Pondering the Past at Pondicherry Park

Before today’s deluge began, I slipped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine, to fill the innermost recesses of my lungs with November air, and at the same time my brain with memories of so many people who have traveled these trails with me from Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and Lakes Environmental Association’s Alanna Yanelli and Mary Jewett, and friends and friends and friends, including the late JoAnne Diller, Sue Black, and Jinny Mae. But today’s journey also included memories of one I took two years ago with Becky Cook, who shared her remembrances of growing up along South High Street and romping through these trails as they were part of her backyard. If anyone ever had a sense of this place, it is Becky.

My journey began at the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, the main entryway into the park if you approach from the town parking lot on Depot Street behind Reny’s Department Store.

Bob Dunning, who died suddenly in November 2007, was a builder, an artist, and among other things, a teacher–sharing his craft with students young and old. To honor Bob, who treasured traditional building techniques, his friends and fellow craftspeople designed and built this bridge in a true barn-raising fashion. To learn more about the bridge, check out this previous wondermyway post: Barking Up A Bridge.

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

But today’s tale is about the the land beyond the bridge.

And the three properties I tried to circle on this 1871 map.

They are the same properties circled above to give a sense of place. Well, I may be off a wee bit in my drawing techniques, but it provides an idea of the land that was first owned by Thomas Cleaves, Dr. Nathaniel Pease, and Osborn Foster.

According to the 1870 census, Mr. Cleaves had 20 acres of improved land. His farm was worth $2,500 and equipment $75. For animals, he had 2 horses, 3 cows, 2 oxen, and 1 swine. His crops included wheat, corn and oats.

Dr. Pease had 20 acres of improved land and 50 acres of unimproved land. The value of his farm was $2,000, while his equipment was worth $75. Likewise he had 2 horses, but only 1 cow, plus 2 oxen, and 1 swine. Corn and oats were his crops.

Mr, Foster owned 40 acres of improved land, and his farm’s value was also $2,000, with the equipment at the going rate of $75. He had 1 horse, 2 oxen, and 1 swine. He also produced corn and oats. (One might note that there was a corn canning shop on the eastern side of Stevens Brook)

As time went on, Henry Moxcey acquired the Cleaves house. His occupation was farming and traveling according to the 1930 census. He lived in the house valued at $10,000 with his wife, Hattie, and daughter Hazel.

Next door, Charles Kneeland had taken ownership of the Pease property in 1881. In 1919, it became the property of his daughter Florence, wife of Alfred Keene. They lived there with their young children, Adria and Maurice. I couldn’t read the value of their home on the census, but Alfred owned a radio set. The 1930 census reflected the emerging values of early twentieth-century America, in particular the growing influence of consumerism and mass culture, thus it included a question about radio sets.

I’m not sure of the exact year, but Osborn Foster’s house was sold to Edward Carman. Charles Hermann Cook then purchased the home valued at $5,000. Herman was overseer in the finishing room at Pondicherry Mill (wondermyway: Milling About Stevens Brook). He lived with his wife Lula, son Enoch, and Edith Foster, who was their housekeeper (she was 43 and widowed).

Looking a the open field in the park, the houses/field to the west are the subject of the journey. While the homes remain private, the land that became the park was purchased in a collaborative fashion by Loon Echo Land Trust and Lakes Environmental Association through the generosity of many donors, as well as grant monies. After placing it under conservation easement with LELT, constructing entry points and trails, it was gifted to the town of Bridgton in 2012. The park consists of 66 acres of quiet woodland and 3,200 feet of stream shore in the heart of downtown Bridgton, making it one special place.

If you’ve stayed with me, this is the point where Becky’s story will enhance the tale. She is the daughter of the late Enoch and Hazel Cook, and granddaughter of C. Hermann Cook. My guy had the privilege, like so many others, of being taught by Mrs. Cook and still loves to talk about her. She passed away a few years ago, or maybe it was a few years before that, but he last visited her on her 102nd birthday and listened as she shared stories of her classroom and students as if she had only stepped out of school yesterday.

One of the first stops Becky and I made two years ago was at Kneeland Spring, pictured above. The water bubbles through the sandy bottom and so the spring never freezes. Even in July, Becky said, she remembered the water being ice cold. Notice the moss-covered split granite–I didn’t take a photo of it today, but just above there are several rock samples that may have been the source as they feature drill holes a farmer would have created to split the stone. Pin and feathering was a technique that required a person to drill holes along the grain of the stone, fill each hole with two semi-cylindrical pieces of iron, and drive a steel wedge between them.

To Becky, standing by the spring and looking west (uphill toward South High Street) brought back memories of running through fields as a kid. Below the spring she recalled there being woods and a boggy area.

She told me that Mr. Kneeland had livery stables beside his house for his horses and cows. The Keenes, who inherited the land, didn’t have any horses or cows. But Bob Dineen, who lived across South High Street, used the pastures for his work horses and cows. “You could ride them,” said Becky. “And I wasn’t particular. I could ride a cow just as easily as a horse.”

For many years I thought it was local lore that Hannaford Brothers purchased water from the spring, but Ned Allen shared this document with me. Apparently, this was coveted water.

Throughout the park one might spot numbered Roosters. By using either the Bridgton Historical Society’s free app, or picking up a brochure at the kiosk, you can key in on descriptions of historic locations in the park. I’d spent a few years feeling that the info for #4 wasn’t accurate, but Becky set me right.

You see, according to the description, #4 states this: Barway, This gap was left in the stonewall to provide an opening to pass through. A log would be placed across the gap so it could be closed up again and continue to keep the livestock contained.

In my brain, the stones had been moved to create the gap so the park trail could pass through it.

According to Becky, this was the wall that formed the boundary between the Keene/Kneeland property and the Cook property. She remembered a much smaller gap, but still there was one.

Off trail there used to be an old rail on the ground that referenced the Narrow Gauge Train that ran beside what is now the park. After the train stopped running in 1941, either Becky’s father or grandfather or both took advantage of the old rails and used them when necessary, such as for the ties of bridges, this one having been located along what was a rough road from the Cooks’ home on South High Street down to their camp on Willet Brook, which meets Stevens Brook in the park.

Before going to the site of the camp, I traveled along a spur trail, which I often do because I love the reflection it offers . . .

in any season.

When I traveled the trails with Becky, I was so grateful because she opened my mind to some of what had come before, including the family camp, this photo from the Bridgton Historical Society’s collection.

In its day, it was a single family camp at 1360 Willet Brook Shore owned by C. Hermann Cook and his family. Becky recalled it having a couple of bedrooms on the western side, which you see here, a kitchen, and a long living room spanning the front. French doors opened from the living room onto the porch. And she remembered evenings when her parents would wind up the Victrola and people danced out one door, across the porch, and back into the living room through another porch.

All that’s left of the camp, sadly, is the chimney and a foundation wall. In 1968, some kids began to make a habit of partying in the camp. According to Becky, they figured if they created a fire in the fireplace someone might spot the smoke rising from the chimney. Instead, they created a campfire in the middle of the living room floor. Several time, apparently, this happened. Their frivolity ended, however, when they accidentally burned the camp to the ground on what became the final party.

Becky was sad to lose this beautiful place. She did recall with humor, however, the adventures she and her brother, Tim, shared as it was their responsibility to clean snow off the roof. With Tim at the helm, and Becky holding on for dear life, they’d zoom through the fields and woods on a snowmobile to reach the camp.

Standing with my back to the chimney, I tried to imagine another scene Becky painted for me: this once was a cove filled with water. Her grandfather Hermann kept a boat here and often fished.

It began to make sense because at that time the mills were in use and they would have dammed the water in various locations in order to have power to run turbines.

Looking west from the chimeny, one gets a sense of the camp road. Though it looks rather level now, roots were often an issue. Becky told me that the vehicles of yore were high-wheeled and high-bottomed so it wasn’t really a bother.

Continuing up the “road,” a visit to the park doesn’t feel complete with stopping by to say hello to the Yellow Birch growing on a pine nurse stump where life is richer than we can imagine. It turned out that Becky was also a frequent stopper at this statue. Some tree species, especially those with small seeds, cannot germinate on leaf litter and need high-porosity seedbeds. Yellow Birch is such a species that requires mineral soil or deadwood to germinate. Hemlock is the same.

A bit farther along, the stonewalls begin to state their presence. They are powerful reminders that land that is now forested was once cleared and cultivated. Somer are single walls, such as this, built with large stones, where the land below is much lower than the land above, suggesting that the “short” side was plowed regularly and much more frequently than the tall side. Plowing tends to push soil against a wall. I don’t know when these walls were constructed, but some intense wall building occurred between 1775 and 1850. The majority of New England walls were dry built, meaning the stones were kept in place by skillful arrangement and balance.

A short distance above is a different type of wall. It’s a double-wide wall with larger stones on the outside and smaller filling in between. These were indicative of a garden wall. They weren’t high so as to keep livestock in or out. Instead, they became the place to toss all the stones that pushed to the field’s surface with the annual freezing and thawing. The smaller stones would likely have been the spring “crop” over the course of many years that were removed from the field by women and children. Remember, these farmers were growing their own grains. From Becky I learned that her grandfather had a commercial strawberry field. Usually such fields were between 2 – 4 acres, thus being the optimal size for moving stones from the center to the edges.

What grows best here now is the invasive Norway Maple. It’s not native to Maine and is aggressive in nature. This type of maple was planted along roadsides as a shade tree after the demise of elm trees. The leaf is similar to a Sugar Maple, but much more rectangular (boxier) in shape. And . . . while the Sugar Maples have lost their leaves by now, the Norway Maples hold on to them for a much longer time period.

Because it had started raining in earnest and I could barely see through my glasses, I knew it was time to draw today’s journey to a close. But, there was one last place to pause–in a pasture with a small opening in the boundary. The Kneeland/Keene homestead can be seen through the opening. If I turned around, which I didn’t, I knew that I could follow another old “road” down to Kneeland Spring. And to my left as I looked up at the house, would have been the Cooks’ property (eventually they moved across the street), and to my right the Cram/Cleaves/Moxcey property now owned by the Russos, which actually serves as a farm today, albeit on a much smaller scale. (All have passed through one or two or more hands of ownership.)

