Ever A Sense Of Wonder

I thought I was losing it. Wonder, that is. I’ve hiked or walked many miles, taken thousands of photos, but haven’t been overly wowed by much lately.

This weekend, though, that all changed.

Maybe it was the fact that a friend and I spent a bluebird, yet brisk Saturday snowshoeing many miles as we tracked a couple of local mammals.

There were porcupine dens to explore. Well, not actually crawl into because we didn’t know who might decide to crawl out. We discovered two new ones that were obviously in use, but visited this older stump dump and found no one at home. Why? It had all the makings of a nice condo. Lots of room available, hemlocks growing right out the back door, beside a field with other offerings for a summer diet. Don’t you just want to move in?

We did discover other abodes that showed signs of life with tracks leading to the inner chambers.

How many inner chambers was the next question. Atop this much larger stump dump we counted at least seven holes coated with hoar frost around the edges–leading us to believe someone was breathing within. Did that mean there were seven porcupines living in this den? Do you know what a group of porcupines who share the same winter den, but sleep in their own bedrooms, is called? A prickle of porcupines. Don’t you love that?

By the amount of tracks, we couldn’t tell how many actually lived there, but in the fresh layer of snow we did note that at least one had gone outside to eat the previous night for we followed its tracks for a bit.

It also had visited another den, and by the amount of scat, it was obvious that this wasn’t the first day in a new house.

The porcupines weren’t the only ones we were interested in. For miles and hours, we also tracked a bobcat who’d paid a visit the previous night. Would we find evidence of what it had eaten? A kill site where a prey was attacked? Scat?

We knew by the fact that the bobcat track was atop the turkey prints that this bird lived to see another day.

The same was true for the squirrels that managed to avoid being consumed by the predator overnight as they huddled somewhere close by. But the bobcat apparently didn’t catch a whiff of their scent, though the former did check out holes by stumps and snags.

Sometimes we noticed that the cat picked up speed and we were sure we’d find the reason.

And then . . . and then it would pause and we did too. When the bobcat led us back out to the road we’d traveled on, and crossed to the other side, we knew our time with it had come to an end but enjoyed the journey, though still had questions. Did we miss a kill/feeding site?

We had noted an abundance of food available, much of it in the form of the squirrel or hare. This is my snow lobster, as I’ve mentioned in the past and love how the front feet, being the smaller two prints, land on a diagonal and form the lobster’s tail, while as they lift up to leap forward, the hind feet land in such a way that they appear in the front of the set to form the lobster’s claws. And I’m reminded that for ground dwellers like the hare, the front two feet tend to land on a diagonal, while for tree dwellers like the squirrels, whose front feet also appear smaller and at the back of the set of prints, are most often parallel.

That was yesterday. Today dawned with a sleet storm. When I ventured out the back door this afternoon, I noticed again an abundance of hare prints, these the larger set in the photo while the smaller ones belong to a red squirrel. When I said an abundance of food, these are two of the many choices and this year the hare is everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I find it hopping through communities I’ve not seen it in the recent past. Certainly the bobcat of yesterday will or did find one–we just didn’t stumble upon it.

After spending so much time tracking, a favorite winter activity of mine, I finally turned my focus to trees, another passion. I was actually looking for insects, but fell for this solid droplet of balsam resin that looked rather like a bug. I would love to see the colors of the dribble repeated in yarn.

Then there was the ice that mimicked the shield lichen attached to a branch of the fir.

At last I did find an insect. Well, at least the left-behind structure of a sawfly–where it had pupated and then once ready to emerge, cut its perfect circular escape hatch. How to remember this insect: think of it as a circular saw-fly.

And attached atop the pupating case–what looked like another insect pupating. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to name its species, but I thrilled in spotting it.

Bark is cool, but especially when you begin to notice all the idiosyncrasies of life upon it, such as the fruiting disks of a couple of crustose lichens, but one of my favs is the braid-like formation of the liverwort Frullania. It has brown leaves divided into two lobes. Liverworts are cool because they are flowerless and lack roots and reproduce via spores. Frullania is abundant upon bark, but unless you slow down and look, you may not ever spy its spiderwebby structure.

Speaking of spying, yesterday’s brilliant sun shone upon the hairy twigs of paper birch, another sight easy to overlook.

Today’s natural community found me tramping through an area where gray birch, with their bumpy, hairless twigs, grow.

How did these two members of the same family develop such differences? I think about that and how it is true of all in the natural world. Maybe the hairs don’t appear in exactly the same line-up and the bumps are more or less bumpy on another twig, but they all are variations on the same theme. Mammals are like that as well. And flowers. And ferns . . . and well, everything. We can learn to ID them because generally they share the same characteristics from one dandelion to the next. But . . . what about us? As humans, there are familial similarities, but very few of us look exactly like another. Though perhaps somewhere in the world we all have a twin we’ve yet to meet. Alas, I’ve rambled on enough.

It all boils down to the bush clover–a species my friend Pam and I first met at Brownfield Bog a couple of falls ago and recognized almost immediately when we discovered it in a field in Stow, Maine, before encountering our first porcupine condo yesterday. Today, she informed me in a text message that a year ago we met it in the same field, and we shared a chuckle that neither of us had a memory of that moment. Uh oh.

But I was reminded this morning that it’s important to go forth with a child-like attitude, finding awe in all that we see and encounter and I realized then that I’ve been too busy lately to slow down and really look.

Here’s hoping I can ever renew and enjoy that sense of wonder and that you can as well.

Making Tracks into 2022 Mondate

On this coldest day of the new year, with winds gusting from the north, my guy and I chose to go for a walk on a beach and peer into the future. What did we see?

A clean slate to start.

What did we learn? Rather than clam up, be happy and express your true colors.

Break free from the crowd occasionally and make sure your pop is the loudest.

Know that some layers will erode, but still, strong roots will persist.

Find works of nature’s art in the midst.

Recognize the value of local plants just like your Dad always did.

Liken bursts of sunshine upon rocks that add color to gray days.

Take a brief second to pause, as you skitter along.

If you feel trapped, find a way out.

Spew when you need to, but do make it colorful and dramatic.

Despite the cold temperature, paddle like heck.

When the moment is right, ride the waves.

Let life’s lines intersect and go with the pattern presented.

And most of all, together make tracks as you step into 2022.

Happy New Year to all and to all a good night.

Knowing My Place

I planned to accomplish so many things since I had time off this past week. And I did check a couple of items off my list, but . . . most of my time was spent wandering and wondering in the woods behind our house.

Sometimes I followed trails known only by those who like to zoom through this space and never really see.

Other days I bushwhacked, eager to discover what might present itself.

Always I was reminded that this has long been my classroom and its taught me many a lesson, including that the bracts of the Witch Hazel flower persist in the winter and offer a dash of color in the landscape. Notice how each flower consisted of four bracts that curl back. The ribbony flowers fell off in the fall. And I have to admit that there was a time when I thought these were the flowers.

While bushwhacking, debris on the snow drew my attention and of course I had to investigate.

Much to my delight, I found a couple of Pileated Woodpecker scats filled with insect bodies. And notice all the chiseled wood–it’s a lot of work, but I’m always happy to note via the scat that the attempt was successful.

Equally successful was the digging of a Red Squirrel who had cached a pile of hemlock cones and returned within the last few days to dine and leave behind a midden of cone scales–its garbage pile.

This is a truly wild place that serves as home to so many mammals and birds and I give thanks to them for leaving behind prints and other signs of their presence. Of course, I was looking for the resident Moose, who has eluded me so far, but the White-tailed Deer are everywhere, including sucking seed from our bird feeders every night.

The Turkeys haven’t discovered our feeders yet, but by their prolific tracks I know they are nearby.

I’ve also been noting many, many Snowshoe Hare tracks, some in places I don’t recall seeing them previously and methinks there is plenty of prey available for predators. One of the learnings these woods have offered is that the hare’s prints can throw one off on ID, especially when the snow is soft and its hind feet (top of photo as they always land in front of where the front feet landed and lifted off) spread out and leave more toe impressions than one typically sees.

Of course, no visit to these woods is complete without a check-in at the vernal pool. And this week I discovered two other pools to check on in the spring. But those are for another day three months away.

For all my wandering, actually spying wildlife is rather rare, but from inside our kitchen door sometimes we see so much. Every few nights a porcupine pays us a visit. And every night four healthy looking deer stop by as I said earlier. But on these stormy days, the feeders see the most action and today’s visitors included Tufted Titmice,

and American Goldfinches studying the scene.

Eventually, this male flew to the ground and dug in, much like the Red Squirrel in the woods.

Time and time again, he knew success.

Mr. Cardinal also dove in.

And his Mrs. came by as well. One day we actually spotted two Cardinal couples in the yard.

One of the joys of the feeders is that those who visit add color to the scene and it soon became apparent that red was the color of the day, this time with the spots on the back of the Downy Woodpecker’s head indicating it was a male.

Another male of another species also showed off his red coloration.

I was tickled to welcome a couple of House Finches. And do you see the deer hair on the snow to the upper right of his beak?

It’s that time of year when the Juncos also pay a visit and keep the red theme going with their pink beaks.

Not all birds are created equal or don’t tell the Gray Squirrel he’s not a bird because like the deer and porcupine, he’s sure that the seed and nuts are meant for his pleasure. Certainly.

