Book of September: wishtree

When Alanna Doughty, education director at Lakes Environmental Association, mentioned she’d watched a trailer about a book entitled wishtree by Katherine Applegate and immediately walked to Bridgton Books to purchase it and that night began reading it to her girls and thought I might like it as well, I listened and then drove to the bookstore and purchased it yesterday and here I am today to tell you that you should do the same.

wishtree

In fact, this should be required reading for every child and every adult. Every. Adult. You see, the story is about a northern red oak, but not an ordinary Quercus rubra, for Red, as it is known, can talk. And tell corny jokes. And philosophize, though not in a tedious or pompous way. And teach. All of us. About life. And tolerance.

On one level, it reminds me of our barn, which just happens to be painted red and is towered over by a red oak, and serves as a home, or at least a pass under, for skunks and raccoons and woodchucks and porcupines and red and gray squirrels and mice and the neighborhood cats and all seem to live in perfect harmony beneath it. Well, all except the mice that is.

But the book isn’t just about the animals that call the hollows of the tree home, it’s about the people who live nearby. And really, it’s about all people. In the neighborhood. In the town. In the state. In the nation. Across the globe.

The tale of tolerance is told in such a manner that each short chapter with its surprise ending could stand alone like delectable little nuggets. And maybe they should be read in such a way. One. Chapter. At. A. Time. I rushed through it last night, mesmerized,  but this morning I began reading wishtree again. And actually, I think it shall become a bathroom book, that place where many of my favorites end up so I can return to them frequently for short intervals. Wink.

Scientific terms are subtly introduced. And the sketches enhance the story.

Published in 2017, its a book that is written for our times, but should become a classic, much like The Giving Tree. I don’t want to give the story away, but I do want you to read it. You can learn more by visiting the wishtree website, where you can even add your own wish.

Or be like Alanna, read the story aloud to your children or partner or the air around you, find your own “Red,” and leave a wish and some yarn and snippets of paper for others to do the same.

But especially, don’t forget to take the message of wishtree with you everywhere you go. I hope I remember to do the same.

wishtree by Katherine Applegate, published 2017, Fiewel and Friends, an imprint of mackids.com.

 

 

 

The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode seven

We never know when the clue will appear and so it was a complete surprise to find it this morning. “Drive 50 or so miles north and locate the Big A near the table.”

1-Big A

We took our chances and drove to Bethel and then on to Newry and beyond. Lo and behold–the Big A appeared. And so we parked across the street, slipped into our hiking boots, and began the journey. At the time that we arrived, we were the only contestants, so we wondered if we were behind or ahead.

2-easy path

At first the trail was deceivingly flat. “I’ve got this,” I thought.

3-rungs on rocks

But we soon came to a point where the white-blazed trail headed to the left and the orange-blazed trail to the right. We had a choice to make. White would mean a bit further journey, but it was easier. Orange was much more difficult, but if we played our cards right, we might ascend quickly. It wasn’t long before we realized that our hearts pulsed rapidly. And then we met Team Livermore . . . and passed them. They are younger than us, so I was feeling a bit smug. Until we came to the wrought iron rungs. I guess I was shaking a bit, from the looks of the photo, but really, climbing up the rungs was a piece of cake compared to the rest of the scramble . . .

4-climbing higher

over the steep, boulder-strewn trail.

5-trail map on boulder

Along the way, I paused periodically pretending to note things like a boulder covered with a moss map . . .

6-spider web

and an orb web sparkling in a bit of sunlight. The truth is that I was catching my breath. After seeing the web I had to put the camera away, for we’d reached a point where we needed the use of both hands. And just above the web my mind shut down as My Guy stepped from one boulder over a gaping hole to the next. He patiently told me where to place each foot, and try as I might, I couldn’t move. I was certain that hole would swallow me whole. Along came Team Livermore and I knew we were skunked, but I had to let them pass. They made it look effortless and so four more times I attempted to make the crossing, and on the fifth try I went for it. And I’m here to write about it, so obviously I lived.