One final note (or maybe two): It has been said that Pondicherry was the name of Bridgton before Moody Bridges surveyed the land for the proprietors. The source of the name has been questioned–was it so called for a union territory in India or for the cherry trees that grew by the ponds?

Perhaps there’s another choice to ponder–was it named by indigenous people before people of European descent thought the land was theirs to occupy and own? That’s another story that needs to be researched.

As for today, I’m so glad the rain didn’t keep me home and I once again made time to ponder the past in Pondicherry Park.

Starring wondermyway, episode 3 on LRTV

Thanks to Evan Miller at Lake Region Television, wondermyway is on TV once again. For this program, Evan added music by pianist Abbey Simon.

Settle into a comfy chair and click on the following link to listen to fourteen minutes of wondermyway: wondermywayIII

Clicking on the photo won’t pull up the video, so be sure to click on the link above the photo.

May this bring you some moments of well being and peace.

Not Just Another Tube Left In The Woods

Perhaps it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time. Or, taking the time to look. Really look.

You might stay there’s nothing extraordinary about pine needles, right? As you probably know, the needles (aka leaves) of Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus grow in packets or bundles of five. W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E is a mnemonic we use to remember how many needles on the White Pine since they spell “white” for its name or “Maine” because it is the State tree.

A word of caution, however, in that department. If a White Pine has five needles, then a Red Pine, Pinus resinosa, must have three needles in a bundle, correct? False. They actually have two much longer and stiffer needles that break cleanly when bent in half.

Back to the White Pine of my attention. What I’ve been noticing is that suddenly there are clusters of needles bound together. This is the work of the larval form of a Pine Tube Moth, Argyrotaenia pinatubana. What typically happens is that the caterpillar uses between ten and twenty needles to form a tube or hollow tunnel.

This past week, for the sake of science and understanding, of course, a friend and I split a tube open to see if anyone was home. Indeed, we had our first view of the tiny caterpillar, which looked like it had an even tinier aphid atop it.

And then one day later in the week, I happened to spot some action at the tip of a tube. The caterpillars move up and down their silk-lined tunnels to feed on needles at the tip.

And once I spotted that, no pine has gone unnoticed. Much to my delight, I discovered a few more active caterpillars today.

One even honored me by demonstrating how it sews the needles to fasten them to the structure.

Back and forth it moved, excreting silk that formed a ladder-like web. When the time comes, the caterpillar will create another tube and do the same thing until it is ready to pupate overwinter.

The moth will emerge in April, when I’ll need to pay attention again. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation.

So now that you know, see if you can find a tube. Maybe you’ll be lucky as well and will get to see the caterpillar. It is only about one third of an inch long, so you’ll really have to look for a wee bit of movement at the tip of the tube. What I learned is that if I went in close with a loupe, it retreated.

This is certainly not just another tube left in the woods–now you know that these are the homes of the native Pine Tube Moths, who fortunately, are not considered a significant pest.

Slipping Into Fall

I went with intention for such was the afternoon. Sunny, cloudy, rainy, dry. Change. Constantly. In. The. Air.

Of course, my intention led to new discoveries, as it should for when I spotted the buttons of Buttonbush, a new offering showed its face–that of Buttonbush Gall Mites, Aceria cephalanthi. Okay, so not exactly the mites, but the structures they create in order to pupate. Mighty cool construction.

Continuing on, into the Red Maple Swamp did I tramp, where Cinnamon Fern fronds stood out like a warm fire on an autumn day. But wait, it wasn’t autumn. Just yet, anyway.

And then there was that first sighting of Witch Hazel’s ribbony flower, the very last perennial to grace the landscape each year.

And color. All kinds of color in reality and reflection beside Muddy River.

Even the fern fronds glistened, individual raindrops captured upon a spider web adding some dazzle to the scene.

Next on the agenda, a Goldenrod Rosette Gall created by the midge Rhopalomyia capitata. The midge formed a structure that looked like a flower all its own. What actually happened is that the midge laid an egg in the topmost leaf bud of Canada Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, causing the stem to stop growing, but the leaves didn’t.

A few steps farther and I realized I wasn’t the only one who appreciated the sight (or nectar) of Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, or Spotted Touch-me-Not. The latter name because upon touching the ripe seed pods, they explode. Try it. Given the season, the pods have formed as you can see behind the bee’s back.

Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, its fruits bright red also graced the trail in an abundant manner, but wait a few months and they’ll be difficult to spy. For a month or two we’ll enjoy their ornamental beauty, but despite their low fat content, birds, raccoons, and mice will feast.

All of these sights meant one thing.

The Red Maple swamp bugled its trumpet with an announcement.

The announcement was this: Fall freezes into winter, winter rains into spring, spring blossoms into summer, but today . . . today summer slipped into fall and I gave great thanks for being there to witness it all.

To Be Continued Sun/Mondate

We drove forty minutes north at midday on Sunday with the intention of hiking a trail we’d enjoyed only once previously. Our memories of it had petered a bit, but we did look forward to bear trees and cascading falls.

And we were not disappointed. Within minutes of beginning the ascent, a look up at the gnarled top of a Beech gave me reason to scan the bark below and by the number of claw marks left behind it was obvious that this had been a well-used source of nuts in the past.

We could just imagine the bear scrambling up, sitting upon the branches and pulling them in to form a “nest,” or so it looks when they’ve been broken and folded inward, foraging for beech nuts, and then, once all were consumed, scrambling back down and on to the next tree.

Bears weren’t the only animals that have known this land and beside a stone wall we paused for a second. Our first ponder was whether it was a boundary fence or meant to keep animals in or out. Until . . . we spotted a piece of barbed wire growing out of a tree. No wait, barbed wire doesn’t grow out of trees. Trees grow around it. And our question was answered: the wire would have been added to keep the animals in the pasture.

That said, it had been a while since the wire was installed and even longer than a while since the stone wall had been built, for the trees had had time to grow and mature and incorporate the wire into their souls and while one still knew the flow of xylem and phloem, this other was a source of new life for insects and birds.

Our next pause was at picnic knoll where two tables and two Adirondack chair invite hikers to take a respite and enjoy the view. We tarried not given that we had a football game to get home to and pizza dough to prepare. Well, one of us had a football game to get home to and the other the dough.

Onward and upward we hiked, keeping an eye on ankle biters (saplings not cut to the ground that caused us to stumble repeatedly if we weren’t paying attention) at our feet, while searching for more bear trees, not an easy task during leaf season. But our best reward was the sight of this oft-climbed tree and the realization that the two behind it had also been visited.

We know there are more like those in this forest thus giving us a reason to return in late autumn and search off trail to see how many we can count. If memory serves us right, from the trail we once counted over twenty such bear trees.

Oh, there were other things to see along the way, like the Hobblebush’s ripening berries . . .

and Bald-faced Hornets gathering nectar.

But the second object of our intention was eventually reached for we’d found the cascades, beginning with one named for the family that farmed this area: Chapman.

It was a bit of a scramble but we were well rewarded for our efforts.

Again and again. After viewing this final flow, Library Cascades, we practically ran back down the trail. Just in time to catch the start of the game on the radio. Pizza was a wee bit late, but we didn’t mind.

The story should have ended there, but while hiking on Sunday we came up with a plan for Monday. So . . . back into the truck for that forty-minute drive we did go. This time, in the same forest, we hiked up an esker, which I saw as the stick of a lollipop.

At a junction, we chose the Red Pine Trail, a tree with bark so rich in color and design, it creates an art gallery in the forest.

Along the way, we paused at openings to enjoy the views, but . . .

a ridge off-trail, and really off-property (Shhhh, don’t tell. The boundary was marked but not posted.) invited us and we couldn’t refuse. What view might there be that we would miss if we didn’t accept the summons?

We were rewarded with the sight of the surrounding mountains showing off their summits in crisp contrast to the sky above.

I’m pretty sure the invitation included lunch and so we sat down and dined.

Our off-trail pursuit offered one final gift as we headed back to the trail–galls created by a wasp upon a Northern Red Oak twig.

A few steps later and we startled a Garter Snake who flicked its tongue to get a better scent of us before deciding we weren’t worth the effort and slithering away.

Again, there was water to cross, but it wasn’t nearly as impressive as the cascades of Sunday.

And some porcupine work to acknowledge, though we had hoped to see a den, but determined it was probably in the ledges below.

One final view at the land beyond and then we completed the loop that formed the sucker at the top of the lollipop stick and began our descent. Again, this should have been the end of the story. But . . .

There was plenty of daylight left and this day’s football game wasn’t until much later and so we sought a third trail in the same forest. The natural community differed, which made us grateful because each trail had its own unique flavor, this one including Striped Maple dripping with seeds of the future.

Once again, we climbed toward the view.

One sight that caught our attention for it was the only one of its kind that we saw along any of the trails was a Lady’s Slipper, and we gave thanks that it had been pollinated for perhaps its future will spill forth in multitudes we can enjoy next spring.

A flock of nuthatches, woodpeckers, and chickadees entertained us occasionally, but it was the silent Hermit Thrush who paused that caused us to do the same.

At last we reached the end and stood for a moment to take in the range beyond, before turning around and retracing our steps for this last trail wasn’t a loop.

Nailed to a tree, was this sign: To Be Continued. As so it was on this Sundate/Mondate. We trust we’ll return to see where the trail may lead next.

March Madness

I awoke early, filled with concern for Greater Lovell Land Trust’s March Madness hike planned for today. The wind was blowing and the temperature had dropped significantly after several days of “Fake Spring.” Would volunteer docents and staff be ok in parking lots and summits at GLLT’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve where we were encouraging people to climb one, two, or all three “peaks”?

