Wonder Wings of the West

When we first met I was certain I knew you from past encounters.

Moving about under a leaf as you did, it was your coloration of yellow and brown bands with a hint of rust that first caught my attention and I bent over to say hello.

Those veined wings of two tones added to my sense that we knew each other well.

On your body I saw no hair, another reason to believe we’d met previously.

And your short antennae added to my certainty.

The way your thorax connected to your abdomen also bespoke your name, or so I thought.

But there was something different about you that made me question our relationship.

That beak of a mouth . . . to whom did it belong?

And below your mouth . . . was that a bug you were trying to dine upon? If so, that didn’t fit the picture of you I’d assumed.

As you held the supposed bug close, I noted that it remained the same size for minute after minute.

The closer I looked, the more I came to realize that it wasn’t a bug you feasted on, but rather it was a part of your body.

In the midst of trying to figure out your identification another flew to the edge of the woodland who also had wings of two tones.

There was no question in my mind that this dragonfly and I had never met before. If only I felt so sure about my encounter with you.

I’d thought from the start that you were a Paper Wasp for everything matched up . . . including your placid behavior. But . . . that insect that I was so sure you held, which didn’t make sense for your kind isn’t predatory, told me you were different. Rather, the bug was actually thick forelegs like a Praying Mantis might have. It was a strange mix of features that you shared, and I can only hope I’ll forever remember your name dear Wasp Mantidfly. You are a strong mimic of the one I thought you might be, but more closely related to the Mantis family.

As for the dragonfly, a Widow Skimmer added to today’s finds of the wonder wings of the west–the west being western Maine, of course.

Cinderella’s Slipper Shop Overflows

Did you hear? Cinderella lost her slipper. And didn’t know where to find it. So . . . Pam M. and I turned into Fairy Godmothers over the course of the weekend in an attempt to help the folktale heroine of our youth.

We began by waving our magic wands . . .

formed in the shape of Indian Cucumber Root flowers suddenly in bloom.

And then we looked everywhere. Do you see the shoe?

No, that’s not it. Ah, but what is that? It’s the nest of an Ovenbird who ran across the forest floor away from the nest, which made us wonder why it was running and not flying–to distract our attention, of course.

We took quick photos and then moved out of momma’s way, continuing our quest.

Do you see the shoe?

No, it wasn’t underneath, but we did celebrate the fact that we’d found the ever common rattlesnake fern with its lacy triangular fronds . . .


and separate beaded fertile stalk. To us, it was hardly common for we rarely see it except in this place. Perhaps we’ll whip the fern into another dress for Cinderella.

Do you see the shoe? No, it isn’t here either, but the leaflets (pinnae) of a Christmas fern could certainly serve as Cinderella’s stockings, bejeweled as they are with the sori’s indusia (the round sheets partially covering each sorus) attached at their centers.

Do you see the shoe? No, it’s not here either, but the hobblebush showed that even in leaves that for some reason were dying, design and color should always be noticed because everything deserves consideration. As we consider Cinderella’s next gown, certainly we’ll remember this.

Do you see the shoe? Maybe we were getting closer. Indeed we were getting closer when we spied this bladder sedge.

Do you see the shoe? We hope one day soon you will for it was while admiring the sedge that we noticed the leafy forms beside it and realized we’d discovered the plant we sought. Perhaps it will flower soon and the golden yellow shoes of our quest will make themselves known.

In the meantime, yesterday morning Pam led a stroll for the Greater Lovell Land Trust.

And this afternoon I did the same for the wait-list crowd.

Each time, we led participants on a stroll through the slipper shop. Cinderella should be pleased with our finds for in every aisle the slippers were available in exactly her size.

And each offered its own variation of the color theme.

There were a few darker ones.

And even several in white.

We were all in awe and had to bow and curtsey (in Covid-19 fashion) for so many choices were there to honor.

Saturday’s group found 53, which became a challenge for today’s group. Their total: 71.

We know Cinderella is holding out for the golden one, but until then her personal slipper shop overflows with possibilities.

Easter Parade 2020

Back in the before, our Easter celebration included a simple breakfast, church service, and gathering with family for brunch or lunch before a short afternoon hike. But that was then. The now is controlled by forces beyond our understanding. And so . . . today’s celebration was much simpler, yet possibly more eloquent in nature. The morning’s highlight included decadent treats from Craft Patissiere scored yesterday at Lovell’s improvised farmers’ market. After that, time spent together listening to Bishop Thomas Brown’s remote homily brought tears to our eyes as we recognized the significance of the good works my guy, his employees, and so many others have been doing this past month, many quietly performed behind the scenes.

And then it was time to pack a picnic lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches, the ham cut from last night’s dinner, and created upon sourdough bread from Fly Away Farm, also scored yesterday thanks to Justin and Jenn Ward of Stow, Maine. The sandwiches I placed first in bees wax wrap created by Sierra Sunshine, The Barefoot Gardner, and then in sandwich wraps that came from groundcover, a former shop in town that we already miss. Water bottles filled and lunch packed, including a couple of dark chocolate treats, and we were on our way.

Our destination was the seven mile parade route where babbling brooks struck up the marching band, joined at various points by song birds, beaver slaps, and drumming grouse.

Spring’s cheerleaders performed their routines with pompoms created by flowering red maples.

Teeny, tiny beaked hazelnut flowers topped their catkins like minute magenta threads were used to sew costumes for the performers along the route.

Floats were varied and included boulders with attempted splits,

springs long ago sprung,

and yields 24/7.

Decorations were varied with scales being a major part, including those that resembled rattlesnakes in appearance.

Some, such as leatherleaf, showed off shiny silvery scales above and rusty below–gems sparkling in the day’s light.

Others included scurfy witherod buds, exposed as they were between yellowish-brown scales.

In their presentation, the witherod proudly showered drupes of old fruits, raisin-like in appearance to the gathered crowd.

Providing more good cheer to the day were the marsh rose hips–offering a hint of yesterday with the bright hope of tomorrow encased within.

Giving a springy green appearance to the parade was the sight of false hellebore, its pleated leaves ready to add texture to the mix.

On this Easter Day when we all have found ourselves experiencing social and physical distancing, Trailing Arbutus, aka mayflower, offered one more sign of hope as its buds expanded.

We found lunch log overlooking the route,

somehow avoided the crowds as we traveled between stone walls,

viewed rocky floats from the parade stand,

and ended the day beside a brook where the beavers are quite active.

Every Easter celebration is different, but this one of 2020 will stand out among the best as we gave thanks along the parade route–thanks for being able to appreciate the offerings made more meaningful in the moment. We can only hope that “the after” is influenced by our decisions made in “the now” rather than a return to “the before.”

Because of the Hare

Yesterday’s torrential rain, sleet, torrential rain, snow, sleet, torrential rain, snow, wind, and cold became today’s frozen snow upon which I could walk without sinking.

Or wearing snowshoes, though I did choose micro-spikes because I wasn’t sure what conditions I might encounter as I headed out to the old cowpath and woods beyond.

It was at the far end of the path that a lot of disturbance drew my attention and I realized deer had pawed and pranced in an attempt to gain something upon which to dine.

Empty caps were all that had been left behind during the ungulates search for a meal fueled by Red Oaks.

A wee bit further, I paused by the vernal pool that will soon seek much of my attention. Today, it shared two things; yesterday’s weather had transformed it from a snowy crust to an icy one; and the neighborhood turkeys, which I’ve yet to see, had stopped by.

But my reason for heading out late this afternoon was to cross over the double-wide wall by the pool and disappear into the saplings that fill the space.

It’s a parcel of land that was nearly clearcut in its day, but since then I’ve welcomed the opportunity to watch forest succession and all that it has to offer in action.

