It feels like forever, but has only been since last fall that we produced an issue of Lake Living. Our hiatus was due to the pandemic and the fact that we didn’t have the usual amount of advertisers (the mag is free to you, so please support the advertisers who make it happen–and tell them where you saw their ads. Thank you.), and stores and other businesses didn’t necessarily want to put a magazine on the shelf. That was all before we understood this devastating disease better.
But . . . we’re back! And with some timely articles I think you will enjoy.
The first article, “Conservation Collaboration,” by yours truly is about Sebago Clean Waters, an initiative that includes Loon Echo Land Trust, Western Foothills Land Trust, Portland Water District, Lakes Environmental Association, Mahoosuc Land Trust, and some bigger entities. I won’t give away how it works because I want you to read the article, but it’s all about clean water and the Sebago Lake watershed and what these organizations are doing to benefit all of us.
In “A Sense of Space,” Laurie LaMountain describes how architect John Cole recreated a lakeside house in a creative way given shoreland zoning laws in Maine. Not only is this an enjoyable read to learn more about how John and the homeowner problem solved to turn small living quarters into airy living quarters, but Laurie also provided valuable information about the laws that govern building beside our lakes and ponds.
Laurie is also the writer of this extremely important topic: protecting our most precious resource. A must read for everyone, both here in Maine and afar.
Up next is another article by me, “From the Earth to the Moon and Beyond,” about the world-class Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel, Maine, where I had the opportunity to hold this moon rock. You can too! But again, be sure to tell them you read about it in lake living.
That’s followed by the Summer Living calendar of events that comes with the warning that all items are subject to change because one of the take-aways from the last 15 months is that we all need to be flexible. So . . . check websites before heading out the door. I know this to be so true because at Greater Lovell Land Trust we’ve already made some changes since publishing our summer calendar.
“Eat What You Sow,” about three local gardeners including lake living‘s graphic designer, Dianne Lewis, is an informative article by my friend and emerging writer, Marguerite Wiser, Farm Lead at The Ecology School in Saco, Maine.
Possibly one of the most visually colorful articles I wrote, entitled “The Bag Lady,” features Designs by Diana Bags, a Lovell, Maine, business Diana Davis created and her story of how it came to be that’s she’s selling hand-made bags and other consigned items from her boutique and workshop on Main Street. Another one where you need to stop in and let Diana know you read her story here.
And no copy of the summer issue would be complete without book reviews from the folks at Bridgton Books, including owners Justin and Pam Ward, and employees Sue and Perri. There’s something in these pages for everyone, and once again I beg you to shop local. By now you know what to tell them when you step up to the counter to make your purchase. 😉
Finally, Laurie brings us recipes as she always does, this time in the form of “l’apéritif.” If you don’t know what that means, you’ll have to check it out. Well, of course, you need to check it out because ’tis the season.
To say we’re excited to be back would be an understatement. I hope you’ll pour a cup of coffee or glass of lemonade and enjoy the read. Here’s the link: Lake Living Summer 2021
For the past two weeks at Greater Lovell Land Trust we’ve had the good fortune to conduct a wildlife survey in the waters that surround the newly acquired Charles Pond Reserve in Stow, Maine. Our hats are off to Alanna Doughty of Lakes Environmental Association (LEA) for her willingness to be the lead on this project and work in collaboration with us. Alanna, you see, has conducted previous surveys for Maine Inland Wildlife & Fisheries (MDIFW) at LEA properties, and was trained by wildlife biologist Derek Yorks to set these up.
MDIFW maintains a comprehensive database on the distribution of Maine’s amphibians and reptiles, as well as terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates and the data we’ve collected will add to the bigger picture. What we discovered was just as important as what we didn’t find.
The survey began with a day of setting and baiting fifteen traps in the pond and associated rivers. What’s not to love about spending time in this beautiful locale, where on several occasions lenticular clouds that looked like spaceships about to descend greeted us.
Each trap was given a number to identify on subsequent days, and all were marked with waypoints on a GPS map of the area. The traps were designed so critters could get in from either end without harm, but could not escape . . . until we recorded them and set them free, that is. An empty water bottle helped each trap stay partially afloat, thus allowing any captured turtle an opportunity to surface for air since unlike fish, they don’t have gills. And each trap was baited with a can of sardines in soybean oil, opened just a tad to release the oil, but not enough for the critters to eat the fish. That was the messy . . . and stinky part of the task. But I swear my hands and wrists currently are less wrinkled than the rest of my arms.
As Alanna on the right, showed GLLT’s Executive Director Erika Rowland, on the left, and me on day 2, the information we needed to collect included air temp at the beginning of each set of five traps, water temp at every trap, plus we had to document turtle species and any bycatch. And if we moved traps, which we ended up doing a day or two later, we needed to note that as well, and remember to change the location on GLLT’s iPad.
We felt skunked at first, because a bunch of our traps were empty, but soon learned that every day would be different. Our first painted turtle, however, was a reason to celebrate.
In no time, it became routine, and GLLT’s Land Steward Rhyan Paquereau, Erika, and I took turns sharing the tasks of the daily trips. If it sounds like a hardship, it was not.
Even GLLT’s Office Manager, Alice Bragg, had an opportunity to spend time checking traps with us and taking the water temperature.
With confidence that we knew what we were doing, well, sorta knew, we invited all volunteer docents and board members to get in on the fun. Of course, my email to them mentioned the stinky soybean oil and feisty mosquitoes, but that did not deter. Often, if something was in the trap it would wiggle upon our approach, but sometimes, as Pam Marshall learned, it wasn’t until you picked it up to check, that the real action began.
A hornpout, aka brown bullhead, started flipping around and there was a moment of surprise.
I knew nothing about freshwater fish at the beginning of the survey, and still don’t know a lot, but am learning. Hornpouts are native catfish who come out at night to feed, vacuuming up worms, fish and fish eggs, insects, leeches, plants, crustaceans, frogs–you name it.
They have a thick rounded body, and a broad, somewhat flattened head with a distinctive set of “whiskers” around the mouth called barbels, which they use to find prey. Their fins have sharp saw tooth spines that can be locked in an erect position as we soon learned and wearing gloves was the best way to try to pull one out if the release zipper on the net wasn’t working. With no scales on their skin, they were a bit slippery, but we managed.
On another day, when volunteers Pippi and Peter Ellison and I had to wait out a fast-moving rain storm that initally left us soaked and chilled, the first catch of the day was a water scorpion. At the time, I kept calling it a walking stick, because it does resemble one. But this is an aquatic insect. It’s not a true scorpion, despite its looks. It uses its front pincer-like legs to catch its prey. And its tail actually acts as a kind of snorkel, rather than a sting, allowing it to breathe in the water.
Once the rain stopped, the Ellisons and I carried on and they were well rewarded. All told, they released the biggest variety of species from this small snapping turtle, to several painted turtles, a crayfish, and several fish species.
In the very last trap, Pippi also pulled out a giant water beetle.
On another day, one of Bob Katz’s finds was a freshwater snail. Thankfully, it was not the large, invasive Chinese Mystery Snail, but rather one of the 34 natives.
As was often the case, teamwork played a huge role in the process of removal of not only the species, but also the stinky sardine cans that were replaced with fresh ones every other day. That didn’t stop Joan Lundin from smiling about the chores to be completed on a super hot day when the air temp hit 90˚.
While some days were downright cold or windy, and whitecaps made crossing the pond a real challenge, others offered calm waters and Basil Dixon and Bruce Taylor joined Rhyan and me for one of the latter.
Up Cold River, much to our surprise, Basil hoisted out a trap filled with four hornpouts.
They waited impatiently for a photo call and release and in moments were on their way.
At the very next trap, Bruce discovered four as well, this time all being painted turtles.
They looked as grumpy as the hornpouts, but who could blame them. Painted turtles are common throughout Maine and in fact, the most wide-spread native turtle of North America. This colorful turtle’s skin ranges from olive to black with red, orange, or yellow stripes on its extremities.
Each time we went out, I prayed we wouldn’t find a large snapping turtle in the trap and that if we did, Rhyan would be with me. Several times, we had to replace traps because big snappers had torn the mesh, and twice we released small snappers, one feistier than the other. On the very last day when we were pulling the traps out because the study was drawing to a close, as luck would have it, Rhyan was with me and we caught not the biggest snapper we’ve ever seen, but still one of decent size.
Notice the plastron, or bottom shell, and you can actually see the bridges that connect it to the much larger top shell or carapace. The zipper on this particular trap had been sewn shut because apparently in a previous study another snapper had torn it, but Rhyan carefully unstitched it to let the turtle swim free.
So, the thing about visiting the same place on a regular basis, is that you get to know so many of the community members, such as the six-spotted tiger beetles who chose that very moment to move rapidly across leaves and rocks by the pond’s edge as they mated. Their large eyes, long legs and sickle-shaped mandibles are characteristic of these metallic green beetles. Usually, however, I can’t get close for a photo because like some dragonflies, as soon as I take a step, they fly ahead a few feet and land until my next step. I was grateful that canoodling slowed them down at least a tad.
Did I mention dragonflies? Each day more exuviae were added to the stems and leaves of terrestrial and aquatic vegetation. Though fragile, the casts of exoskeletons retain the exact shape of the full grown nymph. You might think of it as a kind of death mask for that previous aquatic stage of life. In each exuvia there’s a hole located behind the head and between the wing pads where the adult dragonfly emerged, literally crawling out of itself. The white threads that dangle from this exit hole are the tracheal tubes.
For a couple of hours after we’d finished the survey on the day Pam was with me, we watched this dragonfly that for some reason could not completely escape its larval form. It was obvious by its coloration and body/wing formation that it had been trying for quite a while to free itself–there was still life in it as we watched it move its legs and wings, but we didn’t interfere (though a part of us regretted that) and the next day I discovered it in the same position, but lifeless. Two days later, it was gone and I had to hope a bird had a good meal.
Speaking of birds, we saw them and delighted in listening to them, like this yellow warbler, and herons, osprey, orioles, red-winged blackbirds, tree swallows, one lonely loon, and even a hummingbird.
But our favorite bird sighting was this bald eagle, who found a silver maple snag at the outlet of Cold River into Charles Pond.
I was a wee bit nervous as that was Change The Trap Bait Day, and I had a bag of stinky old sardine cans in my lap as I paddled a kayak. As you can see by the context of this photo, Rhyan and I weren’t far from him at all.
He was intent, however, on something else and barely gave us a glance.
On the sandbar below, stood a sandpiper.
At last, however, the eagle flew, the sandpiper didn’t become a meal, and we watched as the bigger bird landed in a pine where we’ve spotted it before. We still had two more traps to attend to that day, and both were located below the eagle’s perch, but it left us alone.
The smallest birds that delighted us we heard first for they were constantly begging for a meal. All of the first week, we knew they were there by their sweet peeps, but it wasn’t until the second week that we began to spy them. And their demands for food began to sound louder and more adult-like. Unfortunately, the excavated hole used as a nest, was located in a spot where the afternoon sun made it difficult to see, but again on that last day the Kodak moment arrived.