This was my week, a week spent happily dilly-dallying in my place and giving thanks for past and present and future lessons. A week spent wondering and wandering alone. And it was topped off with this icy sculpture in the woods that reminded me of a bird’s head–it seemed apropos, but I did have to wonder how it formed. Ahhhh, not all is meant to be understood in this school of choice.

How well do you know your place?

Christmas Bird Count 2021 and the Porcupine Morph

December 28, 2021, 7:13am

Good morning!

As many of you probably know, we are having some light snow at the moment. It looks like the snow will end soon and it is supposed to be a beautiful day today. I encourage you to assess the conditions at your house, and communicate with your co-counters (if you have them) about your comfort level going out. You can start later in the day if you need to.

Mary

Such was the message that Mary Jewett sent out for those of us covering Maine Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count in the Sweden Circle. Referring to Sweden, Maine, that is.

My assignment: Walk the trails in Bridgton’s Pondicherry Park and Lake Environmental Association’s Highland Research Forest, both highlighted in red, and count birds of whatever species presented on this winter day.

And so . . . into the park I went–from the backside because it’s the easiest way for me to access the park from our back door.

Looking about, I thought about Maine Audubon’s Forestry For Maine Birds assessment and how this spot checked off many of the needs noted:

  • Gap in the overstory
  • Trees over 30 feet tall
  • Trees 6 – 30 feet tall
  • Water
  • Some age variety
  • Snags over 6 feet tall
  • Large downed wood

I couldn’t speak for smaller downed wood or leaf litter or saplings, but still, this space is a bird’s paradise and in the spring the amount of song and color and flight bespeaks the wealth this community offers. It’s a wee bit quieter in winter. Or a whole lot quieter.

But quiet can be interrupted and by its chirps I knew a Northern Cardinal was in the neighborhood. His red coat provided such a contrast to the morning’s snowy coating. Notice how he’s all puffed up? That’s because birds can trap their body heat between feathers to stay warm in the winter.

I searched and searched for his Mrs. but never did spy her.

There was a different Mrs. to admire, however. And she stood out from the many as I counted about 43 Mallards all together, and it seemed they were divided almost evenly by gender, but most dabbled along Stevens Brook. I found this Mrs. on Willet Brook, where she was accompanied by her Mr.

Handsome as he was, she followed he in an act of synchronized swimming, for it seemed that with each swivel he took in the water, she did the same.

I walked the trail in slo-mo, listening and watching and hoping for the rare sighting. Other than the Mallards, and Black-capped Chickadees, and Red-Breasted Nuthatches, all was rather quiet.

After a few hours walking through the park and other than the aforementioned, plus a few Bluejays and American Crows, I headed north to Highland Research Forest (HRF) where I was sure a wetland would offer something special.

But first, I decided to treat myself to a visit to a set of trees at HRF known to host a porcupine. Porcupine sightings were hot topics of conversation at our home over the holiday weekend as the one who lives under our barn made its nightly appearance and even attacked a Christmas kissing ball hanging in a Quaking Aspen ten feet from the kitchen door.

In the scene before me at HRF, by the sight of the American Hemlock on the left, I knew porky had done much dining and I could see disturbance on the ground so I scanned the trees in hopes of spying him. I can use the masculine pronoun because it’s the males who occasionally tend to hang out in trees during the day.

A nipped twig dangling in a Striped Maple sapling smack dab in front of my face further attested to the porky’s occupancy of the area.

And under the tree–a display of tracks and scat all not completely covered by the snow that fell earlier in the day.

Porky had posted signs of its presence everywhere, including upon this American Beech. Can you read it?

In his usual hieroglyphics he left this message: I was here.

My heart sang when I saw the pattern of his tooth marks as the lower incisors scraped away at the bark to reach the cambium layer. If you look closely, you’ll begin to see a pattern of five or six scrapes at a time forming almost a triangular pattern. The end of each patch of scrapes is where the upper incisors held firm against the tree and the lower ones met them.

Because I once stood under these trees expounding about how porcupines are known to fall off branches to a group of people who from their location about fifteen feet away told me to be careful because there was one sitting above, I’ve learned to scan first before stepping under.

And to my utmost delight, I spied . . . not a porcupine, but a bird. A bird with a long striped tail.

Brain cramp. Which hawk could it be? Coopers? Goshawk? Rough-legged?

But wait. It’s feet weren’t talon-like as a hawk’s would be.

Feeling confident the porcupine wasn’t in the tree, I walked under and around for a better look and confirmed the identification. On Christmas Bird Counts in the past, I’ve always had brief glimpses of Ruffed Grouses as they explode from their snow roosts in such a manner that it causes my heart to quicken for a second. But here was one sitting in a tree!

Though I could have spent a couple of hours with the grouse, I had a task to complete and so eventually I ventured down to the wetland where nothing spectacular made itself known.

And on to Highland Lake. By then it was early afternoon, and again, it was more of the same to tally on the checklist.

A couple of hours later, I returned to Pondicherry Park, thinking I might make another discovery–and I did. By the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, a female Hairy Woodpecker must have sourced some Carpenter Ants because she vehemently excavated the tree.

Another great spot in this photo–do you see the robust Red Maple buds? Sometimes I think we forget that buds form in the summer and overwinter under waxy or hairy scales, depending upon their species.

It was in the park that I did finally spy a rare bird, and I couldn’t wait to report it to Mary. At first I wasn’t sure of the exact species, but once I looked up, I found it’s name almost immediately.

Snowy Pondicherry Loop Yellow Woodybird, complete with a sign and arrow showing others where to spot this special species not found anywhere else in the world.

With that, my day was done and it was time to complete the forms before turning them in to Mary. But . . . I must confess that back at Highland Research Forest, I did sneak back in to look for the Ruffed Grouse before I left there and an hour and a half later it was still in the tree, though starting to move about and coo a bit.

The snow is only about five or six inches deep, not enough for it to dive into and so I suspect the tree served as its winter roosting spot until conditions below improve. I have to say that this experience brought back memories of my time spent with ArGee in Lovell, a Ruffed Grouse a few friends and I met occasionally in 2018.

As the sun began to set upon Sweden Circle’s Christmas Bird Count 2021, I gave thanks for the opportunity to participate, and especially the great discovery of a porcupine that morphed into a bird!

Dedication: For my dear friend Faith on her birthday, especially since she once scanned photos of the very same trees at HRF in another blog I’d posted that included a porcupine, and struggled to see its form until I supplied close-ups. Happy Birthday, Faith!

Following the Circle of Life

Upon an aimless journey into our neck of the woods a pattern soon emerged, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Sometimes, it’s best that way. To be present is the key.

And so I began by walking slowly and breathing deeply as I followed the labyrinth in and out.

Eventually I met an old friend who shouted with glee that I had stopped by.

Behind said friend, her age lines were revealed and it was obvious that from time to time she’d hosted a variety of others who ate at her inner core in such a manner that her death provided a means for their life.

Similarly, her sibling showed off his own marks of healing and growing.

And then I moved into a different neighborhood, this one a conifer stand, where an obvious meal had been interrupted and I wondered why.

Upon another rock, another midden indicated an earlier meal consumed, perhaps in a safer place as maybe the barbed wire added some safety.

And then I saw them. Prints that is. Impressions in the snow. Created by not one, but two coyotes. Why did they change direction?

By the hair-filled scat one of them had left not long ago on another rock along the wall it was obvious they’d been here before.

A few steps more and I knew why. I’d discovered the crossroads–that intersection of life where red squirrel headed left, snowshoe hare in the same direction as my boots, and the coyotes circled about.

The red squirrel survived. This I know because it left fresh prints that led to a hemlock stand where, though I couldn’t see it, it scolded me from high above. Or perhaps it was telling me a tale of its heroic adventures to outwit the coyotes.

The coyotes’ trail indicated they’d moved north. The snowshoe hare? I’m not sure where it went.

As for me? I returned home to enjoy this gift I received from dear friends that now graces our kitchen wall. It was fun naming all the ornaments they’d bestowed upon the wreath from Northern White Cedar leaves to Evening Primrose, lichens, sensitive fern spores, an acorn, a hemlock cone, and Queen Anne’s lace in its winter form.

Taken all together, today’s adventure followed the circle of life and the circle of friends from trees to woodland critters to givers of the wreath. I am grateful for all.

Messages in the Snow

Dedication: This one is for Kimmy, aka Lt. Col. Kimberly Jennings, Chief of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Accessibility on the Executive Leadership team for the USAF; a former student of mine, babysitter of our sons a hundred years ago, and very dear friend, who is dealing with Melanoma.

May the snow embrace you as it does the hemlock trees over the forest path.

Express your true form like the dancing winter structure of pinesap.

Let your uniqueness shine forth as those of individual snowflakes.

Occasionally defy gravity and rules like snow clinging to vertical beech leaves.

Continue to seed the minds of those who follow in your footsteps.

Forever provide a place for others to gather.

Turn an uprooting into an opportunity to fly in different directions.

Build dams and occasionally breach them.

Dabble about and quack your desires incessantly because you can.

When you spot a standing tree, gnaw at its base in hopes of defining future goodness.

When stonewalls block the way, call upon your superpowers to create openings.

