Giving Thanks Mondate

Today’s adventure found us exploring another “new-to-us” trail system, this one located beside the Swift River in Albany, New Hampshire.

The Albany Town Forest is protected with a conservation easement by Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. It seemed apropos that we should choose such a trail for today marked the last day with the land trust for their Outreach and Office Manager, Trisha Beringer. Trish is moving on to new horizons, for which I commend her, but at the same time, I’ll miss bouncing collaborative ideas off of her, searching for anacondas as we paddle local rivers, and giggling till we almost wet our pants as we try to strap kayaks onto our vehicles. (Wait, what? An anaconda? In Maine or New Hampshire? Well, when you’re out in the wilds with Trish, you never know what to expect. We did once encounter three otters.)

The route my guy and I chose for the day was posted at the kiosk located on the Kancamagus Highway, aka the Kanc. Our plan: follow the outermost trails in a counterclockwise pattern–just cuze we felt like going against the grain.

But first, there were other things to appreciate including a tiny beetle on the wood of the kiosk. It looked like a shield bug, but was ladybug in size and had an interesting blue coloration. If you look to the insect’s right, you may note more of the blue hue. I suspect this curious insect somehow met a bit of chalk or paint.

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A few more feet and we found apples decorating the forest floor. Though some had nibble marks, these appeared untouched. Perhaps the critters kept them in cold storage with thoughts that on Thursday they’ll make a delightful addition to a turkey dinner.

A small bird nest also decorated the forest floor, though we suspected it had fallen from the limbs above.

It seemed ornaments were everywhere and we found this Polyphemus Moth Cocoon dangling from a shrub’s branch. This is a member of the giant silk moth family who draw their collective name from the fine silk they use to spin their cocoons. The cocoons serve as protection for the pupal stage in their life cycle. I don’t know about you, but every little thing in nature astonishes me. How do all Polyphemus moths know to spin this shape?

Maybe the wise old chipmunk knows for he seems to be the keeper of the forest this year. And there are plenty of acorns on the ground to add to his pantry.

Through the forest we walked, enjoying the grade of the trail and feel of the place.

And then the community changed and we found ourselves moving beside bent over coneflowers, gum-drop shaped in their winter form. And do you see the baseline for a spider’s web?

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

As the natural community changed, so did the material world and suddenly we heard the buzz and saw a jet zoom by.

We were fooled momentarily for it circled round and round, came in low for an almost landing as we approached and then took off again. We’d stumbled upon the site of the Mount Washington Valley Radio Control Club.

Airplanes and helicopters weren’t the only ones waiting to lift off into flight. Part of the field was filled milkweed pods, their parachute-equipped seeds waiting for the control tower to give the signal so they could fly.

And where there are milkweed pods, there are also milkweed flowers in their winter form, for such did the structures look with petals of five or six creating the display.

The Davis Farm trail passed by the milkweeds and cut through the fields and I had visions not only of my guy in front of me, but of summer visitors. I’m thinking butterflies, dragonflies, pollinators, oh my.

For now, the fields are dormant, save for a few lone pumpkins adding to the autumn landscape.

And the Moat Mountains providing the backdrop.

By the far edge of the field, hardly cuddly thistles added more texture to the scene.

Staghorn Sumac’s offering was its raspberry color.

At the edge of the field we reached the Swift River and train trestle that crosses it as memories of rides on the Valley Train of the Conway Scenic Railroad when our “boys” were young flashed through our shared memory.

Meeting the river meant that our journey along the Davis Farm Trail had morphed into a western path beside the river and we welcomed its voice as it moved slowly at first over the river rocks.

We did discover one patch of berries that had we not known better, we would have rejoiced over the color for it reminded us of the “white” pumpkins that decorate the season. But . . . we knew better and stayed on the trail in order to avoid Poison Ivy. Yes, it is native. But equally yes, it is a nuisance. Especially if you are allergic.

The trail was shaded beside the river and therefore more snow/ice cover had resulted from a slushy weather event yesterday, but that didn’t stop my guy. You see, I had introduced him to Geocaching.com and my guy loves a challenge.

He found the first and read off the trail names of previous discoverers.

I’ll give you a hint other than the one on the site: look for the Grape Fern. 😉

A wee bit further we came upon a couple of granite blocks and wondered where they’d come from and how they’d ended up in this spot.

Following the compass, we eventually made our second geocache find–this one to my credit. It was enough–my guy is hooked and I see geocaching adventures in our future.