We had it all planned–“snowman” passports available in the parking lots, along with trail maps, healthy snacks, magazines, and advice. Oh, and a donation jar 😉

At each summit, participants would have their passports stamped and choose one GLLT/nature-related swag item.

But that wind. A check of the weather report, thankfully, promised that the wind advisory suggesting gusts up to 45 mph, would end by 10am. Our event was planned to begin at 9:30. As I wrote in an email to volunteers and staff, “Let’s go for it.” No one balked. One replied, “We’ll be there.” And another wrote, “They don’t call in March Madness for nuthin’.”

After making sure everyone was set, at parking lot #4 on Route 5 in Lovell I opened the back of my truck to display the offerings. Our talented executive director had created a snowman out of the three summits, one of them actually being the snowball, and the buttoned breast serving as connector trails.

For the first two hours or so, my only companions were chipmunks, which despite, or maybe because of the cold, ran frantically from one side of the trail to the other, in and out of holes, and disappearing at one section of stone wall, while a short time later reappearing at another. Or was that a different chipmunk?

I counted four, but really, there could have been more for they entered and exited so frequently. Meanwhile, I was also on the move in an attempt to stay warm. The wind may not have been gusting per se, but it was rather breezy and certainly quite chilly.

And so I walked (and sometimes ran) around the parking lot and about a tenth of a mile up the trail, over and over again. In a way I wish I’d tracked my trail, because it would have looked as if I was indeed mad.

But . . . I made discoveries, including raccoon prints in the mud,

Yellow birch catkins flying like flags upon their twigs over my head,

and their associated trunk showing off its curly bark.

A Red Maple sported the perfect target fungus that I often mention to others, who can’t always see the bulls-eye pattern.

And somehow, though I’ve walked this trail many times over many years, I’ve never spotted the burnt potato-chip bark of a Black Cherry right beside the path before.

I also learned something about chipmunks. They scampered for several hours, but early afternoon must be siesta time and I never did see any of them again, though I checked frequently.

By 11:30, participants began to pull into the lot and I felt a certain sense of relief. Being without cell phone reception, I had no idea how things were going with anyone else, but gave thanks that people wanted to participate in the hike and had learned about it from several forms of media.

As they hiked, my parking lot meandering continued, though the space to move shrunk due to their parked vehicles.

With the chipmunks no longer offering entertainment, I decided to add an examination of the kiosk to my point of view.

Upon it I found a bunch of larval bagworm moths, their structure such that they remind me of the caddisflies I’ll soon be looking for as waterways open.

Another frequent observation at any kiosk is the cocoon structure of tussock moths. This one didn’t let me down.

Speaking of down, it was down that my eyes were next drawn and I spotted an old apple oak gall that curiously sported two exit holes–or had someone dined upon the goods once forming inside. How it survived two feet of snow and retained its global shape stymied me. Another thought though is that it may have remained attached the tree for a long time and only recently blew to the ground.

While I considered that, something hopped. Seriously.

The hopper turned out to be a . . . grasshopper instar. A what? An instar is a phase between two periods of molting in the development of an insect larva or other invertebrate animal. Think of it as a nymph, if you will.

Spying one seemed an anomaly, but . . . I spied three more upon the snow.

They couldn’t yet fly, but they certainly could hop up to three feet despite their diminutive size of about 2 centimeters. Their direction wasn’t always forward, but sometimes more sideways.

In the end, thirteen folks hiked from my lot and the others had 12 and 9, so I’d call the first annual March Madness a success. All volunteers and staff stayed sorta warm–each finding their own way to do so.

As for me, I somehow managed to cover 7.8 miles in a small space and found myself smiling frequently as March Madness was really March Gladness.

Grasshoppers?!!!

Sharp Observation

I was early–a rare occasion as usually I’m the one who arrives at least ten minutes after the agreed upon time. It wasn’t always that way, but has become a bad habit. That said, it was a creature of habit that I went in search of because I had some time to spare.

And much to my delight a sign hanging from a tree announced what I’d hoped. Can you read it? The hemlock sprig dangling from the birch stating that So-and-So was in residence?

Suddenly I realized there were a million items shouting the obvious, scattered as they were upon the snow and rocks like neon signs on a city street: “So-and-So Slept Here;” “So-and-So’s Diner;” and “So-and-So’s Rest Rooms.”

Hemlock twigs with angled nips and singular scats spoke to So-and-So’s presence. Was So-and-So present? I could only hope so.

As I looked about, I noticed the signs dropped by one or two others, including one of whom I totally expected to surprise me as it has on several occasions in the recent past. While I didn’t startle the bird, I knew by its offering left on the rock that it continued to frequent the locale–do you see the “golden” cylinder among the brown scat? That would be a notice from the local grouse.

And then I stepped under the hemlock because there was more bird sign on the tree created by a Pileated Woodpecker and I hoped to find its scat. No such luck among the wood chips, but plenty more fresh pellets stating that the occupant was possibly in situ.

All the telltale signs were there. About one inch long. Comma shaped. Groove down the inside. Fresh. Did I say fresh?

From every angle the evidence was clear. I shouldn’t be standing below because just possibly that certain So-and-So might be resting above. And said being has been known to fall out of trees as I’ve told others while standing in this same spot on previous occasions. Did I say this is a creature of habit?

Whenever I visit I look up. But it’s not until winter that my sight is graced with that of such another. Can you see it? The anomaly in the canopy?

How about now? Do you see the dark blob sitting up there?

Porcupines are indeed creatures of habit and every winter I know certain places to locate a few locals, including this big guy. A guy? Yes, because it’s the males who tend to rest in trees during the day.

He was up there enjoying the cambium layer of the bark as witnessed by the goldeny color of the branch by his feet. All those downed twigs–apparently they were in his way so he nipped them off and dropped them to the ground in order to get to the nutrients he sought for his winter diet.

Check out his eye. We were both sharp observers as we eyed each other from a distance.

Under the Bubbles

Wander outdoors if you can and let the anomalies pull you into their realm. I promise, your eyes and your mind will be opened to so many wonders that you’ll resist the urge to move along for so enamored will you be by your finds. Slow down and look and be wowed.

May it begin with an oval-shaped structure sitting atop a tree stump and filled, curiously, with a red maple samara, the latter’s own shape a decaying, many-veined wing.

Creating an oval by touching your thumb to your pointer finger, may you know the size of this leafy building created to protect a luna moth’s cocoon. Sadly, it seems, the pupal stage that had started life within had been predated. Still, the structure adds a lesson–to notice one that reminded me of an oak apple gall, but wasn’t because of its shape being more oval than round and much tougher than the gall’s papery construction. If you are like me, you’ll need to stick that in the back of your mind the next time you encounter such.

And then may you encounter one whom you know well, but still, each time you greet the Striped Maple twig and bud a sense of awe simply overwhelms you because of its striking beauty demonstrated in the pattern of leaf and bundle scars topped by growth rings over and over again.

As your eyes tune in, may you notice another who is easily overlooked for its diminutive size and may it remind you of work upon the ceilings of cathedrals that is oft under appreciated for so few can view. Each time you come to recognize the tiny, magenta blossoms of Beaked Hazelnut, may you celebrate their existence matched by your noticing.

With your awareness of the hazelnut’s flowers, may you be equally wowed by the occasional presentation of last year’s fruits, beaked as they are.

In the midst of your adventure may you meet a slab that poses a story featuring warriors of the past and may you have fun recreating the saga by letting your imagination flow. What happened here?

And just when you are thinking that there can’t be anything else to spy, may you suddenly spot the barrel-shaped egg cases of Wheel Bugs and wonder who lives within–Ambush Bug or Assassin? What you may know for sure is that the residents are Hemiptera or True Bugs.

Walking five more steps before stopping to wonder again, and then five more and so it goes, may you stumble upon a tussock moth cocoon with life formulating within and consider its possibilities–perhaps a White-marked Tussock Moth?

Next, may a long silky string with a cocoon swaying at the bottom capture your attention.

As you peer within, may you spy a Prometha Moth peering out.

May your viewing opportunities be enhanced by others who also look, including the Six-spotted Fishing Spider, who’s six spots are hidden below its upper abdomen that features twelve.

As you continue to develop an understanding may a forked tongue sniff you out as you sniff the snake out.

In the end, may it not be an end. May it be a beginning. May you live under the bubbles and give thanks that to your bubble are attached so many others as you share a brain.

I speak for myself when I say that I appreciate those who answer my questions as Anthony Underwood did today with my many insect photos (and others have done as well on a variety of topics) and I equally welcome your questions about what you are seeing. We may all live under a bubble, but may our bubbles continue to be connected.

Grateful For Your Company

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Today’s hike found me traveling solo, as is the norm in this current time, but I took each and every one of you along with me because so excited was I by all of our finds.

We began at parking lot #5 of Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

As I showed you in the parking lot, our plan was to begin on the Roger’s Family Trail and then circle around on the orange Heritage Loop Trail with a side trip to the summit of Amos Mountain in the midst of the journey. You all agreed that it sounded like a great plan.

I had previously warned you that part of the route could be a bit wet and was pleased to see that some of you had remembered to don your rubber boots, but those who forgot managed to find a way around. I trust no one had wet feet by the time we finished. Was my assumption correct?

Of course, I love water and so before we crossed over the bridge, I insisted that we take a look and try to spy tracks in some mud or aquatic insects or plants springing forth.

Bingo on the latter and we all rejoiced at the sight of False Hellebore with its corrugated leaves so green.

Finally, after poking about for a bit, I suggested we move along. It seemed like we managed to walk about five steps and then something would catch our attention and all forward motion came to pause. But that’s the way we like it for we notice so much with such slow movement. Do you remember this spot? Where we paused to look for Trailing Arbutus buds and noticed Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain growing in a colony. And remember how I told you that the only way I can remember the common name of this latter species is because it doesn’t look “downy” to me.

As often happens, the trail enhanced the lesson for not too much further along we practically stepped on another family member, this one bearing the name Checkered. Really, had Mr. Linnaeus asked me, I would have switched it around for the dullness of these leaves seems more downy in my mind and the other more checkered. Alas . . . he didn’t ask.

