Over the years, I’ve learned that one can know a landscape well, but not necessarily exhaustively, and so today I entered a place I love to frequent and suddenly realized I’d stepped into a museum.
Following the hallways within, I wended my way from display to display.
I discovered many favorites, this among them, which reminded me that all of us are entangled in the lives of our families and friends and those that we may not even know, but each twist and turn offers a window to the beyond.
I’ve seen sculptures similar to this so intricately carved by one artist and excavated by another. But it’s how the two worked together to leave behind a design that makes me think of stalactile hanging from the ceiling of a cave that amazed me.
Another sculpture focused on contrast of time as signaled by one closed and not yet ready to cast forth the future and the other open, knowing full well the future had dispersed in the past.
Then there was this sculpture entitled “Free Form” for so did the artist capture the subjects as they appeared to dance despite their still nature.
And I can never not pause by a turtle sculpture since such always takes me back to my childhood pets and then collection of stuffed, wooden, ceramic, you name it, renditions of this species, some of which I still own and display.
I’m certain my heart skipped a few beats when I eyed this beautiful painting, the leaf intentionally arranged among the moss in such a way that the colors and textures seem to leap off the canvas.
Into the Glass Room I did next wander and fell in love with these baubles so delicately attached and appearing to bob above moving water in a realistic way that was really so clever.
I was equally amazed by the artistry of creating feathers on a glass surface and then adding contrasting lines to accentuate the subject.
My third favorite in this room was the arrangement of six-sided crystals clustered in columns, but with a splintered effect. Why can’t I create something like that?
I knew when I saw the heart carving that the artistic universe had spoken with an offering of love and love all of these works I did, but it was time for me to draw this visit to a close.
On the way out, I looked back at the museum entrance one last timeand gave thanks for the opportunity to witness designs by nature at Art in the Park, that being Pondicherry Park.
Before today’s deluge began, I slipped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine, to fill the innermost recesses of my lungs with November air, and at the same time my brain with memories of so many people who have traveled these trails with me from Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and Lakes Environmental Association’s Alanna Yanelli and Mary Jewett, and friends and friends and friends, including the late JoAnne Diller, Sue Black, and Jinny Mae. But today’s journey also included memories of one I took two years ago with Becky Cook, who shared her remembrances of growing up along South High Street and romping through these trails as they were part of her backyard. If anyone ever had a sense of this place, it is Becky.
My journey began at the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, the main entryway into the park if you approach from the town parking lot on Depot Street behind Reny’s Department Store.
Bob Dunning, who died suddenly in November 2007, was a builder, an artist, and among other things, a teacher–sharing his craft with students young and old. To honor Bob, who treasured traditional building techniques, his friends and fellow craftspeople designed and built this bridge in a true barn-raising fashion. To learn more about the bridge, check out this previous wondermyway post: Barking Up A Bridge.
The bridge spans Stevens Brook, the source of power when Bridgton was first founded and for many years thereafter.
But today’s tale is about the the land beyond the bridge.
And the three properties I tried to circle on this 1871 map.
They are the same properties circled above to give a sense of place. Well, I may be off a wee bit in my drawing techniques, but it provides an idea of the land that was first owned by Thomas Cleaves, Dr. Nathaniel Pease, and Osborn Foster.
According to the 1870 census, Mr. Cleaves had 20 acres of improved land. His farm was worth $2,500 and equipment $75. For animals, he had 2 horses, 3 cows, 2 oxen, and 1 swine. His crops included wheat, corn and oats.
Dr. Pease had 20 acres of improved land and 50 acres of unimproved land. The value of his farm was $2,000, while his equipment was worth $75. Likewise he had 2 horses, but only 1 cow, plus 2 oxen, and 1 swine. Corn and oats were his crops.
Mr, Foster owned 40 acres of improved land, and his farm’s value was also $2,000, with the equipment at the going rate of $75. He had 1 horse, 2 oxen, and 1 swine. He also produced corn and oats. (One might note that there was a corn canning shop on the eastern side of Stevens Brook)
As time went on, Henry Moxcey acquired the Cleaves house. His occupation was farming and traveling according to the 1930 census. He lived in the house valued at $10,000 with his wife, Hattie, and daughter Hazel.
Next door, Charles Kneeland had taken ownership of the Pease property in 1881. In 1919, it became the property of his daughter Florence, wife of Alfred Keene. They lived there with their young children, Adria and Maurice. I couldn’t read the value of their home on the census, but Alfred owned a radio set. The 1930 census reflected the emerging values of early twentieth-century America, in particular the growing influence of consumerism and mass culture, thus it included a question about radio sets.
I’m not sure of the exact year, but Osborn Foster’s house was sold to Edward Carman. Charles Hermann Cook then purchased the home valued at $5,000. Herman was overseer in the finishing room at Pondicherry Mill (wondermyway: Milling About Stevens Brook). He lived with his wife Lula, son Enoch, and Edith Foster, who was their housekeeper (she was 43 and widowed).
Looking a the open field in the park, the houses/field to the west are the subject of the journey. While the homes remain private, the land that became the park was purchased in a collaborative fashion by Loon Echo Land Trust and Lakes Environmental Association through the generosity of many donors, as well as grant monies. After placing it under conservation easement with LELT, constructing entry points and trails, it was gifted to the town of Bridgton in 2012. The park consists of 66 acres of quiet woodland and 3,200 feet of stream shore in the heart of downtown Bridgton, making it one special place.
If you’ve stayed with me, this is the point where Becky’s story will enhance the tale. She is the daughter of the late Enoch and Hazel Cook, and granddaughter of C. Hermann Cook. My guy had the privilege, like so many others, of being taught by Mrs. Cook and still loves to talk about her. She passed away a few years ago, or maybe it was a few years before that, but he last visited her on her 102nd birthday and listened as she shared stories of her classroom and students as if she had only stepped out of school yesterday.
One of the first stops Becky and I made two years ago was at Kneeland Spring, pictured above. The water bubbles through the sandy bottom and so the spring never freezes. Even in July, Becky said, she remembered the water being ice cold. Notice the moss-covered split granite–I didn’t take a photo of it today, but just above there are several rock samples that may have been the source as they feature drill holes a farmer would have created to split the stone. Pin and feathering was a technique that required a person to drill holes along the grain of the stone, fill each hole with two semi-cylindrical pieces of iron, and drive a steel wedge between them.
To Becky, standing by the spring and looking west (uphill toward South High Street) brought back memories of running through fields as a kid. Below the spring she recalled there being woods and a boggy area.
She told me that Mr. Kneeland had livery stables beside his house for his horses and cows. The Keenes, who inherited the land, didn’t have any horses or cows. But Bob Dineen, who lived across South High Street, used the pastures for his work horses and cows. “You could ride them,” said Becky. “And I wasn’t particular. I could ride a cow just as easily as a horse.”
For many years I thought it was local lore that Hannaford Brothers purchased water from the spring, but Ned Allen shared this document with me. Apparently, this was coveted water.
Throughout the park one might spot numbered Roosters. By using either the Bridgton Historical Society’s free app, or picking up a brochure at the kiosk, you can key in on descriptions of historic locations in the park. I’d spent a few years feeling that the info for #4 wasn’t accurate, but Becky set me right.
You see, according to the description, #4 states this: Barway, This gap was left in the stonewall to provide an opening to pass through. A log would be placed across the gap so it could be closed up again and continue to keep the livestock contained.
In my brain, the stones had been moved to create the gap so the park trail could pass through it.
According to Becky, this was the wall that formed the boundary between the Keene/Kneeland property and the Cook property. She remembered a much smaller gap, but still there was one.
Off trail there used to be an old rail on the ground that referenced the Narrow Gauge Train that ran beside what is now the park. After the train stopped running in 1941, either Becky’s father or grandfather or both took advantage of the old rails and used them when necessary, such as for the ties of bridges, this one having been located along what was a rough road from the Cooks’ home on South High Street down to their camp on Willet Brook, which meets Stevens Brook in the park.
Before going to the site of the camp, I traveled along a spur trail, which I often do because I love the reflection it offers . . .
in any season.
When I traveled the trails with Becky, I was so grateful because she opened my mind to some of what had come before, including the family camp, this photo from the Bridgton Historical Society’s collection.
In its day, it was a single family camp at 1360 Willet Brook Shore owned by C. Hermann Cook and his family. Becky recalled it having a couple of bedrooms on the western side, which you see here, a kitchen, and a long living room spanning the front. French doors opened from the living room onto the porch. And she remembered evenings when her parents would wind up the Victrola and people danced out one door, across the porch, and back into the living room through another porch.
All that’s left of the camp, sadly, is the chimney and a foundation wall. In 1968, some kids began to make a habit of partying in the camp. According to Becky, they figured if they created a fire in the fireplace someone might spot the smoke rising from the chimney. Instead, they created a campfire in the middle of the living room floor. Several time, apparently, this happened. Their frivolity ended, however, when they accidentally burned the camp to the ground on what became the final party.
Becky was sad to lose this beautiful place. She did recall with humor, however, the adventures she and her brother, Tim, shared as it was their responsibility to clean snow off the roof. With Tim at the helm, and Becky holding on for dear life, they’d zoom through the fields and woods on a snowmobile to reach the camp.
Standing with my back to the chimney, I tried to imagine another scene Becky painted for me: this once was a cove filled with water. Her grandfather Hermann kept a boat here and often fished.
It began to make sense because at that time the mills were in use and they would have dammed the water in various locations in order to have power to run turbines.
Looking west from the chimeny, one gets a sense of the camp road. Though it looks rather level now, roots were often an issue. Becky told me that the vehicles of yore were high-wheeled and high-bottomed so it wasn’t really a bother.
Continuing up the “road,” a visit to the park doesn’t feel complete with stopping by to say hello to the Yellow Birch growing on a pine nurse stump where life is richer than we can imagine. It turned out that Becky was also a frequent stopper at this statue. Some tree species, especially those with small seeds, cannot germinate on leaf litter and need high-porosity seedbeds. Yellow Birch is such a species that requires mineral soil or deadwood to germinate. Hemlock is the same.
A bit farther along, the stonewalls begin to state their presence. They are powerful reminders that land that is now forested was once cleared and cultivated. Somer are single walls, such as this, built with large stones, where the land below is much lower than the land above, suggesting that the “short” side was plowed regularly and much more frequently than the tall side. Plowing tends to push soil against a wall. I don’t know when these walls were constructed, but some intense wall building occurred between 1775 and 1850. The majority of New England walls were dry built, meaning the stones were kept in place by skillful arrangement and balance.
A short distance above is a different type of wall. It’s a double-wide wall with larger stones on the outside and smaller filling in between. These were indicative of a garden wall. They weren’t high so as to keep livestock in or out. Instead, they became the place to toss all the stones that pushed to the field’s surface with the annual freezing and thawing. The smaller stones would likely have been the spring “crop” over the course of many years that were removed from the field by women and children. Remember, these farmers were growing their own grains. From Becky I learned that her grandfather had a commercial strawberry field. Usually such fields were between 2 – 4 acres, thus being the optimal size for moving stones from the center to the edges.
What grows best here now is the invasive Norway Maple. It’s not native to Maine and is aggressive in nature. This type of maple was planted along roadsides as a shade tree after the demise of elm trees. The leaf is similar to a Sugar Maple, but much more rectangular (boxier) in shape. And . . . while the Sugar Maples have lost their leaves by now, the Norway Maples hold on to them for a much longer time period.
Because it had started raining in earnest and I could barely see through my glasses, I knew it was time to draw today’s journey to a close. But, there was one last place to pause–in a pasture with a small opening in the boundary. The Kneeland/Keene homestead can be seen through the opening. If I turned around, which I didn’t, I knew that I could follow another old “road” down to Kneeland Spring. And to my left as I looked up at the house, would have been the Cooks’ property (eventually they moved across the street), and to my right the Cram/Cleaves/Moxcey property now owned by the Russos, which actually serves as a farm today, albeit on a much smaller scale. (All have passed through one or two or more hands of ownership.)
