Christmas on Flat Hill

Two weeks ago the Greater Lovell Land Trust hosted a decorating party for the Fairs, Farms and Fun 4-H Group of Sweden along the trail to the summit of Flat Hill. It was the perfect tie-in to our planned hike to do the same during a guided walk scheduled for this morning.

f-finding the right spot

The homeschooled kids in the club had created ornaments with pinecones, peanut butter, and bird seed, plus garlands of cranberries and popcorn.

f-all done

Their efforts were for the first annual Maine Christmas Tree Hunt, a scavenger hunt intended for families to visit trails on several western Maine land trust properties.

f-Christmas Tree

The plan was to decorate one tree along the trail, but they had made so many ornaments that five or six trees actually were transformed into works of Christmas treats for the birds and mammals that call this place home.

f-chickadee

And so this morning we set off to check on the trees the kids had decorated and add a few of our own. We wondered what the ornaments might look like after two weeks. Some pinecones were nearly nude of the bird seed that once coated them. And if you look closely at the bottom left of this one, you’ll see a splash of gray–a chickadee moved quickly as it snatched seeds.

f-cranberries

We also discovered that the popcorn was a big hit and most had been consumed, but the tart cranberries remained.

f-ornaments 3

There’s still more out there and we added a few fresh ornaments today, so I highly encourage you to pull on your boots (and it looks like you might need snowshoes as it’s snowing while I write) and head to the trail at the end of Heald Pond Road in Lovell.

f-beech leaf skeleton

While you’re there, take a look around. There’s so much more to see, including skeletons of beech leaves,

f-bear claws

bear claw trees,

f-polypode spores

and polypody, some still dotted with sori.

f-baldfaces and Mount Wash

If your experience is anything like ours was, you’ll probably spy Mount Washington standing pure white between the branches of the red maple tree at the summit.

f-mt wash

And if you look closely, you may even see the buildings at the top of the greatest mountain in the Northeast.

f-porky 1

That’s not all that came into view. We occasionally are treated to the sight of the resident porcupine who lives in the area. And today–voilà.

f-porky bites

On our way partially down the back side of the summit cliff, we spied evidence of his work.

f-ice 2

And while we were looking, a crevasse drew our attention.

f1a-ice

The beauty of ice never ceases to draw out long “Ahhhhhhs.”

f-ice 3

The granite boulders wore the ice like necklaces–reminiscent of quills.

f-porky 2

And we got a tiny bit closer to our prickly friend.

The gifts are plentiful this Christmas season on Flat Hill. Take a hike and enjoy the wonders.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from the Greater Lovell Land Trust and me.

For the Benefit of All

Living in an area where five land trusts protect land for us and the species with whom we share the Earth strikes me as a valuable reflection of who we are and where we live. 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.

m1-first lodge

One of the biggest re-designers of the landscape is the beaver. And this afternoon, Jinny Mae and I ventured onto land owned by a friend and under conservation easement by the Greater Lovell Land Trust, to see what changes may have occurred in the past two months since we last visited.

First, we tramped off a logging road and checked on a lodge that was active two years ago. Today, the water level was low and there was no sign of activity. And so we continued on.

m2-pipsissewa

As we climbed up a small incline we stumbled upon a large patch of pipsissewa and had to celebrate our find.

m5-hexagonal pored fungi upperside

Back on the logging road, a tree brought down by one of nature’s recent whims introduced us to a fungi we had not met before–or at least as long as we could remember. And once we saw the underside, we were sure we would have remembered it.

m4-hexagonal-pored

Hexagonal-pored polypore (Polyporus alveolaris) caused us to emit at least six ohs and ahs.

m6-grape fern

Our next discovery–a grape fern. Actually, more than one grape fern once our eyes keyed in on them.

m7-checkered rattlesnake plantain

And then the checkered rattlesnake plantain; and again, once we spied one, we noticed that a whole patch shared the space. We just needed to focus for their presence was subtle amidst the brown leaves.

m8-bees nest 1

Before we met a snake of another kind, Jinny Mae spotted honey combs on the ground.

m8-excavation site

A look about and the realization that a raccoon or skunk had probably excavated the nest.

m9-snake liverwort

And then we met that other snake. You see, the last time we walked this property, we did see a garter snake. As we began our wander today, we commented that there would be no snakes or toads. But . . . we were wrong. This second snake was a snakeskin liverwort (Conocephalum salebrosum). For us, this was a second in another way for it was our second sighting of the species. Maybe now that we are aware of it, we’ll notice it growing in other places. We do know that its preferred habitat is wet or damp.

m10-umbilicate lichen?

