Ice on the Rocks Mondate

This past weekend’s January thaw was a doozy. First the temperature reached 61˚ on Saturday and then 56˚ on Sunday with a downpour in the mix and most of our 12+-inch snowpack disappeared.

And so after my guy and I finished some errands in North Conway, New Hampshire, we decided to walk along the Saco River to check on the conditions.

Our starting point was at the Smith-Eastman Landing on Meeting House Road. A look at the old bridge stanchions brought childhood and teenage memories of the covered bridge that once stood there back to my guy.

According to an article in the September 23, 2015 issue of the Conway Daily Sun:

The bridge between Redstone and Center Conway — the Smith-Eastman Bridge — was built in 1845-46. It was the longest, historically. Animosity developed among townfolk over where it should be located. Many wanted the Chataque site in Conway, as it would allow them to get to Dover more easily. Those living eastward toward Center Conway wanted it there in order to get to Portland.

Judge Joel Eastman, with his farm located at the latter site, won out. His neighbor was John Smith, who delivered the stage line to Portland. Tolls would be necessary. In December 1844, articles were drawn up between the two men, and they were ultimately reimbursed by the town. Many called this bridge the Joel Eastman; others the Smith-Eastman.

This bridge was repaired in the 1930s by members of the Broughton family. Sadly, arsonists — partying youths — destroyed the 130-year-old structure in July 1975. A plaque was erected at the site a year later as part of local observances of the nation’s bicentennial.

To the south, though not currently in use, the train trestle bespoke a time of prosperous productivity based upon action at the Redstone Quarry

Our journey began at the south side of the Smith-Eastman Park and after crossing a small footbridge, we followed the trail beside the river. Notice the snow deficit. But . . . there was ice as today’s temp was in the more seasonal low 20s, though it felt more like the teens, perhaps because we’d been spoiled over the weekend. Anyway, I wore my micro-spikes; my guy shoved his into a pocket. At least he had them with him. We climbed a mountain a month and a half ago, and he intentionally left them behind. Let’s suffice it to say he regretted that decision on more than one occasion when his feet left the Earth.

As we walked along today, our Beech tree vision found us looking for bear claw marks. We never did see any, but an elbow did manifest before our eyes. So . . . what’s its story? Someone marked the trail by bending the tree? Another tree landed atop it in its younger days and caused it to reform? Your thoughts?

Continuing on, we came to a stump where you know who decided to sit and don those micro-spikes. He was behind me as I took this photo and acknowledged the fact that he’d made the right choice.

As you can see, it’s a well traveled trail that offers recreational opportunities for both man and his best furry friend.

Despite the fact that this is a well-frequented doggie walk, we also found evidence that wild mammals are familiar with the territory as evidenced in deer prints and fresh beaver works.

We looked for a lodge, but found none. Perhaps theirs was a bankside lodge located in a place we couldn’t reach.

And where humans were warned not to fish, another mammal whose name shall be forever muted by the conditions, went across an ice covered swamp to get to the other side.

Side trails frequently departed the main drag and led to the water. This was the only one with such an artistic sign and we gave thanks to the Cato Trust for the creation–of sign and trail.

We checked out their beach. It wasn’t exactly a beach day, but . . . when in Rome.

Not long after that a strange structure greets all those who travel this way. It’s a shed with mini solar panels above and cables and other forms of technology, all bedecked with a dark moss I couldn’t identify. As a gauge station for the USGS Maine Water Science Center and provides data National Water Quality Monitoring Council.

From the beach below it, we looked back toward Route 302 as the day darkened and a fine sleety mist greeted the only exposed part of our bodies, our cheeks. I probably should have had us pose for a selfie for we both would have added a rosy color to the landscape.

Because of the melting and rain, the water level was high, but not at its highest. Still, we wondered if there was any ice left.

Eventually, we began to find it offering a contrast to lichen covered rocks.

And thick sheets sitting upon the shore like beached whales.

We found frozen ground, ripple marks created by the water’s motion, and thin layers recreating the work of line artists.

Then there was a stream that flowed innoculously below our feet until it met the riverbank and added various sculptures to those who ventured near.

We enjoyed the view offered from either side of a downed tree, but chose not to climb down and taken in the scene from below. I know we missed something, but it was rather steep and as great as our micro-spikes were in giving us a feeling of security, we didn’t feel like going swimming.

In the end, and after a couple of hours and three or four miles our journey did come to an end because it was sleeting by the time we finished, it was the configuration of rocks and ice, ice and rocks, and all the lines and textures they offered that intrigued us most on this Mondate.

Secret Giver of Gifts

Though I first posted this in 2016, I keep returning to it. Thought you might want to as well. Peace and joy be with you.

Snow quietly drifted earthward as baking scents wafted through the house and, Christmas lights sparkled from the living room. The spirit of the season has settled upon me at last. And today I was reminded of a time when our youngest asked, “Mom, are you Santa?”

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He’d held onto the belief for far longer than any of his classmates. And for that reason, I too, couldn’t let go. And so that day as we drove along I reminded him that though the shopping mall Santas were not real, we’d had several encounters that made believers out of all of us.

The first occurred over thirty years ago when I taught English in Franklin, New Hampshire. Across the hall from my classroom was a special education class. And fourteen-year-old Mikey, a student in that class, LOVED Santa.

Each year the bread deliveryman dressed in the famous red costume when he made his final delivery before Christmas break. To Mikey’s delight, he always stopped by his classroom. That particular year, a raging snowstorm developed. The bread man called the cafeteria to say that he would not be able to make the delivery. School was going to be dismissed after lunch, but we were all disappointed for Mikey’s sake.

And then  . . . as the lunch period drew to a close, Santa walked through the door and directly toward Mikey, who hooted with joy as he embraced the jolly old elf. As swiftly as he entered, Santa left. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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And about nineteen years ago, as the boys sat at the kitchen counter eating breakfast on Christmas Eve morning, we spotted a man walking on the power lines across the field from our house. We all wondered who it was, but quickly dismissed the thought as he disappeared from our view, until . . . a few minutes later he reappeared. The second time, he stopped and looked in our direction. I grabbed the binoculars we kept on the counter for wildlife viewings. The man was short and plump. He wore a bright red jacket, had white hair and a short, white beard. The boys each took a turn with the binoculars. The man stood and stared in our direction for a couple of minutes, and then he continued walking in the direction from which he’d originally come. We never saw him again. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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Another incident occurred about seventeen years ago, when on Christmas Eve, our phone rang. The unrecognizable elderly male voice asked for our oldest son. When I inquired who was calling, he replied, “Santa.” He spoke briefly with both boys and mentioned things that they had done during the year. I chatted with him again before saying goodbye. We were all wide-eyed with amazement. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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Once I reminded our youngest of those stories, he dropped the subject for the time being. I knew he’d ask again and I also knew that none of us wanted to give up the magic of anticipation for those special moments we know as Christmas morning, when the world is suddenly transformed.

I also knew it was time he heard another story–that of Saint Nicholas, the Secret Giver of Gifts. It goes something like this . . .

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The nobleman looked to Heaven and cried, “Alas. Yesterday I was rich. Overnight I have lost my fortune. Now my three daughters cannot be married for I have no dowry to give. Nor can I support them.”

For during the Fourth Century, custom required the father of the bride to provide the groom with a dowry of money, land or any valuable possession. With no dowry to offer, the nobleman broke off his daughters’ engagements.

“Do not worry, Father. We will find a way,” comforted his oldest daughter.

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Then it happened. The next day, the eldest daughter discovered a bag of gold on the windowsill. She peered outside to see who had left the bag, but the street was vacant.

Looking toward Heaven, her father gave thanks. The gold served as her dowry and the eldest daughter married.

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A day later, another bag of gold mysteriously appeared on the sill. The second daughter married.

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Several days later, the father stepped around the corner of his house and spied a neighbor standing by an open window. In shocked silence, he watched the other man toss a familiar bag into the house. It landed in a stocking that the third daughter had hung by the chimney to dry.

The neighbor turned from the window and jumped when he saw the father.

“Thank you. I cannot thank you enough. I had no idea that the gold was from you,” said the father.

“Please, let this be our secret,” begged the neighbor. “Do not tell anyone where the bags came from.”

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The generous neighbor was said to be Bishop Nicholas, a young churchman of Myra in the Asia Minor, or what we call Turkey. Surrounded by wealth in his youth, Bishop Nicholas had matured into a faithful servant of God. He had dedicated his life to helping the poor and spreading Christianity. News of his good deeds circulated in spite of his attempt to be secretive. People named the bishop, “The Secret Giver of Gifts.”

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Following Bishop Nicholas’ death, he was made a saint because of his holiness, generosity and acts of kindness. Over the centuries, stockings were hung by chimneys on the Eve of December 6, the date he is known to have died, in hopes that they would be filled by “The Secret Giver of Gifts.”

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According to legend, Saint Nicholas traveled between Heaven and Earth in a wagon pulled by a white steed on the Eve of December 6. On their doorsteps, children placed gifts of hay and carrots for the steed. Saint Nicholas, in return, left candy and cookies for all the good boys and girls.

In Holland, Saint Nicholas, called Sinterklaas by the Dutch, was so popular for his actions, that the people adopted him as their patron saint or spiritual guardian.

Years later, in 1613, Dutch people sailed to the New World where they settled New Amsterdam, or today’s New York City. They brought the celebration of their beloved patron with them to America.

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To the ears of English colonists living in America, Sinterklaas must have sounded like Santa Claus. Over time, he delivered more than the traditional cookies and candy for stockings. All presents placed under a tree were believed to be brought by him.

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Santa Claus’ busy schedule required he travel the world in a short amount of time. Consequently, as recorded in Clement Moore’s poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer replaced the wagon and steed.

Since Saint Nicholas was known for his devout Christianity, the celebration of his death was eventually combined with the anniversary of Christ’s birth. December 24th or Christmas Eve, began to represent the Saint’s visit to Earth.

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Traditionally, gifts are exchanged to honor the Christ Child as the three Wise Men had honored Him in Bethlehem with frankincense, gold and myrrh.

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One thing, however, has not changed. The gifts delivered by Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, or whomever your tradition dictates, have always and will continue to symbolize the love people bear for one another.

Though they are now young adults, my continued hope for my sons is that they will realize the magic of Christmas comes from the heart and that we all have a wee bit of Santa in us. Yes, Patrick, Santa is real.

May you continue to embrace the mystery and discover wonder wherever you look. And may you find joy in being the Secret Giver of Gifts.

Otter Delight

Once upon a time in a land close, close at hand, there lived a family of Otters who were mothered by a Snowshoe Hare.

They spent most of their days and nights exploding through the ice and sliding up and down the mill pond’s edge.

But one day their momma rounded up some snowshoes large and small and strapped them on to all.

The family headed off through the woods where moments of wonder captured their attention.

It wasn’t long into their journey when a winter firefly upon the snowy surface stopped them in their tracks.

E. Otter took the firefly that overwinters as an adult and looked for a safe place to deposit it.

She found such in an old beetle hole upon a dead snag and wished it well before she hopped away.

W. Otter found another tree that he quickly identified as a yellow birch and then honored with a hug.

C. Otter looked upon the bark of a beech tree and was thrilled to spy a fungi.

On the tree’s back side he spied another and posed above the false tinder conk.

Soon, the little Otters convinced their momma that they didn’t want to try to be hares any more and so they shed their snowshoes.

Within moments, A. Otter decided to instead try his feet at being a frog.

