Books of December: A Holiday Wish List

In the spirit of changing things up a bit, I decided that I’d include five books I highly recommend you add to your holiday wish list and two that I hope to receive.

These are not in any particular order, but I’m just beginning to realize there is a theme–beyond that of being “nature” books.

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Book of December: Forest Forensics

Tom Wessels, forest guru and author of Reading the Forested Landscape, published this smaller work in 2010. Though only 5″ x 7.5″, the book is rather heavy because it’s filled with photographs. Despite the weight, Forest Forensics fits into a backpack and is the perfect guide for trying to figure out the lay of the land. Using the format of a dichotomous key, Wessels asks readers to answer two-part questions, which link to the photos as well as an Evidence section for Agriculture, Old Growth and Wind, plus Logging and Fire. In the back of the book, he includes Quick Reference Charts that list features of particular forest and field types. And finally, a glossary defines terms ranging from “age discontinuity” to “Uphill basal scar,” “weevil-deformed white pines” and “wind-tipped trees.” In total, it’s 160 pages long, but not necessarily a book you read from cover to cover. If you have any interest in rocks, trees, and the lay of the land, then this is a must have.

Forest Forensics by Tom Wessels, The Countryman Press, Woodstock, VT, 2010.

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Book of December: Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest

Michael L. Cline is executive director of Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, New Hampshire. In September, I had the pleasure of attending a talk he gave at the center about Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest. The 6″ x 9″ book weighs about the same as Wessels’, and will also fit handily into your pack. Of course, you might want to leave the books in your vehicle or at home and look up the items later–thus lightening your load. Using Brownfield Bog as one of his main go-to places, Cline describes 70 species of shrubs from Creeping Snowberry to Mountain Ash. The book is arranged by family, beginning with Mountain Maple and Striped Maple of the Aceraceae (Maple) family and ending with the American Yew of the Taxaceae (Yew) family. Each two-page layout includes photographs (and  occasionally drawings), plus a description of habit, leaves, flowers, twig/buds, habitat, range, wildlife use, notes and other names. I have no excuse now to not know what I’m looking at as I walk along–especially near a wetland. That being said, I’ll think of one–like I left the book at home, but I’ll get back to you.

Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest by Michael L. Cline, J.S. McCarthy Printers, 2016

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Book of December: Bogs and Fens

Ronald B. Davis’ book, Bogs and Fens, was a recent gift from my guy. I hadn’t asked for it, and actually didn’t know about it, so I’m tickled that he found it. I’m just getting to know Dr. Davis’s work, but trust that this 5.5″ x 8.5″ guide about peatland plants will also inform my walks. Again, it’s heavy. The first 26 pages include a description of vegetation and peatlands and even the difference between a fen and a bog. More than 200 hundred pages are devoted to the trees, plants and ferns. In color-coded format, Davis begins with the canopy level of trees and works down to tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and finally, ferns. He also includes an annotated list of books for further reference, as well as a variety of peatlands to visit from Wisconsin to Prince Edward Island. As a retired University of Maine professor, Davis has been a docent and guide at the Orono Bog Boardwalk for many years. Field trip anyone?

Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada by Ronald B. Davis, University of New England Press, 2016.

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Book of December: Lab Girl

I’d never heard of Hope Jahren until this summer and then several people recommended her book, Lab Girl, to me. Rather than a guide, this is the story of Jahren’s journey from her childhood in rural Minnesota to the science labs she has built along the way. As a scientist, Jahren takes the reader through the ups and downs of the research world. And she does so with a voice that makes me feel like we’re old friends. Simultaneously, she interweaves short chapters filled with  information about the secret life of plants, giving us a closer look at their world. I had to buy a copy because for me, those chapters were meant to be underlined and commented upon. I do believe this will be a book I’ll read over and over again–especially those in-between chapters.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

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Book of December: The Hidden Life of TREES