One final note (or maybe two): It has been said that Pondicherry was the name of Bridgton before Moody Bridges surveyed the land for the proprietors. The source of the name has been questioned–was it so called for a union territory in India or for the cherry trees that grew by the ponds?
Perhaps there’s another choice to ponder–was it named by indigenous people before people of European descent thought the land was theirs to occupy and own? That’s another story that needs to be researched.
As for today, I’m so glad the rain didn’t keep me home and I once again made time to ponder the past in Pondicherry Park.
We knew not what to expect when we met this morning. My intention was to visit a structure of unknown use, then follow a trail for a bit before going off trail and mapping some stone walls. Curiosity would be the name of the game and friends Pam and Bob were ready for the adventure when I pulled into the trailhead parking lot.
We traveled rather quickly to our first destination, pausing briefly to admire only a few distractions along the way–if you can believe that.
It’s a stone structure on the back side of Amos Mountain. Three years ago we visited this site with Dr. Rob Sanford, a University of Southern Maine professor and author of Reading Rural Landscapes. At that time we came away with so many questions about this structure located on a mountainside so far from any foundations. Today, we still had the same questions and then some.
Who built it? What was it used for? Was there a hearth? Did it have a roof? Was it ever fully enclosed? Was there originally a front wall? Could it be that it extended into the earth behind it? Was it colonial? Pre-colonial?
Why only one piece of split granite when it sits below an old quarry?
And then there’s the left-hand side: Large boulders used in situ and smaller rocks fit together. One part of the “room” curved. For what purpose?
Pam and Bob stood in the center to provide some perspective.
And then I climbed upon fallen rocks to show height.
We walked away still speculating on the possibilities, knowing that we weren’t too far from a stone foundation that belonged to George Washington and Mary Ann McCallister beginning in the mid-1850s and believed the structure to be upon their “Lot.”
As we continued along the trail, we spied several toads and a couple of frogs. Their movement gave them away initially, but then they stayed still, and their camouflage colorations sometimes made us look twice to locate the creator of ferns in motion.
At last we crossed over a stonewall that we assumed was a boundary between the McAllister property and that of Amos Andrews. It was the walls that we wanted to follow as there are many and our hope was to mark them on GPS and gain a better understanding of what seems like a rather random lay out.
The walls stand stalwart, though some sections more ragged than others. Fallen trees, roots, frost, weather, critters and humans have added to their demise, yet they are still beautiful, with mosses and lichens offering striking contrasts to the granite. Specks of shiny mica, feldspar and quartz add to the display.
The fact that they are still here is a sign of their endurance . . . and their perseverance. And the perseverance of those who built them.
But the fashion of these particular walls has stymied us for years. As we stood and looked down the mountain from near the Amos Andrews foundation, we realized that the land was terraced in a rather narrow area. And so we began to follow one wall (perspective isn’t so great in this photo) across, walk down the retaining wall on the right edge and at the next wall follow it across to the left. We did this over and over again and now I wish I’d counted our crossings, but there were at least eight.
Mind you, all were located below the small root cellar that served as Amos Andrews’ home on and off again beginning in 1843.
And below one of the terraced walls just beyond his cellar hole, there was a stoned off rectangle by the edge. Did it once serve as a foundation for a shed?
Had Amos or someone prior to him tried to carve out a slice of land, build a house, and clear the terraced area for a garden?
It seems the land of western Maine had been forested prior to the 1700s and there was plenty of timber to build. A generation or two later, when so much timber had been harvested to create fields for tillage and pasture, the landscape changed drastically, exposing the ground to the freezing forces of nature. Plowing also helped bring stones to the surface. The later generation of farmers soon had their number one crop to deal with–stone potatoes as they called them. These needed to be removed or they’d bend and break the blade of the oxen-drawn plowing rake. Summer meant time to pick the stones and make piles that would be moved by sled to the wall in winter months. Had the land been burned even before those settlers arrived? That would have created the same scenario, with smaller rocks finding their way to the surface during the spring thaw.
As it was, we found one pile after another of baseball and basketball size stones dotting the landscape. Stone removal became a family affair for many. Like a spelling or quilting bee, sometimes stone bees were held to remove the granite from the ground. Working radially, piles were made as an area was cleared. Stone boats pulled by oxen transported the piles of stones to their final resting place where they were woven into a wall.
Occasionally, however, we discovered smaller stones upon boulders. Were they grave markers? Or perhaps spiritual markers?
There were double-wide stone walls with big stones on the outside and little stones between, indicating that the land around had been used for planting. But why hadn’t all the piles been added to the center of these walls? That’s what had us thinking this was perhaps Pre-colonial in nature.
Pasture walls also stood tall, their structure of a single stature. I may be making this up because I’ve had an affinity with turtles since I was a young child and own quite a collection even to this day, but I see a turtle configured in this wall. Planned or coincidence?
My turtle’s head is the large blocky rock in the midst of the other stones, but I may actually be seeing one turtle upon another. Do you see the marginal scutes arching over the head? Am I seeing things that are not there? Overthinking as my guy would suggest?
I didn’t have to overthink when I spotted this woody specimen–last year’s Pine Sap with its many flowered stalk turned to capsules still standing tall.
And a foot or so away, its cousin, Indian Pipe also showing off the woody capsules of last year’s flowers, though singular on each stalk.
As we continued to follow the walls, other things made themselves known. I do have to admit that we paused and pondered several examples of this plant because of its three-leaved presentation. Leaves of three, leave them be–especially if two leaves are opposite each other and have short petioles and the leader is attached between them by a longer petiole. But, when we finally found one in flower we were almost certain we weren’t looking at Poison Ivy. I suggested Tick-Trefoil and low and behold, I was correct. For once.
Our journey wandering the walls soon found us back on what may have been a cow or sheep path and it was there that we noted a cedar tree. Looking at it straight on, one might expect it to be dead. But a gaze skyward indicated otherwise. Still, the question remained–why here?
A Harvestman Spider may have thought the same as it reached out to a Beech Nut. After all, the two were located upon a Striped Maple leaf.
Onward we walked, making a choice of which way to travel each time we encountered an intersection of walls. This one had a zigzag look to it and we thought about the reputation Amos Andrews had with a preference for alcohol. But . . . did Amos build all or any of these walls?
We continued to ponder that question even as we came upon a stump that practically shouted its name all these years after being cut, for the property we were on had eventually been owned by Diamond Match, a timber company. Do you see the mossy star shape atop the stump? And the sapling growing out of it? The star is actually a whorl–of White Pine branches for such is their form of growth. And the sapling–a White Pine.
And then . . . and then . . . something the three of us hadn’t encountered before. A large, rather narrow boulder standing upright.
Behind it, smaller rocks supported its stance.
The stone marked the start of another stone wall. And across from it a second wall, as if a road or path ran between the two and Bob stood in their midst adding coordinates to his GPS.
We chuckled to think that the stone was the beginning of Amos’ driveway and he’d had Andrews written upon it. According to local lore, he had a bit of a curmudgeon reputation, so we couldn’t imagine him wanting people to stop by. The road downhill eventually petered out so we didn’t figure out its purpose. Yet.
In the neighborhood we also found trees that excited us–for until ten months ago we didn’t think that any White Oaks existed in Lovell. But today we found one after another, much like the piles of stones. With the nickname “stave oak,” it made sense that they should be here since its wood was integral in making barrels and we know that such for products like rum were once built upon this property.
Trees of varying ages grow quite close to Amos Andrews’ homestead.
Also growing in the area was Marginal Wood Fern, its stipe or stalk below the blade covered with brown scales and fronds blue-green in color, which is often a give-away clue that it’s a wood fern.
We know how it got its name–for the round sori located on the margins of the underside of the pinnules or leaflets. Based on their grayish-blue color, they hadn’t yet matured. But why are some sori such as these covered with that smooth kidney-shaped indusium? What aren’t all sori on all ferns so covered?
So many questions. So many mysteries.
As curious as we are about the answers, I think we’ll be a wee bit disappointed if we are ever able to tell the complete story of the stone structure and the upright stone and all the walls between.
Walking among mysteries keeps us on our toes–forever asking questions and seeking answers.
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.
I can’t believe we are still in the race, but we are. And so last night the clue arrived as mysteriously as ever and a wee bit vague: Drive west and then south, following Routes 16, 125, and 111. Find your way to Stonehenge.
While we were certain that Route 111 in New Hampshire was not going to put us on a flight to England’s Stonehenge, we decided to follow the directions and see where we ended up.
We did note that Team Speedy was ahead of us as we drove south on Route 16, but in Ossipee they turned right onto Route 25. Oops, wrong number, but we weren’t going to tell them that.
Two and a half hours later and BINGO! We’d found our destination.
America’s Stonehenge in Salem, New Hampshire. Who knew? I’d lived in New Hampshire for ten years prior to moving to Maine in 1986 and never heard of this place. But . . . apparently the time had come.
We entered and watched a brief introductory film. First named “Mystery Hill Caves,” the name was changed to America’s Stonehenge in 1982 because researchers believed that better reflected their understanding of the site.
Was it built by a Native American culture or a migrant European population? Who knows? But what we did learn is that carbon dating has helped age some of its features at over 4,000 years old, making it possibly the oldest man-made construction of chambers, walls and ceremonial meeting places in the United States.
The site has been under continuous research and there are a variety of theories about its origin. Our main challenge was to observe and learn.
But first, one of us had to determine the time of day. My guy rose to the occasion and placed the pole in the center of the sundial.
“2:11 pm,” he said. Pretty darn close for it was actually 2:09, but we were told to proceed.
The first part of the journey included a Three Sisters Garden of corn, pole beans, and pumpkins. There’s a replica of a dugout canoe and a wigwam for such were found on the property, plus some pottery and other artifacts.
And then we worked our way up the hill and into the maze of chambers. Some referenced astrological events; others were the works of Jonathan Pattee who built a wooden structure upon some of the chambers, but it burned in 1855 and his son later sold off some of the artifacts; and William B. Goodwin, the first researcher to own the property.
Fortunately for us, many items worth noting were labeled. Number 8 was an Upper Well, also known as the Well of Crystals because excavations in 1963 proved that quartz crystals were found in a vertical fault twenty-two feet below. Such crystals may have been worshipped or used for tools by ancient cultures.
By the well was the Pattee area, and so I ventured down and stood before a chamber that may have served as either his family’s root cellar or at least storage space.
Nearby was a collapsed chamber. The roof slab that now stands upright is estimated to weigh 6.5 tons. And here’s the cool stuff–tree roots near the back wall of the chamber were carbon dated to the late 1690s, indicating the walls were built prior to Mr. Pattee’s residency. Further research indicated the following: “In 1969, charcoal that had sifted into the walls was found below these roots at two to four inches above bedrock and dated to 1400 BC. In 1971, a third and even older date of 2000 BC was obtained.” There’s more, but that’s enough to be mind boggling. BC?
The astrological importance of the site was noted throughout and we found the True South Pointing Wall.
Directly opposite of it was the entrance to a south facing chamber. For me, the curious thing about this chamber was that it was damaged in a 1982 earthquake–and I quickly recalled that quake as I remembered feeling its tremors.
Then there was The Pulpit. It’s believed that quarrymen used this spot as a staging area to load stones onto wagons in the 1800s, thus giving the property another chunk of historical value. It’s also thought that Mr. Goodwin had the upper part of the structure reconstructed by his crew for he believed that the site was built by Irish Culdee Monks.
I have to say that my guy and I weren’t beyond that interpretation for some of the chambers reminded us of Newgrange, a Neolithic passage tomb alleged to be older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. Constructed during the Stone Age, about 5,200 years ago, Newgrange is a large circular mound in Ireland that covers 300 feet in diameter and stands 36 feet high. A stone passageway leads to three small chambers. Some describe it as an ancient temple, a place of astrological, spiritual and ceremonial importance. Hmmm . . .
