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.”

Merry Christmas from Narramissic

With Christmas rapidly approaching I decided to visit Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Farm gifted to the Bridgton Historical Society in 1987 by Mrs. Margaret Monroe of Providence, Rhode Island.

I had the honor of knowing Mrs. Monroe’s daughter, Peg Norman, who essentially grew up in the house having spent all of her summers there. Her mother purchased the house in 1938 after the death of her father. In Peg’s words as recorded in an essay entitled “Narramissic – Hard to Find” that she wrote when the deed was transferred from her mother’s estate to the historical society, she said, “[Mother] was searching for a refuge, a place to heal.” 

Peg continued, “Inside the house I remember only clothes hung everywhere and an unmade bed in the upstairs sitting room. My mother saw beyond. She saw the fans over the doorways, 

the granite hearthed fireplaces, Nancy Fitch’s name engraved in the wavey glass window pane, the sweeping arch of the carriage house entrance . . .

and the mountains, purple massifs unfolding out of the sky. She felt the history and eternity and peace.”

Peg went on to mention that her family spent “many Christmas holidays and ski weekends up there throughout the years — just the way the Peabodys and Fitches had (the original owners of the farm), heated by the kitchen stove and blazing fireplaces — and an old Franklin stove my mother finally allowed to be set in the living room fireplace ‘just for winter.'” 

Peg’s mention of the outbuildings included the barn, “the huge barn with the biggest horse I had ever seen munching contentedly in the front stall.”

Still standing, though its had some help recently to that end, the barn was erected by the Fitches and has come to be known as the Temperance Barn; historical records claim it to be so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum.”

I chose to explore on this delightfully warm day(45˚ feels like summer given the recent temps), but also to gain a better understanding of the collaboration between the historical society and Loon Echo Land Trust as they raise funds to purchase the 252-acre Peabody-Fitch Woods from the Norman family and place it under conservation easement while adding to a contiguous forest with other protected properties both adjacent and nearby. As I crossed the field, I kept turning back–to admire the farm and the mountains, including the ridge-line of our beloved Pleasant Mountain. Between Loon Echo and The Nature Conservancy, almost 3,000 acres of the mountain is protected and LELT maintains the 10 miles of trails that we frequent. 

It occurred to me that I didn’t realize the blue trail that crossed the field and continued into the woods, as designed by Adam Jones for his Eagle Scout Project in 1999, wasn’t part of the historical society’s property. 

And yet, it’s just as important for many species depend on it. Should the property be developed, the historical and natural features might diminish.

Should it be developed, I won’t be able to return in the future to figure out why the squirrel condominium featured a muddy carpet between doorways. 

Should it be developed, I’d miss out on ice formations along the trail such as this miniature pony — saddle and rider included. 

Should it be developed, new understandings would bypass me, such as the fact that white oaks do indeed grow in Bridgton. Well, at least in South Bridgton. This one was speckled with spring tails on this warm day. 

Should it be developed, the pileated woodpeckers will have fewer trees upon which to excavate. 

And selfishly, I’ll have fewer opportunities to search for their scat — filled with insect body parts. 

Should it be developed, there will be fewer toadskin lichens to admire. Thanks to the melting snow, many of the examples I found today were bright green, making the black-beaded apothecia where its spores are produced stand out in contrast. Toadskin lichen may be indestructible, but should the property be developed I wondered about the lichen’s immortality. 

Should the property be developed, where would the snowshoe hare scat? 

And the same for the ruffed grouse? 

Should it be developed, what would happen to K.F. and T.B.? 

Should the property be developed, would I see sights such as this and come to another new understanding?

I was actually searching for bear claw marks that alluded me (and I know they are there for I’ve seen them before) and instead saw this red bloom decorating some beech bark. It was quite pretty and festive given the season. 

At first look, I thought it was the apothecia of a crustose lichen, but do you see the tiny white spots mingled occasionally among it? Those white dots are the minute beech scale insect. The holes the tiny insect makes in the bark create a perfect entry point for nectria pathogen to make its way into the tree. The pathogen, a type of fungus, kills some areas of the tree at the point of entry. In reaction, the tree develops a canker as a defensive attempt to ward off the invader, but by doing so the canker blocks the vascular tissue of the infected beech by stopping nutrient flow in that one area.

And those red spots, as pretty as they appear, are actually tarry spots which ooze out of the cracks in the bark caused by the canker. Essentially, it appeared the tree was bleeding. 

Should the property be developed, what would become of the quarry and bear trap? 

This is the spot from which the foundations for the buildings were split so long ago.

Should the property be developed, would the plug and feather holes left behind as reminders of an earlier time disappear from the landscape?

The land already has been developed around Bear Trap, which is located at the end of the trail. We used to be able to hike or drive there; now one can only hike and you kinda, sorta need to know where it is.

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.

Should the Peabody-Fitch Woods be developed, all of this will be lost.

My hope is that the Bridgton Historical Society and Loon Echo Land Trust will experience a Merry Christmas as they finish out their fund-raising drive to purchase the land.

I think I walked beyond the boundary they are considering, but Bear Trap is one of my favorite historical sites. And with today’s walk I came to the realization of how important it is to protect the land around the farm.

Before I finish, I have one final historical piece of writing to share. In his memoirs, “Ninety Years of Living,” Edwin Peabody Fitch (1840-1931) who grew up in the farmhouse wrote, “Holidays were not much in evidence in those days. Christmas was so far in the shade, we didn’t think much about it. In fact, we felt that it was just a Catholic holiday and not be be observed by us. We went to school on that day and the only notice we took of it was to shout “Merry Christmas!” to the classmates. 

Merry Christmas from and to Narramissic! 

Childhood Magic

Why did the Greater Lovell Land Trust co-host (or rather tri-host) a hike through Pondicherry Park in Bridgton this morning? Because it’s hunting season, and it didn’t make sense to invite the public on a property that isn’t posted. (Not that we don’t still tramp on GLLT properties in November, mind you, but not on a public walk necessarily.)

And when I asked Jon Evans of Loon Echo Land Trust and Alanna Doughty of Lakes Environmental Association to join me in leading the tramp, they both quickly and graciously agreed to do so. I couldn’t wait because not only would it be a chance to share the special place with GLLT members, but also to bounce off of Jon and Alanna as we shared our knowledge of the natural and historical aspects of the park.

1-Bob Dunning Bridge

But . . . this morning dawned rainy and snowy. Still, we didn’t cancel. And though we knew that not everyone who had planned to join us could because there was more snow in the Lovell area and no power, we were pleasantly surprised to have a small contingent of participants that represented all three of our groups. And really, I love leading smaller groups because it’s so much easier for everyone to participate.

2-Jon giving the bridge history

Our group, consisting of Pam, Jon, Bill, Connie and JoAnne, plus Alanna and me, stood for a bit on the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, the gateway into the park from behind Reny’s Department Store on Depot Street. As Jon explained, on September 11, 2010, the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge was constructed in true barn-raising fashion.

3-Stevens Brook

The bridge spans Stevens Brook, the source of power when Bridgton was first founded and for many years thereafter.

4-Bob Dunning Bridge

One of the unique things about the bridge is that each tie beam comes from a different tree species, with the bark left on. As I walk across the bridge, my eyes are always drawn to the beams.

Until I took the Maine Master Naturalist class, I recognized only a few species by their bark. But my eyes were opened to the fact that each species has its own presentation, which is true for everything in the natural world. I wanted to know all of them so I set out to teach myself, beginning with the species on the bridge. These became the focus of my capstone project for the class and from that I created a Barking Up A Bridge brochure that is available at the kiosk.

