Distracted by Nature

A morning message from my dear friend Carissa set the tone for today. Her Lenten devotional is based on the poetry of Mary Oliver and she thought of me when she read “The Summer Day.”

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~Mary Oliver

A perfect beginning, indeed.

w-Horseshoe Pond

A short time later I joined a couple of other friends and we traveled together to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve. Our snowshoe journey began beside Horseshoe Pond where we paused to enjoy its beauty and recall trips up Lord Hill, whose face was obscured to the left.

w-hemlock cones and seed below

Once we got onto the trail, it was the little things that we noticed, like the hemlock cones with partially opened scales, their seeds all released. One tiny seed sits atop my name in this photo, but we wondered together why we’ve always seen the cones only in their closed up formation, whether fresh or old. Had they always looked like this one in late winter and we just never realized it previously?

w-frullania liverwort with new growth

And then we paused beside yellow birches where the liverwort Frullania eboracensis grew in abundance. Again, a new realization for us. We knew it to have brown stems, but today spied the green. As it turns out, in his book, Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts, author Ralph Pope begins his description with this: “Plant dark green to brown . . .” Our eyes were opened.

w-crowded parchment laterally fused

Next there was the Crowded Parchment fungus that threw us off momentarily. We recognized the cap, but were unsure about the part of the fungus that was spread out flat like a crust. It turns out, the flat parts or fertile surfaces of this mushroom laterally fuse or join together at the dark ridges. This behavior certainly spoke to its name of crowded. In Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman refers to it as “One of the most common fungi as well as one of the most crowded in New England . . . It’s not unusual to see several hundred gregarious fruiting bodies laterally fused or in dense clusters on a single branch.” Common or not, we were wowed.

w-script lichen

And because we stopped to gain a better understanding of the Crowded Parchment, another gift was offered in the form of script lichen writing its own story on an adjoining branch.

w-nectria fruiting bodies?

Nearby, there was a similar cinnamonish color on beech bark. This particular beech was dotted with the waxy exterior winter coating of the beech scale insect. As I’ve noted before, the scale insect or more technically, Cryptococcus fagisuga, is a tiny insect that sucks sugar and other nutrients from beech trees only.

Soon, the beech scale insect will molt into its second, legless nymph stage and emerge. Immediately, it will start sucking sap through its tubular mouthpart or stylet. That instar stage doesn’t last long, and quickly it will become a mature female. For the rest of its life it will remain sedentary, but repeatedly remove and reinsert its piercing stylet, wounding the tree and providing entry points for fungi to enter. An interesting fact about beech scale insects–its a world of females who reproduce by parthenogenesis; there are no known males.

w-closer look

But what about that cinnamon color? Was it a fungus? Or was it related to the insects? Yes and yes. As some further research revealed, two species of nectria fungi are associated with beech bark disease, Nectria coccinea var. faginata and Nectria gallengiaIt is now my understanding that what we examined was a large area of the former’s fruiting bodies. Oh my.

w-lichen garden1

We also paused frequently beside gardens dominated by lichens. Crustose, foliose and fruticose varieties completely enveloped the bark of this toppled tree, their individual colors and textures adding to the visual display.

w-mink 1

And then . . . and then . .  . as we looked, a motion captured the attention of one in our group. I only wish my focus had been better, but still, it was enough.

w-mink 2

We were blessed with the opportunity to spend a few moments with a mink as it bounded down the hill before realizing it had an audience.

w-mink measurements

Of course, after it disappeared down a hole into a stream and we’d waited a bit, we checked out the tracks it left behind. The size of the prints and length of the straddle or measurement from the outside of one print to the outside of the other confirmed our ID.

w-mink prints

From that point on, we continued to find evidence that the mink had traveled to and fro over the course of several days. Our hearts were grateful to have shared such a moment.

w-hairy, bony find

And as we took measurements, we spotted something else on the snow. Something hairy and bony found about three or four inches from the fresh mink tracks.

w-hairy, bony--scapula

A scapula from a little brown thing, possibly a vole. Dropped from the mink or from above by a bird? We’ll never know. But we do know that someone consumed someone else–as it is in the natural world.

w-Sucker Brook

Seeing the mink made perfect sense because we traveled on and off trail beside Sucker Brook.

w-hobblebush flower and leaf buds

It was there that the naked but hairy hobblebush leaves and flower buds reminded us that spring isn’t far off. The three of us don’t necessarily want winter to end for we love how it forces us to notice other things such as the nectria’s fruiting bodies. And we love to track. But . . . we also love the other seasons, so we’re happy exploring at any time of the year.

