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.

Eyes of Wonder

On the first and third Tuesday of each month since the snow first flew in 2017, I’ve had the privilege of tramping through the woods with our Tuesday Trackers group. As it happened this month, we were also able to tramp together today–the fourth Tuesday.

Each week, the participants vary as they come when they can. But no matter who shows up, by the end of our two-four hour exploration, we are all wiser for the experience–and filled with gratitude for the opportunity to spend a winter morning in the Maine woods. We are also grateful for the wonder that is right in front of us, not only materializing in the form of mammal tracks, but all manner of things that make up the web of life.

j1-otters romping across the snow

Usually the age of our attendees ranges from 50-something to 80-something. But today we were joined by four little otters who reminded us what it’s like to be a child again as they bounded across the snow’s crust, and rejoiced at the sight of any and every little thing that presented itself from squirrel and chipmunk holes to fungi.

j2-squirrel prints

Of course, we were there to track and though most prints were bleached out from the sun’s March rays, we did find a few that showed well their finer points such as toes.

j14-measuring straddle

And with any discernible prints, the kids reminded us to take time to measure straddle, in this case that of a gray squirrel. We also found what we believed was a bobcat track based on the round shape of the somewhat melted print and the stride.

j3-ice and water

Most of us began the journey with snowshoes, but soon joined the kids and shedded them as we moved from frozen snow to bare ground and back again. And then we discovered water. Actually, a few of us were a wee bit behind, when one child ran up to her mom and said, “A vernal pool.” If it does turn out to be a vernal pool, we feared it will dry up too soon, but that doesn’t mean the amphibians won’t take advantage of the spot in a few weeks. It was half covered in ice, which offered a challenge because two of the boys wanted to break through it with a stick. The third boy did break through–much to his dismay. But as his calm mom said, ” Well, now he’ll know next time.” (Juli–I can’t help but smile–you are the best.)

j4-helping hands

Fortunately, for his sake, we came upon a maple tree with a huge burl on which he sat while others on the journey came to his aid and squeezed a gallon of water, or so it seemed, out of his socks. His mom had an extra pair of mittens in her pack and those covered his toes for the rest of the trek. He wore his boots, of course. While we were there, we wondered about burls and tried to remember what created them. I suggested insects and another thought perhaps fungi. It turns out we were both correct. They may also be caused by bacteria or a virus. What the young lad sat upon was a reaction of the tree to the infestation which resulted in abnormal growth due to changes in the tree’s hormones. Think of its vascular system as a twisted ball of yarn.

j5-sucker brook outlet into Kezar Lake's Lower Bay

After the sock ringing and mitten fitting episode played out, we turned around to take in the beauty of the Sucker Brook Outlet at the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake for we were on the John A. Segur East Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road.

In the distance, one lad spied a beaver lodge. You might see it as a brown dot on the snow-covered ice directly above a swamp maple snag in the center of this photo.

j6-wintergreen and spring tails

We also looked at our boots, where we rejoiced in the site of wintergreen plants evolving from their magenta winter coats. And spring tails jumping about on the leaf litter like performers in an unorganized circus.

j9-squirrel table

Upon a downed birch tree, a certain young lady found the perfect spot to set up a dinner table for a squirrel. She was kind enough to include a dessert treat by stuffing pieces of a wintergreen leaf into an acorn cap.

j10-ice bridge

Much to the delight of the younger set, they next discovered an ice bridge and took turns walking across it. The rest of us decided to pass on that opportunity, sure that we’d ruin the effect.

j11-tree stump examination

Getting up close and personal was the theme of the morning and everything drew their attention and ours, including a decaying trunk of a hemlock that was downed by a lightning strike several years ago.

j12-tree holes

Because we were curious, we noted holes of the tree’s decayed xylem, the system of tubes and transport cells that circulate water and dissolved minerals. One of the boys decided to see if it worked and poured water onto the stump, which immediately flowed into the holes. We’ve viewed tree stumps and rings many a time, but this was the first time we recalled seeing the holes. No tree stump will go unobserved on our path from now on.

j13-lodges reflect mountains

Our turn-around point was at another spot along Sucker Brook where three beaver lodges reflected the mountains in the backdrop.

j21-beaver lodge

A few of us walked across the ice for a closer look because one appeared to serve as this winter’s home site. We trusted the family within included their own young naturalists.