Find universal hearts in everyday places.

And always, no matter the snow depth, channel your inner child and make snow angels.

You got this, Kimmy. And we’ve got you.

Breaking Tradition

While most people gathered round a table to share a feast yesterday, my guy and I decided to give thanks in a different manner . . .

And pardon the turkeys. Instead, it was chicken and cranberry relish sandwiches that we made in the morning, the ingredients locally sourced.

And then on to The Stone House in Evans Notch did we drive, our hearts grateful that there were only two other vehicles parked by the gate.

Our official journey began on White Cairn trail, where though we don’t always do what we’re told, this time we abided the sign, given that there was maybe a foot of water below. Otherwise, I’m sure we would have jumped in.

It’s a steady climb up Blueberry Mountain. Oak and beech leaves obscured rocks while hearts pumped vigorously. Because of the latter, my guy took a seat while I shed a couple of layers of clothing.

Part way to the summit, a look back revealed Shell Pond glimmering below.

And then in the middle of nowhere, which really is always somewhere, we met the official greeter–a cockeyed face that has weathered many a storm.

Lunch rock turned out to be Blueberry’s summit ledges, where we could again see the conch-like shape of the pond below, Pleasant Mountain’s ridge line in the far beyond, and a front moving our way by the look of the sky.

Though summer had escaped this mountain months ago, the flowers continued to grace the rocky landscape with their unique colors and seedpods, and of course, buds whispered hope for the future, this being Rhodora.

Among the mix was plenty of Sheep Laurel, its seed capsules reminding me of the jingle bells we’ll soon hear pealing Noel tunes.

Leaving Blueberry Mountain behind, we climbed more ledges where three types of reindeer lichen added their own hues and textures to the scene.

It’s a fairly long hike up and back at almost ten miles, which came into perspective when we noted the upper and lower bays of Kezar Lake in Lovell, which is about nine miles long.

Between open ledges, we frequently passed through conifer stands where occasionally we spied red-belted polypores on standing tree snags.

And then it was onward and upward again to the next conifer stand.

My heart sang within that stand when we came upon Hobblebushes, their leaf and flower buds donning hairy winter coats so unlike the waxy, scaled buds of the Rhodora and so many other shrubs and trees.

Sometimes the trail through the conifers had challenges to offer not in the form of slippery leaves, but rather ice. That’s why one packs micro-spikes at this time of year.

Those much more agile than us in this mountain terrain had already feasted and as usual left their garbage pile, aka midden, of spruce cone scales behind. They don’t observe “Leave no trace.” But it is for the Red Squirrels and all other critters and birds that we do.

It was early afternoon when we reached the second summit we sought–Speckled Mountain–where a fire tower once stood. Our pause was quick for we needed to climb down before dark. Though again, headlamps in the pack are another must have and we did.

First though, we enjoyed the view and a slice of chocolate chip pumpkin bread. Mount Washington’s snow-covered peak was part of the backdrop to the west.

It’s almost a 360˚ panorama from the top.

Daylight waned as we descended so we moved as quickly as possible.

But those views. Breathtaking with each step.

Finally back at Blueberry Mountain, we descended via Stone House Trail, which is far less challenging than White Cairn. And has bear claw trees.

Oft visited bear-claw trees.

This one even leaning as if it still recalls the mighty forager of its beech nuts.

My guy reminded me that I needed to stop looking for other such trees because the sun was low in the sky and we still had at least a mile to hike.

At about 4:20pm we reached the old airfield by the Stone House, having saved visits to Rattlesnake Pool and Gorge for another day.

Our reason for choosing to hike on this day–because it was my birthday and so as I’d promised my sister, who knows I did not receive the family’s musical gene, I sang from the mountain top where a breeze muffled my voice as it floated across the ridges and valleys to anyone who was listening below.

Walking arm in arm back to the truck as the sun set behind the Bald Face Mountains, my guy surprised me with a favorite tune that I love to hear him sing.

I have so much to be thankful for including all of you who join me either in person or virtually and help me get lost in wonder along the way.

But I am especially thankful to my family and my guy for letting us break tradition and pardon the turkey.

What’s To Come Mondate

Perhaps we’re getting smarter in our old age. Or maybe luck just happened to be on our side today. The thing is . . . we remembered to pack our micro-spikes–a first for this season.

Our intended hike: Kearsarge North off Hurricane Mountain Road just beyond North Conway, New Hampshire. The Fire Tower was our destination at 3.1 miles and while the conditions looked clear yet wet from the trailhead, we suspected we’d discover otherwise after about two miles.

It’s a steep hike with roots and rocks for those first two miles and then the trail transitions to granite ledge. So no matter what, if one wants to look up, one needs to pause. Otherwise, at least for us, we developed hiker’s neck, the exact opposite of spring’s warbler neck.

But . . . when one looks down, one sees some fun stuff like this frothy collection, an interaction of water friction and air. Tiny bubbles . . . make me happy, make me feel fine.

The bright yellow of a slime mold also captured my attention until I realized it was actually trailblazefungusamongus.

A look up and I knew exactly from whence it sprouted.

Another sweet find was a small patch of Pipsissewa, their leaves evergreen, and buds already formed for next summer. Scientifically known as Chimaphila umbellata, it’s a native wildflower of the Pyrola family that blooms in July.

As we continued to climb, we encountered one hiker on his way down and asked him about the conditions for the rest of the way. He informed us that there was snow but not so much ice, which we’ve encountered on this steep trail in the past.

And then we met it! Another first for this season. SNOW!!!!

It just got prettier and prettier the higher we climbed. That said, conditions were slippery underfoot than the first hiker stated and we encountered another hiker descending in sneakers who struggled to stay upright.

Yet another first, for where there is snow, there are tracks–those of our fellow hikers, but also of the wild mammals with whom we shared the space and I couldn’t help but smile at these left behind by a Red Squirrel. Let the tracking season begin.

As the conditions underfoot got a tad bit rougher, I chose to put on my spikes for the final quarter mile, which happens to be the longest quarter mile in the world.

I didn’t realize until we got home that I never took any photos of the trail once conditions worsened until we reached the summit, and the same on the way down because I was so focused on placing one foot in the right spot before choosing where to put the other foot.

But . . . none of that mattered when we reached the summit. This was once the sight of an inn that was destroyed by storms. In the early 1900s the fire tower was erected, rebuilt in the 1950s and manned until the late ’60s. Today, hikers can get out of the wind and take in the 360˚ views.

Do you see my guy on the stairs?

From the deck surrounding the tower, one can look toward Upper Kimball Pond in Chatham, NH, and on to the ridge line of our Pleasant Mountain in western Maine.

Or below to North Conway.

Or beyond to the White Mountains.

But the best part is stepping inside to sign the guest book, eat a late lunch, and enjoy the views without the wind.

We didn’t stay long because it was late and we could see precipitation in the offing. And both donned our spikes once we got to the base of the tower.

Lowering by the moment, the sun occasionally glowed upon the trail as we descended. Eventually, it disappeared completely and felt like someone had turned off the light as it gets dark early in the mountains. About halfway down it began to sleet.

All that said, two things came to mind. As much as I fret while climbing up because I dread what the hike down will be like (if only I could just hike upward and meet either an elevator or helicopter at the top–in a perfect world), that descent is always much easier, even when it’s as technical as today’s difficult hike, than my brain imagined. Of course, the spikes and a hiking pole were huge aids.

And as my guy said when we started to see snow on the trail and trees, “This is what’s to come.” Indeed.

When we reached home I saw an email from a friend that included this line: “Your favorite season is coming.” Yes, Karen Herold, it is!

And today we got a glimpse of it. Let it snow!

Pondering the Past at Pondicherry Park

Before today’s deluge began, I slipped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine, to fill the innermost recesses of my lungs with November air, and at the same time my brain with memories of so many people who have traveled these trails with me from Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and Lakes Environmental Association’s Alanna Yanelli and Mary Jewett, and friends and friends and friends, including the late JoAnne Diller, Sue Black, and Jinny Mae. But today’s journey also included memories of one I took two years ago with Becky Cook, who shared her remembrances of growing up along South High Street and romping through these trails as they were part of her backyard. If anyone ever had a sense of this place, it is Becky.

My journey began at the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, the main entryway into the park if you approach from the town parking lot on Depot Street behind Reny’s Department Store.

Bob Dunning, who died suddenly in November 2007, was a builder, an artist, and among other things, a teacher–sharing his craft with students young and old. To honor Bob, who treasured traditional building techniques, his friends and fellow craftspeople designed and built this bridge in a true barn-raising fashion. To learn more about the bridge, check out this previous wondermyway post: Barking Up A Bridge.

The bridge spans Stevens Brook, the source of power when Bridgton was first founded and for many years thereafter.

But today’s tale is about the the land beyond the bridge.

And the three properties I tried to circle on this 1871 map.

They are the same properties circled above to give a sense of place. Well, I may be off a wee bit in my drawing techniques, but it provides an idea of the land that was first owned by Thomas Cleaves, Dr. Nathaniel Pease, and Osborn Foster.

According to the 1870 census, Mr. Cleaves had 20 acres of improved land. His farm was worth $2,500 and equipment $75. For animals, he had 2 horses, 3 cows, 2 oxen, and 1 swine. His crops included wheat, corn and oats.