5-sugar and Norway maple leaves

Into the park we finally went, stopping periodically along the way to notice and learn, including the similarities and differences between a sugar maple leaf on the left and Norway maple leaf on the right. Both have the same number of lobes (5) and look so similar, but . . .  the Norway maple leaf, an invasive planted along the main streets as a shade tree after the loss of Elms, is much boxier and more rectangular in shape. Plus, as Jon pointed out, the stem seeps a milky substance, which is a quick way to identify it.

6-pine soap

Our finds included many as we moved along at our usual slow pace, but one thing kept showing its form on pine after pine. Froth. It’s not unusual and occurs following a rain event such as we’d had all night and morning. So what causes the tree to froth? During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up the tree’s oils on the way. Air in the bark furrows bubbles through the oily film and produces the froth.

7-pine soap

Conditions were just right for it to occur so we spied frequent examples.

8-tussock moth cocoon

And because we were looking so closely at the bark, we noticed other things like tussock moth cocoons. We also found tube caterpillar moth cocoons created with pine needles and even pulled one apart to take a closer look. And the tiny sawfly cocoons on various twigs.

10-Willet Brook

Eventually, we found our way beside Willet Brook, which flows into Stevens.

11a-JoAnne photographing script lichen

And again, our eyes were drawn to tree bark and crustose lichen in particular. JoAnne snapped a photo of a script lichen that decorated a red oak.

13-crossing onto LEA property

Our intention was to turn away from the brook and cross the boardwalk that leads onto the Lakes Environmental Association’s adjacent property. Before doing so, however, we began to channel our inner child and rolled some logs.

12-baby red-backed salamander

And we weren’t disappointed for we found young and mature red-backed salamanders as hoped. If you roll a log, always pull it toward you so any critters that want to escape can do so in the opposite direction; and always put the log back into place quickly (well, after a couple of photographs, that is.)

14-Maine Lake Science Center Lab

At LEA’s Maine Lake Science Center, Alanna gave us a quick tour of the premises,

15-MLSC Lab

including the lab where various water quality tests are conducted.

16-Connie on the low-impact challenge course

Back outside, we headed up to LEA’s Pinehaven Trail and tried our talent as birds on a wire along the newly installed  low-impact challenge course.

17-Pam and Bill manuevering the wire walk

We all succeeded as Nuthatches for none of us fell off. If we’d done it with one hand, we  would have been Barred Owls and if we hadn’t used any hands, we would have been Cooper’s Hawks. But we were happy to be Nuthatches. There are four sets of challenges, each with a variety of activities to complete. Challenge your inner child.

18-watching balsam sticks

Crossing back into Pondicherry Park, we said we’d bee-line back to the bridge, but several times we just had to stop . . . especially when we found Balsam Fir blisters inviting us to poke them with twigs and drop the resin-tipped sticks into calm water.

19-balsam rainbow

We watched with fascination as the essential oil propelled the twig and created a rainbow, again satisfying that child within.

22-crossing back over the bridge

At last, a half hour after our intended finish time of 12:30pm, we found our way back to our starting point, all delighted to have spent time exploring and playing on a rather raw morning.

Thank you again to Jon and Alanna for sharing your knowledge and sense of wonder. And thank you to Pam, Bill, Connie, and JoAnne for coming out to play with us.

23-Chili and Beer

Later in the day, my guy and I drove to Lovell for yet another special event at the VFW Hall: LOVELL’S 1st ANNUAL BOWLS & BREWS fundraiser for the Sunshine Backpack Food Program.

It was a chili cook-off and beer tasting event featuring locally crafted chili and locally crafted beer from Bear Bones and Saco River Breweries. Plus, National Distributors in Portland donated Harpoon and New Belgium beers.

24-Paula and Diane

Diane Caracciolo nailed it and won first place from the judges and as the people’s choice. Her take away was a coveted apron, actually two, designed by local students who benefit from the Sunshine Backpack Food Program. As Paula Hughes, one of the event’s organizers explained, the packs are sent home on Fridays and filled with nutritious, non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food to ensure the kids get enough food on weekends.

At the end of the day, it seemed an interesting juxtaposition to have spent the morning channeling our inner child and the afternoon thinking about children who are so hungry that they can’t enjoy such childhood magic.

If you’d wish to contribute, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Paula.

Upta Camp

It’s been a gray day and a quiet day–the right mix of ingredients for a perfect day. And except for saying goodby to my guy this morning, the only conversations I have had, too numerous to count, were with myself.

c2-gray squirrel

Well, maybe that’s not quite accurate, for I did talk to a squirrel, but in unusual squirrel manner, it stayed as still as could be and didn’t respond. Together, however, we eyed our domain.

c5-mayfly

It turned out we weren’t the only ones with big eyes that chose to hang out all day. Attached to the screen was a Mayfly subimago–the teenage form of the insect.

c6-close up

Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun), they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation. I’m tickled that this dun chose our porch screen on which to rest.

m6c-close up

Notice the cloudy wings–that’s a clue as to its age. It can take a few minutes to two days before a subimago transforms into a clear-winged imago or spinner, though the actual metamorphosis is quick. Will I see it? You know I’ll keep watching.

c6-sawfly insect case

In the meantime, there was more to discover, including a sawfly insect case featuring the tiny hole where the insect chewed its way out.

c19-round-leaved sundew

As I looked about, I made one extremely exciting discovery–at least to me. Since 1986, I’ve stalked this land and today was the first time that I noticed the carnivorous Round-leaved Sundew growing here. Its leaves were filled to the brink with insect parts.

c18-round-leaved sundew

Perhaps that was why it looked so healthy and ready to flower. Expect to meet it again in future blog posts. (I warned you.)

c14-swamp rose

I also spotted a few Swamp Roses offering a bright contrast to the day’s overcast reflection.

c13-red pine

Featuring its own display of color was my favorite red pine–all pink-orange-gray hued in a jigsaw puzzle manner.

c15-red pine cone developing

At the ends of its branches I found young cones growing larger and greener.

c16a-spider

And old cones offering the perfect camouflage for a spider that had created a large network in which to trap its prey. I think it was of the garden cross variety, but without breaking the web, I couldn’t get too close, and I didn’t want to ruin all of its work.

c17-dragonfly exuvia

Entangled in a bit of another web and dangling from the floor of the porch and beside the foundation was a skimmer dragonfly exuvia. Today wasn’t a flight day for dragonflies, and so I had to wonder–where do they hide when the sun doesn’t show its cheery face?

c1-camp view

Perhaps in the buffer zone of vegetation that surrounds Propinquity, our point of view.

c2a-dock view

It only took us about a month longer than usual . . .

c2-Pleasant Mtn

to make the long journey (7 miles) to the water’s edge.

c20-hammock

But at last we’ve arrived.

c21-hammock view

Upta camp. The way life should be.

 

 

Spring Erupts–Sort of

Two days ago the thermometer climbed to 68˚ and old records were broken. But then, as it does in New England, we had a low of 15˚ this morning. And now it is sleeting.

w-beech snag in complete decay

Before the sleet began, however, I decided to do a loop hike at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve, beginning from the Gallie Trail and climbing up the Hemlock Trail to the summit of Whiting Hill, with a return via the Red Trail back to the Gallie. It’s a perennial favorite that always has some different things to offer, including the skeletal remains of a beech snag. I think what intrigued me most, besides the pileated woodpecker holes, were the lines of the wood, curved in nature.

w-Lactarius deterrimus (orange latex milk cap)?

