Perhaps we’re getting smarter in our old age. Or maybe luck just happened to be on our side today. The thing is . . . we remembered to pack our micro-spikes–a first for this season.
Our intended hike: Kearsarge North off Hurricane Mountain Road just beyond North Conway, New Hampshire. The Fire Tower was our destination at 3.1 miles and while the conditions looked clear yet wet from the trailhead, we suspected we’d discover otherwise after about two miles.
It’s a steep hike with roots and rocks for those first two miles and then the trail transitions to granite ledge. So no matter what, if one wants to look up, one needs to pause. Otherwise, at least for us, we developed hiker’s neck, the exact opposite of spring’s warbler neck.
But . . . when one looks down, one sees some fun stuff like this frothy collection, an interaction of water friction and air. Tiny bubbles . . . make me happy, make me feel fine.
The bright yellow of a slime mold also captured my attention until I realized it was actually trailblazefungusamongus.
A look up and I knew exactly from whence it sprouted.
Another sweet find was a small patch of Pipsissewa, their leaves evergreen, and buds already formed for next summer. Scientifically known as Chimaphila umbellata, it’s a native wildflower of the Pyrola family that blooms in July.
As we continued to climb, we encountered one hiker on his way down and asked him about the conditions for the rest of the way. He informed us that there was snow but not so much ice, which we’ve encountered on this steep trail in the past.
And then we met it! Another first for this season. SNOW!!!!
It just got prettier and prettier the higher we climbed. That said, conditions were slippery underfoot than the first hiker stated and we encountered another hiker descending in sneakers who struggled to stay upright.
Yet another first, for where there is snow, there are tracks–those of our fellow hikers, but also of the wild mammals with whom we shared the space and I couldn’t help but smile at these left behind by a Red Squirrel. Let the tracking season begin.
As the conditions underfoot got a tad bit rougher, I chose to put on my spikes for the final quarter mile, which happens to be the longest quarter mile in the world.
I didn’t realize until we got home that I never took any photos of the trail once conditions worsened until we reached the summit, and the same on the way down because I was so focused on placing one foot in the right spot before choosing where to put the other foot.
But . . . none of that mattered when we reached the summit. This was once the sight of an inn that was destroyed by storms. In the early 1900s the fire tower was erected, rebuilt in the 1950s and manned until the late ’60s. Today, hikers can get out of the wind and take in the 360˚ views.
Do you see my guy on the stairs?
From the deck surrounding the tower, one can look toward Upper Kimball Pond in Chatham, NH, and on to the ridge line of our Pleasant Mountain in western Maine.
Or below to North Conway.
Or beyond to the White Mountains.
But the best part is stepping inside to sign the guest book, eat a late lunch, and enjoy the views without the wind.
We didn’t stay long because it was late and we could see precipitation in the offing. And both donned our spikes once we got to the base of the tower.
Lowering by the moment, the sun occasionally glowed upon the trail as we descended. Eventually, it disappeared completely and felt like someone had turned off the light as it gets dark early in the mountains. About halfway down it began to sleet.
All that said, two things came to mind. As much as I fret while climbing up because I dread what the hike down will be like (if only I could just hike upward and meet either an elevator or helicopter at the top–in a perfect world), that descent is always much easier, even when it’s as technical as today’s difficult hike, than my brain imagined. Of course, the spikes and a hiking pole were huge aids.
And as my guy said when we started to see snow on the trail and trees, “This is what’s to come.” Indeed.
When we reached home I saw an email from a friend that included this line: “Your favorite season is coming.” Yes, Karen Herold, it is!
Before today’s deluge began, I slipped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine, to fill the innermost recesses of my lungs with November air, and at the same time my brain with memories of so many people who have traveled these trails with me from Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and Lakes Environmental Association’s Alanna Yanelli and Mary Jewett, and friends and friends and friends, including the late JoAnne Diller, Sue Black, and Jinny Mae. But today’s journey also included memories of one I took two years ago with Becky Cook, who shared her remembrances of growing up along South High Street and romping through these trails as they were part of her backyard. If anyone ever had a sense of this place, it is Becky.
My journey began at the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, the main entryway into the park if you approach from the town parking lot on Depot Street behind Reny’s Department Store.
Bob Dunning, who died suddenly in November 2007, was a builder, an artist, and among other things, a teacher–sharing his craft with students young and old. To honor Bob, who treasured traditional building techniques, his friends and fellow craftspeople designed and built this bridge in a true barn-raising fashion. To learn more about the bridge, check out this previous wondermyway post: Barking Up A Bridge.
The bridge spans Stevens Brook, the source of power when Bridgton was first founded and for many years thereafter.
But today’s tale is about the the land beyond the bridge.
And the three properties I tried to circle on this 1871 map.
They are the same properties circled above to give a sense of place. Well, I may be off a wee bit in my drawing techniques, but it provides an idea of the land that was first owned by Thomas Cleaves, Dr. Nathaniel Pease, and Osborn Foster.
According to the 1870 census, Mr. Cleaves had 20 acres of improved land. His farm was worth $2,500 and equipment $75. For animals, he had 2 horses, 3 cows, 2 oxen, and 1 swine. His crops included wheat, corn and oats.
Dr. Pease had 20 acres of improved land and 50 acres of unimproved land. The value of his farm was $2,000, while his equipment was worth $75. Likewise he had 2 horses, but only 1 cow, plus 2 oxen, and 1 swine. Corn and oats were his crops.
Mr, Foster owned 40 acres of improved land, and his farm’s value was also $2,000, with the equipment at the going rate of $75. He had 1 horse, 2 oxen, and 1 swine. He also produced corn and oats. (One might note that there was a corn canning shop on the eastern side of Stevens Brook)
As time went on, Henry Moxcey acquired the Cleaves house. His occupation was farming and traveling according to the 1930 census. He lived in the house valued at $10,000 with his wife, Hattie, and daughter Hazel.
Next door, Charles Kneeland had taken ownership of the Pease property in 1881. In 1919, it became the property of his daughter Florence, wife of Alfred Keene. They lived there with their young children, Adria and Maurice. I couldn’t read the value of their home on the census, but Alfred owned a radio set. The 1930 census reflected the emerging values of early twentieth-century America, in particular the growing influence of consumerism and mass culture, thus it included a question about radio sets.
I’m not sure of the exact year, but Osborn Foster’s house was sold to Edward Carman. Charles Hermann Cook then purchased the home valued at $5,000. Herman was overseer in the finishing room at Pondicherry Mill (wondermyway: Milling About Stevens Brook). He lived with his wife Lula, son Enoch, and Edith Foster, who was their housekeeper (she was 43 and widowed).
Looking a the open field in the park, the houses/field to the west are the subject of the journey. While the homes remain private, the land that became the park was purchased in a collaborative fashion by Loon Echo Land Trust and Lakes Environmental Association through the generosity of many donors, as well as grant monies. After placing it under conservation easement with LELT, constructing entry points and trails, it was gifted to the town of Bridgton in 2012. The park consists of 66 acres of quiet woodland and 3,200 feet of stream shore in the heart of downtown Bridgton, making it one special place.
If you’ve stayed with me, this is the point where Becky’s story will enhance the tale. She is the daughter of the late Enoch and Hazel Cook, and granddaughter of C. Hermann Cook. My guy had the privilege, like so many others, of being taught by Mrs. Cook and still loves to talk about her. She passed away a few years ago, or maybe it was a few years before that, but he last visited her on her 102nd birthday and listened as she shared stories of her classroom and students as if she had only stepped out of school yesterday.
One of the first stops Becky and I made two years ago was at Kneeland Spring, pictured above. The water bubbles through the sandy bottom and so the spring never freezes. Even in July, Becky said, she remembered the water being ice cold. Notice the moss-covered split granite–I didn’t take a photo of it today, but just above there are several rock samples that may have been the source as they feature drill holes a farmer would have created to split the stone. Pin and feathering was a technique that required a person to drill holes along the grain of the stone, fill each hole with two semi-cylindrical pieces of iron, and drive a steel wedge between them.
To Becky, standing by the spring and looking west (uphill toward South High Street) brought back memories of running through fields as a kid. Below the spring she recalled there being woods and a boggy area.
She told me that Mr. Kneeland had livery stables beside his house for his horses and cows. The Keenes, who inherited the land, didn’t have any horses or cows. But Bob Dineen, who lived across South High Street, used the pastures for his work horses and cows. “You could ride them,” said Becky. “And I wasn’t particular. I could ride a cow just as easily as a horse.”
For many years I thought it was local lore that Hannaford Brothers purchased water from the spring, but Ned Allen shared this document with me. Apparently, this was coveted water.
Throughout the park one might spot numbered Roosters. By using either the Bridgton Historical Society’s free app, or picking up a brochure at the kiosk, you can key in on descriptions of historic locations in the park. I’d spent a few years feeling that the info for #4 wasn’t accurate, but Becky set me right.
You see, according to the description, #4 states this: Barway, This gap was left in the stonewall to provide an opening to pass through. A log would be placed across the gap so it could be closed up again and continue to keep the livestock contained.
In my brain, the stones had been moved to create the gap so the park trail could pass through it.
According to Becky, this was the wall that formed the boundary between the Keene/Kneeland property and the Cook property. She remembered a much smaller gap, but still there was one.
Off trail there used to be an old rail on the ground that referenced the Narrow Gauge Train that ran beside what is now the park. After the train stopped running in 1941, either Becky’s father or grandfather or both took advantage of the old rails and used them when necessary, such as for the ties of bridges, this one having been located along what was a rough road from the Cooks’ home on South High Street down to their camp on Willet Brook, which meets Stevens Brook in the park.
Before going to the site of the camp, I traveled along a spur trail, which I often do because I love the reflection it offers . . .
in any season.
When I traveled the trails with Becky, I was so grateful because she opened my mind to some of what had come before, including the family camp, this photo from the Bridgton Historical Society’s collection.
In its day, it was a single family camp at 1360 Willet Brook Shore owned by C. Hermann Cook and his family. Becky recalled it having a couple of bedrooms on the western side, which you see here, a kitchen, and a long living room spanning the front. French doors opened from the living room onto the porch. And she remembered evenings when her parents would wind up the Victrola and people danced out one door, across the porch, and back into the living room through another porch.
All that’s left of the camp, sadly, is the chimney and a foundation wall. In 1968, some kids began to make a habit of partying in the camp. According to Becky, they figured if they created a fire in the fireplace someone might spot the smoke rising from the chimney. Instead, they created a campfire in the middle of the living room floor. Several time, apparently, this happened. Their frivolity ended, however, when they accidentally burned the camp to the ground on what became the final party.
Becky was sad to lose this beautiful place. She did recall with humor, however, the adventures she and her brother, Tim, shared as it was their responsibility to clean snow off the roof. With Tim at the helm, and Becky holding on for dear life, they’d zoom through the fields and woods on a snowmobile to reach the camp.
Standing with my back to the chimney, I tried to imagine another scene Becky painted for me: this once was a cove filled with water. Her grandfather Hermann kept a boat here and often fished.
It began to make sense because at that time the mills were in use and they would have dammed the water in various locations in order to have power to run turbines.
Looking west from the chimeny, one gets a sense of the camp road. Though it looks rather level now, roots were often an issue. Becky told me that the vehicles of yore were high-wheeled and high-bottomed so it wasn’t really a bother.
Continuing up the “road,” a visit to the park doesn’t feel complete with stopping by to say hello to the Yellow Birch growing on a pine nurse stump where life is richer than we can imagine. It turned out that Becky was also a frequent stopper at this statue. Some tree species, especially those with small seeds, cannot germinate on leaf litter and need high-porosity seedbeds. Yellow Birch is such a species that requires mineral soil or deadwood to germinate. Hemlock is the same.
A bit farther along, the stonewalls begin to state their presence. They are powerful reminders that land that is now forested was once cleared and cultivated. Somer are single walls, such as this, built with large stones, where the land below is much lower than the land above, suggesting that the “short” side was plowed regularly and much more frequently than the tall side. Plowing tends to push soil against a wall. I don’t know when these walls were constructed, but some intense wall building occurred between 1775 and 1850. The majority of New England walls were dry built, meaning the stones were kept in place by skillful arrangement and balance.
A short distance above is a different type of wall. It’s a double-wide wall with larger stones on the outside and smaller filling in between. These were indicative of a garden wall. They weren’t high so as to keep livestock in or out. Instead, they became the place to toss all the stones that pushed to the field’s surface with the annual freezing and thawing. The smaller stones would likely have been the spring “crop” over the course of many years that were removed from the field by women and children. Remember, these farmers were growing their own grains. From Becky I learned that her grandfather had a commercial strawberry field. Usually such fields were between 2 – 4 acres, thus being the optimal size for moving stones from the center to the edges.
