Beautiful Maine Mondate

Some Monday’s we look for new places to explore or mountains to climb, but today found us visiting an old favorite that is gorgeous in any season.

s1-Stone House Road 1

Because it’s still winter (and she’s not letting go right away), we knew our hike would be extended by more than a mile on either end. We parked by the Leach Link Trail on Stone House Road and followed the telephone poles in.

s2-bear number

These are my favorite telephone poles in the world–well, for today that is, for they show the works of the clever bears that inhabit this place. The wood has been scratched and bitten, while the shiny pole number was mutilated. This was pole 5. I suppose it still is.

s3-bear hair

Hair sticks out from splinters. Bear hair.

s4-more bear hair

We found lots of it on several poles today. More than we’ve seen in the past.

s6-another pole

I’m thinking that the bears in the area have a fondness for 5. Or a dislike, for pole 15 also received rough treatment. There are more, but it was on 5 and 15 that we noticed the number destruction.

s8-bear dogs

Despite that, the bears in this area are most welcome. Because the signs are new, I asked my guy what he thought the bears will do when they emerge from their dens soon. In my mind, I saw a similar behavior to the other poles and imagined that when we return again we’ll see that the signs have also been destroyed because that’s what bears do. My guy’s response, “Clap.” Indeed, they should.

s9-gate

At last we reached the gate where we usually park to hike the Stone House property and Blueberry Mountain trails. The Stone House property encompasses about 890 acres surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest. In 2011, the owners, David Cromwell and Sharon Landry, established a conservation easement held by the Greater Lovell Land Trust. The easement allows for traditional uses including commercial agriculture and forestry, but prohibits development and subdivision in perpetuity. Thus we have both this couple and the GLLT to thank for today’s adventure.

s10-black cherry bark

When we finally reached the Shell Pond trailhead, a black cherry immediately jumped out at me. The property was last logged in 1977 and features a mix of hard and softwoods. My bark eyes love the diversity.

s11a-birch and red maple

And my bark mind appreciates the kindred spirit of the trees that manage to support each other despite their differences–in this case a beech and red maple.

s14-pileated works

I’m not the only one who likes bark–the work of pileated woodpeckers,

s15-porcupine

porcupines,

s16-beaver works

beavers,

s13-yellow birch burl

and even insects was evident throughout our three-hour tour.

s17-Yale blue

As we hiked, my dad was also on my brain. I’d received a message this morning from his former boss at Yale University who fondly recalled Dad and his brother Bob. Though quiet men, he and his brother had a twinkle in their eyes, a love for music, especially opera, and always a good joke or prank up their sleeves.

When I saw this tree in the shape of a Y, I knew it was for Dad. Even the sky spoke of the university–though several shades lighter than Yale blue. And with that came the memory that any paint my father mixed had a touch of Yale blue in it–thus was his way. It was all meant to be for Mr. Cromwell, the property owner, is associated with Yale.

s18-my guy

I couldn’t help but think that Dad would have loved the idea of our Mondates. He also would have loved my guy, but sadly they never met. Dad died of a heart attack only days before he and Mom were to spend a weekend with me in Maine–thirty years ago.  But, my guy continues to wear a Yale sweatshirt when he runs, which he did this morning. In that way, he’s made his own connection. Yeah–that’s my guy!

s19-pond views

Now that I’m writing through tears, I’ll get back to the trail, which is delightful in winter because it offers more views of Shell Pond below.

s20-cliff views

And the icy ledges above. Later in our journey, I noted the trail to the ledges had been well used–probably by rock/ice climbers.

s22-water 1

Trail conditions were such that we walked on top of the hardened snow, though I did wear micro-spikes for the entire tour. Someone waited to put his on and did a little slipping and sliding along the way. Brook crossings required stepping low and high, so deep is the snow still.

s23-ice castle

While I marveled at a castle made of ice,

s24-Christmas tree

my guy spotted a Christmas tree.

s25-polypody

We even found a few hints of green. These polypody ferns were opened, indicating warmer temps and today we certainly noted the difference compared to the brisk weekend.

s26-polypody

Of course, on another rock, some were still curled in their cold formation. They were under a hemlock and more shaded.

s27-partridgeberry

Any bit of green is a welcome sight about now and I was surprised to see partridgeberry poking through the snow.

s28-lunch bench

At last we reached lunch bench, which my guy stood upon. Yup, that’s the granite bench under his feet.

s29-lunch

We sat on it to eat our PB&J (with butter for me, of course) sandwiches. And tried to keep from sliding right down to the pond.

s30-Shell Pond

Lunch view included Shell Pond and the Baldfaces in the background. All along, we’d noted mice, squirrel, mink, fisher, coyote, bobcat, ruffed grouse, turkey and moose tracks. But as we ate we listened to the whales groan–so moaned the ice in the afternoon sun.

s31-brook

A short time later we reached Rattlesnake Brook and the orchard, where the natural community transitioned and appeared almost bucolic.

s32-ostrich fern

One of my favorite finds along this section is the ostrich fern. The structure of its fertile frond makes me smile.

s33-airfield

From the orchard we moved on to the old airfield and wondered if the family ever flies to their summer home. Though I don’t think it’s used these days, the airstrip was apparently built in the 1940s by the military for practice landings and takeoffs during World War II.

Again, the views were breathtaking.

s34-stone house and Blueberry Mtn

As hikers, we’re reminded by signs to stay on the marked trails, thus protecting the land and giving the family some space. I’m in awe of their home. The Stone House was built in the early 1850s by Abel Andrews. He quarried the large, hand-hewn granite slabs from Rattlesnake Mountain and built the 40-foot by 25-foot house for his wife and thirteen children.

s35-another wetland

I did stay on the trail most of the time, but occasionally I heard the landscape calling my name and had to investigate. Fortunately, my guy stayed on the trail all the time and kept us honest.

s36-Beautiful Maine

We walked back out to the truck and then decided to take a quick detour before driving home. Being on Stone House Road, we were only a mile from the winter closure point for Route 113 in the White Mountain National Forest. The road forms the state line between Maine and New Hampshire for several miles. And then it passes into Maine at the gate by the Cold River Campground and The Basin. And it’s there that you’ll find this iconic sign.

Welcome to Beautiful Maine and another scenic Mondate.

 

 

 

 

Because I Wandered

It’s still cold and blustery. Oh, we had warm spells in January and February. But now it’s March. And it’s Maine. So wind chill in negative to single digits shouldn’t come as a surprise. Nor should the impending Nor’easter predicted for this week. Only more than a foot of snow possible.

Today’s cold wasn’t nearly as frigid as yesterday’s and when I stepped out the back door, I could feel the warmth of the sun penetrating my outer being. It worked wonders for my inner being as well.

o-quaking aspen

My first stop was beside the quaking aspen tree. Yesterday, some Maine Master Naturalist students and I examined tree buds and their characteristics. I love looking at these and do so every day since the tree is right off our back deck.

Varnished scales protect the  aspen’s leaf and flower buds as they lay dormant through the winter. Its flower is produced within a catkin and already the cottony part of the seeds is appearing, much like a pussy willow.

o-striped maple

As I moved into the woodlot, I stopped to re-admire the only striped maple that grows here. Last year a deer used the lower portion of the bark as an antler rub. Yesterday, as we stopped to look at the characteristics of its bark, we noticed it’s been used most recently as deer food. This tree is barely larger than the circle formed within my thumb and pointer finger–and I have small hands. How much more deer attention can it take?

o-gray fox tracks

As I looked at the striped maple, my eyes were drawn to the activity of another mammal. Out came my Trackards and I took measurements. I knew by the walking pattern that it was a canine. And I knew by the size that it was a fox. But red or gray was the question. I suspected the latter because I could see details clearly in the soft snow atop the hardened crust.

o-gray fox prints

Measurements and a look at a bunch of prints confirmed my suspicion. Rather than stay on the path, I decided to backtrack the fox’s trail.

o-gray fox and coyote 1

Within minutes, I realized another mammal had traveled in the opposite direction. Also a canine.

o-gray fox and coyote intersect

And atop a double-wide stone wall, I found where the coyote (follow the red pencil) and gray fox (yellow) crossed paths. Not at the same time, I’m sure, but given the track conditions, I don’t think they were too far apart. We saw neither set of tracks as we examined trees and lichens in the same area yesterday.

o-gray fox sat and peed

I also found where the fox sat and then peed. Not much odor–in case you’re wondering.

o-turkey plus

My journey took me across a few more stone walls and through a hemlock grove. I lost the fox, but followed the coyote and then I found others including squirrels, deer and turkeys.

o-turkey wings

It looked like the turkeys had been dancing on an ice-covered puddle. And then perhaps they took off for the wing marks were well defined. Did they fly because the coyote approached? Or was there another reason? Time to head up into the trees for the night, maybe? It’s difficult work for these hefty birds to lift off.

o-many travelers

Everywhere I went, others had been before me. It seemed the prey followed the old logging routes and predators crossed.

o-bs lichen

My own wander became a bushwhack meander. And a few lichens called me in for a closer look. My inclination was to quickly brush off all the gray foliose (leaf like) lichens as weedy hammered shield, but I suspect there was some bottleshield lichen in the mix and realize I need to look again. I’m forever a student–thankfully.

o-crustose mosaic

While there were specks of shield lichens on a young maple tree, the variety of flattened crustose lichens covered so much of the trunk that it was almost difficult to distinguish the bark color.  The mosaic pattern suggested a painting–naturally.

o-beech 1

The buds and leaves of the beech trees also asked to be noticed. It’s been my experience that younger American beech keep their leaves throughout the winter–perhaps because their buds are lower to the ground and therefore easy targets for hungry herbivores. There are other theories as well, but I think it’s key to note that it’s the younger trees who keep their leaves, or in the case of this one, those that remain were on the lower branches.

o-beech leaves

They remain until the tree buds begin to break or leaf out. The word to describe this leaf retention is marcescent (mahr-ses-uh nt), which means withering but not falling off. Their rattling in the slightest breeze may be enough to keep those herbivores at bay.

o-beech 4

In the tree’s silhouette, the pointed buds stood out,

o-beech scales

 

each one a cylinder of overlapping scales in opposite orientation on a hairy stem.

o-witch hazel leaves

That, of course, led me to another marcescent tree that loves this wet woodland, the witch hazel. Its leaves have always intrigued me with their wavy margins and asymmetrical base. But it’s the winter color of the withered leaves that I also find attractive.

o-witch hazel scalpel

And its naked buds, which don’t have waxy scales like the aspen or beech. Somehow the fuzzy hairs must provide enough protection for the winter months.

o-witch hazel bracts

Everything is fuzzy on a witch hazel, including the bracts left from last fall’s ribbony flowers,

o-witch hazel pods

and the woody, two-seeded pods that ripen a year after the flowers have formed. These split open in the fall as the seeds were forcibly ejected.