Turtles, too, entertained us not only from the traps, but from their much happier places, basking on rocks or fallen logs. Typically, they slid off the substrate as soon as we approached, but this one actually let us pass by as it remained in place.
Because the water was shallow and clear, occasionally we spied one swimming below. Erika and Rhyan also paddled over one large snapper on a day I wasn’t out for the survey, but our snapping turtle finds tended to be on the smaller side–thankfully.
This story of the survey would not be complete, however, without the absolute best sighting that occurred on the last day. Our mammal observations on almost every trip included a muskrat, plus occasional squirrels, and once a beaver. From our game camera set up at various locations, and from tracks and scat, we also know that coyotes, raccoons, otters, a bobcat and a black bear share this space. But . . .
as we paddled the canoe across the pond, Rhyan spied the young bull moose first. We’d seen moose tracks on the road way and every day hoped today might be the day. At last it was.
For a few minutes we sat and watched as he dined upon vegetation.
He seemed not bothered by our presence; mind you we were farther away than appears.
For a while, he browsed in one area, and then began to walk along the edge. And we gave thanks that the stars were aligned, but felt bad that one more volunteer, Moira Yip, who was supposed to be with us, hadn’t been able to make it.
Finally, the moose stepped out of the water and we knew our time together was coming to a close.
He gave one sideways glance and we said our goodbyes.
And then he disappeared from Charles Pond for the moment, and so did we.
What an incredible two weeks it was as we surveyed the wildlife of Charles Pond. Many thanks to Erika and Rhyan, to all of the volunteers who joined us (including Nancy and Brian Hammond who went on a day that I wasn’t present) and especially to LEA’s Alanna, and MDIFW’s Derek Yorks for letting us complete this assessment.
It was an honor and a privilege to be part of this project.
I awoke early, filled with concern for Greater Lovell Land Trust’s March Madness hike planned for today. The wind was blowing and the temperature had dropped significantly after several days of “Fake Spring.” Would volunteer docents and staff be ok in parking lots and summits at GLLT’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve where we were encouraging people to climb one, two, or all three “peaks”?
We had it all planned–“snowman” passports available in the parking lots, along with trail maps, healthy snacks, magazines, and advice. Oh, and a donation jar 😉
At each summit, participants would have their passports stamped and choose one GLLT/nature-related swag item.
But that wind. A check of the weather report, thankfully, promised that the wind advisory suggesting gusts up to 45 mph, would end by 10am. Our event was planned to begin at 9:30. As I wrote in an email to volunteers and staff, “Let’s go for it.” No one balked. One replied, “We’ll be there.” And another wrote, “They don’t call in March Madness for nuthin’.”
After making sure everyone was set, at parking lot #4 on Route 5 in Lovell I opened the back of my truck to display the offerings. Our talented executive director had created a snowman out of the three summits, one of them actually being the snowball, and the buttoned breast serving as connector trails.
For the first two hours or so, my only companions were chipmunks, which despite, or maybe because of the cold, ran frantically from one side of the trail to the other, in and out of holes, and disappearing at one section of stone wall, while a short time later reappearing at another. Or was that a different chipmunk?
I counted four, but really, there could have been more for they entered and exited so frequently. Meanwhile, I was also on the move in an attempt to stay warm. The wind may not have been gusting per se, but it was rather breezy and certainly quite chilly.
And so I walked (and sometimes ran) around the parking lot and about a tenth of a mile up the trail, over and over again. In a way I wish I’d tracked my trail, because it would have looked as if I was indeed mad.
But . . . I made discoveries, including raccoon prints in the mud,
Yellow birch catkins flying like flags upon their twigs over my head,
and their associated trunk showing off its curly bark.
A Red Maple sported the perfect target fungus that I often mention to others, who can’t always see the bulls-eye pattern.
And somehow, though I’ve walked this trail many times over many years, I’ve never spotted the burnt potato-chip bark of a Black Cherry right beside the path before.
I also learned something about chipmunks. They scampered for several hours, but early afternoon must be siesta time and I never did see any of them again, though I checked frequently.
By 11:30, participants began to pull into the lot and I felt a certain sense of relief. Being without cell phone reception, I had no idea how things were going with anyone else, but gave thanks that people wanted to participate in the hike and had learned about it from several forms of media.
As they hiked, my parking lot meandering continued, though the space to move shrunk due to their parked vehicles.
With the chipmunks no longer offering entertainment, I decided to add an examination of the kiosk to my point of view.
Upon it I found a bunch of larval bagworm moths, their structure such that they remind me of the caddisflies I’ll soon be looking for as waterways open.
Another frequent observation at any kiosk is the cocoon structure of tussock moths. This one didn’t let me down.
Speaking of down, it was down that my eyes were next drawn and I spotted an old apple oak gall that curiously sported two exit holes–or had someone dined upon the goods once forming inside. How it survived two feet of snow and retained its global shape stymied me. Another thought though is that it may have remained attached the tree for a long time and only recently blew to the ground.
While I considered that, something hopped. Seriously.
The hopper turned out to be a . . . grasshopper instar. A what? An instar is a phase between two periods of molting in the development of an insect larva or other invertebrate animal. Think of it as a nymph, if you will.
Spying one seemed an anomaly, but . . . I spied three more upon the snow.
They couldn’t yet fly, but they certainly could hop up to three feet despite their diminutive size of about 2 centimeters. Their direction wasn’t always forward, but sometimes more sideways.
In the end, thirteen folks hiked from my lot and the others had 12 and 9, so I’d call the first annual March Madness a success. All volunteers and staff stayed sorta warm–each finding their own way to do so.
As for me, I somehow managed to cover 7.8 miles in a small space and found myself smiling frequently as March Madness was really March Gladness.
Today’s adventure began earlier than most because we hoped to beat the snowstorm and so over bumpy roads did we travel to an old favorite. Actually, it’s a favorite we haven’t visited in at least a year because on one approach there were so many cars parked along the roadway that we knew the trails would be crowded so we found a spot to turn around and skedaddled out of there. And with the overcrowding of trails in mind, we’ve spent a lot of time finding the those less traveled, and not always mentioning our location. But . . . finally, we returned to this one.
One of the reasons I love the winter trek is that the road upon which everyone parks from spring through fall isn’t plowed, so one must walk in. And do what I always do–check the telephone poles for bear hair.
Whether it’s the creosote on the pole, the hum of electricity riddling high above on the wires, or something new and shiny in their territory, bears are attracted and rub their backs against the object as they turn their heads to nip and bite. The jagged horizontal lines speak to the upper incisors scraping the wood as they reach toward the lower incisors. And the shiny numbers that marked the pole–all that is left is a notation in the power company’s data base.
The thing is: we always check the poles along this stretch when we hike in on the road. And we’re always rewarded for our efforts. Do note the color of the hair–bleached by the sun, a Black Bear’s hair turns ginger.
Almost a mile in we reached the starting point for our expedition as a few flurries fluttered from the sky. Much but not all of the Stone House property is conserved under an easement with Greater Lovell Land Trust.
Our plan was to continue down the road, then turn right onto the Shell Pond Trail system.
All along the road we’d noted tracks galore of mice, squirrels, hares, foxes, fishers, coyotes and weasels.
The snow was well packed, but we weren’t sure that would be the case when we turned onto the intended trail.
It was, and so having donned our micro-cleats, and carried our snowshoes, we decided to ditch the latter behind a tree. And crossing over the trail at said tree, a bobcat track, complete with a classic segmented bobcat scat. Did I mention that we almost always encounter bobcat tracks here and that we often store our snowshoes, deciding that we should be just fine without them?
At the first bridge, we paused and I hoped against hope we’d see signs of an otter. Or even the real deal.
No such luck, but there was a mink track by the edge of the water. It’s often one or the other that we expect to see here.
Ditching the snowshoes, like always proved to be a good idea as our progress was much quieter (and quicker–but then again, any hike with my guy is rather on the quick side no matter the distance). Only occasionally did we punch holes into the snow.
On a couple of occasions my post-holing was intentional for I spied woodpecker trees.
The debris below each meant the bird had spent a lot of time excavating.
And the depth of the excavations meant it must have found delightful little carpenter ants and maybe some beetles to dine upon. What do I always do when I see such a refuse pile? Examine it for scat, of course. At the first tree, I found none and worried that either the bird had gone hungry or was constipated.
I was just about to stomp back to the trail after looking about below the second tree when the pièce de résistance caught my attention. The bird wasn’t starving and didn’t have digestive issues after all.
And then there’s another tree that begs to be honored with each passing and so we always do. Today the burl gave us the feeling that we might be passing through the Jurassic period, albeit snow taking the place of lush vegetation.
At last we reached the bench, or at least the top of it, and my guy turned from Shell Pond to clean it off for lunch.
Our traditional PB&J sandwiches unwrapped, we took in the view and watched the clouds play as they danced across the mountain range.
At last we continued on in the area where Peregrin Falcons will soon nest (or so we hope) on the cliffs above, and if you follow us frequently, you may note that at first my guy doesn’t have the Curious Traveller pack on his back. Once lunch is eaten and more water consumed, he takes the pack and I tease him about it being so much lighter.
The journey took us through the old orchard . . .
across the former airstrip where the clouds parted to reveal some blue sky . . .
and past the privately-owned stone house for which the property is named.
And then, because the snow had held off for the most part, we decided to hike a short distance up the Stone House Trail to Rattlesnake Pool. Surrounded by ice and snow, it had shrunk in size, but still, it’s always worth a visit.
We climbed down and got within about six feet, but chose not to dive in. The emerald green water was enough to revive us.
Because we were there, we also needed to walk in to Rattlesnake Gorge, located south of the pool. Water gurgled in the background, but much of it travelled under the weight of snow and ice.
And when we turned, it was more of the same–a frozen world waiting for the upcoming thaw to free it.
Oh, did I mention that we stowed the backpack before heading up to the pool and gorge, giving my guy even more of a break from hauling it the rest of the way? As we returned to the airfield, the snow was just beginning to fall in earnest.
Remembering to grab our snowshoes, we finally made our way back along the road, past the lemonade stand house, and returned to the truck, completing a seven-mile journey.
We are creatures of habit, as becomes more obvious each day, and we’re thrilled to back at this perennial favorite. To top it all off, we realized that we had the entire property to ourselves today. No Ho Hums about this Mondate.
So maybe this morning wasn’t the best choice to go searching for pollinators since the temp was in the 50˚s and delightfully so. Crisp air. Blue sky. Autumn Teaser. What’s not to love?
But search I did. I suspected most of those I sought were sleeping within the flower petals or had found some other warm spot to spend the night and early hours of the day.
One well wrapped and ready for the next season was a native young Hickory Tussock Caterpillar. Do you see the detached hairs above it on the yet unmunched half of the Sweet-fern leaf? In a way, tussocks remind me of porcupines for their hairs are barbed like a porky’s quills and can easily detach.