And finally, a gift to myself: The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben. I’d first learned about this book in a newspaper article published last year and had to wait until recently to purchase it after the book was translated from German to English. Again, it’s not a field guide, but offers a delightful read that makes me think. And thus, you can see my bookmark. I’ve not finished reading it yet, but I’m having fun thinking about some different theories Wohlleben puts forth. As a forester, Wohlleben has spent his career among trees and knows them well. He’s had the opportunity to witness firsthand the ideas he proclaims about how trees communicate. And so, I realize as I read it that I, too,  need to listen and observe more closely to what is going on in the tree world–one of my favorite places to be. Maybe he’s right on all accounts–the best part is that he has me questioning.

The Hidden Life of TREES: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben, Random House, 2016.

And that’s just it–the underlying theme of these five books you might consider is TREES. I can’t seem to learn enough about them. One word of caution, each author has their own take on things, so the best thing to do is to read the book, but then to head out as often as you can and try to come to your own conclusions or at least increase your own sense of wonder.

And now for the books on my list (My guy is the keeper of the list):

Naturally Curious Day by Day: A Photographic Field Guide and Daily Visit to the Forests, Fields, and Wetlands of Eastern North America by Mary Holland, Stackpole Books, 2016

Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast by Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.

Do you have any other suggestions for me?

One final thought about books–support your local independent book store as much as you can. Here in western Maine, we are fortunate to have Bridgton Books. Justin and Pam Ward know what we like to read and if they don’t have a particular book we’re looking for, they bend over backwards to get it for us.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits Of Our Labor Day Mondate

I feel like a broken record when I say that my guy works too many hours, but so it has been. This was his weekend off and he worked more than a half day on Saturday and all day plus on Sunday. This morning he burned it all off with a seven mile run and then we headed off for a hike.

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Mount Kearsarge North off Hurricane Mountain Road in North Conway, New Hampshire, is an old fav that deserved a visit.

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It was great to be out of town and finally goofing off on this Labor Day holiday. He’s labored. I’ve labored (really–even when it seems like I’m playing, I truly am working, honest). And we needed a break. If we followed this blaze, however, we would never have found the summit.

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Fortunately, we knew better. The hike is challenging, especially on the upward climb. We later commented about how the downward climb is faster, but does require attention to foot placement.

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Just over two hours later, we approached the fire tower at the summit. Though no longer in use, it’s obvious from the 360˚ view why a fire lookout was built at this summit. Constructed in 1909, the structure was rebuilt by the US Forest Service in 1951. Prior to the replacement of fire towers by airplane surveillance, this tower was in operation until 1968.

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Since we were last here about a year or so ago, it looked as if some of the support beams had been replaced.

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Despite the cooler temps and wind, it’s always worth a climb up.

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Once inside, all was calm. And the view–to die for. It made the efforts of our labor well worth it. We signed the log before moving back outside.

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I was thankful for the railing that kept me from being blown to the great beyond as I gazed toward the Baldfaces,  though the wind wasn’t nearly as strong as last week’s Mount Crawford Mondate.

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Back on the granite, we twirled about and took in each view–including Mount Washington with cumulus clouds grazing its summit.

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The cloud cover varied as we looked toward the valley with Cathedral Ledge, the Moats and beyond. Because we’ve set our feet down at those various levels, we appreciated the layers before us.

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And we noted the Green Hills Preserve, where we’ve also hiked many a trail.

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The cloud cover changed as we turned toward home and saw Pleasant Mountain in the distance. Our house is located about center beyond the mountain. And our camp to the left end of said mountain.

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Of all the rocks, lunch rock was the most important find. Sometimes, it’s difficult to locate such among all the opportunities, but this one spoke to us. And so we sat. And ate. Sandwiches (not PB&J–those are more for winter fare) and brownies (great any time of the year).

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And then my guy decided to snooze. He deserved it.

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I took advantage of the opportunity to observe and was tickled to find these woody fruits–the milk duds of the north woods. Snowshoe hare scat. I found numerous examples and wondered where the hares hid. Actually, they could have been anywhere because among the bald rocks there were plenty of islands filled with brushy undergrowth.

