Walking Among Mysteries

We knew not what to expect when we met this morning. My intention was to visit a structure of unknown use, then follow a trail for a bit before going off trail and mapping some stone walls. Curiosity would be the name of the game and friends Pam and Bob were ready for the adventure when I pulled into the trailhead parking lot.

We traveled rather quickly to our first destination, pausing briefly to admire only a few distractions along the way–if you can believe that.

It’s a stone structure on the back side of Amos Mountain. Three years ago we visited this site with Dr. Rob Sanford, a University of Southern Maine professor and author of Reading Rural Landscapes. At that time we came away with so many questions about this structure located on a mountainside so far from any foundations. Today, we still had the same questions and then some.

Who built it? What was it used for? Was there a hearth? Did it have a roof? Was it ever fully enclosed? Was there originally a front wall? Could it be that it extended into the earth behind it? Was it colonial? Pre-colonial?

Why only one piece of split granite when it sits below an old quarry?

And then there’s the left-hand side: Large boulders used in situ and smaller rocks fit together. One part of the “room” curved. For what purpose?

Pam and Bob stood in the center to provide some perspective.

And then I climbed upon fallen rocks to show height.

We walked away still speculating on the possibilities, knowing that we weren’t too far from a stone foundation that belonged to George Washington and Mary Ann McCallister beginning in the mid-1850s and believed the structure to be upon their “Lot.”

As we continued along the trail, we spied several toads and a couple of frogs. Their movement gave them away initially, but then they stayed still, and their camouflage colorations sometimes made us look twice to locate the creator of ferns in motion.

At last we crossed over a stonewall that we assumed was a boundary between the McAllister property and that of Amos Andrews. It was the walls that we wanted to follow as there are many and our hope was to mark them on GPS and gain a better understanding of what seems like a rather random lay out.

The walls stand stalwart, though some sections more ragged than others. Fallen trees, roots, frost, weather, critters and humans have added to their demise, yet they are still beautiful, with mosses and lichens offering striking contrasts to the granite. Specks of shiny mica, feldspar and quartz add to the display.

The fact that they are still here is a sign of their endurance . . . and their perseverance. And the perseverance of those who built them.

But the fashion of these particular walls has stymied us for years. As we stood and looked down the mountain from near the Amos Andrews foundation, we realized that the land was terraced in a rather narrow area. And so we began to follow one wall (perspective isn’t so great in this photo) across, walk down the retaining wall on the right edge and at the next wall follow it across to the left. We did this over and over again and now I wish I’d counted our crossings, but there were at least eight.

Mind you, all were located below the small root cellar that served as Amos Andrews’ home on and off again beginning in 1843.

And below one of the terraced walls just beyond his cellar hole, there was a stoned off rectangle by the edge. Did it once serve as a foundation for a shed?

Had Amos or someone prior to him tried to carve out a slice of land, build a house, and clear the terraced area for a garden?

It seems the land of western Maine had been forested prior to the 1700s and there was plenty of timber to build. A generation or two later, when so much timber had been harvested to create fields for tillage and pasture, the landscape changed drastically, exposing the ground to the freezing forces of nature. Plowing also helped bring stones to the surface. The later generation of farmers soon had their number one crop to deal with–stone potatoes as they called them. These needed to be removed or they’d bend and break the blade of the oxen-drawn plowing rake. Summer meant time to pick the stones and make piles that would be moved by sled to the wall in winter months. Had the land been burned even before those settlers arrived? That would have created the same scenario, with smaller rocks finding their way to the surface during the spring thaw.

As it was, we found one pile after another of baseball and basketball size stones dotting the landscape. Stone removal became a family affair for many. Like a spelling or quilting bee, sometimes stone bees were held to remove the granite from the ground. Working radially, piles were made as an area was cleared. Stone boats pulled by oxen transported the piles of stones to their final resting place where they were woven into a wall.

Occasionally, however, we discovered smaller stones upon boulders. Were they grave markers? Or perhaps spiritual markers?

There were double-wide stone walls with big stones on the outside and little stones between, indicating that the land around had been used for planting. But why hadn’t all the piles been added to the center of these walls? That’s what had us thinking this was perhaps Pre-colonial in nature.

Pasture walls also stood tall, their structure of a single stature. I may be making this up because I’ve had an affinity with turtles since I was a young child and own quite a collection even to this day, but I see a turtle configured in this wall. Planned or coincidence?

My turtle’s head is the large blocky rock in the midst of the other stones, but I may actually be seeing one turtle upon another. Do you see the marginal scutes arching over the head? Am I seeing things that are not there? Overthinking as my guy would suggest?