Similarly curved were the gills of a decaying Orange Latex Milk Cap (Lactarius deterrimus)–at least that’s what I think it was–found beneath a hemlock.

w-bear 1

Part of my love for the Hemlock Trail can be found among the beech trees that also grow there and it is my habit to admire the lines that decorate them as well.

w-bear 2

No matter how many times I visit, I’m filled with awe.

w-bear 3

And wonder.

w-bear 4

For the black bears that left their signatures behind.

w-paper birch bark 2

Other trees also gave me pause, for though some know them as white, I prefer to call them paper birch. The curled-back bark offered hues of a different color reminiscent of a sunrise in the midst of a graying day. As my mother was fond of saying, “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” Today was a day to heed said warning.

w-paper birch bark 1

Others bespoke a setting sun.

w-paper birch bark--stitchwork

And not to go unnoticed, more bark from another paper birch that had fallen to the ground. It too, offered subtle pink hues, but it was the stitchery created by former lenticels (the tree’s pores) that drew my eye. They reminded me of a million zippers waiting to reveal hidden secrets.

w-yellow birch bark

And then there was the yellow birch–with its ribbony bark shedding its own light on the world.

w-wintergreen

Around the base of some trees, the snow had melted and wintergreen plants showed off their transitional colors–winter magenta giving way to summer green.

w-bench over Heald Pond

At last I reached the summit and headed to the east side first, where Heald Pond was visible through the bare trees.

w-Mollisia cinerea--gray cap?

Nearby, still another tree invited a closer look. I love the bark of hophornbeams, but this one sported a growth I wasn’t familiar with until I checked Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England upon my return home. In the world of mushrooms my knowledge is enough to be dangerous, but I trust my fungi friends will weigh in if I’m wrong on the ID. I’m going out on a limb and calling this one Gray Cup (Mollisia cinerea), for it seemed to match Millman’s description: “With luck, you might find several hundred of these stalkless ascos . . . each fruiting body will be more or less cup or saucer-shaped, but wavy or irregular in age.” And he describes their habitat as scattered or densely crowded under hardwood logs. Well, these weren’t under a log, so that made me question my ID, but they certainly seemed to match the rest of the description and hophornbeam is among the hardest of the hardwoods.

w-hophornbeam

Below another hornbeam I found the ground scattered with little fruits.

w-hophornbeam hops

The common name for the tree derived from those fruits, which when attached to their twig (the arrow points to such) are so arranged that they look like hops. As they fall, each little bladder that contains a single seed separates from the group in hopes of finding the right spot to grow into the future.

w-vole tunnels

As I moved toward the western outlook, half tunnels in the snow let me know that the vole community had been active. It probably still is . . . maybe.

w-Whiting Hill view toward Kearsarge

And then, the view to the west, which encompasses Kezar Lake, Mount Kearsarge and the Whites. The scene changed a bit last October when a windstorm just before Halloween toppled a dead white pine . . . and the cairn that marked the summit.

w-asters in snow

While there, I looked around for evidence of the wild columbine that will bloom in a few months, but found only asters hugging the snow.

I stayed for a few minutes, but the wind had picked up and so I finally turned to head back down.

w-white pine blue sap

For a short link, I followed the same path until I turned right onto the Red Trail. Just prior to that I realized I’d missed a sight on my way up–the blue sap that bled from a white pine. I’ve seen it often over my years of noticing, but have no idea why the color blue, which was really almost periwinkle. In this case, the sap flowed because a pileated woodpecker had been hard at work.

w-pileated scat

And that meant I had to look–and wasn’t disappointed. Woodpecker scat. It was so well packed, that I pulled out my hand lens and got down on my knees for a closer examination. I practically kissed it but can say for certain that insect parts were layered within.

w-heart

A few minutes later, the trail split and as I said earlier, I followed the Red Trail to descend. I had only gone a wee bit when I heard a barred owl call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It was noon, after all, so it seemed totally appropriate. The call came from somewhere near the summit and I had to wonder if I’d made the mistake of not looking up quite enough, so taken was I with the hops and the view to the west. Perhaps that vole had provided a meal. And then I heard a response somewhere quite possibly along the Hemlock Trail by which I’d ascended. For about five minutes they called back and forth and I thought of the irony, for months ago I’d scheduled an Owl Prowl for this evening, but had cancelled it this morning due to the weather forecast. That decision was the right one, but perhaps the prowl should have been scheduled for an earlier time. No matter–what’s not to love about hearing an owl hoot at any time of day or night? Especially if one happens to be standing near a tree sporting a heart.

w-lunch bench

Continuing down, another critter made me scan the forest constantly for I saw bobcat tracks and smelled a musky cat odor that I’ve previously associated with this trail. But . . . all I saw were gray and red squirrels scampering from tree to tree and signs of lunch consumed on benches.

w-chipmunk

At the bottom, I switched back and forth between the Gallie and Homestead Trails. It was along the Homestead that another sign of spring’s advent being around the corner showed its face as a chipmunk darted in and out of a hole in a stonewall and watched me from the safety of a fallen tree.

w-foundation filled with chunks of ice

Because I was there, I decided to pay a visit to the McAllister family spirits and told them of my great finds. Of course, what I shared was nothing new to them for they’ve been keeping an eye and ear on this property since the mid 1800s.

w-foundation 2

I also let them know that I was impressed they’d stacked up on ice blocks in the root cellar–certainly their produce had remained fresh throughout the season.

w-spring 1

I was almost back to my truck when I detoured by a certain yellow birch. All along I’d been walking on tracks others had made, so packed was the snow. And even when I went off trail, which was frequently, I didn’t sink. But . . . up to my knees I went as I approached my final destination–the light colored sand in the middle of  the water.

w-spring 2

It was well worth the wee challenge to get to it for the action of bubbles and sand flowing like lava was ever mesmerizing. At last I’d reached a spring that erupts in all seasons.

 

 

 

 

 

A Special Mondate

Our plan was to hike up Blueberry Mountain and continue on to the summit of Speckled in Evans Notch today, but as we drove toward the White Mountains I mentioned that a friend had shared a photograph of ice inside a mine near the Basin on Route 113. And so in an instant said plan changed.

b1-sign

We parked near the iconic Welcome to Beautiful Maine sign and ventured off in search of the mine. Of course, I’d forgotten where exactly it was located, so we walked about a mile on a snowmobile trail until we spied private land in front of us. That was our turn around point, but . . . me thinks we should have continued because I later learned that the mine sits between public and private property.

b2-gray birch

We didn’t mind for we knew we’d return with more accurate directions. It wasn’t the first time we’ve erred. And besides, the gray birches were beautiful.

b3-lemonade stand

After we’d covered about three miles, we headed back to the truck and drove to Stone House Road, where we parked near the trailhead for the Leach Link Trail. We could have continued toward the Stone House since for the first time ever, it was plowed, but the lane was narrow and had we met another vehicle, it would have been a challenge to back up. Besides, I love to walk the road for there’s always something to see . . . like the lemonade stand. Who knew?

b5-Pole #15

My other favorite sight along the road–telephone poles. In the past year the poles had received more attention–from black bears. Last year it seemed that any number with a 5 in it drew the most attention. Smart bears around here.

b6-pole 17 1

But it appeared that the bear(s) had added a new number to their count–#7, or in this case, #17.

b7-pole 17 2

I didn’t have my macro lens with me, but found bear hair attached to some of the scrapes. It was light colored, indicating it had bleached out in the sun.

So why telephone poles? It’s my understanding that males rub their shoulders and neck to leave a scent and may also claw and bite a pole during mating season. Bites leave nearly horizontal dots and dashes–can you see them? Think of the bear’s upper and lower canine teeth meeting. How cool is that?

