All Aboard Mondate

His birthday present several weeks ago was a Cat’s Meow replica of the North Conway Scenic Railroad (from my collection) and a note: October 21, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm. Be there!!

This morning I drove him there. No, I wasn’t the engineer of the train, but rather the conductor of his entertainment schedule.

Our chosen car, the Dorthea Mae, was built in the mid-1950s for transcontinental service in the United States and turned out to be the perfect choice for this adventure. We’ve ridden the Conway Scenic train before–several times when our sons were young and we took the one hour ride from North Conway to Conway, New Hampshire, and once for an anniversary celebration as we enjoyed dinner on the Bartlett Route. But for all the times we’ve driven along Route 302 through Crawford Notch and looked at the scary trestles hugging the mountains, we always said we’d love to take the longer ride. Well today, that became a reality.

Group by group, riders were welcomed to climb on and find their assigned seats. Ours was located opposite a delightful and chatty couple from Iowa, MaryPat and Ron.

For us, part of the fun was recognizing familiar spots along the rail, including a rail crossing on Route 302 by a historic barn.

Through the village of Bartlett we travelled along rails originally laid down in the 1870s for what was once the Maine Central Railroad’s famed Mountain Division Trail.

The church to the left is the Union Congregational Church on Albany Avenue, and to the right the Odd Fellows Hall, a historic fraternal society.

Early on we crossed trestles over several rivers where shadows, angles, curves, and foliage delighted our eyes.

As we headed toward Crawford Notch, again it was the same, only different, with ever the click-clack of motion providing a new vista that captured our awe.

History presented itself over and over again, with old rail ties and power poles dotting the landscape–obscured for a wee bit longer by the golden hues of the forest.

Knowing that today was the only date available when I’d booked the trip, and in fact, that we got the last two seats on the Dorothea Mae, we wondered how much color we might see given that we were traveling north. It was past peak, but still . . . one Red Maple stood out amongst the yellowy-orange-bronzes of the landscape.

There was also some white to view–not only the few clouds, but the summit of Mount Washington with a recent coating of snow and rime ice.

The ridgeline of Mount Webster, forming the eastern side of the U-shaped glacial valley which forms Crawford Notch, stood crisp and clear as we headed north.

The mountain was named for Daniel Webster, a statesman and orator born in Salisbury, New Hampshire, which is present day Franklin where I began my former teaching career in 1980.

From our seat on the train, looking south, Mount Webster was on the left, Route 302 between, and Mount Willey on the right forming the western side of the U.

By Mount Willard, we heard the story of the section house that stood here in the 1900s.

Willey Brook Bridge is Crawford Notch, New Hampshire https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-a2cf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99 Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation

Our narrator, Denise, spoke of the Mt Willard Section House built in 1887 for section foreman James E. Mitchell, his family, and crew who maintained Section 139 of the railroad. Loring Evans became foreman of Section 139 in 1903. He was killed ten years later in a railroading accident at Crawford’s yard, but his wife, Hattie, raised their four children and despite all odds ran the Section House until 1942. It was Hattie’s job to house and feed the men who worked on the shortest yet most treacherous stretch of the rail.

A memorial garden still honors her work.

Below Mount Jackson, across the way, two waterfalls graced the scene. Typically, we’ve viewed them one at a time, but from the train, both Flume and Silver Cascades were visible as water raced down the mountain’s face.

This being Silver, but both looked like traces of chalk from our position.

Two hours after our journey began, we arrived at Crawford’s Depot.

Disembarking, and with an hour to ourselves, my guy and I ate a picnic lunch that included chicken salad sandwiches enhanced with home-made cranberry-orange relish, and then we crossed the road to walk the .4-mile trail around Saco Lake, the origin of Saco River.

Beside it a few Dandelions flowered. And my guy questioned me. “You’re taking a photo of a Dandelion?” Yup. Never Call it just a Dandelion is the title of a most delightful and informative book. And sooo true. Notice how each ray is notched with five teeth representing a petal and forms a single floret. Completely open as this one was, the bloom was a composite of numerous florets. And can you see the stigmas? Curled and split in two? “Yes, I am taking a picture of a Dandelion because it deserves to be honored. And not pulled from the lawn. Just sayin’. ”

Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba var. latifolia) also posed, its fruit’s five-parted capsules each containing two to four small seeds. It was the color that made me smile on this fall day.

Upon a small bridge where Elephant Head Brook flows into Saco Lake, most people paused and then turned for so wet was the trail. But you know who kept going. Despite wearing sneakers rather than our hiking boots, we found our way and soon moved beyond the wet trail.

We laughed when we discovered a wooden boardwalk in a drier section.

Others had also ventured here and called it home, although based on the lack of new wood, we suspected the beavers had left the lodge. Perhaps they’d moved across the street to the AMC’s Highland Center.

Upon granite that defined the outer side of sections of the trail, Rock Tripe lichens grew, some turning green as they photosynthesized when I poured water upon them.

Always one of my favorite views is the discovery of Toadskin Lichen beside the Rock Tripe, both umbilicate forms.

Back to Route 302, asters showed their displays of seeds awaiting dispersal and those older empty nesters forecasting their winter form in a flower-like composition all their own.

Just prior to 2:00pm, we reboarded the train for the journey south.

For the return trip, we’d switched seats with those who sat on the western side of the train for the journey north and so got to spy the Willey foundation. Local lore has it that in 1793, Samuel Willey took his wife, five children and two hired men to live in a small, remote house in the mountains. That year, he and the hired men built a house.

As our narrator said, “In June of 1826, a heavy rain terrified the Willey family when it caused a landslide across the Saco River. Sam decided to build a stone shelter above the house where he thought the family could find safety in case of another landslide. On August 28, 1826, a violent rainstorm caused a mudslide. The Willeys and hired men took refuge in the shelter. The landslide killed all nine of them, but the house they’d fled stood still.” Apparently, a ledge above the house spared it from destruction.

We loved the historical aspects of the trip, as well as the scenery, short hike, and good company.

At the end of the day, we were all smiles for this All Aboard Mondate.

Wandering and Wondering the Jinny Mae Way

This morning I chose to channel my inner Jinny Mae in honor of my dear friend who has been in isolation for medical reasons since last January. That meant I had to try to slow down and be sure to notice. And ask questions. Mostly it meant I needed to wonder.

She’s a lover of fungi, so I knew that she’d pause beside the Violet-toothed Polypores that decorated a log. The velvety green algal coating would surely attract her attention. Why does algae grow on this fungus?

I didn’t have the answer in my mind, but a little research unearthed this: “As is the case for lichens, the algae on top of a polypore arrangement appears to benefit both partners. The algae (usually single-celled ball-shaped green algae), being filled with green photosynthetic pigments, use sunlight to make sugars out of carbon dioxide gas. Some of these leak out and are absorbed and consumed by the fungi as an extra source of energy-rich organic carbon. The fungus, in turn, provides a solid platform upon which the algae can set up shop and grow into dense green communities.” (~rosincerate.com)

The next stop occurred beside the fall forms of asters where the seeds’ parachutes could have easily passed as a flower. What’s a seed’s parachute and why does it have one? The parachutes are made up of hair-like structures. As an immobile parent plant, it needs to disperse its young so that new plants can grow away from those pesky competitive siblings. And maybe even colonize new territories. At this stage of life, the seedy teenager can’t wait to fly away from home and start its own life. Do you remember that time in your life?

And then, it was another fungus that asked to be noticed. Those gills. That curly edging. And crazy growth structure. Jinny Mae would have keyed in on it right away, but it took me a while. I think it’s a bioluminescent species, Night Light aka Bitter Oyster (Panellus stipticus). But as I often say, I don’t know mushrooms well, so don’t look to me as the authority. What would Jinny Mae ask? Hmmm. What makes it glow? That’s even further beyond my understanding than naming this species. But I can say that it has to do with enzymes that produce light by the oxidation of a pigment. And have I ever actually seen such a glow? NO. But one of these nights 😉

As I continued to walk along, I noticed movement and realized I was in the presence of a butterfly. A butterfly I don’t recall ever meeting before. It had the markings of several familiar species, but it wasn’t until I arrived home that I figured out its name. Do you see its curled proboscis?

Jinny Mae would have been as wowed as I was by this species that I can confidently call a Faunus Anglewing or Green Comma. Typically it flies from May to September, so why today? I got to wondering if this week’s Nor’easter caught it in a more southern clime and forced it north on the wind? But I discovered that its a boreal species and was perhaps at the southern end of its range. Maybe the storm did have something to do with its presence today after all.

Eventually the journey became a mix of following a trail and bushwhacking. Both provided examples of the next moment I knew Jinny Mae would love. Dead Man’s Fingers, all five of them, in their fall form, the lighter color spores having dispersed and the mushroom now turning black. Why the common name for Xylaria longipes? According to Lawrence Millman, author of Fascinating Fungi of New England, “Certain African tribes believe that if you’ve committed a crime, and you rub the spore powder from an immature Xylaria on your skin, the police won’t identify you as the culprit.”

It seemed these woods were a mushroom garden and one after another made itself known. I could practically feel Jinny Mae’s glee at so many fine discoveries. Resembling cascading icicles (I was wearing a wool hat and my snowpants actually, which turned out to be overdress after three hours), I wanted to call it Lion’s Mane, but to narrow down an ID decided to leave it at the genus Hericium. I suspected Jinny would agree that that was best and it should just be enjoyed for its structure no matter who it really was.

Nearby, another much tinier, in fact, incredibly teenier fungus could have gone unnoticed had the sun not been shining upon it. I was pretty certain 2019 would be the year that would pass by without my opportunity to spy this one. But, thankfully, I was proven wrong. Forever one of my favorites, I knew Jinny Mae also savored its presence. The fruiting body of Green Stain are minute cup-shaped structures maybe 1/3 inch in diameter. I used to think when I saw the stain on wood that it was an old trail blaze. And then one day I was introduced to the fruiting structure and rejoice each time I’m graced with its presence. There was no reason to question these delightful finds. Noticing them was enough.