Though most that I’ve been seeing are about one inch long, I discovered one that was at least three inches and perhaps considering using the hairs to spin a cocoon.
Recently friends and I commented that we hadn’t seen many of these caterpillars this year and then we recalled that last year’s prolific sightings occurred late summer/early fall. The good news is this: though they defoliate many tree species including but not limited to hickories, they do so at a time when the trees are preparing to shut down and so no overall harm seems to be done. And being native, they are subject to natural enemies so we can only hope that this year’s prevalence is much lower.
Mind you, as the morning progressed, there were a few pollinators on the move including this tiny hoverfly upon an aster. Though they don’t have pollen baskets and can’t carry as much pollen as a bee might, hoverflies visit so many flowers that they are seen as pollinator champions.
As my search continued, I stumbled upon a female Katydid walking along a wooden fence. Katydids’ antennae are long (as in at least the length of the body) and thin, thus differentiating them from their grasshopper cousins.
Another way to identify one is the camouflaged leafy structure of their wings, much resembling the veined foliage upon which they spend their time dining. And this one–a female, so proclaimed because of its thick, upwardly curved ovipositor (egg-laying structure).
Under the same fence post, a grasshopper did rest, its antennae much shorter.
What surprised me most as I explored one place and then another and another: the variety of dragonflies that still did fly. I’m rather partial to a few, including this male Pondhawk Darner with its greenish face and white claspers. If only his gal had been around, they would have made a handsome couple.
In another spot a Paper Wasp paused. Watch its hind legs.
Ever so slowly . . .
it practiced . . .
Edward Scissorhands moves. Paper Wasps are pollinators and I had to wonder if it was transferring some pollen on its legs in wasp-ballet style.
Finding a few pollinators and other insects was fun, but the creme de la creme of this morning’s expedition was time spent with so many Autumn Meadowhawks who shared every trail I walked.
Not only do Autumn Meadowhawks have yellowish legs, but their coloration matches the newly formed American Beech buds, making their timing seem serendipitous.
Being a coolish morning, I thought I might entice at least one upon my hand for they seek heat. These are wee dragons as you can see by the size of this female.
I swear she smiled at me. I smiled back.
While prowling for pollinators . . . I made some great finds and my morning search was well rewarded.
But the thing is that last week I took part in a poetry workshop offered through Greater Lovell Land Trust by Poet Judith Steinbergh. The title of the workshop was “Caring for Our Earth and Waters.” Judy shared various poems with us through a remote gathering and asked us to read them aloud while thinking “about what we might visualize from the images, and how the sounds and form blend together with the image and feeling.”
She encouraged us to make notes and suggested some different approaches: speak to the subject; become the subject; instruct the reader; show feelings toward the subject. She even gave us some beginnings and endings that might inspire us to begin.
And then she concluded with “Poetry Revision Guidelines,” which included such practices as reading the poem aloud several times, questioning whether or not the opening was strong enough, maintaining focus, creating images the reader could visualize, using tight language, finding a rhythm, helping the reader gain insight, and providing appropriate breaks.
We had one week to write a poem, submit it to Judy for comments, and then the big night would come: The Reading.
Just as it’s scary to publish in this blog manner or via Lake Living magazine and other avenues I’ve used over the years, it’s equally terrifying to read aloud–especially when you can see yourself on the computer screen.
But that’s what some of us did the other night for the remote Poetry Reading and you can watch and listen in: GLLT Poetry Reading 2020
My original subject was a pine tree, but after watching the magical emergence of cicadas last week, I knew I had to write about that experience. Figuring out the angle was much more difficult and I tried a variety of avenues. In the end, I chose a style that works best for me, teaching through imagery.
It’s not a done deal, mind you, for it is my belief that there is no such thing as a final draft. OK, so that’s my default in case you don’t think this works or have suggestions to improve my attempt. All comments are welcome. It’s only a draft and I haven’t written 18 drafts yet as I often do with an article. I’m at 7 or 8.
By Leigh Macmillen Hayes, 7/19/2020
To walk into a cemetery on a summer day
And find an insect metamorphosing upon a stone
I begin to understand the process of resurrection.
A life well spent questing sap for sustenance
Prepares to crawl free of its past
And reach for heavenly aspirations.
Through a tiny slit, a spirit no longer contained
Emerges head first as a teneral shape develops
with bulging eyes to view a new world.
Gradually, a pale tourmaline-colored body extends outward
With stained-glass wings unfurling
That provide baby steps toward freedom beyond.
I mourn the loss of your former soul
But give thanks for a peek at your upcoming ascension
From this place to the next.
It is not for me to know when you will first use the gift of flight
As I didn’t know when you would shed your old skin,
And I quickly offer a final goodbye when I see your wings spread.
I rejoice that I’ll spend the rest of the summer
Listening to your raspy love songs
Playing nature’s lullabies upon violin strings from above.
On this day, I celebrate the secrets of a cicada’s life,
Dying to the old ways and rising to new,
While I wander among the graves of others who have done the same.
To all who joined the Poetry Workshop or the Poetry Reading or wished they could, and especially to Judy Steinbergh, I dedicate this post. Thank you for sharing.
This morning’s tramp found me checking on a couple of bird nests. The first, which belonged to a Phoebe family, was empty.
And so I wandered along a path through a cathedral in the pines.
It seemed apropos that I should spy the works of an Oak Apple Gall wasp in such a place for it is believed that circa 800 A.D., monks from a Columban monastery created the Book of Kells and used such galls for their green colorant. The wasp uses it as a place for a larva to pupate.
I knew I’d reached the second nest I wanted to check on because from about twenty feet away I could hear the peeps of the babes within. Their father tossed in a meal, much differently than how he was feeding them only a week or two ago when he entered the nest hole every few minutes.
Today, no sooner did he leave when a nestling popped out and begged for more. I watched for a bit and then gravity pulled me in a different direction.
And so I trespassed onto a neighboring property. Well, I don’t think of it as actually trespassing since it’s not posted and I know the owners who have invited me to visit on numerous occasions. They just didn’t know today would be one of those; nor did I until it was. The deer flies buzzed all about my head, but thankfully some old friends in the form of dragonflies (uh oh, here I go again) snatched the pesky insects and then dined.
It took a few minutes, but eventually Slaty Blue gobbled every bit of the fly. One down; a gazillion to go.
While the lupines had been in full bloom the last time I visited, today’s flowers of joy were the Milkweeds. Even the ants agreed.
On a leaf below one flowerhead, I noticed something tiny and by the pattern on its back, knew who I was spying.
About the size of a nickel, it was a Spring Peeper. Located about two feet above ground, this little frog could hide from predators all day, waiting to munch on insects and spiders at night. Do you see the X on its back? Its scientific name–Pseudacris crucifer–breaks down to Pseudo (false), acris (locust) and crucifer (cross bearer).
While I continued to admire him, a dash of color brightened the background and then flew down onto the path.
Bedecked in orange and black, it was a Fritillary butterfly. There were actually two today and where the colors of the lupines had passed, the butterflies contributed greatly with their hues.
The Fritillaries weren’t the only adding a dash of color for Eastern Tiger Swallowtails also pollinated the meadow flowers.
Canada Tiger Swallowtails also fly in this part of Maine and so I’m forever trying to remember how to tell the two apart besides size, which doesn’t help when you only see one. The trick, however, is to look at the yellow line on the underside of the forewing. If it isn’t one continuous line as this one wasn’t, then it is the Eastern variety.
I’ve probably completely confused you, but the next will be easy:
A pop quiz: 1. Who is this? You tell me. (Hint: Emerald family)
2. Who is this? (Hint: Clubtail family)
3. Who is this? (Hint: Skimmer family)
4. Who is this? (Hint: Skimmer family)
Extra credit if you can identify this lady. (Hint: Skimmer family)
The skimmers are many and each has something unique and lovely to offer. But my greatest thrill today was to encounter this delightful specimen just before I was about to depart the meadow. For those who joined me yesterday as I hunted for the Common Whitetail Skimmer, you may have noted the zigzag pattern on her abdomen. Take a look at the pattern along the abdomen of this beauty. The side spots form a smooth stripe. Her honey, whom I have yet to see, has not only the black patches on the wings, but also white. Who might this be? A Twelve-spotted Skimmer.
Before departing, I checked back on the sapsucker nestlings. Papa was doing the same from a tree about ten feet away. I got the sense he wanted to tell them to be patient and stop begging.
But how can you resist such a baby face? I know I couldn’t.
I gave great thanks to the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers for drawing me into this place and to Linda and Heinrich Wurm for allowing me to trespass and spy their meadow once again and all that it has to offer.
P.S. Quiz answers: 1. Racket-tailed Emerald; 2. Ashy Clubtail; 3. Spangled Skimmer; 4. Dot-tailed Whiteface; Bonus: female Great Blue Skimmer (a first for me) How did you do?
Did you hear? Cinderella lost her slipper. And didn’t know where to find it. So . . . Pam M. and I turned into Fairy Godmothers over the course of the weekend in an attempt to help the folktale heroine of our youth.
We began by waving our magic wands . . .
formed in the shape of Indian Cucumber Root flowers suddenly in bloom.
And then we looked everywhere. Do you see the shoe?
No, that’s not it. Ah, but what is that? It’s the nest of an Ovenbird who ran across the forest floor away from the nest, which made us wonder why it was running and not flying–to distract our attention, of course.
We took quick photos and then moved out of momma’s way, continuing our quest.
Do you see the shoe?
No, it wasn’t underneath, but we did celebrate the fact that we’d found the ever common rattlesnake fern with its lacy triangular fronds . . .
and separate beaded fertile stalk. To us, it was hardly common for we rarely see it except in this place. Perhaps we’ll whip the fern into another dress for Cinderella.
Do you see the shoe? No, it isn’t here either, but the leaflets (pinnae) of a Christmas fern could certainly serve as Cinderella’s stockings, bejeweled as they are with the sori’s indusia (the round sheets partially covering each sorus) attached at their centers.
Do you see the shoe? No, it’s not here either, but the hobblebush showed that even in leaves that for some reason were dying, design and color should always be noticed because everything deserves consideration. As we consider Cinderella’s next gown, certainly we’ll remember this.
Do you see the shoe? Maybe we were getting closer. Indeed we were getting closer when we spied this bladder sedge.
Do you see the shoe? We hope one day soon you will for it was while admiring the sedge that we noticed the leafy forms beside it and realized we’d discovered the plant we sought. Perhaps it will flower soon and the golden yellow shoes of our quest will make themselves known.
Rounding the corner from the stairway to the kitchen at 6am, dark forms in the field garnered my attention before I had a chance to start the coffee.
What to my wondering eyes should appear but three Tom Turkeys in full display and one deer.
Momma deer looked up from browsing, almost as if she was aware of my presence behind the windows and at a bit of a distance, but the turkeys didn’t care.
