The fox and I were silent.
The birds, thankfully, were not. Nor were the squirrels.
The fox and I were silent.
The birds, thankfully, were not. Nor were the squirrels.
This morning dawned bright and brisk and offered a brilliant background for a journey through the almost Peabody-Fitch Woods that Loon Echo Land Trust hopes to add to their holdings. The 252 acres of the proposed project surrounds Bridgton Historical Society‘s Narramissic Farm.
Jon Evans, Loon Echo’s Stewardship Manager and board member of the historical society had asked me to join the walk that would highlight the Peabody-Fitch Homestead built in 1797 and introduce Loon Echo’s new executive director Matt Markot. In the morning light, we circled the house as Jon shared some of the farm’s story.
On the northern side of the house, we paused to enjoy the view, including Pleasant Mountain just beyond the trees to the left of the field. The land trust also owns and protects over 2,000 acres of the mountain that defines this area of western Maine.
Measuring the effect of the cold on the hike’s participants, Jon chose his stop points, where he shared his keen knowledge of the farm and the lands that surround it. For me, it’s always a joy to tramp with him because his connection to the land is personal, and this particular piece even more than most for Jon’s family long ago farmed an adjacent acreage and he grew up traipsing through the very woods we snowshoed today. (And this photo includes Margaret Lindsay Sanborn, mother of Matt Markot, LELT’s new ED who stands to his mom’s right.)
As we circled behind the barn I shared with Jon a bit of knowledge that adds to the lore of what’s always been known as the Temperance Barn, supposedly constructed during prohibition without the usual swigs of rum for all who helped in the building process. Following a blog post I wrote in December 2018 about this very property, a granddaughter of Margaret Monroe who gifted the property to the historical society in 1987 wrote the following message: Hi – I am glad you enjoy my grandmother’s property. A heads up that there is no written documentation from the period re: the barn actually being built without alcohol. My grandmother was prone to making up history. I want to give respect to hardy native Mainers: Monroes were largely summer people. My grandmother also said sherry wasn’t alcoholic and would drink a big glass of it every night before dinner, Lark cigarette in her other hand. Happy Holidays! Rebecca Monroe
It turns out that wasn’t the only story that had more to offer than I’d originally thought to be true. As we were about to pass through a stonewall behind the barn, my eyes cued in on debris below some trees. Certainly it was the work of woodpeckers and I stepped onto the wall in search of scat. Nada.
Looking up at the pin cherry tree, I found not pileated works, but the incisors of another that gave a clue.
And below, pigeon-toed tracks. Between the incisor marks and tracks I knew the creator, but it didn’t make sense to me, for though I find hemlock twigs below such a tree when a porcupine has clipped them, I couldn’t recall ever seeing bark chips below a porky tree. In my brain, the rodent ate the bark as it sought the cambium layer within. I dismissed it as a lesson to be considered and we moved on.
Jon led us along a colonial road from the historical society’s property to a stonewall that delineated the Peabody-Fitch Woods. We turned onto a trail I’d never traveled before and made our way along another farm road. Periodically, Jon, Matt, and I bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge about the trees and forest succession that had occurred since the farm was last a working land. We also spied a few mammal tracks, including those of a bobcat.
At last, we circled around and found our way back toward the border between the P-F Woods and farm.
Close to the Temperance Barn again, porcupine tracks crisscrossed to the stonewall where we’d seen their activity at the start of our journey.
Near the parking lot and Blacksmith Shop, more porcupine works made themselves evident–by their tracks and the debarked trees.
Incredibly debarked trees. I’m always amazed by the fact that porcupines, given their size, can find support on trees and limbs that seem so flimsy. I’ve been told that they’re known to have many broken bones and it makes sense given the precarious choices they make to seek winter nutrients.
Once again, there was bark debris. In the past I’ve always said that beavers leave wood chips, but porcupines eat the bark and cambium layer.
The evidence was obvious given the prints and comma-shaped scat. But the bark debris proved me wrong today.
And I loved that. When Jon first introduced me as a Maine Master Naturalist, he asked how long I’ve been such. “Six years,” I said. And though I’ve spent my sixty years wandering and wondering in the woods and along the coast of southern and northern New England, it was the Master Naturalist class that taught me how to take a closer look.
Do you see the green of the cambium layer? And those incisor marks–how they are at opposing angles? Those I recognized.
But . . . the porcupines taught me something new today.
