Lingering at Long Meadow Brook

It’s Tuesday, which means time for a tramp through the woods–especially if you are a docent for the Greater Lovell Land Trust. We take our job seriously, filling our bags with field guides, hand lenses, binoculars, cameras, water, humor and wonder. The latter two are the key components and thankfully we’re all comfortable enough with each other to tell corny jokes and laugh at our misidentifications as we explore the natural world through curious eyes and minds, while sharing a brain.

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And so today, though our intention was to look for fall wildflowers, we had much more to notice along the way, like the white spores of mushrooms decorating the surrounding haircap mosses.

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And there were funnel sheet webs to examine, given that the morning fog left them dew covered and easier to spot.

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Though we wanted to take a closer look at the creators of such fine work, and tried gently touching webs with pine needles, our antics obviously vibrated more than your ordinary bug might, and the spiders ran into their funnels to hide.

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As we’d driven to the Long Meadow Brook Reserve, we’d spotted a field of medium-sized white pines decorated with webs and were thrilled to find the same on saplings.

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The bowl and doily spider is another member of the sheet species, and it builds webs that consist of two intricate parts. Above is the bowl, an inverted dome, and below, the lacier doily. The spider hangs upside down beneath the bowl, but above the doily, waiting for dinner to drop in.

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Trying to see the tiny bowl and doily spiders requires getting down on all fours and looking through a hand lens for they are only about 3-4 millimeters in length. We did and were successful in our efforts.

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It seemed today that nothing escaped spider activity, including the gone-by fruits of bristly sarsaparilla.

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Equally delightful in the making was an orb web outlined in dew, larger droplets highlighting each spoke, with smaller ones on the sticky silken spirals.

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In several openings, pilewort grew in abundance.

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Like a field of cotton, its dandelion-like seedheads were prolific.

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But really, I preferred the seed display to the petal-less flowerhead that emerges from the cylindrical cluster.

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Also prolific were the female cones atop the white pines, their brown color indicating they were in their second or third year of development, having been wind pollinated by  tiny male cones. The pollen cones fall of trees within a few days of decorating our vehicles, outdoor furniture, and naked female seeds with yellow dust. If you think back to spring and all the little rice krispies that decorated the ground below white pines, you’ll know that you were looking at male cones. The seed cones typically form on the uppermost branches, so that the tree won’t pollinate itself from below, but can receive pollen blowing in the breeze from another tree.

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We’d looked high to see the cones, and then drew our eyes lower and thrilled with the sight of one of our tallest perennials.

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At first we only spied one pokeweed growing in an opening, but then began to spot others in flower and . . .

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fruit.

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Another one of our surprises–still flowering blueberries. The plants themselves didn’t look too happy . . .

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and we wondered if there would be enough energy or time for the fruit to form.

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As we ambled along, we found cinnabar-red polypores,

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turkey tails,

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and polypores know for their . . .

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underside labyrinth of pores that look like gills.

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And we found another type that had spread brown spores.

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Making our way down to the brook, we were stumped by a pile of dirt, small hole about one-half inch across and chewed mushroom. We remain stumped, so if you have a clue, we’ll listen. It was a messy dooryard so we didn’t suspect a chipmunk, plus the hole wasn’t wide enough. Voles eat vegetation. Could it be? Was it even made by a mammal?

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Along the same route, we made another fun find. White oak saplings.

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White oak grows in surrounding towns–Fryeburg, Sweden, Brownfield, Waterford, but not in Lovell or Stow, where this property was located. So, how did it arrive? Two theories–it was on a skidder trail, so could have come in on a machine; or perhaps via airmail from a bird. Long ago, white oaks grew in this area, but were used for barrel making. And because their acorns contain less tannin than that of a Northern red oak, mammals devour them quickly, thus making it more difficult for the trees to regenerate.

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It took us a while, but finally we reached the old beaver dam and culvert by the brook, where the fall foliage was subtle at best, but still beautiful. We walked (if you can call it that) for 2.5 hours and covered all of .95 miles. It was hot and muggy, so we felt like we’d covered 9.5 miles, but as always were thankful for our time spent lingering at Long Meadow Brook.

 

 

 

Into the Mystery

Step along the path with the Greater Lovell Land Trust docents and you’ll soon discover that we don’t have all the answers, but we enjoy considering the questions.

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For starters, we love the otherworldly structure of beaked hazelnuts but why do they  have such long beaks? Is it to keep animals at bay? The fuzziness isn’t enough? And why do some beaks form where no nut is present? Plus, how do the animals know when they are ripe? We asked the latter as a couple of us stood in the Flat Hill parking lot this morning at the end of Heald Pond Road.