Eventually, I promised my guy that I’d stop pausing to check on and photograph them, but he noted that I couldn’t resist every time we passed by one. I was just looking.

b9-Stone House Road

To my guy’s relief, we soon reached the gate, where the power line went underground.

b10-balds

Near the airfield, we turned and paused to enjoy the view of the Baldfaces, and promised ourselves a return to those trails in the late spring or summer.

b11-gorge 1

Our choice of trails today was the Stone House Trail. And no hike up is complete without a stop at Rattlesnake Gorge. First we looked north.

b11a-water racing

Ice and water, ice and water–I couldn’t get enough of the freeze and flow.

b11d-gorge 3

And then we looked south–with continued awe.

b13-pool view

We’d thought about eating lunch at the gorge, but moved on up the trail. From lunch log, where we dined on peanut butter and blueberry jam sandwiches, we took in the view of  Rattlesnake Pool.

b12-rattlesnake pool

Any time of year it’s a magical place, but on a winter day–ah . . .

b12-emerald pool

that emerald color.

b14-rocks in brook

The brook above offered its own touch of wonder.

b17-hiking up

After lunch, we continued our climb on conditions that ranged from ice to snow to bare rocks. But mostly ice and snow. Microspikes served us well.

b16-Caribou sign

At last we crossed from the Stone House property into the White Mountain National Forest as denoted by a rustic sign.

b16-arrow

All along we searched beech bark for bear sign. And found one–a very smart bear had left a sign indeed–indicating the way of the trail. We kept climbing.

b20-cairns

At last we reached the summit. It was later in the afternoon than we’d intended when our morning began because of our mine mission, and so we decided to skip Speckled Mountain, but were happy to check out the views from Blueberry. On the Lookout Loop we did get off trail for a bit as we missed a cairn buried under the snow. At that point we did a lot of post holing, sinking as we did to our knees and above. But finally we found the right trail.

b19-spruce

It’s there that the red spruces grew–their yellow green needles pointing toward the tip of the branches and dangling reddish-brown cones seeping sap.

b21-view 1

And then we found the view that stretched from Pleasant Mountain (our hometown mountain) on the left to Kearsarge on the right.

b22-Shell Pond and Pleasant Mountain

Below us, Shell Pond on the Stone House Property, showed off its conch shell shape.

b23-Kearsarge

We took one last look at the mountains and valleys under a blanket of clouds before following the loop back to the main trail and retracing our steps down.

b24-bear tracks

It was on the down that I got my guy to stop and examine a mammal track with me. I’d noticed it on the way up and he’d been ahead, but we both remembered that it was located at the point where the community switched from hardwoods to soft. Do you see the large prints? And distance between. It had been warmer yesterday and those prints looked like they’d been created then.

b18-bear print

Black bear prints! Oh my!

It was the five large toes that first drew my attention as we climbed up. Was I seeing what I thought I was seeing? The pattern of the overall track was a bit different than what I’ve seen in the past where the rear foot oversteps the front foot because in snow black bears tend to direct register like coyotes, foxes and bobcats–one foot landing on snow pre-packed by another foot.

Bears are not true hibernators and this guy or gal must have been out foraging during yesterday’s thaw.

We didn’t find any bear paw trees or see the actual bear, but we were thrilled with our telephone pole signs and the prints left behind.

Indeed, it was a beary special Mondate on Blueberry Mountain.

(Corny humor comes with teacher training)

 

 

 

Forever Green

According to a Cherokee legend, one cold season an injured sparrow knew he could not fly south with his family, so he bid them farewell and went in search of a place to survive.

Sparrow asked Oak to shelter him among its leaves so he might heal and greet his family upon their return in the spring.

But being a crusty old tree, Oak didn’t wish to have a winter house guest and so he turned Sparrow away.

Downtrodden, Sparrow approached Maple. Sweet as she might be, Maple also turned Sparrow away.

And so it went. Sparrow was turned down by each tree he visited, until there was only Pine left to ask for help.

Pine listened to Sparrow’s pleas and his heart heard Sparrow’s plight. And though Pine knew his leaves were tiny and more like needles, and his branches not as many as the others, he welcomed Sparrow to join him for the cold season.

As hoped, Sparrow healed and greeted his family the following spring.

Creator heard and saw all that had happened and called a great council of the Trees. In his address, he rebuked them for they’d been given so much and would not share the least of what they had with Sparrow in his time of need. Therefore, from that day forward, when cold came upon the land, their leaves would wither, die and blow away.

Creator then spoke to Pine, praising him for being the least among the trees, and yet giving so much. And so, Pine was honored to remain forever green.

e-eastern white pine magestic.jpg

The Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), strikes me as the majestic tree of our forest. Of course, it was once even more majestic. In the 1600s, the British Royal Navy blazed all of those two feet or more in diameter and within three miles of water with the broad arrow indicating they were to be cut, harvested and sent to England for ship masts. The blaze became known as the King’s Arrow in honor of King George I. At that time, the trees may have been 300-400 years old and over 200 feet tall. The oldest and tallest white pines in our current landscape are 80-100 years old and maybe about 100 feet tall.

v-white pine

The three to five-inch white pine needles are blueish-green and bound in bundles of five. That’s easy to remember for you can spell both the tree’s name W-H-I-T-E with each needle or M-A-I-N-E for the white pine is our state tree.

e-pine tube insect

Occasionally, I’ve spotted trees with clumps of needles stuck together in such a way that they formed tubes. Actually, they were the tunnels created by the pine tube moth. Larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles during the summer. They used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. Notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae pupate within the tube and emerge in April. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. Fortunately, they don’t seem to harm the trees.

e-pine whorls

In addition, the arrangement of branches is another important feature of this white pines for they are arranged in whorls radiating from the tree’s trunk like spokes on a bicycle wheel, with each whorl representing one year’s growth. Sometimes on older trees that grew beside stone walls in pastures, the older branches remain and when topped with snow look like a spiral stairway to heaven.

e-lines in white pine bark

On younger white pines, the bark has a greenish hue, but as the trees mature the bark turns dark gray to reddish-brown and forms into thick, vertical scales with furrows between. Upon the flattened ridges of the scales, look for a pattern of horizontal lines reminiscent of the lines on notebook paper.

e-red pine bark

Red pine (Pinus resinosa) is a favorite of mine because of its bark, which reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle. Ranging in colors from faded orange to mottled red and grayish brown, its flaky flat scales hug the tree.

e-red pine needles, chimney sweep

In a perfect world, red pine would produce three needles/bundle to spell R-E-D. Alas, the world isn’t perfect, nor is that the case with this tree. Instead, it has two dark green needles that are twice as long as those on a white pine and quite stiff. In fact, while a white pine’s needles are soft and flexible, bend a red pine needle and it will snap in half. Because of the needle arrangement on these two members of the Pinus family, from a distance I can name them. To my eyes, a white pine’s branch tips look like bottle brushes, while a red pine’s remind me of the brush Bert used to sweep chimney’s in Disney’s Mary Poppins.

e-pitch pine needles on trunk

Another common pine in our area of Maine is pitch pine (Pinus rigida). This one is easy to confuse with red pine because the bark looks similar in color, though it strikes me as forming thicker plates. The name, pitch, refers to the high amount of resin within this tree.

It’s the needles of pitch pine that also add to its identification for they grow in bundles of three, like a pitchfork’s tines. The unique thing about this tree is that not only do the stiff, dark yellow-green needles grow on the branches, but they also grow on the trunk. If you spy a tree that you think may be a Red Pine, scan upward and if you see green needles along the trunk, then you’ve discovered a Pitch Pine.

Pitch pine is an important species for it is the only pine that is well adapted to fire and can even resprout.

e-jack pine

Finally, for our native pines, and I can only think of a few local places where I’ve seen these, including along the Foster Pond Outlook Trail at Bald Pate Mountain in South Bridgton, is Jack pine (Pinus banksiana). It seems to prefer the coast and central northern Maine. But . . . walk Loon Echo Land Trust’s trail at Bald Pate, and see if you can spot them.