Dr. Pease had 20 acres of improved land and 50 acres of unimproved land. The value of his farm was $2,000, while his equipment was worth $75. Likewise he had 2 horses, but only 1 cow, plus 2 oxen, and 1 swine. Corn and oats were his crops.

Mr, Foster owned 40 acres of improved land, and his farm’s value was also $2,000, with the equipment at the going rate of $75. He had 1 horse, 2 oxen, and 1 swine. He also produced corn and oats. (One might note that there was a corn canning shop on the eastern side of Stevens Brook)

As time went on, Henry Moxcey acquired the Cleaves house. His occupation was farming and traveling according to the 1930 census. He lived in the house valued at $10,000 with his wife, Hattie, and daughter Hazel.

Next door, Charles Kneeland had taken ownership of the Pease property in 1881. In 1919, it became the property of his daughter Florence, wife of Alfred Keene. They lived there with their young children, Adria and Maurice. I couldn’t read the value of their home on the census, but Alfred owned a radio set. The 1930 census reflected the emerging values of early twentieth-century America, in particular the growing influence of consumerism and mass culture, thus it included a question about radio sets.

I’m not sure of the exact year, but Osborn Foster’s house was sold to Edward Carman. Charles Hermann Cook then purchased the home valued at $5,000. Herman was overseer in the finishing room at Pondicherry Mill (wondermyway: Milling About Stevens Brook). He lived with his wife Lula, son Enoch, and Edith Foster, who was their housekeeper (she was 43 and widowed).

Looking a the open field in the park, the houses/field to the west are the subject of the journey. While the homes remain private, the land that became the park was purchased in a collaborative fashion by Loon Echo Land Trust and Lakes Environmental Association through the generosity of many donors, as well as grant monies. After placing it under conservation easement with LELT, constructing entry points and trails, it was gifted to the town of Bridgton in 2012. The park consists of 66 acres of quiet woodland and 3,200 feet of stream shore in the heart of downtown Bridgton, making it one special place.

If you’ve stayed with me, this is the point where Becky’s story will enhance the tale. She is the daughter of the late Enoch and Hazel Cook, and granddaughter of C. Hermann Cook. My guy had the privilege, like so many others, of being taught by Mrs. Cook and still loves to talk about her. She passed away a few years ago, or maybe it was a few years before that, but he last visited her on her 102nd birthday and listened as she shared stories of her classroom and students as if she had only stepped out of school yesterday.

One of the first stops Becky and I made two years ago was at Kneeland Spring, pictured above. The water bubbles through the sandy bottom and so the spring never freezes. Even in July, Becky said, she remembered the water being ice cold. Notice the moss-covered split granite–I didn’t take a photo of it today, but just above there are several rock samples that may have been the source as they feature drill holes a farmer would have created to split the stone. Pin and feathering was a technique that required a person to drill holes along the grain of the stone, fill each hole with two semi-cylindrical pieces of iron, and drive a steel wedge between them.

To Becky, standing by the spring and looking west (uphill toward South High Street) brought back memories of running through fields as a kid. Below the spring she recalled there being woods and a boggy area.

She told me that Mr. Kneeland had livery stables beside his house for his horses and cows. The Keenes, who inherited the land, didn’t have any horses or cows. But Bob Dineen, who lived across South High Street, used the pastures for his work horses and cows. “You could ride them,” said Becky. “And I wasn’t particular. I could ride a cow just as easily as a horse.”

For many years I thought it was local lore that Hannaford Brothers purchased water from the spring, but Ned Allen shared this document with me. Apparently, this was coveted water.

Throughout the park one might spot numbered Roosters. By using either the Bridgton Historical Society’s free app, or picking up a brochure at the kiosk, you can key in on descriptions of historic locations in the park. I’d spent a few years feeling that the info for #4 wasn’t accurate, but Becky set me right.

You see, according to the description, #4 states this: Barway, This gap was left in the stonewall to provide an opening to pass through. A log would be placed across the gap so it could be closed up again and continue to keep the livestock contained.

In my brain, the stones had been moved to create the gap so the park trail could pass through it.

According to Becky, this was the wall that formed the boundary between the Keene/Kneeland property and the Cook property. She remembered a much smaller gap, but still there was one.

Off trail there used to be an old rail on the ground that referenced the Narrow Gauge Train that ran beside what is now the park. After the train stopped running in 1941, either Becky’s father or grandfather or both took advantage of the old rails and used them when necessary, such as for the ties of bridges, this one having been located along what was a rough road from the Cooks’ home on South High Street down to their camp on Willet Brook, which meets Stevens Brook in the park.

Before going to the site of the camp, I traveled along a spur trail, which I often do because I love the reflection it offers . . .

in any season.

When I traveled the trails with Becky, I was so grateful because she opened my mind to some of what had come before, including the family camp, this photo from the Bridgton Historical Society’s collection.

In its day, it was a single family camp at 1360 Willet Brook Shore owned by C. Hermann Cook and his family. Becky recalled it having a couple of bedrooms on the western side, which you see here, a kitchen, and a long living room spanning the front. French doors opened from the living room onto the porch. And she remembered evenings when her parents would wind up the Victrola and people danced out one door, across the porch, and back into the living room through another porch.

All that’s left of the camp, sadly, is the chimney and a foundation wall. In 1968, some kids began to make a habit of partying in the camp. According to Becky, they figured if they created a fire in the fireplace someone might spot the smoke rising from the chimney. Instead, they created a campfire in the middle of the living room floor. Several time, apparently, this happened. Their frivolity ended, however, when they accidentally burned the camp to the ground on what became the final party.

Becky was sad to lose this beautiful place. She did recall with humor, however, the adventures she and her brother, Tim, shared as it was their responsibility to clean snow off the roof. With Tim at the helm, and Becky holding on for dear life, they’d zoom through the fields and woods on a snowmobile to reach the camp.

Standing with my back to the chimney, I tried to imagine another scene Becky painted for me: this once was a cove filled with water. Her grandfather Hermann kept a boat here and often fished.

It began to make sense because at that time the mills were in use and they would have dammed the water in various locations in order to have power to run turbines.

Looking west from the chimeny, one gets a sense of the camp road. Though it looks rather level now, roots were often an issue. Becky told me that the vehicles of yore were high-wheeled and high-bottomed so it wasn’t really a bother.

Continuing up the “road,” a visit to the park doesn’t feel complete with stopping by to say hello to the Yellow Birch growing on a pine nurse stump where life is richer than we can imagine. It turned out that Becky was also a frequent stopper at this statue. Some tree species, especially those with small seeds, cannot germinate on leaf litter and need high-porosity seedbeds. Yellow Birch is such a species that requires mineral soil or deadwood to germinate. Hemlock is the same.

A bit farther along, the stonewalls begin to state their presence. They are powerful reminders that land that is now forested was once cleared and cultivated. Somer are single walls, such as this, built with large stones, where the land below is much lower than the land above, suggesting that the “short” side was plowed regularly and much more frequently than the tall side. Plowing tends to push soil against a wall. I don’t know when these walls were constructed, but some intense wall building occurred between 1775 and 1850. The majority of New England walls were dry built, meaning the stones were kept in place by skillful arrangement and balance.

A short distance above is a different type of wall. It’s a double-wide wall with larger stones on the outside and smaller filling in between. These were indicative of a garden wall. They weren’t high so as to keep livestock in or out. Instead, they became the place to toss all the stones that pushed to the field’s surface with the annual freezing and thawing. The smaller stones would likely have been the spring “crop” over the course of many years that were removed from the field by women and children. Remember, these farmers were growing their own grains. From Becky I learned that her grandfather had a commercial strawberry field. Usually such fields were between 2 – 4 acres, thus being the optimal size for moving stones from the center to the edges.

What grows best here now is the invasive Norway Maple. It’s not native to Maine and is aggressive in nature. This type of maple was planted along roadsides as a shade tree after the demise of elm trees. The leaf is similar to a Sugar Maple, but much more rectangular (boxier) in shape. And . . . while the Sugar Maples have lost their leaves by now, the Norway Maples hold on to them for a much longer time period.

Because it had started raining in earnest and I could barely see through my glasses, I knew it was time to draw today’s journey to a close. But, there was one last place to pause–in a pasture with a small opening in the boundary. The Kneeland/Keene homestead can be seen through the opening. If I turned around, which I didn’t, I knew that I could follow another old “road” down to Kneeland Spring. And to my left as I looked up at the house, would have been the Cooks’ property (eventually they moved across the street), and to my right the Cram/Cleaves/Moxcey property now owned by the Russos, which actually serves as a farm today, albeit on a much smaller scale. (All have passed through one or two or more hands of ownership.)

One final note (or maybe two): It has been said that Pondicherry was the name of Bridgton before Moody Bridges surveyed the land for the proprietors. The source of the name has been questioned–was it so called for a union territory in India or for the cherry trees that grew by the ponds?

Perhaps there’s another choice to ponder–was it named by indigenous people before people of European descent thought the land was theirs to occupy and own? That’s another story that needs to be researched.

As for today, I’m so glad the rain didn’t keep me home and I once again made time to ponder the past in Pondicherry Park.