What grows best here now is the invasive Norway Maple. It’s not native to Maine and is aggressive in nature. This type of maple was planted along roadsides as a shade tree after the demise of elm trees. The leaf is similar to a Sugar Maple, but much more rectangular (boxier) in shape. And . . . while the Sugar Maples have lost their leaves by now, the Norway Maples hold on to them for a much longer time period.
Because it had started raining in earnest and I could barely see through my glasses, I knew it was time to draw today’s journey to a close. But, there was one last place to pause–in a pasture with a small opening in the boundary. The Kneeland/Keene homestead can be seen through the opening. If I turned around, which I didn’t, I knew that I could follow another old “road” down to Kneeland Spring. And to my left as I looked up at the house, would have been the Cooks’ property (eventually they moved across the street), and to my right the Cram/Cleaves/Moxcey property now owned by the Russos, which actually serves as a farm today, albeit on a much smaller scale. (All have passed through one or two or more hands of ownership.)
One final note (or maybe two): It has been said that Pondicherry was the name of Bridgton before Moody Bridges surveyed the land for the proprietors. The source of the name has been questioned–was it so called for a union territory in India or for the cherry trees that grew by the ponds?
Perhaps there’s another choice to ponder–was it named by indigenous people before people of European descent thought the land was theirs to occupy and own? That’s another story that needs to be researched.
As for today, I’m so glad the rain didn’t keep me home and I once again made time to ponder the past in Pondicherry Park.
I always get excited when an issue of Lake Living hits the shelves and the fall/winter one is now being distributed. If you are able to pick up a copy, please do so. And if you aren’t local, you can find a link to it here and below.
The first article, written by Laurie LaMountain, is “Finding Center” about an artist who purchased a building that began its life as a Roman Catholic Church, whose congregation outgrew it, and then for decades as Craftworks, a highly successful retail clothing and homewares store until it closed in March 2020. And now it is transforming into Factor Fine Art Center for the Arts and the story is as much about the building as it is about the man who is behind this repurposing project.
As always, in the fall issue, there is an article about a house renovation, this one entitled “Big Pine Farm,” also written by Laurie. The color scheme reminds me so much of our own kitchen renovation.
Next inside the cover is an article I wrote about a large barn that isn’t undergoing a renovation, but rather is being rescued from listing to the west and possibly toppling over, thus I titled it “Rescue Mission.” I had the great pleasure of meeting and interviewing a young man who is overseeing the project. Keeno Legare grew up looking at (and sometimes exploring) the barn and has a strong desire to continue to preserve the structure.
One of my favorite parts of the building is the silo—located inside rather than out. The article includes some of the history of the barn and the passion its owner, David McGrath, has for it.
“The Home Sauna: Active Relaxation” is Laurie’s third article. This is about one man’s COVID project that resulted in a small building where he can reap health benefits while letting the world wash away.
Laurie’s final article is entitled “Light Breaking.” This is about Laurie Downey, a woman who transformed her artistic direction after working as the set designer for her daughter’s school drama club. “Taking her cue from nature, she initially created a dozen lyos lightscreen patterns from drawings and photographs, or a combination of the two, that mimic rippling water, sun dappled foliage, forsythia in bloom, stands of saplings, and bare branches.” As you can see in the title photograph, ice also informs her art.
My second article is about Forest Therapy in the winter. Maine Master Naturalist and Forest Therapy Guide Jeanne Christie shared with me information about how a forest therapy session works, the values of participating in such a walk, and ways to make sure you stay warm while doing this in the cold season. I’ve participated in a few of Jeanne’s forest therapy walks and highly recommend that if you learn of one of these in your area, you strap on your snowshoes and head into the woods with a guide.
“Night Show” is my final article. The essence of this article is about light pollution from artificial light. “The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) defines light pollution as ‘inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light,’ and goes on to stay that ‘it can have serious environmental consequences for humans, wildlife, and our environment.’” Since writing this article, my guy and I had the opportunity to visit Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, designated an International Dark Sky Place. It’s the first place on the eastern seaboard to receive this designation and only places as remote as Antartica have darker skies.
The article includes information about light trespass and ways we can improve our own indoor/outdoor lighting for the benefit of all. Just imagine—if we all jumped on the bandwagon and turned off or down our lights, the stars would surely amaze us.
The magazine concludes with everyone’s favorite: the bookshelf with book reviews from the owners and staff of Bridgton Books.
That’s a summary. I do hope you’ll either pick up a copy and read the articles and let the advertisers know that you saw their ads . . . cuze the magazine is free to you. And if you can’t pick up a copy, please click on the link here: lake living fall/winter 2021
A few years after the Town of Bridgton, Maine, incorporated, William Peabody of Andover, Massachusetts, built a house for his bride, Sally Stevens. The large, two and a half story building with a center chimney, was surrounded by over 200 acres of fields and forest upon which they grew crops, raised livestock, and created maple syrup, butter, and cheese.
In 1823, William and Sally’s fourth daughter, Mary, married George Fitch of Sebago, Maine, and about 1828 the Fitches took over the workings of the hilltop farm, said to be the highest cultivated land in Cumberland County. Thus, within the house lived Mary’s parents, three of her younger siblings, plus the Fitches and their growing family. To accommodate all, George added an ell with a new kitchen, larder, pantry, and two bedrooms. He also built an attached shed and carriage house.
After George Fitch died in 1856, the property stayed in the family but over time declined significantly in value. By the mid-1930s, the farm had fallen into disrepair and the Town of Bridgton put a lien on it for back taxes.
A friend who owned property nearby informed the recently widowed Margaret M. Monroe of Providence, Rhode Island, about the South Bridgton house. Margaret saw through the deficiencies and fell in love with the entryway and carriage house. Really, she fell in love with the entire place and purchased it not only to preserve its original elements, but also to serve as a summer and holiday retreat for her family.
In 1987, upon Margaret’s death, the property she’d long ago named Narramissic, loosely translated to mean “Hard to Find,” because she and her late husband had long searched for a Maine property to purchase, was bequeathed to the Bridgton Historical Society (BHS). Over the years, through staff and volunteer hours, donations, and grant monies, BHS has worked to restore the farmhouse and outbuildings and host various events.
In the 1990s, for his Eagle Project, Boy Scout Adam Jones created a blue-blazed trail to a quarry on land beyond the upper field that remained in possession of Peg Monroe Normann, Margaret’s daughter. In 2020, Loon Echo Land Trust purchased and conserved the 250-acre Normann property that surrounds BHS’s Narramissic farmstead on three sides and appropriately named it Peabody-Fitch Woods. (Much of the above was copied from my article about the partnership between the two organizations that was published in Lake Living fall/winter 2020)
The two organizations, BHS and LELT, have worked diligently since then to create a new gravel pathway with manageable slopes built to universal standards that winds past the house and barn and through the woods. And so I began my afternoon walk there and was thrilled not only to spy some thistle in bloom beside the trail, but a bumblebee in frantic action upon it.
A little further along, while admiring the colors by my feet, I was equally wowed by the pattern of work an insect had created on a folded Witch Hazel leaf.
Inside, and forgive the blurry photo for I was trying to hold the leaf open with one hand and snap the photo with the other, was a minute leafhopper . . . an herbivore known to suck plant sap.
Having seen the thistle and insects, my heart was singing. I tried to go forth without expectation, but once I reached the grassy lane leading to the Quarry Loop, I knew to search and was again rewarded for there I found several Purple Milkworts still in bloom.
And then at a fence post that separates the hiking trails from the ATV/Snowmobile trail, I searched again for it’s a place I often find insects. Bingo. A firefly scrambled about. This is one of the diurnal species that doesn’t actually light up.
Across from the fence was a new sign post and much to my surprise: a new trail. Before LELT acquired the property, the blue trail followed the motorized vehicle trail for a ways and then an old road to a quarry.
At that time, this was the only known quarry on the property.
Spaced about six inches apart are the drill marks made by the Peabodys or Fitches and perhaps hired hands. Using the plug and feather method practiced in the 19th century, small holes were hand drilled every six or seven inches across the stone. Then two shims, called feathers, were placed in the hole and a wedge or plug was hammered between them. By drilling in the winter, ice forming in the holes would have helped complete the work of splitting the granite. The split stone would have been loaded onto a stone boat or sledge pulled by oxen.
Because he was exploring the land more closely, a couple of years ago LELT Stewardship Manager Jon Evans discovered more quarries on the hillside that the public can now explore by following the loop through the woods. It’s a place where I always make fun discoveries including the antennaed pine needle shield lichen–a rare species for sure.
All of the quarries have something to offer, but I must admit I’m rather partial to #2.
For starters, it’s the largest.
But what I find intriguing is that it features hand drilled holes . . .
and those that are much deeper and wider and must have been mechanically drilled. There’s also a long pile of stone slabs that flow down the hill below the quarry and toward the old Narrow Gauge Train route and I can’t help but wonder if there’s a relationship between the train and quarry. We know the train brought coal to mills along Stevens Brook, but did it perhaps bring split stone for some of the foundations?
Moving on toward the next quarry, I was startled by the next find: blueberry flowers. This just shouldn’t be and speaks to the warm temperatures we’ve been experiencing this October. The leaves have turned and are falling, but it hardly feels like autumn.
At quarry #3 a couple of red squirrels scolded me, but try as much as I did, I couldn’t locate them.
Here, the hand-drilled holes were about twelve inches apart, and I wondered why that was the case.
At #4, all was quiet.
But it was obvious that even acorns can be drilled . . . albeit by rodent teeth. I loved that this dinner table was between slabs.
The final quarry, #5, did make me wonder. Is this the last one? Or are there more on the hillside waiting to be recognized?
As I followed the trail back to the stick part of the lollipop loop, I was amused to spy an apple upon a rock, much like a trail cairn. A feast intentionally left for the critters? Not a habit one should get into, but I’m almost curious to return and see what remains.
Finally, I reached the grassy lane once again and followed it back toward the gravel path.
One of my favorite things about the gravel path created by Bruce and Kyle Warren of Warren Excavation, is that they cut out periodic openings where one can glimpse the farmstead from different angles.
Upon my return, I had to visit the foundation of the barn and wonder which quarry offered its stones. Perhaps some from here and others from there.
Back at the house, I gave thanks for those who had come before and those who are here now to share the storied past. This is a place where anyone can wander and wonder and even bring a picnic and sit a while.
My only sadness came in the form of the cut Witch Hazel that had graced the corner of the house–it was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and each fall offered a plethora of ribbony flowers. My hope is that it will spring forth once again and in time do the same.
At last it was time for me to take my leave, and though I had hoped to see the mountains, they were shrouded in clouds. But that was okay because the foliage lining the lower field was enhanced by the dark clouds.
If you have time, and it need not take the three hours that I spent there, do visit Narramissic and Peabody-Fitch Woods located on Narramissic Road in South Bridgton, and enjoy the grounds and trails. It’s a place that is now hardly Hard to Find. Each time I go I come away with something different to add to my memory bank of this special place.
For his birthday in the fall, as you may recall, I gave my guy a baker’s dozen list of geocaches to locate in the wilds of Maine and New Hampshire. Prior to this past weekend, he’d located twelve with one left–burning a bit of a hole in his pocket because we thought we’d get there on Thanksgiving, but rain changed that plan. And then winter happened and we knew the journey would require more time because gates on the Forest Road would be closed and we’d have to trek a longer distance. With the dawn of spring, however, he thought we should take our chances. Oh, we’d still have a ways to hike, but thankfully it’s light later and so we had that on our side.
That was Saturday. But . . . that journey wasn’t enough, and so despite high winds on Monday, I created a mini-list for him and off we went in search of five more geocaches.
Our Saturday adventure found us practicing our balance beam skills, for if we fell off, which we did from time to time, we’d sink into snow that was at least knee deep.
That said, not only were we gymnasts, but we also had to pull some ballet leaps out of the daypack; sometimes the stream crossings like this one, were obvious, but other times we had to guess where the softest spot might be and try to jump to the other side without crashing through the snow bridge. Success wasn’t always on our side.
On a different trail, we outbested the conditions by walking in the stream that was actually a woods road, having chosen different footwear.
And yet again, there was a narrow balance beam to climb across. Thank goodness we had such great training in junior high and knew how to stay on top, otherwise we would have gotten soaked. Haha! I don’t know about him, but I’m pretty sure I failed the gymnastics unit all those years ago.
At one point in our journey, we spotted a gate ahead and thought for sure it would be our turn-around spot, but upon reaching it we found this kind note, which inspired us to pick up downed branches along the private drive since the owners were kind enough to let us venture forth.
And beyond said destination (read: geocache), we continued on to a summit we’d never reached before.
