From the Ground Up

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last . . . The end of a beginning . . . A new beginning . . .” So began Bishop Chilton Knudsen’s sermon shared with over 170 parishioners and guests who attended the Dedication and Consecration of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Bridgton on Sunday, June 1, 2008.

Standing behind the pulpit in a site line between the entrance to the sanctuary, altar, cross and a circular pane that provided a window on God through the movement of the trees, wind and sun, Bishop Knudsen reminded us, as our rector, the Rt. Reverend John H. Smith, retired Bishop of West Virginia, had done previously, that the new building was just that — a building. She encouraged us not to get so caught up in the building that we lose sight of our mission of outreach to each other, our communities and the greater world.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church began as a summer mission in 1962. On September 8, 1974, St. Peter’s-by-the-Lake held its first service of extended ministry. Though it did not have a home of its own, the church provided an Episcopal presence to summer and year-round residents of the Lakes Region by meeting in various locations including people’s homes, Bridgton Academy, and local churches of different denominations. In 2003, the parish voted to purchase a ten-acre lot at the junction of Routes 302 and 93, one mile west of downtown Bridgton.

After renting space for all those years, in 2007, church members enthusiastically supported a capital campaign; through gifts and pledges the full amount of the building cost was raised. Under the leadership of parishioner Beatrice White, a building committee was formed. The Vestry engaged the services of William Whited, Architect, to design a building that would be both beautiful and affordable.

S2-BISHOP KNUDSON BREAKS GROUND

On September 15, 2007, Bishop Knudsen, donning a hardhat decorated with the Episcopal shield, dodged raindrops as she helped break ground.

S2A-LETTER FROM BISHOP KNUDSON

Following that initial groundbreaking, parishioners met at the site the first Sunday of each month for prayers and hymns. Rain . . . snow . . . mud . . . the weather presented a few obstacles, but the project proceeded in spite of it.

S3-CHURCH TAKES SHAPE

Over time, the building began to take shape.

S4-WINTER

With the advent of winter, it was wrapped in Typar . . and continued prayers.

S5-ALTAR

Within, the altar found its formation.

As parishioners, we watched it grow into a structure for worship and fellowship. Upon entering the church for the first service on May 25, 2008, one word was expressed over and over again, “Wow!”

S6-NEW CHURCH DEDICATION

For St. Peter’s, the Dedication and Consecration of the building on June 1st was the culmination of years of discussions, planning, being amazed at fund raising miracles and working together to reach a goal. That grand and meaningful worship service is one that many people never experience unless they build a new church. Using the service of Dedication and Consecration as outlined in The Book of Common Prayer, Bishop Knudsen knocked her crosier and called for the doors to be opened. Gregg Seymour, General Contractor, opened the door and handed the Bishop a hammer as a symbol of his work. Beatrice White presented the building blueprints while Junior Warden Eric Wissmann gave the Bishop a set of purple building keys. A procession including the Bishops of Maine, our rector, a deacon, verger, wardens, crucifer, taperers, parishioners and guests flowed through the narthex into the simple, yet beautiful sanctuary. Following prayers for the building, the Bishop moved about the church and consecrated the baptismal table and bowl, cross above the altar, lectern/pulpit, hangings and parish banner, tapers, piano, kitchen, classrooms and offices, narthex table, credence table, altar shelf, fair linen, and other special gifts. She then celebrated the Holy Eucharist, assisted by the Reverend Christine Bennett, Deacon, and George Wright, Verger. The Eucharistic Bread was baked and offered by the “SPY” group, Saint Peter’s Youth. During Holy Communion, the choir sang “Jesu, Jesu,” accompanied by Evan Miller, Director of Music. Following the service, the parish continued the celebration indoors and out with a reception and pot-luck dinner. 

S7-CHURCH TODAY

Fast forward and the parishioners are now preparing for Bishop Steven Lane to visit next week and celebrate the tenth anniversary of St. Peter’s. In all that time, so much has changed . . . including the land. And so this afternoon I spent some time wandering around the grounds in quiet reflection of the people and the place. No, not the church building, though I continue to appreciate its simplicity and still love to gaze out the circular widow above the altar.

S8-ANTS ON DANDELIONS

Today, however, I wanted to note all the other species that have gathered here, including the ants seeking nectar. Have you ever gotten as close to a dandelion as an ant or bee might? Did you know that each ray has five “teeth” representing a petal and forms a single floret. Fully open, the bloom is a composite of numerous florets. And equally amazing is that each stigma splits in two and curls.

S9-DANDELION SPREADING THE SEEDS

Of course, if you are going to admire a dandelion in flower, you should be equally wowed as it continues its journey. At the base of each floret grows a seed covered with tiny spikes that probably help it stick to the ground eventually. In time, the bloom closes up and turns into those fluffy balls waiting for us or the wind to disperse the seeds, rather like the work of the church. Until then, they look like a spray of fireworks at our feet.

S10-MEMORIAL GARDEN

My wandering led to the Memorial Garden where parishioners with greener thumbs than mine created a small sanctuary for one who wants to sit and contemplate.