Jack pine has two yellow-green to dark green needles in each bundle so an easy way to remember its name: Jack and Jill. I don’t know about you, but I love mnemonic devices.

e-white pine cone, red pine cone, hemlock cone

One last way to differentiate the pine trees is by their cones. Cones are the fruits of the trees and they consist of scales that protect seeds. When conditions are right, the scales will open to release the seeds, which have wings much like a maple samara, allowing them to flutter off in the wind and find their own spot upon which to grow. The line-up in this photo from left to right: white pine, red pine, hemlock.

e-white pine with two year old cones

White pine is easy to ID for it produces long, narrow cones, often coated with white sap. It takes two years for a white pine cone to mature.

e-pine cone midden

Red squirrels are known to gather mature cones and store them in a cache for winter consumption. During the winter, the squirrels tunnel under the snow to access the cache, then climb up to a high spot and remove each scale to reach the seeds. Left behind is a midden or garbage pile of scales and center cob of the cone.

e-red pine cone and needles

Red pine cones are about two inches long and egg-shaped on short stalks.

e-pitch pine cone 1

You can barely see the stalk of pitch pine cones that tend to be clustered together, but their key feature is the rigid prickle atop each scale tip. On Jack pines, the cones are about two inches long and slightly curved like a comma.

Before I move on to the other evergreens, I need to make one point. Members of the Pinus family produce pinecones. All other evergreens produce cones, but they aren’t pinecones because they don’t grow on pine trees.

e-mixed forest 2

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) grows almost as abundantly as white pine. Often white pine, hemlock, balsam fir and spruce saplings can be observed growing together, and a perfect classroom situation evolves.

e1-drooping hemlock

The hemlock is easy to ID once you realize its characteristics. To begin with, and especially noticeable in younger trees, is the drooping terminal shoot. In fact, all of the branches droop, providing the overall effect of a graceful tree.

e-hemlock gathering snow

Those sturdy, down-sweeping boughs also hold snow, thus creating the perfect spot for deer to hunker down under on a winter night.

e-hemlock porcupine evidence below hemlocks

Another mammal that takes advantage of the hemlock is the porcupine. If you spy nipped twigs on the ground surrounding a hemlock, then it’s best to look up and make sure you won’t become a pin cushion should the animal fall.

e-hemlock porcupine

Typically, the downed hemlock twig features a cut made at a 45˚ angle.

e-hemlock petioles (stems) and stomata lines

The half-inch hemlock needles taper to a dull point. You may only see this with a hand lens, but each needle is attached to the twig by a short stem, aka petiole. And the needles extend outwards from both sides of a twig, thus giving it an overall flat appearance.

e-inner bark of hemlock

The bark on a hemlock, initially grayish and smooth, becomes cinnamon brown and scaly with age. I also enjoy looking at the inner bark that might be exposed by an injury, for its features various shades of reddish purple.

e-hemlock cones

Hemlock cones are petite in comparison to pinecones, at only .75 inch in length. In the spring, their scales are blue-green, maturing to a tan by autumn.

e-balsam fir standing upright

While the hemlock droops, a balsam fir (Albies balsamea) stands straight and tall as it forms a spire with a symmetrical crown.

e-balsam fir needles

Like the hemlock, the needles are flat, but they differ in that they attach directly to the twig, are about an inch in length and some have a notch at the blunt end. The upper side is a shiny dark green, while the underside is silvery-blue.

e1-balsam bark

The pale gray to green-brown bark of balsam fir is also different than the other evergreens. It has raised dashes, aka lenticels. All trees have lenticels that allow for the exchange of gases. On some trees, however, the lenticels are more noticeable. Balsam fir bark also is riddled with bumps or resin-filled blisters. Poke one with a stick and watch the pitch ooze out. Beware, it’s very sticky. And it smells like Christmas.

e-balsam fir cones

One other unique characteristic of a fir tree is that the cones point upward rather than dangling down. That, in itself, offers an easy ID.

e-spruce

The next family, the Picea or spruces, I find more difficult to distinguish in a crowd. Like balsam fir, the leaders or top sections point skyward giving it an overall pyramid shape, but its the idiosyncrasies within the family that sometimes stump me.

e-spiky spruce

The one thing I am certain of is that they are spruces if their needles are sharp and pointed. Shake hands with a branch and if it hurts, it’s a spruce.

e1-spruce bark

Spruce bark is broken into irregularly-shaped scales in general, and white spruce bark is gray to reddish-brown.

Again, I’m brought to things to remember when trying to determine whether I am looking at a fir or spruce—firs are friendly, spruces are spiky. Fir needles are flat, spruce needles are square.

The only cedar tree native to western Maine is the Northern white cedar. Whenever I sniff its fragrant scent, I’m reminded of my mother’s cedar chest and the treasures it stored.

e-Northern white cedar leaves and cones

Northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) is also known as Eastern arborvitae. Its scale-like leaves appear opposite each other along the twig and have short, blunt points.

The cones are about a half inch long, oblong in shape and borne upright on the branches. Their scales are leathery, red-brown and notched. They also have a small spine on the tip.

e-Northern white cedar bark 2

Again, the bark is fibrous, red-brown, which weathers to gray and features a diamond-shaped pattern. This small to medium-sized tree looks like a pyramid with a broad base and rounded top. It often features several main trunks.

And then there’s the tamarack.

e-tamarack in fall

A tamarack or Larix laricina is a native deciduous conifer because it sheds its needles each fall, after they’ve turned a golden yellow, therefore it’s not really an evergreen.

e-winter

I know how easy it is to look at the winterscape and think that everything looks the same in the almost monochromatic mosaic we call the woods.

e-spring 1

But even in spring, as buds give way to leaves,

e-summer evergreens

summer when so many greens dominate our world,

e-fall 2

fall, when evergreens provide a contrast for autumn’s foliage,

e-fall 3

and late fall, when the evergreens continue to be green as the broad leaves drop, these trees make a statement in the landscape.

Thanks to Creator, they are forever green.

 

Wild Willy Wandering Wilderness

There are times when one wanders down a trail and a certain spirit seems to swirl about in the silence of the wilderness. Such was the feeling today as my friend, Joan, and I joined two other friends to explore their land in South Chatham, New Hampshire.

k-Pleasant Mtn

Before we ventured forth, however, we sat upon their deck and enjoyed the view of my hometown mountain–the ridge of Pleasant Mountain, this being a backside view.

k-sensitive pea 2

And then we paused by one of the wildflower gardens they have created with seeds of unknowns sown at abandon.

k-Sensitive Partridge Pea

Based on its seed pods that split open on both sides, we knew it was in the pea family, but didn’t know its name. Upon arriving home and keying it out, I discovered it’s a sensitive partridge pea, also know as a wild sensitive plant, the perfect tribute to the trail. Notice the pinnately-divided leaves–they fold up when touched, thus the name “sensitive.”

k-three amigos under the arch

Soon after getting acquainted with the sensitive pea, we continued onto the trail that Pam and Bob (the couple on the left; Joan on the right) have carved out of the land, with the help of their nephew for whom they constantly uttered words of praise. One of his artistic offerings to them was an archway formed from beech saplings.

k-steps by Willy

Another offering–steps created from stones found nearby. But where exactly did he find the stones? That remains a secret for so good is his work. It seemed as if the trail had been there all along as it wound its way up and over, down and around, passing by landmarks worth pausing by.