w-suds

Beside the water, the icy formations kept calling my name and I honored many by snapping a photograph. But, then we met the suds. Water foam is caused by the decay of twigs and plants and occurs naturally in streams and brooks. As they release compounds, the interaction breaks the surface tension, allowing air to mix in and create bubbles. And just as we found the Crowded Parchment living in a large community, we also found this congregation of bubbles–creating a design all its own.

w-Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog

Despite the short trail, it took us forever to reach the point where the brook becomes Moose Pond Bog, but we did.

w-stream with rattlesnake liverwort

And then we beelined (sort of, for still we kept stopping) to the final stream crossing on the trail for we wanted a glimpse of the rattlesnake liverwort we’d discovered growing there last year. Alas, it was buried under snow. And that means we’ll have to return again. Darn.

w-sucker brook reflections

In the end, it was a morning well spent as we dillied and dallied over the littlest of things. And watched a mink. We got to see a mink!

No, it wasn’t a summer day. But . . . we were distracted by nature. As Mary Oliver asked, “What else should we have done?”

 

 

 

 

Satiating Our Curiosity at Long Meadow Brook Reserve

Two weeks ago I traveled the trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Long Meadow Brook with several friends and much of our wonder was captured by intermingling lines.

l-ice lines

All felt quite magical on that crisp January day as the encrusted twigs and buds offered a brilliant display.

l-snowbirds in the ice castle

It was made even more special because two of the three with whom I tramped were snowbirds who experienced the awe of our winter world. Despite all their layers, they  felt like royalty living in an ice castle, glass slippers and all. (Don’t be fooled into thinking those are snowshoes strapped to their boots or winter hats rather than crowns.)

l-Long Meadow Brook 2

We made our way to the dam by the brook as the sun shifted lower and shadows lengthened. It didn’t matter for the sky was clear and we celebrated exploring the winter world of Lovell.

l-porky den 1:25:18

And then we backtracked a bit before crossing a property under conservation easement with the land trust and visited a porcupine condominium located in a large stump dump. The porkys didn’t let us down and we found prints leading into and out of seven or eight entry ways, along with downed hemlock twigs and scat. All perfect porcupine sign.

l-squirrel 1

Since then, we’ve experienced a variety of mixed winter weather, but this past weekend a couple of inches of snow fell, making for great tracking conditions, such as this group made by a red squirrel, the two smaller feet being its front feet, which landed first, before the larger hind feet swung around and landed in front–the typical pattern left behind by a hopper or leaper. Its toes pointed toward my ruler, thus indicating the direction of travel.

l-chipmunk prints 1

Because it had been warm over the weekend, chipmunks made a brief appearance–rather than being true hibernators, they are light sleepers and will move about in the chambers within their tunnels. Occasionally, during a thaw, they’ll even venture out to forage for fresh seeds.

l-chipmunk prints 2

Notice how the straddle is about two inches, while the red squirrel above exhibited a straddle of about three inches. Straddle being the measurement from the outside of the left hind foot to the outside of the right hind foot. In case you are wondering, the measurement for gray squirrels is about four inches.

l-coyote track

And then I came upon tracks so fresh that I was certain I might spy the two coyotes who traveled before me, but as is most often the case, I didn’t see them.

Following the snow, we had another downpour and everything changed. But then the temperature dipped again.

l-few Tuesday Trackers

And so today when the GLLT’s Tuesday Trackers took to the trail at Long Meadow Brook Reserve, we were sure we’d find a plethora of well-made tracks. Only two problems. One: by the time Kathy, Dick, Mary, Russ, and I arrived, it was snowing lightly. And two: not too many mammals had been on the move in the last day or so. At least not in that neck of the woods.

l-Long Meadow Brook 1

We beelined (sort of, for we did stop to look at deer tracks) down to the old beaver dam hoping for otter sign or that of other weasels. Nada. Instead, we took in the view to the north.

l-Long Meadow Brook south

And then to the south.

l-beech leaf 2

And headed toward the porcupine condo. But along the way, a couple of other things caught our attention, including a beech tree getting a head start on the next season.

l-pitch pine 3

And a pitch pine that was the gnarliest any of us had ever seen. Pitch pine needles, in bundles of three, grow on the branches but may also sprout on the trunk–a unique feature making for easy identification among the evergreens. But so many? On branches?

l-junco

At last we reached a field where we welcomed sunshine to warm us up and noticed a few feathered friends. More than one junco scratched some bare ground in search of seeds.