S11-CELTIC CROSS WITH LICHENS

The garden’s center offers a cross depicted in the Celtic tradition. I remember when it was installed as a “clean” piece of granite and realized today that I hadn’t been paying attention, for as is true on any of the surrounding benches, lichen had colonized it, enhancing the circle of life.

S15-GRAY BIRCH

What I really wanted to look at though was the edge where various species spoke of forest succession. I found an abundance of gray birches, one of the first to take root after an area has been disturbed. It’s always easy to spy once you recognize its leaf’s triangular form, which reminded me of Father Dan Warren’s demonstration this morning about the Trinity.

S12-PAPER BIRCH LEAVES

Nearby grew an already established paper birch, its leaf more oval in shape.

S13- QUAKING ASPEN

Then I couldn’t help it and my tree fetish took over. Quaking or trembling aspen showed off its small toothed edges, while . . .

S14-BIG TOOTH ASPEN

its young cousin displayed big teeth. Despite its fuzzy spring coating, insects had already started devouring the pubescent leaves. One of my favorite wonders about both big-tooth and quaking aspen leaves is that they dangle from flattened stems or petioles and ripple in a breeze.

S16-BEECH LEAVES

Also along the edge I found a beech tree donning huge leaves that looked like they were in great shape . . . momentarily.

S17-VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR

For on the backside, a very hungry caterpillar had been dining.

S17A-FLOWERING DOGWOOD

I found two other young trees that I suspected were planted within the last ten years–the first: flowering dogwood. Growing up in Connecticut, we had a large one in the side yard and so memories of times long ago intermingled with those of the more recent past and my home church, Zion Episcopal, entered into my reflections.

S17B-LOCUST

Like the dogwood, we also had a mature locust looming tall near my mother’s garden. Spying this one, I gave thanks for the ability to span the years, travel many routes, and remain faithful to my beginnings.

S22A-SWEET FERN

Slowly my eyes shifted downward . . . and fell upon a most pleasing sight–sweet-fern. It’s one of those, like hobblebush, that wows the eye in any season.

S18- WILD STRAWBERRY FLOWER

And then I turned my focus to the ground where an incredible variety of flowers either in bloom or still to come, mosses and grasses all shared the common space in seeming harmony, though I suspected there were those that crowded out others. Patches of wild strawberries graced the carpet. Five petals surrounded about twenty stamens and soon a fruit may form–meant to sustain small mammals and birds.

S21-FRINGED POLYGALA

Gay wings or fringed polygala surprised me with its presence. So delicate, so beautiful, so fleeting.

S24-STONE WALLS

I stepped into the woods beyond the edge and was reminded that ten years ago I wanted to create a nature trail on this property–a place where anyone could partake of a short wander away from reality; a place where someone might be nurtured by nature.

S19-STARFLOWER

A place where the stars above would be reflected in the flowers below.

S20-DWARF GINSENG

A place where flowers like dwarfed ginseng would erase global issues–if only for a moment.

S23-GIANT BUMBLEBEE

A place where everyone recognized the system and from such recognition began to work together toward common goals.

S22-INTERRUPTED FERN

A place where interruptions occurred because life happens, but such were accepted as part of the norm.

S23A-BUMBLEBEE BREAK

A place where one could find a bench upon which to rest before beginning again.

S25-ENTER HERE

Here’s to beginning again St. Peter’s.

Here’s to remembering all those who made this place a reality.

Here’s to maybe someday a nature trail.

Here’s to continuing to create a place where all are welcome whether they pass through the red doors, into the Memorial Garden, or choose to take in the offerings from the ground up.

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Earth

Dear Earth,

In your honor, I decided that on this Earth Day I would head out the back door and travel by foot, rather than vehicle.

e1-Mount Washington

My journey led me down the old cow path to the power line right-of-way and much to my delightful surprise, Mount Washington was on display. It was so clear, that I could even see the outline of buildings and towers at the summit. Thank you for providing such clarity.

e2-vernal pool

Rather than walk to the mountain, I turned in the opposite direction and found my way to the vernal pool, where ice still covered a good portion. You know, Earth, as much as I want this to be a significant vernal pool because it does usually have two qualifiers (and only needs one): more than forty wood frog egg masses or more than twenty spotted salamander egg masses, I know that it is not. I believe it was created as part of the farm based on the rocks at the far end, not exactly forming a retaining wall, but still situated so close together in a way that I haven’t found anywhere else in my extensive journeys of the hundreds of acres behind our house. Plus, it dries up much too quickly to be a natural pool. And each year I’m surprised to find wood frogs, their egg masses, spotted salamander spermatophores, and their egg masses, given that the water evaporates before the tadpoles finish forming. If these species return to their natal vernal pool, Earth, then how can that be since no one actually hopped or walked out as a recently matured adult? Or were these frogs on their way to another pool and they happened upon this one? You know me, Earth–lots of questions as I try to understand you better.

e4-dorsal amplexus

Whatever the answer is, each year you work your magic and on a visit yesterday afternoon, I spied a male wood frog atop a female in what’s known as amplexus, aka, mating. According to Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Aram J.K. Calhoun, and Mark McCollough, “When mating, the male clings tightly to the females back. Visible contractions of the female’s body signal the onset of oviposition, at which time the male’s hind feet are drawn up close to the female’s vent. As the eggs are expelled, the male releases sperm into the water and strokes the egg mass with his hind feet, which presumably aids in distributing the sperm more evenly.” I looked this morning, but didn’t find any sign of eggs. Don’t worry, Earth, I’ll keep looking because perhaps they were there but hadn’t absorbed water yet.