By this point, we’d hit drier trail conditions, if you recall, as we started climbing uphill. Drier, but rockier, that is. And then upon one, we spied a little package that you knew would delight me. Fox scat, indeed. With a blunt end and even a twist. Classic fox scat.

It took us a while, but we managed to reach the intersection with the orange trail and turned to the left to proceed. It was there that we began to meet common polypody ferns. Some of you explained that you know it as rock cap fern or rock polypody fern. What we all know is that it’s most often found growing on rock surfaces in moist, shady woods.

I did hear the hushed groans when I turned it over, but what could I say? I can’t resist checking to look at the underside. Like little pompoms, the organs or sori that housed the dust-sized spores or sporangia are arranged so neatly in two rows upon each leaflet. In their old age, the sori of these common polypody are orange-brown.

You, however, were eager to move on and so we did. Until we didn’t. For we stopped once again at “El Pupito,” the pulpit rock.

And did what one should do at the pulpit–honor the view through nature’s stained-glass window.

Oh yeah, and on the back of the boulder, you knew the minute you saw it what was going to happen next.

Out came my water bottle as I sacrificed some H20. But really, you are also equally amazed each time the magic happens and the greenish color of algae on rock tripe lichen makes itself known.

I saw a few of you gawk.

With a snap of our fingers and twitch of our noses (no we didn’t touch our fingers to our faces), we soon made it to the summit of Amos.

It was there that while zooming in to note the glorious red maple buds we spied another in the form of a spider. And we all took a closer look, one at a time, of course, allowing for six feet of space.

Then we backtracked down to where the blue trail met the orange trail and continued on the orange. That is . . . until sweet bird songs stopped us in our steps.

The trills lasted a few seconds and began again.

Most of us couldn’t recall who it was and gave great thanks to have Peter and Joe along for a positive ID: Pine Warbler indeed.

At our next stop I was so sure that one of you would provide a definitive answer to the structure’s use and history, but you only asked more questions to which I didn’t have the answers and so it shall remain a mystery. Who built it? Why? What? When? We do know the where and have some ideas about the how, but can’t quite respond to the Five Ws and an H in a complete manner.

And so we left there and moved on to the spot where we chatted about all the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties that seemingly followed us through the woods.

Each time we heard a sound from one of the above, if it wasn’t a dried leaf blowing across the forest floor, it turned out to be a chipmunk. Why is it, we wondered together, that they can be so still one moment, but in the next insist upon calling attention to their presence?

Moving along, we eventually crossed over the wall and onto what was once the property of Amos Andrews.

Here, only a few years ago, one among us, yes Alice, that would be you, realized that in this spot grew white oak, a tree that we had previously believed no longer grew in these parts given its use in barrel making and other purposes. That is, until we recognized the chunky blocks of bark that helped to negate that assumption.

The leaves below also defined the new story, with red oak’s bristly pointed lobes on the left and white oak’s rounded lobes to the right.

As it would be, we realized we weren’t the only ones looking. And again, we had to take turns getting close to ohh and ahh at the alternating light and dark markings on the abdomen’s edge, legs and antennae of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. Okay, so we know these beasts inflect considerable damage to some fruits and crops, and can be a nuisance when it takes shelter in our homes, but still.

Around the corner from the oak tree we paused beside the homestead of Amos Andrews and wandered about his walled property for a bit, each of us trying to answer the question, “What was Amos thinking?” We haven’t answered it yet, but time will tell as perhaps more understandings will be revealed.

Down the former road we walked, grateful that being two rod wide, (a rod at 16.5 feet), we had plenty of room to spread out.

At the intersection with the Amos Mountain Trail, our route crossed over and we continued on to the lookout point where the Balds to the left, Mount Washington a wee white pyramid in the background, and Kezar Lake below held our focus.

And then we began to retrace our steps, back toward the parking lot where we’d first gathered. But there were two more things to notice, the first being a skeleton of a paper birch, its roots till seemingly intact.

And finally, water striders not doing a very good job of practicing social distancing.

We, on the other hand, had nailed that one, for while you all walked with me, I was alone. And ever so grateful for your company.

Be Like a Hemlock

On this St. Patrick’s Day, my hope is that as we practice the new norm of social distancing, we’ll make time to step outside and become intimately connected to the earth.

May we find a path to follow that will lead us into a hemlock grove where we can shout, cry, laugh, or just be.

May we realize it’s okay to talk to a tree for the tree will listen.

May we discover that the trees help their neighbors by offering nourishment perhaps in the form of yellow-bellied sapsucker holes . . .

and bark upon which to scrape one’s teeth–a deer one that is.

May we notice that as a fungus takes control from within and shows forth its fruiting body, it too, might provide sustenance for others–in this case, perhaps a squirrel enjoyed a few nibbles. (Hemlock Varnish Shelf or Reishi has long been touted for its medicinal benefits.)

May we get down on all fours as we peer under a hemlock on stilts–we never know who might peer back. Perhaps a leprechaun?

May we know that we all have a squiggly road in front of us.

But, as much as possible, may we follow the hemlocks example and heal what ails us.

At the end of the day, may we all have the courage to hug a tree. Any tree. And may we be surprised by its calming effect.

While we are at it, let’s be sure to thank nature for giving us space to heal ourselves.

Go ahead. Be like a hemlock.

Tales of the Trees

“Can you meet on Wednesday morning for a hike?”

“Yes, where and when?”

After a few notes sent back and forth, the decision was made: Sawyer Mountain in Limington, Maine, at 10:00am. Though we were coming from opposite directions, somehow we timed it just right and both pulled into the parking area on Route 117 at 9:47. I’m never on time. She’s never late.

For at least the first half mile or more of our four mile hike, we talked non-stop, barely taking the time to notice our surroundings for so much catching up did we have to do. But then . . . two old Red Oaks growing upon a ledge with rock tripe and spring green moss between made us stop and pay reverence.

And because we stopped, we began to notice others who deserved our deep respect for we recalled a hike years ago upon the Ledges Trail of Pleasant Mountain, a place where this species also grows. It was there that we were first introduced to it and it is there that our minds always take us back to the first moment of meeting: Hophornbeam with its lovely thin, shaggy strands of vertical strips.

A quick scan of the bare ground and we found the seed structure (hops) for which is was named.

Crossing through one of many stonewalls, I followed my dear friend, for she was leading the way today.

And she told me that it was places like this pasture and the walls that surrounded it that made her think of me upon her previous tramps in this place. Just imagine: In 1815, Ebenezer Walker let his livestock graze the high pasture. We don’t know when such farm activity ended, but the trees that have filled in the space probably only have stories passed on by their ancestors to tell of times past for rather on the youthful side did they seem.

Still, there were others that showed their age and inner workings.

Like wise sages, they pointed out their idiosyncrasies and by their whorled inner branches we knew their names: White Pine.

Shortly after meeting the pine, we came upon another sight that reminded us of another day. It was along a stone wall at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Chip Stockford Reserve that the two of us first realized the offerings of such.

A look up and we knew the tree had been visited by a Pileated Woodpecker in the past tense and present.

And because of our GLLT experience all those moons ago (we really can’t remember how many moons, but it’s been many), we knew to look through the debris on the ground. As is often the case, we were rewarded with the tubular bird scat filled with insect body parts.

Further on, a burl upon a Yellow Birch invited us to curtsy. And in looking at that, my friend spied something else nearby.

A bear claw tree. Ah, another memory was evoked . . . the time we led a bear walk for the GLLT upon the Bishops Cardinal Trail. Only one participant joined us and we got rather carried away with our bear evidence sightings.

That participant didn’t come back for a while and we feared we’d scared her off, but I’ve since learned otherwise. Her job and her family occupied much of her time and now she comes to events when she can.

And by all the opened beech nut husks, we knew that last summer had been a mast year for such nuts and we hoped that meant a great supply of nutrition for Ursus americanus.

Then there was the tree with the hieroglyphics that resembled a treasure map. Really though, they represented trails followed by various bark beetles that bored through the wood. Each pattern represents a different species, and a place where eggs were laid and the larvae ate their way through the tunnels.

We were almost to the end of our hike when another group of trees begged our awe for so white were they that we could have been easily fooled. It seemed that in Tom Sawyer fashion, these trees had been painted . . . with Whitewash Lichen. It’s a crustose lichen that looks like . . . whitewash.

With our vehicles in sight, we spotted one more to bow before, for by the colors, lines, and cracks of its dead inner bark we saw sculpted art.

And stepping back a few feet, we noticed several faces.

The most obvious whispered tales to all who would listen. Tales of the land upon which we’d hiked. Tales of the people whose pastures and foundations and gravestones we encountered. Tales of the issues between the land trust that owns the property and the current residents.

If we listen to the trees, we might hear the stories of the canopy as reflected in the bubbles and the gurgling water. Trees can talk; we just need to pay more attention.

P.S. Thank you, Joan, for sharing the trail and a brain with me today. The trees evoked so many memories and helped us make new ones.

Ode to Pinus strobus

Oh ancient ones,
so tall and stout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponds #1 and #2 Mondate

My friend, Alice, suggested a trail to me over the weekend, and so when this day dawned, my guy and I had a plan. We’d pack a lunch, drove a wee bit north, and let the fun begin. We love exploring places new to us and this was such.

Immediately, the forest floor reflected the canopy above where Sugar Maples, Beech and Red Oak presided.

Other items also made themselves known, including the dried capsules of Pinesap, a plant that features three to ten topaz-colored flowers during the summer. The plant has such cool characteristics: it lacks chlorophyll because it doesn’t have any leaves to photosynthesize, and acts as an indirect parasite of trees. You see, Pinesap’s roots steal nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi, specifically from the genus Tricholoma, that the mushroom obtains from associated trees.

It wasn’t long before the carpet changed color indicating we’d entered a Red Maple community.