Catching some air, he leapt up the trail.

By a vernal pool he revealed his true identity–a tree frog.

Soon, his siblings joined him as they channeled their inner tree frogs.

A short distance later, momma couldn’t help but smile when her young’uns displayed their angelic nature.

Those angelic Otters eventually found their way to the top of a huge boulder.

And then they began to do what Otters do.

They slid.

And climbed back up.

To slide some more.

Sometimes, it seemed as if they flew down the boulder’s face.

Other times they bounded.

In true Otter rhythm, one foot landed diagonally in front of the other.

After creating a series of troughs in the snow, they begged their momma to join them.

Being a Snowshoe Hare, she wasn’t sure she would be able to slide quite the way they did.

But she shed her inhibitions and climbed up to join her children.

After noting how scary it was, she smiled and slid down in one of the troughs the children had created.

Once was not enough and up and down she went again.

At last it was time to head for home. Being Otters, the children thought they might just den up below their favorite boulder. The youngest, of course, pouted for he wanted to slide some more.

But moments later, he showed his momma how much he loved her by presenting her with a snowheart.

What an otterly delightful family and equally otterly delightful way to spend the day!

Prehistoric Creatures of western Maine

I heard it before I saw it as I reached the summit of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Flat Hill this afternoon. The rhythmic tapping sounded as if a structure was being built and so I looked upward expecting to see a treehouse under construction. Scanning all the trees in the mixed forest, I saw only their crowns.

And then I smartened up and looked at the snow. Bingo! Fresh debris atop this week’s layers of snow from two storms and I had a better idea of the construction worker’s location.

Sure enough, high up in a deteriorating yet live red oak stood the one with a crown all his own–brilliant red as it was in the afternoon sun. By the red mustache on its cheeks, I knew the pileated woodpecker was a he. Call him either PILL-ee-ated or PIE-lee-ated; the word means “crested.”

Sometimes, when these birds are intent on their work, I find I’m able to quietly move in a wee bit closer. Mind you, he was up quite high (at least 25 feet above me) and there were other trees between us. I hoped if he was aware of me that he knew I meant no harm. I just wanted to observe.

And so I did for a good while. Check out that chisel-like bill.

In a seemingly effortless manner, he pounded away. Did you know that a pileated can peck up to 12,000 times a day? Not all on the same tree, of course.

Thank goodness for extra-dense neck muscles and a compressible skull bone. Between hammering, this guy paused periodically. To admire his work? To check on the food supply? Or just to take a break?

Can you see one of his four-toed talons grip the edge of the excavation site?

One cool thing about woodpeckers is how they use their tail feathers for support–as if the third leg on a three-legged stool.

As I watched, I noted that Woody Woodpecker, a name I give all pileateds because their rattling call reminds me of the television cartoon I grew up with, kept digging a bit deeper.

And deeper still.

Then he’d take a break and turn his head away from the tree and I finally realized that the tree was at such an angle that to remove debris he needed to drop it below.

Eventually, he flew off and so I checked on the woodchips in hopes of finding scat filled with insect body parts. There was none. For all of his work gouging the oak, he didn’t seem to have found any carpenter ants or wood-boring beetles. Maybe that’s why he moved on. And so I did as well.

About halfway down the trail, I came upon a sight that might have delighted the woodpecker. I know I was thrilled.

Within a few feet I spotted a second one. They were snow scorpionflies. Much like the fact that Flat Hill isn’t actually flat, nor can the snow scorpionflies fly!

On his website “Bug of the Week,” entomologist Dr. Michael J. Raupp explains, “They belong to a small order of insects known as Mecoptera. The “scorpion” moniker derives from the fact that males in this group have unusually large and upward curving genitalia that resemble the stinger of a scorpion. The “fly” part of the name comes from the fact many species of Mecoptera have wings and can, well, fly.”

To fly and not to fly. Predator and prey. Despite their extreme differences, both finds today certainly struck me as being prehistoric creatures of western Maine.

I’m with the TREES

When Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association asked me to join her in co-leading and co-sponsoring a tree identification walk during Great Maine Outdoor Week(end) at LEA’s Highland Research Forest in Bridgton, I jumped at the opportunity. Alanna, you see, is a great joy to be in the presence of and I knew she’d make it a fun and unique experience.

I wasn’t disappointed; nor were the thirteen others who joined us this morning for a two-hour hike that turned into two and a half and even a little bit more.

Alanna had gone out ahead of us and placed hearts with tree-related information along the trail we’d travel. Our crew was a delightful mix that included young and old, with members of LEA and the Greater Lovell Land Trust, which I was representing, as well as a woman from North Conway and man from Portland. Yes, Linda and Henri–that would be the two of you.

The first heart provided information about hemlock trees and after she read it, we encouraged everyone to channel their inner hemlock and so they leaned as this particular evergreen does. Check out those smiles. Don’t you want to be a hemlock too?

Of course, because we were among the trees on this property that the David and Carol Hancock Charitable Trust donated to LEA several years ago, and the snow was super soft from yesterday’s storm, the mammal tracks were outstanding.

One of the favorites of the day–that of the snowshoe hare. It’s not often that one can see the hare’s toes so clearly, but today was the day. And as David Brown’s Trackards indicated, the footprint size depends upon the conditions.

When it came to demonstrating and identifying the action of the mammal there were two rock stars among our group. Alanna was one for she got down on all fours and demonstrated how a hare moves (before she sorta fell). And Pam Marshall was the other for she correctly identified and shared information about how to recognize all of the track and print patterns that we saw. Pam only began tracking this year with the GLLT’s Tuesday Trackers, but she’s a quick study.

Onward we trekked, pausing whenever we saw a heart of red. And each time, Alanna’s voice came through in the message. Love at first bite! Indeed.

At a beech tree, we paused for a bit longer as we noted not only the twigs and buds that are beginning to swell, but also talked about how bear claw marks are most visible on them and how the beech scale insect has altered the once smooth look of the bark. The word marcescent, meaning withering but remaining attached to the stem, also entered the conversation.

After a bit of time, we emerged onto a wetland where only last week Alanna and a couple of people including one in our midst, Anne, had spotted a hole and lots of tracks and scat left behind by an otter. Today, no sign of that member of the weasel family, but still . . . we enjoyed the warmth of the sun.

And I took advantage of the time to dress Alanna as a twig. She was the perfect Miss Twiggy model and Henri took time to pose with her.

Back in the woods, we were stopped in our tracks by the tracks of another weasel–a mink.

And then as we retraced out steps and paused by a speckled alder to admire its male and female catkins and last year’s cones, someone honed in on something that wasn’t a remnant of yesterday’s snowstorm.

The cottony white masses of wooly alder aphids decorated a couple of branches. As Alanna explained, in a symbiotic relationship, during the warmer months, 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. Today, there were no ant farmers about, but a few like Justin, did step forward to take a closer look.

After that, we were confronted with a math problem. And you thought we were just out for a walk in the woods.

Finally, well sorta, we made our way back to an opening and stood around enjoying hot cocoa and tea, plus some goodies, and each others company.

Sherpa Anne had been kind enough to haul the supplies to the opening for us as our trek began. I know she was thankful she didn’t have to pull the sled all the way out to the wetland. And we were thankful for the good tidings it bore.

You see, Alanna is a woman of many, many talents, and baking is one of them.

Did she get carried away with the cookie cutters?

We didn’t think so for we all love Maine.

And we also love trees, including red oaks with their bristly-tipped leaves and acorns.

That wasn’t all Alanna had created.

Her tree model was to be envied (at least by me). And she explained the different functions, from roots to leaves and outer bark to inner workings.

And just in case you are interested, I’ve come up with a new mnemonic, because we love memory aids.

Xylem is the vascular tissue in plants that conducts water and dissolved nutrients upward from the root and also helps to form the woody element in the stem.

Phloem is the vascular tissue in plants that conducts sugars and other metabolic products downward from the leaves.

My mnemonic: Xy high (think upward); Phlo low (think downward).

Of course, that didn’t occur to me until several hours later.

Before we finished off our delightful morning, there was one last heart with tree information to read. Hmmm. Porcupines, bark, needles, scat, look up? “You might spot one dining!”

And so up we looked.

And down as well. We found some tracks and even took a closer look at some comma-shaped scat.

Because . . . the resident male was high up in the tree! Look at that handsome fella! We did. Over and over again. Henri was sure we had planted him and that he wasn’t real.

But he was. And if you look closely, you might see his orange teeth which one (like me) could almost mistake for a Valentine heart. Check out those toe nails. And can you see the rough soles of his feet, the better to grip the tree with?

Male porcupines are known to hang out on a tree during the day. I know we’re particularly thrilled about this one because he hasn’t let us down yet.

Think about this–while the male was hanging out in the sun, porcupines (like the one that lives under our barn) typically stay in their dens until dusk and then head off to munch on bark and needles in the darkest and coldest hours of a day. That’s to be admired.

So is the work of our two organizations, Lakes Environmental Association and the Greater Lovell Land Trust. Both of us are with the Trees and we loved sharing the trail together this day.

We’re doing the same again on Sunday at 12:30 in Lovell, where we’ll go on a Porcupine Prowl–will we actually see the rodent as we did today? Who knows, but we’ll have fun as we join together again to celebrate Great Maine Outdoor Week(end).

I’m with the TREES. Are you?

Bear to Beer: Middle and Peaked Mountains

My guy opened his Christmas Bear to Beer box and considered the possibilities. The winner was . . .

Middle to Peaked Mountains in North Conway, New Hampshire.

The day had dawned warm after the recent deep freeze and so we had to consider how to dress and what to use for footwear.

Given that our route would take us uphill as we ascended via the Middle Mountain Trail to Middle Mountain, retrace our steps to the connector before summiting Peaked Mountain and then follow the Peaked Mountain Trail down, we knew we needed to dress in layers, but not quite so many and not quite so heavy.

We also weren’t sure of our footwear until we arrived at the parking area and saw the well-packed trail. Our choice–micro-spikes over snowshoes. We only hoped that when we reached the intersection of the Middle Mountain Trail and the Connector Trail, we wouldn’t regret our decision. But time would tell.

In the meantime, after we climbed over the snowbanks to get to the trailhead, we had to conquer the gate. We’ve climbed Peaked in the past, as well as walked the Pudding Pond Trail, both part of the Green Hills Preserve, so we knew that typically one walks around the gate. Today, we merely stepped over it–which tells you something about the snow depth.

At .2 miles, the trail comes to a T. The right hand route leads to Pudding Pond, while the left requires a brook crossing before continuing on to the mountain trails.

A bit further along, we came to one set of several that denote the trail system. In terms of following it via the signs, trail blazes, and well worn path, it was easy. Given the soft snow conditions and contour, we’d rank it a moderate hike.

It was one that got the hearts pumping, which is always a good thing. And when one of us needed a rest, we pretended that we just wanted to admire the sound and sight of the gurgling brook.

We passed through a few natural communities, including hemlock groves, and mixed forest. But our focus was really on any beech trees and by the leaves that littered the path, we knew there were plenty.

We scanned the bark every time we spied a beech, and saw not a nail scrape anywhere. But . . . sad to say we did notice tarry spots which oozed out of the cracks in the bark caused by cankers a tree develops as a defensive attempt to ward off beech scale insects and the nectria pathogens that follow their entry points.

The community changed again as we approached the summit of Middle Mountain, where red pines dominated the scenery. And in the warm sun, the snow became softer.

Two miles and some sweat equity later, we’d shed some clothes and reached the top.