Being an early succession forest, Gray Birch fills the landscape with its twigs atop triangular gray beards. Red Maples and White Pines add their own colors to this place.

At the gray birches’ feet, their catkins filled with fleur de lis scales and teeny tiny seeds that remind me of ever so minute insects with transparent wings, littered the snow. Two actual insects also made themselves known. Do you see them? (Faith and Sara–happy looking 😉 )

And then another insect came into my sight. Truth is, a friend introduced me to this pupal form of a ladybeetle in late autumn/early winter. Of course we’d never seen it before, but as happens in the natural world, once you see something and gain a wee bit of understanding about it, you suddenly see it everywhere. Until recently, everywhere for this species had been upon evergreen trees. And then we found it on tree bark. Gray Birch to start.

I had much to think about in terms of the ladybeetle, but really, I’d come to this place because of some downed trees. Here and there in this forest swath, trees are bent over for no apparent reason. I think I know the why for I don’t believe it’s because a storm came through or all the trees would have bent over. I suspect it has to do with the fact that so much of the plot consists of gray birch that topple easily with the weight of snow, such is their cell structure. And as they toppled, they took down some pine saplings in the mix.

The creator of this scat loves the forms that the downed trees created for it’s a great place to hide when predators or old ladies stop by on the hunt. What I wanted the critter to know was that I was only hunting with a camera. You see, last week I actually spied the scatter as it hopped out of the form and leaped away, its fur slightly streaked brown as is its manner in this between-season time, giving rise to one of its common names: varying hare. It was too fast for my camera and so today I went back in hopes of a second sighting.

By the angled cuts of surrounding vegetation, I’d knew where it had dined.

And by its track, I knew its most common name: Lobster Hare. Okay, so it’s a Snowshoe Hare, but each set of prints always reminds me of the crustaceans of Maine fame.

I tried, oh so hard, to stand still and hoped upon hope that the hare would show itself again.

In my standing still, I did see more ladybeetles in their pupating stage–this one upon a dead White Pine.

And near it . . . another set of downed trees creating another Snowshoe Hare form, that place where the lagomorphs rest during the day. Usually that place is located under evergreens as was the case.

Spying a certain set of prints by the form, I realized I wasn’t alone in my quest. Do you see the C-ridge between the toes? And the asymmetrical presentation of the two lead toes? And the impression of two feet, where a foot packed the sloshy snow of yesterday and a second foot landed in almost the same place? I present to you a Bobcat. 😉

It led me to yet another Snowshoe Hare form.

Atop the form were signs of life, much to my delight: prints, scat, and even the orange-red tint of Snowshoe Hare pee.

Still, the Bobcat moved–its track connecting with a run or well-traveled path of a hare.

Following the hare and cat tracks led to yet another “form.”

It was there that I stood for the longest time. And I swear I heard someone munching within. Was it my imagination? Probably. For my imagination also had me hearing all the wild animals of the forest closing in on the hare and me and then I realized that I was the one closing in on the hare and my “fear” was its “fear.” Marcescent leaves that rattled in the breeze and trees that moaned as they bent in the breeze became larger than life creatures of the forest.

As I stood and listened and felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand tall, I spied more ladybird beetles in their larval and pupal stage.

As much as I wanted to understand the life cycle of this beetle and especially how it deals, if it does, with our low winter temperatures, please, please don’t tell me your understanding.

From evergreen to hardwood, I’m in the process of learning the habitat of this species.

Heck, it not only doesn’t just use evergreens upon which to pupate, it also doesn’t depend only upon Gray Birch, given that it can be seen upon plenty of Red Maple tree trunks.

Oh, and as you look, others might surprise you like these puff balls, their spores still ready to pour forth when gently poked.

Over and over again as I waited patiently for the hare, the ladybeetles made themselves known.

Some presentations differed from others and made me wonder about their matter of timing. Were they frozen molts? Were they morphing? If you know the answer, please don’t tell for this is a new learning and I hope to stay on the case.

Still, as first discovered, there were more in the evergreens to spy.

As the sun began to set, I found the Bobcat track once again and it led into the forest beyond.

More importantly, I backtracked its trail and discovered yet another Snowshoe Hare form created by downed trees. In my mind, so many places for the hare to hide. So many places for the cat to explore. And in the mix–me.

I never did see the hare today. Or the deer. Or the turkey. Or the bobcat. But . . . by their signs I knew that we share this space and there were a few others in the mix including porcupines, squirrels and grouse, and I gave great thanks . . . because of the hare.

Meadowhawk Mondate

It was just after noon when my guy and I parked on Knapp Road to complete trail work along the Southern Shore Trail of Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve. We should have completed such sooner, but prided ourselves on waiting until after last week’s Nor’easter because there were many trees and branches that needed attention.

Some were too big for us, but we did the best we could to make the trail enjoyable for all. And then, even though we’d completed our section, we continued the journey along the 5.3-mile trail, clearing as we went.

It was while in a sunny spot that I did the “I swear I’ll never do this” task–I took a selfie featuring me and my dragonfly pennant. It was my happy moment.

Another happy moment occurred once we’d circled around to Chaplin’s Mill Road and then down through the Emerald Field via the Muddy River Trail.

Beside the river I spied the makings of a fresh beaver mound, where bottom muck and leaves had been piled up and a certain scent, almost vanilla in odor, deposited.

Last April, LEA Education Director Alanna Doughty and I had discovered tons of beaver action in this area and the tree beside the water on the left-hand side still stands as a monument.

Other monuments included three to four-foot gnawed stumps scattered throughout the area that served as reminders of last year’s snow depth. Either that, or the beavers stand as tall as deer in these here woods.

This is an area that the giant rodents have known for many moons as evidenced by hemlocks they chose to girdle in hopes their least favorite trees might fall. Instead, the trees tried to heal their wounds and show the beavers who is boss of this territory.

All along the river, water flowed over beaver dams, much the same way it would have flowed over a mill dam in a different era and we loved the juxtaposition of man and nature. Or was it nature and man?

Onto the boardwalk system and through the Red Maple Swamp did we trek, and of course I stopped beside the Pitcher Plants because . . . just because. But notice the water. So, we’ve had a lot of rain, but also we suspected the beavers had something to do with the high level.

Out of curiosity, we stepped onto the boardwalk out to the Muddy River to check on some beaver lodges.

And there just happened to be an Autumn Meadowhawk upon the wood. I wasn’t sure it was alive, for it didn’t move as we stepped past it.

We made it almost to the end of the boardwalk, but eventually it dipped under water and so we stood still and gazed toward the lodges. Can you see them? 😉

Like a duplex, they were joined. But what was the best news was the sight of new branches and some insulation that had been added . . . in the form of mud. Though we hadn’t seen any new beaver works, we suspected that somewhere in this waterbody a beaver or two or family had been active.

Returning to the Hemlock Grove behind the boardwalk, I stopped to check out the dragonfly and it moved a foreleg as I watched–a sure sign of life.

And so, I did what I love to do, stuck my finger in front of it, and upon did it crawl. My heart stopped beating.

My guy had gone before, so he missed this opportunity. But chatting to it quietly, my dragonfly and I moved from the boardwalk to the much darker Hemlock Grove. He seemed not to mind, but did move about a bit on my finger and I wondered if the much cooler and darker grove might not be to his liking. Despite my concern, he stayed with me and I introduced him to my guy, who questioned the fact that I was talking to a dragonfly. And then he chuckled, “Of course you are.” I guess he knows me.

We followed him onto the next section of boardwalks that passes through the second section of the Red Maple Swamp. All along the way, I murmured sweet nothings and my little friend took in the scene. But . . . when we reached the next Hemlock Grove, he flew off. I couldn’t say I blamed him for it was much cooler and darker than the first.

By that point, my guy and I were by the Quaking Bog, so out to Holt Pond did we venture. And . . . I spotted more dragonflies to meet.