In complete contrast, upon a snag nearby, grew a much larger fungus.

Part of its identification is based on its woody, shelf-like structure projecting out from the tree trunk. Someone had obviously been dining upon it and based on its height from the ground and the tooth marks, I suspected deer.

The pore surface, however, is the real reason to celebrate this find for it stains brown and provides a palette upon which to sketch or paint, thus earning it the common name of Artist Conk. But the question: while some mushrooms fruit each year and then if not picked, rot and smell like something died in the woods, what happens with a shelf fungus? The answer as best I know: A shelf fungus adds a new layer of spore tissue every growing season; the old layer covered by the new one, which look like growth rings in a tree.

A lot of the focus on this morning’s walk tended to be upon the fungi that grew in that neck of the woods, but suddenly something else showed its face. Or rather, I think, her face. A Wolf Spider. Upon an egg sac. Super Mom though she may be for making a silk bed and then enveloping her young in a silk blanket, and guarding it until her babies hatch, this spider did not make the slightest movement, aggressive or not, as I got into its personal space. Usually the mother dies either before or after her babies leave the sac. What would Jinny Mae think? Perhaps that for some reason Momma waited too long and maybe the cold weather we’ve experienced upon occasional lately got the better of her?

I don’t know entirely what Jinny Mae would think, but I have a pretty good idea because the reality is that today, she and I traveled the trail together for the first time in forever. For each of these finds, it was like we played trail tag–first one spying something wicked cool and then the other finding something else to capture our attention as we tried to capture it with our cameras.

We caught up. We laughed. We noticed. We questioned. We laughed some more.

Our three-hour journey drew to a close as we revisited the Stair-step Moss that grows in her woods.

I’m still giddy about the fact that I got to wander and wonder the Jinny Mae way today.

P.S. Jinny Mae returned to Super Momma spider a couple of days later and as she paused to take a photo, Momma scooted into a tree hole, carrying her sac. She LIVES.

Summer Marches On

Today I attended a celebratory parade.

0-Subtle colors

The route followed the old course of a local river and along the way the trees stood in formation, some showing off their bright new coats.

5-colors in the field

Each float offered a different representation of the theme: transition.

3-ash seed raining

Upon some floats, seeds from the Ash rustled as they prepared to rain upon the ground like candy tossed into the gathered crowd.

4-crystalline tube gall on red oak

Oak leaves showed off their pompoms of choice–some being crystalline tube galls and others . . .

19-hedgehog gall?

possibly called hedgehog.

8-bald-faced hornet

Playing their instruments were the Bald-faced Hornets,

9-autumn meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonflies,

11-immature green stink bug

and even an immature Green Stink Bugs.

10-green frog

On the percussion instruments at the back of the band were the green and . . .

23-pickerel frog

pickerel frogs.

15-yellow-rumped warbler

Adding a few fainter notes were a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers.

16-yellow-rumped warbler

They didn’t want the chickadees to get all the credit for the songs of the woods.

17-hairy woodpecker

A Hairy Woodpecker also tapped a view beats.

12-wood ducks

Probably my favorite musicians, however, sported their traditional parade attire and awed those watching from the bandstand.

13-wood duck

Even a non-breeding male made the scene look like a painting.

14-wood ducks taking off

Their real contribution, though, came from the modestly plumaged females who offered a squealing “oo-eek, oo-eek”  each time they took flight.

18-sensitive fern

Though green attire was the most prominent of the day, others sported colors of change from yellows and browns to . . .

6-red emerging

brilliant reds.

21-Brigadoon

As is often the case along such a route, vendors offered works of art for sale, including local scenes painted with watercolors.

22-lily reflection and aquatic aphids

Before it was over, a lone lily danced on the water and offered one last reflection.

24-season transformation

And then summer marched on . . . into autumn.

Miracle of the Stable

Who knows how it all began. Perhaps it was a teeny, tiny thought tucked away in the back of a mind.

p-milkweed 2

A seed of an idea waiting to express itself in one form . . .

p-polypody

or another.

p-yellow birch in pine tree

The seed was sown and sprouted despite adverse conditions.

p-Normway maple leaf

More thoughts followed, some even considered “invasive” despite their exterior beauty.

p-bittersweet

Occasionally, the invasive ideas forged ahead and crowded the mind.

p-car

Certainly, not all the thoughts were natural in nature.

p-boardwalk

But still, new paths formed.

p-fisher tracks

And trails were traveled to and fro on a quest.

p-stream curves

The path was never intended to be straight and easy.

p-Stevens Brook 2

Obstacles became challenges.

p-brook reflections

And challenges offered reflections.

p-ice feathers

Amidst the offerings, fresh ideas feathered forth fostering education.

p-garland

And with education, knowledge was linked.

p-tree cookie

Because of all the seriousness, humor became a necessary ornament.

p-nativity

And so it was that moose stood watch with others by the stable in anticipation of a miracle that began with a seed of an idea and expressed the wonder of it all.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday School

After church this morning, I stepped out the door, passed through openings in a couple  of stonewalls and then down the cowpath, crossed the power line, and ventured into my smiling place. It had been more than several months since I’d pushed the hemlocks aside to enter for it’s a wetland and woodland filled with growth that can make it difficult to meander through without snowshoes. But before winter arrives, I wanted to take a peek and learn what I could along the way.

o-oak saplings

My lessons started early as I noted a couple of red oak saplings growing in the hollow of an old tree stump, their color reminiscent of the Christmas season. Last year’s mast crop (and another for some oak trees this year) meant a plentiful supply of food for weevils, little brown things, squirrels, turkeys and deer. And yet, not all were consumed and so they sprouted. Now my plan will be to wait and watch–and wonder which of this array actually will win the race to adulthood.

o-huge squirrel cache 1

A little bit further into the woods, I spied a huge cache of white pine cones. This made my heart sing, for I love to keep on eye on big caches such as this and watch as they get whittled down over the course of the winter.

o-pine cones up close

While I stood there admiring the work of the red squirrel who’d filled its larder presumably when the cones were green (and by the way, these cones are two years old, for it takes two years for them to mature atop the pine trees), I thought about the sap that coats them in white. Though the sap is drier now, does it get stuck to their feet. I know that when I come in from a walk through a pine forest, I have sap on my soles, and attached to that may be pine needles or dried leaves. Is it the same for a squirrel? If so, does it wear off like that on my boots? It must because I’ve never seen it on their feet.

o-pine on the cob 1

And what about as they work on their pine-on-the-cobs? Does the sap on the scales come off on  their lips or teeth–much like when we eat something sticky and gooey like peanut butter?

o-pine seeds

It’s a lot of work to get to the two tiny seeds tucked within each scale. They look to be about an inch long, but most of that is the wing (think maple samara). When the weather is warm and dry, pine cone scales open to release the seeds. The squirrel who’d hoarded the stash, had plucked the cones when they were still green and atop the tree–dropping them to the forest floor before they opened so he’d have plenty to eat. And then he had to gather all that he’d dropped into the piles. And now I can’t wait for the coming months–to watch the pile dwindle and middens grow; to see the tunnels he makes in the snow; and just maybe to sit quietly nearby and watch him in action. He was a bit peeved that I was poking about today and let me know with so many chirrs from a branch nearby.

o-porky den?

I finally moved on and saw an uprooted tree I’ve visited on previous occasions. Last year I followed porcupine tracks to this very spot and spied porky within. But when I checked on later occasions, it didn’t seem as if he’d returned. Today, I peeked in and saw water. Even though it looked like a grand home to me, I’m learning that porky knows best.

o-walking in a hemlock grove

At times, I moved quietly upon the duff under the hemlock trees. Frequently, I stopped to listen and look.

o-cinnamon fern leaves1

And then in an opening, I was again in the wet zone where the cinnamon ferns grew abundantly. In curled formation, their leaves added interest to the landscape and a bit of a crunch to my footsteps.

o-cinnamon fern 2

And piled as they were surrounding each plant, I thought back to the pinecone cache. This was food of a different kind, for those leaves will decompose over the winter and nourish the earth.

o-snowberry 1

Continuing on, I came to one of my favorite spots–where the creeping snowberry grew. I hunted under the tiny leaves for the little white berries, but found none. And I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen them, especially in this place, for I suppose that I miss all the action since snow melt always seems to call a halt to such visitations and then I never make my way deep into these woods all summer. I have to assume that the little brown things and birds had a feast. Although, as any teacher knows, one should never assume. Perhaps next year, I’ll make a point of checking on these plants.

o-birch tree in offing

My tramp was a meander, for I knew not what direction each footstep might take me, changing my mind constantly and trusting that if I turned left or right, I wasn’t missing something in the opposite direction. The sight of a beech tree, its leaves ever rattling, did mean that I’d have a chance to move to drier land for a few minutes.

o-equisetum

And then I stepped up onto a rock, where the growth at my feet surprised me for I didn’t realize that equisetum grew in this part of the woods. Always something new to learn.

o-tamarack branch 1

That wasn’t all. As I looked around, a branch with yellow needles by my foot caught my attention.

o-tamarack branch 2

This was the twig of a tamarack tree, with its needles growing in tufts atop little spurs. Had we met before, the tree and me? If so, I couldn’t remember it. Nor could I find it.

o-evergreen hallway

Before me was a wall of evergreens, in a classroom all of their own, for really, these are among my favorite places where learning opportunities present themselves. But, today’s lesson wasn’t about the hemlock, white pine, fir and spruce idiosyncrasies.

o-tamarack tree

And so I scanned the sky, and about twenty-thirty feet away, I found the tree. A tamarack or larch or hackmatack tree, aka Larix laricina, is our only deciduous conifer because unlike all the evergreens, it sheds its needles each fall.