o-moose scat

I wandered for hours and miles and never saw any prints from the moose that frequented these woods earlier in the season. But, where the snow had melted under a spruce, I found evidence that blended in with the leaf litter.

o-moose browse

And in an area I used to frequent prior to the logging operation of the last few years, I found more sign. The ruler is mine and this side shows centimeters.

o-coyote x2

When I reached the former log landing, my coyote friend made its presence known again. Actually, one became two as they had walked in single file and then split apart several times. They were on the hunt and a snowshoe hare was in the vicinity.

o-cherry

I followed the main logging trail for a while and then turned off to explore unknown territory. But . . . before turning, it was the maroonish color of the cherry bark that warranted attention. And the lenticels–raised, elongated and horizontal imprinted on my brain.

o-deciduous forest

My meanderings continued and again I saw lots of predator and prey activity. Even a porcupine, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Finally, I walked into an area of young red oak, red maple and gray birch and knew I was approaching familiar ground. And so I stepped onto the snowmobile trail.

o-deer 1

All along, I’d thought about the many tracks I’d seen, but no mammals . . . until I approached our cowpath. I wasn’t the only one headed that way.

o-deer browsing first

The deer herd seems to have survived this winter well. I’ve yet to find evidence that suggests otherwise.

o-deer browsing

And I felt blessed that I was able to move as close as possible despite the crunching of the snow beneath my feet. The wind was in my favor. And then, it heard me, flashed its white tail and ran down the cowpath. Perhaps we should rename it the deer path for a cow hasn’t walked on it in decades, but like me, the deer use it almost daily.

My day was made because I wandered.

 

 

 

Hiking the West Mondate

How could it be? We realized this past week that we’d only hiked in Sebago Lake State Park together once–thirty years ago. Oh, I’ve skied there, visited friends who were camping, and participated in several eighth grade class picnics back in my public education days.  But today we decided to remedy our hiking opportunity–or lack thereof.

s-sebago-sign

Our intention wasn’t to camp, but rather to explore the trails that circle around and cut through the 1,400-acre property. For those of you who know my guy, though we certainly haven’t spent a lot of time in the park, he does feel a certain affinity–to the brown stain that the park staff purchases in five gallon buckets from his hardware store. 🙂

s-boundary-blazes

After looking at a map near the entry booth, we headed off on a trail marked with orange blazes. Or so we thought. Until we realized we were following the boundary. But all the orange paint made me think of our young neighbor, Kyan, and as it turns out he was on my brain for a great reason–he’s been in remission for the past six months following his bone marrow transplant and today had his central line removed. No wonder we spent an hour following those orange blazes. All the while, however, we did think the trails were poorly marked.

s-high-point-1

Unwittingly, we spotted a bit of brown–on the picnic table. We appeared to be on a high spot, home to the table and a cairn garden.

s-cairns-3

I’m of several minds when it comes to cairns. I know that some are historical and symbolic and others mark trails, but these, though each different in sculptural form, bothered me.

s-cairn

While my guy saw them as offering hikers something to do, I saw them as disruptive to the natural landscape. That being said, the landscape was formed by a glacier and these pieces spoke to the bedrock geology of the Sebago pluton with their pinkish coloration.

s-kneeling-before-map

Turns out we were at the summit of the Lookout Trail, the highest point in the park at 499 feet. And behind the cairn park, we found the trail itself, blazed with red triangles, which we followed down to the campground road where we found a map–worth kneeling and worshiping. Well, actually, given the snow depth, that was the easiest way to read it. From that point forward, we found “You Are Here” maps whenever trails intersected, though we did tend to wander off occasionally.

s-ice-bubbles

Over a brook, where balls of ice formed,

s-artist-conks

past artist conks decorating a decaying birch tree,

s-locust-bark

and through woods featuring the braided ridges of black locust bark, we hiked.

s-tree-silhouette

And then we reached the beach. On Sebago Lake.

s-rocky-coast-of-maine

We’d arrived at Witch Cove Beach.

s-waves-and-wind

The wind had kicked up the waves and it felt almost ocean like. Almost.

s-maple-and-pitch

Certainly, tree roots beside the lake spoke to wave action and higher tides (no, the lake doesn’t have a tide, but in storms and floods it must surge higher). Beside the water, a red maple and pitch pine tree embraced from their root source.

s-pitch-pine-bark-1

The bark of the pitch pine featured its reddish plates surrounded by deep furrows.

s-red-pine-bark

While it’s similar to red pine bark that grows nearby, there are subtle differences–red pine bark being plated but much thinner and tighter to the trunk. Plus, the pitch pine has bundles of three needles, while the red features two needles.

s-pitch-pine-growth

The other unique characteristic of pitch pines, their epicormic sprouting of needles on the trunk that grow from dormant buds on the bark.

s-sand-prints

Eventually, we moved on, leaving prints in our wake.

s-beach

Our substrate switched from snow to sand and back to snow, which we much preferred.

s-beach-eyes

Before we turned away from the beach, we found the sand goddess eyeing the world. Again, we noted the orange and thought of Ky, but didn’t truly realize its significance.

s-lunch-table

Into the picnic area we moved, after watching a few deer who eventually flashed their white tails before moving on. Lunch table beckoned us. It needs some fresh stain–there’s job security in that thought–for the park staff and my guy.

s-buried-table-2

Some tables spoke to the snow depth.

s-cache-fest

After we finished our sandwiches, we discovered that others had used the picnic ground–for a cache site. Somewhere in the park, at least one red squirrel prospered through the winter.

s-glacial-kettle

Our journey took us past the glacial kettle formed by the melting of large blocks of ice.

s-map

And then we figured out our final trails to follow.

s-songo-river

We crossed Thompson Point Road and followed the oxbows and meandering of Songo River, which actually proved to be bittersweet. I’d only been on the river twice and both with the milfoil team of the Lakes Environmental Association. As we hiked beside it today, I recognized various points Adam Perron, the milfoil dude had pointed out. Again I say, RIP Adam.

s-beaver-bog-from-table

At last we reached Horseshoe Bog, home to one of those picnic tables needing work. You know who spied it from a mile off.

s-beaver-works-3

He also spied the work of others and eagerly showed me.

s-beaver-teeth

My what big teeth grooves a beaver leaves.

s-beaver-works-4

It left its mark everywhere.

s-beaver-5

And sometimes such works met the forces of nature and all was well that ended well.

s-spur-trail

The same could be said for us. We began the day on a trail that wasn’t and ended by trying to follow a spur trail out, that we couldn’t quite locate (except for the sign at the beginning that identified it as a spur trail) and so we bushwhacked and then an anomaly caught our eyes–snow on a structure, which turned out to be the entry booth from which we’d begun our expedition.

As it turns out, we realized that our adventure thirty years ago was on the east (Casco) side of the park and this was our first visit to the west (Naples) side. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take us thirty more years to return for another Mondate–indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Mondate with Tom and Friends

My guy and I–we drove to Portland this morning for a two-hour meeting and then enjoyed lunch with one of his sisters at the Miss Portland Diner before moving on to South Portland to run an errand and finally returning home.

Too much food and sitting time. And so the woods beckoned.

v-turkeys-1

Right out the back door, male turkeys took advantage of our offerings. The snow is crusty and while acorns were plentiful, foraging for them has become a more difficult task. But birdseed is free feed and once discovered means often frequented.

v-turkey-1

That’s OK for now because it gives me a chance to get to know these guys. We live in an 1870s house on former farmland (I often refer to the cowpath), all of which played a part in the reduction of forest land, one of the factors that led to the extirpation of native wild turkeys in Maine. Slowly, the land has reverted to forest, which helped in reestablishing turkeys to their former range. At the same time, our neighbors, thankfully, continued to mow the adjacent field that we look upon, which provides for prime turkey nesting habitat.

v-turkey-2

Tom and his brother Tom and his other brother Tom are handsome devils in their own unique ways. Their featherless heads of blue and pink and red raised bumps called  caruncles change colors with their moods.

v-turkey-3

And on their chests, bristle-like feathers that don’t look at all like feathers are referred to as beards (by us humans–I’m not sure what turkeys call them). Though some hens sport beards, theirs are not as robust or long as those of the Toms.

v-turkey-4

“You looking at me?” asked Tom.

“Yes, I am. I’m admiring your iridescent feathers layered like slates on a roof and those spurs on your legs used for defense and dominance. Do you object?”

“Well, I guess I am rather handsome.”

“I didn’t say that.”

Yeah, the turkeys and I, we talk. We’ve long had a relationship and I truly don’t think you should eat them. Maybe next Thanksgiving I’ll tell you my turkey story.  I know they can leave a mess in the yard and become aggressive, but . . .

v-turkey-tracks-2

I encourage you to follow their tracks into the woods. You never know where they might lead.

v-turkey-tracks

Following them today led to the vernal pool. Note the pen, my form of perspective in relationship to size because it’s what I had in my pocket. The pen measures 5.5 inches. Turkey prints are large.

v-vernal-pool-adventures

The pool wasn’t teeming with amphibian life yet, but for the first time all winter, it was obvious that visitors had stopped by.

v-vernal-pool-action

Their timing wasn’t the same, but the turkeys strutted across, while deer slid and skidded on the ice. Life happened over and over again.

v-deer-prints-2

It appeared to be more than one deer–perhaps a mother and a skipper or two wanted to skate, much as our sons used to do at this very same spot.

v-coyote

And among the prints, those of a predator, though its journey appeared to be earlier than the deer. Gray squirrel tracks circled the perimeter and maybe that was the intended prey, though really, any of these critters would have made a desirable meal–the forest being what it is, groceries gleaned when needed.

v-deer-hemlock

Continuing the journey, plenty more turkey tracks and then the white tails of deer  flashing in the distance. Beside the trail another item on the grocery shelf–fresh hemlock bark scraped.

v-pileated-holes

One final item in a different aisle–fresh pileated woodpecker holes. They wake us each morning with their drumming and the sound continues throughout the day. Wrapped around the tree, a vine that added to this bird’s food.

v-pileated-scat

Its scat told of the source–not only a few carpenter ants, but also bittersweet fruits. Yes, this is how the seeds of this invasive species spread.

And so it was today that I traveled the woodland trail alone after a morning and afternoon spent with my guy. And . . . the Toms shared their story and those of others. It was indeed a Mondate–spent with others.

(Did you think I was going to mention Tom Brady? Congrats to the Pats on their Super Bowl victory.)