In the same area, but across the brook in a place that we couldn’t reach today due to high water, we saw what looked like an umbilicate lichen, aka rock tripe. The color and substrate threw us off and so we’ll just have to visit again for further study. (“Oh drats!” they said with a smile.)

m11-beaver 1

The liverwort and mystery lichen were our turn-around point. On our way back, we decided to follow the water because we were curious. And within minutes our curiosity was appeased. The beavers we’d suspected might be casually active two months ago, had become incredibly active.

m12-beaver 2

Statue . . .

m13-beaver 3

upon statue . . .

m19-beaver 6

upon statue . . .

m20-beaver 7

upon statue announced their presence. And we acknowledged the fact that they have to turn their heads to scrape off the bark.

m14-beaver 4

Any trees that hadn’t been hauled away had been downed and gnawed upon in situ.

m15-beaver 5

It looked as if this one was a more recent dining adventure for there were wood chips upon the thin layer of ice and a hole showing were the diners had entered and exited the refectory.

m16-oak leaf and ice

Because of the ice, we noted other works of art worth admiring.

m18-lungwort 2

And occasionally, our downward gaze turned upward when we spied trees covered in lungwort worthy of notice.

m21-beaver 8

But really, it was the beaver works that we celebrated the most.

m23-beaver 10

And the fact that thanks to the beavers we learned that the inner bark or cambium layer of a red maple is . . . red.

m23a--not all cuts work in the beavers favor

No matter where we looked, in addition to recent windstorms, the beavers had changed the landscape. The curious thing is that most often the trees landed in the direction of the water, making it easier for them to enjoy their chews of inner bark and twigs in a relatively safe environment, but occasionally, hang ups occurred. And that brought about the question, how is it that most trees are felled toward the water? But not all?

m23a--lodge

While our focus was on the trees along the shoreline, we also kept admiring the water view as well.

m24-lodge

And noted the most recent activity at this particular beaver lodge, including a mud coating to insulate it for the winter.

m28-welcome flag on lodge

We also appreciated that a welcome sign blew in the breeze–in the form of an evergreen branch.

m29-otter scat

And where one finds water and beavers, there are otters. We knew of their presence by the scat left behind in a trail well traveled. Several times we found examples of the same.

m31-main channel open

As the sun lowered while we approached the beaver dam, we quietly hoped to see North America’s largest rodents at work, but settled for sky reflections on water and ice. And the knowledge that by their works and sign, we trusted they were present.

m32-dam1

At last we reached the dam, an expansive one at that. It’s in great shape and so no time had been wasted repairing it. That’s a good thing given that a few flurries floated earthward on this day that felt like winter. There’s food to gather and a home to prepare so work must be efficient.

m33-dam other side

Water trickled through in a few places and ice formed, but the infinity pool created by the dam continued to exist.

m34-brook

And below, the water flowed on–to other beaver dams and otter adventures we were sure. For Jinny Mae and me, our adventure needed to draw to a close. But . . . we made plans to explore again in a few months to see what changes may have occurred–with land owner permission, of course.

As we walked out, we gave thanks for the owners and their appreciation of the landscape and those that call it home today and tomorrow.

From the land comes food and water that benefits the critters who live here and us. It also offers us good health when we take the time to embrace it by exploring, exercising and just plain playing outdoors.

Protection is key. So is education, which develops understanding and appreciation. I know for myself, my relationship with the landscape continues to evolve.

I’m thankful for the work being done to protect the ecosystem. There’s so much I still don’t understand, but with each nugget of knowledge gained, the layers build. Maybe someday I’ll get it. Maybe I never will. Either way, I’m happy for the chance to journey and wonder on properties owned by land trusts and individuals.

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 so it will remain in its natural state for the benefit of all.

 

Through Younger Eyes

Zigzagging through the woods, my young friends find wonder in every moment. They embrace their discoveries–often with exclamations and excitement. Following the blazed trail is not in their blood, for they know that some of the coolest finds are off trail, where the fungi aren’t trampled and mammal signs not obliterated.

w-striped ledge

And so it was that this past week, I had the honor of spending lots of time exploring with them. First, on Tuesday, our Greater Lovell Land Trust docent tramp found us atop the “striped ledge” beside Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham, Maine. One of our docents, Mary, had obtained landowner permission for this grand adventure. From the Maine Geological Survey: “The dikes cutting the granite trend generally from southwest to northeast. They most likely intruded the host rock during the Jurassic period, when continental rifting caused extensive fracturing of New England’s bedrock (McHone 1992). Basaltic magma intruded these cracks, and cooled and solidified to form dikes such as those seen in Striped Ledge. Close examination of the ledge shows a complex intrusion history at this locality Some of the dikes have layering parallel to their walls, which may have resulted from several pulses of magma into the fractures and/or chilling of the dike margins in contact with cooler host rock . . . the dikes locally cross one another, with the older dikes being offset where they are torn apart by the younger ones.” How cool is that?