And greet.

A few of his relatives were also in their meet and greet tandem form. Had they just canoodled and dropped eggs into the water or was she playing coy?

I don’t know the answer to that, but my new friend liked the view of the pond.

And then he began to do something that it took me a few minutes to understand. Notice how his wings are down.

And then hind up, forewings down.

Fluttering, they moved rather like a windmill, but never did he take off.

The speed increased.

And I finally realized he was just trying to stay warm in the cooler air by the pond. Wing-whirring they call it. Like turtles, dragonflies are cold-blooded or ectothermic. They can’t regulate their body temperature and must depend on sunlight and ambient air temperature for warmth, which is why we encounter them along the sunny spots on the trail. My little friend was trying to warm up by vibrating his wings. Knowing his need for sunlight, just before we returned to the dark grove, I left him upon a shrub leaf.

Oh, and the beavers, we never did see them, but finally, as we approached Holt Pond from Grist Mill Road, we found fresh beaver works. They’re out there somewhere and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I’m excited to know that I’ll have their antics to watch in the upcoming months for I suspect that my dragonfly days are about to draw to a close.

But today was most definitely a Meadowhawk Dragonfly Mondate and I gave thanks for the opportunity to travel with my guy and this guy, and one or two of his relatives.

Ode to Pinus strobus

Oh ancient ones,
so tall and stout.

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.

Bear to Beer: Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge

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.

For both of us: Bear to Beer–we got this one. Seven miles later, bear scat to beer at Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge and Red Parka Pub.

All Aboard Mondate

His birthday present several weeks ago was a Cat’s Meow replica of the North Conway Scenic Railroad (from my collection) and a note: October 21, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm. Be there!!

This morning I drove him there. No, I wasn’t the engineer of the train, but rather the conductor of his entertainment schedule.

Our chosen car, the Dorthea Mae, was built in the mid-1950s for transcontinental service in the United States and turned out to be the perfect choice for this adventure. We’ve ridden the Conway Scenic train before–several times when our sons were young and we took the one hour ride from North Conway to Conway, New Hampshire, and once for an anniversary celebration as we enjoyed dinner on the Bartlett Route. But for all the times we’ve driven along Route 302 through Crawford Notch and looked at the scary trestles hugging the mountains, we always said we’d love to take the longer ride. Well today, that became a reality.

Group by group, riders were welcomed to climb on and find their assigned seats. Ours was located opposite a delightful and chatty couple from Iowa, MaryPat and Ron.

For us, part of the fun was recognizing familiar spots along the rail, including a rail crossing on Route 302 by a historic barn.

Through the village of Bartlett we travelled along rails originally laid down in the 1870s for what was once the Maine Central Railroad’s famed Mountain Division Trail.

The church to the left is the Union Congregational Church on Albany Avenue, and to the right the Odd Fellows Hall, a historic fraternal society.

Early on we crossed trestles over several rivers where shadows, angles, curves, and foliage delighted our eyes.

As we headed toward Crawford Notch, again it was the same, only different, with ever the click-clack of motion providing a new vista that captured our awe.

History presented itself over and over again, with old rail ties and power poles dotting the landscape–obscured for a wee bit longer by the golden hues of the forest.

Knowing that today was the only date available when I’d booked the trip, and in fact, that we got the last two seats on the Dorothea Mae, we wondered how much color we might see given that we were traveling north. It was past peak, but still . . . one Red Maple stood out amongst the yellowy-orange-bronzes of the landscape.

There was also some white to view–not only the few clouds, but the summit of Mount Washington with a recent coating of snow and rime ice.

The ridgeline of Mount Webster, forming the eastern side of the U-shaped glacial valley which forms Crawford Notch, stood crisp and clear as we headed north.

The mountain was named for Daniel Webster, a statesman and orator born in Salisbury, New Hampshire, which is present day Franklin where I began my former teaching career in 1980.

From our seat on the train, looking south, Mount Webster was on the left, Route 302 between, and Mount Willey on the right forming the western side of the U.

By Mount Willard, we heard the story of the section house that stood here in the 1900s.

Willey Brook Bridge is Crawford Notch, New Hampshire https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-a2cf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99 Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation

Our narrator, Denise, spoke of the Mt Willard Section House built in 1887 for section foreman James E. Mitchell, his family, and crew who maintained Section 139 of the railroad. Loring Evans became foreman of Section 139 in 1903. He was killed ten years later in a railroading accident at Crawford’s yard, but his wife, Hattie, raised their four children and despite all odds ran the Section House until 1942. It was Hattie’s job to house and feed the men who worked on the shortest yet most treacherous stretch of the rail.

A memorial garden still honors her work.

Below Mount Jackson, across the way, two waterfalls graced the scene. Typically, we’ve viewed them one at a time, but from the train, both Flume and Silver Cascades were visible as water raced down the mountain’s face.

This being Silver, but both looked like traces of chalk from our position.

Two hours after our journey began, we arrived at Crawford’s Depot.

Disembarking, and with an hour to ourselves, my guy and I ate a picnic lunch that included chicken salad sandwiches enhanced with home-made cranberry-orange relish, and then we crossed the road to walk the .4-mile trail around Saco Lake, the origin of Saco River.

Beside it a few Dandelions flowered. And my guy questioned me. “You’re taking a photo of a Dandelion?” Yup. Never Call it just a Dandelion is the title of a most delightful and informative book. And sooo true. Notice how each ray is notched with five teeth representing a petal and forms a single floret. Completely open as this one was, the bloom was a composite of numerous florets. And can you see the stigmas? Curled and split in two? “Yes, I am taking a picture of a Dandelion because it deserves to be honored. And not pulled from the lawn. Just sayin’. ”

Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba var. latifolia) also posed, its fruit’s five-parted capsules each containing two to four small seeds. It was the color that made me smile on this fall day.

Upon a small bridge where Elephant Head Brook flows into Saco Lake, most people paused and then turned for so wet was the trail. But you know who kept going. Despite wearing sneakers rather than our hiking boots, we found our way and soon moved beyond the wet trail.

We laughed when we discovered a wooden boardwalk in a drier section.

Others had also ventured here and called it home, although based on the lack of new wood, we suspected the beavers had left the lodge. Perhaps they’d moved across the street to the AMC’s Highland Center.

Upon granite that defined the outer side of sections of the trail, Rock Tripe lichens grew, some turning green as they photosynthesized when I poured water upon them.

Always one of my favorite views is the discovery of Toadskin Lichen beside the Rock Tripe, both umbilicate forms.

Back to Route 302, asters showed their displays of seeds awaiting dispersal and those older empty nesters forecasting their winter form in a flower-like composition all their own.

Just prior to 2:00pm, we reboarded the train for the journey south.

For the return trip, we’d switched seats with those who sat on the western side of the train for the journey north and so got to spy the Willey foundation. Local lore has it that in 1793, Samuel Willey took his wife, five children and two hired men to live in a small, remote house in the mountains. That year, he and the hired men built a house.

As our narrator said, “In June of 1826, a heavy rain terrified the Willey family when it caused a landslide across the Saco River. Sam decided to build a stone shelter above the house where he thought the family could find safety in case of another landslide. On August 28, 1826, a violent rainstorm caused a mudslide. The Willeys and hired men took refuge in the shelter. The landslide killed all nine of them, but the house they’d fled stood still.” Apparently, a ledge above the house spared it from destruction.

We loved the historical aspects of the trip, as well as the scenery, short hike, and good company.

At the end of the day, we were all smiles for this All Aboard Mondate.

Women of the Dragonflies

The minute we launched our kayaks, I knew we were in for a treat, for beside bur-reed and water-logged branches and even upon our boats, the Autumn Dragonflies danced, theirs a frantic last-minute mating routine.

