Babe in the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing Race–Our Style: episode ten

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.

0-America's Stonehenge sign

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.

1-Sundial

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-Sundial 2

“2:11 pm,” he said. Pretty darn close for it was actually 2:09, but we were told to proceed.

3-Wigwam

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.

4-Well of crystals, Pattee Area

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.

5-Pattee Chamber, root cellar

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.

6-Chamber in Ruins

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?

7-True south pointing wall

The astrological importance of the site was noted throughout and we found the True South Pointing Wall.

8-south facing chamber

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.

9-The Pulpit

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 . . .

10-The V Hut

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.

11-East-West Chamber

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.

12-Wqll restoration

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.

14-Wall and pathway to Oracle Chamber

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?

15-Drill marks and wedge marks

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.

16-Wedge mark

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.

17-Sundeck with orbs

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.

18-Oracle Chamber

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.

20-Sacrificial Table

Before we’d entered the Oracle Chamber, we’d viewed one of several tables within the complex.

21-Sacrificial Table 2

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.

16a-if lichens and mosses could talk

If only mosses and lichens could talk, the tales they could tell. But then we wouldn’t have mysteries to consider.

30-Marginal wood fern

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.

28-Black and Red Oak

We also had to name three colors represented by the oak leaves on the grounds: Black, red,  and . . .

29-White Oak

white.

23-Astronomical Calendar with view cuts

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.

24-Nov 1 Sunset

We followed the trail toward the November 1 Sunset Stone.

26-Winter Solstice Sunset Monolith

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!

33-White Pine map

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.

31-Alpaca

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.

32-Modern day message

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.

34-Astronomical Calendar and contour model

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.

Focus on Home Mondate

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.

1-bird's nest fungi

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.

2-porcupine tree

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.

3-lady bug

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.

12-bagworm

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.

4-milkweed seed

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.

12-hole in yard?

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.

5-mealy pixie cup lichen

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.

6-Rock Shield

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.

7-Cinder 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.

8-Concentric Boulder Lichen

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.

9-tent caterpillar egg cases

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.

11-red maple flower and leaf buds

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.

10-tube caterpillar tube

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.

13-pinesap winter capsules

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.

14-False Tinder Polypore

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.

Left-handed Mondate

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?

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When I stepped out the back door, neither bird was anywhere to be seen or heard.

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But the double daffodils that came with our house showed off their cheery faces to all who looked.

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And by the road, the magnolia we planted about fifteen years ago added its own pastel palette to the scene–however momentary.

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By late morning, we changed our focus from the yard to a woodland a few miles away for today was the day we chose to work on the section of trail we steward at Lake Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve. 

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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From there we moved on, making rather quick progress to the “field,” a former log landing where the forest is slowly reclaiming its ground.

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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.

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And on the edge of the “tub” a telltale downy feather.

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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.

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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.

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Oh, and there were fern crosiers to celebrate, especially the scaly spiral of the Christmas fern.

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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.

 

 

Books of the Month: Stone Walls–Stories Set in Stone

It’s March, that most indecisive of months. And so, I decided to follow in the same pattern by choosing not one,

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or two,

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or even three,

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but four–

s8

all books about stone walls which are once again revealing their idiosyncrasies. These are the Books of March.

p-on-the-cowpath

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.

e-pine whorls

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.

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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.

s2

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.

s1

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.

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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.

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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.

~Isabel McArthur, 1920

Did You See What I Saw?

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.

p-pileated woodpecker holes

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.

p-pileated scat

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.

p-fisher prints

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?

fisher track

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.

p-raccoon track 2

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.

p-turkey hens and tom

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.

t-vernal pool

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.

p-bounding deer 2

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.

p-deer beds 1

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.

p-deer beds 2

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.

p-deer scat and hemlock cone

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.

p-squirrel 2

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.

p-squirrel 3

For about ten minutes he allowed me to watch him work.

p-squirrel cache:midden

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.

p-vole tunnels

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.

p-moose and deer intersection

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.

p-moose print and hair

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.

p-moose hair

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.

p-bobcat

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.

p-spectacles on ice

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.

 

Snow White Magic

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.

m-porcupine trail 1

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.

m-porcupine prints

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.

m-worm and junco prints

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 . . .

m-worm

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.

m-snow art 2

Into the woods I trudged, and the ever-changing colors and designs at my feet reminded me of works of art.

m-snow art 1

Some were palettes of mahoganies juxtaposed against white. A variety of textures gave the scene relief, much like an inlaid mosaic.

m-snow art intersections

Others embodied interconnections; a mingling of lines outlined for emphasis.

m-rock people

Along the cow path, I noticed the rock people for the first time, their mouths gaping open.

m-snow fleas

The minute snow fleas would hardly sustain them.

m-morning light

As it does, my trail crossed the line, where power seemed to originate with its source . . . the sun.

m-Mount Washington

And in the opposite direction, it flowed from pole to pole and onward . . . as if powering the mighty mountain.

m-pine sapling

My journey continued into the land of the pines and their saplings, momentarily coated with decorative baubles.

m-mini oaks

And the red oak saplings I’ve been watching looked more festive than ever.

m-squirrel tracks

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.

m-squirrel cache growing

The red squirrel’s cache had grown taller in the past week, but . . .

m-squirrel dining room

many pine seeds had been consumed in the refectory. All that remained were scales and cobs to show a number of dinners consumed.

m-squirrel rocks

The dining hall extended beyond the reaches of the cache, for every table available was a table used.

m-squirrel dinner in the future

As I walked back toward home, I discovered another table awaiting a guest.

m-beech sunshine

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.

m-British soldier

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.

m-snow drops

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.

m-pinwheel 1

As we walked, we noticed delicate parasol-shaped fungi fruiting.

m-pinwheel gills

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!

m-liverwort magic 1

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.

m-glue fungi

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.

m-Bob, Janet and Pam

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.

m-ice works 1

But the ice art will continue to grow.

m-Province Brook 1

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.