We were certainly thankful for our time spent with four children who allowed us to look at the world through their eyes of wonder.

(On behalf of Joan, Dave, Steve, Dick, Jonathan, and I, we thank you, Caleb, Ellie, Aidan and Wes. Oh, and your mom as well, or especially–thank you Juli. We’re all in awe of you and the gifts you’ve passed on to your kids.)

 

Lovejoy Mondate

A man walked into a hardware store . . . and told my guy about a couple of mountains we should climb. And my guy came home and told me. And we looked for trail maps and found none. And we decided to go anyway because we had a sorta idea about where one of them was located.

l1-Lovejoy Mountain Road

And so we drove up Hunts Corner Road in Albany, Maine, and located a road sign that bore the same name as the mountain we hoped to climb–and the road wasn’t plowed. But . . . another man was gathering mail across the street and so my guy asked him about the trail. The man said it would be fine for us to head in and we’d probably get as far as the pond where a few old camps stood, but wouldn’t reach the summit. We weren’t sure we would either, but figured it was worth a try.

l2-my guy way ahead

For those who have followed our Mondates previously, you’re well aware that my guy is often far ahead of me and such was the case today. The snow was deep and journey up a bit of a trudge, but that didn’t stop him. I really don’t mind for it gives me time to take in all that is around me and listen to the voices in my head. And I’ve a feeling he does the same–solving all the problems of the hardware world and any other issues that need to be addressed, plus possibly singing a few tunes to himself. The latter would never occur to me, but that’s another story.

l3-No Name Pond and Round Mtn

Today, we met periodically, the first time being at No Name Pond, where we enjoyed the backdrop of Round Mountain–a hike we’ve previously completed. Truthfully, this pond has no name–at least that I can find on any topo maps.

l4-bear pole

Onward we journeyed, for a few steps–because a telephone pole caught my attention. Do you see what I see? (Karen H.–I took you with me today and mentioned your name several times to my guy–read on.) Bites and scratches courtesy of a black bear.

l5-bearhair

And hair left behind. There was actually quite a bit of hair. But . . . I’d forgotten to put the battery in my Canon Rebel camera and so had to depend on my phone to capture all the moments.

l6-onward and upward

We really had no idea where we were going, and when we came to a Y, chose the left-hand route, which had a few water obstacles.

l7-bushwhack

And then we decided to do some bushwhacking because we had no idea where the road might lead and we assumed the mountain was to our right.

l8-Into the Evergreens

It wasn’t totally an assumption, for I’d downloaded a GPS program recently and played with it a bit. The mountain was to our right, but there was a ledge between us and it.

l9-finding our way

And so we did some traversing, and slipping and sliding, and offered each other advice and occasionally a hand. Well, he offered me a hand, which I gladly accepted. And all the while I dreaded our descent, though we figured we’d probably need to sit on our bums and pretend we were otters–belly up.

l10-over the tree

We finally saw the light of day and assumed the summit was just above. Only one more downed tree to conquer.

l11-me

We did–with lots of giggles thrown in as we practiced our graceful moves.

l12-moose work 1

But, we weren’t at the summit. Instead, we were in moose alley for such was the evidence we found on the numerous striped maple trees.

l13-moose work 2

There were no fresh tracks, but we knew who had dined . . .

l14- moose work 3

by the size of the tooth marks they left behind.

l16-striped maple leaf

Because we were in a striped maple community, my eye was drawn to their moose nipped buds of previous years, but also to the artful twist of occasional dried leaves.

l15- snowshoe hare track

We had also entered snowshoe hare (snow lobster) territory and their tracks were innumerable.