Single males watched as couples prepared for the grand event and every once in a while they’d try to interfere, though that usually ended within seconds.

Once they gave up, they were willing to land and hang out with me for a few moments. If you know me, you know I was thrilled–especially given that every time I see a dragonfly of late, I’m sure it’s the last of the season. And then . . .

I heard a loud buzz over my head and upon my friend Pam’s vest, a Lake Darner landed. I told her not to move as I took in its glory. That being said, only moments before perhaps this same dragonfly tried to nab a canoodling pair positioned right below my paddle. For the moment, they survived, and he took a break.

His break over, onward we paddled into the wind and current. But really, it wasn’t a tough journey and around every bend we were wowed as we paused, drifted, and got lost in the scenery. The colors have reached their beyond peak rendition, but still, we were surrounded by beauty.

It showed itself in layers,

reflections,

and a combination of the two.

We paused beside tree stumps and gasped at their intricate structures as we remembered summer sightings of painted turtles.

As one might expect, the littlest things begged our focus, such as the spider only Pam spied through her lens.

While she looked down, I looked beyond to a far stump and Heron Rookery in the distance. And in the midst of my search–a Lake Darner Dragonfly flew in on patrol. Do you see it in the upper right-hand corner?

Our next wonder moment occurred when we realized a certain insect posed upon a drowned branch.

Our spot: a Wooly Bear caterpillar. Having grown up in Canada, Pam didn’t know about the Wooly Bear’s reputation as a predictor of winter weather. According to local lore and backed up by The Farmer’s Almanac, this is how it works: “The Woolly Bear caterpillar has 13 distinct segments of either rusty brown or black. The wider the rusty brown sections (or the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. The more black there is, the more severe the winter.”

The curious thing: this is the first I’ve seen with a wider rusty brown section; all others have had wider black sections. Hmmm. Methinks that by April we’ll know which W. Bear was correct.

But here’s another question: there was water on either side of the downed limb. How in the world did the caterpillar get there? We’ve watched Hickory Tussock Caterpillars squirm their way across the water all summer, so we know they can “swim.” Did W. Bear come from the shore? A bird’s mouth? Or fall from a branch above? We’ll never know, but considering the possibilities opened our minds.

Beyond W. Bear, we found ourselves looking at a familiar view we’ve always enjoyed from the land behind us: a look north toward a Heron Rookery.

High up in the trees sit condominiums that we’ve seen filled with birds. One, two, three, four, even five birds. Large birds. Yes, the nests are large, but how in the world do they survive wild winds and how in the world do the birds co-exist upon them before fledging?

We spent a lot of time looking up, but an equal amount of time looking down, where Equisetum fluviatile, or Water Horsetail grew prolifically. The thing about it was that it had all been browsed as if a field mowed. We suspected the diners were Canada Geese that we knew had inhabited this place for months.

At last we reached a point where paddling further north presented some issues and the sun was lowering in the sky. So, we turned around and paddled south as far as we could go, with the sun blinding much of the sights. But . . . beside another stump we did stop. And were honored with the lines it presented from a complicated spider web intermixed with the tree’s lines.

Wthin sight of the Route 93 bridge, we again turned around to return to our launch site. The temperature had dipped and as we rounded the final bends, we found ourselves in full shade rather than sun. And a discussion of seasonal lighting entered our conversation.

Things are in flux in these parts. But for one more day, we were the women of the dragonflies.

Wandering and Wondering the Jinny Mae Way

This morning I chose to channel my inner Jinny Mae in honor of my dear friend who has been in isolation for medical reasons since last January. That meant I had to try to slow down and be sure to notice. And ask questions. Mostly it meant I needed to wonder.

She’s a lover of fungi, so I knew that she’d pause beside the Violet-toothed Polypores that decorated a log. The velvety green algal coating would surely attract her attention. Why does algae grow on this fungus?

I didn’t have the answer in my mind, but a little research unearthed this: “As is the case for lichens, the algae on top of a polypore arrangement appears to benefit both partners. The algae (usually single-celled ball-shaped green algae), being filled with green photosynthetic pigments, use sunlight to make sugars out of carbon dioxide gas. Some of these leak out and are absorbed and consumed by the fungi as an extra source of energy-rich organic carbon. The fungus, in turn, provides a solid platform upon which the algae can set up shop and grow into dense green communities.” (~rosincerate.com)

The next stop occurred beside the fall forms of asters where the seeds’ parachutes could have easily passed as a flower. What’s a seed’s parachute and why does it have one? The parachutes are made up of hair-like structures. As an immobile parent plant, it needs to disperse its young so that new plants can grow away from those pesky competitive siblings. And maybe even colonize new territories. At this stage of life, the seedy teenager can’t wait to fly away from home and start its own life. Do you remember that time in your life?

And then, it was another fungus that asked to be noticed. Those gills. That curly edging. And crazy growth structure. Jinny Mae would have keyed in on it right away, but it took me a while. I think it’s a bioluminescent species, Night Light aka Bitter Oyster (Panellus stipticus). But as I often say, I don’t know mushrooms well, so don’t look to me as the authority. What would Jinny Mae ask? Hmmm. What makes it glow? That’s even further beyond my understanding than naming this species. But I can say that it has to do with enzymes that produce light by the oxidation of a pigment. And have I ever actually seen such a glow? NO. But one of these nights 😉

As I continued to walk along, I noticed movement and realized I was in the presence of a butterfly. A butterfly I don’t recall ever meeting before. It had the markings of several familiar species, but it wasn’t until I arrived home that I figured out its name. Do you see its curled proboscis?

Jinny Mae would have been as wowed as I was by this species that I can confidently call a Faunus Anglewing or Green Comma. Typically it flies from May to September, so why today? I got to wondering if this week’s Nor’easter caught it in a more southern clime and forced it north on the wind? But I discovered that its a boreal species and was perhaps at the southern end of its range. Maybe the storm did have something to do with its presence today after all.

Eventually the journey became a mix of following a trail and bushwhacking. Both provided examples of the next moment I knew Jinny Mae would love. Dead Man’s Fingers, all five of them, in their fall form, the lighter color spores having dispersed and the mushroom now turning black. Why the common name for Xylaria longipes? According to Lawrence Millman, author of Fascinating Fungi of New England, “Certain African tribes believe that if you’ve committed a crime, and you rub the spore powder from an immature Xylaria on your skin, the police won’t identify you as the culprit.”

It seemed these woods were a mushroom garden and one after another made itself known. I could practically feel Jinny Mae’s glee at so many fine discoveries. Resembling cascading icicles (I was wearing a wool hat and my snowpants actually, which turned out to be overdress after three hours), I wanted to call it Lion’s Mane, but to narrow down an ID decided to leave it at the genus Hericium. I suspected Jinny would agree that that was best and it should just be enjoyed for its structure no matter who it really was.

Nearby, another much tinier, in fact, incredibly teenier fungus could have gone unnoticed had the sun not been shining upon it. I was pretty certain 2019 would be the year that would pass by without my opportunity to spy this one. But, thankfully, I was proven wrong. Forever one of my favorites, I knew Jinny Mae also savored its presence. The fruiting body of Green Stain are minute cup-shaped structures maybe 1/3 inch in diameter. I used to think when I saw the stain on wood that it was an old trail blaze. And then one day I was introduced to the fruiting structure and rejoice each time I’m graced with its presence. There was no reason to question these delightful finds. Noticing them was enough.

In complete contrast, upon a snag nearby, grew a much larger fungus.

Part of its identification is based on its woody, shelf-like structure projecting out from the tree trunk. Someone had obviously been dining upon it and based on its height from the ground and the tooth marks, I suspected deer.