I didn’t have to overthink when I spotted this woody specimen–last year’s Pine Sap with its many flowered stalk turned to capsules still standing tall.

And a foot or so away, its cousin, Indian Pipe also showing off the woody capsules of last year’s flowers, though singular on each stalk.

As we continued to follow the walls, other things made themselves known. I do have to admit that we paused and pondered several examples of this plant because of its three-leaved presentation. Leaves of three, leave them be–especially if two leaves are opposite each other and have short petioles and the leader is attached between them by a longer petiole. But, when we finally found one in flower we were almost certain we weren’t looking at Poison Ivy. I suggested Tick-Trefoil and low and behold, I was correct. For once.

Our journey wandering the walls soon found us back on what may have been a cow or sheep path and it was there that we noted a cedar tree. Looking at it straight on, one might expect it to be dead. But a gaze skyward indicated otherwise. Still, the question remained–why here?

A Harvestman Spider may have thought the same as it reached out to a Beech Nut. After all, the two were located upon a Striped Maple leaf.

Onward we walked, making a choice of which way to travel each time we encountered an intersection of walls. This one had a zigzag look to it and we thought about the reputation Amos Andrews had with a preference for alcohol. But . . . did Amos build all or any of these walls?

We continued to ponder that question even as we came upon a stump that practically shouted its name all these years after being cut, for the property we were on had eventually been owned by Diamond Match, a timber company. Do you see the mossy star shape atop the stump? And the sapling growing out of it? The star is actually a whorl–of White Pine branches for such is their form of growth. And the sapling–a White Pine.

And then . . . and then . . . something the three of us hadn’t encountered before. A large, rather narrow boulder standing upright.

Behind it, smaller rocks supported its stance.

The stone marked the start of another stone wall. And across from it a second wall, as if a road or path ran between the two and Bob stood in their midst adding coordinates to his GPS.

We chuckled to think that the stone was the beginning of Amos’ driveway and he’d had Andrews written upon it. According to local lore, he had a bit of a curmudgeon reputation, so we couldn’t imagine him wanting people to stop by. The road downhill eventually petered out so we didn’t figure out its purpose. Yet.

In the neighborhood we also found trees that excited us–for until ten months ago we didn’t think that any White Oaks existed in Lovell. But today we found one after another, much like the piles of stones. With the nickname “stave oak,” it made sense that they should be here since its wood was integral in making barrels and we know that such for products like rum were once built upon this property.

Trees of varying ages grow quite close to Amos Andrews’ homestead.

Also growing in the area was Marginal Wood Fern, its stipe or stalk below the blade covered with brown scales and fronds blue-green in color, which is often a give-away clue that it’s a wood fern.

We know how it got its name–for the round sori located on the margins of the underside of the pinnules or leaflets. Based on their grayish-blue color, they hadn’t yet matured. But why are some sori such as these covered with that smooth kidney-shaped indusium? What aren’t all sori on all ferns so covered?

So many questions. So many mysteries.

As curious as we are about the answers, I think we’ll be a wee bit disappointed if we are ever able to tell the complete story of the stone structure and the upright stone and all the walls between.

Walking among mysteries keeps us on our toes–forever asking questions and seeking answers.

Rookery and Beyond

It’s a difficult sound to describe, rather primordial in nature. Maybe it’s a duck’s quack? Or a dog’s bark? Or some combination of the two. And yet, all is quiet and then the noise erupts suddenly from one nest as a parent flies in, a meal in the oven about to be regurgitated.

It’s a scene that plays out at individual nests for a while before all become quiet again as if lunch has ended and the kids should take time for a nap. But until such time, the neighbors in the high rise next door watch enviously as their playmates are fed.

Just down the block one of the tweens, for suddenly after about a month of life they are such, flexes his wings as he stands out on a branch. It’s a tradition as old as time–tweens and teens going out on a limb to show their capability to survive in the world. The question remains, however: when will he reach the right age to get a license?

As the tween to the right finishes flexing, the one in the center lets a shiver pass through his body. Is it a pre-flex motion? His other sibling watches and wonders what it’s all about. Perhaps he’s trying to prove something?

Meanwhile, because I stood beside a river with a friend so I could count Great Blue Heron nests, active nests, young, young in nests, fledglings, and adults, we also began to notice other life that surrounded us like a Kingbird who posed for moments on end.

Constantly, however, my eye was drawn to the tiptop of the White Pines, where I began to realize there were more and more birds than my first count because many were feeling their oats and testing their individuality.

Other birds added to the rhythm as we listened for and shared with each other the location of the song makers in our midst.

And then, and then . . . a male Belted Kingfisher pause smack dab in front of us, his tuft of head feathers earning him the “Wicked Cool Dad” award in the neighborhood.