l-squirrel pattern

As we crossed the field we rejoiced to have the track pattern of a gray squirrel to admire. Small things made us happy.

l-lorax tree

And then, at the top of one of the stump dumps we stood in awe of the Lorax tree. Only several branches had small fans of needles left; all the rest having been devoured by the local residents living below.

l-porky hemlock twigs

As we made our way into the hemlock grove to take a closer look, we spied what we believed to be a bobcat track based on straddle and stride, the latter being the distance from the toes of one print to the toes of the next print in the zigzag line. The overall impressions were a bit diluted indicating they were a few days old, but we’ve seen the same in this area before and the measurements led us to that conclusion. We also spotted downed hemlock twigs featuring the characteristic 45˚angled cut made by a porcupine.

l-porky tracks?

By this time, our group had increased by two when Alice and Saranne joined us for the trip into the porcupine haven.

l-porky den:stump dump

We peeked into holes, but suspected the homemakers had entered inner chambers.

l-porky tracks 2

We did find telltale tracks filled with the morning’s flurries, but still demonstrating their pigeon-toed pattern. And we saw that the bobcat had checked the holes as well before it moved on.

l-porky hole:hoar frost

We decided to move on as well, climbing up onto the stump dump, but with a word of caution to watch out for steam holes. Hoar frost surrounded the holes and gave us further reason to believe that indeed the condo was occupied.

l-porky tracks around downed limb

The very branch under which we saw one hole had fallen from a white pine. All around it were more porcupine prints.

l-porky chews

As for the white pine’s needles–think of them as dinner. The same was true of a bent red oak branch and its buds. A little variety in the diet.

l-bench

We too were ready to eat and so we headed out.

Another three hour tour and our curiosity was satiated at Long Meadow Brook Reserve and the adjacent property.  A couple of benches await at Long Meadow Brook should you want to pause and take in the wonders yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Endowing the Future

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

w-shrike kill still in tree

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

w-ruffed grouse tracks

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

w-snowshoe hare print

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

w-Dave channeling his inner deer

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

w-squirrel bridge

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

w-Robie Meadow 3

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

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

w-fox track to brook 2

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

w-red fox print

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

w-deer ribs and fox track1

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

w-red pine plantation beside Crooked River

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

w-white pine at LELT

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

w-Crooked River 1

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

w-fox prints and pee

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

w-coyote bed

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

w-Crooked River 2

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

w-Scribners Mill bridge

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

w-mill:blacksmith shop

And soon came up beside the old blacksmith shop.

w-mill sign

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

w-mill

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

w-mill:signs

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

w-mill from bridge 2

Today, all was idle. Except for the water.

w-mill from bridge 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Special Mondate

Our plan was to hike up Blueberry Mountain and continue on to the summit of Speckled in Evans Notch today, but as we drove toward the White Mountains I mentioned that a friend had shared a photograph of ice inside a mine near the Basin on Route 113. And so in an instant said plan changed.

b1-sign

We parked near the iconic Welcome to Beautiful Maine sign and ventured off in search of the mine. Of course, I’d forgotten where exactly it was located, so we walked about a mile on a snowmobile trail until we spied private land in front of us. That was our turn around point, but . . . me thinks we should have continued because I later learned that the mine sits between public and private property.

b2-gray birch

We didn’t mind for we knew we’d return with more accurate directions. It wasn’t the first time we’ve erred. And besides, the gray birches were beautiful.

b3-lemonade stand

After we’d covered about three miles, we headed back to the truck and drove to Stone House Road, where we parked near the trailhead for the Leach Link Trail. We could have continued toward the Stone House since for the first time ever, it was plowed, but the lane was narrow and had we met another vehicle, it would have been a challenge to back up. Besides, I love to walk the road for there’s always something to see . . . like the lemonade stand. Who knew?

b5-Pole #15

My other favorite sight along the road–telephone poles. In the past year the poles had received more attention–from black bears. Last year it seemed that any number with a 5 in it drew the most attention. Smart bears around here.

b6-pole 17 1

But it appeared that the bear(s) had added a new number to their count–#7, or in this case, #17.

b7-pole 17 2

I didn’t have my macro lens with me, but found bear hair attached to some of the scrapes. It was light colored, indicating it had bleached out in the sun.

So why telephone poles? It’s my understanding that males rub their shoulders and neck to leave a scent and may also claw and bite a pole during mating season. Bites leave nearly horizontal dots and dashes–can you see them? Think of the bear’s upper and lower canine teeth meeting. How cool is that?

