Castle Rock Mondate

Please bare with me as my guy did today. I kept telling him he was living in a fairy tale. Heck, his ancestors are Irish, so he should believe in fairies and tales the way I do. Right? Maybe.

Our hike began with a climb up the stairs to the fortified building above where we intended to retreat for the day. Certainly we wouldn’t have to worry about any invasions from such a stance.

Almost instantly, we were greeted by a court jester hovering in the hallway. Do you see him? My guy certainly did and I ensured him that there would be no sting from the jokes of this little flying one.

The jester added one command at the end of his greeting–bring a bouquet to the queen. And so we looked about. St. Johnswort with all its yellowy rays would add a note of sunshine to her day and we knew it was meant to be given since the sweat bee who pollinated the flowers wore metallic green gems. There’s another hiding in this part of the bouquet. Do you see him?

The bee flew off, its pollen sacs full, but the other who hid among the petals remained. We picked the flowers anyway because bouquets that come from the field always have hitchhikers who enhance the scene.

No bouquet is complete, just as no room is complete, without a dash of red, this time provided by the fruits of a Mountain Ash tree.

A dash of green in the form of Smooth Solomon’s Seal’s fruit finished off the arrangement and we were sure the good queen would appreciate our efforts to bring a gift.

Continuing our upward climb, we suddenly spotted one of the inner chambers. He passed by.

I paused and looked upward at the spiral staircase that climbed into the turret. It was full of old tapestries and even a few cobwebs.

The staircase led us to a side window upon the kingdom’s view.

I think my guy secretly coveted the vista owned by the royal family, but he kept his envy to himself because after all, we wanted to be considerate guests.

At last, after many flights of steps, we reached a view of the castle’s entryway.

In the Hall of Statues, generations upon generations of aristocracy were represented in stone.

Each family showed off their stalwart idiosyncrasies.

At last we reached the dining hall. It was there we sat to eat the Croque Monsieur Ham and Cheese Sandwiches offered to us.

Once finished with a tasty repast, King Red-breasted Nuthatch greeted us and encouraged my guy to again look outward at the empire beyond.

To which my guy did, keeping his envy under his baseball hat.

The view included Mount Washington in the distance, with snow still on its ravines and buildings slightly highlighted at its summit.

King Nuthatch then looked down for he knew his love was by our feet.

And so Queen Fritillary was, her eyes also focused on the kingdom beyond.

As we hiked down we noticed that the good queen stored her slippers everywhere. You never know when you might need a pair of moccasins.

At last we crossed the drawbridge over the moat and bid farewell to our royal hosts.

As we exited Castle Rock on this Mondate, Princess Banded Hairstreak, with her colors all browns and oranges and blues, bid us adieu. We said the same and gave great thanks for today’s royal treatment.

Does my guy believe he was living the fairy tale after all? Maybe.

Midges I Have Known

Some may be surprised to learn that my friend Midge still shares a bedroom with me. Oh, there was a period of time when our lives were separated, but a few years ago my sister decided that Midge and I need to reconnect and so she made that happen.

My childhood pal, who was also Barbie’s best friend (I never had a Barbie doll–just saying), found her way north. To ward off the cool spring temps, she dons a skirt and headband my mom knitted for her, but I now realize as I gaze upon her disheveled attire how alike we still are. One shoe on, one shoe off. Mussy hair. And that face.

So yeah, I don’t really play with dolls anymore, but I do like having my old friend nearby–maybe because she reminds me of a childhood well spent with family and neighbors. It was one that included playing with dolls and playing outside. And that outdoor play and discovery is still a huge part of my life. Thus it was that this afternoon found me heading to the vernal pool out back and noticing an insect pupating on a pine I often pass by. What is it? I don’t know. When did it find this spot upon which to attach? I don’t know. I swear, I walk by this spot every few days and it had not made itself known previously. But look at the structure. WOW.

I finally left it behind and journeyed on to the vernal pool that I wish could be listed as significant for this year it supports way more than 40 wood frog masses and certainly more than 20 spotted salamander egg masses. Either of those would deem it important, but . . . it appears to have been created to support the farm life of old, rather than being a natural pool. Still, to me it will always be significant for its taught me so much over the years.

You might laugh to see that I get excited about any form of life within the pool including the mosquito larvae.

They really are everywhere within the water column.

But even more importantly, my babies were swimming . . .

and feeding, including on the green algae that served a symbiotic relationship with their egg masses. If you look closely at this photo, you may notice other lives worth acknowledging.

Meanwhile, the spotted salamander embryos were developing at their own rate of life.

And then I began to look at another: the larval form of a Chironomid Midge. To get a sense of its size, notice the tiny birch seed floating on the water’s surface.

Like the mosquitoes in their larval form, the midges are also contortionists who wriggle and wraggle through the water column.

And then they morph into flying insects.

Although from what I noticed today, there wasn’t much flying taking place. Instead it seemed like the oak leaf that floated on the pool’s surface served as a place for males and females to get to know each other, much like my friend Midge may have met her boyfriend, Alan.

To better understand the size of the midges, note the half inch length of the hemlock needle I drew a line around.

Life at the Oak Leaf Bar got a little more interesting when Alan’s friend stepped onto the scene.

First she was going after Alan 1 and then it seemed that Alan 2 pursued her, while her little sister, Skipper, showed up as an even smaller fly species.

At last, Midge made a choice.

And the canoodling began.

But at the Beech Leaf Bar two other Midges toyed with another Alan.

And tada–more canoodling.

And then at Oak Leaf Bar Too, even more drama played out.

He inquired about her well being and seemed to find it quite healthy.

At last they pulled apart, much to the liking of their nearby friends.

It seemed after that meeting that all the Alans convened.

Each postured and claimed a somewhat dominate position.

And then two of the four Alans turned on one.

And the sibling rivalry began.

Bodies crossed and legs interacted.

Two duked it out while the other two moved on.

In the end, each went its own way, but I suspect that after I moved on they met again. And again.

In the same way I again met my friend Midge. And again realized our similarities including the shared name of our guys despite their different spellings.

Midge, along with Skipper, a doll I also had but seemed to have lost, was apparently created to counteract criticism that claimed Barbie was a sex symbol. After watching today’s midges, I have to wonder . . . I’ve never met a canoodling Barbie in the insect world. Just maybe the Midges I have known aren’t second fiddle after all.

wondermyway turns 5

Five years ago today I turned from taking a hundred million photos on each tramp to taking a hundred million photos and writing about them.

Typically, on the anniversary I scan the past year’s posts and choose one from each month, providing a photo to represent it, with a brief (or not so brief) comment and link to the full read.

But . . . because this is a milestone I never imagined reaching (posts: 733; views: 76,793; visitors: 44371; followers: 578), I thought I’d take the time to thank you, the readers, for wandering through the wonders with me

THANK YOU

This afternoon I decided to step back into my happy place where the journey began on February 21, 2015. I had no idea back then what I might write about, but I was so excited, and a wee bit anxious, no, I was wicked anxious (don’t you love that Maine descriptor?) to share the little things with others.

It felt a bit egotistical to invite people along, but I took the first step and so many others have followed.

Over these five years, I’ve been humbled by the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and greet new ones through this effort.

Please know that typically it is late in the day when I sit down to write a post, first having spent at least a few hours tramping (“You’re stating the obvious, Mom,” my sons would say if they actually read this; nor does my guy just so you know–those of you who comment to him about something that you read may have noticed his bewildered look; and then he realizes you must follow the blog), more time downloading photos in hopes of finding a few key ones to use, and then figuring out what the story is and how to tell it.

As I wander, whether alone or with you, the first draft often forms in my head, but by the time I stomp the snow or mud or pine sap off my boots, it shakes loose and disappears. I trust, however, that whatever phrase I thought was brilliant in the field will flash back through my mind at some point. Does it? Perhaps, but I’ll never know because that first draft doesn’t get recorded.

Writing is a process, one that I’ve forever enjoyed, but what you read is only part of the whole picture. Because it’s late in the day, as I said earlier, and I’m tired, I make mistakes, which I don’t always catch before I publish. For those who are email followers, or those who quickly read one of my “stories” just after I’ve posted it to social media, please forgive me. You see what I consider draft 2 without any further edits. Laurie LaMountain, the editor of Lake Living magazine, for which I’ve worked since 2006, knows full well that draft 3 is not the final from me. Sometimes it takes 18 drafts before I’m ready to go to print, and even then I know that when I turn the page to one of my articles, I’ll cringe with frustration for I missed something.

