

b-Pleasant Mountain 2

Because I was in the bog, I did pause occasionally to peer across its advance, usually with a view of my favorite mountain (Pleasant Mountain) providing the background.

b-chalk-fronted corporal 1

But the dragonflies live there. And the chalk-fronted corporals became my BFF, since as many as twenty lifted off with each step I took. They led me all the way down the trail and all the way back, usually a few feet in front.

b-dot-tailed white face 1

The corporals weren’t the only dragons of choice.

b-dot-spotted white face 2

Dot-tailed white face dragonflies were happy to pose.

b-calico pennant 1

And I even found a few calico pennants–happy to make their acquaintance again.

b-white gall on maleberry 2

Between dragon and damselfly opportunities, white globs and . . .

b-maleberry gall?1

green caught my attention. They were the size of apples and totally new to me. My thought right now is that they are galls, similar to the azalea gall, but these were on maleberry shrubs. If you know otherwise, I welcome your information.

b-bog view

The bog was swollen with water only a few weeks ago, but that story line has passed and life sprang from the spring like a fountain of youth.

b-damsel love 1

My noticing continued when I spied a couple of youthful damselflies . . .

b-damsel love 2

he’d attached himself below her . . .

b-damsel love 3

and ever so slowly advanced . . .

b-damsel love 4

until the circle of love was complete.

b-lady beetles canoodling

Canoodling of all kinds occurred.

b-dragonflies canoodling 2

Even the dragonflies tried to get in on the action.

b-dragonflies canoodling

She wasn’t very tolerant, however, and a couple of seconds later detached herself from her forward position and took off.

b-sedge sprite 1

I moved on, looking here and there and thrilling at the sight of the beautiful and iridescent sedge sprite damselfly.

b-river jewelwing

Following the trail to the Saco River, I found tracks galore in the muck below, and a river jewelwing–appropriately named.

b-Canada geese

As I headed out, I startled a Canada goose family that had been feeding along the edge.

b-ring necked and mountain

And then I paused for one last look at the bog and Pleasant Mountain.

b-ring-necked duck

That’s when I realized I was in the presence of a male ring-necked duck. If you like to bird, this is the place. I saw several but heard so many more. And even if I couldn’t apply a name to a song, I did enjoy the symphony that followed me throughout my adventure.

b-Kathy's bog sign

Though I said I went to look at the shrubs because I do want to learn them, my real reason for going was to see this new installment.

b-Kathy's sign up close

Maine Master Naturalist (and potter) Kathy McGreavy created this handmade and painted map of the bog for her capstone project. Her husband recently installed it and it’s a work of art worth looking at not only to appreciate Kathy’s talent, but also to learn more about the bog and those that call it home.

My hope is that the spotlight will continue to shine brightly on Kathy’s creation . . . made with love in honor of her bog.

Fawning with Wonder

Though fawning is most oft used to describe someone who is over the top in the flattery department (think old school brown nose), the term is derived from the Old English fægnian, meaning “rejoice, exult, be glad.”

I just knew it was going to be that kind of day when I drove toward Holt Pond Preserve this morning. First, on Route 302, a deer dashed in front of my truck–and I avoided hitting it by mere inches. (And being hit by the woman who was smack dab on my tail.) Then, as I drove up to the summit of Perley Road, a red fox crossed my path.

To top off my feeling of gladness, in the preserve’s parking lot I met up with the most gracious of hostesses, Lake Environmental Association‘s Education Director Alanna Doughty, and the ever delightful host, Loon Echo Land Trust‘s Stewardship Director Jon Evans. Those two dynamos had joined forces to lead a public walk that looped all the way around Holt Pond. Joining the group was a gentleman named Bob and two others–my dear friends Faith and Ben Hall. The Halls had arrived at their summer camp recently and this was my first opportunity to welcome them home. After intros and a discussion about how the two organizations have collaborated on projects including Holt Pond, along with an explanation of how they differ (LEA is about water science and protecting our precious lakes and ponds, while LELT is about protecting the uplands and lowlands that surround the watershed), we headed off on our adventure.

p-oak apple gall 1

Within minutes, a small, rubbery green ball, about the size of a ping pong ball, caught our attention. This was the result of an apple oak gall female wasp (yes, there is such a species) that crawled up the tree trunk of a Northern red oak earlier in the spring and injected an egg into the center vein of a newly emerged leaf. As the larva grew, it caused a chemical reaction and mutated the leaf to form a gall around it. The leaf provided the larva sustenance. Had we left it alone, once it matured into a wasp, it would have sawed its way out through a small escape hole.

p-oak apple gall 2

Because we were curious, however, Alanna split it open so everyone could see the spoke-like structure hidden inside, that provided support for the developing insect.

