Cheap Seats

Setting: A backyard in western Maine on what some might consider a bleak spring day, e.g. a snowy April 8th.

(Cock-eyed bird feeders indicative of ground thawing—really)

Act I, Scene i: I must wonder when “In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.” This one, however, marched on, soon to leave, not once uttering, “Nevermore.”

Act II, Scene i: (enter stage left), And then said one Junco to another, “Junco, Junco, wherefore art thou Junco?” (exit center stage only when sliding snow falls from the roof and lands on the ground with a smack, thus startling all)

Act II, Scene ii: (enter stage right) Where there’s a Junco these days, so is there a Song Sparrow, its conical beak ever ready to crack open a seed. (exit stage left after chasing the Juncos around)

Act II, Scene iii: (enter stage left, right and center) Not to be left out of the gang, Black-capped Chickadees flew in and out at a much quicker pace, grasping a seed and taking it to a Lilac branch to break it open. (exit stage left and then fly in and out, over and over again.)

Act II, Scene iiii: (enter stage right) Making noise as he arrived, a Downy Woodpecker showed off his preference for suet over seed. (exit stage left, with undulating flight)

Intermission: All goes silent as the lights go up in the theatre and in flies a Barred Owl. (finally)

As often happens during Intermission, the owl looked about at the offering of treats. 

He checked the cupcakes and cookies on sale to the left. 

And then he turned his focus to the right, where the drinks were on tap. 

He even checked out the items below his feet, hoping upon hope to find a morsel to his liking.

Despite all the choices, or maybe because of them, he had to stretch out one leg . . . 

and scratch an itch. 

Eventually he changed his orientation to take a better look at the entire spread of food. 

But still, he couldn’t make up his mind and so he looked some more. 

And swiveled his neck around. 

By the time intermission ended, he hadn’t made up his mind and so he moved off without munching any of the specialty items. 

Act III Scene i: (enter stage left, right, and center) The large flock of Juncos flew in, flew out, and flew in again. (exit the same way came in, dispersing in every direction)

Act III, Scene ii: (enter stage left) From the shrubs we hear the song first and then Mr. Cardinal flies to the Lilac. (quickly exit stage right)

Act III, Scene iii: (enter stage left) Mrs. Cardinal arrives only after her guy has flown off. She shows her determination to dine on some morsels of corn.

Act III, Scene iv: (stay on stage, move to the right, then turn sharp left) Showing her determination, she lets nothing stop her. 

Act III, Scene v: (center stage) With a kernel of corn in her beak, she shows off her success. (exit stage right as she searches for her Mr.)

Act IV, Scene i: (enter stage left, right and center) A repeat performance of the Juncos and Song Sparrows (exit every which way when the snow once again flies off the roof)

Act V, Scene i: (enter stage right) With its own flash of color an American Robin pays a brief visit to the stage (exit stage left)

Act V, Scene ii: (enter stage left) With its breast not quite as vibrant, a Red-breasted Nuthatch ponders the possibilities. 

Act V, Scene iii: (center stage) And a decision was made, a morsel of suet consumed. (exit stage right)

Act V, Scene iv: (enter stage right) Waiting until almost the end of the performance, a pair of Tufted Titmice flew in, grabbed a quick bite, and flew off again in the direction from whence they’d come. (exit stage right)

Act VI, Scene i: (enter stage right) Outlasting his Junco relatives, the Song Sparrow continued to eat . . .

Act VI, Scene ii: (center stage) and eat evermore, whether a caged bird or not. (exit stage right)

Act VII, Scene i: (enter stage right) And then a Hermit Thrush sat upon the Quaking Aspen sapling to mark the final act.

Act VII, Scene ii: (center stage) Its upturned bill will soon provide us with the most beautiful, yet hauntingly exquisite song; clear, musical phrases will blend brilliantly as ethereal, harmonious tones. Spring really has arrived in western Maine. (exit stage left)

Grand Finale: (center stage) Spring arrives in its own rendition each year. And the Barred Owl watches.

We watched as well, thankful for the cheap seats that turned out to be the best seats.

A Buck for Two Hearts Mondate

Our journey today found us along the coast of Maine once again despite the small craft warning. It’s just wind, we figured, though we did make sure to bring along extra layers, hats, and gloves.

