Stories from the Eye of the Barn

At the top of a lane in South Bridgton, Maine, sits the homestead of the Peabody-Fitch family.

A pioneer settler of Bridgton, William Peabody married Sally Stevens on August 14, 1797, in Andover, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Jacob Stevens, a ranking member of the surveying crew who came to Bridgton in 1766 to survey the plots of land. He returned in 1768, under contract with the proprietors to develop water power along Stevens Brook and make it serve early settlers.

William built this house in 1797, just three years after Bridgton was incorporated. The house was 30 x 45’, 2.5 stories with a center chimney and six fireplaces: 3 up and 3 down. The Peabodys had ten children, though four died at a young age.

Their fourth daughter, Mary, married George Fitch of Sebago on Dec 21, 1823, and in about 1828 the Fitches took over the hilltop farm. At the time of their marriage, William was in his late 50s and Sally not well. That meant that the house needed to accommodate two families: Mary’s parents and three of her younger siblings, plus Mary and George and their growing brood.

George Fitch added an ell with a new kitchen, larder, pantry and two bedrooms. A shed and carriage house were also included.

By 1856, George Fitch owned 80 improved acres and 128 unimproved acres. The farm produced wheat, Indian corn, oats, buckwheat, maple syrup butter and cheese. In addition, he had a stand of mulberry trees for silk worms. The cocoon, when unraveled, can be spun into silk.

A 40 x 60’ barn was built by Mr. Fitch and friends beside an already existing 40 x 40’ barn to help house his two horses, six milk cows, six working oxen, six other cattle, sixteen sheep and one swine. Hay would have been stored there as well.

The lore of what’s always been known as the Temperance Barn, is that it was supposedly constructed during prohibition without the usual swigs of rum for all who helped in the building process. Following a blog post I wrote in December 2018 about this very property, a granddaughter of Margaret Monroe who gifted the property to the historical society in 1987 wrote the following message: “Hi – I am glad you enjoy my grandmother’s property. A heads up that there is no written documentation from the period re: the barn actually being built without alcohol. My grandmother was prone to making up history. I want to give respect to hardy native Mainers: Monroes were largely summer people. My grandmother also said sherry wasn’t alcoholic and would drink a big glass of it every night before dinner, Lark cigarette in her other hand. Rebecca Monroe.”

But it was the granite foundation that drew part of our attention today. Apparently, when Mr. Fitch first built the barn, it sat upon a two-foot foundation, but he later raised it by eight feet, perhaps to store manure below.

To take a look at where the granite came from, I headed up the trail behind the house, which is owned by the Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo Land Trust’s new Peabody-Fitch Woods that surround the farm with companions Marita, Mary and Steve. Along the way, we saw numerous delicate Purple Milkworts still in bloom.

And really, we took a detour because we wanted to first honor another granite structure that has long stood upon Fitch Hill.

According to an August 17, 1963 article in the Bridgton News, “Enoch Perley, early settler of South Bridgton, built his first house in 1777 and brought his bride to their new home in 1778. (Five Fields Farm location)

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

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

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

Hiking back down the trail to our second destination located along a spur, we were stopped by an anomaly on a White Pine. An individual Pine Tube Moth caterpillars bound together 10 – 20 needles with silk to form a hollow tube. Though we couldn’t see it, we could see by the evidence that it had moved up and down the tube to feed on the tips of the bound needles, which were much shorter than those that were free. Eventually, the caterpillar will eat itself out of house and home, and move to another set of needles to repeat its tube-making, needle-feeding behavior before it pupates within one.

Our second destination was to a quarry we’ve all visited periodically over the years. This was the spot from which the foundations for the barn and other buildings were quarried so long ago.

Spaced about six inches apart are the drill marks made by Mr. Fitch and perhaps hired hands. Today, I asked a hand modeler to kindly provide a sense of depth for the drilled holes.

After a brief pause at what we now think of as Quarry #1, the four of us bushwhacked around the side of the hill, following my nose to the next location recently discovered by Jon Evans of both Loon Echo Land Trust and the Bridgton Historical Society.

Quarry #2 was much bigger and deeper.

We poked around and found old drill marks on slabs still in place.

Perhaps one of our favorite finds was a stone that slightly resembled a keyboard, the holes only two or three inches apart.

At a ninety degree angle, they continued down the side of the same stone. What made us wonder the most was the curve in the rock–usually they follow a straight line in the grain, thus giving the stones a uniform shape. This one did not. Maybe the Temperance story really is a legend.

And then we spotted another beauty.

Again, the hand modeler showed off the depth and width of a much wider hole, created with a much deeper and wider instrument.

Below the quarry, we found two slides of rocks and between, what might have been a “roadway” used by oxen pulling sleds in the winter to haul the stone out. We followed it for a few minutes because we thought we’d spied the Narrow Gauge Train Track below, but realized we were fooled by a few patches of reindeer lichen that were lighter in color than the surrounding woods, thus mimicking an open route. One of these days, we’ll explore further. The question remains: Was the rock quarried here and used to support the rail track at certain points along the way, or was it shipped out via train to other destinations?

We didn’t know the answer, but did spy a few of my pet species, including Rock Polypody Ferns growing upon granite as is its habit.

The underside of its fertile fronds were still decorated with mounds of sporangia. While many other ferns feature a membrane covering the sporangia during development, this one does not. Each tiny bubble within the larger “mound” is packed with spores, waiting their turn to catapult into the air.

After a couple of hours, we returned to the field and my companions, Marita, Mary and Steve, kindly posed with Narramissic in the background.

In the end, we departed knowing that there’s much more to the story of this land that perhaps only the eye of the weathered barn board knows as it peeks out from behind fringed bangs, gray from watching all that has taken place for almost two hundred years. If only it wood share those stories.

Bear to Beer: Peabody-Fitch to Bear Trap

Our bear to beer tour was supposed to last a year, but here it is February 18, and we’ve already completed three of the treks. I think my guy really likes this Christmas present.

If you aren’t aware, for Christmas I gave him a small box I’d decorated with hiking stickers. Inside were thirteen pieces of paper (actually bobcat prints post-its) upon which I’d written the name of a trail where I thought we might find what we call bear trees for they are trees with bear claw marks, plus a place to grab a pint after the hike.

Because it was snowing today, we decided to stay closer to home and visit a property we hope Loon Echo Land Trust will soon own. It surrounds the Bridgton Historical Society’s Narramissic Farm and is one of our favorite places to wander in any season.

Rather than cross through the field as we usually do, I suggested that we follow the former road (current snowmobile trail) behind the barn. At the first stone wall, we passed from the Narramissic property on to what we hope will become the 252-acre Peabody-Fitch Woods that Loon Echo will own once they reach enough dollars to make the purchase.

Another part of my guy’s Christmas present was a donation toward said purchase, which an anonymous foundation will match. It seemed like a win-win deal when I sat down with Thom Perkins, former executive director of LELT to discuss the property proposal. And then last month I co-led a walk along part of the route we followed today and had the joy of learning more about it from Jon Evans, Loon Echo’s Stewardship Manager, and Matt Markot, LELT’s new executive director.

Not far down the snowmobile trail, we turned left at a stone wall, the same as we had during the LELT walk in late January. I was sure this was a route new to my guy, but it turns out it used the be the snowmobile trail and so he knew it. Right away, as we hobbled over and pulled up some downed trees, we began to see a variety of mammal prints muffled by the morning’s snow. Both prey and predator make their homes there and the property’s importance as part of the animal corridor was obvious.

Eventually, the trail swung around and rejoined the snowmobile trail. We followed it for a bit, then turned off at the blue arrow for that was our chosen way for today. It appeared that someone had an eye on my snowshoes.

We’d no sooner started along the trail when I heard the rat-a-tat drumming of a male hairy woodpecker. Of course, I needed to pause and watch him for a few minutes. And wonder about the purpose of his drumming. Was he establishing territory? Trying to get a date?

My guy was patient with me, but our mission was about more than the birds, and so we journeyed on. Mind you, we kept looking at the trees along the way, but suspected we’d find bear evidence on our return trip when we planned to go off trail. In the moment, we were eager to get to the quarry and find lunch rock.

It was buried, but my guy in his chivalrous manner, wiped the snow off and we each ate a slice of cold, homemade pizza and drank some water.

Behind lunch rock, plug and feather holes served as reminders of an earlier time–much earlier than either of us remembered. The quarry was the source of the stone foundations for Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Farm, which dates back to 1797.

With lunch under our belts, onward and upward we hiked until we reached a certain stone pile.

Mind you, it’s located a tad from the proposed Peabody-Fitch Woods, but still, we love to visit bear trap and imagine the past.

I’ve quoted this before, but it’s worth sharing again.

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

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

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

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

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

In honor of the Perleys, Peabodys, Fitches, and the bears, we’d brought along a growler, a Valentine’s Day present from my guy to me.

We each enjoyed a few sips and then peered inside the trap to see if anyone had taken up residence. Perhaps we should have done that first! Thankfully, no one was home.

Eventually, we headed back to the trail, but didn’t spend long on it.

Instead, we began looking for bear trees. To test your visual acuity, can you spot my guy?

I couldn’t always see him for we split up for about an hour and zigzagged our way from one beech tree to another. I found one that gave itself a hug.

There were those with false lines. Well, they weren’t really false, but they weren’t caused by a bear either. Instead, surrounding saplings blowing in the wind had scratched them.

Then there was the tree that seemed to have stitch marks on the outside of its wound. Unfortunately, the stitches didn’t help.

One of my favorites was the beech that made me think it was a deer bending over as if to take a bow.

That made perfect sense in these woods where the deer did dine.

And at least one rubbed its antlers.

Suddenly, from a distance I heard my guy call to me. He thought he’d found what we sought. A bear tree. The growth at the top certainly leant itself to that assumption.

I’m not one hundred percent sure that he was right, but there were some marks that looked consistent with bear activity–a bear with a very big hand.

Closer to the trail, we did find another tree with bear sign–left behind by Teddy Bear and K.F., whoever that might be.

About three hours after crossing through the stone wall behind the barn to enter the future Peabody-Fitch Woods, we did the same at the far end of the farm field.

And in the end, even if our bear tree wasn’t exactly that, we’d still had a bear sighting–in the form of the trap. Today’s brew was Double C.R.E.A.M. Ale from Bear Bones Beer Brewery. Bear to beer possibilities: Peabody-Fitch to Bear Trap.

Babe in the Woods

This morning dawned bright and brisk and offered a brilliant background for a journey through the almost Peabody-Fitch Woods that Loon Echo Land Trust hopes to add to their holdings. The 252 acres of the proposed project surrounds Bridgton Historical Society‘s Narramissic Farm.

Jon Evans, Loon Echo’s Stewardship Manager and board member of the historical society had asked me to join the walk that would highlight the Peabody-Fitch Homestead built in 1797 and introduce Loon Echo’s new executive director Matt Markot. In the morning light, we circled the house as Jon shared some of the farm’s story.

On the northern side of the house, we paused to enjoy the view, including Pleasant Mountain just beyond the trees to the left of the field. The land trust also owns and protects over 2,000 acres of the mountain that defines this area of western Maine.

Measuring the effect of the cold on the hike’s participants, Jon chose his stop points, where he shared his keen knowledge of the farm and the lands that surround it. For me, it’s always a joy to tramp with him because his connection to the land is personal, and this particular piece even more than most for Jon’s family long ago farmed an adjacent acreage and he grew up traipsing through the very woods we snowshoed today. (And this photo includes Margaret Lindsay Sanborn, mother of Matt Markot, LELT’s new ED who stands to his mom’s right.)

As we circled behind the barn I shared with Jon a bit of knowledge that adds to the lore of what’s always been known as the Temperance Barn, supposedly constructed during prohibition without the usual swigs of rum for all who helped in the building process. Following a blog post I wrote in December 2018 about this very property, a granddaughter of Margaret Monroe who gifted the property to the historical society in 1987 wrote the following message: Hi – I am glad you enjoy my grandmother’s property. A heads up that there is no written documentation from the period re: the barn actually being built without alcohol. My grandmother was prone to making up history. I want to give respect to hardy native Mainers: Monroes were largely summer people. My grandmother also said sherry wasn’t alcoholic and would drink a big glass of it every night before dinner, Lark cigarette in her other hand. Happy Holidays! Rebecca Monroe

It turns out that wasn’t the only story that had more to offer than I’d originally thought to be true. As we were about to pass through a stonewall behind the barn, my eyes cued in on debris below some trees. Certainly it was the work of woodpeckers and I stepped onto the wall in search of scat. Nada.

Looking up at the pin cherry tree, I found not pileated works, but the incisors of another that gave a clue.

And below, pigeon-toed tracks. Between the incisor marks and tracks I knew the creator, but it didn’t make sense to me, for though I find hemlock twigs below such a tree when a porcupine has clipped them, I couldn’t recall ever seeing bark chips below a porky tree. In my brain, the rodent ate the bark as it sought the cambium layer within. I dismissed it as a lesson to be considered and we moved on.