 

 

Seeing Red

I wander through the same woods on a regular basis, sometimes following old logging roads and other times bushwhacking through the understory–a mix of young conifers and hardwoods that are slowly reclaiming their territory. Always, there are water holes to avoid as this is a damp area, so damp that in another month I probably will have to curb some of my wandering habits because it will become difficult to navigate.

h-maleberry-buds

But it’s that same water that gives life to the flora and fauna that live therein, such as the buds on the maleberry shrub. Notice how downy the twig is. And the bright red bud waiting patiently within two scales–preparing for the day when it will burst forth with life.

h-maleberry-pods

On the same shrub exists evidence of last year’s flowers, now capsules reddish-brown and five-celled in form.

h-red-maple-buds

And like the maleberry buds, the red maples buds grow more global each day, some with three scales of protective covering and others more.

h-snowflakesbuds

Today was a day of contrasts, from sunshiney moments to snow squalls, as well as greens to reds, tossed in with a mix of browns and grays.

h-moose-scrape

Continuing my venture, I soon realized I wasn’t the only one enjoying red. The moose and deer with whom I share this place, also find it a color of choice–especially the bark of young red maple trees.

h-moose-scrape-2

As I looked at the tree trunks, I could sense the motion of the moose’s bottom incisors scraping upward and then pulling against its hard upper palate to rip the bark off. Everywhere I turned, the maples showed signs of recent scrapes.

h-moose-rub

Less frequently seen were antler rubs such as this one, where the middle was smoothed by the constant motion and the upper and lower ends frayed. Such finds offer noted differences between a scrape and rub–the former has tags hanging from the upper section only and the teeth marks stand out, while the latter often features a smooth center with the ragged edges at top and bottom. But . . . like us, nature isn’t perfect and not everything is textbook, so I often have to pay closer attention.

h-moose-bedscat

I saw more than red and so I could hardly resist a moose bed filled with scat and urine. I’m always in awe of the sense of size and again I saw motion, of this large mammal laying down to take a rest and perhaps a few hours later, getting its feet under itself to rise again, do its duty and move on to browse some more.

h-witch-hazel-scattered

Deer tracks were even more numerous than moose and the solidness of the snow allowed them to travel atop the crust. At one point I spied something I didn’t recall seeing before–witch hazel capsules decorating the snow.

h-witch-hazel-pod

At this time of year, these grayish tan capsules persist on the trees, but their work was completed in the fall when they expelled their two glossy black seeds.

h-witch-hazel-bud-nibbled

Ruffed grouse, wild turkeys and snowshoe hare like witch hazel buds. As do deer, who rip them off in the same fashion as a moose and leave a tag behind–as a signature.

h-witch-hazel-bud

Not all were eaten–yet. Notice these buds, ensconced in dense reddish/yellowish/brown hairs rather than the waxy scales of the maleberry and maple. And the shape extending outward from the twig, almost in scalpel-like fashion. Yeah, I was still seeing a hint of red.

h-witch-hazel-flower-bracts

If I wanted to carry my red theme to the extreme, I could say that the bright yellow bracts that formed the base of the former flowers were framed in red, but really, it’s more of a hairy light tan along their rims. Eventually, the bracts will develop into seed capsules and next autumn they’ll be the ones to shoot their seeds with a popping sound. We always talk about that sound and refer to Henry David Thoreau for as far as I know he was the one to first hear it. This past fall, a friend tried this and like Thoreau, he was awakened during the night by the seeds being forcibly expelled. (Credit goes to Bob Katz for that experiment.)

h-british-soldiers

Back to red. Under the hemlocks where the deer had traveled, I was looking at some mosses when these bright red soldiers showed their cheery caps–it’s been a while since I’ve seen British Soldier lichens, most of it buried beneath the snow.

h1-red-oak-bark

As I headed toward home, a red oak beside the cowpath asked to be included. It seems in winter that the rusty red inner bark stands out more in the landscape, making the tree easy to identify. Of course, don’t get confused by the big tooth aspen, which slightly resembles a red oak at the lower level, but a look up the trunk suddenly reveals similarities to a birch.

h1-acorn-cap

Many of the acorns have been consumed after such a prolific year, but their caps still exist and the color red was exemplified within the scales.

h1-icicles

Back at the homestead, I walked by the shed attached to the barn where icicles dripped–again speaking to this day. By that time the snow squalls had abated and sun shone warmly, but a brisk wind swirled the snow in the field into mini whirling dervishes. My cheeks were certainly red.

h-cardinal

My red adventure was completed at the bird feeder. A happy ending to scenes of red.

 

 

 

 

On the Prowl at Heald & Bradley Pond Reserve

My original intention when I set out this morning was to snowshoe from the Gallie parking lot on Route 5, follow the Homestead Trail and then connect with the Hemlock Trail as I climbed to the summit of Whiting Hill. I planned to make it a loop by descending via the red trail back to the green Gallie Trail.

w-mill-in-morning-light1

Not to be as the parking lot hadn’t been cleared yet of yesterday’s Nor’easter, which dumped several inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain upon the earth. When Plan A fails, resort to Plan B. A drive down Slab City Road revealed that the Fairburn parking lot wasn’t yet cleared either, but the boat launch was open (because the pond serves as a water source for the fire department) so I parked there and headed to the trailhead beside Mill Brook. The sight of so much water flowing forth was welcome, especially considering it was a mere trickle a few months ago.

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The layers of snow overhanging the brook told the story of our winter. And it’s not over yet–at least I hope it isn’t. We’re in the midst of a thaw, but let’s hope more of the white stuff continues to fall. We need it on many levels, including ecologically and economically.

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Because of the storm, I thought I wouldn’t see any tracks, but from the very beginning a red fox crossed back and forth between the pond’s edge and higher elevations.

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While it may be difficult to discern, a gray squirrel, the four prints with long toes below the Trackards, had leaped up the hill, perhaps after the fox. Lucky squirrel. The fox prints can be viewed to the left of the cards.

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My new plan was to follow the red/blue trail to the summit of Whiting  Hill. And along the way, a side trip to the vernal pool. Visions of fairy shrimp swam in my head. No, I wasn’t rushing the season, just remembering a fun time pond dipping last spring.

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Back on the red/blue trail, I noted that most of the recent seed litter was covered by yesterday’s storm. The Fringed Wrinkle Lichen, however, did decorate the snow. Tuckermanopsis americana, as it’s formally known, grows on twigs and branches of our conifers and birches and often ends up on the forest floor.

It’s a foliose lichen that was named for Edward Tuckerman, of Tuckerman’s Ravine fame on Mount Washington. According to Lichens of the North Woods author Joe Walewski, Tuckerman was “the pre-eminent founder and promoter of lichenology in North America.As a botanist and professor in Boston, he did most of his plant studies on Mount Washington and in the White Mountains.”

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Further along, I saw some pileated woodpecker scat about twenty feet from the tree it had hammered in an attempt to seek food. It made me realize that even when I don’t find scat in the wood chips below the tree, I should seek further.

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The holes weren’t big–yet.

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But the scat–oh my. It looked as if insects were trying to escape the small cylindrical package coated in uric acid.

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The trail turned right and so did I, beginning the climb. For most, the ascension doesn’t take more than five or ten minutes. Um . . . at least 45 on my clock today. There was too much to see, including the mossy maple fungi hiding in a tree cavity.

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And then I saw something I’d looked for recently after seeing it on the blog  Naturally Curious with Mary Holland. Notice how the pine needles are clumped together?

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Eastern White Pine needles grow in bundles of five (W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E for our state tree), but the clumps consisted of a bunch of needles from several different bundles.

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What I learned from Ms. Holland is that these are tubes or tunnels created by the Pine  Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. 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 will pupate within the tube and in April when I come back to check on the vernal pool, I need to remember to pay attention, for that’s when they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news, says Holland, is that “Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.” I only found the tubes on two young trees, but suspect there are more to be seen.

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And a few steps later–an old beak. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was then that I realized if I’d been able to stick with the original plan I would have missed these gems. Oh, I probably  would have found others, but these were in front of me and I was rejoicing. Inside that bristly tan husk was the protein-rich nut of a Beaked Hazelnut overlooked by red squirrels and chipmunks, ruffed grouse, woodpeckers, blue jays and humans.

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Catkins on all of the branches spoke of the future and offered yet another reason to pause along this trail on repeated visits.

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With my eyes in constant scan mode, I looked for other anomalies. One of my favorites was the burl that wrapped around a Sugar Maple. If I didn’t know better, it would have been easy to think this was a porcupine or two.

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About two thirds of the way up, there was no rest for the wary, for the bench that offered a chance to pause was almost completely buried.

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Closer to the summit, the ledge boulders were decorated with snow, Common Polypody ferns and lichens, including Common Rock Tripe, its greenish hue reflecting yesterday’s precipitation.

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And suddenly, the summit and its westward view, Kezar Lake in the foreground and Mount Kearsarge  showing its pointed peak in the back.

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As I’d hiked along the red/blue trail, I noted that the red fox had crossed several times. At the other end of the summit, I checked on the bench where on our First Day 2017 hike for the Greater Lovell Land Trust, we’d discovered the remains of a red squirrel. Today, fox tracks paused in front of the bench before moving on and I had to wonder if had been the one to use this spot as a sacrificial altar.

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Finally, it was time to head down. My choice was to follow the red trail toward the Gallie Trail. I love this section because it features some of my favorite bear trees.

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The fox tracks continued to cross frequently and so I paused often. And sniffed as well. What I smelled was a musky cat-like scent that I’ve associated with bobcats in the past. What I heard–dried beech leaves rattling in the breeze. They always make me think something is on the move. Ever hopeful I am.

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One of my favorite finds along this section was the bright red branches of young Striped Maples. From leaf and bundle scars to growth lines, lenticels and buds, their beauty was defined.

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Another sight that surprised me–Striped Maple leaves still clinging, rather orangey in hue.

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And here and there, as if in honor of the trail color, Red Pines reached skyward.

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Eventually I reached the bottom, and turned right again, this time onto the stoplight trail–well, red and green at least.

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My wildlife sitings were few and far between, but red squirrel tracks and a midden of discarded cone scales next to a dig indicated where the food had been stored in preparation for this day.

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Following some grouse tracks took me off trail and tinder conks made their presence known.

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The swirled appearance of these hoof fungi threw me off for a bit, but I think my conclusion is correct.

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At last I reached the red trail that runs parallel with Heald Pond. Again, the fox tracks crossed frequently, but beside the path and leading to and fro the water and higher heights, another set of tracks confirmed my earlier suspicions.

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Bobcat. I thought I smelled a pussy cat. I did.

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Sometimes the bobcat moved beside the trail, while the fox crossed over. I’d thought when I started out this morning that I wouldn’t see too many tracks because the animals would have hunkered down for the storm. I was pleasantly surprised–for my own sake. For the sake of the animals, I knew it meant they were hungry and on a mission.

