We do LOVE winter, my guy and I, but really, we appreciate all of our seasons and can’t imagine living in a place where we can’t experience each in its own right and the change from one to the next.
And so today, with the temp in the low 20˚s and wind chill making it feel even colder, we donned our micro-spikes and headed up a snowmobile trail to begin our search for the current season.
Icicles that we were sure had formed overnight, since the weekend temps had been much warmer, formed along a stream that flowed toward Slippery Brook, for our trail of choice was in the White Mountain National Forest.
In other seasons, one can either drive to our destination, or go via snowmobile, but for the time being the gates to Forest Road 17 in Chatham, New Hampshire are closed to vehicular traffic. That was fine with us.
At about 2.5 miles, we took a slight detour to take in the sounds and views of Slippery Brook.
It was there on a crossbeam of the bridge where my guy was about to sit that I noticed British Soldier, a common lichen with bright red caps that remain so year-round, but have been hidden from view by snow all winter. It was like meeting a cheery old friend for the first time . . . this sighting.
Along the road also grew many a Hobblebush, another old friend, their naked leaf and flower buds swelling in anticipation of what is to come.
And then we spotted these prints, made by the largest mammal around and though we saw more in other places, this set of four made us wonder if the moose had come in for a landing and then flown off again.
At last we reached the trailhead, and as we approached the pond we noted an immediate dip in temperature, plus an increase in wind. Thankfully, we’d expected such and had dressed for the occasion. That said, it’s hard to search for spring when your cheeks sting with the wind.
A rocky and rooty trail that circles the pond, though fairly flat, requires hikers’ attention at all times of the year and today was no exception. That said, the trail itself offered a snippet of spring.
We reached Mountain Pond at last and by the outlet found some open water, but other than a few chickadees and nuthatches, there were no birds or other forms of wildlife to spy upon as we’d hoped.
Even so, our focus was rewarded in other forms, such as other buds growing larger, like upon this Speckled Alder. And notice that lateral leaf scar–a happy face indeed.
The longer male and shorter female catkins, which are the flowers of the alder, swayed in the breeze, waiting for a future date when they could do just that . . . date.
A few actually seemed ready to mate, though not with each other. While the pendulous male flowers open and extend when their pollen is ready to be dispersed, just above them the tiny, maroon female flowers “bloom” at the same time on the same shrub. In this case position counts and so with the female flowers above the males, self-pollination is discouraged and cross-pollination occurs instead thanks to wind.
Also beside the pond’s shore, the woody structures of last year’s Rhodora flowers, but also its buds enlarging by the day, with promises of exquisite displays making us suddenly want the time to push the clock ahead.
The same was true for the Sheep Laurel, that plump pinkish bud ready to burst open when the time is just right.
As we headed back toward the Forest Road at last, we began to notice exposed trails of Red Squirrels that led from one spruce cone cache to another. Those feisty ones were quiet today, but we suspected they are happy to have more food offerings on the horizon.
Nine miles later as we once again passed by the stream with the icicles and noticed that more had formed, we realized we’d found spring on this Mondate . . . she’s just taking her time and we should follow her example and be patient as this next season unfolds.
I thought I was losing it. Wonder, that is. I’ve hiked or walked many miles, taken thousands of photos, but haven’t been overly wowed by much lately.
This weekend, though, that all changed.
Maybe it was the fact that a friend and I spent a bluebird, yet brisk Saturday snowshoeing many miles as we tracked a couple of local mammals.
There were porcupine dens to explore. Well, not actually crawl into because we didn’t know who might decide to crawl out. We discovered two new ones that were obviously in use, but visited this older stump dump and found no one at home. Why? It had all the makings of a nice condo. Lots of room available, hemlocks growing right out the back door, beside a field with other offerings for a summer diet. Don’t you just want to move in?
We did discover other abodes that showed signs of life with tracks leading to the inner chambers.
How many inner chambers was the next question. Atop this much larger stump dump we counted at least seven holes coated with hoar frost around the edges–leading us to believe someone was breathing within. Did that mean there were seven porcupines living in this den? Do you know what a group of porcupines who share the same winter den, but sleep in their own bedrooms, is called? A prickle of porcupines. Don’t you love that?
By the amount of tracks, we couldn’t tell how many actually lived there, but in the fresh layer of snow we did note that at least one had gone outside to eat the previous night for we followed its tracks for a bit.
It also had visited another den, and by the amount of scat, it was obvious that this wasn’t the first day in a new house.
The porcupines weren’t the only ones we were interested in. For miles and hours, we also tracked a bobcat who’d paid a visit the previous night. Would we find evidence of what it had eaten? A kill site where a prey was attacked? Scat?
We knew by the fact that the bobcat track was atop the turkey prints that this bird lived to see another day.
The same was true for the squirrels that managed to avoid being consumed by the predator overnight as they huddled somewhere close by. But the bobcat apparently didn’t catch a whiff of their scent, though the former did check out holes by stumps and snags.
Sometimes we noticed that the cat picked up speed and we were sure we’d find the reason.
And then . . . and then it would pause and we did too. When the bobcat led us back out to the road we’d traveled on, and crossed to the other side, we knew our time with it had come to an end but enjoyed the journey, though still had questions. Did we miss a kill/feeding site?
We had noted an abundance of food available, much of it in the form of the squirrel or hare. This is my snow lobster, as I’ve mentioned in the past and love how the front feet, being the smaller two prints, land on a diagonal and form the lobster’s tail, while as they lift up to leap forward, the hind feet land in such a way that they appear in the front of the set to form the lobster’s claws. And I’m reminded that for ground dwellers like the hare, the front two feet tend to land on a diagonal, while for tree dwellers like the squirrels, whose front feet also appear smaller and at the back of the set of prints, are most often parallel.
That was yesterday. Today dawned with a sleet storm. When I ventured out the back door this afternoon, I noticed again an abundance of hare prints, these the larger set in the photo while the smaller ones belong to a red squirrel. When I said an abundance of food, these are two of the many choices and this year the hare is everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I find it hopping through communities I’ve not seen it in the recent past. Certainly the bobcat of yesterday will or did find one–we just didn’t stumble upon it.
After spending so much time tracking, a favorite winter activity of mine, I finally turned my focus to trees, another passion. I was actually looking for insects, but fell for this solid droplet of balsam resin that looked rather like a bug. I would love to see the colors of the dribble repeated in yarn.
Then there was the ice that mimicked the shield lichen attached to a branch of the fir.
At last I did find an insect. Well, at least the left-behind structure of a sawfly–where it had pupated and then once ready to emerge, cut its perfect circular escape hatch. How to remember this insect: think of it as a circular saw-fly.
And attached atop the pupating case–what looked like another insect pupating. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to name its species, but I thrilled in spotting it.
Bark is cool, but especially when you begin to notice all the idiosyncrasies of life upon it, such as the fruiting disks of a couple of crustose lichens, but one of my favs is the braid-like formation of the liverwort Frullania. It has brown leaves divided into two lobes. Liverworts are cool because they are flowerless and lack roots and reproduce via spores. Frullania is abundant upon bark, but unless you slow down and look, you may not ever spy its spiderwebby structure.
Speaking of spying, yesterday’s brilliant sun shone upon the hairy twigs of paper birch, another sight easy to overlook.
Today’s natural community found me tramping through an area where gray birch, with their bumpy, hairless twigs, grow.
How did these two members of the same family develop such differences? I think about that and how it is true of all in the natural world. Maybe the hairs don’t appear in exactly the same line-up and the bumps are more or less bumpy on another twig, but they all are variations on the same theme. Mammals are like that as well. And flowers. And ferns . . . and well, everything. We can learn to ID them because generally they share the same characteristics from one dandelion to the next. But . . . what about us? As humans, there are familial similarities, but very few of us look exactly like another. Though perhaps somewhere in the world we all have a twin we’ve yet to meet. Alas, I’ve rambled on enough.
It all boils down to the bush clover–a species my friend Pam and I first met at Brownfield Bog a couple of falls ago and recognized almost immediately when we discovered it in a field in Stow, Maine, before encountering our first porcupine condo yesterday. Today, she informed me in a text message that a year ago we met it in the same field, and we shared a chuckle that neither of us had a memory of that moment. Uh oh.
But I was reminded this morning that it’s important to go forth with a child-like attitude, finding awe in all that we see and encounter and I realized then that I’ve been too busy lately to slow down and really look.
Here’s hoping I can ever renew and enjoy that sense of wonder and that you can as well.
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.
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.
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.
My gaze turns upward to take in your mighty presence as you reach out and shake hands with each other.
Your crown tells the story of your true nature, ever graceful as it is, and decorated with daintily dangling needles, which spell your name much like my fingers of five: W-H-I-T-E.
In maturity you form furrows of stacked outer layers and I wonder about your age. Within those furrows, others, like a Stink Bug, take refuge from the world, especially as raindrops fall.