Jon led us along a colonial road from the historical society’s property to a stonewall that delineated the Peabody-Fitch Woods. We turned onto a trail I’d never traveled before and made our way along another farm road. Periodically, Jon, Matt, and I bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge about the trees and forest succession that had occurred since the farm was last a working land. We also spied a few mammal tracks, including those of a bobcat.

At last, we circled around and found our way back toward the border between the P-F Woods and farm.

Close to the Temperance Barn again, porcupine tracks crisscrossed to the stonewall where we’d seen their activity at the start of our journey.

Near the parking lot and Blacksmith Shop, more porcupine works made themselves evident–by their tracks and the debarked trees.

Incredibly debarked trees. I’m always amazed by the fact that porcupines, given their size, can find support on trees and limbs that seem so flimsy. I’ve been told that they’re known to have many broken bones and it makes sense given the precarious choices they make to seek winter nutrients.

Once again, there was bark debris. In the past I’ve always said that beavers leave wood chips, but porcupines eat the bark and cambium layer.

The evidence was obvious given the prints and comma-shaped scat. But the bark debris proved me wrong today.

And I loved that. When Jon first introduced me as a Maine Master Naturalist, he asked how long I’ve been such. “Six years,” I said. And though I’ve spent my sixty years wandering and wondering in the woods and along the coast of southern and northern New England, it was the Master Naturalist class that taught me how to take a closer look.

Do you see the green of the cambium layer? And those incisor marks–how they are at opposing angles? Those I recognized.

But . . . the porcupines taught me something new today.

Six years–I’m still a babe in the woods.

Merry Christmas from Narramissic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the same for the ruffed grouse? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas from and to Narramissic! 

Remembering Sue

Our greater community has lost a remarkable woman with the sudden passing of fiber artist and historian Sue Black. Though we didn’t tramp together as often as we would have liked, when we did my journey was enriched as Sue added an historical observation to the context. And she was just plain down-to-earth and fun.

For years, she chuckled when she saw me in the audience of her talks about the mills along Stevens Brook that she gave each summer at Lakes Environmental Association. The talk was always the same, but each time I came away with a new understanding. And then I’d join her guided walk beside the brook the next morning.

As time passed, Sue couldn’t always lead the walk and so I had the honor of trying to fill her shoes. I was humbled by the experience, and though I could hear her whispering facts into my ears, I couldn’t add the personal touch that made Sue’s walks so enjoyable for she’d raised sheep and as she often demonstrated at various fairs and fests, she’d processed the wool, creating her own fiber.

At the mill sites, Sue brought the former activity to life again–albeit in our minds–with her detailed descriptions.Once or twice a year, Jinny Mae, Sue and I tramped together along other routes than the brook, always a journey that included stonewalls, dam sites and cellar holes left behind. Our mission, which we delightfully accepted, was to become sleuths and interpret the various scenes, looking for evidence of those who had come before.

I last saw Sue and her husband, Sam, two weeks ago and she and I started chatting about our next adventure with Jinny Mae. We knew the location, but hadn’t yet set the date.

Jinny Mae and I will continue to tramp, and will take Sue along in spirit, our lives forever imprinted with her smile and voice and love for the next adventure.

Two years ago I posted this blog about the mills along Stevens Brook and here it is again:

For Sue . . .

Milling About Stevens Brook

I must begin with a thank you to fiber artist, historian and friend, Sue Black. Sue has led numerous walks along the very trail I followed today and I’ve often been in her presence–usually with notebook in hand so I could jot information down and gain a better understanding of this place.

s-trail sign

Though she wasn’t with me today, I could hear Sue as I mosied along examining the old mill sites of the Stevens Brook Trail in Bridgton. And many of the words that follow are probably hers. I also gleaned info from the Bridgton Historical Society several years ago, when Sue couldn’t lead the walk and asked me to fill in. So I guess, really, what follows is like the confluence of the Stevens and Willet Brooks–two streams that meet to form one.

s-boardwalk under water

Bridgton was once a thriving mill town and Stevens Brook its source of power. Of course, to do this properly, I should begin at Highland Lake, the source of the brook, but  I’m not a proper-sort-of gal and you’ll have to bear with me. I didn’t begin at Pondicherry Park either–for the boardwalk was under water.

s-below Pondicherry

Instead, I slipped onto the trail at Depot Street, beside the Bridgton Community Center. By this point, Willet Brook has joined forces with Stevens, thus increasing the power of the water. I was backtracking, and again didn’t get far because of water flowing over the trail, but along the way I made a discovery. Those beautiful trees that lean over the brook–silver maples (Acer saccharinum). It never occurred to me that they grew here, but made perfect sense.

s-silver maple leaf

The backside of the deeply-lobed leaves are silvery gray in old age and silvery white during their prime.

I should have taken a photo of the old Memorial School because that was the sight of the train depot (Depot Street) for the Bridgton and Saco River Railroad that was built in 1883–a narrow gauge operating from Hiram, but didn’t think of it at the time. Instead, I followed the stone steps down, walked beside the brook as it ran below the deep bank by Stevens Brook Elementary School and came up behind a few old buildings, back on Depot.

s-food city bridge

And then I stood on the bridge overlooking Food City. I should note that this is power site #4. Yup, I’ve skipped the first three for now. Stick with me. We’ll get there. In 1822, this area of town wasn’t part of the main village–that was confined to Main Hill. A water-powered carding mill equipped to prepare wool for spinning, thus replacing the tedious hand work of disentangling, cleaning and intermixing the fibers was in operation in this area at the time. By 1825, James Flint and Aaron Littlefield built a sawmill, which they operated for 15 years. In 1840, this was the site of the Walker Saw Mill and Grist Mill. And then things changed. The Pondicherry Mill was built in 1865 to manufacture woolen goods. It was one of the most extensive manufacturing plants in Maine at that time and employed 50 operators. Standing where I was on the bridge, I could see the stones related to the mill and dam. The dam disintegrated in the 1960s.

s-coal trestle

s-trestle 2

In 1898, the neighboring town of Harrison wanted to be joined to the railroad and the RR owners obliged. From this spur, a trestle was built that carried coal in dump carts to the Pondicherry Mill. The structure has deteriorated immensely, but still stands as a monument to this moment in history. So wait, think about this coal situation. The mill had grown to employ 225 people and water power from the brook was no longer dependable. An immense coal-burning chimney about 100 feet in height had been added to the mill. Sixty looms produced 18,000 yards of cloth weekly. Though the building stood until the mid-sixties, the industry moved south long before that. The stones by the brook and trestle are all that are left to tell the story. A now-deceased resident, Reg Fadden, used to tell the story of knowing what color they were dying the wool on any particular day–he’d see the color in the water as he walked to school.

s-former millpond:5th site

Above power site #5, the land was flat and indicative of a former mill pond.

s-5th site

A stone dam and some other foundation work is all that’s now left. The first mill to be located here was a sawmill built in 1868. By 1871, a shovel factory was built on the west side, which was the side I stood upon. By 1899, the Bridgton Lumber Company had located to this power site, with two mills operating–one for boxes and house furnishings; the other for lumber. This apparently was a successful site because in 1911 it became the Burnham and Newcomb Sawmill, which was purchased by Harry Bisbee in 1920. He used a turbine since the water power wasn’t dependable. Though it gushed over the rocks today, in the summertime, this is the perfect place to sit on the flat rocks and dangle ones feet. I can’t remember if Sue told me this or I read it, but apparently there was a treacherous footwalk that crossed the brook in this area and even at age 90, Mr Bisbee would walk across. The sawmill eventually burned, with only the office remaining. This time using a diesel engine, Mr. Bisbee started a smaller sawmill. In 1953, the dam washed out with a flood and local lore has it that Mr. Bisbee walked out one day, leaving it all behind. He died a couple of years later, gifting the mill to the public library.

Charles Fadden and his son, Reg, bought the mill at auction and operated a box mill, using a turbine for power. The office was still standing until about ten years ago, when it collapsed.

s-narrow 1

By the mill, the Harrison Narrow Gauge crossed over a trestle; today only the stone stanchions remain. A sixth power site was never developed.

s-locust bark

It was here that I recognized another tree I don’t always encounter–a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). The bark appears almost braided.

s-locust pod

And below it, an old flat pod that contains bean-like seeds.

s-7th site, Johnson Falls

I followed a new trail (possibly private, but it wasn’t posted) and was delighted to get a better view of what I believe was power site #7.

s-lower johnson falls site 7

If I’m correct in my thinking, this is Lower Johnson Falls, and was the possible 1859 site of the Milliken Bedstead Factory.

s-remnants by Johnson falls

A foundation is still visible on the eastern side of the brook.

s-7th site, smith sash 1

Below power site #7, I came to the coffin shop. Hey, somebody had to build them. Lewis Smith built the two-story building with a basement in the late 1860s. It was a sash and blind factory, but he also built furniture, and yes, coffins. More local lore: he was the town’s first undertaker. While the building has had several owners since then who have tried to restore it, it still needs some (way more than some) tender loving care so it doesn’t go the way of all the other mills.

s-turbine rig

All that remains of a water-powered turbine still reaches over the brook. Originally, all the water wheels along the brook were overshot wheels. While an overshot wheel had horizontal axils, a turbine wheel had vertical axils, thus making it smaller, more efficient and more dependable given the rise and fall of the water.

s-turbine

And on the front lawn of the coffin shop, the real deal–a Perry Turbine Water Wheel. In 1877, Richard Bailey and Samuel Miller operated an iron factory and machine shop built by William Perry and George Taylor across the road from the Smith factory. When they sold their business to Forest Mills owed by William  Fessenden Perry, it was renamed the Bridgton Machine Company with George and Frank Burnham taking over as managers. In 1887, the Perry turbine was invented and it received nation-wide popularity for use in mills along small streams.

s-forest mill a

Power site #8 is one of my favorites. This is where Perry and Taylor erected a mill in 1862 to manufacture woolen goods. The dam was built to provide a fifteen-foot fall with a mill pond above.

s-Forest Woolen Mill 2

s-forest sluice

Today the sluiceway is dry, but I can imagine the water pouring through here.

s-forest woolen mill 3

With the advent of Kansas Road in 1865, the woolen mill expanded to 200 feet by 45 feet and stood two stories tall. With more looms than any mill in the area, outerwear was produced here and shipped to Boston. During the Civil War, attention turned to creating war materials.

s-9th site, Kennard Dam

Across the street, I ventured down the wrong trail at first and found myself on the upper side of the dam built at power site #9. The 13′ dam built by Boothby and Chadwick in 1864 was near Kennards Stocking Mill. It was originally intended that Kansas Road would cross the dam, but the turn would have been too sharp and too steep.

s-vp by Kennards, 9th site

Today, a vernal pool sits below the former dam. I checked it and several others along the way. No signs of life. I’ve yet to hear spring peepers.

Anyway, Taylor and Perry purchased this site in 1865 and built a three-story carding mill with an overhead walkway that crossed Kansas Road and connected their two mills: Forest Mill #1 and Forest Mill #2.  By 1879, Mr. Taylor had died and Mr. Perry re-organized as the Forest Mills Company, which employed 130 workers and produced cashmere. As Sue has told me, this was not from cashmere goats but rather a lightweight fabric consisting of wool fiber that had either a plain or twill weave.

s-power 9

A railroad spur and trestle were built in 1900 to unload coal and other supplies for the Forest Mills Company. The American Wool Company purchased the mill, which was large for Bridgton, but small compared to those south of Maine. Eventually, business moved south. In 1925, a shoe shop moved in, but it wasn’t successful either. The building was torn down in 1962.

s-powerline trail

The scene changed briefly when I followed the trail onto the present day power line.

s-powerline boardwalk

Typically, this boardwalk is under water in March and April. But this year is far from typical.

s-cmp pond

And then I reached power site #10. This is the most modern of them all, but again, it has a history. It’s possible that this was the site of Jacob Stevens’s first sawmill built in 1768.

s-cmp dam 1

Mr. Stevens would have built a boulder and gravel dam, not one of cement certainly. He lived nearby and raised eight children; the four oldest worked beside him. Mr. Stevens was a ranking member of the survey crew that came to what is now called Bridgton in 1766 from Andover, Massachusetts. He returned in 1768 under contract with the Proprietors to develop water power and make it serve the early settlers by creating mills that provided building materials and grain for food. Stevens was the one who identified twelve power sites along the almost two-mile brook with a drop of 156 feet from its source at Highland Lake (known originally as Crotched Pond) to its outlet at Long Lake (Long Pond). It made sense for him to build a site here for both a saw mill and grist mill, as this is near the mouth of the stream and would have provided him with easy access to the main thoroughfare of Long Pond and beyond. The proprietors required that the saw mill operate for fifteen years and the grist mill for twenty.