The pore surface, however, is the real reason to celebrate this find for it stains brown and provides a palette upon which to sketch or paint, thus earning it the common name of Artist Conk. But the question: while some mushrooms fruit each year and then if not picked, rot and smell like something died in the woods, what happens with a shelf fungus? The answer as best I know: A shelf fungus adds a new layer of spore tissue every growing season; the old layer covered by the new one, which look like growth rings in a tree.

A lot of the focus on this morning’s walk tended to be upon the fungi that grew in that neck of the woods, but suddenly something else showed its face. Or rather, I think, her face. A Wolf Spider. Upon an egg sac. Super Mom though she may be for making a silk bed and then enveloping her young in a silk blanket, and guarding it until her babies hatch, this spider did not make the slightest movement, aggressive or not, as I got into its personal space. Usually the mother dies either before or after her babies leave the sac. What would Jinny Mae think? Perhaps that for some reason Momma waited too long and maybe the cold weather we’ve experienced upon occasional lately got the better of her?

I don’t know entirely what Jinny Mae would think, but I have a pretty good idea because the reality is that today, she and I traveled the trail together for the first time in forever. For each of these finds, it was like we played trail tag–first one spying something wicked cool and then the other finding something else to capture our attention as we tried to capture it with our cameras.

We caught up. We laughed. We noticed. We questioned. We laughed some more.

Our three-hour journey drew to a close as we revisited the Stair-step Moss that grows in her woods.

I’m still giddy about the fact that I got to wander and wonder the Jinny Mae way today.

P.S. Jinny Mae returned to Super Momma spider a couple of days later and as she paused to take a photo, Momma scooted into a tree hole, carrying her sac. She LIVES.

Ponds #1 and #2 Mondate

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.

Afternoon Dragon Delight

I never expected it to be so, but stalking insects has become a favorite pastime. And this beautiful fall day, with temps in the upper 60˚s, provided plenty to admire if one took the time to look. The best way to spy the insects, for often so camouflaged are they, is to stand still for minutes on end and try to cue in on your surroundings.

Grasshoppers, their armored bodies so intricately designed, drew my attention first and I spent an hour on and off watching a male and female in hopes that they might set a date. On my clock, they never did, though I suspect when I wasn’t looking, they snuggled under a leaf.

Another was a Robber Fly that flew from boat to boat and root to root as is its habit in this habitat. So named for its ferocious manner of pouncing from the air onto its prey, I didn’t have the good fortune to observe that behavior. But do check out that bristly body.

And then I wandered over to the hammock and a Stink Bug made its presence known. I surprised myself with the find for it was almost camouflaged as it moved upon the ropes.

And somehow, cueing in on the Stink Bug provided the opportunity to see another dangling below the ropes. I thought I’d been in insect heaven up to this point, but the position was cinched when I spotted the dragonfly.

It didn’t move and so I was sure it was dead, and gave thanks for the opportunity to snap photos of it.

Really, it was a perfect specimen, its body and wings in immaculate shape. I had visions of my insect collection growing by one.

To that end, I took the dragonfly from the hammock and placed it on the cover of the well. Giddy as could be at my good luck in locating such a fine specimen on a mid-October day, I began snapping photo after photo as I took the opportunity to get to know this guy better.

It wasn’t until I placed him on the palm of my hand, however, that I began to notice more than its mosaic thorax.

Suddenly, his wings began to beat, ever so slowly and methodically. And yet, he remained in the same spot on my hand.

I gave constant thanks for I couldn’t believe the opportunity I’d been gifted to examine this magnificent being at such a close perspective. My typical encounter with a darner dragonfly is that they cruise over water in almost constant motion and rarely land. And yet . . . here one sat upon my hand with no intention to move on any time soon.

Have you ever looked at a dragonfly in such close proximity? And taken time to notice all the hair on its thorax?

Even its underside is covered in hair. And those folded legs. Remember when I found it dangling below the hammock? Its legs were extended back then.

My handling of the dragonfly was gentle for I wanted it to fly off, but at the same time, my fascination got the better of me. The face provided part of its identification for it had a thick black crossline stripe in the middle of the face that looked rather like a mustache.

I assumed it had been caught in a spider web under the hammock, and really, it did seem a few pieces of silk were stuck to one wing. With extreme caution I tried to brush them away, but feared I’d tear a wing in the process.

Back in my hand, I noted another facial idiosyncrasy–a T-spot with a robust upright and a top cross-piece–almost like a cat face upon its “nose.”

But what was really noticeable was the fact that suddenly my friend arched his body as he might when meeting his love. Was he as in love with me as I with him?

Just as suddenly as he arched, he began to relax.

And then, another movement . . . his bent legs that had been folded close to his thorax moved and he stood upon his knees.

What I couldn’t understand was why he didn’t extend those legs.

Rather, he started to do something else. Keep an eye on his head.

He cocked it as if to say, “Hey lady, it’s getting late. What are you going to do about me?”

I did what I hope was the right thing even if it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I placed him on a leaf upon the well cover. Yes, I so wanted to take him inside, but he wasn’t meant to be inside and whatever happens to him, happens. I can’t control his world, despite that questioning face that tugged at my heartstrings.

What was our encounter all about? And why didn’t he behave in typical darner fashion? I’ll never understand, but I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy today’s afternoon dragon delight. Indeed.

Seeking Red Mondate

When I invited my guy to join me in a wetland today to mark out a trail, I truly expected him to hem and haw about going. And then when we got there, I thought he’d want to rush through the process and be done with it.

But perhaps it was the setting that slowed him down. I know that it always slows me down.

It’s a place where over and over again I’m surprised to discover that others have come before. Last year, it was bear prints that stopped me in my tracks. Today, bobcat. The print is upside down in the photo, but do you see the pad, C-shaped ridge and four toes heading toward you? Notice that the two front toes are a bit asymmetrical. Ah mud. It’s as good as snow. Though I can’t wait to go tracking in snow.

Another reason that this place slows me down is all that it has to offer. The Winterberries were a major part of our stumbling movement, but still they made me smile even though I had to untwist each foot as I tried to step over, around, and through their woody stems.

Among the mix in the shrub layer was Maleberry, its woody fruits of last year displaying shades of brown, while the newer fruits were tinged green.

And then there was the Nannyberry with its oval shaped fruits so blue upon red stems, and . . .

Withe-rod just a wee bit different shape that always makes me question my identification.

Rhodora also showed off its woody structure of last year embraced by this year’s softer fruiting form.

But what we really sought were little gems of red hiding among sedges in a different herbaceous layer.

I totally didn’t expect my guy to develop cranberry greed quite the way he has a penchant for blueberries, but he did. And he also rejoiced in eating the tart berries right off the stem. Even he commented that the little balls of red were like the blue-gold he usually sought during the summer.

Seriously, it got to the point where I gave up picking, and cranberries are much more my thing than blueberries. And I began to focus on other shades of red, like those that the Pitcher Plants loved to display.

The pattern on the Pitcher leaves always makes me think of the Tree of Life. But . . . equally astonishing are the hairs that coat each pitcher. If you rub your fingers down into the urn-like leaf, you can feel the hairs and gain a better understanding of them creating a landing strip for insects. The true test, however, comes when you dare to escape this carnivorous plant. Can you climb out of the leaf? The way out is sticky and rough and by tracing a finger upward, its suddenly obvious why insects can’t find their way out.

Equally unique, the flower structure that remains, waiting to share its 300+ seeds to the future. For now, it reminds me of a windmill on the turn.

My guy wasn’t as taken with the Pitcher Plant as I was. And he certainly didn’t care about the fact that a Funnel Weaver spider had recently taken up home among the plants urn-like leaves. But me . . . I was totally wowed. Why did a spider that likes to wait in its funnel tunnel until something landed on the net it had created, use a carnivorous plant as its home base? Did it have an agreement with the plant? I’ll bring you food if you don’t see me as food? And was that dark V-shape on the web a leg of one devoured?