Though considered dead cells, your skin protects life within, where phloem and xylem work like dumb waiters. The former transports sugars created by photosynthesis from your needles to feed branches, trunk and roots, while the latter pulls water and dissolved nutrients from your roots for nourishment.
I have this and so many other reasons to revere you. Today, I focus on the decorations you perhaps unknowingly encourage by providing a scaffolding upon which they may grow. Mosses and lichens first take advantage. of your hospitality.
And they in turn, offer places for others to gather. As I peek, I notice tiny flies of a robotic style seeking each other. The seeker advancing upon a fruticose form, while the seekee waits on a foliose lichen.
Upon another, a tiny cocoon, once the snug home for the larval form of a Pine Sawfly. Its opened cap indicates the transformation of another generation.
There were others who once considered your trees their own. A spider web woven during warmer months, gathered raindrops today that highlighted the 3-D artwork of its creator.
Not to go unnoticed were the fruiting structures of lichens, such as a crustose with its thick, warty, grayish crust topped by numerous jam tart fruits.
But my favorite find on this soaking wet day was caused by a chemical interaction that resembles the creation of soap.
During a heavy rain, water running down your trunk picks up oils. Air in the bark furrows bubbles through the oily film and produces froth. It’s a tapestry-forming froth and within some bubbles, surrounding trees pronounced their silhouettes.
Oh Pinus strobus. Some know you as “The Tree of Peace.” I know you as “The Tree of Protection, and Life, and Color.” And then I realize that is Peace. Thank you for all that you do, naturally.
Our intention had been to explore the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson, New Hampshire, during the summer months, but intentions are just that. An aim or a plan. In our case it was an aim that was a bit off plan.
Today, however, dawned, as each day does, and we honored the plan we’d made last night by packing a lunch and getting out the door by 9:30.
An hour and a half later, we’d driven across Route 302 through Crawford Notch, recalling sites we’d enjoyed from the Conway Scenic Train less than a week ago, and on to Jefferson where we found Airport Road, aka Hazen. At the kiosk, we developed a bit of a trail plan and then ventured forth.
The area is supported by several organizations as noted on a website: “Pondicherry is a Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, and it is owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with New Hampshire Audubon and the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game. A local Friends group also plays a role in the management of the refuge, and the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails has specific jurisdiction for the rail-trails.”
For a mile and a half, we followed the rail trail to its vantage point. Well, not quite all the way, but to the Waumbek Station, where three rail lines once converged.
We thought we’d step out onto the Tudor Richards Viewing Platform, then continue on the rail trail. But, a woman ahead of us had stepped onto the platform to practice Tai Chi and so we let her be and walked for a bit on the Presidential Recreation Trail, a 20-mile link to Gorham, New Hampshire.
Along the way, much of the scenery looked more like November than October, given the fact that we were further north than our hometown. But, a few goldenrods still bloomed. And upon some of their stems, the Goldenrod Ball Gallmaker had made itself a home.
Though we’d planned to eat lunch upon the observation deck, we were delightfully surprised to locate a small bench overlooking Cherry Mountain and so down we sat. PB& Strawberry and Peach, we each enjoyed a half of the others intended sandwich.
Eventually, we returned to the observation deck and enjoyed the fruits of Witherod and High Bush Cranberry that outlined the boardwalk leading to Cherry Pond.
The Pliny Range offered a backdrop on this day filled with sun and clouds.
In the distance, Bufflehead Ducks swam.
Returning to the junction, we continued northeast where rail trail joined rail and one could imagine the clackety clack of trains passing by.
A bit further on, we turned left toward Little Cherry Pond, where the natural community began to seriously embrace all sorts of coniferous trees.
At our feet, the trail cover was a bit more golden and much shorter than our native White Pines.
Looking toward the sky, Tamaracks sang their cheery autumn song as their needles turned golden before dropping. I’m forever intrigued by this deciduous conifer. And thrown into the mix of the cathedral ceiling: spruces of colors I need to spend more time with for throughout the refuge grew white, red, and black spruce. My task down the road: get to know each one individually so that I recognize them in new settings.
While I can tell you that there are five needles in a White Pine bundle, three in a Pitch Pine, two longer ones in a Red Pine, and two shorter needles in a Jack Pine, the needles of the Tamarack are produced in clusters of ten to twenty.
They are attached to the twigs in tight spirals around short spur branches. giving the tree a feathery look.
Upon a downed conifer, a jelly fungus offered its own version of a flower.
At last we reached Little Cherry Pond, where more Buffleheads swam.
And then we noticed another swimmer who made us smile. Yes, that’s a beaver. We couldn’t see his destination for it was around a corner and signs warned us not to venture further in order to protect the area.
Backtracking a bit, all the while admiring the plants including Rhodora, Creeping Snowberry, Trailing Arbutus, Pitcher Plants, and so many more (I need to return in the spring), we found our way back to the Mooseway Trail. (Note: “You Are Here” was taken on the way in, but I wanted to give perspective. Look for the Mooseway Trail toward Mud Pond.)
Not long onto the Mooseway Trail, I was thrilled to discover Lungwort growing up a tree trunk. Its ridges and lobes create a leafy lettuce or lung tissue appearance (thus its common name).
Because lungwort’s main photobiont is a green alga, it is also a type of cyanolichen, thus meaning it contains nitrogen-fixing bacteria. When lungworts fall following a storm, they decompose into the forest floor, contributing their nitrogen reserve to the soil.
The Mooseway Trail seemed easy to follow at first, but soon it became more of a bushwhack and we wondered when the last human had ventured forth. We found all of three blue blazes indicating the way.
But after the third, we had a choice to make. Head north or south. We chose south. And within a short distance the trail completely disappeared. Thanks to GPS and occasional glimpses of Cherry Mountain, we persevered. And startled a snowshoe hare that startled us. I couldn’t capture it in a photo for so quick was its hop, but suffice it to say that the hare’s coloration was gray/white, given the next season that had already visited some of the surrounding mountains.
Maybe it only took a half hour, but it sure felt like hours before we finally found the rail again. I actually considered kissing it, but my guy convinced me otherwise.
There was so much more of the refuge to explore, but we followed the trail back, giving thanks to the shape of the mountain that helped give us perspective on our location as we’d bushwhacked.
And a backward look upon the pond brought to light the snow that had fallen upon the Presidentials, previously hidden in the clouds.
As for that darn Mooseway Trail that led us astray . . . it did have much to offer including this Bobcat scat. We also found a specimen of coyote.
And not only Moose scat, but also some prints. We were rather excited by that.
And then the crème de la crème: bear scat filled with berries. Yes, we’d scanned the trees for claw marks, but if they were there, they were difficult to distinguish (cuze, um, we were moving at my guy’s speed). Despite that, this display made us both happier than happy.
I had no idea when I chose most of the places for our Bear to Beer Possibilities, what the trail’s tales might be, but really, our success rate was quite high.
And we topped off our success by sipping some suds at an old fav in Glen, New Hampshire. For him: Moat Mountain’s Matilda’s Red Rage. For me: Tuckerman’s Pale Ale.
My friend, Alice, suggested a trail to me over the weekend, and so when this day dawned, my guy and I had a plan. We’d pack a lunch, drove a wee bit north, and let the fun begin. We love exploring places new to us and this was such.
Immediately, the forest floor reflected the canopy above where Sugar Maples, Beech and Red Oak presided.
Other items also made themselves known, including the dried capsules of Pinesap, a plant that features three to ten topaz-colored flowers during the summer. The plant has such cool characteristics: it lacks chlorophyll because it doesn’t have any leaves to photosynthesize, and acts as an indirect parasite of trees. You see, Pinesap’s roots steal nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi, specifically from the genus Tricholoma, that the mushroom obtains from associated trees.
It wasn’t long before the carpet changed color indicating we’d entered a Red Maple community.
And again, upon the ground, another cool site worth honoring. Many-fruited Pelt is a foliose lichen that grows on soil, moss and rocks. The rust-colored projections among the shiny brown lobes made me squat for a photo call. Those reddish-brown projections are the fruiting bodies on the leafy margins–thus the name.
Again we moved onward and upward and again the community changed, the leaves telling us we’d entered a Big-Tooth Aspen/American Beech neighborhood.
Wherever beech trees grow this year, it seems the parasitic Beechdrops are also present. Lucky for me, though my guy likes to hike as if on a mission to get to the destination, when I ask him to pause, he quietly does. I’m forever grateful that he understands my need to take a closer look. I’m not sure if he’s amused by it or just tolerates it, but he never complains. And occasionally he points things out for me to notice or tells me the name of something.
Anyway, Beechdrops, like Pinesap, lack chlorophyll, have scales in place of leaves so they have no way to photosynthesize, and are parasitic. In the case of the Beechdrops, however, it’s the roots of the American Beech from which it draws its nutrition. Small, root-like structures of the Beechdrops insert themselves into the tree’s roots and suck away. Do they damage the trees? The short answer is no because the parasitic plant is short-lived.
