Anyone Home?

A friend recently sent me some photos of a mink resting area and, of course, I just had to see it.

The site is situated by a wetland and brook, but to get there, one must travel through the hundred acre woods. And along the way, the traveler might get distracted by the tracks of squirrels and coyotes galore. And then another traveler might show its prints and voila, though you intended to keep going until you reached a certain point, you suddenly find yourself following where a porcupine had recently waddled.

Across the landscape it will take you, and occasionally you’ll find yourself lifting your hands and swaying your hips and trying to imitate its sashaying motion.

And then, like magic, one track will be come two and then three and you might realize that they represent the path of one who traveled out and back and out again–always connecting the dots of den to food site, but often, given the current snow conditions, not along exactly the same path.

The tracks might lead to the base of a tree and you might instantly feel the pull to draw near and take a closer look.

As you peer, you may notice the stain of porcupine pee leading from the base of the tree.

And within you might see the start of a porcupine latrine where the curve-shaped scat gathers and may grow more prominent in time. Anyone home? We looked up and down, my companion and I, but saw nary a porky among the trees. Nor did one grunt at us, but perhaps it was fast asleep within.

From the porcupine tree, we made our way north and finally found our paths intersecting with a brook that we sought. Our hope was to see otter slides along its edges.

Such was not to be, but we enjoyed the view and did spy some tracks on the other side that we couldn’t define. Neither of us chose to get our feet wet to take a closer look.

Instead, we turned our attention to an old beaver dam and the snow-covered icy formations below it.

And then, right behind the rocks upon which we’d stood to admire the dam, we found the prints of a mink. Knowing that this was the one we sought, we got excited and began checking out the base of trees beside the water in hopes of spying what my friend had seen.

Her first was a photo with a latrine in the foreground and what looked like a well-visited hole to the left of the tree trunk.

We found mink prints leading to what one might assume was the same spot, but recent storms disguised outer appearances.

My friend had also found a pile of scat full of fish scales. Mink eat fish; as do otters.

Today we found several holes and thought about the mink’s activity of checking each one to see if a meal might be available within the confines.

And we found hoar frost making us wonder if a creator was hiding inside.

But our best find of the day was one out on the ice where by the raised snow and sticks sticking out, we wondered if an abandoned attempt at building a beaver lodge had created a resting spot for a mink.

Prints and scat certainly marked the spot. And it wasn’t too far off to think that the mink, which shouldn’t be quite ready to den up yet given that it isn’t birthing season, may have chosen a different space to rest than my friend saw last week. Sometimes they spend only a day using such a space to hide, and other times they may use it repeatedly for several weeks.

Curiously, coyote tracks passed by and in so doing may have added another conclusion to the story for they didn’t take any time to sniff out the mink’s use of space.

Vivid as they were on the wind-blown snow of the wetland, every detail was visible, but the pattern of their track showed mammals on a mission to be concluded somewhere in the future.

As it was, our future included a hike out for we were chilled and the sun was growing lower in the sky. But . . . our best find of the day was that “new” resting spot for the mink. On the back side, I could see a hole and the snow that had been carved out to create it. I wanted to take a closer look, but my friend encouraged me to not go nearer because ice conditions had been funky lately and we knew water flowed below. Was this a resting spot for a mink? Or had an otter actually happened by? The hole seemed rather big. And even the prints on top looked larger than those of a mink?

We may never know, but it sure would have been nice had we asked, “Anyone home?” for the real inhabitant to have stood up.

Secret Giver of Gifts

Though I first posted this in 2016, I keep returning to it. Thought you might want to as well. Peace and joy be with you.

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 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 something 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 bear 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.

Wondermyway Celebrates Fourth Anniversary

My comings and goings are often a tramp through the woods, where I pause frequently to contemplate the world through which I wander. These provide me with glimpses at a small portion of the wonders of the universe. Please join me for a few minutes as I share the mysteries of the hills that have been revealed to me this past year.

The ice delighted our sense of sight, understanding, and artistic form. Like the water from which it was created, it flowed in much variety.

And then . . . as we looked, a motion captured our attention. We were blessed with the opportunity to spend a few moments with a mink as it bounded down the hill before realizing it had an audience.

Next a splash startled us. What caused it? There was no snow high up on the trees that might have fallen. At last we saw the creators. There were actually three–swimming about slowly. Suddenly splashing again, they disappeared into the depths below. And the chambers within. We were in awe and felt honored to have shared a few minutes with members of the beaver family.

Sometimes our stops were to contemplate our next steps–especially when it came to the water that covered the cobblestones. Spying a bird nest, we wondered about its creator. There were some acorn pieces inside, so we thought it had hosted more than one inhabitant. Because we were near water, though most of it still frozen, and the temp was high, we weren’t surprised to find a set of baby handprints created recently by a raccoon.

As I stood there looking for a million wild mammals, my eyes focused on the works of something much smaller. Insect egg tunnels on a dead snag read like a story book page. The overall design could have been a map leading to hidden treasures.

Within each soft snowflake I felt millions of wings brush against my face–reminding me of those I know who are at the moment downtrodden and have hurdles to conquer. Some tiny, others immense, all were angelic in nature. As the flakes gathered together, they enhanced the reflection of harmony with illumination. They brought Heaven down to Earth . . . and reminded me that even in the darkest hours I hope my friends remember that grace surrounds them.

Life, it seems, is always in transition. So it feels, when one season overlaps another.

The scene is never the same, nor is the light. What may have appeared monochromatic was hardly that. When the sun began to set, the water harbored reflective moments as it transformed the views from crisp representations into impressionistic paintings.

Right away, the trail’s tree spirit whispered a welcome. And another of my favorite trees begged to be noticed again. It’s an ancient yellow birch that has graced the granite for more than a century. The tree itself, wasn’t in good health, but the roots atop the rock splayed out in support of a life to be continued.

Beside it stood one that some know as white; I prefer to call it paper. The curled-back birch bark offered hues of a different color reminiscent of a sunrise in the midst of a graying day.

And not to go unnoticed, bark from another birch had fallen to the ground. It too, offered subtle pink hues, but it was the stitchery created by the tree’s pores that drew my eye. They reminded me of a million zippers waiting to reveal hidden secrets.

Near the stonewall along the cowpath stood tall an old pine that perhaps served as the mother and grandmother of all the pines in my forest. Today, bedecked in piles of flakes, her arms reached out as if to embrace all of her offspring.

I had only walked a wee distance when I heard a Barred Owl call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It was noon, after all, so it seemed totally appropriate. Suddenly, I heard a response somewhere ahead. For about five minutes they echoed each other. And then the world was silenced.