Biddeford Pool was our overall destination, but really the tide was out and wind so strong by the pool, that we decided to check out a few other locations in the area.

We actually drove by the pathway to the next location twice before a small sign caught our attention. To reach Maine Audubon’s East Point Sanctuary one must follow the narrow path.

Being a bird sanctuary, we weren’t surprised to be greeted by one–but really, an American Robin? We chuckled at the offering.

And then moved on to admire the view–the rocky coast of Maine.

And upon the rocks, bursts of sunshine in the form of lichen.

And in the water, waves crashing over the rocks.

Likely, it was waves of a similar or even more forceful nature that dislodged a couple of lobster pots and dropped them upon the pathway. At least, we wanted to believe their presence was of a natural cause.

The sanctuary is located at the mouth of the Saco River, and we realized we’d never actually viewed it from this vantage point before.

Nor were we familiar with Wood Island lighthouse, which was built in 1806 and manned until 1986 to guide mariners into Winter Harbor and the Saco River.

Nearby, a bell cast in England in 1872 that tolled for at the lighthouse for many years as part of the navigation system, was on display in a park.

But our eyes cued in to what was more in our range and we began to notice the birds on the rocks, in the water and air.

And suddenly, like magic, for perhaps that’s what binoculars do, my guy became a birder-in-the-making. Oh, don’t tell him because I know he’ll deny it. But he did notice subtle details of the diving ducks.

The Common Eiders were the most abundant in our view.

The breeding males stood out with their white and black featheration. (Is that a word?) It was the sloping forehead and beak of this diving duck that caught my guy’s notice.

For me, it was the greenish sides of the neck that I found most intriguing.

And then there was the she–rather drab in contrast to her he, but also featuring that sloping forehead and some black barring among the brown feathers.

In today’s wind, her feathers were aflutter, but I’m sure her he found the sight all the more alluring.

Swimming beside or among the Eiders were several White-winged Scoters, whose name stymied us for the white on the wings was barely visible as they swam. Note also the comma-shaped patch by its eye, known as a Viking horn.

It wasn’t quite as easy to move about for those who took to the air and most often it seemed like the gulls flew backwards in the wind.

Occasionally, they landed on the rocks below us so we could take a closer look.

The majority that we spied today were Herring Gulls, their suits of white and gray adorned by those black and white wingtips. (I really wanted this to be a Yellow-legged Gull, but what I want and reality don’t always match.)

At last we reached the turn-around point where we stood for a bit and admired the view.

And then we followed the pathway back along the edge–of the land and the sea.

It was as we headed out that we saw a wooly bear caterpillar and knew winter must be near. Based on the Farmer’s Almanac: “According to folklore, if the caterpillar’s orange band is narrow, the winter will be snowy; conversely, a wide band means a mild winter. And fuzzier-than-normal woolly bear caterpillars are said to mean that winter will be very cold.”

Wait, it’s spring. Here’s the scoop: The larva emerged from the egg last fall and overwintered in its caterpillar form, when it literally froze solid. To do that, first its heart stopped beating and then its guts, blood and entire body froze by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues. And yes, despite today’s cold wind, it is spring and this one had thawed.

As we left, the Robins were there to say goodbye and we did wonder if the Wooly Bear would be on the menu.

In the meantime, however, a worm met its unexpected demise.

We had one more place to explore before heading northwest–to Fortune Rocks Beach, which was just down the road from the sanctuary and on the other side of the road from Biddeford Pool.

Maybe we should have noted the lack of people as a foreshadowing of the wind’s strength.

And certainly, the backspray of each wave should have spoken to us.

But . . . we ignored all the clues and tramped on. As usual, I followed my guy’s tracks. Can you interpret them? What’s that little loop-de-loop all about in the midst?

The further we walked, the more intense the wind became and eventually we felt as if we were walking in a sandstorm on a desert–a rather frozen desert.

And so we headed toward the shore in hopes that the retention walls and houses would block the brisker than brisk gusts. Truth be told, they nearly knocked us off our feet.

The beauty of walking closer to the shore–a few pieces of seaglass like this one that found its way into my pocket.

And then I found a fifty cent piece–tails up.

