Who Done It?

tree activity

The first mystery I encountered when I slipped out the door and away from some writing and editing assignments today (yes JVP, I’m working on a rough draft), was this ground disturbance around the base of a dead snag. The pileated woodpeckers have worked on this tree for many years, and I’m not sure why it’s still standing. Actually, there are several of these dead pines in one area and they all look like they’re ready to fall over. But what interested me today was that the pine needles and leaves had been raked back all the way around the tree trunk. Only at this one spot. Who done it? And why? There were some pine cone scales and a cob, evidence of a red squirrel feasting here at some point. But was this ground work done by a squirrel? I’ve never seen that before. I looked for scat. Nada. Scratch marks? Not visible. Would a turkey do this? Or another bird?

Don’t you just love a mystery?


The leaves were a bit disturbed all along the cowpath, but that could have been because of today’s wind, or turkeys, or deer.


I headed over to the vernal pool. Since the wind was blowing yet again, I didn’t see any action, but the wood frog egg masses look healthy.

eggs 4

And plentiful. As is their custom, the masses are attached to branches and clustered together. Maybe there’s warmth in communal living. It’s certainly a bit chilly today, and yesterday we had hail, snow and rain.

eggs 2

I felt like a million little eyes were looking up at me.

eggs 3

This mass didn’t get the memo about community living.

Usually I see a few salamander masses in this pool as well, but maybe it’s early yet. The ice only melted a week ago.

I walked around the perimeter, noting that as usual, there are no masses on the southern side of the pool. They tend to be clustered on the northeastern side, where perhaps they capture the most warmth of the sun.

msyteryt hole

What I did find, though, was a hole about a foot from the pool. The only reference item I had was a pair of kid scissors in my pocket. They are five inches long. That’s about how far back the debris was thrown. A messy dooryard.


The pink handle is three inches, about the size of the opening. I stuck a stick in and it seemed to end at about a foot, maybe a bit more. Another who done it? Decent size hole; beside pool, but dry; messy door yard; recently dug; no one home. I looked through Mark Elbroch’s book Mammal Tracks and Sign because he has a section devoted to burrows and dens, but so far I don’t have the answer. Will the maker of the hole affect the egg masses? Another good question that remains to be answered.

red maple 2

And then it was time to visit another harbinger of spring, the Red Maple flowers. They are bursting with joy . . . and love.

red maple 3

rm 4


Stamens and pistils in all their glory.

sketch 1

It was nippy, but I took a moment to sketch.

As I wander along the path, I’m thankful for the mysteries and beauty that draw me out and continue to provide moments of wonder.

And I’m thankful for my sister and brother-in-law who encourage me along the way. Happy Anniversary to you!

Pool Side

Today was a day meant to be spent outside. Temp in the 60s, brilliant sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. It was almost too hot. Certainly a day to sit pool side.

I spent the late morning/early afternoon hours enjoying lunch at a picnic table outside The Good Life Market in Raymond, and interviewing a friend for an article. (Thanks JVP :-))  The Supreme Aubergine was delish even if I couldn’t pronounce its name. And she had the Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad.

But that wasn’t enough time outdoors, so I packed up my camera, drawing supplies and stool, then headed out the back door later in the day.

mole work

Where the snow has melted in the yard, there is evidence of mole work. Though they eat some vegetation, moles are insectivores and they aerate the lawn. Let them eat grubs, I say.

Vole tunnel

Behind the barn, a vole tunnel melting in the snow. These little field mice are more destructive as they are herbivores, but there’s a cat who likes to hang out in our yard. Here kitty, kitty.

pussy willows 1

My destination was the vernal pools, but along the way I had to stop and smell, I mean touch, the pussy willows.


Spring’s certain harbinger.


Sadly, some teeny tiny midges attacked one of the willow trees last year.


The result, this pineapple-shaped gall. It has its own certain beauty and when you think about the number of papery scales and size of the insect that created it, it is amazing.


VP2–the vernal pool furthest from home. I stood there for a while, watching and listening.


