I was early–a rare occasion as usually I’m the one who arrives at least ten minutes after the agreed upon time. It wasn’t always that way, but has become a bad habit. That said, it was a creature of habit that I went in search of because I had some time to spare.
And much to my delight a sign hanging from a tree announced what I’d hoped. Can you read it? The hemlock sprig dangling from the birch stating that So-and-So was in residence?
Suddenly I realized there were a million items shouting the obvious, scattered as they were upon the snow and rocks like neon signs on a city street: “So-and-So Slept Here;” “So-and-So’s Diner;” and “So-and-So’s Rest Rooms.”
Hemlock twigs with angled nips and singular scats spoke to So-and-So’s presence. Was So-and-So present? I could only hope so.
As I looked about, I noticed the signs dropped by one or two others, including one of whom I totally expected to surprise me as it has on several occasions in the recent past. While I didn’t startle the bird, I knew by its offering left on the rock that it continued to frequent the locale–do you see the “golden” cylinder among the brown scat? That would be a notice from the local grouse.
And then I stepped under the hemlock because there was more bird sign on the tree created by a Pileated Woodpecker and I hoped to find its scat. No such luck among the wood chips, but plenty more fresh pellets stating that the occupant was possibly in situ.
All the telltale signs were there. About one inch long. Comma shaped. Groove down the inside. Fresh. Did I say fresh?
From every angle the evidence was clear. I shouldn’t be standing below because just possibly that certain So-and-So might be resting above. And said being has been known to fall out of trees as I’ve told others while standing in this same spot on previous occasions. Did I say this is a creature of habit?
Whenever I visit I look up. But it’s not until winter that my sight is graced with that of such another. Can you see it? The anomaly in the canopy?
How about now? Do you see the dark blob sitting up there?
Porcupines are indeed creatures of habit and every winter I know certain places to locate a few locals, including this big guy. A guy? Yes, because it’s the males who tend to rest in trees during the day.
He was up there enjoying the cambium layer of the bark as witnessed by the goldeny color of the branch by his feet. All those downed twigs–apparently they were in his way so he nipped them off and dropped them to the ground in order to get to the nutrients he sought for his winter diet.
Check out his eye. We were both sharp observers as we eyed each other from a distance.
I’m a winter gal and snow and tracks and scat and bark and buds all pull me out the door on a daily basis as I try to understand who has traveled where and why, and through what natural community the journey has been made.
But now . . . I have another reason to slip outside: Bugs. And how they overwinter. And where.
On one tramp through the woods this past week, with eyes peeled for the tiniest movement on the snow or twigs or tree trunks, I spotted the fresh work of a Pileated Woodpecker. Though I would have loved to see the bird, I was equally thrilled to see the pile of debris below the hemlock tree. (And that gorgeous magenta-colored inner bark, of course.)
The fresh wood chips on the snow invited a closer examination. And you thought this post would be about bugs. But indeed it is for it’s Carpenter Ants that the bird sought. By the two clumps of bird scat that I found, it was obvious the woodpecker had been successful.
For you see, within the cylindrical casing coated with uric acid were body parts.
Ant body parts. Now, here’s the thing that I need to learn more about. I’ve watched Pileated Woodpeckers land on trees and pause, sometimes deciding to excavate, but other times moving on. And I’ve been told that they test the tree out and listen for the ants. I’ve never been able to prove that. But here’s the thing: what I learned today is that Carpenter Ants not insulated by snow or the warmth of your home enter diapause, a low-energy state that allows them to survive the cold and go for long periods without eating. So the question remains, how does the woodpecker know which tree to pick on, or is it a lucky strike?
Further along that same trail, I came upon the prints of a horse that had stymied me a few weeks ago when I tried to mentally turn its track pattern into either a bear or a moose, knowing full well that what I was seeing didn’t quite fit what I knew to be true of those species. Horse manure would have helped, but there was none to be seen . . . until the other day when a fresh plop in the middle of the trail offered an invite to look for insects seeking minerals upon it. I saw one small fly that I couldn’t identify, but beside the manure was this Winter Cranefly. It was a brisk day and today I learned that this species is only active when the temperature is below freezing. My kind of bug, indeed.