o-moose scat

A few minutes later, I heard movement, and looked up to see . . . no, not the moose that made this deposit last winter, but two flashes of white as a couple of deer bounded off. I think that’s one of my favorite lessons of these woods, for the landscape changes repeatedly and thus offers a variety of habitats for the mammals of western Maine. This is the place where I get to learn the most about them and their behaviors.

o-deer rub 1

Sometimes I’m rewarded with spying the mammal from a distance, but other times I find evidence of its behavior, like this antler rub with frayed bark at top and bottom and smooth wood between.

o-varied habitat 1

I’ve watched the forest succession in these woods for twenty-five years,

o-varied habitat 6

and it’s been logged again more recently.

o-varied habitat 4

With each change, comes more change. And so the mammals move from one spot to another, but they’re still all here–somewhere.

o-varied habitat

I just need to listen and look.

o-turkey tail fungi

It’s not just the mammals and trees that I get to learn about. My studies include among other topics, fungi, of which I’m only a so-so student. But I do know that this is turkey tail, aka Trametes versicolor.

o-Fomitopsis cajanderi  (Rosy Polypore) 2

And then I happened upon a hemlock stump topped with a large, beautiful display outlined in a coffee brown and salmon pink. It took me some work to remember its name. I can tell you where else I’ve seen it for it grows upon a hemlock log at Holt Pond.

o-unknown mushroom 1

Before I forget again, it’s a rosy polypore, if memory serves me right. I only hope my fungi teachers weigh in on this one.

o-logging road 1

At long last, it was time to follow a logging road back to the snowmobile trail.

o-snowberry on sphagnum

Sometimes, I slip back into the woods before reaching the trail, but today I chose to follow it. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but more creeping snowberry atop sphagnum moss.

o-home sweet home

As I finally crossed the field toward home, I gave thanks for the classroom that is right outside our back door and for the lessons learned in this Sunday School. Now I just have to remember everything, which is why I record so much.

 

 

I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy

As I stepped out the door early this morning to dump yesterday’s coffee grounds, my eyes were immediately drawn to a pattern in the dew and I knew that Porky had paid us a visit.

t-porcupine trail in morning dew

His trademark sashay showed in the wet grass almost as well as it does in snow with that pigeon-toed pattern and swish of a tail. Only yesterday I’d been noting all the freshly nipped oak branches in our yard and woodlot, cut as they were at that telltale 45˚ angle.

t-flat hill sign--oxymoron

And then, after today’s coffee (grounds waiting until tomorrow to be disposed) and breakfast, I drove to Lovell to meet up with some Greater Lovell Land Trust docents for a climb up Flat Hill–that oxymoron of a name. But really, the summit is rather flat–after climbing the hill, of course.

t-trail light

It was early and felt more fall-like than we’ve experienced of late and we reveled in the temperature as well as the light along the trail as the sun played with the leaves and added a golden glow to our day.

t-coyote scat 1

When we weren’t looking up, we looked down. One of our first sights–scat! Coyote scat, we thought. Only the contents of this scat were different than most.

t-coyote scat 2

And so we went in for a closer look–for it was filled with quills. Not my home porky, but we know that the summit and rocky ledge below are porcupine territory so it made perfect sense that we found such scat in the middle of the trail.

t-fox scat

We found more scat a little further along–this one was filled with berries and seeds and also in the middle of the trail, atop a rock. Smaller in size, we suspected red fox.

t-paper birch lenticels

There were other things than scat to attract our attention, like the long lenticels on a downed paper birch–their pattern looking like either zippers on a jacket or a bunch of spruce trees in their spire formation.

t-maple-leaf viburnum

We marveled at the color and texture of the maple-leaf viburnums–like no other in the mix.

t-hop hornbeam bark and leaf

And when we reached the hop hornbeams with their shaggy bark and double-toothed leaves, we knew to look below for their seed pods. It wasn’t an easy search for they are small and blend in well with the birch and hornbeam leaves on the ground.

t-hop seed 2

But we found one–its papery sack enclosing the nutlet. We were curious to see the seed and so opened the inflated casing. It was almost a 3D tear-drop shape, coming to a sharp point.

t-hops

Skipping ahead for a moment, after we finished hiking I visited a tree back near the parking lot where Pam and I had noted plentiful fruits in the summer. It takes about twenty-five years for a hop hornbeam to fruit. And the common name–“hop” refers to the seed clusters that represent true hops used in beer production.

t-summit view 1

At last we reached the summit and stood for a while, in awe of the color display before us.

t-polypody 1a

From the same spot, we also noted the polypody ferns that grow upon the summit rock.

t-polypody spores 2

Ferns reproduce by spores rather than seeds. The itty bitty spores (think dust sized), called sporangia, grew on the underside of these leathery frond leaflets. The sporangia form clusters called sori and in the case of polypody the sori are naked. Some had already dispersed.

t-chipmunk

At last we started down, but not without a side trip of bushwhacking and annoying a chipmunk who had some housekeeping details to attend to.

t-docents 1

Less than three hours later (amazing for us), we gathered at the bottom and said our goodbyes to Darbee and David on the left–they’ll return to their winter home soon. Bob and Pam will hang with us for a bit longer, but while I reflected on all the wonderful reasons to enjoy winter in Lovell, the two couples made plans to connect in their winter habitat.

t-wooden spoon

The day wasn’t over yet and this afternoon another docent and I set up a “Kim’s game” of natural and unnatural items on a sheet covered with a bandana on the trail behind the New Suncook School. Then we walked further along the trail and hid a bunch of unnatural items for our after-school Trailblazers to locate. (We had to relocate them as well and are almost certain we found all of them. Maybe . . . )

t-noticing leaf colors

Before the kids did anything though, they introduced Linda to their trees–clusters of trees really for all are copiced, that they’ve befriended and named and gotten to know up close and personal. This afternoon, they noted that the colors of the leaves were changing.

t-Linda and Sassy

They loved giving Linda a tour and she loved being part of the action.

t-alligators in the woods

The kids did an excellent job with their observation skills, including locating at least one species that didn’t quite belong in these woods.

t-fallen log 1

And then we started gently rolling over fallen limbs, curious about what we might find below.

t-red-backed salamander

And what to our wondering eyes should appear? A red-backed salamander under the first one. We rolled a few more and didn’t find much. But then we heard something and stood still as we listened. Finally, it called again and we called back–a barred owl was somewhere nearby. At last it was time for the kids to head home and as we walked out of the woods to meet their parents, we stopped to roll one more log–where we found a yellow-spotted salamander. Unfortunately, in our excitement, I couldn’t take a decent photo, but still . . . we were thrilled.

What a perfect day–of I spy, you spy, we all spy. Indeed we did.

 

May(be) a Mondate

We headed out the backdoor, into our woodlot, down the cowpath, along the snowmobile trail, veered left behind the church, walked down a driveway, crossed the road and snuck into Pondicherry Park.

p-NOrway maple and samaras

Or so we thought, but as we stood below this Norway maple with its widely-divergent two-winged samaras, a familiar voice hailed us. Our friend, Dick Bennett, appeared out of nowhere (well, really from somewhere–for like us, he lives nearby and uses these trails frequently to get to town) and so we chatted briefly. He was on a mission and we were headed in a different direction along the multi-layered loop system.

p-crossing the field

Within minutes we followed the path out of the woods and across the field–prepared as we were for rain. Our plan was to retreat when it started to pour.

Once we entered the woods again, we heard a barred owl call from the distance with its infamous “Who cooks for you?” “Our oldest son and his girlfriend,” was our response for they had surprised us this weekend with a visit and prepared last night’s meal.

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For the most part we stuck to the trail system, but then we stepped over the wall onto the Lake Environmental Association’s Maine Lake Science Center property because I wanted to show my guy this pile of dirt and stones.

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On a recent bushwhack with a few others, we’d discovered this fox hole and I immediately recalled all the fox tracks and seeing a red fox this past winter not far from this location.

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After poking about for a few minutes, we made our way back to the LEA trail and eventually landed at the boardwalk that weaves through a wetland. From there, it was back through the woods to the park trails. I know my guy wanted to move quickly, such were the bugs, but I wanted to take everything in and so he patiently waited from time to time.

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After all, there were visions in white exploding with glory in the form of Canada mayflowers,

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foam-flowers,

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and wild sarsaparilla.

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We also feasted our eyes on visions offering the purplish hue of gaywings, aka fringed polygala.

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And then there were the ferns.

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The fertile stalks of cinnamon ferns shouted their name,

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while the royal ferns were much more subtle–

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their fertile crowns practically blending into the sterile fronds.

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At the chimney by the amphitheater, a chipmunk paused to ponder our intentions and then quickly disappeared.

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We followed the river trail to the Bob Dunning Bridge and noted all the shades of green beside Stevens Brook.

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And then there were other sights to see, like the boxelder and its samaras. Its common name refers to the resemblance of its leaves to elder trees and the use of the soft wood for box making. Its also our only maple with compound leaves. And the samaras differ greatly from the Norway maple we stood under at the beginning of our walk–for the boxelder’s winged seeds more closely resemble upside down Vs or peace signs.

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As is often the case when stopping by the bridge, the catbirds who nest in the undergrowth paused beside the brook during their foraging expeditions.

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Nearby, we saw some food meant for them–a colony of Eastern tent caterpillars consuming maple leaves right down to the veins. It seemed like it was time for some units of energy to be passed along the food web.

Besides the wildlife, our only human encounters included a relative crossing the bridge on his way home from work and our friend Dick, whom we’d seen at the start.

For various reasons, May has been devoid of dates and so today’s adventure, though not long, served as our only Mondate celebration for the month–no maybes about it. And it never did rain.

 

 

 

Sharing My Site

I count myself among the fortunate because pollen doesn’t keep me inside during its high season. Nor do the bugs or rain. Mind you, I do my fair share of complaining–after all I am human. At least I think I am, though I was honored to be called an ent yesterday. (Thanks Cyrene.)

Enough of that. Let’s head outside to see what we might see.

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True confession. I took this photo yesterday, but didn’t have time to write. Finding this jack-in-the-pulpit beside a granite bench by my studio was a complete surprise.