Our journey continued to take us uphill and really, it wasn’t easy to follow, but somehow (thanks to GPS–I surprised myself with my talent) we stayed on the trail.
Do you believe me now that it wasn’t easy to follow? Yes, that is a blaze, the yellow paint practically obliterated by a garden of foliose and fruticose lichens. Foliose being a “leafy” looking structure and at least two grew on the bark. Fruticose, likewise the “fruity” structure (think a bunch of grapes minus the fruits) also presented itself in at least two forms.
Of course, there were still many other things to admire including the multiple shades of magenta presented by the shrub: Maple-leaf Viburnum. In my book of autumn, nothing else exhibits such an exquisite color, making it easy to identify.
Our luck increased once we began to spy rock cairns marking the trail.
And it got even better when I noticed several classic deposits beside the cairns. Bobcat scat! Check this one out. Have you ever seen anything quite so beautiful? Look at that hair tucked within the packet. Of a snowshoe hare. Oh my.
While taking a closer look, I realized I wasn’t the only one with all eyes on the structure. Yes, that’s a wolf spider.
Realizing we were at the summit of a certain small mountain, suddenly we found ourselves walking along ledge.
And then the view opened up. It became lunch rock view.
Words seemed not enough to describe.
At last we made our way down, for still we hadn’t reached our destination.
And that’s when Pinesap’s cousin, Indian Pipe showed off its one-flowered structure. While Pinesap features three to ten flowers per stalk, Indian Pipe offers only one waxy structure made of four to five small petals. Until fertilized by a Bumblebee, the flower droops toward the earth, but upon pollination turns upward toward the sun. Eventually a woody capsule will form.
Also parasitic, Indian Pipes have a mutually beneficial relationship with many tree species plus Russula and Lactarius mushrooms, as they work together to exchange water and carbohydrates with nutrients from the soil.
At long last, we reached the first of our destinations, Pond #1. The glass-like water offered a perfect mirror image of the scene upon the opposite shore and we both let “oohs” and “aahs” escape from our mouths when we came upon an opening in the shrubby vegetation that protected the shore. I think my favorite portion of this photo is the evergreens that add a fringed frame.
Our journey, however, didn’t stop there, for we had another pond to locate. Again, we referred to the GPS and found ourselves climbing over several fallen trees. Upon one, I spied pumpkin-colored fungi that requested a stop. Of course. But really, it’s another I can never resist–Cinnabar-red Polypore.
As lovely as the color of the upper surface may be, it’s the pore surface that really makes my jaw drop. That color. Those angular shapes. Another “oh my” moment.
And then upon another downed tree, multi-aged tinder mushrooms. It was the mature one that fascinated me most for it looked like happy turtle basking on rocks in the sun.
Last week I met a Snapping Turtle in the shade and he hardly looked thrilled with our encounter.
At last my guy and I reached Pond #2, where we sat for a few minutes and took in the scene. Okay, so we also enjoyed a sweet treat–as a celebration.
We still had another mile or so to hike before reaching my truck, but we gave thanks to Alice for the suggestion and for the fun we’d had discovering Pond #1 and #2 on this Mondate. And all that we saw between.
Go ahead, take a second look at that bobcat scat. You know you want to.
With Christmas rapidly approaching I decided to visit Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Farm gifted to the Bridgton Historical Society in 1987 by Mrs. Margaret Monroe of Providence, Rhode Island.
I had the honor of knowing Mrs. Monroe’s daughter, Peg Norman, who essentially grew up in the house having spent all of her summers there. Her mother purchased the house in 1938 after the death of her father. In Peg’s words as recorded in an essay entitled “Narramissic – Hard to Find” that she wrote when the deed was transferred from her mother’s estate to the historical society, she said, “[Mother] was searching for a refuge, a place to heal.”
Peg continued, “Inside the house I remember only clothes hung everywhere and an unmade bed in the upstairs sitting room. My mother saw beyond. She saw the fans over the doorways,
the granite hearthed fireplaces, Nancy Fitch’s name engraved in the wavey glass window pane, the sweeping arch of the carriage house entrance . . .
and the mountains, purple massifs unfolding out of the sky. She felt the history and eternity and peace.”
Peg went on to mention that her family spent “many Christmas holidays and ski weekends up there throughout the years — just the way the Peabodys and Fitches had (the original owners of the farm), heated by the kitchen stove and blazing fireplaces — and an old Franklin stove my mother finally allowed to be set in the living room fireplace ‘just for winter.'”
Peg’s mention of the outbuildings included the barn, “the huge barn with the biggest horse I had ever seen munching contentedly in the front stall.”
Still standing, though its had some help recently to that end, the barn was erected by the Fitches and has come to be known as the Temperance Barn; historical records claim it to be so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum.”
I chose to explore on this delightfully warm day(45˚ feels like summer given the recent temps), but also to gain a better understanding of the collaboration between the historical society and Loon Echo Land Trust as they raise funds to purchase the 252-acre Peabody-Fitch Woods from the Norman family and place it under conservation easement while adding to a contiguous forest with other protected properties both adjacent and nearby. As I crossed the field, I kept turning back–to admire the farm and the mountains, including the ridge-line of our beloved Pleasant Mountain. Between Loon Echo and The Nature Conservancy, almost 3,000 acres of the mountain is protected and LELT maintains the 10 miles of trails that we frequent.
It occurred to me that I didn’t realize the blue trail that crossed the field and continued into the woods, as designed by Adam Jones for his Eagle Scout Project in 1999, wasn’t part of the historical society’s property.
And yet, it’s just as important for many species depend on it. Should the property be developed, the historical and natural features might diminish.
Should it be developed, I won’t be able to return in the future to figure out why the squirrel condominium featured a muddy carpet between doorways.
Should it be developed, I’d miss out on ice formations along the trail such as this miniature pony — saddle and rider included.
Should it be developed, new understandings would bypass me, such as the fact that white oaks do indeed grow in Bridgton. Well, at least in South Bridgton. This one was speckled with spring tails on this warm day.
Should it be developed, the pileated woodpeckers will have fewer trees upon which to excavate.
And selfishly, I’ll have fewer opportunities to search for their scat — filled with insect body parts.
Should it be developed, there will be fewer toadskin lichens to admire. Thanks to the melting snow, many of the examples I found today were bright green, making the black-beaded apothecia where its spores are produced stand out in contrast. Toadskin lichen may be indestructible, but should the property be developed I wondered about the lichen’s immortality.
Should the property be developed, where would the snowshoe hare scat?
And the same for the ruffed grouse?
Should it be developed, what would happen to K.F. and T.B.?
Should the property be developed, would I see sights such as this and come to another new understanding?
I was actually searching for bear claw marks that alluded me (and I know they are there for I’ve seen them before) and instead saw this red bloom decorating some beech bark. It was quite pretty and festive given the season.
At first look, I thought it was the apothecia of a crustose lichen, but do you see the tiny white spots mingled occasionally among it? Those white dots are the minute beech scale insect. 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.
Should the property be developed, what would become of the quarry and bear trap?
This is the spot from which the foundations for the buildings were split so long ago.
Should the property be developed, would the plug and feather holes left behind as reminders of an earlier time disappear from the landscape?
The land already has been developed around Bear Trap, which is located at the end of the trail. We used to be able to hike or drive there; now one can only hike and you kinda, sorta need to know where it is.
How did the bear trap come to be? According to an August 17, 1963 article in the Bridgton News, “Enoch Perley, early settler of South Bridgton, built his first house in 1777 and brought his bride to their new home in 1778. [I believe this was at Five Fields Farm.]
As Enoch acquired livestock, he was much troubled by depredations from bears. He built a bear trap on the hill back of his first home . . .
Tradition says that four bears were caught in this trap–not enough! So Mr. Perley later had an iron bear trap made which took care of eight bears. Without a doubt, many were disposed of by him personally. A story is told that in an unarmed encounter with a bear and two cubs beside a wood road at dusk, Mr. Perley allegedly strangled the mother bear with his garters . . .”
The article continues, “The bear trap is built of stone. A large stone door is suspended and as the bear takes the bait, he trips the lever and is caught in the stone enclosure.”
In a December 1954 issue of the Bridgton News, a brief article states: “The old stone bear trap on the mountain in South Bridgton known as ‘Fitch’s Hill,’ unused for more than one hundred years, has been reactivated by Dr. Fred G. Noble and Gerald Palmer and put in readiness to capture a bear.” As the story goes, they never did succeed.
Should the Peabody-Fitch Woods be developed, all of this will be lost.
My hope is that the Bridgton Historical Society and Loon Echo Land Trust will experience a Merry Christmas as they finish out their fund-raising drive to purchase the land.