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The resident hazelnut is loaded and we’ve a feeling it won’t be long before they are harvested because as we looked under the leaves for other fruits, we discovered several splitting open. Perhaps that answers the question about how the animals know–do they smell the nuts that are exposed?

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Then there’s the Indian pipe that’s been fertilized. So, typically, the flower hangs down until fertilization. Who fertilizes it? I’ve heard moths and flies. But last year I saw a bee visit several. I’ve never seen either of the former, though they may be nocturnal. And then, how do the flowers make that transition from drooping to upright? Of course, it’s not just the Indian pipes that do that.

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Indian cucumber root is another example. Just a month ago, its dainty flowers drooped below and now the fruits have formed above the second layer of leaves. Soon, as the fruits mature and turn purplish blue, so will the inner ends of the leaves–why is that? Is it a shout out to birds that the fruits are located there?

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And then there was the marginal wood fern growing on top of a rock, its stipe or stalk below the blade covered with brown scales and fronds blue-green in color, which is often a give-away clue that it’s a wood fern. How does it survive on this rock where there isn’t much soil?

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We know how it got its name–for the round sori located on the margins of the underside of the pinnules or leaflets. Based on their grayish-blue color, they hadn’t yet matured. But why are some sori such as these covered with that smooth kidney-shaped indusium? What aren’t all sori on all ferns so covered? And why aren’t there more wood ferns in these woods?

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At last we arrived at our biggest mystery of all–a stone structure on the back side of Amos Mountain. Last summer, after we visited this site with Dr. Rob Sanford, a University of Southern Maine professor and author of Reading Rural Landscapes, we came away with so many questions about this structure located on a mountainside so far from any foundations.

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Who built it? What was it used for? Was there a hearth? Did it have a roof? Was it fully enclosed? Was there a front wall?

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Large boulders were used in situ and smaller rocks fit together. One part of the “room” is curved. For what purpose?

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Immediately after that walk with Dr. Sanford, two of our docents decided to dig in and do some research at the Fryeburg Registry of Deeds and Lovell Historical Society. They are currently in the process of doing just that and maybe the mystery will be solved soon.

As curious as I am about the answers, I think I’ll be a wee bit sad if they are able to tell the story. Stepping into mysteries keeps us all on our toes–forever asking questions and seeking answers. Stay tuned on this one.

 

 

 

April Showers bring . . .

May showers!

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It feels like it has rained every day for the past week, but the grass is certainly green.

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And the vernal pool full. Between today’s downpours I visited it a couple of times, so excited by my findings.

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The wood frog eggs had turned green with a symbiotic algae and I could see the tadpoles developing inside.

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The green coloring made the their eggs contrast with the salamander masses. I was thrilled to see movement among the green and realized that . . . drum roll please . . .

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my babies were slowing hatching. Of course, they are mine–even though the frog pond is located on a neighboring property. I’ve been an expectant mother for several weeks, and now . . . I’m nervous about the future, as any parent would be.

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Will my babies survive? Will they have an opportunity to transform into their terrestrial forms?

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Or will the pond dry up too soon as it has the last few years? I guess I’ll be forced to continue to stop by. Oh darn! One thing I have noted since the ice melted: I’ve yet to see a predacious diving beetle and there are hardly any mosquito larvae flipping about. That’s good for the tadpoles on one end of the spectrum and not so good on the other. To be food and to eat food.

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I also wondered, will the  white and opaque masses of the spotted salamander eggs turn green like they are supposed to–also dependent on a symbiotic algae?

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After checking on my wee ones, I walked the pond’s perimeter and noticed activity at a spot I’ve been keeping an eye on in the southwest corner. Well, not current activity, but recent. For the first time this year, a hole has been excavated.

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It’s the same hole that was excavated last year. Darker debris was piled in front.

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At about three or so inches across, I wondered who owned it. Too small for foxes, and certainly too wet. Too big for chipmunks and a dirty dooryard. Could it be a mink? Do they leave a messy dooryard? I found the same hole excavated last year, but never any other evidence of the maker. I’ll continue to check for any other signs.

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My eyes reverted back to the pool, where raindrops and reflections created an artistic display.

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And then I pulled myself away, frozen were my fingers. The greenness of the world continued to show its face everywhere I turned from the maple-dust lichen to . . .

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young white pines, their candelabras growing long,

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red maple samaras upon old leaves,

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and cherry flowers developing.