e5-dead frog

One other thing I saw yesterday that greatly disturbed me was a dead frog in the water. Last year I also found such. My concern is that it was caused by a virus, but perhaps it was old age. Or some other factor. I do have to confess, though, Earth, I intervened and removed the body from the pond. I know, I know, it’s all part of the cycle of life, and I should leave nature to its own devices, but disease was on my mind and I didn’t want others to be affected. I may have been too late. Only time will tell.

e7-leaf variety

When I arrived this morning, I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any dead frogs. For the longest time I stood upon a rock–you know the one I mean, Earth, for you’ve invited me to stand there before. It’s sunny in that spot and the frogs know it well, for that is where they’ll eventually deposit their eggs. As I waited, I looked down at the leaves on the pool’s bottom and noticed how they offered a reflection of the trees above, beech and oak and maple and pine and hemlock. All still displayed their winter colors, but when the pool does dry up, they’ll turn dark brown and form a mat that will provide nutrients for the plants that colonize the area. You’ve got a system, don’t you Earth.

e8-frog 1

I knew if I stood as still as I could, I would be rewarded. While beech and oak leaves, the last to fall from their trees, danced somersaults across those already on the ground and matted by the past winter’s snow, red and gray squirrels chatted and squawked, and chickadees sold cheeseburgers in their songs, my eyes constantly scanned the pool. And in a flash, a frog emerged from under those leaves.

e8-wood frog 1a

For a while he floated, allowing the breeze to push him to and fro within a two square-foot space. But then he decided to climb atop a downed branch. Perhaps he was trying out a calling sight to use once I left.

e9a--wood frog 3

And then, there was another. And after that another. Yesterday I saw a total of six. Today only four. But that doesn’t mean the others weren’t hiding until I left, right Earth? I hope that’s what it meant. One thing you have taught me via the frogs is patience. If I stand still long enough at least one will swim to the surface. And they, too, are patient as they wait: for me to leave; for the gals to come. Well, maybe when the gals do come they aren’t all that patient.

e10-mosquito larvae

I actually returned to the pool a second time today and more of the ice had melted. While in the late morning I couldn’t see any insects on the move, in the early afternoon I eyed thousands of mosquito larvae. Everyone moans about mosquito larvae, Earth, but . . . they provide food for salamanders and the adult form for birds. I’m just trying to look on the bright side.

e11- snowmobile trail

This afternoon, I waited and waited for the frogs to emerge, but either my eyes didn’t key in on them or they decided to wait until I left. So . . . I finally did just that, and did head toward Mount Washington after all, following the snowmobile trail. As you well know, Earth, it was a bit tricky between the snow, soft mud, ruts and rocks exploding from your earth.

e11a-boots

My right foot managed to fall through the icy snow into a hidden rut filled with water that covered my Bog boots. And then my left foot found some mud that squelched with glee. Or was that you squealing with delight, Earth? I had one wet sock, but ventured on.

e11b-Mansion Road

At the junction, I turned to the west, following the log road and remembering the days of yore when my guy and I, as well as neighbor Dick Bennett, used to work up a sweat on a winter day following a snow storm, for it was our duty to you, Earth, to release the snow from your arched gray birch trees. And then, a few years ago, the road became the main route to the timber landing/staging area again, and all of those trees we’d worked so hard to protect year after year were cut to make way for machinery. As much as my heart broke, it does give me time to watch forest succession in action, and I gave thanks that you have such a plan in mind.

e14-deer dance

It also provided a blank stage upon which the does danced and left behind their calling cards.

e12-buck

And Buck sashayed each partner across the floor. The deep dew claw marks and cloven toes indicated he’d made quite an impression.

e11c-coyote scat

All along the way, upon raised rocks in the middle of the “road,” coyote and fox scat was prominent and in the sandy surface I also found their prints.

e18-vernal pool near landing

At the left-hand turn that led to the landing, I was surprised when I shouldn’t have been, for suddenly a million “wrucks” filled the air. I knew the water was there but it had slipped my mind. Thank you for the song of many more wood frogs. Thanks for filling my ears with joy.

e15-wood frog egg masses

And the chance to spy their good works. Thankfully, you make sure that life continues. At least in the form of wood frog egg masses.

e17-wood frog egg mass

I loved their gelatinous blob-like structure, all bumpy on the outside they were. Actually, I believe what looked like one mass, was several, but I didn’t dare step in to check and disturb the frogs that hid below.

e16-wood frog 5

Again I stood as still as possible, and again I was rewarded. For a bit I thought that the frog before me had no arms, but then I realized that they were just plastered to its sides.

e19-wood frog under log

A squirrel sounding bigger than itself caught my attention briefly and I turned unexpectedly. When I turned back, the frog was no longer at the water’s surface, but appeared below a downed gray birch. For a while the two of us remained still. I hoped another frog or two or three or three thousand would pop up, but that wasn’t your plan, was it? It’s okay. One was enough.

e21-log landing

I finally left my one, oops, I mean your one frog alone and continued on to the log landing, noting all the mammal tracks and looking for other signs. There was more scat, but I was disappointed not to find bobcat or moose prints. Where were you hiding them? I suspect the moose had moved to the swamp below.