If you can’t locate the second site, ask this chipmunk. We saw no squirrels as has been our experience this year (but do expect a payload amount of squirrels next year in response to this year’s acorn and beech nut mast), but the chipmunks dart across trails and roads on frantic missions as they prepare for the coming season.

My guy wasn’t on his own frantic mission for a change and paused beside this burl to point it out to me. That being said, I did chuckle as he moved on while I paused to admire it. Those folds. And curves. Inlets and outlets. It was like arms, long arms, that circled around and over. All because the tree’s growth hormones were disrupted when its metabolism was hijacked by some other organism, be it a virus, fungus, or bacterium.

Our time beside Swift River began to draw to a close as the sun started to set behind the mountains.

We were almost done with the hike when we noticed deer tracks–indicting they’d travelled to and fro with the river as a main point of their destination.

An individual deer print is heart shaped and such described our journey on several levels–as I continued to appreciate Trisha of Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, and also my guy who has put up with me for over three decades.

On this November day, I gave thanks . . . for this day, for these two people, and for all who have traveled this journey with me.

Blessed be.

A’pondering We Will Go

August 3, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
A’pondering We Will Go: Get inspired by the beauty along the trail at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. This will be a stop-and-go walk as we pause frequently to sketch, photograph, and/or write about our observations, or simply ponder each time we stop. Location: John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East, Farrington Pond Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

j1-pickerel frog

That was our advertisement for this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust walk, but we weren’t sure the weather would cooperate. Docent Pam and I emailed back and forth as we looked at various forecasts and decided to take our chances. As it turned it, it did sprinkle occasionally, but we didn’t feel the rain until we finished up and even then, it wasn’t much. Instead, the sound of the plinking against the leaves in the canopy was a rather pleasant accompaniment to such a delightful morning. Our group was small–just right actually for it was an intimate group and we made a new friend and had a wonder-filled time stopping to sit and ponder and then move along again and were surprised by tiny frogs and toads who thought the weather couldn’t get any better, as well as other great finds. Here, a pickerel frog showed off its rectangular spots for all of us to enjoy.

j2-Sucker Brook

After a first 20-minute pause in the woods, we continued on until we reached Sucker Brook.

j3-Colleen

Each of us settled into a place to listen . . .

j4-Bob

photograph . . .

j6-Judy

and write.

j7-heron

I have no idea how much time had passed, but suddenly we all stirred a bit and then someone who was noticing (I think it was Ann) redirected our attention.

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We were encouraged to focus on another who was also paying attention.

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And narrowing in . . .

j10-heron and fish

on lunch.

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When the young heron flapped its wings, we were all sure the meal was meant “to go.”

j12-securing the catch

But thankfully, the bird stayed.

j13-lunch

And played with its food.

j14-lunch making its way down

Ever so slowly, the fish was maneuvered into its mouth.

j15-gulp

And swallowed.

j16-down the throat it goes

Down the throat it slid.

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And then the feathers were ruffled–rather like a chill passing through its body.

j17-movement

Wing motion followed.

j18-searching

But still, the Great Blue Heron stayed.

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And stalked some more.

j20-Isaiah

We continued to watch until we knew we had to pull ourselves away.

j21-the journalists

If we didn’t have other obligations, we might still be there. Gathered with me from left to right: Judy, Colleen, Isaiah, Pam, Ann, and Bob.

j22-owl pellet

On our way back, again we made some interesting discoveries that we’d somehow missed on the way in, including White Baneberry, aka Doll’s Eye, a bone we couldn’t ID, Indian Pipe, and this owl pellet smooshed, but full of tiny bones–vole-sized bones.

j22-Pam reading what she wrote

We stopped one more time, to share our morning’s observations.

j23-Judy reading her poem

Reading aloud is never easy, but because our group was small and we’d quickly developed a sense of camaraderie and trust, the comfort level was high.

j24-Ann's landscape sketch with heron

Sketches were also shared, including this one of the landscape that Ann drew–including the heron that entered the scene just before she quietly called our attention to it.

j25-stump and lichen

And my attempts–the first of a tree stump from our woodland stop, and then a lichen when we were by Sucker Brook.

A’pondering We Did Go–and came away richer for the experience. Thanks to all who came, to Pam and Ann for leading, and to Isaiah for his fine eye at spotting interesting things along the way.

 

 

The Second Anniversary of Wondermyway

Milestones are always important as they mark significant events in our lives. And for me, such an event occurs today as I celebrate the second anniversary of the day wondermyway.com was born.