He looked right at us and made dorky dad comments that left us exclaiming with delight.

Meanwhile, back at the rookery, some of the tweens continued to wait in the most patient manner. They muttered hardly a word. We did have to wonder how such big birds could fit in those nest of twigs. The nests were large in bird terms, but the birds were even larger. At last it was time for us to depart, and we left the young in their quiet mode.

My journey continued on the other side of the river. It was there that I spotted Robber Flies in that age-old act of mating.

And a moth I believe to be known as a Virginian Tiger Moth or Woolybear Moth clinging.

But perhaps my favorite of all, that I found because we chose today to check on the rookery, was the Sphinx moth holding onto a pine sapling. At first I thought it was a dead leaf caught on the twig.

Behold the wonder of the rookery and beyond.

Bear to Bear Possibilities: Puzzle Mountain

We got a later than normally late start to our hike today and didn’t arrive at the trailhead for Puzzle Mountain until 11:45 am. It’s a trail we’ve hiked only once before, but knew the chance to see trees with bear claw marks would be numerous.

The Mahoosuc Land Trust and Maine Appalachian Trail Club maintain the trails. Our starting/ending point were at the trailhead on Route 26 in Newry. The plan, should we wish to complete it, was to hike up the Grafton Loop Trail to the summit, then veer to the right and follow the Woodsum Spur Trail in a clockwise manner back to the GLT.

Our other plan to locate bear claw trees . . . was soon fulfilled. The first we spotted about twenty feet off trail, but once our eyes became accustomed to the pattern, we realized they were everywhere.

And some trees had been visited repeatedly.

A few had hosted other guests such as Pileated Woodpeckers.

For about two miles, we traveled under the summer green leaves of a hardwood cathedral. And within such we noticed numerous bear claw tree both beside the trail and beyond.

Occasionally, we noted others worth mentioning such as spring ephemerals like False Solomon’s Seal that showed us the season on the slopes is a bit delayed as compared to our lower elevations.

At last we reached a false summit where the views to the west enhanced the mountains and their natural communities, so defined by shades of green: darker defining conifers and lighter the deciduous trees.

Sunday River Ski Area was also part of the display.

It was at this ledge that we met two young men. They started up a trail behind us and then made their way back and asked us to take a photo. When we asked where they were from, the older of the two said he lived in a small town outside of New Haven, Connecticut. Being a Nutmegger by birth, (and in fact having been born in New Haven), my ears perked up.

“Where in Connecticut?” I asked.

“A small town called Wallingford,” he said.

“I grew up in North Branford (about 15 minutes or so from Wallingford),” I replied. “And have friends in Wallingford.”

Turns out he’s a teacher at Choate-Rosemary Hall, a private school. And his hiking partner was his nephew from New Jersey. They were on their first day of a multi-day backpack expedition.

I took photos for both and then we sent them on the right path, which was behind their first choice. We paused before following them as we didn’t want to be on their tail, but heard the older of the two exclaim, “Wow, that was fortuitous. If we hadn’t gone back for a photo, we wouldn’t have known where the trail was.” We didn’t have any treats to give them as trail angels do, but perhaps our gift of direction was just as important.

While we waited, I honed in on the newly formed flowers of Mountain Ash. I love these trees for the red stems of their leaves and fruits to come.

At last we began the push to the summit, but I had to pause much to my guy’s dismay for the black flies swarmed us constantly. I discovered, however, one reason to celebrate them–besides the fact that they feed birds and members of the Odonata family. I do believe they pollinate Clintonia for we found them on the anthers of those in flower.

Not long after the false summit that the two guys we’d met thought was the top, we reached the junction with the Woodsum Spur Trail. Our plan was to continue to climb and then locate the other end of the spur to follow down from the top. It would take longer, we knew, but be a wee bit gentler in presentation. A wee bit.

As we continued up, another ledge presented a view of Sunday River and so my guy took a photo and sent a text message to our youngest son, who works in Manhattan, and lives in Brooklyn with two buddies he meet while skiing at Sunday River when they were all in high school.

Onward and upward, the conifer cones added a bit of color to the view.

And then we reached a cairn just below the summit. Mind you, the Black Flies were so incredibly thick that we could barely talk without devouring a few. In fact, we gave thanks for eating our lunch much lower on the trail, but even then we’d devoured PB&J with a side of BF.

The view, however, was one to be envied and as long as the wind blew, we could enjoy it in all its panoramic glory.

Again we spied Sunday River. But what always makes me wonder is the tallest tree in the forest. What makes it stand out?

Still, we weren’t quite at the tippy top and had a few more feet of granite to conquer.

There we found the second of two survey markers. Why two? That was puzzling.