Rather than go much further, for major ruts from the logging equipment were filled with water, I turned around just beyond the landing and headed back across it. Twenty-five years ago it was a much smaller clearing with a few pine trees. Over the years, I’ve watched it change and the mammal activity as well. And then, about five years ago it was converted back to a landing and I can’t wait for it to fill in again, but my desire and your plan are not necessarily the same, are they?

It all seemed like so much destruction, but I had to remind myself that I am part of the equation, with my own needs for power and wood and food and everything that you provide. And cuts do bring about a change, sometimes for the better, for the trees and the mammals and the birds and the plants and the decomposers and the consumers and all who call this place home. Am I convincing you, Earth? Am I convincing myself?

e22-frog 7

As I passed by the lengthy vernal pool again I decided to revisit the egg masses. I stood on the rock and slowly scanned the area. No frogs. On second glance, there was one right beside the rock on which I stood. And it looked like the same one I’d seen previously. I wondered why. Why didn’t I scare it? Was that you, Earth, taking a peek at me?

e23-Mourning Cloak butterfly

I had one more surprise on my journey–the first butterfly of the season, a mourning cloak. With its wings closed, it wasn’t all that attractive.

e24-mourning cloak

But upon opening them, I saw its beauty hidden within–another lesson, eh Earth? Oh, and your sense of humor. For yes, that was coyote scat on which the butterfly sucked as it sought amino acids and other nutrients. A fly also dined. Yum.

What a day, Earth. Your day. Dear Earth Day. May I remember to treat you so dearly every day.

Sincerely,

wondermyway

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brain Share–Naturally

I was thankful I’d thrown my winter coat into the truck for I had a feeling it would be a better choice than a vest given the group I’d be traveling with this morning. And sure enough, though the sun felt warm, a breeze added a chill to the air. Plus, I knew we wouldn’t travel far and would spend much of our time standing around.

r0-life on a rock

Well, not exactly standing, for as Maine Master Naturalists, we’ve been trained to get down for a closer look. Our first stop–to check out the life on a rock that was revealing itself as the snow slowly melted. Karen is on the left, an Augusta grad, and Sarah and Anthony to her right, both South Paris grads.

r0a-polypody

The focus of our attention was common polypody, a fern with leathery leaves and spherical spore clusters on the underside. Rocks are their substrate and they often give a boulder a bad-hair day look.

r1b-speckled alder

Moseying along, we reached a point where we knew we wanted to spend some time–at a wetland beside one of the Range Ponds (pronounced Rang) at Range Pond State Park in Poland, Maine. Because it likes wet feet, we weren’t surprised to find speckled alder growing there, but what did throw us for a loop was the protrusions extending from last year’s cones.

r1a-speckled alder

It was almost like they had tried to flower atop the cones and all we could think of was an insect creating a gall. Indeed, it appeared that the cones were also experiencing a bad hair day. After a little research, it may be alder tongue gall–resulting from a fungus rather than an insect infecting the female catkins. Apparently, the tongue-like growths are green to begin, but transform to orange, red and finally brown. It was certainly a new one for the four of us.

r2a-leatherleaf and sphagnum moss

On we moved down to the wetland where the snow surprisingly held us for most of the journey and we didn’t leave behind too many post holes. Leatherleaf and sphagnum moss showed off their winter hues at our feet.

r4-cranberries

We also spied cranberries hiding underneath.

r3-cranberries among the leatherleaf

And sampled them. A few were tart, while others had fermented.

r1-two lodges

In the middle of the wetland, two well built lodges stood tall. They had fresh wood and had been mudded in the fall. One did look as if the vent hole had been enlarged, so we wondered if anyone still lived there. We heard no noises, but had to assume that we were bothering the residents so we didn’t stay long.

r2-wetland and pond beyond

One last view of the wetland and pond beyond, then we turned and walked toward the opposite side.

r5-bird nest

Just before climbing uphill, we spotted a bird nest in the winterberry shrubs. It was filled with dried berries, and we again made an assumption, that a mouse had cached its stash for the winter and maybe dined there in peace and quiet while the nest was covered in snow. That’s our story and we’re sticking with it. Whose nest it was prior to the mouse? We don’t know, but it was made of twigs. If you have an answer, please enlighten us.

r6-bone

Back up on an old railroad bed, we again stopped frequently, including to talk about the beech scale insect and nectria fungus that moves in and eventually kills the trees. And then something else came to our attention–it wasn’t a broken branch hanging down like an upside-down V on the beech tree. No indeed. It was a bone. A knee bone. And it had been there for quite a while given its appearance.

r7-Introduced Pine Sawfly pupal case

Because Anthony was with us and he’s our insect whiz, we spent a lot of time learning from him–including about the pupal case of an introduced pine sawfly. The sawfly had already pupated and in this case no one was home.

