Eyes of Wonder

On the first and third Tuesday of each month since the snow first flew in 2017, I’ve had the privilege of tramping through the woods with our Tuesday Trackers group. As it happened this month, we were also able to tramp together today–the fourth Tuesday.

Each week, the participants vary as they come when they can. But no matter who shows up, by the end of our two-four hour exploration, we are all wiser for the experience–and filled with gratitude for the opportunity to spend a winter morning in the Maine woods. We are also grateful for the wonder that is right in front of us, not only materializing in the form of mammal tracks, but all manner of things that make up the web of life.

j1-otters romping across the snow

Usually the age of our attendees ranges from 50-something to 80-something. But today we were joined by four little otters who reminded us what it’s like to be a child again as they bounded across the snow’s crust, and rejoiced at the sight of any and every little thing that presented itself from squirrel and chipmunk holes to fungi.

j2-squirrel prints

Of course, we were there to track and though most prints were bleached out from the sun’s March rays, we did find a few that showed well their finer points such as toes.

j14-measuring straddle

And with any discernible prints, the kids reminded us to take time to measure straddle, in this case that of a gray squirrel. We also found what we believed was a bobcat track based on the round shape of the somewhat melted print and the stride.

j3-ice and water

Most of us began the journey with snowshoes, but soon joined the kids and shedded them as we moved from frozen snow to bare ground and back again. And then we discovered water. Actually, a few of us were a wee bit behind, when one child ran up to her mom and said, “A vernal pool.” If it does turn out to be a vernal pool, we feared it will dry up too soon, but that doesn’t mean the amphibians won’t take advantage of the spot in a few weeks. It was half covered in ice, which offered a challenge because two of the boys wanted to break through it with a stick. The third boy did break through–much to his dismay. But as his calm mom said, ” Well, now he’ll know next time.” (Juli–I can’t help but smile–you are the best.)

j4-helping hands

Fortunately, for his sake, we came upon a maple tree with a huge burl on which he sat while others on the journey came to his aid and squeezed a gallon of water, or so it seemed, out of his socks. His mom had an extra pair of mittens in her pack and those covered his toes for the rest of the trek. He wore his boots, of course. While we were there, we wondered about burls and tried to remember what created them. I suggested insects and another thought perhaps fungi. It turns out we were both correct. They may also be caused by bacteria or a virus. What the young lad sat upon was a reaction of the tree to the infestation which resulted in abnormal growth due to changes in the tree’s hormones. Think of its vascular system as a twisted ball of yarn.

j5-sucker brook outlet into Kezar Lake's Lower Bay

After the sock ringing and mitten fitting episode played out, we turned around to take in the beauty of the Sucker Brook Outlet at the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake for we were on the John A. Segur East Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road.

In the distance, one lad spied a beaver lodge. You might see it as a brown dot on the snow-covered ice directly above a swamp maple snag in the center of this photo.

j6-wintergreen and spring tails

We also looked at our boots, where we rejoiced in the site of wintergreen plants evolving from their magenta winter coats. And spring tails jumping about on the leaf litter like performers in an unorganized circus.

j9-squirrel table

Upon a downed birch tree, a certain young lady found the perfect spot to set up a dinner table for a squirrel. She was kind enough to include a dessert treat by stuffing pieces of a wintergreen leaf into an acorn cap.

j10-ice bridge

Much to the delight of the younger set, they next discovered an ice bridge and took turns walking across it. The rest of us decided to pass on that opportunity, sure that we’d ruin the effect.

j11-tree stump examination

Getting up close and personal was the theme of the morning and everything drew their attention and ours, including a decaying trunk of a hemlock that was downed by a lightning strike several years ago.

j12-tree holes

Because we were curious, we noted holes of the tree’s decayed xylem, the system of tubes and transport cells that circulate water and dissolved minerals. One of the boys decided to see if it worked and poured water onto the stump, which immediately flowed into the holes. We’ve viewed tree stumps and rings many a time, but this was the first time we recalled seeing the holes. No tree stump will go unobserved on our path from now on.

j13-lodges reflect mountains

Our turn-around point was at another spot along Sucker Brook where three beaver lodges reflected the mountains in the backdrop.

j21-beaver lodge

A few of us walked across the ice for a closer look because one appeared to serve as this winter’s home site. We trusted the family within included their own young naturalists.