7-contemplating

Team Livermore may have passed us, but we soon caught up and moved ahead. We kept thinking we were about to reach the summit, when the rock would indicate otherwise and at one point we had to hike down a bit before climbing up again, which didn’t seem quite fair given how hard we’d worked. But then again, rock is rock and we certainly didn’t want to climb directly up its face.

11-to the north

At last–success. We found the table we’d sought: The summit of Table Rock.

12-message in the slides?

Before us, The Eyebrow and Old Speck.

13-Sunday River Whitecap

To the south, Sunday River Whitecap.

We didn’t stay too long on top for we weren’t hungry yet. And Team Cape Cod showed up. They’d chosen to come up the easier trail, so we knew we were ahead of them. We do like them though, so we hoped they wouldn’t be too far behind. Just as we started to make our way down, Team Speedy came along via the orange-blazed trail. We’ve had them on our tail in previous episodes and they have a bit of an attitude. That being said, we did what we often do–we practically ran down the blue and then white-blazed trails.

16-lunch rock

At lunch rock, we paused briefly beside the water and contemplated the map for a moment, making sure that we were headed in the right direction.

Further along we met a couple from New Hampshire–thru-hikers who had started in Georgia in March. We had nothing in our packs to offer them in terms of extra food, but bid them good tidings. Soon after, we heard Team Speedy again, and so with even more gusto, we finished our descent.

20-aster

Before moving on, we had a couple of tasks to complete. The first was to share photos of a flower–we chose the purple asters;

19-trillium fruit

a fruiting plant–trillium;

18-cup mushroom

and a fruiting mushroom–ours being one of the cup variety.

21-A # 2

We also had been instructed to find two more examples of the letter A, and so here is one . . .

22-A # 3

and the other. All were in honor of the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.

24-moose cave below

Making our way south on the road, our next clue indicated that we needed to find a moose, or at least evidence that one had been there previously. And so we found this deep cave, which the photo doesn’t do justice.

23-Moose Cave

As the local lore goes, however, a moose once fell in.

26-Mother Walker Falls

We were also instructed to find Mother Walker. We found the falls named for her that flowed through a gorge.

27-mother load of Indian pipe

And we found a mother lode of Indian Pipes, all turned upright because they’d recently been fertilized. But who was Mother Walker? We never found the answer to that question.

29-Screw Auger Falls

With two stops left to make before finding the mat and finishing today’s leg of the race, we needed to locate a screw. Heck, I was with a hardware guy so that should have been easy.

30-upper falls

But this screw was in the form of a water fall. Screw Auger Falls. In the 1800s, settlers had built a saw mill directly over the falls that was powered by the current. A screw auger is a hand tool used for boring holes in hard material. It all began to make sense.

31-Arch

While we were there, we took in a view of the arch, just in case we encounter a question about it should we make it successfully to the end of race.

32-lower falls

And the falls below, were the story of water and glaciers was carved into the bedrock.

33-PIes for Sale

And then, and then, we continued south to a spot where we were told to fulfill our sweet tooth craving.

34-Puzzle Mtn Bakery

As we contemplated all of the possibilities, three folks came along in a truck (two of them from Norway, Maine, and the third visiting from San Francisco), bought a pie and gave us the money to buy one as well. But we had enough money. So we felt awkward, though we promised to pay it forward.

35-cash only

My Guy had just put the $20 into the metal tank when a vehicle from New York pulled in and a young couple stepped out. He walked over and told them about the previous couple, gave them $10 for their pie and asked them to pay it forward. Ahhh. Maine, the way life should be. And is!

36-Moose

At last, our final stop–we crossed the mat and learned we were first yet again.

37-beer

While sipping a celebratory brew, Team Speedy came in. Bingo! They were second in place. Drats. But at least we beat them. We never saw the other teams.

38-My Guy and me!

All in all, The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode seven was most gratifying as we successfully summited Table Rock in Grafton Notch. Thanks to Team Cape Cod for taking a photo of us.

Oh, and dessert tonight will be . . . Maine Wild Blueberry a la Puzzle Mountain Bakery and the kind folks from Norway, Maine.

 

 

 

Flying With John A. Segur

I never had the honor of meeting Mr. Segur, but it was my honor to be his eyes for a short time today as I wandered down the short trail off New Road in Lovell at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge. Upon his death, a bequest in his name was left to the land trust to preserve habitat for native wildlife to thrive.