Equally puzzling as had happened to us before, where did the trail go?

From past experience we knew that the descent wasn’t all that well marked, but we found it much more quickly today than in the past. And we made sure to point it out to our fellow hikers from CT, whom we’d somehow passed on our final ascent. Our hope for them is that they made it to the shelter on the GLT where they planned to spend the night and that they were well prepared for the bugs. As we left them at the summit, they looked a bit like deer in headlights.

The descent via the Woodsum Spur is as varied as the ascent, but not always as easy to follow. There were downed trees, overgrown sections, lots of mud, and times when we had to search for the trail, much unlike the carpenter ants who knew exactly where they were going on a tree snag.

We passed through one section that reminded my guy of the Munchkins in the The Wizard of Oz, his favorite movie. Just after that we entered an enchanted forest where the giant in my fairy tale, The Giant’s Shower, could have lived happily every after with Falda the fairy.

It was ledges to woods and back to ledges as we descended. But the mileage was questionable for the signs we encountered that indicated distance didn’t necessarily agree.

What did agree with the Woodsum Trail was a moose or two or three. For much of the trail we spotted scat indicating they’d traveled this way all winter.

It was natural signs like that which we most appreciated, but . . . once we finished the spur trail and rejoined the GLT, we spotted a boulder filled with messages we’d missed upon our ascent. You might be put out that some left messages in the moss, but as Ralph Pope, author of Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts, told us on a Greater Lovell Land Trust walk in 2017, this sort of activity won’t hurt the bryophytes.

When humans leave their initials upon beech trees, however, it does affect them. And I suppose the bear claw marks do as well, but still we are thrilled each time we spy the latter.

Our plan had been to stop for a beer on the way home and make this a Bear to Beer Possibility. But we were pooped for we hiked almost nine miles on a hot summer day and knew if we stopped we might not be able to drive home.

As it happened, driving south on Routes 5/35 and just before the intersection with Vernon Street, a Black Bear ran across the road. For us, it will be another in our shared minds’ eye as I couldn’t take a photo.

Thus today’s hike was a Bear to Bear rather than Bear to Beer Possibility.

Lake Living magazine: Summer 2019

I’m always excited to share the latest issue of Lake Living magazine with you. Here ’tis: https://issuu.com/lakelivingmaine/docs/ll.summer.19.web

As Laurie comments in her editor’s note, a theme emerged while we brainstormed article ideas. You’ll have to read this from cover to cover to get the full effect.

My first contribution: “The Maine Event” about four local wedding or retreat venues–each one with a unique twist. Even if you aren’t planning a grand event, it’s still fun to peek into the places and meet the people who make the magic magical.

A second contribution: “Summer Living,” which is a listing of what’s happening in the lakes region of Maine this summer. There are several shout-outs throughout this section, including one for our local land trusts and LEA as we collaborate to bring history alive through a series of walks along our trails.

And my final contribution: “You Get What You Give.” This is probably my favorite for this issue because, well, I won’t tell you why. You have to read it. And figure out. Let’s just say I was completely moved by the experience.

Laurie has written about a new venture for a young couple in “A Passion for Play,” cuze Becca and Scott, plus their son Parker, do love to do that. Especially on our lakes and ponds, as well as mountains.

She also wrote about a local farmer who does more than that–something about music and feet in “Geof’s Farm Pedals.” Another gotta read.

And her final piece is about Cannabased Wellness, aka “The Back Room at Nectar.”

Then there are the book reviews a la Justin, Pam, Sue, and Perri of Bridgton Books.

Plus all the colorful ads. If you do live locally, please let the advertisers know that you saw their ad in Lake Living. It helps with ad sales, which are key because the magazine is free to you.

Finally, I just LOVE the cover–thanks to Mary Jewett’s fine photography. It makes me grin every time I look at it.

Lake Living magazine: Summer 2019 is upon us now. 😉

Bear to Beer: Rumford Whitecap on Memorial Day

It had been a couple of years since we’d hiked Rumford Whitecap together. As we drove north we recalled summer, fall and winter adventures on the loop trail, but never spring. And so today, we rectified that.

The 761-acre Rumford Whitecap Mountain Preserve was purchased by the Mahoosuc Land Trust in 2007. Our preferred route is to hike up the Orange/Red Trail and descend via the Starr Trail denoted by yellow blazes.

As we ascended, we chatted about our relatives and friends who had and do serve in the Armed Forces, including grandparents, dads, uncles, my brother-in-law, cousins, friends, and classmates.