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And so I poked about. Though the low bush blueberry plants were plentiful, the fruits were sparse. In fact, I only spotted this one.

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More prolific were the mountain cranberries, aka lingonberries.

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What surprised me was the presence of speckled alder in the mix because I think of this as a species with wet feet, but really, this mountain top is much moister than most of our lowlands, so in the end I guess it made sense. Always something to wonder about.

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It wasn’t just speckled alder that made me wonder. Sheep laurel also grew there. I know it well in bogs and even along the power line behind our house. And yet, it loved the habitat on the summit.

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The same was true for huckleberries–which I look at beside Moose Pond all summer. How can they like wet feet and a bald mountain landscape. But again, I think perhaps it’s the moisture for these mountains are often lost in the clouds.

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Mountain holly also liked this habitat. Again, I’ve seen this at camp where the fruits have already been consumed. Songbirds love these berries and the supply on Kearsarge will disappear soon as migration begins. Here today, gone tomorrow.

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Wild raisins were equally plentiful and worth admiring.

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The berries are edible, at least for birds. But . . . if not consumed, the fruits shrivel up–thus the name of wild raisin.

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At last, my guy awakened and we picked our way among the rocks and roots on our descent.

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At least one more fruit showed its face on the downward route. Or was it a fruit? Actually not–it was an oak plum gall created by a wasp.

We talked about Labor Day as we climbed down. Labor Day is a tribute to the contribution of those who work and contribute to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country. We gave thanks to our parents and the work ethic they taught us. And we noted the fruits of labor we saw in the natural world.

Finally, we toasted all with a beer at Delany’s Hole in the Wall in North Conway–a Shock Top for him and Tuckerman’s Pale Ale for me. On this Mondate, we felt rewarded with the fruits of all labor.

 

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.

 

 

 

Samplings of Wonder

The day began with a journal hike along Perky’s Path, a trail in the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve. It was a first for us–a journal walk that is, and we had no idea how it would turn out. But our fearless docents, Ann and Pam, did a wonderful job of listening to the voices of those gathered and knew when it was time to stop and when it was time to move on again.

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Each of us got lost in the world around us as we sat. We looked. We listened. We contemplated. We wrote. We sketched. We photographed. I know that I was so intent on sketching that I never realized Pam took this photo until she sent it to me. Thank you, Pam.

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Ever since I’ve started looking at the natural world through my macro lens, I haven’t taken as much time to sketch, so today was a welcome excuse to do so. And to color. Since my Aunt Ruth gave me colored pencils at least 50 years ago, those have been a favorite medium. I no longer have the gift from her, but my guy replenishes my supply when necessary.

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Our group was small, seven in total. We all admitted that small is good for this sort of activity.  And we came away thankful for the experience of making time to notice.

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And then I walked to the summit of Hawk Mountain with Jinny Mae–on a trail that may seem rather sparse in offerings, but actually proved to be quite rich. This banded longhorn beetle didn’t really like being the center of attention. His focus was on steeplebush pollen and I kept getting in his face. So–he did what flying insects do–and flew off.

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We were excited to discover several clumps of marginal wood ferns and some even with the indusium still intact. The indusium is a membranous covering that protects the sporangia inside the spore cases until they are ready to leave home on a dry day. In this case, the indusium is kidney shaped. As the sporangia ripen, they push the covering off and dust-like spores fly off in a wee cloud, breaking free to set down their own roots.

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Here, both Northern red and white oak grow side by side. It was the white oak’s fruiting structure that called our names. The immature acorns growing in pairs are both warty and hairy, but their structure is more reminiscent of a miniature pine cone at this stage. They should mature by fall.

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And then we celebrated the one who is all hair and color . . .

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and distinct shapes and

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a combination of all three.

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Staghorn sumac. The king of the mountain.