s-cmp dam 4

I don’t know what happened between 1768 and 1896 when the Bridgton Water and Electric Company took over as the first source of electricity and water for the village. The concrete dam was built in 1931 by Central Maine Power after several transfers of ownership. The greatest power could be found between this site and power site #11, where the brook drops 25-30 feet.

s-penstock start

A 790-foot penstock was built to regulate the flow of the water.

s-penstock channel

s-penstock support

Evidence remains of its position and actually, it’s easiest to see right now before the summer foliage obscures so much.

s-1

Somewhere in this area was power site #11. The Hart Tannery may have been built on an island in the middle of the brook.

s-water drops below CMP

The exact location of power site #12 is also elusive, but rumor has it that a shingle factory was located between site #11 and the outlet.

s-1922 brick

Early on, a wooden structure was used as a power house. That was replaced by a brick building built in 1922 by the Western Maine Power Company. Notice where the penstock entered. And above it, a turbine generator.

s-Long lake 2

All was calm by the time Stevens Brook emptied into Long Lake today.

s-beaver 1

Though it’s easy to miss, this area still offers a source of dams and industry.

s-beaver lodge and dams

Beaver style.

s-3

I walked back up Main Street and headed to the first three power sites, which I present in backwards order at the risk of confusing my tired readers. Power site #3 has a storied past: 1813-fulling mill (put weaving on hot water and beat it to close fibers); 1822-saw and grist mill; 1830-saw, grist and plaster mill; 1845-mill burned; 1857-rebuilt two stories; 1877-never rebuilt. Yet this was long known as the Dam Site and a Dam Site Restaurant stood here for years. Across the street was a tannery, which didn’t need water for power, but did need water to fill the 140 vats. Using hemlock bark, 10,000 hides were tanned each year.

s-shorey park dam 1

I’m only just realizing that I missed power site #2. I looked at it as I walked by, but must have been tired. Anyway, it’s below this split stone dam and served as a grist mill in 1798 and a sash and blind mill in 1835.

s-sp 3rd power site

Power site #1 was originally a saw mill built by Asa Kimball at the head of Stevens Brook. The lay of the land has changed since roads were constructed and Highland Lake (Crotched Pond) had a different configuration and lower depth. The pond served as Mr. Kimball’s mill pond, where he floated logs from Sweden (Sweden, Maine, that is). The split stone dam was erected in 1849-50 by Rufus Gibbs and others, thus providing power for the first big mill in the village that stood four stories tall, employed 50 workers, ran 20 looms and made blankets for the Civil War. By 1941, is was demolished.

s-sp millpond

This is the mill pond as we see it today, but if my vision is clear, before Highland Road intercepted it, this was part of Crotched Pond.

s-highland

And the start of it all, the thing that got me milling about today, Highland Lake and the source of Stevens Brook.

Dear reader, if you are with me still, thank you. It was a long journey and I appreciate that you came along.

P.S. Addendum, June 24, 2018. Thanks for all of your contributions to our greater western Maine community, Sue. May you rest in peace.

 

Connecting the Dots

We thought we were so smart. A friend had drawn a map in the snow last week to show me the location of an alternate trailhead for Peary Mountain in Brownfield, Maine, and spoke of a round-trip hike that would include Frost Mountain. A quick look at a map in our worn and torn Delorme Gazeteer and we knew exactly where we were going–until we didn’t. We soon discovered that the gate and sign I’d been told about didn’t exist and the road turned 90˚ to the left and eventually became impassable and so we turned around and paused again at the sharp turn and wondered some more and drove back out to the main road and continued on to another road and looked for other possible trailheads that appeared on the road map and turned around again and returned to that sharp turn and parked the truck and slipped on our micro-spikes.

p1-Peary Mtn Road sign

It was worth a try we decided. The name was right though it looked less like a road and more like a snowmobile trail. No matter, we figured we’d give it a whirl and if nothing else, at least we’d enjoy exploring.

p2-wetland below mountains

Almost immediately, we spied two mountains above a wetland and wondered if those were the two summits we sought. We’d never looked at Peary from what we considered the back side before, since all of our previous experiences had been from Farnsworth Road off of Routes 5/113.

p3-trail

The road was quite icy and it had been more than a few days since any snowmobiles had passed by.

p5-trail sign

Eventually we came to a snowmobile sign, looked around for a map that I thought my friend had mentioned, and decided to begin with a journey up the Peary Mountain Trail.

p7-trailing arbutus and wintergreen

Conditions were such where previous logging had left the southwestern side open to the sun’s powerful rays and so in places the snow had melted and wildflowers such as trailing arbutus and winterberry basked in the warmth.

p8-Peary Mtn basement

We continued on up, hopeful that we were on the right path, when a familiar foundation confirmed our location. It’s directly across from this foundation that the Peary Mountain trail makes a 90˚ turn–in the past the turn had always been to the left, but yesterday’s turn was to the right. That is, after we noted that my guy should probably encourage the homeowners to purchase a sump pump, so full was their cellar.

p9-trail sign

If you do approach from Peary Mountain Road, you’ll only see a tad of the back of this sign. And if you come from Farnsworth Road, again, it’s not very obvious. But, for both, the turn is located at the height of land . . . and directly across from the foundation.

p10-Peary view 1

The hike to the bald summit isn’t difficult and offers the best of views on any day, but especially in the fall when the tapestry of color stretches forever–or at least to the White Mountains in the distance.

p11-Mount Washington

Yesterday, the view of Mount Washington was obscured by clouds, but we could see that even there the snow was receding.

p13-Mountain view

We stood for a bit, taking in the scene to the west.

p14-Mountain views

And to the north.

p15-across the ridge

And then we followed the ridge, certain that at the end we’d slip onto another trail we’ve never traveled before and begin to make the loop to Frost Mountain.

p16-Pleasant Mtn, Brownfield Bog

Just before slipping onto that other trail, we had one more view to partake–Brownfield Bog and the Saco River were backdropped by Pleasant Mountain.

Well, we followed that other trail for a while, but realized that rather than going toward Frost Mountain, we were moving further and further away from it. And so . . . we backtracked and rose once again to the summit of Peary and retraced our steps down.

p17-another foundation

We were disappointed, except that we knew we would return. And as often happens when following the same trail, we made new discoveries, including an L-shaped foundation.

p19-well

And then I spied a circular sunken formation subtly outlined with rocks and trusted it was a well.

p19-third foundation

Bingo. For behind it was another foundation, the largest we saw.

p20-day 2-red pines

And so late this morning we returned. But first, we looked for maps in our hiking books and online and found only those created by the local snowmobile club. We had a copy that dated to 2011 and decide to bring it along. We also copied a portion of the map from the Delorme Gazeteer–just in case.

Upon our return, we remembered to pause at the beginning of the trail and take note of the red pine cathedral. Brownfield is a town that knew the fury of the wildfires of October 1947. Most homes and public buildings were mere piles of ash the day after the fire. Many stately places including the summer home and laboratory of Dr. Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television, had burned. Churches, schools, the post office, Grange, library and town hall all went up in smoke–only twenty houses survived. In the end, 85% of the town was destroyed.

Red pines were planted in reaction and today they stand tall in honor of that event of just over seventy years ago.

p21-water flowed

Our plan today was to follow the same route to the turn off for Frost Mountain. And so we did. This time the snow and ice were softer and mud a constant as snow melted and streams formed.

p21-ruffed grouse scat

One of the things we noted yesterday was a lack of mammal prints. But today made up for that and we found plenty of deer tracks in mud and snow. And then, a pile of bird scat–left behind by a ruffed grouse who had probably plowed into the snow when it was a couple of feet thick and spent the night, leaving behind its signature.

p22-kill site

We also found a kill site with no tracks leading to or fro and so we thought a bird had eaten another bird. The circle of life continued in the Maine woods.

p23-fisher prints

A bit further up the trail we spied weasel prints–left behind by a fisher, the meanest of mean. Notice the teardrop shaped toes and diagonal positioning.

p22-sweet fern

We were distracted (or at least I was) by sculptures a many, including those created by sweet-fern.

p24-another foundation

My guy was also distracted and spied an opening in the woods.

p25-fourth foundation

It was another L-shaped cellar. And nearby were what would have been some outbuildings and possibly even a mill. Along most of today’s trail we encountered one stone wall after another, some single and others double.

I don’t know how to decipher stone that’s known fire, but hope one of these days to be able to make that interpretation. In the meantime we wondered–why had these homes been abandoned. Did they burn? I did later note that homesteads in the area belonged to the Johnsons, Grays and other families in the 1880s.

p28-confusing signs

Though we continued on, we really had no idea where we were going and hoped that we had made the right decision with the intention of reaching the summit of Frost Mountain. But, even if we didn’t, we were delighted with our finds. And confused by the signs.

p29-Pleasant Mtn behind us

And then, we started to climb. I turned around as we moved upward and noted our beloved Pleasant Mountain behind us.

p29-summit at lasst

And finally–success. We’d reached the summit of Frost Mountain.

p30-looking toward Peary

About 300 feet below, we had a view from the ledge, but it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as that on Peary Mountain, which my guy looked toward. It was hardly visible from where we stood.

p32-Burnt Meadow Mountain

From the summit, we followed a loop around, pausing to take in the view of Burnt Meadow Mountain.

p33-Brownfield below

And the town of Brownfield below. As the historical society likes to proclaim, “Brownfield’s still here.” Indeed.

p34--my heart bleeds blue pine sap for you

We’d planned to climb Frost and then make our way to Peary, but changed our minds. We’d already climbed Peary yesterday and after finding our way today had a better understanding of the trail system. We also knew that had we made the loop, we’d have walked on Farnsworth Road for over a half mile and then climbed up and down Peary on trails we already knew. Instead, we let our hearts bleed pine blue sap with happiness.

p27-bear prints

Our happiness overflowed when we spied the final set of prints.

p26-bear prints

A black bear. How cool is that? Our second sighting of black bear prints this winter.

We’d connected the dots–even if not literally–and gained a better understanding of the neighborhood and all who live(d) there.

The Amazing Race–Our Style

I’m sure when we said our wedding vows back in 1990, there was something in there about only riding a snowmobile once. And I did that once two years or so ago–mostly because I knew it would please my guy. Certain memories remain from that experience: I felt like a bobblehead inside the helmet; I lacked control as I sat behind him and couldn’t see; when I did peek around, I was sure my head was going to strike a tree so narrow was the trail; and I didn’t like the speed. Oh yeah, and at a road crossing, I do believe I jumped off and walked to the other side. With all of that in mind, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I created a Valentine’s gift for him–our very own Amazing Race. My rationale was that we enjoy the show, but know that while there are certain stunts one or both of us could handle with ease, there are others that would certainly cause us to be last to the mat–and lose. So, why not create an Amazing Race that we have a 99.9% chance of winning. If we lose, we’re in big trouble. All that being said, our race includes twelve events, one for each month. And this month’s activity meant a snowmobile ride for two. Oy vey. I created this so I could only blame me.

a1-selfie

We awoke to five inches of snow this morning and knew that today was the day. After an early lunch, I tried to delay the inevitable. The dishes needed to be washed. And dried (I never dry the dishes). Toilet cleaned. I even thought about vacuuming, but my guy stopped me. And presented me with a black helmet. It was much too big and kept shifting around. He gave me a second helmet to try on. I felt claustrophobic and couldn’t take it off fast enough. “We have another,” he said as he headed to the barn. Darn. And the third one fit just right. Double darn.

a3-the chariott of choice

Our mode of transportation was ready and waiting. No long lines of others vying for a seat. No being put off until a later time. Our race had begun.

a2-double selfies

We hopped aboard and headed off down the trail. At first it was sort of okay and I almost relaxed, until that is, we took a sharp corner and I clenched my hand rails while leaning away. Sometimes, I felt like I was a kid again in the back of the school bus and jumping up and down as we went over the bumps on Valley Road in my hometown.