w-smiling for rosy quartz

Darn cool, especially when rose quartz was among the great finds.

w-rock hounds

And in that instant, a few rock hounds were initiated.

w-turning two twigs into a fish

When not looking at rocks, a couple of broken twigs on the ledge became a fish in one moment, and hotdog tongs in another–ever versatile were they.

w-eyeing a flower in rock tripe

But it wasn’t the ledge alone that drew their attention. When we stopped to admire rock tripe growing atop a boulder, it was the eye of the youth that discovered the green “flower” at the center.

w-Sucker Brook 2

And then the next morning, which dawned even colder than the previous, I joined the same family for a pre-hike at the GLLT’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve as we prepared for a public hike. The trail meanders beside Sucker Brook, and we, too, meandered.

w-dipping into the cold for a Pooh stick

Pooh sticks were launched periodically and sometimes had to be dislodged.

w-wondering about foam

There were bubbles to watch in the brook and the foam formed to hypothesize about.

w-stump art

Nature’s artistic designs were viewed with awe.

w-pointing to hobblebush

The intention was to find a few of their favorite things. They found a few hundred and  . . .

w-seesaw

had lots of fun along the way.

w-exploring the stream

All the way along, the water, moss-covered rocks and sticks became part of their playground. But really, they also noted a variety of fungi, including their favorite green stain, which was in fruit,  a tree that had brought distress this summer for it housed honeybees and they learned that the hard way, great sliding spots from which to practice being river otters, the sunlight glittering on Moose Pond Bog and Indian pipes in their capsule form. There were sapsucker holes, pileated woodpecker activity, birch polypores, and even a surprise. They couldn’t wait for the public hike to show off their discoveries.

l-measuring diameter 4

That same afternoon, District Forester Shane Duigan, joined our GLLT after-school program at New Suncook School in Lovell. The Trailblazers, as the group is known, first introduced Shane to their trees. And then he showed us some of the tools stored in his vest, such as the tape measure used to determine diameter.

w-learning how to age a tree

As the kids made guesses about a tree’s age, Shane demonstrated how foresters use an increment borer to extract a small core from a tree.

l-counting rings on tree core

They crowded in to watch him count its rings. The predicted age: 100. The actual age: 50. The fun: 100%.

w-Horseshoe Pond

And then this morning dawned, colder than our previous outings and the wind created white caps on Horseshoe Pond below the kiosk for the Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve. It was time for our public walk to enjoy the wonders of Wilson Wing.

w-ice 1

One of the biggest surprises were the icicles that had formed on Sucker Brook since our last visit on Wednesday morning.

w-carrot-shaped icycle

And because they are kids, they couldn’t resist gathering such to admire up close. This one looked like a carrot, and actually appeared so as it reflected the blaze orange–our color of the season.

w-ice 2

The kids realized that the icicles formed upon all types of vegetation and created their own interesting shapes worth celebrating.

w-ice 3

One even looked like a flag blowing in the breeze when turned upright, and this guy showed it to his mom in honor of her service in the Army and the fact that today is Veterans Day. Turned on its side, it became a maze game and he really wanted to place a small ball in it and watch the ball move through. And as much as he wanted to take it home, it has to live on in his mind’s eye and this photograph.

w-wondering about the car

They showed us so many things of nature, and even the unnatural, though they imagined all the critters for which the old blue car might create a fine home–squirrels, weasels, porucpines, foxes, and coyotes were on their list. And then they turned into otters themselves and slide back down the hill over and over again.

w-polypody 1

They wanted to share some other great finds, including a few squirrel dining tables and a rock with bad hair day, but the crowd had gotten ahead of them. Despite that, they looked at the “bad hair day” fern, aka polypody, and realized that it had curled in since Wednesday’s visit. And then they figured out that the fern curls when it gets cold. Who knew you could use a fern to determine the temperature?

w1-artist conks

Though they didn’t get to share all of their finds this morning, they did make some new discoveries as they wandered off trail, like the artists conks that grew in abundance.

w1-dead man's fingers

And deadman fingers fungi that reminded one of them of scat standing upright. I’ve a feeling that description will stay with me each time I look at it going forward.

w-bear hair 1

In what seemed like no time, for we traveled the trail much faster than intended, we were back on Horseshoe Pond Road and one among us was particularly excited about a certain display upon pole 13. She ran ahead to be able to show all the participants as they passed by.

w-bear hair on pole 13

It was bear hair and scratch marks that she shared with enthusiasm. And the knowledge that we are not alone in these woods.