They had a much more pressing issue to deal with than the fact that I had just arisen and was gawking. The hen of their utmost attention needed to stop her nit (or was it tick?) picking and look up for a change.
Despite her elusive demeanor, the three continued to display, certain she’d notice one of them.
In turkey terms, to display means standing upright with tail feathers fanned out, wings dragging, and fleshy wattles on the neck, throat, and snood above the beak swollen and bright red. So, to the latter, watch their wattles and snoods as Jen the hen moved back and forth across the field like a tease.
The Toms tried lining up as if to say, “Pick me.”
She told them to take a number. And maybe she’d get back to them when she felt like it.
Two of them began to scuffle in the background, their sense of social distancing far outweighed by their desire for Jen. The third, much more mature Tom, took advantage of that moment to strut his stuff without any competition.
When the other two figured out what he was up to, they quickly scurried over and let their wattles and snoods speak for them. Like an officer checking on his brigade, she did do an inspection. It appeared mature Tom just wasn’t turned on.
And then her friend, Skipper, walked out from the edge of the woods and examined the Toms to see if he could offer any tips.
Again, Jen turned back and as she crossed before the trio once more, they again showed off their excitement.
Still she didn’t seem to care and instead moved over to ask Skipper his thoughts.
But all Skipper really wanted to do was play.
And eat. Meanwhile, the Toms turned as if in a huff.
Apparently Skipper then suggested two of the three as possibilities to Jen and they began to skirmish.
Necks locked together, they moved back and forth as mature Tom watched.
And their molting deer friends browsed nonchalantly behind them.
That is, until Skipper decided that what the Toms were doing looked like play and so he wanted to get into the act.
The scuffle continued across the field first to the left.
And then center stage.
And finally to the right. Meanwhile, Jen and the deer disappeared and mature Tom . . .
paced while the other two continued to fight.
Eventually he took it upon himself to try to separate them but the last I knew they were still at it as they scrambled over a stone wall and into the woods a half hour after beginning their show of dominance. Later, after sipping finally brewed coffee, I went up into the field and then through the woods looking for any evidence of their frenzied behavior but found none.
I did make two other great finds today, however. At the vernal pool behind us, life is beginning to take shape within the egg masses.
Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Today’s hike found me traveling solo, as is the norm in this current time, but I took each and every one of you along with me because so excited was I by all of our finds.
As I showed you in the parking lot, our plan was to begin on the Roger’s Family Trail and then circle around on the orange Heritage Loop Trail with a side trip to the summit of Amos Mountain in the midst of the journey. You all agreed that it sounded like a great plan.
I had previously warned you that part of the route could be a bit wet and was pleased to see that some of you had remembered to don your rubber boots, but those who forgot managed to find a way around. I trust no one had wet feet by the time we finished. Was my assumption correct?
Of course, I love water and so before we crossed over the bridge, I insisted that we take a look and try to spy tracks in some mud or aquatic insects or plants springing forth.
Bingo on the latter and we all rejoiced at the sight of False Hellebore with its corrugated leaves so green.
Finally, after poking about for a bit, I suggested we move along. It seemed like we managed to walk about five steps and then something would catch our attention and all forward motion came to pause. But that’s the way we like it for we notice so much with such slow movement. Do you remember this spot? Where we paused to look for Trailing Arbutus buds and noticed Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain growing in a colony. And remember how I told you that the only way I can remember the common name of this latter species is because it doesn’t look “downy” to me.
As often happens, the trail enhanced the lesson for not too much further along we practically stepped on another family member, this one bearing the name Checkered. Really, had Mr. Linnaeus asked me, I would have switched it around for the dullness of these leaves seems more downy in my mind and the other more checkered. Alas . . . he didn’t ask.
By this point, we’d hit drier trail conditions, if you recall, as we started climbing uphill. Drier, but rockier, that is. And then upon one, we spied a little package that you knew would delight me. Fox scat, indeed. With a blunt end and even a twist. Classic fox scat.
It took us a while, but we managed to reach the intersection with the orange trail and turned to the left to proceed. It was there that we began to meet common polypody ferns. Some of you explained that you know it as rock cap fern or rock polypody fern. What we all know is that it’s most often found growing on rock surfaces in moist, shady woods.
I did hear the hushed groans when I turned it over, but what could I say? I can’t resist checking to look at the underside. Like little pompoms, the organs or sori that housed the dust-sized spores or sporangia are arranged so neatly in two rows upon each leaflet. In their old age, the sori of these common polypody are orange-brown.
You, however, were eager to move on and so we did. Until we didn’t. For we stopped once again at “El Pupito,” the pulpit rock.
And did what one should do at the pulpit–honor the view through nature’s stained-glass window.
Oh yeah, and on the back of the boulder, you knew the minute you saw it what was going to happen next.
Out came my water bottle as I sacrificed some H20. But really, you are also equally amazed each time the magic happens and the greenish color of algae on rock tripe lichen makes itself known.
I saw a few of you gawk.
With a snap of our fingers and twitch of our noses (no we didn’t touch our fingers to our faces), we soon made it to the summit of Amos.
It was there that while zooming in to note the glorious red maple buds we spied another in the form of a spider. And we all took a closer look, one at a time, of course, allowing for six feet of space.
Then we backtracked down to where the blue trail met the orange trail and continued on the orange. That is . . . until sweet bird songs stopped us in our steps.
The trills lasted a few seconds and began again.
Most of us couldn’t recall who it was and gave great thanks to have Peter and Joe along for a positive ID: Pine Warbler indeed.
At our next stop I was so sure that one of you would provide a definitive answer to the structure’s use and history, but you only asked more questions to which I didn’t have the answers and so it shall remain a mystery. Who built it? Why? What? When? We do know the where and have some ideas about the how, but can’t quite respond to the Five Ws and an H in a complete manner.
And so we left there and moved on to the spot where we chatted about all the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties that seemingly followed us through the woods.
Each time we heard a sound from one of the above, if it wasn’t a dried leaf blowing across the forest floor, it turned out to be a chipmunk. Why is it, we wondered together, that they can be so still one moment, but in the next insist upon calling attention to their presence?
Moving along, we eventually crossed over the wall and onto what was once the property of Amos Andrews.
Here, only a few years ago, one among us, yes Alice, that would be you, realized that in this spot grew white oak, a tree that we had previously believed no longer grew in these parts given its use in barrel making and other purposes. That is, until we recognized the chunky blocks of bark that helped to negate that assumption.
The leaves below also defined the new story, with red oak’s bristly pointed lobes on the left and white oak’s rounded lobes to the right.
As it would be, we realized we weren’t the only ones looking. And again, we had to take turns getting close to ohh and ahh at the alternating light and dark markings on the abdomen’s edge, legs and antennae of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. Okay, so we know these beasts inflect considerable damage to some fruits and crops, and can be a nuisance when it takes shelter in our homes, but still.
Around the corner from the oak tree we paused beside the homestead of Amos Andrews and wandered about his walled property for a bit, each of us trying to answer the question, “What was Amos thinking?” We haven’t answered it yet, but time will tell as perhaps more understandings will be revealed.
Down the former road we walked, grateful that being two rod wide, (a rod at 16.5 feet), we had plenty of room to spread out.
At the intersection with the Amos Mountain Trail, our route crossed over and we continued on to the lookout point where the Balds to the left, Mount Washington a wee white pyramid in the background, and Kezar Lake below held our focus.
And then we began to retrace our steps, back toward the parking lot where we’d first gathered. But there were two more things to notice, the first being a skeleton of a paper birch, its roots till seemingly intact.
And finally, water striders not doing a very good job of practicing social distancing.
We, on the other hand, had nailed that one, for while you all walked with me, I was alone. And ever so grateful for your company.
Yesterday’s journey, which began beside New Road, required me to climb up over the snow bank. If you go, don’t worry; I did my best to carve out steps for you.
Do, however, choose your footwear appropriately for I spent a lot of time creating post holes.
My intention was to locate timeless sights I can upload to a Google Map for at the Greater Lovell Land Trust we are working to create virtual hikes for those who can’t get onto the trails right now.
But there were other things that garnered my attention and I’m never one to pass by a White Pine personally decorated by the rain.
And then there was the beech leaf that arced in such a manner its veins mimicked rays of sunshine on a gloomy day.
Speckled Alder catkins poured forth with their own presentation of color as they added more cheer to the landscape.
And Trailing Arbutus (aka Mayflower) buds, like all others, provided a sign of hope that the future will arrive.
Beside Bradley Brook, an Eastern Hemlock held a raindrop-in-waiting, its gift from the sky soon to be transferred back to the place from whence it came.
The brook flowed forth with a rhythm all its own and I rejoiced in its gurgles, temporarily forgetting the world beyond.
Eventually I followed it back, giving thanks for all its meandering curves in hopes that we will all be able to continue to enjoy life around the bend.
Today dawned a new day, and a much brighter one at that, and so my truck made its way to the other trailhead along Farrington Pond Road. The parking lot wasn’t plowed this winter and so I tucked into the edge.
Lost in thought, the sight of a fruit still dangling on a Maple-leaf Viburnum pulled me back to reality.
One of my favorite places on this property isn’t along an actual trail, but rather its one folks can easily find on their own. I prefer to think of it as the secret garden.
It offers views of Sucker Brook Outlet feeding into Kezar Lake’s Northwest Cove. But even more than that, it offers layers and colors and teems with life. Today I startled two Wood Duck couples who quickly flew off “oweeking” all the way.
Life in the secret garden includes three beaver lodges that reflect the mountains beyond.
And flowers like this Rhodora, waiting for their chance to burst into color beyond understanding.
Back on the Blue Trail, I discovered one small feather, so light and delicate and fluffy, and yet barbed, the better for all of its kind to interlock and protect.
At a wet spot, the feather slipped from my mind and I marveled at the thin layer of ice that transformed the watery display.
Within the puddle, a broken Paper Birch trunk showed off the fact that even in death, life continues.
And then I met death. At first, I thought it was a scattering of more feathers.
That is, until I bent down and realized it was deer hair. Had the deer shed its winter coat?
That was my first thought until I spied this. Do you know what it is?
I hope I’m not disgusting you, but I found it fascinating. As best I could tell, it was the contents of the deer’s rumen or first stomach chamber.
And what exactly were the contents? Acorns. Can you see a few shells not quite digested?
Beside all of that was some scat filled with hair and a chunk of something.
And just beyond, more rumen offerings and then an even larger area of deer hair.
As best I could, I tried to piece together the story. Earlier on the trail i’d seen what I thought were bobcat prints until the behavior didn’t quite match for a bobcat wouldn’t follow the entire length of a trail and the presentation seemed to morph into coyote.
I searched high and low for a carcass, but found none. Nor any blood.
What I did find was more deer hair as if something had circled around a tree.
But the curious thing: there were lots of downed branches but none of them were broken. If a coyote had dragged a carcass, surely there would be blood and guts and broken branches. My wondering began to focus on a human. Some of the twigs were on top of the hair so the incident would have occurred at an earlier time? And perhaps all of this had been hidden by snow for a while? And then recent rain events obliterated some signs?
