Jolly Mondate

Some Mondates are meant to be shared and this was one of them for I’d made arrangements to join the Fairs, Farms and Fun 4-H Group as they decorated a tree (or two or three) on a Greater Lovell Land Trust property this morning. 

And honestly, my guy was as excited as me to join the adventure for he loves kids.

One of the GLLT’s volunteer docents, Juli, had offered to lead today’s hike since her four children are part of the group. And because she’s a Maine Master Naturalist-in-Training, she made evergreen trees the focus as she explained when we circled up.

All together there were fifteen kids–fourteen of them walking and one young babe tucked inside her mom’s coat. At least I think there were that many. Every time I counted, the number seemed to change. 

After Juli’s initial explanation, we headed off onto the trail. Though most of us sported blaze orange because it’s hunting season, we made enough noise to announce our arrival to deer and their predators within range and beyond, I’m sure. 

We’d gone only a wee bit, when Juli stopped the group to ask them about evergreens. My guy and I were impressed with their collective knowledge.

But it wasn’t only for the trees that she stopped. She’d spied a decoration already dangling and asked if the kids knew how it happened to be there. 

What was it? A mushroom. Did it fall from the sky? Or from a taller tree? No and no. Instead, they figured out that a squirrel had deposited it and Juli explained that red squirrels place mushrooms in trees to dry. Or rather, freeze dry as was the case. 

She hadn’t walked much further when she stopped again. And again asked some questions as she showed off the five needles in a white pine bundle. 

Five needles in each bundle makes it easy to remember as there are five letters in W-H-I-T-E, the color of Maine’s State Tree: Eastern White Pine. 

It wasn’t all a lesson for the name of this 4-H group includes the word “Fun.” And so they climbed atop and under an erratic boulder and added more life on a rock than that one had seen in a long time. 

A little further on a bit of an incline invited their exploration and what to their wondering eyes should they discover but a long abandoned cellar hole with trees growing in it. For a few minutes that became their playground. 

It took us a while to move along because the kids kept finding cool things to admire, including a variety of mammal tracks and . . . even a dead spider. 

What do you see? Lots of eyes. 

And you? Fangs. 

And you? Hairy legs. 

After that discovery, we had to run to catch up with the rest of the group because they were on their way to the scenic overlook. But one of the boys had borrowed a GLLT Nature Backpack from the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, which I was thrilled to see, and we used the lucite insect box with a magnifier that was stored in the pack so that all the kids could look at the spider up close if they so wished. 

And then it was time to decorate a tree. But first, Juli had the kids identify three types of evergreens in the same vicinity: spruce, hemlock and balsam fir. Their decorating began with the balsam fir. 

One by one, they attached homemade, biodegradable ornaments. 

And added a tree topper in the form of a birch bark “sleeve.”

Some were hearts cut from birch bark . . . 

and coated with peanut butter and sunflower seeds. 

It took great concentration. 

In no time, the tree was fully decorated.

Some changes had to be made. For one, one of the younger boys wanted his ornament to serve as a tree topper, so the birch bark sleeve was placed in a resting place on another tree. 

And then the kids decided to decorate any branch in the vicinity that attracted their fancy.

At least one needed a boost, but that’s what someone else’s mom was for when your own mom was busy with your baby sister. 

Branches all around certainly won’t feel left out. 

And no mouse or bird or squirrel or deer will go unfed. 

The kids quickly realized that they’d created a critter cafe that even included an offering tucked between two hop hornbeam trees. 

At last, the decorating had come to an end and the crew posed for photographs. 

Our journey back to the parking lot was the same distance as we followed the rest of the one-mile loop, but we travelled much more quickly. We did pause once in a while, however, especially in a grove of young white pines, where the kids practiced aging a tree. 

They knew to begin with 5 for the number of years it takes the seed to germinate and begin to grow and then to count the whorls of branches, each whorl representing one year. 

My guy challenged them to find one that matched his age. They found one that was 43–only off by 20+ years. But a few noted that it did match their dad’s age. I chuckled for I’d had that particular dad in class way back when he was in middle school. 

We were almost done when they made one last discovery–ice! Their very own rink. One little boy wanted to live there so he could slide on the ice all day. And then jump in the water come summer. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that the ice was a result of our rainy October and its not a permanent feature. 

 It was lunch time when the group was finally ready to depart. 

All the way home and even still, my guy and I have been smiling about our morning and the fun we had sharing it with the kids and their moms. Thank you Juli, and 4-H leader Wendy, and all of the homeschooled kids who attended. We were blessed by the opportunity to spend a few hours with you on the Jolly Mondate. 