Six years–I’m still a babe in the woods.
Winter Storm Harper left its mark in the form of snow and wind upon our little spot in the universe.
And I was certain that any tracks I might encounter in the woods would have been erased by dervishes that whirled across the field yesterday, overnight, and into today.
Consequently, it was a pleasant surprise to discover porcupine tracks leading to and fro our barn and woodlot in their typical pigeon-toed pattern.
As delighted as I was, I was equally dispirited as I noticed that the tips of my favorite hemlock had been nipped to oblivion.
But, the porcupine had moved on from that tree, crossed over a stonewall, and visited several other trees in our woodlot, as noted by the downed twigs that decorated the snow’s surface. Like the tracks, the twigs were freshly cut in the past twenty-four hours or less actually.
Of course, I couldn’t overlook the woody commas amid the debris, much as they break up a sentence such as this, that added to the list of evidence that a porcupine had been present. Some call them scat.
And then, as I continued onward, I followed the tracks of two others that frequent our yard. Even as I delighted in the winter structure of a Queen Anne’s Lace florescent, did I notice the red fox prints on the snow below.
The tracks led me to Stevens Brook, which has a journey of its own to trace.
I went to look because I felt the need to add a bit of color to this wintry day and knew that the local congregation of Mallards would contribute not only that, but sound as well.
And then, as I snowshoed beside the trail that follows the brook, I began to notice tracks made by another–this one a member of the weasel family with tear-drop shaped toes of five on each foot.
The more I followed it, the more I realized it had walked and then loped and appeared to drag something along the way.
Sometimes it chose to slide on the downhills.
And equally left an impression as it journeyed up and over a stonewall.
Meanwhile, within the wall, I surmised another of a different species quivered as silently as possible so as not to attract attention, with the hope of creating hoar frost for another day.
Wherever I went, the weasel had also trekked. And frequently I noticed signs of blood as if something had been dragged and the life dripped out of it.
In some places the frozen vital fluid bespoke a meal perhaps waiting to be cached–the perfect sacrifice of one to nurture another.
So few were the tracks of mankind on the virgin snow and so abundant the weasel.
Soon I found myself beside another brook, this one named Willet, and I glanced about expecting to see evidence of action, but instead found ice and snow and shadows disappearing into the bend.
And then . . . upon the edge of the brook’s high bank, a sudden turn my weasel had made, choosing to not slide downward.
A bit further along, I was following its tracks again when I spied fresh woody debris upon the snow’s surface and knew that a pileated had been at work this day.
Rounding the tree, I discovered a series of holes made over a series of days or weeks or years.
From the woodpecker tree, it took a few minutes, but again I found the tracks of one very busy fisher. I never did find any kill sites, but suspected that it had a cache somewhere and let its fresh groceries dangle from its mouth as it carried them back to the pantry.
Making my way toward home, I didn’t need to rest, but had I intended upon such, it wouldn’t have been at the bench for so deep was the snow.
That was okay, for my movement kept me warm and I knew that I’d soon be stripping off my winter layers once I reached our kitchen. But first, there was a pasture to pass through, and while I seemed to have left the fisher behind, I came upon the tracks of the two red foxes I’d met earlier.
In typical red fox behavior, one of them had paused at the tip of a downed tree and urinated. One of these days perhaps it will finally get lucky.
In the meantime, I felt lucky for I’d seen the prints and tracks of so many on this day when I wondered if I’d see any–including those of the Mallards beside Stevens Brook.
And of all the winter wild out my door, today the ducks were my favorite because I not only got to watch them for a while, but I also appreciated the colorful display they added to the landscape.
(Warning: Some photos in this post may be disturbing.)
A couple of friends and I didn’t let this morning’s brisk air keep us inside and so at the designated time and place we met, strapped on our snowshoes and journeyed forth.
Almost immediately we were greeted with evidence that others had had the same idea. And though we knew they were turkey and fox tracks that intersected on the snow-covered ice, we weren’t positive about the fox ID until a few minutes later. As it was, the prints were muffled in presentation, which led us to red versus gray fox, but the stride seemed a wee bit short.
And then we found the calling card and both friends were thrilled to get down on all fours and take a sniff. Indeed, the skunky scent made us certain that the fox’s color was red.
Everywhere, whether atop a snow-capped rock or sapling or winter weed, we found that calling card–most of it a mere dribble, but enough.