I may never know the answers, though I’ll return to look for more evidence. About a quarter mile away, I did find more proof that a coyote had dined on something quite hairy. It included a big chunk of bone.
For those wishing I’d get back to the prettier scenes, my tramp eventually took me to a lookout point, where the backdrop was provided by the Bald Face Mountains in Evans Notch.
And the foreground included another beaver lodge.
Eventually I turned around and followed the Green Trail out, stopping to pay reverence to a Bear Claw tree. With the scars being gray/black and at least a half inch wide, I’d say these were created more than seven years ago. In fact, I know that for I’ve been visiting that tree for far more than seven years. But . . . it never gets old.
Nor does the sight of ice as it turns anything into a pleasing-to-my-eyes work of art.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to sneak away and even though I had a work project on my mind, these trails have been my greatest escape so far. May you also find escapes of your own making.
After a few notes sent back and forth, the decision was made: Sawyer Mountain in Limington, Maine, at 10:00am. Though we were coming from opposite directions, somehow we timed it just right and both pulled into the parking area on Route 117 at 9:47. I’m never on time. She’s never late.
For at least the first half mile or more of our four mile hike, we talked non-stop, barely taking the time to notice our surroundings for so much catching up did we have to do. But then . . . two old Red Oaks growing upon a ledge with rock tripe and spring green moss between made us stop and pay reverence.
And because we stopped, we began to notice others who deserved our deep respect for we recalled a hike years ago upon the Ledges Trail of Pleasant Mountain, a place where this species also grows. It was there that we were first introduced to it and it is there that our minds always take us back to the first moment of meeting: Hophornbeam with its lovely thin, shaggy strands of vertical strips.
A quick scan of the bare ground and we found the seed structure (hops) for which is was named.
Crossing through one of many stonewalls, I followed my dear friend, for she was leading the way today.
And she told me that it was places like this pasture and the walls that surrounded it that made her think of me upon her previous tramps in this place. Just imagine: In 1815, Ebenezer Walker let his livestock graze the high pasture. We don’t know when such farm activity ended, but the trees that have filled in the space probably only have stories passed on by their ancestors to tell of times past for rather on the youthful side did they seem.
Still, there were others that showed their age and inner workings.
Like wise sages, they pointed out their idiosyncrasies and by their whorled inner branches we knew their names: White Pine.
Shortly after meeting the pine, we came upon another sight that reminded us of another day. It was along a stone wall at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Chip Stockford Reserve that the two of us first realized the offerings of such.
A look up and we knew the tree had been visited by a Pileated Woodpecker in the past tense and present.
And because of our GLLT experience all those moons ago (we really can’t remember how many moons, but it’s been many), we knew to look through the debris on the ground. As is often the case, we were rewarded with the tubular bird scat filled with insect body parts.
Further on, a burl upon a Yellow Birch invited us to curtsy. And in looking at that, my friend spied something else nearby.
A bear claw tree. Ah, another memory was evoked . . . the time we led a bear walk for the GLLT upon the Bishops Cardinal Trail. Only one participant joined us and we got rather carried away with our bear evidence sightings.
That participant didn’t come back for a while and we feared we’d scared her off, but I’ve since learned otherwise. Her job and her family occupied much of her time and now she comes to events when she can.
And by all the opened beech nut husks, we knew that last summer had been a mast year for such nuts and we hoped that meant a great supply of nutrition for Ursus americanus.
Then there was the tree with the hieroglyphics that resembled a treasure map. Really though, they represented trails followed by various bark beetles that bored through the wood. Each pattern represents a different species, and a place where eggs were laid and the larvae ate their way through the tunnels.
We were almost to the end of our hike when another group of trees begged our awe for so white were they that we could have been easily fooled. It seemed that in Tom Sawyer fashion, these trees had been painted . . . with Whitewash Lichen. It’s a crustose lichen that looks like . . . whitewash.
With our vehicles in sight, we spotted one more to bow before, for by the colors, lines, and cracks of its dead inner bark we saw sculpted art.
And stepping back a few feet, we noticed several faces.
The most obvious whispered tales to all who would listen. Tales of the land upon which we’d hiked. Tales of the people whose pastures and foundations and gravestones we encountered. Tales of the issues between the land trust that owns the property and the current residents.
If we listen to the trees, we might hear the stories of the canopy as reflected in the bubbles and the gurgling water. Trees can talk; we just need to pay more attention.
P.S. Thank you, Joan, for sharing the trail and a brain with me today. The trees evoked so many memories and helped us make new ones.
It’s an old fav, Bald Pate Mountain Preserve in South Bridgton. And we love to visit it in any season. That being said, winter will “end” in a few weeks and this morning we realized we needed to head on over.
Our plan was to follow the Moose Trail for its entire length, then continue on the South Face Loop to the summit, start down the Bob Chase Trail, veer off to Foster Pond Lookout and then make our way back by rejoining Bob Chase.
One might expect to see a moose along the first trail, and we hoped to have such luck, but it was not to be. Instead, do you see the ski tracks? Portions of the preserve are groomed for cross-country skiers as part of the system at the adjacent Five Fields Farm.
What else did we spy? Some wicked cool finds in my book of wonder. For instance, you may think that this broken off piece of a twig is merely dangling from its counterpart, but . . . it is solidly stuck in place by a fungus known commonly as glue crust. It glues together twigs and branches that touch each other.
And sometimes twigs meet the bark on the trunk of a tree and hang in what you might think of as an unnatural stance.
The fungus is the dark bumpy structure that the second twig is stuck to, much like a magical act performed by nature. Really though, this fungus doesn’t let the twig fall to the ground where it would be decomposed by other fungi. Pretty tricky–making a claim all for its own benefit.
Continuing on, we scanned every beech tree in hopes of finding bear claw trees. We did find a beech worth honoring for we loved how it rested an elbow on the boulder below and with two arms formed a frame of the scene beyond.
Ever so slowly we climbed upward, our pace not my guy’s usual because of the bear paw challenge. When one is looking, however, one discovers so many other things upon which to focus like this rather common birch polypore in a rather uncommon shape, almost like a Christmas bell jingling in the breeze.
And then there was a display of snipped hemlock twigs scattered across the snow-covered forest floor.
We looked up and saw not a silhouetted form, but by the debris, which include diagonal cuts on the twigs, comma-shaped scat (some a bit more rounded than others), and even the soft, curly belly hairs of the creator, we knew a porcupine had dined overnight.
We looked a wee bit, but found not its den. By its tracks, however, we could tell that it had made more than one visit to this fine feasting spot.
Had we climbed the Bob Chase Trail we would have reached the summit in twenty minutes, but our choice to circle about before hiking up meant we spent two hours approaching the top where the bonsai trees of the North grow–in the form of pitch pines.
The true summit is a wee bit higher and so we continued on and then turned back to take in the view of Peabody Pond below.
It was there that while looking for insect cocoons I came across the gouty oak gall caused by teeny wasps no bigger than fruit flies. The structure was woody as it’s a couple of years old. And almost creepy in its display, like a head with many eyes looking every which way.
We did take the hint and looked every which way ourselves, the next point of view beyond Hancock Pond and beyond.
And then we moved on, until that is, we reached the wall of tripe, which always invites me to stop.
Water had also stopped in the form of several frozen falls.
And again, more of nature’s magic for the icicles facilitated photosynthesis by the algal partner of the lichen’s symbiosis. It’s a thing worth liken.
Nearby, a relative also begged a notice. Do you see the black flat-headed disks upon the surface? Those are the fruiting bodies or apothecium where this lichen’s spores are produced. The common name for this umbilicate structure: toadskin.
Just above the tripe and toadskin offerings, Pleasant Mountain came into view. Hidden behind a cloudy veil was Mount Washington, which typically sits in the saddle of the Pleasant Mountain ridgeline.
As we wound down and around, polypody ferns spoke about the weather–some were curled as it was cooler in their location upon a boulder in a hemlock grove, but others were flattened bespeaking the rising temperature.
Our last focal point before heading back to the parking lot was the lookout to Foster Pond. Where once stood a tall cairn, there are now two shorter ones marking the point of view and turn-around.
It was there that we discovered another gouty oak gall, its size at least that of a golf ball; a rather holey, warty golf ball.
This preserve is forever a fav in any season, which on this Mondate offered a flash ahead (think the opposite of flashback, rather like a preview) of what is to come. We love winter. And we especially love snow. But . . . we also love all the other seasons and the perennial plants on the southern side of the mountain where the snow has melted a bit, showed off their evergreen shades and hints of future events. Wintergreen and Trailing Arubuts, the later with the long buds atop a hairy stem.
I promised the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s Tuesday Trackers that I’d let them know by 7am today if our adventure would actually take place because the forecasters were predicting a snow storm. We LOVE snow, but not when it ruins our plans.
And so at 6:43am, after checking various weather reports and TV stations for cancellations, whereupon I discovered that no school’s had cancelled, which seemed a sign that meant if the kids could go to school, we could go tracking, until I remembered that this is school vacation week and the kids weren’t going to school today anyway, I wrote to the 54-member group: “Weather reports state that the snow will start at 1pm in both Cumberland and Oxford Counties today, but in the hourly listing it shows snow showers at 10 and snow at 11.
I’m going to go for it in hopes that we can at least find some evidence of the porcupine and its visitors, but trust those of you who had intended to join me to make that old judgement call. Please don’t be afraid to back out.”
As usual, I told them that the plan would stay the same for those who had already told me they’d attend, unless, of course, they did decided to back out. None wrote to say they could not come. Three sent messages that they would join us.
Much to my delighted surprise, seventeen met at Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve parking lot #1 at the far end of Heald Pond Road in Lovell as the snowflakes fell. It was 9:30am. Actually, I met some to carpool from the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, and it was there that a few of us first noticed the flakes were falling–just after 9. Hmmm. 1:00pm?
But, this hearty crew didn’t care and after donning our snowshoes, onward we charged. Well, not exactly, for we pride ourselves in not getting far from the parking lot and then spending an hour looking and wondering. First, it was fox prints, and then a fisher that took us a while to figure out based on the clues because snow had filled in the indentations, but the pattern of the track and a few glimpses of toes helped us make a determination that was confirmed after we crossed the path of a more recent snowshoe hare, and seemed to follow the activity of a porcupine.
Like the scouts that we are, we spread out at times, each one or pair trying to notice the finer details. We were in a mixed forest in Maine, close to a summit with rocky ledges, yet near a wetland, stream and between two ponds. The overall pattern was important to notice. How was the critter moving across the landscape? And did its action change at some point? Were any finer details visible in a single print? Or a combination of prints?
Taking measurements was also important–extremely so for those prints that were a couple of days old and muted. Their shape and size and the pattern of their overall track helped, but the measurements cinched the case as we noted stride, especially for the direct walkers such as a red fox.