We also spent a few moments on the property of the Parsonsfield Seminary, founded by the Free Will Baptists as a seminary, aka high school in 1832. The eight-acre campus includes four buildings and once served as part of the Underground Railroad. Though the buildings are no longer used for education per se, special events are hosted by the Friends of Par-Sem, and it’s available for private functions.
Over the course of the two days, we crossed the state line between Maine and New Hampshire multiple times, both via truck and foot. Our favorite crossings came in the form of stumbling upon standing split granite stones in the woods.
Maine must have been the poor cousin for we could almost not see the M.
The marker on top, however, clearly established who owned what portion of the land.
and a sign in Taylor City, where Earl Taylor served as mayor until his death at the age of 95 in 2018. Earl was a graduate of Par-Sem it seems. He ran the general store and was quite active in town affairs–on both sides of the border.
Mind you, hiking and history weren’t the entire focus of our time together. Nature also was on display like the underside of lungwort showing off its ridges and lobes that reminded someone long ago of lung tissue. In reality, Lobariapulmonaria is an indicator of a rich, healthy ecosystem.
There was also a bear nest high up in a beech tree–where last summer a black bear sat for a bit, pulled the branches inward till some of them broke, and dined on the beech nuts.
Multiple times we spotted moose tracks in deep snow . . .
One of the creme de la creme sightings for me, was the first Beaked Hazelnut flower of the year. Gusty wind prevented a better photo, but still, it was worth capturing the moment.
And upon the ground, an old bee structure, each papery cell precise and reflective of all that surrounded it.
others medium in size . . .
and a couple on the larger side.
Water always seemed to be part of the scene. We hiked for at least a mile beside a racing brook.
And stood for a few minutes enjoying the sun at Mountain Pond.
There was a wetland that we explored from all sides (actually, there was more than one wetland that we explored and got to know rather personally–from the soles of our feet), full of future life and opportunity.
Spanning it all, we hiked thirteen miles through snow, ice, mud, and water, and found five of six geocaches, including completing the birthday baker’s dozen list.
The fact that we didn’t find one is driving my guy a bit buggy and we actually returned to the location, but to no avail. He’s bound and determined, so I have a feeling we’ll look in that spot again. But overall, we felt successful and appreciated that our quest led us to a mountain lake we’ve enjoyed in other seasons, but not this one, and new vistas/locations where nature provided moments of wonder.
Like so many others, we had hoped to venture back to the Emerald Isle in 2020, but “you know what” prevented that from happening. And so it sits on our “To Do” list, right there beside clean the barn and replace the stairway carpet.
In the meantime, however, we have memories from an Irish honeymoon in 1990 and a return visit in 2016. You might have read the latter here, but maybe like us, you’ll enjoy refreshing the memory on this St. Patrick’s Day. So sit back with a glass of Guinness and enjoy the journey.
My guy and I journeyed via bus, car and foot across northern and eastern Ireland these past two weeks. Our main agenda–a vacation in the land where twenty-six years and two months ago we celebrated our honeymoon. We both also had semi-hidden agendas–his to seek out ancestral roots, mine to search as well, though my quest wasn’t quite so clear.
Our journey began after we dumped our bags at the hotel, where our room wasn’t yet ready, and crossed the River Liffey in Dublin. It was to the right that we’d parked a rental car 26 years previously as we searched for traditional music and supper, only to return hours later and discover that the driver’s side window had been smashed and our video camera stolen. All these years I’ve held a sour view of the Fair City and so I felt a bit nervous as we stepped forth.
The feeling began to wane immediately, for as we approached a street corner and chatted about locating the library, a Dubliner overheard us and assumed we were looking for Trinity College (founded in 1592). We decided to play along and followed his directions–thankfully. It was “Welcome Freshers” week and the quad swelled with activity tents, music and students anticipating the year ahead. We passed among the frivolity and found the self-guided tour of the 18th century Old Library and that most ancient of manuscripts–the Book of Kells, a 9th century book featuring a richly decorated copy of the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. A favorite discovery: the monks used oak apple galls to create ink–apparently, they crushed the galls and soaked them in rainwater, wine or beer until they softened. I’ve got to try this.
While (or whilst as the Irish say) no photos were allowed in the Treasury where the manuscripts are stored, equally impressive was the Long Room, which houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books in ancient oak bookcases. Just thinking about the centuries we were encountering was mind boggling, enhanced of course, by a lack of sleep.
A few hours later, we made our way back to the hotel, enjoying the architecture and flowers as we walked along. At last, we could check in and so we checked out–a rejuvenating nap essential to our well being.
Rested and showered, we hopped aboard a bus–our next destination, the Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate Brewery. The 250-year story of Guinness® is portrayed on five floors in a building designed in the shape of a pint. What’s not to like about that.
We learned about the process of creating beer, and then there was the whistling oyster, one of the many icons of the Guinness® brand.
After taking in the full story, we reached the Gravity Bar, where ticket holders may each sip a complimentary foam-topped pint. The museum was preparing to close and the bartenders made the last call. My guy asked if we could purchase a second pint and we learned that they don’t sell any, but he kindly slipped us two. Don’t tell.
The Gravity Bar offers 360˚ views of the city.
And the view includes the Wicklow Mountains, our intended destination for week 2.
If you hear my guy tell this story, he’ll say that we were told it was a 45 minute walk from our hotel to the Storehouse, but a short bus ride. We rode the bus there, but later weren’t sure where we should queue for the ride back, so we decided to walk instead. According to him, it took us five hours to make that 45 minute walk. I’m not sure it was quite that long, but we did stop at The Temple Bar for the music and a few other prime spots to eat and sip a wee bit more.
The next morning we set out for the National Library, which had actually been our intended destination the previous day–but who can deny enjoying the Book of Kells exhibit. My guy was hopeful that the genealogists at the library would help him make some connections, but without knowing parishes he hit a bit of a stonewall.
And so we left the Fair City with much fonder memories, took a bus to the airport, picked up our rental car, and ventured on. Oy vey. If you’ve ever watched the BBC program, “Keeping Up Appearances,” you’ll appreciate that I was Hyacinth to my guy’s Richard. “Mind the pedestrian,” I’d say. “I’m minding the pedestrian,” he’d respond.
Our first stop, Newgrange, a Neolithic passage tomb alleged to be older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. Constructed during the Stone Age, about 5,200 years ago, Newgrange is a large circular mound that covers 300 feet in diameter and stands 36 feet high. A stone passageway leads to three small chambers. Some describe it as an ancient temple, a place of astrological, spiritual and ceremonial importance. Our guide told us that bones were found here and it may have been a place for worship as well as where people were laid to rest. We were in awe of its structure and the fact that the passageway is oriented northward allowing the sun to illuminate it during the winter solstice.
Yes, the railings are new, but this is possibly the oldest building in the world. That’s worth repeating–the oldest building in the world. We had to bend low to enter and then squeeze between the walls as we walked toward the center, where three small chambers with stone basins created a cross-like structural plan. Even as we stood with others in darkness and waited for a beam of artificial light to demonstrate the real thing, we couldn’t quite fathom what we were witnessing.
Our awe continued within the center and by the entrance stone, where we witnessed megalithic art. The spirals reminded me of labyrinths, but we’ll never know their true significance. And that’s OK.
By the time we arrived at Carlingford, it was pouring and we had no idea where to stay. We stopped at a hotel, which was full–thankfully. They suggested the Ghan House, a Georgian House set within three acres of walled gardens. It was our most posh stay and we didn’t truly appreciate it until the next morning when the sun shone brilliantly.
The Ghan House is located just a stone’s throw from the Thoisel or town gate leading into the narrow streets of the town centre, where we found Ma Baker’s in the rain, a welcoming pub frequented by the locals, who laughed and joked and reminded us that the Irish love to sip a pint, tease each other and tell stories no matter what the weather might be out the door. And they don’t care about spelling, punctuation or run-ons. Life is too short for that–note to self.
The tide was low when we walked along the lough the next morning and took in King John’s Castle, which was initially constructed by Hugh De Lacy in 1190, though it wasn’t completed until 1261. Purportedly, King John, the brother of Richard the Lionhearted, visited in 1210, and thus the name for this Norman structure.
From Carlingford, we travelled north and did what we had wanted to do 26 years prior; we crossed into Northern Ireland. On our previous adventure, we’d journeyed as far as Letterkenny in the northern part of the Republic of Ireland, only a half hour from Derry. But that was then, the time of The Troubles, and we didn’t dare to cross the border. Again, my guy was seeking ancestors and at the Welcome Center he was told to visit the Tower Museum where Brian Mitchell would be able to provide some help. We were too late when we climbed down from the wall to the museum, so we did what the Irish would do–when in Rome–we found a pub and had a nice chat with a young man who had recently returned to Derry in search of work. We also walked around the city, taking in the sites made famous by The Troubles. And the following morning we again returned to the museum, where the curator told us that Brian would probably show up around 11am. So, we paid for a self-guided tour and learned about the town’s colorful and dramatic past through “The Story of Derry.” At 11:30 we once again went in search of Mr. Mitchell, only to learn that he was out and about somewhere. Since we needed to check out of our room, we decided that our Derry experience was over, but Mr. Mitchell did respond to an e-mail and so my guy has some more resources to consider.
Our next stop, Portrush, a resort town along the Atlantic and on the northern fringe of Ireland. After checking in at the Antrim House B&B, we headed off along the Coastal Scenic Route to Carrick-a-Rede Island. Carrick-a-Rede is from the Scottish Gaelic term, Carriage-a-Rade, meaning the rock in the road.
And the road is presumably the sea route for Atlantic salmon that were once fished here prolifically. In fact, so prolifically, that the fishery is no longer viable. In order to reach the best places to catch the migrating salmon, for 350 years fishermen crossed regularly to the island.
One hundred feet above the sea, the fishermen crossed the 60-foot chasm via a rope bridge to check their nets. Of course, they had only one rope, not the steel and plank structure that we crossed. That being said, it was quite windy and the bridge did sway.
We put our fear of heights behind us and made our way across.
Did he just do that? Yup.
And I followed.
Our views included Raithlin Island, the northernmost point of Ireland.
Our next wonder–the Giant’s Causeway, a geological phenomenon of 40,000 basalt stone columns formed by volcanic eruptions over 60 million years ago.
These hexagonal tubes stacked together like cans on a shelf offer yet another mystical and magical look at the world, one that the Irish embraced by creating legends to explain their existence–Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), an Irish giant, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Good old Fionn accepted said challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two could meet. There are two endings so take your pick: In one version, Fionn defeats Benandonner, but in another, he hides from Benandonner because he realizes his foe is much bigger. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises her husband as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the “baby,” he fears that its father, Fionn, must be the biggest giant of them all. Benandonner flees back to Scotland in fright, but makes sure to destroy the causeway behind him so he won’t be followed by Fionn.
My guy found a spot to take in the giant’s viewpoint.
As we made our way back toward Portrush, we paused at Dunluce Castle. We couldn’t go in because it had closed for the day, but we could still see part of the castle town that was developed in the early 1600s.
Originally built by one clan in the early 1500s, it was seized by another in the mid 1500s. Its history includes rebellions and intrigue.
Included in its dramatic history are tales of how the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639. We couldn’t help but wonder if the same happened to the wall.
Back in Portrush finally, our own tale continued. At the suggestion of our hostess, we walked to the Harbour Bar for dinner.
While we waited for a table, we paused in the wee pub, as they call it. A few minutes later, two guys walked in with a trophy and made a big fuss about its placement among the best bottles of whiskey.
At the time, I was standing to the right of the gentleman in the middle and so I asked him about the trophy. He explained that when you participate in the Ryder Cup you receive a replica. My guy immediately realized that I was talking to a famous Irish golfer, he just couldn’t put a name with the face. On the wall above, we could see photos of him, but we weren’t close enough to read the signatures.
It turns out we were in the presence of Darren Clarke, the European Ryder Cup captain for 2016. We didn’t know that until we went to check on our table and asked. One of the bartenders encouraged us to stay for the send-off, so we did. Everyone donned a D.C. mask (at 00:16, if you look quickly to the back left, you might see my scraggly hair behind a mask)–and sang “Shoulder to shoulder, we’ll answer Darren’s call.” We were included as the North American entourage.
While I got Darren’s autograph on one of the masks, my guy befriended Willie, the bar manager.
The next morning, after a traditional Irish breakfast, we toured the downtown. Ireland amazes us–the temperature was chilly and yet the flowers were gorgeous. And palm trees grow throughout the country.
Upon our departure, our hostess suggested we follow the coastal route to Murlough Bay and so we did. And took a wrong turn that lead down a dead-end to a gate with a sign warning us that guard dogs were on site. With caution, my guy backed up the lane until he could turn the car around. Our hostess had also told us not to park at the upper lot for Murlough Bay, but instead to drive down. I insisted upon the upper lot given that the road had at least a 10% pitch. So we walked down. And down. And down some more.