On another day and another trail, it was a Winter Firefly that drew attention. First, fireflies are not flies; they are beetles.
Second, unlike many beetles, Winter Fireflies overwinter as adults.
Third, Winter Fireflies are diurnal and don’t have lanterns to light up the night sky.
And fourth, though I find most tucked into the bark of maple trees, the first one this week was on a hemlock. After that, it seemed to be maples upon which I found others.
As the temperatures rise bit in the next month, they’ll become more active and will be visible crawling up the tree trunks and eventually flying. By summer, you’ll see not a one but their nocturnal cousins will light up the night.
One day, it was Snow Fleas, aka Spring Tails upon lichenized bark that garned a look.
And another day, upon another crustose lichen on a maple tree, shed larval skins of possibly Twice-Stabbed Lady Beetles were visible. Kinda creepy, especially when you are looking up-close and personal with a hand lens, but oh, so cool.
And then there were the spiders, thus the reason this isn’t just an Insect Safari. This minute eight-legged creature that practically ran across the bark must have had antifreeze in its blood.
Behind another piece of bark was this slightly active crab spider . . .
and its more dormant relatives hunkered down who had probably supercooled through the process of accumulating glycols in their blood (antifreeze again). Apparently, despite the below freezing temps, their tissues remained unfrozen and they won’t become spidercicles. How in the world did spiders and other critters physiologically adapt via the antifreeze compounds so that they won’t turn to ice?
It’s all a wonder to me.
Before I finish, let me leave you with one last image. It’s some sort of beetle, I know not what. And I don’t know what is on its wings–perhaps some sort of mite or parasite? When class reconvenes again, I will ask the instructor.
I am so excited to be taking Bugs In Winter, taught by Charley Eiseman, author of Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: a Guide to North American Species. Thank you to Maine Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood for suggesting it to me (perhaps so I’d stop sending him photos of mystery bugs and asking his advice).
The course has only just begun and a few naturalist friends are taking it with me. We have tons to learn and so I invite you to tag along cuze for the next two months I’m going to be on a Winter Bug Safari, which will then turn into Spring Bug Safari, and after that . . . you get the picture.
Perhaps some can walk in a straight line, but I’m not one of them. Even in our home, I find myself darting here and then there as one thought or another enters my mind and I need to check on this or look into that. So it was when I entered a wetland today.
My journey began with a destination toward a certain coppiced (many trunked) Red Maple but I knew ahead of time that I’d divert from the path that didn’t exist and scramble through the Buttonbush shrubs to visit a kettle hole that is groundwater dependent. Only two weeks ago, it was filled with much more water and I was surprised to find it so low today. And thrilled.
Behind the first “hole” or kettle is a second and between the two: tracks galore. The baby-hand look gave away the ID of the most frequent travelers: Raccoons.
But . . . where two weeks ago some friends and I spied Black Bear prints, today I noted the track of a large moose that had headed in the opposite direction of my foot. If you look carefully from the bottom of the photograph to the top left-hand corner, you’ll see three dark indentations, giving a sense of size: Mighty big.
After enjoying the first kettles for a while, I decided to bushwhack toward another. Again, my path was a zigzag and again the ground water was significantly lower. Why? Given that we finally had rain this week, I expected it to be higher, but by the state of the leaves on the trees, and the color of the plant life, it’s obvious that the drought has truly affected the landscape. Because of all the undergrowth and downed trees and branches that snap as one walks, I was hardly quiet in my approach, thus several Wood Ducks sang their “oo-eek, oo-eek” song as they took flight.
That was ok, for still I stood in silent reverence and thought about the soils under the water and how it must differ from that under the American Bur-reed, and how that soil must differ from that under the Buttonbush and Winterberry shrubs, and how that soil must differ from that under the Red and Silver Maples.
Pulling away at last, I journeyed forth in a continued erratic fashion, made even more erratic by the shrubs that acted like Hobblebush and persisted in trying to daunt my procession. Each foot had to find placement among branches only to then be confronted by fallen trees that don’t decompose so readily in this acidic neighborhood.