Ah, how did we know it was red and not gray? The measurement of its stride and straddle were spot on, but also by the scent it had left behind on saplings and rocks did we know it. A few of us got down to sniff–and we were not disappointed. Skunky musky is the odor of some fox urine, especially at this time of year when leaving a calling card with ones age, sex, and telephone number is of utmost importance.
Once you take a sniff, you never forget and know that the next time you smell that skunk in the middle of winter, you are actually in the presence, past or maybe present but watching you from a distant point, of a red fox.
We spent at least an hour with the parking lot still in view as we noted other tracks including squirrel, snowshoe hare and deer. And then we challenged ourselves–a climb to the summit to check on the porcupine den below. The snow was getting heavier and accumulating on our hats, but no one wanted to turn around.
Occasionally, we paused to catch our collective breath, happy were we to be out for this adventure. I did, of course, tell a few who were unfamiliar with the trail, that the summit was just up ahead. Um, I said that more than once. Twice. Three times. Maybe four.
But . . . it was soooo worth it. At the summit, we could see more porcupine tracks that were fresh either last night or the night before and a smattering of pine twigs that had been cut and dropped.
The angled cut of the twigs added to our knowledge bank: rodents make such cuts, called nip twigs. The twig is snipped then turned so the nutritious tender buds can be accessed; and then it is cast off, creating a “trash” pile below the feeding tree.
Bark had also been a point of the porky’s focus and we paused by saplings to wonder about the rodent’s ability to climb what struck us as the scampiest of trunks, but also to appreciate the indentations of its teeth.
While some stayed at the summit, others descended below in hopes of finding a den.
We knew we’d entered a Disney World of sorts, for everywhere we looked below the summit we saw signs of the porcupine’s adventures, including troughs leading from one potential feeding or den site to another.
Getting down wasn’t pretty, especially in one spot, but still no one gave up. Remember, this is a determined group.
Under the ledges, we stopped to check for mammal sign, curious to learn more about the story of these woods and rocks.
We weren’t disappointed. We never are. That may sound pompous, but it’s really one of wonder. When we focus, things are revealed and we are wowed. One of today’s wonders, bobcat scat. Three times over. Do you see the arrows that point to the deposits? And their segmented structure?
But . . . that wasn’t all. Despite the tricky climbing we had more to see.
It was a spot, however, where we needed to take turns given the conditions, and so while we waited, we noticed other things of interest, like the curled form of Common Polypody ferns curled up like Rhododendron leaves to indicate the cold temps–nature’s thermometers. Did I say the name of the shrub began with an M? R? M? They’re close in the alphabet. 😉 (Some of you will chuckle to know that it was my guy I turned to for the shrub’s name–I was still stuck on M)
R or M? In the end it doesn’t matter. But do check out those double rows of orange sori, clusters of spore-producing organs on the fern’s underside.
Rock tripe (which for once I didn’t pour water upon to perform a magic trick) and icicles also garnered our attention.
But . . . it was the actual porcupine den and its juxtaposition with granite and evergreen ferns and snow that tickled our fancy.
Can you see the scat, prolific in nature?
With so much, including lots of fresh deposits, we wondered if we might be disturbing the local resident. And so when our friends who’d stay at the summit yelled down to ask if we when we were going to ascend, we knew the time had come.
Back at the summit, most of us posed. Can you see Mount Washington in the background? No, we couldn’t either.
Closer to the parking lot, we posed again, before heading off on snow-covered roads to reach our homes.
It’s my job to worry and so I did: that the road conditions wouldn’t bite us. That was why I hesitated about going forth with today’s journey, but the forecasters all seemed to think doing such would be fine. Thankfully, though the predictions for the storms start were incorrect, all was fine and I was jazzed by the time we spent together, watching this engaged group in action, asking questions and making observations and asking more questions, before coming to sound conclusions.
These are the Tuesday Trackers of today. The subject of my email message this morning was this: Tuesday Tracking is ON. And they were all totally ON for today’s adventure.
P.S. The mom in me had to check on them after we’d all departed from the trailhead. Thankfully, though a few of us saw cars off the road and/or accidents as we drove home, we each took our time and everyone made it home safely. ‘
The forecast was for temps in the teens, with a wind chill making it feel like single digits. But . . . plenty of sun. And so Greater Lovell Land Trust docent Alice and I decided to go ahead with this morning’s planned Wetland Wonder at John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge West on New Road in Lovell.
After a two day storm that left snow, ice and more snow, we were happy to stretch our legs despite the temps. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, only one other person joined us, the ever adventuresome Hadley Couraud, Sebago Clean Waters Conservation Coordinator for Loon Echo and Western Foothills Land Trusts.
On a pre-hike last week, Alice and I decided it would be best to beeline to the brook and wetland or we’d never have time to enjoy the wonders that both offered. Today’s temp confirmed that that would be best as it would warm us up.
In what seemed like an amazingly short time, because for us it was, we found ourselves beside Bradley Brook and glanced downstream. Of course, we’d passed by some mammal tracks, but promised to look at them on the way out.
As we looked upstream, we noted that though it was a bit chilly, the wind hadn’t picked up yet and all the snow still coated the trees.
And then Alice rattled off a few species she wanted Hadley to look for and the first presented itself immediately. It took me a bit to catch on, but that was Alice’s way–to mention something and bingo, it was right there even though she wasn’t looking at it. That was certainly a fun way to feel like you were the first to make a discovery.
Hadley discovered the lungwort lichen, Lobaria pulmonaria, and I pride myself all these hours later in remembering its scientific name.
Of course we had to move in for a closer look. It’s one that we can never resist. Its ridges and lobes create a lettucey look, but many super moons ago it was thought to resemble lung tissue and thus a good remedy for maladies such as tuberculosis.
Its a species that begs a closer look (doesn’t everything?) and so we moved in, Hadley taking the lead.
And what to our wondering eyes should appear but the tiny granules trimming the outer edges of the lobes much like a fancy accent on a winter hat or sweater. Those structures are actually the lungwort’s asexual means of reproduction–and are called soredia.
Just before I performed a magic act with my water bottle, both Hadley and I took a few more photos of the brittle structure.
And then, tada, we watched as the water performed the trick.
It never ceases to amaze me: Once wet, the photosynthesizing green algae in the thallus or main tissue causes the lichen to instantly turn a bright shade and become pliable; once it dries, the color recedes to a duller olive green.
All that wonder, and we still hadn’t reached the actual wetland.
And so we marched on, pausing next beside a member Betulaceae ( Alnus and Betula) family. Alnus includes the speckled alder before our eyes and betula the birches. Scientifically known as Alnus incana ssp. rugosa, we got caught up with the male and female catkins, which both grow at the end of twigs.
The males are the longer catkins that formed in the fall, and just above them the wee females. Pollination is by wind and the fertilized female matures to a cone.
Both alder and lungwort lichen fix nitrogen, the former through a bacteria in its root nodules and decaying leaves and the latter as its structure falls to the forest floor and decays.
Upon one of the shrubs, we noticed what appeared to be cones in flower Actually, it was alder tongue gall–resulting from a fungus rather than an insect infecting the female catkins. Apparently, the tongue-like growths were green to begin, but transformed to orange, red and finally the brown we saw. Can you see the curly structures such as the one the black arrow points to?
We were there to look at the little things and the whole picture as it’s a place we only enjoy in this season, being difficult to access at other time of the year. In the midst of the wetland, the sun provided welcome warmth as we enjoyed the spectacular scene before us.
Artwork created by nature’s sketching artist gave proof that the wind was starting to pick up at about 11am.
It was at that point that we knew we were reaching our turn-around point, but still we reveled in the joy of being out there.
That is, until Hadley, as the caboose for some of the journey, found a weak spot in the ice. I gave her a hand to pull her out and we knew we needed to head out.
And so we followed a snowshoe hare back–giving thanks yet again for the snowshoes that we all wore.
What probably should have been a beeline much as we’d done on our way in, however, turned into frequent stops. The first was at a tree that had fallen across our path, which wasn’t really a path, but rather a bushwhack scouted out by Alice.
The fallen tree turned out to offer a lichen form classroom of crustose (appearing flat on the bark like a piece of bread or looking as if it had been spray painted onto the surface); foliose or leaf-like in structure; and fruticose, which reminds me of a bunch of grapes minus the grapes.
It was within the foliose lichen that we spotted the apothecia in the form of brown berets or disks.
And then there was the ice marching up a branch like miniature elephants on parade. We considered its formation and how it was anchored to the branch here and there, but not consistently. Was there warmth in the wood that created such formations?
As we headed back toward Bradley Brook, we spotted a tinderconk or horse’s hoof fungi that could have been a foot at the end of warm snowy white leggings.
The brook again offered a transitioning scene and we rejoiced in the sound of water flowing over rocks and downed trees.
Because we were still looking for the species Alice had suggested when we started, we stopped by well-browsed hobblebush where she shared their idiosyncrasies, including the fact that the buds aren’t covered in waxy scales like most tree and shrub species.
Instead, they are naked. And one of my favorites with their accordian-like design and fuzzy outer coating.
Eventually we made our way back to an old log landing, where evening primrose in its winter form became the subject of focus. Hadley is an apt student of nature and so even if she felt any discomfort from her dip in the water, she continued to ask questions and take notes about everything we encountered.
On the way out we noticed more snowshoe hare tracks, bird and squirrel prints, and then at a well worn deer run with fresh movement, we spotted the X in a print and new that a coyote had followed the deer, predator seeking prey.
One would have expected that with the mammal tracks we did see, we might have found some scat. We did not. But . . . all the same, Hadley really wanted an opportunity to say, “Scat Happens” with meaning. And she found it in her polar bear dip.
Still, the three of us had a wonderful tramp and rejoiced over hot cocoa and tea once back at my truck. I checked in with Hadley tonight and she’s fine, thankfully. But did I say she’s adventuresome? And ever eager to learn?
Still . . . scat happens. And with the right attitude, one can recover.
This morning dawned as all do, but not all are quite so pristine. As I drove to Lovell I gave thanks that I’d be able to explore with a friend as we completed a reconnaissance mission before leading a wetland hike next weekend.
My friend Alice brought along her friend, Diana, and we tried to bee-line to Bradley Brook and the wetland beyond, but there were so many things to stop of us in our tracks, including the numerous prints of white-tailed deer and an occasional squirrel. Plus beech buds and marcescent leaves and . . . and . . . and. If I share all now, you won’t need to join us on February 8 and we really want you to come.
Eventually we reached the brook and were wowed by the colors and textures it offered.
As the brook flowed so did the ice form and its variation bespoke the water’s varying ways.
It was beside the brook that another local resident revealed its name by the prints it had made. We welcomed conditions that have been a bit on the warmer side of late (it wasn’t exactly warm when we began this morning, but these prints were made a night or two ago and actually showed some details or clues that led to identity). Do you see the baby hand in the upper left-hand print? And the diagonal orientation of one foot ahead of the other?
