For his birthday in the fall, as you may recall, I gave my guy a baker’s dozen list of geocaches to locate in the wilds of Maine and New Hampshire. Prior to this past weekend, he’d located twelve with one left–burning a bit of a hole in his pocket because we thought we’d get there on Thanksgiving, but rain changed that plan. And then winter happened and we knew the journey would require more time because gates on the Forest Road would be closed and we’d have to trek a longer distance. With the dawn of spring, however, he thought we should take our chances. Oh, we’d still have a ways to hike, but thankfully it’s light later and so we had that on our side.
That was Saturday. But . . . that journey wasn’t enough, and so despite high winds on Monday, I created a mini-list for him and off we went in search of five more geocaches.
Our Saturday adventure found us practicing our balance beam skills, for if we fell off, which we did from time to time, we’d sink into snow that was at least knee deep.
That said, not only were we gymnasts, but we also had to pull some ballet leaps out of the daypack; sometimes the stream crossings like this one, were obvious, but other times we had to guess where the softest spot might be and try to jump to the other side without crashing through the snow bridge. Success wasn’t always on our side.
On a different trail, we outbested the conditions by walking in the stream that was actually a woods road, having chosen different footwear.
And yet again, there was a narrow balance beam to climb across. Thank goodness we had such great training in junior high and knew how to stay on top, otherwise we would have gotten soaked. Haha! I don’t know about him, but I’m pretty sure I failed the gymnastics unit all those years ago.
At one point in our journey, we spotted a gate ahead and thought for sure it would be our turn-around spot, but upon reaching it we found this kind note, which inspired us to pick up downed branches along the private drive since the owners were kind enough to let us venture forth.
And beyond said destination (read: geocache), we continued on to a summit we’d never reached before.
We also spent a few moments on the property of the Parsonsfield Seminary, founded by the Free Will Baptists as a seminary, aka high school in 1832. The eight-acre campus includes four buildings and once served as part of the Underground Railroad. Though the buildings are no longer used for education per se, special events are hosted by the Friends of Par-Sem, and it’s available for private functions.
Over the course of the two days, we crossed the state line between Maine and New Hampshire multiple times, both via truck and foot. Our favorite crossings came in the form of stumbling upon standing split granite stones in the woods.
Maine must have been the poor cousin for we could almost not see the M.
The marker on top, however, clearly established who owned what portion of the land.
and a sign in Taylor City, where Earl Taylor served as mayor until his death at the age of 95 in 2018. Earl was a graduate of Par-Sem it seems. He ran the general store and was quite active in town affairs–on both sides of the border.
Mind you, hiking and history weren’t the entire focus of our time together. Nature also was on display like the underside of lungwort showing off its ridges and lobes that reminded someone long ago of lung tissue. In reality, Lobariapulmonaria is an indicator of a rich, healthy ecosystem.
There was also a bear nest high up in a beech tree–where last summer a black bear sat for a bit, pulled the branches inward till some of them broke, and dined on the beech nuts.
Multiple times we spotted moose tracks in deep snow . . .
One of the creme de la creme sightings for me, was the first Beaked Hazelnut flower of the year. Gusty wind prevented a better photo, but still, it was worth capturing the moment.
And upon the ground, an old bee structure, each papery cell precise and reflective of all that surrounded it.
others medium in size . . .
and a couple on the larger side.
Water always seemed to be part of the scene. We hiked for at least a mile beside a racing brook.
And stood for a few minutes enjoying the sun at Mountain Pond.
There was a wetland that we explored from all sides (actually, there was more than one wetland that we explored and got to know rather personally–from the soles of our feet), full of future life and opportunity.
Spanning it all, we hiked thirteen miles through snow, ice, mud, and water, and found five of six geocaches, including completing the birthday baker’s dozen list.
The fact that we didn’t find one is driving my guy a bit buggy and we actually returned to the location, but to no avail. He’s bound and determined, so I have a feeling we’ll look in that spot again. But overall, we felt successful and appreciated that our quest led us to a mountain lake we’ve enjoyed in other seasons, but not this one, and new vistas/locations where nature provided moments of wonder.
Like so many others, we had hoped to venture back to the Emerald Isle in 2020, but “you know what” prevented that from happening. And so it sits on our “To Do” list, right there beside clean the barn and replace the stairway carpet.
In the meantime, however, we have memories from an Irish honeymoon in 1990 and a return visit in 2016. You might have read the latter here, but maybe like us, you’ll enjoy refreshing the memory on this St. Patrick’s Day. So sit back with a glass of Guinness and enjoy the journey.
My guy and I journeyed via bus, car and foot across northern and eastern Ireland these past two weeks. Our main agenda–a vacation in the land where twenty-six years and two months ago we celebrated our honeymoon. We both also had semi-hidden agendas–his to seek out ancestral roots, mine to search as well, though my quest wasn’t quite so clear.
Our journey began after we dumped our bags at the hotel, where our room wasn’t yet ready, and crossed the River Liffey in Dublin. It was to the right that we’d parked a rental car 26 years previously as we searched for traditional music and supper, only to return hours later and discover that the driver’s side window had been smashed and our video camera stolen. All these years I’ve held a sour view of the Fair City and so I felt a bit nervous as we stepped forth.
The feeling began to wane immediately, for as we approached a street corner and chatted about locating the library, a Dubliner overheard us and assumed we were looking for Trinity College (founded in 1592). We decided to play along and followed his directions–thankfully. It was “Welcome Freshers” week and the quad swelled with activity tents, music and students anticipating the year ahead. We passed among the frivolity and found the self-guided tour of the 18th century Old Library and that most ancient of manuscripts–the Book of Kells, a 9th century book featuring a richly decorated copy of the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. A favorite discovery: the monks used oak apple galls to create ink–apparently, they crushed the galls and soaked them in rainwater, wine or beer until they softened. I’ve got to try this.
While (or whilst as the Irish say) no photos were allowed in the Treasury where the manuscripts are stored, equally impressive was the Long Room, which houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books in ancient oak bookcases. Just thinking about the centuries we were encountering was mind boggling, enhanced of course, by a lack of sleep.
A few hours later, we made our way back to the hotel, enjoying the architecture and flowers as we walked along. At last, we could check in and so we checked out–a rejuvenating nap essential to our well being.
Rested and showered, we hopped aboard a bus–our next destination, the Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate Brewery. The 250-year story of Guinness® is portrayed on five floors in a building designed in the shape of a pint. What’s not to like about that.
We learned about the process of creating beer, and then there was the whistling oyster, one of the many icons of the Guinness® brand.
After taking in the full story, we reached the Gravity Bar, where ticket holders may each sip a complimentary foam-topped pint. The museum was preparing to close and the bartenders made the last call. My guy asked if we could purchase a second pint and we learned that they don’t sell any, but he kindly slipped us two. Don’t tell.
The Gravity Bar offers 360˚ views of the city.
And the view includes the Wicklow Mountains, our intended destination for week 2.
If you hear my guy tell this story, he’ll say that we were told it was a 45 minute walk from our hotel to the Storehouse, but a short bus ride. We rode the bus there, but later weren’t sure where we should queue for the ride back, so we decided to walk instead. According to him, it took us five hours to make that 45 minute walk. I’m not sure it was quite that long, but we did stop at The Temple Bar for the music and a few other prime spots to eat and sip a wee bit more.
The next morning we set out for the National Library, which had actually been our intended destination the previous day–but who can deny enjoying the Book of Kells exhibit. My guy was hopeful that the genealogists at the library would help him make some connections, but without knowing parishes he hit a bit of a stonewall.
And so we left the Fair City with much fonder memories, took a bus to the airport, picked up our rental car, and ventured on. Oy vey. If you’ve ever watched the BBC program, “Keeping Up Appearances,” you’ll appreciate that I was Hyacinth to my guy’s Richard. “Mind the pedestrian,” I’d say. “I’m minding the pedestrian,” he’d respond.
Our first stop, Newgrange, a Neolithic passage tomb alleged to be older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. Constructed during the Stone Age, about 5,200 years ago, Newgrange is a large circular mound that covers 300 feet in diameter and stands 36 feet high. A stone passageway leads to three small chambers. Some describe it as an ancient temple, a place of astrological, spiritual and ceremonial importance. Our guide told us that bones were found here and it may have been a place for worship as well as where people were laid to rest. We were in awe of its structure and the fact that the passageway is oriented northward allowing the sun to illuminate it during the winter solstice.
Yes, the railings are new, but this is possibly the oldest building in the world. That’s worth repeating–the oldest building in the world. We had to bend low to enter and then squeeze between the walls as we walked toward the center, where three small chambers with stone basins created a cross-like structural plan. Even as we stood with others in darkness and waited for a beam of artificial light to demonstrate the real thing, we couldn’t quite fathom what we were witnessing.
Our awe continued within the center and by the entrance stone, where we witnessed megalithic art. The spirals reminded me of labyrinths, but we’ll never know their true significance. And that’s OK.
By the time we arrived at Carlingford, it was pouring and we had no idea where to stay. We stopped at a hotel, which was full–thankfully. They suggested the Ghan House, a Georgian House set within three acres of walled gardens. It was our most posh stay and we didn’t truly appreciate it until the next morning when the sun shone brilliantly.
The Ghan House is located just a stone’s throw from the Thoisel or town gate leading into the narrow streets of the town centre, where we found Ma Baker’s in the rain, a welcoming pub frequented by the locals, who laughed and joked and reminded us that the Irish love to sip a pint, tease each other and tell stories no matter what the weather might be out the door. And they don’t care about spelling, punctuation or run-ons. Life is too short for that–note to self.
The tide was low when we walked along the lough the next morning and took in King John’s Castle, which was initially constructed by Hugh De Lacy in 1190, though it wasn’t completed until 1261. Purportedly, King John, the brother of Richard the Lionhearted, visited in 1210, and thus the name for this Norman structure.
From Carlingford, we travelled north and did what we had wanted to do 26 years prior; we crossed into Northern Ireland. On our previous adventure, we’d journeyed as far as Letterkenny in the northern part of the Republic of Ireland, only a half hour from Derry. But that was then, the time of The Troubles, and we didn’t dare to cross the border. Again, my guy was seeking ancestors and at the Welcome Center he was told to visit the Tower Museum where Brian Mitchell would be able to provide some help. We were too late when we climbed down from the wall to the museum, so we did what the Irish would do–when in Rome–we found a pub and had a nice chat with a young man who had recently returned to Derry in search of work. We also walked around the city, taking in the sites made famous by The Troubles. And the following morning we again returned to the museum, where the curator told us that Brian would probably show up around 11am. So, we paid for a self-guided tour and learned about the town’s colorful and dramatic past through “The Story of Derry.” At 11:30 we once again went in search of Mr. Mitchell, only to learn that he was out and about somewhere. Since we needed to check out of our room, we decided that our Derry experience was over, but Mr. Mitchell did respond to an e-mail and so my guy has some more resources to consider.