From there, my guy went in search of lunch rock and I eventually followed.

It was actually more of lunch ledge and we set up camp, using the jackets we weren’t wearing as our seating area.

The view beyond our feet included Conway Lake in the distance. Lunch consisted of chicken salad sandwiches made with our own cranberry orange relish offering a taste of day in the fen picking berries, a Lindt peppermint dark chocolate ball, and an orange, topped off with frequent sips of water.

While we sat there, I did what I do. There were no beech trees to look at and so I focused in on the bonsai red pine in front of us. Its form, unlike its relatives who stood tall behind us, was the result of growing on the edge of the ledge where it took the brunt of the weather.

I took the liberty of turning a photo of a lower branch 90 degrees because I could see the face of the tree spirit reaching out as it formed a heart. It is February after all.

But enough of that. We were on a mission to find a bear paw tree. When I chose this trail, I had no idea if we’d see one. Yes, we’d climbed Peaked in the past, but never had we noticed any trees with such marks left behind.

So, down we slid, I mean climbed, off Middle Mountain until we reached the connector and could see Peaked’s summit in the background.

We weren’t too far along when our constant scanning paid off! Bingo. A bear paw tree. Some people bag peaks. We bag bear paw trees.

Our mission accomplished, though we continued to look, we journeyed on to the second summit.

From there, we had more of a view of North Conway below, the Moats forming the immediate backdrop, and Mount Chocorua behind.

In front of us, we looked across to Middle Mountain from whence we’d just come.

And behind, Cranmore Mountain Ski Area and Kearsarge North in the background.

With my telephoto lens I could pull in the fire tower atop Kearsarge. It’s among our favorite hiking destinations.

We didn’t stay atop Peaked as long as we had on Middle because the wind was picking up. On our journey down, the mountain views included Washington.

We continued to look for bear trees but found no others. That being said, there were plenty of beech trees on the Peaked Mountain Trail, but the sun was in our eyes for much of the journey, and we had to pay attention to where we placed our feet because traveling was a bit slippery given the soft snow. Maybe there were others after all, and we just didn’t notice.

We completed the 5.5 mile hike about four hours after beginning, ran a few errands, and finally found our way to the finish of today’s bear to beer possibility at the Sea Dog Brewing Company. Black bears like to sip too!

Porcupine: Down Low, Up High

While the ground hog won’t see his shadow in Maine tomorrow because he’s a true hibernator, his rodent cousin the porcupine may have to serve as a stand in. And ’round these parts, there are plenty of stand ins available.

A couple of friends and I searched for one today. We had barely begun tramping when we recognized its telltale sign of discolored snow.

Truth be told, we knew the porcupine lived there, but weren’t sure how this past week’s snow storm had affected it. And so we journeyed closer to take a better look. The hole is actually an old bank burrow that had once belonged to a beaver. Porcupines are known to take advantage of such if it’s high and dry.

One of the things that always grabs my attention is the action of the animal as evidenced by its means of entry and departure. Standing there, I could envision it emerging from the hole, using its long claws to get a grip, turning to the left and then swaying to the right. The waddling motion of its hair and quill covered body adds a dimension to the story for if you look carefully you’ll see the wavy impression left behind.

Because its a frequent traveler from den to preferred trees, the entire body, that weighs anywhere from seven to forty pounds, can form quite a trough. Typically the trough is up to nine inches wide in the snow. Within those we saw today, recently cast prints showed the bumpy bottom surface of the foot pad and the five nail marks that extended across the front.

The mammal’s identification was further enhanced by other evidence–quills. The hollow structures were tipped with black barbs. Paul Rezendes, in his book Tracking and the Art of Seeing, states that “the porcupine’s scientific name [Erethizon dorsatum] can be loosely translated as ‘the animal with the irritating back.'” Indeed, many domesticate dogs and their owners would agree with that description.

Because we were on our hands and knees looking, we also noticed soft, wavy hair on the snow. A porcupine’s body is covered with at least 30,000 quills on its back, shoulders and the upper surface of its tail, but it’s not only those large stiff hairs that complete the animal’s coat. Their fur also includes fine hair found on the face, belly, and insides of its legs. In deep snow it’s easy to find the delicate hairs within the trough. Oh, and do you see the little yellow birch seed that looks like a teeny, tiny, brown insect?

We followed one of several troughs that led from the hole and kept looking up into the hemlocks in search of the critter. We never saw it, but we did see some recently nipped branches dangling from above.

Our search led us to a second hole that we’ve watched transform over the last couple of months. And again, we could see the action of the animal as portrayed in its journey.

We wondered about the tunnel from the wider opening in the woods to the smaller opening at the brook bank. Though both had seen recent action, we didn’t see any major amount of scat, which was a surprise. Then again, we didn’t climb in and search further. Perhaps it had moved toward the center of the tunnel during the storm.

Another sign of porcupine’s activity was the dribble of urine that marked the trail. That made me realize that I often refer to them as the pigpens of the woods for they scat and urinate with abandon, but . . . all mammals pee, some with more purpose than others.

We followed the porcupine’s pathways for a bit and noted that they led to the nearby hemlocks and beyond.

But as often happens, we were distracted and stepped back out onto the brook where we followed deer tracks for a while.

Eventually, our curiosity about the porcupine gave us a reason to get out of the wind and we headed back into the woods, where we soon discovered another one of its trails. Curiously, the porky had ventured out toward the frozen, snow-covered brook, but turned and retraced its steps. Why?

Perhaps it smelled a coyote in the area. A porcupine has poor eyesight, but an excellent sense of smell. And coyotes will go after a porcupine, but they prefers other food sources. Fishers are the porcupines least favorite predator. A fisher will grab the porcupine by the nose. Once it dies, the fisher will flip it and expose the stomach. Remember that the stomach is covered with that soft wavy hair–and therefore unprotected.

The coyote didn’t appear to go near the porcupine. Our porcupine study, however, led us to what was probably a bear bait barrel. With no bears to worry about at this time of year, the barrel had been repurposed as evidenced by the tracks that led into and out of it.

And the pile of comma-shaped scat within. Was this where our porcupine weathered out the latest storm? It certainly got me thinking about those two holes to the beaver burrow and how the porcupine must have had to plow the snow out with its body. The barrel was a much better choice. And with the scat as an insulator, what a great place to wait out a winter storm.

Not far away, but perhaps with more luxurious digs, either a mate, or relative had apparently set up home under a barn.

While the porcupine by the brook traveled between an underground tunnel and a barrel buried in the snow, the one up the road preferred the high road. Wouldn’t you like to be there to witness its journey? I know I would.

Porcupine: down low, up high–worth a wandering wonder.

Intrepid Travelers

When we gathered at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Fairburn parking lot on Slab City Road at 9:30 this morning, the thermometer registered 4˚. But the good news–no wind. And . . . the six Tuesday Trackers who decided to join me and brave the elements were dressed for the occasion.

First though, it seemed I wanted to test their endurance so we circled up for a few minutes and they used mirrors to see how a deer might see (and I should have taken a photo, but didn’t) and then I shared some casts I’d made of track prints. This one was a red fox and not only was the hair a bit visible, but so was the shape of a chevron, which some see as a boomerang in the heel pad of the front foot. I should note that this particular cast was made from a road kill specimen, so the toes and nails aren’t exactly as close together as they typically would be, especially on a cold morning in January.

The next cast to view–a coyote in mud. I love this one because it demonstrates the direct registration of a back foot stepping into the impression made by the front foot. And the X we always associate with the canines, including Eastern coyotes, red and gray foxes, was visible. Notice the parallel toes close together and nails that point inward–all for the sake of retaining heat.

And finally in this morning’s demonstration, a bobcat cast with more of a C shape between the toes and heel pad.

At last we walked down the road to the trailhead for the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

I chose this trail for today’s adventure because I had a feeling we might see what we saw–an otter slide! It’s a rare winter day when such activity isn’t visible there.

I was thrilled to note that a few people had beat us to the sight and observed the same. As we stood above the dam, we spied where the otter had come up out of the water, made its way around several trees . . .

then slide down into Mill Brook below. By the tracks and impressions in the trail we could envision his motion. And if folks had wanted to quit then, it would have been okay because we’d been so honored already.

But they are a hardy group and right near the otter slide, prints of another were noted and based on their wee size and the diagonal angle of their presentation we knew we were looking at the track of either an ermine or long-tailed weasel. It’s difficult to tell the difference between the two by the print size. But the cool thing was that though they appear light in the photograph, the prints that we saw were a mirror image of what David Brown drew on his Trackards. (I think I should get a commission for promoting his cards, but really, they are the best.)

Following the weasel prints, Tom found a hole by a tree and got down to check on any activity within. His report came with a grin: “It’s deep.” Was the weasel successful in finding a meal? We don’t know. But we do know that it’s typical of them to check out every little hole and make some of their own.

Continuing our journey, we’d hardly gone far from the dam when we happened upon another creator of fine tracks. Bingo! A red fox by its shape, size, and chevron.

And then. And then we found prints left behind by a mink, their size a bit larger than the weasel. By now, we were in seventh heaven. Or so we thought. For there was more.

I’d just said to one of the group that we’d seen otter, weasel and mink–all members of the Mustelid family. It was due time for a fisher . . . and what to our wondering eyes should appear?

Tell-tale prints left behind by a fisher that had loped through the woods. Do you see the five tear-drop shaped toes?

Being good trackers, we decided to back track it, for one shouldn’t follow an animal and put stress on it. And so we headed toward the pond.

One in our group had gone ahead and under a hemlock Heinrich discovered a meal partially eaten. The fisher prints led directly to and from it. A mushroom? That was my first thought until I took off my mitten and played with it. A roll? Whole wheat? Had the fisher stopped at Burger King or raided someone’s ice fishing party? Did he eat the meat and discard the roll? Not into whole wheat? Certainly he prefers a gluten-free diet.

Behind the hemlock, we followed his tracks and noted a spot where he’d sat and fussed about for a bit. Was this his lunch site? If so, he’d at least not left any wrappers behind.

As the morning went on, one set of tracks led us to those made by another and near the fisher we found more red fox impressions.

Astute eyes for we’re all so trained, also noted a dash of pee by a broken branch. Typical red fox behavior, especially given that this is mating season. But . . . in the air we couldn’t smell that delightfully skunky scent we associate with fox pee.

That is . . . until Pam got down. It was not as strong as we sometimes notice so we wondered if it was because of the cold air.

Despite that, Tuesday Tracker initiation involves getting down on all fours like Bob did. . .

and sniffing just like Paula. Come on–you know you want to join us and gain some bragging rights.

We decided to follow the fox for a while doing what we shouldn’t have done as we followed its forward motion rather than back, but suspected it was long out of range. We weren’t sure if it was one or a pair. At a tree, rather than pee, it or they seemed to dance around and possibly poke a nose into the snow. By now, the cold could have been getting to us and we were making up the story we read on the powdery page.

Eventually we did come to two sets of fox tracks and split our group in half, each following one set to see if they’d intersect again.

Well, the fox tracks led us back to the fisher and suddenly to the snowmobile trail. We saw that the fisher had headed up hill and thought we might spy it again if we followed the trail that leads toward Whiting Hill, so up we did climb. In no time at all, we found a pattern left behind by a little brown thing (LBT by tracking standards) and knew it was either a deer mouse or white-footed mouse out on a risky mission in search of seeds.