I think I walked beyond the boundary they are considering, but Bear Trap is one of my favorite historical sites. And with today’s walk I came to the realization of how important it is to protect the land around the farm.
Before I finish, I have one final historical piece of writing to share. In his memoirs, “Ninety Years of Living,” Edwin Peabody Fitch (1840-1931) who grew up in the farmhouse wrote, “Holidays were not much in evidence in those days. Christmas was so far in the shade, we didn’t think much about it. In fact, we felt that it was just a Catholic holiday and not be be observed by us. We went to school on that day and the only notice we took of it was to shout “Merry Christmas!” to the classmates.
With the most recent snowstorm now history, I strapped on my snowshoes this morning with a sense of eager anticipation about the possibilities. And then it hit me like the snow plops that fell from the trees and landed on my head or slid down my neck: I could do this while others could not and it was for them that I needed to focus.
I hadn’t gone far when my first moment of wonder stood before me. Actually, just prior, I’d been looking at some pileated woodpecker works–ever on the search for the bird’s scat, and in the process had noticed other bird scat soiling the snow. But . . . what was all the amber color?
Had snow collected on mushrooms that decorated the bark? If so, why hadn’t I seen them yesterday or the day before?
Upon a closer look, I realized it was sap. But why the big clumps? And why so much on a dead snag?
I poked it with my finger and found it to be of snow consistency. And so . . . the mystery remained. But it was certainly worth a wonder and I knew that those I was intentionally walking for would appreciate the sight. And yes, I did see plenty of other examples of dripping sap at the base of trees, but nothing like this. As usual, if you know what was going on, please enlighten me.
My next moment of wonder was one that always gives me pause–and again I knew that my friends would feel the same. A miniature evergreen world momentarily encapsulated in a droplet of melting snow.
Everywhere, the meltdown offered a variety of shapes and designs, each worthy of reverence . . . and a photograph, of course.
One of my favorites was plastered to a tree in such a way that it looked like it was flat against the bark until further study revealed otherwise. As it melted before my eyes, its ever changing formation resembled a series of little flowers scattered here and there. Just maybe you have to see that through my eyes.
And then I stumbled upon another mystery–a web of sorts like Charlotte might have woven? I studied the shrub and found numerous examples of a similar pattern, but no arachnids in sight. Besides, the silky lines seemed too thick. But, what could it be? It took me a while as I studied the area and then I remembered. Before the snowstorm, I’d taken some photographs of the winter structure of a thistle. The storm had knocked down the fruiting form, but I think my gaze was upon the filaments that had served as parachutes for the thistle’s seeds.
My journey into the winter wonderland continued, though not all the trees along the way were fortunate to withstand the weight of the snow that was quickly melting. It sounded like a rain storm as I walked under the arched branches.
At the the other end of the snow tunnel, I emerged into a field with its own offerings. Typically, I pass by, but today I was inspired by those who virtually walked with me to explore. And I don’t think they’ll be disappointed by the findings. First there was the Goldenrod Ball Gall. The round gall occurred in the middle of a stem, the top of which had broken off. In the spring, the Goldenrod gall fly laid her eggs on the stem. Hatched larvae chewed their way into the stem and the gall started to develop. And from the looks of the hole on the side, it appeared the creator had chewed its way out and flown off.
Also in the field, a Rose Bedeguar Gall, aka Robin’s Pincushion Gall on Meadowsweet, which happens to be a member of the rose family. Burrowing in to the leaves and stem of the plant was a two-fold offering for the fly larvae it hosted, for the insect benefited from the nutrients while it was simultaneously protected from predators.
There were also numerous examples of a structure that might baffle the onlooker. Beaded formations of the fertile stalk from a Sensitive Fern poked up through the snow. Typically, the beads or capsules remain intact with their brown dust-like spores waiting inside for the structure to break open during the rains of early spring.
I moved on from the field and eventually reached a wetland that I couldn’t cross. But, I could stand and listen and so I did. All around me the forest orchestra performed its Plop, Plop, Swish, Plop, Splash symphony.
At first, it sounded and looked like I was surrounded by a million wild animals, but really . . . all the sound and sights were a result of snow falling, either gently with a whisper of the wind or harshly with a thud and splash.
As I stood there looking for the million wild mammals, my eyes focused on the works of something much smaller. Insect egg tunnels on a dead snag’s trunk read like a story on paper.
The longer tunnels were bored by a female Bark Beetle. From the sides of her tunnels, larval mines radiated outward. The overall design could have been an abstract drawing.
At last I started for home, thankful that I was retracing my steps for often new sights are revealed when one does that. And so, I believe it was a crust fungus and perhaps it was an oak curtain crust fungus, but let it remain that I discovered a fungus I don’t think I’ve seen before, with a warty, rust-colored underside and dark upperside. Suffice it to say, it was a mushroom of some sort.
Along the way was a script lichen, which looked to me like someone had doodled. Commas and apostrophes decorated that page.
And then, and then, Tetragnatha viridis, a green long-jawed orb weaver. I actually saw two of them. Typically, the translucent green color helps them camouflage amongst pine needles, their usual habitat, but they can frequently be seen on snow, especially if the temperature is in the 25˚-35˚ range as it was this morning.
The orb weaver’s characteristics: eight eyes in two parallel sets of four; long chelicerae (jaws); enlarged pedipalps; long legs with spines; and that color–oh my!
It was for eight parallel eyes that I walked today, the eight representing Jinny Mae, Dick, Kate, and Carol.
Where trees didn’t cover the trail the snow was about fourteen inches deep and as you can see I chose the wrong boots and forgot my gators. But that was okay because I knew that I would eventually wander home and change my sopping wet socks. What mattered more was the fact that I was honored to step out for others when they couldn’t necessarily do the same. Here’s to the four of you–thanks for letting me be your eyes.
This afternoon’s goal: To find a Christmas Tree to decorate for the Christmas at Ladies Delight Walk on December 1st. For the reconnaissance mission, I joined the Coombs family at the GLLT’s Chip Stockford Reserve.
The Coombs children are homeschooled by their amazing mother, Juli, and though they learn many lessons at home, they are also well educated in the outdoors. In fact, they are among my favorite naturalists.
And they belong to a 4-H Homeschool group that will decorate a tree(s) with biodegradable ornaments prior to the December 1st walk.
And so we set off on our tour looking for just the right tree. But . . . as is always the case with this family, there was so much more to see.
Since Juli is a Maine Master Naturalist Program student, so are her children. And every topic she studies, they study, so it was no surprise to me that six-year-old Wes picked up stick after stick loaded with various forms of lichens.
Of course, they are children, ranging in age from six to eleven, and puddles are invitations. The family motto is this: No puddle shall remain unsplashed.
But just after the puddle, at the start of an old log landing, we began to notice something else. A mushroom drying on the whorl of a White Pine.
As we stood and looked at the first, someone among us spied a second.
And then a third, and so it went. We knew that squirrels dried mushrooms in this manner, but never had we seen so many. It dawned on us that we were standing in a squirrel’s pantry. One squirrel? Two squirrel? Gray Squirrel? Red Squirrel? One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
For a while we paused by an erratic boulder and looked at the lichens that grew atop it. The kids and their mom also checked the sand under and behind it and I told them that the only critter sign I’d ever noticed was that of a Ruffed Grouse sand bath–and I only recognized it as such because I’d startled the two birds and they startled me as they flew off. In fact, on another hike this morning at the GLLT’s Five Kezar Ponds Reserve, friend Teresa and I had startled a grouse and we talked about how the bird’s explosive behavior makes us feel as if we’ve encountered a moose.
Well, just beyond the boulder, as we all chatted and moved about with quick motion, Caleb spotted something and told us to stop. A Ruffed Grouse!
It threw leaves about as it sorted through them in search of seeds and buds and we all watched in silence.
As we stood or sat still, the bird moved this way and that, making soft clucking sounds the entire time.
Ellie stood in front as the bird moved a few feet ahead of her and crossed the trail. I kept looking back at Juli in wonder. How could this be? Why wasn’t it disturbed by us? I’ve spotted Spruce Grouse in higher elevations and they are much “friendlier” or less wary of people, but I’d never been able to get up close to a Ruffed Grouse.
Our fascination continued and we noted its feathered legs, making us think perhaps it had pulled on some long johns for a cold winter night.
It eyed us and we eyed it back–our minds filled with awe.
Think about this: four children and two adults and we were starting to get fidgety because we’d been still for fifteen or more minutes and we had begun to whisper our questions and still . . . it let us watch.
And it let Ellie be the Grouse Whisperer for she began to follow it off the trail. Eventually, it climbed up a fallen tree and she knelt down beside, taking photos as it stood less than a foot from her. How cool is that?
We were all wowed by the experience, but when Ellie finally turned back, we continued on . . . sometimes running and other times pausing to ride imaginary horses.