Our next stop, Portrush, a resort town along the Atlantic and on the northern fringe of Ireland. After checking in at the Antrim House B&B, we headed off along the Coastal Scenic Route to Carrick-a-Rede Island. Carrick-a-Rede is from the Scottish Gaelic term, Carriage-a-Rade, meaning the rock in the road.
And the road is presumably the sea route for Atlantic salmon that were once fished here prolifically. In fact, so prolifically, that the fishery is no longer viable. In order to reach the best places to catch the migrating salmon, for 350 years fishermen crossed regularly to the island.
One hundred feet above the sea, the fishermen crossed the 60-foot chasm via a rope bridge to check their nets. Of course, they had only one rope, not the steel and plank structure that we crossed. That being said, it was quite windy and the bridge did sway.
We put our fear of heights behind us and made our way across.
Did he just do that? Yup.
And I followed.
Our views included Raithlin Island, the northernmost point of Ireland.
Our next wonder–the Giant’s Causeway, a geological phenomenon of 40,000 basalt stone columns formed by volcanic eruptions over 60 million years ago.
These hexagonal tubes stacked together like cans on a shelf offer yet another mystical and magical look at the world, one that the Irish embraced by creating legends to explain their existence–Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), an Irish giant, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Good old Fionn accepted said challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two could meet. There are two endings so take your pick: In one version, Fionn defeats Benandonner, but in another, he hides from Benandonner because he realizes his foe is much bigger. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises her husband as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the “baby,” he fears that its father, Fionn, must be the biggest giant of them all. Benandonner flees back to Scotland in fright, but makes sure to destroy the causeway behind him so he won’t be followed by Fionn.
My guy found a spot to take in the giant’s viewpoint.
As we made our way back toward Portrush, we paused at Dunluce Castle. We couldn’t go in because it had closed for the day, but we could still see part of the castle town that was developed in the early 1600s.
Originally built by one clan in the early 1500s, it was seized by another in the mid 1500s. Its history includes rebellions and intrigue.
Included in its dramatic history are tales of how the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639. We couldn’t help but wonder if the same happened to the wall.
Back in Portrush finally, our own tale continued. At the suggestion of our hostess, we walked to the Harbour Bar for dinner.
While we waited for a table, we paused in the wee pub, as they call it. A few minutes later, two guys walked in with a trophy and made a big fuss about its placement among the best bottles of whiskey.
At the time, I was standing to the right of the gentleman in the middle and so I asked him about the trophy. He explained that when you participate in the Ryder Cup you receive a replica. My guy immediately realized that I was talking to a famous Irish golfer, he just couldn’t put a name with the face. On the wall above, we could see photos of him, but we weren’t close enough to read the signatures.
It turns out we were in the presence of Darren Clarke, the European Ryder Cup captain for 2016. We didn’t know that until we went to check on our table and asked. One of the bartenders encouraged us to stay for the send-off, so we did. Everyone donned a D.C. mask (at 00:16, if you look quickly to the back left, you might see my scraggly hair behind a mask)–and sang “Shoulder to shoulder, we’ll answer Darren’s call.” We were included as the North American entourage.
While I got Darren’s autograph on one of the masks, my guy befriended Willie, the bar manager.
The next morning, after a traditional Irish breakfast, we toured the downtown. Ireland amazes us–the temperature was chilly and yet the flowers were gorgeous. And palm trees grow throughout the country.
Upon our departure, our hostess suggested we follow the coastal route to Murlough Bay and so we did. And took a wrong turn that lead down a dead-end to a gate with a sign warning us that guard dogs were on site. With caution, my guy backed up the lane until he could turn the car around. Our hostess had also told us not to park at the upper lot for Murlough Bay, but instead to drive down. I insisted upon the upper lot given that the road had at least a 10% pitch. So we walked down. And down. And down some more.
Upon our descent, the light at a distant lighthouse beckoned in the background as Fairhead came into view.
The coastline was as dramatic as we’d been promised. And I was glad we’d walked because the drive would have been even more dramatic with Hyacinth in the passenger seat.
This area may appear familiar to viewers of Game of Thrones–including the site of Stormlands.
After a hike back up the road, we drove on to take in the scenery of Torr Head. The road narrowed significantly as it twisted and turned along the coast. And then . . . we met a porsche rally. As best he could, my guy squeezed our car past them. And as soon as he could, we got off the coastal route and drove on to Belfast. It was late in the day and pouring when we arrived. By the time we parked in city centre and walked to the Welcome Center, we were drenched. And disappointed. There was no where to stay in town and we’d have to move on. But . . . then one final effort proved that a hotel was available. We should have questioned if for the price. Well, actually I did, but we were told that it was a fine place and served as a conference center. So we took it. And couldn’t wait to get out of there. Fortunately, we found some Irish music back in town and a delightful meal of locally harvested food. All we needed to do was sleep in the rathole, though even that didn’t work so well.
The next morning we took in the Titanic Museum and stepped aboard one of its tenderfoot boats, the Nomadic.
A dose of coffee and I was ready to take the helm. And if you are wondering if it’s windy every day in Ireland, the answer is yes. It also rains at some point each day. Our time in Northern Ireland was over, but except for that one accommodation, we’d had a wonderful and wonder-filled time.
As we worked our way south, we spent a night at a delightful B&B in Navan, which featured more traditional music and a place to relax. On Monday morning, we finally headed to the cottage we’d rented in the town of Laragh–Glendale Holiday Cottages–we highly recommend. Our host, Christy, was extremely accommodating, the cottage spacious and amenities plentiful.
We’d chosen this location because it was a five minute walk to the pub and restaurant in Laragh, located in the Wicklow Mountains, and near the Glendalough monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.
Forty shades of green and Brigadoon all came to mind as we approached the monastic settlement and its round tower.
St. Kevin’s kitchen is actually a 12th century church, so named because it was believed that the bell tower was a kitchen chimney. Apparently, however, no food was ever cooked there. But . . . if you think of the word of God as food, then perhaps many a feast was actually served.
From the altar window in the cathedral, the largest of seven churches within the monastic city, a view of the world beyond was offered.
Likewise, we could see the world within, including the Priest House in the background.
And everywhere, gravestones told the story of many who’d passed this way.
A little closer to Laragh, Trinity Church.
Upper Glendalough was the jumping off point for our initial hike upon the Wicklow Way.
We paused beside Poulanass Falls before zigzagging our way up the first trail.
Sheep merely looked up to acknowledge our passing. We, however, needed to pay more attention for sheep shit was prolific.
Tree felling was also a frequent sight, but we noted a unique (to us anyway) method of reforestation–in this case the Sitka spruces and Scots pines being felled were replaced by mountain ash saplings. One other thing we wondered about–the plastic sleeves–we saw some that had fallen away as trees grew, but were left in place. Biodegradable? We could only hope.
We spent three full days on the trail, not covering all of it, but a good portion as we hiked 10-15 miles each day.
Our journey took us over boggy portions,
down grassy sections,
on village lanes,
through the black forest,
and into the future.
Frequently, we had to stop, reread the directions and study the map, but more often the route was self-explanatory.
Along one section that was particularly muddy due to frequent horse crossings, we made a discovery unique to us.
A badger print. Sadly, or maybe happily to locals, we saw a dead badger on one of the lanes not far from this print. Related? We’ll never know.
We saw deer, one rabbit and two red squirrels.
Writing of the latter, we chuckled when we encountered this sign because we have frequent encounters with them at home. But considering we only saw two in two weeks and spent most of our days outside, we had to wonder.
and Three (pronounced Tree) tolerated our presence.
And Bessie Four made us laugh–as she stood upon a wall.
Though we passed through pasture after pasture and by many a farm and barn, we never saw any farmers, but knew that they were hard at work preparing for winter.
And one even offered us nourishment.
Our path included obstacles, though most were easy to overcome from a rope loop
to a simple step or
Only once were we uncertain. The stile was padlocked and there was no step or ladder. We finally decided to climb up over the gate in hopes that there wasn’t a bull on the other side. Usually though, a beware of bull sign announced their presence and no such sign marked that particular crossing–phew.
Our days ended with a stop at the local pub because Guinness® is good for you. I actually overheard an older woman telling her significant other the truth behind this. Apparently, when this woman’s mother had been in hospital years before, she was given Guinness® to drink each morning and evening–perhaps for its iron content. Or perhaps just because it’s good for you.
One of our stops was at the smallest and oldest pub in the nation–the Dying Cow. Mr. Dolan sat behind the bar sipping a Guinness® along with us as he and my guy got into a discussion about American politics. We noted that to be a hot topic. Our reason for finding this pub was because we’d walked into Tenahely after a fifteen miler and were about to step into Murphy’s for a pint when a gentleman sitting outside started chatting with us. He suggested we head off down the road because we needed to experience this tiny bar and he would have joined us but he’d just ordered his pint and didn’t want to waste it.
We followed the directions he wrote out for us, and missed the 1798 monument at first, but retraced our route and found it. We only wish he’d then told us how to get back to Laragh. That took a while, but eventually we found our way home.
Our views from the Wicklow Way were worthy of wonder.
And the ever present clouds added to the drama.
The land resembled a patchwork quilt.
No matter where we looked, it was forever changing.
Some of our fun discoveries included chestnut trees,
black slugs, and . . .
the crème de la crème–bear claw marks! Did Bear Gryllz really leave his signature on the trail behind the Glendalough Hotel?
When we weren’t hiking, we explored the area, including Wicklow and its stone beach.
We didn’t understand this ship at first until my guy asked–meet Wavewalker, a maintenance boat for Ireland’s Offshore Windfarm.
Across the harbor, we spied the remains of a castle that invited a closer look.
It seems Black Castle was constantly under siege and totally destroyed in 1301. And yet–I felt a presence still there.
Do you see his face?
The oldest mill in Ireland also drew our attention–Avoca Handweavers Mill was established in 1723.
It was the home of color with attitude.
Upclose and personal, we saw the inner workings.
And marveled at the creative results.
Our last full day in Ireland found us in Carlow. Standing beside the River Barrow, this castle was thought to once be a stronghold and it survived attacks in the 1400s and 1600s. According to local lore, a physician set out to remodel it into an asylum in the early 1800s. As he tried to demolish the interior, he placed explosive charges near its base and accidentally destroyed all but the remaining west wall and twin towers. Uh oh.