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My own mission found me following the spur to Otter Rock. I noted that the fox had walked along the shoreline on its eternal hunt.

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My hunt was of a different sort. No visit to the rock is complete without a look at the dragonfly exoskeletons. But today, it was a bit different because I, too, could walk on the ice. And so I found exoskeletons on parts of the rock I haven’t been able to view previously. Their otherworldly structure spoke to their “dragon” name.

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The slit behind the head and on the back of one showed where the dragonfly had emerged from the nymph stage last spring. Or maybe a previous spring as some of these have been clinging to the rock for a long time.

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While I was looking, I noticed some other pupae gathered together within a silky covering. Another reason to return–oh drats. I don’t know if I’ll be there at the right time, but with each visit, I’ll check in.

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The sun was shining and warm. High 30˚s with slight breeze–felt like a summer day, with the sun reflecting off the snow. And at the mill, further reflection off the water. After four hours, it was time for me to check out.

As always, I was thankful for my visit, even though it wasn’t my original plan. Like the mammals, I’d been on a prowl–especially serving as the eyes for a friend who is currently homebound. I think she would have approved what I saw.

 

Misty Mountain Sundate

It was a dark and dreary day. The end. Or so it could have been. But we decided to hike anyway, our destination once again Jackson, New Hampshire.

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We thought we’d explore Boggy Brook Trail, but after a half mile reconnaissance mission, we changed our minds and headed over to the Black Mountain hike/backcountry ski trailhead.

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As we passed by the cabins at the base of the trail, our mountain view was obscured.  Despite the grayness of the day, the reds of tree buds and catkins brightened the view. And since the trail was well packed, I opted for spikes, while my guy wore only his hiking boots. That limited us, of course, since we’d have to stay on the trail, but it also brought our vision into focus.

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Hikers/skiers must cross about a half dozen streams, where cascading water splashed over rocks and presented the formation of frozen drips.

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We weren’t far along and near one of those stream crossings when an anomoly stood out on the trail. Because this trail leads to a rustic cabin built by the CCC in 1932, we surmised that the most recent renters found the bundle of wood too heavy to lug on sleds and so they left it behind.

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Further along, we realized it wasn’t just the tree buds that stood out on this colorless day. The pink and orange hues of paper birch were enhanced by the lack of sunshine.

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And where the birches stood tall, long, black mustaches draped over fallen branches.

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We think of paper birch as white birch, but really, its colors are many. Wounded bark formed an intended heart, highlighted by pinkish reds. (I did wonder if this was a display of love for the National Hockey League.)

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We found another curious sight on a tree as we climbed higher. It was the change in color and direction of the slash marks that caught our attention. We couldn’t say for sure and without snowshoes couldn’t check further (unless we wanted wet feet), but suspected a bear had stopped by and left its signature.

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Old yellow birches were also abundantly present, their bark turned silvery gray with age–rather like us.

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My favorite yellow birch had many stories written on its bark and within its limbs. I thought that it would take at least three of us to wrap our arms around its trunk. We were only two and I had a hunch that if I suggested we hug this one I’d get a funny look.

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The higher we hiked, the more lungwort, mosses and lichens we saw decorating the tree trunks.

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The forty shades of green that Ireland is known for seemed well represented–thanks to the mist.

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And if you know me like my friend Jinny Mae does, you know I can’t resist admiring the tan hobblebush leaf and flower buds. This one was for you, Jinny Mae.

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At long last, we spied the cabin up ahead and visions of lunch filled our minds.

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We couldn’t find a rock, but we did note that the wood shed was nearly empty and wondered if the renters had regretted their choice to leave the bundle of wood behind. Within the shed, we found a plank and borrowed it–lunch plank it would be. As we settled down, spitting rain coated us.

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With the view of Wildcat Ridge and Mount Washington enveloped in fog, we enjoyed our lunch spot just the same.

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The PB&J sandwiches were quickly consumed. And then . . . one of our favorite colors, dark chocolate, served as dessert. I first discovered McVitie’s Digestives in 1979, when I studied in York, England, and my guy knows the way to my heart so this package appeared in my Christmas stocking.

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After lunch, he put the plank back in the wood shed and I checked out the tracks left behind by the local residents–snowshoe hare and weasels, based on the patterns of their trails.

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We weren’t going to climb the final .4 to the summit because we knew the views would be obscured, but at the last minute we decided it was a short stretch and so we did. The snowshoe hare activity increased significantly and snow conditions demonstrated splayed toes.

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The higher we climbed, the eerier the woods seemed, with shades of gray being the most predominant. And the temperature dropped.

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From lichens to  . . .

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firs, everything was frosted.

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And that summit view, which should have been of Carter Dome and Carter Notch, was equally glazed.

We followed the same trail down. It was still a dark and dreary day–despite that, we enjoyed our opportunity on this Sunday to fully embrace the misty mountain together.

 

Keep an Open Mind

While I always head out with expectations of what my forest wanderings will offer, I’m happily surprised time and time again with the gifts received.

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And so it was the other day when a friend and I happened upon this trophy in an area I’ve only visited a few times. We’d been noting the abundant amount of deer tracks and realized we were between their bedding and feeding areas and then voila–this sweet sight sitting atop the snow. It now adorns a bookcase in my office, a wonder-filled addition to my mini natural history museum. (I’m trying to give Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny of the Boxcar Children series a run for their money in creating such a museum.)

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Being on the receiving end of such a gift can lead to want or greed. And when I spied several deer crossing the trail before I slipped into the woods today, I expected to find numerous more antlers.

Certainly, I thought I’d find at least one, but the possibility for several seemed realistic given the local population.

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To that end, I followed fresh tracks and examined areas they’d pawed as they sought acorns and mosses. My eyes scanned the surface, but perhaps it was the fault of the fresh layer of snow that hid the possibilities. Then again, we’d only received a few inches of fresh white stuff and it was rather warm for a January afternoon, the snow’s surface dotted with drip drops.

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I didn’t pay attention to my direction as I moved and then suddenly found myself nearing an old landmark, surprised as usual that it still existed. I did notice that the deer didn’t travel below this widow maker. Nor did I.

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Eventually my wanderings found me following tracks left behind by a larger mammal.

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I worked my way through a thicket of gray birch, those early successors in an area logged about ten years ago, and then heard a sound–a crashing noise.

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As I stood still and waited, I looked around. Everywhere, the young gray birch and red maple buds had been nipped. Everywhere. It was almost as if no tree had been left untouched. Sometimes I noted traces of hair.

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There was no further sound of crashing branches, but plenty of evidence of who had been crisscrossing through these woods on a regular basis. Signs indicated action and I had visions of antler velvet being rubbed off.

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Sometimes bent . . .

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and other times completely broken, I saw moose behavior that meant antlers in my future.

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On some trees, rubs were smooth in the middle and ragged on the ends, with points scratching the surface. At least that’s what I thought I was seeing.

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Scrapes, those areas where the moose had used their lower incisors to pull bark and the cambium layer from the trees, were also visible everywhere I looked.

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In a matter of minutes I found a bed and that’s when I realized that this was probably the moose I’d frightened off, given the freshness of the structure.

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One of my favorite parts of the find–moose scat within a moose track. And all in the shape of a heart.

Indeed, no antlers. Indeed, other offerings. And a reminder to keep an open mind. And heart.

 

 

Books of December: A Holiday Wish List

In the spirit of changing things up a bit, I decided that I’d include five books I highly recommend you add to your holiday wish list and two that I hope to receive.

These are not in any particular order, but I’m just beginning to realize there is a theme–beyond that of being “nature” books.

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Book of December: Forest Forensics

Tom Wessels, forest guru and author of Reading the Forested Landscape, published this smaller work in 2010. Though only 5″ x 7.5″, the book is rather heavy because it’s filled with photographs. Despite the weight, Forest Forensics fits into a backpack and is the perfect guide for trying to figure out the lay of the land. Using the format of a dichotomous key, Wessels asks readers to answer two-part questions, which link to the photos as well as an Evidence section for Agriculture, Old Growth and Wind, plus Logging and Fire. In the back of the book, he includes Quick Reference Charts that list features of particular forest and field types. And finally, a glossary defines terms ranging from “age discontinuity” to “Uphill basal scar,” “weevil-deformed white pines” and “wind-tipped trees.” In total, it’s 160 pages long, but not necessarily a book you read from cover to cover. If you have any interest in rocks, trees, and the lay of the land, then this is a must have.

Forest Forensics by Tom Wessels, The Countryman Press, Woodstock, VT, 2010.

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Book of December: Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest

Michael L. Cline is executive director of Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, New Hampshire. In September, I had the pleasure of attending a talk he gave at the center about Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest. The 6″ x 9″ book weighs about the same as Wessels’, and will also fit handily into your pack. Of course, you might want to leave the books in your vehicle or at home and look up the items later–thus lightening your load. Using Brownfield Bog as one of his main go-to places, Cline describes 70 species of shrubs from Creeping Snowberry to Mountain Ash. The book is arranged by family, beginning with Mountain Maple and Striped Maple of the Aceraceae (Maple) family and ending with the American Yew of the Taxaceae (Yew) family. Each two-page layout includes photographs (and  occasionally drawings), plus a description of habit, leaves, flowers, twig/buds, habitat, range, wildlife use, notes and other names. I have no excuse now to not know what I’m looking at as I walk along–especially near a wetland. That being said, I’ll think of one–like I left the book at home, but I’ll get back to you.

Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest by Michael L. Cline, J.S. McCarthy Printers, 2016

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Book of December: Bogs and Fens

Ronald B. Davis’ book, Bogs and Fens, was a recent gift from my guy. I hadn’t asked for it, and actually didn’t know about it, so I’m tickled that he found it. I’m just getting to know Dr. Davis’s work, but trust that this 5.5″ x 8.5″ guide about peatland plants will also inform my walks. Again, it’s heavy. The first 26 pages include a description of vegetation and peatlands and even the difference between a fen and a bog. More than 200 hundred pages are devoted to the trees, plants and ferns. In color-coded format, Davis begins with the canopy level of trees and works down to tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and finally, ferns. He also includes an annotated list of books for further reference, as well as a variety of peatlands to visit from Wisconsin to Prince Edward Island. As a retired University of Maine professor, Davis has been a docent and guide at the Orono Bog Boardwalk for many years. Field trip anyone?

Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada by Ronald B. Davis, University of New England Press, 2016.