Or listen to Birch Polypores! Yes, Juli did listen for it’s part of an assignment for the Maine Master Naturalist class. So what exactly does a Birch Polypore sound like? “I couldn’t hear the ocean,” she said with a smile.
And what does it smell like? “Wood.”
The next moment of glee–poking Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold and watching it ooze.
“It’s cool and gross at the same time,” said Ellie.
Onward and again, more fungi drying in trees as Aidan pointed out.
We even found a few stuck on spiky spruces much like ornaments might be and we reminded ourselves that we were on a mission and still hadn’t found the right tree to decorate.
At last, however, we did. And then we made our way out to the spur and recently opened view of Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay and Cranberry Fen, plus the mountains.
This became our turn-around point as it was getting cooler by the minute and the sun was setting. We promised Wes we’d look only at our feet as we followed the loop trail down, though occasionally we stopped again to admire more fungi tucked onto tree branches and a set of trees that formed a rainbow arched over the trail.
As for the fungi, we wondered if we were seeing so many because last year’s mast crop of pinecones, beech nuts, and acorns didn’t exist this year. And when the 4-H club returns in a couple of weeks to decorate the tree, will the mushrooms still be there? Will there be more? How long do the squirrels wait before consuming them? So many questions and so many lessons still to be learned.
And so many things to spy. We were honored with the opportunity to do just that and my heart smiled with the knowledge that the kids appreciated it as much as their mom and I did.
I spy . . . we spied . . . INDEED!
Oh, and please join the GLLT for Christmas at Ladies Delight. I have the inside word that there will be hot cocoa and cookies somewhere along the trail.
December 1, 9:30 – noon
Christmas at Ladies Delight: The Maine Christmas Tree Hunt is a fun holiday scavenger
hunt to find decorated trees in western Maine. We’ll search for the decorated tree along the Bill Sayles Loop at the Chip Stockford Reserve and may add a few of our own biodegradable ornaments along the way. Location: Chip Stockford Reserve, Ladies Delight Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.
Some days are meant to be spent at home, especially when there’s yard work to finish up before the snow flies. And so today was just such a day and my guy chose to work on the leaves while I finished putting the gardens to bed and mowed one last time for this year.
It was while putting the garden to bed that I made a discovery–a form of bird’s nest fungi, this one being Crucibulum laeve! The structure is so named because it resembles a tiny bird nest. Prior to spore distribution, each “nest” is covered with a yellowish lid. Inside, the little disc-shaped “eggs” are called peridioles, which contain the spores. When a raindrop falls into the nest, the eggs are projected out of the cup. I’ve had the honor or watching that one rainy day, but it was one of those “you had to be there” moments that will live on in my mind’s eye.
In one of the gardens stands a rather decrepit Quaking Aspen. It’s a favorite tree for woodpeckers and porcupines. thus it’s terrible condition. And usually I post photos of bear claw trees, but this particular aspen sports many, many porcupine scratches, some new and others older, such as these.
As I looked at the bark to notice what else might be about, I spotted a spotted ladybug. We’d had a frost overnight, but she continued to move, however lethargically.
By the kitchen garden, I found another insect I’d forgotten all about these last few weeks–the caterpillar larvae of the Psychidae or bagworm moths that construct cases out of silk and environmental materials, much the way a caddisfly might. It’s the perfect camouflage from predators such as birds and even other insects.
Everywhere throughout the garden were milkweed seeds, some wearing beaded skirts that will likely keep them in place. That’s fine with me, for I love milkweed. Even if this one does eventually fly away on a whim and voluntarily plant itself in another location, I know that my plants will produce more seeds for they also increase their population via underground tuberous rhizomes. Some call them invasive; I call them welcome.
I’m not so sure the creator of this large hole in the yard is welcome. I know my guy wasn’t impressed. It’s about a foot wide and deep. We suspect one of “our” woodchucks. I’d rather think it was excavated by the beautiful red fox that crosses the yard several times a day, but it’s a bit away from the fox’s route.
My wander eventually took me from the garden to the stone walls, where lichens form their own little gardens and support such species as the Mealy Pixie Cups, a fruticose lichen with a stalk or podetia below the cup.
Foliose-styled rock shield lichens grow abundantly on the rock’s surface, their success due to the numerous disk-shaped structures called apothecia. Reproductive spores develop on the rolled edges of the brown berets, awaiting the time when conditions are just right for them to move on and grow into a new lichen.
Crustose lichens were the most plentiful with their painted on appearance, like this ash-gray Cinder Lichen that reminded me of a mosaic piece of artwork.
One of my favorite crustoses, however, was the Concentric Boulder Lichen with its raised blackish-brown apothecia. Each time I saw the pattern created by the little disks, I felt like I was looking at a maze.
And then I stepped over the wall and turned my attention to some trees. That’s when I spied numerous tent caterpillar eggs cases. The Eastern Tent Caterpillar overwinters as an egg. Each one is part of a greater mass of anywhere from 150 to 400 eggs. They encircle a branch and are almost impossible to see, until your eye begins to recognize the structure. This was an old one and no longer had the shiny varnish-like coating that will help keep winter at bay.
Also keeping winter at bay were the waxy scales of tree leaf and flower buds. The buds formed in the summer and now must wait for February’s warm sun before they begin to swell and ready themselves for next spring’s bloom. In the meantime, they are snug inside their tight structures.
My next great find–tubes or tunnels created by the Pine Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. Though Eastern White Pine needles grow in packets of five (W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E is a mnemonic we use to remember how many needles on the white pine, spelling “white” for its name or “Maine” because it is the state tree.) Anyway, the tube moth used silk to bind a bunch of needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. Can you see the silk at the top? Notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and in April they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news is that Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.
One of my favorite finds as I headed down the cowpath toward home was actually an old friend–Pinesap in its winter capsule form. Pinesap is similar to Indian Pipe, another Monotropa (once turned speaking to its flower that turns upright after fertilization). The creamy whitish flowers developed into woody capsules. As the capsules mature, the structures become erect. Once ripened, seeds will be released through slits that open from the tip to the base of the capsules.
I was back in the grassy part of our yard when I passed by a tree in the corner and made a new discovery–a false tinder conk or polypore, with its black fissured cap. My very own Phellinus ignarius! While a Tinder Conks pore surface is usually concave, in the false specimen, it’s angled downward from the rim to the tree.
I know my friend Faith will see a smiley face in the upper spore surface; it rather reminds me of a weasel.
We never left home today, my guy and me. Our focus was on the yard, but mine was a wee bit different than his. And for those of you who have been asking–these photographs were all taken with the Canon Rebel T3i. Yep, that’s the one that got wet when I decided to flip off a boardwalk last May.
As beautiful as the trees are right now with their autumnal display in full force, if you walk slowly in the woods and on the bald faces of our local granite, I think you might find yourself amazed. I know a friend and I always are and this afternoon was no different. We didn’t journey far; we didn’t need to journey far. We just needed to be present in the moment.
Our first find was actually a discovery she’d made the other day. In her front yard, mixed in with the acorn caps, were teeny tiny examples of Cyathus striatus or Splash Cup Fungi.
Only two weeks ago, she’d shown me a larger version of this Bird’s Nest Fungi in the form of Fluted Bird’s Nest, but today she had this miniature version to share. They really do resemble their common name.
Because our eyes were focused on the minute, it was no surprise that Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold, all beady in structure, should attract our attention.
Our next great find discovered by my friend with the eagle eyes was a Common Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii). She said it stunk. I didn’t notice, but the flies loved it. Love, in fact, seemed to be a common theme, for on the stalk, which is typically white, appeared a heart, with arms/hands wrapped around below. Even though it’s “common,” I don’t often encounter any form of a Phallus fungus, so I’m not sure if the two-toned stalk is a common feature.
The next discovery–the fruiting form of Green Stain Fungi (Chlorociboria aeruginascens). The turquoise fruiting body was only about a third of an inch in diameter and so it’s another one that’s easy to overlook. But . . . our movement was intentionally slow as we moved without expectation and were constantly excited by our discoveries.
At last, we stepped out of the forest and onto a bit of a bald spot where granite greets sky, with lots of life layered between the two.
And onto our knees we knelt for life on the granite was lilliputian in nature.
And varied, but it was the lichens that really pulled me into the fold. Some, like the Candy Lichen, a blue-gray crustose lichen with orange to salmon colored fruits, grew so abundantly that we practically ignored it.
Then there were the delightful pixie cup goblets scattered throughout awaiting a visit from the wee folk.
And British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) standing tall yet branched as they watched over all, their crimson red caps bespeaking their ancestral heritage.
Beside them were a few Lipstick Powderhorns (Cladonia macilenta) with bright red caps above single stalks, rather like the lipstick I’ve never worn.
And rounding out the red-cap series were the Red-fruited Pixie Cups (Cladonia pleurota), with their multiple red fruiting bodies outlining the cups.