As happened daily, the weather quickly changed from blue sky to raindrops. Swans in the River Barrow didn’t care. They were in their element.
My guy counted while I photographed. Thirty some odd–all wishful that we’d brought good tidings in the form of bread. Not to be much to their dismay. Despite that, we were treated to several displays.
And later that night, a display of sun and clouds as we went in search of supper.
Our final night was spent at the Green Lane B&B in Carlow where Pat and Noeleen took special care of us. My guy watched the GAA football game with Pat, their grandson Sam helped us print out our airline tickets and Noeleen made sure we had toll money for our journey to the airport. And then there was the breakfast–the finest we’d enjoyed.
Think eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, sausage, white pudding, toast and Irish soda bread. And they wanted to know if we wanted porridge and cereal. Really?
Before we checked out, I made my guy drive to this field ensconced in an Irish mist.
The fog seemed apropos for our walk out to the Browneshill Dolmen. This was a burial chamber that may have originally been covered with earth.
My guy stands almost six feet tall, so his height provided a sense of size.
The two more pointed stones on either side of the squared stone were known as portal stones that would have supported the granite capstone or chamber roof. The squared stone in the center was probably the gate stone that blocked the entrance. This site has not been excavated so there’s no other info about it, but just standing in its presence and considering those who came before and created such was enough.
And then there were the spider webs. I’d missed them as we’d walked toward the dolmen, but they captured my attention all the way back. From prehistoric to present, the structures before us were breathtaking.
And when we finally pulled out of the B&B driveway on our way to the airport, I asked my guy to stop while I jumped out of the car. What a sight to behold–web ornaments. A perfect ending to our vacation.
My guy meet several roadblocks on his search for roots, but at the same time, he learned about some new avenues that may help in his quest. And I, I wished for more time to understand all that was before me from prehistoric to present–but maybe I sought answers that don’t need to be. Having the questions might be enough.
Together, we were grateful for our Hyacinth and Richard Adventure on the Emerald Isle. And glad to return the car safely to the rental agency.
The tale of this date really began on Sunday, February 28, when my guy and I decided that if possible we’d like to hike a trail up Pleasant Mountain. Knowing how popular all of the trails have been in the past year, and how careful we’ve been to choose those less traveled, we had a few plans in mind. Plan A: Bald Peak Trail. Cancel that plan due to too many cars in the parking lot. Plan B: Ledges Trail. Cancel that plan due to not only the parking lot being full, but cars parked all along Mountain Road; something Loon Echo Land Trust, which owns 2,064 acres on the mountain and protects an additional 24 acres through a conservation easement, has asked people not to do. Plan C: Southwest Ridge Trail. See Plan B. Plan D: Firewarden’s Trail. Tada. Only three vehicles and so we pulled in. Mind you, on the way to the latter we did develop a Plan E, but we quickly put that on hold for another day and donned our micro-spikes.
And so it was that in the mid-afternoon we began to climb up the trail that also serves as a snowmobile trail. But back in the day, this was the route not only to a hotel that stood upon the summit in the early1900s, but also for fire wardens to reach the surveillance tower erected in 1920.
As an old tote road, it can be quite rough and I find it hard to believe it was a comfortable ride, but a family of four on two snowmobiles found it to be a fun adventure.
Because of them, our ascent was rather quick, with pauses to get out of the way for the two machines, as well as one hiker and one snowboarder.
Near the summit, we paused again, at the old lightning shack.
The wardens’ or watchmens’ cabin was actually located lower down on the trail. If there was a lightning storm, however, the observers couldn’t get down the mountain to the cabin, so instead, they built this structure near the tower, which served as a lightning shack.
It was obvious by the signatures inside that since the tower was decommissioned in the early 1990s, others have found it a haven.
Just above is the fire tower built in 1920 and manned until 1991 when the state switched to aerial surveillance. It’s my understanding that originally it was 48 feet tall, but in 1968 when the cab at the top was replaced, it was lowered to 36 feet.
There’s something about coming upon it at the top that always brings to me a sense of awe. I suppose it’s the historical significance and admiration for those who remained there for the fire season–keeping an eye on the forest for as far as they could see with binoculars and scopes no matter what the weather might be. According to the Forest Fire Lookout Association’s Maine Chapter: “The very early lookouts used a transverse table with scopes and later the department issued high-powered binoculars. Opening day for lookouts was heavily dependent on how the winter was. Typical openings were in April and closing was in late September or early October. It was also dependent on location. Southern Maine usually had a longer season than northern Maine and the higher elevation peaks.”
Just prior to reaching the tower and summit we’d wondered how many people we might encounter. At least twenty was our assumption for so many vehicles filled the parking lots. It was with great delight that we discovered we had the place to ourselves, though on that day a storm was brewing and the view wasn’t as spectacular as it is on other days.
Upon our descent we decided we’d return the next day and follow two other trails–that is until that storm that was brewing crashed our party and forced us to stay home.
Today, however, dawned with a blue-bird sky and so we decided to take two trucks and if all went as planned, my guy would park at the base of the Ledges Trail and hop in with me in hopes that we could begin our ascent at the Southwest Ridge Trail.
Success. His was the only truck in the lot mid-morning. And at the Southwest Ridge there were only two other vehicles. And so we began to climb, turning back from time to time to take in the view–initially of Pleasant and Lovewell Ponds.
Being well-packed by so many others over this past weekend made for a much easier climb than on a summer day when one has to contend with rocks and other trail obstructions.
It seemed like in no time, we reached the teepee, where we stopped for a quick break before continuing on.
Oh, and a selfie for good measure.
Zooming along as we were doing, I did make one naturalist discovery–rhizomorphs or black, stringy mycelial cords of a fungus. Though I’ve seen this before, I’m not sure I’ve ever discovered the tendrils coating a dead but standing tree like a lacy shawl, with some even dangling as if fashionably draped.
Onward we charged after that brief break, for we had the summit on our minds and lunch in the pack that I was carrying.
For those of you who like a challenge of locating something in the distance, think of my guy’s head as the center of a clock. And then look up toward one o’clock. Do you see the cab of the fire tower?
How ’bout now?
With three plus miles behind us and only one hiker and one telemark skier encounter, we reached the summit on this glorious day.
And again had it to ourselves, though my guy quickly claimed lunch rock. Just in case we had competition.
Looking behind us we could see from whence we had come sorta. including the cellphone towers on the Southwest Ridge. Some scorn them, but so many of us depend upon them.
The white trails you see, one a road below the cell towers that some scorn, but so many of us depend upon, and the other belonging to a private landowner, aren’t the trail we followed for Loon Echo rerouted a section taking hikers away through the woods instead of near those towers of another kind.
More spectacularly, however, was the view before us, with Mount Washington adding a striking backdrop.
Do note the four dead trees in the foreground: they are (or were) Red Pines that were killed off by a pine scale insect within the last ten years or so. The insect is believed to have been introduced to the US on exotic pines planted at the NY World’s Fair in 1939.
Since we had such an incredibly clear wide-angled view (and unlike any fire watchers didn’t have to think about whether what we might be seeing was a wisp of smoke or a wispy cloud for there was no sign of either) of the surrounding mountains with lakes and ponds and Saco River between, gave a true idea of a glacial lake in its time.
Through a telephoto lens we pulled in the grand mountain of the Northeast in, and even the rime-ice coated buildings at the summit of Mount Washington were visible.
Eventually leaving all that behind, we remembered to hike down the Ledges Trail rather than backtracking, and completed 5.8 miles in about three hours–making for a Pleasant Mountain Mondate on every level.
Four days ago I happened upon a set of fresh coyote tracks, which didn’t surprise me for I’d seen so many of the same in that particular area all winter. But it was the color of scat left beside one print that stymied me.
I wanted to know what had been on the menu for breakfast. Noting hair as a component, I wondered: red squirrel? Didn’t think so. Red fox? Maybe. White-tailed deer? A possibility.
What to do? Backtrack the track, of course. Which worked well for a bit, until I realized it was going to lead me up a hill and across the street and snow was falling and I needed to head home. But . . . despite the fact that the prints would get filled in by the flakes, I promised myself a return venture in search of the main course. And I was pretty sure I could convince my guy to make the journey with me.
The moment we stepped onto the trail, I chuckled for even if I hadn’t known that some friends who had seen the photo I’d posted of the scat and prints had gone in search of the same meal over the weekend, I would have known by their tracks left behind where they had traveled. Well, especially his. Pretty cool when you can look at snowshoe tracks and identify the gender, don’t you think? But I know the pattern of Tom’s wooden snowshoes and can spot them in an instant. Paula’s are more generic, but he followed her wherever they went except for a few times when they split up like a fox or coyote would do when trying to surround prey (or figure out the maker of the prints as Tom and Paula had done), the imprint of his shoes covering hers both on and off trail.
Their journey and ours followed a certain brook where noon sunshine gleamed upon the snow and ice as the water flowed forth.
In a spot where two weeks prior I’d noted bobcat tracks crossing the brook via a log, there were fresher tracks today, though not so fresh to determine feline or canine.
Eventually, because we were close to the spot where I’d first made my discovery, and it was time for a meal of our own, my guy and I climbed up the stairs to a treehouse and sat down to dine.
We unwrapped our sandwiches while taking in the view of a bog beyond. Maybe as we ate we’d spy some action in the bog beyond. Maybe we wouldn’t. We didn’t.
Finally, we were ready to pick up where I’d left off on backtracking the coyote four days ago. Because of snow over the weekend, the prints were filled in, but still the pattern was visible, making them easy to follow. We could see that in the more recent past, a fisher had crossed over the track in search of a meal of its own.
The coyote tracks took us uphill, and eventually forced us to cross the road upon which we’d parked.
Crossing over, we followed them until they led to an area near a stream and again fisher prints entered the mix and we suspected something of importance had happened here, but couldn’t be sure what, and beyond this point the fisher went one way and the coyote crossed onto a private property and we decided we needed to give up the hunt. Drats.
In the midst of it all, however, deer tracks led the way. And so we followed those to see where they might lead.
And bingo. A feeding area where the disturbed snow indicated the deer had been seeking acorns.
Not only was it a feeding area, but also where the ungulates had bedded down, such as this youngster. Can you see its head, rounded back and legs tucked beneath?
We found at least seven beds in this spot and actually another bunch in a second spot later in our journey and gave thanks to know that the land through which we ventured is a deer yard.
A deer yard frequented by predators including the coyote we’d tracked earlier and this fisher.
Eventually, we made tracks upon a different trail for though I was there in search of someone’s meal source, my guy had a destination in mind.
Upward we climbed upon rock ledges hidden beneath snow.