r8-Introduced sawfly pupal case

As the morning went on, we became quite adept at locating more cases of other sawfly species, including one that wasn’t yet opened. We each channeled our ten-year-old selves as we tried to be first to find the next one. But really, Anthony won for he had insect case eyes.

r9-going in for a closer look

And eyes for other things as well.

r10-old spider web case

This time we examined a delicate, almost lacy structure under a branch on a young beech. Anthony suspected a pirate spider, which tickled our fancy for we imagined them raiding the goods of others. But later he e-mailed with another option: “The old spider egg case could also be from an orbweaver of the araneidae family.” Either way, we were happy for the sighting; for taking the time to slow down and notice.

r11-beech leaves

And there was more. Sarah had to leave us a wee bit early, so she missed our finds on the backside of beech leaves.

r12-maroon dots on beech leaves

They were dotted with raised bumps that under our hand lenses reminded us a bit of the sori on common polypody.

r13-maroon dots on beech leaves

Leaf rust? Was it related in any way to the splattering of tiny black dots also on the leaves? We left with questions we haven’t yet answered.

r14-hair on beech leaves

Taking a closer look did, however, remind us of how hairy beech leaves are–do you see the hairs along the main vein? And that reminded us of how the tree works so hard to protect the bud with waxy scales all winter, keeping the harsh conditions at bay. In early spring, slowly the leaves emerge, ever hairy, which strikes me as an adaptation to keep insects at bay, and then . . . and then . . . it seems like every insect finds a reason to love a beech leaf and in no time they’ve been chewed and mined and you name it.

r15-oak gall

We made one more discovery before heading out–a gall formed on oak twigs. Do you see the exit hole? It’s in the shape of a heart–apparently the insect that created the gall loved the oak.

r15-pine tube moth

As we made our way back to the parking lot, I kept searching all the pine trees because I wanted to share an example of the tube created by a pine tube moth. Of course, there were none to be found, but as soon as I arrived home, I headed off into the woods for I knew I could locate some there. Bingo.

Notice how the lumps of needles are stuck together in such a way that they formed a tube. Actually, the tube is a tunnel created by the moth. The moth used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming the hollow tube. And notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and emerge in April. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. Fortunately, they don’t seem to harm the trees–yet.

Three and a half hours later we hadn’t walked a great distance, but our findings and learnings were many and we talked about how we’d added more layers to our understanding. Now if only we can remember everything. Thanks to Karen, Sarah and Anthony for sharing your brains me with–naturally.

P.S. Lewiston MMNP grads, et al, I’ll be in touch. Look for a doodle poll soon so we can get out and do the same. Or if you want to take the initiative, please feel free to go for it.

 

 

 

Like a Charm

White flakes floated earthward today and so I donned my snowshoes for the first time this season and joined the party.

s-snow!

Everywhere I looked, the world had transformed.

s-snow piling high

And ever so slowly mountain ranges took shape.

s-squirrel cache snow

One mountain in particular caught my attention,

s-squirrel cache 1

for I’ve been visiting it and two others nearby over the past few weeks.

s-refectory 1

Where previously, the refectory indicated hours of fine dining,

s-squirrel refectory snow

today there was none. But, I suspect by tomorrow a certain red squirrel that usually squawks at me will be back. Today, he probably hunkered down in his drey, hidden somewhere in the hemlocks above and out of my view. My intention is to keep an eye on him, just as he’ll continue to keep an eye on me, for I want to watch tunnels form and midden piles grow.

s-pinecone scales

After all, he worked hard this past summer and fall harvesting cones and acorns to fill his cupboards in preparation for the winter months. Though those months aren’t yet upon us, even in the fringe he enjoys what he’s gathered.

s-deer rub snow

I left his home base behind and continued on, noting how the snow had gathered–atop the ragged remains of a deer rub,

s-goldenrod snow

balanced on winter weeds,

s-snow tucked within

curled inside leaves,

s-snow on beech

and dangling from others.

s-oak and hemlock

A fun find came into view below the towering trees, where the veins of red oak mirrored the structure of the hemlock twigs and needles it was caught between.

s-snow at home

At last it was getting dark and time to return to the homestead.

And it was time to celebrate the only dance for which my feet can match the rhythm–the snow dance. I’m so glad I wore my pajamas inside out and slept with the silverware last night. It worked like a charm yet again.

 

New York by Nature

Having grown up in a small town outside of New Haven, Connecticut, I used to be quite knowledgeable about city ways, but these days woodland trails are more to my liking. Stepping out of our comfort zone and onto the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn this past weekend, I was sure I’d be a nervous wreck. The last time we’d ventured there, our sons were six and eight, and my knuckles white as I gripped their hands.

N-NBC

That was then. Maybe it was because we didn’t have young ones in tow, or because I decided to embrace the moment and smile at each person I was able to make eye contact with, this time was different. Even some cold rain didn’t stop us from enjoying the city’s vibe . . .