Thank you to all of you who catch my grammatical errors and gently let me know. I love having you along to share the journey.

And thank you to those who do the same when my identification or explanation is not quite correct. As in, it’s downright wrong. I appreciate your engagement.

Thank you to all of you for reading this long story and so many others that I’ve written. I know some of you just scan the photos, and I can’t say I blame you.

For me, wondermyway is a diary that I can look back upon to recall all the amazing sights and insights the natural world has shared with me. I’m happy to be able to share that with so many others–to invite you into this part of my life.

Thank you also to those of you who, because of the blog, have bestowed gifts upon me from books and calendars to ornaments, pillows, wrist warmers, scat, feathers, and even a camera on loan for an extended period of time when mine went kerplunk into the water.

No, I am not asking for more gifts; I just want to say that I am often surprised to know that what I shared or time I spent with you touched you as much as it did me.

As a parting gift, today, for helping me celebrate this fifth anniversary, let me share one post that I thought stood out this past year.

Do you remember The Secrets of Life Found Among the Dead?

Each journey has offered refresher courses and new learnings and I appreciate that you let me share them.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I celebrate the wonder that has been revealed on so many wanders thus far.

Again, thank you.

Amazing Race–Our Style: The Grand Finale

At last–the day we’d anxiously anticipated for the past month. Actually, for the past year.

I was sure the post-it note we found attached to the door would instruct us to drive to Lincoln, New Hampshire for a visit to the ice castle. My guy thought we’d find ourselves on a dogsled journey.

But no . . . either of those would have been too easy I suppose. Instead, we had to end this race in the same manner we had begun. Aboard a snowmobile. Egads! My least favorite mode of transportation.

To top it off, my guy’s two-seater is headed to the shop for some engine work. But his brother came through and lent us a machine so we were able to stay in the race. Our task was five-fold. 1. Ride through Sweden, Waterford, Lovell, Fryeburg and Bridgton; 2. Identify an interesting natural wonder; 3. Frame a picture; 4. Conquer the moguls; and 5. Pull the entire Amazing Race–our style together in a coherent order.

We started in the frigid morning air and no one else was about so we had Highland Lake and Stearns Pond to ourselves. Our journey took us whizzing across lakes and ponds, along open trails such as ITS 80 and 89, and through some narrow connecting pathways–or so they seemed to this untrained eye. I’d brought along my Trackards and the tracks were many, but all remained a blur.

You have to realize by now that for the two of us riding a snowmobile is like the tortoise meeting the hare–my desire to move slowly through the world met his need for speed. In the end, I did OK, and he went as slow as was safely possible, and even slower than that when he felt my knees nudge his back. But really, my teeth did chatter. Oh, maybe that was because of the temperature.

In Lovell, we got in line to gas up.

Funny things can happen when you’re standing around waiting for your turn at the pump. A nature moment presented itself in the form of a willow gall. Now I can’t wait to return to look at the willow blossoms in the spring.

From there, we made our way across to the Kezar River Reserve for the roadway had been groomed. Alas, at the kiosk, for some unknown reason, the groomer had backed up and headed out to Route 5, so we had to do the same. That wasn’t our only roadblock. We found our way onto a road that had previously served as the trail for a short bit, only to discover where road should have rejoined trail a house had been built. Again, we had to backtrack. Yikes. How would these affect our time?

We also noted historic sites as we cruised along, including the old Evan Homestead in Sweden, the Brick Church in Lovell, and Hemlock Covered Bridge in Fryeburg, which served as our lunch stop at 2pm.

It was there that I found the photo to frame for challenge three–the mixed forest reflected in the Old Course of the Saco as taken through a bridge window.

And then, after the bridge, we meet our fourth challenge: the moguls. For at least two miles, maybe more, between Hemlock Bridge Road and Knights Hill Road, we bounced up and down as if we were riding a bucking Bronco. Truly, I spent more time in the air than on the seat and each time I landed, it was with a thump. I was certain I’d fall off or at least my body would be flying behind the sled while I’d still be attached–via the vice grip I had on the backseat handlebars. Talk about white knuckles. Oh wait, maybe that was from being cold.

Somehow, we survived . . . and so did our relationship.

As for the other contestants, we weren’t sure where they were because as it turned out there were many riders out there and they all looked the same! Well, maybe they had their idiosyncrasies and I wasn’t paying attention to the little details of jacket and helmet color and design, but I’d much rather look at tree bark, mammal tracks, and winter weeds this time of year than people apparel.

Soon after the moguls, it was time for the last task. We encountered a display of twelve photographs; each represented a moment of wonder we’d encountered during the race and one of us had to place them in order from start to finish.

My guy had done all the driving and maneuvered us successfully through the mogul course (I didn’t fall off, remember) so it was my turn to complete this final challenge.

Episode one: The elephant face we discovered along the Narrow Gauge Trail.

Episode two: A rainbow in the Harpswell sea mist.

Episode three: The exotic kissing pigeons with heart-shaped white cere on their bills.

Episode four: The gallery of midnight artists at the Battery on Peaks Island.

Episode five: A Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly beside Shingle Pond on the Weeks Brook Trail.

Episode six: A sand collar in Clinton, Connecticut. While it felt like sand paper above and was smooth below, it was actually a mass of snail eggs.

Episode seven: After climbing Table Rock, a couple paid for our pie at this roadside stand and so we did the same for the next vehicle that pulled up.

Episode eight: The 1930 122 ft. steel-hulled yacht Atlantide, that served in WWII and was featured in Dunkirk.

Episode nine: (possibly one of our favorites) The cribbage board in the two seater below Piazza Rock on Saddleback Mountain.

Episode ten: An alpaca at America’s Stonehedge in Salem, New Hampshire.

Episode eleven: Finding an H to represent us while looking for decorated trees in the Maine Christmas Tree Scavenger Hunt.

Episode twelve: The final episode and another framed photo of the Old Course of the Saco from Hemlock Bridge.

Phew. I was pretty certain I had them all correct. And so on to the mat we drove, arriving at 3:36pm. And then as we stepped off the sled we discovered that we’d lost our backpack somewhere on the trail. The only item of any value in it was my cell phone.

We were concerned about that, but also found out that without the pack we couldn’t cross the finish line. So, we made a quick decision because we needed to be done by 5pm. I hopped off the sled and my guy took off in a spray of snow to search. We were sure it had fallen off near the moguls. Apparently, along the way he questioned people and learned that someone (thank you whomever you are) had hung the pack on a tree. Over the moguls he went, but to no avail. He was in a dip on his way back to the covered bridge when he spied it. Wowza.

At 4:41pm he pulled up to the mat.

And we crossed it together–As. The. Winners. YES, we WON!

But, of course, we won. For if you have followed us from the start then you’ll remember that in episode one I wrote: I created a Valentine’s gift for my guy–our very own Amazing Race. My rationale was that we enjoy the show, but know that while there are certain stunts one or both of us could handle with ease, there are others that would certainly cause us to be last to the mat–and lose. So, why not create an Amazing Race that we have a 99.9% chance of winning. If we lose, we’re in big trouble.

I do feel bad that I fibbed to some of you, but you got caught up in the challenge and I didn’t want to let you down. Some of you asked me about it and I have a terrible poker face so I was sure you’d figure it out. In the spirit of it all, I was glad that you didn’t. That added to our fun.

And all of the characters–they were real people we met along the way. Team Budz in episode six was my sister and brother-in-law. Team Purple was a hearing-impaired woman full of moxie we met during episode eight in Camden. She hiked in sandals and had spent the previous month camping solo. The others we named for their attitudes, hometowns or some other attribute. I don’t know if you noticed, but we began the journey as Team Wonder, which I probably only mentioned once, but by episode eleven I’d forgotten that and called us Team Hazy–thus the H to represent us. Ahhhh.

Of course, my mom always washed my mouth out with soap when I fibbed, so if you want to do the same, I can’t say I blame you.

Thank you all for following us on this adventure. We’ve had fun looking forward to and participating in a variety of adventures. Though I’d given my guy a list of locales for each month, I didn’t know what the various additional challenges would be until they presented themselves.

Today’s activity was supposed to be a dogsled ride in January. But, the weather gods and price gods weren’t on our side and when the weather didn’t cooperate on his days off we chose not to spend the money. An alternative was the ice castle, but we’ve done that before and were too late in trying to purchase tickets this year, so . . . why not end as we began. On a snowmobile journey. The third of my lifetime and longest one yet. We spent over five hours on the sled. Well, my guy spent even one more hour. And now we’re snug at home and sipping some Bailey’s Irish Creme before we tune in to British comedies and fall asleep on the couch.

