Desire to Learn

Maybe it’s my teacher blood. Maybe it’s just because I love sharing the trail with others who want to know. Maybe it’s because I realize how much I don’t know, but love the process of figuring things out.

Whatever it is, I had the joy of sharing the trail with this delightful young woman who kept pulling her phone out to take photographs and notebook out to jot down notes about our finds along the trail, that is . . . when her fingers weren’t frozen for such was today’s temperature.

Among our great finds, a Red-belted Polypore capped with a winter hat as is the custom this week.

I was really excited about our opportunity to share the trail for I wanted to learn more about her work with Western Foothills Land Trust and Loon Echo Land Trust, and her roll as the Sebago Clean Waters Conservation Coordinator.

But, I was also excited to walk among White Cedars for though I was only twenty minutes from home, I felt like I was in a completely different community. Um . . . I was.

Shreddy and fibrous, the bark appeared as vertical strips.

We paused beside one of the trees where a large burl that could have served as a tree spirit’s craggy old face, begged to be noticed. We wondered about what caused the tree’s hormones to create such a switch from straight grains to twisted and turned. Obviously some sort of stress was involved, but we couldn’t determine if it occurred because of a virus, fungus, injury, or insect infestation.

And then there were the leaves to focus in on for their presentation was like no other. (Unless it’s another cedar species, that is.) I loved the overlapping scales that gave it a braided look. And if turned right side up, it might have passed as a miniature tree or even a fern.

Lungwort Lichen drew our attention next. My ever-curious companion asked if it was tree specific. Found in humid forested areas, this lichen grows on both conifers and hardwood trees.

Having found the lichen, I knew it was time for a magic trick and so out of my mini-pack came a water bottle. Within seconds, the grayish color turned bright green due to its algal component. It’s an indicator for rich, healthy ecosystems such as old growth forests.

Where the water didn’t drip, it retained its grayish-green tone, and the contrast stood out. Curiously, snow sat atop some of the lichen’s structure, and one might have thought that all the lettuce-like leaves would have the brighter appearance, but today’s cold temp kept the snow from melting and coloration from changing.

Our next great find: a reddish-brown liverwort known as Frullania. It doesn’t have a common name, and truth be known, I can never remember if the dense mat is asagrayana or its counterpart: eboracensis.

Three dimensional in form, it reminded me of a snarl of worms vying for the same food. Oh, and the dense form: asagrayana in case you wondered.

Over and over again as we walked, we kept looking at the variety of trees and my companion indicated an interest in learning about them by their winter presentation, including the bark. I reminded her that once she has a species in mind, she needs to use a mnemonic that she’ll remember, not necessarily one that I might share. In this case, I saw diamonds in the pattern, and sometimes cantaloupe rind. Others see the letter A for Ash, such as it was. She saw ski trails. The important thing was that we both knew to poke our finger nails into its corky bark. And that its twigs had an opposite orientation.

One of the other idiosyncrasies we studied occurred on the ridges of Eastern White Pines, where horizontal lines appeared as the paper my companion jotted notes upon. It’s the little things that help in ID.

Sadly, our time had to end early as she needed to return to the office, but I decided to complete the loop trail and see what else the trail might offer.

Vicariously, I took her along, for so many things presented themselves and I knew she’d either be curious or add to my understandings. Along a boardwalk I tramped and upon another cedar was a snow-covered burl.

A wee bit further, and yet another peeked out from between two trunks, stacked as it was like a bunch of cinnamon buns. Curiously, the center bun formed a heart. Do you see it?

It was upon this trail that I began to see more than the bark of trees. At my feet, tracks indicated that not only had a few humans walked the path, but so had mammals crossed it. And one of my first finds was the illustrious snow lobster, aka Snowshoe Hare.

It had tamped the snow down among some greens and I knew it was time to stoop for a closer look.

Each piece of vegetation that had been cut, had been cut diagonally–Snowshoe hare-style, that is.

Moving along, some winter weeds presented themselves as former asters and others, but my favorites were the capsules of Indian Tobacco.

In my book of life, one can have more than one favorite, and so I rejoiced each time I saw a birch catkin upon the snow carpet, its fleur di lis scales and tiny seeds spread out. The seeds always remind me of tiny insects, their main structure featuring a dark body with translucent wings to carry it in a breeze, unless it drops right below its parent and takes up residence in that locale.

Further along, scrawled scratching in the snow and leaves indicated another mammal lived in the woodland, conserved as it was by Western Foothills Land Trust. With this sight, my mind stretched to the fact that a corridor had been created and the more I followed the trail, the more I realized others crossed over it because this was their home. And they were still at home here.

The scratcher had left a signature in its prints.

And the source of its food: fallen nuts that about a month ago rained down like the sky was falling. Northern Red Oak Acorns. This one had been half consumed by a White-tailed Deer.