The obstacles were unsuccessful in pulling me to a complete stop and at last I arrived. Well, I’m not sure I’ll ever really arrive . . . anywhere. But I reached a point on my quest and zigzagged through the grasses and Leatherleaf and Swamp Candles. Once again, it was obvious by the plant life that the soil composition differed from one zone to the next.
Meandering about, occasionally I heard a slight “pop” at my feet.
You see, growing upon the Sphagnum Moss are thousands of Cranberry plants and I spent some time picking from the offerings, though I did note many soft ones–the result of last week’s frost. Still, they’ll make a good relish or sauce.
And in the same community, though a bit closer to the water and therefore finding a home on a soil that probably differed a bit from that which the cranberries preferred, a few robust Pitcher Plants showed off their always intriguing leaves and flowers gone by.
The now woody structure of this carnivorous plant is as interesting as the plant’s way of seeking nutrients in hydric (low-oxygen) soils. Though the petals had long since fallen, the round, five-celled fruit remained intact. The rusty-brown seed capsule, about ¾ inch in diameter, had begun to split open and exposed within were numerous seeds. Upon a closer look, I realized I wasn’t the only one observing this unique structure.
Do you see the teeny, tiny black and white insect? It wasn’t there for pollen, and so I began to wonder.
Would the insect eventually find its way down to the pitcher-shaped leaves and be enticed by the terminal red-lipstick lips, nectar glands, and brightly colored veins?
Would it follow the downward-pointing hairs into the trap below and not be able to crawl back out?
Would it become a snack, much as the insect in the water of the leaf on the left? You see, once the prey slides down through the hairs, it reaches a smooth zone where it encounters some sticky goo, thus making it even more difficult to climb out. And then, there’s the water, rainwater. It is there that the insect drowns, and is digested by bacteria and enzymes in the water. The resulting nutrients are then absorbed by the plant that grows in a habitat low in essential nutrients such as nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Actually, the tiny insect might not become a meal because it just might be a Pitcher-plant Midge, who has anti-enzymes to counteract the digestive enzymes in the fluid, and feeds on the plant’s decomposed insects. There’s also a type of mosquito and flesh fly that survive in the same manner.
Mostly hidden by other plant forms, another Pitcher Plant grows a few feet away, but its leaves are much greener due to its shadier habitat.
As I looked at the plants at my feet, suddenly I heard the bugling, rattle-like sound of Sandhill Cranes. Take a listen.
Rather than return via the “path” I’d created into the bog, I had to go in search, certain that I might be disappointed.
I was so certain I’d be disappointed because my approach was rather loud.
At last I reached the edge of the largest kettle of all. And scanned the scene.
Suddenly to my right three large birds emerged from behind the Buttonbush. I’d found the cranes. But as I fumbled switching cameras, they flew off, rattling all the way.
Still, there was more movement where they had been and for a few seconds I watched three Greater Yellowlegs Sandpipers until they also flew off.
And so I began to wander back, at times totally uncertain of my whereabouts, though by the sky and trees ahead I thought I was headed in the correct direction. Still, it felt rather jungle-like among so many Winterberries. The curious thing: two weeks ago there had been many other berries including Witherod or Wild Raisin. Apparently the birds that I heard all around me had been feasting.
A flock of Northern Flickers darted here and there. I know they are seed eaters, but they’ll also eat fruits. Perhaps it was they? And so many others in the midst of migration.
I know it wasn’t the Great Blue Heron who suddenly flew up into a tree and preened. His intention would have been on the aquatic life in the kettles.
Adding my stomach growls to the scene, I knew it was time for me to depart. Still I stood, taking it all in.
A layered life. Where hours pass like moments. And life transpires while fruits form.
I am grateful to wander and wonder and wonder and wander some more.
And opens to a wonderful view of the mountains to the west. This isn’t actually the summit of the mountain, but it’s close to the boundary line of land open to the public. The trail continues for another half mile and as we did in the spring, we followed it–hoping against hope and because someone told us it was true, that a loop around the top had been completed. Take it from us: that is false information. But still, we hiked six miles in three hours. And . . . those were the only photos I took. My guy was in as much disbelief as I was. To say we practically ran down the trail would be an understatement.