And just after that one of her brothers realized our walk was almost over and he was disappointed for so much fun had he had being a junior docent.

w-Sarah signing my book

A few hours later, my guy and I ventured to The Met Coffee House and Gallery in North Conway to meet up with another who encourages children and their adults to explore the outdoors. It was our great joy to join my dear friend, Sarah Frankel, for the first book signing event as she celebrated the publishing of Half Acre.

w-posing by an uprooted tree

And now it’s the end of the day and the end of the week, and I’m a better person because of the time I’ve spent with young friends as they’ve moved quickly at times and then stopped to wonder. They taught me the joy of looking with open minds.

If you don’t have kids to learn with and from, may you find time to channel your inner child and look at the world through younger eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marathon Mondate

As he’s done every year for the past however many, my guy is training for the Moose Pond Half Marathon, a race around Moose Pond in Bridgton and Denmark that supports the Shawnee Peak Adaptive Ski Program. The race is only two weeks away and so this morning he headed off to run ten miles. And afterward, he said he felt like he could have run the additional 3.1 miles that would complete the race. That being said, we headed west to join our friends, Pam and Bob, on a hike at a new preserve in New Hampshire.

The plan was to meet at the trailhead near Hurricane Mountain Road on the Chatham/Conway town line. We knew the road, but not the spot, and were racing to get there, so of course I drove right by. But . . . I spied Pam sitting in their car in the parking lot and probably burned some rubber as I came to a screeching halt and then quickly put the truck into reverse. Fortunately, my guy didn’t get whiplash. It’s a back road, so not well traveled, thus I could drive backwards for a hundred feet or more without any problem–thus is the way ’round these parts. And one of the reasons we love it so.

m-sign 1

Another is that local land trusts preserve land for the benefit of the species who call this place home, both flora and fauna–and for us so that we, too, may benefit from time spent tramping along trails, making discoveries and forging friendships. The preserve we visited today isn’t quite open, but Pam said she’d heard they plan to open on November 4th. There were no signs on the kiosk or trail maps, but we quickly learned that none were necessary for the route was easy to follow. We were at the Monroe-Lucas Preserve, a 62-acre property donated to the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust.

According to their website: “The land was given to USVLT by Barrett Lucas in honor of his wife, the late Leita Monroe Lucas. Leita’s family has deep roots in East Conway and Redstone, and her father, Ernest “Red” Monroe, also wanted to see the land preserved. Adjacent to the Conway Common Lands State Forest, The Nature Conservancy’s Green Hills Preserve, and the White Mountain National Forest, this parcel builds on an existing network of preserved land, and has wonderful opportunities for future trail development and increased public access. A branch of Weeks Brook also runs through the property, and the property lies within USVLT’s ‘Green Hills’ focus area. The site is also remarkable as the one-time summer residence of the American Impressionist painter Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and his fellow painter and wife, Maria Oakey Dewing. Their cottage, built in the late 1800s, fell into disrepair in the mid-1900s. Now only the chimney remains onsite.”

m-puff ball fungi 1

With Pam in the lead, we started up the trail and within minutes the fun began. She spotted a large patch of puff balls begging to be poked. The spores wafted up and away with hopes of finding the perfect place to grow nearby. We assume they will be successful, for within a fifteen foot area, we found patch after patch and knew we weren’t the first to encourage their spores to blow in the breeze.

m-bobcat print

And then Pam began to spy prints in the mud. First, a moose. Then this bobcat–if you look closely, as we did, you may see the hind pad matted down; above that a raised ridge in the form of a C for cat; and four large toes, the two in the center being asymmetrical. Because it was a muddy substrate, we even saw nail marks, especially above the two center toes. Five feet further, we found deer prints. And so we rejoiced in the foresight of the Monroe-Lucas family to protect this land.

m-Weeks brook flowing 1

A bit further on, we heard the brook before we saw it–a branch of Weeks Brook that borders the property. We all stood beside and let it mesmerize us.

m-weeks brook 1c

We thought about its forceful action each spring and the eons it took to carve into the rocks along its banks.

m-weeks brook baths

We shared visions of a summer day spent sliding down its smooth channels and slipping into the pools below.

m-weeks brook between the rocks

And we marveled at the way it split the granite above . . .

m-weeks brook between 3

and flowed between the shelves.

m-weeks brook bubbles

All the while, it raced to the finish line and we could only assume it made good time.

m-hobblebush flower?