N-bakery

including all its colors and flavors.

n-Central Park meets autumn

On a new day, the autumnal tapestry was like deja vu all over again, since we’d already experienced fall foliage over a month ago at home.

n-London Plane sycamore hybrid 1

Even tree bark displayed variations of color, some that I thought I knew, until I found one with a name plaque.

n-London Plane

London Plane? Sycamore had been my first choice. It turns out that London Plane is a hybrid developed over 300 hundred years ago from the native  sycamore and oriental planetree.  And it was used as an ornamental to line streets . . . or park paths.

n-sycamore leaves1

Its scientific name, acerifolia, came from its maple-like leaves. I knew I’d learn plenty in the Big Apple, but didn’t expect trees to be among the lessons.

n-elms intermingling 2

As we walked through Central Park, street vendors displayed their works below, while American elms gracefully danced across the canopy above.

n-Central Park 1

And buildings magically arose from the rocky substrate.

n-trees and buildings

We zigged and zagged and made our way about, though I had to depend on my guy for directions. I can find my way out of the woods, but even though there were maps throughout the park and the city streets are set in a grid, I was completely disoriented at each intersection.

n-house sparrow 2

Perhaps it was because I was more taken with the little things. Even seeing house sparrows felt like a treat.

n-house sparrow 1

They were so tame.

n-Canada goose

I felt right at home among the Canada geese and . . .

n-gray squirrel 1

gray squirrels.

n-Stuart Little

We immediately recognized Stuart Little as he tacked back and forth.

n-strawberry fields forever

And then we wound our way around again, pausing by Strawberry Fields–and imagined. If only.

n-snowflake by Cartier

Back on the streets, we were dazzled by snowflakes . . .

n-Christmas lights 2

and Christmas lights.

n-Pat's Place

And then it was time to cross over to Brooklyn where we found a tour guide stepping out of his brownstone.

n-cement tracks

Like others before us, with him we pounded miles and miles of pavement and left behind our own tracks.

n-World Trade Center 1

He took us to the World Trade Center, which we viewed with awe . . .

n-9:11 memorial

and Ground Zero, where we felt the presence of so many as we remembered.

n-SoHo

Soho was our next destination, and though we didn’t shop, the architecture was enough to fill our minds with abundance . . .

n-architecture 1

and variety.

n-Wicked sign 1

No visit to NYC is complete without taking in a performance and my guy, who is the world’s biggest fan of The Wizard of Oz, chose WICKED.

N-Wicked set 2

I won’t say it was my favorite show, but the set, costumes, acting, dancing, and singing were all well worth the experience. He thoroughly enjoyed it.

n-Rock center 4

Another must do is Rockefeller Center–or at least the ice rink. We didn’t skate, but enjoyed watching people take a spin, some more agile than others.

n-Rockefeller tree 1

Overlooking the rink, but encased in scaffolding stories high, a transformation was in the works . . .

n-Rockefeller 2

from a Norway Spruce discovered in State College, Pennsylvania, to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

n-toy soldier 2

Watching over all were the toy soldiers. And if you have ever wondered if they come alive after most of the world that gathers in New York goes to bed, they do. We know this first hand for we heard them. Our hotel room was located nearby and at about 2am we were awakened each night by an instrumental performance that had a symphonic sound. We couldn’t hear anyone in adjoining rooms. And we never heard a peep outside of Radio City Music Hall, so it had to be the toy soldiers and angels that surrounded the rink–and you have to become a believer.

n-Grand Central Station

At long last, it was Monday morning and time to head back through the terminal of Grand Central Station to make our way up the northeast corridor.

n-Allen, Pat and Tim

But . . . we left with fond memories and promises to return for somehow we who live in rural Maine raised a city boy.

Posing from left to right, my guy, our youngest and one of his roommates who also hails from Maine.

They’re both comfortable by nature in New York City.

 

 

 

Snow White Magic

Our first official snow storm of the season left us with about an inch of the white stuff that makes me rejoice. And upon waking this morning and peeking out the window, the sight of porcupine tracks looping around the yard brought a smile to my face.

m-porcupine trail 1

I love the first snow storm for even though I have seen signs of the critters that pass this way, their tracks confirm my convictions. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize the prints and trail patterns, but as the snow gets deeper the tracks sometimes become more difficult to decipher. This one was easy due to its pigeon-toed sashay.

m-porcupine prints

And then the individual prints, especially those that crossed the deck, showed the large foot pad and five toes with nails extended. A friend in Poland, Maine, sent me a couple of photos of the critter that crossed her deck this morning. She ID it herself, but wanted confirmation–for it was an opossum and a first for her.  I found my first opossum prints last December and wonder if I’ll have that opportunity again. Anything is possum-able.

m-worm and junco prints

Since the porcupine had drawn me out (and I noted that it disappeared under the barn–of course), I decided to head off into the woods. But before I left the yard, I spotted junco tracks–and . . .

m-worm

a couple of worms–frozen upon the snow. Juncos don’t eat worms; they look for fallen seeds. And so it seemed that the bird flew off before quite reaching the C-shaped worm. And this other worm was about a foot away from the first worm. Robins were in the yard last week, and I can only hope that they returned today for a frozen dinner awaited.

m-snow art 2

Into the woods I trudged, and the ever-changing colors and designs at my feet reminded me of works of art.

m-snow art 1

Some were palettes of mahoganies juxtaposed against white. A variety of textures gave the scene relief, much like an inlaid mosaic.

m-snow art intersections

Others embodied interconnections; a mingling of lines outlined for emphasis.