k-black cherry

We saw so much, including bark on young trees that we desperately wanted to be black birch (aka sweet or cherry birch), but was really black cherry. Nearby where pin cherry trees that we easily recognized, but this one seemed a wee bit different and we thought maybe, just maybe it was a black birch. But maybe it wasn’t when I opened Michael Wojtech’s BARK later.

k-black cherry 2

And further along the trail we spied a mature black cherry, its bark we knew for the curled chunks that remind us of burnt potato chips.

k-yellow birch

The curls of an old yellow birch also intrigued us and we noted many, many young and a few old members of this family throughout the property.

k-big tooth aspen

It’s a mixed forest and we had fun searching for the big tooth aspen trees, their bark deceptive with a northern red oak look below and birch look above.

k-hemlock and boulder 2

Other landmarks included a hemlock kissing a boulder and . . .

k-Province Brook hemlock root

another with the longest, thickest root we’d ever seen that arched across the land, creating an opportunity for the fairies that live in such an enchanted forest a chance to do the limbo.

k-coyote scat

We discovered what Pam and Bob already knew–it’s more than fairies that inhabit their place. In the middle of the trail, coyote scat presented itself.

k-deer sign

We found lots of deer scrapes, where in previous years they’ve scraped the bark upward to feed on it. But this was a recent visit with tags at both ends of the action, indicating a rub. Deer rub a tree to clean their antlers of velvet–that soft, vascular skin that grows on their antlers. They also rub trees to mark their territory.

k-garter snake1

And our wildest sighting of all–a garter snake enjoying some late afternoon sun. It never moved as we gawked and finally passed by, so really it wasn’t so wild after all. But Pam and Bob shared stories of other sounds and sightings, for this really is a wild land that abuts the National Forest.

k-Province Brook 2

It’s also bounded by Province Brook, where the water’s flow soothed our souls.

k-Province Brook 3

We were embraced by its reflective color . . .

k-Province Brook 4

and life-giving cadence.

k-spirits 1

And it was there that the water spirit . . .

k-spirits 2

rose and embraced us.

k-wood swirls

We found it wherever we went and recognized it in various forms . . .

k-afternoon light 2

as it wandered beside us.

k-sign

Just as we ended our journey, we noticed the sign–Wild Willy Wandering Wilderness Trail. Pam and Bob had told us its name, in honor of their nephew Willis and his hard and creative work in carving out the trail, but they kept the sign a secret until we finished. Hats off to all three of them and their love of the land and for each other. Joan and I were envious of it all and thankful for the opportunity to be embraced by the spirit of this place and these people.

 

I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy

As I stepped out the door early this morning to dump yesterday’s coffee grounds, my eyes were immediately drawn to a pattern in the dew and I knew that Porky had paid us a visit.

t-porcupine trail in morning dew

His trademark sashay showed in the wet grass almost as well as it does in snow with that pigeon-toed pattern and swish of a tail. Only yesterday I’d been noting all the freshly nipped oak branches in our yard and woodlot, cut as they were at that telltale 45˚ angle.

t-flat hill sign--oxymoron

And then, after today’s coffee (grounds waiting until tomorrow to be disposed) and breakfast, I drove to Lovell to meet up with some Greater Lovell Land Trust docents for a climb up Flat Hill–that oxymoron of a name. But really, the summit is rather flat–after climbing the hill, of course.

t-trail light

It was early and felt more fall-like than we’ve experienced of late and we reveled in the temperature as well as the light along the trail as the sun played with the leaves and added a golden glow to our day.

t-coyote scat 1

When we weren’t looking up, we looked down. One of our first sights–scat! Coyote scat, we thought. Only the contents of this scat were different than most.

t-coyote scat 2

And so we went in for a closer look–for it was filled with quills. Not my home porky, but we know that the summit and rocky ledge below are porcupine territory so it made perfect sense that we found such scat in the middle of the trail.

t-fox scat

We found more scat a little further along–this one was filled with berries and seeds and also in the middle of the trail, atop a rock. Smaller in size, we suspected red fox.

t-paper birch lenticels

There were other things than scat to attract our attention, like the long lenticels on a downed paper birch–their pattern looking like either zippers on a jacket or a bunch of spruce trees in their spire formation.

t-maple-leaf viburnum

We marveled at the color and texture of the maple-leaf viburnums–like no other in the mix.

t-hop hornbeam bark and leaf

And when we reached the hop hornbeams with their shaggy bark and double-toothed leaves, we knew to look below for their seed pods. It wasn’t an easy search for they are small and blend in well with the birch and hornbeam leaves on the ground.

t-hop seed 2

But we found one–its papery sack enclosing the nutlet. We were curious to see the seed and so opened the inflated casing. It was almost a 3D tear-drop shape, coming to a sharp point.

t-hops

Skipping ahead for a moment, after we finished hiking I visited a tree back near the parking lot where Pam and I had noted plentiful fruits in the summer. It takes about twenty-five years for a hop hornbeam to fruit. And the common name–“hop” refers to the seed clusters that represent true hops used in beer production.

t-summit view 1

At last we reached the summit and stood for a while, in awe of the color display before us.

t-polypody 1a

From the same spot, we also noted the polypody ferns that grow upon the summit rock.

t-polypody spores 2

Ferns reproduce by spores rather than seeds. The itty bitty spores (think dust sized), called sporangia, grew on the underside of these leathery frond leaflets. The sporangia form clusters called sori and in the case of polypody the sori are naked. Some had already dispersed.

t-chipmunk

At last we started down, but not without a side trip of bushwhacking and annoying a chipmunk who had some housekeeping details to attend to.

t-docents 1

Less than three hours later (amazing for us), we gathered at the bottom and said our goodbyes to Darbee and David on the left–they’ll return to their winter home soon. Bob and Pam will hang with us for a bit longer, but while I reflected on all the wonderful reasons to enjoy winter in Lovell, the two couples made plans to connect in their winter habitat.

t-wooden spoon

The day wasn’t over yet and this afternoon another docent and I set up a “Kim’s game” of natural and unnatural items on a sheet covered with a bandana on the trail behind the New Suncook School. Then we walked further along the trail and hid a bunch of unnatural items for our after-school Trailblazers to locate. (We had to relocate them as well and are almost certain we found all of them. Maybe . . . )

t-noticing leaf colors

Before the kids did anything though, they introduced Linda to their trees–clusters of trees really for all are copiced, that they’ve befriended and named and gotten to know up close and personal. This afternoon, they noted that the colors of the leaves were changing.

t-Linda and Sassy

They loved giving Linda a tour and she loved being part of the action.

t-alligators in the woods

The kids did an excellent job with their observation skills, including locating at least one species that didn’t quite belong in these woods.

t-fallen log 1

And then we started gently rolling over fallen limbs, curious about what we might find below.

t-red-backed salamander

And what to our wondering eyes should appear? A red-backed salamander under the first one. We rolled a few more and didn’t find much. But then we heard something and stood still as we listened. Finally, it called again and we called back–a barred owl was somewhere nearby. At last it was time for the kids to head home and as we walked out of the woods to meet their parents, we stopped to roll one more log–where we found a yellow-spotted salamander. Unfortunately, in our excitement, I couldn’t take a decent photo, but still . . . we were thrilled.

What a perfect day–of I spy, you spy, we all spy. Indeed we did.

 

Anybody Home?