l15-view toward the Balds in Evans Notch

Again, we found ourselves on an old logging road, and then we decided to go off it and bushwhack some more. As we checked the GPS periodically, it showed that we were following a ridge, but still had a ways to trek.

l17-continuing on

We thought we’d been so smart when we left the road, until we swung through the forest and came to a bit of an opening where we realized it was in front of us again. Or at least we thought it was the same road.

l18-winter wonderland

And so we followed it through the winter wonderland.

l19-summit view

And at last, according to the GPS, reached the summit, where the view through the trees was of the Bald Faces in Evans Notch. It wasn’t much of a view–and we wondered if we might have missed one, but decided to save that thought for another time.

l22-cairn?

After treating ourselves to some dark chocolate McVities digestives, we started to follow our tracks back down. About fifty feet away, we spotted a cairn we’d walked right by–it was large and we didn’t know its purpose. To mark the summit? Or did it represent something else?

l23-bobcat print

On the way back down, we paused again–by some prints I’d seen earlier. Yes, Karen–this one is for you. A bobcat indeed. Because of the deep, soft snow, its nails had provided traction.

l24-hiking down

When we reached the spot where we’d done some bushwhacking, we decided to take a chance and stay on the road. It proved the right choice and soon we picked up our previous tracks.

l25-quartz snag

And then we got to see a couple of other things we’d missed on the way up, like this quartz snag. Huh? Funny things grow in trees ’round these parts.

l28-bear tree 3

And big mammals climb trees ’round these parts.

l27-bear tree 2

Yes, Karen, another bear tree. 😉

l30-final view

Just below that we found ourselves back at the point where we’d climbed up the ledge. And discovered that the road turned to the right. Again, we weren’t sure we were making the right choice, but decided to take our chances. Bingo–it eventually curved around and we found our own tracks once again. We were tickled with ourselves and paused by one of the old camps to take in their view–the same view we’d enjoyed from above, but more open because some trees had been cut.

Roger Lowell had suggested this hike to my guy and the man collecting the mail said that the land belongs to the Stiflers, who own Round Mountain, Long Mountain and Overset Mountain, all hikes that we had enjoyed in the past. We weren’t sure the mountain road we were on was open to the public, but we gave thanks to Roger for the suggestion and the Stiflers for not posting the land. And we toasted this Mondate with sips of water–as we appreciated our love and joy for today’s journey–on Lovejoy Mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

What the Bobcat Knows

As I drove down Heald Pond Road in Lovell today I wasn’t sure what awaited me. But isn’t that the point? Every venture into the great outdoors should begin as a clean slate and it’s best not to arrive at the trailhead with expectations.

f1-Heald Pond Road barn

And so I didn’t. Well, sorta. I really wanted to see a porcupine. And maybe an otter. And definitely an owl. But I knew better and so I passed the last barn on the road and then backed up and stepped out, captivated by the colors in the scene before me.

f2-trail signs

A few minutes later, I strapped on my snowshoes and headed up the trail. My plan–to climb to the summit of Flat Hill at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve and then circle around Perky’s Path upon my return.

f3-trail up flat hill

Breaking trail was my job in the rather deep snow given recent storms, but easy to move upon and so I sashayed up. What surprised me, however, was the lack of tracks left behind by the mammals that I know live in these woods.

f4-pine cone bird feeders

I did stop at the balsam firs decorated by a local 4-H club in December as part of the Maine Christmas Tree Hunt. The dangling pinecones once sported peanut butter and birdseed, but today that was all a memory so I knew birds and deer had stopped by in the last few months.

f5-bobcat 1

And then, as I neared the flat summit, I found tracks of a mammal that had checked out the base of every tree and under every downed limb. In fact, as I soon realized, it was more than one mammal that I followed as I went off trail. Bobcats. Indeed. Though typically solitary, these two traveled together. It is mating season and males and females will travel together during courtship.