Another interesting chamber from our point of view was the V Hut, so named for its shape. This one reminded us of the Mystery Structure in Lovell, Maine, for part of it forms a similar sort of V shape.
Throughout the journey, our focus was brought back to orientation of chamber openings. So the curious thing about this particular one and the one opposite of it–they had an east-west orientation. All other openings faced south.
The outer wall of the East-West Chamber offered a different look than any we’d previously seen. Using photographs from the Goodwin era, the outer walls were restored in the late 1970s.
They led to a wonder-filled pathway. Do note the white paint–that was used throughout to feature key points. Though I thought it ghastly, it did serve its purpose and the drawing you see on the bedrock was part of a very important drainage system. Curiously, the area was well drained, but when we later walked surrounding trails we had to work around water obstacles–why can’t we figure out today how to make the water move in an effective fashion?
The pathway we were traveling led to the Oracle Chamber. And then there was more white paint. But, take notice. The U-shape above was painted around drill marks probably made by those 1800s quarrymen as they broke off slabs.
But it’s the Vs that were of even more interest.
The V wedges were similar to those found at ancient sites in Europe we were told. Before the invention of the steel drill in the early 1800s, stone masons apparently made these V wedges.
Now all oracles need a sundeck and lo and behold, such existed. As we admired it, a few orbs did the same and we had to wonder about the ghosts living among the rocks. They certainly had stories to tell.
The Oracle Chamber was known to be the most important area with a variety of features including an upper drain, secret bed, speaking tube, roof opening (see the sunlight coming through at the end of the chamber?), seat, closet, and deer carving. It was actually rather dark and we could locate some of the features, but never saw the deer carving, which would have been a treat.
Before we’d entered the Oracle Chamber, we’d viewed one of several tables within the complex.
But it wasn’t until we were standing above it that it made more sense. The Sacrificial Table was a 4.5 ton slab with a grooved channel. Its a point of controversy for the site, but some believe that because of its size it was used for sacrifices. The oracle had a speaking tube in his chamber located directly beneath it that adds to the assumption.
If only mosses and lichens could talk, the tales they could tell. But then we wouldn’t have mysteries to consider.
Speaking of such, one of our challenges was to identify a fern that grew among the rocks. It had several key features, including the fact that all of its fronds grew from a central point in a circle and it was still quite green–as in evergreen. A quick look at its spore arrangement on the underside and the answer was clear–marginal evergreen wood fern.
We also had to name three colors represented by the oak leaves on the grounds: Black, red, and . . .
And then it was time to climb the Astronomical Viewing Platform. I was initially put off by the sight of the modern structure and thought perhaps it was a children’s playground tossed into the mix. But . . . thankfully I was wrong. Constructed in 1975, from the platform you can view the major astronomical alignment stones, including true north for summer and winter solstice. Trees were cleared in 1967 along the various important date sights and are still maintained. When the structure was first constructed, there were probably no trees atop the bedrock. This afternoon, as we looked out, our view included the November 1st sunset.
We followed the trail toward the November 1 Sunset Stone.
And were equally excited to note the Winter Solstice Sunset Monolith. This was the first monolith that researchers suspected to be a solar alignment. On December 21, 1970, the shortest day of the year, it was photographed. Because the Earth’s tilt has changed, it’s a bit off these days, but would have marked the southern most set of the sun almost 4,000 years ago. Wow!
Before we left, we had another challenge: to find something that reminded us of the maze we’d just journeyed through–and in many ways the pine tree’s route system seemed to provide a map.
We also needed to pay homage to the alpacas who now call this place home and in their own way bring us back in time. The earliest evidence of man at America’s Stonehenge was 7,400 years ago as proven by evidence from a fire pit, and alpacas were domesticated about 5,000 years ago–in South America.
That being said, our final challenge was to find a more up-to-date representation and a message etched onto a rock seemed to fill the bill.
Back into the museum we journeyed and imagined ourselves into a contour model of the property with yellow lines representing the various astrologically important dates and sight lines. We’d also learned that a line can be drawn directly from America’s Stonehenge to England’s Stonehenge along the Solstice.
When our time was done, we were more than wowed. And had a lot to absorb about our learnings.
But, we were in a race and as quick as we’d wanted to be, we feared we were too slow.
Team Speedy, however, apparently went way off course when they turned onto Route 25. They were the last to cross the mat and have been eliminated. (Quietly we were heard to mutter: YES!)
Team Purple won this leg as she has done several times even though she’s solo. And still sporting her sandals despite the colder temps.
We actually placed second today and were thrilled. We’re still in the race!
Only two more episodes to go. It’s down to Team Purple, Team Cape Cod, Team Livermore and us. Who will be the final three? Stay tuned for The Amazing Race–Our Style: episode eleven.
Some days are meant to be spent at home, especially when there’s yard work to finish up before the snow flies. And so today was just such a day and my guy chose to work on the leaves while I finished putting the gardens to bed and mowed one last time for this year.
It was while putting the garden to bed that I made a discovery–a form of bird’s nest fungi, this one being Crucibulum laeve! The structure is so named because it resembles a tiny bird nest. Prior to spore distribution, each “nest” is covered with a yellowish lid. Inside, the little disc-shaped “eggs” are called peridioles, which contain the spores. When a raindrop falls into the nest, the eggs are projected out of the cup. I’ve had the honor or watching that one rainy day, but it was one of those “you had to be there” moments that will live on in my mind’s eye.
In one of the gardens stands a rather decrepit Quaking Aspen. It’s a favorite tree for woodpeckers and porcupines. thus it’s terrible condition. And usually I post photos of bear claw trees, but this particular aspen sports many, many porcupine scratches, some new and others older, such as these.
As I looked at the bark to notice what else might be about, I spotted a spotted ladybug. We’d had a frost overnight, but she continued to move, however lethargically.
By the kitchen garden, I found another insect I’d forgotten all about these last few weeks–the caterpillar larvae of the Psychidae or bagworm moths that construct cases out of silk and environmental materials, much the way a caddisfly might. It’s the perfect camouflage from predators such as birds and even other insects.
Everywhere throughout the garden were milkweed seeds, some wearing beaded skirts that will likely keep them in place. That’s fine with me, for I love milkweed. Even if this one does eventually fly away on a whim and voluntarily plant itself in another location, I know that my plants will produce more seeds for they also increase their population via underground tuberous rhizomes. Some call them invasive; I call them welcome.
I’m not so sure the creator of this large hole in the yard is welcome. I know my guy wasn’t impressed. It’s about a foot wide and deep. We suspect one of “our” woodchucks. I’d rather think it was excavated by the beautiful red fox that crosses the yard several times a day, but it’s a bit away from the fox’s route.
My wander eventually took me from the garden to the stone walls, where lichens form their own little gardens and support such species as the Mealy Pixie Cups, a fruticose lichen with a stalk or podetia below the cup.
Foliose-styled rock shield lichens grow abundantly on the rock’s surface, their success due to the numerous disk-shaped structures called apothecia. Reproductive spores develop on the rolled edges of the brown berets, awaiting the time when conditions are just right for them to move on and grow into a new lichen.
Crustose lichens were the most plentiful with their painted on appearance, like this ash-gray Cinder Lichen that reminded me of a mosaic piece of artwork.
One of my favorite crustoses, however, was the Concentric Boulder Lichen with its raised blackish-brown apothecia. Each time I saw the pattern created by the little disks, I felt like I was looking at a maze.
And then I stepped over the wall and turned my attention to some trees. That’s when I spied numerous tent caterpillar eggs cases. The Eastern Tent Caterpillar overwinters as an egg. Each one is part of a greater mass of anywhere from 150 to 400 eggs. They encircle a branch and are almost impossible to see, until your eye begins to recognize the structure. This was an old one and no longer had the shiny varnish-like coating that will help keep winter at bay.
Also keeping winter at bay were the waxy scales of tree leaf and flower buds. The buds formed in the summer and now must wait for February’s warm sun before they begin to swell and ready themselves for next spring’s bloom. In the meantime, they are snug inside their tight structures.
My next great find–tubes or tunnels created by the Pine Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. Though Eastern White Pine needles grow in packets of five (W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E is a mnemonic we use to remember how many needles on the white pine, spelling “white” for its name or “Maine” because it is the state tree.) Anyway, the tube moth used silk to bind a bunch of needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. Can you see the silk at the top? Notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and in April they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news is that Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.
One of my favorite finds as I headed down the cowpath toward home was actually an old friend–Pinesap in its winter capsule form. Pinesap is similar to Indian Pipe, another Monotropa (once turned speaking to its flower that turns upright after fertilization). The creamy whitish flowers developed into woody capsules. As the capsules mature, the structures become erect. Once ripened, seeds will be released through slits that open from the tip to the base of the capsules.
I was back in the grassy part of our yard when I passed by a tree in the corner and made a new discovery–a false tinder conk or polypore, with its black fissured cap. My very own Phellinus ignarius! While a Tinder Conks pore surface is usually concave, in the false specimen, it’s angled downward from the rim to the tree.
I know my friend Faith will see a smiley face in the upper spore surface; it rather reminds me of a weasel.
We never left home today, my guy and me. Our focus was on the yard, but mine was a wee bit different than his. And for those of you who have been asking–these photographs were all taken with the Canon Rebel T3i. Yep, that’s the one that got wet when I decided to flip off a boardwalk last May.
Yesterday I discovered a male ring-necked pheasant in our backyard–a most unusual sighting. As I watched, he headed over a stone wall and into our woodlot where he cackled and beat his wings in hopes of attracting a mate. The only responses he received were gobbles from Tom Turkey. And so it went for a while . . . cackle . . . gobble . . . cackle . . . gobble.
This morning we were awakened at 5 a.m. to the same mating calls. Who needs a rooster?
When I stepped out the back door, neither bird was anywhere to be seen or heard.
But the double daffodils that came with our house showed off their cheery faces to all who looked.
And by the road, the magnolia we planted about fifteen years ago added its own pastel palette to the scene–however momentary.
There were trees and limbs to clear. And trimming to be done as well. The last time we were on the Southern Shore Trail, which was only a couple of months ago, we noted a few trees that would need our attention, but today there were between fifteen and twenty.
Occasionally, as my guy used the chainsaw and I waited to clean up, I spied old friends like a wild oat or sessile-leaved bellwort in bloom.
And then I made a discovery that had eluded me in the past–a spotted wintergreen. It was an exciting find for it’s listed as S2 ranking, meaning “Imperiled in Maine because of rarity (6-20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) or because of other factors making it vulnerable to further decline.”
We were close to an outlook by Holt Pond when we saw the spotted wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, and so we paused to take in the view looking across to the quaking bog as we dined atop a stump.
From there we moved on, making rather quick progress to the “field,” a former log landing where the forest is slowly reclaiming its ground.
As we approached we startled a ruffed grouse and came upon a familiar sight at this spot for the trail through the field has always provided a dust bath for these birds.
And on the edge of the “tub” a telltale downy feather.
Typically, when doing trail work, our turn-round point is the field for that’s what we’d agreed to years ago. Today, we decided to keep going and made a small stream our end point. We shifted a bridge and watched the water striders for a while. Apparently, love wasn’t just in the air, but on the water as well.
On the way back, I was delighted to discover my first painted trillium of the season. I sensed my guy’s groans for he knows I’ll exclaim over and photograph each one I see–not satisfied until I reach a trillion trilliums.
Oh, and there were fern crosiers to celebrate, especially the scaly spiral of the Christmas fern.