Since I was in elementary school and made few and far between entries into a chunky journal bound in a green cover (which I still own), to the first empty book journal my sister gave me when I graduated from high school, to a variety of travelogues and other journals I’ve filled from cover to cover,  I’ve recorded my life’s journey from time to time.

The most satisfying for me has been this very blog, to which I’ve added numerous events and discoveries, both natural and historical, over the last two years. As personal as it all is, I’ve taken a leap of faith by sharing it with you. And you have been gracious enough to read it, and comment on it, and “like” it, and sometimes “love” it, and offer me suggestions, corrections and gentle nudges.

Thank  you for following along on the journey. It’s been scary to put myself out there, but I have.

And now, I thought I’d review some favorite finds I noted in posts over the past year. My learnings have been many and it’s been fun to review all that I’ve seen and thought and admired and wondered about. I hope you’ll feel the same and will continue to follow along and comment and share those that you enjoy with your family and friends.

Here’s my countdown , or maybe I should say my count up of favorite moments in time over the past year:

Feb 21, 2016: Celebrating a Year of Wonder-filled Wanders

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b-sketch 1

I made time one year ago to sit and sketch–one of my favorite activities. To be still and embrace life around me. To notice. And commemorate.

February 28 2016: Gallivanting Around Great Brook

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Usually, we drive the forest road in to the gate on Hut Road in Stoneham, but in winter it isn’t passable, and thus one must walk–which means paying attention to things you might not normally notice, such as this: a special relationship between a yellow birch and a white pine. Rooted in place, they embrace and share nutrients. Forever conjoined, they’ll dance through life together.

March 18, 2016: On the Verge of Change

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While exploring the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s  Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham with my friend, Parker,  who is a master mycologist, he found Panellus stipticus, a bioluminescent species. Check out those gills on the underside. According to Lawrence Millman in his book Fascinating Fungi of New England, ” . . . specimens in the Northeast glow more obviously than specimens in other parts of North America.” So if you are ever in these woods late at night, don’t be freaked out by a light greenish glow. It just might be nature’s night light.

March 22 2016: Wet Feet at Brownfield Bog

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When I first spied this lump of gray I assumed it was a dead mouse. I know, I know–I should never assume because I risk “making an ass out of u and me.” And so I took a closer look. And noticed tons of bones and those orange teeth. An owl pellet filled with the remains of dinner. Owl pellets are extra cool and dissecting one is even cooler. I collected this one but haven’t dissected it because I think it makes for a great teaching tool as is. If you want to see it, just ask.

April 13, 2016: So Many Quacks

v-egg mass 1

At the vernal pool, or frog pond as we’ve always fondly referred to it, just steps from our property, I kept a keen eye on the situation last spring. In general, each mass laid by  female wood frogs was attached to a twig or branch. They tend to take advantage of the same site for attachment and usually in a warm, sunny spot.

A couple of masses were positioned independent of the rest, like this one–embraced in oak and maple leaves. Eventually, they’ll gain a greenish tinge from algae, which actually helps to camouflage them. One of the many wonders is that any given mass may contain up to 1,000 eggs–from a two-to-three-inch frog.

April 28, 2016: The Big, The Little and Everything in Between

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The phone rang as I stepped out of the shower and a male voice yammered away about something in the snow and it had come last night and I had to get there quickly. My friend, Dick,  was standing in a friend’s yard about a half mile from here and looking at bear tracks in the snow.

As he knew he would, he had me on the word “bear.” His voice was urgent as he insisted I stop everything and get to his friend’s house. “I just need to dry my hair and then I’ll be right there,” I said. Deadlines loomed before me but bear tracks won my internal war. Dick suggested I just wrap a towel around my head. Really, that’s what I should have done because my hair has no sense of style whether wet or dry, so after a few minutes I said the heck with it and popped into my truck, camera and trackards in hand.

May 21, 2016: Wallowing in Wonder

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Along Perky’s Path at the GLLT’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Preserve, a bunch of us had the honor to watch a dragonfly split open its exoskeleton and emerge from the nymph stage. Of course, we were standing by a beaver pond, and so it seemed only appropriate that it would use the top of a sapling cut by a beaver. As it inflated the wings with blood pressure, they began to extend.

May 31, 2016: Slippers Fit for a Princess–Including Cinderella

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Members of the Orchid family, lady’s slippers feature the typical three petals in an atypical fashion. The pouch (or slipper or moccasin), called the labellum, is actually one petal–inflated and veined. With a purplish tint, the petals and sepals twist and turn offering their own take on a ballroom dance. From every angle, it’s simply elegant.