Next, a snowshoe hare had crossed the trail and we recognized it by its snow lobster shape. If you look at the second set of prints in this photograph, you’ll note that the animal was moving toward me and the two larger prints in the front were of its hind feet which had wrapped around and landed as the two smaller front feet leaped forward. Thus the overall impression looks like a lobster–at least in our minds.

Just beyond the hare, we met what we’d been looking for, the fisher. And then on a stone wall, Paula discovered two holes where it must have dug down looking for a meal. Was it successful? We so wanted a kill site to know what the critters had been eating, but saw no signs of blood or hair or bones or carcasses.

What we did see–a dribble of fisher pee that Pam checked out.

In the midst of fisher tracking, we came upon intersections, including one of a coyote and red fox. What kept us guessing was the apparent foot drag of the coyote. Was some of it tail drag? The snow under the powder was quite crusty so most of the fresh prints we found today didn’t require the mammals to break through the snow. But . . . had this coyote injured a foot on a previous journey when it was breaking through?

As the morning went on, the Trackers had to leave one by one and two by two until it was only Pam and me still on the prowl. We followed the fisher for a long way, and noted where it paused momentarily upon humps, but never discovered any sign of eating.

Eventually, we too, had to find our way out of the woods. It was rather easy for we followed the tracks the others had left behind. And chuckled at the patterns we all left in the snow. Not exactly discernible. What will the mammals say when they pause and study our prints?

Crazy humans! Ah, but I think they’ll also call us intrepid travelers, for like them, we prowled about on a frigid winter day.

We all left thrilled for we’d seen the tracks of so many in this mammal corridor. And curiously we noted those we hadn’t seen: deer and squirrel in particular, as well as moose and bobcat. Another day perhaps.

Today’s Tuesday Trackers included Pam, Heinrich, Nancy, Paula, Bob, Tom, and yours truly. Intrepid indeed.

Babe in the Woods

This morning dawned bright and brisk and offered a brilliant background for a journey through the almost Peabody-Fitch Woods that Loon Echo Land Trust hopes to add to their holdings. The 252 acres of the proposed project surrounds Bridgton Historical Society‘s Narramissic Farm.

Jon Evans, Loon Echo’s Stewardship Manager and board member of the historical society had asked me to join the walk that would highlight the Peabody-Fitch Homestead built in 1797 and introduce Loon Echo’s new executive director Matt Markot. In the morning light, we circled the house as Jon shared some of the farm’s story.

On the northern side of the house, we paused to enjoy the view, including Pleasant Mountain just beyond the trees to the left of the field. The land trust also owns and protects over 2,000 acres of the mountain that defines this area of western Maine.

Measuring the effect of the cold on the hike’s participants, Jon chose his stop points, where he shared his keen knowledge of the farm and the lands that surround it. For me, it’s always a joy to tramp with him because his connection to the land is personal, and this particular piece even more than most for Jon’s family long ago farmed an adjacent acreage and he grew up traipsing through the very woods we snowshoed today. (And this photo includes Margaret Lindsay Sanborn, mother of Matt Markot, LELT’s new ED who stands to his mom’s right.)

As we circled behind the barn I shared with Jon a bit of knowledge that adds to the lore of what’s always been known as the Temperance Barn, supposedly constructed during prohibition without the usual swigs of rum for all who helped in the building process. Following a blog post I wrote in December 2018 about this very property, a granddaughter of Margaret Monroe who gifted the property to the historical society in 1987 wrote the following message: Hi – I am glad you enjoy my grandmother’s property. A heads up that there is no written documentation from the period re: the barn actually being built without alcohol. My grandmother was prone to making up history. I want to give respect to hardy native Mainers: Monroes were largely summer people. My grandmother also said sherry wasn’t alcoholic and would drink a big glass of it every night before dinner, Lark cigarette in her other hand. Happy Holidays! Rebecca Monroe

It turns out that wasn’t the only story that had more to offer than I’d originally thought to be true. As we were about to pass through a stonewall behind the barn, my eyes cued in on debris below some trees. Certainly it was the work of woodpeckers and I stepped onto the wall in search of scat. Nada.

Looking up at the pin cherry tree, I found not pileated works, but the incisors of another that gave a clue.

And below, pigeon-toed tracks. Between the incisor marks and tracks I knew the creator, but it didn’t make sense to me, for though I find hemlock twigs below such a tree when a porcupine has clipped them, I couldn’t recall ever seeing bark chips below a porky tree. In my brain, the rodent ate the bark as it sought the cambium layer within. I dismissed it as a lesson to be considered and we moved on.

Jon led us along a colonial road from the historical society’s property to a stonewall that delineated the Peabody-Fitch Woods. We turned onto a trail I’d never traveled before and made our way along another farm road. Periodically, Jon, Matt, and I bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge about the trees and forest succession that had occurred since the farm was last a working land. We also spied a few mammal tracks, including those of a bobcat.

At last, we circled around and found our way back toward the border between the P-F Woods and farm.

Close to the Temperance Barn again, porcupine tracks crisscrossed to the stonewall where we’d seen their activity at the start of our journey.

Near the parking lot and Blacksmith Shop, more porcupine works made themselves evident–by their tracks and the debarked trees.

Incredibly debarked trees. I’m always amazed by the fact that porcupines, given their size, can find support on trees and limbs that seem so flimsy. I’ve been told that they’re known to have many broken bones and it makes sense given the precarious choices they make to seek winter nutrients.

Once again, there was bark debris. In the past I’ve always said that beavers leave wood chips, but porcupines eat the bark and cambium layer.

The evidence was obvious given the prints and comma-shaped scat. But the bark debris proved me wrong today.

And I loved that. When Jon first introduced me as a Maine Master Naturalist, he asked how long I’ve been such. “Six years,” I said. And though I’ve spent my sixty years wandering and wondering in the woods and along the coast of southern and northern New England, it was the Master Naturalist class that taught me how to take a closer look.

Do you see the green of the cambium layer? And those incisor marks–how they are at opposing angles? Those I recognized.

But . . . the porcupines taught me something new today.

Six years–I’m still a babe in the woods.

Winter Wild Out My Door

Winter Storm Harper left its mark in the form of snow and wind upon our little spot in the universe.

And I was certain that any tracks I might encounter in the woods would have been erased by dervishes that whirled across the field yesterday, overnight, and into today.

Consequently, it was a pleasant surprise to discover porcupine tracks leading to and fro our barn and woodlot in their typical pigeon-toed pattern.

As delighted as I was, I was equally dispirited as I noticed that the tips of my favorite hemlock had been nipped to oblivion.

But, the porcupine had moved on from that tree, crossed over a stonewall, and visited several other trees in our woodlot, as noted by the downed twigs that decorated the snow’s surface. Like the tracks, the twigs were freshly cut in the past twenty-four hours or less actually.

Of course, I couldn’t overlook the woody commas amid the debris, much as they break up a sentence such as this, that added to the list of evidence that a porcupine had been present. Some call them scat.

And then, as I continued onward, I followed the tracks of two others that frequent our yard. Even as I delighted in the winter structure of a Queen Anne’s Lace florescent, did I notice the red fox prints on the snow below.

The tracks led me to Stevens Brook, which has a journey of its own to trace.

I went to look because I felt the need to add a bit of color to this wintry day and knew that the local congregation of Mallards would contribute not only that, but sound as well.

And then, as I snowshoed beside the trail that follows the brook, I began to notice tracks made by another–this one a member of the weasel family with tear-drop shaped toes of five on each foot.

The more I followed it, the more I realized it had walked and then loped and appeared to drag something along the way.

Sometimes it chose to slide on the downhills.

And equally left an impression as it journeyed up and over a stonewall.

Meanwhile, within the wall, I surmised another of a different species quivered as silently as possible so as not to attract attention, with the hope of creating hoar frost for another day.

Wherever I went, the weasel had also trekked. And frequently I noticed signs of blood as if something had been dragged and the life dripped out of it.

In some places the frozen vital fluid bespoke a meal perhaps waiting to be cached–the perfect sacrifice of one to nurture another.

So few were the tracks of mankind on the virgin snow and so abundant the weasel.

Soon I found myself beside another brook, this one named Willet, and I glanced about expecting to see evidence of action, but instead found ice and snow and shadows disappearing into the bend.

And then . . . upon the edge of the brook’s high bank, a sudden turn my weasel had made, choosing to not slide downward.

A bit further along, I was following its tracks again when I spied fresh woody debris upon the snow’s surface and knew that a pileated had been at work this day.

Rounding the tree, I discovered a series of holes made over a series of days or weeks or years.

From the woodpecker tree, it took a few minutes, but again I found the tracks of one very busy fisher. I never did find any kill sites, but suspected that it had a cache somewhere and let its fresh groceries dangle from its mouth as it carried them back to the pantry.

Making my way toward home, I didn’t need to rest, but had I intended upon such, it wouldn’t have been at the bench for so deep was the snow.

That was okay, for my movement kept me warm and I knew that I’d soon be stripping off my winter layers once I reached our kitchen. But first, there was a pasture to pass through, and while I seemed to have left the fisher behind, I came upon the tracks of the two red foxes I’d met earlier.


In typical red fox behavior, one of them had paused at the tip of a downed tree and urinated. One of these days perhaps it will finally get lucky.

In the meantime, I felt lucky for I’d seen the prints and tracks of so many on this day when I wondered if I’d see any–including those of the Mallards beside Stevens Brook.

And of all the winter wild out my door, today the ducks were my favorite because I not only got to watch them for a while, but I also appreciated the colorful display they added to the landscape.

Poking About Among the Trees

My intention this morning was to meet up with a few old friends, namely a porcupine and a beaver family. Added into the mix with any luck would be a barred owl.

But alas, it was not to be as I wandered on and off trail through the northeast corner of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

Instead, it was those who seemed inanimate that came to life repeatedly.

Right from the start the trees pulled me in for I needed to, well, it wasn’t exactly a need, but still, I needed to check on the swelling red buds of a basswood that grows near the edge of the parking area.

And I could hardly pay homage to one and ignore its neighbor, and so I moved a few feet to enjoy the glory of a beaked hazelnut catkin and bud as they began the countdown toward spring.

Climbing the Flat Hill trail, an old tree grinch tried to sneer, but I noticed a tweak of a smile and knew he was glad to have me there.

He must have been for he made sure that I saw . . . such things as a beech leaf layered upon an oak atop the snow–mirroring the skyspace above.

And speaking of beech, I noticed one spiky husk, which actually surprised me with its presence for so few were the beech seeds this past summer.

The same was true of acorns and without a mast production, the squirrel middens were rather sparse in the landscape, but I did find two, both a couple of feet deep. But there’s something else to note–the trickle of yellow pee by the pine needles to the upper left of the hole. By its skunky scent, I knew that while the squirrel sought sustenance in the form of an acorn, a red fox hoped to dine on the rodent. The latter meal didn’t happen anywhere nearby, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur.

With lots of meandering on the way up, I finally reached the summit of Flat Hill, where the mountains beyond hinted at today’s snow flurries and this weekend’s impending storm. But it wasn’t to the mountains that I spent much time focusing. Instead, I scanned all the trees around–hoping for the sight of another spiky one–a prickly porcupine.

I suspected that I wasn’t alone in my search for just below the summit ledge, I spotted a bobcat track.

The evidence of the porcupine’s presence was everywhere as it had left its mark on so many trees where it scraped the outer bark to reach the softer inner tissue.

Shallow and narrow tooth marks were all that remained. I love bear trees, but porcupine trees rank right up there.

