All Aboard Mondate

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.

Willey Brook Bridge is Crawford Notch, New Hampshire https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-a2cf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99 Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation

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.

Turning the Wheels 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.

Bear to Beer Possibilities: Meredith’s Page Pond and Forest

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.”

Because we were near water, we spotted several young Garter Snakes,

many, many Cardinal Flowers (I even heard my guy telling a woman their name as I bushwhacked to take some close-up photos–quite the naturalist has he become.),

and Pickerel Frogs.

We did well following the outer trails of the looped system on this almost 900-acre property, but . . . we got a bit ambitious and found ourselves suddenly crossing a field to nowhere. Well, it went somewhere, but took us away from the pond and forest and we ended up having to back track.

That was okay with me because I had the opportunity to spend a moment with a Monarch Butterfly.

Make that two moments.

Back on the trails, along the Wetland Loop, we began to realize that the shadows were growing longer.

And though we marched quickly back through the variety of natural communities because the hour was later than we’d realized, we paid a visit to the Leavitt cemetery before departing.

In his guide, Heyduk notes, “Schoolmaster and Farmer’s Almanac founder Dudley Leavitt, his wife Judith, and their children moved to Meredith in 1806, buying some 47 acres of lot 45. Leavitt bought more parcels between 1813 and 1829, bringing his farm to some 115 acres, which he actively farmed together with teaching in the public and his own school,
writing textbooks and researching and writing the almanac. Two years after moving to Meredith, Dudley Leavitt was signing the town tax inventory as a selectman. He wrote the annual Leavitt’s Old Farmer’s Almanack from 1797 until his death in 1851, and left manuscripts for the years through 1857.”

Oh yes, there was all of that, but we went in search of bear claw trees. There were beech nuts after all–a favorite form of sustenance for Black Bears.

But the only Black Bear in sight was one whom I follow on many a hike as he tends to don his UMaine clothing. On the back of his T-shirt the motto is this: Forever a Black Bear. And if you scroll back to the photo of the beers, you’ll see the Black Bear on his sweatshirt posed between the two glasses.

So . . . on our last Bear to Beer Possibility adventure we didn’t sip any suds as I said earlier. And today, we didn’t find any evidence of bears.

But, do you see who we did find? ARCHIE! His creator, Bob Montana, lived in Meredith for 35 years and last August the town dedicated this statue to him as part of their 250th anniversary.

Bear to Beer Possibilities: Good Beer. No Bears (except for my guy). And Archie. Another fun day of discoveries.

LOVE ME, love, me: Bradbury Mountain State Park

For Valentine’s Day 2018, I gave my guy the “Amazing Race–Our Style,” which included a list of monthly adventures. And if you kept up with us, you soon discovered that we had challenges to meet along the way as we competed with “imaginary” teams.

And then dawned Valentine’s Day 2019 and I wasn’t sure how I could outdo myself until . . . the proverbial light bulb went off, or rather, on, and a plan took shape.

With that in mind, I walked into Bridgton Books to find just the right card. What could be better than a Maine original by woodcut artist Blue Butterfield in Portland? I did enhance the card a wee bit when I added the heart on the trail. But one of the things I love about this card besides the subject and colors–the shadows: of the trees and the people and the people shadows could almost be bears. Just sayin’.

Inside the card I informed my guy that our next challenge would be to ❤️ ME, ❤️, me. Get it? LOVE Maine, Love, me. Naturally! I thought it was rather brilliant and had no idea at the time that Maine will turn 200 years old in 2020.

The plan is this–we’ll get to know our state better by visiting its 34 state parks. Mind you, this won’t all happen by March 15, 2020, and we may not even finish for another five years, but that’s fine. Nor will we have to compete with anyone along the way or complete challenges. All we need to do is show up, hike together, and appreciate our surroundings.

And so today we finally had a chance to begin and decided to launch our LOVE ME, love, me adventures at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal. Though we’ve visited some of the parks before, neither of us had ever stepped foot on this one that had been acquired from the Federal Government in 1939 and became one of five original state parks in our grand state.

Others had, for more years than we’ll ever understand, but we did see lots of remnants from the 1800 and 1900s, including this boxy looking structure that we assumed was a pound.

Thank goodness for signs to confirm our assumptions. The pound was used to keep stray cattle, sheep, and pigs once upon a time.

Not only did the pound give us a hint, but by the stone walls, we knew the property had been farmed. By the ledges, we knew where some of the stones had come from.

Trail conditions were such that we walked on well-packed snow and lots of ice, so a break in the wall offered the perfect spot to sit and pull on micro-spikes.