At last we reached the boardwalk, where we embraced stillness and listened to the green frogs strum their banjo voices and red-winged blackbirds sing their conk-la-ree songs. Our gaze became more focused when we realized we stood in the midst of a newly emerged dragonfly. We felt a sense of caretakers for suddenly it was our honorable duty to watch and protect this vulnerable being from becoming prey. With wonder, we observed it slowly change position and suddenly spread its wings. For at least an hour we stood sentry and noted the slightest movements while we delighted in how the breeze occasionally fluttered through the dragonfly’s wings. And then, in a flash, it flew off and we were proud parents who had sent our offspring into the world.

I have no idea how much time had passed, but suddenly we all stirred a bit and then someone who was noticing redirected our attention. We were encouraged to focus on another who was also paying attention. And narrowing in . . . on lunch. When the young bird flapped its wings, we were all sure the meal was meant “to go.” But thankfully, the bird stayed. And played with its food. Ever so slowly, the fish was maneuvered into its mouth. And gulped. Down the throat it slid, a slight bump in the long neck. And then the feathers were ruffled–rather like a chill passing through its body. Wing motion followed. But still, the Great Blue Heron stayed. And stalked some more.

A blanket of fog enveloped the view. It didn’t matter, for my focus zeroed in on what was before me rather than being swept up into the beyond. I began to look around and felt an aura. It was as if I stood in another place and time. The fog. The green. The gray. The world disappeared. And the scene before me opened. One yellow lichen inched across the granite face. Beside it, another stood out like tiles in a mosaic work of art. Meanwhile, the fog danced across the ridgeline, twirling and whirling in a ghostly quiet manner, its transparent gowns touching the ground ever so tenderly before lifting into the next move.

We watched him forage for seeds and wondered about his behavior. Typically, such birds are loners, except for mating season. But this one greeted visitors to its territory with somewhat regular frequency. When we moved, he did likewise–usually a few feet to either side of us. And when we stopped, the Ruffed Grouse did the same, seeming to share our curiosity.

One doesn’t necessarily step into the woods and expect transcendent events to occur, but then again by learning to live in the moment one never knows what to expect. 

These are my thin places, where I see the light more on this side of than the other. May the answers slowly reveal themselves by day and by night, while the questions and awe never end.

Thanks to all of you who continue to wonder and wander with me whether literally or figuratively. I truly appreciate our time spent together.

Romancing the Stone Mondate

Visiting a site in winter that is so popular in the summer we actually avoid it unless hiking past offers an entirely different appreciation.

And so between errands in North Conway, New Hampshire, this afternoon, my guy and I donned our micro-spikes to traverse the hard-packed snowy ice trail into Diana’s Bath in neighboring Bartlett.

Upon reaching Lucy Brook, the history of the area was briefly documented on an interpretive panel that provided information about George Lucy who built a sawmill in the 1860s powered by an undershot wheel on the brook and a home not far from its banks.

About 1890, when tourists began making regular visits to the brook, Mr. Lucy added a boarding house and barn, but business never took off the way he’d intended.

By the 1920s the water wheel was replaced by a turbine fed from a penstock pipe, the remnants of which remained for us to gain a better understanding of the passage of power.

Above the turbine we could see another piece of the penstock pipe burrowed within the ledge upstream.

Before climbing up to it, I walked below the turbine site while my guy stood over and thought about the Lucy family’s history, which in a professional way is connected to his own for the sawmill idea was eventually abandoned as the Lucys realized they could use a portable mill to harvest wood and later descendants owned a lumber yard and then one of them opened a hardware store and he and my guy periodically touch base to share ideas or stock and both could be known as Mr. Hardware.

Upon the interpretive panel, we appreciated a photograph of the sawmill for it aided our comprehension of the view before us.

To our best understanding, the cement located above the penstock was part of the mill and dam created by Chester Lucy in the 1930s. Today, water swirled through and flowed over.

Below, the natural formation of rocks obscured was reflected in the shape of icy indentations.

Above, water hugged rocks in mid-cascade and created designs and colors that changed with each moment frozen in time.

We finally moved upward where more baths were plentiful but on this frigid day the thought of a dip was quickly suppressed by reality.

Still, we were intrigued by the power of it all as water gushed between curtains of ice.

As for the name, Diana’s Bath, I’ve heard several renditions including this from Robert and Mary Julyan’s Place Names of the White Mountains (a great bathroom read):

These curious circular stone cavities on Lucy Brook originally were known as the Home of the Water Fairies; tradition says evil water sprites inhabited the ledges, tormenting the Sokokis Indians until a mountain god answered the Indians’ prayers and swept the sprites away in a flood. But sometime before 1859 a Miss Hubbard of Boston, a guest at the old Mount Washington House in North Conway, rechristened them Diana’s Baths, presumably to evoke images of the Roman nature goddess. The pools are also called Lucy’s Baths.”

In the midst of wondering, I noticed a rare sight that added to the mystique of this place. Do you see four circular discs in the water? All spun at the same rate despite their varied sizes.

They were ice discs spinning counterclockwise much to my delight. This rare phenomenon was caused by the cold, dense air formed within the eddy at the base of the fall.

After that sight, we continued to climb until the brook leveled out. And then we pause before the spirit of one made from the same crystals that flowed beyond; one who wore a smile indicating he knew the ways and whys and wonders of the brook even if we didn’t.

As it turned out, he wasn’t the only one.

The woods were full of those who listened like old sages,

and smiled with a secret knowledge tucked within their grins.

Through it all, we felt the love of the universe as we tried to interpret the romance of the stones–icy though they were. And on this first Mondate of 2019, we were grateful for our “dip” into Diana’s Bath. It’s so much better in the winter than summer, especially on a weekday, for there are far fewer people about. But the sprites and fairies. They are there. Some you might even find among the rocks and boulders; I know. I saw a few. And others, might be upon the tree trunks. Or in the midst of the water.

If you decide to Romance the Stones, do know that unless you have a White Mountain National Forest Pass, you will need to pay the $3 fee to park. For some reason, the sprites don’t take care of that. Hmmm . . . one would think.

Holey Mysteries

It all began with a photo sent to me by a friend two days ago. “Any ideas? 8 inches wide. 20 yards from a bog,” he wrote. 

I asked him about tracks in the area, but other than deer, he saw none. He did, however, see two track makers–a fisher and a weasel. 

And so, I contacted a few other friends and invited them to join me on a quest to figure out what the hole was all about. 

We met at the designated location, determined it would probably be in our best interest to wear snowshoes rather than Micro-spikes, and set off to search for the hole and clues. 

But first, something else stumped us. Oh, wait. I wasn’t stumped. I knew it was sumac and a bird must have been munching on the seeds. But . . . I didn’t remember sumac having such long hairs and there certainly were strands associated with the droppings. 

The color, however, made it incredibly obvious. Sumac indeed. 

