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.
It always strikes me that no matter how often one travels on or off a trail, there’s always something different that makes itself known–thus the wonder of a wander.
And so it was when Pam Marshall, a member of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, joined me for a tramp at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge West on Farrington Pond Road this morning. She had no idea what to expect. Nor did I.
It was misty when we met, but neither of us was daunted by the weather. Ever so slowly, we made our way over the wet leaves, roots, and rocks, pausing frequently–especially each time we saw puff balls. How can one resist poking or squeezing them to watch the spores waft out like smoke. The skin of mature puffballs split prior to releasing spores. And we . . . we helped the process a wee bit.
Green stain fungus also drew our attention. Its fruiting bodies were minute, but well worth wet knees for a closer examination.
With Pam in the lead for most of the way, she kept finding cool stuff, like this hexagonal-pored polypore.
It took us a while, but we finally reached the wetland by the Sucker Brook Outlet where blueberry, maleberry and leatherleaf shrubs added color to the otherwise gray day. For a while we stood under the protection of a large hemlock and took in the scene in silence.
From our vantage point, an island in Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay looked like a ghost ship. And in the foreground, cotton grass still touted its tufted heads.
At our feet we could see some aquatic plant roots floating in the water, a beaver treat, and trusted by the mud on the lodges that there had been recent activity. Perhaps they rested indoors before planning to spend time later in the day preparing for the cold months ahead.
After a while and because I knew they were there, I took Pam along the edge of the brook for a short distance to locate several pitcher plants. Someone once photographed them in their young green form and described them as rare. While helping Dr. Rick Van de Poll, principal of Ecosystem Management Consultants (EMC) in Sandwich, New Hampshire, set up study plots at Lakes Environmental Association’s Highland Lake Reserve in Bridgton during July 2017, we had to watch where we stepped to avoid crushing pitcher plants. It was a perfect time to ask Rick about the green color. Were there green pitcher plants in Maine? And if so, were they rare? He explained that it was just a matter of sunlight and age, all would eventually take on a redder hue in veins and then overall leaf coloration as they matured.
This morning, we found some sporting brighter red leaves.
And another plant that was duller in color. Since we were in the locale where the green plant had been discovered, I trusted that it was beginning to show its age. It was the duller one that drew most of our fascination. Carnivorous pitcher plants obtain nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Their oddly-shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: an insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Do you see what we saw? A spider web across the top of the leaf? And within?
Dueling fishing spiders.
And so we watched.
The larger one continuously manipulated the smaller one, which appeared to be dead. Back and forth under its body, it kept moving the smaller kin.
Was it trying to eat the other? One last meal before it too succumbed to the plant? Was it trying to move past the dead spider so it could try to climb out? Should we save it?
In the end, we left the action with questions in our minds and didn’t interfere.
Except, that is, to take photographs and make a film. Again, our knees were wet and we didn’t care.
Back on the trail, we found an area where Earthballs decorated some old lumber slash. Their warty outer skin drew our attraction.
Another common name for Scleroderma citrinum is Pigskin Poison Puffball. Since it’s football season, it’s good to note that footballs used to be made of a pig’s . . . bladder and not its skin, though historically they were called pigskins. Rather than feel leathery, these seemed more rubbery, thus the reference I guess.
And because they were puffballs, they invited a poke.
From a couple of slits, mature blackish spores erupted. I had to chuckle for no matter with whom I share a trail, puffballs always invite the same reaction–pick up a stick and give it a jab. And each time we share the same moment of glee. And our inner child is released one more time. Thankfully.
Of course, we found ourselves on our knees yet again when Pam spied something within an Earthball that had exploded prior to our visit. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an inanimate insect that looked like it was covered in spores. Canary in the coal mine?
Our next great find was of a different sort and I had to pull the Trackards from my pack while Pam got down for another upclose and personal look. Notice her knee?
Black bear scat! Indeed. Cylindral and large. We looked for tracks, but conditions were such that we didn’t find any. The scat was enough for this day.