Everywhere we also found the fox tracks and wondered–one or two? It seemed likely that she followed he, but we couldn’t be absolutely certain.
And then something in the distance atop the snow called our attention and we quickly followed the fox tracks to the dark sight.
It turned out to be turkey feathers. And we got to wondering again. There were no turkey tracks nearby, only fox. What had happened?
Toward the shore we tramped and suddenly one of us found a display of feathers and cartilage.
And then another about ten feet away.
And still another.
Beside it all, we found the calling card of the red fox to be even more prominently displayed.
Later, after one of our group departed, two of us revisited the kill sight and realized that there were some black and gray hairs left behind. My assumption was coyote as we had also seen their tracks. And we found a rather robust coyote scat not far away.
So here’s the story as we pieced it together, though we know some pages are missing: The fox(es) stealthily sneaked up on the turkeys who were scratching about for food on the ground under some hemlock trees where the sun had melted the snow. They pounced on one who wasn’t able to fly off quickly enough, for if you’ve ever watched a turkey take off, you know it’s awkward motion in slow speed. We hoped that the kill was quick and the turkey didn’t suffer as its feathers were plucked. The body was dragged here and then there, and the fox urinated to stake his claim. Maybe he shared some meat with his girlfriend. Along came the coyote who didn’t care about the fox’s territory and perhaps he scared them off and helped himself to a tasty treat. We had to think about it as nature’s way and jules of energy being passed on from the insects and birds to plants and seeds to the turkey and on to the canines. They, too, need to eat.
We searched all over for a head and maybe leg remnants or other body parts, but found not much, though we did find a bony structure and wished our veterinarian friend had been with us to perhaps enlighten our understanding.
Finally, we moved on and a few feet away another sight made itself visible.
Tucked into the top of a tree snag was a partial ear of corn. The refrigeration obviously worked for it looked as fresh as one might eat on a summer day.
How did it get there? We know it came from a nearby corn field, but who was responsible for its placement? Perhaps a squirrel? Or a bird? It didn’t seem likely that a raccoon could climb the snag, but then again, in nature the impossible often happens when we aren’t looking.
Today, we looked and even when it wasn’t pleasant, we were excited for we gained a wee better appreciation for and understanding of nature’s larder.
People often ask me this question: Aren’t you afraid of hiking alone? My response is that I’m more afraid to walk down Main Street than through the woods, the reason being that it’s a rare occasion I encounter another mammal. Oh, I do move more cautiously when I’m alone and today was no different. But . . . there’s something uniquely special about a solo experience.
Perhaps it’s that my mind wanders with me and I see things I might otherwise miss when I’m distracted by conversations with dear friends and family members. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to travel with them, I just equally enjoy going forth on my own.
Today’s exploration of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Long Meadow Brook Reserve and the adjacent private property protected under a conservation easement with the land trust allowed such a wander, both literally as I only occasionally followed the trail, and figuratively as I was sure that the two-headed tree spirit chuckled with me, not at me. You’ll need to let your own imagination wander to see the spirits within the split tree–believe me . . . they are there.
One of the things I love best about the Long Meadow Brook Reserve is its cathedral of pines–and the route I chose today appeared to lead to infinity. It’s not the blazed route, but someone had obviously been that way before.
When I reached the first bench, I heard the voices of fellow travelers and the laughter of the Lovell Recreation Summer Campers who often clamber for a seat. For the time being, their good-natured chatter was buried until they return again.
From the bench I moved across the field as many a deer had done, and found my way down to the namesake for this property, Long Meadow Brook. I’ll never forget my first visit several years ago–and the awe when discovering this view in the summer. In every season, I welcome the opportunity to have my breath taken away.
The view by my feet also garnered my attention, for it was obvious that a red fox had walked this way before me.
How did I know it was a red fox and not gray? Well, first I measured the print size, straddle, and stride. And then I looked at the foot morphology as presented in the snow. The prints were a bit muffled, which is one aid in identification, for a red fox has hairy feet. And . . . I spied the chevron, a little indented ridge that appears in the foot pad. If you look at David Brown’s Trackard in the previous photograph, you’ll see the chevron as a dark line.
There were other clues as to the maker of the tracks–for some frozen urine by a sapling spelled his name. And its skunky scent added a flourish to his penmanship. It’s mating season and this boy had an announcement to make.
I suspected his words were heard for it appeared that more than one fox had traveled across the old beaver dam and I found more pee at each little post.