The JAS Wildlife Refuge actually encompasses 592 acres and I only explored the .3 mile trail on the western section of the property, but on an extremely hot summer day my finds were enough. Follow me and I think you’ll see what I mean.

j1-Across from the sign and telephone pole

First off, you need to locate the small undefined parking lot. It’s about a mile beyond Foxboro Road, but I don’t pay attention to that. Rather, I look for the “No Thru Trucks” sign and turn on my left-hand blinker as soon as I spot it.

j2-trail and kiosk

Just beyond a couple of boulders placed to keep vehicles from driving down the old skidder trail, stands the kiosk where you can take a look at the trail map and check out some other GLLT materials.

j3-map

As I said, this is just a small part of the overall refuge, but it’s well worth an exploration, especially if you don’t have much time (though some of us have been known to spend at least three hours making our way down and back).

j3a-the trail mowed

Recently, the GLLT’s Associate Team and Intern mowed the trail, making it passable and not quite so tick-infested. But . . . still take precautions. Always! The trail is rather level, so it’s an easy one to travel.

j4-daisy and crab spider

This is a place where you’ll find the ordinary, like a daisy. And trying to decide if “he loves me, he loves me not,” you might see a small crab spider.

j5-sundews

This is also the land of the extraordinary–in the form of the carnivorous Round-leaved Sundews. Check out the glistening droplets at the ends of the hair-like tendrils that  extend from each round leaf. The droplets are actually quite sticky. Just like a spider sensing a bug on its web, the tendrils detect the presence of prey and then curl inward, thus trapping the prey.  The whole leaf will eventually wrap around the insect and in the process of digesting it, the plant will absorb the bug’s nutrients. Sundews tend to grow in areas that lack sufficient nutrients, so this is the plant’s way of supplementing its diet. And if that wasn’t enough–it was just plain beautiful.

All that being said, this is a tiny plant and right now preparing to flower. So, if you travel this way, about a tenth of a mile into your journey, look down at your feet for these minute gems, take a closer look, and then walk with care.

j6-sweet-fern

Further along the trail you’ll see a few species of ferns, as well as the fern that isn’t a fern. Sweet-fern is so named for it’s fern-like appearance, but it has a woody stem and is actually a shrub. It’s yellowish green flowers that first appeared in spring were giving way to greenish brown, burr-like nutlets. In any season, this shrub has such variation to offer, that like hobblebush, I can’t resist honoring it with a million photographs.

j8-raspberries

One of the sweet joys of this trail is that because of previous logging, early succession is taking place in terms of the plants and trees that grow beside the trail, including blackberries not quite ripe and these raspberries already offering a delightful reprieve on a humid summer day.

j14-the field

Eventually, the trail leads to the turn-around point, the old log landing, which also displayed signs of forest succession, for its there that some wildflowers and sweet-ferns grow in the center. At the perimeter, white pines, gray birch and blackberries crowd each other.

j10-four-spotted with food

And on the edge, the dragonflies fly. And dine. This Four-spotted Dragonfly settled on a dead red pine to consume an insect.

j11-4 spotted eating

Ever so slowly . . .

j12-feeding frenzy

the body disappeared into its mouth.

j13-4 spotted, back view

While it was busy eating, I was busied myself in getting as close as possible to enjoy all of its nuances, from the four spots on its wings, to the basal display on the hind wings to the placement of its eyes and colors on its thorax and abdomen. All of those details help in ID.

j15-old coyote scat

And then into the field I went, with a memory of a winter expedition when we noticed that a shrike had deposited a mouse in a tree. Today’s finds included a pile of old coyote scat probably also deposited this past winter that indicated a territory repeatedly marked.

j16-turtle?