At last we reached the beginning of our section of trail and I told my guy that I wanted to go down by the water for a moment, but not cross the boardwalk because my hiking boots leak. He put the saw down, contemplated the water, and made the crossing. From the other side he suggested I join him since the water wasn’t that deep. Before I did so, however, he asked me to move the saw off the trail and out of sight. As I started to hide it, he crossed back over and said, “I’ll take it in case we need it.” And back again he went, the saw in his left hand for he’s a southpaw. He’d just reached the other side when I stepped on the boardwalk and began to carefully move, ever mindful of my boots . . . until those very boots slipped out from under me. Down I went. Crash. Bam. Smash. On the wood. My right forearm took the brunt of the fall and my camera ended up in the water.
My guy came to the rescue as he lifted me up . . . though first I insisted on the camera being saved. And now I have used the hunt and peck method to type this story for I am a southpaw for the next six to eight weeks as I recover from a fracture to the ulna and radius. That’s how today became a left-handed Mondate.
The camera is also in recovery mode–here’s hoping a rice bath will work wonders.
It’s March, that most indecisive of months. And so, I decided to follow in the same pattern by choosing not one,
or even three,
all books about stone walls which are once again revealing their idiosyncrasies. These are the Books of March.
Walk along our woodland trail with me and you’ll know that something different happened there ages and ages ago. To reach the trail, we’ll need to pass through two stone walls. Continuing on, we’ll come to a cow path where several pasture pines, massive trees that once stood alone in the sun and spread out rather than growing straight up, must have provided shade for the animals.
They are the grandparents of all the pines that now fill this part of the forest.
Further out, one single wall widens into a double wall, indicating a different use of the land.
The walls stand stalwart, though some sections are more ragged than others. Fallen trees, roots, frost, weather, critters and probably humans have added to their demise, yet they are still beautiful, with mosses and lichens offering striking contrasts to the granite. Specks of shiny mica, feldspar and quartz add to the display. And in winter, snowy outlines soften their appearance.
The fact that they are still here is a sign of their endurance . . . and their perseverance. And the perseverance of those who built them. and yet . . . . the stone walls aren’t what they once were, but that doesn’t matter to those of us who admire them.
For me, these icons of the past conjure up images of colonial settlers trying to carve out a slice of land, build a house and maybe a barn, clean an acre or two for the garden and livestock and build walls. The reality is that in the early 1700s, when western Maine was being settled, stones were not a major issue. The land was forested and they used the plentiful timber to build. It wasn’t until a generation or two later, when so much timber had been harvested to create fields for tillage and pasture, that the landscape changed drastically, exposing the ground to the freezing forces of nature. Plowing also helped bring stones to the surface. The later generation of farmers soon had their number one crop to deal with–stone potatoes as they called them. These needed to be removed or they’d bend and break the blade of the oxen-drawn plowing rake.
Stone removal became a family affair for many. Like a spelling or quilting bee, sometimes stone bees were held to remove the stones from the ground. Working radially, piles were made as an area was cleared. Stone boats pulled by oxen transported the piles of stones to their final resting place where they were woven into a wall.
Eventually single walls, also called farmer or pasture walls, were built as boundaries, but mainly to keep animals from destroying crops. The advent of stone walls and fences occurred within a few years of homesteads being settled, but during the sheep frenzy of the early 1800s many more were built. Those walls were supposed to be 4.5 feet high and fence viewers were appointed by each town to make sure that farmers tended their walls.
Double walls were lower and usually indicated an area that was to be tilled. A typical double wall was about 4-10 feet wide and consisted of at least two single walls with smaller rubble thrown between.
Drive our back roads and you’ll see many primitive walls created when stone was moved from the roadway and tossed into a pile, or wander through the woods and discover stone walls and fountains in unexpected places. The sheep craze ended about 1840 after the sheep had depleted the pastures and younger farmers heeded the call to “Go west young man, go west.” The Erie Canal, mill jobs, and better farming beyond New England all added to the abandonment of local farms.
Today we’re left with these monuments of the past that represent years of hard labor. Building a wall was a chore. Those who rebuild walls now find it to be a craft.
Sam Black, who lives in Bridgton, Maine and spent twelve years rebuilding the walls on his property, once told me, “It was meditation time, like working in the garden. It’s one of those things you do philosophically and it lets you operate at a deeper level. You have time to think and contemplate as you work on the jigsaw puzzle.”
Frank Eastman of Chatham, New Hampshire, is the caretaker for the Stone House property in Evans Notch, and said when I asked if he’d ever worked on single walls, “No, I ain’t that good at balancing things. You got to have a pretty good ability to make things balance and a lot of the times your rock will titter until you put a small rock in just to hold it. No, I don’t want to monkey around with a single wall.”
Karl Gifford of Baldwin, Maine, told me, “I’m either looking for the perfect stone or trying to create the perfect space for the stone I’m working with. It takes a lot of practice, seeing what I need and being able to pick it out of the pile.” The entire time we chatted, his hands moved imaginary stones.
The more walls I encounter in the woods, the more respect I have for those who moved the stones and those who built the fences that became the foundation of life. Walk in the woods and you’ll inevitably find evidence that someone has been there before you–maybe not in a great many years, but certainly they’ve been there. Their story is set in stone.
If you care to learn more about stone walls, I highly encourage you to locate these books. I found all of them at my local independent book store: Bridgton Books.
Books of March:
Sermons in Stone by Susan Alport, published 1990, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
A history of stone walls in New England.
Stone by Stone by Robert M. Thorson, 2002, Walker & Company.
A geological look at stone walls
Exploring Stone Walls by Robert M. Thorson, 2005, Walker & Company.
A field guide to determining a walls history, age, and purpose.
The Granite Kiss by Kevin Gardner, 2001, The Countryman Press.
A look at repairing walls of stone.
And now I leave you with this poem:
The Old Stone Fence of Maine
Shall I pay a tribute here at home, To the Old Stone Fence of Maine? It was here when you were born, And here it will remain. Stone monuments, to grand old sires, Who, with a good right arm, Solved problems little known to you, E’re their “clearing,” was your farm.
When you see an Old Stone Fence, Weed grown and black with age, Let your mind’s eye travel backward And read its written page. And, as Moses left us words in stone, That live with us today, Almost, with reverence, let us read What these Stone Fences say.
They tell of those who “blazed the trail,” We are walking in today; Those who truly “bore the burdens In the heat of the day.” For every stone was laid by hand, First taken from the soil Where giant trees were cut and felled, Bare handed–honest toil.
The Stone Fence marked the boundary line Whereby a home was known; Gave them dignity, as masters Of that spot they called their own. The Stone Fence, guarded church and school And the spots more sacred far, The silent spots, in memory kept For those who’ve “crossed the bar.”
Then, treasure this inheritance, Handed down from sire to son, Not for its worth, to you, today, But for when, and why, begun. For with it comes a heritage Of manly brawn and brain, That is yours today, from the builders Of the Old Stone Fence of Maine.
Aimless wanders are among my favorite and today was such when I headed out the back door. Rather than follow any trail or even in my own former footprints, my direction changed with many a whim.
Porcupine tracks first caught my focus and I followed them to a hemlock that is slowly being consumed–on a nightly basis. Just beyond, I noticed a dead snag that was once a healthy pine had some fresh wood chips surrounding its base. A pileated woodpecker had worked above, but there were also two new holes near the bottom. I’ve watched pileateds work from the ground, but it still seems amazing that they’d take such a risk. And they do–frequently.
Scat left beside those particular excavations were filled with insect body parts. A while later I came upon another well-drilled tree and discovered scat filled with bittersweet seeds.
Right near the pileated works, I spied a set of prints that made my heart flutter. Might I find a kill site? Did a porcupine meet its demise?
The five tear-drop shaped toes and diagonal of paired prints, plus great strides between sets informed me that I was following a fisher. I thought perhaps it might lead me to a porcupine den other than under our barn, but no such luck. Instead it led me to another set of tracks and then disappeared into thin air. I’m not sure how the fisher’s story ended. Then again, I rarely read a complete chapter for any of the mammals I track.
That’s okay, for where the fisher left me hanging at the end of a page, a raccoon picked me up. And along a double-wide stonewall I traveled with it.
The raccoon tracks led to turkey tracks and I felt as if I knew the creators for I was probably a quarter of a mile from home and they’ve been spending the nights high up in the white pines of our woodlot and part of their days consuming bird seed in our yard. Ten hens and one tom are they.
The turkey tracks led me to a favorite spot–the vernal pool, where I noticed deer had also paid a visit. I crossed over, thankful that the ice was still frozen, and followed the deer.
They led me to a grove of gray birches that grow among the pines, beech and red maple. And in one opening below a bent tree, catkins had rained seeds and scales shaped like fleur de lis upon the snow. And a snowshoe hare leaped.
The hare led me to more deer and turkeys. Again, I climbed a double-wide wall and while reflecting on the size of the field this plot formerly was for it had been plowed many moons ago, I noticed the deer had also paused. To my left were four beds, those icy looking impressions left behind by their warm bodies.
And to my right five more. There was actually one at my feet, making a total of ten. I find beds all the time, but I’m not sure I’ve ever found them upon a wall before–all in a row.
The wall is located under a hemlock grove, and so it was no surprise to discover hemlock cones beside deer scat. Deer dine on hemlock bark and buds and their scat mimics the size, shape and color of a cone, often with a dimple at one end and nipple at the other. That the color should be similar makes sense, but I’d never thought about the similarity with the size and shape. As my guy would say, I’m overthinking.
I continued to follow the deer’s lead when I thought I heard a slight noise above. It wasn’t the chatter I usually associate with a red squirrel. This one was so busy pulling scales off a pinecone to get to the two seeds imbedded within each, that it hardly noticed I stood watching.
For about ten minutes he allowed me to watch him work.
A glance around and I knew that time and again he’d dined in the same area, turning a fall cache of cones into a winter midden of scales and cobs.
It was near the squirrel haven that I began to notice vole tunnels–a sight I didn’t expect to see so soon. Voles spend the winter mainly in the subnivean layer–between the snow and ground. Under the hemlocks, the snow depth was shallow and the vole’s travels revealed.
Of course, I was still following deer tracks, for really, this is their home site, aka yard. The place where they eat and sleep, with well packed runs leading from one to the other. And secretly (though it’s no longer a secret since I’m about to reveal it) I hoped to find an antler. Or two! I found none–yet this year. But . . . I did spy a track of another sort. A couple of moose also passed through, their prints so much larger than that of the deer.
Consequently, I found a shed of a different sort for by some of the moose prints I noticed hair. It may have felt a bit wintery today, but tomorrow the temperature should rise into the 40˚s. Spring is on its way.
I wasn’t the only one who wanted to take a closer look at the hair–a couple of spring tails, aka snowfleas, were also checking it out.
I let the moose be my turnaround point and followed a different route home. And had the pleasure of discovering bobcat prints. I also saw fox tracks. The only prints I didn’t find for the perfect walkers were coyote, which surprised me. All in all, it was an extremely successful wander.
Made even better when I realized I wasn’t the only one looking. “Did you see what I saw?” asked the bespectacled ice goddess. “Indeed, I did,” was my reply.
Our first official snow storm of the season left us with about an inch of the white stuff that makes me rejoice. And upon waking this morning and peeking out the window, the sight of porcupine tracks looping around the yard brought a smile to my face.
I love the first snow storm for even though I have seen signs of the critters that pass this way, their tracks confirm my convictions. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize the prints and trail patterns, but as the snow gets deeper the tracks sometimes become more difficult to decipher. This one was easy due to its pigeon-toed sashay.
And then the individual prints, especially those that crossed the deck, showed the large foot pad and five toes with nails extended. A friend in Poland, Maine, sent me a couple of photos of the critter that crossed her deck this morning. She ID it herself, but wanted confirmation–for it was an opossum and a first for her. I found my first opossum prints last December and wonder if I’ll have that opportunity again. Anything is possum-able.