By contrast, and my guy laughs at this, yesterday a friend and I traveled a different route and covered three miles in five hours.
We were in the land of the Green Frogs . . . and wildflowers and birds and chipmunks and shrubs and trees, but our best finds of all were a couple of insects.
It all began with a seedhead we couldn’t recall meeting before. Who was this Cousin Itt? Turns out–a Roundhead Bushclover.
It also turns out that Western Conifer Seed Bugs (WCSB) had already made its acquaintance. We were certainly late to the party. But really, it was a clover species that was new to us. Apparently it’s high in protein and a preferred treat for wildlife–from mammals to insects.
As we looked, two other insects thought (can insects think?) they were hiding from our inquisitive eyes, but . . . we found them on the backside and quickly realized their backsides were connected.
In canoodle fashion they mated. Once we established that, we tried to determine their names. As I said to my companion, names don’t matter as much as the characteristics, but still, we agreed, we like to know upon whom we’ve focused our attention. And so our study began. Initially, the insect in the foreground reminded us of the WCSB, but there were subtle differences in color and structure. Their main food is seeds, which they pierce with their proboscis to drink the nutritious fluids contained within.
These bugs mainly inhabit fairly arid and sandy habitat and we were certainly in such at a place known as Goose Pasture. It also seemed to be the preferred habitat of the Round-Headed Bushclover.
Upon another clover we were intrigued by a creature that made us first think this: Ant. But . . . if we’ve learned nothing else in this darn pandemic, it’s to question the information presented. What looks like an ant but isn’t an ant? Why, an ant mimic, of course. Our takeaways: long horns or antennae; modified wings; and a butt that looks like a face, perhaps warning others to stay away?
If you look back at the canoodlers, you’ll notice this critter and the smaller mating insect are rather similar . ,. . because they are indeed one in the same in terms of species.
I was confounded as I often am with intriguing insects and so I reached out to my entemologist friend, Anthony. And . . . he confirmed my guesses. A Broad-headed Bug: Alydus eurinus.
In the same area, a teeny butterfly flew in to tap check the asters.
Her markings and coloration pointed toward the ID of a Northern Crescent. My wow moments included the black and white pattern of her antennae as well as her grayish green eyes that seemed almost as big as the Green Frogs–speaking relatively due to size, of course.
With her proboscis did she probe and I’m sure lots of nectar was sought. I am making a gender assumption for I don’t know for sure–the female is supposed to be larger and darker than the male. Without seeing two together, I couldn’t make a size reference but this one certainly had darker colors.
And I’d be remiss to dismiss the female White-faced Meadowhawk who followed us most of the way and has reached its peak flying season. There were other species to note, but they eluded my camera’s focus, so they’ll have to remain but a memory.
Today, my guy and I hiked up a mountain and reveled in the fact that the trail is so well constructed that one hardly feels like one is climbing higher and higher.
But yesterday offered a taste of Brigadoon and for the Broad-headed Bugs perhaps it was just that. It often feels that way to me.
As many of you know, I’ve never been a party girl, much preferring to hide in the wings and be the wallflower at the edge of the crowd, but when the invite arrived today, how could I resist?
It didn’t give an actual location, but by the photo I suspected I knew where in the yard would I meet my friends.
Immediately upon entering, I wished I’d waited a bit for the Ambush Bugs had already discovered each other and chose the corner I preferred as their hide-away spot in which to mate. Really, shouldn’t they have gotten a room?
At last, however, I discovered others who like me were solo for the party, this being a Mason Wasp. His eye was on the bar and nectar was the drink of choice.
While I inquired about something to sip upon, into the middle of the space danced a pair of Thread-waisted Wasps. She seemed rather oblivious to his advances.
They maneuvered this way . . .
and that. No matter which way they swayed, he clung on.
At times I wondered if she really appreciated his clingy mannersim.
At best, she seemed to tolerate him. But never did she let him get any closer.