I desperately wanted to cross as others had, but I was alone and knew it was best to stay on the eastern side.
That didn’t stop me from looking and noticing what may have been a recent otter or mink slide in the midst of the fox tracks.
Or the remains of a snowball fight that I imagined the fox affectionately tossed as his date.
Looking south, I couldn’t see any action, unless you consider the cattails. But I had to wonder, were the fox and the mink and the otter and any others at the edges keeping watch over me?
I couldn’t be sure, but I did note that the cattails parachuted seeds were eager to set off on the breeze and start their own lives.
Likewise, the water at the dam added its form of action and color and texture and sound–in as many renditions as possible.
At last I moved on, followed the blazed trail and climbed to the second bench on the property, along a route the deer know so well. Where were they? Also at the edge, again keeping watch?
Had I startled them from browsing the red maples? Missing buds and long tags represented their mark on the land.
Before moving on again, I stood behind the second bench where the mountains in Evans Notch looked as if they’d been coated with frosting; and in the way of the winter world, they had.
And then I followed a seldom used trail back down to the brook, where I spied a fox track. Do you see it? It’s about in the lower middle of the photograph.
I was even more excited when I noticed mature tamaracks growing along the brook’s bank and gave thanks.
For you see, several years ago some young tamaracks that grew along the beaver dam had been inadvertently chopped down to make a pathway for the snowmobiles. I was saddened by the discovery because this is one of the few GLLT properties with this deciduous conifer that looses most of its needles each fall. And that spot had also featured balsam fir, hemlock and white pine, making it the perfect outdoor classroom.
Add to that the pitch pines that grow by the first bench, and voilà! A lesson completed.
That made today’s discovery of the tamarack’s nubby twigs extra special and I knew that the tree spirits weren’t making fun of me, they were smiling upon me.
With that in mind, I was going to follow the trail back, but decided instead to journey for a bit beside the brook, where I found a deer bed in the sunniest of spots.
Eventually, I climbed up a hill and back to the trail, crossed through a stone wall to the neighboring property, continued on to a field and across that to a stump dump. Why go to such effort to reach a stump dump?
Because it’s actually a porcupine condominium hidden among the rocks and decaying tree stumps.
There were several entry ways–all showing the telltale signs of the pigpens of the woods.
Nipped twigs covered with a tad bit of fallen ice made me think the creators were snug inside and not over my head.
I did look up, but I did the same thing last week and didn’t see what others saw from a few feet back. That day, a porcupine was right over my head. Today, I didn’t think so, but the sun was bright and I couldn’t be absolutely certain. One may have been observing my actions from above.
And wondering what my fascination was with its scat. Check out those woody commas.
As I wandered about by the stump dump, something else also caught my eye–a promethea silkmoth cocoon.
At last I climbed back on to the porcupines’ rooftop and had to watch my step for there were several frosty vent holes and I didn’t want to land inside the humble abode.
As I stood there, I searched again for any quilled critters, but saw none. What I did see–that only a skeleton of a hemlock remained. It’s a tree the porcupines have spent more than several years denuding.
And in the tree next door, I noticed that they’d not yet reached the tip of one branch. Word has it that porcupines have many broken bones from falling out of trees. I’d love to be present when one returns for this leftover.
At last it was time for me to make my way out. I’d made a silly mistake today and thought that because it was so cold the snow would support me so I hadn’t worn snowshoes. Instead I created post holes with each step I took.
As I started across a five-acre field, my own spirit led the way–encouraging me not to give up despite the fact that I was tired.
And by the edge of the field, I did find a spirit hanging out. What was the cairn thinking? Maybe its expression as reflected at the base of the tree was one of disgust that I’d ventured forth in its space. Or perhaps it was forlorn that I was now taking my leave.
I chose to believe the latter and gave thanks for the opportunity to wander among the spirits of Long Meadow Brook.
We’ve wandered there before, my friend and I, and we’ll wander there again. For as she said, “No matter how often we come here, there’s always something new to see.” And so it was that we found ourselves crawling over the crusty snowbank to get onto the trail of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Reserve.
Virgin snow greeted us as we sauntered ever so slowly beside Sucker Brook, which drains out of Horseshoe Pond. All along, we were serenaded with water songs, but bereft of such from any birds, which seemed eerily odd.