Only a few days ago we felt like we were melting as we complained about the muggies and buggies, but those temperatures are now only memories and it’s beginning to feel like fall in western Maine. And so my guy and I bundled up before we followed a trail and did some bushwhacking this morning, exploring a property Jinnie Mae and I had visited only a week and a half ago.

m1-lodge

It was to the beaver lodge that we first made our way, noting all their old works near the water’s edge.

m2-lodge 2

But, we were disappointed that we saw no evidence of new work and it didn’t appear any winter prep was yet occurring. Were the beavers still about? Or had some parasites in the lodge forced them to move on?

m3-infinity pool1

We hoped not for they’ve worked hard in the past to create a home with an infinity pool that would be the envy of many.

m1a--otter scat

We did note that they’d had recent visitors who left behind a calling card in the form of a slide and scat–otter scat, that is.

m5-doll's eye

And we spied the fruits of a former flower that graced their neighborhood–doll’s eye, aka white baneberry.

m4-dam 1

As we circled around the pool, we commented that the dam seemed to be in excellent shape and held the water about five feet above the stream below. But again, no evidence of new wood.

m7-dam works

Despite that, it’s an impressive structure. While some landowners might be upset to have beavers changing the landscape, we happen to know this one and she takes great pride in their works.

m9-dam 2

We stood for a while, indulging in our own admiration while wondering where the beavers might be. Of course, it was close to lunch time for us, and not an active time for them if indeed they were home. Possibly we were misinterpreting the view.

m8-beaver pond

After some time of quiet reflection, we made our way back, crossing the stream just below the dam.

m13-quiet reflection

And then we continued along the old logging road (recently bush hogged, eh Brian? Well done), and bushwhacked some more, crossing another stream to find our way to another reflective spot along the brook.

m12-rookery 2

This time, our destination was that of another stick builder–great blue herons.

m11-rookery

Their spring/early summer nests are equally impressive. I hadn’t visited this spot since April, when the herons were actively setting up home. And I’m not sure it was a successful breeding season for them, but even if it was, they wouldn’t have needed these homes today. The nests will remain–available for grabs next year by those who return.

m16-jack in the pulpit

After a snack by the brook, we pulled ourselves away knowing it was time to head to our own home. Our wildlife viewings had been nil, but we spied a jack-in-the-pulpit in fruit, and that plus the doll’s eye were enough. And the time spent wondering about the critters.

m20-cosmos

Back at our truck, we decided to check on the insect action in the gardens at our friend’s home. Only the bumblebees seemed to be active.

m19-hickory feast

But we saw plenty of activity of another kind–a cache of hickory nut shells at the base of the tree, and really . . . everywhere nearby.

m18-hickory bark

Shagbark hickory is more common south of this spot, so it was a treat to take a closer look.

m17-hickory

Its alternate leaves are compound, consisting of five serrated leaflets usually (sometimes there are seven).

m18-hickory 2

And of those five, the three terminal leaflets on each twig are the largest.

m21-view of Balds

Once again, it was time to leave this beautiful spot where the fields and forest flow into the mountains. And where the beavers and heron share the place without too much human intervention. Though not a soul was home today, we trust all will return when the time is right.

 

 

 

 

 

A Blue Bird Kind of Good Friday

When Jinnie Mae picked me up this morning, our destination was the Narrow Gauge Trail. But somewhere between here and there, she pulled a U-turn and drove to Narramissic Farm owned by the Bridgton Historical Society.

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.

n-Pleasant Mtn to Narramissic1

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.

n-Pleasant Mountain

To the left, the long ridge line of Pleasant Mountain, where the ski trails of Shawnee Peak Ski Area made themselves known.

n-Narramissic

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.

n-shop and flagpole

Heading to the road for our tree bud search, we passed by the blacksmith shop where horseshoes were probably made in the day.

n-temperance barn

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.

n-ash tags

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?

n-double-wide stonewall

Climbing onto the double-wide wall, I took a closer look.

n-white ash danglers 1

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.

n-black walnut 3

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.

b-black walnut leaf scar 2

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.

n-shagbark bud hairy 1

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.

n-shagbark bud 6

The subtle colors and fuzziness wowed us and we both took numerous photos.

n-shagbark leaf scar1

Then there were the leaf scars–definitely more heart-shaped than the previous trees.  And lacking that smiling face. We smiled for them.

n-Long Lake below

It wasn’t enough to find the small saplings beside the road and so we crossed another field in search of the mother tree.

n-grasshopper 1

Along the way, Jinnie Mae spotted a wee grasshopper–the first of the season for us.

n-shagbark bark from distance

And then her newly trained shagbark hickory eyes keyed in on the momma.

n-shagbark bark 3

If you go, it’s located behind the barn.

n-shagbark bark 5

And shouts its name in presentation.

n-shagbark bark 4

Looking upward, we could see the bulbous buds on the twig tips contrasted against the bright blue sky.

n-bluebird

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.

 

Snow White Birches

We’ve plenty of snow still on the ground and another storm predicted for the weekend. I keep saying, “Spring in Maine,” because that’s exactly what it is. In fact, no season here has ever looked at the calendar and we never know what will happen during those transitional days–except that they’ll do just that–transition.

o-up to my knees

I, too, am transitioning and rather than my usual uniform that includes snowpants and a vest or jacket, I simply wore jeans and a sweater, plus boots minus the snowshoes. Only occasionally did I dig a posthole, but when it happened my foot went deep–at least to my knees. And in this case, there was a juniper below, so probably more snow under that.

o-rock surface black and pitted

Deer, raccoons and a bobcat had traveled through our woodlot and along the cowpath. At the vernal pool, I spent some time checking out trees and looking for signs of change. Deer and turkeys have been the most recent visitors. And both have also traveled along the double-wide stonewall beside it. I, too, climbed up there and moseyed along. That’s when I discovered a black crustose lichen that turned out not to be a lichen after all.

o-rock surface, basalt?

I suddenly realized I was looking at the rock face and have sent photos off to two geologist friends. My question, “Is this basalt?”

Ann Thayer replied, “Could be, it also looks like it could be a rock that has been metamorphosed and has secondary mineral growth. At certain pressures and temperatures there are indicator minerals that grow that represent the metamorphic conditions. For instance, Garnet, sillimanite, and andalusite, are examples of indicator minerals . . . Take a look at it with the hand lens. Tell me what you see. There are a couple of minerals that look like they have a six-sided form and cross-section.”

Ah, a reason to look some more–as if I need one. And to invite Ann here for a walk.

o-birch grove

Beside the vernal pool is one of my favorite sections of these woods, a small birch grove. Yes, white pine and red maple saplings also grow there, but right now the birches dominate this acre-size plot.

o-gray birch chevrons 1

It’s a classroom filled with examples that have helped me gain a better understanding of differences between family members. The gray birch, Betula populifolia,  are those I associate with Robert Frost’s poem, “Swinger on Birches,” because it’s an early successional tree that bends naturally and even more so in an arc when snow or ice weigh it down. But it’s the chevron or triangular shape below branches that shouts its name to me.

o-dirty gray birch bark

Its bark, though white like paper birch, looks dirty–especially toward the base. And, unlike paper birch, it barely peels.

o-paper birch bark1

In this same plot, I did find a few specimens of paper birch or Betula papyrifera, which is a stronger tree and grows taller and longer that brother gray.

o-paper mustache

And rather than a chevron below the branches, it’s known for the long, dark mustache that swoops up and over its branches.

o-paper birch close up

I moved in to take a closer look at the paper birch bark, admiring how the lenticels withstand the peeling, breathing while sloughing off old cells.

o-gray, left, paper, right

Looking skyward, the differences between the two were yet again defined. The gray birches on the left featured a bushier silhouette than the paper birch on the right. Catkins and buds also shouted their names, but I’ll save that for another day.

o-birch polypores 2

Not fussy about which birch it grows upon is one of my favorite fungi–because I can identify it with ease! But also because it really is attractive.  Piptoporus betulinus or birch polypore grow on some snags as well as a few live trees. The smooth rim rolls around the pore surface and sometimes reminds me of a bell hanging from the tree.

o-birch polypores growing old

These bracket fungi only live for one season, yet persist on trees for a longer period of time . . .

o-birch polypore skeleton

until they may become mere skeletons.

o-birch grove 1

After a sunny afternoon among the birches, it was time to head home. Oh and by the way, some call paper birch white birch and some call gray birch white birch. I prefer to call them paper and gray.