We continued following the raccoon and the brook toward the wetland of our destination, but paused again and again to rejoice in the presentation before us, including the tree that formed a triangle in reality and shadow.
At last we arrived at our destination, curious about the possibilities it offered. Though the temp was on the chilly side and we’ve had some really cold days this winter, we’ve also had some with much milder temps and so we watched our footing because none of us wanted to break through.
It’s a place where animal tracks intersect with nature’s lines and shadows grow long, whether arced or straight.
While we focused on the offerings, Alice and I gave thanks for Diana’s questions, which helped us consider how and what to share with participants who join us next weekend. Male and female catkins? Oh my.
Eventually we found our way back to the brook, and if it seems like I’ve failed to show you all that we saw, it’s only because I don’t want to give away any treasures we want to share. Did I mention that Alice and I are leading a walk for the Greater Lovell Land Trust on February 8th at 9:30am.
We noted an ice bridge that crossed the brook, but it was thin and no critters had yet taken advantage of its structure. Next weekend, however, we’ll check again.
At the old yellow birch we paused before turning away from the brook, but really, don’t you just want to spend some time in this landscape? Listening to the babble of the water and calls of the chickadees and nuthatches? It’s a perfect place to get lost for a few moments and let the forest refill the innermost recesses of your lungs.
And then to look for lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria), an indicator for rich, healthy ecosystems such as old growth forests.
Alice teased me because I love to pour water upon it and watch as it magically turns bright green. The main photobiont is a green alga, and when water hits it it immediately photosynthesizes and goes from dull and dry to vibrant and pliable. It’s also a type of cyanolichen, meaning it contains nitrogen-fixing bacteria. When it falls to the ground and decomposes into the forest floor, it contributes its nitrogen reserve to the soil.
Eventually our time in Lovell came to an end and within the hour I drove to Lewiston for another meeting with some like-minded friends.
The plan was for me to deliver sets of tree cookies to Cheryl Ring and Sue Kistenmacher, two of four co-coordinators for the Maine Master Naturalist class now taking place in Waterville. After filling Cheryl’s car with boxes of bark, we headed off for a walk in the woods of Lewiston.
Within moments, we found ourselves admiring the red in the bark of a red oak and Cheryl went forth to honor it for announcing its name.
Red maple also announced itself, though in a completely different manner. It’s the only tree in Maine that suffers from bullseye target canker which creates . . . a bullseye shape or circular plates caused by a fungus.
With these two notorious birders, we spent a lot of time looking up and saw chickadees, nuthatches, crows, a downy woodpecker, heard a pileated, and the icing on the cake: two brown creepers upon the tree trunks.
But . . . we also spent time looking down and the footprints beside our feet amazed us.
It was the orientation of prints always presented on a diagonal with five tear-drop shaped toes and in a bounding pattern that first heard us exclaiming.
As we followed the fisher tracks we met another traveler of these woods. It threw us off at first because its pattern led us astray. But we followed the track for a bit and examined the prints until we found a few that helped us make a positive ID.
We’d considered fox, but none of the measurements matched up and we were pretty sure we were seeing five toes rather than four and then we knew the creator. The second raccoon of my day.
As it happened we followed both the fisher and raccoon and noticed that while the raccoon walked by the pine trees, the fisher’s prints were visible on one side and then on the other in a way that was not humanly or fisherly possible, unless the mammal climbed the tree and jumped off the other side.
And planted a solid landing–like any great gymnast.
How great it was to stand there and note where the fisher and raccoon tracks had intersected–both overnight perhaps, but for as far as we had traveled no interaction had taken place.
We did, however, find an area that explained why the fisher was on the hunt: a hillside filled with squirrel middens. This spot offered more squirrel middens than I’ve seen all winter.
A midden is a garbage pile. The red squirrel finds a high spot, either the lay of the land, a rock, tree stump, or branch, upon which to “eat” a white pine cone like an ear of corn. The squirrel pulls off each scale on the cone and munches on the tiny pine nuts, discarding the inedible parts.
Each pine scale holds two pine nuts with attached wings or samaras–think maple seed with its wing. If you look closely at the inside of the pine cone scale, you can see the shape of the samaras and seeds.
Just before we turned back on our afternoon journey, we discovered a coyote track and gave thanks that we were in a city space that provided an incredible sanctuary for the mammals and birds.
My thanks began in the morning when I spent time exploring the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge in Lovell with Maine Master Naturalist Alice and her friend Diane.
And it concluded with the afternoon spent with Maine Master Naturalists Cheryl and Sue at Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary in Lewiston.
From Lovell to Lewiston, naturally with naturalists. Thanks be.
“Even if the conditions weren’t great for tracking, it was still fun to get out,” said Gilda, one of the newest Greater Lovell Land Trust Trackers as we explored off trail today. Mind you, it was -11˚ at daybreak, and the temperature registered in the single digits when we all met at Lot #1 of Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.
Not too far along the Chestnut Trail a trough extending from both sides drew our attention. We split up and followed it in either direction trying to determine the creator. Deer? No, not deep enough in the fluffy snow. Coyote? We kinda sorta saw the footprint and perhaps the pattern, but why the trough? Fisher? We were almost certain it was for we convinced ourselves that the vague prints were on a diagonal and the critter had bounded and slide across the landscape. It seemed to be characteristic of a weasel family member. But would a fisher slide that much? We’ve seen occasional slides but this was consistent. Porcupine? Now that didn’t occur to us and as I looked at the first photo I took I thought why didn’t I think of that. I know that the summit of Flat Hill is covered with porcupine tracks and dens. We were at the base. Just maybe what we saw was the trough of a porcupine. As it was, we spent a lot of time questioning our observations and blaming it on the snow for not providing us with the best tracking conditions. Someone mentioned that I should have kept track of how many times I said, “I don’t know.” Perhaps tracking those three words would have provided us with a higher success rate.
What I did know was that when we reached the stream and noted that the mystery trough maker had crossed to the other side and we didn’t like the looks of the ice and running water below and chose not to follow suit, we did spy some prints with a pattern we all knew to be coyote based on the size, X between the foot pads, and nail marks. Actually, we thought a family was on the hunt. Perhaps for a porcupine?
All in all, we did find vole and mouse tracks, and later some that we were 95% sure were fisher, and domestic dog. But like Gilda said, it was fun to be out on a brisk winter day in a beautiful location as we shared a brain and tried to figure out the stories in the snow.
Today’s Tuesday Trackers included Joan, Bob, Lucy, Ingrid, Pam, Joe, Gilda, and Frank.
These trackers were as intrepid as those I traveled with year ago and the article that appeared in today’s Bangor Daily News was based on a similar adventure last year. Well, let me clarify that. It was similar in that the temp was 4˚, but if I recall correctly it must have been windy for it felt even colder. And the tracking conditions were pristine that day.
Christmas gifts don’t always have to cost and such was one that my guy cashed in on today. You see, I gave him a card and wrote a message within that read something like this: “Let’s travel to Tin Mountain Conservation Center’s Rockwell Sanctuary in Albany, New Hampshire, one Monday this winter. Your task will be to identify three reasons why I chose this place for us to journey. If you figure out all three, I’ll buy you a beer.”
And so we went. And I wondered how quickly he would figure it out.
At the kiosk, we examined the map and decided we’d start off on the Maple Leaf Loop to the left and stay to the left, thus covering all of the outer trails. That meant we wouldn’t see everything, but in three or four hours we would see enough. Maybe.
From the get-go, he tried to figure out what three things I had in mind. Was it the signage on the trees for he appreciated that they boasted their names?
I liked that as well, but, no, the tree signs weren’t part of the deal.
What about the trail being well marked, he wondered. Yes, that was a good thing and we do sometimes have a tendency to get “fake” lost, but donning snowshoes meant we could always backtrack and find our way out. So that wasn’t it.
Could it be the decorated Christmas tree? Well, that certainly is what introduced me to the trail system a month ago for the tree was decorated as part of the ME/NH Christmas Tree Quest I’d coordinated, but that wasn’t why I wanted to travel these trails with him.
Maybe it was Chase Pond? No again. I did, however, love its layers and really wanted to walk onto it to explore some more, but I’m not ready to trust ice recently formed and then coated with an insulating layer of a foot of snow. Soon, but not yet.
In the meantime, however, the edge of the pond presented the woody structures of Leatherleaf’s former flowers and I rejoiced. He marched on, totally oblivious, but that was okay. I knew these would capture my heart, not his, and the goal was for him to figure out the three things that would appeal to both of us.
“Could it be the beaver works?” he asked as we circled the Beaver Loop.
No, but the high ridge of an old beaver dam in the mid portion of this photo made me wish we’d seen more recent works. It appeared the beavers had done their work and moved on a few years ago.
Was it the canoe half hidden in the snow? That surely was fun to stumble upon and reminded us both of canoes at LEA’s Holt Pond in Bridgton. This looked like another case of bring your own PFD and paddles. You might throw in some duck tape, just in case. But, no, it wasn’t the canoe.
We followed Stoney’s Spur down to the water’s edge and again a question: Perhaps it was that we could be the first to make tracks in the snow? Well, sorta the first, for a fox and mink had been there before us. I reminded him that when I wrote the message on the card I had no idea exactly when we would visit the sanctuary or what the trail conditions would be so again, that wasn’t one of the thoughts on my mind.
The spur did lead us to a boardwalk and we broke trail on it before heading back around to the Laurel Loop.
A sudden stop by me and he knew that this wasn’t part of the equation for he had no idea what the structure was that drew my attention. We find these occasionally and they always make me happy. This was the capsule of a Lady’s Slipper and while I suspected that there are more such plants in these woods, we’ll have to return in the spring to verify that assumption.
The Laurel Trail lead us across Bald Hill Road and it was there that the great signage we’d enjoyed came to an abrupt end. And so we moved about searching left and right to figure out where to go next.
No blaze led diagonally behind us, but down through the trees my guy spied some yellow paint and so he checked it out before beckoning me to join him.
It was that way for much of the trail and though we enjoyed the lay of the land, we had a difficult time determining where to go next.
The glacial boulders, however, were a sight to see.
And upon one I discovered an act of gravity I didn’t understand: icicles extending outward and growing parallel to the ground rather than perpendicular to it.
Was this some sort of magnetic hill? My guy never saw these so he couldn’t add his two cents, which I would have gladly welcomed. Sometimes he sees things that make sense of what I spy.
The thing about the trail, however, was that neither of us could spy the blazes most of the time, unless we turned around and looked back. We were supposed to be exploring a loop and crossing back over the road, but suddenly found ourselves traveling back toward whence we’d come. Even with GPS, which didn’t pick up the actual trail, we could see our movement but couldn’t determine where we were supposed to be since the map wasn’t geo-referenced.
That was okay because our wander found us traveling through a Mountain Laurel field we would have otherwise missed.
My guy was rather certain the plant was not for his focus and so he moved on while I paused for the old Kodak moment.