I shared with the group a little tidbit I learned last fall in Ireland. When working on the manuscript for the Book of Kells, monks used these galls for the color green, soaking them in beer or mead to create a dye.

p-Alanna and Jon

That set the stage and from there on, we paused periodically to wonder, though I think we said at one point that we wanted to get all the way around before 1pm. But there’s so much to see that we had to stop. And because the pitcher plants grow beside the boardwalk, it was hard to ignore them. Being Alanna, she got down on her knees to talk about how this carnivorous plant functions, enticing insects into its pitcher-like leaves that are filled with water and digestive enzymes. Because of downward-sloping hairs  on the leaf, insects can’t climb out and eventually they succumb–allowing the plant to break them down and absorb their nutrients.

p-pitcher plants flowering

Today, the pitcher’s flowers were beginning to bloom.

p-Indian Cucumber Root

As our journey continued, we stopped to admire other flowers including the Indian Cucumber Root,

p-jack in the pulpit

Jack in the Pulpit,

p-lady's 1

and pink lady’s slipper.

p-Faith on beech

To show off the contorted growth of a tree, Faith graciously took a brief break at the beech.

p-greater bladder sedge

While Jon shared a lot of information about South Bridgton’s historical past, Alanna enlightened us on the works of nature, including the bladder sedge with its inflated, teardrop-shaped sacs that enclose its fruit. Though common, like the pitcher plant flowers, it’s otherworldly in form.

p-nannyberry?

And then we got stumped by one shrub we should have known. Witherod (wild raisin) or Nannyberry? We decided on the latter for a couple of reasons–the petioles (stems) of the leaves were somewhat winged and the veins beneath the leaves were not scurfy. Scurfy? That was a new term for me–meaning rough to the touch or covered with scales.

p-Bob, Alanna, Faith 1

As our journey continued, we passed lots of hobblebush in the understory. But not to be missed were the witch hazels. And more galls, this time the witch’s cap that grows on their leaves and forms a cone-shaped structure much like a witch’s cap. How fitting that the Witch Hazel Cone Gall Aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis) chose this particular shrub. Having caused the leaf to form a gall around her, mother aphid stayed inside, where she’s protected as she feeds and reproduces.

p-porky 1

During our journey, we shared brains and eyes. I’m thankful for others who thought to look up, and spotted a porcupine looking down.

p-grouse bath

We also looked down, spying the spot where a bird took a dust bath.

p-grouse bath feather

In this case, it was the work of a ruffed grouse that wanted to rid itself of lice and mites. A stray feather was also left behind. Do you see it?

p-fawn 3

But our best find of all–a young fawn curled up beside the trail. I was leading and talking at the time and didn’t even see it. Faith quietly called me back and I was sure she wanted to show me a snake. We paused quickly to take a few photos and this babe never flinched, obeying its mother’s order to stay put while she went off to feed. (I used to try that at the end of the aisle in a grocery store when my guys were young–but they did their fair share of flinching.)

We’d been blessed–and we all rejoiced while fawning with wonder.

 

 

 

June Dandies

It’s early June and our world is lush, given this past winter’s snow and now the spring rain. Areas that we remembered as being dry last year, are filled with puddles or streams right now ( I promise I’m not going the mention those pesky little buzzers that frolic about my face and sting my hands–and how much they’re loving the current conditions. I did spot some dragonflies yesterday, but today not a one).

r-lady 3

It’s those wet conditions that threw a friend and I off for a wee bit this afternoon as we tramped through the woods in search of a yellow lady’s slipper. Initially, we were about fifteen feet too far to the right as we tried to avoid the water.

r-lady 2

After wandering for a short bit, we finally found it on a bit of dry land–and then stood in awe–at our own ability to locate the flower, but even more so at the flower itself.  Yellow lady’s slippers are not rare, but uncommon and so we rejoiced with our find. They prefer mesic (moderately moist) nutrient-rich forests (as well as in bogs and swamps), thus the water (and mosquitoes–okay, so I broke my promise).

r-lady 7

Lady’s slippers are members of the orchid family.  I used to think orchids were flowers girls wore on their wrists for senior prom or grandmas coveted–though I never knew either of my grandmothers, but certainly it was an “old lady’s” flower. My, how my understanding and appreciation has changed because I am certainly NOT an old lady. Or am I?