And admiring the leaves below the water. They’ll soon provide the perfect hiding place for the wood frogs, who will disappear underneath when I approach.

pine candelabras

On my way back to VP1, the pool in the neighboring woodlot, the candelabras on the white pines again made their presence known.

leaves waiting to be released

It’s getting easier to walk along the rocks that form the perimeter of this pool and take it in from all sides. Here, the leaves wait to become part of the organic matter on the pool’s bottom.

leaves hanging on

While just above, others still cling to the mother tree.

water on vp

In the southwestern corner–water atop the ice.


Overall, a rather slushy topping. I set up my stool and sat to sketch it.


When I look at this now, it looks like the bubbles are frogs or something. Not so. Oh well. I was happy to be pool side . . . until I fell backward as the soft snow gave way. A reason to chuckle and head home.

Thanks for joining me to wonder as I wander.

We Will Be Known Forever By The Tracks We Leave

So said the Dakota Sioux, who were woodland people. That Native American proverb was with me today as I moved along a logging road behind our land. A muddy, sometimes frozen, sometimes gushy and smushy, logging road.

coyote and deer

I think I missed the party. Deer and coyote prints were abundant and if I’d only visited a few hours earlier, I may have seen some of the action. But, part of my problem is that I don’t walk like a Native American, who supposedly could move through the woods with fabled stealthiness. Of course, that may be referring to a much grassier woodland than we know–especially in a logging area where slash is left behind. But, logging or not, I clunk along–crackling through ice, splashing through puddles, sloshing through mud and crunching through snow. I’m hardly quiet–ever.

ice and rocks

The logging road has changed over the last two years, but it’s not all bad. I get to see sites like this where the water and rocks make art together.

It used to be that the gray and paper birch, those early succession trees, hung over the road. After a heavy snowstorm, my guy and I, or a friend of ours (that’s you, D.B), would snowshoe down the road, trying to relieve the trees of some of their burden. It was rare that anyone else ever went there, so the three of us made it our mission to take care of the trees. Those trees are all gone now to make way for the logging truck, but their offspring will soon fill in the space.

In the meantime, a playground has been created for our local wildlife. And play they did. Their tracks are everywhere–traveling to and fro.


Including bobcat.


And moose.

moose 1deer

Moose and Deer

muddy boots

Not to be left out, I also got a bit muddy.

my boot

And left behind my own set of prints.


I crossed the landing and decided to return home via one of my snowshoe trails. This time I was walking on top of the snow for the most part–thanks to last night’s low temperature.

following snowshoe trail

As usual, I stopped frequently to scan the woods, looking for movement or some anomaly. I startled a few ruffed grouse, who in turn startled me. Of course, I couldn’t catch it in film.


But I did capture this moment. A grouse must have burrowed into one of my former boot prints–maybe because the snow is crustier some nights. It munched the fungus on a small branch and left a pile of its trademark scat.

Sometimes, when we’re on a hike and I pause to take a photo or extropolate on something I see, my guy points to my tracks and says, “I wonder if the deer look at these and say, ‘A human came this way. Don’t you detect a whiff of PB&J?'” I have to remind him that he likes making discoveries just as much as I do.

fresh deer

A little further along, a flash of movement. I looked up and saw only the tail of a deer as it dashed across my trail. But it left behind a bit of a muddy footprint. Dew claw marks and all.

And then the  crème de la crème . . .

moose scat

Moose scat. Mind you–it isn’t fresh. You can see the hemlock needles atop it. But it’s a firm winter scat–I’m thinking it was deposited earlier this season.

moose scat 1

My glove loved modeling in these photos. Ya know, some people make jewelry out of moose scat. I didn’t have a container to collect this today, but I know where it is. Maybe tomorrow or sometime in the near future. And maybe I’ll think about Christmas presents–hmmm . . . who wants to be on my list?

snowmobile trails

Finally, I’d finished the loop and found myself back on the snowmobile trail.

Red maple

Time to look at the Red Maple twigs.

red maplesketch

It won’t be long now before they burst into flower.

I hope you’ll find some time to search for tracks during this mud season. And think about the tracks you leave behind–literally and figuratively. I’ve left some that would best be washed away in the rain, but others that I wish could last forever.

Thanks for wondering my way.