If you go, we strongly encourage you to follow the green trail all the way to the bird/wildlife viewing point along Sucker Brook. Today, the tamaracks on the shore to our right added a tone of bright beauty to the overcast day.
And another old beaver lodge also looked like it had received a mud treatment. We could see some beaver chew sticks in the water by the edge of the brook and so we knew again that there had been recent activity. It just means we’ll have to return for another visit if we want to catch some action–perhaps earlier in the day.
In the meantime, we let the view point become our turn-around point and quickly (sorta) followed the blue trail back for we both needed to move on to the rest of our day.
But . . . despite the mist and occasional raindrops, we elected to tramp. And were delighted with the results. Here’s hoping the rest of the day goes like that.
Perhaps we should have tiptoed and tried to silently pass through the woods much the way a fox or bear might, but that is not our habit. And so on today’s Tuesday Tramp for the Greater Lovell Land Trust, we chatted and wondered aloud as we hiked along the trails of Bishop Cardinal Reserve on the upper side of Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell. Consequently, our wild mammal sightings were non-existent. Despite that, we saw soooo much.
Our team was small this morning, with only docents Bob and Pam joining me, but still we made plenty of noise as we looked about.
The first sign of mammal and human interaction, of course, was the telephone pole beside the trailhead. If you’ve traveled with me either literally or virtually before, you know how I LOVE a telephone pole. It’s not the fact that such brings electrical power and other modern day amenities to our homes, but instead the realization that bears are attracted to them and like to leave a mark as they claw and bite at the anomaly in the forest surroundings. I always check for hair left behind, but today was disappointed to find none.
Despite the lack of hair, there were a few newer scratches worth celebrating.
And a small spider tossed into the mix. The temperature was on the chilly side as the wind blew, but not cold enough to begin the process of accumulating glycols in its blood (e.g., antifreeze) that would allow the spider to supercool. By physiologically adapting via special antifreeze compounds, the tissues of some Maine spiders remain unfrozen at temperatures well below freezing, and thus avoid turning into little blocks of ice once winter sets in. Of course, had it been a little bit cooler, this spider probably would have hidden in the leaf litter below rather than trying to send a telegram via the phone pole.
A little further along the trail, however, we did find more bear sign in the form of claw marks on beech trees. And that raised the question: Do bears only climb beech trees? No. But, beech bark is one of the best to show off their signature scratches.
After I showed Pam and Bob a couple of trees with claw marks, they began to look about and Pam spied one I’d not noticed before.
Congratulations on your First To Find (FTF) Award, Pam! Well deserved.
It wasn’t only bear sign that made the walk intriguing. A year and a half ago, this same couple had spied an entire deer carcass along the lower part of the trail. And so when we arrived in the vicinity today, we looked around. And eagle eyes Pam spied half the skull atop the leaves. What had happened to the deer? Human interaction? Old age? It was a rather large skull.
My, what flat teeth it had. Because herbivore teeth are highly specialized for eating plant matter which may be difficult to break down, their molars tend to be wider and flatter, thus allowing the animal to grind its food and aid in digestion.
We looked about for other bones and had to satisfy ourselves with a lower jaw. Had the rest of the skeleton been scattered and we just couldn’t see it below the recent leaf cover or had mice and other rodents dined on the bones from which they sought calcium? Coyotes, bears, and even another deer may also have moved the bones and found their own nourishment. Whatever happened, we knew it had been recycled . . . naturally.
And not far away on the edge of a bridge over a stream . . . coyote scat. It was not fresh, but fresher than the deer skull event, and full of hair. On what did the coyote dine? Snowshoe hare? Gray squirrel? Some other delectable offering? We weren’t sure.
Dinner in the woods came in many forms, however, and on a fallen tree about four feet from the ground we found a mushroom turned upside down. Despite recent wind storms, we didn’t think it had blown up to that spot. Instead, a squirrel had set it there to dry. A squirrel’s food pantry is far bigger than a kitchen cupboard. Would it remember where it had placed the mushroom? Probably. Would another squirrel discover and snag it? Possibly.