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Book of December: Lab Girl

I’d never heard of Hope Jahren until this summer and then several people recommended her book, Lab Girl, to me. Rather than a guide, this is the story of Jahren’s journey from her childhood in rural Minnesota to the science labs she has built along the way. As a scientist, Jahren takes the reader through the ups and downs of the research world. And she does so with a voice that makes me feel like we’re old friends. Simultaneously, she interweaves short chapters filled with  information about the secret life of plants, giving us a closer look at their world. I had to buy a copy because for me, those chapters were meant to be underlined and commented upon. I do believe this will be a book I’ll read over and over again–especially those in-between chapters.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

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Book of December: The Hidden Life of TREES

And finally, a gift to myself: The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben. I’d first learned about this book in a newspaper article published last year and had to wait until recently to purchase it after the book was translated from German to English. Again, it’s not a field guide, but offers a delightful read that makes me think. And thus, you can see my bookmark. I’ve not finished reading it yet, but I’m having fun thinking about some different theories Wohlleben puts forth. As a forester, Wohlleben has spent his career among trees and knows them well. He’s had the opportunity to witness firsthand the ideas he proclaims about how trees communicate. And so, I realize as I read it that I, too,  need to listen and observe more closely to what is going on in the tree world–one of my favorite places to be. Maybe he’s right on all accounts–the best part is that he has me questioning.

The Hidden Life of TREES: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben, Random House, 2016.

And that’s just it–the underlying theme of these five books you might consider is TREES. I can’t seem to learn enough about them. One word of caution, each author has their own take on things, so the best thing to do is to read the book, but then to head out as often as you can and try to come to your own conclusions or at least increase your own sense of wonder.

And now for the books on my list (My guy is the keeper of the list):

Naturally Curious Day by Day: A Photographic Field Guide and Daily Visit to the Forests, Fields, and Wetlands of Eastern North America by Mary Holland, Stackpole Books, 2016

Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast by Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.

Do you have any other suggestions for me?

One final thought about books–support your local independent book store as much as you can. Here in western Maine, we are fortunate to have Bridgton Books. Justin and Pam Ward know what we like to read and if they don’t have a particular book we’re looking for, they bend over backwards to get it for us.

 

The Be-Attitudes Sundate

Today marks the beginning of the season of hope and with that in mind, my guy and I climbed Singepole Mountain in Paris. Paris, Maine, that is.

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Our hike began beside Hall’s Pond, where the water reflected the steel gray sky of this late November day.

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And stonewalls and barbed wire reflected the previous use of the land.

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In a matter of minutes we learned of its present use.

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Everywhere we looked, beaver sculptures decorated the shoreline.

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We passed from the hardwood community to a hemlock grove . . .

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where more beaver activity was evident. I’ve been reading The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben and have some questions about tree girdling such as this. There is a theory that beavers chew off the bark all the way around (girdle) to eventually kill trees such as hemlock, so preferable species will grow in their place. But, that’s thinking ahead to future generations. Do beavers really do that?

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On page 18, Wohlleben states the following: “As the roots starve, they shut down their pumping mechanisms, and because water no longer flows through the trunk up to the crown, the whole tree dries out. However, many of the trees I girdled continued to grow with more or less vigor. I know now that this was only possible with the help of intact neighboring trees. Thanks to the underground network, neighbors took over the disrupted task of provisioning the roots and thus made it possible for their buddies to survive. Some trees even managed to bridge the gap in their bark with new growth, and I’ll admit it: I am always a bit ashamed when I see what I wrought back then. Nevertheless, I have learned from this just how powerful a community of trees can be.”

Could this theory be true? Are the surrounding hemlocks feeding that tree via their roots? If so, does that throw out the other theory? So many questions worth asking.

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Soon, we left the Pond Loop Trail and started to climb the Singepole Trail, passing by a gentle giant.

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It’s a snag now, but this old maple offered tales of the forest’s past and hope for the future.

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On a smaller scale, Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain provided a cheery contrast among the leaf and needle carpet.

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The climb was a bit challenging in places, but we held out hope among the ledges that we might see a bobcat.

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No such luck, but we did find this . . .

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a well used porcupine den.

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Water dripped in constant harmony as we stepped gingerly along the narrow ledges and tucked under overhanging rocks.

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About halfway up, we took a break and paused to admire the view.

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The hardwood and softwood communities became more obvious as we looked down.

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And suddenly or so it seemed, my guy reached the moment of truth–the summit.

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From the top, we looked around and embraced our home place, which appeared on the horizon in the form of Pleasant Mountain.

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A slight turn and the view extended from Pleasant Mountain to the White Mountains.

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Below our feet, the granite pegmatite shared its showy display.

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We’d read that there was a quarry at the summit, so we headed toward a cairn, in hopes of locating it. Too many jeep trails confused us and we decided to save the quarry for another day. Instead, we turned into the woods to get out of the wind and munch our PB & J sandwiches, the grape jelly courtesy of Marita Wiser and family.

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As we poked about, something caught our attention and we moved closer.

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A wickiup frame. We admired the efforts of someone to create this traditional structure.

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Emerging from the woods, we took one last look at Pleasant Mountain, and . . .

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one last view of what seemed to be the summit (though it may have been a false summit).

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And then we started down, once again hugging the rocks and trying not to slip.

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On the way, I did note a few things, including this fungi that looked more flowerlike than mushroom like.

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And I spotted a phenomenon that occurred repeatedly. Girdled beech trees too far uphill for a beaver. What or who had debarked these trees?

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I may have been seeing things that weren’t real, but the lines on this particular tree made me wonder about the porcupines. Was I looking at the design they leave with teeth marks created in the distant past? Or were they wounds of another kind?

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When at last we reached the Pond Trail again, we continued to circle around it, noting more beaver works.

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At last, we found the mud-packed lodge built into the edge of the pond. Here’s hoping for a warm winter within.

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Completing the circle, the biting breeze forced us to walk quickly toward our truck and the end of our hike. We have chores to complete tomorrow so our Sundate may have to suffice for a Mondate.

That being said, in this season of hope, we trust we’ll find more opportunities to consider these be-attitudes:

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Be supportive of each other.

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Be watchful of what’s to come.

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Be hopeful of love everlasting.

Ho-Ho-Ho Ho Hoing Away

I remember a time when a Pileated Woodpecker sighting was rare. And now, it’s a daily event, but one which I still feel blessed to experience.

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Stepping out the door this afternoon, I immediately heard one hammering and realized another was drumming in a nearby tree. Within minutes, a third flew in and birds #2 & 3 sang their eerie tune as they approached #1. He chased the couple and they flew off, their flight strong, and marked with slow, irregular woodpeckery flaps.

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After watching #1 for a bit, I went in search of woodpecker happenings scattered throughout our woodlot. Though they’ll eat lots of wood-boring insects and occasionally berries, seeds and suet, carpenter ants are their mainstay. Better in a woodpecker’s stomach than our home. Sometimes the holes they create are about six inches across and almost as deep.

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And those holes became homes for other critters occasionally, so when friends and I see trees such as these, we think of them as condominiums providing living quarters perhaps for small birds and little brown things (mice). Included in these condo units are some smaller round holes, created by the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers that also live in our neighborhood.

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Occasionally I come across trees such as this one that hadn’t been so much excavated as chiseled. Woodpeckers are just that–peckers of wood. They don’t eat the wood. But to get at their preferred food, they must hammer, chisel and chip the bark.

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At the base, always a scattering of wood chips. I, of course, cannot pass up any opportunity to search through the chips in hopes of locating scat. I was not rewarded with such a find today.

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Leaving dead snags encourages woodpecker activity. They become prime locations to forage, roost and maybe even nest, though I hardly think this snag was large enough to serve as the latter.

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While I was out there, I did stop to admire a few other sights including the now woody structure of pinesap;

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winterberries contrasted against the wee bit of snow that still graces patches of ground;

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deer tracks indicating we’d had visitors during the night;

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and a tree skirt of violet-toothed polypores. They are rather like the Lays Potato Chips of the natural world. You can never have just one. (Note: I’m not talking about eating them, but rather how they grow.)

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It’s been said that Pileated Woodpeckers are skittish. That’s not always the case. I’ve stood beneath one for over twenty minutes, the bird intent on its work and seemingly oblivious to my presence.

The next time you are in the woods and hear the ho-ho-ho ho ho, ho-ho-ho ho hoing that reminds you of that cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker, take a look around. You, too, might be blessed. And don’t forget to check for scat. 😉

Forever a Student

Once the rain let up, I donned my Boggs and headed out the door in mid-afternoon, not sure where exactly I was headed. But after reaching the snowmobile trail, I decided to turn south. Since the spring, I’ve been to the vernal pool on the neighboring property numerous times, but not much beyond in that direction.

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Part of the reason was that a local industry, of which we now have so few, was constructing a new building and had cut off the trail. Oh, I could have bushwhacked around the project, but the other part of the reason is that it’s a heavy tick zone and I normally avoid it come warmer weather. Given the new building, I wasn’t sure what to expect today, but as I passed through the stonewall, I discovered they’d added a bridge over a new water diversion and the trail was open. I’m glad for the small industry, but simultaneously sad that the willows are gone. No more pussy willows in the spring. Or willow galls, though I suppose that’s good news. And who knows, perhaps some viable willow seeds will spring forth in this place–a hypothesis to be tested.

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After crossing behind the building, I moved through an opening in the next stone wall, and felt right at home again–in one of my local classrooms. This is one where I’m often the solo student, as was the case today.

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I revisited an old stump, where art class was about to begin. The underside of the artist’s conk welcomed a sketch, but I left the canvas blank for another day.

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In social studies class, I took a look at former land uses. The wall opening and split stone gate bars helped me envision the fields that once were cleared. I followed several walls, which switched from single to double and even double-double, or so it seemed as one section was at least six feet wide and a football field long (The New England Patriots are winning in CA right now!). Barbed wire indicated the need to keep animals out and flat land with trees not a hundred years old spoke to the land’s former plowed use.

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A few minutes later, I moved over an old rock mound and stood before my science teacher–another vernal pool. As I recalled, this one dries out early in the season and grasses and other vegetation grow prolifically here. But unlike the smaller pool closer to home, this one held some water from the recent rain.

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As any student should, I stepped through the door and sunk my feet into class.

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Cinnamon ferns reminded me that they keep their fuzziness right up to the end.

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I wondered about strips of paper birch dangling from a young sapling and then realized I was looking at the remains of a nest–maybe a vireo.

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I questioned how the long-beaked sedge seedheads came to be bent over–by weather or wildlife or just because their time had come?

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While bulrushes (actually a grass) offered flowing fountains pouring into the future, their seeds still clung–as did a spider web.

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And more spiders eluded me, though their webs stood strong among the steeplebush capsules.

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A few raindrops dangled like ornaments from a holiday decoration.

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And bead-like spore structures on sensitive fern’s fertile stalk waited for another day to spread their good news.

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I finally left the vernal pool, but before heading back down the hallway, small salmon-colored growths stopped me. Lichen? Fungi? I didn’t think I’d ever seen it before and so it was a new lesson.