We were certainly thankful for our time spent with four children who allowed us to look at the world through their eyes of wonder.

(On behalf of Joan, Dave, Steve, Dick, Jonathan, and I, we thank you, Caleb, Ellie, Aidan and Wes. Oh, and your mom as well, or especially–thank you Juli. We’re all in awe of you and the gifts you’ve passed on to your kids.)

 

Back Soon Mondate

We headed south today in search of spring. LOL! Indeed, we found as much snow on Sawyer Mountain in Limington as we have in western Maine.

s1-trailhead

The mountain was a new one for us. It featured two trailheads and we chose the one on Route 117 where only one map was available. We borrowed it and later returned it for others.

Much of the mountain, as in 1,472 acres, was purchased over the course of eleven years by the Francis Small Heritage Trust. According to an article in the Portland Press Herald written by hiking enthusiast Carey Kish in May 2016, “Francis Small, the namesake of the trust, was a fur trader and landowner who lived from 1625 to 1714. Small is said to have owned the largest amount of land of any person who has ever lived in Maine.

In 1668, Small operated a trading post a few miles northwest of Sawyer Mountain, at the confluence of the Ossipee and Saco rivers and the crossroads of three major Native American travel routes, the Sokokis Trail (now Route 5), the Ossipee Trail (now Route 25) and the Pequawket Trail (now Route 113).

Newichewannock Abenaki tribesmen who owed debts to Small plotted to kill him to avoid payment. Their chief, Wesumbe, warned Small in time to foil the plan, but not before Small’s home was burned to the ground.

To compensate for the loss, Chief Wesumbe sold Small 20 square miles of land for two large Indian blankets, two gallons of rum, two pounds of powder, four pounds of musket balls and 20 strings of beads.

Small’s Ossipee Tract was bounded by the Saco, Great and Little Ossipee, and Newichewannock (later Salmon Falls) rivers, and included today’s towns of Limerick, Limington, Cornish, Newfield and Parsonsfield, the area where Francis Small Heritage Trust works to conserve land.”

s1a-trail sign

Wooden blocks with yellow turtles carved into them blazed the trail. According to Kish, “This is the mark of Captain Sandy, also known as Chief Wesumbe, of the Newichewannock Abenaki tribe.” Having been a turtle enthusiast for most of my life, I smiled each time I saw one.

s3-Camp Ticumoff

Not everyone felt the same way. Less than a half mile up, we came upon a cabin beside the trail. It had been named Camp Ticumoff. Say it slowly.

s4a--guided turtle hunts

Zooming in on the side of the cabin, we noted a sign–“Guided Turtle Hunts.” And there was another sign as well about the Francis Small Heritage Trust being an ethically challenged organization. We weren’t sure what it was all about, but obviously not all were thrilled with the trail that we immensely enjoyed.

s5-Estes cemetery

Continuing on, we came across the first of several cemeteries. With the snow so deep, we didn’t climb up to inspect the gravestones more carefully.

s6-Estes grave

But in the center stood a marker recognizing various members of the Estes family. Salome died March 30, 1874, aged 66 years, 11 months and 6 days. We often see that in old cemeteries–the number of days into the person’s final month indicated.

s7-caution sign

As we crossed over a brook, a caution sign gave an indication of its own–did I mention how deep the snow was?

s8-Turtle cemetery

And then we found another turtle reference–on the negative side. Definitely some unhappy neighbors in the old ‘hood.

s8a--large foundation

We were in an old ‘hood, after all, for most of our journey was along Sawyer Mountain Road, which was discontinued over one hundred years ago. Left behind were not only cemeteries, but also foundations, this one quite large and I wasn’t sure if it was a home or a barn.

s9-trail map

Right by the foundation, we stood for a few minutes and examined a trail map.