I was glad my guy couldn’t hear me unless I leaned close and spoke up–I kept my own running commentary for the first twenty minutes, which occasionally included an expletive not worth repeating.

a4-tunnel vision

At last we reached the Narrow Gauge trail, where my guy picked up the speed, but given it’s a fairly flat old railbed, I chose not to complain. And as good as his word, he stopped whenever I asked. One of my favorite spots along the trail is what we refer to as the tunnel, for in that section only, the walls are high on both sides and hemlock trees tower over.

a6-icicle

One of the things about riding on the machine is that you don’t get to really see anything. He loves it because it takes him places he wouldn’t ordinarily go. Yeah, there’s that. But . . . I prefer a slo-mo approach. And so today, we melded our ways–full speed ahead (although he thinks he took it slow) and complete stops every once in a while to take a look at things like sap forming an icicle,

a7-hemlock and rocks

hemlock roots and rocks intertwined,

a8-elephant

and an elephant.

a9-looking back

At last I walked back to him and we continued on our way. We were only going to go the length of the Narrow Gauge, but I was surviving and my guy smiling.

a9-Hancock Pond

Our next destination–Hancock Pond in Denmark.

a11-Hancock Pond

I asked him to stop by this camp intentionally, for I wanted to show its owners, Faith and Ben, the midwinter view–and lack of snow mainly because of its orientation to the sun.

a13-rock tripe

Despite the fact that most of last night’s snow had already melted, rock tripe along their shoreline had turned green–photosynthesis in action.

a14-Bear Trap

As we walked back to the chariot, we noted the houses on top of Bear Trap. My guy suggested that we turn around and head in that direction next. From the start, I suspected our plan of an out and back trip wouldn’t occur for he loves to return via a different route, while I don’t mind following the same path back because I usually see something I missed previously. But . . . I agreed with him.

a15-Perley Pond

We did have to travel a wee bit back on the Narrow Gauge to reach the turn toward Narramissic, located just below Bear Trap. Since we were passing by for a second time, I asked to stop at Perley Pond for a quick look.

a16-edges melting

Around the edges, the melt down was beginning.

a19-Peabody-Fitch House

And then onward and upward we rode to Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Homestead erected in 1797 by William Peabody, one of Bridgton’s first settlers. Today, the property is owned and managed by the Bridgton Historical Society.

a18a-Pleasant Mountain

Our main mountain wasn’t part of today’s journey, but the view of the ridgeline was spectacular from the farm’s field.

a20-map between Holt and Otter Ponds

From there, we passed by the spur to the bear trap, and continued on toward Holt Pond. For a while, I felt lost in a daze as we flew through woods in varying degrees of succession due to logging events over the years. I tried to look for bear trees for I knew there should be some, but didn’t spy any. And hardly recognized our place when we suddenly arrived at the emerald field near Holt Pond.

a21-Stone House

I also completely missed the quarry from which the Stonehouse was built. The house had an interesting history. In the early 1800s, John Mead built a primitive house in South Bridgton. Like the big bad wolf of fairy tales, wind huffed and puffed and blew the house down. Mr Mead was quoted as saying, “I can and will build a house that will stand the winds and weather.” And so he did–using the plug and feather method to cut the stone from the nearby quarry and transporting it a half mile via a stone boat or sledge. The stone treasure rose from the hillside, where Mead had situated it out of the wind. The field was certainly windy and we didn’t pause for long.

a22-Otter Pond

Our next stop was to a place I’d never visited before and I was impressed by its size–Otter Pond. Today, I felt like we were the otters as we slid across the snow-covered ice.

a23-wetland at Otter Pond

At the far edge, I found a spot I hope to return to for it looked like an interesting wetland.

a24-cattail

For today, the cattails, their seeds blowing in the breeze, were enough to whet my appetite.

a25-Hayes Hardware

And then in a few more zigs and zags, we found ourselves in familiar territory as we passed by my guy’s store.

a26-mat--home sweet home

Two more road crossings and a few more bends in the trail–and finally the mat welcomed us home after a successful finish to the first leg of The Amazing Race–our style.

 

 

 

 

 

Endowing the Future

The morning began with a Greater Lovell Land Trust guided hike into the wetland of the John A. Segur West Preserve on New Road in Lovell.

w-shrike kill still in tree

Despite the cold temp, there were eleven of us along for the journey. To stay warm, we made a sort of beeline to the wetland, but stopped a few times, including to measure the straddle of mink tracks, and then to see if a shrike’s deposit we’d spotted a few weeks ago was still pinned to a tree in the log landing. It was, which wasn’t a surprise. As Dave, one of our docents commented, shrikes are not all that common here so it may have left this  dinner behind before it moved on. But, we wondered–why hadn’t a blue jay or another bird taken advantage of the free meal?

w-ruffed grouse tracks

From the landing, we moved on toward Bradley Brook, where we spotted tracks left behind by ruffed grouse, mink, deer, and a kazillion squirrels. But, other than the mink, no predator tracks, which was curious.

w-snowshoe hare print

Out on the wetland, we noticed where a hare had packed the substrate and yesterday’s wind blew any soft snow away creating a raised impression.

w-Dave channeling his inner deer

It was there, also, that docent Dave, bent down in the background,  demonstrated how a deer rubs its forehead against tree bark–leaving behind information about its health and wealth.

w-squirrel bridge

Our plan had been to venture further into the wetland to make more observations, but ice conditions were such that we didn’t dare. Instead, we returned to the brook and followed it back, noting ice bridges that none of us dared to cross. We left that action to the squirrels.

w-Robie Meadow 3

The John A. Segur West property was a new one on my guy’s list, and so we went with that theme and after lunch I dragged him to two other land trust properties. Our first stop was at Western Foothills Land Trust’s Robie Meadow on Scribner’s Mill Road in Harrison.

Again, given the brook that we’d have to cross, we paused and decided to enjoy the view from the edge.

w-fox track to brook 2

Throughout the property we did note the usual squirrel tracks and red fox. As we walked beside the brook, I hoped for others that weren’t to be, but at a spot where last week on a walk co-hosted by the GLLT and WFLT, we’d noted a pathway to the water created by either coyote or fox and a bobcat traveling back and forth to the water. Today–fresh red fox tracks.

w-red fox print

The size of individual prints, fuzzy appearance due to a hairy foot, and chevron feature of the foot pad all spoke to its maker.

w-deer ribs and fox track1

As we made our way back to the road, we stopped by a kill sight discovered last weekend. The ribs and backbone of a deer reached toward the sky. And right behind–more fresh red fox tracks. The fox had paused briefly before journeying on in search of a new food source.

w-red pine plantation beside Crooked River

Our final destination was across Scribner’s Mill Road to Loon Echo Land Trust’s Crooked River Forest Preserve-Intervale.  Neither of us had ventured forth on this property previously. While no true trails yet existed, the logging roads were easy to follow and we chose that route because we wanted to get down to Crooked River. As we approached the river, we realized we had traveled through a red pine plantation.

w-white pine at LELT

Right by the river, we discovered a white pine that had lost its terminal leader, thus allowing lower whorls to reach skyward. As my guy said, it looked like a great climbing tree–had we been so inspired. Blame it on the cold. Blame it on our age. We passed up the opportunity.

w-Crooked River 1

The river, so named Crooked for its meandering nature, offered a mixture of ice and open water.

w-fox prints and pee

And everywhere throughout the property we found evidence of red foxes, including prints and pee.

w-coyote bed

We also noted a spot where a coyote paused for a bit, so smooth and indented was the impression left behind. I threw a mitten down temporarily to give a sense of the bed size.

w-Crooked River 2

Though we eventually crossed over the LELT boundary, we had followed a snowmobile trail, and so we decided to see where it would lead–hopeful we wouldn’t find ourselves in someone’s back yard.

w-Scribners Mill bridge

Our worries were squelched when we spied the Scribner’s Mill bridge in the distance.

w-mill:blacksmith shop

And soon came up beside the old blacksmith shop.

w-mill sign

The mill complex was built in 1847. Three generations of Scribners operated it continuously until 1962.

w-mill

In its heyday, the mill produced clapboards, shingles, barrels, and lumber. The Scribner’s Mill Preservation, Inc. formed in 1975 with the mission to transform it into an accurately reconstructed saw mill powered by water.

w-mill:signs

As we stood and looked at the ads of local businesses on the long shed (including one we know intimately), we wondered about the annual “Back to the Past” Celebration that used to be held each August. During that weekend, we recalled how we’d watched the machinery at work. The lathe workshop and the blacksmith shop were also open. Tours of the homestead included exhibits and demonstrations of traditional crafts such as weaving, spinning, rug-hooking and quilting.

w-mill from bridge 2

Today, all was idle. Except for the water.

w-mill from bridge 3

It swirled by, carrying memories of the past into the future.

And we gave thanks for the opportunity to visit properties owned by three different local land trusts who do the same as they carry memories of the past forward for future generations.

Land trusts work with community members to acquire land for permanent conservation through purchases and donations. They also create legal and binding conservation easements that allow residents to protect land holdings in perpetuity, while retaining private ownership. Scenic views, wildlife corridors, flora and fauna, and topography remain, subject only to the whims of nature itself, which is ever-changing.

Conserving the land doesn’t mean it can’t be touched. The organizations develop management plans and steward the land. Timber harvesting, farming, residency and recreation continue, while specific wildlife habitat, wetlands, unique natural resources and endangered or rare species are protected. And in the process, they strengthen our towns. Ultimately, they give us a better sense of our place in Maine and opportunities to interact with the wild.

Our local land trusts offer numerous hikes open to everyone, providing a great way to explore and learn more about the diversity of the natural communities.

Even though we can’t all endow the future of our properties, we can get involved to ensure that these organizations continue to protect land for future generations of humans and wildlife.

 

 

Lake Living Magazine: Winter Issue

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but indeed, I do. Especially if the book isn’t really a book, but rather a magazine called Lake Living. One look at those vibrant hacky sacks against the snow on the cover of the new winter issue and I find myself mindful, each time seeing a different configuration of the whole or focusing on a single feature.

And then there is the content, from Laurie LaMountain’s editorial comment ending with “Our collective differences have the power to both define us and unite us,” to the book reviews by the staff of Bridgton Books.

2017-12-21_0923

Of course, thrown into the mix are the articles, including Laurie’s eloquent feature about hacky sack and relationships, ending with a challenge to all of us. A must read.

And don’t miss my two contributions, “digging for roots” about genealogy and the Fryeburg Historical Society’s Kendal C. and Anna Ham Research Library; and “forever green” about . . .  evergreen trees.

Laurie’s been producing the magazine for twenty years and I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with her for the last twelve. Here’s to the future.

P.S. If you live locally, please mention the mag when you are shopping. Remember, the mag is free and therefore totally dependent upon advertisers. It can’t survive without your support.

Peering In

As I pulled into the parking lot beside the old school in Sweden, Maine, I was excited to see the door open, meaning that for the first time I’d get to step inside and take a look.

S1-old school

The Sweden Historical Society had recently had the building cleared of asbestos and hopes to possibly turn the 1827 structure into a museum.

S2-lathe

My friend, Janet, who is past president of the SHS, invited me in and gave me the short tour–especially of the former bathrooms where the renovation revealed the plaster and lath originally used to finish a wall. The wooden lath was attached directly to the studs and then embedded with plaster; often horsehair plaster.

s3-wall paper

Once the plaster dried and formed a hard, smooth surface, it was either painted or covered with wallpaper. Janet was thrilled by the discovery of the latter and has plans to preserve it within a frame. Do you see Donny’s signature? I wondered if he got into trouble for writing his name on the wall.

s4-original entrance

We didn’t stay in the building long because we had a walk planned, but first, Janet provided a bit more history including pointing out the original door on the front of the building.

s5-foundry

And beside that in this small hamlet that is home to a community church, town hall, town office and the old school, sits another building that looked like it had been there forever. It was an old foundry that Janet explained had been moved from another location–a frequent happening during yesteryear. This year it was dedicated to the founders of the SHS (apropos–foundry for the founders), Kay and Dick Lyman.

At last, we were ready to begin our walk.

1858Map_comp_1000

1858 Map

1880_Sweden_small

1880 map

The route was a short one, but it took Janet, her friend Karen, and me about three hours to walk from Route 93 to Webber Pond Road and back again.

s6-the road

We began beside the foundry on the colonial road. Though it’s still a town road, it’s no longer traveled (except by logging trucks a few years ago).

s7-fence post

Not far along, Janet pointed out two granite pillars, indicating a fence line. And then we went off-roading, in search of other evidence of the use of this land.

s8-well

And what to our wondering eyes should appear, but an old well, its covering slabs now turned upright. We poked about some more, but found nothing else in that spot and suspected it was a well for the farm, rather than for a house.

s9-barbed wire

As we returned to the road, our suspicion was correct, for we found barbed wire that would have held the animals in. We stepped over it.

s12-bridge

Our journey continued and at a brook that flows from Keyes Pond to the north down to Webber Pond, we came to a crossing. It was a crossing that also had us wondering for it was made of large granite slabs than ran east to west in the direction of the road. Number one, we didn’t expect the slabs to serve as a bridge, and number two, if such was the case, we thought it would have made more sense if they were turned 90 degrees. And so again, we wondered what the story might be. Perhaps wood once covered the stone?

s19-single wall to double

For most of the journey, the road was bordered on both sides by stone walls–all freestanding, but some single-wide and others double. Single indicated either boundary or a way to keep animals in, while the double made us wonder about a plowed field. We noted neat construction where the stones were carefully stacked and messy sections where it seemed they’d been tossed, and again did some more wondering–were the messy parts the work of youngsters?

s11-Christmas fern 2

It wasn’t just the historical artifacts that drew our attention. Check out the withered leaflets on the Christmas fern. Its spores formed on the underside of a few leaflets, aka pinnae, of one or two fronds and that was sufficient for reproduction.

s15-lungwort 1

We also found an old favorite, lungwort; an indicator of old growth, thus a rich, healthy ecosystem.

s14-lungwort 2

And an equally fun lesson for Karen, who lives in Illinois, and had never encountered it before. Janet poured some water onto the lungwort, which is a foliose lichen, and the miracle occurred on cue.

s16-lungwort 4

With a twitch of her nose and a wink of one eye, we watched as the water reached the lungwort’s surface and changed its color from gray to bright green, while where no moisture flowed, it didn’t transform. Lichens have a high resistance to damage by dehydration and will suspend photosynthesis when they dry out. The cool thing about them is that once wet, they can quickly absorb water and get back to food production.

s18-bluestain 2

We also spied a cool fungi, and one that we seldom see fruit, but this year has been different and we’ve discovered it periodically. This is green stain fungi, so graced with the common name because it really does look as if the wood had been stained green. I used to think it was an old trail blaze. When it does fruit, the mushrooms are tiny, but among the most beautiful–at least in my mind.

s20-Mrs Webber

At last we reached Webber Pond Road and we crossed to the cemetery, where Janet pointed out those for whom the nearby pond and road were named. She also noted that while most foot stones in a cemetery are positioned in front of the headstones, these were located behind. Indeed curious.