Check out the reddish-brown dotted pathway–like landing lights at an airport runway. Their intention is to guide pollinators. If we remember to return in the fall and look for a seedpod, we’ll know that the dots worked. They often don’t.

r-brook 1

We could have gone home then, so tickled were we with our success of finding that pouch of a flower, but . . . as you might expect, we continued on, making several brook crossings as we went.

r-brook 2

Everywhere, mosses and liverworts offered forty shades of green. Oh wait–that’s Ireland. But right now, it’s western Maine as well.

r-christmas fern 2

And because it was so damp, the forest we roamed was filled with Christmas ferns featuring young and old blades.

r-Indian cucumber Christmas fern

We even found one that sprouted an Indian Cucumber Root whorl as if it was a flower.

r-christmas fern gall

But what aroused our curiosity was another that seemed to have been affected by insects forming galls. Neither of us could remember seeing anything like this before, but then again, so many times when we see something we think of as new, we soon discover that it’s more prevalent than we realized. That being said, we only found the “galls” on a few of these ferns, all in the same area in a wet seep.

r-wild oat

Further along, we noted sessile-leaved bellworts, in flower a month ago, now sporting their seedpods or wild oats that speak to their other common name. And the leaf of at least this one had been visited by an insect–a leaf minor trail standing out in white against the green.

r-cannoddling craneflies 2

r-cannoddling craneflies

And then we found craneflies canoodling. They didn’t seem to care that we watched.

r-toad 1

They weren’t our only wildlife sightings (besides the mosquitoes–did I mention mosquitoes?). A young American toad hopped by, pausing ever so slightly to show off its raised warts.

r-frog 1

And a frog slipped into the water–the better to escape our ogling.

r-land of the cinnamon fern

As we wound our way around a wetland filled with cinnamon ferns, we noted a few flowers in bloom or about to bloom.

r-clintonia 1

Yellow clintonia,

r-jack in the pulpit 1

Jack-in-the-pulpit (times two actually–and I’m not sure how we spied these for they hid like trolls under their leaves),

r-Indian Cucumber flower

Indian cucumber root,

r-Early coralroot 2

and early coralroot caught our attention.

r-round-leaf pyrola1

Not yet in bloom was the round-leaf pyrola, aka American shinleaf. Oh darn, another reason to return and see it blossom.

r-red trillium 3

And just past its blossoming stage–red trillium,

r-red trillium 1

its red leached to almost maroonish brown and stamen looking rather gray.

r-Pam taking a photo of pyrola

Despite the mosquitoes (what mosquitoes?) and a few raindrops, we shared a fun afternoon hike circling the path of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Ron’s Loop by Five Kezar Ponds.

The journey was with my friend named Pam, not June. But June is the month and together we enjoyed numerous dandies that need to be enjoyed in the moment for soon we’ll not realize they ever existed.

June dandies indeed–worth making time to wander and wonder. (Despite the mosquitoes.)

 

 

Morning Glory at Kezar River Reserve

Some mornings the hallelujahs spring forth from my being–and fortunately not from my vocal cords.

k-Kezar River sign

Today was one of those days as I ventured down the snowmobile trail, aka Parnes Landing Road, at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Kezar River Reserve. Just past the kiosk, I veered to the left to follow the GLLT’s trail into the woods.

k-jelly topside1

Within steps I was greeted by Auricularia auriula, a jelly ear fungus. The sun’s beams revealed veins reminiscent of stained glass windows and polished woodwork in an older church.

k-jelly under 2

Flipping the fallen oak branch to look at the underside revealed an equally, if not more beautiful design with its frosted outline.

k-wintergreen

On a steep hill beside Kezar River, actually the sloped side of a ravine I’d never hiked upon before, a southerly orientation presented lives past and present.

k-bench

Below, at the point where the trail, road and river meet, few have paused recently, including no sign of otter.

k-river view

But many have zoomed by with a need to reach the next destination as fast as possible.

k-ravine 1

I followed their tracks a little way out and peeked into the second ravine from a vantage point seldom celebrated.

k-big tooth aspen leaf

And then I headed back up the road to the next trail intersection. At my feet, form bespoke name, such is the manner of the big tooth aspen.

k-ravine 2

Down into the second ravine I tromped as I made my way to view the outlet from the other side.

k-otter 1

Because of the snow’s depth, I traveled to places less frequented and beside the stream I noted previous action. Lots of it.

k-otter activity1

And I spied evidence of the creator–whose prints were hard to distinguish, but other signs easily discernible.