Right after that, I spied a heart-shaped stone, and that also ended up you know where.

And then . . . and then, my guy found a fifty cent piece, his heads up.

And he found a heart as well, which I also snatched.

So, a few birds, a caterpillar and a worm, lots of wind, Biddeford Pool, sand and waves on the fly, Fortune Rocks, and $.50 + $.50 = $1.00. I’ll give you a buck for a couple of hearts on this Mondate.

Happy April Fools Day!

LOVE ME, love, me: Bradbury Mountain State Park

For Valentine’s Day 2018, I gave my guy the “Amazing Race–Our Style,” which included a list of monthly adventures. And if you kept up with us, you soon discovered that we had challenges to meet along the way as we competed with “imaginary” teams.

And then dawned Valentine’s Day 2019 and I wasn’t sure how I could outdo myself until . . . the proverbial light bulb went off, or rather, on, and a plan took shape.

With that in mind, I walked into Bridgton Books to find just the right card. What could be better than a Maine original by woodcut artist Blue Butterfield in Portland? I did enhance the card a wee bit when I added the heart on the trail. But one of the things I love about this card besides the subject and colors–the shadows: of the trees and the people and the people shadows could almost be bears. Just sayin’.

Inside the card I informed my guy that our next challenge would be to ❤️ ME, ❤️, me. Get it? LOVE Maine, Love, me. Naturally! I thought it was rather brilliant and had no idea at the time that Maine will turn 200 years old in 2020.

The plan is this–we’ll get to know our state better by visiting its 34 state parks. Mind you, this won’t all happen by March 15, 2020, and we may not even finish for another five years, but that’s fine. Nor will we have to compete with anyone along the way or complete challenges. All we need to do is show up, hike together, and appreciate our surroundings.

And so today we finally had a chance to begin and decided to launch our LOVE ME, love, me adventures at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal. Though we’ve visited some of the parks before, neither of us had ever stepped foot on this one that had been acquired from the Federal Government in 1939 and became one of five original state parks in our grand state.

Others had, for more years than we’ll ever understand, but we did see lots of remnants from the 1800 and 1900s, including this boxy looking structure that we assumed was a pound.

Thank goodness for signs to confirm our assumptions. The pound was used to keep stray cattle, sheep, and pigs once upon a time.

Not only did the pound give us a hint, but by the stone walls, we knew the property had been farmed. By the ledges, we knew where some of the stones had come from.

Trail conditions were such that we walked on well-packed snow and lots of ice, so a break in the wall offered the perfect spot to sit and pull on micro-spikes.

Though the snow wasn’t deep like it is here in western Maine, the ice was quite thick, though water coursed through carving a trough providing a glimpse of the glacial activity that formed the natural features of the mountain.

In fact, striations from the glaciers were still visible upon stones in the trail.

Or not. For really, they were scratches created by snowmobiles because the park is open (for a fee) to hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. There are also picnic tables and camping areas. What’s not to love?

And did I mention that it’s also open to critters? With a large swath of it being a hemlock grove, we weren’t surprised to see deer activity. And pileated works as well.

Of course, I had to check out the pileated wood pile, and delighted in seeing the cinnamon color of its inner bark. Salmon also came to mind.

And what else should I find within the wood chips–why bodies galore from a scat broken open. Based upon all the holes in the trees we knew the pileated had found the mother-lode of carpenter ants and the scats proved the point.

A little further along, we spied watery ice of a different color than that under our feet and suspected that hiding below the leaves and rocks under the snow cover of the surrounding woods are some amphibians waiting for a certain Big Night when they’ll make their traditional journey to their natal vernal pool.

At the far end of the pool, another shade of salmony-cinnamon greeted us.

A springtail frenzy was taking place where the ice had started to melt. Ahhhh.

Not far beyond the vernal pool, we reached the 485-foot summit. It’s not much as mountains go, but . . . the view was expansive–and we could see the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s also a favorite place to watch the hawk migration and we spent some time chatting with hawk counter Zane Baker who spends six days a week from mid-March to mid-May scanning the sky for raptors. Today was slow, he informed us and you can see by the chart that he’d only recorded four sightings. But today was on the cool side and Zane suspected some birds had ventured north in last week’s bit of a warm-up and the rest were waiting to make the journey.