And again, upon the ground, another cool site worth honoring. Many-fruited Pelt is a foliose lichen that grows on soil, moss and rocks. The rust-colored projections among the shiny brown lobes made me squat for a photo call. Those reddish-brown projections are the fruiting bodies on the leafy margins–thus the name.

Again we moved onward and upward and again the community changed, the leaves telling us we’d entered a Big-Tooth Aspen/American Beech neighborhood.

Wherever beech trees grow this year, it seems the parasitic Beechdrops are also present. Lucky for me, though my guy likes to hike as if on a mission to get to the destination, when I ask him to pause, he quietly does. I’m forever grateful that he understands my need to take a closer look. I’m not sure if he’s amused by it or just tolerates it, but he never complains. And occasionally he points things out for me to notice or tells me the name of something.

Anyway, Beechdrops, like Pinesap, lack chlorophyll, have scales in place of leaves so they have no way to photosynthesize, and are parasitic. In the case of the Beechdrops, however, it’s the roots of the American Beech from which it draws its nutrition. Small, root-like structures of the Beechdrops insert themselves into the tree’s roots and suck away. Do they damage the trees? The short answer is no because the parasitic plant is short-lived.

Our journey continued to take us uphill and really, it wasn’t easy to follow, but somehow (thanks to GPS–I surprised myself with my talent) we stayed on the trail.

Do you believe me now that it wasn’t easy to follow? Yes, that is a blaze, the yellow paint practically obliterated by a garden of foliose and fruticose lichens. Foliose being a “leafy” looking structure and at least two grew on the bark. Fruticose, likewise the “fruity” structure (think a bunch of grapes minus the fruits) also presented itself in at least two forms.

Of course, there were still many other things to admire including the multiple shades of magenta presented by the shrub: Maple-leaf Viburnum. In my book of autumn, nothing else exhibits such an exquisite color, making it easy to identify.

Our luck increased once we began to spy rock cairns marking the trail.

And it got even better when I noticed several classic deposits beside the cairns. Bobcat scat! Check this one out. Have you ever seen anything quite so beautiful? Look at that hair tucked within the packet. Of a snowshoe hare. Oh my.

While taking a closer look, I realized I wasn’t the only one with all eyes on the structure. Yes, that’s a wolf spider.

Realizing we were at the summit of a certain small mountain, suddenly we found ourselves walking along ledge.

And then the view opened up. It became lunch rock view.

Words seemed not enough to describe.

At last we made our way down, for still we hadn’t reached our destination.

And that’s when Pinesap’s cousin, Indian Pipe showed off its one-flowered structure. While Pinesap features three to ten flowers per stalk, Indian Pipe offers only one waxy structure made of four to five small petals. Until fertilized by a Bumblebee, the flower droops toward the earth, but upon pollination turns upward toward the sun. Eventually a woody capsule will form.

Also parasitic, Indian Pipes have a mutually beneficial relationship with many tree species plus Russula and Lactarius mushrooms, as they work together to exchange water and carbohydrates with nutrients from the soil.

At long last, we reached the first of our destinations, Pond #1. The glass-like water offered a perfect mirror image of the scene upon the opposite shore and we both let “oohs” and “aahs” escape from our mouths when we came upon an opening in the shrubby vegetation that protected the shore. I think my favorite portion of this photo is the evergreens that add a fringed frame.

Our journey, however, didn’t stop there, for we had another pond to locate. Again, we referred to the GPS and found ourselves climbing over several fallen trees. Upon one, I spied pumpkin-colored fungi that requested a stop. Of course. But really, it’s another I can never resist–Cinnabar-red Polypore.

As lovely as the color of the upper surface may be, it’s the pore surface that really makes my jaw drop. That color. Those angular shapes. Another “oh my” moment.

And then upon another downed tree, multi-aged tinder mushrooms. It was the mature one that fascinated me most for it looked like happy turtle basking on rocks in the sun.

Last week I met a Snapping Turtle in the shade and he hardly looked thrilled with our encounter.

At last my guy and I reached Pond #2, where we sat for a few minutes and took in the scene. Okay, so we also enjoyed a sweet treat–as a celebration.

We still had another mile or so to hike before reaching my truck, but we gave thanks to Alice for the suggestion and for the fun we’d had discovering Pond #1 and #2 on this Mondate. And all that we saw between.

Go ahead, take a second look at that bobcat scat. You know you want to.

Walking Among Mysteries

We knew not what to expect when we met this morning. My intention was to visit a structure of unknown use, then follow a trail for a bit before going off trail and mapping some stone walls. Curiosity would be the name of the game and friends Pam and Bob were ready for the adventure when I pulled into the trailhead parking lot.

We traveled rather quickly to our first destination, pausing briefly to admire only a few distractions along the way–if you can believe that.

It’s a stone structure on the back side of Amos Mountain. Three years ago we visited this site with Dr. Rob Sanford, a University of Southern Maine professor and author of Reading Rural Landscapes. At that time we came away with so many questions about this structure located on a mountainside so far from any foundations. Today, we still had the same questions and then some.

Who built it? What was it used for? Was there a hearth? Did it have a roof? Was it ever fully enclosed? Was there originally a front wall? Could it be that it extended into the earth behind it? Was it colonial? Pre-colonial?

Why only one piece of split granite when it sits below an old quarry?

And then there’s the left-hand side: Large boulders used in situ and smaller rocks fit together. One part of the “room” curved. For what purpose?

Pam and Bob stood in the center to provide some perspective.

And then I climbed upon fallen rocks to show height.

We walked away still speculating on the possibilities, knowing that we weren’t too far from a stone foundation that belonged to George Washington and Mary Ann McCallister beginning in the mid-1850s and believed the structure to be upon their “Lot.”

As we continued along the trail, we spied several toads and a couple of frogs. Their movement gave them away initially, but then they stayed still, and their camouflage colorations sometimes made us look twice to locate the creator of ferns in motion.

At last we crossed over a stonewall that we assumed was a boundary between the McAllister property and that of Amos Andrews. It was the walls that we wanted to follow as there are many and our hope was to mark them on GPS and gain a better understanding of what seems like a rather random lay out.

The walls stand stalwart, though some sections more ragged than others. Fallen trees, roots, frost, weather, critters and humans have added to their demise, yet they are still beautiful, with mosses and lichens offering striking contrasts to the granite. Specks of shiny mica, feldspar and quartz add to the display.

The fact that they are still here is a sign of their endurance . . . and their perseverance. And the perseverance of those who built them.

But the fashion of these particular walls has stymied us for years. As we stood and looked down the mountain from near the Amos Andrews foundation, we realized that the land was terraced in a rather narrow area. And so we began to follow one wall (perspective isn’t so great in this photo) across, walk down the retaining wall on the right edge and at the next wall follow it across to the left. We did this over and over again and now I wish I’d counted our crossings, but there were at least eight.

Mind you, all were located below the small root cellar that served as Amos Andrews’ home on and off again beginning in 1843.

And below one of the terraced walls just beyond his cellar hole, there was a stoned off rectangle by the edge. Did it once serve as a foundation for a shed?

Had Amos or someone prior to him tried to carve out a slice of land, build a house, and clear the terraced area for a garden?

It seems the land of western Maine had been forested prior to the 1700s and there was plenty of timber to build. A generation or two later, when so much timber had been harvested to create fields for tillage and pasture, the landscape changed drastically, exposing the ground to the freezing forces of nature. Plowing also helped bring stones to the surface. The later generation of farmers soon had their number one crop to deal with–stone potatoes as they called them. These needed to be removed or they’d bend and break the blade of the oxen-drawn plowing rake. Summer meant time to pick the stones and make piles that would be moved by sled to the wall in winter months. Had the land been burned even before those settlers arrived? That would have created the same scenario, with smaller rocks finding their way to the surface during the spring thaw.

As it was, we found one pile after another of baseball and basketball size stones dotting the landscape. Stone removal became a family affair for many. Like a spelling or quilting bee, sometimes stone bees were held to remove the granite from the ground. Working radially, piles were made as an area was cleared. Stone boats pulled by oxen transported the piles of stones to their final resting place where they were woven into a wall.

Occasionally, however, we discovered smaller stones upon boulders. Were they grave markers? Or perhaps spiritual markers?

There were double-wide stone walls with big stones on the outside and little stones between, indicating that the land around had been used for planting. But why hadn’t all the piles been added to the center of these walls? That’s what had us thinking this was perhaps Pre-colonial in nature.

Pasture walls also stood tall, their structure of a single stature. I may be making this up because I’ve had an affinity with turtles since I was a young child and own quite a collection even to this day, but I see a turtle configured in this wall. Planned or coincidence?

My turtle’s head is the large blocky rock in the midst of the other stones, but I may actually be seeing one turtle upon another. Do you see the marginal scutes arching over the head? Am I seeing things that are not there? Overthinking as my guy would suggest?

I didn’t have to overthink when I spotted this woody specimen–last year’s Pine Sap with its many flowered stalk turned to capsules still standing tall.

And a foot or so away, its cousin, Indian Pipe also showing off the woody capsules of last year’s flowers, though singular on each stalk.

As we continued to follow the walls, other things made themselves known. I do have to admit that we paused and pondered several examples of this plant because of its three-leaved presentation. Leaves of three, leave them be–especially if two leaves are opposite each other and have short petioles and the leader is attached between them by a longer petiole. But, when we finally found one in flower we were almost certain we weren’t looking at Poison Ivy. I suggested Tick-Trefoil and low and behold, I was correct. For once.

Our journey wandering the walls soon found us back on what may have been a cow or sheep path and it was there that we noted a cedar tree. Looking at it straight on, one might expect it to be dead. But a gaze skyward indicated otherwise. Still, the question remained–why here?

A Harvestman Spider may have thought the same as it reached out to a Beech Nut. After all, the two were located upon a Striped Maple leaf.

Onward we walked, making a choice of which way to travel each time we encountered an intersection of walls. This one had a zigzag look to it and we thought about the reputation Amos Andrews had with a preference for alcohol. But . . . did Amos build all or any of these walls?