Memorial Day was always special in our home growing up as my hometown celebrated with a parade that sometimes featured my siblings, neighbors, and me. Before it became a Monday holiday, it was celebrated the day before my mom’s birthday, so we always noted that the parade was held in her honor. And furthermore, her younger brother died in WWII, so it was a celebration of his service and life. I noted today that I only have known him all these years through photographs of a handsome young man, and stories of his youthful adventures.

Because we were chatting and spending much of our time looking at the ground to avoid tripping on rocks or roots, the trail passed quickly under our feet. Suddenly, I realized we were in an area of mature American Beech trees and so I started to search the bark on our never ending quest of bear claw marks. Two seconds later and bingo–I spotted one tree with a couple and then together we found another with many scars made by the bear’s long, sharp claws.

Some were older than others, and it appeared that during the mast beechnut year we had two and three years ago, this tree had been climbed several times.

We felt instant satisfaction for our efforts and continued to look as we followed the trail to the summit. But . . . we never found another.

That was okay as there was much more to see including the fluttering petals of Serviceberry or Eastern Shadbush, a shrub that loves the understory. According to Dr. Michael L. Cline’s Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest, the names Serviceberry and Shadbush “refers to early flowering corresponding to the time that those departed in winter could be interred and when anadromous shad returned to major rivers in spring.”

The natural community changes several times on this mountain, like many, and eventually it thins into a bald with islands of lichens, Black Crowberry, Alpine Bilberry, Lowbush Blueberry, Leatherleaf, Sheep Laurel, and . . . Red Pines. The summit is host to one of the largest Red Pine communities in the state–some dwarfed by the wind that flows across the granite daily.

Others standing tall in their military stature.

The wind was welcome as we continued up the granite pegmatite, and then a deposit appeared before our eyes and we knew we were indeed in the right place for this Mondate–Black Bear scat. By its color and texture, it was obvious that Ursus americanus had dined on the organ meat of a hairy critter. Too much information, I’m sure, but consider the wildness of it all.

Given all the blueberry blossoms, we suspect Ursus will return. Be ye forewarned.

At the summit, it’s always fun to find a survey monument-–the bronze disks used by surveyors since 1879 for mapping purposes.

From there (lunch rock–why does PB&J always taste so good when one hikes?) we took in the view toward Black Mountain in the near beyond,

Rumford in the valley below,

and several ridges covered with wind turbines. I’m of two minds on this topic–the old wishy-washy self that I am. In Canada, wind turbines are located across the landscape and even as we hiked the Cape Mabou trails on Cape Breton Island a few years ago, we stood below one and listened to its airplane engine-like sound, but we didn’t hear it until we were quite close. I actually think they are quite beautiful as they turn–ballet of a sort.

At last it was time to get out of the chilly wind and begin our descent. If you look closely, you might spot Sunday River with a wee bit of snow still on the ski trails. But . . . you have to look closely (Faith–I’m talking to you!)

It was on the way down the bald peak that I noticed the pompoms of several Tamarack (Larch) trees–because we don’t meet on an every day basis, they always bring a smile to my face.

We slipped from the Orange/Red trail to the Starr and found Rhodora beginning to bloom–its magenta buds bursting with pride prior to its leaves.

Pollination was happening everywhere we turned, including by Hover Flies becoming familiar with Pin Cherries.

The trail down was sometimes wooded and other times granite. As I was about to step up onto one slab, a mottled design captured my attention. It would have been easy to overlook for so well did it blend in–even seeming to mimic green lichen. But . . . it was a moth that hugged the stone face.

Soon after I made a curious observation. Colonies of Painted Trillium greeted us several times, but always at a higher elevation. I know they grow low, for I’ve encountered them many times, but it had to be a soil consideration that I don’t yet understand that caused such behavior.

Those that we saw had not yet been pollinated for their petals were not translucent . . . a give-away trait.

Further down the trail, we began to meet patches of Stinking Ben, aka Red Trillium.

There were also selections of White Quartz to admire.

And tiny Bluets that edged the lower pathway. Red, White, and Blue.

Being a Bear to Beer, we honored the hike and the day with a few sips at Sunday River Brewing Company in Bethel before heading home.

But really, the sight that best represented the day was the Red Admiral–red, white, and blue all in one. And an admiral to boot.

Thank you to all who have sacrificed your lives for our country. I did spend much of the day thinking about the peace and freedom that my guy and I enjoy. And the fact that we were surrounded by a variety of colors other than those of the American flag, which made me think of how the American Flag represents so many no matter their color or creed. And wondering why we can’t all agree to get along. We don’t have to like each other, but why can’t we agree to disagree and leave it at that?

Bear to Beer possibilities: Rumford Whitecap on Memorial Day.

Peace be with you.