Childhood Magic

Why did the Greater Lovell Land Trust co-host (or rather tri-host) a hike through Pondicherry Park in Bridgton this morning? Because it’s hunting season, and it didn’t make sense to invite the public on a property that isn’t posted. (Not that we don’t still tramp on GLLT properties in November, mind you, but not on a public walk necessarily.)

And when I asked Jon Evans of Loon Echo Land Trust and Alanna Doughty of Lakes Environmental Association to join me in leading the tramp, they both quickly and graciously agreed to do so. I couldn’t wait because not only would it be a chance to share the special place with GLLT members, but also to bounce off of Jon and Alanna as we shared our knowledge of the natural and historical aspects of the park.

1-Bob Dunning Bridge

But . . . this morning dawned rainy and snowy. Still, we didn’t cancel. And though we knew that not everyone who had planned to join us could because there was more snow in the Lovell area and no power, we were pleasantly surprised to have a small contingent of participants that represented all three of our groups. And really, I love leading smaller groups because it’s so much easier for everyone to participate.

2-Jon giving the bridge history

Our group, consisting of Pam, Jon, Bill, Connie and JoAnne, plus Alanna and me, stood for a bit on the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, the gateway into the park from behind Reny’s Department Store on Depot Street. As Jon explained, on September 11, 2010, the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge was constructed in true barn-raising fashion.

3-Stevens Brook

The bridge spans Stevens Brook, the source of power when Bridgton was first founded and for many years thereafter.

4-Bob Dunning Bridge

One of the unique things about the bridge is that each tie beam comes from a different tree species, with the bark left on. As I walk across the bridge, my eyes are always drawn to the beams.

Until I took the Maine Master Naturalist class, I recognized only a few species by their bark. But my eyes were opened to the fact that each species has its own presentation, which is true for everything in the natural world. I wanted to know all of them so I set out to teach myself, beginning with the species on the bridge. These became the focus of my capstone project for the class and from that I created a Barking Up A Bridge brochure that is available at the kiosk.

5-sugar and Norway maple leaves

Into the park we finally went, stopping periodically along the way to notice and learn, including the similarities and differences between a sugar maple leaf on the left and Norway maple leaf on the right. Both have the same number of lobes (5) and look so similar, but . . .  the Norway maple leaf, an invasive planted along the main streets as a shade tree after the loss of Elms, is much boxier and more rectangular in shape. Plus, as Jon pointed out, the stem seeps a milky substance, which is a quick way to identify it.

6-pine soap

Our finds included many as we moved along at our usual slow pace, but one thing kept showing its form on pine after pine. Froth. It’s not unusual and occurs following a rain event such as we’d had all night and morning. So what causes the tree to froth? During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up the tree’s oils on the way. Air in the bark furrows bubbles through the oily film and produces the froth.

7-pine soap

Conditions were just right for it to occur so we spied frequent examples.

8-tussock moth cocoon

And because we were looking so closely at the bark, we noticed other things like tussock moth cocoons. We also found tube caterpillar moth cocoons created with pine needles and even pulled one apart to take a closer look. And the tiny sawfly cocoons on various twigs.

10-Willet Brook

Eventually, we found our way beside Willet Brook, which flows into Stevens.

11a-JoAnne photographing script lichen

And again, our eyes were drawn to tree bark and crustose lichen in particular. JoAnne snapped a photo of a script lichen that decorated a red oak.

13-crossing onto LEA property

Our intention was to turn away from the brook and cross the boardwalk that leads onto the Lakes Environmental Association’s adjacent property. Before doing so, however, we began to channel our inner child and rolled some logs.

12-baby red-backed salamander

And we weren’t disappointed for we found young and mature red-backed salamanders as hoped. If you roll a log, always pull it toward you so any critters that want to escape can do so in the opposite direction; and always put the log back into place quickly (well, after a couple of photographs, that is.)

14-Maine Lake Science Center Lab

At LEA’s Maine Lake Science Center, Alanna gave us a quick tour of the premises,

15-MLSC Lab

including the lab where various water quality tests are conducted.

16-Connie on the low-impact challenge course

Back outside, we headed up to LEA’s Pinehaven Trail and tried our talent as birds on a wire along the newly installed  low-impact challenge course.

17-Pam and Bill manuevering the wire walk

We all succeeded as Nuthatches for none of us fell off. If we’d done it with one hand, we  would have been Barred Owls and if we hadn’t used any hands, we would have been Cooper’s Hawks. But we were happy to be Nuthatches. There are four sets of challenges, each with a variety of activities to complete. Challenge your inner child.

18-watching balsam sticks

Crossing back into Pondicherry Park, we said we’d bee-line back to the bridge, but several times we just had to stop . . . especially when we found Balsam Fir blisters inviting us to poke them with twigs and drop the resin-tipped sticks into calm water.

19-balsam rainbow

We watched with fascination as the essential oil propelled the twig and created a rainbow, again satisfying that child within.