Until . . . 

it wasn’t! Corn on the cob? On ice? And then we remembered that there was a cornfield located directly across the road. So . . . that made sense. But, how did it get to the other side? We’d noticed plenty of turkey tracks. Would turkeys carry cobs of corn? Not the ones that visit my backyard on a daily (sometimes twice daily) mission to eat as much bird seed I’ve tossed on the ground as possible. They scratch about and eat whatever is available on the spot rather than carrying it–as far as the four of us knew anyway. 

Did the deer bring it across? Again, we’ve always seen them dine on site. And . . . we noticed that the cobs, and even occasional husks, were left within their prints, so the corn arrived after the deer. 

As we continued to look around, we began to see kernels in small piles everywhere. 

And with that, we suddenly spied something else that looked oddly familiar. 

The hole! Notice its spiral shape. Discernible tracks? No. Dirt? Yes. Hoar frost? Yes. Hmmmm . . . 

We looked around for signs. “So and So lives here” would have made it too obvious. But, we found hoar frost on an adjacent hole, which raised a few questions: 1. Were the holes connected? 2. Was a critter breathing within? 3. Or, because we were near the bog, was there warmer water below that was creating the frost? 

Then we found something none of us had ever seen before. A smattering of sawdust on the snow located about five feet from the hole. Scat? Upset stomach? Two of us got down with a loupe to take a closer look and came to no conclusions. 

As we continued to look around, we noticed that though there wasn’t a discernible track, it did seem that activity led to two hemlock trees.

And there were snipped off twigs cut at an angle below the trees, plus some comma-shaped scat. 

With that in mind, we returned to the hole in question. 

Bingo! There was a sign that clearly read “So and So lives here.” A quill! When I first looked at the photo the other day I’d suggested porcupine or fox. Porcupine it was. 

Within the hole which we could tell was deeper to the left, we spotted more quills. 

Mystery solved–almost, for we didn’t know about that smattering of sawdust. Porcupine scat consists of sawdust because their winter diet includes tree bark and needles. Did the animal have a bellyache? 

Our excitement at finding the hole wasn’t diminished by the unsolved portion of the story. And still, we continued to find corn cobs as we moved closer to the water in hopes of finding tracks. 

Indeed, there were some and we tried to figure out the pattern to determine what mammal had crossed the ice. 

But before taking a closer look, there was ice on the bog’s edge to admire and we each found artistic displays to our individual liking. 

Back to the tracks on the ice.

At first, with porcupine on my mind, I thought I recognized the pigeon-toed behavior. 

But my companions couldn’t see it. And then I realized that I was seeing a different pattern instead. Opposite diagonals became important in the overall look of two feet together. 

Studying that one pattern of a waddling animal, we soon realized another had crossed over it–in a leap and a bound. Do you see the intersection of the two in the middle of the photograph? 

And, there were a couple of corn cobs on the ice. 

It was all too enticing, and so we got up the gumption, threw risk to the wind, and stepped out. One of us, stepped onto all fours as she slid across, the better to distribute her weight. It also gave her a better view of the tracks. 

Another came forth with caution, though she admitted she’d hoped we’d go for it. 

Her husband was the smart one and he stood on shore–looking at tracks in the snow created by one of the critters we were examining on the ice. And ever ready to call for help should we need it. 

Back to the pattern–do you see three sets of two feet? In the lower set the diagonal is higher on the left and lower on the right. It switches with the middle set of prints. And goes back to the same with the upper set. 

Where debris had frozen into the impressions you can almost see the toes. The smaller, almost rounder right hand print is a front foot and the longer left hand print is the opposite back foot. That’s how it goes with a waddler such as this. 

We’d actually seen clear prints near where we’d parked and so we knew this mammal had been in the area–those baby hand-like prints belonged to a raccoon. Raccoon tracks and corn on the cob. Hmmmm. We were beginning to make some connections. 

With that figured out, we moved on to the next set of tracks and determined they belonged to a snowshoe hare–the larger front prints actually representing its back feet as they had landed after the front feet bounded forward. 

As we studied the hare track, we noticed lots of movement had previously been made by another critter and I’m going to go out on a limb to say based on its size and behavior that it was related to the next mystery we encountered. 

First, there was a hole around a couple of tree stumps and it was the layers of ice that drew our admiration. 

Right near it, however, was another frozen over hole and we could see some tracks that were difficult to read. 

But the ice was glorious and there was another small tree stump in the center. 

We weren’t sure who had made the holes until we spied another and some prints in the snow. 

The five tear-drop shaped toes provided a huge hint. 

And a bigger hint–a hole nearby. 

As usual, it commanded a closer look. 

And what did we find? Fish scales. With that signature, and the prints and even the pattern of the older tracks near the snowshoe hare activity, we knew a river otter had recently eaten. 

Eventually, we made our way back to the road, crossed over and checked the cornfield for we still weren’t sure who had brought the cobs to the bog. It made sense that the raccoon may have, but all of them? 

We found plenty of deer tracks, many of which were again filled with either kernels or nearly complete cobs. 

But it was the one stuck up in a broken red maple limb and the chitting nearby, plus scat below, and the actual sighting of a particular mammal that we think gave us the answer as to why so many piles of kernels–red squirrels. 

With that, it was time for us to take our leave. First, we gave great thanks, however, to Parker for sending me the photo of the hole. When I’d shown it to another friend, he asked why the spiral. I think that was the lowest point and the porcupine climbed out and then made its typical swath around until it reached the higher ground each time it exited and entered.

The question none of us could answer–what about that sawdust smattering?  

Ah well, we saved that for another day and left thankful for the opportunity to solve most of the holey mysteries. 

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.

 

 

Inching Along With Jinny Mae

Jinny Mae is a slow poke. Me too. And so today, we moved at slow-poke speed and covered maybe a mile in total.

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We traveled a trail I frequent at Holt Pond Preserve, but I had the opportunity to view it through her eyes. That meant, of course, that we shared identical photos because we always pause to focus on the same thing. I trust, however, that our perspective was a wee bit different–as it should be. For isn’t that what makes us individuals?

Speaking of individuals, we saw only one of these yellow-necked caterpillars. I didn’t know its name until I looked it up later. Apparently, the adult is a reddish-brown moth. And this is a defense position–indeed.

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And then the royal fern forced us to pay attention. The fertile blade of a royal fern typically looks similar to a sterile blade, but has a very distinctive cluster of sporangia-bearing pinnules at the blade tips that appear rather crown-like. What to our wondering eyes did we spy–sporangia on lower pinnules. Did this fern not read the books? We checked the rest of the royal ferns along the path and never saw another like this one.

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One of our next reasons to pause–those wonderful pitcher plants that always invite a closer look. We weren’t the only ones checking them out.

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A yellow jacket was also lured by the smell of sweet nectar. A walk down the leaves was probably the last walk those insects took. Inevitably, they’d slip to the bottom of the pitcher where a pool of water awaited. There, they either drowned or died from exhaustion while trying to escape since the downward pointing hairs prevent such from happening. Eventually, after the insect bodies break down, the plant will access the nitrogen and phosphorus contained within each bug. I can’t visit this preserve without spending time in awe of the pitcher plants.