The cemetery was our turn-around point and we followed the route back, but actually went off route because we were looking for a foundation or two. We found none as we paralleled the road, but that’s okay because it just means we need to return.

Back at the old school house, I said goodbye to Karen (on the left) and Janet (on the right) and gave thanks for the opportunity to look keenly with them–as we peered into history.

 

 

Outing on the Outlet

This morning dawned clear and chilly, with the temperature at 50˚ when I headed toward Lovell at 7:15. After placing some “Land Trust Walk Today” signs in pre-planned positions, I headed to the dam on Harbor Road in Fryeburg to wait for a ride.

u1-outlet dam

Water flowed over the tiered dam, which was built in the early to mid 1900s at the request of the Pepperell Manufacturing Company in Biddeford. The townspeople contested its existence for it would raise the water level on Kezar Lake, but the textile mill located many miles away on the Saco River won the rights to construct such at the site of an 1800s saw & gristmill. Thankfully, though it did raise the level of the lake water, not all of the predicted problems came to pass.

u2-Harbor Road bridge

The dam was our intended take-out for today’s paddle co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. Though it’s located off Harbor Road in Fryeburg, it’s owned by the Town of Lovell. No longer used, it still serves to provide a historic reference. And a great place to either portage and continue on to the Old Course of the Saco River and then the “new” course, or take out as we intended to do.

u5-silver maple

While I waited, I poked around, and rejoiced in the sight of trees that like wet feet. High above the dam, the leaves of a silver maple shown brilliantly in the morning light.

u3-green ash leaves

Other leaves also caught my attention for their coloration–with veins of red interrupting their olive greenness. Green ash, another tree that likes wet feet but isn’t as abundant as its siblings, white and black ash, also stood tall beside the dam.

u7-preparing to launch

My dam-side exploration ended a few minutes later when Jesse Wright of Upper Saco Valley Land Trust and her friend, Shareen, pulled into the landing. We hoisted my kayak onto her already laden truck and found our way over the bumpy road to our intended put-in at a private residence–thanks to the generosity of its owners. Slowly the number of boats increased by the water’s edge as twenty-plus folks joined us.

u6-map by Will from USVLT

Once all had gathered, Jesse showed off the map of our intended paddle, the red dots indicating our path from beginning to end, and I shared a bit of information about the fen, a GLLT property purchased in 2005. Today, the symbolic boundary between the two land trusts disappeared as we ventured off together.

u9d-Linda 1

It takes good neighbors and lake stewards to pull off such an event, and the Wurms are such. They helped us arrange the put-in, gathered a couple of canoes for several paddlers and took photos at the start.

u9a-LInda's view 1

Linda’s view included Jesse heading off as our lead,

u9c-Linda's view 3

and the rainbow of colors once we hit the water.

u8-on the water with Jesse and gang

It took us a wee bit of time to get all the boats onto the lake, but it wasn’t a day made for rushing. And once in the sun, we began to warm up.

u10-send off by Linda

Before we headed off, we gave thanks to Linda (and Remy).

u11-and Heinrich

We also thanked Heinrich, who drew our attention skyward . . .

u12-drone

as he flew a drone above us.

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Our first destination was to paddle north for the view.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0061.JPG

The drone spied the mountains before we did.

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And spotted our intended course . . .

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into the fen.

u18-veiws from the lake

A quick turn-around from the water gave us bearings as we noted the Baldfaces to the west.

u19-heading toward the fen

We circled an island that serves as an environmental study plot for the US Forest Service and then paddled southward.

u20-Jesse in the lead

Jesse led the way through the pickerelweed.

u21-more mountain views

As we followed, the view got better and better.

u22-slowly we followed

Acting as sweep, I took up the rear while the group snaked along.

u25-early fall color

We followed the twists and turns of the water trail, where red maples showed off their autumn display from the canopy.

u28-red leaf

Occasional leaves fluttered down, begging to be noticed in their singularity.

u-cranberries 1

Though we didn’t get out of our boats and actually walk into the fen, we did stop to chat about what it had to offer. The GLLT owns 260 acres of the 500-acre fen, an acidic ecosystem with a deep layer of organic material including peat moss atop a sandy substrate. Several bird species of concern breed or hunt in the fen, including American bitterns and Sandhill cranes, the latter of which we had the good fortune to hear but not see. Long’s bullrush, a globally rare sedge, also grows here. But the crème de la crème for many are the cranberries. Folks on today’s paddle weren’t familiar with the plant and I couldn’t show them at the time, but I shared with them the experience of picking in the past with students from Molly Ockett Middle School in Fryeburg.

u-cranberries 2

On a fall day each year, about thirty students in the school’s MESA program (Maine Environmental Science Academy–an experiential place-based curriculum for 6-8 grades) visit the fen with the GLLT’s Executive Director, Tom Henderson.

u-cranberries 3

They learn about the hydrology of this place, but one of their highlights is to pick cranberries, and to that end, they become very possessive. As one student approaches another, a common statement is shared: “Don’t come over here. There aren’t any cranberries here.”

u-cranberries 4

Over the course of several hours, they fill their bags and sometimes even show off their creative talents in other ways–all in celebration of the cranberries.

u30-weir1

Continuing along the river this morning, we noted beaver activity and talked about scent mounds and their usefulness within the beaver community. And then we reached the fish screen.  Jesse had paddled the course last Sunday and made it under the screen without any issues.

u31-clearing a beaver dam

Since then, the beavers had been busy damming it up. One of our members worked to adjust some of the branches so we could all get through.

u34-offering a shove

Of course, sometimes a helping paddle was needed to push a boat forward.

u33-cow 2

While we took turns, our efforts didn’t go unnoticed.

u35-other side measurement

On the other side, a ruler indicated depth.

u36-approaching the bridge on Harbor Road

And then, and then, in what seemed like only minutes but was actually a couple of hours filled with camaraderie between familiar friends and new, plus a touch of natural history thrown into the discussion, we found ourselves at the bridge and the end of the journey for some. Others chose to paddle back rather than hitch a ride. We had come full circle.

As we pulled boats out, we were surprised at how warm it was since we were out of the shade, the temp having reached into the 80˚s.

Our outing on the Kezar Lake Outlet would not have been doable without Jesse Wright, who did the yeoman’s work of pulling it together, William Abbott, USVLT’s executive director who created the map, the Wurms and their neighbors who contributed land, boats, photographs and time, and all who ventured with us on this most lovely first full day of autumn.  Thank you all.

 

 

 

Poking Along Beside Stevens Brook

Raincoat? √

Notecards? √

Camera? √

Alanna Doughty? √

This morning I donned my raincoat, slipped my camera strap over my head, and met up with LEA’s Education Director Alanna Doughty for our reconnaissance mission along Stevens Brook in downtown Bridgton. Our plan was to refresh our memories about the mill sites long ago identified and used beside the brook.

Lakes Environmental Association maintains a trail from Highland Lake to Long Lake, which follows Stevens Brook’s twists and turns and passes by twelve power sites originally surveyed by Jacob Stevens in 1766.

s1-5th power site 1

We skipped the first mile of the trail and slipped onto it from the Route 302 entrance by the Black Horse Tavern, knowing that that will be our entry point for a walk we’ll lead with Bridgton Historical Society‘s Executive Director Ned Allen later this month. Alanna suggested I not pull out my notecards, and rather rely on my memory. Oh my.

As we made our way past the old trestle that once carried coal from the Narrow Gauge railroad to the Pondicherry Woolen Mill at the fourth power site (the other three are located between Highland Lake and the 302/117 intersection), we recalled that the now deceased Reg Fadden used to claim he knew the color of dye because as he walked to school each day he noted the color of the water. Scary thought.

At the fifth power site, we went off trail to look around a bit. The water flowed over the rocks with such force that sometimes we couldn’t hear each other.

s2-5th site-Narrow Gauge trestle bridge

Before us was another former trestle spot–this one being part of the track that carried the train across the brook and on toward Harrison as part of a spur from the main line.

s3-5th site, nurse log

In front of it, large trees placed years ago to prevent anyone from crossing the now gone trestle, served as a nursery to many species. But it wasn’t just what grew there that gave us pause–it was also the textures and lines that seemed to reflect the water below.

s-poison ivy 1

As we walked, we looked at the lay of the land and wondered about mill ponds and berms. We also noted the one plant we wanted to avoid–poison ivy.

s-poison ivy 2

It grows in various forms, but the safe thing to know is that the two opposite leaves have short petioles that attach to the main stem, while the third and leading leaf has a longer petiole. As the saying goes, “Leaves of three, leave them be.”

s7-6th site water power

Site number six is one that we’re not sure we’ll share on our public walk. It’s a wee bit of a challenge to get to and was apparently never developed–though we did note the drop and some stonework on the far bank.

s8-blue-stemmed goldenrod 1

Before we stepped onto Smith Avenue for the next site, a goldenrod shouted for attention. We tried to figure out how many rays it had, but as it turns out, that number can vary from three to five. The flowerhead formed a ladder that climbed up the stem and this is one that we should recognize going forth for its display struck us as being different than other goldenrods. We’ll see if we actually do remember it the next time we meet.

s9-7th site, Lower Johnson Falls 1

As is often the case, it took us about an hour to walk a half mile. At last we emerged onto Smith Ave, by Lower Johnson Falls. The curious thing would be to note which was faster–the water or us. I have a feeling the water might win, but perhaps another time we should test that theory.

s11-coffin shop

For a few minutes we watched and listened and took in the view of the only mill still standing. I suspect this building was constructed in the 1860s as a sash and blind factory. Eventually it became the coffin shop, where Lewis Smith, the town’s first undertaker, built furniture and coffins.

s13-8th site, sluiceway different view

For about a tenth of a mile we walked down Kansas Road and then slipped into the woods again. I think this site is my favorite–site 8 and former home of the Forest Woolen Mill. There were actually two Forest Mills, one on either side of the road and connected by an overhead walkway.

s15-8th site, sluice way from above 2

Today it was the sluiceway that drew most of our attention. First we looked down.

s12-8th site, sluiceway1

And then we climbed down–paying attention to stones, bricks, cement and rebar, all necessary to build a foundation that still stands today.

s17-piece dangling

Well, most of it still stands. We were awed by a piece that appeared to dangle at the edge of the sluiceway.

s16-tree root in sluiceway

And a root that wound its way around the same cement stanchion . . .

s14-hemlock atop cement

which happened to provide the perfect growing conditions for a hemlock.

s18-false Solomon's-seal berries

Crossing Kansas Road again, we ventured on. In a section under the current power lines we found flowers a many. The fruits of the false Solomon’s-seal looked like miniature strawberry and cherry-vanilla candies.

s19-winterberries

As we stepped onto a boardwalk across a wet area, winterberries glowed red and reminded us that the cold season isn’t all that far off.

s20-virgin's bower fruit, feathery plumes

It was there that we spied the feathery-fruited plumes of virgin’s bower,

s21-red-stemmed dogwood

red-osier dogwood berries,

s24-cat-in-nine-tails

and cat-in-nine-tails.

s22-cardinal flower

But our favorites: a cardinal flower still in bloom and . . .

s23-Northern beggar-ticks

northern beggars-tick.

s28-10th site, CMP above

We passed by the tenth power site, knowing we’d return to it on our way back. Instead, we stood below and looked up at the water flowing over the improved dam.

s27-water below 10th site

It was in this section that the brook dropped 25-30 feet and created the greatest power at one time. It was also here that the eleventh site was located and where a penstock once provided a way to get water to a powerhouse in order to furnish local homes with electricity.

s31-Alanna laughing by skunk cabbage

For us, it was a place to make more discoveries and share a laugh as we looked at the huge leaves of skunk cabbage.

s32-first witch hazel bloom

We also spied the first witch hazel flower of the season . . .

s33-maple-leaf viburnum

and a maple-leaved viburnum showing off its subtle fall colors.

s34-milkweed pods

In a spot just above the Central Maine Power substation, we found a garden of wildflowers including milkweed seed pods and . . .

s37-New England aster 2

New England asters offering a deep shade of purple.

s27-chicken of the woods

We also found some chicken of the woods.

s38-honey mushrooms?