It was beside the brook where the hobblebush grew prolifically and offered a myriad of colors among their leaves and clasping or clapping hands among their buds. Because we were looking, we noticed one flower forming into its globe shape as it usually does in late winter. Was it confused?

m-hobblebush new leaf

And on another, a new leaf.

m-hobblebush 2

Fortunately, most behaved as they should and gave us an autumnal display worth celebrating.

m-hobblebush:hemlock shadows

One even added some shadow play.

m-mount kearsarge

Eventually, we turned away from the brook and followed the trail down. A peak through the trees and we could see Mount Kearsarge across the way.

m-slime mold 1

On a tree stump, we found a couple of fascinating fungi including a slime mold all decked out for Halloween.

m-jelly fungi

And on the same stump, a display of jelly ear fungi.

m-old moose scat

Around the corner was more evidence of moose traffic, though since it was moss-covered, we decided it was a couple of years old. None of us could ever recall seeing moss grow on moose scat before, but it made perfect sense that it would be a suitable substrate. I did wonder how they’d categorize that on a moss ID key–grows on rock, tree, ground, moose scat?

m-pippsisewa

Our moments of awe weren’t over yet. We sent up three cheers for the pipsissewa and its seedpods (Bob, did you take one?),

m-red-belted polypore

and red-belted polypore.

m-frullania 2

And then Bob spied the frullania. The smaller, spider-webby display in the lower right hand corner is Frullania eboracensis, a liverwort with no common name. But the larger mass is known as Frullania asagrayana, so named for a botanist and natural history professor at Harvard University from 1842-1873–Asa Gray.

m-frullania

We all went in for a closer look at its worm-like leafy structure.

m-frullania and muy guy

Even my guy got into the act, much to his reluctance. And he was certain he didn’t need a lesson on how to use a hand lens. Thankfully, he doesn’t read these blog posts, so I can get away with this. Shhhh.

m-uprooted pine 1

Around the next bend, for the trail has enough S curves to make the descent easy, we came upon a white pine long since uprooted. Did anyone hear the crash?

m-uprooted picture frames

It offered a wonderful view–of more red-belted polypores, the root system and rocks, plus several windows on the world beyond.

m-photo frame hand

If you go, watch out . . . Thing of The Addams Family, might be lurking about.

m-Pam holding a huge striped maple leaf, Bob photobombing

Continuing on, we moved out of the hemlock and pine grove and back into the land of the broadleaves, including one with the broadest of them all–a huge striped maple leaf that Pam spotted; and Bob made sure to photo bomb the Kodak moment.

m-cottage sign 2

And then, as the trail evened out, we crossed a narrow gangplank to the location of the original cottage. According to a sign posted there, “Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) and Maria Oakey Dewing (1845-1927) were 19th century American painters based in New York City. Maria often painted flowers and garden scenes, while Thomas is known for his figure paintings of aristocratic women, notably ‘Lady in Yellow’ hanging at the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston. The couple spent their summers at a popular artists’ colony in Cornish, NH, during the early 1900s. The Dewings also lived and painted in a cottage located here on the Monroe-Lucas Preserve for several years.

m-site of Dewing cottage 1

All that’s left is the chimney.

m-cottage stove

And some artifacts.

m-toilet

Including the john.

m-pokeweed

Our final view was a pokeweed still in flower and fruit. Again, we wondered about its timing, while appreciating its offering.

With that, we were back at the parking lot, where Bob informed us that our distance was just over a mile and time two hours–hardly record breaking. And hardly a “quickest to the destination hike” for my guy, but he kept finding stumps to sit upon as we gazed more intently on our surroundings; I think he secretly appreciated our slow pace and the opportunity to rest his legs.

If you want support his effort to raise funds for the Shawnee Peak Adaptive Ski Program, stop by and see him. Any and all donations are most welcome.

I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy

As I stepped out the door early this morning to dump yesterday’s coffee grounds, my eyes were immediately drawn to a pattern in the dew and I knew that Porky had paid us a visit.

t-porcupine trail in morning dew

His trademark sashay showed in the wet grass almost as well as it does in snow with that pigeon-toed pattern and swish of a tail. Only yesterday I’d been noting all the freshly nipped oak branches in our yard and woodlot, cut as they were at that telltale 45˚ angle.

t-flat hill sign--oxymoron

And then, after today’s coffee (grounds waiting until tomorrow to be disposed) and breakfast, I drove to Lovell to meet up with some Greater Lovell Land Trust docents for a climb up Flat Hill–that oxymoron of a name. But really, the summit is rather flat–after climbing the hill, of course.

t-trail light

It was early and felt more fall-like than we’ve experienced of late and we reveled in the temperature as well as the light along the trail as the sun played with the leaves and added a golden glow to our day.