Book of May: Identifying Ferns the Easy Way

I love it when people recommend books to me and even more when I discover the the recommendation is spot on. Thus was the case when at the Maine Master Naturalist Board Retreat last month, Beth Longcope suggested Identifying Ferns the Easy Way by Lynn Levine. She’s also the creator of Mammal Tracks and Scat, a life-size tracking guide that I don’t use as often as David Brown’s Trackards. And she has authored several other books.

Book of May

But it’s this newly-released little guide that will find its way into my pack on a regular basis this spring and summer. Within the 74 pages of the 4.5 x 6.5-inch book are simplified explanations with illustrations.

Levine begins with general information about how to use the guide, general tips, and how to observe ferns. Under general tips, I especially appreciated the second: “Ferns that usually grow in clusters will sometimes grow alone.” The key “read-between-the-lines” takeaway is that if we just go by what most books say or people tell us, we’ll become totally confused when we meet an oddball choosing to strike out on its own. Not all ferns have read the books. And that goes for any and all species. It’s best to familiarize ourselves with the various species so that when one does behave in a different manner, we recognize it for what it is.

I also appreciate tip #4, but you’ll have to purchase the book to understand why. 😉

Being thorough with her topic in such a short space, she includes information about the ancient history of ferns bringing them from past to present structures. Their unique reproductive system is also discussed with the life cycle illustrated by Briony Morrow-Cribbs.

And then, the nitty gritty part of the book. First, she shows how ferns are grouped as once-cut, twice-cut, thrice-cut (I’ve always loved that word: thrice), three parts, and unique. Another sketch, as you can see, illustrates the parts of the blade and defines the terms. I appreciate that at the bottom of page 9, Levine compares the terms she uses with those used by others, aka Leaflet/Pinna.

For those who are visual learners like me, on pages 11-17 are silhouettes for each group of ferns based on their cut type. That becomes valuable information for once you recognize the type of cut, you can simply go to the group pages devoted to it. For instance, Group 1 covers once-cut ferns on pages 18-27. All are denoted by a staggered black tab on the edge of the page, therefore making each group a quick find.

Group One begins with Christmas Fern. For each fern within a category, the reader will find a two-page description with illustrations. The description includes the Common Name, Scientific Name, Where it Grows, Tips for Identification, species it Can be Confused With, and Interesting Notes.

From these, I noted some different ways to consider the fern and picked up some new ID tips to share with others. I did find it funny that what I long ago learned was either Santa in his sleigh or the toe of a Christmas stocking, Levine refers to as an ear on the leaflet/pinna.

Right now, Christmas Fern fiddleheads have sprung forth in the center of the evergreen blades and they are mighty scaly.

Fiddlehead is the term used to describe the crozier shape (like a Bishop’s crozier) of an emerging frond. And not all fiddleheads are created edible. In fact, I know of only one that is. This is not the one. But do note those mighty hairy scales.

Another Group 1 species, Maidenhair Spleenwort. In her tips for ID, I love this line: “Leaflet pairs are opposite each other (like a bow tie).” This isn’t a species I typically encounter in western Maine. In fact, this photo was taken in the Glendalough monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century–in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland.

Under “Interesting Notes” for Rock Polypody, Levine clears up the meaning of the name for me, for though I knew that poly means “many” and pod refers to “foot,” I didn’t understand why the fern should be named thus. “Rock Polypody has many ‘feet’ connecting one fern to the next by their roots.” Now I can’t wait to revisit them.

I chuckled when I read under her tips that Sensitive Ferns grow in large colonies. Indeed.

They are so named because with the slightest bit of cold they turn brown. Levine says it’s sensitive to the first frost, but I’ve noticed it turns brown in mid-August if not sooner, when the nights have that wonderful chill, but we haven’t yet had a frost.

Group 2A are those ferns that are twice-cut and form a vase-like cluster. The first in the group, Cinnamon Fern, like all others, is slowly unfurling and if you head outdoors you might see the splendid display.

Soon, the cinnamon-colored fertile stalks will be visible in the center of the plant formation. But, once they have done their duty and dried up for the season, you really have to look to locate the fertile frond. And Cinnamon Fern can be easily mistaken for Interrupted Fern.

But as Levine reminds us, the give-away is on the back of the leaflet/pinna. By the center rachis, that main part of the frond to which all leaflet/pinna are attached, do you see the wooly tufts? In this neck of the woods, those only occur on the backside of Cinnamon Ferns.

Its cousin, Interrupted is best identified also by its fertile fronds, with the interruptions occurring in the middle of the blade. Levine sees them as butterflies when they first emerge and face upward. You’ll hear that pass through my lips going forth.

Here’s the thing with Cinnamon and Interrupted Ferns in their fiddlehead form. They are both covered in a veil of hair. But at least you know it’s one or the other and once they unfurl, the determination becomes easier.