Though the snow wasn’t deep like it is here in western Maine, the ice was quite thick, though water coursed through carving a trough providing a glimpse of the glacial activity that formed the natural features of the mountain.

In fact, striations from the glaciers were still visible upon stones in the trail.

Or not. For really, they were scratches created by snowmobiles because the park is open (for a fee) to hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. There are also picnic tables and camping areas. What’s not to love?

And did I mention that it’s also open to critters? With a large swath of it being a hemlock grove, we weren’t surprised to see deer activity. And pileated works as well.

Of course, I had to check out the pileated wood pile, and delighted in seeing the cinnamon color of its inner bark. Salmon also came to mind.

And what else should I find within the wood chips–why bodies galore from a scat broken open. Based upon all the holes in the trees we knew the pileated had found the mother-lode of carpenter ants and the scats proved the point.

A little further along, we spied watery ice of a different color than that under our feet and suspected that hiding below the leaves and rocks under the snow cover of the surrounding woods are some amphibians waiting for a certain Big Night when they’ll make their traditional journey to their natal vernal pool.

At the far end of the pool, another shade of salmony-cinnamon greeted us.

A springtail frenzy was taking place where the ice had started to melt. Ahhhh.

Not far beyond the vernal pool, we reached the 485-foot summit. It’s not much as mountains go, but . . . the view was expansive–and we could see the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s also a favorite place to watch the hawk migration and we spent some time chatting with hawk counter Zane Baker who spends six days a week from mid-March to mid-May scanning the sky for raptors. Today was slow, he informed us and you can see by the chart that he’d only recorded four sightings. But today was on the cool side and Zane suspected some birds had ventured north in last week’s bit of a warm-up and the rest were waiting to make the journey.

We sat below and dined on leftover chicken/cranberry relish salad sandwiches while Zane continued to scan the sky with his binoculars and scope. Nada. But still, it was a beautiful spot and we were happy to be there before the crowds arrive.

On the way to the summit, we’d circled around the base of the mountain via a couple of trails, but chose the .3 mile descent via the switchback trail. Steeper and well shaded by an overstory of hemlocks, it wasn’t quite as quick of a descent as it might have been. Thank goodness for spikes. Because I was always looking down to see where to place a foot, I was happy to finally discover that the canopy was changing as evergreens gave way to beech and witch hazel.

We had almost completed the downward climb when we happened upon a chasm that didn’t make sense.

Until we learned that it once served as a feldspar quarry. According to the Maine Geological Survey for Bradbury Mountain compiled by Henry N. Berry IV, “Feldspar is the most abundant mineral in granite, and in pegmatite the individual feldspar crystals can be very large. Feldspar was mined from pegmatite bodies like this in many places across Maine in the early 1900s. The quarry itself, now overgrown with large trees, is about 150 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. It was crushed and separated to be used in making ceramics or as an abrasive. By the mid-1900s, feldspar mining had moved to other parts of the country and the world.”

Once we’d finished hiking on the West Side, we decided to walk across Route 9 and explore the East Side of the park. We covered lots more miles of trails, but noted only a few things along the way. One was the sweet sight of partridgeberry poking its evergreen leaves through the melted snow. There was even one tiny red berry still intact.

Again, the stone walls were numerous and by the time we had finished hiking, we suspected we’d zigzagged through a few, crossing them more than once.

The terrain was much more level and the mixed forest more open, so the trail conditions were easy.

As we neared the end of our journey, we spied a foundation of stone with a brick fireplace near the Old Tuttle Road.

It reminded us of our own old farmhouse, though our utensils are a bit more up to date. That being said, I’m always a wee bit annoyed when I discover artifacts lined up by a foundation. I guess I’m of the opinion that they should remain where they were and if someone stumbles upon something–great. Let people make their own discoveries. (Enough of a rant for today.)

At last we reached a monument we’d seen denoted on the map. We’d been wondering what it meant.

It turns out that the generous Spiegel family, who’d founded Quoddy Moccassins, had gifted some land to the people of the state of Maine. As two people of the state of Maine, we gave thanks.

Four hours and lots of miles later, our first in our ❤️ ME, ❤️, me Series had come to an end. Bradbury Mountain State Park. ✓ One down, 33 to go!

Bear to Beer: Peabody-Fitch to Bear Trap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And at least one rubbed its antlers.

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

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

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

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

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

Babe in the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Bear to Beer Possibilities

Christmas in our house requires a bit of creativity and so it was that a light bulb went off and a theme was born.