m-rock people

Along the cow path, I noticed the rock people for the first time, their mouths gaping open.

m-snow fleas

The minute snow fleas would hardly sustain them.

m-morning light

As it does, my trail crossed the line, where power seemed to originate with its source . . . the sun.

m-Mount Washington

And in the opposite direction, it flowed from pole to pole and onward . . . as if powering the mighty mountain.

m-pine sapling

My journey continued into the land of the pines and their saplings, momentarily coated with decorative baubles.

m-mini oaks

And the red oak saplings I’ve been watching looked more festive than ever.

m-squirrel tracks

I was on a mission and soon found what I was looking for. Some tracks that looked like exclamation points led me to another source of sustenance that I wanted to check on.

m-squirrel cache growing

The red squirrel’s cache had grown taller in the past week, but . . .

m-squirrel dining room

many pine seeds had been consumed in the refectory. All that remained were scales and cobs to show a number of dinners consumed.

m-squirrel rocks

The dining hall extended beyond the reaches of the cache, for every table available was a table used.

m-squirrel dinner in the future

As I walked back toward home, I discovered another table awaiting a guest.

m-beech sunshine

I was almost home when I stood under a beech tree. As winter embraces me, I find that their marcescent leaves create their own golden glow and warm my soul.

m-British soldier

One more sweet peek offered a tiny touch of red to today’s fading winterscape–for the British soldier lichens’ red caps announced their minute presence.

m-snow drops

And then this afternoon, I joined a few friends for a gallivant across the Wild Willy Wilderness Trail beside Province Brook in South Chatham, New Hampshire. And the snowdrops created their own works of art announcing that the meltdown was on.

m-pinwheel 1

As we walked, we noticed delicate parasol-shaped fungi fruiting.

m-pinwheel gills

Their common name is Pinwheel Marasius, but in my mind the shape of the umbrella-like top above the wiry stem looked like a parasol and so I called it such. But to add to the confusion, I first called it carousel. Word association might get me there eventually, but it wasn’t until I looked it up in Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England, that I realized my confusion. One of the fun facts from Millman is worth quoting: “Resurrection! Shriveled and inconspicuous, Marasmius species are rarely noticed during dry weather, but after rainy periods the tiny fungi revive–hence the nickname ‘resurrection fungi.'” And if not rain, then snow will make them rise again!

m-liverwort magic 1

The water from the melting snow highlighted other lifeforms along the Wild Willy Wilderness Trail. Bazzania liverwort grew abundantly, but one in particular gave us pause . . .  for it glowed. And no matter what position we stood in to look at this worm-like beauty, it continued to glow as if it had a golden halo surrounding it. We had no answers–only questions and wonder.

m-glue fungi

Another find that had been marked with tape, for it too was special–a broken branch attached to a young tree. I’m stepping out on a limb here–pun intended, but I believe this was an example of a glue crust fungus that glues twigs together. Seriously? Yes.

m-Bob, Janet and Pam

It was getting dark when we finally found our way to Province Brook and marveled at the water and ice forms. It was also getting close to the moment when we’d need to say, “See you later,” to Bob and Pam, for they’ll be heading to warmer climes soon. But we know they’ll be back for a winter adventure and then before we know it, spring will be here. And then, we hope the brook will be full with spring run-off from all the snow that is in our future. Until then, see you later we also said to much of the snow for it had almost disappeared.

m-ice works 1

But the ice art will continue to grow.

m-Province Brook 1

And the snow white magic will capture our minds again . . . one flake at a time. And with it, the wonders of the world will continue to be revealed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday School

After church this morning, I stepped out the door, passed through openings in a couple  of stonewalls and then down the cowpath, crossed the power line, and ventured into my smiling place. It had been more than several months since I’d pushed the hemlocks aside to enter for it’s a wetland and woodland filled with growth that can make it difficult to meander through without snowshoes. But before winter arrives, I wanted to take a peek and learn what I could along the way.

o-oak saplings

My lessons started early as I noted a couple of red oak saplings growing in the hollow of an old tree stump, their color reminiscent of the Christmas season. Last year’s mast crop (and another for some oak trees this year) meant a plentiful supply of food for weevils, little brown things, squirrels, turkeys and deer. And yet, not all were consumed and so they sprouted. Now my plan will be to wait and watch–and wonder which of this array actually will win the race to adulthood.

o-huge squirrel cache 1

A little bit further into the woods, I spied a huge cache of white pine cones. This made my heart sing, for I love to keep on eye on big caches such as this and watch as they get whittled down over the course of the winter.

o-pine cones up close

While I stood there admiring the work of the red squirrel who’d filled its larder presumably when the cones were green (and by the way, these cones are two years old, for it takes two years for them to mature atop the pine trees), I thought about the sap that coats them in white. Though the sap is drier now, does it get stuck to their feet. I know that when I come in from a walk through a pine forest, I have sap on my soles, and attached to that may be pine needles or dried leaves. Is it the same for a squirrel? If so, does it wear off like that on my boots? It must because I’ve never seen it on their feet.

o-pine on the cob 1

And what about as they work on their pine-on-the-cobs? Does the sap on the scales come off on  their lips or teeth–much like when we eat something sticky and gooey like peanut butter?

o-pine seeds

It’s a lot of work to get to the two tiny seeds tucked within each scale. They look to be about an inch long, but most of that is the wing (think maple samara). When the weather is warm and dry, pine cone scales open to release the seeds. The squirrel who’d hoarded the stash, had plucked the cones when they were still green and atop the tree–dropping them to the forest floor before they opened so he’d have plenty to eat. And then he had to gather all that he’d dropped into the piles. And now I can’t wait for the coming months–to watch the pile dwindle and middens grow; to see the tunnels he makes in the snow; and just maybe to sit quietly nearby and watch him in action. He was a bit peeved that I was poking about today and let me know with so many chirrs from a branch nearby.

o-porky den?