Upon our descent, the light at a distant lighthouse beckoned in the background as Fairhead came into view.
The coastline was as dramatic as we’d been promised. And I was glad we’d walked because the drive would have been even more dramatic with Hyacinth in the passenger seat.
This area may appear familiar to viewers of Game of Thrones–including the site of Stormlands.
After a hike back up the road, we drove on to take in the scenery of Torr Head. The road narrowed significantly as it twisted and turned along the coast. And then . . . we met a porsche rally. As best he could, my guy squeezed our car past them. And as soon as he could, we got off the coastal route and drove on to Belfast. It was late in the day and pouring when we arrived. By the time we parked in city centre and walked to the Welcome Center, we were drenched. And disappointed. There was no where to stay in town and we’d have to move on. But . . . then one final effort proved that a hotel was available. We should have questioned if for the price. Well, actually I did, but we were told that it was a fine place and served as a conference center. So we took it. And couldn’t wait to get out of there. Fortunately, we found some Irish music back in town and a delightful meal of locally harvested food. All we needed to do was sleep in the rathole, though even that didn’t work so well.
The next morning we took in the Titanic Museum and stepped aboard one of its tenderfoot boats, the Nomadic.
A dose of coffee and I was ready to take the helm. And if you are wondering if it’s windy every day in Ireland, the answer is yes. It also rains at some point each day. Our time in Northern Ireland was over, but except for that one accommodation, we’d had a wonderful and wonder-filled time.
As we worked our way south, we spent a night at a delightful B&B in Navan, which featured more traditional music and a place to relax. On Monday morning, we finally headed to the cottage we’d rented in the town of Laragh–Glendale Holiday Cottages–we highly recommend. Our host, Christy, was extremely accommodating, the cottage spacious and amenities plentiful.
We’d chosen this location because it was a five minute walk to the pub and restaurant in Laragh, located in the Wicklow Mountains, and near the Glendalough monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.
Forty shades of green and Brigadoon all came to mind as we approached the monastic settlement and its round tower.
St. Kevin’s kitchen is actually a 12th century church, so named because it was believed that the bell tower was a kitchen chimney. Apparently, however, no food was ever cooked there. But . . . if you think of the word of God as food, then perhaps many a feast was actually served.
From the altar window in the cathedral, the largest of seven churches within the monastic city, a view of the world beyond was offered.
Likewise, we could see the world within, including the Priest House in the background.
And everywhere, gravestones told the story of many who’d passed this way.
A little closer to Laragh, Trinity Church.
Upper Glendalough was the jumping off point for our initial hike upon the Wicklow Way.
We paused beside Poulanass Falls before zigzagging our way up the first trail.
Sheep merely looked up to acknowledge our passing. We, however, needed to pay more attention for sheep shit was prolific.
Tree felling was also a frequent sight, but we noted a unique (to us anyway) method of reforestation–in this case the Sitka spruces and Scots pines being felled were replaced by mountain ash saplings. One other thing we wondered about–the plastic sleeves–we saw some that had fallen away as trees grew, but were left in place. Biodegradable? We could only hope.
We spent three full days on the trail, not covering all of it, but a good portion as we hiked 10-15 miles each day.
Our journey took us over boggy portions,
down grassy sections,
on village lanes,
through the black forest,
and into the future.
Frequently, we had to stop, reread the directions and study the map, but more often the route was self-explanatory.
Along one section that was particularly muddy due to frequent horse crossings, we made a discovery unique to us.
A badger print. Sadly, or maybe happily to locals, we saw a dead badger on one of the lanes not far from this print. Related? We’ll never know.
We saw deer, one rabbit and two red squirrels.
Writing of the latter, we chuckled when we encountered this sign because we have frequent encounters with them at home. But considering we only saw two in two weeks and spent most of our days outside, we had to wonder.
and Three (pronounced Tree) tolerated our presence.
And Bessie Four made us laugh–as she stood upon a wall.
Though we passed through pasture after pasture and by many a farm and barn, we never saw any farmers, but knew that they were hard at work preparing for winter.
And one even offered us nourishment.
Our path included obstacles, though most were easy to overcome from a rope loop
to a simple step or
Only once were we uncertain. The stile was padlocked and there was no step or ladder. We finally decided to climb up over the gate in hopes that there wasn’t a bull on the other side. Usually though, a beware of bull sign announced their presence and no such sign marked that particular crossing–phew.
Our days ended with a stop at the local pub because Guinness® is good for you. I actually overheard an older woman telling her significant other the truth behind this. Apparently, when this woman’s mother had been in hospital years before, she was given Guinness® to drink each morning and evening–perhaps for its iron content. Or perhaps just because it’s good for you.
One of our stops was at the smallest and oldest pub in the nation–the Dying Cow. Mr. Dolan sat behind the bar sipping a Guinness® along with us as he and my guy got into a discussion about American politics. We noted that to be a hot topic. Our reason for finding this pub was because we’d walked into Tenahely after a fifteen miler and were about to step into Murphy’s for a pint when a gentleman sitting outside started chatting with us. He suggested we head off down the road because we needed to experience this tiny bar and he would have joined us but he’d just ordered his pint and didn’t want to waste it.
We followed the directions he wrote out for us, and missed the 1798 monument at first, but retraced our route and found it. We only wish he’d then told us how to get back to Laragh. That took a while, but eventually we found our way home.
Our views from the Wicklow Way were worthy of wonder.
And the ever present clouds added to the drama.
The land resembled a patchwork quilt.
No matter where we looked, it was forever changing.
Some of our fun discoveries included chestnut trees,
black slugs, and . . .
the crème de la crème–bear claw marks! Did Bear Gryllz really leave his signature on the trail behind the Glendalough Hotel?
When we weren’t hiking, we explored the area, including Wicklow and its stone beach.
We didn’t understand this ship at first until my guy asked–meet Wavewalker, a maintenance boat for Ireland’s Offshore Windfarm.
Across the harbor, we spied the remains of a castle that invited a closer look.
It seems Black Castle was constantly under siege and totally destroyed in 1301. And yet–I felt a presence still there.
Do you see his face?
The oldest mill in Ireland also drew our attention–Avoca Handweavers Mill was established in 1723.
It was the home of color with attitude.
Upclose and personal, we saw the inner workings.
And marveled at the creative results.
Our last full day in Ireland found us in Carlow. Standing beside the River Barrow, this castle was thought to once be a stronghold and it survived attacks in the 1400s and 1600s. According to local lore, a physician set out to remodel it into an asylum in the early 1800s. As he tried to demolish the interior, he placed explosive charges near its base and accidentally destroyed all but the remaining west wall and twin towers. Uh oh.
As happened daily, the weather quickly changed from blue sky to raindrops. Swans in the River Barrow didn’t care. They were in their element.
My guy counted while I photographed. Thirty some odd–all wishful that we’d brought good tidings in the form of bread. Not to be much to their dismay. Despite that, we were treated to several displays.
And later that night, a display of sun and clouds as we went in search of supper.
Our final night was spent at the Green Lane B&B in Carlow where Pat and Noeleen took special care of us. My guy watched the GAA football game with Pat, their grandson Sam helped us print out our airline tickets and Noeleen made sure we had toll money for our journey to the airport. And then there was the breakfast–the finest we’d enjoyed.
Think eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, sausage, white pudding, toast and Irish soda bread. And they wanted to know if we wanted porridge and cereal. Really?
Before we checked out, I made my guy drive to this field ensconced in an Irish mist.
The fog seemed apropos for our walk out to the Browneshill Dolmen. This was a burial chamber that may have originally been covered with earth.
My guy stands almost six feet tall, so his height provided a sense of size.
The two more pointed stones on either side of the squared stone were known as portal stones that would have supported the granite capstone or chamber roof. The squared stone in the center was probably the gate stone that blocked the entrance. This site has not been excavated so there’s no other info about it, but just standing in its presence and considering those who came before and created such was enough.
And then there were the spider webs. I’d missed them as we’d walked toward the dolmen, but they captured my attention all the way back. From prehistoric to present, the structures before us were breathtaking.
And when we finally pulled out of the B&B driveway on our way to the airport, I asked my guy to stop while I jumped out of the car. What a sight to behold–web ornaments. A perfect ending to our vacation.
My guy meet several roadblocks on his search for roots, but at the same time, he learned about some new avenues that may help in his quest. And I, I wished for more time to understand all that was before me from prehistoric to present–but maybe I sought answers that don’t need to be. Having the questions might be enough.
Together, we were grateful for our Hyacinth and Richard Adventure on the Emerald Isle. And glad to return the car safely to the rental agency.
It’s hard to believe that six years ago I gave birth to wondermyway as a means to record the natural world and all I met along the way.
There’s no need in reminding everyone that since last February it has been quite a year, but I have to say that I’m especially grateful to live where I do, in a place where I CAN wander and wonder on a regular basis.
As I look back through posts of these expeditions, I realize how often nature presents itself in such a way that moments of awe make everything else going on in the world seem so foreign. If only everyone could whisper to a dragonfly upon his or her hand; watch a cicada emerge from its larval form; and even appreciate a snake or two or three.
Join me for a look back at some of my favorite natural encounters of the past year. If you want to remember a particular adventure, click the titled link below each photo.
Wander outdoors if you can and let the anomalies pull you into their realm. I promise, your eyes and your mind will be opened to so many wonders that you’ll resist the urge to move along for so enamored will you be by your finds. Slow down and look and be wowed.
In the end, may it not be an end. May it be a beginning. May you live under the bubbles and give thanks that your bubble is attached to so many others as you share a brain.
We had no intention of eating lunch in this spot today, but while looking for a mountain to climb, we kept encountering full parking lots and so our backroad meander put us beside a bog at lunch time and voilà, we managed to walk all of less than two tenths of a mile. Total.
But in that short distance, our eyes feasted. First it was all the Painted Turtles basking in the sun. And birds. And dragonflies.
I just had to find out. Would he or wouldn’t he? He would and did. Yes, I quietly placed my finger on the leaf and he climbed aboard, then struck a rather relaxed pose. The Dragonfly Whisperer whispers once more.
“My lupine meadow is in full glory!” a friend wrote in an e-mail. And she encouraged visitations. So . . . I went. Actually, we went, for I invited another friend to join me.
Fortunately, I guess, though unfortunately on some levels, we pulled ourselves away by mid-afternoon. But our bug eyes were wide open. In the end, we offered up thanks to our hosts, Linda and Heinrich, for inviting us to enjoy the full glory of their lupines and all the marvels of the meadow.
Beings who once walked the Earth
support new life as summer's serenade
begins to take shape
upon stones that memorialize the past...
On this summer day, hollow cast(ket)s left behind
provide a memory of vulnerable forms.
From soft pastel bodies to wide-faced creatures with bulging eyes,
I get to celebrate cemetery cicadas.
I’m pretty sure I said to the friend whom I met on the dirt road that I never see frogs there except for the painted boulder that has faded with age and I no longer even think to honor with a photograph.
But still, she reminded me, “I’m sure we’ll see something interesting.”
After walking one stretch of the road and only pausing a few times in the hot sun, we hopped back into our vehicles and made our way to a much more shaded location. As we stepped toward the river, in flew a Kingfisher. And we knew we were in for a treat or two or three.
The theme of the week didn’t dawn on me immediately, but a few days into it and I knew how blessed I am.
It was a week for me to realize how important all the young people in my life are from our sons whom I can chat with on the phone to those who have chosen to make this area of western Maine their home and to get to know their place in it. And then to go beyond and share it in a way that benefits the wider community.
Thank you, Hadley, for the opportunity to celebrate your birthday. And thank you Rhyan, Parker, Dan, Jon, Mary, Brent, and Alanna: it’s my utmost pleasure to share the trail with you whenever we can. And to know that the future is in your capable hands.
We are all blessed. Today we crowed Hadley, and in so doing, gloried so many others.
Last week, while walking along a trail I later intended to share with some local kids, a subtle movement caught my attention.
About two thirds of the way along the trail, exactly where I’d spied it two hours prior, the Garter Snake still posed. And the kids got to examine it. And wonder. And exclaim. They went in for a close-up look, thus the snake stuck out its tongue repeatedly in an attempt to get a better sense of who or what might be in its midst.
Snakes have poor eyesight and their hearing ability is limited. Thus they use their nostrils and tongues to pick up scents of prey or predator. By flicking the tongue, they collect odors that the forked prongs relay to two holes in the roof of their mouths, aka Jacobson’s organ. With information transferred from the organ to the brain, they can interpret scents.
For the kids and me, it was this sense: Best. Moment. Of. The. Afternoon.
For the snake: it decided we weren’t worth getting excited about as it made sense of our scents.