I also spied lots of recently made depressions. While one might suspect dust baths by a turkey or grouse, feathers are usually left behind in the process. Instead, the ground was more disturbed and because the landing is close to Bradley Brook, I determined I was looking at recently dug holes made by turtles. Snappers and painted turtles have been depositing eggs recently and these may be the incubation nurseries for their offspring.

j16-racket-tailed emerald

As I turned back toward the trail, I noticed a dragonfly seeking shade, for so hot was it. Notice the bright green eyes of the Racket-tailed Emerald. Thank goodness for those emerald eyes that always help in narrowing down the choices.

j18-common dewberry:sphinx moth

I found it a bit more difficult to ID the sphinx moth that paid a visit to the Dewberries. There are only 1,450 species in the Sphingidae family, but my leaning was toward Nessus Sphinx, though I could be totally off on that one.

j20-Northern-bush Honeysuckle

I was much more confident about my ID of the native Northern-bush Honeysuckle with its greenish-yellowish-orangish flowers. The plant is actually a shrub with a woody stem, and one that moose and deer like. I’ve yet to see a moose print along this piece of the property, but I know its part of a deer yard.

j21-Spotted St. John's-wort

Also springing forth with yellow blossoms was Spotted St. John’s-wort, with its translucent spots on the leaves and tiny black dots outlining its petals.

j22-whorled yellow-loosestrife

And not to be overlooked, the Whorled Yellow-Loosestrife with its cheery flowers extended in a whorl from the stem by long petioles.

j23-hitchiker

My journey wasn’t long, but with all that I saw, I was thankful for the spirit of Mr. Segur that flies over this place.

Just possibly, he graced me with his presence today . . . in the form of Spangled Skimmer.

Self-Guided Tour of Sabattus Mountain

As stories go, Sabattus Mountain in Lovell offers plenty of lore. For starters, there’s the name of the mountain. I’ve heard at least two tales and seen three spellings, but basically the legend is the same–about a Pequawket named Sabatos, Sabatis, or Sabattus, who guided hunters and one day killed a lynx, or was it a mountain lion, before it sprang upon him.

In a July 14, 2017 article, Ed Parsons of the Conway Daily Sun wrote: “Sabattus was born in St. Francis, Canada, and with the influence of French missionaries, was named for St. John the Baptist, shortened to Sabattus. When Roger’s Rangers destroyed St. Francis in 1759, Sabattus was about 10 years old. He was kidnapped and went south with the rangers. Later, he went to Fryeburg with one of them, and spent the rest of his life in the area.

Sabattus had two children with the well-known area healer, Molly Ockett. In 1783, an earlier wife of his returned from a long trip to Canada, and claimed to be his spouse. To settle the dispute, Sabattus took them to the house of Mr. Wiley in Fryeburg so there would be a witness, and the two women fought, “hair and cloth flying everywhere.” Mrs. St. Francis, as Molly Ockett called the former wife, was stronger and won out. Molly Ockett left and moved to Andover, Maine.

There’s also the Devil’s Staircase, but that’s for another day.

s1-sign

Two Land for Maine’s Future program grants, along with funding from the Greater Lovell Land Trust, enabled the State of Maine to purchase 177 acres on and around Sabattus Mountain, protecting hiking access to Lovell’s highest peak. The trail is a 1.6-mile loop to and from the 1,253-foot summit. Sabattus Mountain is now owned and managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands. The land trust, however, has taken a keen interest in upkeep of the trail system recently because there had been much erosion ever since Hurricane Irene and the State seemed to back off maintaining it. Last year, the GLLT’s three interns built numerous water bars, especially on the eastern trail.

s6-Brent's Loop Trail Sign

Last week, Brent Legere of Lovell Box Company and Western Maine Slabworks, installed new signs to guide hikers on the trail system.

s2-self-guided nature walk

Today, a team of docents, associates and this year’s intern, under the well-organized leadership of GLLT Docent and Maine Master Naturalist Joan Lundin, installed informational signage along the loop.

s3-explaining the plan

The morning began as Joan divided the team into two groups. First she instructed Intern Isaiah (in red) and Stewardship Associate Dakota (in plaid), to take one set of signs up the western trail and leave them beside examples of particular species on the way.

s5-all smiles to go

Then she prepped Associate Director Aidan, and GLLT Docents Nancy and Pam in the plan for the eastern trail.

s4-signs

All signs were laid out and ready to be hauled up the trails for installation.

s12-hi ho

And so, in true Seven Dwarf style, it was hi ho, hi ho and off to work we went.