I found a little brown cardboard box, decorated it with some hiking stickers and then did a bit of research on local trails and pubs. This was for my guy, you see, for on his days off, he’s always asking me where we should hike. I decided to make it easy for him to suggest a trail at least once a month, and the hike would be followed by sipping a brew at a local pub. There was one caveat: the hike had to include the search for bear paw trees. We both love a challenge. Some of the places I chose are familiar to us, and though we know the trees are there, will we find them again? That remains to be seen. Others are totally new on our list and I had no idea if they’d offer one of our favorite sights.

In keeping with the theme, I also gave him a UMaine sweatshirt; UMaine being his alma mater. Of course, back in his day, it was referred to as UMO for the University of Maine at Orono.

And finally, a growler from a local brew pub so he can walk down the street and refill it occasionally.

It was Western Foothill Land Trust‘s Packard Trail that he chose for this first adventure.

The property itself is the Virgil Parris Forest, named for this man who was born in Buckfield in 1807. Mr. Parris attended local schools, Colby College, and Union College in New York, where he studied law. In 1830, he was admitted to the bar and returned to his hometown to open a practice. His career followed a political path both at the state and national levels.

The main trail that loops around the 1,250-acre property was named for the Packard Family. According to the interpretive panel at the trailhead, “the farmstead’s foundations and family cemetery are on site. Daniel Packard was given this land in Buckfield as compensation for his service in the Revolution. Daniel was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts in 1749 and married Elizabeth Connelly of Cork, Ireland during the war. Daniel died in Woodstock, Maine in 1836, and is buried there. It is said that Daniel and Elizabeth were the prototypes for James Fennimore Cooper’s Sergeant Hollister and Betty Flannigan in Cooper’s novel The Spy.”

The sky was brilliant blue as we began our journey, each step of the way scanning the trees. Had it been a couple of months later, we might have mistaken the large burl in a paper birch for a bear cub.

Though bears climb other trees, it’s on beech bark that their claw marks show up best.

When one focuses one sees . . . many a thing that might have been passed by, such as this beech, which began we know not as one or two, and if one, why did it become two we wondered? And then, like a work of magic, it was once again unified.

Another beech offered a snow chute that seemed like the perfect squirrel slide.

And yet another was decorated with the chiseled tooth marks of a natural logger–a beaver.

There were some decorated with cankers from beech scale disease that could have passed for ornamental faces.

And others that hosted squirrels who had built dreys appearing haphazard in construction from our stance about thirty feet below, but were really complex and apparently well insulated.

Fungi, such as this tinder conk, also fruited upon some trees. But . . . where were the bear trees? My guy asked how I’d chosen this particular path, and to be truthful, I couldn’t remember. I just thought it was a new one to us and might have some paw marks to boot.

Down an esker ridge we continued as we approached South Pond.

The wind was cold on the pond and snowmobiles zoomed past, oblivious to our presence, which was just fine with us.

And then we heard voices and framed between beech branches, we saw a dog sled team across the way.

And then, just as we turned from the Packard Trail onto the Cascade Trail, we spied some familiar marks. Or were they? We so wanted a bear paw tree that we convinced ourselves we’d found one.

It certainly did look the part. And so we felt successful.

Onward we journeyed, enjoying the cascades in their frozen form and promising ourselves a return trip in a different season.

As is his style, my guy moved quickly and I accused him of not searching, but he was.

And bingo! Another bear tree.

The cankers were abundant and made it difficult, but our bear paw eyes discerned the patterns.

And once we noticed, it seemed as if they began to pop out at us from every tall beech. Not really so. All in all we counted five. Well, five if you include the first tree, which we continued to question. And there were probably many more that we missed.

At last we’d completed our journey and relished our success. As I drove back down Sodom Road in Buckfield, I knew there were a few final trees that needed to be examined–telephone pole trees. Most were in great shape, but one close to the preserve had been visited by a large furry mammal that scratched it and nipped it and probably left a scent on it.

As planned, we knew exactly where we’d stop following our hike and so we made our way to the Buck-It Grill and Pub, another place we’d never visited before.

Lisa, the bartender, took our burger order and then we sipped Allagash White while we watched the Weather Channel on the TV above. Sitting next to us was Joyce, and she said that the impending storm was named for her partner’s niece, Harper. When did they start naming winter storms? Never mind. The important thing was that the fresh hand-packed burgers and fries were delish. The beer wasn’t bad either.

We went not knowing but came away with smiles after a successful hike–and already we’re looking forward to next month’s “From Bear to Beer Possibilities.”