Since the porcupine had drawn me out (and I noted that it disappeared under the barn–of course), I decided to head off into the woods. But before I left the yard, I spotted junco tracks–and . . .
a couple of worms–frozen upon the snow. Juncos don’t eat worms; they look for fallen seeds. And so it seemed that the bird flew off before quite reaching the C-shaped worm. And this other worm was about a foot away from the first worm. Robins were in the yard last week, and I can only hope that they returned today for a frozen dinner awaited.
Into the woods I trudged, and the ever-changing colors and designs at my feet reminded me of works of art.
Some were palettes of mahoganies juxtaposed against white. A variety of textures gave the scene relief, much like an inlaid mosaic.
Others embodied interconnections; a mingling of lines outlined for emphasis.
Along the cow path, I noticed the rock people for the first time, their mouths gaping open.
The minute snow fleas would hardly sustain them.
As it does, my trail crossed the line, where power seemed to originate with its source . . . the sun.
And in the opposite direction, it flowed from pole to pole and onward . . . as if powering the mighty mountain.
My journey continued into the land of the pines and their saplings, momentarily coated with decorative baubles.
And the red oak saplings I’ve been watching looked more festive than ever.
I was on a mission and soon found what I was looking for. Some tracks that looked like exclamation points led me to another source of sustenance that I wanted to check on.
The red squirrel’s cache had grown taller in the past week, but . . .
many pine seeds had been consumed in the refectory. All that remained were scales and cobs to show a number of dinners consumed.
The dining hall extended beyond the reaches of the cache, for every table available was a table used.
As I walked back toward home, I discovered another table awaiting a guest.
I was almost home when I stood under a beech tree. As winter embraces me, I find that their marcescent leaves create their own golden glow and warm my soul.
One more sweet peek offered a tiny touch of red to today’s fading winterscape–for the British soldier lichens’ red caps announced their minute presence.
And then this afternoon, I joined a few friends for a gallivant across the Wild Willy Wilderness Trail beside Province Brook in South Chatham, New Hampshire. And the snowdrops created their own works of art announcing that the meltdown was on.
As we walked, we noticed delicate parasol-shaped fungi fruiting.
Their common name is Pinwheel Marasius, but in my mind the shape of the umbrella-like top above the wiry stem looked like a parasol and so I called it such. But to add to the confusion, I first called it carousel. Word association might get me there eventually, but it wasn’t until I looked it up in Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England, that I realized my confusion. One of the fun facts from Millman is worth quoting: “Resurrection! Shriveled and inconspicuous, Marasmius species are rarely noticed during dry weather, but after rainy periods the tiny fungi revive–hence the nickname ‘resurrection fungi.'” And if not rain, then snow will make them rise again!
The water from the melting snow highlighted other lifeforms along the Wild Willy Wilderness Trail. Bazzania liverwort grew abundantly, but one in particular gave us pause . . . for it glowed. And no matter what position we stood in to look at this worm-like beauty, it continued to glow as if it had a golden halo surrounding it. We had no answers–only questions and wonder.
Another find that had been marked with tape, for it too was special–a broken branch attached to a young tree. I’m stepping out on a limb here–pun intended, but I believe this was an example of a glue crust fungus that glues twigs together. Seriously? Yes.
It was getting dark when we finally found our way to Province Brook and marveled at the water and ice forms. It was also getting close to the moment when we’d need to say, “See you later,” to Bob and Pam, for they’ll be heading to warmer climes soon. But we know they’ll be back for a winter adventure and then before we know it, spring will be here. And then, we hope the brook will be full with spring run-off from all the snow that is in our future. Until then, see you later we also said to much of the snow for it had almost disappeared.
But the ice art will continue to grow.
And the snow white magic will capture our minds again . . . one flake at a time. And with it, the wonders of the world will continue to be revealed.
Time. I never seem to have enough of it. Time with my guy. Time with our sons. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to explore. Time to reflect. Time to write. Time to sketch. Time to be . . . in tune with the world around me and my own soul.
And so today, when I heard a pileated woodpecker as it worked on a dead ash tree by one of the stonewalls, I decided to take a break from my own work and give it the attention it so loudly demanded.
Its a repeat visitor to that tree; along with crows and hawks and smaller birds as well. The tree can no longer create its own source of food, but it continues to provide for others, be they bird, insect or mushroom. And I suspect that it secretly shares its knowledge of the world with the younger ash it towers over–to the right. As for the pileated, his time at that tree came to an end . . . for the moment. He’ll be back–probably soon.
Because I stood below and no longer need to look up, I turned my gaze downward. And then had to pause. What had happened? Who had visited? And scraped the ground right down to the roots? And left a pile of leaves and sticks and other debris at the edge? A mushroom foray? An acorn frenzy? I looked for hair and found none. Turkey? Squirrel? Porcupine?
And at the base of the next old ash, similar behavior.
Returning to the first tree, I discovered that what looked like dirt was actually little pellets of scat . . . tiny scat. Tons of scat. A latrine. Did perhaps a meadow vole live somewhere nearby and a predator went after it? I did also suspect that there may have been a bunch of mushrooms that were harvested and in the process the vole’s latrine was exposed. I’m not sure if I’ll ever really know, but since I had stopped to look, I noticed something else.
Tucked near the base of the tree and relatively untouched by whatever had spent some time clearing the area, was a pigskin poison puffball, so named for its outer skin that feels like a football. (In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman writes: “historical note: footballs used to be made of pigs’ bladders, not pigskin.”) The dark spore mass within seemed to reflect the ashen color of the tree beside which it grew.
I should have returned to work then, but the puffball discovery and my wonders about the latrine made me want to poke about some more. Since I’d missed the puffball, what else hadn’t I noticed. A few steps to the left upon another tree root–a pelt lichen with many fruits, aka many-fruited pelt. I first discovered this lichen upon Bald Pate Mountain a few years ago, but didn’t know that it grew here–right under my nose.
Its smooth brown lobes shone brightly due to all the recent moisture, but it was the reddish-brown apothecia or fruiting forms that I found so intriguing. They’re described as saddles, and I suppose if you look at one from the right angle, yes, you can see the saddle-like structure.
On the next tree, another pelt known as dog lichen–apparently named because its fruits reminded someone of dog ears.
The algal component of a lichen goes into food production during rain, and so I continued to peer around. But first, a clump of Indian pipes caught my attention and upon them I noticed springtails doing their thing–springing about in search of food. Their diet consists of fungi, pollen, algae and decaying organic matter. Springtails are among the most abundant of insects, but because they are so small, they often go undetected unless you see them on snow in the winter.
And then back to the lichens it was. I found mealy pixie cups in great number growing on a stonewall.
And one large patch looked like it was going to produce another, for so prolific were its fruits of tiny round balls.
Also among my great finds, were the lichens decorating branches that had fallen to the ground in our recent wind storm. I loved the picture they painted with variations on a theme of color . . .
My favorite of all reminded me of so many things–a rose in bloom, waves echoing forth with ripples, and even a topographical map.
Alas, I was short on time and needed to head in, but my finds–were the greatest. Even a wee bit of time spent wondering is time well spent.
As I pulled into the parking lot beside the old school in Sweden, Maine, I was excited to see the door open, meaning that for the first time I’d get to step inside and take a look.
The Sweden Historical Society had recently had the building cleared of asbestos and hopes to possibly turn the 1827 structure into a museum.
My friend, Janet, who is past president of the SHS, invited me in and gave me the short tour–especially of the former bathrooms where the renovation revealed the plaster and lath originally used to finish a wall. The wooden lath was attached directly to the studs and then embedded with plaster; often horsehair plaster.
Once the plaster dried and formed a hard, smooth surface, it was either painted or covered with wallpaper. Janet was thrilled by the discovery of the latter and has plans to preserve it within a frame. Do you see Donny’s signature? I wondered if he got into trouble for writing his name on the wall.
We didn’t stay in the building long because we had a walk planned, but first, Janet provided a bit more history including pointing out the original door on the front of the building.
And beside that in this small hamlet that is home to a community church, town hall, town office and the old school, sits another building that looked like it had been there forever. It was an old foundry that Janet explained had been moved from another location–a frequent happening during yesteryear. This year it was dedicated to the founders of the SHS (apropos–foundry for the founders), Kay and Dick Lyman.
At last, we were ready to begin our walk.
The route was a short one, but it took Janet, her friend Karen, and me about three hours to walk from Route 93 to Webber Pond Road and back again.
We began beside the foundry on the colonial road. Though it’s still a town road, it’s no longer traveled (except by logging trucks a few years ago).
Not far along, Janet pointed out two granite pillars, indicating a fence line. And then we went off-roading, in search of other evidence of the use of this land.
And what to our wondering eyes should appear, but an old well, its covering slabs now turned upright. We poked about some more, but found nothing else in that spot and suspected it was a well for the farm, rather than for a house.
As we returned to the road, our suspicion was correct, for we found barbed wire that would have held the animals in. We stepped over it.
Our journey continued and at a brook that flows from Keyes Pond to the north down to Webber Pond, we came to a crossing. It was a crossing that also had us wondering for it was made of large granite slabs than ran east to west in the direction of the road. Number one, we didn’t expect the slabs to serve as a bridge, and number two, if such was the case, we thought it would have made more sense if they were turned 90 degrees. And so again, we wondered what the story might be. Perhaps wood once covered the stone?
For most of the journey, the road was bordered on both sides by stone walls–all freestanding, but some single-wide and others double. Single indicated either boundary or a way to keep animals in, while the double made us wonder about a plowed field. We noted neat construction where the stones were carefully stacked and messy sections where it seemed they’d been tossed, and again did some more wondering–were the messy parts the work of youngsters?
It wasn’t just the historical artifacts that drew our attention. Check out the withered leaflets on the Christmas fern. Its spores formed on the underside of a few leaflets, aka pinnae, of one or two fronds and that was sufficient for reproduction.
We also found an old favorite, lungwort; an indicator of old growth, thus a rich, healthy ecosystem.
And an equally fun lesson for Karen, who lives in Illinois, and had never encountered it before. Janet poured some water onto the lungwort, which is a foliose lichen, and the miracle occurred on cue.
With a twitch of her nose and a wink of one eye, we watched as the water reached the lungwort’s surface and changed its color from gray to bright green, while where no moisture flowed, it didn’t transform. Lichens have a high resistance to damage by dehydration and will suspend photosynthesis when they dry out. The cool thing about them is that once wet, they can quickly absorb water and get back to food production.
We also spied a cool fungi, and one that we seldom see fruit, but this year has been different and we’ve discovered it periodically. This is green stain fungi, so graced with the common name because it really does look as if the wood had been stained green. I used to think it was an old trail blaze. When it does fruit, the mushrooms are tiny, but among the most beautiful–at least in my mind.
At last we reached Webber Pond Road and we crossed to the cemetery, where Janet pointed out those for whom the nearby pond and road were named. She also noted that while most foot stones in a cemetery are positioned in front of the headstones, these were located behind. Indeed curious.
The cemetery was our turn-around point and we followed the route back, but actually went off route because we were looking for a foundation or two. We found none as we paralleled the road, but that’s okay because it just means we need to return.
Back at the old school house, I said goodbye to Karen (on the left) and Janet (on the right) and gave thanks for the opportunity to look keenly with them–as we peered into history.
My land. I’m sure of it. I don’t own it all, but I walk it often because it’s not posted and I know it well. Well, only just so well. It’s constantly offering me new learnings.
And so once again, out the back door I ventured, intending to head north toward the land of snow–haha. My sister asked the other day if we still had snow. We don’t have any on our land, but this is our view from the power line right of way–yup–we’ve got snow 😉 (in our view).
I changed my mind about the direction, however, when I saw numerous dog ticks on the tips of grass as I crossed our neighbor’s field. Though they aren’t the purveyors of diseases such as Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis, seeing them still unnerved me and I decided to head in the opposite direction where it isn’t so grassy. Of course, that’s where the deer ticks live. Nightly tick checks are a must every day.
It was in the opposite direction that I was caught by surprise. Behind a local business, where the land had been disturbed a year ago, a wall of yellow greeted me.