f11-bobcat print

Though the prints were difficult to photograph given the glare, by the toes, ridge and overall shape, I knew them.

f12-bobcat scat and print

And scat! Filled with white hair. I have close-up views should you choose a closer look, but chose to give those who find scat to be rather disgusting a break. 😉

f6-porcupine and bobcat

And then I found another set of tracks and knew that besides squirrels and little brown things, the bobcats were also searching for a bigger dinner. On the left–a porcupine trough, and on the right, the bobcat trail.

f8-porky work

Ever since I’ve traveled this trail, I’ve seen the work of the porcupines at the summit. And sometimes I even get to see the creator. In winter, porcupines eat needles and the bark of trees, including hemlocks, birch, beech, aspen, oak, willow, spruce, fir and pine. And they leave behind a variety of patterns.

f7-porky work

If I didn’t know better, I could have been convinced that this ragged work was left behind by a chiseling woodpecker, but it, too, was porcupine work.

f9-porky work

All about the summit, recent chews were easily identified for the inner bark was brighter than the rest of the landscape. And below these trees–no bark chips such as a beaver would leave, for the porcupine consumed all the wood.

f10-flat hill view

While snow flurries fluttered around me, the summit view was limited and it looked like the mountains were receiving more of the white stuff. (Never fear–we’ll get more as our third Nor’easter in two weeks or so is expected in two more days. Such is March in Maine.)

f13-script lichen between pine lines

From the summit, rather than follow the trail down, I tracked the bobcats for a while, first to the north and then to the south. I had hoped to find a kill site, but no such luck. Instead, the writing on the page was found upon the pines where script lichen, a crustose, was located between the lines of bark scales.

f14-ulota moss and frullania

I also found plenty of Frullania, that reddish brown liverwort that graced so many trees. And among it, a moss I’ll simply call an Ulota. As I looked in Ralph Pope’s book, Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts , upon arriving home, I realized I should have paid attention to capsules for that would have helped me determine whether what I saw was Ulota crispa or Ulota coarctata. Another lesson for another day.

f15-beaver pond on Perky's Path

At last I reached Perky’s Path, which may not seem like a major feat if you’ve been there, but actually I’d explored off trail for quite a ways and it took me a while to get down to the wetland.

f16-maleberry

And because I was in the wetland, maleberry shrubs bordered the edge and showed off their bright red buds and woody, star-shaped seedpods.

f16a-bobcat across wetland

After focusing on them for a while, I looked down at the snow’s surface and the most subtle of prints appeared before my eyes. My two bobcats. The curious thing–at the summit the mammals had sunk into the snow and the prints were a bit difficult to decipher. I assumed those summit impressions had been made about two days ago. But on the wetland, the bobcats walked atop the snow–when conditions were firmer and I suspected they’d been created last night.

f17-brook toward Bradley Pond 1

I followed the edge of the wetland to the bridges that cross a brook that forms at the outlet of Bradley Pond, constantly on the lookout for the bobcat tracks again.

f18-more bobcat

And I found them! Beside the brook.

f19-beaver pond from bridge

What had they found on the wetland, I wondered?

f21a-beaver trail

Continuing on, I found that they’d checked on the woodwork left behind by another critter of these woods who had also moved about last night.

f20-beaver works

Beaver works. And their piles of woodchips. Unlike a porcupine, a beaver doesn’t eat the chips. Rather, it cuts down a tree for food or a building material. The chips are like a squirrel’s midden of cone scales–the garbage pile of sorts.

f22-beaver trail to water

I noted where the beaver had moved into the brook . . .

f23-beaver treats

And left some sticks behind. For future food? Future building? Stay tuned.

f27-brook to Bradley pond

Typically in other seasons I can’t move beside the edge of the brook, but today I could. The lighting kept changing and water reflected the sky’s mood.

f24-Diamesa sp. and snow flea

And because I was by the water, I kept noting small insects flying about–almost in a sideways manner. Then I found some on the snow–a member of the Diamesa species, a midge I believe. And do you see the small black speck below it–a snowflea, aka spring tail.