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Today’s journey began in the front yard where sugar maple samaras dangled below full-grown leaves. Their presence will soon offer presents to the world below.

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My next stop was beside another secret giver of gifts–blueberry flowers.

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And then I stepped into the woodlot, where a single striped maple which was the bearer of a deer antler rub last year and scrape (upward motion with lower incisors) this past winter, had something else to offer.

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Below its almost dinner-plate size leaves–flowers. Happy was I to find these little beauties.

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Perhaps . . . just maybe . . . there will be more striped maples offering their bark to those in need.

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Moving along, I stopped at the opening of the cowpath to admire baby hemlock cones when something white and bubbly caught my attention. My first spittle bug sighting of the year. An adult spittlebug whips up some slimy froth to cover its eggs in late summer and the nymphs cover themselves while feeding in the spring–and so I concluded that I was viewing a nymph’s locale.

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Emerging under the power lines, the community changes. It’s here that the land is especially wet and species one might find in a bog grow–such as the black chokeberry shrub. These also like rocky ledges, but such is not the case in this spot.

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I was thankful to find it for those flattened bright pink anthers brightened this damp day.

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Heading north, I sloshed through the deep puddles on a quest to find the sundews I discovered growing in this area for the first time last fall.

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No such luck, but I did welcome the sight of the candy lichen fruits exploding from their crustose base. And then . . . and then . . . what did I see (but only when I looked at the photograph on my computer, and so now I know where they are located)? The round-leaved sundews–do you see them in the bottom right-hand corner? These are carnivorous plants (think Venus Flytrap) and their prey consists of small insects. Already, I can’t wait to make their acquaintance again.

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I turned around and headed south–on my way to the vernal pool. But before passing through a stonewall, I had to look at the bunchberries in bloom.

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Normally, a bunchberry plant has two-sets of leaves. But . . . when one is mature enough to grow a third set, typically larger leaves (perhaps to capture more energy) than the first two sets, it produces four white bracts that we think of as petals but they are actually modified leaves. The flowers are in the center–tiny as they are.

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And because I was in the neighborhood, in the land of mosses, reindeer lichens, Canada Mayflowers and wintergreen, trailing arbutus (aka Mayflower) spoke up. Its flowers were slowly transforming from white to rust and I shouldn’t rush the season, but I can’t wait to see its fruit again.

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At last I reached the vernal pool and realized I wasn’t the only visitor. What perfect hunting ground it proved to be for the . . .

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phoebe. I cheered for its insatiable insect appetite.

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Because the day was dark, it was difficult to see tadpoles, but I did note that many spotted salamanders were still forming. I also noted that the water level has dropped a wee bit–hard to believe–and where yesterday I found a few egg masses a bit high and dry, today they were gone. Something enjoyed eggs for dinner.  Scrambled or otherwise, I’m not sure.

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Back on the trail and at the next stone wall, interrupted fern showed off its fertile pinnae near the middle of the blades. It’s called interrupted because of the interruption in the blade. Again, this is an inhabitant of moist to wet forests and so it was no surprise to find it growing there.

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A fertile blade, such as this, may have two to seven pairs of middle pinnae.

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The globose sporangia is bright green when young, but darkens to tan or black as it matures.

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On the other side of the wall, I spied some more flowers.

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These were the elongated loose clusters of black cherry trees, that open when the leaves are fully developed.

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One that flowers and fruits before its leaves are fully developed is the red maple.

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And fruits and fruits . . . need I say more?

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Though the wind blew, the samaras weren’t yet ready to let go and set down their roots. It won’t be long though, I’m sure.

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Finally returning home, I passed by the granite bench once more and was still stymied by the site I saw about a half hour after discovering the jack-in-the-pulpit yesterday.  It had been consumed. I suspected the woodchucks that live under the studio. Either that or a bear came along and I missed it.

And so ended today’s tramp. Thanks for traipsing along with me to visit these sites out our back door. I especially welcome those who are homebound with allergies, like my friend Jinny Mae. She gave me the inspiration to take a look today–to be her eyes for the moment and share my sight.

Dear Aunt Ruth

My memories are snapshots of times spent with you and Uncle Bob and all the cousins. I loved visiting your home–whether we drove down the long road and driveway with Dad or walked via the old dump road and skeet field with Mom. Each time we arrived, you welcomed us with grace and your unassuming manner.

I remember sipping lemonade on the back porch, riding the wooden horse, and checking on Dale’s bunnies, especially Peter who soon became Mrs. Peter. I remember lunches at your kitchen table, and the time we bit into our tuna sandwiches only to discover the bread was filled with ants. Why that sticks with me, I don’t know, but we all thought it was funny. I remember family reunions, where food and laughter and aunts and uncles and cousins were abundant. Eventually, it evolved into a musical gathering–such was the talent of the clan.

But most of all, I remember your flower and vegetable gardens and your love of all things natural.

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And so today, as my guy and I ventured to a park we’d never before visited, I took you with us. I wanted to share with you our findings, just as you used to share stories of your gardens and wildlife sightings with us in Christmas cards after I moved north.

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Our first observation–a moose! Well, not really.

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But we did see evidence of deer and I knew you’d be glad they were running away–leaving your gardens alone. Oh, and those pesky raccoons! Raising eight children didn’t seem to phase you, but those raccoons in the corn field–that did rattle you.

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The gardens in these woods differ from yours–and right now, given the snow cover, the only ones visible were high up in pine trees, where yesterday’s snow offered nourishment to the mosses and lichens that grow there.

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We did, however, find one similarity–the legume-like seed pod from a locust tree. It’s almost time to sow the peas.

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In these woods, we also found a symbol of the past–it was once farmland as signified by the apple trees. If memory serves me right, there was a very climbable apple tree beside your driveway.

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And then we spied one impossible possibility–an acorn tucked into red maple bark. How did it get there? And will it germinate? If it does, what then?  I trust, you too, would have noticed such and wondered.

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We followed the trails through the woods and sometimes beside the brook for which the property was named–Pratt Brook. It was a bit more bubbly than the creek in your yard, but such is the snow melt right now.

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Along the way, I noted a family of artist conks decorating a tree. And, that, of course, brought to mind the box of colored pencils you (or perhaps it was the cousins, though Neal had no qualms about telling us that our gifts were really chosen by you) gave me long ago. I cherished that box and used those pencils with care. They lasted into my early adulthood.

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And then my guy gifted me another box, which I again revere. One of my favorite pastimes is to sit and sketch and then add a dash of color. Whenever I do, Aunt Ruth, you are with me.

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For a while we followed the power line trail, aka Bear Trail. As you can see, we tramped in the footsteps of many others who’ve traveled this way just today–via skis, snowshoes and hiking boots like us. We were an hour from home and close to the ocean, so the snow level was about six inches compared to at least two feet we walk upon daily. But today’s sun warmed us and initiated a meltdown.

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I didn’t mind being on the power line for a bit, for it was here that we saw our only sign of wildlife.

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It was also the spot where I knew we’d find wildflowers–and I wasn’t disappointed. Asters like these, and goldenrods, spireas and berries displayed their winter forms.

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Back into the woods, we were almost done, when we spied this woodwork, carved by bark beetles.

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And I was again reminded of my past observations when I moved a log and discovered a gnawer on the job.

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The intricate work reminded me of Uncle Bob’s woodworking skills and I knew you’d appreciate that. You’d also appreciate that as I write, my guy is watching a National Geographic show about Wild Scotland.

Thanks for the memories, Aunt Ruth. And thanks for making time for us and showing an interest in all that we did–always as curious about our adventures as those of your brood. You were a remarkable woman and a genuine Yankee whom I was blessed to have as a part of my life.

Fondly, Leigh

 

 

 

The Second Anniversary of Wondermyway

Milestones are always important as they mark significant events in our lives. And for me, such an event occurs today as I celebrate the second anniversary of the day wondermyway.com was born.

Since I was in elementary school and made few and far between entries into a chunky journal bound in a green cover (which I still own), to the first empty book journal my sister gave me when I graduated from high school, to a variety of travelogues and other journals I’ve filled from cover to cover,  I’ve recorded my life’s journey from time to time.

The most satisfying for me has been this very blog, to which I’ve added numerous events and discoveries, both natural and historical, over the last two years. As personal as it all is, I’ve taken a leap of faith by sharing it with you. And you have been gracious enough to read it, and comment on it, and “like” it, and sometimes “love” it, and offer me suggestions, corrections and gentle nudges.

Thank  you for following along on the journey. It’s been scary to put myself out there, but I have.

And now, I thought I’d review some favorite finds I noted in posts over the past year. My learnings have been many and it’s been fun to review all that I’ve seen and thought and admired and wondered about. I hope you’ll feel the same and will continue to follow along and comment and share those that you enjoy with your family and friends.

Here’s my countdown , or maybe I should say my count up of favorite moments in time over the past year:

Feb 21, 2016: Celebrating a Year of Wonder-filled Wanders

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I made time one year ago to sit and sketch–one of my favorite activities. To be still and embrace life around me. To notice. And commemorate.

February 28 2016: Gallivanting Around Great Brook

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Usually, we drive the forest road in to the gate on Hut Road in Stoneham, but in winter it isn’t passable, and thus one must walk–which means paying attention to things you might not normally notice, such as this: a special relationship between a yellow birch and a white pine. Rooted in place, they embrace and share nutrients. Forever conjoined, they’ll dance through life together.

March 18, 2016: On the Verge of Change

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While exploring the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s  Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham with my friend, Parker,  who is a master mycologist, he found Panellus stipticus, a bioluminescent species. Check out those gills on the underside. According to Lawrence Millman in his book Fascinating Fungi of New England, ” . . . specimens in the Northeast glow more obviously than specimens in other parts of North America.” So if you are ever in these woods late at night, don’t be freaked out by a light greenish glow. It just might be nature’s night light.