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Little things excited us and the twin fruits of the Hairy Solomon’s Seal that tried to hide beneath the leaves didn’t escape our focus. Or our cameras. Sometimes we are sure that we share all the same photos.

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One of our final stops as we headed down the trail–to worship the heads-up version of a fertilized Indian pipe. While most flowers nod when fertilized, Indian pipe chooses to be different. It wins in my wonder department.

I’ve only shared a few finds from today’s wanders. Just a smattering or a sampling. All worth a wonder.

 

 

Be Together Mondate

It took us a while to get our act together this morning, but by 10:30 we were finally at the trailhead for the Baldface trails off Route 113 in Evans Notch. Okay, so true confession, I did not want to hike these trails. For thirty years I’ve managed to avoid them, but my guy promised me this morning that if I wasn’t comfortable we could turn back at any point.

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And so our Mondate began.

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The first .7 miles were familiar to us as we’d passed this way many times in the past, often with friends or family in tow. The destination, Emerald Pool. A forever nippy Emerald Pool.

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We stood above the pool today and shared memories of past visits. And the people that made those visits memorable.

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Even the water above the pool provided hours of entertainment in days gone by.

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Today, it was the water’s force and volume, increased since last night’s rain, that gave us pause.

But we couldn’t pause for long. We had a mountain to conquer. And so, we headed back to the main trail and at the junction followed the Baldface Circle Trail . . . until it disappeared before our eyes. We backtracked but couldn’t figure out what we’d done wrong, except that we couldn’t see trail blazes anywhere. And so we retraced our footsteps until the trail petered out again. And then we decided to bushwhack and climb uphill because it only made sense that we’d find our way. At last, success–we found yellow blazes and an obvious trail. But . . . we didn’t know if we were on the Circle Trail or Slippery Brook Trail.

Our plan had been to hike up the first and down the latter. Out came the map and compass and we were fairly sure we were on the latter trail. To be certain, we hiked a wee bit, until we came to the brook. Yup. So, decision time. Turn around and head back to the other trail or continue on because we’d already come so far. We continued on. Plan B when we didn’t even know we had a Plan B.

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And Slippery Brook held its own tribulations. The water–oh how it flowed. It didn’t bother my guy and within seconds he stood on the other side grinning back at me. Meanwhile, I hemmed and hawed. And hawed and hemmed. How in the world? I thought perhaps I should return to Emerald Pool and wait for my guy to complete the round trip. He wasn’t buying that. Neither was I, truth be told. But sometimes my head gets the better of me. He knew that. And so he dropped his pack, took off his boots and sloshed through the cold water to grab my pack.

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I didn’t have a choice. I had to follow him. And so I did. Of course, this guy knows I’ll follow him anywhere.

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We continued on the Slippery Brook Trail and a delightful trail it was. I kept waiting for the bald face to show, but it wasn’t to be. The worst part, if there was one, would be the mosquitoes. It poured last night and the trail was rather wet, but still, it provided a pleasant climb. We paused for lunch beside a stream where the mosquitoes abated.

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One of the things I like about stopping for lunch, besides eating because I’m always hungry, is taking time to notice. Mayflies.

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The deeply impressed veins of mountain maple leaves.

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And u-shaped lobes of sugar maples.

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Dogwood.

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And beech fern.

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Following lunch, we continued to climb and noticed things like the great pretender–a bunchberry posing as a hobblebush flower.

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And moose works carving the greenery.

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At last we reached our halfway point at 3.5 miles. I kept wondering–where is the bald face that I’ve been dreading? The Slippery Brook Trail was a delight, be it long, with no bald rocks in sight.

While we climbed, I’d not only noticed my surroundings but also planned my funeral. I know who I want to conduct the service and he’s out of town this week. I figured that was OK. My guy would just have to delay it for a bit. And I thought about who might come and how the different folks would interact with each other. It’ll be a celebration of life, of course. And people should be encouraged to get outside and notice. Maybe they could go on a group walk.