s10-phoebe nest

Apparently others have examined it as well, and decided it suited them. I wasn’t surprised. Kiosks often serve as nest sites for Eastern Phoebes, which I trust will return soon.

s11-deer feeding site

It was about a mile and a half to the spur trail that led to the summit. All along, we noted the lack of mammal activity. Not total lack, for occasionally we did see squirrel tracks, but that was all. And then on the spur we found lots of deer activity–where they’d pawed through the snow in search of last year’s acorns.

s36

Apparently they don’t have a feeding station like the deer in our neighborhood.

s12-summit

At last, we reached the summit, the site of a whale oil lighthouse used for navigation within Portland Harbor during the eighteenth century. It’s our understanding that the mountain is visible from the ocean so sailors would line up the light with other points to guide their ships into the harbor. We had hoped for a view of the ocean, but as it turned out, the summit was rather anticlimactic. To the northwest, we did catch a glimpse of Sebago Lake, but that was about it as too many trees had taken over the space. It didn’t matter too much as we’d enjoyed the climb and the history, both old and new, encountered along the way.

s13-hiking down in deep snow

After sharing lunch on two tree stumps at the summit, we began our journey down, again traveling through deep snow.

s14-Old David Walker Burying Ground

Because we were on our way down and no one had previously carved a trail to another cemetery, we decided to go for it. We’re not sure what the sign meant–was David Walker old? Or had his burying ground been moved to another site?

s15--John Walker gravestone

Up a hill, we located a small plot with a couple of stones. The first was for John Walker, who died in 1863.

s16-cleaning off a stone

And then another leaning against a granite pillar–so my guy wiped the snow away.

s17--Ebenezer Walker

That one was for Ebenezer Walker. So where was Old David Walker buried?

s19-nature trail sign

Back at the trailhead, I decided to loop around the nature trail while my guy headed to the truck. A sign said a nature trail map would be available at the trailhead, but I found none.

s20-blue turtle

And so I followed the blue turtles and decided to interpret the trail my way.

s21-young pines?

1. White pines: the Maine state tree, took advantage of the clearing and started to fill in the space.

s22-stone wall

2. Stories in granite: A stone wall at least four feet high; a lacy wall perhaps built to keep sheep in or out.

s23-hemlock stand

3. Hemlock grove: The perfect habitat for mammals, including deer. Because of their evergreen leaves (needles) that hold snow, its easier for critters to move below them.

s24-beech trees

4. A Mixed Forest: Beech, maples, oaks, hemlocks, pines–all living together in harmony of sorts.

s25-glacial eratics

5. Glacial erratics: Large boulders dropped by the last glaciers about 12,000 years ago.

s26-ledge and life on a rock

6. Life on a ledge: From lichens and mosses to  hemlock trees, the ledge was a prime example of the abiotic and biotic interactions that create an ecosystem.

s27-downed trees? summer storm?

7. I dunno: A piece of blue flagging and another of orange. Perhaps it was the downed trees to the left–several hemlocks had fallen during a storm with winds out of the southeast–indicating a summer storm probably.

s28-not sure

8. I Dunno Ditto: Perhaps the stream that flowed just below.

s29-pine tree?

9. Big White Pine: But really, was it the tree?

s30-giant boulders

Or the giant boulders beside it?

Perhaps one day, I’ll learn how I did on the quiz–though I do think I got at least two wrong.

s4-no one home

I rejoined my guy and together we reflected upon our journey. One of the things we most enjoyed was the historical features along the way, including the 1940s hunting camp built by the father of Sherwood Libby, one of the Trust’s founders.

s34-Be back soon

And our absolute favorite–a sign on the hunting camp door–“Went out for supplies. Be back soon.”

We will also return–once the snow melts– for there’s so much more to see, as well as other trails to explore. What a fine place for a Mondate on this last day of winter. Be Back Soon. Indeed.