22-crossing back over the bridge

At last, a half hour after our intended finish time of 12:30pm, we found our way back to our starting point, all delighted to have spent time exploring and playing on a rather raw morning.

Thank you again to Jon and Alanna for sharing your knowledge and sense of wonder. And thank you to Pam, Bill, Connie, and JoAnne for coming out to play with us.

23-Chili and Beer

Later in the day, my guy and I drove to Lovell for yet another special event at the VFW Hall: LOVELL’S 1st ANNUAL BOWLS & BREWS fundraiser for the Sunshine Backpack Food Program.

It was a chili cook-off and beer tasting event featuring locally crafted chili and locally crafted beer from Bear Bones and Saco River Breweries. Plus, National Distributors in Portland donated Harpoon and New Belgium beers.

24-Paula and Diane

Diane Caracciolo nailed it and won first place from the judges and as the people’s choice. Her take away was a coveted apron, actually two, designed by local students who benefit from the Sunshine Backpack Food Program. As Paula Hughes, one of the event’s organizers explained, the packs are sent home on Fridays and filled with nutritious, non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food to ensure the kids get enough food on weekends.

At the end of the day, it seemed an interesting juxtaposition to have spent the morning channeling our inner child and the afternoon thinking about children who are so hungry that they can’t enjoy such childhood magic.

If you’d wish to contribute, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Paula.

I Spy . . .

This afternoon’s goal: To find a Christmas Tree to decorate for the Christmas at Ladies Delight Walk on December 1st. For the reconnaissance mission, I joined the Coombs family at the GLLT’s Chip Stockford Reserve.

The Coombs children are homeschooled by their amazing mother, Juli, and though they learn many lessons at home, they are also well educated in the outdoors. In fact, they are among my favorite naturalists.

And they belong to a 4-H Homeschool group that will decorate a tree(s) with biodegradable ornaments prior to the December 1st walk.

1

And so we set off on our tour looking for just the right tree. But . . . as is always the case with this family, there was so much more to see.

2

Since Juli is a Maine Master Naturalist Program student, so are her children. And every topic she studies, they study, so it was no surprise to me that six-year-old Wes picked up stick after stick loaded with various forms of lichens.

3

Of course, they are children, ranging in age from six to eleven, and puddles are invitations. The family motto is this: No puddle shall remain unsplashed.

4

But just after the puddle, at the start of an old log landing, we began to notice something else. A mushroom drying on the whorl of a White Pine.

5

As we stood and looked at the first, someone among us spied a second.

6

And then a third, and so it went. We knew that squirrels dried mushrooms in this manner, but never had we seen so many. It dawned on us that we were standing in a squirrel’s pantry. One squirrel? Two squirrel? Gray Squirrel? Red Squirrel? One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

7

For a while we paused by an erratic boulder and looked at the lichens that grew atop it. The kids and their mom also checked the sand under and behind it and I told them that the only critter sign I’d ever noticed was that of a Ruffed Grouse sand bath–and I only recognized it as such because I’d startled the two birds and they startled me as they flew off. In fact, on another hike this morning at the GLLT’s Five Kezar Ponds Reserve, friend Teresa and I had startled a grouse and we talked about how the bird’s explosive behavior makes us feel as if we’ve encountered a moose.

Well, just beyond the boulder, as we all chatted and moved about with quick motion, Caleb spotted something and told us to stop. A Ruffed Grouse!

8

It threw leaves about as it sorted through them in search of seeds and buds and we all watched in silence.

9

As we stood or sat still, the bird moved this way and that, making soft clucking sounds the entire time.

10

Ellie stood in front as the bird moved a few feet ahead of her and crossed the trail. I kept looking back at Juli in wonder. How could this be? Why wasn’t it disturbed by us? I’ve spotted Spruce Grouse in higher elevations and they are much “friendlier” or less wary of people, but I’d never been able to get up close to a Ruffed Grouse.

11

Our fascination continued and we noted its feathered legs, making us think perhaps it had pulled on some long johns for a cold winter night.

12

It eyed us and we eyed it back–our minds filled with awe.

13

Think about this: four children and two adults and we were starting to get fidgety because we’d been still for fifteen or more minutes and we had begun to whisper our questions and still . . . it let us watch.

14

And it let Ellie be the Grouse Whisperer for she began to follow it off the trail. Eventually, it climbed up a fallen tree and she knelt down beside, taking photos as it stood less than a foot from her. How cool is that?

15

We were all wowed by the experience, but when Ellie finally turned back, we continued on . . . sometimes running and other times pausing to ride imaginary horses.

16

Or listen to Birch Polypores! Yes, Juli did listen for it’s part of an assignment for the Maine Master Naturalist class. So what exactly does a Birch Polypore sound like? “I couldn’t hear the ocean,” she said with a smile.