We did, however, have plenty of sights to admire, including the beaded fertile fronds of sensitive fern standing stalwart in the cold water. And then it dawned on us. Yes, the fern was standing in water. We know it prefers the edges of wetlands, but today’s offerings were at least ankle deep. And then we remembered. During the summer, it would have sprouted at the margin for the brook barely trickled through the landscape prior to the rain and snow that have fallen since then.
As we stood there, we noted reminders of others, such as the basal leaves of the Cardinal flowers that grace the brook in late summer. Visions of their red heads danced through ours.
And within our crowns, we mentally gathered the fertile fronds of royal fern. Already the days are lengthening and in a flash we’ll wonder how winter passed so quickly (well, some of us will) and dried brown leaves gave way to lush green.
Then we let the brook gather our attention again. The late morning sun played with the water and snow-covered mounds, casting shadows to its liking–and ours.
Beside the brook grow hardwoods and soft, but none were as brilliant as the yellow birch. Perhaps it was the glow of a winter day that encouraged their golden sheen to stand out among the rest.
For a few moments we stood before one of my favorite yellow birches. I love how its spindly legs stand tall above the rocks in the middle of the brook. Today, all were but another memory as they stayed snug below the blanket of white.
The boulders were also skirted in a coating of white, and hemmed with an icy floral display.
Eventually, we moved on–but only a few steps at a time. In this wintry landscape one might think there is so little to see. And one might be wrong. The trees know, their bark displaying crustose lichens of various shades and shapes overlapped by frullania.
Frullania is a genus of leafy liverworts that you’ll see on many a tree as it splays across the bark in a spiderweb-like manner. Each leaf consists of two parts, giving it a three-dimension look. On this particular tree it could have been a work of art–a scene that included the branching arms of a tree against a blue sky, the blue being a trail blaze.
Given the conditions, the blazes were hidden by many works of nature. But staying on trail wasn’t always our focus.
Between the two of us we spied one sight after another that begged to be noticed, like the fruiting bodies of a lichen possibly called Snag Pin that topped small stems sticking out perpendicular to an old tree stump.
And then there was the fungi to note, like witch’s butter, this particular specimen reminding me of a duck posing in a frilly gown and crown.
Almost hidden by the snow, an old false tinder conk with its cracked black upper surface sporting a velvety margin below.
We also found tinder conks with their equally velvety spore surface, concave as opposed to the convex form of the false tinder conk. Both are known as a hoof fungus for their shape somewhat resembles that of a horse’s hoof. Somewhat. Perhaps this particular horse high stepped through the woods.
My friend’s affinity is more to the fungi, but she knew I was equally drawn to the hobblebush, their leaves tucked inside praying hands embracing the global flowerhead. Do you see the touch of green peeking out? Again, for those of you who would prefer to wish winter away, spring isn’t far off.
It took us a while to reach the viewing platform along this not so long trail and we chose not to climb up.
Instead we opted for the view beside the brook as it flowed forth into Moose Pond Bog.
Our main reason for such was that we were curious to know if any others had traveled beside the water as well. And we weren’t disappointed when we immediately spied mink tracks.
If you look closely, you’ll also note a slide, for why bound all the time when occasionally you can take advantage of the snowy landscape and save some energy. And have a little fun.
The Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve was born prior to the organization of the Greater Lovell Land Trust. Outside the White Mountain National Forest, it was the first parcel to be conserved in the area. Behind the scenes, retired Episcopal Bishop and outdoor enthusiast George Cadigan, who summered in Lovell, encouraged his Lower Bay of Kezar Lake neighbor Wilson Wing to purchase some acreage along Sucker Brook in the early 1970s and donate it to The Nature Conservancy since the GLLT didn’t yet exist. Additional acreage was added in the late ’70s, but because the nearest office of the conservancy was located closer to the coast and the GLLT was beginning to take shape, the land was deeded to the land trust with the request that it be named for Mr. Wing.
The 32 acres beside the brook is a preserve managed primarily in its natural state for preserves are deemed to be forever wild due to fragile ecological conditions. That means that when a tree falls at Wilson Wing, its voice will resonate in a variety of ways before it finally decomposes because it can’t be touched. It will serve as habitat to a variety of species whether on land or in water.
Across the street, the Bishop Cardinal Reserve is managed to protect water quality and provide recreation and habitat.
Today, I had the pleasure of meandering beside Sucker Brook with Jinny Mae in a fashion that I imagine Wilson Wing would approve–wandering the Wilson Wing way.