My mission was two-fold. Hike up a small mountain and capture a one minute video to post on a work website next week, and retrieve a game camera so we can download the photos and then place in a different location.
First there was the porcupine den, then a beaver tree, and along the way a fungi.
My final sighting of the day, that still has me smiling, occurred in the middle of the adventure, but I wanted to save it for last. Do you see what I saw?
Who cooks for me? I wish this Barred Owl would, for I must now prepare dinner. But that’s okay because I’ll take him with into the kitchen in spirit and give thanks that I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him . . . all in a day’s work.
Fourteen months ago I wrote Ode to Pinus Strobus, showing my respect for the mighty pines that inhabit our woods. Curiously, it was a rainy day then. And today dawned the same, though even more curiously, today we turned the calendar to December 1, yet the temperature rose to 57˚, like a summer day as we approach winter in western Maine. Because of the temp, the day offered some incredible wonders.
For those who love to wander and wonder, I hope you’ll be still and have an experience similar to what this tree offered me today.
I was early–a rare occasion as usually I’m the one who arrives at least ten minutes after the agreed upon time. It wasn’t always that way, but has become a bad habit. That said, it was a creature of habit that I went in search of because I had some time to spare.
He was up there enjoying the cambium layer of the bark as witnessed by the goldeny color of the branch by his feet. All those downed twigs–apparently they were in his way so he nipped them off and dropped them to the ground in order to get to the nutrients he sought for his winter diet.
Check out his eye. We were both sharp observers as we eyed each other from a distance.
For almost thirty years I’ve roamed this particular wood and for the most part you’ve eluded me.
After finding so many signs year after year, today . . . today I spied an uprooted tree at the very spot I thought might be a good place to stop and spend a few hours in silence. As I made plans to do such in the near future, the tree moved.
And transformed into you!
When at last you and your youngster departed, despite your sizes, it was as if you walked through the forest in silence. My every move comes with a sound like a bull in a china shop, but you . . . Alces alces, you weigh over one thousand pounds, stand six feet at your shoulder, and move through the forest like a ghost. For that reason and because you let me spend some time with you today, February 11 will henceforth mark the day that I celebrate the Ghost of the North Woods.
Thank you to all who have joined me for any or all of these journeys. With each learning or sighting, I get excited and can’t wait to share it with you. I’m not only grateful to be able to wander and wonder, but I’m also thankful for all of you who take the time to read these posts.
It seems like it’s been forever since my guy and I shared a Mondate, but truth be told we snuck away to Diana’s Bath and beyond in Bartlett, New Hampshire, a week ago and here’s a sneak peek.
We’d had snow two days prior and the lower falls of Lucy Brook showed off the force that the Lucy family had harnessed in the late 1800s to operate a saw mill.
Remnants of the mill’s foundations still exist.
Fortunately, the falls are watched over by fairy-sized snow people.
Stopping by the Upper Falls, we had memories of ice discs spinning counterclockwise, but they remained just that: memories from a Romancing the Stone Mondate two years ago. Last week, the temp was not quite as frigid so no discs formed.
Despite that, we hiked on for a couple of miles and eventually turned around to retrace our steps.
Fast forward to today and we headed off to explore two land trust properties in western Maine, the first of which we’d never traversed before. My extreme excitement upon arriving at the first was to learn that an outermost trail was named for G. Howard Dyer.
I had the pleasure of knowing Howard, who died at age 103 in 2009, when he lived at a local assisted living home where my mom also resided. He was an independent Mainer who drove a car into his late 90s and I remember his license plate: GHD. To me, it read: GOD. He’d turn into the home’s parking lot practically on two wheels, and though the old car had some dings, somehow Howard’s adventures weren’t thwarted by his age, maybe because he was GOD.
At the time that Mom lived in the same home, I volunteered to help the Activities Director one day a week and one of the things I did besides arts and crafts was create a monthly newsletter filled with recipes, poetry, songs and memories of yesteryear that the residents shared with me.
For one issue, I spent some time interviewing Howard about his life and experiences. He was a great storyteller and shared with me that over the years he’d lived in Otisfield on and off. Knowing that state law required perambulation of the town’s boundaries, in 1946 he conducted his first walk about town. Fifty-six years later, in 2002, he knew that no one had walked the boundaries in a long time. So, at 95 years of age, he decided to do it again. “Weren’t sure I could do it,” Howard told me as his eyes twinkled. “Didn’t say it to anybody.”
It took him months to complete because he’d walk here today, there tomorrow. When he finally finished the job, he told town officials. As Howard told it, they were surprised because they couldn’t get anyone to do it due to “swamps and all, you know.”
Howard’s accomplishments were included on the 2002-2004 House Appendix of the Legislative Record when he received Otisfield’s Boston Cane. “Town law required perambulation of the boundaries every ten years, and as a gift to the town, Mr. Dyer walked the 34-mile Town of Otisfield’s boundary line, once at the age of 39 and more recently at the age of 95.”
He was quite a guy and actually ten or more years ago my guy and I decided to follow his example and perambulated the boundary of our town, a section this Monday, another section the next Monday, taking a year to connect all the dots.
I was thrilled to see that Howard had been honored by having a trail named for him, and suggested to my guy that perhaps we need to consider repeating our perambulation. To which he readily agreed.
For today, however, we had other things to notice, and lately it seems no hike is complete unless a Winter Firefly can be found.
There were other insects burrowed in place and they shall remain nameless because I didn’t want to expose them any more than they already were.
My learning continued as we journeyed on and we were almost finished exploring Howard’s trail when I spied an oval shaped sawfly cocoon on a Northern Red Oak twig.
But it was the cluster of cocoons at the end of the twig that deserved even more attention. I’m 95% certain (until someone tells me otherwise) that this is the random formation of a parasitic bracinoid wasp cocoon. The question remains: who died so this structure could be created? Because that’s what these wasps do–parasitize other insects by laying their eggs upon them.
We soon left Howard’s Trail behind and moved on to tramp along another trail, where a White Oak pulled me in because the salmon color and rounded edge of the leaves always stops me in my tracks.
Because I stepped in for a closer look, the sapling honored me with the offering of what I think is an old Wooly Sower Gall, which I believe only has a relationship with this species. When first formed, it would have consisted of white wool highlighted with pink spots, but apparently it takes several years for the larvae to mature and the structure develops “horns” over time.
Lest you think I have been ignoring mammals to focus on insects, never fear–I delighted with the discovery of a large cache/midden created by a Red Squirrel.
Our journey took us beside a river that follows a crooked course through the landscape, but what always amazes me is the erosion along the edge. For how much longer will this tree stand?
As we stood on the edge ten to fifteen feet above the river, we had to wonder–how high does it get that the bank should be so eroded at this height? We never seem to visit in late winter, but maybe this year we should. Though given the current lack of precipitation, maybe this isn’t the year to gain a baseline understanding.
At last we reached the trail end, and knew it was time to turn toward home.
It had been a successful day, coming unexpectedly upon the trail named for Howard and my guy locating a winter geocache that wasn’t really a winter geocache for he had to dig through some snow to find it and the snow isn’t at all deep. Yet.
We also discovered an impressive hollowed out tree through which we just had to chat. If I were a bear in the woods . . . this would be my den. Note to self: if you ever need an out-of-the-way place to rest, remember this spot.
And we found a fun key hanging from a tree, adding icing to our funky Mondate.
I’m pretty sure I said to the friend whom I met on the dirt road that I never see frogs there except for the painted boulder that has faded with age and I no longer even think to honor with a photograph.
But still, she reminded me, “I’m sure we’ll see something interesting.”
After walking one stretch of the road and only pausing a few times in the hot sun, we hopped back into our vehicles and made our way to a much more shaded location. As we stepped toward the river, in flew a Kingfisher. And we knew we were in for a treat or two or three . . .
But first, we had to explore the structure that has spanned the river for 163 years: Hemlock Covered Bridge. My friend is a history buff and I’m a wanna-be so it was apropos that we should take our time as we walked across–pausing to look and wonder as frequently as when we’re on a path.
I first saw this relic of the past years ago when I canoed up the Old Course of the Saco River with a group of tweens whom I took on weekly adventures when my summer job was as Laconia YMCA’s Summer Camp Director. In those days, one could get permission to camp by the bridge. Things have changed and that land is now posted with No Trespassing signs.
The bridge is a woodworking masterpiece and a symbol of the pioneering spirit of the 19th Century. In this 21st Century, there are others who also have a pioneering spirit and create their own masterpieces within.
Built of Paddleford truss construction with supporting laminated wooden arches, Hemlock Bridge is one of the few remaining covered bridges still in its original position. Peter Paddleford of Littleton, New Hampshire, created this design by replacing the counter braces of the Long-style truss bridge, creating an unusually strong and rigid structure.
Though reinforced in 1988 so you can still drive across, it’s more fun to walk. As we did we took time to admire the work of our forefathers,
peer at the river,
and read the carved messages on Maine’s oldest remaining covered bridge.
It was designated as a Maine Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers on January 17, 2002. I’m not sure what happened in 1922, but obviously it was another date to note.
Originally there were 120 covered bridges which spanned rivers throughout Maine. Covers or houses were constructed to protect the wooden span from the weather.
They were also places where travelers and animals could seek refuge from a storm, or lovers could sneak a kiss. Six of the remaining nine in Maine are located in the Lakes and Mountains Region.
We admired every facet of the bridge for moments on end, and then made our way to the river’s edge, where Slaty Blue Skimmers continued to dance. But as is their habit, this one kept landing on the same broken branch. Eventually, I coaxed it onto my finger, but then a sweetheart zipped by and he was off, hoping to sneak a kiss of his own making.
Next, our attention focused on a bullfrog. A huge bullfrog.
Two little Green Frogs were focused on the same and remained as still as possible in hopes of not attracting Mrs. Bully’s attention.
She at last began to move and her forward motion was slower than either of us have ever witnessed. We watched as she slithered forth one frog leg length at a time.
At last she reached a destination and paused. Was she hiding from us? Had she slithered like a snake in hopes we wouldn’t see her? Or did she have her eyes on a meal?
We’ll never know for a rare treat suddenly flew onto the branch where Slaty Blue had posed time and again. Meet a Dragonhunter. This huge clubtail dragonfly is known to eat butterflies and even other dragonflies. Thank goodness Slaty Blue had moved on.
Suddenly it was time for us to move on as well, but not before spying one more frog–this one a small Pickerel with sets of dark rectangles decorating its coppery-colored body.
With that, before my friend and I bid adieu, I had to eat my words that there are no frogs on Frog Alley. But technically, we weren’t on Frog Alley, but rather Hemlock Bridge Road. Still, the two are connected and we gave thanks for the chance to honor the past and wonder about the present in this locale.
Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Today’s hike found me traveling solo, as is the norm in this current time, but I took each and every one of you along with me because so excited was I by all of our finds.
As I showed you in the parking lot, our plan was to begin on the Roger’s Family Trail and then circle around on the orange Heritage Loop Trail with a side trip to the summit of Amos Mountain in the midst of the journey. You all agreed that it sounded like a great plan.
I had previously warned you that part of the route could be a bit wet and was pleased to see that some of you had remembered to don your rubber boots, but those who forgot managed to find a way around. I trust no one had wet feet by the time we finished. Was my assumption correct?
Of course, I love water and so before we crossed over the bridge, I insisted that we take a look and try to spy tracks in some mud or aquatic insects or plants springing forth.
Bingo on the latter and we all rejoiced at the sight of False Hellebore with its corrugated leaves so green.
Finally, after poking about for a bit, I suggested we move along. It seemed like we managed to walk about five steps and then something would catch our attention and all forward motion came to pause. But that’s the way we like it for we notice so much with such slow movement. Do you remember this spot? Where we paused to look for Trailing Arbutus buds and noticed Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain growing in a colony. And remember how I told you that the only way I can remember the common name of this latter species is because it doesn’t look “downy” to me.
As often happens, the trail enhanced the lesson for not too much further along we practically stepped on another family member, this one bearing the name Checkered. Really, had Mr. Linnaeus asked me, I would have switched it around for the dullness of these leaves seems more downy in my mind and the other more checkered. Alas . . . he didn’t ask.
By this point, we’d hit drier trail conditions, if you recall, as we started climbing uphill. Drier, but rockier, that is. And then upon one, we spied a little package that you knew would delight me. Fox scat, indeed. With a blunt end and even a twist. Classic fox scat.
It took us a while, but we managed to reach the intersection with the orange trail and turned to the left to proceed. It was there that we began to meet common polypody ferns. Some of you explained that you know it as rock cap fern or rock polypody fern. What we all know is that it’s most often found growing on rock surfaces in moist, shady woods.
I did hear the hushed groans when I turned it over, but what could I say? I can’t resist checking to look at the underside. Like little pompoms, the organs or sori that housed the dust-sized spores or sporangia are arranged so neatly in two rows upon each leaflet. In their old age, the sori of these common polypody are orange-brown.