Pixie cups would have been enough. But pixie cups with bright red caps–and we were wowed. The other cool thing–like the Bird’s Nest Fungi with its splash cup form, these lichens offered something similar. The Bird’s Nest depends on droplets of water (think rain) to release its spores from the tiny “eggs” situated within each cup. For the Red-fruited Pixie Cups, it’s the same idea–the splash cup goblets allow the lichen to disperse its reproductive materials.
We found a few with the red caps turned brown and assumed they’d done their duty.
Just when we were about to move on my friend made another exciting discovery. Ladder Lichen (Cladonia verticillata) with its brown fruits reminded me more of fountains containing chocolate treats at the outer edge of each level.
Or perhaps a way for Jack to ascend from the world of the minute to the giants in the sky.
And with that, our eyes moved upwards–to the milkweed seeds that awaited their turn for release and a chance to find their own place in the world.
A Large Milkweed Bug reached the end of one pod, but the future possibilities seemed endless for it–as long as the spider web didn’t hinder any progress.
With upturned attention, we noted a young ash tree presenting its fall colors ranging from golden green to magenta all on the same trunk.
And even higher up, a Red Oak already showing off its carotenoid chemistry with yellows and oranges overtaking the green pigment.
While fall foliage is at or near peak in western Maine and causing all of us to stop in our tracks to note the beauty of the live paintings that surround and embrace us in their ever changing way, its the color and variety and wonders at our feet that drew the attention of my friend and me today. And I’m forever grateful for her keen eye.
(And help searching for a needle in a haystack a little while later–thanks J.M.)
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky on this first day of fall and a crisp day it was, bringing smiles to our faces and adding sweatshirts to our attire.
Though we saw a few darner dragonflies and even a meadowhawk, it was the green frogs that we spent the most time trying to spy for they blended in well with their grassy surroundings at the water’s edge.
A bit further out, and unfortunately beyond our reach, we spotted a bobber and fishing line. While it offered a picture filled with color and curves, the reality wasn’t so pleasant.
Nearby, this loon and a youngster swam and fishing line left behind is bad news for them as they could get tangled in it. Please, please, please, if you are near the Horseshoe Pond boat launch, and have the means to retrieve the bobber, do so. And if you are anywhere else in this world, do the same–for the sake of all birds everywhere.
At last, we pulled ourselves away from the pond and followed the brook that flows from it–Sucker Brook.
Right away, we were in awe of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants with fruits still intact. Jack is actually a curious plant and sometimes channels its feminine side. While the plant starts life as a male, if the soil is poor, it turns female, flowers and bears seed. It could turn male again. In the case of what we saw today, meet Jill.
As our journey continued, we noted fungi everywhere. Some had rotted and added to the earthy smell of the woods. Others displayed their unique structures, colors, and lines, including the Thin-mazed Polypore.
We also found at least one Black Earth Tongue, its common name reflecting its tongue-like appearance as it stuck up from the ground.
And in keeping with human body parts, we noticed a singular Dead Man’s Finger. But . . . its presentation offered questions we couldn’t answer. It was our understanding that on Xylaria longipes the young fruiting bodies would be covered with a whitish or gray powder in the spring. The powder isn’t really a powder, but rather the asexual spores of the species. So, did we find a confused youngster? Or was it an oldster parasitized by a mold?
Speaking of molds, we stumbled upon a log featuring a feathery appearance reminiscent of antennae on a moth or butterfly. Well, maybe a collection of antennae. A huge collection.
Turns out it was Chocolate Tube Slime, a new discovery for me. In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, author Lawrence Millman describes it as “dozens of erect, brown tubes mounted on thin, seemingly polished black stems.” Bingo.
Also appearing a bit chocolate in color was another green frog. And being the first full day of autumn, I began to realize that my time spent admiring amphibians and dragonflies will soon draw to an end. But . . . on the horizon . . . tracks and scat 😉
Because we were beside the brook, and we’d seen this species before, we searched each and every rock and weren’t disappointed. Conocephalum salebrosum showed off its snakeskin-like leaves.
The conspicuous grooves of the thalli on this liverwort defined the surface and gave it that snakeskin appearance.
Continuing on, we finally reached the platform and climbed up to look out toward Moose Pond Bog. Of course, we hoped to see a moose. No such luck. We did spy one dog named Bella and her owner, Meg Dyer, the Lovell Rec Director, out for a Sunday walk in the woods. But they were on the trail below us and not in the bog. One of these days . . . maybe we’ll see a moose. When we least expect it, that is.
Back on the trail ourselves, our next great find–winterberries in a recently dug hole about four inches deep. Who done it? We poked the hole with a stick and determined that it didn’t go any deeper or have any turns, such as a chipmunk might make. Nor did it have a clean dooryard, which they prefer. Turkey? Perhaps. Squirrel?
We think we answered the question for on top of a tall hemlock stump that has long served as a red squirrel diner, some red winterberries appeared among the pine scales left behind.
Almost back to the road, we crossed the final bridge and then backtracked. We knew our destination was up the streambed it crossed over and were thankful that it held not much water. That meant we could climb up and take a closer look at the large boulders in the middle. And it was there that we made a new discovery.
You see, in the past we’ve not been able to get too close to the boulders and from a bit of a distance we were sure we had looked at more snakeskin liverwort. But our ability to get up close and personal today made us question our previous assumption. Suddenly, the gray-green leafy structure took on a more lichen-like appearance. Though its color wasn’t the same, it very much reminded me of rock tripe.
We studied its lobes and structure, including the tiny warts and questioned ourselves as we continued to examine it. I kept thinking it was an umbilicate based on the way it adhered to the rock substrate.
A little research and I think I’ve identified it correctly, but know some will alert me if I’ve assumed too much–Peltigera aphthosa, aka Freckled Pelt Lichen, also called Spotted Dog Lichen. The bright green center indicated it was wet. From borealforest.org, I learned that the little warts contain tiny colonies of cyanobacteria, which supply the lichen with nitrogen.
And right beside the lichen, we found a moss that also reminded us of a liverwort for it resembled Bazzania. But . . . if I identified this correctly, it’s Racomitrium aciculare. Some know it as Yellow-fringe Moss.
In his book, Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts, Ralph Pope described it as “common on wet rocks along streams and under waterfalls.” In watery seasons for this particular stream, that would be its exact location–under a waterfall.
Today, the stream bed leading down to Moose Pond Bog and Sucker Brook was just about dry. But . . . because of that we were able to take a closer look.
In fact, it took us almost four hours to follow the mile or so trail, but it was all about taking a closer look through our 10X lenses and cameras, slowing down our brains, and channeling our inner Nancy Drew as we paid attention to clues and tried to decipher the scene around us–all the while detecting the nature of Wilson Wing.
Our day began with a journey to Green Thumb Farms in western Maine because we were curious about their native blueberry sod. We had hoped to see some, but that wasn’t to be and instead we were given a contact number for a sales rep. Our hope is to purchase a couple of pallets worth and use it as one more filter system at our camp in our continuing efforts to protect water quality. We recently learned that we qualified for a LakeSmart Award, but don’t want that to stop us from finding other ways to create a more lake-friendly property. Stay tuned on the sod because once we figure that out, it will be a story worth telling.
From Green Thumb Farms we zigged and zagged along the back roads until we reached Eaton, New Hampshire. Lunch awaited at the Eaton Village Store on Route 153. Inside, one wall is covered with mailboxes and the post office. Grocery and gifty items are displayed in an aisle or two. And then there’s the lunch counter and a few tables for the eatery. A most pleasant eatery. The menu is simple, food fresh, and all served with a smile and conversation.
Oh, and one more thing. They are eternal optimists! Or procrastinators like me. Heck, eventually there will be falling snow to watch for again.
After lunch, we zigged and zagged again, winding our way up a road we once remember sliding down–in the winter on our bellies with our eight and ten year old sons in tow. Our destination today was much easier, though I did put the truck into four-wheel-drive to reach the trailhead parking lot for Foss Mountain. I’d told my guy about the blueberries and views and neither of us gave a thought to today’s weather for in the newspaper the forecast predicted it to be “rather” cloudy, “rather” being a rather unscientific term. It turned out to be more than “rather.” And raindrops fell, but still we went.
We examined the sign and my guy was thrilled with the possibilities.
Some fields, however, were closed to public picking for a private operation leased those from the town.
Off to the side, we spied their sorting machines. Note the blueberry color of the equipment.
And the abundance of blueberries.
After testing a sample to make sure they were acceptable for human consumption, my guy stuck his hands in his pockets to avoid further temptation.
Upward we journeyed, following the path of this property that is owned by the Town of Eaton. Along the way, a large patch of Joe Pye Weed shouted for attention, its petals disarrayed much like my own hair on this misty of days.
The habitat changed and still we climbed–anticipation in every step my guy took at full speed.
At the next natural community boundary, where conifers gave way to saplings and undergrowth, my guy rejoiced. At last we’d reached the promised land.