The Moon and Stars Have Welcomed Jinny Mae

In 2015, my dear friend Jinny Mae (sometimes I referred to her as Jinnie Mae), was on the receiving end of an ominous cancer diagnosis. She underwent all sorts of treatments, including a Stem Cell transplant, and showed incredible bravery as she faced each set back with tenacity.

Yesterday, she lost the fight. The world has lost an incredible woman who was an engineer, not only in career, but in person and in community. I always think of engineers as seeing black and white, but Jinny Mae saw the gray areas and mastered them with her wit and creativity. She was an historian and a naturalist and a warm, inviting friend. She taught me to slow down and ask questions, to stop for great periods and pause and ponder.

Together we made discoveries and accepted the fact that the answers weren’t always obvious.

We laughed. We noticed. We questioned. We laughed some more.

I’m sad, but at the same time grateful about the fact that I got to wander and wonder with Jinny Mae on so many occasions.

Her path has changed, but I suspect she’ll continue to guide mine and for that I’ll be forever thankful.

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On your new path, Jinny Mae, beginning with a dandelion–may you find bright spots along the way.

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If stonewalls are placed in front of you, may you pause like the tortoise and then continue your journey in a steadfast manner.

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Should there be moments when you must curl up, may they be followed by . . .

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times when you’ll slowly unfurl.

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May you spread your wings again and again.

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May you feel new life flow through your veins,

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and embrace tender moments.

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May you always be wowed by the little things,

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especially those that have been there all along but somehow you missed until now.

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At the end of the day, may the moon and stars embrace you and remind the rest of us that you are only a whisper away.

Starring wondermyway, episode 3 on LRTV

Thanks to Evan Miller at Lake Region Television, wondermyway is on TV once again. For this program, Evan added music by pianist Abbey Simon.

Settle into a comfy chair and click on the following link to listen to fourteen minutes of wondermyway: wondermywayIII

Clicking on the photo won’t pull up the video, so be sure to click on the link above the photo.

May this bring you some moments of well being and peace.

Of Slugs and Suds

One might think a rainy day is the perfect kind of day to sit inside, curl up in a chair with a good book, sip some tea, and maybe take a nap in the process. Of course, it is. But it’s an even better day to head out the door and into the woods. And so I did.

I learned an interesting thing in the process as I walked along our cow path searching the bark of one tree after another to see what I might see.

The back sides of the trees were fairly dry as indicated by the lighter gray color. That didn’t make sense until I realized that was the southwestern side and today’s storm is a good ole New England Nor’easter. I suspect as the wind increases tonight, all of the bark will get wet.

With that understanding, I continued my search and finally was rewarded with a sighting upon a Red Maple that had long ago suffered a wound. Yes, that slug was the object of my attention.

When not consuming a garden, I find slugs to be fascinating critters. Classified as gastropod mollusks, they are in the same category as snails. The main distinguishing factor is that a slug lacks the external hard shell of a snail. Mostly nocturnal, they tend to feed at night and have a preference for dark, cold, and moist hiding areas during the day so that their skins do not dry out. But on a rainy day–ahhh.

Watching one move requires patience. Being diverse feeders, their diet differs depending on their types. In general, some tend to feed on plant matter or fungi, while others are predators feeding on different small organisms. I suspected this one was finding small organisms to dine upon as it glided ever so slowly on its slimy ‘foot,’ a long sheath of muscle on the underside of its body. The muscular ‘foot’ constantly oozes a slippery mucus to aid movement, which is why slugs leave a slimy trail in their wake.

Finding one slug was certainly not enough, so I rolled a few logs. Did you know this? Slugs are hermaphrodites, meaning they are born with both sets of sex organs and are able to lay eggs after mating.

In optimal conditions, slugs may lay clear, jelly-like eggs every warmish month, which hatch into baby slugs after around two weeks.

I also checked many, many more trees as the raindrops increased in intensity.

Unlike watching a slug’s movement, which can take such a long time, try capturing the travel route of a rain droplet. If you look closely, you might spy one about two inches down and two inches in on the upper left hand side of the tree.

Don’t blink or you might miss the action as the droplet falls. And just as quickly a new droplet forms.

Where exactly did the drop land? Upon a pile of foam. Here’s how it works. As the rainwater flows down the trunk, it dissolves chemicals from the bark. In the process, it changes the surface tension of the water so that as the droplets drip toward the base of the tree, air is introduced due to the turbulence and foam forms because the surface tension is altered.

I found it on pine and oak, but also near the base of Eastern Hemlock and Red Maple. And of those various forms, my favorites were a much looser structure that reflected rainbow colors in an almost hexagonal prism.

This rainy day . . . of slugs (for I did find a second one so I can use the plural form, and my first had moved all of two inches when I returned to it an hour later) . . .

turned out to be also a day of suds, and for both I gave thanks.

Hardly Hard to Find

A few years after the Town of Bridgton, Maine, incorporated, William Peabody of Andover, Massachusetts, built a house for his bride, Sally Stevens. The large, two and a half story building with a center chimney, was surrounded by over 200 acres of fields and forest upon which they grew crops, raised livestock, and created maple syrup, butter, and cheese.

In 1823, William and Sally’s fourth daughter, Mary, married George Fitch of Sebago, Maine, and about 1828 the Fitches took over the workings of the hilltop farm, said to be the highest cultivated land in Cumberland County. Thus, within the house lived Mary’s parents, three of her younger siblings, plus the Fitches and their growing family. To accommodate all, George added an ell with a new kitchen, larder, pantry, and two bedrooms. He also built an attached shed and carriage house.

After George Fitch died in 1856, the property stayed in the family but over time declined significantly in value. By the mid-1930s, the farm had fallen into disrepair and the Town of Bridgton put a lien on it for back taxes.

A friend who owned property nearby informed the recently widowed Margaret M. Monroe of Providence, Rhode Island, about the South Bridgton house. Margaret saw through the deficiencies and fell in love with the entryway and carriage house. Really, she fell in love with the entire place and purchased it not only to preserve its original elements, but also to serve as a summer and holiday retreat for her family.

In 1987, upon Margaret’s death, the property she’d long ago named Narramissic, loosely translated to mean “Hard to Find,” because she and her late husband had long searched for a Maine property to purchase, was bequeathed to the Bridgton Historical Society (BHS). Over the years, through staff and volunteer hours, donations, and grant monies, BHS has worked to restore the farmhouse and outbuildings and host various events.

In the 1990s, for his Eagle Project, Boy Scout Adam Jones created a blue-blazed trail to a quarry on land beyond the upper field that remained in possession of Peg Monroe Normann, Margaret’s daughter. In 2020, Loon Echo Land Trust purchased and conserved the 250-acre Normann property that surrounds BHS’s Narramissic farmstead on three sides and appropriately named it Peabody-Fitch Woods. (Much of the above was copied from my article about the partnership between the two organizations that was published in Lake Living fall/winter 2020)

The two organizations, BHS and LELT, have worked diligently since then to create a new gravel pathway with manageable slopes built to universal standards that winds past the house and barn and through the woods. And so I began my afternoon walk there and was thrilled not only to spy some thistle in bloom beside the trail, but a bumblebee in frantic action upon it.

A little further along, while admiring the colors by my feet, I was equally wowed by the pattern of work an insect had created on a folded Witch Hazel leaf.

Inside, and forgive the blurry photo for I was trying to hold the leaf open with one hand and snap the photo with the other, was a minute leafhopper . . . an herbivore known to suck plant sap.

Having seen the thistle and insects, my heart was singing. I tried to go forth without expectation, but once I reached the grassy lane leading to the Quarry Loop, I knew to search and was again rewarded for there I found several Purple Milkworts still in bloom.

And then at a fence post that separates the hiking trails from the ATV/Snowmobile trail, I searched again for it’s a place I often find insects. Bingo. A firefly scrambled about. This is one of the diurnal species that doesn’t actually light up.

Across from the fence was a new sign post and much to my surprise: a new trail. Before LELT acquired the property, the blue trail followed the motorized vehicle trail for a ways and then an old road to a quarry.

At that time, this was the only known quarry on the property.

Spaced about six inches apart are the drill marks made by the Peabodys or Fitches and perhaps hired hands. Using the plug and feather method practiced in the 19th century, small holes were hand drilled every six or seven inches across the stone. Then two shims, called feathers, were placed in the hole and a wedge or plug was hammered between them. By drilling in the winter, ice forming in the holes would have helped complete the work of splitting the granite. The split stone would have been loaded onto a stone boat or sledge pulled by oxen.

Because he was exploring the land more closely, a couple of years ago LELT Stewardship Manager Jon Evans discovered more quarries on the hillside that the public can now explore by following the loop through the woods. It’s a place where I always make fun discoveries including the antennaed pine needle shield lichen–a rare species for sure.

All of the quarries have something to offer, but I must admit I’m rather partial to #2.

For starters, it’s the largest.

But what I find intriguing is that it features hand drilled holes . . .

and those that are much deeper and wider and must have been mechanically drilled. There’s also a long pile of stone slabs that flow down the hill below the quarry and toward the old Narrow Gauge Train route and I can’t help but wonder if there’s a relationship between the train and quarry. We know the train brought coal to mills along Stevens Brook, but did it perhaps bring split stone for some of the foundations?