The Amazing Race–Our Style has come to an end. Thanks for tuning in. We had fun and hope you did too.

Book of January: Trackards

Three years ago I featured Naturalist David Brown’s Trackards as the Book of February. It seems apropos that I bring attention to them again as they are my “go to” guide for tracking. Oh, I have the works of Miller, Rezendes, Elbroch, Stokes and the like on my bookshelf as you can see from the titles below. And I do refer to them frequently, but they don’t all agree on everything.

What I’ve learned is that David’s cards are accurate, easy to carry, show up well in a photograph, and provide me with enough information to make a determination about a print, track pattern, or scat. And then I can go home and check to see what the rest have to say. At the end of the day, though, it’s my observations, aided by David’s Trackards, that tell the real story.

Tracking and the Art of Seeing, Paul Rezendes
Mammal Tracks and Sign, Mark Elbroch
Field Guide to Tracking Animals in Snow, Louise R. Forrest
Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior, Donald and Lillian Stokes
Peterson Field Guides: Animal Tracks, Olaus J. Murie and Mark Elbroch
Peterson Field Guides: Mammals, William H. Burt and Richard P. Grossenheider
Trackards and Companion Guide to the TrackardsDavid Brown
Track FinderDorcas S. Miller
Scat and Tracks of the Northeast, James C. Halfpenny
Tracking and Reading Sign, Len McDougall
Critters of Maine, Ann McCarthy
The Tracker’s Field Guide, James C. Lowery
The SAS Guide to Tracking, Bob Carss
Lonesome Bears, Linda Jo Hunter
Bear Aware, Bill Schneider
The Hidden Life of Deer, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
The Science and Art of Tracking, Tom Brown, Jr.
National Geographic Guide: Great Mammals, Carolinda Hill
Golden Nature Guide: Mammals, Herbert S. Zim and Donald F. Hoffmeister Golden Science Guide: Zoology, R. Will  Burnett, Harvey I. Fisher and Herbert S. Zim
The Raccoon Book, Katharyn Machan Aal
Raccoons  (for kids), Jeff Fair
Foxes (for kids), Judy Schuler
Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer, Mary Holland
Stories in Tracks & Sign, Diane K. Gibbons

I’ve had the good fortune to spend time tracking with and learning from David and continue to do so each time I use his cards.

snowshoe 2

The prints and scat are hand drawn and life size so I can place them beside the sign to help make a determination about which mammal was on the move.

Track 2

No print or scat is too small! You’ll notice that measurements are on the side–helping to determine the size of the print and the straddle (width from outside of one print to outside of other)..

fisher tracks 3

David has also included the mammal’s preferred method or pattern of locomotion, which is also useful in correct identification. In this case, the fisher, a member of the weasel family, moved from a slanted bound to an alternate walking pattern.

track 3
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Another handy thing–he’s made it easy to locate the particular cards by adding the mammal’s name on the edge.

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These two photos are from David’s Web site.

David has found a publisher so the Trackards you purchase may look a wee bit different than mine, but the information is still there. And where I have thirteen cards because he made use of the front and back of each, the new decks contain 26 cards.

While you’re at it, take a look at his books. I have the older version of The Companion Guide to the Trackards and plan to order his newest book, The Next Step.

Trackards by David Brown: Don’t leave home without them.

Mallards, Beavers, and NOT Squawroot, Oh My!

Yesterday, I made an ID error. Reread to find out more.

wondermyway

Since posting this blog yesterday, my Maine Master Naturalist mentor, Susan Hayward chimed in and corrected me. If you’ve read this previously, please be sure to scroll down to the Squawroot discovery. (Or not Squawroot). Thank you, Susan, for sharing your knowledge once again and setting me on the right track.

Our intention today when Connie Cross and I visited the wetland at Sebago Lake State Park’s Campground was to . . . well . . . walk with intention. There were several miles of trails to explore during the offseason, but we decided, or rather I did, that we should circle the beaver pond to see what we might see.

b1-horseshoe bog

It was raining as we drove to our meet-up point. And so we piled on extra layers to ward off the damp chill, and thought about snowshoes–to wear or not to wear? Connie chose to throw hers into a…

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Secret Giver of Gifts

Though I posted this almost one year ago, I keep returning to it. Thought you might want to as well. Peace and joy be with you.

wondermyway

Snow quietly drifted earthward as baking scents wafted through the house and Christmas lights sparkled from the living room. The spirit of the season has settled upon me at last. And today I was reminded of a time when our youngest asked, “Mom, are you Santa?”

s-barn

He’d held onto the belief for far longer than any of his classmates. And for that reason, I too, couldn’t let go. And so that day long ago, as we drove along I reminded him that though the shopping mall Santas were not real, we’d had several encounters that made believers out of all of us.

The first occurred over thirty years ago when I taught English in Franklin, New Hampshire. Across the hall from my classroom was a special education class. And fourteen-year-old Mikey, a student in that class, LOVED Santa.

Each year the bread deliveryman dressed in the famous red costume when he…

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Reflection of Grace

My heart was broken when I headed out the door this afternoon. I’d just learned that the husband of my spritely little German friend, Ursula, had died. And though they hadn’t been able to tramp through the woods together these past few years, theirs was a relationship sustained by a love for the natural world and many, many journeys into places I’ll never know. In these evening years of their lives, she’d told me that even though they could no longer follow the path together, they still remembered and reminisced often about their adventures and discoveries. And I trust that it is those memories that will enwrap her now.

w1--hydrangea

As the hydrangea in the garden I passed proclaimed, there is beauty . . . even in death. My hope is that Ursula will find that beauty as time evolves.

w4-yellow rocket

I knew that I wanted to lift her and their shared life up as I walked along, but I wasn’t really sure where I was going or what I was looking for. And then, as the cowpath opened to the power line, I saw a couple approaching. A few more steps and we waved to each other. And with the wave came recognition–my friends Linda and Dick, who are two of the few people who explore these woods the way I do, approached. We shared   questions and observations, and decided to travel a short distance together.

The trail we followed emerged into an open area where what was once a floral display that Ursula would have relished was equally delightful in its winter fashion. Linda and I struggled to recall the name of the yellow-rocket, but knew that it was a member of the legume family by its pod structure.

w5-thistle, evening primrose, yellow rocket

Thistles and evening primroses added more texture to the picture, yet again proving that in death there is life.

w2--trail

We reached a stonewall where I thought my companions might turn toward home, but was thrilled that they wanted to continue on, despite the fact that the trail conditions were ever changing. And I think that’s one of the lessons I’ve learned from Ursula as she’d tell me about things she and Wolfgang used to do and what their more recent limitations were, yet despite the latter they still had stimulating conversations as they remembered the fun of past expeditions.

w6-cinnabar polypore

So it was that today the three of us found many moments of joy, including the sight of cinnabar polypores that reminded us of creamsicle ice cream, fresh moose scat and tracks, and lots of flowers to check on come spring.

w8-Dick and Linda

It was getting dark as we followed the trail out and decided to walk along the road on our way home rather than return the way we’d come. It hadn’t been our intention to meet today, but as grace would have it, we did. And I was thankful for the fellowship as we traveled together while I honored Ursula and Wolfgang.

w9-reflections of grace

Our time with each other was a reflection of grace and it is that same grace that I pray embraces Ursula as she reflects upon a life well shared with her beloved Wolfgang.

Rest in peace, Wolfgang. And blessings of memories to you, Ursula.

Book of November: Half Acre

I am so tickled for my friend and fellow naturalist, Sarah Frankel, who recently published her first book.

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Half Acre is a children’s book both written and illustrated by this talented young lady.

In rhyming fashion, she takes the younger set outdoors to explore her yard, which is a half acre in size. The size, however, is not important because Sarah knows how to look and to wonder. Or maybe in this case, it is important, because she wants others to realize that there are great things to find on their own small plot of land.

And now she and her husband are teaching their young daughter to do the same. Her hope is that the book will encourage others to step outside and notice as well.

In thirty-four pages, Half Acre explores the yard in all seasons and at different times of day. As much as I enjoyed the rhymes, I especially loved the paintings–of birds and leaves, flowers and bees, butterflies and trees, moss and ferns, night sky and nocturnal visitors, and so much more. Can you find the frozen tree frog? You’ll have to buy the book and look for it.