t-coyote scat 1

When we weren’t looking up, we looked down. One of our first sights–scat! Coyote scat, we thought. Only the contents of this scat were different than most.

t-coyote scat 2

And so we went in for a closer look–for it was filled with quills. Not my home porky, but we know that the summit and rocky ledge below are porcupine territory so it made perfect sense that we found such scat in the middle of the trail.

t-fox scat

We found more scat a little further along–this one was filled with berries and seeds and also in the middle of the trail, atop a rock. Smaller in size, we suspected red fox.

t-paper birch lenticels

There were other things than scat to attract our attention, like the long lenticels on a downed paper birch–their pattern looking like either zippers on a jacket or a bunch of spruce trees in their spire formation.

t-maple-leaf viburnum

We marveled at the color and texture of the maple-leaf viburnums–like no other in the mix.

t-hop hornbeam bark and leaf

And when we reached the hop hornbeams with their shaggy bark and double-toothed leaves, we knew to look below for their seed pods. It wasn’t an easy search for they are small and blend in well with the birch and hornbeam leaves on the ground.

t-hop seed 2

But we found one–its papery sack enclosing the nutlet. We were curious to see the seed and so opened the inflated casing. It was almost a 3D tear-drop shape, coming to a sharp point.

t-hops

Skipping ahead for a moment, after we finished hiking I visited a tree back near the parking lot where Pam and I had noted plentiful fruits in the summer. It takes about twenty-five years for a hop hornbeam to fruit. And the common name–“hop” refers to the seed clusters that represent true hops used in beer production.

t-summit view 1

At last we reached the summit and stood for a while, in awe of the color display before us.

t-polypody 1a

From the same spot, we also noted the polypody ferns that grow upon the summit rock.

t-polypody spores 2

Ferns reproduce by spores rather than seeds. The itty bitty spores (think dust sized), called sporangia, grew on the underside of these leathery frond leaflets. The sporangia form clusters called sori and in the case of polypody the sori are naked. Some had already dispersed.

t-chipmunk

At last we started down, but not without a side trip of bushwhacking and annoying a chipmunk who had some housekeeping details to attend to.

t-docents 1

Less than three hours later (amazing for us), we gathered at the bottom and said our goodbyes to Darbee and David on the left–they’ll return to their winter home soon. Bob and Pam will hang with us for a bit longer, but while I reflected on all the wonderful reasons to enjoy winter in Lovell, the two couples made plans to connect in their winter habitat.

t-wooden spoon

The day wasn’t over yet and this afternoon another docent and I set up a “Kim’s game” of natural and unnatural items on a sheet covered with a bandana on the trail behind the New Suncook School. Then we walked further along the trail and hid a bunch of unnatural items for our after-school Trailblazers to locate. (We had to relocate them as well and are almost certain we found all of them. Maybe . . . )

t-noticing leaf colors

Before the kids did anything though, they introduced Linda to their trees–clusters of trees really for all are copiced, that they’ve befriended and named and gotten to know up close and personal. This afternoon, they noted that the colors of the leaves were changing.

t-Linda and Sassy

They loved giving Linda a tour and she loved being part of the action.

t-alligators in the woods

The kids did an excellent job with their observation skills, including locating at least one species that didn’t quite belong in these woods.

t-fallen log 1

And then we started gently rolling over fallen limbs, curious about what we might find below.

t-red-backed salamander

And what to our wondering eyes should appear? A red-backed salamander under the first one. We rolled a few more and didn’t find much. But then we heard something and stood still as we listened. Finally, it called again and we called back–a barred owl was somewhere nearby. At last it was time for the kids to head home and as we walked out of the woods to meet their parents, we stopped to roll one more log–where we found a yellow-spotted salamander. Unfortunately, in our excitement, I couldn’t take a decent photo, but still . . . we were thrilled.

What a perfect day–of I spy, you spy, we all spy. Indeed we did.

 

Lingering at Long Meadow Brook

It’s Tuesday, which means time for a tramp through the woods–especially if you are a docent for the Greater Lovell Land Trust. We take our job seriously, filling our bags with field guides, hand lenses, binoculars, cameras, water, humor and wonder. The latter two are the key components and thankfully we’re all comfortable enough with each other to tell corny jokes and laugh at our misidentifications as we explore the natural world through curious eyes and minds, while sharing a brain.

l1-white spores 1

And so today, though our intention was to look for fall wildflowers, we had much more to notice along the way, like the white spores of mushrooms decorating the surrounding haircap mosses.

l2-funnel spider 1

And there were funnel sheet webs to examine, given that the morning fog left them dew covered and easier to spot.