It was a sea of early yellow-rocket that is common along roadsides and fields. Apparently this one spot was the cat’s meow for it to grow so prolifically.
What was more prolific–the sound.
Bees and other insects hummed as they worked,
filling their pollen sacks to the brim.
Even a fritillary butterfly enjoyed the goodness within.
Those weren’t the only wings I saw. It was a complete surprise to also discover gaywings or fringed polygala growing deeper in the woods.
Walking along, I flushed a couple of deer and a ruffed grouse. And though I didn’t see or hear any turkeys, I knew they’d been there by their signature prints.
And then I slipped off the trail to stop at a vernal pool that I don’t often visit. The water is shallow, but tadpoles are growing.
A week or two ago after they’d just emerged, they were easy to spot as they clung to their egg masses or swam by water’s edge. But they are maturing and I had to stand still or they’d disappear under the leaf cover.
While standing there, I spotted another resident I didn’t immediately recognize–the larval form of a water scavenger beetle. According to A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools, “they are poor swimmers and will hang from the water surface (where they obtain oxygen) or hide in vegetation to await prey.” That all makes sense given their body structure.
On the way back, another insect stopped me. I think they were sugar ants with a white thorax. But why were they on beech leaves? Then again, every insect seems to like beech leaves. I guess I don’t think of them as being sweet, but . . .
As I headed home, I paused by an old wall and gate. This land was farmed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The walls formed boundaries for animals and are owned by numerous neighbors I’ve never met. Thankfully, they let me and others cross–though few will do so until hunting season begins in the fall.
Anyway, it all got me thinking about who owns the land. And then I knew the actual answer. The plants. The trees. The flowers. The insects. The amphibians. The birds. The mammals. They all own the land. We are mere visitors. I thank all of nature for letting me trespass and gain a better understanding of its various life forms.
This land isn’t my land. And it wasn’t even made for you and me. But I have great reverence for it. And for those who have protected it.
It had been just over a year since I last visited and I wanted to show her the shagbark hickory buds. And maybe even the bear trap.
We crossed the field behind the house and started off on the path to the quarry and bear trap, but snow and water in the woods resulted in another U-turn. We’d been talking so much, we’d hardly noticed our surroundings, but the view stopped us in our tracks.
And in front of us, the Temperance Barn and Peabody-Fitch homestead, built in 1797. We had the place to ourselves and reveled in the quiet of the day–when we weren’t talking, that is.
Heading to the road for our tree bud search, we passed by the blacksmith shop where horseshoes were probably made in the day.
And at the Temperance Barn, so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum,” I can never resist admiring the structure even though it’s in great need of repair.
And then we were stumped by a flowering tree. It sure looked like an ash as Jinnie Mae suggested, but what were those lacy tips? What came to my mind first were the tags on red oaks that I didn’t understand a few years ago until a friend helped me realize that they were leaf stems left behind when the wind finally claimed the dried leaves. Was this the same?
Climbing onto the double-wide wall, I took a closer look.
Turns out Jinnie Mae was right. But my question still remains. Were these the stems of the ash samaras or compound leaves?* For some reason I’ve never before seen them left behind. Ah, there are so many things to discover in this world.
We continued down the road, noting budding pussy willows and flowering red maples. And then I spied the bulbous buds I wanted to show her. Only, it turns out that we hadn’t reached the hickory trees yet.
The monkey face leaf scar should have been a clue. But my brain was stuck in hickory mode and I completely forgot that black walnut leaves leave such a formation. At home, I pulled out Forest Trees of Maine and then seesawed between black walnut and butternut (aka white walnut). Both feature leaf scars shaped like a monkey’s face. But the top of the leaf scar serves as the give away–this one did not have thick fuzzy eyebrows like a butternut, so I’m going out on a limb and declaring this a black walnut.
A bit further down the road we spotted more bulbous buds. These were definitely the ones I was looking for–shagbark hickory. In the moment and because the two trees weren’t close together, we thought they were all one in the same. But hindsight being 20/20 as it is, the photographs tell the story.
The subtle colors and fuzziness wowed us and we both took numerous photos.
Then there were the leaf scars–definitely more heart-shaped than the previous trees. And lacking that smiling face. We smiled for them.
It wasn’t enough to find the small saplings beside the road and so we crossed another field in search of the mother tree.
Along the way, Jinnie Mae spotted a wee grasshopper–the first of the season for us.
And then her newly trained shagbark hickory eyes keyed in on the momma.
If you go, it’s located behind the barn.
And shouts its name in presentation.
Looking upward, we could see the bulbous buds on the twig tips contrasted against the bright blue sky.
Happiness is a blue bird kind of day–sweetened by time spent exploring with Jinnie Mae, making discoveries and watching bluebirds move between the field and the trees. Indeed it was a Good Friday.
Now we need to return and find the mother black walnut.
*Thanks for Maine Master Naturalist Pam Davis for IDing the ash strand as the rachis of the compound leaf. She reminded me that I have seen these on the ground in the fall. But–to be still dangling from the tree was new to my eyes and mind.
In the spirit of changing things up a bit, I decided that I’d include five books I highly recommend you add to your holiday wish list and two that I hope to receive.
These are not in any particular order, but I’m just beginning to realize there is a theme–beyond that of being “nature” books.
Book of December: Forest Forensics
Tom Wessels, forest guru and author of Reading the Forested Landscape, published this smaller work in 2010. Though only 5″ x 7.5″, the book is rather heavy because it’s filled with photographs. Despite the weight, Forest Forensicsfits into a backpack and is the perfect guide for trying to figure out the lay of the land. Using the format of a dichotomous key, Wessels asks readers to answer two-part questions, which link to the photos as well as an Evidence section for Agriculture, Old Growth and Wind, plus Logging and Fire. In the back of the book, he includes Quick Reference Charts that list features of particular forest and field types. And finally, a glossary defines terms ranging from “age discontinuity” to “Uphill basal scar,” “weevil-deformed white pines” and “wind-tipped trees.” In total, it’s 160 pages long, but not necessarily a book you read from cover to cover. If you have any interest in rocks, trees, and the lay of the land, then this is a must have.
Forest Forensicsby Tom Wessels, The Countryman Press, Woodstock, VT, 2010.
Book of December: Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest
Michael L. Cline is executive director of Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, New Hampshire. In September, I had the pleasure of attending a talk he gave at the center about Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest. The 6″ x 9″ book weighs about the same as Wessels’, and will also fit handily into your pack. Of course, you might want to leave the books in your vehicle or at home and look up the items later–thus lightening your load. Using Brownfield Bog as one of his main go-to places, Cline describes 70 species of shrubs from Creeping Snowberry to Mountain Ash. The book is arranged by family, beginning with Mountain Maple and Striped Maple of the Aceraceae (Maple) family and ending with the American Yew of the Taxaceae (Yew) family. Each two-page layout includes photographs (and occasionally drawings), plus a description of habit, leaves, flowers, twig/buds, habitat, range, wildlife use, notes and other names. I have no excuse now to not know what I’m looking at as I walk along–especially near a wetland. That being said, I’ll think of one–like I left the book at home, but I’ll get back to you.
Shrubs of the Northern New England Forestby Michael L. Cline, J.S. McCarthy Printers, 2016
Book of December: Bogs and Fens
Ronald B. Davis’ book, Bogs and Fens, was a recent gift from my guy. I hadn’t asked for it, and actually didn’t know about it, so I’m tickled that he found it. I’m just getting to know Dr. Davis’s work, but trust that this 5.5″ x 8.5″ guide about peatland plants will also inform my walks. Again, it’s heavy. The first 26 pages include a description of vegetation and peatlands and even the difference between a fen and a bog. More than 200 hundred pages are devoted to the trees, plants and ferns. In color-coded format, Davis begins with the canopy level of trees and works down to tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and finally, ferns. He also includes an annotated list of books for further reference, as well as a variety of peatlands to visit from Wisconsin to Prince Edward Island. As a retired University of Maine professor, Davis has been a docent and guide at the Orono Bog Boardwalk for many years. Field trip anyone?
Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canadaby Ronald B. Davis, University of New England Press, 2016.
Book of December: Lab Girl
I’d never heard of Hope Jahren until this summer and then several people recommended her book, Lab Girl, to me. Rather than a guide, this is the story of Jahren’s journey from her childhood in rural Minnesota to the science labs she has built along the way. As a scientist, Jahren takes the reader through the ups and downs of the research world. And she does so with a voice that makes me feel like we’re old friends. Simultaneously, she interweaves short chapters filled with information about the secret life of plants, giving us a closer look at their world. I had to buy a copy because for me, those chapters were meant to be underlined and commented upon. I do believe this will be a book I’ll read over and over again–especially those in-between chapters.
Lab Girlby Hope Jahren, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
Book of December: The Hidden Life of TREES
And finally, a gift to myself: The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben. I’d first learned about this book in a newspaper article published last year and had to wait until recently to purchase it after the book was translated from German to English. Again, it’s not a field guide, but offers a delightful read that makes me think. And thus, you can see my bookmark. I’ve not finished reading it yet, but I’m having fun thinking about some different theories Wohlleben puts forth. As a forester, Wohlleben has spent his career among trees and knows them well. He’s had the opportunity to witness firsthand the ideas he proclaims about how trees communicate. And so, I realize as I read it that I, too, need to listen and observe more closely to what is going on in the tree world–one of my favorite places to be. Maybe he’s right on all accounts–the best part is that he has me questioning.
The Hidden Life of TREES: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben, Random House, 2016.
And that’s just it–the underlying theme of these five books you might consider is TREES. I can’t seem to learn enough about them. One word of caution, each author has their own take on things, so the best thing to do is to read the book, but then to head out as often as you can and try to come to your own conclusions or at least increase your own sense of wonder.
And now for the books on my list (My guy is the keeper of the list):
Naturally Curious Day by Day: A Photographic Field Guide and Daily Visit to the Forests, Fields, and Wetlands of Eastern North America by Mary Holland, Stackpole Books, 2016
Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast by Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.
Do you have any other suggestions for me?
One final thought about books–support your local independent book store as much as you can. Here in western Maine, we are fortunate to have Bridgton Books. Justin and Pam Ward know what we like to read and if they don’t have a particular book we’re looking for, they bend over backwards to get it for us.
Today marks the beginning of the season of hope and with that in mind, my guy and I climbed Singepole Mountain in Paris. Paris, Maine, that is.
Our hike began beside Hall’s Pond, where the water reflected the steel gray sky of this late November day.
And stonewalls and barbed wire reflected the previous use of the land.
In a matter of minutes we learned of its present use.
Everywhere we looked, beaver sculptures decorated the shoreline.
We passed from the hardwood community to a hemlock grove . . .
where more beaver activity was evident. I’ve been reading The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben and have some questions about tree girdling such as this. There is a theory that beavers chew off the bark all the way around (girdle) to eventually kill trees such as hemlock, so preferable species will grow in their place. But, that’s thinking ahead to future generations. Do beavers really do that?
On page 18, Wohlleben states the following: “As the roots starve, they shut down their pumping mechanisms, and because water no longer flows through the trunk up to the crown, the whole tree dries out. However, many of the trees I girdled continued to grow with more or less vigor. I know now that this was only possible with the help of intact neighboring trees. Thanks to the underground network, neighbors took over the disrupted task of provisioning the roots and thus made it possible for their buddies to survive. Some trees even managed to bridge the gap in their bark with new growth, and I’ll admit it: I am always a bit ashamed when I see what I wrought back then. Nevertheless, I have learned from this just how powerful a community of trees can be.”
Could this theory be true? Are the surrounding hemlocks feeding that tree via their roots? If so, does that throw out the other theory? So many questions worth asking.
Soon, we left the Pond Loop Trail and started to climb the Singepole Trail, passing by a gentle giant.
It’s a snag now, but this old maple offered tales of the forest’s past and hope for the future.