With no spider in sight, I knew I’d have to let my questions go, but still . . . it was a mosaic web worth appreciating.

The Pitcher Plant grew on the edge . . . of an Arrowhead wetland . . .

growing beside a Sphagnum Moss peat bog.

And as I walked among it all, I felt the bog quake below my feet.

The pom-pom mosses were responsible for the environment in which we travelled . . . and for its inhabitants.

And because of the Sphagnum the cranberries grew. Abundantly.

Our movement continued as my guy wanted to find as many little red balls of tart glory as ever. And in the midst, the natural community came to focus on Devil’s Beggarstick.

Notice the spines along the seed’s structure.

The beggars chose to stick indeed. Volunteers. They hoped we’d move them on to another place, but we chose to pull each one off . . . Not an easy task.

At last it was time for us to take our leave. And so we found our way out as we’d come in, but felt like crowned royalty for all the finds we’d made, so many of them featuring a shade of red.

In the end, a look back was a look forward. We sought red and so should you—head to your favorite cranberry bog as soon as possible for the fruits await your foraging efforts. And wherever you go, don’t share the location with others. It’s much more fun to have a secret spot as you seek red.

The Story in the Web

When I invited friends Pam and Bob to join me at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve for a reconnaissance hike, I had no idea what might await us. But isn’t that true of every day, no matter what path in life we choose to follow? With each step we take, doesn’t a surprise await?

Today’s path found us making a few detours for fun, but it was when we followed the route long ago laid out by LEA that we made the most interesting discoveries.

The boardwalk through the Red Maple Swamp led us to the hummock that leads out to Muddy River, where fall’s colors were ablaze on the far side. Red Maple is an early harbinger of autumn as it turns color well in advance of other eastern deciduous trees, especially when it is located in wet sites.

As we continued, we found ourselves on the new/old boardwalk to the Quaking Bog by Holt Pond. The boardwalk is new in that its old self has recently undergone a renovation with corrugated culverts added below in hopes that come high water in spring or fall, the water will flow and the structure will float above.

We were excited to see such a change, but especially wowed by the Pitcher Plants that grew there.

As wild as the Pitcher’s leaves are, the fall structure of the flower was equally astonishing. I’ve forever found it a wonder that the extremely large style of this flower sits below the rest of the structure in order to capture pollen in its upside-down umbrella shape. With leathery sepals above, the large swollen ovary below may house as many as 300 tiny seeds.

At the end of the boardwalk, we stood beside Holt Pond for a bit and did what we frequently found ourselves doing: listened; looked; lollygagged.

At last we pulled ourselves away; but still there was more to see.

Because we were noticing, Pam spied Charlotte, a yellow garden spider, aka Argiope aurantia.

You might think we weren’t actually in a garden, but indeed, we were. Just prior to meeting Charlotte, we’d munched on tart cranberries, and sniffed and tasted Bog Rosemary leaves.

There was also a Lake Darner Dragonfly to admire. Especially given the tattered nature of its wings. Really, the dragonflies controlled their territory throughout much of our journey and sometimes appeared to brazenly want to gobble us up. I’m here to say that they didn’t succeed and we’ll never tire of being in their presence.

Leaving the quaking bog behind, we walked through a huge hemlock grove and noticed one noticing us. Do you see the Chipmunk? He remained still for moments on end, sure that we wouldn’t spy him. And then when we made a sudden movement, he darted into a safety hole.

At the edge of the hemlock grove, the natural community switched immediately to another wetland and offered new opportunities. This time, you need to locate the Phantom Cranefly. Do you see its black and white legs?

At last we reached Tea Garden Bridge, so named if I remember correctly, because the water in Sawyer Brook resembles the color of tea.

What drew our attention was the Water Strider Convention. The shadow of the Water Striders tells their story. To our eyes, it looked like their actual feet were tiny and insignificant. What we couldn’t see were the fuzzy little hairs that both repel water and trap tiny air bubbles, thus allowing them to float or skate along the water’s surface. But still, why was the foot shadow so big while the body shadow was more relative to the strider’s size? Did the movement of the foot against the water create the larger shadow?

Continuing on into the land of abundant Winterberry, we thought about all the birds who will benefit from its red fruit in the coming months.

And then our eyes cued in again. First on a Katydid, with its beady eyes so green.

And then another Phantom Cranefly. And another. And another. I met my first Phantom Cranefly in the spring, but today they seemed to appear from out of nowhere everywhere.

And finally, a male Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly pausing and flying; pausing and flying; all within a small territory it had claimed.

At last it was time for us to turn around and head out, but I gave great thanks for the opportunity to travel slowly and wonder with Pam and Bob as I prepared for a private hike I’m leading tomorrow. Some folks chose to bid on a walk with me in support of camperships (aka full scholarships camp) for Camp Susan Curtis, a camp for economically disadvantaged Maine youth who attend at no cost to their families. I’m honored to lead them and pleased that local kids will benefit from this offering.

I can only hope that I’m able to weave a story for them as Charlotte did for us today. She even signed it. Do you see her zigzag signature?

Paddling into Autumn

I’ve no idea how many times I’ve driven past the Kezar Outlet put-in on Harbor Road in Fryeburg and noticed others either embarking or debarking from a canoe or kayak trip and always desired to do the same. Occasionally, I’d stop and take photos, and once I co-led a trip from the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake to the dam, but until August I’d not gone any further. And then our friend, Pam Katz, invited my guy and me to join her for a journey from the dam to Charles River, on to Charles Pond, and part way up Cold Brook.

The put-in can be a bit tricky with rocks and stirring water flowing from the dam, but somehow the three of us managed not to tip as we kerplunked into our kayaks. That day inspired all of the subsequent trips for really we were scouting out a route for the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend paddle co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Upper Saco Valley Land Trust.

On that first journey and two that followed, we were wowed by the floral displays including, Cardinal Flowers,

Pickerel Weed,

Sessile-fruited Arrowhead and . . .

Common Arrowhead,

Ground-nut, and . . .

Turtlehead. Today, only a few asters showed off their composite form.

We’d paddled along, my guy, of course, always in the lead so he was the first to reach the old beaver dam. Pam was surprised by it because the water had been higher when she’d last followed this route. But it was obvious from the fact that there were no new sticks and the water wasn’t at dam level on the far side that there was no current beaver activity. My guy, feeling chivalrous, hopped out of his boat and shuffled us around on the wet grassy area to the far right of the dam.

Upon the sticks and branches Emerald Jewelwings flew, males such as this one with the white dot on its forewing waiting for a second before attempting to dance with a mate.

Once all three of us were on the other side, the water was a wee bit deeper and it seemed we’d entered Brigadoon.

And then the community changed again and Swamp Maples allowed glimpses of the mountains beyond.

Before one of the final turns in the Charles River, we reached an abandoned beaver lodge.

And then Charles Pond opened before us.

We crossed the pond to Cold River, found a great lunch spot and reflected upon our sightings, which included a few ducks, an eagle, and a heron.

My second visit was with Trisha Beringer, Outreach and Office Manager for Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. It was an opportunity for me to show Trisha the route and for us to create our plan for the GMOW event. And to bask in the sun much the way the Painted Turtles did.

She was as wowed as I was by the journey and excited to share it with others.

Our turn around point was Charles Pond, but we paused for a few moments to take in the view.

And on the way back, as I contemplated sliding over the dam because the water was a bit higher due to some rain, three otters surprised me as they played below. Only one is visible with its head above water, but the others had just dunked under. Once they realized we were there, they took off. Our portage wasn’t a portage at all for rather than go over the dam, we did the dam shuffle, maneuvering our boats around it with a full-body back and forth motion.