I should have known it would come to this as nothing lasts forever. My guy and I had driven to Lake Environmental Association’s Highland Research Forest and the sight at our feet when we stepped out of the truck might have been the first clue.
It was a vole tunnel–covered only by a thin layer of snow and it showed the different directions the little rodent had taken as it searched for food in the subnivean zone, that rather warm (think 32˚) space between the ground and snow where one might be protected from the harsh realities of winter. It looked like first the vole wanted to go this way and then that and there were even holes where he’d come to the surface. But what about her? Had she followed him? Or taken her own route?
Maybe it was because I’d said before we’d started that we’d check out the trails LEA had designed, but within minutes I thought it was better that we bushwhack instead for I’m forever curious about wetlands.
Or was it the fact that I said, let’s go out on the ice just after I said we need to be careful? But if we hadn’t done so, we might not have seen the small beaver lodge that we spied through the tree carcass.
Could it have been that he really wanted to get back on the trail while I wanted to look for the heron nest?
I will say he didn’t seem to mind that we saw the larger beaver lodge, though we didn’t cross too close to it.
He did seem excited about the rather fresh beaver works we discovered when I finally did what he wanted and climbed up the hill away from the ice.
But he certainly wasn’t as excited as I was about the lungwort that grew all the way up the trunk of the old sugar maple the beaver was in the process of chopping down and made me realize that the tree had survived the past history of this land . . . until now.
Below the tree was the beaver dam and I thought for sure he’d want to go down and take a look, but he didn’t have that desire.
Instead, he wanted to try to relocate the blue-flagged trail and so he followed deer tracks and headed inland.
But, my heart was drawn to the water and I really wanted to follow the brook.
For I had a feeling it would feature some cool finds. And it did.
His heart wasnt filled with joy at the sight of those five tear-drop shaped toes or the diagonal orientation of the fisher prints.
What did excite him? The discovery of blue flagging.
He did seem a wee bit enthused by another set of prints–that of a bobcat.
A burl covered in violet-toothed fungi, however, was not a view he needed to pause under.
Instead, he moved on quickly and discovered water we might need to ford.
I, on the other hand, took a few moments to get my fill of ice sculptures dangling over the rushing water.
Ice. It’s so fleeting, like a summer flower. And like a flower, every day it opens up a little more and changes and then . . . whoosh. A day too warm and it dries up.
As he looked for a place to cross the brook and then realized we should just follow it, barbed wire growing through a tree drew his attention for he’d been wondering if anyone had wandered this way a hundred years ago.
As it went today, we followed the trail and one another sometimes and bushwhacked across the landscape in other moments.
We didn’t exactly stay within the forest, for eventually we found ourselves sitting on a privately owned association beach overlooking Highland Lake.
We actually sat on lunch rock together as we topped off our PB&J sandwiches with a shared Guinness in honor of this being the birthday of Arthur Guinness’ St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin. Oh, and piece of shortbread from the Shortbread House in Scotland added a sweet touch to this: Our Final Mondate . . .
of 2018. And then I followed my guy back into the forest.
Established in 1900 by an officer of the Audubon Society, the intention of the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is to monitor the status and distribution of bird populations.
Our local count, known as the Sweden Circle CBC, typically takes place two days after Christmas, unless, of course it snows. Within several weeks prior to the event, organizer Jean Preis rallies volunteers and assigns sections within the circle to leaders and their assistant birders.
I had the good fortune to lead the southeastern section and so at 8am I headed off to begin searching for birds along the road, at backyard or front yard feeders, and just about anywhere within the assigned section. For the first 45 minutes I was alone as planned, and kept blaming my limited sightings on that fact, as well as the brisk morning temperature.
Other than the temp in the teens, I couldn’t say the weather was at fault for it wasn’t all that windy and there was nary a cloud in the sky.
By 9am, I was joined by the rest of my team, Maine Master Naturalist student Juli, and her oldest children, who are naturalists in their own right, Caleb and Ellie.
Juli took over the challenging task of driving, all the while searching for movement. Caleb, Ellie, and I had a much easier task–we just needed to search high and low and if we spotted something, to let Juli know in as gentle a manner as possible so we wouldn’t cause her to jam on the breaks.
At Plummer’s Landing on Long Lake, we got out of the vehicle, as would be our custom for the rest of the day. Down to the ice we walked, our eyes scanning the surrounding scene as we listened. The only sounds we heard–the wailing of the ice. If you’ve never heard that, it’s almost as good as birding! As for birds near the lake . . . not a one.