Beside Browns Pond

One should not work from home for then it is much too easy to do an about face with plans for the day and hit the trail before meeting deadlines. But alas, that is how I found myself on the Chessey Property this morning. It just seemed to make more sense to head out early in the day, rather than wait until the end to reward myself.

c14-map

The 100-acre property Chessey Property was forever protected from development under a conservation easement with the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust. Though I’d passed by numerable times, I had never before ventured that way.

c1-trail sign

And so this morning I decided to rectify that and drove to the trailhead. Actually, I drove past the trailhead, spotted the large cemetery on my left and turned around. The sign was facing in the opposite direction and easy to miss. Because the trail was only a half mile long, I figured it would be a quick trip. Apparently, I don’t know myself very well.

c2-snowshoes

I hadn’t tramped far when I realized I was moving in the opposite direction of one whose ancestors had inspired my own mode of transportation.  The start of the trail is a field in early succession and so it made sense to find snowshoe hare prints crisscrossing the opening.

c3-red fox

But . . . it wasn’t just a hare that had moved atop the snow. The print size and stride told me a red fox had also traveled there–and not too long before I’d arrived. To add to my identification was the chevron visible in the front foot print. Do you see what the arrows indicate?

c4-red fox track

I didn’t follow the track, and so I wasn’t sure if I was looking at prints made by one fox or perhaps two. My gut told me one and that the back foot didn’t always land exactly in the impression of the front.

c5-hare and fox cross tracks

Nor do I know how the story ended–for the fox crossed the hare’s tracks. Did the two ever actually meet?

c12-speckled alder

In the same area I found speckled alder, so named for its bark speckled with pores or lenticels. Its red and maroon catkins grew longer–well, at least the male catkins. The shorter catkins are the females, for alders are monoecious–male and female flowers grow on the same plant. As March gives way to April, the male color will deepen to burgundy, while the females will turn bright red–in full blush.

c13-pussy willows

Another color also caught my attention–pussy willows with their furry little silver flower buds just opening. The soft tufts earned their common name due to their resemblance to tiny kitten paws.

c6-my tracks

All of that, and I hadn’t gone far from my truck. But, by the depth of my impressions, you can see that my travel would be slow for no one had packed the trail before me.

c7-water obstacle

I journeyed on, stopping every ten to twenty steps to look around, listen, and catch my breath. Tracking was almost impossible once I ventured into the forest for snow drops from the trees created their own random impressions. Water obstacles were a bit of a challenge, but I managed to manipulate around all four. And bird song included the throaty caws of Ravens. At one point I heard their powerful wing beats and looked up to see three chasing another bird that I couldn’t identify.

c10-face in the snow

But never fear, though I couldn’t find tracks as I continued, I found plenty of other things to look at, including a tilted snow mask, and . . .

c11-snow art

snow sculptures. How does snow do that? Worth a wonder, indeed.

c8-otter tracks:slide

I’d almost reached the turn around point when I recognized a pattern by my feet and realized an otter had passed that way–probably yesterday based on the state of the slides, prints, and scat. One really cool thing that I learned as I followed its trail was that every once in a while it tunneled under the snow. I don’t know that I’ve ever noted that behavior previously. Most of its tunnels were about ten feet long and then it emerged again to bound and slide.

c9-Browns Pond

At last I turned my attention to the 110-acre pond that opened before me. It’s my understanding that it remains undeveloped–a rare feat in these parts. I wanted to stay and explore, but knew I had to save it for another day because work really did sit at home awaiting my attention. I trust I’ll return in another season when the traveling isn’t quite as difficult, but until then this morning’s moments beside Browns Pond will sustain me.