Finally, it was time for the GMOW event, and the night before we decided to let those who had signed up know that we needed to postpone it from last Saturday to Sunday because of the weather. As it turned out, it was the right choice to make and Sunday dawned bright and beautiful with dew drops to top off the gathering.

Just beyond the Harbor Road bridge we passed under, a maple astounded us with the first official glimpse of the season to come and many of us paid it homage with photographs and words of awe.

At the beaver dam, the water was lower than on the previous visits, but thankfully two paddlers hopped out and helped everyone get out of boats and shift them around to the other side.

Continuing upstream, the Swamp Maples that offer the first glimpses of the mountains, showed that they too were trying on their new coats for the next season.

The group took in the view while crossing to Cold River and continuing on until we couldn’t travel easily any more. As always, the return trip was quicker and we finished up in three hours, grateful for an opportunity to explore the water that connects the GLLT’s fen property on Kezar Outlet with USVLT’s Stearns Property on Cold River and make new friends. It was a spectacular day and we were pleased that we’d made the choice to postpone.

One who had to back out of the GMOW trip at the last minute, asked if we’d offer it again, thinking we’d gone ahead with our Saturday plan. She really wanted to check out the course because though she’s lived locally forever, she’d never been below the dam on Harbor Road. And so this morning, I met Storyteller and GLLT member, Jo Radner. As we moseyed along, we began to notice bank tunnel after bank tunnel for so low was the water. In a muddy section, we found prints with a tail impression thrown into the mix and deciphered them as beaver.

It made perfect sense when we noticed a sight not spotted on the previous trips: beaver works on a maple. Given that, we began to wonder what the dam might look like.

Despite the fact that we found more and more evidence of recent beaver works, the dam certainly was bigger, but not because it had been added to by the rodents. Rather, the water level was much, much lower than I’d seen on any previous visit.

It seemed the beavers were active, but we couldn’t help but wonder why they hadn’t added to the dam. That meant that they were probably not at the lodge either, but we still had more water to travel through before reaching that point.

The trip around the dam was more challenging than upon any other visit, and we were both sure we’d end up in the water, but somehow we did it with more grace than we realized we possessed.

And then the spot that I’d called Brigadoon on the first visit showed off a much more colorful display.

Closer to the pond, the curtain hiding the mountains also had undergone a transformation.

Just beyond, we reached the lodge that is longer than tall and always reminds me of a New England farmhouse: big house, little house, back house, barn. Jo’s canoe helped characterize the length of the lodge.

We too, lunched on Cold River as has become the habit, and then turned around.

It was on the way back that the Painted Turtles, basking in the sun in order to thermoregulate, began to show themselves. As usual, they took on a Yoga-like pose with back feet extended to collect additional heat.

Like Jo, I want to come back to this world as an otter because they love to play in summer and winter, but a Painted Turtle might be my next choice if I ever feel the need to let winter pass by while I nestle into the mud.

Speaking of otters, we found stone pile after stone pile above the water, each a copy of the next. They line both sides of the river. In high water, they’re not visible, but with today’s low height, they were quite obvious. Upon this one we found a beaver chew stick that wasn’t there a week ago.

All are almost pyramid shaped, in a rounded sense, and constructed of varying sizes from gravel to stone potatoes. Not only did we find beaver chews upon a few, but fresh water mussel shells and the ever present acorns that are currently raining in such a fashion that one feels like the sky is falling.

The mussel shells would have indicated that the otters had been dining. And so we began to develop a story about otters piling the stones on purpose to confuse us. Beavers also took advantage of the piles so they became part of our interpretation.

I’ve asked several people about these formations and have a few theories of my own, but would love to hear your take on this. I suspect a few fishermen may have the answer about the stone piles.

Four hours after we started, today’s journey ended. I suspect it will be a while before I return, for so low is the water, but . . . you might twist my arm.

Thanks to Pam, and Trisha, and Jo: today I got to paddle into autumn in a most amazing place.

Making a New Friend, Naturally

I don’t always find it easy to get to know someone upon our first greeting, especially if our time together is brief. And sometimes it takes me a year or even longer to feel comfortable in the presence of another. But there was something a wee bit different about today’s encounter that encouraged me to break down any false barriers.

Maybe it was because at first glance I thought an old friend had stopped by for the clothing it wore on its back looked familiar.

But my old friend, Ashy, wears a cloak with a yellow triangular spot on segment eight on the coat tails and segments nine and ten have no coloration above.

If you look back at my new acquaintance, you’ll realize that the pattern is quite different all the way to the hem line.

That’s when I began to realize I was in the presence of someone I hadn’t had the pleasure to meet before. Or, if I had, perhaps I hadn’t taken the time to notice the idiosyncrasies that earned it a name. To really get to know him.

Notice, for instance, the wide black shoulder stripe on the side of his thorax.

And the spines along the thigh of his hind leg.

Those two features were key, but there was more to see: look at the thorax again. Can you see two long, thin bluish-green ovals and the “I” that separates them?

Because he looked similar in some ways to Ashy and another friend I know as Sir Lancelot, I wondered if he’d be comfortable with an up close and personal meeting.

It appeared he didn’t mind as my steel-gray-blue eyes peered into his of vivid green.

He didn’t stay on my finger long and despite the fact that he was at least a half inch longer than his cousins, he felt like a lightweight.

I, of course, could not let the chance encounter pass without another opportunity to gain a closer perspective.

He seemed to feel the same . . .

and ever so slowly climbed aboard again. Three times we stared at each other, but each time it was only for a brief period.

At last he flew off and I could only hope that he felt as excited about our meeting as I did.

My only other hope is that the next time we meet, I remember his name: Black-shouldered Spinyleg Clubtail Dragonfly or Dromogomphus spinosus.

Today, I made a new friend, naturally. And it wasn’t so hard after all.

The Secrets of Life Found Among the Dead

Dear Mr. Charles,

In 1882 you passed
from this life to the next,

but it appears
that your story
didn’t end there.

Today was the day
that in your nymph stage,
you chose
to emerge
from your underground burrow
where the sap
of plant roots
had sustained you
for several years.

While I walked about
and noticed
other forms of life
taking place within
the fenced land,

such as Robberflies
canoodling in their
tail-to-tail fashion,

and a Chipmunk
who made me think
the dead were walking
until I saw it
checking on me,

I also spotted
the larval skins
left behind by
many of your kin

who had chosen
a nearby tree trunk
and surrounding ground
for such a transformation.

Their thickened legs
spoke of the digging
your species endures
while in that
subterranean habitat.

You, however,
preferred your stone
for metamorphosis.

Ever so slowly
through a split
along your back,

your body,
pale-colored at first,
extended outward.

Large and chunky
with bulbous,
yet beady eyes,

and long,
thick-veined
and translucent wings,

you looked like
something out
of a sci-fi movie.

Hues of salmon.
pale green.
and aquamarine.

At first
your coloration
reminded me
of a pastel painting,

but over time
it became apparent
that your palette
changed with maturity

and eventually
looked more like
a camouflaged adult
who will spend time
in the nearby tree.

Left behind
was an empty shell
of your former self.

Our time together
came to an end
after periodic checks
over the course
of three hours.
I suspect by now
you’ve flown
to a tree
in search
of a mate.
The resulting eggs
will be laid
on a branch,
and your story
will come
to an end
once again,
Mr. Charles.
But never fear,
for the next generation
will carry on
the circle of life
as the larvae hatch
and fall to the ground,
where they’ll burrow
into the earth beneath
or somewhere very near
your resting place
before resurfacing
as young nymphs
ready as you were
to burst forth from
their exoskeletons
three years from now.

Thank you
for allowing me
to watch
on this day
as you shared
the secrets of
a Cicada’s life
while I wandered
among the dead

.

Blame it on the Monarchs

Some days I head out the door with eyes as big as those of a fly and then I try to stand in one place and watch what might pass by.