l3-funnel 2

Though we wanted to take a closer look at the creators of such fine work, and tried gently touching webs with pine needles, our antics obviously vibrated more than your ordinary bug might, and the spiders ran into their funnels to hide.

l4a-cup and saucers

As we’d driven to the Long Meadow Brook Reserve, we’d spotted a field of medium-sized white pines decorated with webs and were thrilled to find the same on saplings.

l5-cup and saucer web 1

The bowl and doily spider is another member of the sheet species, and it builds webs that consist of two intricate parts. Above is the bowl, an inverted dome, and below, the lacier doily. The spider hangs upside down beneath the bowl, but above the doily, waiting for dinner to drop in.

l6-looking at spider webs

Trying to see the tiny bowl and doily spiders requires getting down on all fours and looking through a hand lens for they are only about 3-4 millimeters in length. We did and were successful in our efforts.

l4b-cup and saucer on bristly sarsaparilla

It seemed today that nothing escaped spider activity, including the gone-by fruits of bristly sarsaparilla.

l4-orb web 1

Equally delightful in the making was an orb web outlined in dew, larger droplets highlighting each spoke, with smaller ones on the sticky silken spirals.

l1b-pilewort

In several openings, pilewort grew in abundance.

l1a-pilewort field

Like a field of cotton, its dandelion-like seedheads were prolific.

l1c-pilewort seedhead

But really, I preferred the seed display to the petal-less flowerhead that emerges from the cylindrical cluster.

l7-pine cones 1

Also prolific were the female cones atop the white pines, their brown color indicating they were in their second or third year of development, having been wind pollinated by  tiny male cones. The pollen cones fall of trees within a few days of decorating our vehicles, outdoor furniture, and naked female seeds with yellow dust. If you think back to spring and all the little rice krispies that decorated the ground below white pines, you’ll know that you were looking at male cones. The seed cones typically form on the uppermost branches, so that the tree won’t pollinate itself from below, but can receive pollen blowing in the breeze from another tree.

l8-pokeweed 1

We’d looked high to see the cones, and then drew our eyes lower and thrilled with the sight of one of our tallest perennials.

l9-pokeweed 2

At first we only spied one pokeweed growing in an opening, but then began to spot others in flower and . . .

l11-pokeweed 3

fruit.

l29-blueberry

Another one of our surprises–still flowering blueberries. The plants themselves didn’t look too happy . . .

l13-blueberry flowers

and we wondered if there would be enough energy or time for the fruit to form.

l14-cinnabar-red polypore

As we ambled along, we found cinnabar-red polypores,

l18b-turkey tails1

turkey tails,

ll18a-gilled polypore

and polypores know for their . . .

l18-labyrinth of pores

underside labyrinth of pores that look like gills.

l20a-brown spores 1

And we found another type that had spread brown spores.

l19a-mystery hole

Making our way down to the brook, we were stumped by a pile of dirt, small hole about one-half inch across and chewed mushroom. We remain stumped, so if you have a clue, we’ll listen. It was a messy dooryard so we didn’t suspect a chipmunk, plus the hole wasn’t wide enough. Voles eat vegetation. Could it be? Was it even made by a mammal?

l22-white oak

Along the same route, we made another fun find. White oak saplings.

l23--white oak 2

White oak grows in surrounding towns–Fryeburg, Sweden, Brownfield, Waterford, but not in Lovell or Stow, where this property was located. So, how did it arrive? Two theories–it was on a skidder trail, so could have come in on a machine; or perhaps via airmail from a bird. Long ago, white oaks grew in this area, but were used for barrel making. And because their acorns contain less tannin than that of a Northern red oak, mammals devour them quickly, thus making it more difficult for the trees to regenerate.

l23-LMB 2

It took us a while, but finally we reached the old beaver dam and culvert by the brook, where the fall foliage was subtle at best, but still beautiful. We walked (if you can call it that) for 2.5 hours and covered all of .95 miles. It was hot and muggy, so we felt like we’d covered 9.5 miles, but as always were thankful for our time spent lingering at Long Meadow Brook.

 

 

 

Be Puzzled Mondate

Our favorite Monday mornings begin with my guy unscrambling the Jumble words in the newspaper, but leaving the final answer cells empty so I can give it a try, me decoding the cryptoquip, and both of us solving the crossword puzzle. And then our day can begin.

p1-kiosk map

And so it was this morning before we drove an hour north to a Mahoosuc Land Trust trailhead on Route 26 in North Newry. Our plan was to climb the trail to the summit and then make our descent via the Woodsum Spur before connecting back to the main trail. We figured we’d finish up about 3:30pm.

p3-dry brook

And so we began our climb, crossing six or seven dry streams, where not even a trickle pleased our ears.

p4-bear 1

But our eyes knew otherwise for we were in a beech forest and scratch marks were prevalent.

p6-bear 3

In spite of the nectria caused by beech scale insects and others, we spied a familiar pattern that always thrills us. Our first puzzle teaser–do you see the pattern we saw?

p8-bear 6

Without going off trail, the bear paw trees were plenty and our quest for such satisfied.