June 10, 2016: The Main(e) Exotics

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At Lakes Environmental Association‘s Holt Pond Preserve, a friend and I had moved from the swamp to the first hemlock hummock and chatted about natural communities when suddenly we realize we were being hissed at. Its coloration threw us off and beautiful though it was, the hairs on the back of our necks stood on end. Apparently we made it feel likewise. And so we retreated. It was a common garter, but really, there didn’t seem anything common about it in the moment.

June 18, 2016: Paying Attention

partridge berry

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j-  trailing 7 (1)

In May, trailing arbutus wowed us by its gentle white and pale pink flowers. In June,  they faded to a rusty tone. And some transformed into swollen round seed pods–a first for me to see.

The sepals curled away to reveal the white fleshy fruit speckled with tiny brown seeds. It was well worth getting down on knees to look through a hand lens–especially since ants, chipmunks and mice find these to be a delicacy so they wouldn’t last long.

July 9, 2016: Wondering About Nature’s Complexity

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I posed a question this day: So dear reader, I enjoy teaching you, but now need you to teach me. I found this under another leaf on a shrub. And I often see the same thing stuck to our house. It reminds me of a caddisfly case. What is it?

And fellow Master Naturalist Pam Davis responded: Check out bagworm moths to see if it might be an answer to the stick thing on the leaf and your house. Here’s a discussion: http://nature.gardenweb.com/discussions/2237505/not-a-bug-maybe-a-gall and a Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagworm_moth

Indeed.

July 27, 2016: Searching for the Source of Sweetness

w-frit 2

It was no mistake the this fritillary butterfly chose the beebalm on which to land. Check out its mouth. A butterfly feeds through a coiled mouth part called a proboscis. When not in use, the proboscis recoils and is tucked into position against the butterfly’s head.

August 21, 2016: Sundae School

n-Indian pipe bee 1

My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian Pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

August 27, 2016: Halting Beside Holt Pond

h-pitcher  flower up close

Halting–prone to pauses or breaks. I didn’t break, but I certainly was prone to pauses as I moved along the trails and boardwalks at the Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton. One of my first stops–to admire the pitcher plant flowers in their August form. When I took a closer look, I realized that the seeds were developing–certainly a WOW moment in the world of wonder.

September 9, 2016: Golden Rulers

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What first caught my eye was a bee that dangled upside down. And then I spied the green legs of an assassin bug. What? Yup, an assassin bug. I believe this one is a nymph. Regardless of age, here’s the scoop: Assassin bugs are proficient at capturing and feeding on a wide variety of prey. Though they are good for the garden, they also sometimes choose the wrong species like this bee. The unsuspecting prey is captured with a quick stab of the bug’s curved proboscis or straw-like mouthpart. Once I saw this, I continued to return for a couple of hours, so stay tuned.

September 15, 2016: The Wonders of Kezar River Reserve

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My favorite wonder of the day . . . moments spent up close with a meadowhawk.

October 17, 2016: Everybody Loves Raymond? Mondate

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My guy and I discovered several of these examples of fungi on fungi at Loon Echo Land Trust‘s Raymond Community Forest and had no idea what they were–so I sent the photos to Parker and Jimmie Veitch, of White Mountain Mushrooms, and Jimmie responded with this explanation:

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

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

October 22, 2016: Cloaked By the Morning Mist

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On a rainy day adventure with the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust in nearby New Hampshire, we paused to admire candy lichen, a crustose (think–flattish or crust-like) lichen with green to bluish-green coloration. Its fruiting bodies, however, are candy-pinkish berets atop stalks, even reflected in the raindrops.

November 6, 2016: Focus on the Forest Foliage

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And then . . . and then . . . and then just as our eyes trained on the red caps before us, something else made itself known. We spied another lichen that I’ve only seen once before: Cladonia cervicornis ssp. verticillate.

Its growth formation is rather unique. In one sense, it reminded me of a sombrero, but in another sense, I saw fountains stacked one atop another, each giving forth life in their own unique fashion. But rather than being called Fountain Lichen, its common name is Ladder Lichen–perhaps referring to the fact that the pixies can easily climb up and up and up again.