We continued to ponder that question even as we came upon a stump that practically shouted its name all these years after being cut, for the property we were on had eventually been owned by Diamond Match, a timber company. Do you see the mossy star shape atop the stump? And the sapling growing out of it? The star is actually a whorl–of White Pine branches for such is their form of growth. And the sapling–a White Pine.

And then . . . and then . . . something the three of us hadn’t encountered before. A large, rather narrow boulder standing upright.

Behind it, smaller rocks supported its stance.

The stone marked the start of another stone wall. And across from it a second wall, as if a road or path ran between the two and Bob stood in their midst adding coordinates to his GPS.

We chuckled to think that the stone was the beginning of Amos’ driveway and he’d had Andrews written upon it. According to local lore, he had a bit of a curmudgeon reputation, so we couldn’t imagine him wanting people to stop by. The road downhill eventually petered out so we didn’t figure out its purpose. Yet.

In the neighborhood we also found trees that excited us–for until ten months ago we didn’t think that any White Oaks existed in Lovell. But today we found one after another, much like the piles of stones. With the nickname “stave oak,” it made sense that they should be here since its wood was integral in making barrels and we know that such for products like rum were once built upon this property.

Trees of varying ages grow quite close to Amos Andrews’ homestead.

Also growing in the area was Marginal Wood Fern, its stipe or stalk below the blade covered with brown scales and fronds blue-green in color, which is often a give-away clue that it’s a wood fern.

We know how it got its name–for the round sori located on the margins of the underside of the pinnules or leaflets. Based on their grayish-blue color, they hadn’t yet matured. But why are some sori such as these covered with that smooth kidney-shaped indusium? What aren’t all sori on all ferns so covered?

So many questions. So many mysteries.

As curious as we are about the answers, I think we’ll be a wee bit disappointed if we are ever able to tell the complete story of the stone structure and the upright stone and all the walls between.

Walking among mysteries keeps us on our toes–forever asking questions and seeking answers.

Bear to Bear Possibilities: Puzzle Mountain

We got a later than normally late start to our hike today and didn’t arrive at the trailhead for Puzzle Mountain until 11:45 am. It’s a trail we’ve hiked only once before, but knew the chance to see trees with bear claw marks would be numerous.

The Mahoosuc Land Trust and Maine Appalachian Trail Club maintain the trails. Our starting/ending point were at the trailhead on Route 26 in Newry. The plan, should we wish to complete it, was to hike up the Grafton Loop Trail to the summit, then veer to the right and follow the Woodsum Spur Trail in a clockwise manner back to the GLT.

Our other plan to locate bear claw trees . . . was soon fulfilled. The first we spotted about twenty feet off trail, but once our eyes became accustomed to the pattern, we realized they were everywhere.

And some trees had been visited repeatedly.

A few had hosted other guests such as Pileated Woodpeckers.

For about two miles, we traveled under the summer green leaves of a hardwood cathedral. And within such we noticed numerous bear claw tree both beside the trail and beyond.

Occasionally, we noted others worth mentioning such as spring ephemerals like False Solomon’s Seal that showed us the season on the slopes is a bit delayed as compared to our lower elevations.

At last we reached a false summit where the views to the west enhanced the mountains and their natural communities, so defined by shades of green: darker defining conifers and lighter the deciduous trees.

Sunday River Ski Area was also part of the display.

It was at this ledge that we met two young men. They started up a trail behind us and then made their way back and asked us to take a photo. When we asked where they were from, the older of the two said he lived in a small town outside of New Haven, Connecticut. Being a Nutmegger by birth, (and in fact having been born in New Haven), my ears perked up.

“Where in Connecticut?” I asked.

“A small town called Wallingford,” he said.

“I grew up in North Branford (about 15 minutes or so from Wallingford),” I replied. “And have friends in Wallingford.”

Turns out he’s a teacher at Choate-Rosemary Hall, a private school. And his hiking partner was his nephew from New Jersey. They were on their first day of a multi-day backpack expedition.

I took photos for both and then we sent them on the right path, which was behind their first choice. We paused before following them as we didn’t want to be on their tail, but heard the older of the two exclaim, “Wow, that was fortuitous. If we hadn’t gone back for a photo, we wouldn’t have known where the trail was.” We didn’t have any treats to give them as trail angels do, but perhaps our gift of direction was just as important.

While we waited, I honed in on the newly formed flowers of Mountain Ash. I love these trees for the red stems of their leaves and fruits to come.

At last we began the push to the summit, but I had to pause much to my guy’s dismay for the black flies swarmed us constantly. I discovered, however, one reason to celebrate them–besides the fact that they feed birds and members of the Odonata family. I do believe they pollinate Clintonia for we found them on the anthers of those in flower.

Not long after the false summit that the two guys we’d met thought was the top, we reached the junction with the Woodsum Spur Trail. Our plan was to continue to climb and then locate the other end of the spur to follow down from the top. It would take longer, we knew, but be a wee bit gentler in presentation. A wee bit.

As we continued up, another ledge presented a view of Sunday River and so my guy took a photo and sent a text message to our youngest son, who works in Manhattan, and lives in Brooklyn with two buddies he meet while skiing at Sunday River when they were all in high school.

Onward and upward, the conifer cones added a bit of color to the view.

And then we reached a cairn just below the summit. Mind you, the Black Flies were so incredibly thick that we could barely talk without devouring a few. In fact, we gave thanks for eating our lunch much lower on the trail, but even then we’d devoured PB&J with a side of BF.

The view, however, was one to be envied and as long as the wind blew, we could enjoy it in all its panoramic glory.

Again we spied Sunday River. But what always makes me wonder is the tallest tree in the forest. What makes it stand out?

Still, we weren’t quite at the tippy top and had a few more feet of granite to conquer.

There we found the second of two survey markers. Why two? That was puzzling.

Equally puzzling as had happened to us before, where did the trail go?

From past experience we knew that the descent wasn’t all that well marked, but we found it much more quickly today than in the past. And we made sure to point it out to our fellow hikers from CT, whom we’d somehow passed on our final ascent. Our hope for them is that they made it to the shelter on the GLT where they planned to spend the night and that they were well prepared for the bugs. As we left them at the summit, they looked a bit like deer in headlights.

The descent via the Woodsum Spur is as varied as the ascent, but not always as easy to follow. There were downed trees, overgrown sections, lots of mud, and times when we had to search for the trail, much unlike the carpenter ants who knew exactly where they were going on a tree snag.

We passed through one section that reminded my guy of the Munchkins in the The Wizard of Oz, his favorite movie. Just after that we entered an enchanted forest where the giant in my fairy tale, The Giant’s Shower, could have lived happily every after with Falda the fairy.

It was ledges to woods and back to ledges as we descended. But the mileage was questionable for the signs we encountered that indicated distance didn’t necessarily agree.

What did agree with the Woodsum Trail was a moose or two or three. For much of the trail we spotted scat indicating they’d traveled this way all winter.

It was natural signs like that which we most appreciated, but . . . once we finished the spur trail and rejoined the GLT, we spotted a boulder filled with messages we’d missed upon our ascent. You might be put out that some left messages in the moss, but as Ralph Pope, author of Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts, told us on a Greater Lovell Land Trust walk in 2017, this sort of activity won’t hurt the bryophytes.

When humans leave their initials upon beech trees, however, it does affect them. And I suppose the bear claw marks do as well, but still we are thrilled each time we spy the latter.

Our plan had been to stop for a beer on the way home and make this a Bear to Beer Possibility. But we were pooped for we hiked almost nine miles on a hot summer day and knew if we stopped we might not be able to drive home.

As it happened, driving south on Routes 5/35 and just before the intersection with Vernon Street, a Black Bear ran across the road. For us, it will be another in our shared minds’ eye as I couldn’t take a photo.

Thus today’s hike was a Bear to Bear rather than Bear to Beer Possibility.

Bear to Beer: Bishop Cardinal to Lord Hill

Our destination sounded rather regal; as if we’d be paying our respects to Bishop Cardinal and Lord Hill. And indeed we did.

We also paid our respects to telephone poles. Well, actually only certain ones. They had to have a certain look–as if a Black Bear had backed into the pole and turned its head around at an angle and bit the wood with its upper and lower canine teeth thus leaving nearly horizontal marks that look like a dot and dash. In the process, the aluminum numbers had to be a bit mangled in order to receive our attention. This particular pole was right by the trailhead and so after examining it, we headed up the blue trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Bishop Cardinal Reserve on Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell.

Along the way, we examined every American Beech we saw, but actually passed by a spot where we know there are several with the marks we sought. If you go, look for the blue dot on the white arrow and hike in at a diagonal from there.

Our hope today was to find other bear claw trees we’d missed previously and so we kept going off trail in search. Turning onto the red trail, we continued to check. Sometimes it’s the shape of the tree’s crown that makes us wonder.

We have learned that we can’t dismiss any bark without walking all the way around and bingo–we had a new-to-us bear claw tree.

I don’t know why it is, but those marks make our hearts sing. Perhaps it’s the knowledge of the wildness of it all and the fact that we share this place with such intelligent beings.

Whatever it is, we decided that rather than creating waypoints for each tree we found, we’d try to remember the location by using other landmarks such as a certain waterbar that was intended to divert snowmelt and rain from washing out the trail. When you reach that certain waterbar on the red trail, turn left and walk in about twenty yards. If you don’t find our tree, perhaps you’ll discover another.

Continuing up the trail, we did note a few other favorites off to the right.

Sometimes, in my mind’s eye, I could just see the movement of the climber.

With one such tree, the marks were lower than most and I wondered if it was a younger bear. Of course, we have no idea how long ago those marks were left behind. Mary Holland suggests a way to age them that we haven’t tried yet. And we didn’t look for fresh marks. Really, we need to be better sleuths going forward.

In case you are wondering, occasionally we noted other points of interest, such as the burst of beech buds, their spring green leaves all hairy and soft, which is actually quite a contrast to the papery feel they eventually acquire.