 

p11--suspended animation

Our questions, however, continued beyond the bear trees. How did this beech leaf happen to be dangling in suspended animation?

p14-jack in the pulpit

Why did we find only one jack-in-the-pulpit?

p15-Indian Cucumber Root

What is the purpose of red on the Indian cucumber root leaves?

p17-doll's eye

And why are white baneberry’s fruits, aka doll’s eyes, poisonous?

p16-hiking upward

We noticed all of these great finds as our upward climb took us through a neighborhood of hardwoods.

p12-sugar maple on sensitive fern

Along the way we also noted sugar maple leaves atop sensitive fern fronds.

p13-oyster fungi

And one tree bedecked with oyster fungi. Their name always throws me off given that I grew up on the Connecticut coast where I often cut my feet on oyster beds.

p20-roots and rocks on trail

As we continued upward, suddenly the smell and look changed. We’d entered the Christmas Tree Shop where hemlocks, balsam fir and spruce trees dominated the landscape.

p21-fog 1 view

At last we approached a scenic view . . .

p22-fog 2 view

but all that we could see in the great beyond . . . fog.

p25-witherod

The further up we climbed, however, other shrubs added color to a gray day, including wild raisins, aka witherod.

p26-among the rocks

Eventually the trail conditions became more difficult and we worked our way through a boulder field that made me think of bobcats.

p27-summit in view

Eventually we emerged from the fog into the sun, thankful all the time for cairns marking the way. And the sight of the summit above.

p28-summit view 1

As we advanced, other summit views made theirselves known.

p30--heading up

But, we weren’t there yet. To reach the summit, we had to climb on.

p34-mountain ash 2

Along the way, mountain ash trees showed off their prolific fruits.

p35-almost the summit

Finally, the summit was just a few steps above.

p36-first survey mark

We’d reached the high point of 3,133 feet.

p38-lunch rock

Lunch rock quickly presented itself–backed by the summit cairn.

p40-view from lunch rock 2

And the view–mountain islands amidst a sea of clouds. Had the day been clear, we would have had a 360˚ vantage point, but it was beautiful no matter.

After lunch we looked for the trail beyond so we could follow the Woodsum Spur for 1.7 miles before looping back to the main trail. We found many mini-trails that led nowhere and two or three times my guy looped down and around on one that promised hope, only to find himself back at the summit. But after about a half hour of searching,  we spied a splash of blue paint that held promise and so we followed it, in hopes that we’d eventually find our way down.

p42-bobcat scat

Along the way, we found lots of bobcat scat, which made perfect sense given our locale.

p43-snowberry and sphagnum

And sphagnum moss interrupted by snowberry tendrils.

p44-view from SW ledge where lost

And then we reached a cairn with no trails to follow down over a rather steep ledge. We looked and looked and looked, again spending at least a half hour trying to find our way. At last, much to our disappointment we decided we’d need to retrace our steps to the summit and follow the main trail down.

p45-Woodsum sign

Somehow, about fifty feet back, we discovered a sign that we’d previously missed. Apparently, those who had created the trail wanted us to go forward as we had to enjoy the scenic overlook, but what we didn’t realize was that then we needed to backtrack. At this point, we wished we’d had a magic marker in our pack so we could highlight the sign.

p47-heading down

As we headed down, we were still in the sun, which was incredibly toasty, but the fog prevailed below.

p50-my guy and a bear

The Woodsum Spur felt much longer than its 1.7 mile length, maybe because we were so hot and tired, but we thrilled at a sight in some mud–my guy’s print on the left and a bear on the right.

p48-bear print

It was a front print of the bear–and we wondered where it might be.

p53-trail sign

At last, we emerged from the spur and only had 2.6 miles to go to get back to the trailhead. I swear we ran down. My guy said that I always say that. He’s right–because we do.

p54-beer1

Six and half hours (an hour later than our intended departure time) and nine miles later, we were sweaty and stinky and happy to have made the acquaintance of Puzzle Mountain–though we still had many questions–puzzling as it was.

On the way home, we stopped for some ice water followed by a couple of local brews at Sunday River Brewing Company–Long Haul Lager for me, because it was such, and Raspberry Wheat (Razzle Dazzle) for him, because he was curious.

Be puzzled? We were. But we toasted this Mondate and trust we’ll travel the same trail again.