Finally crossing back over the road by backtracking our steps for a bit, he wondered if the Owl Prowl Trail was one of the three reasons I’d chosen this place. No, though we both love owl encounters.
Crossing a bridge, he didn’t realize that he was suddenly getting hotter.
The bridge marked the outlet of Chase Pond and huge boulders formed its old damming point.
Our next left hand turn took us on to the Quarry Trail.
As we traversed it, a lightbulb went off and he asked, “The quarry?” YES! Quarries fascinate both of us and I knew he’d enjoy finding and exploring this one. He was feeling rather successful and grateful that he wouldn’t be the victim of a shut out.
At the next intersection he had his second answer: Bear Trees. Bingo. But, would we be able to actually see any?
Indeed we would. We both love the discovery of scratches left behind by the big mammals.
And so, as we climbed about through the quarry, we continued to look for beech trees with marks showing the way of the climber.
The rocks left behind offered their own interesting forms.
And the trees, lots of evidence.
There was more on the trees as well, and not all of it worth celebrating: do you see the tiny white spots mingled occasionally among the red bloom? Those white dots are the minute beech scale insects. The holes the tiny insect makes in the bark create a perfect entry point for nectria pathogen to make its way into the tree. The pathogen, a type of fungus, kills some areas of the tree at the point of entry. In reaction, the tree develops a canker as a defensive attempt to ward off the invader, but by doing so the canker blocks the vascular tissue of the infected beech by stopping nutrient flow in that one area.
And those red spots, as pretty as they appear, are actually tarry spots which ooze out of the cracks in the bark caused by the canker. Essentially, it appeared the tree was bleeding.
We preferred to focus on the scratches, some indicating a more recent visit than others, based on the width of the marks.
We kept finding them and wondered how many more there must be within the sanctuary and beyond.
It was no wonder for many of the trees are mature and, as evidenced by the husks left scattered on the snow, they’ve been producing fruits, aka beech nuts, for a long time.
After almost four miles in three hours, my guy and I finished up our trip and he was thrilled to have figured out that I chose this place for the quarry and the bear trees. But the third reason alluded him.
That’s okay. It just means we’ll have to return again so he can figure it out. Of course, that also meant no stop for a beer on the way home.
Perhaps the next time. In the meantime, we’re both still thrilled with the finds we did make as we rocked this first Mondate of the new year.
We never know how many to expect for any event, but the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s First Day hikes typically attract a maximum of nine. Today, however, we were wowed as eighteen gathered.
Before leaving parking lot #2 on Slab City Road to reach the trailhead for our loop up and down Whiting Hill at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve, we all donned snowshoes and marveled at the mix of styles and colors.
Why snowshoes? Because Mother Nature dumped a foot of snow over the past two days and finally it felt like winter.
In single file, we marched along, but paused periodically, including to practice shouting. The phrase that bore repeating: Happy New Year.
Occasionally mammal prints made us stop in our tracks and for one we noted signs of urine. Hmmm, who exactly was the four-footed explorer? A red fox. And how could we be so certain? Because its pee smelled rather acrid and skunky. We initiated a few of our trekkers for they got down on all fours to take a whiff.
Other things also drew our attention along the way, including Mother Nature’s Snowball Tournament.
At last we reached the summit of Whiting, where the view encompassed Kezar Lake, but not so much the mountains for it was snowing.
While there, we shared hot cocoa and tea, pumpkin bread and scones, and lots of conversation. And again, we shouted, “Happy New Year.”
The temperature was just right and the snow the right consistency, that soon a few of us got creative.
Snow sculptures and a snowman became the focus of our intentions.
This snowman was extra classy for he chose to sport a mustache.
At first, he wanted to look into the woods, but eventually he decided to change his orientation and take in the vista of the lake and beyond.
Because we were in a festive mood, or maybe just because, a juggling act began to take shape.
In the form of snowballs.
Perhaps next year we’ll add a talent show to the day’s offerings.
In the midst of all the fun, conversations continued and old acquaintances were renewed while new friendships formed. What we love about any of our hikes is that by the end, whether you come as a frequent traveler or a newbie, you leave feeling like part of the crowd.
A couple have traveled this particular hike with us since its inception: Kitty and Dale Nelson. Kitty has been with us for three of the four years that we’ve offered a First Day hike and Dale hasn’t missed one yet.
Finally, we decided to call our time at the summit to a close. But first we needed to hear from those gathered. Mr. GLLT began by shouting: “Happy!”
To which the Mrs. added, “New!”
And the rest of us completed the phrase, “Year!” Additionally we shouted out the names of the towns we serve: “Stow, Stoneham, Sweden, Lovell, and even Chatham.”
I never had the good fortune to meet John A. Segur, but I’ve given him thanks repeatedly over the years. You see, Mr. Segur left a bequest to the Greater Lovell Land Trust to preserve habitat so that native wildlife might thrive.
It was my choice today to check on how that was playing out as I circumnavigated the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge from Farrington Pond Road. Since the parking lot isn’t plowed for the winter, I pulled off at the cul-de-sac at the end of the road, which actually was a better spot because I didn’t want to be enticed to follow the trails.
A wise decision it was, for as I tramped along the property line on a northeasterly route to start, a grin immediately emerged. It was the downhill slide that made me instantly happy for I knew that rather recently an otter had also visited the refuge. As it should.
The bottom of the slide ended at the shore of Farrington Pond, a view those of us who visit the refuge rarely see for there is no path to it. But I rather like it that way for bushwhacking allows for new discoveries that aren’t as sterile as a maintained trail. And I suspected Mr. Segur would have felt the same. Plus, his vision was all about a wildlife corridor.
He also would have smiled when he realized that the beavers by Farrington had been active at some point in the fall. Unfortunately, (or as I’m sure some neighbors feel: fortunately) I didn’t see any other “fresh” beaver works, though I didn’t walk all the way around the pond, so I’m not sure of their status in this locale.
But, they had visited in the past including at least ten years ago, based on the growth rings on display around the wound. It’s my understanding that Eastern Hemlock is not a favorite species of beavers and they will often girdle a tree by eating the bark and cambium layer all the way around the trunk, perhaps in hopes it will die. I’ve heard a few theories on this including that beavers do such so that their preferred species will have a chance to grow where the hemlock once provided so much shade that no other trees could set root. But here’s another to throw onto the table: what if the beaver starts to dine and then realizes the flavor is not to his liking? And so he moves on to another tree. Hey, it’s just a theory.
Another thing about beavers is that sometimes they chop down trees that don’t exactly fall as planned. In this case, the entire upper portion dangles from another in the form of a widow maker–as in, don’t stand, or in this case sit, below it.
While studying the tree and thinking about the beaver, I looked down to the pond and saw more mammal sign. Can you spot the otter slide?
Eventually my bushwhack led me toward a stream crossing where the ice wasn’t exactly solid. But the bubbles that had formed within it were like little round spirals that reminded me of the inside of abalone shells. Or perhaps snails.
Suddenly, leaf cracklings filled the air that had been silent except for the sound of wind whooshing at a higher elevation. It took my eyes a few moments to discover the source of the noise, and then I realized I was near a flock of robins. My movement disturbed them, but they didn’t fly far and so we each spent a few moments contemplating our next moves.
As I stood there, I noticed a small tuft of feathers stuck to a hemlock branch, which reminded me that I need to stand still more often for it’s in those moments that things make themselves visible.
Finally I carried on, pausing again, however, when an old, old Yellow Birch showed off the stilts upon which it grew. From their height, I could just imagine the long rotted trunk that once served as its nurse tree, allowing its seed to germinate and set down roots.
Nearby was another ancient, this one a hemlock that preferred to begin life in the same manner as the Yellow Birch. I was sure it had stories to tell and know I’ll return one day soon to spend some time enwrapped by those roots as I listen.
The trees led the way to the wetland and I really, really wanted to explore it, but because I was alone (well, not exactly alone for Mr. Segur was with me kinda sorta, not really) I thought that that too should wait for another day.
If you peer closely at the snow-covered ice beginning from the lower right hand corner and moving toward the shrubs, you may spy the track of another mammal. Do you recognize the pattern? Once you learn patterns, you don’t always have to see the prints up close to know the creators.
Finally, I decided to turn away from Farrington Pond for there was another wetland on the property that I wanted to visit. But first, I found an old beaver dam. Given the lower level of water behind it, I knew that it was not in use, but it looked like a mighty sturdy structure.
Across the landscape I made my way, noting tracks of a million wild animals. Well, maybe not a million, but certainly many including coyote, fox, deer, raccoon, squirrel, vole, mouse, hare, weasel, and fisher. Some were fresh, while others a bit diluted from fluctuating temperatures. This was a place where the mammals wander freely as Mr. Segur intended.
In so doing, I also spied some puff balls that reminded me of applehead dolls with their weathered faces.
There were others who also offered a different take on their natural form–one might call this the star steeple for aster seeds had landed upon the woody structure of steeplebush capsules.
And then in a field I made a “new to the property” discovery: Tamarack trees. I love the nubs that once supported their leaves (aka needles) and the upright cones. Cones remain on the trees for about two years. I wondered about them being upright, but I suppose that as the scales open to release the winged seeds, they catch the breeze and rather than merely rain down below their parent, they are uplifted to a new location.
Continuing my bushwhack, I also continued to keep a keen eye on the world.
But there were a couple of locations I wanted to check on before my time with Mr. Segur ended. At last I reached Sucker Brook and again I chose not to venture onto the ice. One of these days.
From there, it was on to another place more secret than the last that I had my sights set upon. First, however, I stopped to look at the marcescent beech leaves, some like this one that were mere skeletons of themselves so thoroughly had they been munched. It was almost like all that was left was the backbone and rib cage.
Seeing this reminded me of a spring day on this property about four years ago: A Perfect Beech Day. On that day I’d been wowed by the unfurling beech leaves and noticed how hairy they were. In my book, the hairs are meant to keep insects at bay, and yet beech leaves are attacked by many, many little bugs. On that day I also made a bunch of other cool discoveries. You really should click the link above and read about it.
Speaking of little bugs, I also found a pupating ladybug beetle, its form so unique. If I hadn’t known, I never would have guessed it was a ladybug.
At last I reached that spot that I think of as the secret garden. There isn’t an official trail to it, but over the years many have had the opportunity to discover it on their own and been wowed. That’s how I think Mr. Segur would have liked it. We don’t need trails bisecting every inch of a property. We just need more curious people.
This is a spot where three beaver lodges are located as one gazes north.
In the distance to the south there are two more, but you’ll have to visit the secret spot in order to see them.
While you are there, don’t forget to honor the Rhodora, which is slowly preparing to wow all of us in the spring.
And if you choose to bushwhack out, eventually you might stumble upon the inflated capsule of Indian Tobacco. (Hint: it’s near the edge of an opening)
A little more than three hours and over three miles after beginning, my time wandering the property with Mr. Segur had drawn to a close.
I gave thanks to him for showing me all the stars within and surrounding the circle.