Moving on toward the next quarry, I was startled by the next find: blueberry flowers. This just shouldn’t be and speaks to the warm temperatures we’ve been experiencing this October. The leaves have turned and are falling, but it hardly feels like autumn.

At quarry #3 a couple of red squirrels scolded me, but try as much as I did, I couldn’t locate them.

Here, the hand-drilled holes were about twelve inches apart, and I wondered why that was the case.

At #4, all was quiet.

But it was obvious that even acorns can be drilled . . . albeit by rodent teeth. I loved that this dinner table was between slabs.

The final quarry, #5, did make me wonder. Is this the last one? Or are there more on the hillside waiting to be recognized?

As I followed the trail back to the stick part of the lollipop loop, I was amused to spy an apple upon a rock, much like a trail cairn. A feast intentionally left for the critters? Not a habit one should get into, but I’m almost curious to return and see what remains.

Finally, I reached the grassy lane once again and followed it back toward the gravel path.

One of my favorite things about the gravel path created by Bruce and Kyle Warren of Warren Excavation, is that they cut out periodic openings where one can glimpse the farmstead from different angles.

Upon my return, I had to visit the foundation of the barn and wonder which quarry offered its stones. Perhaps some from here and others from there.

Back at the house, I gave thanks for those who had come before and those who are here now to share the storied past. This is a place where anyone can wander and wonder and even bring a picnic and sit a while.

My only sadness came in the form of the cut Witch Hazel that had graced the corner of the house–it was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and each fall offered a plethora of ribbony flowers. My hope is that it will spring forth once again and in time do the same.

At last it was time for me to take my leave, and though I had hoped to see the mountains, they were shrouded in clouds. But that was okay because the foliage lining the lower field was enhanced by the dark clouds.

If you have time, and it need not take the three hours that I spent there, do visit Narramissic and Peabody-Fitch Woods located on Narramissic Road in South Bridgton, and enjoy the grounds and trails. It’s a place that is now hardly Hard to Find. Each time I go I come away with something different to add to my memory bank of this special place.

Beautiful Maine

Two weeks ago a week of vacation loomed before us and we had no plans. Where to go? What to do? My friend, Marita Wiser, suggested the Bold Coast of Maine. Though she hadn’t been, she’d collected articles about it and felt a yearning to get there. I told my guy. He liked the idea, but also wondered if we might spend some time inland. Bingo. Another friend, Molly Ross, serves on the board of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and so I asked her to suggest some trails. Somehow we lucked out and found places to stay and so on Monday morning, October 4, our adventure began.

We broke up the drive to Lubec with lunch in Machias, and then a quick five mile out and back hike at Cutler Coast Public Lands for a view of the Bay of Fundy. From there it was on to our resting place where we settled in for a couple of nights’ stay.

Thankfully, we left the curtain open as our hostess had mentioned something about sunrises. When the dormer window suddenly lit up, we threw on as many layers as possible and headed outside.

I’m pretty sure we were the first people in the world to ever observe sunrise, or so it felt to us in that moment.

Sitting on the deck, we each took a million photos as the sky kept changing and then, in a flash, there it was–that golden orb upon the horizon between Campobello Island and Grand Manan, with Lubec Channel in the foreground.

It was that same morning light that we rejoiced in as we journeyed along the trails at Bog Brook Cove Preserve and then a return to Cutler Coast Public Lands for a much longer adventure. Along the Inland Trail, though there were rocks and roots, there was also so much moss gracing the scene as spruce and birch and maples towered above that we felt the presence of fairies.

The Coastal Route offered a different feel and we soon learned to appreciate that the coast was indeed bold. And bouldery. Even the beaches featured rocks; rocks so warn by the sea that they had become rounded cobbles.

Speaking of round, lunch and lots of water kept us going, but the real treats were what we looked forward to most, these being M&M cookies baked by a long-ago student of mine, Lisa Cross Martin, owner of Stow Away Baker in Stow, Maine.

Cookies consumed, we soon realized sometimes a helping hand was most welcome–or at least a helping rope.

Other times found us peering down into thunder holes where we could only imagine the water crashing in at high tide.

As the sun had risen, so did it set with us enjoying one more trail at Eastern Knubble Preserve. Because the tide was low, the cobble bar connecting the mainland to Eastern Ear (also known as Laura Day Island) was visible. With the setting sun lighting the treetops, campfire flames came to mind.

Another beautiful day found us exploring some of the trails at Quoddy Head State Park, the easternmost point in the USA. The candy-striped lighthouse was originally fueled by sperm whale oil, and later lard oil, and then kerosene, and finally electricity.

Why the stripes? It’s easier to spot in fog and mist, and given that the coast is rather bold, that makes perfect sense.

We walked a section of the trails at the park, but saved some for another day in another year deciding that we will return because there is so much more to see than our time allowed.

And then we transitioned to our inland location where the setting sun cast a glow upon the mighty Mount Katahdin. It had been years since we’d last visited the area and upon that previous trip we’d rafted on the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Our plan was to support Millinocket businesses as much as possible, and to explore the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

We knew we were blessed when another morning dawned with a brilliant blue sky that accentuated the fall foliage. The funny thing, to us anyway, is that we hadn’t given a thought to this being a peak foliage week. But then again, we’d hardly made time to give much thought to this trip.

Our first adventure into the monument found us driving to the northern most part and then hiking beside the East Branch of the Penobscot, where we followed as many spur trails as possible to the water’s edge, this one being Stair Falls, so named by a surveyor in the 1700s.

Our next stop, Haskell Hut, a cabin open to the public when there isn’t a pandemic wreaking havoc with the world. We peeked through the windows and what should stand out on a shelf across the kitchen?

Why a True Value bucket, this one filled with kindling for a fire. And we thought we’d left our work worlds behind!

Beside Stillwater we paused and ate lunch, finding nourishment not only in our PB&J sandwiches, but also the scene that surrounded us.

Beyond Stillwater, the water was hardly still. We didn’t know this previously but on Maine rivers, a pitch is a waterfall that’s too large to navigate in a canoe and one must portage around it. In what seems a play on words, falls are navigable whitewater.

A curve of the river and downstream, we discovered a conglomerate mass reported to be about fifteen feet tall. The right hand structure bespoke a person to me, perhaps leaning against a river creature, the two giving thanks for sharing the space. We certainly gave thanks for the opportunity to be witnesses.

Our turn-around point was Grand Pitch, where the water thundered over the rocks.

Take a moment to listen to the roar.

Before turning completely around, however, we had to pull another sweet treat out of the bag. Again, a creation by Stow Away Baker, this one being a brownie for it was my guy’s birthday.

If you are getting a sense that we hike to eat, you would be correct. What I neglected to mention is that we also dined upon pie we’d purchased from Helen’s Restaurant located in Machias. It made for a delicious breakfast. Yes, we ate pie for breakfast–lemon meringue for him and chocolate cream for me. And it didn’t occur to us until after we’d finished, that we should have offered each other at least a taste!

Our final day at Katahdin Woods and Waters dawned rather gray, and so we drove along Swift Brook Road to reach the loop trail, with our first stop being a hike to Deasey Pond.

The next stop in our line-up was a hike to Orin Falls. It’s along an old logging road and as we walked, we met another traveler who complained that the trails weren’t more “trail-like.” At times they are, but this is an area that had been logged and we actually enjoyed the roads because we could walk side-by-side for a ways.

We also met another traveler on this trail, but first I must back up a bit. I’m not sure how this happens, but frequently we can be in places we’ve never been before, either here in Maine, in another state, or another country, and inevitably my guy will run into someone he knows. It happened to us at Bog Brook Cove Preserve when he greeted a young couple and then the parents behind them. All of a sudden the light bulb went off simultaneously for my guy and his counterpart as they realized that though out of context, they knew each other for they had played on opposing town basketball teams about thirty years ago, and the other man is a frequent customer at my guy’s hardware store.

And then on our way to Orin Falls, we met a single hiker and paused to chat, only to discover that he was on a birthday celebration hike. It turns out he is one day younger than my guy. And because the other man lives in Old Town, Maine, he knows some of my guy’s former classmates at UMaine. Though trite, it’s apropos to say it’s a small world.

At last we reached Orin Falls along Wassataquoik Stream, fearful we’d be disappointed after the wows of the previous day, but this offered a different flavor that complemented lunch.

And to think I can’t remember what we ate for dessert!

Finishing up the hike, we continued around the loop road, realizing we were probably doing it backwards for we’d chosen to drive counterclockwise. But, given the grayness of the morning, I think it was the right choice for the mighty mountain for whom this land was named, had been shrouded. By the time we reached the Scenic Outlook, the weather had improved and once again we were graced with an incredible view. It was our last look before we drove home to western Maine.

Being home didn’t stop our vacation, and after two days of yard work, we treated ourselves to a hike today that proved to be much longer and more difficult than anticipated. But the reward–more incredible fall foliage to fill our souls.

In the end, it wasn’t just the bigger landscape that made us smile. We also enjoyed all that presented itself along the way such as this Tricolored Bee frantically seeking nectar and pollen upon a White Beach Rose.

And then there was a small Red-bellied Snake on the coastal trail at Cutler Coast Public Lands, a new species for me.

My guy rejoiced when we spotted seals frolicking by the bridge to Campobello in Lubec.

I have to admit that I rather enjoyed them as well.