Quiet Beauty

Sixty-five degrees in the shade. Time to shed a few layers. And so I did before I stumbled through the snow to my sit spot. I didn’t feel like wearing snowshoes, so it felt like I was digging post holes again.


I set up camp at the opening of the cowpath. Shades of green, brown and white surrounded me. Once in a while I spied a touch of contrast–one red berry on a Wintergreen and a few weathered purplish-red berries of a Canada Mayflower.

canada mayflower

The deer had moved through yesterday afternoon and again this morning. We watched them cross the field, which is still snow-covered. They paused by the stonewall to browse before climbing over it and into our woods. Their presence was noted everywhere.

stone wall deer

juniper 2juniper 3

Before moving on, they stopped at the junipers that grow along one section of the stonewall. The shrubs are filled with berries–green, blue and even gray. I find it curious that these berries are supposed to provide food for deer and yet, there are still so many there. All of the exposed juniper bushes are laden with berries.


Right at the opening of the cowpath is this decaying log. I’ve observed the life it supports for the past few years. It reminds me of a similar log below a tree in my childhood backyard. My two playmates and I named the tree “Treetonic” and we each had a chosen branch that served as our home. Mine was the lowest one–I was the more cautious of the three. We used to dig small chunks out of the log below to create our “meals” of meat and vegetables. Wow–I can’t believe I remember that.

Back to the present–two years ago I found a couple of tiny white pine saplings growing on this log, but today there was no sight of them. Often, I’ve discovered acorn shells. And once, close to Halloween, I found plugs of red squirrel hair–lots of it. It was extremely soft, about an inch or more long, white at the base, then black, and topped with reddish brown–which had some black specks. I called it the Frankenhair Mystery in honor of Halloween and the fact that “Frankenstorm” Sandy was on the horizon.

Today, it was the mossy mat that made me pull out my colored pencils. A tree dies, falls to the ground, begins to decompose. Lichens colonize it, blown in as spores in the air–a topic for another day. Moss grows over the lichen, taking advantage of moisture trapped in the organic matter. Eventually, the moss adds to the organic material and helps build a soil base. Once the moss mat is established, grasses, sedges, ferns and herbs invade–arriving by wind-borne spores or seeds (or perhaps even via rainwater and spring tales, aka snow fleas, as suggested in “A Chemical Romance . . . Among the Mosses” in the winter 2012 issue of Northern Woodlands magazine.)

common haircap

The moss mat, like that created by this Common Haircap Moss, takes on vertical complexity–soil,  moisture, organic matter all build up. Plant richness increases. If the soil builds up sufficiently, it can support more extensive root systems of woody plants, like the white pine sapling.


Common Haircap Moss grows in thick patches everywhere I look. Using my hand lens, I can see that the narrow, lance-shaped leaves have toothed edges. I love getting a closer look through the lens. I can see how the leaves clasp the stem. Then I looked at the spore capsule with its copper-wiry stem and four-sided hood that looks like it’s seen better days–because it has.


I’m not sure about this photo–I thought I was looking at two different mosses, but it may be that one is a moist form of haircap and the other is a dry form, with the leaves drawn in–but it does seem to have a wilder appearance. What wowed me when I looked through the lens was the color of the stem. Without the lens, it looked like it was basic brown. A closer look revealed reds, and pinks, and yellows and greens. And scaly leaves hugging the stem. Maybe as time goes on I’ll have a better idea of what it is–but I’m so glad I took the time to view it up close, where it quietly revealed its beauty on a day dedicated to quiet reflection.


Days when I make time to wander and wonder and discover the quiet beauty that surrounds me are my favorite kind of days.

Thanks for tagging along to enjoy today’s wonder.

On the Edge

I’ve been blessed with amazing opportunities. From writing and editing projects to nature education, I get to meet and learn from a variety of people. Yesterday, I spent two hours with a couple who live off-the-grid on a farm in Stow and rent greenhouse and farm stand space in Lovell. Though we’d met only briefly at an owl presentation this winter, I immediately felt like I was among old friends. My task today was to turn our interview into an article.

Writing is a process that I embrace. I work best when the house is quiet. Then it’s pen or pencil to paper, letting the story flow from head and heart to hand.