 

 

 

Hunkered Down

Three nor’easters in two weeks. Such is March in New England. The latest delivered over twenty inches of snow beginning yesterday morning. And still the flakes fall.

p-chickadee

But staying inside all day would be much too confining and so I stretched my legs for a few hours before giving my arms another workout with driveway cleanup duty. It was much more fun to explore and listen to the chickadees sing.

p-snow on trees

There are a few places in our woods that I find myself stopping to snap a photo each time a snowstorm graces our area. The stand of pines with their trunks snow coated was one such spot yet again. And tomorrow the scene will transform back to bare trunks and so it was one I was happy to behold in the moment.

p-snow on limbs

As was the older pine that grows beside a stonewall along the cowpath and perhaps served as the mother and grandmother of all the pines in my forest–bedecked in piles of flakes, her arms reached out as if to embrace all of her offspring.

p-snow on insulators

With the snow so deep, I felt like a plow as I powered through under the insulated insulators.

p-snow on park sign

Finally, I reached one of the entryways to Pondicherry Park and while I love being the first of the day to leave my mark, I’d secretly hoped someone had trudged before me. But . . . a few steps at a time meant taking frequent breaks to rest and look around.

p-snow on tree trunk

Again, it was the snow’s manner of hugging tree trunks that drew my awe.

p-snow on tree trunk 2

Sometimes it reminded me of giant caterpillars climbing into the canopy.

p-snow on roots

Even the roots of a downed tree took on an artistic rendition.

p1-snow on bittersweet

And that most invasive of species in these woods, bittersweet, offered curves worth appreciating–ever so briefly, of course.

p-snow on fences

Snow blanketed fences of stone and wood.

p-snow on bridge

Enhanced the bridge.

p-snow on bench

And buried a bench.

p-Stevens Brook

Beside Stevens Brook, it looked as if winter still had a grasp though we’re about to somersault into spring.

p-snow on trees reflected

And the reflection in Willet Brook turned maples into birches.

p-kneeland spring

At Kneeland Spring, water rushed forth in life-giving form and the sound was one we’ll soon hear everywhere as streams and brooks overflow.

p-mallards 1

I went not to see just the snow in its many variations, but also the wildlife. I found that like me, the squirrels and deer had tunneled through leaving behind troughs. And the ducks–they didn’t seem at all daunted by the mounds of white stuff surrounding them.

p-mallards 2

In fact, one female took time to preen.

p-mourning dove

I found mourning doves standing watch.

p-Robin

And heard robins singing.

p-snow spider

And because I spent a fair amount of time looking down, I began to notice life by my feet, such as the snow spider–an indicator that the thermometer was on the rise. It lives in the leaf litter, but when the temp is about 30˚ or so, it’s not unusual to see one or more. Today, I saw several. And wished I had my macro lens in my pocket, but had decided to travel light.

p-winter stonefly

Winter stoneflies were also on the move. They have an amazing ability to avoid freezing due to the anti-freeze in their systems.

p-winter dark firefly 2

I also found a winter dark firefly. While the species is bioluminescent, I’m not sure if this one was too old or not to still produce light.

p1-snow on me

At last the time had come for me to head home for not only was the snow still falling, but so was the sky–or so it felt each time a clump hit my head as it fell from the trees.

p-final photo

We’ve got snow! In fact, we’ve got snows! And in reference to a question an acquaintance from Colorado had asked yesterday–“Are you hunkered down?” My answer was, “No, Jan, I’m not. Nor is the world around me. In fact, except for the shoveling, I relish these storms as winter holds on for just a wee bit longer.”

 

 

What the Bobcat Knows

As I drove down Heald Pond Road in Lovell today I wasn’t sure what awaited me. But isn’t that the point? Every venture into the great outdoors should begin as a clean slate and it’s best not to arrive at the trailhead with expectations.

f1-Heald Pond Road barn

And so I didn’t. Well, sorta. I really wanted to see a porcupine. And maybe an otter. And definitely an owl. But I knew better and so I passed the last barn on the road and then backed up and stepped out, captivated by the colors in the scene before me.

f2-trail signs

A few minutes later, I strapped on my snowshoes and headed up the trail. My plan–to climb to the summit of Flat Hill at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve and then circle around Perky’s Path upon my return.

f3-trail up flat hill

Breaking trail was my job in the rather deep snow given recent storms, but easy to move upon and so I sashayed up. What surprised me, however, was the lack of tracks left behind by the mammals that I know live in these woods.