March 22 2016: Wet Feet at Brownfield Bog

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When I first spied this lump of gray I assumed it was a dead mouse. I know, I know–I should never assume because I risk “making an ass out of u and me.” And so I took a closer look. And noticed tons of bones and those orange teeth. An owl pellet filled with the remains of dinner. Owl pellets are extra cool and dissecting one is even cooler. I collected this one but haven’t dissected it because I think it makes for a great teaching tool as is. If you want to see it, just ask.

April 13, 2016: So Many Quacks

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At the vernal pool, or frog pond as we’ve always fondly referred to it, just steps from our property, I kept a keen eye on the situation last spring. In general, each mass laid by  female wood frogs was attached to a twig or branch. They tend to take advantage of the same site for attachment and usually in a warm, sunny spot.

A couple of masses were positioned independent of the rest, like this one–embraced in oak and maple leaves. Eventually, they’ll gain a greenish tinge from algae, which actually helps to camouflage them. One of the many wonders is that any given mass may contain up to 1,000 eggs–from a two-to-three-inch frog.

April 28, 2016: The Big, The Little and Everything in Between

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The phone rang as I stepped out of the shower and a male voice yammered away about something in the snow and it had come last night and I had to get there quickly. My friend, Dick,  was standing in a friend’s yard about a half mile from here and looking at bear tracks in the snow.

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

May 21, 2016: Wallowing in Wonder

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Along Perky’s Path at the GLLT’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Preserve, a bunch of us had the honor to watch a dragonfly split open its exoskeleton and emerge from the nymph stage. Of course, we were standing by a beaver pond, and so it seemed only appropriate that it would use the top of a sapling cut by a beaver. As it inflated the wings with blood pressure, they began to extend.

May 31, 2016: Slippers Fit for a Princess–Including Cinderella

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Members of the Orchid family, lady’s slippers feature the typical three petals in an atypical fashion. The pouch (or slipper or moccasin), called the labellum, is actually one petal–inflated and veined. With a purplish tint, the petals and sepals twist and turn offering their own take on a ballroom dance. From every angle, it’s simply elegant.

June 10, 2016: The Main(e) Exotics

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At Lakes Environmental Association‘s Holt Pond Preserve, a friend and I had moved from the swamp to the first hemlock hummock and chatted about natural communities when suddenly we realize we were being hissed at. Its coloration threw us off and beautiful though it was, the hairs on the back of our necks stood on end. Apparently we made it feel likewise. And so we retreated. It was a common garter, but really, there didn’t seem anything common about it in the moment.

June 18, 2016: Paying Attention

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In May, trailing arbutus wowed us by its gentle white and pale pink flowers. In June,  they faded to a rusty tone. And some transformed into swollen round seed pods–a first for me to see.

The sepals curled away to reveal the white fleshy fruit speckled with tiny brown seeds. It was well worth getting down on knees to look through a hand lens–especially since ants, chipmunks and mice find these to be a delicacy so they wouldn’t last long.

July 9, 2016: Wondering About Nature’s Complexity

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

And fellow Master Naturalist Pam Davis responded: Check out bagworm moths to see if it might be an answer to the stick thing on the leaf and your house. Here’s a discussion: http://nature.gardenweb.com/discussions/2237505/not-a-bug-maybe-a-gall and a Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagworm_moth

Indeed.

July 27, 2016: Searching for the Source of Sweetness

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It was no mistake the this fritillary butterfly chose the beebalm on which to land. Check out its mouth. A butterfly feeds through a coiled mouth part called a proboscis. When not in use, the proboscis recoils and is tucked into position against the butterfly’s head.

August 21, 2016: Sundae School

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My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian Pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

August 27, 2016: Halting Beside Holt Pond

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Halting–prone to pauses or breaks. I didn’t break, but I certainly was prone to pauses as I moved along the trails and boardwalks at the Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton. One of my first stops–to admire the pitcher plant flowers in their August form. When I took a closer look, I realized that the seeds were developing–certainly a WOW moment in the world of wonder.

September 9, 2016: Golden Rulers

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What first caught my eye was a bee that dangled upside down. And then I spied the green legs of an assassin bug. What? Yup, an assassin bug. I believe this one is a nymph. Regardless of age, here’s the scoop: Assassin bugs are proficient at capturing and feeding on a wide variety of prey. Though they are good for the garden, they also sometimes choose the wrong species like this bee. The unsuspecting prey is captured with a quick stab of the bug’s curved proboscis or straw-like mouthpart. Once I saw this, I continued to return for a couple of hours, so stay tuned.

September 15, 2016: The Wonders of Kezar River Reserve

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My favorite wonder of the day . . . moments spent up close with a meadowhawk.

October 17, 2016: Everybody Loves Raymond? Mondate

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My guy and I discovered several of these examples of fungi on fungi at Loon Echo Land Trust‘s Raymond Community Forest and had no idea what they were–so I sent the photos to Parker and Jimmie Veitch, of White Mountain Mushrooms, and Jimmie responded with this explanation:

“That’s what mycologists call “rosecomb” mutation, where a mushroom’s gills start forming on the cap in a really mutated fashion. It’s been reported in many mushroom species but I haven’t seen it in this one (Armillaria AKA honey mushrooms). As far as I know, no secondary fungus is involved.

The suspected cause (not so nice) is ‘hydrocarbons, phenols and other compounds contaminating the casing or contacting the mushroom surface. Diesel oil, exhaust from engines, and petroleum-based pesticides are thought to be the principal source.'”

October 22, 2016: Cloaked By the Morning Mist

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On a rainy day adventure with the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust in nearby New Hampshire, we paused to admire candy lichen, a crustose (think–flattish or crust-like) lichen with green to bluish-green coloration. Its fruiting bodies, however, are candy-pinkish berets atop stalks, even reflected in the raindrops.

November 6, 2016: Focus on the Forest Foliage

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And then . . . and then . . . and then just as our eyes trained on the red caps before us, something else made itself known. We spied another lichen that I’ve only seen once before: Cladonia cervicornis ssp. verticillate.

Its growth formation is rather unique. In one sense, it reminded me of a sombrero, but in another sense, I saw fountains stacked one atop another, each giving forth life in their own unique fashion. But rather than being called Fountain Lichen, its common name is Ladder Lichen–perhaps referring to the fact that the pixies can easily climb up and up and up again.

November 20, 2016: Forever a Student

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A sight I was hoping for presented itself when I returned to our woodlot–froth at the base of a pine tree. It’s not unusual and occurs following a rain event such as we’d had all night and morning. So what causes the tree to froth? Well, like all lessons, there are several possibilities. Maine Master Naturalist Science Advisor Fred Cichocki recently had this to say about it: “I’ve noticed this phenomenon often, and in every case I’ve seen it’s associated with white pine, and always after a dry spell followed by heavy rain. Now, conifers, especially, produce hydrocarbons called terpenes (it’s what gives them their lovely pine, balsam and fir scent). These hydrocarbons are hydrophobic by nature and form immiscible films on water. During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up terpenes on the way. Air (having accumulated in bark spaces, channels, etc. perhaps under slight pressure) then “bubbles” through terpene-water films producing a froth. Recall the cleaning products PineSol, and the like. They are made from terpenes, and produce copious bubbles when shaken. One could get the same result directly by shaking terpentine in water, or by bubbling air through a terpentine-water mixture with a straw . . . Of course, it may be that other substances (salts, etc.) enhance the frothing.”

No matter how much I have learned on this life-long course, there’s always more. I certainly don’t have all the answers and for that I am thankful. I’m forever a student.

December 4, 2016: The Art of Nature

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Some cut stumps reminded me of the circular movement leading toward the center of a labyrinth–appearing quick and easy, and yet providing a time to slow down while following the path.

December 23, 2016: Won’t You Be My Neighbor

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I followed the porcupine trail along his regular route and over the stonewall only to discover prints I’ve never met before. My first impression was raccoon, but the shape of the prints and the trail didn’t match up in my brain. More and more people have mentioned opossum sightings in the past few years, but I’ve only seen one or two–flattened on the road. Today, in our very woods, opossum prints.

January 19, 2017: Keep an Open Mind

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While I always head out with expectations of what my forest wanderings will offer, I’m happily surprised time and time again with the gifts received.

And so it was the other day when a friend and I happened upon this trophy in an area I’ve only visited a few times. We’d been noting the abundant amount of deer tracks and realized we were between their bedding and feeding areas and then voila–this sweet sight sitting atop the snow. It now adorns a bookcase in my office, a wonder-filled addition to my mini natural history museum. (I’m trying to give Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny of the Boxcar Children series a run for their money in creating such a museum.)

January 25, 2017: On the Prowl at Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve

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Notice how these pine needles are clumped together? What I learned from Mary Holland, author of Naturally Curious,  is that these are tubes or tunnels created by the Pine Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. They used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. Notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and in April when I come back to check on the vernal pool, I need to remember to pay attention, for that’s when they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news, says Holland, is that “Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.” I only found the tubes on two young trees, but suspect there are more to be seen.

February 8, 2017: Embracing the Calm

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A bull moose, like a buck deer, thrashes bushes and small saplings when the velvet on its antlers dries. It could be that the velvet itches. But it could also be a response to increasing testosterone and the need to scent mark.

February 16, 2017: When Life Gives You Flakes

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When life gives you flakes . . . make a snow angel in the middle of the trail.

To all who have read this far, thanks again for taking a trip down memory lane today and sticking with me these past two years. I sincerely hope you’ll continue to share the trail as I wander and wonder–my way.

And to wondermyway.com–Happy Second Anniversary!

 

 

 

 

 

Forever a Student

Once the rain let up, I donned my Boggs and headed out the door in mid-afternoon, not sure where exactly I was headed. But after reaching the snowmobile trail, I decided to turn south. Since the spring, I’ve been to the vernal pool on the neighboring property numerous times, but not much beyond in that direction.