My favorite painting is the last one–with her house in middle, surrounded by snippets from each of the other paintings, like a sugar maple leaf floating in midair. There’s more to this painting though, for Sarah takes the reader through the four seasons at the house–in 8 x 6-inches, she begins with winter on the left and every two inches the season changes,  ending with autumn on the right. I wish I could share that with you, but you’ll just have to trust me and purchase the book. Of course, she used the same scene to introduce her half acre of land, but it really stands out in the final mural framed by small portions of all the other paintings.

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Since I’m on the topic of Sarah, though this isn’t a book, I was the recipient of one of her paintings. For the past four years, it has leaned against the wall on a counter in the butler’s pantry and makes me think of both Sarah and Mom.

Of Sarah because she knows winter is my favorite time of year and she included tracks in the snow, a starry night, full moon and a shooting star. When I was a Maine Master  Naturalist student, Sarah was a mentor. At that time, though she lived in Conway, NH, she worked at Lakes Environmental Association as the Education Director. And so, we’d drive to and from class at Bates College in Lewiston together. On our way home one night, we saw a shooting star. And many times we tramped together on snowshoes, following mammal tracks. I have to share one more fond memory–the spring night that it rained and we tried to dodge the frogs and salamanders as we drove home. Finally, we got out a few times and helped the sallies cross the road. We were tired from class, and it was a long drive home that night, but by helping a few, we forgave ourselves for the ones we’d smooshed.

Of Mom, because Sarah gave me the painting after my mother died at the end of January during the year I was taking the course–I’m forever honored by Sarah’s thoughtfulness.

Interested in purchasing the book and meeting Sarah? She’s got some book events coming up in the North Conway, New Hampshire area:

November 11th from 11am-3pm – A book signing at The Met Coffee House and Gallery during the Bring A Friend Shopping weekend.

December 2nd at 3pm – A book signing event at White Birch Books, the best book store around!

December 7th from 6-8pm – A book signing at the Adults Only Shopping Night at The Toy Chest. Shop for the holidays, get a copy of Half Acre signed for your little ones and pick your own discount on the way out.

December 9th at 10am – Read aloud, book signing and outdoor exploration at the Conway Public Library. What creatures can we find in the gardens and lawn of the Conway Public Library? Come and see for yourself!

I can’t wait to attend one of these, give her a hug, and ask her to sign my copy. And I may have to steal a kid to attend the outdoor exploration at the Conway Public Library.

Is there a young’un in your life? Then I think Half Acre should finds its way onto their book shelf.

Half Acre, written and illustrated by Sarah Frankel, LifeRich Publishing, 2017. And available at www.liferichpublishing.com, or a local independent bookstore.

Making a Wish–Kyan Style

In May 2016, our young next-door neighbor was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, which attacks immature blood cells. I’ll never forget that day or those following as we watched his parents drive by our house either coming or going to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, where he underwent two rounds of chemotherapy treatment.

We felt at a loss–what could we do for them while they underwent this life-wrenching ordeal.

Our steps were tiny. First, we tied orange ribbons around the big old sugar maple tree in our front yard and then snuck into their yard and did the same around all the trees that lined their driveway. It was the beginning of saying, “We’re thinking of you.”

We offered to cook a meal and mow the lawn, and even started to head over and do the latter but as it turned out, those were common, every day acts that Bill and Binaca, Ky’s parents, cherished because in that moment life was almost normal again. Sort of.

My next step, since orange is the color that represents leukemia, was to post a photo of something orange found in the natural world on my Facebook page each day. It was a small token, but a way to let Ky, his sister Quinn, and his parents know that they were in our thoughts and prayers. I did notice that though his mother “liked” most, the yuckiest ones were the ones that evoked a comment from Kyan. Typical tween–in a way.

After a spring and summer of ups and downs, the decision was made for a bone marrow transplant. And a donor was located–in the Netherlands. A year ago yesterday, Binaca and Kyan headed to Boston Children’s Hospital to begin the process. That journey was long, for Ky had to be quarantined, and even after they came home, life was different.

I do remember Halloween of last year–I don’t recall how long Ky had been home, but he was given the OK from his doctor to go trick-or-treating, as long as he stayed well covered. It was the first time he’d been with friends since May. When he, his sister and their friends came to the door, the sweetest voice to my ears said from within a Scream costume, “Hi Mrs. Hayes.” I’m not terribly fond of Halloween and costumes–it’s always creeped me out a bit. But for once, I wanted to rejoice and hug that Scream. I didn’t. First, it was a germ thing on his end and he had to be super careful. And second, I would have embarrassed him to pieces.

After that, occasionally I’d see Ky and his family as they rode through the woods on their quad, but he was always covered by a helmet. Still I was happy to see him out. And then this spring, my heart melted when I looked out one day and saw him passing by on his scooter. At first he didn’t go far, but soon he and his sister were off on adventures.

And then last night I received a message from his mom telling me that today he’d be granted a wish from Make-a-Wish Maine and asking if I’d be available to take some photographs. Um, yes!
k-make a wish in progress

When I arrived this afternoon, I was surprised to see so many cars lining their driveway as it was my understanding that this would be a quiet affair at his request when they were in the talking stages of this project. But, the Make-a-Wish people had collaborated with folks from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative to fulfill Kyan’s dream. And all hands were on deck to pull it off.

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He wanted a cabin of sorts. It began as a treehouse in his mind, but morphed into something a bit larger after he’d watched HGTV’s Tiny Houses. Only, as he said today, he thought it would be much smaller that what the collaborators created. Of course, his mother was hoping for a trip to Hawaii or, being a huge Tom Brady fan, maybe a Patriots game. But this was Kyan’s wish.

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While his dad and sis waited for Kyan, his mom and his dear friend to return from a birthday adventure to Vermont . . .

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as quickly as they could, the Make-a-Wish team put everything in order.

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The floor was swept . . .

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door locked, banner posted . . .

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and final sweep made.

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And then the waiting . . . his arrival imminent.

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In the meantime, collaborators posed–Kate Vickery, Senior Program Director of Make-a-Wish Maine and Pat Sirois, state coordinator of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Implementation Committee in Maine.

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For me, it was a fun time to catch up with Roberta Scruggs on the left, Communications Director for the Maine Forest Products Council, who used to work for Lakes Environmental Association.

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Finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived. Word came that Binaca was in the neighborhood and Bill and Quinn went off to meet her. The rest of us kept our eyes on the driveway as we waited for them to pull up.

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Bill had blindfolded Kyan (and we later learned that Ky was sure his father had used old underwear to do such), and guided him forward where two Make-a-Wish folks quietly took Kyan’s hands.

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A minute later they told him he could remove the blindfold. And his awe began.

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Kyan’s not the kind of kid who’s going to jump up and down. But to say he was thrilled and overwhelmed would be an understatement. And by his father’s T-shirt, can you tell who the superhero is?

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At last Ky entered his new digs.

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And peeked out from the loft.

k-ky interview prep

After he’d walked in and out and in again and up and down the two sets of stairs a few times, and around the back, the news teams stepped up–eager for an interview.

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With a smile that never left his face, he answered a myriad of questions.

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For a kid who doesn’t like to be the center of attention, all eyes were focused . . . on him.

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All the while, he kept looking back at his “kabin.”

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He never once wavered in a response and the smile never left his face.

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But his eyes–oh were they focused.

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His mom was also interviewed and in her usual and beautifully reflective manner recalled the past year and a half.

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Sometimes the emotion of the day shown through.

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But the strength of her character and thankfulness for all blessings flowed through her being.

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As her interview continued, Kyan chatted briefly with his dad and then I noticed that he and his sister and his friend and her friend bee-lined into their home. I suspect they were on a mission to find stuff to make the kabin their own.

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Kyan’s Kabin.

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The Make-a-Wish Maine crew with Kyan and family.

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The Sustainable Forestry Initiative crew, Kyan, family and friends.

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Hugs . . .

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and handshakes.

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And a quick peek inside, where a sitting area awaits,

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two sets of stairs lead to two lofts,

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and I suspect his sister has claimed one,

k4-Ky's bed and doggy bed (1)

while the other is for him and his dog. (Actually, I’m thinking that when he’s in school, maybe I can meet his mom there–don’t tell. We can start our own klub.)

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As of August 17, Kyan will be one year into remission.

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Certainly a reason to celebrate. And I think I know where Ky’s sleeping tonight.