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My first thought–lichen. In a way, it resembled the tops of British Soldiers that grow prolifically here. But my latest thought is red tree brain fungi (Peniophora rufa) . I may be wrong, but that’s what being a student is all about.

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With each new lesson, I was also thankful for those that were reinforced, such as the chisel-like and shredded works of pileated woodpeckers. I used to think such trees were the result of bear activity.

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I’m always awed by the resulting sculpture left behind by those powerful birds–their strong beaks stabbing away at the bark until they’ve consumed a meal of carpenter ants and beetles. Thankfully, their skulls are thick and spongy–allowing their brains to absorb the impact of such repeated drilling.

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At a field, I paused to admire the layers–a testament to field succession. These woods are constantly changing.

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One thing that doesn’t change is the signature of a Tom Turkey–usually offered in straight or J formation.

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At another wetland, I poked around and then my eye focused in on something decorating a fallen tree. A slime mold perhaps? Red raspberry slime? In one rendition it seemed to have a crater-like surface, while another was more flower-like with petals spraying from a center.

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At last I entered a hemlock forest where the cinnamon inner bark stood out on the wet trees. If not for the scales, I realized it would be easy to confuse this bark with that of red oak, but a quick look up the trunk and the answer was obvious.

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As I walked back toward home, I looked along parts of the trail I’d skipped while exploring in the woods. And I wasn’t disappointed when I discovered one of the few striped maple trees–still bearing the seeds it produced last year. Why did they cling still? When released, will they be viable?

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And then, a sight I was hoping for presented itself when I returned to our woodlot. Froth at the base of a pine tree. It’s not unusual and occurs following a rain event such as we’d had all night and morning. I had hoped to see some foam today, and felt rewarded for my efforts. So what causes the tree to froth? Well, like all lessons, there are several possibilities. Maine Master Naturalist Science Advisor Fred Cichocki recently had this to say about it: “I’ve noticed this phenomenon often, and in every case I’ve seen it’s associated with white pine, and always after a dry spell followed by heavy rain. Now, conifers, especially, produce hydrocarbons called terpenes (it’s what gives them their lovely pine, balsam and fir scent). These hydrocarbons are hydrophobic by nature and form immiscible films on water. During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up terpenes on the way. Air (having accumulated in bark spaces, channels, etc. perhaps under slight pressure) then “bubbles” through terpene-water films producing a froth. Recall the cleaning products PineSol, and the like. They are made from terpenes, and produce copious bubbles when shaken. One could get the same result directly by shaking terpentine in water, or by bubbling air through a terpentine-water mixture with a straw  . . .  Of course, it may be that other substances (salts, etc.) enhance the frothing.”

No matter how much I have learned on this life-long course, there’s always more. I certainly don’t have all the answers and for that I am thankful. I’m forever a student.

 

 

 

 

Orange You Glad For Ky Mondate

With a recommendation from Marita, my guy and I hiked a trail new to us today and fell in love with it. But as much as we enjoyed the lay of the land and physical activity of climbing uphill and down, we also enjoyed searching for shades of orange on this last day of October.

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Beside Sanborn River we traversed at first, frequently pausing to admire the flow of the water over the rock formations and noting hints of orange in the display before us.

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And then we began to see it everywhere, beginning with the big-tooth aspen leaves,

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sugar maples,

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and northern red oaks–down low . . .

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and up high.

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We found an orangey display in red oak bark and . . .

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even among an old burl on a birch tree.

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Not all was formed by nature, though then again, nature played a part.

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And sometimes it was easy to spot.

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As was my guy.

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Shades of orange accented Oversett Mountain as we paused beside the pond of the same name.

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We noted its beauty on the huckleberry leaves beside the pond, and . . .

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in reflective patterns on the water.

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It wasn’t just the orange that drew my attention as we circled halfway around, however. The cliff was a wee bit intimidating.

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Despite that, we continued on and crossed an old beaver dam. The dam may be old, but we noted new beaver works gnawed by those famous orange rodent teeth on the man-made bridge beside it.

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And then we began the climb, which wasn’t so bad after all, given a few switchbacks. At lunch rock, our view was dominated by orange as we munched on PB&J sandwiches.

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Shortly after that, we reached the summit, aflame with more of that autumn glow that hints at November.

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And immediately below, another view of part of Oversett Pond. As the universe would have it, the pond appeared heart shaped. Just perfect for a Mondate with my guy and a day of giving thanks for our young next door neighbor, Kyan, who has been dealing with leukemia and is recovering from a blood marrow transplant–talk about intimidating. He’s going trick-or-treating tonight! Orange you glad for Ky? We certainly are.

Happy Halloween!

 

The Way of the Land at Long Meadow Brook Reserve

Last month the Greater Lovell Land Trust purchased a new property along Long Meadow Brook that further develops the wildlife corridor. A couple of weeks ago I first visited it with GLLT’s Executive Director Tom Henderson and a number of the land trust’s volunteer docents. As we left the property, Tom said to me, “I didn’t oversell this, did I, when I said this will become one of the docents’ favorite properties.” Indeed.

And so I couldn’t wait to get back there myself to spend a few hours exploring the almost one-hundred-acre reserve.

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Because the land was last logged by the previous owner in 2014, it’s in the early succession stage of regrowth.

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And so, it’s a place where those who like disturbed places tend to grow, such as the common mullein. What surprised me most was that I found a few still offering blooms.

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Of course, it reminded me that I was in the great West–WESTern Maine, that is–with its occasional cacti-like form.

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Scattered throughout are also the seedheads of white lettuce, waiting for release in lampshade-like formation.

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Orange-peel fungi fruited prolifically in the gravel logging road.

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That was all before I even reached the future parking lot, which had served as the log landing a few years ago. Already, sweet ferns and berry bushes have made themselves known.

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The leaves of sweet fern, which is really a shrub rather than a fern, exhibited their version of autumn hues.

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If you go, I encourage you to look for the blue ribbons that indicate where a future trail will be placed. It’s a loop trail that summer interns Hannah and Aidan laid out and leads to two focal features.

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The trail nears a neighboring property, which just happens to also be under conservation easement thanks to the foresight of its owners. I stepped off the blue flag trail and started to follow the wall for a bit–noticing that soon it changed from a double (garden or plowed land) wall to a single wall. A large pasture pine grew at the change-over point.

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And where the wall switched to single formation, barbed wire indicated its former use a pasture boundary. And white pine scales indicated its current use–as a red squirrel’s dining room table.

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After moving away from the wall, I noticed the mountains in the offing and ferns and young trees already filling in the empty spaces.

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One of my favorite mountains to climb stood tall in the backdrop–Mount Kearsarge.

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My bearings were off a bit, but I knew where the eastern boundary was as I moved across this opening.

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Walking along the back edge, my tree passion was ignited yet again.

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Several pitch pines grow in this space. While the bark is similar to that of red pines, it’s platier (is that a word?). And the tufts of needles that grow along the trunk were a dead give-away.

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But . . . I always quiz myself and so I looked around. And right below the trees, pitch pine cones and the triple needle bundles common to this species.

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It was here that I discovered wintergreen growing by the base of a tree stump. What made me wonder was the amount of fruit on each plant. Yes, wintergreen grows prolifically in all of western Maine, but I can’t recall ever seeing so many little red globes dangling below the leaves.

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From my half-circle around the opening, I wasn’t positive about my whereabouts and so decided to follow the land downhill because it looked like there may be an opening below. A few minutes later, I realized I was in a marshy spot where the cinnamon ferns grew. And the earth beneath my feet was rather spongy and damp.

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I reached what I thought was the meadow I sought–only to realize that I was looking at a beaver lodge. I knew that beaver lodge, but from a different perspective–the neighbors’ property.

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And then something else caught my attention.

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Tamarack (aka larch) trees–our only deciduous conifers, which had turned a golden yellow as is their autumn habit.

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The spray of tamarack needles reminded me of witch hazel flowers, which also grow on this property. But soon, the former will drop, leaving only their barrel-like stems as a reminder of their presence.

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I left that spot, retraced my steps and headed to the north on a cross-country bushwhack, where the mauve colored maple-leaf viburnum grew.

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I saw lots of mammal sign and even a few birds, including turkeys who are loving the fact that this is a mast year for acorns.

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At last I emerged onto the trail I remembered and headed downhill again.

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And then . . . I was rewarded for my efforts. Long Meadow Brook and the mountains beyond provided a WOW moment.

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I looked to the east for a few minutes.

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And then turned west again, where the layers and colors spoke of diversity.

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Even the dead snags added beauty.

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Cat-in-nine tails added to the view and I noted others who like wet feet including steeplebush, meadowsweet and bulrushes growing along the old beaver dam. It’s also a place for a variety of evergreen species–hemlock, white pine, balsam fir, red spruce and tamaracks. Future teaching moments await.

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My intention to stick to the trail was soon thwarted when I spied hobblebush.

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Like all trees and shrubs, the future was already encased in a bud–in this case a bud we refer to as naked because it doesn’t have the waxy coating of most others. Methinks its furry presentation offers the same protection from winter’s cold.

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And as I studied the back side of fallen leaves, I paid attention to the venation–reminiscent of the bud’s pattern.

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In the glow of sunlight, I felt like I’d found the pot of gold.

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A short time later I reached the second opening that Hannah and Aidan’s trail encompasses. And what to my wondering eyes should appear–a meadowhawk dragonfly.

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It provided a sharp contrast to snow on the Baldface Mountains.

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It was at this six-acre opening that I poked around for a while longer. And watched a goshawk fly to a pine tree with something dangling from its talons. Did I take a photo? No, of course not. I was too mesmerized to focus my camera. But sometimes, the photo doesn’t matter. Being there in the moment does.

I’m thankful for such opportunities made possible by organizations such as the Greater Lovell Land Trust. I know that ultimately this property is for the mammals that travel through and I saw plenty of evidence that they use this place. But then again, I’m a mammal who also appreciates the land bridges created and opportunity to observe the connectivity. I spent the day getting to know the way of the land at Long Meadow Brook Reserve–and can’t wait to return.

 

 

 

 

Finding Our Way on Mount Tom in Fryeburg, Maine

I ventured this afternoon with my friend Marita, author of  Hikes and Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION, along with her daughter’s beagle, Gracie, on a new trail in Fryeburg.

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Mount Tom, a Roche Moutonnée, is an asymmetrical hill with a gently sloping up-ice side that has been smoothed and polished by a glacier. The other side is abrupt and steep–the down-ice side where the rocks were plucked off, leaving a more cliff-like appearance. As Marita noted, its most impressive view is from a distance, but today we sang its praises from up close. We’ve both hiked a 1.5 mile trail to the summit for years, but recently The Nature Conservancy developed a new trail that we were eager to explore.