f4-pine cone bird feeders

I did stop at the balsam firs decorated by a local 4-H club in December as part of the Maine Christmas Tree Hunt. The dangling pinecones once sported peanut butter and birdseed, but today that was all a memory so I knew birds and deer had stopped by in the last few months.

f5-bobcat 1

And then, as I neared the flat summit, I found tracks of a mammal that had checked out the base of every tree and under every downed limb. In fact, as I soon realized, it was more than one mammal that I followed as I went off trail. Bobcats. Indeed. Though typically solitary, these two traveled together. It is mating season and males and females will travel together during courtship.

f11-bobcat print

Though the prints were difficult to photograph given the glare, by the toes, ridge and overall shape, I knew them.

f12-bobcat scat and print

And scat! Filled with white hair. I have close-up views should you choose a closer look, but chose to give those who find scat to be rather disgusting a break. 😉

f6-porcupine and bobcat

And then I found another set of tracks and knew that besides squirrels and little brown things, the bobcats were also searching for a bigger dinner. On the left–a porcupine trough, and on the right, the bobcat trail.

f8-porky work

Ever since I’ve traveled this trail, I’ve seen the work of the porcupines at the summit. And sometimes I even get to see the creator. In winter, porcupines eat needles and the bark of trees, including hemlocks, birch, beech, aspen, oak, willow, spruce, fir and pine. And they leave behind a variety of patterns.

f7-porky work

If I didn’t know better, I could have been convinced that this ragged work was left behind by a chiseling woodpecker, but it, too, was porcupine work.

f9-porky work

All about the summit, recent chews were easily identified for the inner bark was brighter than the rest of the landscape. And below these trees–no bark chips such as a beaver would leave, for the porcupine consumed all the wood.

f10-flat hill view

While snow flurries fluttered around me, the summit view was limited and it looked like the mountains were receiving more of the white stuff. (Never fear–we’ll get more as our third Nor’easter in two weeks or so is expected in two more days. Such is March in Maine.)

f13-script lichen between pine lines

From the summit, rather than follow the trail down, I tracked the bobcats for a while, first to the north and then to the south. I had hoped to find a kill site, but no such luck. Instead, the writing on the page was found upon the pines where script lichen, a crustose, was located between the lines of bark scales.

f14-ulota moss and frullania

I also found plenty of Frullania, that reddish brown liverwort that graced so many trees. And among it, a moss I’ll simply call an Ulota. As I looked in Ralph Pope’s book, Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts , upon arriving home, I realized I should have paid attention to capsules for that would have helped me determine whether what I saw was Ulota crispa or Ulota coarctata. Another lesson for another day.

f15-beaver pond on Perky's Path

At last I reached Perky’s Path, which may not seem like a major feat if you’ve been there, but actually I’d explored off trail for quite a ways and it took me a while to get down to the wetland.

f16-maleberry

And because I was in the wetland, maleberry shrubs bordered the edge and showed off their bright red buds and woody, star-shaped seedpods.

f16a-bobcat across wetland

After focusing on them for a while, I looked down at the snow’s surface and the most subtle of prints appeared before my eyes. My two bobcats. The curious thing–at the summit the mammals had sunk into the snow and the prints were a bit difficult to decipher. I assumed those summit impressions had been made about two days ago. But on the wetland, the bobcats walked atop the snow–when conditions were firmer and I suspected they’d been created last night.

f17-brook toward Bradley Pond 1

I followed the edge of the wetland to the bridges that cross a brook that forms at the outlet of Bradley Pond, constantly on the lookout for the bobcat tracks again.

f18-more bobcat

And I found them! Beside the brook.

f19-beaver pond from bridge

What had they found on the wetland, I wondered?

f21a-beaver trail

Continuing on, I found that they’d checked on the woodwork left behind by another critter of these woods who had also moved about last night.

f20-beaver works

Beaver works. And their piles of woodchips. Unlike a porcupine, a beaver doesn’t eat the chips. Rather, it cuts down a tree for food or a building material. The chips are like a squirrel’s midden of cone scales–the garbage pile of sorts.