A look back revealed the mountains beyond and horseshoe-shaped pond below.
It was there that white and red pines showed off their bonsai form among brothers and sisters who grew straight and tall.
Cones galore presented themselves as we reached the summit, such as these upon a red pine.
High upon the White Pines the same.
And the spruce trees didn’t want to be left out of the offerings.
We could hear the sweet chirps of birds and finally focused in on our feathered friends, puffed up as this chickadee was in response to the chilly wind. Four or five layers kept us warm, while the birds depended upon air they could trap within their feathers to feel the same way.
At last we reached an old mine and peeked within, thinking perhaps a critter or two had taken advantage of a cave to take refuge. If that was the case, we weren’t cognizant of it.
But we did enjoy the layers and reflections and colors of the mica, quartz, and feldspar for which this spot is known.
Eventually it was bear trees that captured our attention. Imagine this–your right paws grasping the beech as you climb in search of its nutritious nuts.
Simultaneously, of course, your left paws did the same as you shimmied up the trunk of the tree.
Some bears chose to leave their signatures with claw marks, while others preferred to leave their initials behind.
Either way, the bears had visited. As had fishers, deer, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, mice, squirrels, birds, and who knows how many others. Oh, and Tom and Paula–whose tracks twisted and turned like the mammals they followed.
The tree spirit knows as we learned on this Mondate. And he shows it in his heart which is filled with hope within colored green for all that has passed this way and all that is yet to come. The fact that we didn’t discover what the coyote ate didn’t matter. What mattered more is that this is a place for all to be and become.
Recently someone whispered in my guy’s ear (from a moose-length away and fully masked, of course) an alternate trailhead to a small mountain we’d hoped to climb last week but avoided because there were too many vehicles. “Take a left, and then drive a mile or two down the road, and I don’t know if there is a plowed parking area,” is the way the message was relayed to me.
And so we did.
And much to our delight there was not only a small parking area that had been cleared, but also blazes painted on the trees and footsteps showing the way. We felt like we’d found the pot of gold, especially since there were a few cars at the other trailhead as we passed by.
The cool thing about the trail we followed today is that it reminded us of the walled path on our property; not wide enough to be a road, but two stonewalls indicating a previous use of the land. Maybe for cows. Maybe each farmer marking a boundary. Doesn’t matter; it made for a delightful beginning.
In a short time, we reached another wall that ran perpendicular to the two we’d walked between, though this one was intentionally made of flatter field stones. While it called to mind stonewalls in Connecticut more than Maine, given the ledge mountain upon which we hiked today, it made perfect sense that construction should be such. And gave me reason to consider a return on another day when there is no snow on the ground so I can further explore it.
For today, our focus was first on reaching the summit via this new-to-us trail that was like a walk in the park. After passing through the field stone wall, below which mixed hardwoods grew, we entered a hemlock grove and knew the summit wasn’t far off.
It was by the summit that we took a turn in order to visit the castle, a place our sons in their youth used to love to explore. We took them with us in spirit today as we played while they were in their respective cities and hard at work.
Long ago, the rocks were deposited upon this mountain top as the glaciers receded and over time weathering split them creating spaces for playmates like us to wave to each other from opposite sides.
And peek through . . .
before crawling out.
We finally moved on to the summit outlook, where our view embraced Keoka Lake to the east . . .
Bear Pond in front of lunch rock . . .
and our beloved Pleasant Mountain to the west with the ski trails at Shawnee Peak showing off their white paths.
Following lunch, we decided to hike down a different trail with hopes of eventually reaching the road and then climbing back up the main trail we’d passed by earlier. Sounds crazy, I know, but that’s the way we are: crazy.
We thought we knew what we were doing as we followed a skidder trail down. After a bit, while my guy went ahead, I paused by a downed tree in search of what I might find.
The best find I made in a limited amount of scanning was a sweet, yet dried, capped mushroom.
My guy’s discovery: we’d reached an apple orchard and no trespassing signs and so much to his dismay we turned 180˚ and started back up, in hopes of finding another skidder trail to follow in a different direction.
Success greeted us eventually, though like the turkeys, we did a bit of postholing on the next route we traveled. Or perhaps we were the turkeys.
At last we reached the road as we crossed someone’s land, walked about fifty to one hundred feet down and then found the main trailhead to climb up once again.
And so up we went, though by now my guy had followed my example and donned his micro-spikes as the conditions warranted.
At the end of the day, he was tickled because he’d discovered not one . . .
but two geocaches.
When he opened the first, though the contents were in baggies, they were wet and frozen, but the second was in prime condition and we saw that our friend David Percival had signed the log this past summer.
I was happy to spend a couple of minutes searching for winter bug sites, and found the egg sac of a spider . . .
and pupating form of a bagworm moth caught in someone’s web, both discovered upon a shed as we trespassed on property that wasn’t posted.
A double red-belted mushroom also caught at least my eye.
Our best find of the day, however, was one we’ve seen before, but always brings a smile to our faces as it gives new meaning to bear tree.
It was back to the summit outlook for a Lindt candy before following the trail back to the cowpath.
Up and down, up and down with a little bit of a third up and down along way, turkey-style. No wonder they call it Mount Tire’m. To that end, my guy took a power nap on the way home. Good thing I was driving.
Special thanks to Bob Spencer for being the whisperer of trailhead information.
It seems like it’s been forever since my guy and I shared a Mondate, but truth be told we snuck away to Diana’s Bath and beyond in Bartlett, New Hampshire, a week ago and here’s a sneak peek.
We’d had snow two days prior and the lower falls of Lucy Brook showed off the force that the Lucy family had harnessed in the late 1800s to operate a saw mill.
Remnants of the mill’s foundations still exist.
Fortunately, the falls are watched over by fairy-sized snow people.
Stopping by the Upper Falls, we had memories of ice discs spinning counterclockwise, but they remained just that: memories from a Romancing the Stone Mondate two years ago. Last week, the temp was not quite as frigid so no discs formed.
Despite that, we hiked on for a couple of miles and eventually turned around to retrace our steps.
Fast forward to today and we headed off to explore two land trust properties in western Maine, the first of which we’d never traversed before. My extreme excitement upon arriving at the first was to learn that an outermost trail was named for G. Howard Dyer.
I had the pleasure of knowing Howard, who died at age 103 in 2009, when he lived at a local assisted living home where my mom also resided. He was an independent Mainer who drove a car into his late 90s and I remember his license plate: GHD. To me, it read: GOD. He’d turn into the home’s parking lot practically on two wheels, and though the old car had some dings, somehow Howard’s adventures weren’t thwarted by his age, maybe because he was GOD.
At the time that Mom lived in the same home, I volunteered to help the Activities Director one day a week and one of the things I did besides arts and crafts was create a monthly newsletter filled with recipes, poetry, songs and memories of yesteryear that the residents shared with me.
For one issue, I spent some time interviewing Howard about his life and experiences. He was a great storyteller and shared with me that over the years he’d lived in Otisfield on and off. Knowing that state law required perambulation of the town’s boundaries, in 1946 he conducted his first walk about town. Fifty-six years later, in 2002, he knew that no one had walked the boundaries in a long time. So, at 95 years of age, he decided to do it again. “Weren’t sure I could do it,” Howard told me as his eyes twinkled. “Didn’t say it to anybody.”
It took him months to complete because he’d walk here today, there tomorrow. When he finally finished the job, he told town officials. As Howard told it, they were surprised because they couldn’t get anyone to do it due to “swamps and all, you know.”
Howard’s accomplishments were included on the 2002-2004 House Appendix of the Legislative Record when he received Otisfield’s Boston Cane. “Town law required perambulation of the boundaries every ten years, and as a gift to the town, Mr. Dyer walked the 34-mile Town of Otisfield’s boundary line, once at the age of 39 and more recently at the age of 95.”
He was quite a guy and actually ten or more years ago my guy and I decided to follow his example and perambulated the boundary of our town, a section this Monday, another section the next Monday, taking a year to connect all the dots.
I was thrilled to see that Howard had been honored by having a trail named for him, and suggested to my guy that perhaps we need to consider repeating our perambulation. To which he readily agreed.
For today, however, we had other things to notice, and lately it seems no hike is complete unless a Winter Firefly can be found.
There were other insects burrowed in place and they shall remain nameless because I didn’t want to expose them any more than they already were.
My learning continued as we journeyed on and we were almost finished exploring Howard’s trail when I spied an oval shaped sawfly cocoon on a Northern Red Oak twig.
But it was the cluster of cocoons at the end of the twig that deserved even more attention. I’m 95% certain (until someone tells me otherwise) that this is the random formation of a parasitic bracinoid wasp cocoon. The question remains: who died so this structure could be created? Because that’s what these wasps do–parasitize other insects by laying their eggs upon them.
We soon left Howard’s Trail behind and moved on to tramp along another trail, where a White Oak pulled me in because the salmon color and rounded edge of the leaves always stops me in my tracks.
Because I stepped in for a closer look, the sapling honored me with the offering of what I think is an old Wooly Sower Gall, which I believe only has a relationship with this species. When first formed, it would have consisted of white wool highlighted with pink spots, but apparently it takes several years for the larvae to mature and the structure develops “horns” over time.
Lest you think I have been ignoring mammals to focus on insects, never fear–I delighted with the discovery of a large cache/midden created by a Red Squirrel.
Our journey took us beside a river that follows a crooked course through the landscape, but what always amazes me is the erosion along the edge. For how much longer will this tree stand?
As we stood on the edge ten to fifteen feet above the river, we had to wonder–how high does it get that the bank should be so eroded at this height? We never seem to visit in late winter, but maybe this year we should. Though given the current lack of precipitation, maybe this isn’t the year to gain a baseline understanding.
At last we reached the trail end, and knew it was time to turn toward home.
It had been a successful day, coming unexpectedly upon the trail named for Howard and my guy locating a winter geocache that wasn’t really a winter geocache for he had to dig through some snow to find it and the snow isn’t at all deep. Yet.
We also discovered an impressive hollowed out tree through which we just had to chat. If I were a bear in the woods . . . this would be my den. Note to self: if you ever need an out-of-the-way place to rest, remember this spot.
And we found a fun key hanging from a tree, adding icing to our funky Mondate.
During our Staycation, my guy and I hiked a trail new to us that connects one mountain to another. Our intention had been to summit both that day, but because it took us some time to locate the actual trail head once we’d climbed two miles up a ski trail, we ran out of time to complete the route before turning around. At our turn-around point, we waypointed that spot on GPS knowing we’d return and actually looked forward to approaching from the opposite direction.
Today was that day. And so we signed in at the kiosk, and headed up the orange-blazed trail where many beech leaves had already fallen and enhanced our hike with the crunch they provided upon each step we took.