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And then we followed the Baldface Knob Trail where the yellow clintonia grew in such abundance that my guy actually started to ID it. I’ll make him a naturalist yet. 😉

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Equally abundant were the lady’s slippers.

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And then we met my nemesis. But really, it wasn’t so bad. All that worry for naught. I could do this. If we decided to hike down this way, I would survive.

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At last we reached our first vantage point with the world we normally inhabit spread out beyond.

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It just kept getting better, and cooler and windier–a relief for our sweaty bodies. But . . . the black flies increased significantly. I swallowed a few. All that swarmed must have been males because they didn’t bite. But they certainly were annoying.

b-ph Pleasant Mtn

As we approached the top of the Baldface Knob we recognized our neighborhood with Pleasant Mountain in the backdrop.

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A 180˚ panoramic provided half of the picture. I thought I caught the other half, but it’s not to be. South Baldface was behind us and completely doable. We decided to save it for another day because it was getting late and we weren’t certain about the trail before us.

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Among the selections at our feet, chokeberry

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and mountain ash.

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At eye level–a hummingbird moth who moved in supersonic speed.

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And then we followed the path down.

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The world stretched before us

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to infinity and beyond. My guy insisted that parachutes were available at this spot, but they must have been previously claimed because I couldn’t find one . . . anywhere. And believe me, I looked.

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It all seemed so innocent from the top, but really, it was a scramble. A major scramble that lasted a long time until we got back into the hardwood forest. Our footing–precarious and often wet. We both have a fear of heights in open spaces. My guy has forever had such a fear–my own is newly developed and I know not its source. Oy vey. We were in over our heads, but had no choice. I kept thinking about a rescue mission, but I don’t think they show up for those who whine. We practiced our crab walks, slid and skidded and hugged rocks and trees as we made our way down this precarious trail.

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The lichens were beautiful and we got to see them up close and personal. We also practiced our trust jumps. Yup, several times my guy positioned himself to catch me as I jumped. Remember my funeral plans on the way up. I was preparing as we climbed and facing the inevitable as we descended.

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Finally, we were rewarded with a more even trail–sort of–and lady’s slippers.

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About a mile before the trailhead, we followed a spur to Chandler’s Gorge.

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On the way out, I realized I wasn’t the only dirty lady.

Oh, and we found where we zigged rather than zagged at the start of the trail. Honestly though, we both realized that if we’d hiked up the Baldface Circle Trail, we probably would have turned back. So as luck would have it, we went the right way.

Since we were on stable ground, I mentioned my fears to my guy. He admitted he’d had the same. And when I said I was sure we’d both fall when I jumped down and he caught me several times, he said at least we’d be together.

Be together on a Mondate. That’s what it’s all about.

 

 

 

America the Beautiful

This morning’s rain and overcast sky embraced the melancholy emotions of this day as we remembered  family, friends, acquaintances and strangers who have served our country, especially those who died during times of conflict.

And then the sun shone.  It didn’t mean that we stopped remembering. But it did shine a light on the beauty that surrounds us and that we have the opportunity to observe if we so choose. Because of the service of others, we’re fortunate in that regard–we get to choose.

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I chose to step out the back door and notice.

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Visitors upon chive florets.

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Unfolding Canada anemone.

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And the first to open.

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Black cherry blossoms all in a column.

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And chokecherry blooms in terminal clusters.

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Blue-green baby hemlock cones.

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And life teeming in the vernal pool.

I’m thankful for the freedom of choice. America is beautiful.

 

Three Times A Charm

One might think that following the same loop through the woods in slow motion three times in one day would be boring. One would be wrong. My friend Joan and I can certainly attest this fact.

Round One: 9 am, Wildflower and Bird Walk with Lakes Environmental Association co-led by birder/naturalist Mary Jewett of LEA and the ever delightful botanist Ursula Duve.