We sat below and dined on leftover chicken/cranberry relish salad sandwiches while Zane continued to scan the sky with his binoculars and scope. Nada. But still, it was a beautiful spot and we were happy to be there before the crowds arrive.

On the way to the summit, we’d circled around the base of the mountain via a couple of trails, but chose the .3 mile descent via the switchback trail. Steeper and well shaded by an overstory of hemlocks, it wasn’t quite as quick of a descent as it might have been. Thank goodness for spikes. Because I was always looking down to see where to place a foot, I was happy to finally discover that the canopy was changing as evergreens gave way to beech and witch hazel.

We had almost completed the downward climb when we happened upon a chasm that didn’t make sense.

Until we learned that it once served as a feldspar quarry. According to the Maine Geological Survey for Bradbury Mountain compiled by Henry N. Berry IV, “Feldspar is the most abundant mineral in granite, and in pegmatite the individual feldspar crystals can be very large. Feldspar was mined from pegmatite bodies like this in many places across Maine in the early 1900s. The quarry itself, now overgrown with large trees, is about 150 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. It was crushed and separated to be used in making ceramics or as an abrasive. By the mid-1900s, feldspar mining had moved to other parts of the country and the world.”

Once we’d finished hiking on the West Side, we decided to walk across Route 9 and explore the East Side of the park. We covered lots more miles of trails, but noted only a few things along the way. One was the sweet sight of partridgeberry poking its evergreen leaves through the melted snow. There was even one tiny red berry still intact.

Again, the stone walls were numerous and by the time we had finished hiking, we suspected we’d zigzagged through a few, crossing them more than once.

The terrain was much more level and the mixed forest more open, so the trail conditions were easy.

As we neared the end of our journey, we spied a foundation of stone with a brick fireplace near the Old Tuttle Road.

It reminded us of our own old farmhouse, though our utensils are a bit more up to date. That being said, I’m always a wee bit annoyed when I discover artifacts lined up by a foundation. I guess I’m of the opinion that they should remain where they were and if someone stumbles upon something–great. Let people make their own discoveries. (Enough of a rant for today.)

At last we reached a monument we’d seen denoted on the map. We’d been wondering what it meant.

It turns out that the generous Spiegel family, who’d founded Quoddy Moccassins, had gifted some land to the people of the state of Maine. As two people of the state of Maine, we gave thanks.

Four hours and lots of miles later, our first in our ❤️ ME, ❤️, me Series had come to an end. Bradbury Mountain State Park. ✓ One down, 33 to go!

Change of Pace Mondate

Every once in a while salt air sends a subtle invite through the breeze and we RSVP with this: We’re on our way. We’ll be there in an hour or so.

It took a bit longer than an hour today, but finally we arrived, parked where we weren’t permitted, and followed the path.

Low tide greeted us with all the beach’s layers revealed.

Streamlets flowed forth from our feet to the ocean beyond.

Rounded driftwood carved impressions in the sand.

Waves broke with gentle crests as the tide rolled out.

Water created trees accented with driftwood leaves.

Colors summoned dune-like illusions with visions of water serving as potential mirages.

And then we found a set of tracks.

They led to and danced around a clean plate.

And a diner who celebrated with a song all his own.

There were others, their feathers all a’flutter.

And a few released that showed the pattern of their minute barbs.

My guy and I, though we weren’t the only people on the beach, for stretches felt as if we had the world to ourselves.

While we walked, he paused occasionally to gather some golf balls. (Note: If he tries to sell you one, sniff it first. If it smells like salt, you may want to reconsider–unless it will help your game, of course.)

My souvenir was a link to my mother, who would have collected the same and this piece of seaglass will find a home with those she and I both gathered.

At last, we reached our turn-around point–at the jetty beside the Saco River’s outlet. We know the northern part of the river intimately, but where the brackish water forms as freshwater joins salt, our understanding is less familiar.

It’s been a while since we’ve actually celebrated a Mondate, so it certainly seemed apropos to find a heart in the sand. And to follow my father’s advice long ago to fill the innermost recesses of our lungs with salt air. We did so.

As we enjoyed a change of pace and a change of scenery.