f25-Diamesa sp.:haltere

And do you see the two little nobs on the fly’s back, the red arrow pointing to one? Those are the haltere: the balancing organ of a two-winged fly; a pair of knobbed filaments that take the place of the hind wings.

f29-beaver pond wetland low

Eventually, I followed the eastern edge of the wetland back to my truck, wondering if there was any more action but found none. In fact, the water was low so I knew the beaver works weren’t to rebuild the dam. Yet. Nor did I find any more bobcat tracks. But I’d found enough. And I think I know some of what the bobcat knows.

 

 

Connecting the Dots

We thought we were so smart. A friend had drawn a map in the snow last week to show me the location of an alternate trailhead for Peary Mountain in Brownfield, Maine, and spoke of a round-trip hike that would include Frost Mountain. A quick look at a map in our worn and torn Delorme Gazeteer and we knew exactly where we were going–until we didn’t. We soon discovered that the gate and sign I’d been told about didn’t exist and the road turned 90˚ to the left and eventually became impassable and so we turned around and paused again at the sharp turn and wondered some more and drove back out to the main road and continued on to another road and looked for other possible trailheads that appeared on the road map and turned around again and returned to that sharp turn and parked the truck and slipped on our micro-spikes.

p1-Peary Mtn Road sign

It was worth a try we decided. The name was right though it looked less like a road and more like a snowmobile trail. No matter, we figured we’d give it a whirl and if nothing else, at least we’d enjoy exploring.

p2-wetland below mountains

Almost immediately, we spied two mountains above a wetland and wondered if those were the two summits we sought. We’d never looked at Peary from what we considered the back side before, since all of our previous experiences had been from Farnsworth Road off of Routes 5/113.

p3-trail

The road was quite icy and it had been more than a few days since any snowmobiles had passed by.

p5-trail sign

Eventually we came to a snowmobile sign, looked around for a map that I thought my friend had mentioned, and decided to begin with a journey up the Peary Mountain Trail.

p7-trailing arbutus and wintergreen

Conditions were such where previous logging had left the southwestern side open to the sun’s powerful rays and so in places the snow had melted and wildflowers such as trailing arbutus and winterberry basked in the warmth.

p8-Peary Mtn basement

We continued on up, hopeful that we were on the right path, when a familiar foundation confirmed our location. It’s directly across from this foundation that the Peary Mountain trail makes a 90˚ turn–in the past the turn had always been to the left, but yesterday’s turn was to the right. That is, after we noted that my guy should probably encourage the homeowners to purchase a sump pump, so full was their cellar.

p9-trail sign

If you do approach from Peary Mountain Road, you’ll only see a tad of the back of this sign. And if you come from Farnsworth Road, again, it’s not very obvious. But, for both, the turn is located at the height of land . . . and directly across from the foundation.

p10-Peary view 1

The hike to the bald summit isn’t difficult and offers the best of views on any day, but especially in the fall when the tapestry of color stretches forever–or at least to the White Mountains in the distance.

p11-Mount Washington

Yesterday, the view of Mount Washington was obscured by clouds, but we could see that even there the snow was receding.

p13-Mountain view

We stood for a bit, taking in the scene to the west.

p14-Mountain views

And to the north.

p15-across the ridge

And then we followed the ridge, certain that at the end we’d slip onto another trail we’ve never traveled before and begin to make the loop to Frost Mountain.

p16-Pleasant Mtn, Brownfield Bog

Just before slipping onto that other trail, we had one more view to partake–Brownfield Bog and the Saco River were backdropped by Pleasant Mountain.