Eventually, I promised my guy that I’d stop pausing to check on and photograph them, but he noted that I couldn’t resist every time we passed by one. I was just looking.

b9-Stone House Road

To my guy’s relief, we soon reached the gate, where the power line went underground.

b10-balds

Near the airfield, we turned and paused to enjoy the view of the Baldfaces, and promised ourselves a return to those trails in the late spring or summer.

b11-gorge 1

Our choice of trails today was the Stone House Trail. And no hike up is complete without a stop at Rattlesnake Gorge. First we looked north.

b11a-water racing

Ice and water, ice and water–I couldn’t get enough of the freeze and flow.

b11d-gorge 3

And then we looked south–with continued awe.

b13-pool view

We’d thought about eating lunch at the gorge, but moved on up the trail. From lunch log, where we dined on peanut butter and blueberry jam sandwiches, we took in the view of  Rattlesnake Pool.

b12-rattlesnake pool

Any time of year it’s a magical place, but on a winter day–ah . . .

b12-emerald pool

that emerald color.

b14-rocks in brook

The brook above offered its own touch of wonder.

b17-hiking up

After lunch, we continued our climb on conditions that ranged from ice to snow to bare rocks. But mostly ice and snow. Microspikes served us well.

b16-Caribou sign

At last we crossed from the Stone House property into the White Mountain National Forest as denoted by a rustic sign.

b16-arrow

All along we searched beech bark for bear sign. And found one–a very smart bear had left a sign indeed–indicating the way of the trail. We kept climbing.

b20-cairns

At last we reached the summit. It was later in the afternoon than we’d intended when our morning began because of our mine mission, and so we decided to skip Speckled Mountain, but were happy to check out the views from Blueberry. On the Lookout Loop we did get off trail for a bit as we missed a cairn buried under the snow. At that point we did a lot of post holing, sinking as we did to our knees and above. But finally we found the right trail.

b19-spruce

It’s there that the red spruces grew–their yellow green needles pointing toward the tip of the branches and dangling reddish-brown cones seeping sap.

b21-view 1

And then we found the view that stretched from Pleasant Mountain (our hometown mountain) on the left to Kearsarge on the right.

b22-Shell Pond and Pleasant Mountain

Below us, Shell Pond on the Stone House Property, showed off its conch shell shape.

b23-Kearsarge

We took one last look at the mountains and valleys under a blanket of clouds before following the loop back to the main trail and retracing our steps down.

b24-bear tracks

It was on the down that I got my guy to stop and examine a mammal track with me. I’d noticed it on the way up and he’d been ahead, but we both remembered that it was located at the point where the community switched from hardwoods to soft. Do you see the large prints? And distance between. It had been warmer yesterday and those prints looked like they’d been created then.

b18-bear print

Black bear prints! Oh my!

It was the five large toes that first drew my attention as we climbed up. Was I seeing what I thought I was seeing? The pattern of the overall track was a bit different than what I’ve seen in the past where the rear foot oversteps the front foot because in snow black bears tend to direct register like coyotes, foxes and bobcats–one foot landing on snow pre-packed by another foot.

Bears are not true hibernators and this guy or gal must have been out foraging during yesterday’s thaw.

We didn’t find any bear paw trees or see the actual bear, but we were thrilled with our telephone pole signs and the prints left behind.

Indeed, it was a beary special Mondate on Blueberry Mountain.

(Corny humor comes with teacher training)

 

 

 

Forever Green

According to a Cherokee legend, one cold season an injured sparrow knew he could not fly south with his family, so he bid them farewell and went in search of a place to survive.

Sparrow asked Oak to shelter him among its leaves so he might heal and greet his family upon their return in the spring.

But being a crusty old tree, Oak didn’t wish to have a winter house guest and so he turned Sparrow away.

Downtrodden, Sparrow approached Maple. Sweet as she might be, Maple also turned Sparrow away.

And so it went. Sparrow was turned down by each tree he visited, until there was only Pine left to ask for help.

Pine listened to Sparrow’s pleas and his heart heard Sparrow’s plight. And though Pine knew his leaves were tiny and more like needles, and his branches not as many as the others, he welcomed Sparrow to join him for the cold season.

As hoped, Sparrow healed and greeted his family the following spring.

Creator heard and saw all that had happened and called a great council of the Trees. In his address, he rebuked them for they’d been given so much and would not share the least of what they had with Sparrow in his time of need. Therefore, from that day forward, when cold came upon the land, their leaves would wither, die and blow away.