You, however, were eager to move on and so we did. Until we didn’t. For we stopped once again at “El Pupito,” the pulpit rock.
And did what one should do at the pulpit–honor the view through nature’s stained-glass window.
Oh yeah, and on the back of the boulder, you knew the minute you saw it what was going to happen next.
Out came my water bottle as I sacrificed some H20. But really, you are also equally amazed each time the magic happens and the greenish color of algae on rock tripe lichen makes itself known.
I saw a few of you gawk.
With a snap of our fingers and twitch of our noses (no we didn’t touch our fingers to our faces), we soon made it to the summit of Amos.
It was there that while zooming in to note the glorious red maple buds we spied another in the form of a spider. And we all took a closer look, one at a time, of course, allowing for six feet of space.
Then we backtracked down to where the blue trail met the orange trail and continued on the orange. That is . . . until sweet bird songs stopped us in our steps.
The trills lasted a few seconds and began again.
Most of us couldn’t recall who it was and gave great thanks to have Peter and Joe along for a positive ID: Pine Warbler indeed.
At our next stop I was so sure that one of you would provide a definitive answer to the structure’s use and history, but you only asked more questions to which I didn’t have the answers and so it shall remain a mystery. Who built it? Why? What? When? We do know the where and have some ideas about the how, but can’t quite respond to the Five Ws and an H in a complete manner.
And so we left there and moved on to the spot where we chatted about all the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties that seemingly followed us through the woods.
Each time we heard a sound from one of the above, if it wasn’t a dried leaf blowing across the forest floor, it turned out to be a chipmunk. Why is it, we wondered together, that they can be so still one moment, but in the next insist upon calling attention to their presence?
Moving along, we eventually crossed over the wall and onto what was once the property of Amos Andrews.
Here, only a few years ago, one among us, yes Alice, that would be you, realized that in this spot grew white oak, a tree that we had previously believed no longer grew in these parts given its use in barrel making and other purposes. That is, until we recognized the chunky blocks of bark that helped to negate that assumption.
The leaves below also defined the new story, with red oak’s bristly pointed lobes on the left and white oak’s rounded lobes to the right.
As it would be, we realized we weren’t the only ones looking. And again, we had to take turns getting close to ohh and ahh at the alternating light and dark markings on the abdomen’s edge, legs and antennae of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. Okay, so we know these beasts inflect considerable damage to some fruits and crops, and can be a nuisance when it takes shelter in our homes, but still.
Around the corner from the oak tree we paused beside the homestead of Amos Andrews and wandered about his walled property for a bit, each of us trying to answer the question, “What was Amos thinking?” We haven’t answered it yet, but time will tell as perhaps more understandings will be revealed.
Down the former road we walked, grateful that being two rod wide, (a rod at 16.5 feet), we had plenty of room to spread out.
At the intersection with the Amos Mountain Trail, our route crossed over and we continued on to the lookout point where the Balds to the left, Mount Washington a wee white pyramid in the background, and Kezar Lake below held our focus.
And then we began to retrace our steps, back toward the parking lot where we’d first gathered. But there were two more things to notice, the first being a skeleton of a paper birch, its roots till seemingly intact.
And finally, water striders not doing a very good job of practicing social distancing.
We, on the other hand, had nailed that one, for while you all walked with me, I was alone. And ever so grateful for your company.
Yesterday’s torrential rain, sleet, torrential rain, snow, sleet, torrential rain, snow, wind, and cold became today’s frozen snow upon which I could walk without sinking.
Or wearing snowshoes, though I did choose micro-spikes because I wasn’t sure what conditions I might encounter as I headed out to the old cowpath and woods beyond.
It was at the far end of the path that a lot of disturbance drew my attention and I realized deer had pawed and pranced in an attempt to gain something upon which to dine.
Empty caps were all that had been left behind during the ungulates search for a meal fueled by Red Oaks.
A wee bit further, I paused by the vernal pool that will soon seek much of my attention. Today, it shared two things; yesterday’s weather had transformed it from a snowy crust to an icy one; and the neighborhood turkeys, which I’ve yet to see, had stopped by.
But my reason for heading out late this afternoon was to cross over the double-wide wall by the pool and disappear into the saplings that fill the space.
It’s a parcel of land that was nearly clearcut in its day, but since then I’ve welcomed the opportunity to watch forest succession and all that it has to offer in action.
Being an early succession forest, Gray Birch fills the landscape with its twigs atop triangular gray beards. Red Maples and White Pines add their own colors to this place.
At the gray birches’ feet, their catkins filled with fleur de lis scales and teeny tiny seeds that remind me of ever so minute insects with transparent wings, littered the snow. Two actual insects also made themselves known. Do you see them? (Faith and Sara–happy looking 😉 )
And then another insect came into my sight. Truth is, a friend introduced me to this pupal form of a ladybeetle in late autumn/early winter. Of course we’d never seen it before, but as happens in the natural world, once you see something and gain a wee bit of understanding about it, you suddenly see it everywhere. Until recently, everywhere for this species had been upon evergreen trees. And then we found it on tree bark. Gray Birch to start.
I had much to think about in terms of the ladybeetle, but really, I’d come to this place because of some downed trees. Here and there in this forest swath, trees are bent over for no apparent reason. I think I know the why for I don’t believe it’s because a storm came through or all the trees would have bent over. I suspect it has to do with the fact that so much of the plot consists of gray birch that topple easily with the weight of snow, such is their cell structure. And as they toppled, they took down some pine saplings in the mix.
The creator of this scat loves the forms that the downed trees created for it’s a great place to hide when predators or old ladies stop by on the hunt. What I wanted the critter to know was that I was only hunting with a camera. You see, last week I actually spied the scatter as it hopped out of the form and leaped away, its fur slightly streaked brown as is its manner in this between-season time, giving rise to one of its common names: varying hare. It was too fast for my camera and so today I went back in hopes of a second sighting.
By the angled cuts of surrounding vegetation, I’d knew where it had dined.
And by its track, I knew its most common name: Lobster Hare. Okay, so it’s a Snowshoe Hare, but each set of prints always reminds me of the crustaceans of Maine fame.
I tried, oh so hard, to stand still and hoped upon hope that the hare would show itself again.
In my standing still, I did see more ladybeetles in their pupating stage–this one upon a dead White Pine.
And near it . . . another set of downed trees creating another Snowshoe Hare form, that place where the lagomorphs rest during the day. Usually that place is located under evergreens as was the case.
Spying a certain set of prints by the form, I realized I wasn’t alone in my quest. Do you see the C-ridge between the toes? And the asymmetrical presentation of the two lead toes? And the impression of two feet, where a foot packed the sloshy snow of yesterday and a second foot landed in almost the same place? I present to you a Bobcat. 😉
It led me to yet another Snowshoe Hare form.
Atop the form were signs of life, much to my delight: prints, scat, and even the orange-red tint of Snowshoe Hare pee.
Still, the Bobcat moved–its track connecting with a run or well-traveled path of a hare.
Following the hare and cat tracks led to yet another “form.”
It was there that I stood for the longest time. And I swear I heard someone munching within. Was it my imagination? Probably. For my imagination also had me hearing all the wild animals of the forest closing in on the hare and me and then I realized that I was the one closing in on the hare and my “fear” was its “fear.” Marcescent leaves that rattled in the breeze and trees that moaned as they bent in the breeze became larger than life creatures of the forest.
As I stood and listened and felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand tall, I spied more ladybird beetles in their larval and pupal stage.
As much as I wanted to understand the life cycle of this beetle and especially how it deals, if it does, with our low winter temperatures, please, please don’t tell me your understanding.
From evergreen to hardwood, I’m in the process of learning the habitat of this species.
Heck, it not only doesn’t just use evergreens upon which to pupate, it also doesn’t depend only upon Gray Birch, given that it can be seen upon plenty of Red Maple tree trunks.
Oh, and as you look, others might surprise you like these puff balls, their spores still ready to pour forth when gently poked.
Over and over again as I waited patiently for the hare, the ladybeetles made themselves known.
Some presentations differed from others and made me wonder about their matter of timing. Were they frozen molts? Were they morphing? If you know the answer, please don’t tell for this is a new learning and I hope to stay on the case.
Still, as first discovered, there were more in the evergreens to spy.
As the sun began to set, I found the Bobcat track once again and it led into the forest beyond.
More importantly, I backtracked its trail and discovered yet another Snowshoe Hare form created by downed trees. In my mind, so many places for the hare to hide. So many places for the cat to explore. And in the mix–me.
I never did see the hare today. Or the deer. Or the turkey. Or the bobcat. But . . . by their signs I knew that we share this space and there were a few others in the mix including porcupines, squirrels and grouse, and I gave great thanks . . . because of the hare.
I promised the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s Tuesday Trackers that I’d let them know by 7am today if our adventure would actually take place because the forecasters were predicting a snow storm. We LOVE snow, but not when it ruins our plans.
And so at 6:43am, after checking various weather reports and TV stations for cancellations, whereupon I discovered that no school’s had cancelled, which seemed a sign that meant if the kids could go to school, we could go tracking, until I remembered that this is school vacation week and the kids weren’t going to school today anyway, I wrote to the 54-member group: “Weather reports state that the snow will start at 1pm in both Cumberland and Oxford Counties today, but in the hourly listing it shows snow showers at 10 and snow at 11.
I’m going to go for it in hopes that we can at least find some evidence of the porcupine and its visitors, but trust those of you who had intended to join me to make that old judgement call. Please don’t be afraid to back out.”
As usual, I told them that the plan would stay the same for those who had already told me they’d attend, unless, of course, they did decided to back out. None wrote to say they could not come. Three sent messages that they would join us.
Much to my delighted surprise, seventeen met at Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve parking lot #1 at the far end of Heald Pond Road in Lovell as the snowflakes fell. It was 9:30am. Actually, I met some to carpool from the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, and it was there that a few of us first noticed the flakes were falling–just after 9. Hmmm. 1:00pm?
But, this hearty crew didn’t care and after donning our snowshoes, onward we charged. Well, not exactly, for we pride ourselves in not getting far from the parking lot and then spending an hour looking and wondering. First, it was fox prints, and then a fisher that took us a while to figure out based on the clues because snow had filled in the indentations, but the pattern of the track and a few glimpses of toes helped us make a determination that was confirmed after we crossed the path of a more recent snowshoe hare, and seemed to follow the activity of a porcupine.
Like the scouts that we are, we spread out at times, each one or pair trying to notice the finer details. We were in a mixed forest in Maine, close to a summit with rocky ledges, yet near a wetland, stream and between two ponds. The overall pattern was important to notice. How was the critter moving across the landscape? And did its action change at some point? Were any finer details visible in a single print? Or a combination of prints?
Taking measurements was also important–extremely so for those prints that were a couple of days old and muted. Their shape and size and the pattern of their overall track helped, but the measurements cinched the case as we noted stride, especially for the direct walkers such as a red fox.
Ah, how did we know it was red and not gray? The measurement of its stride and straddle were spot on, but also by the scent it had left behind on saplings and rocks did we know it. A few of us got down to sniff–and we were not disappointed. Skunky musky is the odor of some fox urine, especially at this time of year when leaving a calling card with ones age, sex, and telephone number is of utmost importance.
Once you take a sniff, you never forget and know that the next time you smell that skunk in the middle of winter, you are actually in the presence, past or maybe present but watching you from a distant point, of a red fox.
We spent at least an hour with the parking lot still in view as we noted other tracks including squirrel, snowshoe hare and deer. And then we challenged ourselves–a climb to the summit to check on the porcupine den below. The snow was getting heavier and accumulating on our hats, but no one wanted to turn around.
Occasionally, we paused to catch our collective breath, happy were we to be out for this adventure. I did, of course, tell a few who were unfamiliar with the trail, that the summit was just up ahead. Um, I said that more than once. Twice. Three times. Maybe four.
But . . . it was soooo worth it. At the summit, we could see more porcupine tracks that were fresh either last night or the night before and a smattering of pine twigs that had been cut and dropped.
The angled cut of the twigs added to our knowledge bank: rodents make such cuts, called nip twigs. The twig is snipped then turned so the nutritious tender buds can be accessed; and then it is cast off, creating a “trash” pile below the feeding tree.
Bark had also been a point of the porky’s focus and we paused by saplings to wonder about the rodent’s ability to climb what struck us as the scampiest of trunks, but also to appreciate the indentations of its teeth.
While some stayed at the summit, others descended below in hopes of finding a den.
We knew we’d entered a Disney World of sorts, for everywhere we looked below the summit we saw signs of the porcupine’s adventures, including troughs leading from one potential feeding or den site to another.