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Within seconds I was exclaiming with joy. A huge, and I mean HUGE foundation shared the forest floor. Note the outer staircase to the basement.

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And the large center chimney.

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On an 1858 map, I found that A.H. Evans owned a home in about this vicinity, but I don’t know if this was his. Or any more about him. It will be worth exploring further at the Fryeburg Historical Society.

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The house extended beyond the basement.

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And was attached to an even bigger barn.

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Ash trees grow beside the opening, but I wondered if we were looking at the manure basement.

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Finally, we pulled ourselves away and returned to the trail. Well, actually, we tried to return to the trail but couldn’t find it. So we backtracked, found this initial blaze and again looked for the next one. Nothing. Nada. No go. How could it be?

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That didn’t seem right, so we decided to follow our noses, or rather Gracie’s nose, and sure enough we found the trail. If you go, turn left and cross between the house and barn foundations.

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After that, for the most part, we were able to locate the trail, but it was obscured by the newly fallen leaves and could use a few extra blazes. Gracie, however, did an excellent job following the scent of those who had gone before and leaving her own.

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The path took us over a large mound of sawdust, something I’ve found in several areas of Fryeburg.

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The predominate trees were beech, white and red oaks, thus providing a golden glow to the landscape.

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And then we came to the ledges. Bobcat territory. Note to self: snowshoe this way to examine mammal tracks.

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The trail was situated to provide a close up view of the ledge island, where all manner of life has existed for longer than my brain could comprehend. Life on a rock was certainly epitomized here.

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We continued our upward journey for over 2.3 miles (thanks to Marita’s Fitbit for that info) and eventually came to the intersection with the trail we both knew so well.

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From there, we walked to the summit where the views have become obscured by tree growth.

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But . . . we could see the long ridge of Pleasant Mountain in front of us,

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Kezar Pond to our left,

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and the Richardson Farm on Stanley Hill Road to our right.

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Also along the summit trail, the woody seedpod of a Lady’s Slipper. Ten-to-twenty thousand seeds were packaged within, awaiting wind dispersal.

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We decided to follow the old trail down, which passes through a hemlock grove and then suddenly changes to a hardwood mix. Both of us were surprised at how quickly we descended. And suddenly, we were walking past some private properties including the 1883 Mt. Tom cabin.

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The cabin sign was actually attached to a Northern White Cedar tree. I’m forever wowed by its bark and scaly leaves.

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In the field beyond, Old Glory fluttered in the breeze.

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And just before Menotomy Road, we spied Mount Kearsarge in the distance.

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Since we’d taken the loop trail approach rather than an out and back on the same trail, we had to walk along Menotomy Road, so we paid the cemetery a visit and checked out the names and ages of those who had lived in this neighborhood.

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One of the older stones intrigued me with its illustration. I think I would have enjoyed getting to know these people.

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As we continued on, I was reminded of recent adventures in Ireland  and the realization that we notice more when we walk along the road rather than merely driving by. We both admired this simple yet artful pumpkin display.

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If you go, you might want to drive to the old trailhead, park your vehicle and then walk back to the West Ridge Trail. We parked at the latter and had to walk the 1.5 back at the end, when it seemed even longer. But truly, the road offers its own pretty sights and the temperature was certainly just right, even with a few snow flurries thrown into the mix, so we didn’t mind. We were thankful we’d found our way along the new trail and revisited the old at Mount Tom. And I’m already eager to do it again.

 

 

 

 

Everybody Loves Raymond? Mondate

My guy and I were up for an adventure this morning as we headed off to a property recently acquired by Loon Echo Land Trust. I’d been there once before, but at that time there was no trail system and I certainly hadn’t climbed to the summit.

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We were on a 356-acre property bisected by a paved road. First, we hiked the upper section, passing through a hardwood forest.

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Immediately, I realized we were in the presence of one of my favorites–noted for the mitten-ish presentation of its leaves. One would have to be all thumbs to fit into this mitten, but still, my heart hums whenever I spy a white oak.

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Or in this case, many white oaks, some exhibiting the wine color of their fall foliage.

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And the bark–a blocky look that differs greatly . . .

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from the ski trail ridges of red oak.

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Hop Hornbeam also grows abundantly in this forest.

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As we neared the summit, we noticed that the sky view had a yellowish tone reflected by the ground view. Most trees were of the same age due to past logging efforts, but the predominant species was sugar maple.

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Another favorite tree also grew abundantly here. I think they are also favorites because I don’t see them as often. In this case, the bark, though furrowed and ridged like a northern red oak, featured an almost combed flattened ridge.

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And its leaves–oh my! Notice the asymmetrical base? And the length–my boot is size 8. American basswood–an important timber tree that is known to share the community with sugar maples and hornbeams–all of which provided that yellow glow.

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At last, we reached the vantage point.

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Above us, a mix of colors and species.

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Before us, a mix of white and red oak leaves.

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And beyond us, the view of Crescent Lake

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and Rattlesnake Mountain.

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While we admired the view, ladybird beetles (aka ladybugs) swarmed us. Well, not exactly in swarm formation, but more than is the norm.

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After admiring the view for a while and wondering about the ladybirds, we backtracked a bit and decided to explore the green trail, assuming that it looped about the summit.

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The trail conditions changed constantly, and one thing we realized was that the leaves had dried out and we wished we could have bottled their scent along with our crispy footfall as we trudged through–the smells and sounds associated with autumn.

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Eventually, we entered a beech commune and what to my wondering eyes should appear–bear claw marks? We ventured closer, circled the tree and looked at others in the neighborhood before determining that our eyes had perhaps played a trick on us.

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That was OK because within seconds a twig moved at our feet.

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We watched as its tongue darted in and out, red tipped with a black fork.

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Finally, we moved back to what we’d named Ladybird Lookout and found lunch rock where we topped off sandwiches with Bailey’s Irish Cream fudge a la Megan and Becky Colby. Life is good. Life is very good. (And we know a town in western Maine that would benefit greatly from a bakery–just saying, Megan!)

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After lunch, we climbed back down and crossed Conesca Road to check out trails on the other side. There is no trail map just yet, but we never got lost. And we appreciated the artwork nature created of manmade marks.

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This space offered a different feel where hardwoods combined with softwoods. And more stonewalls crossed the property, speaking to past uses.

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It’s here that we noticed an area demarked by pink flags and stopped to wonder why. Note to self–excavated hole and debris mean beware.

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Upon closer examination, an old hive. So who dug it up? We had our suspicions.

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We also noticed a fungi phenomena.

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Fungi on fungi? Honey mushrooms attacked by something else?

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The displays were large

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and otherworldly. I don’t recall ever seeing this before.

I sent the photos to Parker and Jimmie Veitch, of White Mountain Mushrooms, and Jimmie responded with this explanation:

“That’s what mycologists call “rosecomb” mutation, where a mushroom’s gills start forming on the cap in a really mutated fashion. It’s been reported in many mushroom species but I haven’t seen it in this one (Armillaria AKA honey mushrooms). As far as I know, no secondary fungus is involved.

The suspected cause (not so nice) is ‘hydrocarbons, phenols and other compounds contaminating the casing or contacting the mushroom surface. Diesel oil, exhaust from engines, and petroleum-based pesticides are thought to be the principal source.'”

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As we concluded our visit, we passed over one more stone wall decorated with red maple leaves.

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And then we hopped into the truck and traveled a couple of miles south to conquer another small mountain–one visible to us from Ladybird Lookout. (I really think LELT should name it such.)

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Here the milkweed plants grew abundantly.

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In the field leading to the trail, the property owners planted white oak saplings in hopes of providing food for wildlife. Um, by the same token, they’d enclosed the saplings in plastic sleeves (reminding us of our findings in Ireland) to keep deer at bay.

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The understory differed and ferns offered their own autumn hues.

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In contrast were the many examples of evergreen wood ferns.

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We soon realized that quite literate bears frequented this path and announced their presence.

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At last, the view opened and we looked back at the opposite shore of Crescent Lake, though realizing that our earlier ascent was masked by the trees.

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Turning about, Panther Pond came into view.

We’d spent the day embracing Raymond because everybody loves Raymond.

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Raymond, Maine, that is. Loon Echo Land Trust is gearing up to celebrate the Raymond Community Forest that we explored this morning and the Bri-Mar Trail up Rattlesnake Mountain has long been traveled by many. In fact, when I used to write copy for the local chamber of commerce, I spent some time learning about Edgar Welch, who was the fastest man on foot and ran up Mount Washington at least once a year. He lived in Raymond and worked for David McLellan, who was partially blind from a Civil War injury. Because Mr. McLellan’s farm was at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain, the sun would set one hour earlier than elsewhere in town. According to legend, after work each day Edgar ran up the mountain and moved rocks. Finally, he’d moved enough to let the sun shine on the farm for an hour longer. Another story has it that one day a man bet Edgar that he could beat him in a race to Portland. The man would race with his horse and buggy, while Edgar ran. When the opponent pulled into the city, Edgar was waiting for him. I love local lore.

And everybody loves Raymond. Well, my guy and I certainly gained a better appreciation for this town today.

 

 

 

Hiking to the Vanishing Point

My friend, Ann, and I spent today focused on points close to us, while those in the distance also drew our attention.

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Our chosen trail to accomplish such, Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire. We began on the Avalon Trail and then turned onto the Mt. Willard Trail. I kept thinking I’d last travelled this way in the early spring, but now realize it was last November that my guy and I ventured forth on a Top Notch Mondate.

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Ann had in her mind that there were several varieties of birch trees along the way. We did marvel at pastel colors revealed by the paper birch.

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And the golden ribbony peeling of the yellow birch. But those were the only two birch species we saw over and over again. It had been a while since she’d last hiked here so the forest had changed.

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The trail has also changed. Somewhere stuck in my memory (despite the fact that I hiked here ten months ago) is a fairly flat, graveled carriage path. Um . . . I truly think that was the case years ago, but perhaps funding means it’s no longer maintained like it once was and stormwater has washed the trail out.

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The carriage road was built in 1845 by Thomas Crawford, owner and host of the Notch House in Crawford Notch. Daniel Webster and Henry David Thoreau reportedly slept there. Crawford wanted to provide his guests with an easy excursion to the summit of the mountain. Old culverts and stone diversions still mark the way.

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One of the most predominant plants from beginning to end is the hobblebush shrub, so named because its horizontal growth pattern trips hikers, causing them to hobble through the woods. This shrub wows us in any season and right now it’s displaying its late summer colors.

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On a few, we even found some fruit. I especially loved the new buds posed together like praying hands beneath the berries.

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And leaf displays that led to vanishing points.