17

And what does it smell like? “Wood.”

18

The next moment of glee–poking Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold and watching it ooze.

19

“It’s cool and gross at the same time,” said Ellie.

20

Onward and again, more fungi drying in trees as Aidan pointed out.

22

We even found a few stuck on spiky spruces much like ornaments might be and we reminded ourselves that we were on a mission and still hadn’t found the right tree to decorate.

23

At last, however, we did. And then we made our way out to the spur and recently opened view of Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay and Cranberry Fen, plus the mountains.

24

This became our turn-around point as it was getting cooler by the minute and the sun was setting. We promised Wes we’d look only at our feet as we followed the loop trail down, though occasionally we stopped again to admire more fungi tucked onto tree branches and a set of trees that formed a rainbow arched over the trail.

As for the fungi, we wondered if we were seeing so many because last year’s mast crop of pinecones, beech nuts, and acorns didn’t exist this year. And when the 4-H club returns in a couple of weeks to decorate the tree, will the mushrooms still be there? Will there be more? How long do the squirrels wait before consuming them? So many questions and so many lessons still to be learned.

25

And so many things to spy. We were honored with the opportunity to do just that and my heart smiled with the knowledge that the kids appreciated it as much as their mom and I did.

I spy . . . we spied . . . INDEED!

Oh, and  please join the GLLT for Christmas at Ladies Delight. I have the inside word that there will be hot cocoa and cookies somewhere along the trail.

December 1, 9:30 – noon
Christmas at Ladies Delight: The Maine Christmas Tree Hunt is a fun holiday scavenger
hunt to find decorated trees in western Maine. We’ll search for the decorated tree along the Bill Sayles Loop at the Chip Stockford Reserve and may add a few of our own biodegradable ornaments along the way. Location: Chip Stockford Reserve, Ladies Delight Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

Election Day Tramp

It always strikes me that no matter how often one travels on or off a trail, there’s always something different that makes itself known–thus the wonder of a wander.

And so it was when Pam Marshall, a member of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, joined me for a tramp at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge West on Farrington Pond Road this morning. She had no idea what to expect. Nor did I.

13-puff balls to pop

It was misty when we met, but neither of us was daunted by the weather. Ever so slowly, we made our way over the wet leaves, roots, and rocks, pausing frequently–especially each time we saw puff balls. How can one resist poking or squeezing them to watch the spores waft out like smoke. The skin of mature puffballs split prior to releasing spores. And we . . . we helped the process a wee bit.

20-blue stain fruiting

Green stain fungus also drew our attention. Its fruiting bodies were minute, but well worth wet knees for a closer examination.

19-hexagonal-pored polypore

With Pam in the lead for most of the way, she kept finding cool stuff, like this hexagonal-pored polypore.

1-Sucker Brook Outlet

It took us a while, but we finally reached the wetland by the Sucker Brook Outlet where blueberry, maleberry and leatherleaf shrubs added color to the otherwise gray day.  For a while we stood under the protection of a large hemlock and took in the scene in silence.

2-Silhouettes on Lower Bay and cotton grass

From our vantage point, an island in Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay looked like a ghost ship. And in the foreground, cotton grass still touted its tufted heads.

3-beaver lodges

At our feet we could see some aquatic plant roots floating in the water, a beaver treat, and trusted by the mud on the lodges that there had been recent activity. Perhaps they rested indoors before planning to spend time later in the day preparing for the cold months ahead.

4-Pitcher Plants

After a while and because I knew they were there, I took Pam along the edge of the brook for a short distance to locate several pitcher plants. Someone once photographed them in their young green form and described them as rare. While helping Dr. Rick Van de Poll, principal of Ecosystem Management Consultants (EMC) in Sandwich, New Hampshire, set up study plots at Lakes Environmental Association’s Highland Lake Reserve in Bridgton during July 2017, we had to watch where we stepped to avoid crushing pitcher plants. It was a perfect time to ask Rick about the green color. Were there green pitcher plants in Maine? And if so, were they rare? He explained that it was just a matter of sunlight and age, all would eventually take on a redder hue in veins and then overall leaf coloration as they matured.

5-pitcher plant runway

This morning, we found some sporting brighter red leaves.

6-spiders within and webs above

And another plant that was duller in color. Since we were in the locale where the green plant had been discovered, I trusted that it was beginning to show its age. It was the duller one that drew most of our fascination. Carnivorous pitcher plants obtain nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Their oddly-shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: an insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Do you see what we saw? A spider web across the top of the leaf? And within?

8-larger spider manuevering the smaller one

Dueling fishing spiders.

9-pulling it under its body

And so we watched.

10-and out again

The larger one continuously manipulated the smaller one, which appeared to be dead. Back and forth under its body, it kept moving the smaller kin.