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In abundance here, the hobblebush bouquet–a snowy-white flower that is actually an inflorescence, or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Yeah, so I’ve showed you this before. And I’ll probably show it again. Each presentation is a wee bit different.

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And then we spied something that I’ve suddenly seen almost every day this week.

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The cotyledon or seed leaf of an American beech. Prior to Monday, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this and yet, since then I’ve continued to discover them almost every day. Worth a wonder.

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Think about it. The journey from seed to tree can be a dangerous one as the root is sent down through the leaf litter in search of moisture. Since the root system is shallow, lack of moisture can mean its demise. When conditions are right, a new seedling with a rather strange, yet beautiful appearance surfaces. The seed leaves of the beech, aka cotyledons, are leathery and wavy-margined. They contain stored food and will photosynthesize until the true leaves develop, providing a head start for the tree. I realize now that I’ve seen them all my life in other forms, including maple trees, oak trees and vegetables. But . . . the beech cotyledon captures my sense of wonder right now, especially as it reminds me of a luna moth, which I have yet to see this year.

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Crossing the first boardwalk through the red maple swamp, a large male green frog tried to hide below us. Notice the large circular formation behind his eye. That’s the tympanum, his visible external ear. A male’s tympanum is much larger than his eye.

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Other red maple swamp displays included the showy flowers of rhodora and their woody capsules.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson knew the charm of this spring splendor:

The Rhodora

On being asked, whence is the flower.
In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.

h-LEA group

To avoid getting our feet too wet, we spread out as we walked on the boardwalk through the quaking bog.

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Morning light highlighted the layers from the pond and sphagnum pond up to Five Fields Farm and Bear Trap above.

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And because it was ever present, I couldn’t resist pausing to admire the painted trillium once again (don’t tell my guy).

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One plant that I will always associate with this place and Ursula, who first introduced me to it years ago, is the dwarf ginseng. I love its global spray of flowers and compound leaves. But maybe what I love most is its beauty in diminutive form–just like Ursula.

Round Two: Noon, Lunch and a walk with my dear friend Joan.

h-bigtooth aspen

After returning to our vehicles following the morning walk, Joan and I grabbed our lunches. And I paused in the parking lot to enjoy the silvery fuzziness of big tooth aspen leaves. The quaking aspen in our yard leafed out a couple of weeks ago, but big tooth aspen leaves are just emerging. Like others, they begin life with a hairy approach–perhaps as a protective coating while they get a start on life?

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We ate lunch beside Muddy River where the spring colors were reflected in the water.

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And then we heard something jump in the water, so we moved silently like foxes as we tried to position ourselves and gain a better view. In the back of our minds, or perhaps the front, we wanted to see a turtle, beaver or especially an otter. Not to be. But we did see highbush blueberries in flower.

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And the bees that pollinate them.

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In their out-of-this universe form, we knelt down to honor the pitcher plant blossoms that grow along a couple of boardwalks.

h-red maple samaras

We were wowed by the color of the red maple samaras,

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prominent shoulder patch of the red-winged blackbird,

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and cranberries floating on the quaking bog.

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And then our eyes were drawn to the green–of the lone larch or tamarack tree

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and the green frogs.

h-green 8ph

I spent some time getting to know one better.

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She even climbed out to accommodate me–I’m sure that’s why she climbed up onto the boardwalk.

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Or maybe she knew he was nearby. What a handsome prince.

Round Three: 2:30pm, Joan and I (co-coordinators of the Maine Master Naturalist Bridgton 2016 class) were joined by another MMNP grad, Pam Davis Green, who will lead our June field trip to explore natural communities at Holt Pond.

h-striped maple flower

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Cascading down from the striped maple leaves, we saw their flowers, which had alluded us on our first two passages.

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The cottony white masses of wooly alder aphids decorated many of the speckled alders in the preserve. In a symbiotic relationship, ants stroke the aphid with their antennae, while  the aphid releases a drop of honeydew, much like a cow being milked. It’s actually rather creepy.