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Damselflies and dragonflies also made us stop. We had walked on the boardwalk across the quaking bog. A spread-winged damsel posed beside Holt Pond. When at rest, it spreads its wings, unlike typical damselfly behavior.

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We watched as the darner dragonflies zoomed about, just above the water and vegetation at the pond’s edge. Occasionally, one hovered close by–just long enough for a quick photo opp.

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As we continued back along the main trail, Jinny Mae spied a Jack-in-the-Pulpit. The fertilized flower cluster had produced green berries. Soon, they should ripen to a bright red before dispersing their seeds. If the thrushes and rodents are savvy, they’ll enjoy some fine dining. These are not, however, people food. Oxalic acid in the root and stems may cause severe gastric problems.

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In the same spot near Sawyer Brook, we admired the purple flowerhead of swamp asters. Within the flower disk, the five-lobed florets have started their transition from yellow to dull red.

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With Jinny Mae’s guidance, I was able to take a decent photo of a jewelweed. I love the spurred sac that extends backward. And noted that a small seed capsule had formed. JM is from the Midwest and refers to this as Touch-Me-Not because that capsule will burst open and fling seeds if touched. You say potAto, I say potAHto. We’re both right. As we always are 100% of the time–insert smiley face.

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It was another three-hour tour filled with many ohs and ahs, lots of wonder, a few questions, several considerations and even some answers.

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Inching along with Jinny Mae. Always worth the time and pace.

Wondering About Nature’s Complexity

As I sat on the porch of our camp this morning, three wafts of smoke blew up from the ground along a pathway to the water. And my heart swelled. Earlier, I’d been out between raindrops taking some photos and my eye was drawn to that very spot. My photos didn’t come out so well, but I believe what I was looking at were bird’s nest fungi. They were cup-like in shape and some were filled with minute eggs, while others were covered in an orangey blanket.

I suspect it was the latter that caught my attention from the porch. It had started to rain and this fungus depends on rain for dispersal of its egg-like capsules that contain the spores. The hydraulic pressure of a raindrop falling into the nest causes the capsule to spring forth, emitting spores in a puff. I could have sat there all day waiting for it to happen again, but . . .

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there were other things to look at and wonder about. The bird’s nests weren’t the only ones ready to send forth new life. While the hawkweed seeds embraced the raindrops, they waited for a breeze to send their young into the greater world.

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And then I returned home, where I found some other cool things. It all depends upon your point of view, I suppose, but check out these Oleander mites on the underside of a milkweed leaf. They are so named because they also like Oleander.

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Those weren’t the only aphids wandering about. The little gray dots on this leaf are actually another form. So here’s the scoop on ants and aphids. While aphids suck the sugar-rich fluids from their host plants, the ant strokes (milks) the aphids with its antenna to get them to secrete waste (honeydew), which has a high sugar content. And we all know that ants love sugar. Honey-dew just took on a whole new image.

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Tucked under the lady ferns, I found a cranefly. I’m always searching for orange in support of our young neighbor who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. When I started posting a photo a day in his honor, I didn’t realize how important it would become to me–making me think about all that he and his family are enduring on a daily basis. He is in remission, but still undergoing treatment and will need a bone marrow transplant. This cranefly almost became today’s post, but a daylily dragon won out for Team Kyan.

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So dear reader, I enjoy teaching you, but now need you to teach me. I found this under another leaf on a shrub. And I often see the same thing stuck to our house. It reminds me of a caddisfly case. What is it?

 

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No mystery here. But still, the complexity . . .

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enhanced by raindrops.

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Nature is complex, but oh so worth a wander. And certainly worth a wonder.

Thanks for stopping by today.

The Big, The Little and Everything In Between

I stepped out of the shower after a walk around town with friend Marita and heard someone chatting away on the answering machine. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have my glasses on, though what that has to do with it I don’t know, but I couldn’t ID the voice. The male yammered away about something in the snow and it had come last night and I had to get there quickly. For some reason I thought it was our eldest and I  wondered what it was that needed my immediate attention. So, I cautiously picked up the phone and said hello. The voice on the other end continued talking desperately about me going somewhere. “Who is this?” I asked. It was friend Dick and I should have recognized his voice, but maybe not having glasses on is like not being able to taste if your nose is stuffed. Or maybe I’m overthinking as usual. Dick, however, was not overthinking or overreacting. He was excited and knew I would be as well. He was standing in a friend’s yard about a half mile from here and looking at bear tracks in the snow.

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As he knew he would, he had me on the word “bear.” His voice was urgent as he insisted I stop everything and get to his friend’s house. “I just need to dry my hair and then I’ll be right there,” I said. Deadlines loomed before me but bear tracks won my internal war. Dick suggested I just wrap a towel around my head. Really, that’s what I should have done because my hair has no sense of style whether wet or dry, so after a few minutes I said the heck with it and popped into my truck, camera and trackards in hand.

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Yup–bear tracks. Classic, beautiful bear tracks. Even nail marks above the toes.

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And the pigeon-toed gait.

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My heart be still. The bear certainly wasn’t.

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It trampled a garden fence.

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And yanked down a suet feeder that dangled from a wonderful rigging at second story height designed to keep the raccoons from stealing it. We couldn’t find the actual feeder.

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It toppled another feeder and consumed all the sunflower seeds. Oh, the squirrels may have helped, but apparently the feeder was stock full. Not any more. We looked for hair but found none.

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One of the mysteries to us was why did the bear suddenly trot. I’m now wondering if it was startled at some point and ran away.

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Before leaving, I enjoyed one more look. How sweet it is. And how thrilled I was to have seen it–especially knowing that it wouldn’t last long. The. Big.

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When I arrived home, I knew I needed to work, but figured a quick walk to check on the vernal pool was a great way to celebrate the bear tracks. And on my way–feathers. Long black feathers.

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Most were about a foot long.

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They appeared to be torn out rather than cut.

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I know the neighborhood cats hang around our bird feeders all day–ever hopeful. But I don’t think they got this crow. I’ve a feeling a hawk was the culprit. The. In. Between.

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It’s my neighborhood, so I always cast an eye toward the Mount. The. Big. Again.