Porch Rockers

For my guy, written for the occasion of our 27th wedding anniversary, which was yesterday.

porch rockers

Porch Rockers

Side by side
they sit
on the porch at camp,
reflecting a life shared.
At once
worn and tattered
with scuffed floor below,
but still a comfortable place
in a heavenly spot,
just right
for morning breakfast
and an occasional crossword puzzle,
evening repose
and our days’ story.
They provide a view
on the world beyond
where loons call,
eagles soar,
chipmunks gather,
stars glimmer,
and we watch.
Sometimes we rock in silence
or converse about issues.
A table between
holds our cups and food
and books and newspapers,
giving us space
to be our own selves
while pulling us together
with the loads we carry.
Each piece of cane
and all four armrests
know us intimately,
having heard
our joys and concerns.
And still
they invite us
in the light of the day
and the dark of the night
and provide support
as we grow old together.
These are our porch rockers
and we are theirs—
forever.

Book of August: Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts

Last winter when I scheduled a talk/walk on lichens and another on mosses for this summer, I wasn’t sure what the public response would be, and so it was a pleasant surprise that both were well received. While Maine Master Naturalist Jeff Pengel spoke to us and then led us down the trail taking a close-up look at lichens in July, Ralph Pope introduced many to mosses for the first time on August 1. And then he took us only part way down a trail on August 2, for there were samples everywhere–both at our feet and sometimes even eye level.

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Ralph is the author of Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast. He began thinking about writing such a guide while teaching a course on bryophyte identification at Antioch University New England. “I realized that the available resources were not inviting for a beginning student,” says Ralph.

His book begins with a description of bryophyte biology, taxonomy and ecology for those who are interested. As he states on page 11, “Mosses, hornworts, and liverworts, the three groups making up the bryophytes, evolved from the aquatic ancestors of modern green algae and represent the beginnings of terrestrial plant life, eventually giving rise to our amazingly diverse array of vascular plants.” Beyond words. Beyond our world.

I’ve used another guide, but this one seems so much easier to follow for Pope has formatted it into divisions that make sense to my brain–Spagnaceae: peat mosses; Acrocarpous: (acro-high; carpous-fruit) upright-growing mosses with fruits on the top; Pleurocarpous: (pleuro-side; carpous-fruit) mat-forming mosses with fruits extended on side branches; Liverworts (body of plant flat-thalloid; leaves in two rows-leafy) and Hornworts (uncommon–in fact, I’ve yet to meet one). These are in color-coded sections, making the process even easier.

And while each section begins with a key, for those who don’t like such things, there is a description of preferred habitat, family characteristics and then the species presented in alphabetical order (think Latin, for as Ralph pointed out, we’ve been spoiled by common names for birds and think that everything should have such, but for some species there are several common names, thus making it difficult to know for sure across the globe that we are talking about the same species.–Guess I need to get my Latin on) and illustrated with fabulous photographs.

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With a few slides, Ralph introduced the audience to bryophytes, which are the most primitive of plants having no roots, no flowers, and no woody structure. They are usually green (as opposed to the gray-green hues of lichens), translucent as they are only one cell thick, and often have spore capsules that last a long time.

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After the talk, he encouraged the audience to take a closer look at species gathered that day along the Westways Trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

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Behind each species an enlarged poster of the related page from his book included a description, similar species, range and habitat, and meaning of names or tips for identification.

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A crowd of 25 spanning ages 5 to 25 a few times over, stepped onto the Westways Trail with Ralph the next morning.

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His combined knowledge and humor kept us all enraptured with the world below our feet. To get a sense of Ralph’s voice is this sample from page 7, “Remember the old adage that if you happen to lose your compass, your iPhone, your GPS, your ability to see the sun, and your sense of direction, moss growth will show you the north side of a tree? Well, keep the compass handy, but the north side of a tree trunk does indeed get less desiccating sunlight than the rest of the tree trunk, so it just might have more moss growth. Score one for the Boy Scouts.”

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On moss-topped rocks, Ralph and his wife, Jean, had marked species to be sure to stop at for our edification. The number referred to the page in the book and for those who didn’t have their own copy, he had loaners. In this case, 255 is Pleurozium schreberi or Big Red Stem.

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He picked samples so we could each take a closer look and see the reason for the name–notice that red stem? Because most bryophytes cells are totipotent–thus they have the ability to grow into a new plant, trampling them or even breaking some off can lead to new growth, so he was happy to pass small samples around.

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We looked . . .

m1-Aidan

and looked . . .

m-another close up

and looked . . .

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some more.

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Of course, sometimes we just had to take a break. Oh to be five again!

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Our samples included Sphagnum pylaesii, with its pompom head,

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an acrocarp–Leucobryum glaucum, or pincushion moss,

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the pleurocarp, Calliergon cordifloium, 

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and the liverwort, Porella platyphylloidea. 

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For a couple of hours, we were all thoroughly enchanted . . .

m-Ralph

as we focused our intention on these miniature plants and this man–who opened our eyes.

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Only once did our attention get diverted–for some weasel scat. Thanks to intern Kelley’s keen eyes, a few of us saw the weasel scampering about thirty feet ahead. Still . . . notice where the weasel chose to make its contribution–on a rock covered in moss in the middle of the trail.

This book was a Christmas present from my guy and I look forward to many more days spent sitting on a rock getting to know my surroundings better.

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

 

 

 

 

Lake Living Celebrates 20th Anniversary: summer 2017

The summer issue of Lake Living is out–and it’s a celebration of the magazine’s 20th anniversary! I’ve had the pleasure of being involved as a writer, copy editor, proofreader and photographer since 2006–or maybe it was 2005. Doesn’t matter how long–every issue has been better than the last and I’ve meet so many interesting people along the way. Congrats to Laurie LaMountain for sticking with it for the past 20 and here’s to 20 more great years of publishing this fine mag.

My contributions for this one include Custom Fit about a collaboration between Lakes Environmental Association and Great Northern Docks, Food for Thought about a used book store in Norway, Maine, and the summer calendar–featuring so many great things to do.

Pour a glass of lemonade and enjoy:

Book of June: The Giant’s Shower

In honor of the summer solstice, here’s a repost of a midsummer’s eve fairy tale I wrote years ago.

wondermyway

Since it’s June and Midsummer’s Eve occurs in June, I thought I’d post this fairy tale I wrote years ago.

fairy home-2

Book of June

Once upon a Midsummer’s Eve, on Sabattus Mountain, a group of fairies gathered in a circle for a night of magic and merriment. All wore crowns of wood sorrel and ferns about their heads. Their sparkly skirts matched the color of their hair, purple and green and yellow and orange and blue. Together they danced and sang this tune:

We whirl and twirl and dance around,                                                                                                     Our feet, they barely touch the ground.        …

View original post 2,355 more words

Wondering About My Feet

A fresh layer of snow makes my heart sing and I can’t resist any opportunity to look at footprints left behind by those who travel through it.

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And so early this morning I followed the trail of a fox who had walked in a straight line for the most part, with a wee diversion here and there, perhaps to sniff out possibilities.

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While the fox’s path continued northward, I decided to turn at the logging road and headed west, curious as to what stories might unfold.

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It was the papery calyx of Indian Tobacco to which my eye was next drawn. Its winter manifestation, both delicate and light, offered an ethereal image in a global manner.

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Often a solitary plant, I found it scattered along the path. And then, at one particular spot, I noticed something more than just its form and stature.

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This was the sight of coyote play. Several coyotes at play, in fact.

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And one, or maybe more than one, had peed on the Indian Tobacco. Curiously, Lobelia inflata, as it is known, is a poisonous annual–maybe the coyotes knew that. Or maybe it was just the right spot for one to claim familial rights.

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I’d arrived at the  log landing, that staging place to which logs are hauled, trimmed and loaded onto timber trucks. It’s also the perfect stage for all who dance in the night. In this case, I noted the tracks of at least four coyotes, presumably a family clan, who’d zigged and zagged as they crossed the landing.

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Sometimes they’d followed each other and then split apart.

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But over and over again, they came together, perhaps to play. And maybe it was also a rehearsal for future hunts, practicing yet again how to circle prey.

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I turned around at this point, and as I headed back, I suddenly realized a moose had passed, though earlier than the coyote clan.

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And a snowshoe hare had also bounded through the scene previously.

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More in tune with the coyotes’ time frame, a ruffed grouse had left tracks, but I trust flew off without meeting its demise–yet.

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On my way back, with my eyes still drawn downward, I noticed other visitors. I suspect this was a carpenter ant.

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It was beside a rushing stream and its wings were folded. Had it taken a dip? It kept raising one leg at a time, as if uncertain of the snowy base upon which it walked.