11-and back under

Was it trying to eat the other? One last meal before it too succumbed to the plant? Was it trying to move past the dead spider so it could try to climb out? Should we save it?

12-let 'em be

In the end, we left the action with questions in our minds and didn’t interfere.

7-watching the spider action

Except, that is, to take photographs and make a film. Again, our knees were wet and we didn’t care.

14-pigskin puffball 1

Back on the trail, we found an area where Earthballs decorated some old lumber slash. Their warty outer skin drew our attraction.

15-skin of pigskin

Another common name for Scleroderma citrinum is Pigskin Poison Puffball. Since it’s football season, it’s good to note that footballs used to be made of a pig’s . . . bladder and not its skin, though historically they were called pigskins. Rather than feel leathery, these seemed more rubbery, thus the reference I guess.

15-popping pigskin

And because they were puffballs, they invited a poke.

16-an explosion of spores

From a couple of slits, mature blackish spores erupted. I had to chuckle for no matter with whom I share a trail, puffballs always invite the same reaction–pick up a stick and give it a jab. And each time we share the same moment of glee. And our inner child is released one more time. Thankfully.

18-insect within pigskin

Of course, we found ourselves on our knees yet again when Pam spied something within an Earthball that had exploded prior to our visit. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an inanimate insect that looked like it was covered in spores. Canary in the coal mine?

25-Pam and the bear scat

Our next great find was of a different sort and I had to pull the Trackards from my pack while Pam got down for another upclose and personal look. Notice her knee?

22-bear scat

Black bear scat! Indeed. Cylindral and large. We looked for tracks, but conditions were such that we didn’t find any. The scat was enough for this day.

24-Tamaracks

If you go, we strongly encourage you to follow the green trail all the way to the bird/wildlife viewing point along Sucker Brook. Today, the tamaracks on the shore to our right added a tone of bright beauty to the overcast day.

25-Sucker Brook--beaver lodge

And another old beaver lodge also looked like it had received a mud treatment. We could see some beaver chew sticks in the water by the edge of the brook and so we knew again that there had been recent activity. It just means we’ll have to return for another visit if we want to catch some action–perhaps earlier in the day.

In the meantime, we let the view point become our turn-around point and quickly (sorta) followed the blue trail back for we both needed to move on to the rest of our day.

But . . . despite the mist and occasional raindrops, we elected to tramp. And were delighted with the results. Here’s hoping the rest of the day goes like that.

 

Bishop Cardinal Reserve: Where (Wo)Man and Nature Intersect

Perhaps we should have tiptoed and tried to silently pass through the woods much the way a fox or bear might, but that is not our habit. And so on today’s Tuesday Tramp for the Greater Lovell Land Trust, we chatted and wondered aloud as we hiked along the  trails of Bishop Cardinal Reserve on the upper side of Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell. Consequently, our wild mammal sightings were non-existent. Despite that, we saw soooo much.

9-docents Bob and Pam

Our team was small this morning, with only docents Bob and Pam joining me, but still we made plenty of noise as we looked about.

4-bear pole

The first sign of mammal and human interaction, of course, was the telephone pole beside the trailhead. If you’ve traveled with me either literally or virtually before, you know how I LOVE a telephone pole. It’s not the fact that such brings electrical power and other modern day amenities to our homes, but instead the realization that bears are attracted to them and like to leave a mark as they claw and bite at the anomaly in the forest surroundings. I always check for hair left behind, but today was disappointed to find none.

5-scratches on bear poles

Despite the lack of hair, there were a few newer scratches worth celebrating.

6-spider

And a small spider tossed into the mix. The temperature was on the chilly side as the wind blew, but not cold enough to begin the process of accumulating glycols in its blood (e.g., antifreeze) that would allow the spider to supercool. By physiologically adapting via special antifreeze compounds, the tissues of some Maine spiders remain unfrozen at temperatures well below freezing, and thus avoid turning into little blocks of ice once winter sets in. Of course, had it been a little bit cooler, this spider probably would have hidden in the leaf litter below rather than trying to send a telegram via the phone pole.

7-bear tree

A little further along the trail, however, we did find more bear sign in the form of claw marks on beech trees. And that raised the question: Do bears only climb beech trees? No. But, beech bark is one of the best to show off their signature scratches.

10-Pam's bear tree 1

After I showed Pam and Bob a couple of trees with claw marks, they began to look about and Pam spied one I’d not noticed before.

10-Pam's bear tree

Congratulations on your First To Find (FTF) Award, Pam! Well deserved.

11-deer skull

It wasn’t only bear sign that made the walk intriguing. A year and a half ago, this same couple had spied an entire deer carcass along the lower part of the trail. And so when we arrived in the vicinity today, we looked around. And eagle eyes Pam spied half the skull atop the leaves. What had happened to the deer? Human interaction? Old age? It was a rather large skull.