While traveling earlier with my companion, we’d talked about the tree that produced the deer food, but it wasn’t till I followed the loop that I found it. To me, the ridges of the Northern Red Oak looked like ski trails, with a reddish tinge in the furrows.

Oh, and that deer; it seemed to have dined on the bark of a Red Maple in the recent past–probably as recent as last winter or spring.

After a three hour tour, I delighted in traveling the Half Witt Trail three times (out and back with my companion and then again as I completed the loop) and Witt’s End.

They are new additions to Western Foothills Witt Swamp & Shepard’s Farm Preserve, and the journey . . . ah the journey.

Along the way, this young woman wanted to know what questions to ask and where to seek answers. I helped as much as I could, but noted that there are others who understand much more than I do.

Thank you, Hadley Couraud, for today’s journey. When it’s shared either actually or virtually with one who has a desire to learn, it’s always special.

Ode to Pinus strobus

Oh ancient ones,
so tall and stout.

My gaze turns upward
to take in your mighty presence
as you reach out
and shake hands
with each other.

Your crown tells the story
of your true nature,
ever graceful as it is,
and decorated with
daintily dangling needles,
which spell your name
much like my fingers of five:
W-H-I-T-E.

In maturity you form furrows
of stacked outer layers
and I wonder about your age.
Within those furrows,
others, like a Stink Bug,
take refuge from the world,
especially as raindrops fall.

Though considered dead cells,
your skin protects life within,
where phloem and xylem
work like dumb waiters.
The former transports sugars
created by photosynthesis
from your needles
to feed branches, trunk and roots,
while the latter
pulls water and dissolved nutrients
from your roots for nourishment.

I have this and
so many other reasons
to revere you.
Today, I focus
on the decorations
you perhaps unknowingly encourage
by providing a scaffolding
upon which they may grow.
Mosses and lichens
first take advantage.
of your hospitality.

And they in turn,
offer places
for others to gather.
As I peek,
I notice tiny flies
of a robotic style
seeking each other.
The seeker advancing
upon a fruticose form,
while the seekee
waits on a foliose lichen.

Upon another,
a tiny cocoon,
once the snug home
for the larval form
of a Pine Sawfly.
Its opened cap
indicates the transformation
of another generation.

There were others 
who once considered
your trees their own.
A spider web
woven during warmer months,
gathered raindrops today
that highlighted
the 3-D artwork
of its creator.
Not to go unnoticed
were the fruiting structures
of lichens,
such as a crustose
with its thick, warty, grayish crust
topped by numerous
jam tart fruits.

But my favorite find
on this soaking wet day
was caused by
a chemical interaction
that resembles
the creation of soap.

During a heavy rain, 
water running down your trunk
picks up oils.
Air in the bark furrows
bubbles through the oily film
and produces froth.
It’s a tapestry-forming froth
and within some bubbles,
surrounding trees
pronounced their silhouettes.

Oh Pinus strobus.
Some know you
as “The Tree of Peace.”
I know you
as “The Tree of Protection,
and Life, and Color.”
And then I realize
that is Peace.
Thank you for all that you do, naturally.

Bear to Beer: Peabody-Fitch to Bear Trap

Our bear to beer tour was supposed to last a year, but here it is February 18, and we’ve already completed three of the treks. I think my guy really likes this Christmas present.

If you aren’t aware, for Christmas I gave him a small box I’d decorated with hiking stickers. Inside were thirteen pieces of paper (actually bobcat prints post-its) upon which I’d written the name of a trail where I thought we might find what we call bear trees for they are trees with bear claw marks, plus a place to grab a pint after the hike.

Because it was snowing today, we decided to stay closer to home and visit a property we hope Loon Echo Land Trust will soon own. It surrounds the Bridgton Historical Society’s Narramissic Farm and is one of our favorite places to wander in any season.

Rather than cross through the field as we usually do, I suggested that we follow the former road (current snowmobile trail) behind the barn. At the first stone wall, we passed from the Narramissic property on to what we hope will become the 252-acre Peabody-Fitch Woods that Loon Echo will own once they reach enough dollars to make the purchase.

Another part of my guy’s Christmas present was a donation toward said purchase, which an anonymous foundation will match. It seemed like a win-win deal when I sat down with Thom Perkins, former executive director of LELT to discuss the property proposal. And then last month I co-led a walk along part of the route we followed today and had the joy of learning more about it from Jon Evans, Loon Echo’s Stewardship Manager, and Matt Markot, LELT’s new executive director.

Not far down the snowmobile trail, we turned left at a stone wall, the same as we had during the LELT walk in late January. I was sure this was a route new to my guy, but it turns out it used the be the snowmobile trail and so he knew it. Right away, as we hobbled over and pulled up some downed trees, we began to see a variety of mammal prints muffled by the morning’s snow. Both prey and predator make their homes there and the property’s importance as part of the animal corridor was obvious.