s7-installing the first sign

Because she’d climbed the trail so often in order to prepare for today’s undertaking, Joan knew right where each sign belonged. At the start, she did most of the installing, showing off her muscle power on this steamy day, despite her petite physique.

s8-yellow birch

Each sign included common and scientific names, plus only a few key characteristics so not to overwhelm those who might stop to read them and look around to locate the particular species. It’s a technique decided long ago by the full team of docents who have undertaken this task each summer for years–always along a different GLLT trail.

s9-striped maple

The natural community along both trails on the loop system transitioned about two-thirds of the way up. For the lower portion, the community consisted of a variety of deciduous trees.

s13-hemlock

Suddenly everything changed. Light turned to shade. Dry turned to damp. Leaves turned to needles. And conifers showed off their unique characteristics.

s14-sphagnum moss

Even the forest floor changed from dried leaves and wildflowers to green mosses, including sphagnum, with its pom-pom shaped heads.

s15-loop trail sign at ridge

As we hiked up the eastern trail, Dakota and Isaiah swung along the ridge line and came down to find us for they had only placed their signs along the western trail as instructed by Joan, and hadn’t yet pounded them into the earth. We chatted as we moved upward, talking about the turn ahead to the ridge, and Dakota told us we’d be pleased with how obvious it was since Brent had installed the new signs. Indeed!

s16-glacial erratic

Of course, we were a group that failed at following directions, and so off trail we went to check on the glacial erratic that we knew stood just beyond a downed tree.

s17-porcupine scat

We also checked underneath, for who doesn’t like to look at porcupine scat. New and old, though not especially fresh, it’s been a winter den for at least 30+ years that I’ve been climbing this mountain.

s18-Canada mayflower

And then Joan redirected us, pulling us back into the mission of the morning and finding a place to post the Canada Mayflower sign–between the granite slabs at our feet.

s19-window on the world beyond

Making our way across the ridge, we paused for a second to look out the window upon the world beyond. It’s from heights like this one that we always appreciate how much of Maine is still forested. At a recent gathering with District Forester Shane Duigan, he said that the state is 85% forested–down from 90% not because of urban sprawl, but instead increased farming.

s20-main summit signs

A few minutes later we reached the main summit, where Brent had posted more signs. They’re nailed to a White Pine and mark the intersection of the ridge trail and western loop, with a spur to the western-facing ledges and scenic overlook.

s21-white pine

That very White Pine was also on Joan’s list as an excellent example, and so it will be noticed for a while.

s22-Keyes Pond and Pleasant Mtn

For a few minutes, we took in the wider view to the south–noting Keyes Pond in Sweden and Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton, both part of the great beyond.

s23-scenic view

And then a quick trip out to the scenic overlook, where the sweeping view included the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake and pyramid outline of Mount Kearsarge in North Conway.

s24-scenic view 2

Turning a wee bit to the north, the view also encompassed more of Kezar Lake, and the White Mountains.

s25-chipmunk

On the way down, we continued, or rather, the rest of the team continued to install the signs while I watched, and one quiet chipmunk with a piece of a leaf dangling from its mouth looked on with approval. We assumed it approved, for it didn’t chatter at us.

s26-teamwork

It seemed the signs on the western trail went into place far more quickly than on the climb up, but maybe it was because there weren’t as many. We did pause for a few minutes as Isaiah and Dakota changed out one sign for another because the species Joan wanted to feature wasn’t as prominent as hoped. But, she was prepared with extra laminated cards and quickly produced a description of an alternate species.

s27-plank

We were nearly finished with our morning’s work when we reached the new plank bridge Brent had placed across a small stream.

s28-white admiral

Back at the parking lot, we were wowed by the sight of pollinators upon the Staghorn Sumac, including a White Admiral Butterfly.

With that, our tour was done for the day, but we’d met several people along the way who were thrilled with the work we’d done. We hope you, too, will partake of the pleasant hike up Sabattus Mountain, and stop along the way to enjoy the self-guided tour. It will be in place until Labor Day weekend.

And be sure to stop by the office on Route 5 and make a contribution to the Greater Lovell Land Trust for we are a membership-driven organization and can’t do such work without your continued support.