And the same is true for pileated woodpecker trees, which are easy to sight not only by their oblong holes, but the woody debris below them as well.

Who can resist searching the debris for scat? I know I can’t. What I found today was an exploded version with ant body parts spewed about in such an array that I almost wanted to glue them back together. Almost.

My wander continued as I walked a portion of Perky’s Path where the wetland mounds were so littered with snow drops that it was impossible to decipher any mammal tracks. I did make my way to the old beaver lodge in the center of the photo, the mound standing tallest toward the background, but the sight and sound of water meant caution was necessary.

The same was true at the rock stepping stones to the south of the wetland and though I have an affinity for water, I chose not to cross for a chilly bath wasn’t in my plans.

Instead, I backtracked and then followed the snowmobile trail for a bit until I reached the outlet of the old beaver pond.

It was there that I turned off trail and followed the stream through the woods.

Water gurgled below its frozen form and ice bridges offered crossings for those who dared. I did not.

My purpose was to check on another lodge that had been quite active a year ago. Today, I was surprised to find no one at home in the stick-built inn.

Beyond, the dam stood high, but the water behind it was low–another indicator that the beavers had moved on by their own doing. At least I hoped it was their own doing.

Evidence of their previous works was apparent all along the brook, where many a tree had been logged by the rodents, including this yellow birch.

Though that birch and others had been toppled, upon the snow old catkins, their fleur de lis scales grown large, added texture to the scenery and seeds to the future.

Finally, I made my way out and smiled at the smiles in the ice and water that mimicked my own. Today, my heart rejoiced with the affirmation this morning that my friend, Jinny Mae, had received good news about her health. She is one of my pokey hiking friends and I tried to emulate her as I celebrated. From Jinny Mae I’ve learned to do what Mary Oliver recommended in “Sometimes”:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

And so it was that as I paid attention just before leaving, I was astonished–by the tree I saw in the ice. I knew Jinny Mae, had she been beside me, would have taken the same photograph, for that’s what we often do when we’re together.

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

~Mary Oliver

Today, I stayed awhile, poking about among the trees that shined in honor of these two women who have shared the gift of bowing often.

Nature’s Larder

(Warning: Some photos in this post may be disturbing.)

A couple of friends and I didn’t let this morning’s brisk air keep us inside and so at the designated time and place we met, strapped on our snowshoes and journeyed forth.

Almost immediately we were greeted with evidence that others had had the same idea. And though we knew they were turkey and fox tracks that intersected on the snow-covered ice, we weren’t positive about the fox ID until a few minutes later. As it was, the prints were muffled in presentation, which led us to red versus gray fox, but the stride seemed a wee bit short.

And then we found the calling card and both friends were thrilled to get down on all fours and take a sniff. Indeed, the skunky scent made us certain that the fox’s color was red.

Everywhere, whether atop a snow-capped rock or sapling or winter weed, we found that calling card–most of it a mere dribble, but enough.

Everywhere we also found the fox tracks and wondered–one or two? It seemed likely that she followed he, but we couldn’t be absolutely certain.

And then something in the distance atop the snow called our attention and we quickly followed the fox tracks to the dark sight.

It turned out to be turkey feathers. And we got to wondering again. There were no turkey tracks nearby, only fox. What had happened?

Toward the shore we tramped and suddenly one of us found a display of feathers and cartilage.

And then another about ten feet away.

And still another.

Beside it all, we found the calling card of the red fox to be even more prominently displayed.

Later, after one of our group departed, two of us revisited the kill sight and realized that there were some black and gray hairs left behind. My assumption was coyote as we had also seen their tracks. And we found a rather robust coyote scat not far away.

So here’s the story as we pieced it together, though we know some pages are missing: The fox(es) stealthily sneaked up on the turkeys who were scratching about for food on the ground under some hemlock trees where the sun had melted the snow. They pounced on one who wasn’t able to fly off quickly enough, for if you’ve ever watched a turkey take off, you know it’s awkward motion in slow speed. We hoped that the kill was quick and the turkey didn’t suffer as its feathers were plucked. The body was dragged here and then there, and the fox urinated to stake his claim. Maybe he shared some meat with his girlfriend. Along came the coyote who didn’t care about the fox’s territory and perhaps he scared them off and helped himself to a tasty treat. We had to think about it as nature’s way and jules of energy being passed on from the insects and birds to plants and seeds to the turkey and on to the canines. They, too, need to eat.

We searched all over for a head and maybe leg remnants or other body parts, but found not much, though we did find a bony structure and wished our veterinarian friend had been with us to perhaps enlighten our understanding.

Finally, we moved on and a few feet away another sight made itself visible.

Tucked into the top of a tree snag was a partial ear of corn. The refrigeration obviously worked for it looked as fresh as one might eat on a summer day.

How did it get there? We know it came from a nearby corn field, but who was responsible for its placement? Perhaps a squirrel? Or a bird? It didn’t seem likely that a raccoon could climb the snag, but then again, in nature the impossible often happens when we aren’t looking.

Today, we looked and even when it wasn’t pleasant, we were excited for we gained a wee better appreciation for and understanding of nature’s larder.

The Spirits of Long Meadow Brook

People often ask me this question: Aren’t you afraid of hiking alone? My response is that I’m more afraid to walk down Main Street than through the woods, the reason being that it’s a rare occasion I encounter another mammal. Oh, I do move more cautiously when I’m alone and today was no different. But . . . there’s something uniquely special about a solo experience.

Perhaps it’s that my mind wanders with me and I see things I might otherwise miss when I’m distracted by conversations with dear friends and family members. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to travel with them, I just equally enjoy going forth on my own.

Today’s exploration of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Long Meadow Brook Reserve and the adjacent private property protected under a conservation easement with the land trust allowed such a wander, both literally as I only occasionally followed the trail, and figuratively as I was sure that the two-headed tree spirit chuckled with me, not at me. You’ll need to let your own imagination wander to see the spirits within the split tree–believe me . . . they are there.

One of the things I love best about the Long Meadow Brook Reserve is its cathedral of pines–and the route I chose today appeared to lead to infinity. It’s not the blazed route, but someone had obviously been that way before.

When I reached the first bench, I heard the voices of fellow travelers and the laughter of the Lovell Recreation Summer Campers who often clamber for a seat. For the time being, their good-natured chatter was buried until they return again.

From the bench I moved across the field as many a deer had done, and found my way down to the namesake for this property, Long Meadow Brook. I’ll never forget my first visit several years ago–and the awe when discovering this view in the summer. In every season, I welcome the opportunity to have my breath taken away.

The view by my feet also garnered my attention, for it was obvious that a red fox had walked this way before me.

How did I know it was a red fox and not gray? Well, first I measured the print size, straddle, and stride. And then I looked at the foot morphology as presented in the snow. The prints were a bit muffled, which is one aid in identification, for a red fox has hairy feet. And . . . I spied the chevron, a little indented ridge that appears in the foot pad. If you look at David Brown’s Trackard in the previous photograph, you’ll see the chevron as a dark line.

There were other clues as to the maker of the tracks–for some frozen urine by a sapling spelled his name. And its skunky scent added a flourish to his penmanship. It’s mating season and this boy had an announcement to make.

I suspected his words were heard for it appeared that more than one fox had traveled across the old beaver dam and I found more pee at each little post.

I desperately wanted to cross as others had, but I was alone and knew it was best to stay on the eastern side.

That didn’t stop me from looking and noticing what may have been a recent otter or mink slide in the midst of the fox tracks.

Or the remains of a snowball fight that I imagined the fox affectionately tossed as his date.

Looking south, I couldn’t see any action, unless you consider the cattails. But I had to wonder, were the fox and the mink and the otter and any others at the edges keeping watch over me?

I couldn’t be sure, but I did note that the cattails parachuted seeds were eager to set off on the breeze and start their own lives.

Likewise, the water at the dam added its form of action and color and texture and sound–in as many renditions as possible.

At last I moved on, followed the blazed trail and climbed to the second bench on the property, along a route the deer know so well. Where were they? Also at the edge, again keeping watch?

Had I startled them from browsing the red maples? Missing buds and long tags represented their mark on the land.

Before moving on again, I stood behind the second bench where the mountains in Evans Notch looked as if they’d been coated with frosting; and in the way of the winter world, they had.

And then I followed a seldom used trail back down to the brook, where I spied a fox track. Do you see it? It’s about in the lower middle of the photograph.

I was even more excited when I noticed mature tamaracks growing along the brook’s bank and gave thanks.

For you see, several years ago some young tamaracks that grew along the beaver dam had been inadvertently chopped down to make a pathway for the snowmobiles. I was saddened by the discovery because this is one of the few GLLT properties with this deciduous conifer that looses most of its needles each fall. And that spot had also featured balsam fir, hemlock and white pine, making it the perfect outdoor classroom.

Add to that the pitch pines that grow by the first bench, and voilà! A lesson completed.

That made today’s discovery of the tamarack’s nubby twigs extra special and I knew that the tree spirits weren’t making fun of me, they were smiling upon me.

With that in mind, I was going to follow the trail back, but decided instead to journey for a bit beside the brook, where I found a deer bed in the sunniest of spots.

Eventually, I climbed up a hill and back to the trail, crossed through a stone wall to the neighboring property, continued on to a field and across that to a stump dump. Why go to such effort to reach a stump dump?

Because it’s actually a porcupine condominium hidden among the rocks and decaying tree stumps.

There were several entry ways–all showing the telltale signs of the pigpens of the woods.

Nipped twigs covered with a tad bit of fallen ice made me think the creators were snug inside and not over my head.

I did look up, but I did the same thing last week and didn’t see what others saw from a few feet back. That day, a porcupine was right over my head. Today, I didn’t think so, but the sun was bright and I couldn’t be absolutely certain. One may have been observing my actions from above.

And wondering what my fascination was with its scat. Check out those woody commas.

As I wandered about by the stump dump, something else also caught my eye–a promethea silkmoth cocoon.

At last I climbed back on to the porcupines’ rooftop and had to watch my step for there were several frosty vent holes and I didn’t want to land inside the humble abode.

As I stood there, I searched again for any quilled critters, but saw none. What I did see–that only a skeleton of a hemlock remained. It’s a tree the porcupines have spent more than several years denuding.

And in the tree next door, I noticed that they’d not yet reached the tip of one branch. Word has it that porcupines have many broken bones from falling out of trees. I’d love to be present when one returns for this leftover.

At last it was time for me to make my way out. I’d made a silly mistake today and thought that because it was so cold the snow would support me so I hadn’t worn snowshoes. Instead I created post holes with each step I took.

As I started across a five-acre field, my own spirit led the way–encouraging me not to give up despite the fact that I was tired.

And by the edge of the field, I did find a spirit hanging out. What was the cairn thinking? Maybe its expression as reflected at the base of the tree was one of disgust that I’d ventured forth in its space. Or perhaps it was forlorn that I was now taking my leave.

I chose to believe the latter and gave thanks for the opportunity to wander among the spirits of Long Meadow Brook.

Wandering the Wilson Wing Way

We’ve wandered there before, my friend and I, and we’ll wander there again. For as she said, “No matter how often we come here, there’s always something new to see.” And so it was that we found ourselves crawling over the crusty snowbank to get onto the trail of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Reserve.

Virgin snow greeted us as we sauntered ever so slowly beside Sucker Brook, which drains out of Horseshoe Pond. All along, we were serenaded with water songs, but bereft of such from any birds, which seemed eerily odd.