Unfortunately, I’m not always as patient as a robberfly and soon find myself pacing in search of the next great sight.

Even when it turns out to be a Japanese Beetle munching on a leaf, I’m not totally disappointed. After all, it does have such an incredible sense of color and fashion.

But what I really hoped to see I suddenly became aware of as first one, then two, three, four and even more Monarchs fluttered in their butterfly way, seeming to glide for a bit and then make an almost apparent decision to land before a change of mind until at last . . . upon the Milkweed it did pause.

Curious thing. So did another Japanese Beetle. That led me to wonder: how will these two get along and negotiate the territory?

The Monarch poked its straw-like proboscis into the heavenly-scented flowers as it sought sweetness while the beetle continued to move toward it.

But the beetle was on a mission of its own and the two seemed to co-exist side by side.

In fact, they were practically oblivious of each other. Unlike when a Common Yellowthroat tried to land and the Monarch chased it away.

Finally the butterfly crossed over to another flower on the tall stem and left the beetle behind.

I moved on as well, in search of others to focus on like the female Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly. How can it be that it’s already Meadowhawk season, the late bloomers in my book of dragonflies?

And yet, the colors of summer today included not only the pinks of Steeplebush, but also the yellows of goldenrods beginning to blossom.

Mixed into those colors and because of their movement and then moments of pausing, the Monarchs kept tugging at the strings of my heart and pulling me back into the moment.

And in that real time moment, I had the pleasure of spying couples in their canoodling fashion, though they tended to be much more elusive than some insects. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought the female was dead as the male flew along with her dangling below until he landed on a stem of choice. From what I’ve read, their mating can take up to sixteen hours. Oh my.

As it turned out, I soon discovered that at least one mating had resulted in at least one caterpillar. I suspect there will be more soon, but this one will have a head start on munching its way through the Milkweed kingdom.

All the while that I stalked the Monarchs, a Common Yellowthroat did its own stalking, constantly announcing its location with chirps. And then I realized it had a caterpillar in its mouth as it moved among the stems of the Spreading Dogbane. Oh dear. Fortunately it wasn’t a Monarch caterpillar, but will it be only a matter of time?

A few more steps and I noticed a Katydid on a Milkweed leaf. Oh yikes. So many visitors who like to munch.

For the moment all bets are placed on only one Monarch caterpillar to continue the life cycle.

Blame it on the Monarchs for calling me back to the same spot I’ve been stalking for a few weeks and giving me the opportunity to notice them mating and the results of such actions and other insects as well.

Want to learn more? The Greater Lovell Land Trust will offer these two programs:

July 31, 7:00 pm, Monarchs at Risk with Don Bennett 

Recent censuses show the smallest Monarch butterfly populations in Mexico and the west coast hibernacula in recorded history. Why is this happening? Is there anything we can do?  Are drastic declines in the Monarch populations a sign of something more insidious? Come listen to Naturalist Don Bennett, PhD, and discover why this is such an important message for all of us. 

Location: Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, Route 5, Lovell

August 1, 9:30 am – noon: Monarchs in the field: Monarch butterflies need milkweed plants to survive — as caterpillars they only eat milkweed and Monarch moms lay their eggs on the milkweed plant. We’ll take a walk along a dirt road that abuts a farm field and river, where milkweed grows in abundance and search for Monarchs and other butterflies. 

Location: Meet behind the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library to carpool.

Degree of Difficulty: Easy

The Old and New Friends of Mountain Pond

Friends Pam and Bob Katz, whom I haven’t known forever but feel like it’s been at least a lifetime, invited me to join them to circle Mountain Pond outside Jackson, New Hampshire today. The trailhead is located off Town Hall Road that follows Slippery Brook.

At the sign we turned in to the parking area and began our journey on foot.

Only a few steps in, we were stopped in our tracks by the wooly growths upon the Speckled Alders. The soft, fluffy fibers could have been cotton plants. But then they moved. In a creepy sort of way.

As we looked more closely we began to see that some were winged in form, a sight new to our eyes and understanding. Meet the Wooly Alder Aphids.

Much more to our liking were the tracks we found in mud, including Bobcat and . . .

a small Moose. The Bobcat had crossed perpendicular to the trail as one might expect for its preferred corridor is about forty feet wide and doesn’t necessarily follow a man-made path. The Moose wasn’t so particular and we followed its prints for a while before it disappeared into the wildness of this place.

While we loved seeing the mammal tracks, it was the insects and flowers that really pulled us in, including a Flower Longhorned Beetle.

And the ever delightful and dainty Wood Sorrel that makes me think of the Candy Strippers who worked as hospital aides in the books of my youth.

If the Candy Strippers needed slippers, they’d come to the right shop for there were moccasins available nearby in the form of white Lady’s Slippers surprising us since they still looked a wee bit fresh.

At last we began to catch glimpses of the pond for which the trail had been named. But really, a Loon sounding a distress call pulled us toward the water’s edge. We only saw one in an aggressive mode, it’s body extended across the surface as it moved forward, but still heard the wild call of the other and assumed they were protecting a nest.

Our wildlife sightings continued as we continued and took turns spotting the wonders of the path, including a Garter Snake slithering away from us.

Once we were close to the water, our dragonfly sightings increased significantly, as did the bug detail and insect bites decreased giving us reason to celebrate these winged warriors, such as the Chalk-fronted Corporals that made a point of being our guides as they often paused in front of us and then flew a few feet ahead at our slightest movement.

The fact that I can occasionally sneak up on one and capture a close-up photo is always amazing.

Our next source of wonder, a lodge built by beavers beside the bank. It was one that didn’t appear to be currently in use, but had been mudded last fall.

Eventually we found a second lodge with a huge hole on the back side of it. The hole wasn’t necessarily a vent, but it did provide us a glimpse into the inner workings of the pond-side inn. This one hadn’t been mudded and so we suspected it had been abandoned, maybe due to the presence of parasites. Perhaps in the near future it will again host guests.

It was near the lodge that we began to spy Bullfrogs, their Ga-dunk voices every once in a while rising in a chorus.

Notice the tympanic membrane or eardrum located behind the eye–it was bigger than his viewfinder, thus indicating his gender.

Not too far away a few ladies-in-waiting hung out on a log.

And in the water, two year old tadpoles, their bodies extra chunky, swam.

And morphed. Can you see the hind legs that had formed?

At last we pulled away from the water and continued on our way, when the Fly Honeysuckle gave us pause with its flowers of orange and yellow.

We weren’t the only ones in awe of it, for we spent some time watching this Canada Tiger Swallowtail flutter in a rather drunken way from one blossom to the next.

Because the flowers had been pollinated, some had already turned to their shiny red fruit form.

The butterflies were numerous and all the way around the pond we saw White Admirals either in flight or on the ground puddling, the latter a way of seeking nutrients from the damp soil.

An Atlantis Fritillary also graced us with its presence.

Another flyer insisted upon being noticed and I handed Pam a field guide to determine its name. A second or two later she announced it was a Powdered Dancer Damselfly, based on the coloration of its eyes, thorax, and abdomen.

My favorite flyer of the day, however, was the Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly with its thorax so red and abdomen a combination of green-black.

Even when we paused to gaze upon the lake and mountains in the distance, the Crimsons flew.

And landed–showing off their white faces for which they were named.

One couple even chose Pam’s arm and bracelet upon which to land and canoodle, appearing oblivious to our gawking eyes and awe-filled conversation.

I travelled around Mountain Pond today with “old” friends Pam and Bob and recognized others I’ve met numerous times before like the Bobcat, Moose, Garter Snake, and Wood Sorrel, but new relationships were also formed and I hope I’ll soon move from being a Crimson-ringed Whiteface’s acquaintance to a life-time friend.