Getting down wasn’t pretty, especially in one spot, but still no one gave up. Remember, this is a determined group.
Under the ledges, we stopped to check for mammal sign, curious to learn more about the story of these woods and rocks.
We weren’t disappointed. We never are. That may sound pompous, but it’s really one of wonder. When we focus, things are revealed and we are wowed. One of today’s wonders, bobcat scat. Three times over. Do you see the arrows that point to the deposits? And their segmented structure?
But . . . that wasn’t all. Despite the tricky climbing we had more to see.
It was a spot, however, where we needed to take turns given the conditions, and so while we waited, we noticed other things of interest, like the curled form of Common Polypody ferns curled up like Rhododendron leaves to indicate the cold temps–nature’s thermometers. Did I say the name of the shrub began with an M? R? M? They’re close in the alphabet. 😉 (Some of you will chuckle to know that it was my guy I turned to for the shrub’s name–I was still stuck on M)
R or M? In the end it doesn’t matter. But do check out those double rows of orange sori, clusters of spore-producing organs on the fern’s underside.
Rock tripe (which for once I didn’t pour water upon to perform a magic trick) and icicles also garnered our attention.
But . . . it was the actual porcupine den and its juxtaposition with granite and evergreen ferns and snow that tickled our fancy.
Can you see the scat, prolific in nature?
With so much, including lots of fresh deposits, we wondered if we might be disturbing the local resident. And so when our friends who’d stay at the summit yelled down to ask if we when we were going to ascend, we knew the time had come.
Back at the summit, most of us posed. Can you see Mount Washington in the background? No, we couldn’t either.
Closer to the parking lot, we posed again, before heading off on snow-covered roads to reach our homes.
It’s my job to worry and so I did: that the road conditions wouldn’t bite us. That was why I hesitated about going forth with today’s journey, but the forecasters all seemed to think doing such would be fine. Thankfully, though the predictions for the storms start were incorrect, all was fine and I was jazzed by the time we spent together, watching this engaged group in action, asking questions and making observations and asking more questions, before coming to sound conclusions.
These are the Tuesday Trackers of today. The subject of my email message this morning was this: Tuesday Tracking is ON. And they were all totally ON for today’s adventure.
P.S. The mom in me had to check on them after we’d all departed from the trailhead. Thankfully, though a few of us saw cars off the road and/or accidents as we drove home, we each took our time and everyone made it home safely. ‘
This past weekend’s January thaw was a doozy. First the temperature reached 61˚ on Saturday and then 56˚ on Sunday with a downpour in the mix and most of our 12+-inch snowpack disappeared.
And so after my guy and I finished some errands in North Conway, New Hampshire, we decided to walk along the Saco River to check on the conditions.
Our starting point was at the Smith-Eastman Landing on Meeting House Road. A look at the old bridge stanchions brought childhood and teenage memories of the covered bridge that once stood there back to my guy.
According to an article in the September 23, 2015 issue of the Conway Daily Sun:
“The bridge between Redstone and Center Conway — the Smith-Eastman Bridge — was built in 1845-46. It was the longest, historically. Animosity developed among townfolk over where it should be located. Many wanted the Chataque site in Conway, as it would allow them to get to Dover more easily. Those living eastward toward Center Conway wanted it there in order to get to Portland.
Judge Joel Eastman, with his farm located at the latter site, won out. His neighbor was John Smith, who delivered the stage line to Portland. Tolls would be necessary. In December 1844, articles were drawn up between the two men, and they were ultimately reimbursed by the town. Many called this bridge the Joel Eastman; others the Smith-Eastman.
This bridge was repaired in the 1930s by members of the Broughton family. Sadly, arsonists — partying youths — destroyed the 130-year-old structure in July 1975. A plaque was erected at the site a year later as part of local observances of the nation’s bicentennial.“
To the south, though not currently in use, the train trestle bespoke a time of prosperous productivity based upon action at the Redstone Quarry
Our journey began at the south side of the Smith-Eastman Park and after crossing a small footbridge, we followed the trail beside the river. Notice the snow deficit. But . . . there was ice as today’s temp was in the more seasonal low 20s, though it felt more like the teens, perhaps because we’d been spoiled over the weekend. Anyway, I wore my micro-spikes; my guy shoved his into a pocket. At least he had them with him. We climbed a mountain a month and a half ago, and he intentionally left them behind. Let’s suffice it to say he regretted that decision on more than one occasion when his feet left the Earth.
As we walked along today, our Beech tree vision found us looking for bear claw marks. We never did see any, but an elbow did manifest before our eyes. So . . . what’s its story? Someone marked the trail by bending the tree? Another tree landed atop it in its younger days and caused it to reform? Your thoughts?
Continuing on, we came to a stump where you know who decided to sit and don those micro-spikes. He was behind me as I took this photo and acknowledged the fact that he’d made the right choice.
As you can see, it’s a well traveled trail that offers recreational opportunities for both man and his best furry friend.
Despite the fact that this is a well-frequented doggie walk, we also found evidence that wild mammals are familiar with the territory as evidenced in deer prints and fresh beaver works.
We looked for a lodge, but found none. Perhaps theirs was a bankside lodge located in a place we couldn’t reach.
And where humans were warned not to fish, another mammal whose name shall be forever muted by the conditions, went across an ice covered swamp to get to the other side.
Side trails frequently departed the main drag and led to the water. This was the only one with such an artistic sign and we gave thanks to the Cato Trust for the creation–of sign and trail.
We checked out their beach. It wasn’t exactly a beach day, but . . . when in Rome.
Not long after that a strange structure greets all those who travel this way. It’s a shed with mini solar panels above and cables and other forms of technology, all bedecked with a dark moss I couldn’t identify. As a gauge station for the USGS Maine Water Science Center and provides data National Water Quality Monitoring Council.
From the beach below it, we looked back toward Route 302 as the day darkened and a fine sleety mist greeted the only exposed part of our bodies, our cheeks. I probably should have had us pose for a selfie for we both would have added a rosy color to the landscape.
Because of the melting and rain, the water level was high, but not at its highest. Still, we wondered if there was any ice left.
Eventually, we began to find it offering a contrast to lichen covered rocks.
And thick sheets sitting upon the shore like beached whales.
We found frozen ground, ripple marks created by the water’s motion, and thin layers recreating the work of line artists.
Then there was a stream that flowed innoculously below our feet until it met the riverbank and added various sculptures to those who ventured near.
We enjoyed the view offered from either side of a downed tree, but chose not to climb down and taken in the scene from below. I know we missed something, but it was rather steep and as great as our micro-spikes were in giving us a feeling of security, we didn’t feel like going swimming.
In the end, and after a couple of hours and three or four miles our journey did come to an end because it was sleeting by the time we finished, it was the configuration of rocks and ice, ice and rocks, and all the lines and textures they offered that intrigued us most on this Mondate.
Forever we’ve passed through the Redstone section of Conway, New Hampshire, and knew that Rattlesnake Mountain behind the village had once been a quarry, but we had not explored it. Today, we changed that.
Crossing over the Maine Central Railroad tracks, the first vantage point took our eyes to the snow-covered summit of Mount Washington.
In the opposite direction, we focused on the route to Maine, where quarried stone would have traveled on its way to locations beyond. According to redstonequarrynh.org, “Redstone granite was used in many buildings in Portland, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. and as far away as Denver, CO and Havana, Cuba. The Hatch Memorial Shell, in Boston, is of Conway green. Grant’s Tomb in New York, the National Archives building in Washington, and the George Washington Memorial Masonic Temple in Alexandria, V.A. were built mostly of Conway pink granite.“
As you gaze upon the map, you may notice three quarry sites in the upper left-hand section: green quarry, red quarry, old red quarry. In the height of operation, more than 300 men were employed.
Today’s journey found us hiking to one, then another, and the third, then back again.
Thank goodness for a landmark we frequently returned to for it gave us our bearings each time we encountered it.
We didn’t have to walk far to encounter another landmark, a polished green granite pilaster about twenty feet long. How often do you see one of these when you walk in the woods?
Artifacts exist here, there, and everywhere from the quarry that was in operation from the 1870s to 1948.
Slowly the forest and its inhabitants are staking their claim on the territory.
We poked about and tried to understand how the wheels turned, but would have appreciated an interpretive guide. Or at least a few interpretive signs to tell the story.
Man and nature intersected everywhere and it was while noticing the cables and guy wires that were strung throughout that we spied artist conk fungi in a prolific display.
And nearby, the woody capsules atop Pipsissewa representing a current memory of a past moment, e.g. the flowering form.
Our next great discovery, the lathe. The Redstone Granite site states: “Lathes were used to rough-turn and polish granite columns (some as long as 22 feet). The building is one of the best preserved because of its function. Most of the roof was open, allowing large granite columns to be lowered and removed by a derrick from above.“
We peeked within at other portions of the machine.
Turns out, it was built by the Betts Machine Company, a manufacturer of heavy machinery such as this site needed.
The faceplate of the lathe was used for the final polishing process. But more importantly, a birch tree grows in Brooklyn. Or rather, in the building that housed the lathe.
We left the structures behind and headed uphill, curious about what the actual quarries looked like.
At the red quarry, a pile of slash littered the mountainside–those stones that hadn’t split in the right orientation to make them profitable.
Among the remains we could see short and deep drill marks and thought of the work of the men who worked the granite. Their days began at 7am. If you take a look at the map, you’ll see a note that some walked home for lunch each day. Apparently, those were the men who worked in the yard and stone sheds, and lived in the boarding house. Everyone else brought their own lunch. Though their shifts were eight hours, like many jobs, overtime was necessary to complete the work. Did they get paid extra? Probably not.
From the red quarry we made our way to the green quarry, filled with ice-coated water. For me, this was the most intriguing site.
Above, water had frozen in time, much as the history of this place.
To the far side, corrugated marks were etched into the stone.
Beside the pond, some of the slash included a variety of drill sizes.
From the green quarry, we retraced our steps back to the mossy ski boot, and eventually moved to the east where we suddenly came upon a beaked hazelnut. It’s a rare occasion to find such a casing still intact, so coveted are they by the mammals that inhabit this land.
Following the trail and a wee bit of bushwhacking led us to the old red quarry, which we assumed to be the first site. Once again, there was so much slash left behind that it was difficult to appreciate what had been processed.
And then we returned to the ski boot one more time and decided to check out a trail we’d seen previously that seemed to pass by the green quarry. Suddenly, we discovered a granite pathway. What should one do when the road is so paved? Follow it.
Much to our delight, it led us back to the green quarry and gave us a different perspective.
In the midst of the water stood the remains of a derrick. Guy wires, wooden booms and masts from these devices decorated the woods throughout.
Many structures in collapse also stood as landmarks of a former use of this land.
Surprises greeted us every step of the way. Some were easy to understand as this lantern; others required more interpretation.
In the end, we realized that there’s so much more to learn about this place, but we loved the opportunity to shine a wee bit of light on the Redstone Granite Quarries.
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.
His birthday present several weeks ago was a Cat’s Meow replica of the North Conway Scenic Railroad (from my collection) and a note: October 21, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm. Be there!!
This morning I drove him there. No, I wasn’t the engineer of the train, but rather the conductor of his entertainment schedule.
Our chosen car, the Dorthea Mae, was built in the mid-1950s for transcontinental service in the United States and turned out to be the perfect choice for this adventure. We’ve ridden the Conway Scenic train before–several times when our sons were young and we took the one hour ride from North Conway to Conway, New Hampshire, and once for an anniversary celebration as we enjoyed dinner on the Bartlett Route. But for all the times we’ve driven along Route 302 through Crawford Notch and looked at the scary trestles hugging the mountains, we always said we’d love to take the longer ride. Well today, that became a reality.
Group by group, riders were welcomed to climb on and find their assigned seats. Ours was located opposite a delightful and chatty couple from Iowa, MaryPat and Ron.
For us, part of the fun was recognizing familiar spots along the rail, including a rail crossing on Route 302 by a historic barn.
Through the village of Bartlett we travelled along rails originally laid down in the 1870s for what was once the Maine Central Railroad’s famed Mountain Division Trail.
The church to the left is the Union Congregational Church on Albany Avenue, and to the right the Odd Fellows Hall, a historic fraternal society.
Early on we crossed trestles over several rivers where shadows, angles, curves, and foliage delighted our eyes.
As we headed toward Crawford Notch, again it was the same, only different, with ever the click-clack of motion providing a new vista that captured our awe.
History presented itself over and over again, with old rail ties and power poles dotting the landscape–obscured for a wee bit longer by the golden hues of the forest.
Knowing that today was the only date available when I’d booked the trip, and in fact, that we got the last two seats on the Dorothea Mae, we wondered how much color we might see given that we were traveling north. It was past peak, but still . . . one Red Maple stood out amongst the yellowy-orange-bronzes of the landscape.