And where there are beech leaves, there are American Beech trees. And where there are beech trees, there might very well be bear claw marks. Though this has been a mast year for acorns and pinecones, it’s not been so for beech nuts, but by the pattern we spied, we knew that in the past this tree provided a few fine meals.
As the trail began to transition from beech and oak to spruce and fir, we found signs of another–perhaps a contemplator who got so lost in thought that he or she left behind a pair of fine specs. A few times in the past I’ve included finds such as this and the owners have been reacquainted with their losses. Perhaps these sunglasses will find their way home soon.
Though we didn’t wish away the hike as we ascended, we were eager to reach the point where the Black and White trail would depart to the right and knew when the substrate changed from packed trail, roots, and rocks to all granite, that it wouldn’t be long.
Indeed it wasn’t. Nor was the turn-around point. Ten minutes in, I looked at the GPS to see how much further we needed to go, and discovered we’d walked about 30 feet beyond the landmark we’d noted. We chuckled to think that a week ago we’d been soooo close.
A week ago, however, the Hobblebush did not look like this. That, in itself, was reason to give thanks that we’d ventured forth today.
Ten minutes later and we were back on the trail where more shades of red greeted us.
Some of it was pinkish in hue and I don’t think we’ve ever hiked past this perfectly split granite boulder without honoring its offerings.
Still, there was more trail to cover, so upward and onward we climbed.
At last we reached the summit and had another good chuckle. Along the way, we met one woman descending who rejoiced in the fact that today was her first day on this mountain. By the split rock, we watched as a younger man ran down the trail and shared with each other that that wasn’t a mode we would have chosen. But we both know those who like to run up and down. A wee bit further on, a man was taking a break as he sat on the granite and he, too, was amazed by the trail runner. It was also his first time to do this climb, and he asked my guy to take his photo. And then, as we stood at the summit and got our bearings with the mountains and man-made objects beyond, a woman approached and said, “I just need to touch that thing.” “Huh?” we thought. “What thing?” She pointed to the Geological Survey marker and we quickly moved out of her way. With one pole she touched it, said, “Now I can add it to the list,” and then pivoted and quickly began her descent. Her behavior drove home the fact that we all come to the mountains for different reasons and even if yours doesn’t make sense to us, it’s still yours.
One of our reasons for being there was to stand in the opposite position than we stood the first time we attempted the Black and White trail. Last week, we posed for a selfie below the radio tower viewed in the distance.
From the other summit, there wasn’t much of a view, but from today’s stance, the expanse was 360˚.
And so around . . .
and around . . .
As we began the descent moments later, my guy took in his royal kingdom.
My kingdom was at a much smaller scale, and it was the scales of a Tamarack cone that stopped me in my tracks. Tamarack. Hackmatack. Larch. Call it what you want, but do give it a shout out–at least in our area because it’s always a treat to find such. This conifer (cone-bearer) had begun to show off its deciduous nature as its the only one of its type in which its leaves (needles) change colors as sugars are shut down and photosynthesis ceases, just like the broad-leaf trees.
Eventually, we turned right onto the yellow trail down, and it wasn’t far along when we encountered the last of our human counterparts–two women who had just spotted a Green Snake. A Green Snake near the summit. Another treat of the trail. One woman thought she could catch it, but as she moved in it quickly slithered away for its nature is on the shy side and due to its color you may have been near one more frequently than you know, but it would have been well camouflaged within the foliage it prefers.
Before we left the bald ledges behind, we reveled in the rich shades of red that will become candy in our minds’ eyes for months to come.
The foliage is different this year as a result of the drought and then an early frost, both of which should have enhanced it, but for some reason didn’t. That said, there is still spectacular color to be found, all of it seemly encapsulated in a Bigtooth Aspen leaf.
Nearing the end of our journey, we paused upon a bridge for a snack break: a Kind Bar for him and apple for me.
And it was there that we met the trail ambassador: Prince Charming. By the size of the Green Frog’s large external eardrums (tympanums) we knew it was a male. If the tympanum is larger than the eye, it’s a male. Smaller equals female.
The prince was the icing on the cake for this Black and White Mondate filled in with various shades of red . . . and topped off with a bear tree, a Tamarack, and a couple of shades of green, including one who let me massage his back. And I’m not talking about my guy!
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.
I suggested this mountain to my guy the night before last. But yesterday morning I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive to it and so I offered two other possibilities much closer to home, including the one in our backyard. The original choice, however, still resonated with him because . . . there might be a pie involved. We could only hope.
We certainly found berries, though most weren’t meant for our pie, unless, of course, we were of the avian or mammal sort. This one the fruit of a Stinking Benjamin.
Along some parts of the trail Mountain Holly’s raspberry red berries mixed with the smell of the surrounding fir trees made us feel as if we’d stepped into the Christmas aisle.
The reds were delightful, but my favorite of all, the porcelain blue of Bluebead Lily, aka Clintonia. To think that its yellow spring flower transforms into this brilliant blue fruit astonishes me each time I have a chance encounter with it. Chance because as was the case along most of the trail, the berries had been consumed. Not edible to us, but obviously there are those who can enjoy the feast.
We could have eaten a Creeping Snowberry or two, but again, it’s always such a surprise to see these fruits that we left them for the animals to bake into their own dessert of choice.
For a long way, the trail passes through mixed woods but as we climbed higher the natural community gradually changed and soon we were among the evergreens, where a break offered a sampling of the view to come.
Staying out of view was a shy garter snake.
Until we reached the bald ledges, much of our vision was consumed by the forest floor for we had to pay attention to the exposed roots and rocks that thousands of others had trodden, knowing that somewhere in the midst we’d left our prints previously.
At times boulders bordered the trail in the form of enormous outcrops and I kept expecting to see a bobcat hiding within, but no such luck.
At last we reached the summit and took in the panoramic view. And rejoiced in the day, the opportunity to hike and encounter few others, and especially the temperature for it was really quite comfortable.
Beside the cairn we found lunch rock and . . . lunched. (Is that a verb?)
And then I began to poke around. I really wanted to get a photo of the dragonflies that kept zooming past and the butterflies who fluttered nearby but never paused. Instead, a White-spotted Sawyer flew in and took up a few minutes of my time.
That is until a hawk’s shadow drew our attention to the sky.
It suddenly turned and flew straight at us. I thought I was taking the most spectacular photograph just before I dove for cover. Apparently I missed that photo op but it will remain forever in our minds’ eyes . . . and we think it was a Goshawk based on its colors and behavior. That said, it was time for us to skedaddle.
And so we began our descent, choosing to make the loop that tried to allude us the first time we ever climbed this mountain. Now we know where to look for it, but if you go, know to keep searching for the cairns at the summit because otherwise there are a lot of false paths. Well, they aren’t actually false for they do exist, but they won’t lead you down the “easy” way.
Knowing that I was bummed not to snap a shot of the dragonflies at the top, my guy stopped when we encountered them again in sunny spots along the trail. No, he wasn’t saying “Peace be with you,” but rather he hoped to be a dragonfly whisperer. They’d have none of it, though they flew at us and over us and we repeatedly thanked them because we’ve been in this place when the biting bugs think we’re meant to be the feast.
At long last, my guy spotted this guy dangling as the darner family does. You might also find one resting upon a tree trunk. The lighting wasn’t right for me to make a precise identification because I couldn’t see the markings on its face and thorax, but still . . . I got my dragonfly and was happy.
Further along he pointed to scat and I said, “Weasel.” It was right beside a small critter hole and I suspected it had feasted upon the residents within.
To follow the loop takes a lot longer than had we chosen to descend the way we’d climbed up; but eventually we were back on the main trail where we’d completely missed this sign-in rock. We chose not to sign in or out and tried our best to leave no trace.
We took only photos, including a selfie as we ascended.
And though there were blueberries here and there along the trail and I suspect some of you expected us to pick and me to bake (LOL), we only sampled a few because on our way we’d stopped at the roadside bakery and made a selection, not wanting to take a chance that upon our return the shelves would be empty.
Our choice de resistance and reward for completing an over nine-mile hike: Blueberry Cherry Pie.
Indeed Glee upon Zle Mountain Mondate.
P.S. All along we talked about this pie and fully expected to dig in last night, but ended up eating too late because we had chores to do at home and it’s on the counter right now and I hope the grand moment will follow lunch today. That or we’ll just savor the sight of it for a while and remember that we love hiking that mountain because it offers such variety . . . and pie.
Imagine our joy. Imagine our smiles that showed our joy.
We’d considered a hike for this Mondate, but awaking to another humid day put the damper on that.
How should we spend the day? What would make us both happy?
A paddle seemed the perfect solution.
And so off we headed into the deep blue sea. Or rather, deep blue pond. My guy sought another hue of deep blue. In the form of certain berries so named for their color.
I, on the other hand, sought others, such as this Lancet Clubtail dragonfly who returned to my dirty kayak over and over again–a sibling chasing him off in between.
As we explored the edges of islands, my guy searching for fulfillment of the containers he’d brought along, Swamp Spreadwing damselflies, their form so dainty, posed frequently to my liking.
Among the branches of my guy’s desire, webs had been created . . . and unfortunately for some spreadwings, canoodling acts were ended by the sticky structure created by others.
Despite that, those known as Familiar Bluets found a way to continue the circle of life through their heart-shaped wheel.
Slaty Blue dragonflies were not to be outdone and she clung to him from her lower position.
As all things go in the natural world, not every dragonfly nymph completed the transformation to adulthood and thus a few were left in suspended animation. This one, in particular, reflected the bent form of the Pickerel Weed upon which it wished to emerge. So what happened? Why was the plant stem bent? Why didn’t the dragonfly complete the cycle of life? I’ll never know, but it’s worth wondering about.
Every once in a while upon our journey, I remembered to let the entire scene fill my scope and summer fill my soul. Did my guy do the same? I kinda think so, but can’t say for sure.
After all, his focus was on little berries of blue, while I took in a few other things, like the teeny flowers of Spatulate-leaved Sundew. Such a dainty flower for a carnivorous plant.
And the there was the Tachnid fly on the Swamp Milkweed.
The flies weren’t the only ones pollinating the flowers.
With eyes so big, and waist so thin, it could only be one: a wasp. But not all wasps are to be feared and this Great Golden Digger proved it has much to offer the world.
Into the mix flew a female Red-winged Blackbird, her focus not at all upon her reflection, but rather food to feed her young.
Fortunately for her, the mister also searched and provided.
As my guy foraged, I continued to hunt. My form of hunting, however, embraced only photographs, such as a small Blue Dasher Skimmer upon a Yellow Pond Lily.