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We chuckled to ourselves as others passed by, sweating in their efforts to reach the summit quickly. Our purpose–a slow and steady climb filled with opportunities to notice, like the funnels of water that dripped from rock to rock.

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One of our favorite stops–Centennial Pool, where water mesmerized us as it cascaded over moss-covered rocks.

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And a chipmunk darted about, surprising us with its close proximity–until we looked up and saw a couple with a dog. Perhaps we looked like we’d offer a safe haven.

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We spent a lot of time wallowing in ferns because Ann has developed a keen interest in them this year. One of our fun finds was the narrow or northern beech fern, which portrayed its natural habit of dripping downward. We loved that we could ID this one by beginning with its winged attachment to the rachis or center stem.

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Fungi also drew our attention. The mountain had been in the clouds as we approached, so it was no wonder that dew drops decorated this artist’s conk.

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Among our fungi sightings–a false tinder conk.

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And among my favorites–a fairy ring.

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Though the flowers were few, we did spy some purple asters.

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And then there were sculptures that caught our attention, like this paper birch artwork framed by moss-covered trees.

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And a yellow birch offering its own message to the universe.

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Some tree roots also begged to be noticed. So we did as we acknowledged the resident faeries.

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At last we found my carriage road. Or at least something that slightly resembled it.

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And then the tunnel.

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And a glimpse of the world beyond.

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Within seconds, without a drum roll, the jaw-dropping view of the Notch enveloped our focus.

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As we ate lunch, another human-savvy critter came closer than is the norm–a red squirrel. We think he coveted Ann’s lunch–a peanut butter and blueberry sandwich with whole blueberries. Who wouldn’t?

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Mountain summits in these parts often feature Mountain Ash trees. Today, I paid attention to the pattern, including the six finger splay of its leaflet.

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And I couldn’t resist the contrast of color it offered against the mountain backdrop.

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Though we didn’t see any Mountain Ash berries, each individual leaf presented its own point of view.

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At the beginning of our hike and again at the summit, we kept hearing a helicopter. Mount Washington was obscured by cloud cover, but with her binoculars, Ann observed a helicopter with a litter. It seemed to follow the same route again and again.

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Our hope was that it was practice over mission. We had no idea of the purpose.

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At last we hiked down. One of the best parts about following the same path is that new stories await–when you can take the time to look up. And our pièce de résistance–an old snag. A beautiful old snag. Notice its vertical lines intersected by horizontal lines. We spent a long time studying and caressing this natural sculpture.

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Though it appeared to be dead, life reigned.

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I know my mentors will correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe this is Pholiota squarrosa, commonly known as the shaggy scalycap, the shaggy Pholiota, or the scaly Pholiota. Whatever you want to call it, it seemed to have its own vanishing point.

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Much the same was true for the train tracks we crossed that head north toward Breton Woods.

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And those that lead south from Crawford’s Notch.

Thanks to Ann for today’s hike into the vanishing point, a disappearance into the woods for a visual exploration.

Book of September: Forest Trees of Maine

The other day a friend and I made plans for an upcoming hike. Before saying goodbye, she said, “Don’t forget to bring your tree book.”

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Really? I have at least thirty books dedicated to the topic of trees. But . . . I knew exactly which one she meant: Forest Trees of Maine. I LOVE this book–or rather, booklet. You’ll notice the tattered version on the left and newer on the right. Yup, it gets lots of use and often finds its way into my pack. When I was thinking about which book to feature this month, it jumped to the forefront. I actually had to check to see if I’d used it before and was surprised that I hadn’t.

Produced by the Maine Forest Service, the centennial issue published in 2008 was the 14th edition and it’s been reprinted two times since then.

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In previous years, the book was presented in a different format. Two editions sit on my bookshelf, and I need to share with you two things that didn’t find their way into the most recent copy.

From 1981: Foreword–“It is a pleasure to present the eleventh edition of Forest Trees of Maine. 

Many changes have occurred in Maine’s forest since 1908, the year the booklet first appeared. Nonetheless, the publication continues to be both popular and useful and thousands have been distributed. Many worn and dog-eared copies have been carried for years by woodsmen, naturalists and other students of Maine’s Great Out-Of-Doors.

We wish the booklet could be made available in much greater quantity, however, budgetary considerations prevent us from doing so. I urge you to use your copy of Forest Trees of Maine with care. If you do, it will give years of service in both field and office.”

Kenneth G. Stratton, Director.

From 1995: One of two poems included. I chose this one because it was one my mother often recited.

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

~Joyce Kilmer

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The most recent edition of Forest Trees of Maine provides a snapshot of the booklets history and information about the changes in the Maine landscape. For instance, in 1908, 75% of the land was forested, whereas in 2008, 89% was such. The state’s population during that one hundred year period had grown by 580,457. With that, the amount of harvested wood had also grown. And here’s an intriguing tidbit–the cost of the Bangor Daily News was $6/year in 1908 and $180/year in 2008.

Two keys are presented, one for summer when leaves are on the trees and the second for winter, when the important features to note are bark and buds.

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Terms for leaf shapes, margins and structure, twig structure, plus needle types and flower types are illustrated and various terms defined.

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There’s even information on how a tree works because they do–for our well-being and for the benefit of wildlife.

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And then the descriptive pages begin. Each layout includes photographs, sketches and lots of information, both historical as in the King’s Arrow Pine, and identifiable as in bark, leaves, cones, wood, etc.

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1981

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1995

Though some of the information is the same, it’s fun to note the differences from the two earlier publications.

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At the beginning of each family, major descriptions are noted in an easy to follow format.

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And like the conifers, the broadleaves are portrayed.

Tomorrow, when my friend and I venture off, I’d better remember to pack this booklet. She’s peeked my curiosity about what she wants to ID because I’ve climbed the mountain before and perhaps I missed something. She already has a good eye for trees so I can’t wait to discover what learning she has in mind for us.

This Book of September is for you, Ann Johnson. And it’s available at Bridgton Books or from the forest service: http://www.maineforestservice.gov or forestinfo@maine.gov.

Forest Trees of Maine, Centennial Edition, 2008, published by The Maine Forest Service

 

Tagging Along with Jinny Mae

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” ~ Albert Camus

While I sometimes walked beside Jinny Mae this afternoon, I spent more time following her and am still her friend (I think).

A HOT afternoon. Despite the heat, however, I’m always tickled to follow her because she knows her 40-acre property intimately–including all of its nooks and crannies and cool sights.

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We had some rain this morning, but Jinny Mae’s land is naturally wet and well loved by mosses and ferns . . . and green frogs. As we approached, several leaped into this mini pool and then posed.

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Others waited patiently–probably hoping we’d move along.

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J.M. has a fascination for fungi. Many fruiting bodies, like this gilled polypore, showed their faces as we moved about.

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We rolled the log to get a better look at the maze-like underside.

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Among our finds–chanterelles (deleted false because fungi expert, Jimmie Veitch informed me that they are true chanterelles. If you want to know more about Maine fungi or to purchase some, visit White Mountain Mushrooms) and . . .

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a coral fungi. Given today’s humidity, it felt like we were in the Bermuda of the North.

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Jinny Mae also showed me a fern-like moss that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: stair-step moss. This moss is particularly fond of the moist coniferous and hardwood forest we tramped through. Its new growth arose from the previous year’s growth–climbing like a staircase.

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Nearby, she pointed to one of her favorite tree displays–a hemlock and yellow birch sharing space. Both have seeds that germinate best on rotting logs or rocks, where moss gathers and provides moisture. In a compatible relationship, they’ve reached for the sky with equal success. I’m reminded of two friends who know the importance of supporting each other–similar to the chitchat and occasional silence Jinny Mae and I share as we bushwhacked.

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And then she introduced me to Excalibur. Even King Arthur probably couldn’t pull this    sword-like piece of a tree out of the ground–well, maybe he could. But we couldn’t.

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The reason for Excalibur’s existence: a recent lightning strike.

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We looked around and saw that the energy passed through at least three trees.

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Bark peeled off.

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And shredded wood scattered. What surprised us both was that we couldn’t find any burnt wood. Thankfully.

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Making our way back toward her house, we entered a beech forest and began to see beechdrops everywhere we looked.

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These are parasitic plants that don’t manufacture their own nutrition, thus they depend on the roots of American beech trees for food.

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In this same area, we come across a young beech tree Jinny Mae flagged in the spring when she first observed a cotyledon. We chuckled when we remembered how we both were so taken with cotyledons a few months ago–a new sighting for us. One of those things that was always there, but we’d never noticed it previously. Today, she was filled with pride for this young beech. It’s had a healthy start and in forty years may provide beech nuts for the neighborhood bears. In the meantime, it will probably nourish a few beech drops.

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And then she showed me the final cool find of the day–an Indian pipe with stamens that appear to have split away from the flower. It seems that these friends made the move together–much the same as Jinny Mae and I did today.

I may have tagged along and followed her, but really, we walked side by side and I’m thankful for her friendship.

Book of August: BARK

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Book of August

It was my journey through the Maine Master Naturalist class several years ago that lead me to this book of the month: BARK–A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech.

The book actual evolved from Wojtech’s work, under the tutelage of Tom Wessels, toward a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology at Antioch University New England.

Between the covers you’ll find information about bark structure, types of bark and bark ecology. There is a key for those who are so inclined.

And then the biggest chunk of the book is devoted to photographs and descriptions for each type of tree that grows in our New England and eastern New York State forests. These include the common and Latin names, family, habitat, range maps, leaf and branch pattern, leaf shape and notes.

For me, there are two take away items from this book. First, I learned to categorize bark based on its pattern from smooth to ridges and furrows, vertical strips, curly and peeling to others covered in scales and plates. He breaks bark type into seven varieties that I now find easy to identify.

Second, I came to realize something that I may have known but never gave much thought to–except for  American beech bark, which remains smooth all its life (unless it’s been infected by the beech scale insect), bark differs from young to mature to old for any particular species. Oy vey!

Though this book is useful in the winter, now is the time to start looking. To develop your bark eyes. The leaves are on and will help with ID, thus you can try the key and you’ll know if you’ve reached the correct conclusion or not.

Go ahead. Purchase a copy and give it a whirl. I must warn you, it becomes addictive and can be rather dangerous when you are driving down the road at 50mph. As Wojtech wrote in the preface, “If you want to experience a forest, mingle among its trees. If you want to know the trees, learn their bark.”

While you are at it, I encourage you to visit the small western Maine town of Bridgton, where the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge leads into Pondicherry Park. Each of the sixteen bridge beams is constructed from a different tree and the bark is still on them. Test yourself and then grab one of my brochures at the kiosk to see if you got it right. If there are no brochures, let me know and I’ll fill the bin.

And while you are there, stop by the independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, to purchase a copy of BARK.

BARK: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech, University Press of New England, 2011.