We did, however, have plenty of sights to admire, including the beaded fertile fronds of sensitive fern standing stalwart in the cold water. And then it dawned on us. Yes, the fern was standing in water. We know it prefers the edges of wetlands, but today’s offerings were at least ankle deep. And then we remembered. During the summer, it would have sprouted at the margin for the brook barely trickled through the landscape prior to the rain and snow that have fallen since then.

As we stood there, we noted reminders of others, such as the basal leaves of the Cardinal flowers that grace the brook in late summer. Visions of their red heads danced through ours.

And within our crowns, we mentally gathered the fertile fronds of royal fern. Already the days are lengthening and in a flash we’ll wonder how winter passed so quickly (well, some of us will) and dried brown leaves gave way to lush green.

Then we let the brook gather our attention again. The late morning sun played with the water and snow-covered mounds, casting shadows to its liking–and ours.

Beside the brook grow hardwoods and soft, but none were as brilliant as the yellow birch. Perhaps it was the glow of a winter day that encouraged their golden sheen to stand out among the rest.

For a few moments we stood before one of my favorite yellow birches. I love how its spindly legs stand tall above the rocks in the middle of the brook. Today, all were but another memory as they stayed snug below the blanket of white.

The boulders were also skirted in a coating of white, and hemmed with an icy floral display.

Eventually, we moved on–but only a few steps at a time. In this wintry landscape one might think there is so little to see. And one might be wrong. The trees know, their bark displaying crustose lichens of various shades and shapes overlapped by frullania.

Frullania is a genus of leafy liverworts that you’ll see on many a tree as it splays across the bark in a spiderweb-like manner. Each leaf consists of two parts, giving it a three-dimension look. On this particular tree it could have been a work of art–a scene that included the branching arms of a tree against a blue sky, the blue being a trail blaze.

Given the conditions, the blazes were hidden by many works of nature. But staying on trail wasn’t always our focus.

Between the two of us we spied one sight after another that begged to be noticed, like the fruiting bodies of a lichen possibly called Snag Pin that topped small stems sticking out perpendicular to an old tree stump.

And then there was the fungi to note, like witch’s butter, this particular specimen reminding me of a duck posing in a frilly gown and crown.

Almost hidden by the snow, an old false tinder conk with its cracked black upper surface sporting a velvety margin below.

We also found tinder conks with their equally velvety spore surface, concave as opposed to the convex form of the false tinder conk. Both are known as a hoof fungus for their shape somewhat resembles that of a horse’s hoof. Somewhat. Perhaps this particular horse high stepped through the woods.

My friend’s affinity is more to the fungi, but she knew I was equally drawn to the hobblebush, their leaves tucked inside praying hands embracing the global flowerhead. Do you see the touch of green peeking out? Again, for those of you who would prefer to wish winter away, spring isn’t far off.

It took us a while to reach the viewing platform along this not so long trail and we chose not to climb up.

Instead we opted for the view beside the brook as it flowed forth into Moose Pond Bog.

Our main reason for such was that we were curious to know if any others had traveled beside the water as well. And we weren’t disappointed when we immediately spied mink tracks.

If you look closely, you’ll also note a slide, for why bound all the time when occasionally you can take advantage of the snowy landscape and save some energy. And have a little fun.

The Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve was born prior to the organization of the Greater Lovell Land Trust. Outside the White Mountain National Forest, it was the first parcel to be conserved in the area. Behind the scenes, retired Episcopal Bishop and outdoor enthusiast George Cadigan, who summered in Lovell, encouraged his Lower Bay of Kezar Lake neighbor Wilson Wing to purchase some acreage along Sucker Brook in the early 1970s and donate it to The Nature Conservancy since the GLLT didn’t yet exist. Additional acreage was added in the late ’70s, but because the nearest office of the conservancy was located closer to the coast and the GLLT was beginning to take shape, the land was deeded to the land trust with the request that it be named for Mr. Wing.

The 32 acres beside the brook is a preserve managed primarily in its natural state for preserves are deemed to be forever wild due to fragile ecological conditions. That means that when a tree falls at Wilson Wing, its voice will resonate in a variety of ways before it finally decomposes because it can’t be touched. It will serve as habitat to a variety of species whether on land or in water.

Across the street, the Bishop Cardinal Reserve is managed to protect water quality and provide recreation and habitat.

Today, I had the pleasure of meandering beside Sucker Brook with Jinny Mae in a fashion that I imagine Wilson Wing would approve–wandering the Wilson Wing way.

Holey Mysteries

It all began with a photo sent to me by a friend two days ago. “Any ideas? 8 inches wide. 20 yards from a bog,” he wrote. 

I asked him about tracks in the area, but other than deer, he saw none. He did, however, see two track makers–a fisher and a weasel. 

And so, I contacted a few other friends and invited them to join me on a quest to figure out what the hole was all about. 

We met at the designated location, determined it would probably be in our best interest to wear snowshoes rather than Micro-spikes, and set off to search for the hole and clues. 

But first, something else stumped us. Oh, wait. I wasn’t stumped. I knew it was sumac and a bird must have been munching on the seeds. But . . . I didn’t remember sumac having such long hairs and there certainly were strands associated with the droppings. 

The color, however, made it incredibly obvious. Sumac indeed. 

Until . . . 

it wasn’t! Corn on the cob? On ice? And then we remembered that there was a cornfield located directly across the road. So . . . that made sense. But, how did it get to the other side? We’d noticed plenty of turkey tracks. Would turkeys carry cobs of corn? Not the ones that visit my backyard on a daily (sometimes twice daily) mission to eat as much bird seed I’ve tossed on the ground as possible. They scratch about and eat whatever is available on the spot rather than carrying it–as far as the four of us knew anyway. 

Did the deer bring it across? Again, we’ve always seen them dine on site. And . . . we noticed that the cobs, and even occasional husks, were left within their prints, so the corn arrived after the deer. 

As we continued to look around, we began to see kernels in small piles everywhere. 

And with that, we suddenly spied something else that looked oddly familiar. 

The hole! Notice its spiral shape. Discernible tracks? No. Dirt? Yes. Hoar frost? Yes. Hmmmm . . . 

We looked around for signs. “So and So lives here” would have made it too obvious. But, we found hoar frost on an adjacent hole, which raised a few questions: 1. Were the holes connected? 2. Was a critter breathing within? 3. Or, because we were near the bog, was there warmer water below that was creating the frost? 

Then we found something none of us had ever seen before. A smattering of sawdust on the snow located about five feet from the hole. Scat? Upset stomach? Two of us got down with a loupe to take a closer look and came to no conclusions. 

As we continued to look around, we noticed that though there wasn’t a discernible track, it did seem that activity led to two hemlock trees.

And there were snipped off twigs cut at an angle below the trees, plus some comma-shaped scat. 

With that in mind, we returned to the hole in question. 

Bingo! There was a sign that clearly read “So and So lives here.” A quill! When I first looked at the photo the other day I’d suggested porcupine or fox. Porcupine it was. 

Within the hole which we could tell was deeper to the left, we spotted more quills. 

Mystery solved–almost, for we didn’t know about that smattering of sawdust. Porcupine scat consists of sawdust because their winter diet includes tree bark and needles. Did the animal have a bellyache? 

Our excitement at finding the hole wasn’t diminished by the unsolved portion of the story. And still, we continued to find corn cobs as we moved closer to the water in hopes of finding tracks. 

Indeed, there were some and we tried to figure out the pattern to determine what mammal had crossed the ice. 

But before taking a closer look, there was ice on the bog’s edge to admire and we each found artistic displays to our individual liking. 

Back to the tracks on the ice.

At first, with porcupine on my mind, I thought I recognized the pigeon-toed behavior. 

But my companions couldn’t see it. And then I realized that I was seeing a different pattern instead. Opposite diagonals became important in the overall look of two feet together. 

Studying that one pattern of a waddling animal, we soon realized another had crossed over it–in a leap and a bound. Do you see the intersection of the two in the middle of the photograph? 

And, there were a couple of corn cobs on the ice. 

It was all too enticing, and so we got up the gumption, threw risk to the wind, and stepped out. One of us, stepped onto all fours as she slid across, the better to distribute her weight. It also gave her a better view of the tracks. 

Another came forth with caution, though she admitted she’d hoped we’d go for it. 

Her husband was the smart one and he stood on shore–looking at tracks in the snow created by one of the critters we were examining on the ice. And ever ready to call for help should we need it. 

Back to the pattern–do you see three sets of two feet? In the lower set the diagonal is higher on the left and lower on the right. It switches with the middle set of prints. And goes back to the same with the upper set. 

Where debris had frozen into the impressions you can almost see the toes. The smaller, almost rounder right hand print is a front foot and the longer left hand print is the opposite back foot. That’s how it goes with a waddler such as this. 

We’d actually seen clear prints near where we’d parked and so we knew this mammal had been in the area–those baby hand-like prints belonged to a raccoon. Raccoon tracks and corn on the cob. Hmmmm. We were beginning to make some connections. 

With that figured out, we moved on to the next set of tracks and determined they belonged to a snowshoe hare–the larger front prints actually representing its back feet as they had landed after the front feet bounded forward. 

As we studied the hare track, we noticed lots of movement had previously been made by another critter and I’m going to go out on a limb to say based on its size and behavior that it was related to the next mystery we encountered. 

First, there was a hole around a couple of tree stumps and it was the layers of ice that drew our admiration. 

Right near it, however, was another frozen over hole and we could see some tracks that were difficult to read. 

But the ice was glorious and there was another small tree stump in the center. 

We weren’t sure who had made the holes until we spied another and some prints in the snow. 

The five tear-drop shaped toes provided a huge hint. 

And a bigger hint–a hole nearby. 

As usual, it commanded a closer look. 

And what did we find? Fish scales. With that signature, and the prints and even the pattern of the older tracks near the snowshoe hare activity, we knew a river otter had recently eaten. 

Eventually, we made our way back to the road, crossed over and checked the cornfield for we still weren’t sure who had brought the cobs to the bog. It made sense that the raccoon may have, but all of them? 

We found plenty of deer tracks, many of which were again filled with either kernels or nearly complete cobs. 

But it was the one stuck up in a broken red maple limb and the chitting nearby, plus scat below, and the actual sighting of a particular mammal that we think gave us the answer as to why so many piles of kernels–red squirrels. 

With that, it was time for us to take our leave. First, we gave great thanks, however, to Parker for sending me the photo of the hole. When I’d shown it to another friend, he asked why the spiral. I think that was the lowest point and the porcupine climbed out and then made its typical swath around until it reached the higher ground each time it exited and entered.

The question none of us could answer–what about that sawdust smattering?  

Ah well, we saved that for another day and left thankful for the opportunity to solve most of the holey mysteries. 

Amazing Race–Our Style: episode eleven

The second to last episode of the Amazing Race–Our Style was upon us and we hoped it wouldn’t be the final one for us. 

Today’s clue was a bit different than most. It gave us four specific locations–and much to our delight, all were within 20 minutes of home! How could we be so fortunate? 

We were also given a time frame and a few other instructions. We were to arrive at our first destination at 10:30am. From that starting time, we had until 5pm to finish our tasks and send four photos to a certain website. The sooner we completed all of the tasks, except for sending the photos, the better our chances of hanging in for the final episode. The pressure was on. 

One of the biggest challenges was that the photos we needed to send were selfies. We aren’t selfie fans, unless you count photos of our footwear! 

Our overall mission today: to locate the four trees that had been decorated by homeschooled children and/or local land trusts. Since there were four teams left and four different properties, we were each given a different location in which to begin. 