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Part of the reason was that a local industry, of which we now have so few, was constructing a new building and had cut off the trail. Oh, I could have bushwhacked around the project, but the other part of the reason is that it’s a heavy tick zone and I normally avoid it come warmer weather. Given the new building, I wasn’t sure what to expect today, but as I passed through the stonewall, I discovered they’d added a bridge over a new water diversion and the trail was open. I’m glad for the small industry, but simultaneously sad that the willows are gone. No more pussy willows in the spring. Or willow galls, though I suppose that’s good news. And who knows, perhaps some viable willow seeds will spring forth in this place–a hypothesis to be tested.

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After crossing behind the building, I moved through an opening in the next stone wall, and felt right at home again–in one of my local classrooms. This is one where I’m often the solo student, as was the case today.

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I revisited an old stump, where art class was about to begin. The underside of the artist’s conk welcomed a sketch, but I left the canvas blank for another day.

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In social studies class, I took a look at former land uses. The wall opening and split stone gate bars helped me envision the fields that once were cleared. I followed several walls, which switched from single to double and even double-double, or so it seemed as one section was at least six feet wide and a football field long (The New England Patriots are winning in CA right now!). Barbed wire indicated the need to keep animals out and flat land with trees not a hundred years old spoke to the land’s former plowed use.

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A few minutes later, I moved over an old rock mound and stood before my science teacher–another vernal pool. As I recalled, this one dries out early in the season and grasses and other vegetation grow prolifically here. But unlike the smaller pool closer to home, this one held some water from the recent rain.

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As any student should, I stepped through the door and sunk my feet into class.

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Cinnamon ferns reminded me that they keep their fuzziness right up to the end.

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I wondered about strips of paper birch dangling from a young sapling and then realized I was looking at the remains of a nest–maybe a vireo.

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I questioned how the long-beaked sedge seedheads came to be bent over–by weather or wildlife or just because their time had come?

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While bulrushes (actually a grass) offered flowing fountains pouring into the future, their seeds still clung–as did a spider web.

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And more spiders eluded me, though their webs stood strong among the steeplebush capsules.

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A few raindrops dangled like ornaments from a holiday decoration.

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And bead-like spore structures on sensitive fern’s fertile stalk waited for another day to spread their good news.

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I finally left the vernal pool, but before heading back down the hallway, small salmon-colored growths stopped me. Lichen? Fungi? I didn’t think I’d ever seen it before and so it was a new lesson.

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My first thought–lichen. In a way, it resembled the tops of British Soldiers that grow prolifically here. But my latest thought is red tree brain fungi (Peniophora rufa) . I may be wrong, but that’s what being a student is all about.

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With each new lesson, I was also thankful for those that were reinforced, such as the chisel-like and shredded works of pileated woodpeckers. I used to think such trees were the result of bear activity.

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I’m always awed by the resulting sculpture left behind by those powerful birds–their strong beaks stabbing away at the bark until they’ve consumed a meal of carpenter ants and beetles. Thankfully, their skulls are thick and spongy–allowing their brains to absorb the impact of such repeated drilling.

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At a field, I paused to admire the layers–a testament to field succession. These woods are constantly changing.

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One thing that doesn’t change is the signature of a Tom Turkey–usually offered in straight or J formation.

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At another wetland, I poked around and then my eye focused in on something decorating a fallen tree. A slime mold perhaps? Red raspberry slime? In one rendition it seemed to have a crater-like surface, while another was more flower-like with petals spraying from a center.

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At last I entered a hemlock forest where the cinnamon inner bark stood out on the wet trees. If not for the scales, I realized it would be easy to confuse this bark with that of red oak, but a quick look up the trunk and the answer was obvious.

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As I walked back toward home, I looked along parts of the trail I’d skipped while exploring in the woods. And I wasn’t disappointed when I discovered one of the few striped maple trees–still bearing the seeds it produced last year. Why did they cling still? When released, will they be viable?

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And then, a sight I was hoping for presented itself when I returned to our woodlot. Froth at the base of a pine tree. It’s not unusual and occurs following a rain event such as we’d had all night and morning. I had hoped to see some foam today, and felt rewarded for my efforts. So what causes the tree to froth? Well, like all lessons, there are several possibilities. Maine Master Naturalist Science Advisor Fred Cichocki recently had this to say about it: “I’ve noticed this phenomenon often, and in every case I’ve seen it’s associated with white pine, and always after a dry spell followed by heavy rain. Now, conifers, especially, produce hydrocarbons called terpenes (it’s what gives them their lovely pine, balsam and fir scent). These hydrocarbons are hydrophobic by nature and form immiscible films on water. During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up terpenes on the way. Air (having accumulated in bark spaces, channels, etc. perhaps under slight pressure) then “bubbles” through terpene-water films producing a froth. Recall the cleaning products PineSol, and the like. They are made from terpenes, and produce copious bubbles when shaken. One could get the same result directly by shaking terpentine in water, or by bubbling air through a terpentine-water mixture with a straw  . . .  Of course, it may be that other substances (salts, etc.) enhance the frothing.”

No matter how much I have learned on this life-long course, there’s always more. I certainly don’t have all the answers and for that I am thankful. I’m forever a student.

 

 

 

 

So Many Unknowns

On this historic election day, a few friends and I took to the woods with the intention of absorbing not only the sun’s heat, but the warmth of each others company. Yes, occasionally our conversation turned to politics and wonder about the future, but for the most part, we just wanted to wander together.

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Our first spot for consideration–a vernal pool tucked away in the woods.

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In true v.p. behavior, it dried up during the summer drought, though as we moved about we experienced a sinking feeling–muck obscured by grasses and leaves. This particular pool is home to fairy shrimp and their eggs cases are protected under the leaf litter until water returns. The amazing thing about fairy shrimp–those eggs can survive long periods of drying and freezing. We trust we’ll have the opportunity to meet the next generation.

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Sometimes our eyes were tricked by what we viewed and we questioned how things could be so.

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But upon a closer examination of the facts, we realized that a club moss was merely growing near the wintergreen and the wintergreen hadn’t taken on a strange candelabra form.

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Our questions continued, however. Why was the ground completely cleared in the middle of the trail? Mammal behavior? We noted boot prints and wondered about human interaction. Finally, we moved on, unable to understand the reasoning, but knew that there are some things we’ll never fully comprehend.

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In another place, we noticed a green red-oak leaf. A holdout perhaps that preferred the way things had been and didn’t want to follow the rest of the group?

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Occasionally, we calmly debated the structures before us as we considered shape and hairiness and growth pattern and location before we determined species–in this case, hawkweed.

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And other times, no need for questions, no need for answers. Pure admiration for the presentation was enough.

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When we were again drawn in for a closer look, in this case at the white fuzzy beech scale insect, we suddenly realized there was so much more to observe, such as the black ladybird beetle.

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And then, something we didn’t understand at all. What was this spiny creature? And what was emerging from it? We left with that question floating among us. It wasn’t until doing some research later that I came to what may be the answer. Was it a ladybird beetle emerging from the pupa stage? How I wish we could go back and find it again and look at it with a different mindset.

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Drawing close to the finish of our journey together, we spied something we’ve passed many times before, but never noticed.

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Again, we’ll need to revisit the mossy boulder, but we determined it was a dog lichen. Why dog? Was it so named for the white “fang” like rhizines on its lower surface?  Or did the lobes remind someone of dog ears? Based on the large, fan-like shape, my leaning is toward Peltigera membranacea or Membrane Dog Lichen. But, I could be easily swayed on its ID.

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A short walk and hours later, we finally passed a field of milkweed, their seeds blowing in the slight breeze like flags on a pole.

It was time to say goodbye to friends who will head south this weekend before I headed back to “reality” and colored in those little ovals.

I think we all came away thankful for the questions raised and knowledge shared, but still . . . so many unknowns.

The Way of the Land at Long Meadow Brook Reserve

Last month the Greater Lovell Land Trust purchased a new property along Long Meadow Brook that further develops the wildlife corridor. A couple of weeks ago I first visited it with GLLT’s Executive Director Tom Henderson and a number of the land trust’s volunteer docents. As we left the property, Tom said to me, “I didn’t oversell this, did I, when I said this will become one of the docents’ favorite properties.” Indeed.

And so I couldn’t wait to get back there myself to spend a few hours exploring the almost one-hundred-acre reserve.

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Because the land was last logged by the previous owner in 2014, it’s in the early succession stage of regrowth.

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And so, it’s a place where those who like disturbed places tend to grow, such as the common mullein. What surprised me most was that I found a few still offering blooms.

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Of course, it reminded me that I was in the great West–WESTern Maine, that is–with its occasional cacti-like form.

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Scattered throughout are also the seedheads of white lettuce, waiting for release in lampshade-like formation.

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Orange-peel fungi fruited prolifically in the gravel logging road.

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That was all before I even reached the future parking lot, which had served as the log landing a few years ago. Already, sweet ferns and berry bushes have made themselves known.

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The leaves of sweet fern, which is really a shrub rather than a fern, exhibited their version of autumn hues.

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If you go, I encourage you to look for the blue ribbons that indicate where a future trail will be placed. It’s a loop trail that summer interns Hannah and Aidan laid out and leads to two focal features.

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The trail nears a neighboring property, which just happens to also be under conservation easement thanks to the foresight of its owners. I stepped off the blue flag trail and started to follow the wall for a bit–noticing that soon it changed from a double (garden or plowed land) wall to a single wall. A large pasture pine grew at the change-over point.

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And where the wall switched to single formation, barbed wire indicated its former use a pasture boundary. And white pine scales indicated its current use–as a red squirrel’s dining room table.

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After moving away from the wall, I noticed the mountains in the offing and ferns and young trees already filling in the empty spaces.

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One of my favorite mountains to climb stood tall in the backdrop–Mount Kearsarge.

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My bearings were off a bit, but I knew where the eastern boundary was as I moved across this opening.

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Walking along the back edge, my tree passion was ignited yet again.