Eventually, the trail swung around and rejoined the snowmobile trail. We followed it for a bit, then turned off at the blue arrow for that was our chosen way for today. It appeared that someone had an eye on my snowshoes.

We’d no sooner started along the trail when I heard the rat-a-tat drumming of a male hairy woodpecker. Of course, I needed to pause and watch him for a few minutes. And wonder about the purpose of his drumming. Was he establishing territory? Trying to get a date?

My guy was patient with me, but our mission was about more than the birds, and so we journeyed on. Mind you, we kept looking at the trees along the way, but suspected we’d find bear evidence on our return trip when we planned to go off trail. In the moment, we were eager to get to the quarry and find lunch rock.

It was buried, but my guy in his chivalrous manner, wiped the snow off and we each ate a slice of cold, homemade pizza and drank some water.

Behind lunch rock, plug and feather holes served as reminders of an earlier time–much earlier than either of us remembered. The quarry was the source of the stone foundations for Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Farm, which dates back to 1797.

With lunch under our belts, onward and upward we hiked until we reached a certain stone pile.

Mind you, it’s located a tad from the proposed Peabody-Fitch Woods, but still, we love to visit bear trap and imagine the past.

I’ve quoted this before, but it’s worth sharing again.

How did the bear trap come to be? According to an August 17, 1963 article in the Bridgton News, “Enoch Perley, early settler of South Bridgton, built his first house in 1777 and brought his bride to their new home in 1778. [I believe this was at Five Fields Farm.]

As Enoch acquired livestock, he was much troubled by depredations from bears. He built a bear trap on the hill back of his first home . . .

Tradition says that four bears were caught in this trap–not enough! So Mr. Perley later had an iron bear trap made which took care of eight bears. Without a doubt, many were disposed of by him personally. A story is told that in an unarmed encounter with a bear and two cubs beside a wood road at dusk, Mr. Perley allegedly strangled the mother bear with his garters . . .”

The article continues, “The bear trap is built of stone. A large stone door is suspended and as the bear takes the bait, he trips the lever and is caught in the stone enclosure.”

In a December 1954 issue of the Bridgton News, a brief article states: “The old stone bear trap on the mountain in South Bridgton known as ‘Fitch’s Hill,’ unused for more than one hundred years, has been reactivated by Dr. Fred G. Noble and Gerald Palmer and put in readiness to capture a bear.” As the story goes, they never did succeed.

In honor of the Perleys, Peabodys, Fitches, and the bears, we’d brought along a growler, a Valentine’s Day present from my guy to me.

We each enjoyed a few sips and then peered inside the trap to see if anyone had taken up residence. Perhaps we should have done that first! Thankfully, no one was home.

Eventually, we headed back to the trail, but didn’t spend long on it.

Instead, we began looking for bear trees. To test your visual acuity, can you spot my guy?

I couldn’t always see him for we split up for about an hour and zigzagged our way from one beech tree to another. I found one that gave itself a hug.

There were those with false lines. Well, they weren’t really false, but they weren’t caused by a bear either. Instead, surrounding saplings blowing in the wind had scratched them.

Then there was the tree that seemed to have stitch marks on the outside of its wound. Unfortunately, the stitches didn’t help.

One of my favorites was the beech that made me think it was a deer bending over as if to take a bow.

That made perfect sense in these woods where the deer did dine.

And at least one rubbed its antlers.

Suddenly, from a distance I heard my guy call to me. He thought he’d found what we sought. A bear tree. The growth at the top certainly leant itself to that assumption.

I’m not one hundred percent sure that he was right, but there were some marks that looked consistent with bear activity–a bear with a very big hand.

Closer to the trail, we did find another tree with bear sign–left behind by Teddy Bear and K.F., whoever that might be.

About three hours after crossing through the stone wall behind the barn to enter the future Peabody-Fitch Woods, we did the same at the far end of the farm field.

And in the end, even if our bear tree wasn’t exactly that, we’d still had a bear sighting–in the form of the trap. Today’s brew was Double C.R.E.A.M. Ale from Bear Bones Beer Brewery. Bear to beer possibilities: Peabody-Fitch to Bear Trap.

I’m with the TREES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cottony white masses of wooly alder aphids decorated a couple of branches. As Alanna explained, in a symbiotic relationship, during the warmer months, ants stroke the aphid with their antennae, while the aphid releases a drop of honeydew, much like a cow being milked. It’s actually rather creepy. Today, there were no ant farmers about, but a few like Justin, did step forward to take a closer look.

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

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

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

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

Did she get carried away with the cookie cutters?

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

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

That wasn’t all Alanna had created.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so up we looked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m with the TREES. Are you?