Another fun sighting was that of a Ruffed Grouse that walked out of a Spruce Bog and onto the loop road as we made our way around.

Today, we also found an oft-visited bear tree that made us smile as they always do.

The funny thing for us–we found only two piles of moose scat while in the national monument, but upon today’s hike we counted over thirty piles along the trail. My guy really wanted to spot a moose. Anywhere.

I reminded him that we need to go without expectation.

And so we did and were completely startled to spy a porcupine waddling toward us this morning.

Fortunately he did what porcupines do and climbed a hemlock tree beside the trail, then walked out onto a branch, keeping an eye on us. We skirted off trail for a second to get out of his way.

The end of his tail marks the end of vacation 2021 that allowed us the opportunity to explore bunches of new trails and corners of our state that we’d not seen before and we gave thanks for the suggestion from Marita and recommendations from Molly because this tour certainly reminded us that Maine is a beautiful state. And we all need to work to keep it that way.

Not Just Another Tube Left In The Woods

Perhaps it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time. Or, taking the time to look. Really look.

You might stay there’s nothing extraordinary about pine needles, right? As you probably know, the needles (aka leaves) of Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus grow in packets or bundles of five. W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E is a mnemonic we use to remember how many needles on the White Pine since they spell “white” for its name or “Maine” because it is the State tree.

A word of caution, however, in that department. If a White Pine has five needles, then a Red Pine, Pinus resinosa, must have three needles in a bundle, correct? False. They actually have two much longer and stiffer needles that break cleanly when bent in half.

Back to the White Pine of my attention. What I’ve been noticing is that suddenly there are clusters of needles bound together. This is the work of the larval form of a Pine Tube Moth, Argyrotaenia pinatubana. What typically happens is that the caterpillar uses between ten and twenty needles to form a tube or hollow tunnel.

This past week, for the sake of science and understanding, of course, a friend and I split a tube open to see if anyone was home. Indeed, we had our first view of the tiny caterpillar, which looked like it had an even tinier aphid atop it.

And then one day later in the week, I happened to spot some action at the tip of a tube. The caterpillars move up and down their silk-lined tunnels to feed on needles at the tip.

And once I spotted that, no pine has gone unnoticed. Much to my delight, I discovered a few more active caterpillars today.

One even honored me by demonstrating how it sews the needles to fasten them to the structure.

Back and forth it moved, excreting silk that formed a ladder-like web. When the time comes, the caterpillar will create another tube and do the same thing until it is ready to pupate overwinter.

The moth will emerge in April, when I’ll need to pay attention again. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation.

So now that you know, see if you can find a tube. Maybe you’ll be lucky as well and will get to see the caterpillar. It is only about one third of an inch long, so you’ll really have to look for a wee bit of movement at the tip of the tube. What I learned is that if I went in close with a loupe, it retreated.

This is certainly not just another tube left in the woods–now you know that these are the homes of the native Pine Tube Moths, who fortunately, are not considered a significant pest.

Slipping Into Fall

I went with intention for such was the afternoon. Sunny, cloudy, rainy, dry. Change. Constantly. In. The. Air.

Of course, my intention led to new discoveries, as it should for when I spotted the buttons of Buttonbush, a new offering showed its face–that of Buttonbush Gall Mites, Aceria cephalanthi. Okay, so not exactly the mites, but the structures they create in order to pupate. Mighty cool construction.

Continuing on, into the Red Maple Swamp did I tramp, where Cinnamon Fern fronds stood out like a warm fire on an autumn day. But wait, it wasn’t autumn. Just yet, anyway.

And then there was that first sighting of Witch Hazel’s ribbony flower, the very last perennial to grace the landscape each year.

And color. All kinds of color in reality and reflection beside Muddy River.

Even the fern fronds glistened, individual raindrops captured upon a spider web adding some dazzle to the scene.

Next on the agenda, a Goldenrod Rosette Gall created by the midge Rhopalomyia capitata. The midge formed a structure that looked like a flower all its own. What actually happened is that the midge laid an egg in the topmost leaf bud of Canada Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, causing the stem to stop growing, but the leaves didn’t.

A few steps farther and I realized I wasn’t the only one who appreciated the sight (or nectar) of Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, or Spotted Touch-me-Not. The latter name because upon touching the ripe seed pods, they explode. Try it. Given the season, the pods have formed as you can see behind the bee’s back.

Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, its fruits bright red also graced the trail in an abundant manner, but wait a few months and they’ll be difficult to spy. For a month or two we’ll enjoy their ornamental beauty, but despite their low fat content, birds, raccoons, and mice will feast.

All of these sights meant one thing.

The Red Maple swamp bugled its trumpet with an announcement.

The announcement was this: Fall freezes into winter, winter rains into spring, spring blossoms into summer, but today . . . today summer slipped into fall and I gave great thanks for being there to witness it all.

Until We Meet Again

It’s been a week of memorial services for four friends and so I dedicate this post to them and their families.

Moments of tears,

Reflections of love,

Interspersed with humor.

Stories of wanders,

Tales of wonders,

Interspersed with generosity.

Gifts of longevity,

Embracement of days,

Interspersed with encouragement.

Celebrations of lives,

Memories of times,

Interspersed with goodbyes.

It has been my weighted honor to say good bye to Bob Vivian, Ann and Don Ineson, and JoAnne Diller. You all lived life to the fullest and I am so grateful for our time together for each of you had a way of making me feel as if I was the most important person in the world when I was in your presence. Your passings have left me sad, but equally grateful for I’ve been blessed with so many teachings that will remain with me forever . . . until we meet again.

To Be Continued Sun/Mondate

We drove forty minutes north at midday on Sunday with the intention of hiking a trail we’d enjoyed only once previously. Our memories of it had petered a bit, but we did look forward to bear trees and cascading falls.

And we were not disappointed. Within minutes of beginning the ascent, a look up at the gnarled top of a Beech gave me reason to scan the bark below and by the number of claw marks left behind it was obvious that this had been a well-used source of nuts in the past.

We could just imagine the bear scrambling up, sitting upon the branches and pulling them in to form a “nest,” or so it looks when they’ve been broken and folded inward, foraging for beech nuts, and then, once all were consumed, scrambling back down and on to the next tree.

Bears weren’t the only animals that have known this land and beside a stone wall we paused for a second. Our first ponder was whether it was a boundary fence or meant to keep animals in or out. Until . . . we spotted a piece of barbed wire growing out of a tree. No wait, barbed wire doesn’t grow out of trees. Trees grow around it. And our question was answered: the wire would have been added to keep the animals in the pasture.

That said, it had been a while since the wire was installed and even longer than a while since the stone wall had been built, for the trees had had time to grow and mature and incorporate the wire into their souls and while one still knew the flow of xylem and phloem, this other was a source of new life for insects and birds.

Our next pause was at picnic knoll where two tables and two Adirondack chair invite hikers to take a respite and enjoy the view. We tarried not given that we had a football game to get home to and pizza dough to prepare. Well, one of us had a football game to get home to and the other the dough.

Onward and upward we hiked, keeping an eye on ankle biters (saplings not cut to the ground that caused us to stumble repeatedly if we weren’t paying attention) at our feet, while searching for more bear trees, not an easy task during leaf season. But our best reward was the sight of this oft-climbed tree and the realization that the two behind it had also been visited.

We know there are more like those in this forest thus giving us a reason to return in late autumn and search off trail to see how many we can count. If memory serves us right, from the trail we once counted over twenty such bear trees.

Oh, there were other things to see along the way, like the Hobblebush’s ripening berries . . .

and Bald-faced Hornets gathering nectar.

But the second object of our intention was eventually reached for we’d found the cascades, beginning with one named for the family that farmed this area: Chapman.

It was a bit of a scramble but we were well rewarded for our efforts.

Again and again. After viewing this final flow, Library Cascades, we practically ran back down the trail. Just in time to catch the start of the game on the radio. Pizza was a wee bit late, but we didn’t mind.

The story should have ended there, but while hiking on Sunday we came up with a plan for Monday. So . . . back into the truck for that forty-minute drive we did go. This time, in the same forest, we hiked up an esker, which I saw as the stick of a lollipop.

At a junction, we chose the Red Pine Trail, a tree with bark so rich in color and design, it creates an art gallery in the forest.

Along the way, we paused at openings to enjoy the views, but . . .

a ridge off-trail, and really off-property (Shhhh, don’t tell. The boundary was marked but not posted.) invited us and we couldn’t refuse. What view might there be that we would miss if we didn’t accept the summons?

We were rewarded with the sight of the surrounding mountains showing off their summits in crisp contrast to the sky above.

I’m pretty sure the invitation included lunch and so we sat down and dined.

Our off-trail pursuit offered one final gift as we headed back to the trail–galls created by a wasp upon a Northern Red Oak twig.

A few steps later and we startled a Garter Snake who flicked its tongue to get a better scent of us before deciding we weren’t worth the effort and slithering away.

Again, there was water to cross, but it wasn’t nearly as impressive as the cascades of Sunday.

And some porcupine work to acknowledge, though we had hoped to see a den, but determined it was probably in the ledges below.

One final view at the land beyond and then we completed the loop that formed the sucker at the top of the lollipop stick and began our descent. Again, this should have been the end of the story. But . . .