12-herbivore teeth

My, what flat teeth it had. Because herbivore teeth are highly specialized for eating plant matter which may be difficult to break down, their molars tend to be wider and flatter, thus allowing the animal to grind its food and aid in digestion.

13-lower jaw

We looked about for other bones and had to satisfy ourselves with a lower jaw. Had the rest of the skeleton been scattered and we just couldn’t see it below the recent leaf cover or had mice and other rodents dined on the bones from which they sought calcium? Coyotes, bears, and even another deer may also have moved the bones and found their own nourishment. Whatever happened, we knew it had been recycled . . . naturally.

14-coyote scat

And not far away on the edge of a bridge over a stream . . . coyote scat. It was not fresh, but fresher than the deer skull event, and full of hair. On what did the coyote dine? Snowshoe hare? Gray squirrel? Some other delectable offering? We weren’t sure.

15-squirrel storage

Dinner in the woods came in many forms, however, and on a fallen tree about four feet from the ground we found a mushroom turned upside down. Despite recent wind storms, we didn’t think it had blown up to that spot. Instead, a squirrel had set it there to dry. A squirrel’s food pantry is far bigger than a kitchen cupboard. Would it remember where it had placed the mushroom? Probably. Would another squirrel discover and snag it? Possibly.

16-squirrel storage

But there were others set in different spots to dry, so the original cacher might have some success in retrieving the food it had stored.

17-icy formation

As our time drew to a close, we noticed patterns in the mushrooms imitated by icy spots in a stream that spoke to the morning’s chill.

18-Horseshoe Pond Road

But the sun had come out and we relished its warmth as we headed back to our vehicles and on into the rest of our days.

16a-man-made wonder

Before doing so, however, there were two more sights to commemorate–the man-made line up of doors found deep in the woods . . .

2-Sand castle

and rain-made castles along the road side.

Bishop Cardinal Reserve–where man and nature intersect.

 

What the Tree Spirit Knows

As I drove to Lovell this morning to take a photo for the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s winter newsletter, the crisp outline of a snow-covered Mount Washington made me realize that I had a short, unintended hike in my immediate future.

1a-Flat Hill view

Yesterday, I’d climbed the Flat Hill Trail at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve to take another photo for the newsletter–that one of the view from the summit of snow falling in the White Mountains. This past summer, staff and volunteers of the land trust had made some trail changes and opened several views, the one from Flat Hill being the most dramatic and the foliage, snow and sky enhanced the opening. But . . . today’s view was different and I knew I needed to capture it again.

Page 3 a

So . . . after a staff photo shoot at the Kezar River Reserve of Stewardship Associate Dakota, Associate Director Aidan, and Office Manager Alice, I headed north.

1-voss sign

And laughed at myself for yesterday I never noticed the yellow Voss blazes that had been mounted to mark the trail. The hope is that eventually all the trails will be signed with different colored diamonds that will ease navigation.

2-big tooth aspen

It’s a trail I know well, even with a new backwards S curve about two thirds of the way up that erased a steep and slippery portion and so instead I focused on those sights at my feet. While many leaves had already begun the long process of decomposition as they slowly break down and give nutrients back to the earth from which their trees grew, a few still sparkled like gems, including this Big-Tooth Aspen, aka poplar.

3-sugar maple

I was thrilled to discover Sugar Maple, defined by the U shape between its pointed lobes;

4-red maple

its V between lobes and toothier cousin, Red Maple;

5-striped maple

and even toothier kin, Striped Maple, known ’round these parts a goosefoot because its shape is similar. Some of us also refer to it as nature’s toilet paper for it’s large, soft, and easy to identify. You wouldn’t think of confusing it with poison ivy.

The curious thing about the Maple family, like all families in our northern New England forests, is that while the shape and color of the leaf helps us specify the family origins, each leaf within the family is different–whether in color or flaws or insect bites or galls. But despite their differences, they are all family.

6-large red oak

With the Striped Maple, I thought I’d found the largest species of the day, but a few more steps toward the summit revealed a rather large Northern Red Oak leaf.

7-even larger basswood leaf

And then the biggest of all–Basswood. My hiking boots are size 8. And the leaf–also a size 8, with an asymmetrical base. That must prove a challenge when trying to find the right fit.

13-polypody ferns

Focusing on the leaves took my mind off the climb and within no time I’d reached the summit where Polypody ferns in their evergreen form decorated the northwestern corner of an otherwise bald rock.

14-red maple flower and leaf buds awaiting
From the ferns where I’d planted my feet, I looked skyward and noticed the leaf and flower buds of a Red Maple, all tucked inside their waxy scales. It was the right place to be for as the north wind blew and my cheeks turned rosy red, I looked to the west.