And fruiting on the same stump, what I think was honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea). I know a few fungi experts who occasionally read this, so I know they’ll correct me if I’m wrong with my ID.

s39-Stevens Brook outlet into Long Lake

The second half mile took us just as long as the first, and at last we reached the outlet into Long Lake.

s40-10th site, CMP dam

And then we made our way back, crossing over the bridge at power site 10, which was possibly the spot where Jacob Stevens, for whom the brook was named, built the first sawmill in 1768. We do know that in 1896, the Bridgton Water and Electric Company acquired the site and improved the dam. Eventually it passed on to the Western Maine Power Company and then Central Maine Power. In 1955, it was transferred to the Bridgton Water District. Through all the time, we could only imagine how the reflections changed.

s42-milkweed tussock moth caterpillar

To save time, we decided to walk along Lower Main Street as we made our way back. And to that end, our discoveries continued, for on a milkweed, Alanna first saw the chewed leaf and knew to look for the milkweed tussock moth caterpillar that was filling its belly.

s43-common snowberry

We also saw what I’ve always referred to as popcorn shrub because it reminds me of such, especially when I’m hungry for lunch. But really, it’s common snowberry. And not edible.

s46-northern white cedar bark

And then we found a tree that I didn’t know grew there–and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run or walked by it: a northern white cedar with its scraggly striped bark.

s44-Northern white cedar 1

As much as the bark, I like the overlapping scale-like blue-green leaves.

All in all, our one mile journey took us just over two hours and we did recall some of the info about the mills without referring to my notecards. But what was even more fun was our wonder and awe as we made new discoveries while poking along beside Stevens Brook.

If you care to join us, the talk by historian Sue Black will be on Wed, September 27 from 5-7pm at LEA’s Maine Lake Science Center and the walk will be the next morning from 9-11. We’ll meet at Bridgton Historical Society on Gibbs Avenue for that. Be sure to register for either or both by contacting Alanna at the following address: alanna@leamaine.org.

 

Artful Eclipse Mondate

Because they are so gracious, when I recently begged Faith and Ben Hall for an opportunity to follow them on a trail through the Perley Mills Community Forest, they not only invited us to walk, but planned out an intinerary, pre-hiked the trail, made chicken noodle soup for lunch and took us for a boat ride. All of this before the great solar eclipse of 2017.

h-perley pond beaver dam?

After taking a tour of their neighborhood, Faith dropped Ben, my guy, and me off to begin our first bushwhack beside Perley Pond. In a few minutes, we came upon an earthen structure and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was an old beaver dam.

h-perley pond

We were at the base of the pond and perhaps just as those who dammed it up for their mill sites, the beavers had their own intentions. Of course, I could be totally off and it could have been manmade, but such was the formation and growth above, that I’m sticking with my original thought.

h-sawdust pile

Moments later, we emerged into a clearing and grabbed handfuls of fine saw dust, letting it sift through our fingers as it slowly drifted back to the ground. Occasionally, on our tramps through the woods, we’ve encountered such mounds and have been amazed that they still exist with little vegetation.

h-mill site approach

The mound bespoke the reason for the mill up ahead. (Notice the stream beside–we crossed over it, two of us more successfully than the third, but fortunately for him, I didn’t take a photo. He preserved the rest of the hike with soaking wet pants, socks and boots, but never complained, such is my guy. Oops–don’t tell him I told.)

h1-mill site, looking down

Climbing up, we looked down. According to the “History of Perley Mills” by Arthur Rankin on the Denmark Historical Society’s website, the part of town known as Perley Mills was “1st settled by a family named Cliffords in the early 1800s. They built a road by Little Pond to connect with the stage road from Denmark to Ingalls Road and Cole Road in South Bridgton and to Biddeford. The Cole Family had apple trees. Mr. Cole was a fiddler and he used to play for the dances in Denmark and Sebago. Mr. Wallis Berry purchased the Cole farm. About 1807, Mr. Berry and Mr. Perley built a dam at the outlet of Pickerel Pond. They built a saw mill to saw staves and shingles. They made barrels. They employed many men.”

We weren’t sure exactly what we were looking at below, but pieces of the former structure remained intact in what looked like a sluiceway.

h-mill drill holes

The stone had been split using the feather and wedge technique.

h1-mill site looking back

As we looked back, I was once again reminded of the work that went in to creating the foundations of yore.

h-cranberries 2

Our bushwhack included a few other fun finds, such as a small patch growing in an unexpected place.

h-cranberries

The little green balls actually threw me off when we first looked at them.

h-cranberrries 3

But it was my guy and his well-trained naturalist eye that knew they were cranberries.

h-virginia meadow beauty 1

We also spied a clump of Virginia meadow-beauty with its delicate petals and prominent stamen. It’s also known as Handsome Harry, but I think Harriet would be more fitting.

h-survey mark

When we reached the Narrow Gauge Trail, Ben showed us the elevation maker that neither of us recalled seeing previously.

h-pickerel pond

We stood beside the pond for a few minutes, looking for frogs.

h-sharp-shined back

h-sharp-shined front

And realized we weren’t the only ones on the hunt.

h-gall of the earth

As our journey continued down the old rail bed, we all wondered about the work that went into building it. Years ago, we used to find railroad spikes, but the trail has been improved recently and that seems hardly possible any more. Instead, we found gall of the earth in flower,

h-raccoon prints

raccoon prints showing their opposite diagonal manner,

h-Faith's arrow

and either one large turkey print or a message in the sand. We knew it was the latter for Faith had preceded us and as we passed her she mentioned she’d left a note.

h-off the Narrow Gauge

It wasn’t long after Faith’s message, that Ben veered off the rail trail and took us up an old logging road.

h-following Ben

We followed him through thick and thin, the thickest being where the goldenrods bloomed and bees buzzed in former log landings.

h-approaching the stone cemetery

Along the way, he spoke of a stone cemetery. We both conjured up images of an old cemetery reflecting an earlier time. But . . . he meant a large pile of rocks that had been dumped by a previous owner who had logged the area.

h-walking the Narrow Gauge

Eventually, we met up with Faith again, then she drove to our next meeting point, while the three of us walked the Narrow Gauge in a direction my guy and I had never traveled.

h-beaver dam:infinity pool

It was there that we saw beaver works we were certain of, including a dam that created an infinity pool above.

h-swamp beside Narrow Gauge

Beside a swamp, we kept searching for moose, but never spied one.

h-thistles, Faith

At last our journey by foot came to an end . . . almost. Faith had a surprise waiting for us. And so she drove us back up their road and just past their house pulled off to the side on land owned by their oldest son. We’ve explored that property with them previously, but today she wanted to show me one of my favorite plants, which also happens to be hers.

h-thistles in all forms

Thistle . . . in all of its forms, it deserves reverence.

h-thistle 2

And so we revered.

h-Hayes True Value bucket

Back at their camp, our time together wasn’t over for we broke bread. And then they offered a quick boat ride. On the way to the dock, we knew we were in the right place, such did the signage on one bucket indicate.

h-Faith and Ben

Out onto the pond we went, thankful for a few more minutes with Ben and Faith. We cherish any time spent in their company before they head south again. And today, we were also excited to explore our local area and visit places we’ve never been to before. Thank you both for everything, from the hike to thistles to lunch and the boat ride and all the conversation in between.

h-squirrel and eclipse

Before we departed, we had one more stop to make–at Ben’s sand table, where he recreates the natural world with found rocks.

Today’s creation–a red squirrel devouring the seeds of a white pine cone as the moon covered the sun–an artful eclipse on this Mondate.

 

A Blue Bird Kind of Good Friday

When Jinnie Mae picked me up this morning, our destination was the Narrow Gauge Trail. But somewhere between here and there, she pulled a U-turn and drove to Narramissic Farm owned by the Bridgton Historical Society.

It had been just over a year since I last visited and I wanted to show her the shagbark hickory buds. And maybe even the bear trap.

n-Pleasant Mtn to Narramissic1

We crossed the field behind the house and started off on the path to the quarry and bear trap, but snow and water in the woods resulted in another U-turn. We’d been talking so much, we’d hardly noticed our surroundings, but the view stopped us in our tracks.

n-Pleasant Mountain

To the left, the long ridge line of Pleasant Mountain, where the ski trails of Shawnee Peak Ski Area made themselves known.

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And in front of us, the Temperance Barn and Peabody-Fitch homestead, built in 1797. We had the place to ourselves and reveled in the quiet of the day–when we weren’t talking, that is.

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Heading to the road for our tree bud search, we passed by the blacksmith shop where horseshoes were probably made in the day.

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And at the Temperance Barn, so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum,” I can never resist admiring the structure even though it’s in great need of repair.

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And then we were stumped by a flowering tree. It sure looked like an ash as Jinnie Mae suggested, but what were those lacy tips? What came to my mind first were the tags on red oaks that I didn’t understand a few years ago until a friend helped me realize that they were leaf stems left behind when the wind finally claimed the dried leaves. Was this the same?

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Climbing onto the double-wide wall, I took a closer look.

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Turns out Jinnie Mae was right. But my question still remains. Were these the stems of the ash samaras or compound leaves?* For some reason I’ve never before seen them left behind. Ah, there are so many things to discover in this world.

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We continued down the road, noting budding pussy willows and flowering red maples. And then I spied the bulbous buds I wanted to show her. Only, it turns out that we hadn’t reached the hickory trees yet.

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The monkey face leaf scar should have been a clue. But my brain was stuck in hickory mode and I completely forgot that black walnut leaves leave such a formation. At home, I pulled out Forest Trees of Maine and then seesawed between black walnut and butternut (aka white walnut). Both feature leaf scars shaped like a monkey’s face. But the top of the leaf scar serves as the give away–this one did not have thick fuzzy eyebrows like a butternut, so I’m going out on a limb and declaring this a black walnut.

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A bit further down the road we spotted more bulbous buds. These were definitely the ones I was looking for–shagbark hickory. In the moment and because the two trees weren’t close together, we thought they were all one in the same. But hindsight being 20/20 as it is, the photographs tell the story.

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The subtle colors and fuzziness wowed us and we both took numerous photos.

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Then there were the leaf scars–definitely more heart-shaped than the previous trees.  And lacking that smiling face. We smiled for them.

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It wasn’t enough to find the small saplings beside the road and so we crossed another field in search of the mother tree.

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Along the way, Jinnie Mae spotted a wee grasshopper–the first of the season for us.

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And then her newly trained shagbark hickory eyes keyed in on the momma.

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If you go, it’s located behind the barn.

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And shouts its name in presentation.

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Looking upward, we could see the bulbous buds on the twig tips contrasted against the bright blue sky.

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Happiness is a blue bird kind of day–sweetened by time spent exploring with Jinnie Mae, making discoveries and watching bluebirds move between the field and the trees. Indeed it was a Good Friday.

Now we need to return and find the mother black walnut.

*Thanks for Maine Master Naturalist Pam Davis for IDing the ash strand as the rachis of the compound leaf. She reminded me that I have seen these on the ground in the fall. But–to be still dangling from the tree was new to my eyes and mind.

 

Meditation in the City

Though I grew up outside New Haven, Connecticut, and spent a great deal of time there as a child/tween/teen, I am not a city girl. In fact, stepping onto a sidewalk in even the smallest of cities yanks me from my comfort zone.

And so it was with great surprise that I met a city I rather liked. Over the last thirty years, I’ve passed through it numerous times, but twice this past week, I followed my tour guide from one monument to the next–my eyes wide and mouth gaping open with each new view, the obvious sign of a tourist.

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Meet my tour guide, Bob Spencer, who proudly displayed a future landmark sign.

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Bob’s world view begins at City Center, aka Watson’s Falls.

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From the home he and his wife, Gere, have made in a former mill, the view encompasses one of nine water privileges or mill sites. Theirs is the fifth privilege along the stream, which was originally granted to Isaac Smith in 1795 for a saw mill. Over the course of its lifetime, the building served as a cloth and linseed oil mill, saw mill, salt box factory and cider mill. I love that apples still dangle above the water, a reminder of that last rendition.

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On Saturday, we stepped north for a few minutes, and chatted about the mill pond and its function while Bob pointed out foundations and retaining walls and told stories of the standing buildings.

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Then we turned south along the brook, where remnants of dams and the stonework foundations of other water-powered mills flourished from the days of the town’s settlement until the mid 1900s.