Creator then spoke to Pine, praising him for being the least among the trees, and yet giving so much. And so, Pine was honored to remain forever green.

e-eastern white pine magestic.jpg

The Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), strikes me as the majestic tree of our forest. Of course, it was once even more majestic. In the 1600s, the British Royal Navy blazed all of those two feet or more in diameter and within three miles of water with the broad arrow indicating they were to be cut, harvested and sent to England for ship masts. The blaze became known as the King’s Arrow in honor of King George I. At that time, the trees may have been 300-400 years old and over 200 feet tall. The oldest and tallest white pines in our current landscape are 80-100 years old and maybe about 100 feet tall.

v-white pine

The three to five-inch white pine needles are blueish-green and bound in bundles of five. That’s easy to remember for you can spell both the tree’s name W-H-I-T-E with each needle or M-A-I-N-E for the white pine is our state tree.

e-pine tube insect

Occasionally, I’ve spotted trees with clumps of needles stuck together in such a way that they formed tubes. Actually, they were the tunnels created by the pine tube moth. Larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles during the summer. 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 pupate within the tube and emerge in April. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. Fortunately, they don’t seem to harm the trees.

e-pine whorls

In addition, the arrangement of branches is another important feature of this white pines for they are arranged in whorls radiating from the tree’s trunk like spokes on a bicycle wheel, with each whorl representing one year’s growth. Sometimes on older trees that grew beside stone walls in pastures, the older branches remain and when topped with snow look like a spiral stairway to heaven.

e-lines in white pine bark

On younger white pines, the bark has a greenish hue, but as the trees mature the bark turns dark gray to reddish-brown and forms into thick, vertical scales with furrows between. Upon the flattened ridges of the scales, look for a pattern of horizontal lines reminiscent of the lines on notebook paper.

e-red pine bark

Red pine (Pinus resinosa) is a favorite of mine because of its bark, which reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle. Ranging in colors from faded orange to mottled red and grayish brown, its flaky flat scales hug the tree.

e-red pine needles, chimney sweep

In a perfect world, red pine would produce three needles/bundle to spell R-E-D. Alas, the world isn’t perfect, nor is that the case with this tree. Instead, it has two dark green needles that are twice as long as those on a white pine and quite stiff. In fact, while a white pine’s needles are soft and flexible, bend a red pine needle and it will snap in half. Because of the needle arrangement on these two members of the Pinus family, from a distance I can name them. To my eyes, a white pine’s branch tips look like bottle brushes, while a red pine’s remind me of the brush Bert used to sweep chimney’s in Disney’s Mary Poppins.

e-pitch pine needles on trunk

Another common pine in our area of Maine is pitch pine (Pinus rigida). This one is easy to confuse with red pine because the bark looks similar in color, though it strikes me as forming thicker plates. The name, pitch, refers to the high amount of resin within this tree.

It’s the needles of pitch pine that also add to its identification for they grow in bundles of three, like a pitchfork’s tines. The unique thing about this tree is that not only do the stiff, dark yellow-green needles grow on the branches, but they also grow on the trunk. If you spy a tree that you think may be a Red Pine, scan upward and if you see green needles along the trunk, then you’ve discovered a Pitch Pine.

Pitch pine is an important species for it is the only pine that is well adapted to fire and can even resprout.

e-jack pine

Finally, for our native pines, and I can only think of a few local places where I’ve seen these, including along the Foster Pond Outlook Trail at Bald Pate Mountain in South Bridgton, is Jack pine (Pinus banksiana). It seems to prefer the coast and central northern Maine. But . . . walk Loon Echo Land Trust’s trail at Bald Pate, and see if you can spot them.

Jack pine has two yellow-green to dark green needles in each bundle so an easy way to remember its name: Jack and Jill. I don’t know about you, but I love mnemonic devices.

e-white pine cone, red pine cone, hemlock cone

One last way to differentiate the pine trees is by their cones. Cones are the fruits of the trees and they consist of scales that protect seeds. When conditions are right, the scales will open to release the seeds, which have wings much like a maple samara, allowing them to flutter off in the wind and find their own spot upon which to grow. The line-up in this photo from left to right: white pine, red pine, hemlock.

e-white pine with two year old cones

White pine is easy to ID for it produces long, narrow cones, often coated with white sap. It takes two years for a white pine cone to mature.

e-pine cone midden

Red squirrels are known to gather mature cones and store them in a cache for winter consumption. During the winter, the squirrels tunnel under the snow to access the cache, then climb up to a high spot and remove each scale to reach the seeds. Left behind is a midden or garbage pile of scales and center cob of the cone.

e-red pine cone and needles

Red pine cones are about two inches long and egg-shaped on short stalks.

e-pitch pine cone 1

You can barely see the stalk of pitch pine cones that tend to be clustered together, but their key feature is the rigid prickle atop each scale tip. On Jack pines, the cones are about two inches long and slightly curved like a comma.