Well, we followed that other trail for a while, but realized that rather than going toward Frost Mountain, we were moving further and further away from it. And so . . . we backtracked and rose once again to the summit of Peary and retraced our steps down.

p17-another foundation

We were disappointed, except that we knew we would return. And as often happens when following the same trail, we made new discoveries, including an L-shaped foundation.

p19-well

And then I spied a circular sunken formation subtly outlined with rocks and trusted it was a well.

p19-third foundation

Bingo. For behind it was another foundation, the largest we saw.

p20-day 2-red pines

And so late this morning we returned. But first, we looked for maps in our hiking books and online and found only those created by the local snowmobile club. We had a copy that dated to 2011 and decide to bring it along. We also copied a portion of the map from the Delorme Gazeteer–just in case.

Upon our return, we remembered to pause at the beginning of the trail and take note of the red pine cathedral. Brownfield is a town that knew the fury of the wildfires of October 1947. Most homes and public buildings were mere piles of ash the day after the fire. Many stately places including the summer home and laboratory of Dr. Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television, had burned. Churches, schools, the post office, Grange, library and town hall all went up in smoke–only twenty houses survived. In the end, 85% of the town was destroyed.

Red pines were planted in reaction and today they stand tall in honor of that event of just over seventy years ago.

p21-water flowed

Our plan today was to follow the same route to the turn off for Frost Mountain. And so we did. This time the snow and ice were softer and mud a constant as snow melted and streams formed.

p21-ruffed grouse scat

One of the things we noted yesterday was a lack of mammal prints. But today made up for that and we found plenty of deer tracks in mud and snow. And then, a pile of bird scat–left behind by a ruffed grouse who had probably plowed into the snow when it was a couple of feet thick and spent the night, leaving behind its signature.

p22-kill site

We also found a kill site with no tracks leading to or fro and so we thought a bird had eaten another bird. The circle of life continued in the Maine woods.

p23-fisher prints

A bit further up the trail we spied weasel prints–left behind by a fisher, the meanest of mean. Notice the teardrop shaped toes and diagonal positioning.

p22-sweet fern

We were distracted (or at least I was) by sculptures a many, including those created by sweet-fern.

p24-another foundation

My guy was also distracted and spied an opening in the woods.

p25-fourth foundation

It was another L-shaped cellar. And nearby were what would have been some outbuildings and possibly even a mill. Along most of today’s trail we encountered one stone wall after another, some single and others double.

I don’t know how to decipher stone that’s known fire, but hope one of these days to be able to make that interpretation. In the meantime we wondered–why had these homes been abandoned. Did they burn? I did later note that homesteads in the area belonged to the Johnsons, Grays and other families in the 1880s.

p28-confusing signs

Though we continued on, we really had no idea where we were going and hoped that we had made the right decision with the intention of reaching the summit of Frost Mountain. But, even if we didn’t, we were delighted with our finds. And confused by the signs.

p29-Pleasant Mtn behind us

And then, we started to climb. I turned around as we moved upward and noted our beloved Pleasant Mountain behind us.

p29-summit at lasst

And finally–success. We’d reached the summit of Frost Mountain.

p30-looking toward Peary

About 300 feet below, we had a view from the ledge, but it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as that on Peary Mountain, which my guy looked toward. It was hardly visible from where we stood.

p32-Burnt Meadow Mountain

From the summit, we followed a loop around, pausing to take in the view of Burnt Meadow Mountain.

p33-Brownfield below

And the town of Brownfield below. As the historical society likes to proclaim, “Brownfield’s still here.” Indeed.

p34--my heart bleeds blue pine sap for you

We’d planned to climb Frost and then make our way to Peary, but changed our minds. We’d already climbed Peary yesterday and after finding our way today had a better understanding of the trail system. We also knew that had we made the loop, we’d have walked on Farnsworth Road for over a half mile and then climbed up and down Peary on trails we already knew. Instead, we let our hearts bleed pine blue sap with happiness.

p27-bear prints

Our happiness overflowed when we spied the final set of prints.

p26-bear prints

A black bear. How cool is that? Our second sighting of black bear prints this winter.

We’d connected the dots–even if not literally–and gained a better understanding of the neighborhood and all who live(d) there.