Here and there, the cheerful display of Round-leaved Violets brightened the path.

And drone flies, with their bigger than life eyes, posed. Any black flies? Yes, a few, but not biting . . . yet.

We were almost to the old shack site, if you know where I mean, when our journey off trail revealed another fine specimen. Again, the claw marks were on the backside since we approached from the trail. Always, always, always circle about and you might be surprised.

Eventually, we reached the intersection with the trail to Lord Hill and continued our surveillance as we continued our hike.

Once we turned right onto the Conant Trail, we did find one tree with marks long ago made . . . by some bears with either an extreme understanding of relationships, or more likely, a few who weren’t all that intelligent after all.

At last, the trail opened onto the ledges overlooking Horseshoe Pond and it was there that we sat down on the warm granite as a nippy breeze flowed across. Enjoying the view of Horseshoe Pond below and the mountains beyond, we ate lunch.

We also toasted a few others with a Honey of a Beer brewed by Lee of another spelling! Dubbel Trouble was double delicious. Thank you, Lee Fraitag. 😉 Our toast was also doubled for we gave thanks to Paula and Tom Hughes, who live just below on the pond. Tomorrow we’ll enjoy a Mother’s Day Brunch at the Old Saco Inn courtesy of the Hugheses. 😉

Clink. Clink.

After enjoying lunch rock we journeyed up to the Lord Hill Mine.

According to mindat.org, Lord Hill Mine was “a former rare mineral specimen quarry. Briefly worked in episodes in the mid-20th century for feldspar. Originally a mineral collector’s site in the late 1870s. Opened by Nathan Perry and Edgar D. Andrews in the early 1880s. Originally called Harndon Hill, but the named changed in a complex change of names about 1917. Operated solely by Nathan Perry by 1882. Operated for massive topaz for educational mineral collections in the 1970’s by Col. Joseph Pollack of Harrison, Maine. The locality is the type locality for hamlinite, now regarded as a synonym for goyazite. Granite pegmatite. Oxford pegmatite field. Local rocks include Carboniferous alkali feldspar granite (muscovite accessory mineral).

We spotted several people busy digging for their fortunes and decided to let them. They either were so tuned in to their work that they didn’t hear us or they chose not to. No matter. After a quick look about, we quietly followed the mine trail down–our own focus still on the trees.

And at the point where the National Forest abuts the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s property, we turned back onto the land trust’s loop trail. We’d come up from the left, so turned right to continue our descent.

And yes, we found one more bear tree. Somewhere along the way, I lost track of the number of new finds. But, we trusted that for all we found, there were so many more we must have missed. And then some.

Back on Horseshoe Pond Road, we turned left and checked all the telephone poles along the edge, examining each for bear hair because we’ve seen it stuck on them before. Today, no hair.

So why do the bears pay attention to telephone poles? Think of it as a combo backscratcher and messageboard. Pretend I’m a young male, ready and available. Wanna go out for a date tonight? Give me a call.

Despite the lack of hair, because we were looking, we found a Mayfly. That in itself, was another reason to celebrate.

Bishop Cardinal and Lord Hill. We thank you both. Black Bears, we thank you. Lee, we thank you. Paula and Tom, we thank you. (Happy Mother’s Day, Paula) All are regal indeed.

Bear to beer possibilities: Bishops Cardinal Reserve and Lord Hill Mine.

Lessons from the Earth

Dear Earth,

This year found me once again staying in my home territory to honor you and so while my guy did some yard chores, I chose to visit a few of your vernal pools.

Along the way, I stopped to smell the roses! Opps, I mean admire the flowers of the Red Maples, their pistils and stamen all aglow.

As I approached the first and nearest pool, I new love was in the air for I heard the deep wrucks of the Wood Frogs. That is, until I got to within about ten feet, and then the only sounds were small splashes that barely created ripples as the frogs sought cover under the leafy pool lining.

But, as you’ve taught me in the past, I stood as still as possible and waited patiently. It was then that my eyes began to focus on the pool’s tenants. And I realized that the usual population of larval mosquitoes, aka “wrigglers” already somersaulting their way through the water. That may be bad news for me, but it’s certainly good news for the birds and dragonflies of the neighborhood. While I try to practice mind over matter when I’m stung by a mosquito, I have to remember that your plan to offer “Meals on the Fly” sustains so many others.

And then, and then I spied something disturbing. Actually it was two somethings. Frog legs of two frogs. And even a head. Dinner? For whom? Typically, I rejoice at a kill site for I realize that one species feeds another, but this one disturbed me. Perhaps, dear Earth, it was because I think of this pool as mine even though it’s located on a neighbor’s land, and I want to protect it and all that live within, as well as all who venture to it for nourishment. Eventually, I realized that perhaps someone had been nourished by the frogs, but why didn’t they consume the entire beings? Could it be one of their own species who went into attack mode? I don’t have the answer–but once again you’ve given me more to question. And so in the end I realized I should be grateful for having the opportunity to wonder.

The good news–right behind the two dead frogs was a recently deposited egg mass. Its form made me think Spring Peepers, but I’ll need to watch them develop.

Death. Life. The cycle plays out as if a best seller in this dramatic genre.

I circled the pool looking for any other unusual sights or clues, but found none. Eventually I stood on my favorite rock and appreciated that you finally rewarded me, dear Earth. A Wood Frog appeared by my feet and we both remained as still as possible–that is until my feet began to fall asleep and I needed to move on.

As you know, dear Earth, I located several more pools, their wruck choruses giving them away. And within one, it was obvious by the egg masses that the lover frogs had found their mates.

Walking back toward home, I got a bit nosey, as you know, and turned over some bark that had fallen from dead trees. To my delight: millipedes, earth worms, bark beetles, slugs, and . . .

At least five Red-backed Salamanders. That reminded me, dear Earth, that though I wasn’t able to join Lakes Environmental Association for Big Night on Saturday, that rainy night when the temperature ranges about 40˚ and the amphibians decide to return to their vernal pools to mate and folks try to help them cross our roadways to do so, I trust that you made sure the Red-backed Sallies and worms made their presence known in the grass behind the Masonic Hall. Did you?

As for my walk today, I followed our trails and then an old logging road, where the deer and moose and coyotes and foxes and turkeys also roam.

And because part of my journey took me along the snowmobile trail, I picked up some empties and realized that not all turkeys are created equal.

But you don’t judge, do you dear Earth. Nor do you pretend that the world is perfect.

That being said, the sight of my first butterfly of the season, the pastel colored Clouded Sulphur, was rather perfect in my book.

Thanks for once again taking the time to teach me a few lessons . . . lessons from the Earth on this, your day, Earth Day 2019.

Looking for Spring

Last night one of the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s volunteer docents earned her certification from the Maine Master Naturalist Program. The MMNP’s goal is to develop a statewide network of volunteers who will teach natural history throughout Maine. With hands-on training, the course provides over 100 hours of classroom and outdoor experience, focusing on geology, identification of flora and fauna, wetland and upland ecology, ecological principles and teaching methods. By the time students complete the program, which includes a final capstone project, they have developed the skills to lead a walk, present a talk and provide outreach. In the year following certification, each graduate agrees to volunteer 40 hours and thereafter must continue to volunteer to remain an active Maine Master Naturalist.

And so it was that Juli joined four of us in the GLLT’s docent group by becoming a certified naturalist last evening. And today, she was out doing what she does best–leading homeschooled families along a GLLT trail. You see, for her capstone project Juli created a group called Nature Explorers. On the second Tuesday of each month (and today’s was the third trip she’d led for this group), other homeschooled families join hers for a walk with a focus along a GLLT trail. Today’s focus: Signs of Spring.

Given the fact that the snow is still at least knee deep, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But the day dawned bright, if a bit chilly to start, and so two of Juli’s kids waited for others by hanging out with the trees. Or rather . . . in the trees.

Once all had gathered, she led us down Slab City Road to the trailhead for the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

It was there that while we began our search for the season that often begins with a stubborn start in western Maine , we spied something that brought smiles to our faces and awe to our experience. Otter slides. On both sides of Mill Brook. Look carefully and you may also notice the slides–they look like troughs in the snow.

We tromped through (leaving our snowshoes behind, which we sometimes regretted) to take a closer look, noticing where the mammal had bounded and then slid down the embankment.

And then we moved on . . . to observe and learn, including fifty cent words like marcescent, which means withering but remaining attached to the stem. Juli pointed out the dried up leaves on the beech trees.

And the kids joined her to take a closer look–at the leaves, but also the buds, which had started to swell. Ah, sign one!

It was a Witch-Hazel which next grabbed the group’s attention. She explained that while the small, gray woody structures looked like flowers, they were really capsules that go dormant throughout the winter. Those will develop over the next growing season and then in autumn forcibly expel two shiny black seeds about 10 to 20 feet.

One of the boys noticed that the buds were hairy and so others came in to examine the structures.

From there, it was another beech tree to check out, but this time the discussion moved toward the alternate orientation of its branches and leaves.

And then, because they suffer from the best of syndromes we refer to as Nature Distraction Disorder, the group stopped at a Red Pine to admire its bark.

With hand lenses, they focused on the various colors of the thin, puzzle-like scales. Some had fallen to the ground as is the habit of the flakey bark, but Juli reminded everyone that it’s best not to pull it off for bark protects the tree much like winter coats protect us.

It was a fungi that next attracted the group.

And so they pulled out the lenses again to look at the spore surface of several Birch Polypores growing on downed trees. The brownish underside was actually another sign of the season for they would have released their spores in late summer or autumn.

A wee bit further and a wet spot was noted where we could see some brown leaves reflecting the names of trees in the canopy above, but also, drum role please . . .

some greenery with buds beginning to form–in the shape of Wintergreen. One of the girls did point out that though it was a sign of the season, it did have the word “winter” in its name.

Another one of the girls looked up at an old Pileated Woodpecker excavation site, and noted the spider web within that had been created last summer by a funnel-web spider, so named because of the funnel-shaped web. Though no one was home today, the spider typically waits in the funnel for prey to fall onto its horizontal web. Then it rushes out, grabs its victim, and takes it back to the silken burrow to consume and hide in wait.