Once the rough draft is completed and I’ve typed it, I’ll read it aloud and make some changes. But then I need to step away. And that’s what I did this afternoon.

Mt Wash

I didn’t go far. I felt the need to wander along the edge of the power/tree line, where the snow is melting.

blueberry twig

 The color red pulled me in for a closer look. Seems funny that blueberry twigs are red, but then again, I’ve never seen a blue twig . . . and never hope to see one.


Still reddish maroon Teaberry or Wintergreen leaves. On summer walks, it’s refreshing to pick a leaf and breath in the wintergreen scent. Though the leaf shouldn’t be swallowed, some like to chew it for the flavor. Or make tea from it.

red maple

I can’t resist the Red Maples. In less than a month they should be flowering.


After walking along, sinking frequently in the still knee deep snow, I finally settled down. The sun was warm on my back. Every so often a gentle breeze made the hemlock boughs sway daintily above my head as dried leaves rattled on a nearby beech.

Hemlock leaves or needles are each attached to the twig by a hairy stem called a petiole. The needles on a Balsam Fir attach directly to the twig. I love the subtle differences between the two.

I love taking the time to sit and pay attention. To be. On the edge.

My Native Land


As winter draws to a close, I head out to capture its fleeting moments. The snow is here today, and will be tomorrow, but it’s changing in texture and amount. And all that has been covered and protected is slowly emerging.

vernal pool

It won’t be long before the vernal pool teems with life. Already, deer and skunks have stopped by.


I ventured deeper into the woods behind us, into my smiling place, without snowshoes. That meant I had to follow my old tracks, which deer and a coyote had also used. And then I saw signs of commotion on the snow and some tracks that crossed my trail. Drats–without snowshoes, I couldn’t follow it. Will I ever learn? I certainly wouldn’t make a good Boy Scout! “Be, be, be prepared, the motto of the Boy Scouts.”

Anyway, bobcat tracks always make my heart jump with joy. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s their wildness. Or beauty. The fact that they are solitary, elusive and oh, so clever. Coyotes are cool too, in their own way, but they are loud and gregarious.

old beech

As I walked back, I paused by this old beech. Mr. Cretella, my high school Spanish and Latin teacher, popped into my head. No, not because he’s old now, if he’s still living. It actually had nothing to do with the tree and everything to do with the tree. In my yearbook, Mr. C. wrote, “Never lose your desire to learn.” Those words have reverberated with me over the years. I don’t remember what anyone else wrote, but his sentiment struck a cord. Pretty amazing, given that when I took Latin I my senior year, I was forever substituting Spanish words if I didn’t know the answer on a quiz or test.

Back to the old beech tree. I guess it was the realization that this tree is in the process of breaking down and giving back and I never would have understood this before I took the Maine Master Naturalist class. Tomorrow I’m going to attend an MMNP advanced seminar and learn about bone biology. Huh? Me? Don’t worry–I won’t be able to astound you with my knowledge after a three hour class. But it’s that desire to learn that Mr. Cretella encouraged all those years ago. Thank you, Mr. C., wherever you are.

beech life

One more thing about the old beech. It still has signs of life as evidenced by the twigs with buds.

red maple

Finally, I settled down at the edge by the cow path and did some sketching because I don’t want to miss the grand moments in the lives of these trees.

red maple 1

Red Maple, Acer rubrum

red oak

red oak1

Northern Red Oak, Quercus rubra (oops, I forgot the “s” in the sketch)


beech 1

American beech, Fagus grandifolia

Winter will draw to an end in an hour and 30 minutes (6:45pm). To celebrate spring, I’ve started reading a new/old/used book: Springtime in Britain by Edwin Way Teale. On page 2 (so I haven’t read much yet, but it isn’t spring yet), he writes, “Three centuries ago, an old English writer admonished the prospective traveler: ‘Know most of the rooms of thy native land before thou goest over the threshold thereof.'”

I’m still learning those rooms of my native land. I’m thankful for the opportunity and glad that you joined me on today’s wonder-filled wander.

P.S. Lake Living magazine is now being distributed throughout the Lakes Region of Maine. I’ll let you know when the Web site has been updated.