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The water level seems about the same as last week and a wee bit of Tuesday’s snow still decorated the  western shore.

b-tadpoles 3

Though the lighting wasn’t great at that hour, it was obvious that the tadpole population had increased.

b-sally1

And the salamanders continued to grow within their protective covering. The. Little.

b-woody1

I did finally settle down to work. And then it was lunch time. My guy and I weren’t the only ones dining.

b-woody lunch 1

After I finished two assignments and before I walked to a meeting, I decided to visit the pool again and capture the action in the late afternoon light. But first, an examination of the woodchuck’s feeding site. Yup, those leaves were nibbled.

b-woody lunch 2

And so were these. The. In. Between.

b-vp no snow

And then it was back to the pool, where the snow had melted. But, I have to share a finding along the way. Or rather, a non-finding. I intended to grab the crow head because I wanted the skull. Not. It wasn’t in the path where I’d seen it in the morning. I poked around and couldn’t find it anywhere. Who stole it? Maybe one of those darn cats.

b-tads 7

In the warmth of the sun at the eastern side of the pool where most of the egg masses were laid, the population continued to increase.

b-tads 10

I felt the same glee about all of these little critters as I felt about the bear tracks earlier in the day.

b-tads on sallies

Tadpoles and salamanders. I may not see bears tracks every day, but for a brief moment in time, I’m honored to watch the transformation that takes place in the vernal pool. The. Little. Times. Two.

Giving thanks for the ability to wonder. The Big. The Little. And Everything In Between. Especially Everything.

Following In The Footpath Of Others

Rain marked this morning’s dawn, but that didn’t daunt our group of six. We donned overcoats, gloves, hats and waterproof boots knowing that we’d encounter mud along our intended route.

And so we met near the former site of the Methodist church in the northeast corner of Sweden–Sweden, Maine, that is. Our intention was to follow the snowmobile trail for a couple of miles and visit foundations and a few other historic sites along the way.

s-you are here map

Maps dated 1858 and 1880 show a network of roads that served the scattered neighborhoods of this town. The trails we were about to walk on follow the footpaths and wagon tracks of earlier people. These were once town roads. We happened to be in the presence of the president of the Sweden Historical Society and she gave us copies of the maps to help us gain a better understanding of our destination. She also printed out a topographical map so we’d have no excuse for getting lost.

s-following trail in

With the sun suddenly shining upon us, we laughed at ourselves as we moved along because we traveled at breakneck speed. Well, for us anyway–1.8 mph when we were moving. Note the phrase: “when we were moving.”

s-stream to Patterson 1

Along the way, we paused to admire the streams that flow toward Patterson Brook and

s-vp 1

checked on life in a potential vernal pool.

s-stream 2-mill site

While we find water so mesmerizing, I couldn’t help but wonder about its potential here for the early settlers.

s-stream 3

Several times we found stone walls on either side of the streams and didn’t know how to interpret their meaning. That was OK–we appreciated not having all of the answers.

s-stream 4

The opportunity to partake of the beauty among friends old and new was enough.

s-cheyenne

Even four-footed friends.

s-single:double wall

The stonewalls, both double and single in structure, indicated that the land had been cultivated. We tried to make sense out of the sudden switch from single to double and back to single in a short distance, but really, they didn’t necessarily build walls according to our expectations of what life must have been like–a single wall meaning keep the farm animals in or out and the double being a garden wall–lots of times it was probably just plain common sense and a need to get rid of the stones that rose with the frost.

s-drilled rock

Eventually, we climbed over the wall and headed up toward this monument. Dave, who lives in this neighborhood and knows these woods well, encouraged us to ponder.

s-drilled rock 2

Why was the top of the rock split off intentionally and then left there?  Was it intended for a foundation stone? Was the neighborhood abandoned before this piece was used?

s-town line 1

We wandered further through the woods and came to the Sweden/Waterford town line. Two stone walls less than ten feet apart mark the boundary. Waterford to the left and Sweden to the right. (Did I get that right, Linda?–my left and right?)

s-town line

Orange paint also marked the boundary line.

s-kneeland foundation

We’d crossed into Waterford and stopped for a break at the Kneeland (1858)/Kimball (1880) residence, a rather large foundation with a center chimney.

s-fdn rocks, squirrel table

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who paused here for a snack.

s-hidden brook

And then we crossed the snowmobile trail once more and began bushwhacking again. Though you see only tree shadows, leaves and moss here, it wasn’t what we saw, but what we had the honor to hear that made us stop–an underground brook. It felt like we’d stumbled upon a secret spot.

s-stone chair 2

Dave led us uphill to another special spot a friend of his discovered years ago–the stone chair. You have to wonder about this. We’re in the middle of nowhere that was once somewhere. Below this is a large hole in the earth, possibly a foundation of sorts. And beside, a skidder trail. So, who built the chair?

s-stump by chair 100:50

Atop the foundation of sorts was this cut stump–we surmised it was cut about fifty years ago and that it was about 100 years old at that time.

s-group 1

It really doesn’t matter. What matters is sharing the discovery.

s-chair and Sophie

Another four-footed friend also thought it was rather special.

s-cable

Not too far from here we found something else that spoke of logging.

s-goshen 2

We continued our bushwhack to another site of importance–and came upon it from the backside.

s-goshen sign 2

The Goshen Cemetery, circa 1815. Notice the raindrops and blue sky. A few drops fell in the middle of our walk and then it cleared again.

s-goshen cem 3

The cemetery contains stones that had been buried under the duff, but when discovered, were uprighted in spot.

s-goshen stone 2

s-goshen tomb stone

The tombstones are unmarked and as far as I know, two theories exist–an epidemic struck the neighborhood and those who died needed to be buried as fast as possible, or these were the tombs of the residents from the town’s poorhouse.

s-goshen sign 3

One thing we do know for certain. The bears like the sign and it has been remade several times and posted higher and higher in hopes that they’ll leave it alone.

s-bark art 1

Those were our historical finds, but we also made time to enjoy our surroundings, beginning with artwork created naturally.

s-beech elephant

I always say that beech bark doesn’t remind me of elephant skin, but today–elephant legs and feet, for sure.

s-downy rattlesnake plantain

Peaking out from the leaf litter, downy rattlesnake plantain showed off its white-veined leaves. Stained glass windows come to mind whenever I spy this. And though its the commonest of the rattlesnake plantains, I’m always in awe.

s-checkered rattlesnake

We also nearly stepped on its cousin, checkered rattlesnake plantain. I do have to say that if I were in charge of the world, I’d switch their names.

s-artist conks

We found artists conks and

s-hemlock shelves 1

old hemlock varnish shelves.

s-porcupine den

We know where the porcupines denned,

s-moose:striped maple

moose browsed,

s-pileated 1

woodpeckers dined,

s-deer rub

deer rubbed their antlers,

s-deer rub:paw

and pawed the ground. Do you see it at the bottom of this photo? It’s a scrape meant to communicate information to other deer.

s-flying squirrels 1

But one of my favorite sights of the day–the flying squirrels that scampered up an old snag. Notice the flat tail–a rudder.

s-fs 2

And the flap on its side, that furry membrane that stretches from the wrist to ankle–a parachute of sorts for gliding from tree to tree.

s-fs 4

And those bulging eyes–the better to see in the dark.

s-heading home

Four hours and almost six miles later, we followed the trail out, thankful for the opportunity to spend time wondering together and follow in the footpath of others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Borrowing