Bob is a fellow writer and naturalist with a keen interest in history. I’m flattered that he shared this place with me as well as his own written musings:

For most travelers on busy state Route 35/37, our brook is of little interest or importance. To the village of South Waterford, however, a cluster of thirty buildings which lie on either bank of this stony rill, it has served as a source of life and vitality throughout much of history. Landforms here were carved into the granite bedrock as a much larger ice-age water course scoured out a valley between Bear and Hawk Mountains to the east and Mount Tir’em and Stanwood Mountain to the west. Native Americans gathered along its banks to fish and camp. Eighteenth century settlers were drawn to the environs for a source of their fresh water and of power to produce lumber and flour, which were essential to survival. Nineteenth century industrialists, before and after the Civil War, earned their livelihoods by producing both commercial and consumer goods traded locally and in cities such as Portland and Boston.

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As we walk along he pointed out buildings still standing, those in stages of disrepair, and others that were merely memories. We paused by a meadow where he described the spring flooding events and I examined the evergreen wood ferns.

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And then we noted the gouge that deepened as we climbed, where “a glacial moraine as melt water engorged the brook into a raging river 15,000 years ago. The brook serves as the marshy wetland home of fish, birds and mammals. Such a short stream can teach everyone who allows the time many lessons about our ecology systems: how they work and how they were born.”

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At the emergence of the brook we’d followed with two smaller brooks (Mutiny and Scoggins), we paused as Bob described their origins and journeys.

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And then we turned to Bear Pond–the outlet. The temperature was relatively warm and pond almost inviting.

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With Bear Mountain overlooking, we’d reached the southern most point of the city.

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On our return trip, we found numerous signs that local residents were still industrious. Sometimes they were successful and the trees fell to the ground.

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As with all industrious efforts, there were times when hang ups prevented success.

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Sunshine and late afternoon reflections gave me a taste of why Bob referred frequently to the meditative nature of this place.

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As we climbed a small hill and crossed a field, we again approached City Center.

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And then we doubled back, walking to the intersection of Sweden Road with Routes 35/37. Plaster mills, bucket mills, a carding mill, saw mill and grist mill–waterpower was a necessity to any enterprise–beginning with lumber sawed for dwellings, grain ground for life-sustaining bread, shingles for siding and roofing, carded wool for the seamstress.

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With the sun’s rays dipping lower in the sky, we stood in awe of the sluice and thought about the men and oxen and all the work that went into creating the mill–before the real work actually began.

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How many times have I traveled past this site and never spied it? Too many.

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After our first tour ended, I paused at the southernmost end of Bear Pond for further reflection.

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But . . . there was still more to see of the city and so a few days later I eagerly joined my tour guide again. This time we walked north, and wondered about the rock placements and considered their role as runways that once helped direct the water flow.

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All along, we saw evidence of human intervention.

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We noted the feather and wedge marks on split stones.

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Barbed wire made us think about the land being used for agriculture. Though it didn’t seem that the land had been plowed, we wondered if farm animals had roamed. Bob reminded me that a carding mill once stood nearby and so we envisioned sheep.

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Barrel wire and staves made sense to us, but we didn’t always recognize the artifacts for their use.

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We even found a cellar hole, or perhaps a cellar hole, that Bob hadn’t seen before. Of course, we speculated. It certainly had structure. But why was it cut out around large boulders, we wondered.

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And we noted the industrial work of trees that forged their own way beside the brook.

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For every sight that we seemed to understand, there were more that we didn’t. With his vast knowledge of local history and the land formations along the brook, Bob pointed out natural and man-made features, but even he admitted he didn’t always get it. The pile of obviously quarried granite was one such.

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Suddenly, we reached what might be considered the crossroads of long ago and more recent past.

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To the west, an obvious rock sluiceway.

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To the right, stanchions from a former, yet more recent power site.

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This was all located at the original spot of the first dam along the brook.

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Curiously, Bob explained as we walked along,  a more modern dam was built about a quarter mile north.

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We’d reached Keoka Lake, formerly known as Thomas Pond. Supposedly, in the early 1900s, Thomas Chamberlain ran away from Native Americans and survived by hiding in a crack in a rock. Though the lake is no longer named for him, Tom Rock Beach holds his legacy. Today, the clouds told the story of the much cooler temperature. 

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Bob directed my attention to our left, where Waterford Flats was visible.

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And then we looked south, to the outlet of Keoka and the beginning of City Brook–the place where it all began. Though no longer held by dams and funneled through the rock sluiceways, it was the water that passed this very way that once provided the energy converted by water wheels and turbines to power the life of the city.

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“Waterford City” as it was known, has changed, though some standing monuments still speak to its former life. Until Saturday, I had no idea the brook was named City Brook or that South Waterford was known as a city, so named for the industry that once existed here.

As Bob wrote, “The age of industrial prosperity is now long gone, victim to growth of large manufacturing plants which required more powerful rivers and many other economic changes since the 1870s. At that time, South Waterford was dubbed “Waterford City” for the noise and bustle brought to the town by nine mills and many supporting outbuildings lining the brook. Invisible to today’s busy passerby are many remnants of a past industrial heyday: a large concrete and split stone ruin on the access road to Keoka’s modern dam, two-story stone work that served as the foundation for a 19th century bucket mill, a simple shingled mill building atop a 1797 stone dam beside the town’s last rustic stone bridge. Further exploration may reveal lost foundations beneath the water surface, a 36-inch rusty circular saw blade, burnt remains of Waterford Creamery or an earthen dam long overgrown by bushes and brambles. These vestigial remains of human endeavor are of historical interest to many.”

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After our tour came to an end,  I paused below the cider mill one more time–a fitting spot to share another of Bob’s ponderings on this place:

“The whirling bubble on the surface of a brook
admits us to the secret of the mechanics of the sky.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is appropriate to begin this study with a quote from American philosopher, existentialist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1802-1882), whose life spanned from early days of village settlement through the denouement of its industrial zenith. Emerson spent much of his boyhood visiting three aunts who lived in Waterford. He likely honed his naturalistic views while exploring City Brook or Mutiny Brook near Aunt Mary Moody Emerson’s home, Elm Vale, which was located across from the cemetery of the same name on Sweden Road.

This is one city I’m thankful to have visited. And I look forward to further explorations.

I’m grateful to Bob for sharing this place with me and especially for pointing out all of his favorite meditative places. Meditation in the city–Waterford City style.

 

A Devil of a Mondate

Ever since I first saw a photo of a family donning their Sunday best and standing on rocks that form the “Devil’s Staircase” in Lovell, Maine, I’ve been intrigued.

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The photo and description on Lovell Historical Society’s Web site refers to a “staircase” on Sabattus Mountain. And so for years I imagined the staircase leading to that summit, but never located it. And then I learned that a section of trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Pond’s Reserve had earned the same name. Is there a staircase at Sabattus? Or was it accidentally misidentified? Whatever the case, when I suggested to my guy that we attempt the staircase off Route 5, he embraced the opportunity. (I’ve since learned from several friends that indeed, there is a staircase on Sabattus and the photo likely was taken there. The base of the staircase is apparently on private property and no longer a safe climb.)

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And so about noon we ventured forth and figured out a direction that would take us up the steep portions of the trail to the staircase and El Pulpito, and then down the easy trail–with hope that there was such a thing as an easy trail.

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Actually, at the start it all seemed quite easy as I followed our Monday tradition of racing to keep up.

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We chuckled when he found an arrow that aimed heavenward–perhaps a sign that all would be well.

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My guy played spin the arrow to set it toward our destination. (Actually, on the way down, he spun it the other way. Note to GLLT–perhaps this arrow needs two nails.)

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Minutes later, we approached the ledges and visions of bobcats danced through my head.

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Acting as our scout, my guy contemplated the upward advance.

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We were forewarned and chose to bypass a bypass.

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He started up what we believed to be the same trail traveled by those Sunday venturers.

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I followed but not quite as speedily.

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My heart pounded in Edgar Allen Poe manner as I followed him up. I have to admit that there was a point where I wanted to turn around and climb down, but wasn’t certain that would be any easier. And so after pausing for a few moments, I tried to put mind over matter and placed my hands and feet in what seemed to be “safe” spots as I continued to climb.

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Above the staircase we were rewarded with a vantage point of Kezar Lake and the White Mountains and a chance to slow down our heartbeats.

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And later, at El Pulpito, the pulpit, the complete opposite of the Devil’s Staircase–a place to pause, eat PB&J sandwiches, and contemplate life in a relaxed manner.

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Within an hour we reached the summit of Amos Mountain and spent some time being.

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Though the sun was in our eyes, the view south was a bit hazier than one would expect on a clear November day. We later learned that a forest fire burned in Albany, New Hampshire.

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For our descent, we followed the blue blazes of the Amos Mountain Trail.

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Though hardly as steep as the climb up, I was thankful for a few downed trees that slowed my guy–momentarily.

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The beech and oak leaves were over a foot deep in places and obscured rocks and roots, making for a slippery slide down.

Nevertheless, we did it. Devil’s Staircase up and a devil of a climb down–and yet, two hours later we knew we’d do it again.

 

 

Book of October: HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION

Better late than never is the name of my game. And so it is that I’m finally posting the Book of October. Since I was away at the beginning of the month, I’ve been playing catch-up, but also, I had three different books I wanted to write about and couldn’t choose one. And then, the other day after hiking with my friend, Marita, and mentioning her book, I realized when I tried to provide a link from my Book of the Month posts that though I’ve mentioned the book several times, I’ve never actually written about it. And so, without further ado . . .

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the Book of October is HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION by Marita Wiser.

Of course, since we’ve been friends for a long time and I’ve served as editor on several editions of the book, I suppose you might deem my review as being biased. It is.

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And if you find the typo that has survived several editions, I might give you an extra candy bar for Halloween. Just remember, only God is perfect.

As you can see from the table of contents, trail descriptions are organized based on location and she ranks the difficulty, making it easy for the user to make a decision about which trail to hike. Do you see the blue box on Mount Cutler in Hiram? I actually had a brain freeze there and couldn’t put mind over matter and get to the summit. I was stuck in one spot for at least a half hour before feeling a slight bit of bravery and making my way down. I laugh at that now because I’ve completed all the black diamonds except for Chocorua–guess that needs to go on my list. Of course, my guy and I did have a heck of a time descending one trail on the Baldfaces, but we survived and have a story to tell.

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The trail descriptions include directions, distances, time allotment, difficulty and often history. I think knowing the history of the place is extremely valuable so you can better understand the features around you.

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For one of the local favorites, Pleasant Mountain, she includes five pages to describe the various trails and even includes an old photograph of the Pleasant Mountain Hotel. Standing at the summit, I often imagine the horses and carriages that carried visitors up the Firewardens trail, that is after they’d arrived by Steamboat, having followed the Cumberland and Oxford Canal from Portland to Harrison. Their journey makes any hike we take seem so easy. Well, maybe not, but still.

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The centerfold provides an overview of all the areas Marita writes about.

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And while she begins the book with a variety of hiking tips about everything from water, food, trash and clothing to ticks, hunting and trail markings, she ends with a scavenger hunt and information on how to reorder the book.

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With time comes change and her covers reflect such. Marita started this project when she wrote a hiking column for The Bridgton News years ago.

The beauty of her book is that she actually goes out and explores all of the trails over and over again, and in each edition she provides updated descriptions. She also adds and deletes trails, so even if you have an older version, you might want to purchase the current copy.

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I’m thankful for the book and my friendship with Marita. And glad that I often get to join her on a reconnaissance mission. (We also co-host the rest stop at the teepee on the Southwest Ridge Trail of Pleasant Mountain each September for Loon Echo Land Trust’s Hike ‘n Bike fundraiser before we traverse the ridgeline to the summit of Shawnee Peak Ski Area–thus our southern-themed headwear.)

This Book of October is a must have if you live in or plan to visit the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region area. And it’s available at many local shops, including Bridgton Books.

HIKES & Woodland Walks in and Around Maine’s LAKES REGION, fifth edition, by Marita Wiser, © 2013.

 

 

Finding Our Way on Mount Tom in Fryeburg, Maine

I ventured this afternoon with my friend Marita, author of  Hikes and Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION, along with her daughter’s beagle, Gracie, on a new trail in Fryeburg.

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Mount Tom, a Roche Moutonnée, is an asymmetrical hill with a gently sloping up-ice side that has been smoothed and polished by a glacier. The other side is abrupt and steep–the down-ice side where the rocks were plucked off, leaving a more cliff-like appearance. As Marita noted, its most impressive view is from a distance, but today we sang its praises from up close. We’ve both hiked a 1.5 mile trail to the summit for years, but recently The Nature Conservancy developed a new trail that we were eager to explore.

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Within seconds I was exclaiming with joy. A huge, and I mean HUGE foundation shared the forest floor. Note the outer staircase to the basement.

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And the large center chimney.

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On an 1858 map, I found that A.H. Evans owned a home in about this vicinity, but I don’t know if this was his. Or any more about him. It will be worth exploring further at the Fryeburg Historical Society.

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The house extended beyond the basement.

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And was attached to an even bigger barn.

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Ash trees grow beside the opening, but I wondered if we were looking at the manure basement.