And immediately he stepped off the trail to find those tiny blue morsels that bring him such delight.
While he picked, I headed toward the summit, where a blanket of fog enveloped the view. It didn’t matter, for our focus zeroed in on what was before us rather than being swept up with the beyond.
From my place at the top, I could see him below–a mere speck intent on filling his bags to the brim.
I began to look around and felt an aura that made me feel as if I was in Ireland rather than New Hampshire. The fog. The green. The gray. The world disappeared.
And the world before me opened up.
Like yellow caterpillars that are all the rage right now, Common Goldspeck Lichen inched across the granite face.
Beside it, Granite-speck Rim Lichen stood out like tiles in a mosaic work of art.
Meanwhile, the fog danced across the ridgeline, twirling and whirling in a ghostly quiet manner, its transparent gowns touching the ground ever so tenderly before lifting into the next move.
And my guy found a new location and picked some more.
My attention turned to the Steeplebush, a spirea that grew abundantly at the summit, its flowers of pink offering a tiny splash of color to brighten any day.
The American Copper Butterfly and a bumblebee also found the Steeplebush much to their liking.
And I, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from admiring this tiny butterfly and its beautiful markings.
From every angle that it posed while seeking nectar, I stood in awe–those striped antennae, giant black eyes, copper-silver color, and hairy scaled wings.
And then there was another, which I thought was a bird when I first heard it scamper out of the bushes.
But Chippie soon made himself known and I discovered that he, too, sought those little morsels so blue. Competition for my guy.
Ever so slowly, the fog lifted a bit and even the sun tried to poke through for a moment or two. Still, my guy picked–somewhere. I couldn’t always see him, but trusted he was in the great beyond.
Much closer to me, three Cedar Waxwings circled the summit over and over again in a counter-clockwise pattern. Thankfully, they also paused, eyeing the potential for their own berry picking sights from the saplings on which they perched.
I fell in love . . . with their range of colors: cinnamon, black, gray, brown, red, yellow, and white. And the bad-hair day tufts, for like the Joe Pye Weed, the Cedar Waxwings and I also shared a resemblance.
At last my guy finished up, though not before standing on a yonder piece of granite, looking west and calling for me. “I’m up here, behind you,” I shouted softly into an almost silent world, where the only sounds came from cicadas and crickets and occasionally the Cedar Waxwings.
As we made our way down, he stopped again for about a half hour to pick some more in a spot he’d noted on the way up. And I looked around, discovering other blueberry lovers among us–Yellow-necked Moth Caterpillars were slowly stripping some bushes of their greenery.
At last we passed by the forbidden fields, where my guy later confessed he felt like we were in Eden.
Ryan Bushnell of Burnt Meadow Blueberries was at work, raking and sorting the sweet morsels of blue.
It was his business to make sure each pint would be filled by day’s end.
We wanted to chat with him more about the operation, but he was intent upon working and so after the initial greeting and a few more words, we knew it was time to move on. Mr. Bushnell’s buckets would be filled over and over again. (And I suspected that upon seeing this operation, my guy, should he ever decide to retire from his hardware business, may just ask to work in the field–the blueberry field.)
Our buckets were full as well–for my guy, it was bags of blueberries to freeze for future consumption. For me, it was all that I saw as I poked about the summit, thankful that I wasn’t distracted by the 360˚ view. We did indeed fill our buckets on this Mondate.
August 3, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
A’pondering We Will Go: Get inspired by the beauty along the trail at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. This will be a stop-and-go walk as we pause frequently to sketch, photograph, and/or write about our observations, or simply ponder each time we stop. Location: John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East, Farrington Pond Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.
That was our advertisement for this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust walk, but we weren’t sure the weather would cooperate. Docent Pam and I emailed back and forth as we looked at various forecasts and decided to take our chances. As it turned it, it did sprinkle occasionally, but we didn’t feel the rain until we finished up and even then, it wasn’t much. Instead, the sound of the plinking against the leaves in the canopy was a rather pleasant accompaniment to such a delightful morning. Our group was small–just right actually for it was an intimate group and we made a new friend and had a wonder-filled time stopping to sit and ponder and then move along again and were surprised by tiny frogs and toads who thought the weather couldn’t get any better, as well as other great finds. Here, a pickerel frog showed off its rectangular spots for all of us to enjoy.
After a first 20-minute pause in the woods, we continued on until we reached Sucker Brook.
Each of us settled into a place to listen . . .
photograph . . .
I have no idea how much time had passed, but suddenly we all stirred a bit and then someone who was noticing (I think it was Ann) redirected our attention.
We were encouraged to focus on another who was also paying attention.
And narrowing in . . .
When the young heron flapped its wings, we were all sure the meal was meant “to go.”
But thankfully, the bird stayed.
And played with its food.
Ever so slowly, the fish was maneuvered into its mouth.
Down the throat it slid.
And then the feathers were ruffled–rather like a chill passing through its body.
Wing motion followed.
But still, the Great Blue Heron stayed.
And stalked some more.
We continued to watch until we knew we had to pull ourselves away.
If we didn’t have other obligations, we might still be there. Gathered with me from left to right: Judy, Colleen, Isaiah, Pam, Ann, and Bob.
On our way back, again we made some interesting discoveries that we’d somehow missed on the way in, including White Baneberry, aka Doll’s Eye, a bone we couldn’t ID, Indian Pipe, and this owl pellet smooshed, but full of tiny bones–vole-sized bones.
We stopped one more time, to share our morning’s observations.
Reading aloud is never easy, but because our group was small and we’d quickly developed a sense of camaraderie and trust, the comfort level was high.
Sketches were also shared, including this one of the landscape that Ann drew–including the heron that entered the scene just before she quietly called our attention to it.
And my attempts–the first of a tree stump from our woodland stop, and then a lichen when we were by Sucker Brook.
A’pondering We Did Go–and came away richer for the experience. Thanks to all who came, to Pam and Ann for leading, and to Isaiah for his fine eye at spotting interesting things along the way.
When I told my guy that Connie was taking me to Evergreen Cemetery in Portland today, he gave me a questioning look and asked, “Why?”
‘Why not?” I responded.
But really, it was because both she and I have friends who have posted incredible photographs of the natural world that is part of the cemetery and we wanted to discover what it was all about.
At first glance, Evergreen Cemetery may look like Anytown Cemetery for it features gravestones, memorials and tombs throughout. But . . . as we read on a panel near the entrance: “Established by the city in 1854, the cemetery was designed by Charles H. Howe as a rural landscape with winding carriage paths, ponds, footbridges, gardens, a chapel, funerary art, and sculpture. It also includes extensive wooded wetlands. Evergreen was modeled after America’s first rural cemetery, Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The cemetery, the second-largest publicly-owned open space in the City at 239 acres, has been host to a variety of wildlife such as geese, ducks, pheasants, swans, turtles, blue heron, fox, mink, deer, and moose. Its spaciousness combined with old growth pine and oak, vegetation, ponds, and surrounding wetland, provides a true wildlife oasis. It is considered a premier birdwatching sanctuary. Maine Audubon utilizes the cemetery for field trips, to include their annual Warbler Weeks conducted in May. Evergreen Cemetery is also a wonderful location to enjoy the vibrant colors of fall foliage in Maine.”
We didn’t actually spend much time exploring the cemetery itself, though that would be fun to do on a return trip, but as we waited for Connie’s friend Linda to join us, we did look at a few gravestones and were especially enamored with the sunburst lichen that lightened a stone gray morning.
Linda was only a few minutes behind us and then we all traveled to the back end of the cemetery, where the Mallards stopped us in our tracks. While you might ask why, remember that we are women of wonder and wonder we did: about his iridescent head,
her lack of ducklings despite four attentive males,
why their feet were orange,
and the tweedy pattern of their feathers.
And then we spied a couple of other females with ducklings, this one standing tall as she allowed her youngsters to explore.
They weren’t the only ones exploring–a Chipping Sparrow was doing the same, though it was almost impossible to see given that it blended in so well with its surroundings.
At last we pulled ourselves away from the ducks and our view of the car, and started down a trail where flowers and leaves made us take note. Last year, I first met the dark maroon flowers of Black Swallowwort, an invasive. Diminutive and pretty, it was difficult to dismiss them, especially when juxtaposed as they were against a sensitive fern frond.
Connie introduced us to another invasive that she immediately recognized as Ragged-robin. Linda and I were wowed by the pink petals, irregularly cleft.
The natural community kept changing and suddenly we found ourselves under a power line where dried spaghnum moss made us wonder if the land was typically wet. And then we saw something red, and the discarded outer shells nearby spoke to its source. It was the “meat” of an acorn, the red being its “sunburned” presentation.
The evolution of an oak tree–it begins with an acorn.
In the same opening, we watched several Song Sparrows move among the shrubs, and then one paused to serenade us.