November 20, 2016: Forever a Student

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A sight I was hoping for presented itself when I returned to our woodlot–froth at the base of a pine tree. It’s not unusual and occurs following a rain event such as we’d had all night and morning. So what causes the tree to froth? Well, like all lessons, there are several possibilities. Maine Master Naturalist Science Advisor Fred Cichocki recently had this to say about it: “I’ve noticed this phenomenon often, and in every case I’ve seen it’s associated with white pine, and always after a dry spell followed by heavy rain. Now, conifers, especially, produce hydrocarbons called terpenes (it’s what gives them their lovely pine, balsam and fir scent). These hydrocarbons are hydrophobic by nature and form immiscible films on water. During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up terpenes on the way. Air (having accumulated in bark spaces, channels, etc. perhaps under slight pressure) then “bubbles” through terpene-water films producing a froth. Recall the cleaning products PineSol, and the like. They are made from terpenes, and produce copious bubbles when shaken. One could get the same result directly by shaking terpentine in water, or by bubbling air through a terpentine-water mixture with a straw . . . Of course, it may be that other substances (salts, etc.) enhance the frothing.”

No matter how much I have learned on this life-long course, there’s always more. I certainly don’t have all the answers and for that I am thankful. I’m forever a student.

December 4, 2016: The Art of Nature

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Some cut stumps reminded me of the circular movement leading toward the center of a labyrinth–appearing quick and easy, and yet providing a time to slow down while following the path.

December 23, 2016: Won’t You Be My Neighbor

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I followed the porcupine trail along his regular route and over the stonewall only to discover prints I’ve never met before. My first impression was raccoon, but the shape of the prints and the trail didn’t match up in my brain. More and more people have mentioned opossum sightings in the past few years, but I’ve only seen one or two–flattened on the road. Today, in our very woods, opossum prints.

January 19, 2017: Keep an Open Mind

o-deer

While I always head out with expectations of what my forest wanderings will offer, I’m happily surprised time and time again with the gifts received.

And so it was the other day when a friend and I happened upon this trophy in an area I’ve only visited a few times. We’d been noting the abundant amount of deer tracks and realized we were between their bedding and feeding areas and then voila–this sweet sight sitting atop the snow. It now adorns a bookcase in my office, a wonder-filled addition to my mini natural history museum. (I’m trying to give Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny of the Boxcar Children series a run for their money in creating such a museum.)

January 25, 2017: On the Prowl at Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve

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Notice how these pine needles are clumped together? What I learned from Mary Holland, author of Naturally Curious,  is that these are tubes or tunnels created by the Pine Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. They used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. Notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and in April when I come back to check on the vernal pool, I need to remember to pay attention, for that’s when they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news, says Holland, is that “Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.” I only found the tubes on two young trees, but suspect there are more to be seen.

February 8, 2017: Embracing the Calm

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A bull moose, like a buck deer, thrashes bushes and small saplings when the velvet on its antlers dries. It could be that the velvet itches. But it could also be a response to increasing testosterone and the need to scent mark.

February 16, 2017: When Life Gives You Flakes

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When life gives you flakes . . . make a snow angel in the middle of the trail.

To all who have read this far, thanks again for taking a trip down memory lane today and sticking with me these past two years. I sincerely hope you’ll continue to share the trail as I wander and wonder–my way.

And to wondermyway.com–Happy Second Anniversary!

 

 

 

 

 

Book of the Month: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady

D-cover 1

In 1980, after I’d spent time studying in York, England, my sister gave me a copy of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden. I’d kept diaries on and off over the years and continue to do so today, but nothing will ever match this masterpiece filled with poetry, personal observations and thoughts, plus enchanting watercolors.

D-nature notes 1906

Written in 1906, the book wasn’t actually discovered and published until 1977. Ms. Holden passed away in 1920.

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Printed on yellowish paper, each page has darkened edges that give the reproduction an aged appearance–making me feel as if I’m holding the original in my hands.

D-march phenology

She included her daily wonders and wanders, and poems and quotes that caught her whimsy. She was a teacher and a thinker who captured the physical world of the flora and fauna that surrounded her and combined it with a sprinkle of her own soul.

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On the opening page for March, she quotes Bryant:

“The story March is come at last

With wind, and cloud, and changing skies;

I bear the rushing of the blast

That through the snowy valley flies.

Ah! passing few are they who speak

Wild stormy month in praise of thee;

Yet though they winds are loud and bleak

Though art a welcome month to me.

For thou, to northern lands again

The glad and glorious sun dost bring

And thou hast joined the gentle train,

And wear’s the gentle name of Spring.