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Finally, we pulled ourselves away and returned to the trail. Well, actually, we tried to return to the trail but couldn’t find it. So we backtracked, found this initial blaze and again looked for the next one. Nothing. Nada. No go. How could it be?

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That didn’t seem right, so we decided to follow our noses, or rather Gracie’s nose, and sure enough we found the trail. If you go, turn left and cross between the house and barn foundations.

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After that, for the most part, we were able to locate the trail, but it was obscured by the newly fallen leaves and could use a few extra blazes. Gracie, however, did an excellent job following the scent of those who had gone before and leaving her own.

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The path took us over a large mound of sawdust, something I’ve found in several areas of Fryeburg.

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The predominate trees were beech, white and red oaks, thus providing a golden glow to the landscape.

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And then we came to the ledges. Bobcat territory. Note to self: snowshoe this way to examine mammal tracks.

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The trail was situated to provide a close up view of the ledge island, where all manner of life has existed for longer than my brain could comprehend. Life on a rock was certainly epitomized here.

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We continued our upward journey for over 2.3 miles (thanks to Marita’s Fitbit for that info) and eventually came to the intersection with the trail we both knew so well.

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From there, we walked to the summit where the views have become obscured by tree growth.

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But . . . we could see the long ridge of Pleasant Mountain in front of us,

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Kezar Pond to our left,

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and the Richardson Farm on Stanley Hill Road to our right.

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Also along the summit trail, the woody seedpod of a Lady’s Slipper. Ten-to-twenty thousand seeds were packaged within, awaiting wind dispersal.

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We decided to follow the old trail down, which passes through a hemlock grove and then suddenly changes to a hardwood mix. Both of us were surprised at how quickly we descended. And suddenly, we were walking past some private properties including the 1883 Mt. Tom cabin.

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The cabin sign was actually attached to a Northern White Cedar tree. I’m forever wowed by its bark and scaly leaves.

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In the field beyond, Old Glory fluttered in the breeze.

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And just before Menotomy Road, we spied Mount Kearsarge in the distance.

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Since we’d taken the loop trail approach rather than an out and back on the same trail, we had to walk along Menotomy Road, so we paid the cemetery a visit and checked out the names and ages of those who had lived in this neighborhood.

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One of the older stones intrigued me with its illustration. I think I would have enjoyed getting to know these people.

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As we continued on, I was reminded of recent adventures in Ireland  and the realization that we notice more when we walk along the road rather than merely driving by. We both admired this simple yet artful pumpkin display.

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If you go, you might want to drive to the old trailhead, park your vehicle and then walk back to the West Ridge Trail. We parked at the latter and had to walk the 1.5 back at the end, when it seemed even longer. But truly, the road offers its own pretty sights and the temperature was certainly just right, even with a few snow flurries thrown into the mix, so we didn’t mind. We were thankful we’d found our way along the new trail and revisited the old at Mount Tom. And I’m already eager to do it again.

 

 

 

 

Everybody Loves Raymond? Mondate

My guy and I were up for an adventure this morning as we headed off to a property recently acquired by Loon Echo Land Trust. I’d been there once before, but at that time there was no trail system and I certainly hadn’t climbed to the summit.

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We were on a 356-acre property bisected by a paved road. First, we hiked the upper section, passing through a hardwood forest.

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Immediately, I realized we were in the presence of one of my favorites–noted for the mitten-ish presentation of its leaves. One would have to be all thumbs to fit into this mitten, but still, my heart hums whenever I spy a white oak.

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Or in this case, many white oaks, some exhibiting the wine color of their fall foliage.

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And the bark–a blocky look that differs greatly . . .

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from the ski trail ridges of red oak.

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Hop Hornbeam also grows abundantly in this forest.

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As we neared the summit, we noticed that the sky view had a yellowish tone reflected by the ground view. Most trees were of the same age due to past logging efforts, but the predominant species was sugar maple.

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Another favorite tree also grew abundantly here. I think they are also favorites because I don’t see them as often. In this case, the bark, though furrowed and ridged like a northern red oak, featured an almost combed flattened ridge.

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And its leaves–oh my! Notice the asymmetrical base? And the length–my boot is size 8. American basswood–an important timber tree that is known to share the community with sugar maples and hornbeams–all of which provided that yellow glow.

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At last, we reached the vantage point.

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Above us, a mix of colors and species.

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Before us, a mix of white and red oak leaves.

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And beyond us, the view of Crescent Lake

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and Rattlesnake Mountain.

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While we admired the view, ladybird beetles (aka ladybugs) swarmed us. Well, not exactly in swarm formation, but more than is the norm.

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After admiring the view for a while and wondering about the ladybirds, we backtracked a bit and decided to explore the green trail, assuming that it looped about the summit.

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The trail conditions changed constantly, and one thing we realized was that the leaves had dried out and we wished we could have bottled their scent along with our crispy footfall as we trudged through–the smells and sounds associated with autumn.

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Eventually, we entered a beech commune and what to my wondering eyes should appear–bear claw marks? We ventured closer, circled the tree and looked at others in the neighborhood before determining that our eyes had perhaps played a trick on us.

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That was OK because within seconds a twig moved at our feet.

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We watched as its tongue darted in and out, red tipped with a black fork.

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Finally, we moved back to what we’d named Ladybird Lookout and found lunch rock where we topped off sandwiches with Bailey’s Irish Cream fudge a la Megan and Becky Colby. Life is good. Life is very good. (And we know a town in western Maine that would benefit greatly from a bakery–just saying, Megan!)

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After lunch, we climbed back down and crossed Conesca Road to check out trails on the other side. There is no trail map just yet, but we never got lost. And we appreciated the artwork nature created of manmade marks.

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This space offered a different feel where hardwoods combined with softwoods. And more stonewalls crossed the property, speaking to past uses.

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It’s here that we noticed an area demarked by pink flags and stopped to wonder why. Note to self–excavated hole and debris mean beware.

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Upon closer examination, an old hive. So who dug it up? We had our suspicions.

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We also noticed a fungi phenomena.

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Fungi on fungi? Honey mushrooms attacked by something else?

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The displays were large

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and otherworldly. I don’t recall ever seeing this before.

I sent the photos to Parker and Jimmie Veitch, of White Mountain Mushrooms, and Jimmie responded with this explanation:

“That’s what mycologists call “rosecomb” mutation, where a mushroom’s gills start forming on the cap in a really mutated fashion. It’s been reported in many mushroom species but I haven’t seen it in this one (Armillaria AKA honey mushrooms). As far as I know, no secondary fungus is involved.

The suspected cause (not so nice) is ‘hydrocarbons, phenols and other compounds contaminating the casing or contacting the mushroom surface. Diesel oil, exhaust from engines, and petroleum-based pesticides are thought to be the principal source.'”

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As we concluded our visit, we passed over one more stone wall decorated with red maple leaves.

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And then we hopped into the truck and traveled a couple of miles south to conquer another small mountain–one visible to us from Ladybird Lookout. (I really think LELT should name it such.)

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Here the milkweed plants grew abundantly.

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In the field leading to the trail, the property owners planted white oak saplings in hopes of providing food for wildlife. Um, by the same token, they’d enclosed the saplings in plastic sleeves (reminding us of our findings in Ireland) to keep deer at bay.

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The understory differed and ferns offered their own autumn hues.

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In contrast were the many examples of evergreen wood ferns.

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We soon realized that quite literate bears frequented this path and announced their presence.

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At last, the view opened and we looked back at the opposite shore of Crescent Lake, though realizing that our earlier ascent was masked by the trees.

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Turning about, Panther Pond came into view.

We’d spent the day embracing Raymond because everybody loves Raymond.

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Raymond, Maine, that is. Loon Echo Land Trust is gearing up to celebrate the Raymond Community Forest that we explored this morning and the Bri-Mar Trail up Rattlesnake Mountain has long been traveled by many. In fact, when I used to write copy for the local chamber of commerce, I spent some time learning about Edgar Welch, who was the fastest man on foot and ran up Mount Washington at least once a year. He lived in Raymond and worked for David McLellan, who was partially blind from a Civil War injury. Because Mr. McLellan’s farm was at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain, the sun would set one hour earlier than elsewhere in town. According to legend, after work each day Edgar ran up the mountain and moved rocks. Finally, he’d moved enough to let the sun shine on the farm for an hour longer. Another story has it that one day a man bet Edgar that he could beat him in a race to Portland. The man would race with his horse and buggy, while Edgar ran. When the opponent pulled into the city, Edgar was waiting for him. I love local lore.

And everybody loves Raymond. Well, my guy and I certainly gained a better appreciation for this town today.

 

 

 

Mondate on Mount Will

It’s been a while since we’ve actually had a Mondate. After two days of hiking the trails up Pleasant Mountain, today’s journey found us venturing a wee bit out of the neighborhood as we made our way through Bethel to Mount Will.

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The parking lot is located between these two signs. Part of the Mount Will trail system is within the 115-acre Bethel Town Forest that had served as the Town Farm back in the day.

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The South Cliff trail leaves from the left, while the North Ledges is on the right. This is a loop and we decided on a counterclockwise trek. It had been at least five years since we last hiked here and we’d forgotten about some of the steep sections.

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Of course, at the start, it seemed almost parklike. Three years ago, several local organizations including Mahoosuc Pathways, the Oxford County Conservation Corps, Outward Bound and the Bethel Conservation Commission rerouted this particular section of the loop.

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Now switchbacks wind their way up toward the North Ledge.

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When I wasn’t looking down, I scanned the woods, ever searching for my favorite species–bear claw trees.

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And I wasn’t disappointed.

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We saw them over,

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and over again. Oh happy day! We found more than these, which leads me to believe that there are even more. Let the search continue!

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A few trees displayed other surprise packages–burls or warty growths caused by some environmental condition such as injury, virus, fungus, insect infestation or mold. Though this growth can put stress on a tree if it becomes too heavy, generally trees with these features are healthy. And woodworkers covet burls for the unique pattern and beauty found within. That sounds like a comment on the world–we all have hidden treasures, but they aren’t always visible.

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Other tree growths include artist’s conk and

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red-belted polypores.

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The trail passed below rocky outcrops–and my imagination saw bobcats. But, what would they eat? The undergrowth is limited, so I doubted snowshoe hare. That being said, spruce and hemlock cones are many and red squirrels chided us constantly.

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Meanwhile, at a vernal pool just off the trail, all was quiet–and still partially covered in ice.

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Lunch rock was the North Ledge. Below, the Androscoggin River wends its way through the landscape. The Androscoggin has a long history as a life-giving force–beginning with the Abenaki Indians who used it as a water trail and knew the nuances of this 170-mile river.

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The fertile, ancient floodplain has served many a farmer, including the Carters who own the farm across the river below where we sat. While we ate, we shared our memories of cross-country skiing across those fields, beside the river and into the woods.

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We continued on across the ridge and through the spruce forest where the sap ran blue.

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Before turning toward South Cliffs, we caught a glimpse of the trails at Sunday River Ski Area in Newry.

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And then we saw a sign that had us wondering. The Gray Memorial? We had no previous memory of it, so we followed the detour and walked along a snowmobile trail for about a quarter of a mile.

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The story is sad. The airplane remnants powerful in suggestion. Upon arriving home, I found an article in the Sun Journal referencing the event. Leroy was a state trooper and his wife, Brenda, an executive secretary who became head dispatcher for the Bar Harbor Police Department. With their 14-year-old daughter, Karen, they were flying their Cherokee Piper to Bethel to spend time with relatives when the plane “crashed nose first” into Mount Will about 7:30pm. Despite her own injuries, Karen hiked down the steep mountainside to seek help. A somber site indeed.

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We backtracked to the trail and continued on to the South Cliffs, where our view again showed the river, with Route 2 following beside and both leading to Bethel village.

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Moving off the cliff, we were sure mountain goats had laid out the trail.

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Again, we were in bobcat territory, frequented by chatty red squirrels who seemed to feel quite safe as they scrambled from tree to tree.

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And then we moved into the land where the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz jumped out upon Dorothy and her friends. My guy started humming the music from his favorite movie. The reality is that these trees knew the wrath of previous storms.

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Once again the trail turned S curves as we continued downward and

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listened to water trickling over the mossy stream bed beside us.

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And then we found ourselves in the midst of a recent logging operation–remember, this is a working forest. Slash galore decorated the landscape, but we suspect that all of this will be chipped eventually. One thing we happily noted–bird song. Lots of bird song at this spot.

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We were almost to the bottom of the trail when an anomaly grabbed our attention and forced us to investigate.

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We’d stumbled upon a winter weather station. We only knew that because “winter weather station” was printed in faded paint across the box. So, we get the tape measure for snow depth, but the box? And the hole covered with mesh? Worth a wonder, so we did.

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Apparently, a moth appreciated the efforts of the citizen scientists who created this shelter. Our hike was over, but this chrysalis holds the future.

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We decided to complete our Mount Will Mondate with a visit to Artist’s Bridge over Sunday River–the perfect culmination of our love for nature and history.