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l-snow-cutworm

I found snow cutworms, the larval stage of a noctrid moth. They were less than an inch long, similar in size to a balsam fir needle and I’m not sure how I keyed into them, except that once I did, I noticed them again and again. How had I missed ever viewing these before, I wondered.

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Also quite minute, a tiny spider that posed beside my boot.

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Its hairy body seemed to suit the situation.

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But my favorite find of all, a much larger spider . . .

l-big-spider-1

complete with a translucent green head and legs, made lighter by the flash of my camera. Why, oh why, did it cross the snow? Perhaps it was a fishing spider? If you know, do tell.

What I know is that it was beautiful, brought a smile to my face, made my heart sing and was the perfect culmination of all that I had wondered about at my feet.

(P.S. Fellow Master Naturalist Alan Seamans shared this with me: ” The beautiful green spider is Tetragnatha viridis, the green long-jawed orb weaver. The color of the abdomen is variable, sometimes with little red, other times with a lot of red like yours (doesn’t seem to be gender-related either). Normally their green color helps them camouflage amongst pine needles, their usual habitat, however it seems that they are frequently spotted in winter on snow for some reason! This species is common in the eastern US. Your specimen shows several i.d. characteristics: eight eyes in two sets of four parallel; long chelicerae (jaws), long legs with spines, and of course the beautiful green color. I will make a guess that it is a female because it lacks enlarged pedipalps? The genus is also called stretch spiders, ’cause that’s what they do! Stretch out those long legs so they look thin and blend in on pine needles and twigs.” Thank you, Alan.

And Rich Holschuh’s comment below.)

 

Book of October: HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION

Better late than never is the name of my game. And so it is that I’m finally posting the Book of October. Since I was away at the beginning of the month, I’ve been playing catch-up, but also, I had three different books I wanted to write about and couldn’t choose one. And then, the other day after hiking with my friend, Marita, and mentioning her book, I realized when I tried to provide a link from my Book of the Month posts that though I’ve mentioned the book several times, I’ve never actually written about it. And so, without further ado . . .

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the Book of October is HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION by Marita Wiser.

Of course, since we’ve been friends for a long time and I’ve served as editor on several editions of the book, I suppose you might deem my review as being biased. It is.

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And if you find the typo that has survived several editions, I might give you an extra candy bar for Halloween. Just remember, only God is perfect.

As you can see from the table of contents, trail descriptions are organized based on location and she ranks the difficulty, making it easy for the user to make a decision about which trail to hike. Do you see the blue box on Mount Cutler in Hiram? I actually had a brain freeze there and couldn’t put mind over matter and get to the summit. I was stuck in one spot for at least a half hour before feeling a slight bit of bravery and making my way down. I laugh at that now because I’ve completed all the black diamonds except for Chocorua–guess that needs to go on my list. Of course, my guy and I did have a heck of a time descending one trail on the Baldfaces, but we survived and have a story to tell.

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The trail descriptions include directions, distances, time allotment, difficulty and often history. I think knowing the history of the place is extremely valuable so you can better understand the features around you.

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For one of the local favorites, Pleasant Mountain, she includes five pages to describe the various trails and even includes an old photograph of the Pleasant Mountain Hotel. Standing at the summit, I often imagine the horses and carriages that carried visitors up the Firewardens trail, that is after they’d arrived by Steamboat, having followed the Cumberland and Oxford Canal from Portland to Harrison. Their journey makes any hike we take seem so easy. Well, maybe not, but still.

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The centerfold provides an overview of all the areas Marita writes about.

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And while she begins the book with a variety of hiking tips about everything from water, food, trash and clothing to ticks, hunting and trail markings, she ends with a scavenger hunt and information on how to reorder the book.

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With time comes change and her covers reflect such. Marita started this project when she wrote a hiking column for The Bridgton News years ago.

The beauty of her book is that she actually goes out and explores all of the trails over and over again, and in each edition she provides updated descriptions. She also adds and deletes trails, so even if you have an older version, you might want to purchase the current copy.

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I’m thankful for the book and my friendship with Marita. And glad that I often get to join her on a reconnaissance mission. (We also co-host the rest stop at the teepee on the Southwest Ridge Trail of Pleasant Mountain each September for Loon Echo Land Trust’s Hike ‘n Bike fundraiser before we traverse the ridgeline to the summit of Shawnee Peak Ski Area–thus our southern-themed headwear.)

This Book of October is a must have if you live in or plan to visit the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region area. And it’s available at many local shops, including Bridgton Books.

HIKES & Woodland Walks in and Around Maine’s LAKES REGION, fifth edition, by Marita Wiser, © 2013.

 

 

To Overlook and Be-yond

This afternoon I pulled into the parking lot at Bald Pate Preserve and heard my phone ring. I’ve never quite mastered the art of the swipe to answer and so as usual missed responding immediately. But . . . I put the car into park, or so I thought, and then tried to return the call to our youngest in Colorado. As I dialed, or rather, pushed the phone icon and listened to it dial and ring, I heard the phone ringing in another part of the truck. What in the world? A ventriloquist phone? And then I opened the cubby between the front seats and discovered my husband’s phone. And saw that our youngest was trying to reach him. Meanwhile, I felt like I was in motion. Because I was. The truck was in neutral rather than park and I was almost to the middle of the parking lot before I applied the brake. Somehow, I managed to make the call. After we chatted for a few minutes, with concern and wisdom, he asked, “Mom, are you hiking alone? Should you be?” “Yes,” I responded. “I’ll be fine. There are other cars here so I’m sure I’ll see people.” To be honest, though, I hoped I wouldn’t. This was one day when I needed to just be.

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I needed to wander among the red maples

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and red oaks that graced the sky.

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I needed to embrace the subtle coloration of sarsaparilla

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and vibrant hues of blueberries.

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I needed to admire the veins that bring nourishment to trees

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and all that live therein.

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I needed to observe life giving forces

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and the differences among kin.

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I needed to pause at each overlook

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where the view offered up life’s changes.

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I needed to say farewell

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as I looked toward the beyond.

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For you, Brother Bill, I needed to walk the trails today and lift up your  life which ended unexpectedly this morning. I trust that you’ll be forever in my heart and going forth will travel with me as I wonder and wander. I trust you’ll watch over me and help me understand the great beyond. May you rest in peace, big brother.

An Emerald Mondate

My guy and I journeyed via bus, car and foot across northern and eastern Ireland these past two weeks. Our main agenda–a vacation in the land where twenty-six years and two months ago we celebrated our honeymoon. We both also had semi-hidden agendas–his to seek out ancestral roots, mine to search as well, though my quest wasn’t quite so clear.

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Our journey began after we dumped our bags at the hotel, where our room wasn’t yet ready, and crossed the River Liffey in Dublin. It was to the right that we’d parked a rental car 26 years previously as we searched for traditional music and supper, only to return hours later and discover that the driver’s side window had been smashed and our video camera stolen. All these years I’ve held a sour view of the Fair City and so I felt a bit nervous as we stepped forth.

trinity-college-dublin

The feeling began to wane immediately, for as we approached a street corner and chatted about locating the library, a Dubliner overheard us and assumed we were looking for Trinity College (founded in 1592). We decided to play along and followed his directions–thankfully. It was “Welcome Freshers” week and the quad swelled with activity tents, music and students anticipating the year ahead. We passed among the frivolity and found the self-guided tour of the 18th century Old Library and that most ancient of manuscripts–the Book of Kells, a 9th century book featuring a richly decorated copy of the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. A favorite discovery: the monks used oak apple galls to create ink–apparently, they crushed the galls and soaked them in rainwater, wine or beer until they softened. I’ve got to try this.

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While (or whilst as the Irish say) no photos were allowed in the Treasury where the manuscripts are stored, equally impressive was the Long Room, which houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books in ancient oak bookcases. Just thinking about the centuries we were encountering was mind boggling, enhanced of course, by a lack of sleep.

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A few hours later, we made our way back to the hotel, enjoying the architecture and flowers as we walked along. At last, we could check in and so we checked out–a rejuvenating nap essential to our well being.

guiness-sign-and-face

Rested and showered, we hopped aboard a bus–our next destination, the Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate Brewery. The 250-year story of Guinness® is portrayed on five floors in a building designed in the shape of a pint. What’s not to like about that.

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We learned about the process of creating beer, and then there was the whistling oyster, one of the many icons of the Guinness® brand.

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After taking in the full story, we reached the Gravity Bar, where ticket holders may each sip a complimentary foam-topped pint. The museum was preparing to close and the bartenders made the last call. My guy asked if we could purchase a second pint and we learned that they don’t sell any, but he kindly slipped us two. Don’t tell.