There was also some white to view–not only the few clouds, but the summit of Mount Washington with a recent coating of snow and rime ice.
The ridgeline of Mount Webster, forming the eastern side of the U-shaped glacial valley which forms Crawford Notch, stood crisp and clear as we headed north.
The mountain was named for Daniel Webster, a statesman and orator born in Salisbury, New Hampshire, which is present day Franklin where I began my former teaching career in 1980.
From our seat on the train, looking south, Mount Webster was on the left, Route 302 between, and Mount Willey on the right forming the western side of the U.
By Mount Willard, we heard the story of the section house that stood here in the 1900s.
Our narrator, Denise, spoke of the Mt Willard Section House built in 1887 for section foreman James E. Mitchell, his family, and crew who maintained Section 139 of the railroad. Loring Evans became foreman of Section 139 in 1903. He was killed ten years later in a railroading accident at Crawford’s yard, but his wife, Hattie, raised their four children and despite all odds ran the Section House until 1942. It was Hattie’s job to house and feed the men who worked on the shortest yet most treacherous stretch of the rail.
A memorial garden still honors her work.
Below Mount Jackson, across the way, two waterfalls graced the scene. Typically, we’ve viewed them one at a time, but from the train, both Flume and Silver Cascades were visible as water raced down the mountain’s face.
This being Silver, but both looked like traces of chalk from our position.
Two hours after our journey began, we arrived at Crawford’s Depot.
Disembarking, and with an hour to ourselves, my guy and I ate a picnic lunch that included chicken salad sandwiches enhanced with home-made cranberry-orange relish, and then we crossed the road to walk the .4-mile trail around Saco Lake, the origin of Saco River.
Beside it a few Dandelions flowered. And my guy questioned me. “You’re taking a photo of a Dandelion?” Yup. Never Call it just a Dandelion is the title of a most delightful and informative book. And sooo true. Notice how each ray is notched with five teeth representing a petal and forms a single floret. Completely open as this one was, the bloom was a composite of numerous florets. And can you see the stigmas? Curled and split in two? “Yes, I am taking a picture of a Dandelion because it deserves to be honored. And not pulled from the lawn. Just sayin’. ”
Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba var. latifolia) also posed, its fruit’s five-parted capsules each containing two to four small seeds. It was the color that made me smile on this fall day.
Upon a small bridge where Elephant Head Brook flows into Saco Lake, most people paused and then turned for so wet was the trail. But you know who kept going. Despite wearing sneakers rather than our hiking boots, we found our way and soon moved beyond the wet trail.
We laughed when we discovered a wooden boardwalk in a drier section.
Others had also ventured here and called it home, although based on the lack of new wood, we suspected the beavers had left the lodge. Perhaps they’d moved across the street to the AMC’s Highland Center.
Upon granite that defined the outer side of sections of the trail, Rock Tripe lichens grew, some turning green as they photosynthesized when I poured water upon them.
Always one of my favorite views is the discovery of Toadskin Lichen beside the Rock Tripe, both umbilicate forms.
Back to Route 302, asters showed their displays of seeds awaiting dispersal and those older empty nesters forecasting their winter form in a flower-like composition all their own.
Just prior to 2:00pm, we reboarded the train for the journey south.
For the return trip, we’d switched seats with those who sat on the western side of the train for the journey north and so got to spy the Willey foundation. Local lore has it that in 1793, Samuel Willey took his wife, five children and two hired men to live in a small, remote house in the mountains. That year, he and the hired men built a house.
As our narrator said, “In June of 1826, a heavy rain terrified the Willey family when it caused a landslide across the Saco River. Sam decided to build a stone shelter above the house where he thought the family could find safety in case of another landslide. On August 28, 1826, a violent rainstorm caused a mudslide. The Willeys and hired men took refuge in the shelter. The landslide killed all nine of them, but the house they’d fled stood still.” Apparently, a ledge above the house spared it from destruction.
We loved the historical aspects of the trip, as well as the scenery, short hike, and good company.
At the end of the day, we were all smiles for this All Aboard Mondate.
Three years ago I’d had the pleasure of spending two days bushwhacking along City Brook in South Waterford, Maine, with naturalist, historian, and author Robert “Bob” Spencer as he told me the stories of the mills that once operated there and the two of us pondered life long ago. And so, when I saw that part of the trail Bob has long dreamed of had opened, my guy and I decided to head to the city.
Waterford City, that is. As Bob had explained, “In the 1870s, South Waterford was dubbed “Waterford City” for the noise and bustle brought to the town by nine mills and many supporting outbuildings lining the brook.”
The water was rather on the low side today, but we began our tour by Watson’s Falls, the fifth power site that had been identified by the proprietors.
The mill, which Bob and his wife, Gere, have repurposed into their home, was originally granted to Isaac Smith in 1795 for a saw mill. Over the course of its lifetime, the building served as a cloth and linseed oil mill, saw mill, salt box factory, and cider mill.
Beside it, we stopped to read an interpretive sign that shares a bit of the story about what has happened in this spot and all along the brook over the centuries.
Later, at home, I started looking at the US Census reports, curious about the people and their work. I should have taken a close-up image of the map that shows the industrious neighborhood, but let me share what I found on a Products of Industry page for 1870:
William Watson: water power; box factory; 2 machines, employed 5
Bisbee Pingree (I may have that name wrong, it was difficult to read): water power; carriage shop, wagons, sleighs & repairs; employed 2
Charles Watson: blacksmith; iron and steel; employed 1
Zebedee Perry: water power; wool carding and cloth dressing; employed 2
Monroe Briggs and Company: water power; tannery; leather; employed 2
Samuel Miller: water power; iron foundry and machine shop; employed 6
Cobb and Hapgood: water power; lumber manufacturing; employed 2
Cobb and Hapgood: water power; grist mill; grain; employed 1
Emerson Wilkin: water power: tannery; leather; employed 1
Charles Saunders: blacksmith, iron and steel; employed 1
McKensy Buswell: water power; tannery; leather; illegible # of employees
John B Rand: cooper shop; staves and shook; employed 6
As you can see, they didn’t all need to be located beside the brook, but nine mills did use water as the source of power.
Today, we looked down at the brook that flowed below Watson’s Falls in the center of the city, and then decided to see if we could follow it downstream at all.
Our walk took us past the children’s park where I’m sure the locals have a name for this delightful swingman who speaks to the past with a grin and stars in his eyes.
Not far beyond the park, we found another sign by the site that belonged to Zebedee Perry in 1870. By 1880, Walter K. Hamlin and his son, Albert, operated the carding mill. As you can see, in 1963, it was purchased by Old Sturbridge Village, where a sign still commemorates its Waterford heritage.
When we looked out toward the brook, unfortunately all we could see was a mass of invasive plants where the mill was once located. Such is the case for areas open to the sun.
And so we continued on to the closed bridge. There wasn’t a “No Trespassing” sign and so we did. But do you see the lovely red and yellow leaves by my guy’s feet: Poison Ivy. Given that, we decided to backtrack back to city center at Watson’s Falls and then make our way to the mill sites above.
For a wee bit, we had to walk along Routes 35/37; but really it was a pleasure because not only did our friends, David and Darbee Percival, stop to talk briefly about the trail awaiting us before driving on, but also it gave us an opportunity to take a look at the area where a sluice and bucket shop were once located.
And remnants of yore as well; this a truck in its former life.
On Routes 35/37 by the Mill Hill intersection and just below the Wesleyan Church, circa 1845, we found the unmarked opening to the trail and slipped off the road.
Recently, Bob, with the help of others including our friend, Dave, posted trail blazes to denote the path. Though we could hear the traffic and sometimes see it through the trees, we felt like we had entered a time capsule and no one was aware of our presence.
We had hoped to find more interpretive signs to help us understand what we were looking at, but I suspect those will come, given that we saw one sign post all ready for a placard. In the meantime, we wondered if the smaller rocks to the right formed the wall of a sluiceway.
And we noted split stone in various locations. I’ve not yet found a census report stating who owned what farm animals in this area, but suspect oxen were among the keepings. How else would they have moved those large slabs?
A boulder pile strewn among the brook offerings to the right of my guy gave rise to several questions: Had someone intended to build a structure here? Had a structure been taken apart? And where-oh-where might the quarry be located? So many questions must lead to further explorations.
All along the way, more artifacts revealed themselves.
I love that people respect these by leaving them be as they give us a glimpse into the distant past.
We also spotted barbed wire. I remember finding some in about this place with Bob three years ago, but it didn’t look quite like this. He and I had wondered if among all the mills, there may have been some farm animals roaming about. Perhaps oxen? Certainly not sheep, because their fleece would have been ruined by the barbs.
And could all of these rolls that still remain have been intended to become more barbed wire?
There was also a cellar hole of sorts to ascertain. Within in it were some boulders that made no sense. But to someone in a day long ago, it all had a purpose.
At last we reached the access road to Keoka Lake, its bridge having withstood the test of time.
And beyond it a stone-lined sluiceway where today barely any water trickled.
The sluiceway was created beside a more recent power site, located where Bob had previously told me the first dam for the lake stood.
The structure was impressive, despite the fact that I didn’t quite understand its ins and outs.
And couldn’t help but question once again why the dam had been abandoned and a more modern one built a quarter of a mile north. Did the lake once extend a quarter of a mile south from its current impoundment?
While I stood below the large structure, a little nature admiration seeped into my soul–thankfully. We’d been moving rather quickly (because I was with you know who and we had an appointment that made us cognizant of our timing) but I couldn’t help but say a quiet thanks for the sight of Sensitive Ferns’ beady fertile fronds.
At last we reached Keoka, where a strong breeze greeted us with a blast of cold air.
We spent a moment looking at the current dam–which is really quite ugly, especially when compared to all the granite structures we’d passed.
But it now marks the Keoka Outlet and beginning of City Brook, so named for the “city” that once existed at a time when people needed to saw their own wood, grind their own grain, card their own wool, build their own carriages and sleds, etc. Theirs was an industrious time. And water power was a necessity to many enterprises.
After a few minutes beside the lake, we followed the access road back and actually walked out to the state road for a quicker return.
As best it can, Waterford City clings to its past . . .
though a fresh coat of paint here and there may help preserve it a little better so those monuments still standing don’t become mere foundations like their neighbors.
We were excited to see one bit of renewal–for Kimball Hardware has added lobsters to their offerings. Kimball Hardware & Lobsters. Someone has an entrepreneurial mindset. Why not?
With that, our Mondate hike came to an end near where the water wheel continues to turn as it celebrates the history of South Waterford, aka Waterford City.
Out of the magical hiking box today came the possibility of Page Pond and Forest in Meredith, New Hampshire. And so my guy and I found ourselves driving from the Lake Region of Maine to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, my old tromping grounds.
Because it was noon when we arrived, we decided to begin our adventure with a beer. Especially since on our last Bear to Beer Possibility adventure, we never did sip any suds. The note in the magical hiking box suggested that we stop by Frog Rock Tavern in Meredith. The beer we enjoyed. Mine was a Switchback and his a 603 Winni Ale. The food–not so great. In fact, the cheese and lettuce in my chicken sandwich were thicker than the breast. And BBQ sauce poured out of his chicken wrap as if it wanted to join the Waukewan Canal that flowed below our table.
But, right after lunch we headed to Page Pond and Forest and soon forgot lunch for our focus was on the American Beech trees and whatever else we might discover on this property that the town has conserved because of its importance both historically and naturally, especially with its vicinity to Lake Winnipesaukee. Would we find bear claw marks on the trees was our main question.
We started examining every beech tree we met both on trail and off, but loved the vistas offered, such as this look at Page Pond.
Beside the pond was a wetland that screamed dragonflies to us and so we stood still and watched.
I suggested to my guy that he stick his hand out and actually he did. Bingo. In flew a male Autumn Meadowhawk. My guy: the new Dragonfly Whisperer.
And then we saw a couple canoodling. Of course.
It may have been that others were canoodling or who knows what they were doing when they abandoned their truck. But, we were on property that had previously been farmed and quarried, so it wasn’t really such a surprise to encounter such an artifact.
Coming upon the mill site, however, was a delightful surprise. We knew it was there, but the sight of it was worth our awe.
According to Daniel Heyduk, who wrote a historical guide to this place, “Sewall Leavitt built a substantial dam and sawmill, which he operated until selling the mill and the 2 ½ acre mill lot to John Page in 1836. Page operated the mill until 1855, and the brook became known locally as Page Brook”.
It’s an impressive sight.
Heyduk writes: “Measured today, the dam is 96 feet long, 16 feet wide and 18 feet high at the spillway. The sluice opening is 5 feet wide and 9 feet high. The walls of the spillway which carries water from the sluice are 53 feet long.”