Bear to Beer: Middle and Peaked Mountains

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

Middle to Peaked Mountains in North Conway, New Hampshire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

From Bear to Beer Possibilities

Christmas in our house requires a bit of creativity and so it was that a light bulb went off and a theme was born.

I found a little brown cardboard box, decorated it with some hiking stickers and then did a bit of research on local trails and pubs. This was for my guy, you see, for on his days off, he’s always asking me where we should hike. I decided to make it easy for him to suggest a trail at least once a month, and the hike would be followed by sipping a brew at a local pub. There was one caveat: the hike had to include the search for bear paw trees. We both love a challenge. Some of the places I chose are familiar to us, and though we know the trees are there, will we find them again? That remains to be seen. Others are totally new on our list and I had no idea if they’d offer one of our favorite sights.

In keeping with the theme, I also gave him a UMaine sweatshirt; UMaine being his alma mater. Of course, back in his day, it was referred to as UMO for the University of Maine at Orono.

And finally, a growler from a local brew pub so he can walk down the street and refill it occasionally.

It was Western Foothill Land Trust‘s Packard Trail that he chose for this first adventure.

The property itself is the Virgil Parris Forest, named for this man who was born in Buckfield in 1807. Mr. Parris attended local schools, Colby College, and Union College in New York, where he studied law. In 1830, he was admitted to the bar and returned to his hometown to open a practice. His career followed a political path both at the state and national levels.

The main trail that loops around the 1,250-acre property was named for the Packard Family. According to the interpretive panel at the trailhead, “the farmstead’s foundations and family cemetery are on site. Daniel Packard was given this land in Buckfield as compensation for his service in the Revolution. Daniel was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts in 1749 and married Elizabeth Connelly of Cork, Ireland during the war. Daniel died in Woodstock, Maine in 1836, and is buried there. It is said that Daniel and Elizabeth were the prototypes for James Fennimore Cooper’s Sergeant Hollister and Betty Flannigan in Cooper’s novel The Spy.”

The sky was brilliant blue as we began our journey, each step of the way scanning the trees. Had it been a couple of months later, we might have mistaken the large burl in a paper birch for a bear cub.

Though bears climb other trees, it’s on beech bark that their claw marks show up best.

When one focuses one sees . . . many a thing that might have been passed by, such as this beech, which began we know not as one or two, and if one, why did it become two we wondered? And then, like a work of magic, it was once again unified.

Another beech offered a snow chute that seemed like the perfect squirrel slide.

And yet another was decorated with the chiseled tooth marks of a natural logger–a beaver.

There were some decorated with cankers from beech scale disease that could have passed for ornamental faces.

And others that hosted squirrels who had built dreys appearing haphazard in construction from our stance about thirty feet below, but were really complex and apparently well insulated.

Fungi, such as this tinder conk, also fruited upon some trees. But . . . where were the bear trees? My guy asked how I’d chosen this particular path, and to be truthful, I couldn’t remember. I just thought it was a new one to us and might have some paw marks to boot.

Down an esker ridge we continued as we approached South Pond.

The wind was cold on the pond and snowmobiles zoomed past, oblivious to our presence, which was just fine with us.

And then we heard voices and framed between beech branches, we saw a dog sled team across the way.

And then, just as we turned from the Packard Trail onto the Cascade Trail, we spied some familiar marks. Or were they? We so wanted a bear paw tree that we convinced ourselves we’d found one.

It certainly did look the part. And so we felt successful.

Onward we journeyed, enjoying the cascades in their frozen form and promising ourselves a return trip in a different season.

As is his style, my guy moved quickly and I accused him of not searching, but he was.

And bingo! Another bear tree.

The cankers were abundant and made it difficult, but our bear paw eyes discerned the patterns.

And once we noticed, it seemed as if they began to pop out at us from every tall beech. Not really so. All in all we counted five. Well, five if you include the first tree, which we continued to question. And there were probably many more that we missed.

At last we’d completed our journey and relished our success. As I drove back down Sodom Road in Buckfield, I knew there were a few final trees that needed to be examined–telephone pole trees. Most were in great shape, but one close to the preserve had been visited by a large furry mammal that scratched it and nipped it and probably left a scent on it.

As planned, we knew exactly where we’d stop following our hike and so we made our way to the Buck-It Grill and Pub, another place we’d never visited before.

Lisa, the bartender, took our burger order and then we sipped Allagash White while we watched the Weather Channel on the TV above. Sitting next to us was Joyce, and she said that the impending storm was named for her partner’s niece, Harper. When did they start naming winter storms? Never mind. The important thing was that the fresh hand-packed burgers and fries were delish. The beer wasn’t bad either.

We went not knowing but came away with smiles after a successful hike–and already we’re looking forward to next month’s “From Bear to Beer Possibilities.”