f22-beaver trail to water

I noted where the beaver had moved into the brook . . .

f23-beaver treats

And left some sticks behind. For future food? Future building? Stay tuned.

f27-brook to Bradley pond

Typically in other seasons I can’t move beside the edge of the brook, but today I could. The lighting kept changing and water reflected the sky’s mood.

f24-Diamesa sp. and snow flea

And because I was by the water, I kept noting small insects flying about–almost in a sideways manner. Then I found some on the snow–a member of the Diamesa species, a midge I believe. And do you see the small black speck below it–a snowflea, aka spring tail.

f25-Diamesa sp.:haltere

And do you see the two little nobs on the fly’s back, the red arrow pointing to one? Those are the haltere: the balancing organ of a two-winged fly; a pair of knobbed filaments that take the place of the hind wings.

f29-beaver pond wetland low

Eventually, I followed the eastern edge of the wetland back to my truck, wondering if there was any more action but found none. In fact, the water was low so I knew the beaver works weren’t to rebuild the dam. Yet. Nor did I find any more bobcat tracks. But I’d found enough. And I think I know some of what the bobcat knows.

 

 

Climbing Higher Mondate

The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, ” could be aptly applied to the first part of today’s hike for we’d tried to locate the Millard Chandler Feldspar Mine (aka North Star Mine) in Evans Notch two weeks ago but missed a turn along the way. This time, we made sure to pay close attention as friends had given us specific directions.

e1--making the left turn at the National Forest Boundary

As they’d told us, we remembered to turn left at the National Forest boundary and followed the line to the base of the mountain, breaking trail all the way.

e2-first ice formation

Eventually, we realized we were on an old cart path and followed as it zigzagged up. And then we reached a boulder covered in ice. Don’t get me wrong–I love the relationship of rock and ice, but . . . was this what we’d climbed up to see?

e3-looking for more

My guy peeked around the corner and encouraged me to follow.

e4-climbing higher

The first rock with ice was a tease and he could see what he thought was the mine up above. And so we climbed higher.

e6-mine 2

Voilà. At last we found the actual mine. Can you see my guy? His height provided perspective.

e7-sense of height

He stood in awe before the fountain of youth frozen in time.

e9-looking upward

My eyes were drawn skyward to the chandeliers that dangled above. My guy did urge me to move out of the way for he feared one might come crashing down.

e14-chandelier

But I took one more photo before heeding his words of caution.

e15-fallen ice

We noted that some had fallen previously and sat like broken glassware upon the mine floor.

e10-icicles up close (snowfleas as well)

Even the snowfleas or spring tails wanted to be part of the display. Do you see them? The little specks that look like black pepper?

e11-dike 1

I was so taken with the ice sculptures that I almost forgot about the mine itself. Millard Chandler was a descendent of one of the founding families of Chatham, New Hampshire, where the mine is located. Originally, it was mined for mica. From a Geological Survey Professional Paper, I learned that prior to World War II it was mined for feldspar by the Whitehall Company, Inc.

e12-icicles

Today, the only mining that took place was initiated by the water and we could hear it trickling under the ice.

e16-christmas fern

It seemed, however, that there wasn’t enough water as a Christmas Fern struggled to survive.

e13-junco prints

Finally, we followed the Junco tracks and made our exit.

e19-leaving the mine

It was almost like a different world awaited us outside the mine.

e21-Leach Link Trail sign

From there we drove back down Route 113 to Stone House Road and ate a quick lunch in my truck before heading to the trailhead for the Leach Link Trail that follows Cold River.

e22-bear claw marks

It seems like every time we visit this area we find evidence of the bears who live here. Notice the nail marks on the sign. Typical behavior for a black bear–to attack something in the woods that is different than the norm. Not only do they like telephone poles, but trail signs often take a beating as well.