9-Baldfaces to Carter Dome

Yesterday’s view had been transformed. No longer was it snowing from the Baldfaces to Carter Dome, with Mount Washington the whitest of all, posing between them. But still, it was chilly.

10-telescoping in on Mount Washington

A slight push on the camera lever and I pulled the scene a wee bit closer.

16-Perky's Path

At last I pulled myself away and hiked down, but so delightful was the morning, that I knew my newsletter work would have to wait a few more minutes at the intersection with Perky’s Path, for I felt the calling.

17-wetland--old beaver pond

It’s a wetland I visit frequently and once upon a time about five years ago it was filled to the brim with water because beavers had dammed it for their convenience.

18-suds reflect leaf

The only water today was found in a small stream that flowed through, its origin at Bradley Pond and terminus at Heald Pond. I stopped at the rock stepping path to admire what the water had to offer, including suds forming their own rachis or mid-vein from which side veins extended, a sideways rendition for the birch leaf caught between twigs.

19-view from the rock

In the middle of the stepping stones is a large flat rock. It was there that I settled in for a while, enjoying the feel of its sun-absorbed heat and the sound and views offered as the brook flowed slowly forth.

21-view from the bench

At last I pulled myself away and continued toward the bench that overlooked the wetland. All was quiet on this brisk day, but its a place of life and love and change.

22-back to the wetland

From there I continued to circle the old beaver pond to the point where I knew it had formerly been dammed. Climbing over and around moss-covered rocks, and into former stream beds, I made my way to the edge of what I used to call an infinity pool for the water was once at the dam’s upper level.

23-view from the beaver dam

Once I reached the dam, making my way one step at a time, for it was rather tricky footing at times, I discovered life on the other side. For all the years I’ve been involved with the land trust, I’d never seen this edge from this view. My surprise included the almost bald rocks.

25-coyote scat full of bones

Stepping from boulder to boulder, I made my way into the wetland a wee bit, but along the way realized someone had visited prior to me. Actually probably almost a year prior given the conditions of the scat left behind. Based on its shape, size, and inclusion of multiple bones plus lots of hair, I suspected a coyote had feed on a hare.

26-spider view

The coyote and I weren’t the only ones who knew of this secret place. A wolf spider darted in and out among the leaves, more afraid of me than I was of it.

27-spatterdock

And then I discovered something that perhaps they both already knew: the water supported a small colony of Spatterdock, a plant that will need to be added to the list of flora for this property. Do you see the ice on the Micky Mouse ear leaves?

28-ice

Ice had also formed around a fallen log, its swirls portraying a high-heeled boot that certainly might be appropriate in an ice sculpture but not on ice.

28-tree spirit

All of what I saw the tree spirit already knew. And yet, it allowed me to make discoveries from my feet to the sky.

29-Mount Washington summit

And every layer between. I know he’s not there anymore, but can’t you imagine Marty Engstrom on top of Mount Washington?

 

Mondate Challenge

It was a mere drizzle when we stepped outside and walked to Pondicherry Park, but eventually we needed to pull up the hoods of our raincoats. Our journey was rather quick as we followed first the Snowshoe Hare trail, and then the Pasture Trail, which led us to the Stonewall Loop, where two thirds of the way around, we diverted.

1-crossing onto LEA property

Our main intention had been to cross over the stonewall that marks the park’s boundary and explore the Pinehaven Trail owned by Lakes Environmental Association. It is on this land that the Maine Lake Science Center is located, but there are other cool features as well.

2-You Are Here

As the first sign informed us, we had arrived. And you can see by the moisture that it was raining in earnest.

3-park rules

Funding for the Pinehaven Trail signs and low-element course was provided by LEA Board Member Roy Lambert and his wife Mary Maxwell, summer residents of Bridgton who have made a huge impact on protecting the lakes and ponds we all love. Roy has brought the LakeSmart Program to LEA and Mary has spearheaded LEA’s invasive plant patrols.

Despite the fact that the sign warned us the course is “dangerous when wet,” we decided to test it out. After all, we were accompanied by a leaf as indicated.

4-Birds on a Wire

Broken into four wonderful sets, each offering a variety of activities, we began by becoming birds on a wire.

5-my own nuthatch pose

Though I would have liked to say that I was a Barred Owl or Cooper’s Hawk, being a Nuthatch wasn’t so bad.

6-my guy nuthatch

My guy . . .

7-walking the tightrope

was also a Nuthatch.

8-next set of challenges

Set Two meant getting more practice in the art of walking on a balance beam. It looked so easy, but with each one, the level of difficulty increased a bit as our confidence did the same . . . for the most part.