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What do April showers bring? Mayflowers (trailing arbutus), of course,

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Canada mayflowers,

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and garden May flowers.

 

 

Secret Giver of Gifts

Snow quietly drifted earthward as baking scents wafted through the house and Christmas lights sparkled from the living room. The spirit of the season has settled upon me at last. And today I was reminded of a time when our youngest asked, “Mom, are you Santa?”

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He’d held onto the belief for far longer than any of his classmates. And for that reason, I too, couldn’t let go. And so that day long ago, as we drove along I reminded him that though the shopping mall Santas were not real, we’d had several encounters that made believers out of all of us.

The first occurred over thirty years ago when I taught English in Franklin, New Hampshire. Across the hall from my classroom was a special education class. And fourteen-year-old Mikey, a student in that class, LOVED Santa.

Each year the bread deliveryman dressed in the famous red costume when he made his final delivery before Christmas break. To Mikey’s delight, he always stopped by his classroom. That particular year, a raging snowstorm developed. The bread man called the cafeteria to say that he would not be able to make the delivery. School was going to be dismissed after lunch, but we were all disappointed for Mikey’s sake.

And then  . . . as the lunch period drew to a close, Santa walked through the door and directly toward Mikey, who hooted with joy as he embraced the jolly old elf. As swiftly as he entered, Santa left. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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And about nineteen years ago, as the boys sat at the kitchen counter eating breakfast on Christmas Eve morning, we spotted a man walking on the power lines across the field from our house. We all wondered who it was, but quickly dismissed the thought as he disappeared from our view, until . . . a few minutes later he reappeared. The second time, he stopped and looked in our direction. I grabbed the binoculars we kept on the counter for wildlife viewings. The man was short and plump. He wore a bright red jacket, had white hair and a short, white beard. The boys each took a turn with the binoculars. The man stood and stared in our direction for a couple of minutes, and then he continued walking in the direction from which he’d originally come. We never saw him again. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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Another incident occurred about seventeen years ago, when on Christmas Eve, our phone rang. The unrecognizable elderly male voice asked for our oldest son. When I inquired who was calling, he replied, “Santa.” He spoke briefly with both boys and mentioned things that they had done during the year. I chatted with him again before saying goodbye. We were all wide-eyed with amazement. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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Once I reminded our youngest of those stories, he dropped the subject for the time being. I knew he’d ask again and I also knew that none of us wanted to give up the magic of anticipation for those special moments we know as Christmas morning, when the world is suddenly transformed.

I also knew it was time he heard another story–that of Saint Nicholas, the Secret Giver of Gifts. It goes like this . . .

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The nobleman looked to Heaven and cried, “Alas. Yesterday I was rich. Overnight I have lost my fortune. Now my three daughters cannot be married for I have no dowry to give. Nor can I support them.”

For during the Fourth Century, custom required the father of the bride to provide the groom with a dowry of money, land or any valuable possession. With no dowry to offer, the nobleman broke off his daughters’ engagements.

“Do not worry, Father. We will find a way,” comforted his oldest daughter.

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Then it happened. The next day, the eldest daughter discovered a bag of gold on the windowsill. She peered outside to see who had left the bag, but the street was vacant.

Looking toward Heaven, her father gave thanks. The gold served as her dowry and the eldest daughter married.

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A day later, another bag of gold mysteriously appeared on the sill. The second daughter married.

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Several days later, the father stepped around the corner of his house and spied a neighbor standing by an open window. In shocked silence, he watched the other man toss a familiar bag into the house. It landed in a stocking that the third daughter had hung by the chimney to dry.

The neighbor turned from the window and jumped when he saw the father.

“Thank you. I cannot thank you enough. I had no idea that the gold was from you,” said the father.

“Please, let this be our secret,” begged the neighbor. “Do not tell anyone where the bags came from.”

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The generous neighbor was said to be Bishop Nicholas, a young churchman of Myra in the Asia Minor, or what we call Turkey. Surrounded by wealth in his youth, Bishop Nicholas had matured into a faithful servant of God. He had dedicated his life to helping the poor and spreading Christianity. News of his good deeds circulated in spite of his attempt to be secretive. People named the bishop, “The Secret Giver of Gifts.”

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Following Bishop Nicholas’ death, he was made a saint because of his holiness, generosity and acts of kindness. Over the centuries, stockings were hung by chimneys on the Eve of December 6, the date he is known to have died, in hopes that they would be filled by “The Secret Giver of Gifts.”