k-my otterness

In my attempt to take a closer look, I practiced my inner otter and managed to find the water and leave my own set of muddy, though not quite webbed, prints. I laughed aloud as I pulled myself up and gave thanks for remembering to bring my hiking pole. Fortunately, the breakthrough was the only sign I left behind.

k-nature's snowball

Heading up the ravine, I smiled at the sight of the universe having fun–nature rolled her own snowballs–perhaps in preparation to build a snow woman.

k-pine cathedral

Through the cathedral of pines I continued–always looking up . . .

k-ice art

and down, where intricate patterns formed naturally in the ice offered a feathery look at the world below.

k-paper birch lateral bud

Sometimes, I stopped to spend a few moments with family members . . .

k-yellow birch

taking time to marvel in their similarities and differences as they stood side by side.

k-oak gall

And it seems there are many hosts throughout our woodlands that offer a spot for others to evolve.

k-oak crown

Despite or perhaps because of that, knowing they’d offered a helping hand, the oaks sported their crowns proudly.

k-pussy willow

Quite unexpectedly, I stumbled upon a picture of youth that warms my heart endlessly.

k-flowers in bloom

My journey wasn’t long, such is the trail. It’s decorated with small bright signs painted by local youngsters. Though I wouldn’t want to see these on every trail, they make me smile as I enjoy their colorful renditions of the natural world.

Not a picture of a morning glory, certainly, but a morning full of glory as I wandered and wondered and sang hallelujah along the trail at Kezar River Reserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing Focus Sundate

Because we’d traversed the trails along the western portion of Sebago Lake State Park a few weeks ago, my guy and I thought we’d try the eastern portion today. The sun shone brilliantly and there was a slight breeze as we drove down the park road to the boat launch parking lot.

s-map (1)

Studying the map, we decided to follow the Outer Loop in a counter-clockwise fashion.

s-following my guy (1)

Snowshoes were a must, but the trail was well traveled. My guy’s attire spoke to the breeze and a bit of a chill that greeted us.

s-songo 6 (1)

Whenever we could, we took in the view of the Songo River that winds its way from nearby Brandy Pond in Naples to Sebago Lake on the Casco side of the park. This river has been the focus of the Lakes Environmental Association for the past ten years as it was once heavily infested with variable-leaf milfoil. Thanks to LEA’s good works, the invasive aquatic plant has been eradicated, though the milfoil crew conducts routine check-ups each summer.

s-sandbar 2 (1)

When we reached the lake, we chose a diversion and followed the trail along the sandbar.

s-Songo from sandbar (1)

It offered a backward view of the lagoon and we could hear Canada geese honking from the open water.

s-picnic tables (1)

And then we turned and headed to the beach. The park service grooms the trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, making for an easy hike when we stayed on trail, which we did for the most part today. Picnic tables and outdoor grills were abundant and we had our choice.

s-Sebago lunch view

We chose one in the sun for it had little snow on it. This was our lunch view. As Maine’s second largest lake, Sebago Lake is twelve miles long and covers a surface area of 45.6 square miles. The maximum depth is over 300 feet and its mean depth is just over 100 feet. The 105-mile shoreline touches the towns of Naples, Casco, Raymond, Windham, Standish, Sebago, and Frye Island. All that and we’ve never spent any time on it. We’ll have to fix that in the future.

s-water (1)

Water clarity is excellent and the bottom can be viewed at 45 feet. That’s all good news for Portland and surrounding towns for the lake is the source of their drinking water–thanks to the Portland Water District.

s-songo river out of focus

We followed the trail along the boundary of the park, passing through hemlock groves and mixed hardwood communities. But really, there wasn’t much change in the terrain and we decided we much preferred the west side. A couple of hours later, we were happy to be back beside the Songo River, having completed the loop. And we were ready to change our focus.

s-wasp 3

Back at home, my guy decided to revamp our grill. And I decided to snowshoe some more. By 2:30, the temp had risen into the 40˚s and I didn’t bother with a jacket or gloves. Right off the deck, I found my first great find–a wasp moving sluggishly on the snow’s surface. Those wee claws at the end of its foot (tarsus) must have been frozen.

s-script lichen

I didn’t go far, but spent lots of time in quiet admiration. There were things to notice, like many, many mammal tracks. And this crustose lichen which is a script lichen. It’s “script” could easily be mistaken for a branching plant.