10-balance beam series

And at first, our eyes saw only a few anomalies in the woods, but once we focused we realized each leg of the course was more involved than first anticipated.

11-swinging beam

The second set found us not only keeping our balance on the beams that zigzagged through the grove, but also on a swinging beam.

12-stepping up

And then we had to step up and up and up.

14-around the white pine

One of my favorite parts was circling the tree like a rock wall climber might do.

15-tree hugger!

In the process, I got to hug the pine, not that I ever need an excuse.

13-bench

My other favorite part of Set Two was the bench. There were other benches along the trail, but I found this one to be the most aesthetically appealing. Even if you don’t want to try out the course, you can walk the trail and sit a bit. You might just see a deer–we did. And in the past I’ve seen other animals including a red fox.

16-Alanna's signs

As we walked on, not sure if there were more sets, we spied the first interpretive sign created by LEA’s Education Director, Alanna Doughty, and featuring her explanations and drawings. I LOVE them. And want to decorate my house with them. I didn’t tell my guy that. The other thing I loved about all the signage–it was mounted on rough-edged boards, adding to the natural look. Do I know the creator of those boards? A local box company perhaps?

17-third set

Much to our delight, not much further on we came to Set Three.

18-Enchanted Forest

The forest really was enchanted and we found ourselves using all four modes of operation in order to get from one piece of wood to the next.

19-tree cookie steps

There were lots of tree cookies to step on and more balance beams to conquer.

20-hopping along

Sometimes we hopped like toads, who don’t leap as far as frogs with their longer hind legs.

21-a balancing act

Other times we had to channel our inner Cooper’s Hawk as there was no place to put our hands.

22-waiting for the wires to stop swaying

And in doing so, my guy figured out that pausing to wait for the wire to stop swaying made for an easier crossing. He succeeded. (I need to sneak back and practice this one some more as my knees were a tad too shaky.) We suspected that kids run across without giving it a thought. And so our excuse–it was raining.

23-yeegads--getting higher

Though it looked intimidating at first, moving across the log was fun, but I wasn’t so sure about the beam that turned out to be the highest one yet. It felt like crossing a brook and so after he finished I asked my guy to come back and give me a supporting hand. He laughed and asked if I expected him to stand in the imaginary water. Yes! Chivalry at its best. Once I started across while grasping his hand, I felt rather confident and soon let go. At the other side, I rejoiced in my success. And thanked him, of course.

24-clean water

Onward still, we encountered another one of Alanna’s signs, simple yet informative. And still, we were accompanied by a leaf. And no, we didn’t place the leaves on the signs.

This sign struck me as extremely important, not that the others weren’t. But . . . clean water is what the Lakes Environmental Association is all about.

26-Paul Bunyan's Playground

At last we reached the final set, or first if you approach from Willet Road. Again, a leaf 😉

As for how good would we be as lumberjacks? Well, my guy would pass. I’d almost get there, but I have to work on my log rolling skills.

26a-variety of swings

What I liked about the final set was not only the focus on various types of trees, but also that the same theme was executed in a variety of ways and so we crossed another swinging step bridge.

27-I got this!

Sometimes, the choice to be a Nuthatch or Barred Owl didn’t exist and we had to become Cooper’s Hawks as we had nothing to grab onto while moving forward.

28-now you don't see him

There were opportunities to be apes as well and then disappear around the back sides of rather large pine trees, their girth indicative of the fact that the land had once been agricultural and the trees grew in abundant sunshine after it was no longer farmed. So, do you see my guy?

30-now you do

Now you do! Circling around that tree was as fun as the first and it had ash tree foot and hand holds.

31-Me Tarzan

He Tarzan! And notice how the piece he was about to step onto was set on a log. Yup, it was a foot seesaw. There were several and we really liked them.

32-rope climbing, log rolling

The last set included climbing a rope to the upper deck and then descending the ladder to another and on to a balance beam and then the log rolling. He did it all. I saved the wet log for another visit.

33-Mast sign

Just beyond the final set was Alanna’s last sign and a hot topic this year since last year’s mast crop of white pine cones, acorns, maple samaras, and beech nuts have meant a banner year for squirrels and mice. Remember, those little rodents don’t have as much food this year and they’ll become food for the predators and nature will try to balance itself once again. Oh, and not only are Alanna’s drawings beautiful but her humor and voice come through in the interpretive signs.

34-across the boardwalk and back into the park

As for us, we had finished our balancing act, crossed the science center’s driveway, followed the second portion of the Pinehaven Trail and wound our way down to the board walk that passes back into Pondicherry Park. From there, we found our way home.

What a blast. I think we were both a bit let down that we’d finished the course.

Thank you LEA, Alanna, Roy and Mary, for providing us with a delightful Mondate Challenge . . . even in the rain.  My guy and I highly recommend the Pinehaven Trail.