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Several pitch pines grow in this space. While the bark is similar to that of red pines, it’s platier (is that a word?). And the tufts of needles that grow along the trunk were a dead give-away.

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But . . . I always quiz myself and so I looked around. And right below the trees, pitch pine cones and the triple needle bundles common to this species.

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It was here that I discovered wintergreen growing by the base of a tree stump. What made me wonder was the amount of fruit on each plant. Yes, wintergreen grows prolifically in all of western Maine, but I can’t recall ever seeing so many little red globes dangling below the leaves.

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From my half-circle around the opening, I wasn’t positive about my whereabouts and so decided to follow the land downhill because it looked like there may be an opening below. A few minutes later, I realized I was in a marshy spot where the cinnamon ferns grew. And the earth beneath my feet was rather spongy and damp.

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I reached what I thought was the meadow I sought–only to realize that I was looking at a beaver lodge. I knew that beaver lodge, but from a different perspective–the neighbors’ property.

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And then something else caught my attention.

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Tamarack (aka larch) trees–our only deciduous conifers, which had turned a golden yellow as is their autumn habit.

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The spray of tamarack needles reminded me of witch hazel flowers, which also grow on this property. But soon, the former will drop, leaving only their barrel-like stems as a reminder of their presence.

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I left that spot, retraced my steps and headed to the north on a cross-country bushwhack, where the mauve colored maple-leaf viburnum grew.

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I saw lots of mammal sign and even a few birds, including turkeys who are loving the fact that this is a mast year for acorns.

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At last I emerged onto the trail I remembered and headed downhill again.

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And then . . . I was rewarded for my efforts. Long Meadow Brook and the mountains beyond provided a WOW moment.

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I looked to the east for a few minutes.

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And then turned west again, where the layers and colors spoke of diversity.

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Even the dead snags added beauty.

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Cat-in-nine tails added to the view and I noted others who like wet feet including steeplebush, meadowsweet and bulrushes growing along the old beaver dam. It’s also a place for a variety of evergreen species–hemlock, white pine, balsam fir, red spruce and tamaracks. Future teaching moments await.

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My intention to stick to the trail was soon thwarted when I spied hobblebush.

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Like all trees and shrubs, the future was already encased in a bud–in this case a bud we refer to as naked because it doesn’t have the waxy coating of most others. Methinks its furry presentation offers the same protection from winter’s cold.

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And as I studied the back side of fallen leaves, I paid attention to the venation–reminiscent of the bud’s pattern.

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In the glow of sunlight, I felt like I’d found the pot of gold.

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A short time later I reached the second opening that Hannah and Aidan’s trail encompasses. And what to my wondering eyes should appear–a meadowhawk dragonfly.

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It provided a sharp contrast to snow on the Baldface Mountains.

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It was at this six-acre opening that I poked around for a while longer. And watched a goshawk fly to a pine tree with something dangling from its talons. Did I take a photo? No, of course not. I was too mesmerized to focus my camera. But sometimes, the photo doesn’t matter. Being there in the moment does.

I’m thankful for such opportunities made possible by organizations such as the Greater Lovell Land Trust. I know that ultimately this property is for the mammals that travel through and I saw plenty of evidence that they use this place. But then again, I’m a mammal who also appreciates the land bridges created and opportunity to observe the connectivity. I spent the day getting to know the way of the land at Long Meadow Brook Reserve–and can’t wait to return.

 

 

 

 

Finding Our Way on Mount Tom in Fryeburg, Maine

I ventured this afternoon with my friend Marita, author of  Hikes and Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION, along with her daughter’s beagle, Gracie, on a new trail in Fryeburg.

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Mount Tom, a Roche Moutonnée, is an asymmetrical hill with a gently sloping up-ice side that has been smoothed and polished by a glacier. The other side is abrupt and steep–the down-ice side where the rocks were plucked off, leaving a more cliff-like appearance. As Marita noted, its most impressive view is from a distance, but today we sang its praises from up close. We’ve both hiked a 1.5 mile trail to the summit for years, but recently The Nature Conservancy developed a new trail that we were eager to explore.

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Within seconds I was exclaiming with joy. A huge, and I mean HUGE foundation shared the forest floor. Note the outer staircase to the basement.

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And the large center chimney.

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On an 1858 map, I found that A.H. Evans owned a home in about this vicinity, but I don’t know if this was his. Or any more about him. It will be worth exploring further at the Fryeburg Historical Society.

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The house extended beyond the basement.

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And was attached to an even bigger barn.

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Ash trees grow beside the opening, but I wondered if we were looking at the manure basement.

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Finally, we pulled ourselves away and returned to the trail. Well, actually, we tried to return to the trail but couldn’t find it. So we backtracked, found this initial blaze and again looked for the next one. Nothing. Nada. No go. How could it be?

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That didn’t seem right, so we decided to follow our noses, or rather Gracie’s nose, and sure enough we found the trail. If you go, turn left and cross between the house and barn foundations.

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After that, for the most part, we were able to locate the trail, but it was obscured by the newly fallen leaves and could use a few extra blazes. Gracie, however, did an excellent job following the scent of those who had gone before and leaving her own.

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The path took us over a large mound of sawdust, something I’ve found in several areas of Fryeburg.

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The predominate trees were beech, white and red oaks, thus providing a golden glow to the landscape.

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And then we came to the ledges. Bobcat territory. Note to self: snowshoe this way to examine mammal tracks.

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The trail was situated to provide a close up view of the ledge island, where all manner of life has existed for longer than my brain could comprehend. Life on a rock was certainly epitomized here.

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We continued our upward journey for over 2.3 miles (thanks to Marita’s Fitbit for that info) and eventually came to the intersection with the trail we both knew so well.

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From there, we walked to the summit where the views have become obscured by tree growth.

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But . . . we could see the long ridge of Pleasant Mountain in front of us,

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Kezar Pond to our left,

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and the Richardson Farm on Stanley Hill Road to our right.

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Also along the summit trail, the woody seedpod of a Lady’s Slipper. Ten-to-twenty thousand seeds were packaged within, awaiting wind dispersal.

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We decided to follow the old trail down, which passes through a hemlock grove and then suddenly changes to a hardwood mix. Both of us were surprised at how quickly we descended. And suddenly, we were walking past some private properties including the 1883 Mt. Tom cabin.

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The cabin sign was actually attached to a Northern White Cedar tree. I’m forever wowed by its bark and scaly leaves.

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In the field beyond, Old Glory fluttered in the breeze.

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And just before Menotomy Road, we spied Mount Kearsarge in the distance.

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Since we’d taken the loop trail approach rather than an out and back on the same trail, we had to walk along Menotomy Road, so we paid the cemetery a visit and checked out the names and ages of those who had lived in this neighborhood.

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One of the older stones intrigued me with its illustration. I think I would have enjoyed getting to know these people.

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As we continued on, I was reminded of recent adventures in Ireland  and the realization that we notice more when we walk along the road rather than merely driving by. We both admired this simple yet artful pumpkin display.

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If you go, you might want to drive to the old trailhead, park your vehicle and then walk back to the West Ridge Trail. We parked at the latter and had to walk the 1.5 back at the end, when it seemed even longer. But truly, the road offers its own pretty sights and the temperature was certainly just right, even with a few snow flurries thrown into the mix, so we didn’t mind. We were thankful we’d found our way along the new trail and revisited the old at Mount Tom. And I’m already eager to do it again.

 

 

 

 

In Constant Flux

Ever so slowly, the world around us changes.

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Sometimes it’s as obvious as the leaves that fall.

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And other times, it’s a bit more subtle, evidenced by the bees that have slowed their frantic pace as they make final collections.

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Mid morning, I headed down the cow path in search of other signs of change.

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As I walked along, I began to realize the interdependence of all. Under the northern red oaks–many  chopped off twigs.

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The angled cut and empty cap indicated the work of porcupines seeking acorns.

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I found maple leaves pausing on hemlocks,

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pine needles decorating spruce trees,

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and occasional puddles offering a rosy glow. Eventually, all of these leaves and needles will break down and give back.

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I found life on a rock, where lichens began the story that was added to by mosses. The creation of soil was enhanced by a yearly supply of fallen leaves and needles gathered there. And then a seed germinated, possibly the result of an earlier squirrel feast.

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I found orange peel and many other fungi aiding the process of decomposition so that all the fallen wood and leaves will eventually become part of the earthen floor.

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I found a healthy stand of trees and ferns competing for sunlight in an area that had been heavily logged about ten years ago.

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I found evidence of those who spend their lives eating and sleeping in this place.

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I found seeds attached

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and those on the fly–heading off in search of a new home.

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I found the last flowers of fall

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exploding with ribbony blooms.

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After bushwhacking for a few hours, I found the snowmobile trail, where man and nature have long co-existed.

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At last I found my way across the field rather than through our woodlot, thankful for the opportunity to take in the colors of the season one more time.

At the end of the day, I’m once again in awe as I think about how we, and all that we share this Earth with, are dependent upon each other and the abiotic forces that surround us.

And with that comes the realization that the scene is in constant flux and so am I.

 

 

 

Inching Along With Jinny Mae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halting Beside Holt Pond

Halting–prone to pauses or breaks. I didn’t break, but I certainly was prone to pauses as I moved along the trails and boardwalks at the Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton this afternoon.

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One of my first stops–to admire the pitcher plant flowers in their August form.

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When I took a closer look, I realized that the seeds were developing–certainly a WOW moment in the world of wonder.

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The global seed heads of buttonbush also demanded to be noticed. Upon each head are at least two hundred flowers that produce small nutlets. What strikes me as strange is the fact that this plant is a member of the coffee family. Maine coffee–local brew; who knew?

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At the Muddy River, the water level reflected what is happening throughout the region–another case of “Honey, I shrunk the kids.” It’s downright scary.

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Both by the river and on the way to the quaking bog, this wetland features a variety of shrubs, including one of my many favorites, speckled alder. Check out the speckles–those warty bumps (aka lenticels or pores) that allow for gas exchange. And the new bud covered in hair.