My friend, Dick, sent me the following message yesterday: “from a novel, Northwest Angle by Krueger … who has a series which relates to the Objidwa (sp) of the upper parts of Michigan …

‘What’s a Mide?” — ‘A member of the Grand Medicine Society,’ Stephen explained. ‘A healer. Somebody who understands the harmony of life and how to use nature to restore harmony when it’s been lost.” p246

“Belongs.” Meloux (a very senior shaman type of the Native American ‘Mide’ of the Objidwe) seemed to consider the word. “I believe no one belongs to anyone else. You, me Waaboozoons, we are all dust borrowed for a little while from Grandmother Earth. And even that dust does not belong to her. She has borrowed it from all creation, which is the Great Mystery, which is Kitchimanidoo. And if you ask this old man, I would say that another way to think about Kitchiimanidoo is as a great gift. Kitchimanidoo is not about keeping. Nothing belongs to anyone. All of creation is meant as a giving.” p 269

While I haven’t read the book or any of Krueger’s works, these words resonated with me as I moved about this morning.

m-vp

My first stop was a visit to the vernal pool, where the ice is beginning to melt.

m-vp, birch seeds

I looked for insects and found instead birch seeds and scales–meant as a giving.

m-berries

Wintergreen berries remained prolific below the power lines. While this fruit is traditionally browsed by a variety of mammals, I had to wonder if its location is the reason it was left untouched–poisoned by the herbicides Central Maine Power uses to keep the land clear. What was meant as a giving revoked.

m-leaves thru ice

Not all was bad as I followed the trail for a distance and enjoyed the beauty that has begun to emerge.

m-sphagnum color

The pompom heads of sphagnum moss contrasted brilliantly beside the running clubmoss.

m-trail light

Looking back, I noticed that today’s sunlight was captured in yesterday’s raindrops–certainly a reason for thanks-giving.

m-mount 1

And before me–man and nature in the eternal struggle for harmony. An example of borrowing.

m-pollen?1

Before I turned onto a logging road, a puddle caught my attention.

m-pollen?2

My first thought was pollen, but as I approached, I realized the little dots were moving about much like spring tails because .  . . they were spring tails. So my learning increased as I noted their color and the fact that there are aquatic members of this family. Another giving received.

m-pin cherry warts 2

On recent treks, my bark eyes have been confused about two trees–black birch (aka sweet or cherry birch) and pin cherry. As youngsters, both feature reddish-brown bark. What has thrown me off is the association with other birch trees, including the yellow birch that grows behind this specimen. Today, I made a point of noticing–the warty orange lenticels, lack of catkins and no wintergreen scent. These are three features that helped point me toward pin cherry. Black birch bark features long, thin lenticels, catkins common to birch trees and when scraped, that delightful wintergreen smell.

m-pin cherry:birch1

Despite the fact that they are not of the same family, certainly they’ve found a way to give to each other and live in harmony. A lesson.

m-porky

Just beyond the birches, in one of many stump dumps along this logging road, something caught my eye.

m-porky 1

A porcupine worked over the bark of a fallen hemlock tree. I stood for several minutes and watched. Either it wasn’t aware of me or I didn’t pose enough of a threat.

m-porky again

The leaf caught on its backside made me chuckle and wonder why we don’t see more of that.

m-porky like

I’m amazed that I saw it at all in this land that has been chopped up over the course of the last three years. Notice how leaves are similarly stuck to this shredded tree stump.

m-porky tree 3

m-porky tree 2

m-porky tree

Behind were the trees that have received the porcupine’s recent attention. While the logging is destructive, it helps heat homes, provides income to at least several people including the logger and landowner, and creates new habitat and food opportunities for wildlife. Change is difficult and I’d grown to love these woods the way they were, but they were that way because of prior cuttings. A borrowing.

m-bubbles

Most of the logging road was a combination of puddles and mud. At times, air bubbles rippled as I moved through and I was reminded of my youth years spent feeling for clams in the mudflats of Clinton Harbor on Long Island Sound. The memory itself was a giving.

m-deer 2

Like the deer that frequent this land, my boots got stuck in the muck. Sometimes, it seemed like I was being sucked in and told to stand still. But my mind wandered on and I followed it.

m-trail conditions

Going forward in time, I’ll be curious to watch the reflections in the puddles change as the pioneer species move back in and regenerate this land. The harmony.

m-spirit

In the end, as always seems the case, I was on the receiving end of the giving and grateful for the borrowing as the spirit of Grandmother Earth shared a few tidbits of the Great Mystery.

 

 

 

Gallivanting Around Great Brook

It’s been a couple of months since Jinny Mae and I last checked in on the doings in the Great Brook neighborhood off Hut Road in Stoneham, Maine.

H-Forest Road 4

Forest Road 4 isn’t plowed in the winter. That’s OK. We welcomed the opportunity to admire our surroundings as we hiked above the brook. So much to see that is so often missed as one drives.

h-paper birch blue

Though the temperature was on the rise, the blueness of a few paper birch trees reminded us that it’s still winter.

h-sphagnum

We found sphagnum moss looking a bit frosty but cheering us on with its pompoms.

h-chaga

On more than one yellow birch, chaga offered its medicinal qualities in quantity.

h-yellow and white partners

We came upon a special relationship–a yellow birch and a white pine. Rooted in this place, they embrace and share nutrients.

h-yellow birch:white pine

Forever conjoined, they dance through life together.

h-GB1

Finally beside the brook,  we couldn’t see the rocks below very well, but watching the water race over them gave us a better understanding of the forces that have smoothed their surfaces.

h-GB south

In a few more months, we’ll stand here and wonder where all the water went.

h-ice drips& bubbles

But today, it was the ice formations that we couldn’t stop admiring. Bubbling water below and dripping ice above, each adding to the other and both constantly changing.

h-ice 2

So much variation on the same theme as coursing water freezes into ice while at the same time carving into the rocks below.

h-ice pedastle support

Looking beneath, we noticed pedestals shaped like elephant legs providing support to shelves above.

h-gb ice castle

Occasionally, we saw crystalline turrets, translucent arches and frozen chandeliers of castles captured in ice.

h-sets of ice feet

Sometimes, it seemed like ballerinas danced on their tippy toes. That’s what water really is, isn’t it–a dance through time with changing tempos along the way?