And in thy reign of blast and storm

Smiles many a long, bright summer day

When the changed winds are soft and warm

And heaven puts on the blue of May.”

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As I sit here this morning , I gaze upon trees whose limbs are embraced in snow and twigs glazed with a coating of ice while the rain falls. Since daybreak, the male cardinal has been singing at regular intervals. On March 12, 1906, Ms. Holden noted: “After a wet, windy day, we wake this morning to a regular snow storm, the air was full of whirling flakes, but in the midst of it all I heard a Sky-lark singing.”

Though she doesn’t know it, Ms. Holden has long been one of my mentors as she explored, catalogued and enjoyed nature. I can only hope to continue to pursue the daily wonderment she knew so well in my own way. I’m grateful to her and to her family for publishing the book posthumously. (Apparently there is a new edition, but I love my 1977 version) And to my sister for giving me this gem so many years ago.

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, written and illustrated by Edith Holden, published 1977, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Celebrating a Year of Wonder-filled Wanders

One year ago today I invited you to follow me into the woods. More specifically, I invited you to wander and wonder with me. I had no idea where the path would lead, but that didn’t seem to bother you. Occasionally I got fake lost, as was the case today, but still you read on. And other times I gave you the wrong information, but you quietly corrected me and continued to read. Thank you for your time, curiosity, encouragement and endless wonder. This one is for all of you.

b-woody1Check out this tree that I pass by each time I step into our woodlot. My guy and I were commenting on it just the other day–he tried pushing, but it stood firm. This morning, fresh wood chips indicated that the pileated woodpecker had paid a visit in the last 24 hours.

b-woody tree 2It’s a well-visited tree. What will the woodpeckers do when it finally does fall? Two things. First, they’ll continue to visit it because apparently it’s worthy of such. And second, they’ll find other trees; there are several others just like this.

b-powerlineI was feeling a bit grumpy when I headed out the door, but finding the recent woodpecker works and emerging from the cowpath onto the power line where I was captured by the whitegreenbluegray of the world as I looked toward Mount Washington put a smile on my face. My intention was to walk along the barely used snowmobile trail as far as I could. I wasn’t sure if open water would keep me from reaching the road, which is a couple of miles away, but decided to give it a try.

b-cat following deerJust because that was my plan doesn’t mean that’s what happened. Maybe that’s what I love best about life–learning to live in the moment. This moment revealed the spot where deer sunk into the snow just off the snowmobile trail and a bobcat floated on top.

b-cat following deerSoft snow made for distorted prints. And these prints made for a quick change of plans.

b-cat:voleI turned 180˚ and found more tracks on the other side of the snowmobile trail. And so began today’s journey into the woods. I was feeling proud of myself for backtracking the animal–following where it had come from rather than where it had gone so I wouldn’t cause unnecessary stress. Yet again, I stress out all the mammals because of my constant movement–and so many I don’t see because they hear me coming. Anyway, I followed the bobcat for quite a while, noticing that it continued to follow the deer and even crossed over a couple of vole tunnels that already have their spring appearance. It’s much too warm much too soon.

b-cat-2 printsWhat I discovered is that this mammal was checking out stumps and along the way circled around them. And then it seemed that there might be two because suddenly I was following rather than backtracking. So much for that plan. What I do like is how this photo shows the mammal’s hind foot stepping into the same space the front foot had already packed down–direct registration, just a little off center.

b-cat nurse logIts prints are in the bottom right-hand corner, but then it appeared to walk across the top of this nurse-log. After that, I had to circle around looking for the next set of prints.

b-no snowUnder some of the hemlocks, there was little to no snow. Eventually I lost the bobcat’s trail, which is just as well.

b-widowmaker1I didn’t realize until I looked up that I was still in familiar territory.

b-widowmaker 2I first spotted this widow maker 20+ years ago. It never ceases to amaze me.

b-deep snowI decided that rather than return to the snowmobile trail, I’d continue deeper into the woods. I had an idea of where I’d eventually end up, but if you’ve traveled these woods with me recently (Marita and Dick can vouch for this), you’ll know that the logging operation has thrown me off and not all of my landmarks are still standing. It’s that or they just got up and moved. Anyway, I was lost for about an hour, but continued moving slowly through sometimes deep snow (relatively speaking this winter) and other times puddly conditions. It was a slog to say the least. My friend, Jinny Mae, had warned me about water hidden beneath the snow and I found it. More than once.