e23-hemlock crack

Again, we had to break trail, which we took turns doing because the snow was deep enough to tire us out. For the most part, we passed through a hemlock and spruce forest. I’m always amazed at how a hemlock tree tries to heal a wound left by a frost crack. Just like my snow pants absorb the sun’s heat, the dark bark of the trees also absorb sunlight, but they don’t have a heated home to return to once night falls and temperatures plunge. I understand how the constant thawing/freezing cycle creates cracks–but I don’t understand why the hemlock portrays the squiggly line, while frost cracks on other trees tend to be much straighter. Then again, all tree species have their own patterns and idiosyncrasies. Maybe I just have to accept that this is the way it is. And move on.

e23-snow aprons

We did. But I stopped our forward movement again. Snow had piled high at the base of the trees following the two snowstorms we received this past week. At first, it appeared that the aprons the trees wore were on the north side. But then, in one grove it seemed obvious that my theory had been proven wrong for some aprons faced west and others east. Oh well.

e26-chester dam

Just over a mile later we reached the Chester Memorial Bridge by the AMC camp. The bridge was given in memory of Mabel Chester, one of the camp’s founders.

e27-Cold River flowing south

Cold River flowed south below the dam. And we turned east.

e29-My guy at the summit

We hadn’t intended to, but ended up hiking to the summit of Little Deer Hill. Our visit was short because it was there that the northwest wind slapped our faces and tried to whip off our hats.

e29-Baldfaces

A few photos and then we quickly descended back into the forest, where we couldn’t feel the wind’s force to the same degree. We practically ran as we followed the trail we’d previously carved.

e30-stop ahead

It seemed like time passed quickly as we reached the snowmobile trail once again and saw the sign reminding us to stop ahead. The truck was parked near the trail’s stop sign and our trip was done.

e5-mine 1

We enjoyed the afternoon hike, but as we reflected on our day, it was the mine that will stand out most in our minds. Thanks to Linda, Miriam, and Dave for providing us with the incentive to visit and correcting our directions.

Climbing higher on this Mondate was certainly worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Reins

While snowstorms are my favorite winter weather events, I don’t always get what I want. Such was the case today. Only a few days ago, as I checked Weather Underground for updates, it looked like we’d receive 4-6 inches of snow. But, the closer the day drew, the lesser the snow amount and more the chance for mixed precipitation.

i-hemlock

Such mixed precip brings its own frosty coating, layering branches with icy crystals.

i-sheep laurel

Even the springy look of the sheep laurel was enhanced by its temporary trimmings.

i-goldenrod

While the goldenrod appeared to shout out its name despite its winter form.

i-intersection of sensitive fern and steeplebush

And steeplebush found a couple of friends offering support among the sensitive fern fronds.

i-witch hazel

The day’s glaze outlined the wavy margins of withering witch hazel leaves still holding fast.

i-home

And my world slowly transformed. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to watch the changes occur.

i-goldfinch1

As for the backyard birds, they just kept coming, from goldfinches to . . .

i-white-throated sparrow

white-throated sparrows,

i-junco 1

juncos,

i-junco 2

and more juncos,

i-male cardinal

Mr. cardinal . . .

i-female cardinal

and the Mrs.,

i-hairy woodpecker

plus a male hairy woodpecker,

i-bluejays and icicles

and any number of bluejays.

i-blue jays 1

There were more visitors as well, including a purple finch, a couple of chickadees, and a flock of turkeys. All, like these bluejays, studied either the feeders or the seeds I’d spread on the ground . . . contemplating I suppose.

i-blue jays 2

And then making a choice. Over and over again.

i-hydrangea 1

As the day wore on, the icicles grew longer and last summer’s hydrangea flowers glowed below their frozen outwear.

i-white pine

In the morning, the white pine needles sported only a thin layer of ice.

i-white pine 1

But by the afternoon, they began to sag beneath the weight of their heavy blankets.

i-red oak 1

The bristly points of marcescent red oak leaves grew into long rounded fingers dangling below.

a-aster

Yesterday’s flower brackets looked more like a cluster of tiny bioluminescent jellyfish today.

i-still sleeting?

It was a day of constant change creating its own beauty.

Periodically, like me, the goldfinch checked on the weather.

As the ice turned to sleet and then rain, he and I both knew that winter still reins.