P.S. Thank you Self-guided Tour Docents and GLLT staff, plus Property Steward Brent.

 

 

Dear Earth

Dear Earth,

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

e1-Mount Washington

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

e2-vernal pool

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

e4-dorsal amplexus

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

e5-dead frog

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

e7-leaf variety

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

e8-frog 1

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

e8-wood frog 1a

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

e9a--wood frog 3

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

e10-mosquito larvae

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

e11- snowmobile trail

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

e11a-boots

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

e11b-Mansion Road

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

e14-deer dance

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

e12-buck

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

e11c-coyote scat

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

e18-vernal pool near landing

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

e15-wood frog egg masses

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

e17-wood frog egg mass

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

e16-wood frog 5

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

e19-wood frog under log

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

e21-log landing

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

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

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

e22-frog 7

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

e23-Mourning Cloak butterfly

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

e24-mourning cloak

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

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

Sincerely,

wondermyway

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kinship With All Forms of Life

I walked today with intent, as I sometimes do, only that intention morphed between the beginning and ending of my journey. You see, I awoke with a need to reach a certain heron rookery that I’ve helped monitor for the Heron Observation Network of Maine during the off-season,  before the owner of the land returns. It’s a bit of a bushwhack to reach the site and in the past, I’ve accompanied Tom for this citizen science effort. Each spring, we’ve visited it at least once to count the number of nests and adults. Sadly, Tom won’t be joining me this year and so I headed off this morning to see what I might see–and be his eyes.

m1-squirrel

They were big eyes to fill–as big as the red squirrel who paused to watch me and then dashed along a stonewall on a mission of its own making.

m2-brook peek

Initially, the journey was a bit of a bee line as I followed a snowmobile trail. It was there that I delighted in the color of the sky and realized that most of the ice had melted on the beaver pond and brook below. I could have headed down to the water’s edge then, but chose to continue toward my destination.

m3-beaver dam inactive

I was almost there, when an old beaver dam forced me to stop. And then I heard a loud crash. I scanned the area and stood still–listening, waiting, wishing.

And then another noise–of movement. Again, I stood still. Nothing.

m4-land bridge

Finally, I arrived at the land bridge that would lead me to the rookery, but . . . my journey stalled and I realized I’d have to save the crossing for another day. Water rushed over the mossy mounds and because I was alone I decided not to risk falling in. As I stood and admired the flow, I thought some more about Tom and the crossing he is making from this life to the next.

m6-more ice bubbles

And I thought of his sense of wonder and ability to instill such in others, even over something as simple as ice baubles.

m 5-ice bubbles

I could hear an eloquent explanation flow forth from him about the movement of bubbles within an icicle formed on a branch.

m7-ice fingers

And I knew he would appreciate the artistic rendering before our shared eyes–in this case a wee bit reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s Transformation Prints.

m27-forest

At last I pulled myself away from the crossing I couldn’t make and turned back toward the forest from which I’d come. Tom had a hand in the vision of these woods–as a forester and as the executive director of the Greater Lovell Land Trust. His vision included forest management that would benefit wildlife. From where I stood, I saw turkey, deer, bobcat, and squirrel tracks.

A third time, I heard a sound and knew that I wasn’t alone. We never are, are we?

m8-mergansers

Eventually I made my way to the water’s edge and noted Hooded Mergansers in the distance. Around another bend, I spotted Wood Ducks. Tom would have loved it for birding was also one of his passions.

m10-beaver works

Within footsteps I admired the work of another forester who called this place home.

m11-beaver attempt

It seemed he’d sampled some trees and they weren’t to his liking–at that moment. Or perhaps something had startled him and he quickly retreated to the water. Either way, he treated this land as if it were his. For it was.

m12-more beaver

Everywhere, beaver works both old and new decorated the forest.

m18-lodge

And a lodge stood tall still partially surrounded by ice.

m7a-goldthread

But there was more of  the woods to see this day, like goldthread’s evergreen leaves that reminded me of cilantro. And also of Tom’s garden, for which he actually has some seedlings that will be ready to plant in another month and its produce will be enjoyed at a later date by those he loved most. Their dinners will be enriched for one last season by his green thumb.