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According to legend, Saint Nicholas traveled between Heaven and Earth in a wagon pulled by a white steed on the Eve of December 6. On their doorsteps, children placed gifts of hay and carrots for the steed. Saint Nicholas, in return, left candy and cookies for all the good boys and girls.

In Holland, Saint Nicholas, called Sinterklaas by the Dutch, was so popular for his actions, that the people adopted him as their patron saint or spiritual guardian.

Years later, in 1613, Dutch people sailed to the New World where they settled New Amsterdam, or today’s New York City. They brought the celebration of their beloved patron with them to America.

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To the ears of English colonists living in America, Sinterklaas must have sounded like Santa Claus. Over time, he delivered more than the traditional cookies and candy for stockings. All presents placed under a tree were believed to be brought by him.

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Santa Claus’ busy schedule required he travel the world in a short amount of time. Consequently, as recorded in Clement Moore’s poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer replaced the wagon and steed.

Since Saint Nicholas was known for his devout Christianity, the celebration of his death was eventually combined with the anniversary of Christ’s birth. December 24th or Christmas Eve, began to represent the Saint’s visit to Earth.

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Traditionally, gifts are exchanged to honor the Christ Child as the three Wise Men had honored Him in Bethlehem with frankincense, gold and myrrh.

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One thing, however, has not changed. The gifts delivered by Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, or whomever your tradition dictates, have always and will continue to symbolize the love people bare for one another.

Though they are now young adults, my continued hope for my sons is that they will realize the magic of Christmas comes from the heart and that we all have a wee bit of Santa in us. Yes, Patrick, Santa is real.

May you continue to embrace the mystery and discover wonder wherever you look. And may you find joy in being the Secret Giver of Gifts.

 

 

 

 

Walking With(out) Kyan

One of these days I’ll get to explore the route I traveled today with my young neighbor, Kyan, who is recovering from a blood marrow transplant. In the meantime, I took him along with me in spirit.k-1

Our first stop–the frog pond, aka vernal pool, that we both love. After all the recent rain, it has once again filled with water.

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As I stood before it and thought about spring moments spent observing the wood frogs that use this pool as a breeding place, I wondered if I’d see any action. I wasn’t disappointed–springtails and mosquito larvae. When I return with Ky in tow, I’ll pull out the small shovel I carry so we can scoop these up for a closer look. Of course, he’ll probably need to remind me to do that. Such is age.

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And then I retraced my steps, dodging puddles at first because I had my hiking boots on. Oh, they’re waterproof, but suddenly the water is deep in spots. I’m not complaining–by any means!

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Rather than my woodlot trail, I decided to cross the field that Ky’s grandfather owns as I headed home to change into my Boggs. And so I happened upon a mystery. What was this white stuff? Fur? No. Fungi? Maybe. Stay tuned? I hope you will. Had Kyan actually been with me, I’ve a feeling he could have told me right off.

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Back on the trail, where the puddles were shaded, nature presented its artistic flair.

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I trust Ky would have appreciated the various forms the ice took. Had he been with me, we could have stomped our feet through the ice and felt its thickness. But then again, he may not have wanted to ruin such beauty.

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That being said, over the course of several hours, I found plenty of puddles that were ice free and walking through them was the easiest mode of travel. Plus . . . who doesn’t love to jump in a puddle, right Ky?

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Had Ky been with me, we would have marveled at all the tracks left behind by creatures who passed in the night or early morning hours.

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And I’d have shown him how to make a positive ID of a print, in this case–Eastern Coyote. We’d have looked at the key characteristics, like the winged ball of the pad, the x between toes and pad, the symmetrical front toes and inward facing nails. And I would have shared my Trackards with him so we could both better understand how the critters with whom we share this space move about.

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In this case, it appeared there were several coyotes and they shared a brief tussle.

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We’d have looked at the contents of coyote scat, of which I saw tons. Ky would have reminded me that the apple skins meant the coyote visited the neighborhood orchard.

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And I would shared with him that the grassy scat meant perhaps one of the coyotes had an upset stomach. If you are grossed out by the scat, please forgive me. But . . . it’s natural. It’s a sign. It tells a story. And Ky is 12. Then again, I’m in my late 50s–and I LOVE scat.

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Had Ky been with me, we’d have wondered about the swatch of hair deep in the woods. And maybe we would have looked around more than I did to search for other signs of why the hair was left behind.

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Had Ky been with me, we would have noted numerous deer tracks as well. And coyote tracks in the same vicinity.