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The Gravity Bar offers 360˚ views of the city.

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And the view includes the Wicklow Mountains, our intended destination for week 2.

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If you hear my guy tell this story, he’ll say that we were told it was a 45 minute walk from our hotel to the Storehouse, but a short bus ride. We rode the bus there, but later weren’t sure where we should queue for the ride back, so we decided to walk instead. According to him, it took us five hours to make that 45 minute walk. I’m not sure it was quite that long, but we did stop at The Temple Bar for the music and a few other prime spots to eat and sip a wee bit more.

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The next morning we set out for the National Library, which had actually been our intended destination the previous day–but who can deny enjoying the Book of Kells exhibit. My guy was hopeful that the genealogists at the library would help him make some connections, but without knowing parishes he hit a bit of a stonewall.

And so we left the Fair City with much fonder memories, took a bus to the airport, picked up our rental car, and ventured on. Oy vey. If you’ve ever watched the BBC program, “Keeping Up Appearances,” you’ll appreciate that I was Hyacinth to my guy’s Richard. “Mind the pedestrian,” I’d say. “I’m minding the pedestrian,” he’d respond.

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Our first stop, Newgrange, a Neolithic passage tomb alleged to be older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. Constructed during the Stone Age, about 5,200 years ago, Newgrange is a large circular mound that covers 300 feet in diameter and stands 36 feet high. A stone passageway leads to three small chambers. Some describe it as an ancient temple, a place of astrological, spiritual and ceremonial importance. Our guide told us that bones were found here and it may have been a place for worship as well as where people were laid to rest. We were in awe of its structure and the fact that the passageway is oriented northward allowing the sun to illuminate it during the winter solstice.

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Yes, the railings are new, but this is possibly the oldest building in the world. That’s worth repeating–the oldest building in the world. We had to bend low to enter and then squeeze between the walls as we walked toward the center, where three small chambers with stone basins created a cross-like structural plan. Even as we stood with others in darkness and waited for a beam of artificial light to demonstrate the real thing, we couldn’t quite fathom what we were witnessing.

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Our awe continued within the center and by the entrance stone, where we witnessed megalithic art. The spirals reminded me of labyrinths, but we’ll never know their true significance. And that’s OK.

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By the time we arrived at Carlingford, it was pouring and we had no idea where to stay. We stopped at a hotel, which was full–thankfully. They suggested the Ghan House, a Georgian House set within three acres of walled gardens. It was our most posh stay and we didn’t truly appreciate it until the next morning when the sun shone brilliantly.

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The Ghan House is located just a stone’s throw from the Thoisel or town gate leading into the narrow streets of the town centre, where we found Ma Baker’s in the rain, a welcoming pub frequented by the locals, who laughed and joked and reminded us that the Irish love to sip a pint, tease each other and tell stories no matter what the weather might be out the door. And they don’t care about spelling, punctuation or run-ons. Life is too short for that–note to self.

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The tide was low when we walked along the lough the next morning and took in King John’s Castle, which was initially constructed by Hugh De Lacy in 1190, though it wasn’t completed until 1261. Purportedly, King John, the brother of Richard the Lionhearted, visited in 1210, and thus the name for this Norman structure.

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From Carlingford, we travelled north and did what we had wanted to do 26 years prior; we crossed into Northern Ireland. On our previous adventure, we’d journeyed as far as Letterkenny in the northern part of the Republic of Ireland, only a half hour from Derry. But that was then, the time of The Troubles, and we didn’t dare to cross the border. Again, my guy was seeking ancestors and at the Welcome Center he was told to visit the Tower Museum where Brian Mitchell would be able to provide some help. We were too late when we climbed down from the wall to the museum, so we did what the Irish would do–when in Rome–we found a pub and had a nice chat with a young man who had recently returned to Derry in search of work. We also walked around the city, taking in the sites made famous by The Troubles. And the following morning we again returned to the museum, where the curator told us that Brian would probably show up around 11am. So, we paid for a self-guided tour and learned about the town’s colorful and dramatic past through “The Story of Derry.” At 11:30 we once again went in search of Mr. Mitchell, only to learn that he was out and about somewhere. Since we needed to check out of our room, we decided that our Derry experience was over, but Mr. Mitchell did respond to an e-mail and so my guy has some more resources to consider.

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Our next stop, Portrush, a resort town along the Atlantic and on the northern fringe of Ireland. After checking in at the Antrim House B&B, we headed off along the Coastal Scenic Route to Carrick-a-Rede Island. Carrick-a-Rede is from the Scottish Gaelic term, Carriage-a-Rade, meaning the rock in the road.

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And the road is presumably the sea route for Atlantic salmon that were once fished here prolifically. In fact, so prolifically, that the fishery is no longer viable. In order to reach  the best places to catch the migrating salmon, for 350 years fishermen crossed regularly to the island.

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One hundred feet above the sea, the fishermen crossed the 60-foot chasm via a rope bridge to check their nets. Of course, they had only one rope, not the steel and plank structure that we crossed. That being said, it was quite windy and the bridge did sway.

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We put our fear of heights behind us and made our way across.

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Did he just do that? Yup.

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And I followed.

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Our views included Raithlin Island, the northernmost point of Ireland.

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Our next wonder–the Giant’s Causeway, a geological phenomenon of 40,000 basalt stone columns formed by volcanic eruptions over 60 million years ago.

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These hexagonal tubes stacked together like cans on a shelf offer yet another mystical and magical look at the world, one that the Irish embraced by creating legends to explain their existence–Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), an Irish giant, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Good old Fionn accepted said challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two could meet. There are two endings so take your pick: In one version, Fionn defeats Benandonner, but in another,  he hides from Benandonner because he realizes his foe is much bigger. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises her husband as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the “baby,” he fears that its father, Fionn, must be the biggest giant of them all. Benandonner flees back to Scotland in fright, but makes sure to destroy the causeway behind him so he won’t be followed by Fionn.

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My guy found a spot to take in the giant’s viewpoint.

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As we made our way back toward Portrush, we paused at Dunluce Castle. We couldn’t go in because it had closed for the day, but we could still see part of the castle town that was developed in the early 1600s.

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Originally built by one clan in the early 1500s, it was seized by another in the mid 1500s. Its history includes rebellions and intrigue.

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Included in its dramatic history are tales of how the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639. We couldn’t help but wonder if the same happened to the wall.

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Back in Portrush finally, our own tale continued. At the suggestion of our hostess, we walked to the Harbour Bar for dinner.

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While we waited for a table, we paused in the wee pub, as they call it. A few minutes later, two guys walked in with a trophy and made a big fuss about its placement among the best bottles of whiskey.

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At the time, I was standing to the right of the gentleman in the middle and so I asked him about the trophy. He explained that when you participate in the Ryder Cup you receive a replica. My guy immediately realized that I was talking to a famous Irish golfer, he just couldn’t put a name with the face. On the wall above, we could see photos of him, but we weren’t close enough to read the signatures.

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It turns out we were in the presence of Darren Clarke, the European Ryder Cup captain for 2016. We didn’t know that until we went to check on our table and asked. One of the bartenders encouraged us to stay for the send-off, so we did. Everyone donned a D.C. mask (at 00:16, if you look quickly to the back left, you might see my scraggly hair behind a mask)–and sang “Shoulder to shoulder, we’ll answer Darren’s call.” We were included as the North American entourage.

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While I got Darren’s autograph on one of the masks, my guy befriended Willie, the bar manager.

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The next morning, after a traditional Irish breakfast, we toured the downtown. Ireland amazes us–the temperature was chilly and yet the flowers were gorgeous. And palm trees grow throughout the country.

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Upon our departure, our hostess suggested we follow the coastal route to Murlough Bay and so we did. And took a wrong turn that lead down a dead-end to a gate with a sign warning us that guard dogs were on site. With caution, my guy backed up the lane until he could turn the car around. Our hostess had also told us not to park at the upper lot for Murlough Bay, but instead to drive down. I insisted upon the upper lot given that the road had at least a 10% pitch. So we walked down. And down. And down some more.

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Upon our descent, the light at a distant lighthouse beckoned in the background as Fairhead came into view.

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The coastline was as dramatic as we’d been promised. And I was glad we’d walked because the drive would have been even more dramatic with Hyacinth in the passenger seat.

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This area may appear familiar to viewers of Game of Thrones–including the site of Stormlands.