Upon finishing, it waited as if for our applause.
Before moving on, we had one more plant to ID. Thanks to iNaturalist, Connie informed us that it was Arrowwood Viburnum. While we appreciated its umbel of flowers and large-toothed leaves, one stem in particular drew our attention. In a symbiotic relationship, ants stroked brownish-red aphids with their antennae, while the aphids released drops of honeydew sucked from the stem. The process was much like a cow being milked. It was actually rather creepy, but wicked cool and all three of us used a loupe to take a closer look.
Back along a woodland trail we continued, again stopping periodically to take in the sights, ask questions, and appreciate our surroundings. Among our finds we discovered the newly forming fruits of a native honeysuckle.
We also rejoiced when we encountered the beaked fruits of Beaked Hazelnut.
At last we’d completed a short loop, and found ourselves drawn in again by the Mallards, both young and old.
But then our eyes focused on other residents in the shallow water.
And we feared that we’d witness a snapping turtle devour a duckling. We kept encouraging mama to move her kids out of the way.
Especially when we realized the pond was full of snappers and they all seemed focused on swimming to the same focal point.
But mamma took her time and let the kids roam freely. We did realize that she had an injured foot or leg and moved with a hop, which added to our anxiety. I also felt a certain affinity with her, given my current one-armed bandit situation due to a broken wrist that is slowly healing. Here’s hoping that she heals as well.
As we watched the drama play out before us, we noted two adult ducks hanging out under some alders beside the shore. Suddenly, a snapper approached them quickly and opened his mouth wide. Was he exhibiting aggressive behavior?
We weren’t sure, but as suddenly as he’d approached, he closed his mouth and turned away.
We noticed that turning away was typical turtle behavior. They seemed to get within a couple of feet of the ducks and then turn. Why? We were, however, glad when momma got her ducklings all in a line and moved on.
We, too, moved on . . . a few more feet toward the car. And then we stopped again to check on the action in the pond. That’s when a Green Heron flew in.
He was also looking for lunch, though we never saw him succeed in his search.
We did see the ducks and turtles again. And our turtle questions continued for we noticed that they would gather and then one would go after another and the water would boil. An act of aggression? Or a mating ritual?
We didn’t have all the answers, but one thing we knew–we’re dying to get into the cemetery again.
We love Maine both for its natural beauty and historic nature. And so it was today that we enjoyed a wee bit of both as we headed off to Greenwood.
More specifically, Greenwood City. According to the town website, “The first saw and shingle mill was constructed at ‘Greenwood City’ in 1805. In the mid-1800s, the wood industry moved to the Village of Locke’s Mills as a result of the railroad and a fire which destroyed Greenwood City.” Apparently, the city had been the economic and civic center of Greenwood, but the fire of 1862 changed everything. Nevertheless, this was our kind of city and our intention was to climb the mountain to the left of the sign–Peaked Mountain.
For years now, I’d heard of Maggie’s Nature Park, but never gave it much thought as a destination. That all changed today. The park encompasses 83 acres of mixed forest across the street from South Pond. It was gifted to the town by Maggie Ring, who had placed it under conservation easement with the Mahoosuc Land Trust. According to an article by Josh Christie in an April 2016 issue of the Portland Press Herald, “As Ring told the MLT in 2005, ‘I gave the land so my grandchildren and everyone else’s grandchildren can enjoy these woods. I want them to enjoy some of God’s good earth.’”
Our plan was to begin on the orange Ring Hill Trail, and consistently stay to the right as we wove our way around the hill and up Peaked Mountain before descending via Harriet’s Path and finishing with the yellow trail.
Because the temperature was on the crisp side, the snow pack was firm, though there were icy portions in the hemlock grove, and bare trail and ledges as well. As we began, we immediately noted an elbow tree, so formed probably when another tree landed upon it.
Moving along at my guy’s brisk speed, I was delighted to note the variety of trees, including cedar, and couldn’t help but imagine the teaching opportunities.
Where the snow had melted, shades of green drew my attention. And with a new season ever so slowly unfolding, I realized I needed to practice my fern ID and so I slowed my guy down for a wee bit. I think he secretly welcomes the breaks for he always finds a rock upon which to sit. One of the characteristics that helped in this ID was the first downward pointing pinnule–it being shorter than the one next to it. I also noted that the stipe or lower stalk, was shorter than the blade, and it was grooved.
A look at the underside added to my conclusion for last year’s sori were round and all in a row between the midrib and margin. So what was it? Evergreen Wood Fern or Dryopteris intermedia if you choose to get technical. I choose to brush up on my fern ID.
As we continued along Ring’s Hill, we took in the views from the ledges and under them as well, where icicles pointed toward the land they’d nurture.
Eventually we followed the yellow blazes to the summit of Peaked Hill–and what to our wondering eyes should appear at a downed log near the view point? Two Dove eggs–the dark chocolate species. A perfect reward for our efforts. But really, the trail required little effort due to its well-executed construction with many zigs and zags to prevent erosion. We hardly felt like we were climbing yet we constantly moved upward.
The summit of Peaked offered the best views–this one being of Mount Abram, with its ski area at the top and to the right. The ski area is closed for the season, but snow still covered the trails that we could see.
Also within our view–highbush blueberry buds suggesting a delightful treat for another day.
And common toadskin lichen reminded me that Big Night is coming soon–that special rainy night(s) when we become sally savers and help amphibians cross that the road to their natal vernal pools. Stay tuned for that–there might be some migration later this week.
All along, we’d noted the trail markers–bright colors and frequent placement made it easy to stick to the trail. But one caused me concern for it looked like it pointed us over the edge.
Not to worry, it was merely noting a junction and curve–my guy came in from the right because he’d chosen to follow the ledge from the Mt. Abram viewpoint, while I chose to return to our snack log and then follow the trail to meet him. Together again, we journeyed to the left as the trail markers indicated.
Rather than stay on the Peaked Mountain Trail all the way back to the parking lot, we continued with our right-hand-turn progression and chuckled when we found one trail marker painted around the curve of a rock–so indicating yet another zig.
A short spur on the red trail, aka Harriet’s Path, lead to one last point of view.
South Pond below with Buck and Lapham Ledges in the distance–hikes saved for another day.
We looped back to the yellow trail and continued down through a boulder field–one more piece of what made this hike so interesting. It wasn’t long after that we completed the journey, but talked immediately about returning in other seasons for so delightful a trek it was. I can’t wait to see what flowers it has to offer and we both could only imagine it decked out with autumn’s tapestry.
On the way home, because I was driving, we had one last stop to make–by the Greenwood Cattle Pond built in 1835 just north of the city. Pounds were important features to secure stray animals prior to the invention of barbed wire and the stones would have stood taller than they do today, but still . . . another piece of history saved for this one is on the National Register of Historic Places.
At the end of the day we wondered why it had taken us so long to discover Maggie’s Nature Park, but thankfully we now have. And we gave thanks to Maggie Ring and her vision to protect “God’s good earth” for all of us. We loved the nature of Greenwood on this Mondate. Indeed.
P.S. Another claim to fame for this town: LL Bean was born in Greenwood in 1872.
This afternoon Jinny Mae and I went in search of the perfect location to build a cabin. A tiny cabin. A one room cabin. With an outhouse of course. And an infinity pool.
Deciding where to place it proved to be the most challenging part of the building process. We didn’t want to rush into the things and so we stood. For a long time. And absorbed the sun’s warmth. And reveled in the quiet. It was a contender, but decided we might have to return in another month or so when the song birds sing to decide if it was the right spot, for it was almost too quiet.
And so we continued our journey beside a stream where the ice had melted and water gurgled.
In fact, it gurgled so much that it was irresistible and we began looking about because we felt drawn to the spot.
The neighborhood also appealed to us because it had so many interesting landmarks including the hexagonal-pored polypores,
tinder conks (aka hoof fungus) with their pore surfaces exposed,
and even some false tinder conks.
One of the things that surprised us was all the writing on the bark for we found script lichen on many a tree trunk. It felt like we’d stumbled upon volumes of research about the construction process.
When building, the old adage is location, location, location, but it helps when local resources are available–which we found in the form of curtains, aka hairy curtain crust fungus (or so I think).
We also spied multi-fruited pelt lichen that would be suitable to cover the floors.
And then we began to notice the available lumber.
It came in a variety of tree species.
And was already de-barked.
When we saw the infinity pool, we were certain that we’d found the prime location.
And then we spied a pre-built cabin with a new roof top and we imagined a chimney in the center of the structure.
As it turned out, there was no need for us to build a tiny cabin after all, for we found one already constructed and it even included a refrigerator filled with a cache of branches. Fine dining was definitely in our future.
We were excited because we wouldn’t need to do the building ourselves and our dream was realized in a lodge that was well placed as it graced the landscape and took advantage of the local offerings. A cozy cabin indeed.