Levine’s tips for IDing Marginal Wood Fern included a note about the subleaflet/pinnule’s wavy appearance making us think it might be thrice-cut. She makes the point, however, that it belongs in Group 2 because they “are not cut deep enough.”

Do note the spores dotting the margin of the backside.

At last, she comes to Ostrich Fern. This is the one edible fiddlehead that I know of in our area. Notice how bright green it is? And the lack of scales? There’s another clue that you may or may not see in this photo, but it’s also important for ID if you plan to dine for the stalk is deeply grooved. Deeply. Always double-check.

The vase-like form of Group 2A is especially evident in this display of Ostrich Fern, but there is an intruder. Can you name it?

Like Levine states, the “fertile frond may remain standing during the winter.” I took this photo last spring.

Group 2A ends with one of my favorites: Royal Fern. She describes it as having an “airy appearance.” I like that. And again, she uses that bow tie description.

It’s the location of the spore cases that give this fern its name. Curiously, though she says the cluster appears at the tip, she doesn’t mention that they are like a crown on top of a head.

I did find it interesting to note in her “Interesting Notes” that “Roots are a source of fiber (osmundine) that is sometimes used as a growing medium for orchids.”

Group 2B are those ferns that are twice-cut but do not grow in vase-like clusters. Such is the case for the Beech Fern, so named according to Levine because it is common where Beech trees grow. Another thing to pay attention to going forward.

All together, there are seven ferns described in this group.

Group 3 are those that are thrice-cut. Did I mention that I’ve always loved that word: thrice. Say it thrice times. Thrice. Thrice. Thrice.

Lady Ferns are part of this group and their scaliness can be referred to as hairy legs. They also have spore cases on the underside of the leaflet/pinna that remind us of eyebrows.

What I liked about Levine’s description is the following: “Fronds grow in asymmetrical clusters, but it sometimes grows in small groups of just 2 or 3 fronds.”

Group 3 includes five different ferns.

Group 4 consists of those ferns with a blade divided into three parts. The tallest among them is Bracken Fern. If you look closely, you may see a young friend of mine hiding under one.

With this species Levine issues a word of caution about the consumption of Bracken Fern fiddleheads: Don’t eat them. Buy her book and on page 62 you can read why.

While the Bracken Fern grows 3 – 5 feet, most of the other members of Group 4 are rather diminutive in stature, such as the grape ferns. I do love that she notes how the sterile blades range from being finely cut to less finely cut. The illustration on page 65 helps clarify that. You’ll have to buy the book. 😉

A species not included because it’s not all that common in the Northeast, at least in the woods, or rather associated wetlands I frequent, is the Virginia Chain Fern. It looks very similar to Cinnamon Fern, but . . . while Cinnamon has a separate fertile frond that forms in the spring and then withers, Chain Fern’s sporangia are oblong and on the underside. I’ve seen this at Lake Environmental Association’s Highland Research Forest and Holt Pond Preserve. That being said, you do have to get wet feet.

So, I hope I’ve convinced you to buy this book. It includes the twelve most common ferns of Maine: Christmas, Polypody, Sensitive, Cinnamon, Interrupted, Marginal, Royal, Beech, Hayscented, Lady, Evergreen, and Brachen, plus a variety of others, most of which we do stumble upon either often or less frequently depending upon habitat.

My favorite local bookstore, Bridgton Books, was not able to get a copy of the Book of May: Identifying Ferns the Easy Way, so I ordered via Amazon on Tuesday and it arrived today.

Identifying Ferns the Easy Way by Lynn Levine, illustrated by Briony Morrow-Cribbs, Heartwood Press, 2019.

Holt Ponderings Mondate

If you are me, and be thankful you aren’t, then playing with words is part of your persona. And making them up when you can’t find one that fits the application is fine in your mind as well.

Our Mondate began not at the parking lot most are familiar with for Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve, but rather in a spot that has our name on it at the end of the rather short Knapp Road. You see, it was time for our annual spring clean up of the Southern Shore Trail, which my guy and I have been maintaining for more years than either of us can remember.

It was immediately apparent that numerous trees and branches had blown down since last fall and so we began to work.

But, it was a Mondate, and thankfully, with work came play. Just below our starting point we checked on a particular boardwalk I made famous last year when I fell hard against the edge of the wet, wooden slats and broke my wrist.

Water flowed across the wood again today and we both knew instantly that it would not be part of our circumnavigation plan. But, by pausing beside it, we did have time to admire a Water Strider as it used the surface tension to walk, or rather skate.

And then we carried on, soon realizing not all blowdowns were created equal and we hadn’t brought a chainsaw so some will either need to wait for another day or another person to complete the job.