b-brit 2I also found other cool stuff. British lichen bearing bright red caps.

b-hemlock yearsA hemlock wound that indicated the last time this land was logged. I counted to 25. That makes sense.

b-hemlock cone:seedsA hemlock cone and seeds on a high spot of snow–not the usual stump, log or branch, but still a high spot. Apparently the red squirrel that had gone to all the work of taking the cone apart to eat the seeds had been scared away. Perhaps it will return, or another, or I’ll be admiring hemlock saplings in a few years.

b-porcupine scatPorcupine scat below another hemlock.

b-porky twigAnd a few snipped off twigs–porcupine style.

b-hemlock debrisA mystery perhaps. I love a mystery. So, scattered on the snow–bits of hemlock bark.

b-hemlock 2aAnd an apparent path up the tree. But . . . look up. This tree is dead. I don’t think this is porky work.

b-hemlock 2Could it be that where the bark is missing a woodpecker has been at work?

b-striped maple browseI found fresh browse on striped maple–that had been previously browsed based on the scars.

b-deer browse red mapleAnd red maple that had received the same treatment.

b-witch hazel browseWitch hazel was not to be overlooked. I think this is the longest deer tag I’ve encountered–to date.

b-scat 2You may not appreciate this, but I couldn’t resist. So . . . to whom does it belong? Either a coyote or bobcat. It’s filled with hair and I’m leaning toward the latter. Of course, I want it to be the latter.

b-doggy bagI, um, brought some home in a doggy bag. Not all of it, mind you, because it is a road sign to others. I’m not sure how they do it, but members of the same family can apparently identify gender, health and availability by such works. And members of other families may read this as a territory marker. There was a copious amount, so it could be that the same or two animals used this spot. Just sayin’.

In case you were wondering, I did find my way out–another three+ hour tour. As I slogged along, I recalled a spot I often returned to for quiet contemplation. I can no longer locate it because so much has changed as this area has been logged for the past three years. But . . . I came to the realization today that I don’t need one spot. Any will do. That being said, I pulled out my camp stool, colored pencils and journal back at my sit spot by the edge of the cowpath.

b-deer run:sit spotIt’s right beside a deer run. In the past two years, the deer visited this spot, but I’ve noticed much more activity this winter. The stone wall is hardly an obstacle. And the junipers–prickly as they are to me, the deer seem to enjoy them.

b-sheep 1One thing I did notice that I don’t understand. The sheep laurel that grows here has recently been browsed.

b-sheep2Deer tracks below it and the nature of the work lead me to believe that the ungulates fed on it. Hmmm . . . I thought that sheep laurel was poisonous to wildlife. But then again, deer are browsers, not staying in one spot long enough to consume a large amount so perhaps it doesn’t affect them if they eat a bit here and there. If you know otherwise, please enlighten me.

b-spring tailsAnother thing–yes, if you look closely at leaves, you’ll find them. These hot chili peppers don’t appear just on the surface of snow. They are snow fleas, aka springtails. With their spring-loaded tails they can catapult themselves an inch or so. We never look for them once the snow melts, but they are still abundant on organic debris. They’re easiest to locate on leaf litter, but also can be seen on soil, lichens, under bark, decaying plant matter, rotting wood and other areas of high moisture as they feed on fungi, pollen, algae or decaying organic matter.

b-pine sap 2Though it was warm under the sun, my fingers were getting cold as I sketched, so I packed up to head home. Back in our woodlot, I decided to follow a deer trail rather than my own. And to them I give thanks. Beside a hemlock tree, pinesap’s woody capsules called out. I’d found some at the start of winter–along the cowpath. And now a second patch. It really does pay to go off my own beaten path.

b-Indian pipe 1While pinesap has several flowers on one stalk, a few feet later and I came upon Indian pipe, which has one flower (now a woody capsule) atop its stalk. Notice how hairy the pinesap is compared to the Indian pipe.

b-goblets 1I’m afraid this photo is a bit fuzzy, but I’m still going to use it because it’s too dark to head out and take another. These cup lichens serve as my pixie goblets to all of you who have stuck with me for this journey–both today’s and the past year. Thank you so much. The year flew by and I’m a better person for this experience. Well, I think I am. What has made this past year so special is the paying attention. The slowing. The recognizing. The questioning. I’ve learned a lot and I trust you’ve learned a wee bit as well. Who knows where the path will lead me next, but I sure hope you are along to wander and wonder.

To you, I raise these goblets!