Before I move on to the other evergreens, I need to make one point. Members of the Pinus family produce pinecones. All other evergreens produce cones, but they aren’t pinecones because they don’t grow on pine trees.

e-mixed forest 2

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) grows almost as abundantly as white pine. Often white pine, hemlock, balsam fir and spruce saplings can be observed growing together, and a perfect classroom situation evolves.

e1-drooping hemlock

The hemlock is easy to ID once you realize its characteristics. To begin with, and especially noticeable in younger trees, is the drooping terminal shoot. In fact, all of the branches droop, providing the overall effect of a graceful tree.

e-hemlock gathering snow

Those sturdy, down-sweeping boughs also hold snow, thus creating the perfect spot for deer to hunker down under on a winter night.

e-hemlock porcupine evidence below hemlocks

Another mammal that takes advantage of the hemlock is the porcupine. If you spy nipped twigs on the ground surrounding a hemlock, then it’s best to look up and make sure you won’t become a pin cushion should the animal fall.

e-hemlock porcupine

Typically, the downed hemlock twig features a cut made at a 45˚ angle.

e-hemlock petioles (stems) and stomata lines

The half-inch hemlock needles taper to a dull point. You may only see this with a hand lens, but each needle is attached to the twig by a short stem, aka petiole. And the needles extend outwards from both sides of a twig, thus giving it an overall flat appearance.

e-inner bark of hemlock

The bark on a hemlock, initially grayish and smooth, becomes cinnamon brown and scaly with age. I also enjoy looking at the inner bark that might be exposed by an injury, for its features various shades of reddish purple.

e-hemlock cones

Hemlock cones are petite in comparison to pinecones, at only .75 inch in length. In the spring, their scales are blue-green, maturing to a tan by autumn.

e-balsam fir standing upright

While the hemlock droops, a balsam fir (Albies balsamea) stands straight and tall as it forms a spire with a symmetrical crown.

e-balsam fir needles

Like the hemlock, the needles are flat, but they differ in that they attach directly to the twig, are about an inch in length and some have a notch at the blunt end. The upper side is a shiny dark green, while the underside is silvery-blue.

e1-balsam bark

The pale gray to green-brown bark of balsam fir is also different than the other evergreens. It has raised dashes, aka lenticels. All trees have lenticels that allow for the exchange of gases. On some trees, however, the lenticels are more noticeable. Balsam fir bark also is riddled with bumps or resin-filled blisters. Poke one with a stick and watch the pitch ooze out. Beware, it’s very sticky. And it smells like Christmas.

e-balsam fir cones

One other unique characteristic of a fir tree is that the cones point upward rather than dangling down. That, in itself, offers an easy ID.

e-spruce

The next family, the Picea or spruces, I find more difficult to distinguish in a crowd. Like balsam fir, the leaders or top sections point skyward giving it an overall pyramid shape, but its the idiosyncrasies within the family that sometimes stump me.

e-spiky spruce

The one thing I am certain of is that they are spruces if their needles are sharp and pointed. Shake hands with a branch and if it hurts, it’s a spruce.

e1-spruce bark

Spruce bark is broken into irregularly-shaped scales in general, and white spruce bark is gray to reddish-brown.

Again, I’m brought to things to remember when trying to determine whether I am looking at a fir or spruce—firs are friendly, spruces are spiky. Fir needles are flat, spruce needles are square.

The only cedar tree native to western Maine is the Northern white cedar. Whenever I sniff its fragrant scent, I’m reminded of my mother’s cedar chest and the treasures it stored.

e-Northern white cedar leaves and cones

Northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) is also known as Eastern arborvitae. Its scale-like leaves appear opposite each other along the twig and have short, blunt points.

The cones are about a half inch long, oblong in shape and borne upright on the branches. Their scales are leathery, red-brown and notched. They also have a small spine on the tip.

e-Northern white cedar bark 2

Again, the bark is fibrous, red-brown, which weathers to gray and features a diamond-shaped pattern. This small to medium-sized tree looks like a pyramid with a broad base and rounded top. It often features several main trunks.