But there were others set in different spots to dry, so the original cacher might have some success in retrieving the food it had stored.
As our time drew to a close, we noticed patterns in the mushrooms imitated by icy spots in a stream that spoke to the morning’s chill.
But the sun had come out and we relished its warmth as we headed back to our vehicles and on into the rest of our days.
Before doing so, however, there were two more sights to commemorate–the man-made line up of doors found deep in the woods . . .
and rain-made castles along the road side.
Bishop Cardinal Reserve–where man and nature intersect.
As I drove to Lovell this morning to take a photo for the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s winter newsletter, the crisp outline of a snow-covered Mount Washington made me realize that I had a short, unintended hike in my immediate future.
Yesterday, I’d climbed the Flat Hill Trail at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve to take another photo for the newsletter–that one of the view from the summit of snow falling in the White Mountains. This past summer, staff and volunteers of the land trust had made some trail changes and opened several views, the one from Flat Hill being the most dramatic and the foliage, snow and sky enhanced the opening. But . . . today’s view was different and I knew I needed to capture it again.
So . . . after a staff photo shoot at the Kezar River Reserve of Stewardship Associate Dakota, Associate Director Aidan, and Office Manager Alice, I headed north.
And laughed at myself for yesterday I never noticed the yellow Voss blazes that had been mounted to mark the trail. The hope is that eventually all the trails will be signed with different colored diamonds that will ease navigation.
It’s a trail I know well, even with a new backwards S curve about two thirds of the way up that erased a steep and slippery portion and so instead I focused on those sights at my feet. While many leaves had already begun the long process of decomposition as they slowly break down and give nutrients back to the earth from which their trees grew, a few still sparkled like gems, including this Big-Tooth Aspen, aka poplar.
I was thrilled to discover Sugar Maple, defined by the U shape between its pointed lobes;
its V between lobes and toothier cousin, Red Maple;
and even toothier kin, Striped Maple, known ’round these parts a goosefoot because its shape is similar. Some of us also refer to it as nature’s toilet paper for it’s large, soft, and easy to identify. You wouldn’t think of confusing it with poison ivy.
The curious thing about the Maple family, like all families in our northern New England forests, is that while the shape and color of the leaf helps us specify the family origins, each leaf within the family is different–whether in color or flaws or insect bites or galls. But despite their differences, they are all family.
With the Striped Maple, I thought I’d found the largest species of the day, but a few more steps toward the summit revealed a rather large Northern Red Oak leaf.
And then the biggest of all–Basswood. My hiking boots are size 8. And the leaf–also a size 8, with an asymmetrical base. That must prove a challenge when trying to find the right fit.
Focusing on the leaves took my mind off the climb and within no time I’d reached the summit where Polypody ferns in their evergreen form decorated the northwestern corner of an otherwise bald rock.
From the ferns where I’d planted my feet, I looked skyward and noticed the leaf and flower buds of a Red Maple, all tucked inside their waxy scales. It was the right place to be for as the north wind blew and my cheeks turned rosy red, I looked to the west.
Yesterday’s view had been transformed. No longer was it snowing from the Baldfaces to Carter Dome, with Mount Washington the whitest of all, posing between them. But still, it was chilly.
A slight push on the camera lever and I pulled the scene a wee bit closer.
At last I pulled myself away and hiked down, but so delightful was the morning, that I knew my newsletter work would have to wait a few more minutes at the intersection with Perky’s Path, for I felt the calling.
It’s a wetland I visit frequently and once upon a time about five years ago it was filled to the brim with water because beavers had dammed it for their convenience.
The only water today was found in a small stream that flowed through, its origin at Bradley Pond and terminus at Heald Pond. I stopped at the rock stepping path to admire what the water had to offer, including suds forming their own rachis or mid-vein from which side veins extended, a sideways rendition for the birch leaf caught between twigs.
In the middle of the stepping stones is a large flat rock. It was there that I settled in for a while, enjoying the feel of its sun-absorbed heat and the sound and views offered as the brook flowed slowly forth.
At last I pulled myself away and continued toward the bench that overlooked the wetland. All was quiet on this brisk day, but its a place of life and love and change.