Bear to Beer: Peabody-Fitch to Bear Trap

Our bear to beer tour was supposed to last a year, but here it is February 18, and we’ve already completed three of the treks. I think my guy really likes this Christmas present.

If you aren’t aware, for Christmas I gave him a small box I’d decorated with hiking stickers. Inside were thirteen pieces of paper (actually bobcat prints post-its) upon which I’d written the name of a trail where I thought we might find what we call bear trees for they are trees with bear claw marks, plus a place to grab a pint after the hike.

Because it was snowing today, we decided to stay closer to home and visit a property we hope Loon Echo Land Trust will soon own. It surrounds the Bridgton Historical Society’s Narramissic Farm and is one of our favorite places to wander in any season.

Rather than cross through the field as we usually do, I suggested that we follow the former road (current snowmobile trail) behind the barn. At the first stone wall, we passed from the Narramissic property on to what we hope will become the 252-acre Peabody-Fitch Woods that Loon Echo will own once they reach enough dollars to make the purchase.

Another part of my guy’s Christmas present was a donation toward said purchase, which an anonymous foundation will match. It seemed like a win-win deal when I sat down with Thom Perkins, former executive director of LELT to discuss the property proposal. And then last month I co-led a walk along part of the route we followed today and had the joy of learning more about it from Jon Evans, Loon Echo’s Stewardship Manager, and Matt Markot, LELT’s new executive director.

Not far down the snowmobile trail, we turned left at a stone wall, the same as we had during the LELT walk in late January. I was sure this was a route new to my guy, but it turns out it used the be the snowmobile trail and so he knew it. Right away, as we hobbled over and pulled up some downed trees, we began to see a variety of mammal prints muffled by the morning’s snow. Both prey and predator make their homes there and the property’s importance as part of the animal corridor was obvious.

Eventually, the trail swung around and rejoined the snowmobile trail. We followed it for a bit, then turned off at the blue arrow for that was our chosen way for today. It appeared that someone had an eye on my snowshoes.

We’d no sooner started along the trail when I heard the rat-a-tat drumming of a male hairy woodpecker. Of course, I needed to pause and watch him for a few minutes. And wonder about the purpose of his drumming. Was he establishing territory? Trying to get a date?

My guy was patient with me, but our mission was about more than the birds, and so we journeyed on. Mind you, we kept looking at the trees along the way, but suspected we’d find bear evidence on our return trip when we planned to go off trail. In the moment, we were eager to get to the quarry and find lunch rock.

It was buried, but my guy in his chivalrous manner, wiped the snow off and we each ate a slice of cold, homemade pizza and drank some water.

Behind lunch rock, plug and feather holes served as reminders of an earlier time–much earlier than either of us remembered. The quarry was the source of the stone foundations for Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Farm, which dates back to 1797.

With lunch under our belts, onward and upward we hiked until we reached a certain stone pile.

Mind you, it’s located a tad from the proposed Peabody-Fitch Woods, but still, we love to visit bear trap and imagine the past.

I’ve quoted this before, but it’s worth sharing again.

How did the bear trap come to be? According to an August 17, 1963 article in the Bridgton News, “Enoch Perley, early settler of South Bridgton, built his first house in 1777 and brought his bride to their new home in 1778. [I believe this was at Five Fields Farm.]

As Enoch acquired livestock, he was much troubled by depredations from bears. He built a bear trap on the hill back of his first home . . .

Tradition says that four bears were caught in this trap–not enough! So Mr. Perley later had an iron bear trap made which took care of eight bears. Without a doubt, many were disposed of by him personally. A story is told that in an unarmed encounter with a bear and two cubs beside a wood road at dusk, Mr. Perley allegedly strangled the mother bear with his garters . . .”

The article continues, “The bear trap is built of stone. A large stone door is suspended and as the bear takes the bait, he trips the lever and is caught in the stone enclosure.”

In a December 1954 issue of the Bridgton News, a brief article states: “The old stone bear trap on the mountain in South Bridgton known as ‘Fitch’s Hill,’ unused for more than one hundred years, has been reactivated by Dr. Fred G. Noble and Gerald Palmer and put in readiness to capture a bear.” As the story goes, they never did succeed.