And then there’s the tamarack.

e-tamarack in fall

A tamarack or Larix laricina is a native deciduous conifer because it sheds its needles each fall, after they’ve turned a golden yellow, therefore it’s not really an evergreen.

e-winter

I know how easy it is to look at the winterscape and think that everything looks the same in the almost monochromatic mosaic we call the woods.

e-spring 1

But even in spring, as buds give way to leaves,

e-summer evergreens

summer when so many greens dominate our world,

e-fall 2

fall, when evergreens provide a contrast for autumn’s foliage,

e-fall 3

and late fall, when the evergreens continue to be green as the broad leaves drop, these trees make a statement in the landscape.

Thanks to Creator, they are forever green.

 

Sunday’s Point of View

After church we had exactly five hours to pack our lunches, drive to the trailhead and complete our trek. After all, the New England Patriot’s were scheduled to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship game at 3pm and we intended to be in the audience–from the comfort of our couch, of course.

p1-pleasant mountain sign

By 10:30, we’d pulled into the Ledges Trail parking lot on Mountain Road in Denmark (Denmark, Maine, that is) and began the one and a half mile walk back down the road. Our intended route along the trails of Pleasant Mountain in Loon Echo’s preserve was to climb up the Bald Peak Trail to the fire tower at the summit and then follow the Ledges Trail down. We love hiking a circular route, and like to get the road walk out of the way first.

p2-mountain stream

We had no idea what trail conditions would be like, but decided on micro-spikes, which proved to be the best choice. Beside the trail, the mountain stream was layered thick with icy sculptures.

p3-brook ice

Everywhere we looked, the water had frozen into a variety of formations.

p4-Needle's Eye

Less than a half mile up, we came to the sign for Needle’s Eye.

“Do you want to go in?” I asked my guy.

“It’s up to you,” he replied for he knows my love/hate relationship with the spur path to the geological feature.

“Let’s try,” I said.

p5-Needle's Eye

Somehow, we made it to the chasm in only a few minutes. And then we stood in awe, rejoicing that we’d made the effort for we were well rewarded.

p6-ice of the needle

At the back of the eye, the waterfall stood still for a moment. Eventually, we made our way back to the main trail, and I’m proud to say I only exclaimed once when a tree that I grabbed wiggled. I thought of my friend, Marita, and her patience with me last spring when my brain didn’t want me to venture forth along the spur.

p8-ice layers

Upward we continued, chuckling as we always do at the sign for Sue’s Way that also indicated we would reach the intersection of the North Ridge Trail in three tenths of a mile. Somehow, that three tenths always feels like three miles. Is it really only three tenths of a mile, we wondered.

p7-Sabattus Island on Moose Pond

We were rewarded again, however, when we did pass by the intersection and continued on to the summit of Big Bald Peak. It’s always a spot to stop and look back at Moose Pond below where we could see our camp and Sabatis Island.

p8a-lunch rock looking north

It was just beyond that stop that we found lunch rock. Our view to the northwest was a bit obscured by the pines, but they helped block the breeze, so we didn’t mind.

p8-fire tower in distance

And to the southwest, the ridgeline we intended to walk. We could even see the fire warden’s tower at the main summit.

p9-crossing the ridge

After lunch, across the ridge we trekked, enjoying the sights along the way.

p10-Sebago Lake's open water

In the distance, we could see Sebago Lake and noted its open water which evoked a conversation about global warming. Many thought this would be the year it finally froze over again, but . . . not to be.

p11-racing through blueberry patch

Because trail conditions on the ridge were favorable, we moved quickly–practically running through the blueberry fields that will call my guy’s name come July.

p12-the tower

In what seemed like no time, we turned left onto the Fire Warden’s Trail and then made our way up to the iconic tower that was built in 1920. My hope is that it will still stand stalwart in 2020 and celebrate its one hundredth birthday.

p13-summit view toward Washington

Sometimes the summit view includes Mount Washington, but today the summits of the Presidentials were hidden in clouds.

p14-red pine scale

One scene that didn’t make us happy was that of the red pines. About five years ago I noted their decline and communicated with a forester who was studying red pine scale. Since then, most of the trees have been infested by the tiny insect and died.

p14-Southwest Ridge and sky

A much prettier picture we saw as we began our descent down the Ledges Trail, where the sky displayed a rainbow of colors above the Southwest summit of the mountain.

p15-Moose Pond from the ledges

As we made our way down, we paused as we always do along the ledges for which the trail was named. The south basin of Moose Pond dominated the vantage point.

p16-smiley face and heart

Along the entire route, we only met a few other hiking parties, but one apparently enjoyed the journey as much as we did and left smiles for our hearts.

p17-Needle's Eye

We arrived home with ten minutes to spare until kickoff.

Before the game began, we both agreed that our favorite point of view for this Sunday  was Needle’s Eye.