What we could do was take down smaller trees that crossed the path, and pick up twigs and branches that decorated it. Oh, and between, take time to admire the beech leaves bedecked in fringe, much like the fancy hem of a skirt.

And there were the ever so scaly Christmas Fern fiddleheads to note.

Along with the smooth stipe of the Royal Ferns.

As we always do, whenever the trail provided an opportunity to look out at the pond, we took it. If you are familiar with the place, then you’ll know that the Quaking Bog is across the way where the taller trees stand out toward the left on the opposite shore.

And if you are super familiar with it, you’ll know that this stand of pines and hemlocks was once the log landing. (Bridie McGreavy, if you are reading this–it’s a whole different landing than when you first introduced us to it as we trudged through the snow and out to Fosterville Road from this point.)

Just beyond the landing we crossed a small stream via an old beaver dam, and fancied the formation of suds on the water’s surface.

Delightful surprises greeted us along the way, including the evergreen leaves of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain. I love the leaves of this woodland plant and find that the easiest way for me to remember its common name is by the snakeskin pattern, but also the fact that it doesn’t look downy–especially when you compare it to those beech leaves that are bursting forth from their buds. So . . . the rattlesnake plantain that doesn’t look downy is.

After reaching the section of trail that follows a snowmobile route briefly, we again snuck down to the pond. And spied . . . a beaver lodge that is either new or we were looking at all over again for the first time. We also noted the subtle colors of the spring palette reflected by the water.

Our journey took us out to Chaplains Mill Road, and then across the “Emerald Field” and back down to the Muddy River, which empties out of Holt Pond. Recently, I was on a Beaver Caper with LEA’s Alanna Doughty. With the snow and ice melted completely, there was more evidence that the beavers were continuing to do some work and I think she and I may need to try again to figure out which lodge is truly active.

As it was, a tree that appeared in photo #20 of the Beaver Caper, had since been cut down. We were going to move it off trail, but decided it was worth encouraging others to pause.

And so we left it be and hope it gives you something to gnaw about.

Again and again, we picked up sticks and moved trees. And celebrated small wonders like the blossoms of Goldthread.

Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower, was also in abundant bloom with blossoms of white, pink, and white-pink. I do have to wonder what determines their color.

As we walked beside the Muddy River, slowly making our way back to Holt Pond, I got my guy, who can be a bit of a bull in a china shop, to slow down any time we heard a bird. The Veery posed longer than most.

And so we stood silently and gave thanks for the opportunity.

At last, it was into the Red Maple Swamp that we marched, continuing our work habit, though not quite as frequently.

While my guy got ahead, I rejoiced at the sight of Leatherleaf in bloom; its blossoms lined up on the underside like bloomers on a clothesline.

Giant Bumblebees also enjoyed the bell-shaped flowers from below.

And I can never walk past without paying reverence to the Pitcher Plants that grow abundantly in this place.

One should always bow down and take note of the hairy veins on each pitcher, for those not only attract the insects that meet their demise within, but also trap them. Such is the way of this carnivorous plant.

We stepped out onto the boardwalk to the Quaking Bog, but not much was in bloom. Oh, and yes, we did get out feet wet because with each step the wooden structure sank a bit, but unlike the one I’m waiting to cross, the bog boardwalk dries out between visitors so it isn’t slippery. At least I didn’t think so. My guy was surprised as he followed me out.

Soon our journey took us along the Holt Pond Trail where the False Hellebore showed off its broad leaves. The curious thing, I’ve never seen any of these plants present their floral structure, but I shall continue to watch.

One plant that is beginning to flower is the Hobblebush, with its showy sterile displays on the outer edge. It seems like only yesterday I was admiring their naked winter buds. And now . . . this.

Before exiting out to Grist Mill Road to walk back to where we’d parked, we passed through one last Hemlock Grove. And there, sitting atop a large tree stump . . . a hen incubating her eggs. She murmured not a word. Nor did we. But again, in our minds we were most grateful for the opportunity to see her at such a challenging and dangerous time.

Quietly, we moved on and a few minutes later our Mondate came to end. I think the most amazing thing is that no matter how often we go there, there are always a few familiar friends to meet, but often something we’ve not seen before. Today, it was the turkey that fit the latter. Holt Ponderings indeed.

P.S.Why doesn’t my computer like those two words: Ponderings and Mondate? I surely know what they mean.

One more P.S. Mary Jewett and Ursula Duve will lead a bird and flower walk at Holt Pond on Friday, May 17. I wish I could join them for the two will spot incredible sights. If you’d like to, please contact Mary. FMI: mary@mainelakes.org.