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Two Canada Geese squawked from another part of the pond, but Mrs. Mallard stood silently by.

h-tree pants

Our final sight brought a smile to our faces–someone put his or her pants on upside down!

We hope that charms your fancy. Joan and I were certainly charmed by our three loops around and those we got to share the trail with today.

We also want to thank Ursula, Mary and Pam for their sharings. And we send good vibes and lots of prayers to my neighbor, Ky, and Pam’s brother-in-law.       

 

 

Beulah’s Mystery

One of the fun happenings in my life is that friends send me nature photos and ask me to help them ID a species. Sometimes I know immediately what it is and can ask them questions to help them get to the answer. Other times I’m as stumped as they are. Thus was the case today, when I drove to Brownfield to look at a tree growing in the field beside an old farmhouse.

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Beulah’s farmhouse, to be exact. My friend’s brother recently purchased it and the adjacent barn. Though the farmhouse is a fixer-upper, Beulah’s sign looks as if it was created yesterday.

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This is the tree. If you know it right off, my hat goes off to you. I was in my Forest Trees of Maine mode and kept looking at it from that perspective. It’s overall appearance didn’t match what I know. We began with the key and slowly (painfully slowly as the black flies swarmed us–mind over matter, mind over matter), worked our way through the choices, two by two.

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Because it’s not in leaf yet, we used the Winter Key. With each question, we paused to examine the tree–looking at the alternate leaf shoots, hairy scaled buds, pith, bark–every detail. We considered its location in the middle of a farm field, where the land sloped slightly and was rather dry. We also looked at the ground and found decaying leaves as well as deer scat. As I suspected, it wasn’t in the key. So I came home and scoured other books. I think I reached the answer and that the deer scat is actually a clue. Do you know? Now you may say so.

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On our way to see one more cool thing, we paused to look at a den located beside the old foundation. Though much of the scat has since been removed, plenty of it and numerous quills painted the picture of who’d created this pigpen.

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And then they had one more mystery item to show me. I hope this doesn’t freak you out. It’s part of many renovations in old farmhouses–a dried-up animal carcass. The front of the face was missing, but as we say, eyes in the front, born to hunt.

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A side view of this handsome critter. Can you see the ears?

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Talk about all skin and bones.

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And then the foot pads and nails. Four toes, nails, about the size of a nickel. Do you know?

t-bog sign

Because I was in the neighborhood, I visited Brownfield Bog and continued my afternoon exploration. (Yeah, I had work to do, but playing hooky for a couple of hours is allowed once in a while if I don’t abuse the privilege–ah, the life of a freelancer.)

t-red oak emerging

I remember suddenly becoming aware of spring colors about thirty-five years ago, when I taught  school in New Hampshire by the convergence of the Pemigewasset and Merrimack Rivers. Until then, I’d never realized that tree leaves emerge in a variety of colors–they all weren’t suddenly green. (BTW– do you see the spittlebug? )

t-red oak mini leaves

In a quickness equal to fall foliage, spring colors may not be as flashy, but their subtle beauty deserves notice.

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And those leaves that are green offered their own reasons to stop me in my tracks as I took in the details–in this case the double-toothed elephant’s trunk. What? Notice the shape and outer margin of the leaf.

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The lovely elongated catkins demanded a glance that lasted more than a second.

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Adding a festive fuzziness to the celebration of spring was another set of catkins.

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Unwittingly, this shrub also played host to a gall gnat midge that overwintered in a structure created by the reaction to a chemical released by the larva–what would have been leaves were forced to harden into a pine cone look alike.

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The subtle colors graced the meadow,

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were reflected in the bog,

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and blessed the Saco River.

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There were bits of flashy color–do you see who was feeding on the upper branches?

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And this spring beauty exploded with love and life.

At the end of my journey, I was grateful to P&K for an excuse to step away from my desk and check out the mystery standing in Beulah’s field. Especially as it led me further afield.