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We’d have seen where the deer browsed.

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And where one rubbed its antlers–perhaps leaving an important scent for others to note.

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Had Ky been with me, we would have seen some downed hemlock twigs.

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And known to look for their comma-shaped scat.

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Had Ky been with me, we would have found a bunch of puff balls or stink bombs.

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And most definitely we would have poked them with our feet and watched the spores flow out like a cloud.

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Had Ky been with me, we would have noticed the little things, like a peeled acorn stuck in a tree and wondered how it go there.

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We would have enjoyed not only the sight of the Auricularia auricula-judae or brown jelly fungus, but also it’s other common name–wood ear because indeed it does resemble an ear.

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Had Ky been with me, we would have felt bad for the wee shrew that took one for the family’s sake. Despite releasing a toxin that prevented his predator from consuming him, he still died from the attack. But perhaps his siblings and parents will not be attacked by the same predator–a lesson learned. Maybe. And we would have marveled at what a long nose he had and what tiny ears.

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Had Ky been with me, we might have bushwhacked, only getting fake lost on our way home. If he wasn’t comfortable doing that, however, we most certainly would have turned back and followed the trail.

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And finally, had Ky been with me and we had bushwhacked, he might have noted some white fluff on the ground, the same as what I saw in the field earlier. And then he would have noticed the source.

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One never knows what one might discover deep in the woods. Had Ky been with me, would he have recognized Myrtle? Was it a dog toy at one time? If so, how did it find its way to the middle of nowhere? I know–it walked. But really, it was over a half hour from home and the terrain not easy, yet I found no other stuffing. Of course, it could have traveled a different route than I took.

At the beginning of today’s journey I’d thought about seeking out the color orange again in honor of Ky, but perhaps he’s tired of orange. And it was much more fun looking for things I thought Ky might appreciate had he been beside me. I know he’ll see things I’ve never noticed and I can’t wait to learn from him. Perhaps soon we can venture together, maybe once the ground is frozen and snow falls. Or in the spring.

One of these days, I will surely walk with Kyan.

 

An Emerald Mondate

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We learned about the process of creating beer, and then there was the whistling oyster, one of the many icons of the Guinness® brand.

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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.

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The Gravity Bar offers 360˚ views of the city.

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And the view includes the Wicklow Mountains, our intended destination for week 2.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We put our fear of heights behind us and made our way across.

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Did he just do that? Yup.

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And I followed.

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Our views included Raithlin Island, the northernmost point of Ireland.

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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.

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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.

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My guy found a spot to take in the giant’s viewpoint.

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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.

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Originally built by one clan in the early 1500s, it was seized by another in the mid 1500s. Its history includes rebellions and intrigue.

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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.

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Back in Portrush finally, our own tale continued. At the suggestion of our hostess, we walked to the Harbour Bar for dinner.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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While I got Darren’s autograph on one of the masks, my guy befriended Willie, the bar manager.

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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.

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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.

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Upon our descent, the light at a distant lighthouse beckoned in the background as Fairhead came into view.

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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.

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This area may appear familiar to viewers of Game of Thrones–including the site of Stormlands.

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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.

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The next morning we took in the Titanic Museum and stepped aboard one of its tenderfoot boats, the Nomadic.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Forty shades of green and Brigadoon all came to mind as we approached the monastic settlement and its round tower.

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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.

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From the altar window in the cathedral, the largest of seven churches within the monastic city,  a view of the world beyond was offered.

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Likewise, we could see the world within, including the Priest House in the background.

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And everywhere, gravestones told the story of many who’d passed this way.

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A little closer to Laragh, Trinity Church.

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Upper Glendalough was the jumping off point for our initial hike upon the Wicklow Way.

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We paused beside Poulanass Falls before zigzagging our way up the first trail.

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Sheep merely looked up to acknowledge our passing. We, however, needed to pay more attention for sheep shit was prolific.

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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.

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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.

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Our journey took us over boggy portions,

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down grassy sections,

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on village lanes,

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over boardwalks,

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through the black forest,

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and into the future.

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Frequently, we had to stop, reread the directions and study the map, but more often the route was self-explanatory.

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Along one section that was particularly muddy due to frequent horse crossings, we made a discovery unique to us.

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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.

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We saw deer, one rabbit and two red squirrels.

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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.

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Bessie One,

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Two,

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and Three (pronounced Tree) tolerated our presence.

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And Bessie Four made us laugh–as she stood upon a wall.

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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.

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And one even offered us nourishment.