 

 

Some Call Them Weeds

Shades of brown, gray and green dominate the winterscape now that we finally have some snow. It’s those browns that frequently draw my focus as I admire the woody skeletons of bygone summer wildflowers. Of course, some call them weeds.. I’ll admit that they do grow prolifically–especially in land cleared by humans, e.g. the field and power line I frequent.

But . . . come meet a few of my winter friends.

Indian Tobacco

This is Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata). Guides say it tends to be alone, but I’ve seen it grow in colonies as well. The papery calyx is all that is left now.

IT 2

Inflata refers to the inflated seedpods, which are two-chamber capsules that split open to drop their seeds.

iT 4

Minute and scaly, the seeds self sow.

bugleweed

I struggle with the ID of this member of the mint family. Knowing it is a mint is the easy part. Notice the square stem? I believe it’s bugleweed or water horehound, but I’ve also toyed with motherwort. Either way, both feature toothy calyces that whorl around the stems. I keep flip-flopping because the dried seedpods seem larger than bugleweed, but all were on single stems and the area is known to be wet–though not consistently. Maybe knowing it’s a mint is enough.

spirea 3 meadowsweet

Both hardhack (steeplebush) and meadowsweet are members of the Rosaceae family. Their dried fruit structure is known as a follicle, meaning it splits open along one line–like a milkweed. But these two plants have five follicles encircling a central point.

goldenrod 1 goldenrod 2

Showy goldenrods grow abundantly and it’s no wonder given all their seeds. They depend on the wind and my snow pants to disperse. I refer to plants that stick to my clothes as volunteers. And if they are sticking to me, then they are also sticking the fur of mammals that move about this area. Today I found deer, bobcat and squirrel tracks.

achene

Both goldenrods and aster seeds have small, single-seeded fruits called achenes. A receptacle holds the fruits in place until they’re ready to head off on their own.

goldenrod 4

Check out the crown of hair, called a pappus, on this aster. These act like parachutes and enable the fruits to float along in a breeze, thus spreading the flowers far and wide.

a or g 5

While the goldenrod flowers tend to grow in dense clusters, aster flowers are found in a single arrangement.

A turn to folklore explains how the goldenrods and asters are related. Two young girls talked talked about their future. One, who had golden hair, said she wanted to do something that would make people happy. The other, with blue eyes, said that she wanted to be with her golden-haired friend. When the two girls told a wise old lady of their dreams, she gave them some magic corn cake. After eating the cake, the girls disappeared. The next day, two new kinds of flowers appeared where the girls had walked: Asters and Goldenrods.

g gall 2 Goldenrod bunch gall

Another way to identify goldenrod in the winter is to look for these galls. The goldenrod ball gall, on the left, is a round gall in the middle of a stem. In the spring, the Goldenrod gall fly lays her eggs on the stem. Hatched larvae chew their way into the stem and the gall starts to develop. The other is a Goldenrod bunch gall created by a tiny fly called the Goldenrod gall midge. It looks like a mass of tiny leaves. While it stops the main stem from growing, tiny branches extend outward.

spider 2

Though not an insect, I did find a spider on the snow today.

 bouquet

And then I came in, bringing a few finds with me. My guy is lucky–bouquets come cheap around these parts.

sketch

Some call them weeds. I call them volunteers who add beauty in any season.

 

Book of July: A Snowshoeing Winter Walk–Where Am I?

cover

Book of July

Summer may be in full swing, but I just received a copy of a special book created by a young friend and I wanted to feature it this month. The photos will cool you down on a steamy day.

This past February, Abby Littlefield, her younger brother and their mom, invited me to snowshoe with them at Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton. Abby was in fourth grade and needed to complete a project based on an ecosystem. She chose wetlands and wanted to learn more about the flora and fauna of the preserve.

I was thrilled to receive a copy of the book Abby made about our journey and delighted to discover how much she remembered from our trek. She and her family were real troopers that day–the temp was quite low, snowshoeing was a new experience for them and we spent about three hours on the trails. She reminded me of myself as she jotted down notes and we examined everything closely.

I did notice that her story doesn’t include the pileated woodpecker scat–not her favorite find. (Her brother thought it was rather special. :-))

Here are some pages from Abby’s book:

red oak

lichen

paper birch

deer tracks

where are you?

fun facts

bibliography

Mighty impressive for a fourth grader. Congratulations, Abby, on a job well done. And thank you for letting me wander along with you and your family. It was a pleasure and I look forward to future expeditions.