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This shrub is so ready for next year–as evidenced by the slender, cylindrical catkins that are already forming. This is the male feature of the shrub.

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It also bears females–or fruiting cones filled with winged seeds.

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It’s not unusual for last year’s woody cones or female catkins to remain on the shrub for another year.

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Whenever I visit, it seems there’s something to celebrate–including ripening cranberries.

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Common Cotton-grass dotted the sphagnum bog and looked as if someone had tossed a few cotton balls about. Today, they blew in the breeze and added life to the scene. Note to self–cotton-grass is actually a sedge. And sedges have edges.

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Just like the Muddy River, Holt Pond was also obviously low. Perhaps the lowest I’ve ever seen. At this spot, I spent a long time watching dragonflies. They flew in constant defense of their territories.

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Male slaty skimmers were one of the few that posed for photo opps.

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As I watched the dragonflies flit about along the shoreline and watched and watched some more, I noticed a couple of fishermen making use of the LEA canoe. I don’t know if they caught any fish, but I heard and saw plenty jumping and swimming. Well, a few anyway. And something even skimmed across the surface of the water–fish, snake, frog?

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Rose hips by the pond’s edge reminded me of my father. He couldn’t pass by a rose bush without sampling the hips–especially along the shoreline in Clinton, Connecticut.

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The view toward Five Fields Farm was equally appealing.

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And then I moved down tire alley, which always provides frequent sightings of pickerel frogs. I’m never disappointed.

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At the transition from a red maple swamp to a hemlock grove, golden spindles embraced a white pine sapling as if offering a bright light on any and all issues.

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In this same transitional zone, a female hairy woodpecker announced her presence.

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When I crossed Sawyer Brook, green frogs did what they do best–hopped into the water and then remained still. Do they really think that I don’t see them?

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At last, I walked out to Grist Mill Road and made my way back. One of my favorite surprises was the amount of hobblebush berries on display.

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Walking on the dirt road gave me the opportunity for additional sights–a meadowhawk posed upon a steeplebush;

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chicken of the woods fungi grew on a tree trunk;

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and a chipmunk paused on alert.

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But the best find of the day–one that caused me to halt on the road as I drove out of LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve–an American Woodcock.

Worth a wonder! And a pause. Certainly a reason to halt frequently at Holt Pond.

 

 

 

Rather a Mondate

Yes, it’s Monday. But as has been the case lately, my guy and I haven’t been able to hike together. We both had chores and projects to complete and so we did.

In the late afternoon, however, I headed out the back door. My mission–to locate something orange to photograph for our young neighbor who is prepping for a bone marrow transplant. Not an easy task, but like others I know, as often as he can, he smiles through this journey.

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Orange hawkweed provided today’s support to Team Kyan. May he continue to be strong. And his family, as well.

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After my orange find, I journeyed on–headed for our woodlot. And only steps from it, I discovered this camo-dressed insect fluttering on the ground. The male member of this species is known for the high-pitched buzz we hear on summer days. Sometimes, it’s almost deafening.

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This is a cicada, one that appeared to have a wing issue. A set of wings was held close to its  thick body, while the other set extended outward. (I thought of Falda, the faerie with folded wings in The Giant’s Shower.) I love the venation, reminiscent of a stain-glass window. Strong, membranous wings for a large insect.

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When I returned a second time, it was flapping those wings like crazy, but take off wasn’t happening. Did a predator attack at some point? Will it still be there tomorrow? So much to wonder about.

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And being me, I took advantage of the fact that it wasn’t going far to take a closer look. Notice the three legs extending below the thorax.

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Face on! We might as well have kissed. I’ve licked a slug, but passed on the opportunity to kiss a cicada. I do love this broad head, however. Check out that mouth that protrudes. Hidden inside are mandibles and maxillae used to pierce plants and drink their sap (xylem). Even if this chunky one couldn’t fly, it could still eat. And those eyes, oh my. So, here’s the scoop. The two obvious outer  eyes are compound, the better to see you with. But then I noticed three red spots located between the two compound eyes. Do you see them? These are three more eyes known as ocelli–they look rather jewel-like and are perhaps used to detect light or dark. Yup, this is a five-eyed insect. Certainly worth a wonder.

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As I continued my wander, I noticed that in the past few days a large number of Indian Pipes made their ghost-like presence known.

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Ever so slowly they broke through the ground–these under a hemlock grove.

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Though each is one flowered, they love communal living.

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Their waxy flowers dangle as they pull up through the duff.

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Once fertilized, their pipes slowly turn upright, where the flowerhead will transform to a capsule encompassing the seeds of the next generation. Notice the lack of leaves–scales take their place.

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Also in these woods, I knew today to look for a relative of Indian Pipe because I found their capsule structures last winter. Pinesap growing below an Eastern white pine.

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Since it was dark under the trees, I needed to use a flash, thus the color. But really, these are amber. And multi-flowered on a raceme. Pinesaps and Indian Pipes produce no chlorophyll, therefore they can’t make food on their own. And because they aren’t dependent on light, they thrive in shady places.

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What sustains them is their saprophytic nature–they aren’t a fungus, but depend on fungi to obtain carbohydrates from another plant, so the mycorrhizal fungi serves as the connector between the host and the Pinesap’s roots.

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While the Indian Pipe is scaly, the Pinesap has a hairier appearance. Both are members of the heath family.

As for me and my guy, today we’ve been near each other, but not on a playdate. In fact, as I sit in the summer kitchen and write, he’s doing a huge favor for me. Isn’t that how it should be? No, not really. We’d rather be on a Mondate together.

Smack Dab In Front Of Me

 

Sometimes I’m amazed at the wonders that are right before my eyes. OK, more than sometimes.

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For the past two years, I’ve noticed this plant as I sat on my porch rocker. The greenish-yellow flower tinged with purple doesn’t last long, but it’s delicate in form. If you look closely, you may see that it’s shaped like a slipper. The pouch of a lady’s slipper? No, but it is a member of the orchid family, thus the similar structure. This is a helleborine, which is actually a non-native.

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The hair-covered stem almost looks like it’s been coated with powder. With clasping leaves and that thick fuzzy stem, I keyed it out to Epipactis helleborine, aka broad-leaved helleborine. Strong and beautiful.

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Another non-native that is especially common along roadsides right now is rabbit-foot clover. I love this common name for it does look like the good-luck charms we used to have as kids–which were supposed to be a rabbit’s foot. Were they really taken from rabbits? Left or right, front or back?  Which pocket where you supposed to carry it in? And did it actually bring good luck? I don’t know, but the feathery structure and tad of pink among the white and green makes this flower appear as something more unique than common. Delicate and dainty.

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A third non-native that I see blooming everywhere right now–Queen Anne’s Lace. Apparently, Queen Anne liked to work with lace and the red dot that you see in the center of the inflorescence represents the blood that dripped when she accidentally pricked herself with a needle. After the flower finishes blooming, its spoke-like branches curl inward and form a “bird’s nest” structure while the seeds develop. Legendary and intricate.

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Finally, a native. The flowers of pearly everlasting. And an ant. Notice its body color–shining iridescent in the sunlight. Yes, even ants can be worth a view. And while these flowers may look huge, think about the size of an ant. I just happened to be in their faces. Three cool things about pearly everlasting. First, the white “petals” are actually bracts that surround the yellow disk flowers. (Bracts are usually green and leafy.) Second, the flowerheads do look like pearls and those white bracts remain so that  even after the central disk flowers wilt, the pearl structure continues to exist. (They look great in dried flower arrangements.) And third, the lance-shaped leaves are cottony and have an aqua-white or silvery tinge that makes them stand out among green-leaved plants.  Unforgettable and forevermore.

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Morning dew glistened like tiny beads on a sensitive fern frond this morning.

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But one of my favorite finds later in the day was the fertile stalks of sensitive ferns. Check out the beadlike structure that houses the spores. These will stand tall all winter, turn a burgundy brown and after the spores are finally released, they’ll take on a lacy look. Notice how the beads appear on one side of the stalk. They look like they could be made of polymer clay. Prolific and creative.

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As I was looking about, a pair of marsh bluets demonstrated their mating behavior. He is the darker one and has grabbed onto her thorax behind her head with the claspers at the tip of his tail. She actually has species-specific grooves intended for this. And she has apparently decided he is the one for this moment because she’s lifting her body toward his to form the heart-shaped wheel, meaning she’s ready to receive his sperm. He’ll first check to see if she’s received any sperm from another male, which if discovered, he’ll remove before inserting his own. Once the mating is over, he’ll guard her to make sure no other males happen along. Curious and crazy.

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One of my favorite in my face experiences today occurred when this white-faced meadowhawk dragonfly let me enter its personal space. It posed for moments on end and then flew off, only to return for another face-to-face meet and greet. The face of a young one is yellow to begin and changes to white as it matures. While the adult male has a red body, females and young males are yellowish brown. So this is one of the latter two. I swear it smiled at me. I certainly smiled back.

We were smack dab in each others faces–the better to see you, my dear.

 

Hewnoaks

This morning, the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library in Lovell co-hosted a poetry workshop conducted by poet Judith Steinbergh of Brookline, Massachusetts. The setting: Hewnoaks Artist Colony.

It’s always a special treat to listen to Judy and others read poetry, wander the grounds which overlook Kezar Lake, and share with like-minded people.

Sixteen of us found our voices this morning. Or tried to. Here’s my attempt:

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Hewnoaks

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Where raindrops jiggle

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and leaf backs glow,

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pine needles dangle

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and new cones land,

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shrubs sway

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and ferns dance,

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flowers blossom

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and seeds fly,

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feathers pause

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and driftwood poses,

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white caps form

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and waves crash.

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Hewnoaks, where poets write

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as the north spirit renews our souls

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with each gust of fresh air. ~LMH

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Later we gathered inside, out of the wind, to share our offerings–each one a gift.

Thank you, Judy. And Anna. And Ann 😉