There was plenty of daylight left and this day’s football game wasn’t until much later and so we sought a third trail in the same forest. The natural community differed, which made us grateful because each trail had its own unique flavor, this one including Striped Maple dripping with seeds of the future.

Once again, we climbed toward the view.

One sight that caught our attention for it was the only one of its kind that we saw along any of the trails was a Lady’s Slipper, and we gave thanks that it had been pollinated for perhaps its future will spill forth in multitudes we can enjoy next spring.

A flock of nuthatches, woodpeckers, and chickadees entertained us occasionally, but it was the silent Hermit Thrush who paused that caused us to do the same.

At last we reached the end and stood for a moment to take in the range beyond, before turning around and retracing our steps for this last trail wasn’t a loop.

Nailed to a tree, was this sign: To Be Continued. As so it was on this Sundate/Mondate. We trust we’ll return to see where the trail may lead next.

A Collection of Mondates

Every Mondate is different, which goes without saying, and the adventure always begins with a question, “What are we going to do today?”

The answer is frequently this, “I don’t know, you pick.”

The instantaneous reply, “I asked first. You need to figure it out.”

Some have found us paddling in our favorite body of water, where we love to explore the edges and islands and float among the lily pads.

It’s a place where we always look below the surface and sometimes are rewarded, this being a Bryozoan mass, a most definite gift for the tiny colonial aquatic creatures that connect their tubes together and form the jelly-like blob, effectively filter particles from the water. The animals live in the tubes and extend their tentacles that capture even smaller microscopic organisms for food. The gelatinous species, also known as moss animals, is native to North America.

We’ve wandered beside ponds where gentle breezes provided relief from mosquitoes and views of distant mountains doubled our joy.

Being my guy, he’s spotted lady’s slippers in bloom and more than once observed clusters bouquets worth noting.

Likewise he’s occasionally rewarded with pendants, this being an immature Chalk-fronted Skimmer dragonfly.

I’ve been equally rewarded with the sighting of a perching Dragonhunter, one of the largest clubtail species in our neck of the woods.

One hot summer Monday found us taking a shower under a waterfall.

And contemplating in front another.

We’ve searched for our favorite shades of blue, mine being that offered by Clintonia borealis, aka Blue-bead lily, it’s fruits reminding me of porcelain.

While mine is inedible, his favorite shade of blue invites his greed.

And so several Mondays were spent picking blueberries from the water . . .

and atop our hometown mountain.

Upon several occasions we summited said mountain and always paid homage to the fire tower that still stands tall and recalls an early era when wardens spent hours in the cab scanning the horizon for smoke.

We’ve posed at the ski area on the same mountain, where the pond below sometimes serves as our backyard.

Some of our best Mondates of this summer have been spent with family, this being our youngest and his gal.

And our oldest and his gal and their friends.

One we even shared with a tyke we finally got to meet, a grandnephew from Virginia . . .

who travelled north with my niece, his mom, and his daddy and grandmother.

It’s been a summer of catching up on so many fronts, and now I’ve arrived at our most recent Mondate. The morning began with a delightful surprise for when we uncovered a pie we’d purchased at one of our favorite roadside stands, and discovered it was decorated with a dragonfly. I swear we purchased it for the strawberry/rhubarb flavor and not the design. Really.

After dining on the pie for breakfast, we started our journey by searching for a trail someone had told me about. But . . . did she say park at the shed before the pond or after? We couldn’t find a shed in either location, but did find lots of NO TRESPASSING signs. Finally, we located what might be a trail and it wasn’t posted. For about a quarter mile we walked, until we found ourselves facing a field with a farmhouse at the far side. Backtrack we did, with Plan B in mind, but at least we were rewarded with the spot of Actaea pachypoda, White Baneberry, aka Doll’s-eyes. It does look like the eyes of a china doll, its creepiness accentuated by the thick red stalks and the fact that the fruits are poisonous.

The trail we chose instead let us know from the start that we’d made the right decision when we spotted a bumblebee upon a thistle.

It was a place beside two small specks of ponds, where the beavers have docked a boat conveniently beside their lodge.

Though we didn’t see any beavers in action, my guy demonstrated their gnawing technique.

It’s also a place where Autumn Meadowhawk Skimmer dragonflies danced and paused, danced and paused.

But the best moments of the day where spent crossing under a powerline where goldenrod grows abundantly. If you look closely, you might spot the subjects of my guy’s attention.

Monarch Butterflies. The most Monarchs we’ve seen in the last twenty years. Ten butterflies? A dozen? Perhaps two dozen? Maybe more.

Watching them flutter and sip, flutter and sip, gladdened our hearts and made a perfect ending for this particular collection of Mondates.

Not Just An Insect

Out of curiosity, and because it’s something I do periodically, I’ve spent the last four days stalking our gardens. Mind you, I do not have a green thumb and just about any volunteer is welcome to bloom, especially if it will attract pollinators.

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iWhat I’ve discovered is that in sunshine and rain, the place is alive with action from Honeybees and Gnats . . .

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to Paper Wasps,

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and even several Great Black Wasps, their smoky black wings shining with blue iridescence as they frantically seek nourishment and defend territories (including letting this particular human know that she’s not welcome at the party by aggressively flying at her).

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Bumblebees were also full of buzz and bluster and it was they who reminded me of one important fact.

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The color of the storage baskets on their hind legs depends upon the color of the pollen grains in the plants they’ve visited.

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There were millions of other insects, well, maybe not millions, but hundreds at least, flying and sipping and buzzing and hovering and crawling and even canoodling, the latter being mainly Ambush Bugs with the darker and smaller male atop the female.

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And then, because I was looking, I discovered an insect in the process of being wrapped for a meal intended for later consumption. I’ve long been fascinated by Ambush Bugs and Assasin Bugs and this, the Black and Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia. What’s not to love? She’s an orb weaver, meaning she spins a complex circular web, in this case among tall plants, that features spokes which are non-sticky that she uses to walk upon, and round wheels that are sticky to capture prey. The web is the size of a platter. A large platter. And . . . every night she consumes the entire thing and rebuilds a new one for the next day. In the process of consuming the threads, she can take advantage of any little insects like mosquitoes that get caught in the stickiness, but it’s the bigger insects that she prefers to eat.

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Do you see the rather conspicuous zigzaggy line down the middle of the web? That’s called the stabilimentum and may have several purposes: providing stability; attracting insects with the multiple threads like an ultraviolet runway such as the colorful lines and dots on plants; or perhaps announcing to birds that they shouldn’t fly through the web. Whatever the reason, it’s in the center of the stabilimentum that the spider hangs in suspension, waiting for the dinner bell to announce ring.

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Though she has eight eyes, her vision is poor. But . . . her hairy legs may also help in the detection that a meal has arrived, perhaps signaling sound and smell, plus she can sense the vibrations.

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Once captured, she injects a venom (that is harmless to us bipeds) to immobilize her subject and then begins to spin a sac around it.

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Remember, I’ve been watching her for four days, while she’s hanging upside down playing the waiting game and showing off her egg-shaped abdomen with its asymmetrical yellow markings on the carapace (much like a turtle’s shell) to her silver-haired head.

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Some days I felt like she might just be Charlotte, writing a message only Wilbur could interpret.

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And one day she surprised me by turning right-side up. It was then that I was offered a closer look at those little bumps on her head that serve as eyes. And the pedipalps, those two little hairy appendages sticking up on her head that work like sensory organs.

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An hour or so after finding her upright, when I checked again, I thought she’d gone missing. Instead, I discovered she’d climbed to the top of one of the plants upon which she’d spun her web.

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Perhaps she was surveying the area as she waved her front legs, looking about her domain.

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A day later, a new web, and another meal packaged, and slowly my buzzers were being consumed. But, she also likes grasshoppers and crickets and the garden is full of them.

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And then this morning dawned, with T.S. Henri in the offing and a few raindrops upon a broken web announcing the storm’s intended arrival. Wait. The web–it had holes but had not been entirely consumed. That wasn’t all, yesterday’s meal also hadn’t been consumed. And the spider was nowhere to be seen. I looked up and down and all around and couldn’t find her. Had she meant to save the meal, waiting for her venom to pre-digest it by liquifying the internal organs and in flew something larger than her and dinner went uneaten? Had our time together come to an end just like that?

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I wasn’t going to let the issue go, and so I continued to search, and guess who I found about three feet away upon a new web?

Even more exciting was the discovery that I can see her from the kitchen window AND, the view is of her underside so I can actually see her brown spinnerets at the end of her abdomen and maybe I’ll get to watch her capture a meal.

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Well, so I thought, but two hours later, when I next looked, I realized I’d missed the action and she’d already securely wrapped her latest victim–all that was still visible was a leg.

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Though the prey may be one, this is NOT just another insect in the midst of my quest. Actually, it’s not an insect at all for spiders are arachnids, with eight legs versus an insect’s six. She may be scary big, as well as carnivorous, but she is beneficial to the garden as she helps control insect populations, including some pests.

And how do I know she is a she? Her male counterpart I’ve yet to meet, but he’s much smaller and all brown, unlike her beautiful coloration.

There’s more to this story I’m sure and I look forward to learning more about her as I try to interpret the messages she leaves. If you have a chance, go out and stalk your gardens and be wowed by what you find.