From there I continued to circle the old beaver pond to the point where I knew it had formerly been dammed. Climbing over and around moss-covered rocks, and into former stream beds, I made my way to the edge of what I used to call an infinity pool for the water was once at the dam’s upper level.
Once I reached the dam, making my way one step at a time, for it was rather tricky footing at times, I discovered life on the other side. For all the years I’ve been involved with the land trust, I’d never seen this edge from this view. My surprise included the almost bald rocks.
Stepping from boulder to boulder, I made my way into the wetland a wee bit, but along the way realized someone had visited prior to me. Actually probably almost a year prior given the conditions of the scat left behind. Based on its shape, size, and inclusion of multiple bones plus lots of hair, I suspected a coyote had feed on a hare.
The coyote and I weren’t the only ones who knew of this secret place. A wolf spider darted in and out among the leaves, more afraid of me than I was of it.
And then I discovered something that perhaps they both already knew: the water supported a small colony of Spatterdock, a plant that will need to be added to the list of flora for this property. Do you see the ice on the Micky Mouse ear leaves?
Ice had also formed around a fallen log, its swirls portraying a high-heeled boot that certainly might be appropriate in an ice sculpture but not on ice.
All of what I saw the tree spirit already knew. And yet, it allowed me to make discoveries from my feet to the sky.
And every layer between. I know he’s not there anymore, but can’t you imagine Marty Engstrom on top of Mount Washington?
Past visits to New York City have always included museums and shows, but this weekend we followed a bit of the familiar path and sometimes took the trail less touristy in an attempt to get to know the area better.
Saturday afternoon, following our arrival via a bus from Worcester, Mass., we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan, which was a bit veiled in fog, thus softening ordinarily crisp lines.
Begun in 1869 and completed by 1883, the bridge spans the East River and connects the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Among the throngs of people who walked or rode bicycles across, we all wove strands of thread that fit easily into the web long ago created. Some of us paused suddenly here and there, as the arachnid tried to take hold, while others tried to maneuver along the silken dragline writing messages with their feet much the way Charlotte may have within her web.
And a few got caught up by the constrictors waiting at the center.
At last we emerged on the other side, where our attention was diverted by the architecture and colors.
Often, it was the interaction of today and yesterday that drew our notice, joined together as they were with a global reference.
Eventually, we passed through the doorway of St. Patrick’s Cathedral . . .
where many have gathered for centuries to light candles in memoriam of those who have passed from this layer of life to the next and prayed for the future.
And then we slipped into Central Park, where we were again struck by the architecture, especially as juxtaposed against the artificially landscaped natural world.
As we watched the Mallards and Canada Geese, one of our biggest moments of awe was for a goldfish–the largest we’d ever seen.
Eventually, we boarded a train and found our way back to Brooklyn, where a quiet evening awaited.
Sunday morning found us passing below the Brooklyn Bridge, where we could glimpse the more “modern” Manhattan Bridge in the distance.
Again, the skyline was muffled, but its edges softened.
And once more we looked with wonder at the web construction.
Ever so slowly, we moved away even as a paddlewheeler representing the south made its way north.
Despite our thrill at watching water taxis, tour boats, jet skis, sailboats, powerboats, and even a police boat move up and down the river, the local Cormorants and a Herring Gull took it all in stride.
After all, they had feathers to preen.
And the Canada Geese–a grassy park to foul. The irony was that no dogs were allowed, but the geese made themselves quite at home.
Above the Cormorant/Gull condos, Lower Manhattan gave way to the harbor, and we enjoyed the view from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
Our perch included the sight of Lady Liberty as she greeted all.
And another grand lady, the Queen Mary 2. The last time I saw the QM, it was a previous rendition and she’d anchored in New Haven Harbor (Connecticut) in the summer of 1979. My father, sister, and I drove into the city to catch a view and then we followed the route Queen Elizabeth, who had arrived in town for a very brief visit, would take before departing from Tweed New Haven Airport. Crowds lined the route and we practiced our best QE wave. Humoring us, some waved back. We did glimpse the queen as her motorcade eventually drove by and that was enough to fulfill our Anglophile envy.