In honor of the Perleys, Peabodys, Fitches, and the bears, we’d brought along a growler, a Valentine’s Day present from my guy to me.

We each enjoyed a few sips and then peered inside the trap to see if anyone had taken up residence. Perhaps we should have done that first! Thankfully, no one was home.

Eventually, we headed back to the trail, but didn’t spend long on it.

Instead, we began looking for bear trees. To test your visual acuity, can you spot my guy?

I couldn’t always see him for we split up for about an hour and zigzagged our way from one beech tree to another. I found one that gave itself a hug.

There were those with false lines. Well, they weren’t really false, but they weren’t caused by a bear either. Instead, surrounding saplings blowing in the wind had scratched them.

Then there was the tree that seemed to have stitch marks on the outside of its wound. Unfortunately, the stitches didn’t help.

One of my favorites was the beech that made me think it was a deer bending over as if to take a bow.

That made perfect sense in these woods where the deer did dine.

And at least one rubbed its antlers.

Suddenly, from a distance I heard my guy call to me. He thought he’d found what we sought. A bear tree. The growth at the top certainly leant itself to that assumption.

I’m not one hundred percent sure that he was right, but there were some marks that looked consistent with bear activity–a bear with a very big hand.

Closer to the trail, we did find another tree with bear sign–left behind by Teddy Bear and K.F., whoever that might be.

About three hours after crossing through the stone wall behind the barn to enter the future Peabody-Fitch Woods, we did the same at the far end of the farm field.

And in the end, even if our bear tree wasn’t exactly that, we’d still had a bear sighting–in the form of the trap. Today’s brew was Double C.R.E.A.M. Ale from Bear Bones Beer Brewery. Bear to beer possibilities: Peabody-Fitch to Bear Trap.

Mondate Shared with Tom and Ron

Midmorning found us driving down a lane in Stoneham, Maine, made extra narrow by high snowbanks. At the second entrance to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Five Kezars Reserve we were delighted to discover the driveway had been plowed just enough to allow a vehicle or two to park. And so we did.

Our initial plan had been to wear micro-spikes and carry snowshoes, but as we’d passed by the first entrance, we noted that no one had climbed the Mountain Trail, and the road leading back to it had been well sanded, so we left the spikes behind.

Walking back up the road was easy, but then . . . we had to conquer what was probably the most difficult part of the entire journey–the snowbank between the road and the trail.

Thankfully in northern New England, those who drive plow trucks know to knock the snow back a day or so after a storm, thus leaving room for the next storm. (In this case, there’s one on the horizon for tomorrow night with another 8-12 inches predicted). The result is a shelf that makes the snowbank easier to climb up and over.

We did just that with the utmost grace in our steps.

Once on the other side, where the sign gave an indication of depth, we donned our outer footwear.

And walked up to the kiosk where we stood eye to eye with the roof rather than the map.

We did study if for a moment as my guy had not been on the new spur trail overlooking all five of the Five Kezars.

The trails are incredibly well blazed and blow down wasn’t much given the winds of winter, but . . . we did note one small beech that had fallen off trail and taken the signs with it.

A little further up we found another sign encouraging us to climb even higher–as in skyward. Perhaps it knew something we didn’t know.

For the first half of the trail, we mainly focused on our feet, making sure that the cleats on our snowshoes dug into the slippery surface.

Once the trail leveled off, we started looking around. And being winter with no leaves to distract one’s view, the snow-topped boulders stood out like tiny homes in the woods.

About halfway up the Mountain Trail, where it turns left and joins an old jeep road to the summit, a new path was carved last summer–Tom’s Path so named for the late Tom Henderson, who had long served as the land trust’s executive director.

My guy had walked about on the ledges there with me on previous excursions, but this was his first time actually following the new trail and so he studied the “You Are Here” spot on the map.

Along the way, I wanted to pause just before the trail turned left for I had a suspicion about the area below the rock. My suspicion proved correct; a porcupine had created a den under the ledge.

That was further verified by the downed hemlock twigs.

A bit further up the trail we found even more evidence of porcupine activity for many of the trees showed off the tooth scrape marks left behind as the critter sought the cambium layer below the bark.