In the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale, the queen sat by the window sewing as “the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky.” Soon the queen gave birth to a daughter as white as snow with hair as black as ebony. You know the rest of the tale. But did you know that Snow White lives in these woods–forever embodied in the birches?

Celebrating Place–Naturally

Once the snow melts it will be more difficult for me to wander and wonder in the woods I explore all winter given its spring/summer water level and logging slash. And so I make the most of these days–trying to notice as much as I can before I can notice no more (or at least until next winter).

l-bushwhack 1

Though I’d promised myself I’d not go again in an effort to not disturb the deer, promises are meant to be broken. And from that came a lesson–the deer are sticking to the snowmobile trail and field edges where tender bark of young red maples and hemlocks, plus swelling buds meet their needs for the moment. So, it was OK that I broke my promise, for the deeper I tramped, the fewer tracks I encountered.

l-spring tails1

Today’s warmer temps in the low 40˚s found the springtails hopping about on any and all surfaces.

l-pileated hole

As is my habit, I checked on a pileated woodpecker hole when I saw bark and wood scattered atop the snow. Deep was this excavation in search of nourishment.

l-pileated scat-seeds and ant

And chock full was the scat below, which contained insect body parts and seeds of the dreaded bittersweet. Beside the scat, a springtail sought to placate its own food needs which among other things includes plant material and animal remains.

l-red maple bull's eye

Turning to another tree, I landed on a perfect bull’s eye! The target fungus that affects many red maples makes for an easy ID.

l-crustose, liverwort and moss

Lichens have also been a focus of late. What I like about this one, the circular green with the black disks of a crustose lichen (possibly bark disk lichen), was its location beside a liverwort (the beaded brown Frullania eboracensis) and a moss that I didn’t key out. Tree bark has its own structure and texture, but so often others also call it home.

l-shield lichens on rock

Rocks also serve as a substrate and this one featured a couple of leafy foliose shield lichens, their colors enhanced by yesterday’s inch of snow.

l-hair lichen and beard lichen

And dangling from a branch, two forms of fruticose (branching or fruit-like structure–) lichens. The dark is a hair lichen, while the green a beard–seems about right with the hair above the beard.

l-lichen garden

On another maple I spied a garden–you’ve got to liken it. (Corny joke that always manages to enter a lichen conversation.)

l-frullania 1

I’ve often paused beside Frullania eboracensis, a liverwort with no common name, but today several trees shared displays of mats called Frullania asagrayana, so named for a botanist and natural history professor at Harvard University from 1842-1873–Asa Gray.

l-frullania asagrayana 1

Its shiny, overlapping chain of red-brown leaves reminded me of caterpillars crawling along the maple bark.

l-spirea:steeplebush

Casting my eye elsewhere, steeplebush in its winter form offered an artistic presentation.

l-bracken fern1

And as the snow melts, last year’s bracken fern made an appearance.

l-speckled 3

One last shrub made me stop. Minus any catkins or “cones” for which it is known, I had to think for a moment about the speckled alder. But those speckles or lenticels through which gas exchange occurs, and the buds and leaf scars were give aways.

l-speckled buds and leaf scar

The two bud scales meet at their edges and look like miniature footballs. But it’s the bundle scars where leaves were formerly attached that make me laugh. That vascular system looks like a face–two round eyes, a funny shaped nose and a round mouth, as if it’s exclaiming, “Ohhh” or “Wow.”

l-Pleasant Mtn in background

At last I reached my turn-around point. I could see Pleasant Mountain in the distance and knew where I was in the world. This is my place and I love every opportunity to celebrate it–naturally.

The Sun Always Shines

In the grayness of the day sunlight lit my way.

o-skunk tracks

Oh, it wasn’t as bright as yesterday when I wandered in brilliant light under clear blue skies and saw hints of spring, including skunk prints in the snow,

o-algae

and some blue-green algae in a vernal pool that is slowly opening up.

o-ice goddess

But given the temperature and wind, the ice goddess reminded me that winter prevailed.

b-deer 2

This morning presented a different picture that didn’t feature Mount Washington in the background because it was obscured by clouds. Rather than don my snowshoes, I decided to stick to the snowmobile trail for the most part. I wasn’t the only one who ventured that way. Because I wasn’t making as much noise as usual, the deer didn’t hear me approach. And so we stood for many minutes contemplating each other. I didn’t want to scare her for I knew she wouldn’t just stick to the trail and the snow depth continues to be such that she sinks with each step. It was in those shared moments that I began to think about energy and how much she put forth all winter and now continues to do the same as spring evolves. Every day I spy more and more young hemlocks trunks that have been scraped. She and her family are feeding on sunlight, which first feed the insects in the soil and then the trees. At each stage or tropic level of the food chain only ten percent of biomass from the previous level is retained. Thus, a thousand pounds of plant biomass is necessary to support a hundred pounds of an herbivore–that’s a lot of little buds for a deer.

b-bobcat prints

Eventually, she made her way across the powerline and joined her family. I decided to turn around so I wouldn’t disturb them further. And it’s then that I recognized some prints I’d missed previously. My micro-spike print is on the left, beside those of a carnivore–a bobcat, or rather, two. Usually bobcats travel in a solitary manner, but their breeding season is upon them. And those thousand pounds of plant biomass that supported  a hundred pounds of herbivore, in turn support ten pounds of carnivore. The hunt becomes important.

b-motherwort

I did find a few spots where the snow had melted and winter weeds, such as this motherwort, provided hints of future buffet items for the herbivores and omnivores to consume.

b-junco and hemlock needle

And then I came upon junco feathers and knew that a different consumer had benefited from the sunlight offered forth by this little bird. The hemlock needle provides a perspective of size.

b-junco feathers 2

Despite its demise, the feathers surrounded by melting snow created an artistic arrangement. That was my attempt at positive thinking, for like us, all things must eat to survive.

b-white ash opposite

And then a few producers caught my attention and I found myself focusing on young trees and shrubs. I’ve walked past this young tree numerous times and never saw it until today.

b-ash 2

White ash or green? They both look similar, but the leaf scar is the giveaway. It’s shaped like a C or misshapen horseshoe with a deep notch at the top.

b-ash bud

And its terminal bud is domed. In these woods, the ash trees aren’t a preferred food source of the deer–lucky for them.

b-silky 2

Nearby, another neighbor caught my attention and it, too, I hadn’t met before.

b-silky dogwood 1

My assumption was dogwood, given the bright red/purpishish color of its shrubby stems, long-gone fruits and opposite leaf buds. But–red osier or silky? I’ve leaned toward the latter but will have to pay attention as the season moves forward. These did seem to tickle the herbivores fancy from time to time, though not nearly as much as the maples that grow nearby.

b-peanut

As I headed toward home, I stumbled upon another site I’ve seen frequently all winter. Actually for the past few winters. There must be a peanut plantation somewhere in these woods. That, or the blue jays have discovered a good source at someone’s bird feeder.

b-ice goddess

Before heading indoors, I paused to acknowledge another ice goddess, one who also knows the sun’s power and found relief in today’s shadows . . .

b-snow

and flakes. It’s snowing again, this fourth day of spring. Liquid sunshine, for the snow also provides nourishment to all who live here.

You see, the sun always shines . . . even when you can’t feel the warmth of its rays.