Book of the Month: TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND

Sometimes the biggest gems arrive in the smallest packages. Such is the case with this month’s book–and this isn’t an April Fools’ Day joke, though I did briefly consider posting an upside-down photo of the cover.

t-book

I picked up this copy of  TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND at a book swap during the Maine Master Naturalist Program’s first conference this past year. This third edition was compiled by Frederic L. Steele, Chairman of the Science Department, St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains, Littleton, NH, and Albion R. Hodgdon, Professor of Botany, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, and published in 1975 by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

One of the things I like about it is that it measures 4.5 x 7 inches and fits easily into my pack. Plus, it includes more shrubs than many of my current books.

t-leaves

And check this out from the introduction: “In the preparation of this guide, the authors have received help and encouragement from a number of people. The following, in particular, should be mentioned . . . Mrs. Priscilla Kunhardt and Miss Pamela Bruns have done the illustrations . . . ” Mrs. and Miss! Ah, what happened to those days?

t-quaking description

The descriptions are not lengthy, but enough for a quick reference. I choose the Trembling Aspen, which I’ve learned as Quaking Aspen (I know–that’s the problem with common names say my Latin-oriented friends) because two are located right out the back door. They are the trees of life in our yard.

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Catkins slowly emerge from waxy-coated buds

qa 1

and grow longer with lengthening days.

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Tufts of hair adorn tiny seeds.

T-summer

Soon, leaves on flat stems quake in the breeze,

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until visitors arrive.

t-leaf eaters

Very hungry caterpillars.

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They aren’t the only ones. Porcupines nip off branches.

t-leaf

Eventually, leaves that survive fall to the ground.

t-hairy woodpeckers

All year long, birds visit to dine

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and view the world.

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The world looks back.

t-ice

Ice slowly melts

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and life continues.

TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND doesn’t include photos, but that’s OK because I have my own. Instead, as any good guide, it’s a jumping off place. So many books, so much different information–and sometimes guides contradict each other. Just the same, I love to read them and then to pay attention. For me, it’s all about forever learning. And wondering.

TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND, by Frederic L. Steel and Albion R. Hodgdon, Society for the Protection on Northern Forests, 1975.

Wet Feet at Brownfield Bog

When I suggested to Marita that we explore Brownfield Bog this afternoon, she wondered  how much water we might encounter on the road. And so we wore boots. Marita donned her Boggs, while I sported my waterproof hiking boots.

b-johnny jump up

Until we got there, we didn’t realize that the privately-owned road leading into the bog isn’t open yet, but thought we’d park at a driveway near the beginning and leave a note. The owner came along, whom she knew, and graciously invited us to park  near his home and cross through his woods down to the bog road. He and his wife share a piece of heaven and I took only one cheery photo to remind me of their beautiful spot and kind hospitality.

b-river road literally

And then on to the bog it was. Just after the gate, we realized that we couldn’t walk to the Saco River–literally a river road.

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But this is a bog, where all forms of life enjoy wet feet.

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From pussy willows to . . .

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speckled alders,

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cranberries,

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and flowering red maples–wet feet are happy feet and they all thrive in seasonally flooded places.

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We kept scaring the ducks off, but know that there were wood ducks among the mix. They, of course, know the importance of wet and webbed feet.

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b-beaver tree

b-beaver scent mound

And by their lodges, tree works and scent mounds, we knew the beavers had been active–another wet-footed species. We did wonder about the survival rate of those that built beside the road–seems like risky business given the predators that travel this way.

b-pellet

Speaking of predators, check out the orange rodent teeth among all the bones in this owl pellet.

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On this robin’s egg kind of day

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with Pleasant Mountain sandwiched between layers of blue,

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the breeze brisk at times and the sun warm always,

b-water over road on way back

the flow of water didn’t stop us.

b-wet feet

Waterproof boots and wool socks–the perfect combination to avoid wet feet. Well, maybe a wee bit damp, but five hours later and I just took my socks off.