Recently I saw bark under a porcupine tree that confused me for I’ve always thought of them as eating the bark completely and leaving no mess–unlike a beaver. But today’s findings indicated that all had been consumed.

Behind all of the porcupine artwork trees stood another much larger that will probably be naked by spring.

The debris was the typical–nipped twigs cut at an angle . . .

and plenty of healthy looking scat. 😉

The bark on the big old hemlock, however, had flaked off revealing its cinnamon color beneath for the porcupine had created a regular climbing route.

From below, I looked up in hopes of seeing the rodent, but realized all the evidence had to be enough. I did wonder–Tom always said he wanted to return as an otter, but just maybe he’s a porcupine right now. He was a forester, after all, and loved anything tree related.

A few minutes beyond the porcupine area we found our way to the termination of the spur and took in the view of four of the Five Kezars below: Little Mud, Mud, Middle and Back.

Being winter, a few more steps to the left revealed the fifth of the Five: Jewett.

Retracing our steps, we returned to the Mountain Trail and followed it to the summit where lunch rock had been graciously cleared . . . just for us.

There was no wind and the sun felt delightful–so we sat for a bit taking in the view of the ponds below and Pleasant Mountain with Shawnee Peak Ski Area in the distance.

When we finally decided to move on, we first stepped out to the north so we could get a glimpse of Mount Washington in the backdrop.

And then we pulled it in with a telephoto lens.

Following the orange connector trail down, we began to notice more mammal activity. We’d left the porcupines behind, but the snowshoe hare always seem to dine in one particular location.

And scat 😉

We also noticed bobcat tracks like these, muted though they were, crossing over the trail, while we followed coyote tracks down the trail.

And twice we encountered engravings in the snow that at first glimpse we thought were wing marks, but changed our story to one of the predators playing with a prey as it dangled from the mouth. Hmmm.

Continuing down, we constantly looked up–at beech trees for we knew many revealed bear claw marks. Sometimes we had to look extra closely because the cankers on the tree hid the possibilities.

Though this wasn’t part of the Christmas present to my guy in the form of Bear to Beer Possibilities, it could have been a contender.

Our eyes scanned many a tree and we know we missed a bunch today, but we’ll save those for another day. I did think about returning and creating waypoints to mark each one on GPS, but then we wouldn’t have the fun of looking.

And because we were doing such, we found a new one today. Chances are the next time we look, it will be new to us all over again–if you know what I mean.

One other tree also drew my attention. Well, really, they all did. But yesterday I was explaining this very pattern to some folks on a guided walk, and wish I’d had such an example: target fungus on red maple. Indeed!

Eventually we reached the bridge crossing at Ron’s Loop, so named for Ron Gestwicki who was the first president of the Five Kezars Watershed Association and driving force behind creating this reserve that we could enjoy upon occasion, but the mammals know best.

While my guy sashayed straight across the bridge, I chose to go forth in a sideways pattern. In the middle, I remembered once slipping down under the rail, but thankfully today I reached the other side without incident.

The mammal activity continued along the half of the loop that we traveled. Other travelers included the coyote that left its mark on a high spot in the middle of the trail and several more crossings by the bobcat.

I was hoping for an otter slide because sometimes we are so blessed, but instead we found a few tracks of fisher passing through, their five tear-drop shaped toes on display.

Though we’d spent several hours on the trail, it seemed we reached the final bridge crossing in no time and my guy performed a chivalrous act of stomping down the snow to make for an easy crossing.

The water below offered a hint of every season as it flowed forth: summer’s blue sky, autumn’s dried leaves, winter’s clear ice, and spring’s fresh greens.

As we passed by the kiosk for Ron’s Loop on the way back to my truck, we gave thanks to the two men for which the trails were named: Tom Henderson and Ron Gestwicki. We were grateful for their leadership and the opportunity to continue to share the trail with them, especially on our Monday Date or Mondate.

Bear to Beer: Middle and Peaked Mountains

My guy opened his Christmas Bear to Beer box and considered the possibilities. The winner was . . .

Middle to Peaked Mountains in North Conway, New Hampshire.

The day had dawned warm after the recent deep freeze and so we had to consider how to dress and what to use for footwear.