Who ever determined such wee ones with white faces, metallic eyes, bright thorax stripes, and a blue abdomen with black tip as common? For me, the Blue Dasher will always be worth a wonder.
That’s exactly what I did on this Mondate as a Lancet Clubtail whirled upon my hat much like a beanie copter. I wondered while I wandered.
My guy foraged and foraged some more.
And in the midst of it all, I met a dragonfly new to me this summer who is supposed to be common: a male Widow Skimmer.
What a day. What a Mondate. What a dragonfly. What a wonder. Our Happy Place. Indeed.
After a delightful morning following friends in New Hampshire as we traversed their trail adjacent to the White Mountain National Forest, they told us of a different route to try before we headed off for our afternoon adventure. From the parking area at the trailhead, they said, begin hiking in a certain clock-face orientation and you’ll reach the falls that only the locals know about.
Bingo. We did as they further suggested and listened for the water, crossed a dry stream bed, and then made our way carefully down a steep embankment to the very spot they’d described. After pausing and enjoying the sight and sound for a little bit, we both came to the same conclusion. Rather than head back up to the trail, why not follow the stream to its source.
That meant walking beside moss-covered rocks as the water flowed forth.
At first it was on the easy side as we followed its course.
Our route became more challenging when we crossed slash at various times. (Can you see my guy?)
And ducked under and crawled backwards to get past some downed trees.
Hobblebush and Witch Hazel slowed us down. Well, maybe it only slowed me down. Again, can you spy him?
And then there were boulder fields to work our way around and through. Despite the sometimes challenging terrain . . .
as we continued to follow the water flowing south to its northern source . . .
the bushwhack provided us with delightful moments, such as the sight of a few Wood-sorrel flowers still in bloom.
The same was true of a Mountain Maple, its flowers splashing forth like a display of fireworks.
Occasionally damselflies known as Emerald Jewelwings landed nearby, he of the darker colors and she with a white dot at the tip of each wing.
At last we arrived at the pond that is the source of the brook. Whenever we are there we scan the landscape in hopes of spying a moose. A few tracks along the brook reminded us of their presence, but no actual sighting on this day.
We did spy more than a dozen Chalk-fronted Corporal dragonflies sunning on a rock.
And what I think was a Frosted Whiteface stuck in a spider web. Of course I had to free it.
Before setting it upon a Steeplebush, I did try to unfold its wing for the mosquitoes were thicker than thick and we’d been the source of their lunch. We only hoped this female could fly again and gobble up the pesky insects.
We could only imagine that the man in the buff we encountered as we hiked beside the brook must have provided the mosquitoes with an appetizer and dessert. We don’t know for sure because as he walked toward us, we quickly diverted for a short distance before returning to the brook, all in the name of social distancing, of course.
For our return trip, we stuck to the public trail, but gave great thanks to our morning hosts for telling us about the secret brook.
P.S. Happy Birthday Dr. Bubby! Thanks for letting us be a part of your birthday celebration.
Last week found us hiking up an old fav, but there’s another way to approach the summit and so today was the day to follow that route.
But first, my guy needed to sleep in for a bit because he’s been working way too hard of late and way too many hours and so he missed some early morning moments spent with our resident doe.
But that didn’t matter. A late morning start found us parking beside a clover patch where the swallowtail butterflies showed off not only their need for nectar, but battle scars as well.
Not long into the hike, we came upon a stone bench where we once shared lunch. It was only for a brief pause that we stopped today because the insects were thick, but still . . . it’s such a pleasant spot.
After conquering some wet spots along the way, we arrived at the wettest of all, that was actually quite dry. And not a dragonfly in sight.
After that we began to climb, encountering more damp seeps along the way.
All the while our eyes scanned the forest floor because on the other trail to the same summit we’d counted 150 lady’s slippers last week. It wasn’t until we were two miles into today’s hike that we finally found one.
At last we reached the start of the ledges, a welcome spot for that meant no more mucky spots and fewer biting insects.
By the time we reached the same spur to the summit that we’d followed last week, we’d counted 13 lady’s slippers. Mind you, as we began the hike I asked my guy how many he thought we’d see. “One hundred,” he replied. And then he turned the question to me. “Seventy-five,” I said.
At the intersection he conceded. “You win because you had the lower number.”
“What do you think we’ll count when the lady’s slippers fade,” I asked.
“Deer Flies,” he said. Funny guy, my guy.
We agreed that we couldn’t count the ladies along the spur since we’d already acknowledged them last week. That is, until we came upon a bouquet we’d completely missed. Eight in a cluster like none we’d seen before.
We did chuckle a bit further on for we knew there were a bunch, but swear more had appeared for today’s display. Though you can’t see them all because some are by the tree line, there were fourteen that we know of. That’s one more than along today’s chosen trail.
Even though we had stopped counting, I have to tell you that we continued to point out old friends to each other, and even found a few others we’d previously missed. Besides the bouquet, my favorite was a wee blossom that hid under a red maple sapling.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge others on display like the huckleberry’s red flowers shaped like bells waiting to ring joyous sounds across the summit.
And then there was the flower beetle atop a mountain ash tree. I was pretty sure it was a flower beetle because . . . um, it was a beetle on a flower. But beyond that my knowledge and research were limited. So as I do in such cases, I reached out to Maine Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood, who said that I’d found an uncommon scarab, Gnorimella maculosa, or Maculated Scarab. Maculate means “mark with a spot.”
And then there were the ants pretending to be part of a flower structure.
Birds also were in on the scene, though we actually heard the songs of many more than we had the honor to see. But this Mourning Dove posed on the trail for us and we could hear a mate call from nearby so we suspected there must be a nest in the vicinity.
Our wonders were many, but the best of all . . . when we reached lunch rock we realized several women who were social distancing had arrived at the overlook before us. Funny thing . . . we knew them. Funnier thing . . . and the best part was that last week along this same mountain we’d met Eleanor on the left and Rachel in the middle. Today, Amy completed their friendship triangle.
Who knew that as we stepped up the notch from a different starting point on this Mondate, we’d find these three amigas. Perfect.
Today’s hike meant we had to drive about thirty minutes north to an old favorite, but though we’ve hiked it a bunch in the past, we had no idea what to expect–including meeting my friend Rachel Pickus and her friend Eleanor on the trail.
Not long after we began hiking, we discovered a lone lady’s slipper and fondly thought of our discovery last week of over 200 of these beauties. The special thing about this one was that not only was it a solo but also pure white . . . a variation of a pink.
Offering other colors to the mix in the mixed forest were a couple of red-belted polypores, the name truly a misnomer for the belt along the outer margin was whitish-orange, but can also be yellowish-orange, red, brown or white.
Flitting about at our feet whenever it seemed the sun shone through the canopy were tiny blue butterflies known as Spring Azures. Though named for the season in which they are one of the first to fly, they’re known to be on the wing until autumn so keep your eyes as wide open as theirs for a one inch flash of blue at your feet.
Within a short time we reached a beaver pond that was most active with dragonflies and the banjo strums of green frogs than beavers.
To cross, one must get a wee bit muddy along the beaver dam where a few large tree cookies have been added this year as stepping “stones.”
As we moved across, the frogs who were calling did leap away, except for one who channeled its inner chipmunk and froze in place, perhaps in hopes that we wouldn’t notice. Can frogs hope? Or is that one of those most people of things?
Upward we climbed, though really, the trail is moderate in difficulty. But speaking of difficulty, check out the root of this hemlock tucked as it was inside the rock. Hemlock rock. Hemrock?
And then there was the snag of an ash tree. So you see the scar? That hollowed out part? Many of the trees along the trail exhibited such scars for the area had been logged years ago by the United States Forest Service given that we were in the White Mountain National Forest (and actually met a forester on the trail). Why the scars? Because trees pulled out of the forest would have been dragged past these and injured them in the process.
But . . . again a sign of hope if trees can hope. Or rather, if snags can hope. For this ash still had roots participating in the flow high and low of fluids and an errant compound leaf grew out of the bark.
It wasn’t long after that that I once again realized my guy has an eye for the ladies. Or at least their slippers. And odd fetish indeed. But we began to count.
The count continued as we ventured out to the ledge of a spur trail and Kearsarge North showed off its pyramid form in the distance.
Continuing to climb, we soon met a friend in the form of a Racket-tailed Emerald dragonfly.
They’re known for their metallic green thorax with brown hairs, black legs, and clear wings. with a wee bit of yellow and black at the base of the hindwings. In their simplicity, they are truly beautiful.
And speaking of beautiful, have you noticed Tiger Swallowtails everywhere of late? This one sought the nectar of chokeberry in bloom.
While I noticed the butterflies and dragonflies and trees and fungi, my guy focused in on the ladies of his dreams. By the time we’d reached the summit and ledges beyond, he’d counted many.
As we took in the view at the last cairn, and the peak on his back matched the peaks beyond, he commented that a week ago he never expected to spot so many lady’s slippers and today he added 150 to the count. I never expected him to slow down and count. Two hundred last week. One hundred fifty today. We definitely stepped it up a notch on this Mondate.
Our afternoon adventure began beside a brook in western Maine where the wildflowers and mosquitoes do thrive.
We looped along beside the water, enjoying the sound of it and each other’s voice flowing forth, rhythm and tempo matched.
Occasionally I’d say, “Wait a minute,” from behind for so stunning were the sights including Clintonia (Bluebead Lily) and . . .
even a lingering Painted Trillium or two.
But soon it became apparent who the biggest star of the show at our feet might be. I think it was a mention that so many Lady’s Slippers were spotted along a short section of a Greater Lovell Land Trust trail over the weekend that got my guy going and suddenly he pointed out every moccasin flower within sight to me.
Along the way he saw other interesting things like a burl on a birch that could have been two small bear cubs.
I pointed out an Indian Cucumber Root in flower and decorated with drops from rain and hail that fell upon us occasionally as the sun shone, but the blossom didn’t seem to excite him as much as it did me.
Instead, pure white flowers offered their rendition of a Pink Lady and he didn’t let it go unnoticed.
After a few miles we reached the pond for which the mountain in the background was named and enjoyed the view, knowing that a mile or two later we’d be at the summit looking back toward the very place where we stood in the moment.
Onward we continued and so did the Lady’s, which found my guy saying, “If you told me I’d be counting 150 Lady’s Slippers today, I’d say you were crazy.” But so we did. And then we counted more for we found a huge patch.
“Thirty-one right here,” he said. And with that he felt quite satisfied for he knew he’d far surpassed the weekend count on another trail. Ah, nothing like a little competition to keep this guy going.