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Our path included obstacles, though most were easy to overcome from a rope loop

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to a simple step or

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ladder crossing.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Our views from the Wicklow Way were worthy of wonder.

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And the ever present clouds added to the drama.

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The land resembled a patchwork quilt.

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No matter where we looked, it was forever changing.

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Some of our fun discoveries included chestnut trees,

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black slugs, and . . .

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the crème de la crème–bear claw marks! Did Bear Gryllz really leave his signature on the trail behind the Glendalough Hotel?

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When we weren’t hiking, we explored the area, including Wicklow and its stone beach.

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We didn’t understand this ship at first until my guy asked–meet Wavewalker, a maintenance boat for Ireland’s Offshore Windfarm.

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Across the harbor, we spied the remains of a castle that invited a closer look.

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It seems Black Castle was constantly under siege and totally destroyed in 1301. And yet–I felt a presence still there.

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Do you see his face?

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The oldest mill in Ireland also drew our attention–Avoca Handweavers Mill was established in 1723.

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It was the home of color with attitude.

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Upclose and personal, we saw the inner workings.

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And marveled at the creative results.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And later that night, a display of sun and clouds as we went in search of supper.

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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.

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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?

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Before we checked out, I made my guy drive to this field ensconced in an Irish mist.

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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.

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My guy stands almost six feet tall, so his height provided a sense of size.

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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.

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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.

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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 Wonders of Kezar River Reserve

How many people can  travel a familiar route for the first time every time? I know I can.

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And so it was this morning when I ventured to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Kezar River Reserve off Route 5 in Lovell. I went with a few expectations, but nature got in the way, slowed me down and gave me reason to pause and ponder–repeatedly.

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As I walked along the trail above the Kezar River, I spied numerous oak apple galls on the ground. And many didn’t have any holes. Was the wasp larvae still inside?

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While the dots on the gall were reddish brown, the partridgeberry’s oval drupes shone in Christmas-red fashion. I’m always awed by this simple fruit that results from a complex marriage–the fusion of pollinated ovaries of paired flowers. Do you see the two dimples? That’s where the flowers were attached. Two became one. How did they do this?

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After walking along the first leg of the trail, I headed down the “road” toward the canoe launch. And what to my wondering eyes should appear–fairy homes. Okay–true confession: As a conclusion to GLLT’s nature program for the Lovell Recreation Program this summer, the kids, their day camp counselors and our interns and docents created these homes.

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I was impressed that the disco ball still hangs in the entrance of this one. Do you see it? It just happens to be an oak apple gall. Creative kids. I do hope they’ve dropped by with their parents to check on the shelters they built.

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And then I reached the launch site and bench. It’s the perfect spot to sit, watch and listen. So I did. The bluejays kekonked, nuthatches yanked and kingfishers rattled.

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A gentle breeze danced through the leaves and offered a ripply reflection.

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And I . . . I awaited great revelations that did not come. Or did they? Was my mind open enough to receive? To contemplate the mysteries of life? The connections? The interactions?

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At last, I moved on and entered a section that is said to be uncommon in our area: headwall erosion. This is one of five ravines that feature deep v-shaped structures. Underground streams passing through have eroded the banks. It’s a special place that invites further contemplation. And exploration.

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One of my favorite wonders on the bit of stream that trickled through–water striders. While they appeared to skate on the surface, they actually took advantage of water tension making it look like they walked on top as they feasted on insects and larvae that I could not see.

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Lots of turtle signs also decorated the trail. Literally.

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In fact, I found bear sign,

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cardinal sign,

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and lady’s slipper sign . . . among others. Local students painted the signs and it’s a fun  and artistic addition to the reserve.

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Of course, there was natural sign to notice as well, including a blue jay feather.

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Asters and goldenrods offered occasional floral decorations.

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And hobblebush berries begged to be noticed.

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And then a meadowhawk dragonfly captured my attention. I stood and watched for moments on end.

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And noted that the red maples offered similar colors.

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When I reached the canoe launch “road,” I was scolded for my action.

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Despite that, I returned to the bench overlooking the mill pond on the river. Rather than sit on the bench this time,  I slipped down an otter slide to the water’s edge.

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My efforts were rewarded. Frogs jumped. And a few paused–probably hoping that in their stillness I would not see them. But I did . . . including this green frog.

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My favorite wonder of the day . . .

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moments spent up close and personal with another meadowhawk.

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No matter how often I wander a trail, there’s always something, or better yet, many somethings, to notice. Blessed be for so many opportunities to wonder beside the Kezar River.