s-oak gall

Each time I stopped, I wondered what I might see that I hadn’t viewed before. And I wasn’t disappointed. One oak had several twigs with woody growth forms where buds should have been swelling. I decided they were galls and conducted some research when I returned home. I think the tumor-like swelling is a gouty gall that grows on oaks. Apparently, it’s created by a wasp. Hmmm. Not the one I saw, but a tiny wasp of the cynipidae family. The galls provide food and protection for the developing larvae.

s-red bud insect

I found another protective covering on the maleberry that grows near the cowpath. I’m not sure what insect created this cozy home, but being in the wind tunnel that comes down the powerline, its rather impressive that it still exists.

s-vernal pool

My last stop was the vernal pool. I wasn’t the only one who paid a visit. I found snowshoe tracks created by a neighbor who had stopped by to look and deer tracks that crossed the front edge of the pool. I think the snow will melt eventually and life will begin again for the spring peepers, wood frogs and salamanders–it always does.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I love winter. But . . . I can feel a change of focus in the air and see it in all that surrounds me. I guess that’s why I love being a New Englander.

 

The Wonders of Kezar River Reserve

How many people can  travel a familiar route for the first time every time? I know I can.

j-kiosk

And so it was this morning when I ventured to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Kezar River Reserve off Route 5 in Lovell. I went with a few expectations, but nature got in the way, slowed me down and gave me reason to pause and ponder–repeatedly.

k-oak-gall-1

As I walked along the trail above the Kezar River, I spied numerous oak apple galls on the ground. And many didn’t have any holes. Was the wasp larvae still inside?

k-partridgeberry

While the dots on the gall were reddish brown, the partridgeberry’s oval drupes shone in Christmas-red fashion. I’m always awed by this simple fruit that results from a complex marriage–the fusion of pollinated ovaries of paired flowers. Do you see the two dimples? That’s where the flowers were attached. Two became one. How did they do this?

k-fairy-2

After walking along the first leg of the trail, I headed down the “road” toward the canoe launch. And what to my wondering eyes should appear–fairy homes. Okay–true confession: As a conclusion to GLLT’s nature program for the Lovell Recreation Program this summer, the kids, their day camp counselors and our interns and docents created these homes.

k-fairy-1

I was impressed that the disco ball still hangs in the entrance of this one. Do you see it? It just happens to be an oak apple gall. Creative kids. I do hope they’ve dropped by with their parents to check on the shelters they built.

k-bench

And then I reached the launch site and bench. It’s the perfect spot to sit, watch and listen. So I did. The bluejays kekonked, nuthatches yanked and kingfishers rattled.

k-ripples

A gentle breeze danced through the leaves and offered a ripply reflection.

k-river-4-morning

And I . . . I awaited great revelations that did not come. Or did they? Was my mind open enough to receive? To contemplate the mysteries of life? The connections? The interactions?

k-ridgeline-2-1

At last, I moved on and entered a section that is said to be uncommon in our area: headwall erosion. This is one of five ravines that feature deep v-shaped structures. Underground streams passing through have eroded the banks. It’s a special place that invites further contemplation. And exploration.

k-skate-bugs

One of my favorite wonders on the bit of stream that trickled through–water striders. While they appeared to skate on the surface, they actually took advantage of water tension making it look like they walked on top as they feasted on insects and larvae that I could not see.

k-turtle-sign

Lots of turtle signs also decorated the trail. Literally.

k-bear-sign

In fact, I found bear sign,

k-cardinal-sign

cardinal sign,

k-ladys-slipper

and lady’s slipper sign . . . among others. Local students painted the signs and it’s a fun  and artistic addition to the reserve.

k-blue jay feather.jpg

Of course, there was natural sign to notice as well, including a blue jay feather.

K-aster .jpg

Asters and goldenrods offered occasional floral decorations.

k-hobbleberries

And hobblebush berries begged to be noticed.

k-meadowhawk-1

And then a meadowhawk dragonfly captured my attention. I stood and watched for moments on end.

k-red-maple-leaf

And noted that the red maples offered similar colors.

k-squirrel.jpg

When I reached the canoe launch “road,” I was scolded for my action.

k-river-later-1

Despite that, I returned to the bench overlooking the mill pond on the river. Rather than sit on the bench this time,  I slipped down an otter slide to the water’s edge.

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My efforts were rewarded. Frogs jumped. And a few paused–probably hoping that in their stillness I would not see them. But I did . . . including this green frog.

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My favorite wonder of the day . . .

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moments spent up close and personal with another meadowhawk.

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No matter how often I wander a trail, there’s always something, or better yet, many somethings, to notice. Blessed be for so many opportunities to wonder beside the Kezar River.