H-GB

We crossed Great Brook and then paused for a moment as we decided which trail to follow.  We took the road less traveled by. I laughed when Jinny Mae referenced Robert Frost’s poem. My former students don’t read this, but that was one of the poems they had to learn and recite. And my guy–poor soul–knows it through association. Actually, he’s a better soul for that reason.

h-tree owl 2

So you may not see it, but Jinny Mae and I did–an owl hidden in the ash bark. Not a live owl, mind you. Well, that depends on your perspective, I suppose.

h-heal all

Within minutes, we knelt to admire Selfheal or Heal All (Prunella vulgarism) and its hairy calyces.

h-survey sign

We stood by the survey marker sign and realized it had been attached for many years.

h-survey marker

Perhaps 51 years!

h-frullania 1 on red oak

h-frullania 2

On a red oak, we pause to look at the reddish-brown liverwort–Frullania. There’s history in this species–dating to the earliest land plants. No matter how often we see it, and we see it often, we feel privileged.

h-leaves and ice

The trail switches from snow to ice to water and back again. Ice covered leaves draw our appreciation.

h-fnd 1a

In the neighborhood, we pause to check on the local families.

h-fdn 1 chamber

I climb down to the root cellar and discover that the porcupines haven’t visited all winter. Old scat still present in there, but nothing new.

H-Fdn 2

Moving up the colonial road, we come to the second residence.

h-fdn 2 yellow birch on mantel

Atop the mantel grows an old yellow birch. Like any TV screen above the fireplace, it offers an ever-changing display.

h-brook upland

We moved toward Shirley Brook, where we were once again in awe of ice.

h-water and ice1

Water and ice: a relationship in constant flux–at the moment.

h-brook structure

Beside the brook is a stream that’s currently dry. We look edat the snow-covered stonework that crosses over it and realized we need to return and try to figure out what the structure might have been and why it was built here. Stuff like this adds to the intrigue. Man-made. When? Why?

h-spider 3

Poor Jinny Mae. She had to wait for me constantly as I shifted from one lens to the next. But check out this spider.

h-stone piles 1

We are the queens of bushwhacking and love discovering the stories hidden in the woods. In this neighborhood, lots of stone walls tell part of the story. Rock piles enhance the chapters.

h-moose scat 1

And then we found more. Fairly fresh moose scat insisted upon our attention. We’d noted that there were some old snowshoe hare runs and we found some moose browse on a nearby striped maple, but we were surprised that there weren’t many fresh tracks. Where have all the mammals gone?

h-moose scat 2

This scat is some of the biggest moose scat we can recall seeing. A few gems followed me home.

h-lady's slipper

And then we happened upon something neither of us have seen before–at least that we are aware of. We had our ideas about what winter weed this is, but since we haven’t encountered it before our sense of wonder kicked in.

h-lady's slip pod 2

Back home, I looked it up in Weeds and Wildflowers in Winter by Lauren Brown. The capsule is woody and about two inches long. As you can see, it’s closed at both ends, but opens along slit lines–six in all, actually.

h-lady's bract at base of pod

At the back end, a long, curved bract.

 

And at the front, the slipper gone by. Yup–Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule). And the reason we didn’t recognize it–because it’s a rare find in the winter woods. Wow.

h-bear 1

We’re on our way out when we spotted these marks on beech bark. We’d looked and looked because we know this is bear territory.

h-bear NW

Compared to other bear trees, these claw marks are newer than most I’ve seen. Jinny Mae was as excited about the find as I was. I’d told her earlier as we scanned the trees that my guy has come to an unconfirmed scientific conclusion that bear claw marks appear on the northern side of trees. This one didn’t let us down. Based on the location of the sun that’s grew lower in the sky, these are on the northwestern side of the tree.

At last it was time to drive home.

Gallivant: go from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure or entertainment. Over five miles and almost five hours later, we were thankful for the opportunity we shared today to gallivant around Great Brook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community-centered Mondate

While it wasn’t the first Mondate I wrote about, one of our early Mondates in the past year occurred at the Greater Lovell Land Trust property we headed to today–Back Pond Reserve in North Waterford/Stoneham.

m-eagle 1

On our way we were forced to stop by Bear Pond for a regal sight.

m-Ron

And another regal sight along the trail–I’ve given thanks to Ron before and I know I’ll thank him again (RIP Ron) for his foresight in encouraging the greater community to protect the water quality of the Five Kezar ponds by purchasing and placing “The Mountain” area in conservation easement.

m-climbing view

As we climbed through the beech/oak forest, I paused to take a photo. Lo and behold, my camera didn’t work. I was certain I’d charged the battery, but it wouldn’t click. I tried a back-up battery to no avail. Frustration set in, but my guy reminded me that I could always take photos with my phone. I’m not one-hundred percent convinced that I’ve mastered phone photos, but decided it was better than nothing. This meant, however, less time focusing on photos and more time focusing on us. And that got me thinking about time. We were on a bit of a time crunch today, but the more important thing was that we were spending our time together doing what we love doing–hiking and being in each other’s presence. We spend so much time worrying about all that needs to be done and making money to do those things. But really, in the end will that matter? I don’t think so. I think it will be far more important that we learn to appreciate what is around us and figure out how to share that wealth with others. It won’t always have a monetary value attached because as they (whoever they are) say, “Money isn’t everything.” Is money anything? It certainly doesn’t grow on these trees. Or does it?

m-community changes trail conditions

Though there was snow underfoot for most of the beech/oak community as we climbed, under the hemlocks it was a different story.

m-bare summit

And when we reached the summit of The Mountain Trail, nothing but bare ground due to its southwest orientation.

m-summit phone

We sat on a rock and enjoyed the sun while absorbing the view below and beyond. With the  phone I captured the moment.

m-view

And then I pulled out my camera again. Determination is the name of my game. Turns out I’d been wearing mittens as we began and my big muffs must have hit the wrong setting–creating a 10-second time lapse. Had we wanted to pose for a photo we would have been all set but that’s not our style. Hardly a selfie in our photo album. It is curious to notice the difference in color and wider range of the phone photo. But I prefer my Canon.

m-trailing arbutus

Near the summit, trailing arbutus announced its future plans.

m-connector trail

While trail maps show The Mountain Trail and Ron’s Loop, we long ago learned by chance that the two are connected via a trail down the backside. Today we reminisced about the first time we ever traveled this route and how we struggled to find our way. Though it still has its share of obstacles, it’s now much more obvious.

m-no snow under hemlock

The community changed from evergreens to hardwoods with occasional evergreens. And with that, the snow conditions also changed. We paused below this hemlock to admire the subtle transition.

m-hare

And we recalled our delightful experience of observing a hare in this very spot almost a year ago.

m-snowshoe hare scat

Today only tracks and scat alerted us that hares live in the neighborhood.

m-bobcat 1

Hare tracks weren’t the only ones we saw. All along the trail, though not quite as clear, we recognized that a bobcat had made a pass.

m-first bear tree

We also recognize dmarks we’ve previously admired on some old beech trees.

m-bear claw marks.jpg

I could almost feel the claw grasping the bark–both front and hind visible here. But there’s so much more going on with this tree. It hosts a community of visitors from big black bears to minute beech scales that cause the bark to develop cankers around its invasion. And in between–other insects and woodpeckers.

m-bear tree variety of life

It’s a tree of life even as it reaches toward death. Eventually it will fall and we will no longer celebrate its bear claw marks, but as it decays, it will leave a legacy on which these woods depend. The cycle of life. The work within the community.