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After a hike back up the road, we drove on to take in the scenery of Torr Head. The road narrowed significantly as it twisted and turned along the coast. And then . . . we met a porsche rally. As best he could, my guy squeezed our car past them. And as soon as he could, we got off the coastal route and drove on to Belfast. It was late in the day and pouring when we arrived. By the time we parked in city centre and walked to the Welcome Center, we were drenched. And disappointed. There was no where to stay in town and we’d have to move on. But . . . then one final effort proved that a hotel was available. We should have questioned if for the price. Well, actually I did, but we were told that it was a fine place and served as a conference center. So we took it. And couldn’t wait to get out of there. Fortunately, we found some Irish music back in town and a delightful meal of locally harvested food. All we needed to do was sleep in the rathole, though even that didn’t work so well.

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The next morning we took in the Titanic Museum and stepped aboard one of its tenderfoot boats, the Nomadic.

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A dose of coffee and I was ready to take the helm. And if you are wondering if it’s windy every day in Ireland, the answer is yes. It also rains at some point each day. Our time in Northern Ireland was over, but except for that one accommodation, we’d had a wonderful and wonder-filled time.

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As we worked our way south, we spent a night at a delightful B&B in Navan, which featured  more traditional music and a place to relax. On Monday morning, we finally headed to the cottage we’d rented in the town of Laragh–Glendale Holiday Cottages–we highly recommend. Our host, Christy, was extremely accommodating, the cottage spacious and amenities plentiful.

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We’d chosen this location because it was a five minute walk to the pub and restaurant in Laragh, located in the Wicklow Mountains, and near the Glendalough monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.

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Forty shades of green and Brigadoon all came to mind as we approached the monastic settlement and its round tower.

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St. Kevin’s kitchen is actually a 12th century church, so named because it was believed that the bell tower was a kitchen chimney. Apparently, however, no food was ever cooked there. But . . . if you think of the word of God as food, then perhaps many a feast was actually served.

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From the altar window in the cathedral, the largest of seven churches within the monastic city,  a view of the world beyond was offered.

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Likewise, we could see the world within, including the Priest House in the background.

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And everywhere, gravestones told the story of many who’d passed this way.

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A little closer to Laragh, Trinity Church.

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Upper Glendalough was the jumping off point for our initial hike upon the Wicklow Way.

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We paused beside Poulanass Falls before zigzagging our way up the first trail.

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Sheep merely looked up to acknowledge our passing. We, however, needed to pay more attention for sheep shit was prolific.

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Tree felling was also a frequent sight, but we noted a unique (to us anyway) method of reforestation–in this case the Sitka spruces and Scots pines being felled were replaced by mountain ash saplings. One other thing we wondered about–the plastic sleeves–we saw some that had fallen away as trees grew, but were left in place. Biodegradable? We could only hope.

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We spent three full days on the trail, not covering all of it, but a good portion as we hiked 10-15 miles each day.

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Our journey took us over boggy portions,

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down grassy sections,

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on village lanes,

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over boardwalks,

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through the black forest,

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and into the future.

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Frequently, we had to stop, reread the directions and study the map, but more often the route was self-explanatory.

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Along one section that was particularly muddy due to frequent horse crossings, we made a discovery unique to us.

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A badger print. Sadly, or maybe happily to locals, we saw a dead badger on one of the lanes not far from this print. Related? We’ll never know.

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We saw deer, one rabbit and two red squirrels.

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Writing of the latter, we chuckled when we encountered this sign because we have frequent encounters with them at home. But considering we only saw two in two weeks and spent most of our days outside, we had to wonder.

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Bessie One,

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Two,

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and Three (pronounced Tree) tolerated our presence.

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And Bessie Four made us laugh–as she stood upon a wall.

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Though we passed through pasture after pasture and by many a farm and barn, we never saw any farmers, but knew that they were hard at work preparing for winter.

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And one even offered us nourishment.

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Our path included obstacles, though most were easy to overcome from a rope loop

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to a simple step or

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ladder crossing.

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Only once were we uncertain. The stile was padlocked and there was no step or ladder. We finally decided to climb up over the gate in hopes that there wasn’t a bull on the other side. Usually though, a beware of bull sign announced their presence and no such sign marked that particular crossing–phew.

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Our days ended with a stop at the local pub because Guinness® is good for you. I actually overheard an older woman telling her significant other the truth behind this. Apparently, when this woman’s mother had been in hospital years before, she was given Guinness® to drink each morning and evening–perhaps for its iron content. Or perhaps just because it’s good for you.

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One of our stops was at the smallest and oldest pub in the nation–the Dying Cow. Mr. Dolan sat behind the bar sipping a Guinness® along with us as he and my guy got into a discussion about American politics. We noted that to be a hot topic. Our reason for finding this pub was because we’d walked into Tenahely after a fifteen miler and were about to step into Murphy’s for a pint when a gentleman sitting outside started chatting with us. He suggested we head off down the road because we needed to experience this tiny bar and he would have joined us but he’d just ordered his pint and didn’t want to waste it.

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We followed the directions he wrote out for us, and missed the 1798 monument at first, but retraced our route and found it. We only wish he’d then told us how to get back to Laragh. That took a while, but eventually we found our way home.

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Our views from the Wicklow Way were worthy of wonder.

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And the ever present clouds added to the drama.

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The land resembled a patchwork quilt.

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No matter where we looked, it was forever changing.

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Some of our fun discoveries included chestnut trees,

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black slugs, and . . .

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the crème de la crème–bear claw marks! Did Bear Gryllz really leave his signature on the trail behind the Glendalough Hotel?

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When we weren’t hiking, we explored the area, including Wicklow and its stone beach.

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We didn’t understand this ship at first until my guy asked–meet Wavewalker, a maintenance boat for Ireland’s Offshore Windfarm.

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Across the harbor, we spied the remains of a castle that invited a closer look.

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It seems Black Castle was constantly under siege and totally destroyed in 1301. And yet–I felt a presence still there.

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Do you see his face?

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The oldest mill in Ireland also drew our attention–Avoca Handweavers Mill was established in 1723.

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It was the home of color with attitude.

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Upclose and personal, we saw the inner workings.

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And marveled at the creative results.

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Our last full day in Ireland found us in Carlow. Standing beside the River Barrow, this castle was thought to once be a stronghold and it survived attacks in the 1400s and 1600s. According to local lore, a physician set out to remodel it into an asylum in the early 1800s. As he tried to demolish the interior, he placed explosive charges near its base and accidentally destroyed all but the remaining west wall and twin towers. Uh oh.

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As happened daily, the weather quickly changed from blue sky to raindrops. Swans in the River Barrow didn’t care. They were in their element.

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My guy counted while I photographed. Thirty some odd–all wishful that we’d brought good tidings in the form of bread. Not to be much to their dismay. Despite that, we were treated to several displays.

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And later that night, a display of sun and clouds as we went in search of supper.

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Our final night was spent at the Green Lane B&B in Carlow where Pat and Noeleen took special care of us. My guy watched the GAA football game with Pat, their grandson Sam helped us print out our airline tickets and Noeleen made sure we had toll money for our journey to the airport. And then there was the breakfast–the finest we’d enjoyed.

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Think eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, sausage, white pudding, toast and Irish soda bread. And they wanted to know if we wanted porridge and cereal. Really?

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Before we checked out, I made my guy drive to this field ensconced in an Irish mist.

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The fog seemed apropos for our walk out to the Browneshill Dolmen. This was a burial chamber that may have originally been covered with earth.

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My guy stands almost six feet tall, so his height provided a sense of size.

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The two more pointed stones on either side of the squared stone were known as portal stones that would have supported the granite capstone or chamber roof. The squared stone in the center was probably the gate stone that blocked the entrance. This site has not been excavated so there’s no other info about it, but just standing in its presence and considering those who came before and created such was enough.

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And then there were the spider webs. I’d missed them as we’d walked toward the dolmen, but they captured my attention all the way back. From prehistoric to present, the structures before us were breathtaking.

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And when we finally pulled out of the B&B driveway on our way to the airport, I asked my guy to stop while I jumped out of the car. What a sight to behold–web ornaments. A perfect ending to our vacation.

My guy meet several roadblocks on his search for roots, but at the same time, he learned about some new avenues that may help in his quest. And I, I wished for more time to understand all that was before me from prehistoric to present–but maybe I sought answers that don’t need to be. Having the questions might be enough.

Together, we were grateful for our Hyacinth and Richard Adventure on the Emerald Isle. And glad to return the car safely to the rental agency.