I finally moved on and saw an uprooted tree I’ve visited on previous occasions. Last year I followed porcupine tracks to this very spot and spied porky within. But when I checked on later occasions, it didn’t seem as if he’d returned. Today, I peeked in and saw water. Even though it looked like a grand home to me, I’m learning that porky knows best.

o-walking in a hemlock grove

At times, I moved quietly upon the duff under the hemlock trees. Frequently, I stopped to listen and look.

o-cinnamon fern leaves1

And then in an opening, I was again in the wet zone where the cinnamon ferns grew abundantly. In curled formation, their leaves added interest to the landscape and a bit of a crunch to my footsteps.

o-cinnamon fern 2

And piled as they were surrounding each plant, I thought back to the pinecone cache. This was food of a different kind, for those leaves will decompose over the winter and nourish the earth.

o-snowberry 1

Continuing on, I came to one of my favorite spots–where the creeping snowberry grew. I hunted under the tiny leaves for the little white berries, but found none. And I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen them, especially in this place, for I suppose that I miss all the action since snow melt always seems to call a halt to such visitations and then I never make my way deep into these woods all summer. I have to assume that the little brown things and birds had a feast. Although, as any teacher knows, one should never assume. Perhaps next year, I’ll make a point of checking on these plants.

o-birch tree in offing

My tramp was a meander, for I knew not what direction each footstep might take me, changing my mind constantly and trusting that if I turned left or right, I wasn’t missing something in the opposite direction. The sight of a beech tree, its leaves ever rattling, did mean that I’d have a chance to move to drier land for a few minutes.

o-equisetum

And then I stepped up onto a rock, where the growth at my feet surprised me for I didn’t realize that equisetum grew in this part of the woods. Always something new to learn.

o-tamarack branch 1

That wasn’t all. As I looked around, a branch with yellow needles by my foot caught my attention.

o-tamarack branch 2

This was the twig of a tamarack tree, with its needles growing in tufts atop little spurs. Had we met before, the tree and me? If so, I couldn’t remember it. Nor could I find it.

o-evergreen hallway

Before me was a wall of evergreens, in a classroom all of their own, for really, these are among my favorite places where learning opportunities present themselves. But, today’s lesson wasn’t about the hemlock, white pine, fir and spruce idiosyncrasies.

o-tamarack tree

And so I scanned the sky, and about twenty-thirty feet away, I found the tree. A tamarack or larch or hackmatack tree, aka Larix laricina, is our only deciduous conifer because unlike all the evergreens, it sheds its needles each fall.

o-moose scat

A few minutes later, I heard movement, and looked up to see . . . no, not the moose that made this deposit last winter, but two flashes of white as a couple of deer bounded off. I think that’s one of my favorite lessons of these woods, for the landscape changes repeatedly and thus offers a variety of habitats for the mammals of western Maine. This is the place where I get to learn the most about them and their behaviors.

o-deer rub 1

Sometimes I’m rewarded with spying the mammal from a distance, but other times I find evidence of its behavior, like this antler rub with frayed bark at top and bottom and smooth wood between.

o-varied habitat 1

I’ve watched the forest succession in these woods for twenty-five years,

o-varied habitat 6

and it’s been logged again more recently.

o-varied habitat 4

With each change, comes more change. And so the mammals move from one spot to another, but they’re still all here–somewhere.

o-varied habitat

I just need to listen and look.

o-turkey tail fungi

It’s not just the mammals and trees that I get to learn about. My studies include among other topics, fungi, of which I’m only a so-so student. But I do know that this is turkey tail, aka Trametes versicolor.

o-Fomitopsis cajanderi  (Rosy Polypore) 2

And then I happened upon a hemlock stump topped with a large, beautiful display outlined in a coffee brown and salmon pink. It took me some work to remember its name. I can tell you where else I’ve seen it for it grows upon a hemlock log at Holt Pond.

o-unknown mushroom 1

Before I forget again, it’s a rosy polypore, if memory serves me right. I only hope my fungi teachers weigh in on this one.

o-logging road 1

At long last, it was time to follow a logging road back to the snowmobile trail.

o-snowberry on sphagnum

Sometimes, I slip back into the woods before reaching the trail, but today I chose to follow it. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but more creeping snowberry atop sphagnum moss.

o-home sweet home

As I finally crossed the field toward home, I gave thanks for the classroom that is right outside our back door and for the lessons learned in this Sunday School. Now I just have to remember everything, which is why I record so much.