Our starting point on this very foggy morning was Western Foothill Land Trust’s Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway, Maine. As instructed, we arrived at 10:30 and made sure to stay on the snowshoe trails only, for there is also a network of groomed ski trails. The trail was long and sometimes wet, while other times icy, but we didn’t notice too much as our eyes were focused on the trees. Of course, we were occasionally distracted, such as when a downy woodpecker flew into sight. 

My guy was certain he knew where the tree would be located, but . . . it wasn’t, at least as far as we could tell in the fog. 

We did spy a spider web embellished with beads of water and I remembered a story based on a legend about a poor family who had no decorations for their Christmas tree. As the tale goes, while the children slept, spiders spun webs of silver around the tree’s branches. The next morning, the family awoke to a Christmas tree sparkling with silver webs. Today’s webs were such and though we hadn’t found the decorated tree I was already richer for the experience of looking.

And then . . . my guy walked right by it. I was surprised I didn’t, for we both expected a different evergreen species to be adorned. 

Most of the ornaments were meant to feed the critters and we saw deer tracks in the snow. 

Among the mix was a tree cookie with a wood-burned sketch–perhaps of Roberts Farm? 

While my guy picked up fallen treats to rehang on the tree, I practiced my selfie skills. I was feeling confident that we could pull this off. 

And when I told him that we’d have to send the photos to mainechristmastreehunt.com, he was eager to pose–and I was shocked. We tried to make sure that the tree was visible in the background. 

We checked off that tree, hopped into the truck and headed to Lovell. 

OK, so we knew when the clue arrived that we had a bit of an advantage for we’d been invited to join the Fairs, Farms, and Fun 4-H Group that decorated the tree at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Chip Stockford Reserve on Ladies Delight Road in Lovell a few weeks ago, and I’d just co-led a walk on the trail this past Saturday where other adults had fun looking for it. And redecorating it.

Oh well. Other teams had had different advantages during different episodes, so it was our turn. 

But, the most curious thing–when we arrived . . . there were no tracks made by any of the other teams. Team Purple was supposed to begin at this point. Had she gotten lost? 

Because we knew right where to go, our journey was quick and we easily relocated the tree on the one mile loop with a spur. And . . . discovered that the birds and deer had once again dined on the bird seed ornaments. 

When it comes time to remove the decorations after Chrismas, the task will be super easy. 

Thankfully, the subtle birch bark hearts continued to add a festive note. 

And so we posed. 

We did discover a new clue at the kiosk on our way in–we were to find something in the woods that represented our team. We found an H for Team Hazy. 

Within the clue package, we were also told to take time to eat–at a place locals frequent. We chose Quinn’s Jockey Cap Country Store in Fryeburg and somehow managed to resist the sweet treats while we ordered sandwiches. 

And then it was on to the Mountain Division Trail on Route 113 in Fryeburg to look for Upper Saco Valley Land Trust’s Andrews Preserve. There are no signs or trails at that preserve, but our adventure on Saturday had included a visit there. That’s why I couldn’t believe that this was the intended challenge for today’s episode, but all had been decided almost a year ago and it just worked out that I knew where we needed to go today. That being said, I let my guy lead. 

He had a bit of help as one or two others had been that way–leaving their tracks in the snow. 

And . . . he did a super job, quickly spying the tree. What I love about this scavenger hunt is that each tree has a different theme and flavor. The USVLT tree was decorated by a teen and her mom, and the teen didn’t want the animals to eat all the ornaments. Understood. 

They created a pipecleaner garland and added glittery bulbs. It’s a bright spot in the middle of a thickly wooded site. 

And so we posed again. 

Our final destination was to Lake Environmental Association’s Pinehaven Trail at the Maine Lake Science Center on Willet Road in Bridgton. This is a place we know well for it’s practically in our backyard, but we didn’t know which tree would be decorated. And so we began our hunt, pausing briefly to remember the fun we’d had on the low elements challenge course that dots the trail. We’d actually completed that challenge one rainy day and were thankful (and surprised) we didn’t have to attempt it in the snow. 

Suddenly, the decorated tree jumped out with its brightly colored garland and we rejoiced for we’d found all four trees. And still had plenty of time. 

The laminated garland featured words related to LEA’s mission and activities. And so did the tree cookies, much to our liking. 

And so we posed for one final time. We still aren’t great in the selfie department, but it would have to do. 

Our next task before sending off the selfie photos to the website, was to create a scavenger hunt for others. You already know the four properties and their locations. Plus for each organization, I’ve included a link to their websites. 

Your task, should you choose to complete it while you look for the decorated trees, is to also locate these finds. 

#1: Phoebe nest protected from the weather.

#2: Shiny chrome in the forest

#3: Home for flying salamanders

#4: Wet wetland

#5: Fairy castle with many spires and towers

And finally, #6: Snowshoe snowflake! 

The numbers: 

4 trees: √

4 selfies: √

Photo to represent our team: √

Scavenger hunt for others: √

Total time to complete race: 5 hours

We finished this leg of the Amazing Race–Our Style by 3:30pm, uploaded the selfies, sent them to Maine Christmas Tree Hunt, and found out that we took first place today! Yippee. (We were sad to learn that Team Purple made some wrong turns and got delayed.)

One more leg to go in January. Who will be the winners of the Amazing Race–Our Style? Stay tuned. 

Stepping Out For Others

With the most recent snowstorm now history, I strapped on my snowshoes this morning with a sense of eager anticipation about the possibilities. And then it hit me like the snow plops that fell from the trees and landed on my head or slid down my neck: I could do this while others could not and it was for them that I needed to focus. 

I hadn’t gone far when my first moment of wonder stood before me. Actually, just prior, I’d been looking at some pileated woodpecker works–ever on the search for the bird’s scat, and in the process had noticed other bird scat soiling the snow. But . . . what was all the amber color? 

Had snow collected on mushrooms that decorated the bark? If so, why hadn’t I seen them yesterday or the day before? 

Upon a closer look, I realized it was sap. But why the big clumps? And why so much on a dead snag? 

I poked it with my finger and found it to be of snow consistency. And so . . . the mystery remained. But it was certainly worth a wonder and I knew that those I was intentionally walking for would appreciate the sight. And yes, I did see plenty of other examples of dripping sap at the base of trees, but nothing like this. As usual, if you know what was going on, please enlighten me.

My next moment of wonder was one that always gives me pause–and again I knew that my friends would feel the same. A miniature evergreen world momentarily encapsulated in a droplet of melting snow. 

Everywhere, the meltdown offered a variety of shapes and designs, each worthy of reverence . . . and a photograph, of course. 

One of my favorites was plastered to a tree in such a way that it looked like it was flat against the bark until further study revealed otherwise. As it melted before my eyes, its ever changing formation resembled a series of little flowers scattered here and there. Just maybe you have to see that through my eyes. 

And then I stumbled upon another mystery–a web of sorts like Charlotte might have woven? I studied the shrub and found numerous examples of a similar pattern, but no arachnids in sight. Besides, the silky lines seemed too thick. But, what could it be? It took me a while as I studied the area and then I remembered. Before the snowstorm, I’d taken some photographs of the winter structure of a thistle. The storm had knocked down the fruiting form, but I think my gaze was upon the filaments that had served as parachutes for the thistle’s seeds. 

My journey into the winter wonderland continued, though not all the trees along the way were fortunate to withstand the weight of the snow that was quickly melting. It sounded like a rain storm as I walked under the arched branches. 

At the the other end of the snow tunnel, I emerged into a field with its own offerings. Typically, I pass by, but today I was inspired by those who virtually walked with me to explore. And I don’t think they’ll be  disappointed by the findings. First there was the Goldenrod Ball Gall. The round gall occurred in the middle of a stem, the top of which had broken off. In the spring, the Goldenrod gall fly laid her eggs on the stem. Hatched larvae chewed their way into the stem and the gall started to develop. And from the looks of the hole on the side, it appeared the creator had chewed its way out and flown off. 

Also in the field, a Rose Bedeguar Gall, aka Robin’s Pincushion Gall on Meadowsweet, which happens to be a member of the rose family. Burrowing in to the leaves and stem of the plant was a two-fold offering for the fly larvae it hosted, for the insect benefited from the nutrients while it was simultaneously protected from predators. 

There were also numerous examples of a structure that might baffle the onlooker. Beaded formations of the fertile stalk from a Sensitive Fern poked up through the snow. Typically, the beads or capsules remain intact with their brown dust-like spores waiting inside for the structure to break open during the rains of early spring. 

I moved on from the field and eventually reached a wetland that I couldn’t cross. But, I could stand and listen and so I did. All around me the forest orchestra performed its Plop, Plop, Swish, Plop, Splash symphony. 

 At first, it sounded and looked like I was surrounded by a million wild animals, but really . . . all the sound and sights were a result of snow falling, either gently with a whisper of the wind or harshly with a thud and splash. 

As I stood there looking for the million wild mammals, my eyes focused on the works of something much smaller. Insect egg tunnels on a dead snag’s trunk read like a story on paper. 

The longer tunnels were bored by a female Bark Beetle. From the sides of her tunnels, larval mines radiated outward. The overall design could have been an abstract drawing. 

At last  I started for home, thankful that I was retracing my steps for often new sights are revealed when one does that. And so, I believe it was a crust fungus and perhaps it was an oak curtain crust fungus, but let it remain that I discovered a fungus I don’t think I’ve seen before, with a warty, rust-colored underside and dark upperside. Suffice it to say, it was a mushroom of some sort. 

Along the way was a script lichen, which looked to me like someone had doodled. Commas and apostrophes decorated that page. 

And then, and then, Tetragnatha viridis, a green long-jawed orb weaver. I actually saw two of them. Typically, the translucent green color helps them camouflage amongst pine needles, their usual habitat, but they can frequently be seen on snow, especially if the temperature is in the 25˚-35˚ range as it was this morning. 

The orb weaver’s characteristics: eight eyes in two parallel sets of four; long chelicerae (jaws); enlarged pedipalps; long legs with spines; and that color–oh my! 

It was for eight parallel eyes that I walked today, the eight representing Jinny Mae, Dick, Kate, and Carol. 

Where trees didn’t cover the trail the snow was about fourteen inches deep and as you can see I chose the wrong boots and forgot my gators. But that was okay because I knew that I would eventually wander home and change my sopping wet socks. What mattered more was the fact that I was honored to step out for others when they couldn’t necessarily do the same. Here’s to the four of you–thanks for letting me be your eyes. 

Mondate Preserved

The other day a sign caught our attention as we drove to Overset Mountain and we realized we had new trails to explore. But, we, or rather I, drove by  so fast that we didn’t know which local organization owned the property. 

If my guy read these posts he would chuckle or guffaw at my comment about driving too fast for he is of a different opinion. But suffice it to say that we didn’t read the name of the land trust on the sign and so this morning I contacted Loon Echo Land Trust because in my online research, their name was associated with the property. Maggie quickly let me know that I needed to contact Lee at Western Foothills Land Trust and violà. 

Both have been involved in the Crooked River Forests Project for as is stated on the LELT website: The Crooked River has been identified as a priority for conservation as it is the largest tributary to Sebago Lake, with 38% of the inflow, and it offers local recreational opportunities and is situated above high quality sand and gravel aquifers. The river has been identified in the state’s Natural Resources Protection Act as an Outstanding River Segment with AA status; free flowing with the best water quality. This trout fishery is home to one of only four native populations of landlocked salmon in the state and is known to host one species of anadromous fish (American eel) and is thought to historically host Atlantic salmon and sea lamprey.