But, this weekend we were in Brooklyn to admire New Yorkers, (and we knew the queen wasn’t on the boat), so we pulled our point of view back to the area around us, which included a mosaic structure worth noting. Watertower is actually a sculpture created by Brooklyn artist Tom Fruin. He used plexiglass and steel in 2012 to represent one of the icons of our nation–a water tower.
From pier to pier we followed the promenade beside the river, noting natural places and sports fields filled with athletes of many talents as they played games or worked out.
Eventually, we circled back and then climbed up into Brooklyn Heights, enjoying our meander through a beautiful neighborhood.
And my guy, he became a pro at identifying Sycamore trees for so prolific do they grow in that neck of the woods.
And then, and then we encountered a flock of happy pigeons. Yes, we were in New York City and all pigeons are happy there. It has something to do with peanut kiosks perhaps?
There were the typical blue-gray birds with two dark wingbars,
rusty red version,
those spotted or mottled,
and even pale among the gang.
But really, have you ever taken the time to look at those iridescent colors?
Or that sweet face?
At last we left our pigeon admiration behind and continued on, noting another tree not in our familiar category–the Maidenhair or Gingko Tree.
Its fan-shaped leaves showed off the carotenoids that had been hidden all summer by the green pigment. Fall was slowly embracing the city, but it hadn’t arrived in full yet.
As we moved from a more residential to commercial area, we were surprised to find a barber shop open on a Sunday morning. Given that I’d recently written about barber shops for Lake Living, it was fun to peek inside. And note how many men waited. But, in this city where many work late each day, it made sense that they’d make time on a Sunday morning for a hair cut.
Eventually, our wanderings led us to a hardware store. And not just any kind of hardware store . . .
for it was an independently-owned True Value, much like my guy’s.
And since one of our reason’s for visiting the city was to celebrate his 65th birthday, I followed him in.
Lunch found us eating a slice of pizza from a local pizzeria. It was OK; better than what we find in Maine, but not quite what I remember from my childhood in Connecticut. We did eat in the “garden” where figs grew! I wasn’t quite sure how that related to pizza. But . . . we were in New York.
New York . . . a city where graffiti is understood.
Our day ended with dinner at a small neighborhood Italian restaurant, Santa Panza, where we quietly celebrated my guy’s birthday with the most delicious dinner.
As this morning dawned, it was time for us to look out the window of our hotel and say goodbye to the two ladies who’d waved us in and would wave us out. Miss Manhattan and Miss Brooklyn rotated continuously at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Tillary Street.
According to a Brooklyn Public Library’s website: “Miss Manhattan sits haughtily with her right foot atop a chest of money (or jewels?); in her right hand she holds a winged globe reminiscent of a cross-bearing orb, an ancient symbol of authority; a peacock, flashiness and luxury incarnate, is by her side. (The peacock, in the belief system of the Ancient Greeks, also represented immortality/eternity.) The bows of three ships hint at the status of Manhattan as an important port and an international trade hub. She is all dignity, privilege and hubris.
Miss Brooklyn’s demeanor could not be more different. Her expression is gracious, introspective and calm; she is surrounded by a church spire (Brooklyn to this day counts more houses of worship than any other borough); a lyre and a child with a book (a reference to the borough’s patronage of culture and education). The book on the child’s lap is massive. It must be a Bible, another reference to the borough’s spiritual thrust. Her head is adorned with a laurel wreath. In her hands she holds a tablet with the Dutch inscription “Ein Drach Mackt Maght” (“In Union there is strength”), a hint at the Dutch origins of Brooklyn and at the fairly recent New York City consolidation of 1898.”
The granite maidens originated on the Manhattan Bridge, but these sculptures were installed on a pedestal at their current location about a year ago. For us, they were our home monuments much as Pleasant Mountain serves as our home mountain. Not only did they welcome us and send us on our way, but we knew where we’d lay our heads for the night as we approached.