m13-tiny shell

Next, I spied a tiny, fragile shell that was iridescent on the inside and brown on the outside. It couldn’t be a bird egg. Was it from a snail?  Tom would have known.

m14-holy leaf

And then there was a striped maple leaf like none I’ve ever seen before–almost stained-glass in its offering. It only made sense that it be so hol(e)y for in its life cycle it had provided energy to insects and as it continues to break down it will nourish the earth. Tom would recognize the significance of such–renewal, rather than devastation.

m15-hobblebush

There were other things to note, including a hobblebush flower bud that formed between its praying hand leaf buds.

m21-lungwort

And lungwort that served as an indicator of a rich, healthy ecosystem. Indeed.

m19-heron

I stood for a long time by the water’s edge, thinking of Tom and then I spied it. A Great Blue Heron flew in and landed across the way. My intention was honored. And Tom’s.

m24-rotten apples

At last I headed back the way I had come and passed through a field where a couple of apple trees grow. As I’d journeyed I had noted scat after scat–some filled with apple chunks and seeds. Of course, I rejoiced because I have an affinity for scat.

But Tom, too, would have rejoiced for what he set out to do so many years ago was to create wildlife corridors–those links of joined natural habitat. For Tom, that’s what it’s all been about–maintaining the ecological processes that allow mammals of all kinds to move and continue to be viable. And for the land on which they traveled to also be viable.

His has been a kinship with all forms of life beginning with the minute, like his shiitake mushrooms and the earth within his gardens and ending with . . . there is no ending, only new beginnings. May Tom’s next beginning be through the eyes of a Golden Eagle. As he soars above us, may he approve of the continued good works of others who try to emulate the legacy he will leave behind.

Godspeed Tom. And thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Mud Season

Mud Season — unique to northern states, indecisive weather, sloppy. What’s to love about it?

m1-breaking ice

Everything when thirteen Tuesday Trackers headed out for the final expedition until next winter. And no thin ice went unbroken by this hearty group.

m2a-turkey track

Prints in the snow we found along the way, but most were difficult to discern. In the mud, however, they were magnificent and we kicked ourselves for not thinking to bring some Plaster of Paris for great casts those would have made.

m2-Jo tells a snake story

Our tracking efforts were only part of the journey for along the way we were enraptured as we listened to Storyteller Jo Radner share a tale about a water snake, her grandmother, and some visitors to a children’s camp on Kezar Lake . . .

m3-bog

passed through the black spruce peat bog at the Kezar River Reserve on the eastern side and remembered time spent there with GLLT’s former executive director Tom Henderson (I told you, Tom, that you’d be with us and you most certainly were as we felt your spirit and heard your voice among the trees. We decided we need to return in the near future and spend more time getting to know that place–today, it required careful footwork and so we didn’t stay long) . . .

m4-Canada Geese

and finally found our way to Kezar River, where the Canada Geese and a couple of ducks awaited our arrival.

m6-ice

While some ice art in a stream that feeds the river drew our attention, we were there to look for evidence of a mammal that frequents the area.

m6a-otter scat

With youngsters among us, our eyes were more eagle than ever, and one of them found the sign we sought. At first sight, it appeared to be lichen on bark, but then our eyes focused and we knew what was before us–river otter scat.

m6b-otter scat formed

Some was matted as it had disintegrated a bit and only the scales remained, but others were formed in a tubular shape, all filled with fish scales, bones, and crayfish parts.

m7-otter scat

We rejoiced as we’d found a latrine site, a spot the otter returned to as a place to defecate, urinate and roll around in what’s known as a brown-out. It all provided information that we appreciated but meant even more to others of its own kind. “Hi, my name is Otty, I’m good looking and would be happy to meet up for a cup of fish stew. You available?”

m9-MUD

In the same area, we noted slides leading to the water and imagined the otters movement. And then some of our crew channeled their own inner otter and headed down to the feeder stream where the mud was difficult to resist.

m14-MUD

Mud! Worth showing off.

m11-washing off

And then the joy of cleaning off by stepping into the river.

m15a-mud angel

Mud season–celebrated with mud angels.