On a smaller scale, Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain provided a cheery contrast among the leaf and needle carpet.
The climb was a bit challenging in places, but we held out hope among the ledges that we might see a bobcat.
No such luck, but we did find this . . .
a well used porcupine den.
Water dripped in constant harmony as we stepped gingerly along the narrow ledges and tucked under overhanging rocks.
About halfway up, we took a break and paused to admire the view.
The hardwood and softwood communities became more obvious as we looked down.
And suddenly or so it seemed, my guy reached the moment of truth–the summit.
From the top, we looked around and embraced our home place, which appeared on the horizon in the form of Pleasant Mountain.
A slight turn and the view extended from Pleasant Mountain to the White Mountains.
Below our feet, the granite pegmatite shared its showy display.
We’d read that there was a quarry at the summit, so we headed toward a cairn, in hopes of locating it. Too many jeep trails confused us and we decided to save the quarry for another day. Instead, we turned into the woods to get out of the wind and munch our PB & J sandwiches, the grape jelly courtesy of Marita Wiser and family.
As we poked about, something caught our attention and we moved closer.
A wickiup frame. We admired the efforts of someone to create this traditional structure.
Emerging from the woods, we took one last look at Pleasant Mountain, and . . .
one last view of what seemed to be the summit (though it may have been a false summit).
And then we started down, once again hugging the rocks and trying not to slip.
On the way, I did note a few things, including this fungi that looked more flowerlike than mushroom like.
And I spotted a phenomenon that occurred repeatedly. Girdled beech trees too far uphill for a beaver. What or who had debarked these trees?
I may have been seeing things that weren’t real, but the lines on this particular tree made me wonder about the porcupines. Was I looking at the design they leave with teeth marks created in the distant past? Or were they wounds of another kind?
When at last we reached the Pond Trail again, we continued to circle around it, noting more beaver works.
At last, we found the mud-packed lodge built into the edge of the pond. Here’s hoping for a warm winter within.
Completing the circle, the biting breeze forced us to walk quickly toward our truck and the end of our hike. We have chores to complete tomorrow so our Sundate may have to suffice for a Mondate.
That being said, in this season of hope, we trust we’ll find more opportunities to consider these be-attitudes:
Though I grew up outside New Haven, Connecticut, and spent a great deal of time there as a child/tween/teen, I am not a city girl. In fact, stepping onto a sidewalk in even the smallest of cities yanks me from my comfort zone.
And so it was with great surprise that I met a city I rather liked. Over the last thirty years, I’ve passed through it numerous times, but twice this past week, I followed my tour guide from one monument to the next–my eyes wide and mouth gaping open with each new view, the obvious sign of a tourist.
Meet my tour guide, Bob Spencer, who proudly displayed a future landmark sign.
Bob’s world view begins at City Center, aka Watson’s Falls.
From the home he and his wife, Gere, have made in a former mill, the view encompasses one of nine water privileges or mill sites. Theirs is the fifth privilege along the stream, which was originally granted to Isaac Smith in 1795 for a saw mill. Over the course of its lifetime, the building served as a cloth and linseed oil mill, saw mill, salt box factory and cider mill. I love that apples still dangle above the water, a reminder of that last rendition.
On Saturday, we stepped north for a few minutes, and chatted about the mill pond and its function while Bob pointed out foundations and retaining walls and told stories of the standing buildings.
Then we turned south along the brook, where remnants of dams and the stonework foundations of other water-powered mills flourished from the days of the town’s settlement until the mid 1900s.
Bob is a fellow writer and naturalist with a keen interest in history. I’m flattered that he shared this place with me as well as his own written musings:
For most travelers on busy state Route 35/37, our brook is of little interest or importance. To the village of South Waterford, however, a cluster of thirty buildings which lie on either bank of this stony rill, it has served as a source of life and vitality throughout much of history. Landforms here were carved into the granite bedrock as a much larger ice-age water course scoured out a valley between Bear and Hawk Mountains to the east and Mount Tir’em and Stanwood Mountain to the west. Native Americans gathered along its banks to fish and camp. Eighteenth century settlers were drawn to the environs for a source of their fresh water and of power to produce lumber and flour, which were essential to survival. Nineteenth century industrialists, before and after the Civil War, earned their livelihoods by producing both commercial and consumer goods traded locally and in cities such as Portland and Boston.
As we walk along he pointed out buildings still standing, those in stages of disrepair, and others that were merely memories. We paused by a meadow where he described the spring flooding events and I examined the evergreen wood ferns.
And then we noted the gouge that deepened as we climbed, where “a glacial moraine as melt water engorged the brook into a raging river 15,000 years ago. The brook serves as the marshy wetland home of fish, birds and mammals. Such a short stream can teach everyone who allows the time many lessons about our ecology systems: how they work and how they were born.”
At the emergence of the brook we’d followed with two smaller brooks (Mutiny and Scoggins), we paused as Bob described their origins and journeys.
And then we turned to Bear Pond–the outlet. The temperature was relatively warm and pond almost inviting.
With Bear Mountain overlooking, we’d reached the southern most point of the city.
On our return trip, we found numerous signs that local residents were still industrious. Sometimes they were successful and the trees fell to the ground.
As with all industrious efforts, there were times when hang ups prevented success.
Sunshine and late afternoon reflections gave me a taste of why Bob referred frequently to the meditative nature of this place.
As we climbed a small hill and crossed a field, we again approached City Center.
And then we doubled back, walking to the intersection of Sweden Road with Routes 35/37. Plaster mills, bucket mills, a carding mill, saw mill and grist mill–waterpower was a necessity to any enterprise–beginning with lumber sawed for dwellings, grain ground for life-sustaining bread, shingles for siding and roofing, carded wool for the seamstress.
With the sun’s rays dipping lower in the sky, we stood in awe of the sluice and thought about the men and oxen and all the work that went into creating the mill–before the real work actually began.
How many times have I traveled past this site and never spied it? Too many.
After our first tour ended, I paused at the southernmost end of Bear Pond for further reflection.
But . . . there was still more to see of the city and so a few days later I eagerly joined my tour guide again. This time we walked north, and wondered about the rock placements and considered their role as runways that once helped direct the water flow.
All along, we saw evidence of human intervention.
We noted the feather and wedge marks on split stones.
Barbed wire made us think about the land being used for agriculture. Though it didn’t seem that the land had been plowed, we wondered if farm animals had roamed. Bob reminded me that a carding mill once stood nearby and so we envisioned sheep.
Barrel wire and staves made sense to us, but we didn’t always recognize the artifacts for their use.
We even found a cellar hole, or perhaps a cellar hole, that Bob hadn’t seen before. Of course, we speculated. It certainly had structure. But why was it cut out around large boulders, we wondered.
And we noted the industrial work of trees that forged their own way beside the brook.
For every sight that we seemed to understand, there were more that we didn’t. With his vast knowledge of local history and the land formations along the brook, Bob pointed out natural and man-made features, but even he admitted he didn’t always get it. The pile of obviously quarried granite was one such.
Suddenly, we reached what might be considered the crossroads of long ago and more recent past.
To the west, an obvious rock sluiceway.
To the right, stanchions from a former, yet more recent power site.
This was all located at the original spot of the first dam along the brook.
Curiously, Bob explained as we walked along, a more modern dam was built about a quarter mile north.
We’d reached Keoka Lake, formerly known as Thomas Pond. Supposedly, in the early 1900s, Thomas Chamberlain ran away from Native Americans and survived by hiding in a crack in a rock. Though the lake is no longer named for him, Tom Rock Beach holds his legacy. Today, the clouds told the story of the much cooler temperature.
And then we looked south, to the outlet of Keoka and the beginning of City Brook–the place where it all began. Though no longer held by dams and funneled through the rock sluiceways, it was the water that passed this very way that once provided the energy converted by water wheels and turbines to power the life of the city.
“Waterford City” as it was known, has changed, though some standing monuments still speak to its former life. Until Saturday, I had no idea the brook was named City Brook or that South Waterford was known as a city, so named for the industry that once existed here.
As Bob wrote, “The age of industrial prosperity is now long gone, victim to growth of large manufacturing plants which required more powerful rivers and many other economic changes since the 1870s. At that time, South Waterford was dubbed “Waterford City” for the noise and bustle brought to the town by nine mills and many supporting outbuildings lining the brook. Invisible to today’s busy passerby are many remnants of a past industrial heyday: a large concrete and split stone ruin on the access road to Keoka’s modern dam, two-story stone work that served as the foundation for a 19th century bucket mill, a simple shingled mill building atop a 1797 stone dam beside the town’s last rustic stone bridge. Further exploration may reveal lost foundations beneath the water surface, a 36-inch rusty circular saw blade, burnt remains of Waterford Creamery or an earthen dam long overgrown by bushes and brambles. These vestigial remains of human endeavor are of historical interest to many.”
After our tour came to an end, I paused below the cider mill one more time–a fitting spot to share another of Bob’s ponderings on this place:
“The whirling bubble on the surface of a brook admits us to the secret of the mechanics of the sky.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“It is appropriate to begin this study with a quote from American philosopher, existentialist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1802-1882), whose life spanned from early days of village settlement through the denouement of its industrial zenith. Emerson spent much of his boyhood visiting three aunts who lived in Waterford. He likely honed his naturalistic views while exploring City Brook or Mutiny Brook near Aunt Mary Moody Emerson’s home, Elm Vale, which was located across from the cemetery of the same name on Sweden Road.“
This is one city I’m thankful to have visited. And I look forward to further explorations.
I’m grateful to Bob for sharing this place with me and especially for pointing out all of his favorite meditative places. Meditation in the city–Waterford City style.
Once the rain let up, I donned my Boggs and headed out the door in mid-afternoon, not sure where exactly I was headed. But after reaching the snowmobile trail, I decided to turn south. Since the spring, I’ve been to the vernal pool on the neighboring property numerous times, but not much beyond in that direction.
Part of the reason was that a local industry, of which we now have so few, was constructing a new building and had cut off the trail. Oh, I could have bushwhacked around the project, but the other part of the reason is that it’s a heavy tick zone and I normally avoid it come warmer weather. Given the new building, I wasn’t sure what to expect today, but as I passed through the stonewall, I discovered they’d added a bridge over a new water diversion and the trail was open. I’m glad for the small industry, but simultaneously sad that the willows are gone. No more pussy willows in the spring. Or willow galls, though I suppose that’s good news. And who knows, perhaps some viable willow seeds will spring forth in this place–a hypothesis to be tested.
After crossing behind the building, I moved through an opening in the next stone wall, and felt right at home again–in one of my local classrooms. This is one where I’m often the solo student, as was the case today.
I revisited an old stump, where art class was about to begin. The underside of the artist’s conk welcomed a sketch, but I left the canvas blank for another day.
In social studies class, I took a look at former land uses. The wall opening and split stone gate bars helped me envision the fields that once were cleared. I followed several walls, which switched from single to double and even double-double, or so it seemed as one section was at least six feet wide and a football field long (The New England Patriots are winning in CA right now!). Barbed wire indicated the need to keep animals out and flat land with trees not a hundred years old spoke to the land’s former plowed use.
A few minutes later, I moved over an old rock mound and stood before my science teacher–another vernal pool. As I recalled, this one dries out early in the season and grasses and other vegetation grow prolifically here. But unlike the smaller pool closer to home, this one held some water from the recent rain.
As any student should, I stepped through the door and sunk my feet into class.
Cinnamon ferns reminded me that they keep their fuzziness right up to the end.
I wondered about strips of paper birch dangling from a young sapling and then realized I was looking at the remains of a nest–maybe a vireo.
I questioned how the long-beaked sedge seedheads came to be bent over–by weather or wildlife or just because their time had come?
While bulrushes (actually a grass) offered flowing fountains pouring into the future, their seeds still clung–as did a spider web.
And more spiders eluded me, though their webs stood strong among the steeplebush capsules.