At last, our brief city adventure came to an end, but we trust we’ll return.
Yo, Brooklyn! Yo Miss Manhattan and Miss Brooklyn. Thanks for the welcome. Until we meet again . . .
I was on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon for next week I’m leading some middle school students into a wetland and talking about forest ecology before sharing the joy of foraging with them.
To reach the wetland, it was like walking through a jungle where the ferns grow tall, their fall coloration enhancing the scene. Cinnamon Ferns are a species that easily grow in medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. The moist, rich, acidic soils, I walked through were much to their liking.
It appeared that they were named for their autumn presentation, but really it refers to the cinnamon-colored fibers found near the frond bases.
Because they look so similar to their relatives in the Osmundaceae family, the Interrupted Fern, I looked to the back of the frond for confirmation. Sure enough, where the pinnae (leaflet) met the rachis (center stem), a tuft that we refer to as the hairy underarm was present.
Onward I continued, not sure what the moisture situation might be. So, in the past, I’ve paused by the kettle hole, but never actually entered it. All that changed today and my plan is to take the students into this special place. A kettle hole is a basin created when a large block of glacial ice was left stranded and subsequently melted in place, producing a basin or depression. These basins fill with water up to the depth of their surrounding water table, which currently happens to be rather low.
Because the temperature had risen after a damp, chilly start to the day, the meadowhawk dragonflies flew . . . and landed. This one was a White-faced Meadowhawk, aptly named for that face.
Its abdomen markings of dark black triangles also help in identification.
Flying in the same airspace where the Autumn Meadowhawks, with their light-colored legs. All other meadowhawks have dark legs.
Love was in the air and on the leaf as a pair of Autumns took advantage of the warm weather to canoodle in the sunlight.
They weren’t alone.
What I learned as I explored was that the kettle was actually a double pot for a second one had formed behind the first. Notice the layered structure of the area from trees on the outer edge to shrubs to grasses and flowers to water.
And everywhere–deer and raccoon tracks crisscrossed through mud and water.
Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.
And because I was interested in learning who lived there, I had to pay homage to the six-spotted fishing spider.
The spider flirted with me as he moved quickly among the spatterdock leaves that sat in the wee bit of water left in the center of the kettle.
I finally left the kettle only to discover another and again the formation of layers.
The water was a bit deeper and a family of Green Teal Ducks dabbled.
It took some time and steady foot placement as I climbed over downed trees hidden by winterberry and other shrubs, but at last I reached my intended destination, a cranberry bog.
And then I spent the next hour or so filling my satchel for so abundant were the little gems of tartness. The best where those hidden among the leaves–dark red and firm were they.
As I picked, I realized I wasn’t the only one foraging. It appeared that either chipmunks or squirrels also knew the value of the flavor–though they only nibbled.
Occasionally, or even more often, I looked up to take in the colors and layers that surrounded me–from leatherleaf bronze to blueberry red to Gray Birch and Red and Silver Maples with a few White Pines in the mix.
Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.
At last I decided to find my way out. (Sorta for I did get a wee bit disoriented.)
Among the offerings were ferns of a different kind–though still related to the cinnamons I’d seen earlier. The Royal Fern’s fertile crown had months ago shared its spores with the world and all that was left were salmon-colored structures.
I picked my way carefully and eventually found one of the kettles. And . . . drum roll please . . .
two Sandhill Cranes. Others can tell you better than I how long the Sandhills have returned to this area, but it’s been for a while now and some even saw a nesting pair this past summer. My sightings have been few and so it’s always a pleasure.
I stood still as they moved about and they didn’t seem to notice my presence.
While they foraged for roots, another also watched.
The Great Blue Heron was cautious as they strolled in his direction.
And then . . . and then . . . in flew a Bald Eagle. And out flew the heron.
The cranes waited a couple of minutes and then they flew, bugling on the wing.
And I rejoiced. Oh, I still had to find my way out and did eventually cross through a property about a quarter mile from where I’d started. But, all in all from kettles to cranberries to birds, it was a Fen-tastic afternoon as I explored an outlet fen.