And now, the Patriot’s just defeated Jacksonville. That may mean two other scenes compete for today’s fav–when #24 Gilmore blocked Jacksonville’s final pass or Bill Belichick showed emotion before the game officially ended.

 

 

 

 

Winter Reflections

My world is always transformed during a snowstorm and even the day after. So it was that yesterday about four inches of the fluffy white stuff drifted down and created a wonderland effect.

a1-snowflackes on Queen Anne's Lace

Even this morning, the individual snowflakes were still visible in their crystalized form (and I kicked myself for not packing my macro lens.)

a2-coyote and red fox tracks

I began the day with a slow journey from home to Pondicherry Park, with the intention of meeting a hiking group. Along the way, I realized that others had trekked before me. Two red foxes and a coyote had crossed paths, forming an X that mimicked the X pattern in their individual footprints. (The bigger prints from upper left to lower right being the coyote; and the smaller prints from lower left to upper right being the two foxes.)

a3-red fox with chevron

In almost direct registration, a hind foot of the fox landed on snow previously packed down by the front foot, so what you see are the two prints. The top print was a bit fuzzy in formation for so much is the hair on the fox’s foot. Despite that, toe nails, toes and the chevron pad at the back, plus the X formation between toes and pad seemed obvious.

a4-Stevens Brook

As I made my way through the park, the morning light on Stevens Brook drew me off trail to the frozen edge. And ice along the bank indicated the change in water levels since the heavy rain of a few days ago.

a5-Bob Dunning Bridge

At last I reached the gateway to town, which is also the gateway to the park–the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge. I have a great fondness for this bridge on many levels, including memories of Bob who passed away suddenly at least ten years ago, the barn-raising community effort to build it, and the fact that each beam represents a different tree, bark included. You can learn more about it by reading my previous blog post: Barking Up A Bridge.

a6-snow on bridge

And each time I walk across it, it seems to offer up something different. This morning, it was how the snow coated the railing. I think the artistic side of Bob would have approved.

a7-AMC group at bridge

On the other side, I met up with a group of seven women. Led by AMC volunteer JoAnne Diller, our intention was to tramp through the park following all the outer loops, including a link on the Lake Environmental Association‘s Pinehaven Trail at the Maine Lake Science Center. Along the way we visited with each other, enjoyed the beauty that surrounded us, and got some exercise.

a10-Stevens Brook

And then we returned to the bridge and parted ways. I choose to follow the inner trails home, pausing first to enjoy the color of Stevens Brook from the bridge’s center.

a8-mallards

And no winter visit to the park is complete without taking time to watch the ducks–and listen as well.

a8a-mallards

They gather by the dozens, some to rest while others seemed to be in constant motion.

a12-ice skirt

Before following the trails leading west and toward home, I returned to the scenic overlook where ice skirted a tree–again indicating that the water was recently much higher.

a13-eddy

In the same spot I watched water swirl in a small eddy and am amazed that I’m not still standing there–mesmerized as I was by the action.

a14-yellow birch sculpture

But my stomach was growling and so I continued on–stopping to admire another of nature’s wonders–a yellow birch that germinated atop an old pine stump and today stands as a sculpture of one member of the community supporting another despite their differences. Hmmmm.

a15-bench awaiting visitors

The trail I followed home was less traveled than the others and the snow a bit deeper because it hadn’t been packed down. When the park was first created by Lakes Environmental Association and  Loon Echo Land Trust, the AMC did some trail work and part of their offering was this bench. Though it hasn’t recently supported a weary traveler or one who just wants to set for a time, I trusted that day will soon come again.

a16-AMC bridge

I crossed the bridge near the bench, which was also built by the AMC crew. And from there, I headed home to lunch, but not without offering a smile of gratitude to JoAnne for continuing to volunteer to lead walks for the AMC and giving us all an excuse to enjoy the company of each other in this beautiful place.

a17-Saco Old Course

Later in the day I found myself in Lovell for a quick errand and the light was such that I felt the need to spend a little time beside the Old Course of the Saco River just down the road in North Fryeburg.

a18-Saco Old Course

The scene is never the same, nor is the light. What may have seemed monochromatic was hardly that.

a19-church

As the sun began to set, the water still harbored reflective moments.

a20-setting sun

And it transformed some reflections from crisp representations into impressionistic paintings.

a11-ice chimes again

At the end of the day, however, my favorite reflection of all was one spied along Willet Brook in Pondicherry Park by Eleanor, a member of our morning AMC trek.

a9-ice chimes

Winter chimes. Winter reflections.