Given that our route would take us uphill as we ascended via the Middle Mountain Trail to Middle Mountain, retrace our steps to the connector before summiting Peaked Mountain and then follow the Peaked Mountain Trail down, we knew we needed to dress in layers, but not quite so many and not quite so heavy.

We also weren’t sure of our footwear until we arrived at the parking area and saw the well-packed trail. Our choice–micro-spikes over snowshoes. We only hoped that when we reached the intersection of the Middle Mountain Trail and the Connector Trail, we wouldn’t regret our decision. But time would tell.

In the meantime, after we climbed over the snowbanks to get to the trailhead, we had to conquer the gate. We’ve climbed Peaked in the past, as well as walked the Pudding Pond Trail, both part of the Green Hills Preserve, so we knew that typically one walks around the gate. Today, we merely stepped over it–which tells you something about the snow depth.

At .2 miles, the trail comes to a T. The right hand route leads to Pudding Pond, while the left requires a brook crossing before continuing on to the mountain trails.

A bit further along, we came to one set of several that denote the trail system. In terms of following it via the signs, trail blazes, and well worn path, it was easy. Given the soft snow conditions and contour, we’d rank it a moderate hike.

It was one that got the hearts pumping, which is always a good thing. And when one of us needed a rest, we pretended that we just wanted to admire the sound and sight of the gurgling brook.

We passed through a few natural communities, including hemlock groves, and mixed forest. But our focus was really on any beech trees and by the leaves that littered the path, we knew there were plenty.

We scanned the bark every time we spied a beech, and saw not a nail scrape anywhere. But . . . sad to say we did notice tarry spots which oozed out of the cracks in the bark caused by cankers a tree develops as a defensive attempt to ward off beech scale insects and the nectria pathogens that follow their entry points.

The community changed again as we approached the summit of Middle Mountain, where red pines dominated the scenery. And in the warm sun, the snow became softer.

Two miles and some sweat equity later, we’d shed some clothes and reached the top.

From there, my guy went in search of lunch rock and I eventually followed.

It was actually more of lunch ledge and we set up camp, using the jackets we weren’t wearing as our seating area.

The view beyond our feet included Conway Lake in the distance. Lunch consisted of chicken salad sandwiches made with our own cranberry orange relish offering a taste of day in the fen picking berries, a Lindt peppermint dark chocolate ball, and an orange, topped off with frequent sips of water.

While we sat there, I did what I do. There were no beech trees to look at and so I focused in on the bonsai red pine in front of us. Its form, unlike its relatives who stood tall behind us, was the result of growing on the edge of the ledge where it took the brunt of the weather.

I took the liberty of turning a photo of a lower branch 90 degrees because I could see the face of the tree spirit reaching out as it formed a heart. It is February after all.

But enough of that. We were on a mission to find a bear paw tree. When I chose this trail, I had no idea if we’d see one. Yes, we’d climbed Peaked in the past, but never had we noticed any trees with such marks left behind.

So, down we slid, I mean climbed, off Middle Mountain until we reached the connector and could see Peaked’s summit in the background.

We weren’t too far along when our constant scanning paid off! Bingo. A bear paw tree. Some people bag peaks. We bag bear paw trees.

Our mission accomplished, though we continued to look, we journeyed on to the second summit.

From there, we had more of a view of North Conway below, the Moats forming the immediate backdrop, and Mount Chocorua behind.

In front of us, we looked across to Middle Mountain from whence we’d just come.

And behind, Cranmore Mountain Ski Area and Kearsarge North in the background.

With my telephoto lens I could pull in the fire tower atop Kearsarge. It’s among our favorite hiking destinations.

We didn’t stay atop Peaked as long as we had on Middle because the wind was picking up. On our journey down, the mountain views included Washington.

We continued to look for bear trees but found no others. That being said, there were plenty of beech trees on the Peaked Mountain Trail, but the sun was in our eyes for much of the journey, and we had to pay attention to where we placed our feet because traveling was a bit slippery given the soft snow. Maybe there were others after all, and we just didn’t notice.

We completed the 5.5 mile hike about four hours after beginning, ran a few errands, and finally found our way to the finish of today’s bear to beer possibility at the Sea Dog Brewing Company. Black bears like to sip too!