As I pulled up to the sign today, however, the ownership was obvious. The name, Two Bridges, was not so. The area has long been named such, and all we could imagine is that twin bridges once spanned the Crooked River in the area where we stood. 

Since the parking lot was under construction, for the property won’t officially open for another two weeks, we parked on Plains Road rather than Route 117 in Otisfield. 

At the start, the trail was wide and straight, and we both hoped for a change. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It was lovely and we had fun naming all the evergreens, including white and red pine, hemlock, balsam fir and red spruce, for those were the most abundant species, with a few young beech, red maples and red oaks thrown into the mix. But . . . we wanted diversity. And we wanted to walk beside the river. 

Soon, thankfully, we came to a Y in the road and a new sign post, or so we imagined it to be. We chose the trail to the right since it was closer to the water. 

And within minutes our reward awaited. That being said, we’d followed a spur to the riverbank and since there were no telltale pieces of flagging we suspected it won’t be marked as a public trail. 

Further along, we again spent time by the river, and noted its sculptures made of decorative roots . . . 

and splashes of ice. 

And in the mix–a rare sight indeed: an ice disc, this one being about three or four feet in diameter and spinning in an eddy. 

Eventually, the trail took us across a bridge constructed by the land trust in October 2017 that will provide the landlocked salmon and brook trout with another mile of spawning habitat.

And that’s not all. We saw plenty of evidence that mammals inhabit the space from deer . . . 

to fox . . .

to bobcat! 

There were several intersections, and we kept turning toward the river, which took us along trails more to our liking as they narrowed and twisted and turned through the forest. 

At one point, a tree arched over the trail and its purple crust fungi added a different color to the display. I think it was Phanerochaete crassa. 

My guy pointed out the hugging cousins–a white pine and hemlock and I was reminded of my finds on Black Friday. “I knew you’d like it,” he commented. He knows me well. 

Because we were in an evergreen forest, we noticed several examples of witches’ brooms. No, they were not the variety that one might have expected on Halloween night. Instead, dense masses of shoots rose from a single point on an otherwise normal branch and created a nest-like structure. Their cause: fungi, viruses, bacteria, mites or aphids. 

Speaking of the latter, aphids created the cone galls we knew as witch’s hats on witch hazels that grew near the river. The little structures provided both food and shelter for the critters that developed within. 

We also spied lungwort on a few hardwoods, its leafy structure springtime green as it photosynthesized in response to the flurries that floated earthward during the morning hours. 

And then the forest’s canvas began to draw our attention, from snowcapped artist conk (Ganoderma applanatum) fungi . . . 

to icy reflections, . . . 

man-made sculptures, . . .

and dazzling trail markers. We spied another made of pipe cleaners and a soggy feather and wondered.

We didn’t walk the entire trail system, but left knowing that we’d return for further explorations. 

Because we were in the neighborhood and my guy had never seen it, I drove along Plains Road to the Ryefield Bridge. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, the structure was built in 1912 as a double-intersection Warren truss bridge. 

The bridge spans the Crooked River between Harrison and Otisfield and is still used today. In fact, we walked and drove across it. 

One of our favorite parts was the sign at the top, which not only stated the construction company, but also honored the selectmen of the day. 

My excitement about the bridge was equally matched by some prints I spotted when I stepped into the snow to take a photo from the river bank. Beaver prints! Like the ice disc in the river, beaver prints have always been a rare find. Often, I can see their pathways, but not decipher their tracks for their tails swish out the features. 

But today, not only the tracks and a trail down to the water, but beaver chews, their snack sticks, left behind on the ice. 

We took one final look before heading home–Crooked River framed by the bridge. And we both gave thanks on this Mondate for a land and a bridge preserved. 

Black Friday Lit Up, Naturally

With a mantra of “Shop Locally,” I did just that on this Black Friday 2018. Thankfully the time to take advantage of the doorbuster sales wasn’t limited and so it was okay that I didn’t pull into the Flat Hill parking lot until 1pm. 

Turns out, as in any shop today, the aisles were a bit crowded with customers searching for items on clearance and other great deals. 

I paused for a bit in aisle one, where I contemplated the Made-in-Maine artwork and thought about those on my Christmas list. Perhaps a water scene for Marita  because she likes the gurgling sound of a brook. 

For Pam K., I decided on an ice sculpture to add to her winter home. 

And for Pam M., I was sure that an abstract piece would be just right–especially as it echoed the mountain range and transformed into a bird, only sorta/kinda M.C. Escher in style. 

There were others on the list to consider and the decisions became more difficult as the selection increased in aisle two. Mouse, vole, squirrel both red and gray, deer and coyote tracks all were on display and the sign indicated I could buy one and get one free. But which one to buy? And for whom? 

And then just like that, it became clear–the coyote track for Simon because he’d caught on quickly to the squirrel patterns and appreciated that the predator was hungry. 

For every one set of tracks, there were fifty others, especially those of the mice and squirrels. But I chose the porcupine trough as my “get one free” when I saw it on the climb up the hill. 

The trough with its pigeon-toed prints and sashaying tail would be perfect for Bob.

Of course, I could have mixed and matched the prints, but thought it best to keep them separate. 

Continuing the dash for more must-have gifts, I spied a mossy maple polypore on a lower shelf and thought immediately of my guy. He doesn’t like to consume mushrooms, but there’s something about the mossy maple that draws his attention. 

And then on an end cap I saw the kissing beech/maple out of the corner of my eye and turned to read the sign: Limited in Quantity. On impulse I purchased it. Maybe I’ll stick it on my guy’s bureau and he can wrap it up for me. I’ve done that before 😉

There were a few free surprises. Not all freebies are created equal, but I really liked the bronze ornament that would be a nice addition on our Christmas tree. 

At last it was time for a little break at the Flat Hill Cafe. Today, the view offered more bang for my buck as Mount Washington glistened white behind the other mountains. 

Also enjoying the view and the oxymoron of the name Flat Hill were fellow shoppers Bob, Pam K., Marita, Simon and Pam M. I made sure they didn’t see what was in my pack and visa versa. I do so hope they are as excited as I am about the gifts I purchased for them.

When the cafe got crowded, we decided to walk back down the main aisle together toward the check out. And then a few of us remembered we had coupons for the seasonal section. But . . . alas, we were too late. It was the only part of the store that was closed because everything had sold out. The stepping stones were  covered with water and ice to keep us from venturing any farther. We turned around, only a bit disappointed that our shopping adventure was about to come to an end, but understood that being a three-season section we had taken our chances by arriving so late in the day. 

No matter. The view from Perky’s Path thrilled us. All afternoon, we enjoyed the lighting, and especially the sun as it lowered–making this Black Friday light up, naturally. 

I highly encourage you to visit; the doors are open all hours and it’s a great place to shop in style. 

Today’s Black Friday Lit Up, Naturally experience was brought to you by the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Flat Hill, Heald Pond Road, Lovell. 

Jolly Mondate

Some Mondates are meant to be shared and this was one of them for I’d made arrangements to join the Fairs, Farms and Fun 4-H Group as they decorated a tree (or two or three) on a Greater Lovell Land Trust property this morning. 

And honestly, my guy was as excited as me to join the adventure for he loves kids.

One of the GLLT’s volunteer docents, Juli, had offered to lead today’s hike since her four children are part of the group. And because she’s a Maine Master Naturalist-in-Training, she made evergreen trees the focus as she explained when we circled up.

All together there were fifteen kids–fourteen of them walking and one young babe tucked inside her mom’s coat. At least I think there were that many. Every time I counted, the number seemed to change. 

After Juli’s initial explanation, we headed off onto the trail. Though most of us sported blaze orange because it’s hunting season, we made enough noise to announce our arrival to deer and their predators within range and beyond, I’m sure. 

We’d gone only a wee bit, when Juli stopped the group to ask them about evergreens. My guy and I were impressed with their collective knowledge.

But it wasn’t only for the trees that she stopped. She’d spied a decoration already dangling and asked if the kids knew how it happened to be there. 

What was it? A mushroom. Did it fall from the sky? Or from a taller tree? No and no. Instead, they figured out that a squirrel had deposited it and Juli explained that red squirrels place mushrooms in trees to dry. Or rather, freeze dry as was the case. 

She hadn’t walked much further when she stopped again. And again asked some questions as she showed off the five needles in a white pine bundle. 

Five needles in each bundle makes it easy to remember as there are five letters in W-H-I-T-E, the color of Maine’s State Tree: Eastern White Pine. 

It wasn’t all a lesson for the name of this 4-H group includes the word “Fun.” And so they climbed atop and under an erratic boulder and added more life on a rock than that one had seen in a long time. 

A little further on a bit of an incline invited their exploration and what to their wondering eyes should they discover but a long abandoned cellar hole with trees growing in it. For a few minutes that became their playground. 

It took us a while to move along because the kids kept finding cool things to admire, including a variety of mammal tracks and . . . even a dead spider. 

What do you see? Lots of eyes. 

And you? Fangs. 

And you? Hairy legs. 

After that discovery, we had to run to catch up with the rest of the group because they were on their way to the scenic overlook. But one of the boys had borrowed a GLLT Nature Backpack from the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, which I was thrilled to see, and we used the lucite insect box with a magnifier that was stored in the pack so that all the kids could look at the spider up close if they so wished. 

And then it was time to decorate a tree. But first, Juli had the kids identify three types of evergreens in the same vicinity: spruce, hemlock and balsam fir. Their decorating began with the balsam fir. 

One by one, they attached homemade, biodegradable ornaments. 

And added a tree topper in the form of a birch bark “sleeve.”

Some were hearts cut from birch bark . . . 

and coated with peanut butter and sunflower seeds. 

It took great concentration. 

In no time, the tree was fully decorated.

Some changes had to be made. For one, one of the younger boys wanted his ornament to serve as a tree topper, so the birch bark sleeve was placed in a resting place on another tree. 

And then the kids decided to decorate any branch in the vicinity that attracted their fancy.

At least one needed a boost, but that’s what someone else’s mom was for when your own mom was busy with your baby sister. 

Branches all around certainly won’t feel left out. 

And no mouse or bird or squirrel or deer will go unfed. 

The kids quickly realized that they’d created a critter cafe that even included an offering tucked between two hop hornbeam trees. 

At last, the decorating had come to an end and the crew posed for photographs. 

Our journey back to the parking lot was the same distance as we followed the rest of the one-mile loop, but we travelled much more quickly. We did pause once in a while, however, especially in a grove of young white pines, where the kids practiced aging a tree. 

They knew to begin with 5 for the number of years it takes the seed to germinate and begin to grow and then to count the whorls of branches, each whorl representing one year. 

My guy challenged them to find one that matched his age. They found one that was 43–only off by 20+ years. But a few noted that it did match their dad’s age. I chuckled for I’d had that particular dad in class way back when he was in middle school. 

We were almost done when they made one last discovery–ice! Their very own rink. One little boy wanted to live there so he could slide on the ice all day. And then jump in the water come summer. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that the ice was a result of our rainy October and its not a permanent feature. 

 It was lunch time when the group was finally ready to depart. 

All the way home and even still, my guy and I have been smiling about our morning and the fun we had sharing it with the kids and their moms. Thank you Juli, and 4-H leader Wendy, and all of the homeschooled kids who attended. We were blessed by the opportunity to spend a few hours with you on the Jolly Mondate.