m-pileated.jpg

Another beech down the trail displayed its form of the same gift.

m-broken bridge crossing

We reached the first of the crossings–this one still on the connector trail that once served as a snowmobile trail. For as long as we’ve traveled this way the bridge we were about to cross has been broken.

m-new bear tree

Though conditions were good, with my camera working again, my journey slowed. My guy accused me of searching for bear trees. And he was right. And I was further rewarded. I found one neither of us recalled seeing before.

m-new bear 2

m-new bear 1a

One foot atop another. Upward mobility in search of sustenance.

m-beech nut 2

It’s here for the taking.

m-yellow birch scales and seeds

At last, we found our way onto Ron’s Loop, where we turned right at the bridge and continued on. The community changed and here we found the fleur de lis and winged seeds of yellow birches settling onto their community of choice–moss upon a boulder.

m-fungi community

Creating a dense bouquet is the violet-toothed polypore community– a reminder that there’s beauty in age.

m-lonely pine

And beauty in singleness.

m-deer browse 2

We’re in the neighborhood where deer browse red maples.

m-raccoon prints

And raccoons venture forth on semi-warm winter nights.

m-raccoon diagonal

We rejoiced in recognizing the alternate-angled pattern of the trail they leave behind.

m-birch polypores

There were always surprises. Birch polypores decorated this paper birch that masked its condition with a healthy appearance.

m-brook

Despite my caution, we made several successful brook crossings.

m-my guy's prints

And I followed my guy to the end of the Earth–well, at least to the end of the trail–though I suspect he knows I’d follow him anywhere. He’s a good guy. Actually, he’s a great guy.

m-map.jpg

We paused at the kiosk to check the map. Imagination is a necessity–no kidding. For this moment you must connect the summit of The Mountain Trail to the far end of Ron’s Loop–thus re-creating the connector trail between the two.

m-5 kezar ponds road

Suddenly we are back on 5 Kezar Ponds Road headed toward our truck.

m-hornets nest

And here we found remnants of another community that is integral in the overall system of life.

As we drove home, we paused again by Bear Pond and the bald eagle didn’t let us down. Though the ice fishermen and women weren’t about today, it knew this community to be prime hunting grounds.

As for us, our hike was quick today because we had our own community efforts to join–he had a Lions Club meeting and I had a Maine Master Naturalist board meeting. We do our best to provide support in any way we can. It’s important to us to be community-centered–even on a Mondate. And by the way–the Lions are always looking for contributions to support their eye-sight programs; and the Maine Master Naturalist Program is still accepting applications for its Tier One course being offered from May-Sept this year in Bridgton, Farmington and Mount Desert Island.

 

 

 

Celebrating a Year of Wonder-filled Wanders

One year ago today I invited you to follow me into the woods. More specifically, I invited you to wander and wonder with me. I had no idea where the path would lead, but that didn’t seem to bother you. Occasionally I got fake lost, as was the case today, but still you read on. And other times I gave you the wrong information, but you quietly corrected me and continued to read. Thank you for your time, curiosity, encouragement and endless wonder. This one is for all of you.

b-woody1Check out this tree that I pass by each time I step into our woodlot. My guy and I were commenting on it just the other day–he tried pushing, but it stood firm. This morning, fresh wood chips indicated that the pileated woodpecker had paid a visit in the last 24 hours.

b-woody tree 2It’s a well-visited tree. What will the woodpeckers do when it finally does fall? Two things. First, they’ll continue to visit it because apparently it’s worthy of such. And second, they’ll find other trees; there are several others just like this.

b-powerlineI was feeling a bit grumpy when I headed out the door, but finding the recent woodpecker works and emerging from the cowpath onto the power line where I was captured by the whitegreenbluegray of the world as I looked toward Mount Washington put a smile on my face. My intention was to walk along the barely used snowmobile trail as far as I could. I wasn’t sure if open water would keep me from reaching the road, which is a couple of miles away, but decided to give it a try.

b-cat following deerJust because that was my plan doesn’t mean that’s what happened. Maybe that’s what I love best about life–learning to live in the moment. This moment revealed the spot where deer sunk into the snow just off the snowmobile trail and a bobcat floated on top.

b-cat following deerSoft snow made for distorted prints. And these prints made for a quick change of plans.

b-cat:voleI turned 180˚ and found more tracks on the other side of the snowmobile trail. And so began today’s journey into the woods. I was feeling proud of myself for backtracking the animal–following where it had come from rather than where it had gone so I wouldn’t cause unnecessary stress. Yet again, I stress out all the mammals because of my constant movement–and so many I don’t see because they hear me coming. Anyway, I followed the bobcat for quite a while, noticing that it continued to follow the deer and even crossed over a couple of vole tunnels that already have their spring appearance. It’s much too warm much too soon.

b-cat-2 printsWhat I discovered is that this mammal was checking out stumps and along the way circled around them. And then it seemed that there might be two because suddenly I was following rather than backtracking. So much for that plan. What I do like is how this photo shows the mammal’s hind foot stepping into the same space the front foot had already packed down–direct registration, just a little off center.

b-cat nurse logIts prints are in the bottom right-hand corner, but then it appeared to walk across the top of this nurse-log. After that, I had to circle around looking for the next set of prints.

b-no snowUnder some of the hemlocks, there was little to no snow. Eventually I lost the bobcat’s trail, which is just as well.

b-widowmaker1I didn’t realize until I looked up that I was still in familiar territory.

b-widowmaker 2I first spotted this widow maker 20+ years ago. It never ceases to amaze me.

b-deep snowI decided that rather than return to the snowmobile trail, I’d continue deeper into the woods. I had an idea of where I’d eventually end up, but if you’ve traveled these woods with me recently (Marita and Dick can vouch for this), you’ll know that the logging operation has thrown me off and not all of my landmarks are still standing. It’s that or they just got up and moved. Anyway, I was lost for about an hour, but continued moving slowly through sometimes deep snow (relatively speaking this winter) and other times puddly conditions. It was a slog to say the least. My friend, Jinny Mae, had warned me about water hidden beneath the snow and I found it. More than once.

b-brit 2I also found other cool stuff. British lichen bearing bright red caps.

b-hemlock yearsA hemlock wound that indicated the last time this land was logged. I counted to 25. That makes sense.

b-hemlock cone:seedsA hemlock cone and seeds on a high spot of snow–not the usual stump, log or branch, but still a high spot. Apparently the red squirrel that had gone to all the work of taking the cone apart to eat the seeds had been scared away. Perhaps it will return, or another, or I’ll be admiring hemlock saplings in a few years.

b-porcupine scatPorcupine scat below another hemlock.

b-porky twigAnd a few snipped off twigs–porcupine style.

b-hemlock debrisA mystery perhaps. I love a mystery. So, scattered on the snow–bits of hemlock bark.