A few raindrops dangled like ornaments from a holiday decoration.
And bead-like spore structures on sensitive fern’s fertile stalk waited for another day to spread their good news.
I finally left the vernal pool, but before heading back down the hallway, small salmon-colored growths stopped me. Lichen? Fungi? I didn’t think I’d ever seen it before and so it was a new lesson.
My first thought–lichen. In a way, it resembled the tops of British Soldiers that grow prolifically here. But my latest thought is red tree brain fungi (Peniophora rufa) . I may be wrong, but that’s what being a student is all about.
With each new lesson, I was also thankful for those that were reinforced, such as the chisel-like and shredded works of pileated woodpeckers. I used to think such trees were the result of bear activity.
I’m always awed by the resulting sculpture left behind by those powerful birds–their strong beaks stabbing away at the bark until they’ve consumed a meal of carpenter ants and beetles. Thankfully, their skulls are thick and spongy–allowing their brains to absorb the impact of such repeated drilling.
At a field, I paused to admire the layers–a testament to field succession. These woods are constantly changing.
One thing that doesn’t change is the signature of a Tom Turkey–usually offered in straight or J formation.
At another wetland, I poked around and then my eye focused in on something decorating a fallen tree. A slime mold perhaps? Red raspberry slime? In one rendition it seemed to have a crater-like surface, while another was more flower-like with petals spraying from a center.
At last I entered a hemlock forest where the cinnamon inner bark stood out on the wet trees. If not for the scales, I realized it would be easy to confuse this bark with that of red oak, but a quick look up the trunk and the answer was obvious.
As I walked back toward home, I looked along parts of the trail I’d skipped while exploring in the woods. And I wasn’t disappointed when I discovered one of the few striped maple trees–still bearing the seeds it produced last year. Why did they cling still? When released, will they be viable?
And then, a sight I was hoping for presented itself when I returned to our woodlot. Froth at the base of a pine tree. It’s not unusual and occurs following a rain event such as we’d had all night and morning. I had hoped to see some foam today, and felt rewarded for my efforts. So what causes the tree to froth? Well, like all lessons, there are several possibilities. Maine Master Naturalist Science Advisor Fred Cichocki recently had this to say about it: “I’ve noticed this phenomenon often, and in every case I’ve seen it’s associated with white pine, and always after a dry spell followed by heavy rain. Now, conifers, especially, produce hydrocarbons called terpenes (it’s what gives them their lovely pine, balsam and fir scent). These hydrocarbons are hydrophobic by nature and form immiscible films on water. During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up terpenes on the way. Air (having accumulated in bark spaces, channels, etc. perhaps under slight pressure) then “bubbles” through terpene-water films producing a froth. Recall the cleaning products PineSol, and the like. They are made from terpenes, and produce copious bubbles when shaken. One could get the same result directly by shaking terpentine in water, or by bubbling air through a terpentine-water mixture with a straw . . . Of course, it may be that other substances (salts, etc.) enhance the frothing.”
No matter how much I have learned on this life-long course, there’s always more. I certainly don’t have all the answers and for that I am thankful. I’m forever a student.
Last month the Greater Lovell Land Trust purchased a new property along Long Meadow Brook that further develops the wildlife corridor. A couple of weeks ago I first visited it with GLLT’s Executive Director Tom Henderson and a number of the land trust’s volunteer docents. As we left the property, Tom said to me, “I didn’t oversell this, did I, when I said this will become one of the docents’ favorite properties.” Indeed.
And so I couldn’t wait to get back there myself to spend a few hours exploring the almost one-hundred-acre reserve.
Because the land was last logged by the previous owner in 2014, it’s in the early succession stage of regrowth.
And so, it’s a place where those who like disturbed places tend to grow, such as the common mullein. What surprised me most was that I found a few still offering blooms.
Of course, it reminded me that I was in the great West–WESTern Maine, that is–with its occasional cacti-like form.
Scattered throughout are also the seedheads of white lettuce, waiting for release in lampshade-like formation.
Orange-peel fungi fruited prolifically in the gravel logging road.
That was all before I even reached the future parking lot, which had served as the log landing a few years ago. Already, sweet ferns and berry bushes have made themselves known.
The leaves of sweet fern, which is really a shrub rather than a fern, exhibited their version of autumn hues.
If you go, I encourage you to look for the blue ribbons that indicate where a future trail will be placed. It’s a loop trail that summer interns Hannah and Aidan laid out and leads to two focal features.
The trail nears a neighboring property, which just happens to also be under conservation easement thanks to the foresight of its owners. I stepped off the blue flag trail and started to follow the wall for a bit–noticing that soon it changed from a double (garden or plowed land) wall to a single wall. A large pasture pine grew at the change-over point.
And where the wall switched to single formation, barbed wire indicated its former use a pasture boundary. And white pine scales indicated its current use–as a red squirrel’s dining room table.
After moving away from the wall, I noticed the mountains in the offing and ferns and young trees already filling in the empty spaces.
One of my favorite mountains to climb stood tall in the backdrop–Mount Kearsarge.
My bearings were off a bit, but I knew where the eastern boundary was as I moved across this opening.
Walking along the back edge, my tree passion was ignited yet again.
Several pitch pines grow in this space. While the bark is similar to that of red pines, it’s platier (is that a word?). And the tufts of needles that grow along the trunk were a dead give-away.
But . . . I always quiz myself and so I looked around. And right below the trees, pitch pine cones and the triple needle bundles common to this species.
It was here that I discovered wintergreen growing by the base of a tree stump. What made me wonder was the amount of fruit on each plant. Yes, wintergreen grows prolifically in all of western Maine, but I can’t recall ever seeing so many little red globes dangling below the leaves.
From my half-circle around the opening, I wasn’t positive about my whereabouts and so decided to follow the land downhill because it looked like there may be an opening below. A few minutes later, I realized I was in a marshy spot where the cinnamon ferns grew. And the earth beneath my feet was rather spongy and damp.
I reached what I thought was the meadow I sought–only to realize that I was looking at a beaver lodge. I knew that beaver lodge, but from a different perspective–the neighbors’ property.
And then something else caught my attention.
Tamarack (aka larch) trees–our only deciduous conifers, which had turned a golden yellow as is their autumn habit.
The spray of tamarack needles reminded me of witch hazel flowers, which also grow on this property. But soon, the former will drop, leaving only their barrel-like stems as a reminder of their presence.
I left that spot, retraced my steps and headed to the north on a cross-country bushwhack, where the mauve colored maple-leaf viburnum grew.
I saw lots of mammal sign and even a few birds, including turkeys who are loving the fact that this is a mast year for acorns.
At last I emerged onto the trail I remembered and headed downhill again.
And then . . . I was rewarded for my efforts. Long Meadow Brook and the mountains beyond provided a WOW moment.
I looked to the east for a few minutes.
And then turned west again, where the layers and colors spoke of diversity.
Even the dead snags added beauty.
Cat-in-nine tails added to the view and I noted others who like wet feet including steeplebush, meadowsweet and bulrushes growing along the old beaver dam. It’s also a place for a variety of evergreen species–hemlock, white pine, balsam fir, red spruce and tamaracks. Future teaching moments await.
My intention to stick to the trail was soon thwarted when I spied hobblebush.
Like all trees and shrubs, the future was already encased in a bud–in this case a bud we refer to as naked because it doesn’t have the waxy coating of most others. Methinks its furry presentation offers the same protection from winter’s cold.
And as I studied the back side of fallen leaves, I paid attention to the venation–reminiscent of the bud’s pattern.
In the glow of sunlight, I felt like I’d found the pot of gold.
A short time later I reached the second opening that Hannah and Aidan’s trail encompasses. And what to my wondering eyes should appear–a meadowhawk dragonfly.
It provided a sharp contrast to snow on the Baldface Mountains.
It was at this six-acre opening that I poked around for a while longer. And watched a goshawk fly to a pine tree with something dangling from its talons. Did I take a photo? No, of course not. I was too mesmerized to focus my camera. But sometimes, the photo doesn’t matter. Being there in the moment does.
I’m thankful for such opportunities made possible by organizations such as the Greater Lovell Land Trust. I know that ultimately this property is for the mammals that travel through and I saw plenty of evidence that they use this place. But then again, I’m a mammal who also appreciates the land bridges created and opportunity to observe the connectivity. I spent the day getting to know the way of the land at Long Meadow Brook Reserve–and can’t wait to return.
You remember the nursery rhyme, “Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day, we want to go outside and play”? Well, it finally rained yesterday and today, and many of us have greeted it with open arms. And we certainly didn’t let it stop us from going out to play.
This morning, I joined a group from the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust for a hike in South Eaton, New Hampshire. Had I not been racing for time, I would have stopped every twenty feet to snap a photo, but I did pause beside Crystal Lake.
After getting lost for a few minutes because I didn’t pay attention to the directions, I found the property. Eleven of us headed down Paul Hill Road, led by Jesse Wright of USVLT, and Nancy Ritger, senior naturalist with the AMC.
We paused to examine a variety of offerings, including the flat stems of the quaking aspens. It was the raindrops on the big tooth aspen, however, that drew my focus. One of the things Nancy spoke about as she had everyone feel a flat aspen stem, is how that very stem aids in photosynthesis.
The leaves tremble or quake, giving each more time in the sunshine–individual leaves, no matter where they are attached to the tree, share in unshaded glory for split seconds as those above them flutter. And, in the case of aspens, both sides of the leaf work to make sugar and release oxygen.
We spent a long time beside a beaver pond and pondered various aspects of it. We could see the lodge and beaver sticks in the water–that made sense.
But why a significant wall on at least two sides?
And a split stone by the water’s edge? What else had happened here? Jesse told us that there are numerous foundations that we didn’t have time to locate today, so we knew that though it seemed as if we’d traveled to the middle of nowhere, this place was once somewhere.
And to the local moose, it still is as evidenced by the prints we found in mud.
Our attention also turned upward as we admired raindrops dangling from fruticose lichen (think fruit-like branching).
Suddenly, the rain increased so Jesse asked if anyone wanted to turn around and received an overwhelming vote to continue on.
One of my favorite discoveries was a couple of larch trees. Larch or tamarack is our only deciduous conifer. Huh?
Like deciduous trees, the larch needles turn yellow each autumn and fall to the ground. Another cool fact: needles grow on stout pegs that look like wooden barrels.
We paused beside ash trees and tree stumps, and enjoyed the view of this pileated woodpecker excavation of carpenter ant tunnels–their favorite prey.
In the log landing that did become our turn-around point, we noted the early succession growth of Eastern white pines and sweet fern (not a fern). But again, we looked to our feet for the best views.
Candy lichen is a crustose (think–flattish or crust-like) lichen with green to bluish-green coloration.
Its fruiting bodies, however, are candy-pinkish disks atop stalks, even reflected in the raindrops.
Our journey back to parked vehicles passed quickly, indicating we’d not traveled all that far in two and a half hours. That’s normal when you take time to notice. Before departing, Jesse showed me a cemetery on the abutting property.
Small, unmarked stones made me think of a Civil War-era cemetery in Sweden, Maine–perhaps a sudden illness of young children called for quick burials.
One section was portioned off by split granite.
The Currier plot. A side road we’d passed by was named for the family.
Most impressive was the age of Nancy Leavitt, her stone located just outside the Currier plot. Nancy died at age 90.
As we walked out, Jesse spied a cup-shaped vireo nest built in the fork of a beaked hazelnut. Life continued to circle in these woods.
And the autumn color undulated, mimicking the land. The sun tried to peak out for a few minutes when we arrived at our vehicles, but we were all appreciative of the rainy day wonders we’d found along the way.
And back in Eaton, a quaint New England village located beside Madison and Conway, New Hampshire, and the Maine border–beauty cloaked by the mist.
Thanks to Jesse, Nancy and the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust for a fine morning spent wandering and wondering.
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