For over an hour, we all watched from the edges as they sashayed back and forth across the dance floor. Maybe he clung so close because he hoped to get lucky in the near future, or maybe they’d already finished canoodling and he wanted to make sure that it was eggs he’d fertilized that she laid, much the way male dragonflies hold on until the female of their intentions do the same.
Meanwhile, back in the corner, the Ambush Bugs began to separate as he climbed down off of her. And below them, another insect that might become their choice at the buffet table lingered.
Finding a stem all its own upon which to practice its own dance steps was a Locust Borer decked out in fancy dress clothes.
Also dressed to the nines was a Flesh Fly wearing gray pin stripes.
As the party continued, I soon realized that the Mason Wasp was a tease.
Or so it seemed as its antennae played with a shy Crab Spider waiting under the buffet for a morsel upon which to dine.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the spider–who was certain it was about to score, only to discover it had been outsmarted. But that’s the way it is in these social affairs as a variety of personalities come together to greet each other and yet satisfy their own needs.
At last the hour had chimed and it was time for all of us to depart. As I stepped through the doorway, a final greeting was bestowed . . . by an Assassin Bug Nymph completely camouflaged by the flower’s greenery.
With that, my visit to the two-hour Goldenrod Gala was completed and I gave thanks for the invite to such a pop-up event. A social gathering of my type, indeed.
But the thing is that last week I took part in a poetry workshop offered through Greater Lovell Land Trust by Poet Judith Steinbergh. The title of the workshop was “Caring for Our Earth and Waters.” Judy shared various poems with us through a remote gathering and asked us to read them aloud while thinking “about what we might visualize from the images, and how the sounds and form blend together with the image and feeling.”
She encouraged us to make notes and suggested some different approaches: speak to the subject; become the subject; instruct the reader; show feelings toward the subject. She even gave us some beginnings and endings that might inspire us to begin.
And then she concluded with “Poetry Revision Guidelines,” which included such practices as reading the poem aloud several times, questioning whether or not the opening was strong enough, maintaining focus, creating images the reader could visualize, using tight language, finding a rhythm, helping the reader gain insight, and providing appropriate breaks.
We had one week to write a poem, submit it to Judy for comments, and then the big night would come: The Reading.
Just as it’s scary to publish in this blog manner or via Lake Living magazine and other avenues I’ve used over the years, it’s equally terrifying to read aloud–especially when you can see yourself on the computer screen.
But that’s what some of us did the other night for the remote Poetry Reading and you can watch and listen in: GLLT Poetry Reading 2020
My original subject was a pine tree, but after watching the magical emergence of cicadas last week, I knew I had to write about that experience. Figuring out the angle was much more difficult and I tried a variety of avenues. In the end, I chose a style that works best for me, teaching through imagery.
It’s not a done deal, mind you, for it is my belief that there is no such thing as a final draft. OK, so that’s my default in case you don’t think this works or have suggestions to improve my attempt. All comments are welcome. It’s only a draft and I haven’t written 18 drafts yet as I often do with an article. I’m at 7 or 8.
By Leigh Macmillen Hayes, 7/19/2020
To walk into a cemetery on a summer day
And find an insect metamorphosing upon a stone
I begin to understand the process of resurrection.
A life well spent questing sap for sustenance
Prepares to crawl free of its past
And reach for heavenly aspirations.
Through a tiny slit, a spirit no longer contained
Emerges head first as a teneral shape develops
with bulging eyes to view a new world.
Gradually, a pale tourmaline-colored body extends outward
With stained-glass wings unfurling
That provide baby steps toward freedom beyond.
I mourn the loss of your former soul
But give thanks for a peek at your upcoming ascension
From this place to the next.
It is not for me to know when you will first use the gift of flight
As I didn’t know when you would shed your old skin,
And I quickly offer a final goodbye when I see your wings spread.
I rejoice that I’ll spend the rest of the summer
Listening to your raspy love songs
Playing nature’s lullabies upon violin strings from above.
On this day, I celebrate the secrets of a cicada’s life,
Dying to the old ways and rising to new,
While I wander among the graves of others who have done the same.
To all who joined the Poetry Workshop or the Poetry Reading or wished they could, and especially to Judy Steinbergh, I dedicate this post. Thank you for sharing.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.