At last we reached a bog crossing at the end of the pond and then followed the trail uphill.
It was here that others garnered our attention such as a young chipmunk that dashed up a tree as my guy passed and then turned to look back.
Chipster paused as we stood, then dashed down the tree and disappeared into a hole in the leaf litter.
Onward and upward we journeyed into the land where the slippers weren’t as abundant, but still there were a few.
At last we reached the summit where the pond below formed a heart in our mind’s eye and we gave thanks for the fact that we can get out and hike and never spot another person. All that and as we descended there were more Lady’s Slippers to add to the count.
On this Mondate with the ladies my guy was amazed to spy so many and I was amazed that he enjoyed the sight of every one of them.
We had no intention of eating lunch in this spot today, but while looking for a mountain to climb, we kept encountering full parking lots and so our backroad meander put us beside a bog at lunch time and voilà, we managed to walk all of less than two tenths of a mile. Total.
But in that short distance, our eyes feasted. First it was all the Painted Turtles basking in the sun.
And then a Grackle flew in with a meal in beak.
I didn’t realize what that meal was until . . .
while expounding on one topic or another of which I’m sure I thought I was the authority, I stopped mid-sentence with a mouth open wide in surprise for upon a tree trunk a newly emerged dragonfly showed off its slowy unfolding wings as it moved back toward the exuviae from which it had just emerged. Why did it move back? I don’t know, but they often cling on nearby as they let their wings dry before flying. It was at that point that my lecture changed focus and suddenly I knew that our being there was important for we were saving this vulnerable being from becoming the Grackle’s dessert.
As for our lunch, my guy found a spot and . . . dined alone. I was beside myself with joy and knew there were more discoveries to make. Thankfully, he has the patience of Job in many situations, and this was one of them.
A brisk breeze blew, which kept the Black Flies at bay, a good thing for us, and perhaps it was also a welcome treat for the dragonflies as they dried their wings in preparation for first flight.
Some managed to keep wings closed over their abdomens, but again, that was another sign of new emergence for as adults, wings are spread while resting.
In the sunshine of the early afternoon, those cloudy, moist wings glistened and offered a rainbow of subtle colors.
Upon a variety of vegetation different species clung in manners of their ancestors until ready for takeoff.
At one point I turned and was surprised to find this friend upon a sapling beside my knees.
And so we began to chat . . . until he’d heard enough and flew off.
But in that same second another flew in even closer, and I just had to find out. Would he or wouldn’t he?
He would and did. Yes, I quietly placed my finger on the leaf and he climbed aboard, then struck a rather relaxed pose.
As is the custom right now, today’s journey took us over bumpy roads and found us turning right directly across from Notch View Farm where I ventured with friends a few weeks ago. We couldn’t drive in too far, and so parked, donned our Micro-spikes for the walk in and grabbed snowshoes just in case.
I love the winter trek because it forces us to notice offerings beside the dirt road (hidden as it was beneath the snow) that we overlook when we drive in during other seasons. There’s a certain yellow house that has always intrigued us and today was no different because the snow and ice created an awning for the porch.
As I snapped photos of the overhang, my guy redirected my attention to the eaves where bald-faced hornets had created their own abode.
On more than one occasion.
That was all fine, but the real reason I love the journey is because of the telephone poles along the way. At the tip of each arrow I added is a nail. By the top one you should see a wee bit of metal, which once represented that pole’s number. Not any more.
When the metal numbers are a bit astray or downright missing, it can mean only one thing. Time to check for hair. Black bear hair.
Wads of hair greeted us today. Usually we only find a few strands. Bleached out by the sun, I had to wonder if it still told the message originally intended.
Down the entire length we saw more of it and envisioned the bear rubbing its back against the pole as a means of communication.
Sometimes they scratch and other times they turn their heads as they rub, and then bite the pole with their upper and lower incisors, thus leaving the dash and dot horizontal lines. My question remains: did the one for whom this message was intended receive it? We’ll never know, but we are always thrilled to know that Ursus americanus still roams these woods.
What woods exactly are they? We’d walked in from Route 113 to the Stone House Property, where the gate may be closed, but hikers are welcome.
Our plan was to circle around Shell Pond via the trails maintained by the US Forest Service and Chatham Trail Association.
Six hundred acres of the Stone House property is under conservation easement with the Greater Lovell Land Trust thanks to the foresight of the owners.
A few steps beyond the trailhead, we decided it was packed enough that we could stash our snowshoes and pray we’d made the right decision. While doing so, some artist’s conks showed off their beautiful display.
A few more steps and my guy did some trail work. If we can move downed trees and branches, we do. And we did several times. But all in all, the trail was in great shape.
We didn’t mind for they mostly required a hop or giant step. And provided us with the most pleasing of sounds–running water being such a life-giving force.
They also offered icy sculptures.
And given the fact that today’s temp eventually climbed into the 60˚s, we knew that we won’t get to enjoy them much longer.
As Shell Pond came into view, so did the cliffs where peregrine falcons will construct eyries and breed. This is perfect habitat for them, given the cliffs for nesting and perching and keeping them safe from predators, and open water below creating habitat for delicious morsels (think small birds) worth foraging.
And then a rare moment arrived, where I agreed to pose beside a bust of T-Rex, for so did my guy think the burl resembled.
And then another rare moment, when we discovered bear scat upon an icy spot in the trail. It was full of apple chunks and we knew eventually we’d reach the orchard where our friend had dined.
At long last, well, after a few miles anyway, we stopped at lunch bench, which was still rather buried. My guy cleared a spot as best he could and then he sat while I stood and we enjoyed our PB&J sandwiches. Oranges and Thin Mints rounded out the meal. (We did stop at the Stow Corner Store later in the day for an ice cream, but Moe told us she was all out for the rest of the season. We should have grabbed some other goodie but left with ice cream on our minds–a desire we never did fulfill.)
Our lunch view–the spectacular Shell Pond with the Bald Faces forming the background and a bluebird sky topped of with an almost lenticular cloud. Or was that a UFO?
Off to the right-hand side, we needed to check on the beaver lodge to see if anyone was in residence.
From our vantage point, it appeared that someone or two had come calling and there was a lot of activity between a hole in the ice and the upper part of the lodge. But, conditions didn’t allow for a closer look and as warm as it was, we didn’t feel like swimming. Well, we did. But . . .
A wee bit further and we reached Rattlesnake Brook, which feeds the pond.
It’s another of my favorite reasons for hiking the trails in the area, for I love pausing beside it to notice the many gifts it provides, which change with the seasons. Today, those gifts included the feathery winter form of an ostrich fern’s fertile fronds.
And squiggly shadows intercepted by linear reflections.
It was near there that we found rotten apples and the muted tracks of many visitors, one of whom we suspected we knew based on the scat we’d seen.
At last we reached the military airstrip built in the 1940s for training exercises during WWII. As always it was a moment when we were thrilled by the views, but also sad that our journey was coming to an end.
After remembering to snag our snowshoes from behind the tree where we’d stashed them (and gave thanks that we’d made the right decision on footwear), we followed the road back out.
Our only other wish would have been the opportunity to purchase some lemonade on this Mondate around Shell Pond that felt like a summer day. We might have even bought cookies and fish flies, given the opportunity.
It’s an old fav, Bald Pate Mountain Preserve in South Bridgton. And we love to visit it in any season. That being said, winter will “end” in a few weeks and this morning we realized we needed to head on over.
Our plan was to follow the Moose Trail for its entire length, then continue on the South Face Loop to the summit, start down the Bob Chase Trail, veer off to Foster Pond Lookout and then make our way back by rejoining Bob Chase.
One might expect to see a moose along the first trail, and we hoped to have such luck, but it was not to be. Instead, do you see the ski tracks? Portions of the preserve are groomed for cross-country skiers as part of the system at the adjacent Five Fields Farm.
What else did we spy? Some wicked cool finds in my book of wonder. For instance, you may think that this broken off piece of a twig is merely dangling from its counterpart, but . . . it is solidly stuck in place by a fungus known commonly as glue crust. It glues together twigs and branches that touch each other.
And sometimes twigs meet the bark on the trunk of a tree and hang in what you might think of as an unnatural stance.
The fungus is the dark bumpy structure that the second twig is stuck to, much like a magical act performed by nature. Really though, this fungus doesn’t let the twig fall to the ground where it would be decomposed by other fungi. Pretty tricky–making a claim all for its own benefit.
Continuing on, we scanned every beech tree in hopes of finding bear claw trees. We did find a beech worth honoring for we loved how it rested an elbow on the boulder below and with two arms formed a frame of the scene beyond.
Ever so slowly we climbed upward, our pace not my guy’s usual because of the bear paw challenge. When one is looking, however, one discovers so many other things upon which to focus like this rather common birch polypore in a rather uncommon shape, almost like a Christmas bell jingling in the breeze.
And then there was a display of snipped hemlock twigs scattered across the snow-covered forest floor.
We looked up and saw not a silhouetted form, but by the debris, which include diagonal cuts on the twigs, comma-shaped scat (some a bit more rounded than others), and even the soft, curly belly hairs of the creator, we knew a porcupine had dined overnight.
We looked a wee bit, but found not its den. By its tracks, however, we could tell that it had made more than one visit to this fine feasting spot.
Had we climbed the Bob Chase Trail we would have reached the summit in twenty minutes, but our choice to circle about before hiking up meant we spent two hours approaching the top where the bonsai trees of the North grow–in the form of pitch pines.
The true summit is a wee bit higher and so we continued on and then turned back to take in the view of Peabody Pond below.
It was there that while looking for insect cocoons I came across the gouty oak gall caused by teeny wasps no bigger than fruit flies. The structure was woody as it’s a couple of years old. And almost creepy in its display, like a head with many eyes looking every which way.
We did take the hint and looked every which way ourselves, the next point of view beyond Hancock Pond and beyond.
And then we moved on, until that is, we reached the wall of tripe, which always invites me to stop.
Water had also stopped in the form of several frozen falls.
And again, more of nature’s magic for the icicles facilitated photosynthesis by the algal partner of the lichen’s symbiosis. It’s a thing worth liken.
Nearby, a relative also begged a notice. Do you see the black flat-headed disks upon the surface? Those are the fruiting bodies or apothecium where this lichen’s spores are produced. The common name for this umbilicate structure: toadskin.
Just above the tripe and toadskin offerings, Pleasant Mountain came into view. Hidden behind a cloudy veil was Mount Washington, which typically sits in the saddle of the Pleasant Mountain ridgeline.
As we wound down and around, polypody ferns spoke about the weather–some were curled as it was cooler in their location upon a boulder in a hemlock grove, but others were flattened bespeaking the rising temperature.