Since our signs were few and far between, and Juli really wanted to get to Otter Rock to show some fun finds, she challenged the kids to run with her.

They did. And then they slid.

And looked.

And spotted.

And wondered.

And wondered some more.

We’d reached our destination of Otter Rock and though we didn’t have any dipping containers, we made do with lucite bug boxes.

At the edge of Heald Pond, the kids found movement in the water . . .

in the form of Mayfly Larvae, with fan-like gills along the abdomen and three filaments at the tip.

Spring indeed! With that discover, we left with a spring in our steps, already looking forward to next month’s vernal pool exploration.

P.S. Thanks Juli for this wonder-filled offering, and congratulations on your achievement. You are now a member of the nexus of naturalists.

Beaver Caper

Our interest was piqued a couple of weeks ago and we promised each other we’d return to learn more–thus today was the day that Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and I ventured to the Muddy River at Holt Pond Preserve.

Crossing the Emerald Field at the corner of Grist Mill and Chaplins Mill Roads, we found our way to the trail, passed into the woods and immediately noticed some fresh works created by Castor canadensis.

Please take note of the small portion of a sapling trunk in the bottom of this photo, for I promise that you’ll see it again. And again. And . . .

But in the meantime, we slipped, slid, and postholed our way to the brook, and noted where water flowed over an old dam so it was obvious this wasn’t the spot to which the beavers had dragged their sawn logs.

Also notice the “Posted” signs on the trees. Can beavers read? It did seem that they stayed away from the far shore. Maybe they can read 😉

We looked upstream, but decided to turn around and follow the river down, ever curious about what we might find.

First, however, we did pause to admire the ice sculptures where the water rushed and gurgled and bubbled over the old dam. Soon, these will be a thing of the past and we’ll miss their varied forms frozen in time only momentarily.

And then, as we started to walk south, the foamy water drew our attention.

Where Alanna saw frozen froth of rootbeer floats . . .

I saw mini ice discs in their final form.

And one that created a tree skirt with a lacy slip below.

Just beyond we spied the largest of all the sculptures and gave thanks for its existence. In our minds’ eyes we could see the upper part of the sculpture taking shape when the snow was deeper beside the brook. And the lowest part a more recent attempt of the chiseling artist.

The artwork was enhanced by the chips splayed about as if creating a textured pedestal for the display.

Just beyond that spot, we looked further south and scanned the shoreline, not noting any further work of the sculptor. The water didn’t seem particularly backed up so we figured there wasn’t a dam below. What did it all mean? We knew from our previous visit that there was more work north of our location, but had so hoped to find something new to the south.

The only thing visible, a few old beaver stumps such as this one. Given that, we did a 180˚ turn and made our way north.

First, however, we had to walk through the water and gave thanks for our boots, before passing “the” tree one more time.

Alanna, being much younger and far more agile than me, was kind enough to lead and wait, lead and wait. And because she was ahead, she went shopping when I wasn’t looking. I don’t remember what we were talking about when it suddenly occurred to me that she held a piece of the sapling trunk we’d spied earlier. This is a woman who loves to laugh and so she did when I commented on the specimen tucked under her arm.

Notice how snug she held it as she walked with intention across one of the stream bridges.

We walked for another bit before we found more beaver works, including a cache of debarked twigs–beaver chews. They seemed so fresh, and some were actually green, that we got to thinking. Winter food stash? We know that in the fall they gather saplings and branches, anchor them in the mud and when the ice covers the river, they slip out of the underwater tunnel in their lodge and chew off a stick from the stockpile to bring into the feeding compartment for a meal, thus keeping themselves safe from winter predators. But . . . these weren’t near a lodge and seemed like the result of a fresh logging operation and so we wondered, did they have a new lodge in mind? Are they planning to build a new dam?

We also had to wonder about their debarkation–so smooth were the sticks.

As we continued on, our nature distraction disorder kicked in periodically, as it should, and we rejoiced in the sight of buds on Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower.

But still, it was more beaver works that kept calling our names and we tried to pay homage to all of them.

The last fresh one we saw was on a beech and we knew by the height that the cuts had been made when the snow was deeper. So . . . were the beavers still around?

Oh, wait. While we wondered, Alanna also had deer scat to collect.

And just beyond that–weasel scat found its way into her bag.

And then a winter firefly crossed our path as seems to happen frequently of late.

Onward we continued for we wanted to check on a couple of lodges we knew existed. Do you notice that the art work remained tucked safely under her arm?

For a little bit our trail took us away from the Muddy River, but when we returned to it, we focused on old beaver works–a fallen tree and a girdled hemlock. That got us thinking about the fact that they do girdle trees–often, in our experience, it’s hemlocks that they seem to debark in a band that encircles the tree, thus killing it. These they don’t drop to use for building or feeding. So why go to all that effort? We’ve heard different theories, including that once the tree dies, a species more to their liking will grow? True? Maybe.

We continued to look for more recent works, but found none. Until . . . we spotted some brown snow.

Leaves and river muck had been pulled up and distributed over the snowy surface beside the water. We stepped closer and saw footprints that were indecipherable, but knew by the pile of gunk that we’d discovered the makings of a beaver scent mound. Had the two-year-olds left the lodge and set out to claim their own territory? We suspected such.

Atop it all, we noted where a scent mark had been left behind. Of course, we both had to get down on all fours and sniff. I thought it smelled a bit like wintergreen, perhaps an indication of a meal consumed. Most often it smells more vanilla in nature. We found the starts of another scent mound a bit further along that emitted a muskier scent and we thought of the beaver marking its territory with castoreum.

Oh, and then there was some more scat to collect for Alanna spied the round nuggets or malt balls of a snowshoe hare.

At last we reached the board walk that leads back out to the Muddy River, some of it under water and again we gave thanks for our boots–hers Boggs and mine Mucks. Both perfect for our adventure.

From the board walk we could see the twin lodges on the river, but neither had any fresh logs atop and so we still didn’t know from whence the beavers came. It appeared they hadn’t used the old lodges, but we never found any new ones. Or a dam. But the scent mounds were super fresh. And so, we concluded that we’ll have to revisit the area either early in the morning or later in the day in hopes of spying the industrious builders in action.

In the meantime, we left with new findings, new questions, and for Alanna, some new scat and new beaver works–the one tucked under her arm a reminder of our Beaver Caper.

Framed by the Trees

Our journey took us off the beaten path today as we climbed over a snowbank at the end of Farrington Pond Road and onto the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. We began at a piece of the parcel neither Pam Marshall or I had ever explored before, which added to the fun. At first, we followed the tracks of a giant, and eventually decided they might have belonged to another human being. Might have. Always wonder.

And then we were stopped in our tracks as we looked up and recognized a Great Blue Heron–or so it seemed in the dead snag that towered over the edge of Farrington Pond. Except for one tiny area of water, the pond is still very much ice covered so it will be a while before this ancestor of the Greats sees her relatives return.

Standing beside the bird-like structure was another that helped us find beauty and life in death.

We peered in, and down, and up, and all around. With each glance, our understandings increased. So did our questions.

There were holes that became windows looking out to the forest beyond.

But those same windows helped us realize they were framed by the results of their injuries. You see, it appeared that a pileated woodpecker had dined on the many insects who had mined the inner workings of the tree. After being so wounded by the birds, the tree attempted to heal its scars as evidenced by the thick growth ring structure that surrounded each hole. Or at least, that’s what we think happened.

To back up our story, we looked from the outside in and saw the same.

We also noted the corky bark with its diamond shapes formed where one chunk met another.

And much to our surprise, we found one compound leaf still dangling. No, this is not a marcescent tree, one of those known to hold its withering leaves to the end of time (or beginning of the next leaf year). But instead, this old sage is one of the first to drop its leaves. So why did one outlast the race? Perhaps to provide a lesson about leaves and leaflets, the latter being the components of the compound structure.

Adding to the identification, we realized we were treated to several saplings growing at the base of the one dying above. By its bud shape and opposite orientation we named it Ash. By its notched leaf scars and lack of hairs, we named it White. White Ash.

Because we were looking, Pam also found a sign of life within. We suspected a caterpillar had taken advantage of the sheltered location, but didn’t know which one.

About simultaneously, our research once we arrived at our respective homes, suggested a hickory tussock moth. Can you see the black setae within the hair?

Pam took the research one step further and sent this: “I read that the female lays eggs on top of the cocoon and then makes a kind of foam that hardens over them so they can survive the winter. How cool is that?” Wicked Cool, Indeed!

We probably spent close to an hour with that tree, getting to know it from every possible angle.

And then it was time to stop looking through the window and to instead step into the great beyond.

We did just that, and found another set of mammal tracks to follow. Tracking conditions were hardly ideal and we followed the set for a long way, never quite deciding if it was a fisher or a bobcat, or one animal traveling one way and another the opposite but within the same path.

Eventually, we gave up on the shifty mammal and made our way into the upland portion of the property where I knew a bear claw tree stood. Pam’s task was to locate it and so she set off, checking all the beech trees in the forest.

Bingo! Her bear paw tree eyes were formed.

It was a beauty of a specimen that reminded us of all the wonders of this place.

From that tree, we continued off-trail, zigzagging from tree to tree, but never found another. That doesn’t mean we visited every tree in the refuge and so we’ll just have to return and look some more.

We did, however, find some scratch marks on a paper birch.

They were too close together to have been created by even a young bear, but we did consider squirrel. Wiping off the rosy-white chalk that coated the bark, we did find actual scrapes below. Now we’ll have to remember to check that tree again in a year or so and see what we might see.

What we finally saw before making our best bee-line out (don’t worry, our Nature Distraction Disorder still slowed us down) was the view of Sucker Brook and the mountains beyond.

At last we pulled ourselves away, but gave great thanks for that ash tree that framed our day and our focus and for all that we saw within it and beyond.