Our last focal point before heading back to the parking lot was the lookout to Foster Pond. Where once stood a tall cairn, there are now two shorter ones marking the point of view and turn-around.
It was there that we discovered another gouty oak gall, its size at least that of a golf ball; a rather holey, warty golf ball.
This preserve is forever a fav in any season, which on this Mondate offered a flash ahead (think the opposite of flashback, rather like a preview) of what is to come. We love winter. And we especially love snow. But . . . we also love all the other seasons and the perennial plants on the southern side of the mountain where the snow has melted a bit, showed off their evergreen shades and hints of future events. Wintergreen and Trailing Arubuts, the later with the long buds atop a hairy stem.
Getting to know you, getting to know all about you: Maine that is. And more specifically, its state parks. To that end, my guy and I have been traveling at a snail’s pace since we began this journey a year ago,. In 2019, we checked two off the list. But today . . . the number finally more than doubled.
Our journey began with lunch at Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth. Shout out to several local businesses and friends: Pam and Justin Ward of Bridgton Books for the book bag in which we packed today’s picnic, Sierra Sunshine Simpson for the bee’s wax wrap that kept our sandwiches fresh, Fly Away Farm for the sourdough wheat bread and grape jam that enhanced our Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, and my sister for the chocolate-covered McVitie’s digestive biscuits that rounded out the meal.
Lunch completed, we began to look around and right beside the picnic table grew ever-hairy Staghorn Sumac twigs with heart-shaped leaf scars surrounding new buds. What’s not to love?
At last we headed off onto the trails. Do you see what I see? Or rather, do you not see what I don’t see? Snow. Back home, it’s quite deep, but along the coast, it seemed to be non-existent.
Eventually the trail led to the Atlantic Ocean and the infamous rocky coast of Maine. It’s really my mom’s rocky coast of Maine for she was always in search of such. Having grown up in Connecticut like she did, I understand her fascination.
My limited understanding of geological folds created by heat and pressure during the mountain-building process was enhanced by crashing waves.
Within the complexity of the geological formations was another with its own history written throughout its structure.
Sunburst lichen, foliose to umbilicate, spreading extensively, yet loosely attached, smooth to somewhat wrinkled, featured a complex organism that arose from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of fungi in a mutualistic relationship that included yeast in the mix. How’s that for a simple life form?
Step by step, one amazing feature after another made itself known, including a quartz vein cutting a quartzite bed.
Eventually we came a rock that could have been a sculpture of a bald eagle. Or perhaps a story written that still needed to be deciphered.
We continued to walk along the edge, enjoying the action of the waves as juxtaposed beside the prehistoric rocks. Part of the splendor, in fact, a major part, included the color. Our western Maine eyes don’t mind the blues and browns and greens and whites of winter, but beheld the beauty and bounty that was the splendor of this winter day.
We stood in wonder as the waves moved in, met the rock with splashes high and lo, and then retreated.
At last we walked higher ground, but still noted buckets of wonder as waves interacted with rocks to the southwest.
Beside the well-worn path we walked, others who have known this way from one generation to the next offered their winter forms, such as this Queen Anne’s Lace.
The woody form of Evening Primrose also greeted us in the midday midst.
Bulbous and colorful, yet equally full of flavor (so noted in days of yore by my father) and vitamins , rose hips offered their own take of winter.
I soon learned as we stepped away from the coastline that we weren’t the only soles who wandered the area. A vole had traveled in the subnivean layer between the ground’s surface and snow that had been–leaving its telltale tunnel.
After we circled about the edge of the 41-acre property, we headed “inland” toward the reason for its special upkeep as a state park. Once upon a time this had been a prime piece of land that offered a protective layer to Portland’s port. While a battery had been constructed, with clear points of view and contact, as well as enemy protection, no guns had ever been fired.
About a tenth or two down the road, a mini harbor provides protection for any who travel the fingered coast of Maine.
Because it offered smaller rocks among its mix, I asked my guy to look for hearts. Seek and ye shall find.
Seaweed and seashells added to the array and provided another colorful hue to this mid-winter day.
Across the harbor from our stance stood one of the two former lighthouses for which the area was known.
No longer in use, its light warned ocean farers of the rocky coast. Life has changed since its day of service, but as we stood nearby we could hear the toll of its well-revered friend, a bell buoy.
In the opposite direction of the lighthouse, the folded rocks bespoke their ancient form.
Beside such, we could feel the bend and imagine the creation.
Stepping atop, we looked back and took in the landscape.
And then we moved on, stepping out toward a beach whose shape rendered its name.
Walking upon its much softer coastal offering, we noted artistic “trees” that appeared to be deer hiding in the sandy forest.
And then there was the moss-colored seaweed making us think of the Emerald Isle miles and miles beyond.
After crossing from the seaweed-covered rocks to an upland piece, we then stepped down toward the water again where red sand greeted us and if your imagination is in as full gear as ours was, you may see a heart within the sandy artwork.
In places where water flowed over rock faces, we rejoiced in the interface of ripples upon ridges.
Up close and beyond, the scenery and the scents filled the innermost recesses of our souls.
And the artwork of those who had come before touched our whimsical sides.
After we’d reached the southwestern edge and turned back, the reason for this state park’s name became most obvious: Crescent Beach.
Walking back, we continued our quest for the shape of a heart. I found one in the suds of the retreating tide.
At exactly the same moment, my guy found one in a more rounded form among the stone offerings.
And then a gull captured our attention. He appeared to have found a hamburger roll upon which to dine.
For a few minutes he played with his meal, perhaps softening its texture in the low water.
When he finally did partake of his meal, he swallowed it all in one piece and if you look carefully at his neck, you may see the bulge on its way down.
Our third and final park of the day, for so are they closely located along the roads of Cape Elizabeth here in Maine, was Kettle Cove. Of course, it’s located between the other two, but we saved it for last.
On another day we’ll revisit it and take a look at the tidal pools that it offers, but the sun was growing low in the sky when we arrived and so our journey was on the rather quick side and didn’t do it the true honor it should receive.
In the end, however, we were thrilled with the opportunity to explore three state parks in our quest to get to know Maine better. Today’s LOVE ME, love me tour included Two Lights State Park, Crescent Beach State Park, and Kettle Cove State Park–three gems in a row.
This past weekend’s January thaw was a doozy. First the temperature reached 61˚ on Saturday and then 56˚ on Sunday with a downpour in the mix and most of our 12+-inch snowpack disappeared.
And so after my guy and I finished some errands in North Conway, New Hampshire, we decided to walk along the Saco River to check on the conditions.
Our starting point was at the Smith-Eastman Landing on Meeting House Road. A look at the old bridge stanchions brought childhood and teenage memories of the covered bridge that once stood there back to my guy.
According to an article in the September 23, 2015 issue of the Conway Daily Sun:
“The bridge between Redstone and Center Conway — the Smith-Eastman Bridge — was built in 1845-46. It was the longest, historically. Animosity developed among townfolk over where it should be located. Many wanted the Chataque site in Conway, as it would allow them to get to Dover more easily. Those living eastward toward Center Conway wanted it there in order to get to Portland.
Judge Joel Eastman, with his farm located at the latter site, won out. His neighbor was John Smith, who delivered the stage line to Portland. Tolls would be necessary. In December 1844, articles were drawn up between the two men, and they were ultimately reimbursed by the town. Many called this bridge the Joel Eastman; others the Smith-Eastman.
This bridge was repaired in the 1930s by members of the Broughton family. Sadly, arsonists — partying youths — destroyed the 130-year-old structure in July 1975. A plaque was erected at the site a year later as part of local observances of the nation’s bicentennial.“
To the south, though not currently in use, the train trestle bespoke a time of prosperous productivity based upon action at the Redstone Quarry
Our journey began at the south side of the Smith-Eastman Park and after crossing a small footbridge, we followed the trail beside the river. Notice the snow deficit. But . . . there was ice as today’s temp was in the more seasonal low 20s, though it felt more like the teens, perhaps because we’d been spoiled over the weekend. Anyway, I wore my micro-spikes; my guy shoved his into a pocket. At least he had them with him. We climbed a mountain a month and a half ago, and he intentionally left them behind. Let’s suffice it to say he regretted that decision on more than one occasion when his feet left the Earth.
As we walked along today, our Beech tree vision found us looking for bear claw marks. We never did see any, but an elbow did manifest before our eyes. So . . . what’s its story? Someone marked the trail by bending the tree? Another tree landed atop it in its younger days and caused it to reform? Your thoughts?
Continuing on, we came to a stump where you know who decided to sit and don those micro-spikes. He was behind me as I took this photo and acknowledged the fact that he’d made the right choice.
As you can see, it’s a well traveled trail that offers recreational opportunities for both man and his best furry friend.
Despite the fact that this is a well-frequented doggie walk, we also found evidence that wild mammals are familiar with the territory as evidenced in deer prints and fresh beaver works.
We looked for a lodge, but found none. Perhaps theirs was a bankside lodge located in a place we couldn’t reach.
And where humans were warned not to fish, another mammal whose name shall be forever muted by the conditions, went across an ice covered swamp to get to the other side.
Side trails frequently departed the main drag and led to the water. This was the only one with such an artistic sign and we gave thanks to the Cato Trust for the creation–of sign and trail.
We checked out their beach. It wasn’t exactly a beach day, but . . . when in Rome.
Not long after that a strange structure greets all those who travel this way. It’s a shed with mini solar panels above and cables and other forms of technology, all bedecked with a dark moss I couldn’t identify. As a gauge station for the USGS Maine Water Science Center and provides data National Water Quality Monitoring Council.
From the beach below it, we looked back toward Route 302 as the day darkened and a fine sleety mist greeted the only exposed part of our bodies, our cheeks. I probably should have had us pose for a selfie for we both would have added a rosy color to the landscape.
Because of the melting and rain, the water level was high, but not at its highest. Still, we wondered if there was any ice left.
Eventually, we began to find it offering a contrast to lichen covered rocks.
And thick sheets sitting upon the shore like beached whales.
We found frozen ground, ripple marks created by the water’s motion, and thin layers recreating the work of line artists.
Then there was a stream that flowed innoculously below our feet until it met the riverbank and added various sculptures to those who ventured near.
We enjoyed the view offered from either side of a downed tree, but chose not to climb down and taken in the scene from below. I know we missed something, but it was rather steep and as great as our micro-spikes were in giving us a feeling of security, we didn’t feel like going swimming.
In the end, and after a couple of hours and three or four miles our journey did come to an end because it was sleeting by the time we finished, it was the configuration of rocks and ice, ice and rocks, and all the lines and textures they offered that intrigued us most on this Mondate.