But there was a beautiful red maple tree by the landing that made for a perfect teaching moment–the clock face that helps birders locate a bird someone spies. I pointed to 12:00 at the top, then 3:00 to the right side, 6:00 at the bottom, and 9:00 to the left. Instantly, the kids caught on and for the rest of the day they were able to direct us–that is, when we did spy a bird.
Ever so slowly, we made our way along main roads and back roads and noticed few birds. In a way, I wasn’t surprised for my feeders have had only a few regular visitors this year. And when I’m in the woods, or even on the edge of a field, I’ve seldom seen or heard a bird since November when the snow fell. Before that, juncos were extremely common sights no matter where or how I traveled. Where have they gone?
Despite the lower than usual numbers, I was sure we would see something by the old Central Maine Power dam not far from the Stevens Brook Outlet. But . . . all we heard was the roar of the water.
And all we saw . . .
was water racing toward the lake and . . .
the dancing legs of icicle formations. That was OK because we enjoyed admiring them. Still, we wanted birds to count. To that point, our tally included a few chickadees and a couple of tufted titmice.
Onward we moved, toward the outlet of Stevens Brook into Long Lake where we were certain the open water would provide us with something worth reporting.
All was quite quiet, however, and we didn’t see any waterfowl to note. But then . . . the biggest find of our day let itself be known.
High up in a white pine above the opposite bank of the outlet, a bald eagle sat in wait. We practically danced in the icy parking lot–and knew that no matter what else we might see, we were golden with this discovery.
Eventually, we pulled ourselves away from the eagle, and continued on while looking left and right, up and down. At last, a front yard feeder yielded some more chickadees, a white breasted nuthatch and a hairy woodpecker. Things were picking up. Sorta.
And then as Juli drove down one back road, we spotted five crows in an unplowed driveway. They flew off when we paused, so we continued on down the road. Returning a few minutes later, we again spied the five crows in the same spot. And Caleb, who as a youth hunter has learned the ways of the woods from his dad, knew that where the crows were gathered there must be a carcass. He asked his mom to stop the vehicle while he crossed the road to check the area. Bingo! He encouraged us to join him. Just off the clearing he’d discovered a deer carcass. We weren’t certain how it had come to perish, or why its head was missing, though we had some thoughts on both, but we did notice that many had come to dine. If we’d been more into our tracking mode than our birding mode, we might have been able to write the first two chapters about the manner of death and loss of the head, but we had a different mission on this day.
Another body of water called our names. Last year, I’d seen robins and various other birds in a wetland associated with Woods Pond, so we jumped out at the town beach and stood still to listen and watch. Nada. The ice on the pond, however, was enticing. And though they didn’t have skates, Ellie and Caleb found the conditions to be much to their liking.
Even the clipboard with the field tally didn’t pose a problem as they slid to and fro across the frozen wonder.
Eventually we moved on and added a couple more chickadees to the list. And then we saw one who was not on the list and though he is native to this land, he’s not typically seen here in winter. So we filled out the Rare Bird Form for the Great Horned Owl Plastica species.
One of our final stops as a group was on what we fondly refer to as the Dump Road. At a swampy area, we thought for sure we’d have some luck. And we did. In the form of beaver works.
Peering across the road in search of birds near the open water, we noticed more beaver works.
And our luck turned to awe as we admired a beech tree that still stood despite its hourglass shape. Why hadn’t it fallen?
The lodge looked well maintained and we rejoiced to think that it was located close to town and yet we’d never spied it before. Because of the CBC, we’d been given the opportunity to get to know our town just a wee bit more intimately.
After the beaver lodge sighting, Juli and her kids headed home, and so did I . . . for a quick lunch break. And then I journeyed down several more roads, adding a few more dashes to the tally. I found more chickadees, a few more white-breasted nuthatches, and some mourning doves.
Toward the end of the day, I decided to return to the dam, but still . . . stillness in the bird world despite all the sound and movement.
And ice-encrusted needles that looked so featherlike.
By 4pm the CBC had drawn to a close and our offerings seemed so skimpy. I was almost embarrassed to turn in the form, only to discover that most of the other birders in the Sweden Circle had had a similar experience. The Denmark and Fryeburg sections had the most sightings to report, but all in all, the numbers were down significantly. A few of us gathered around Jean’s table to compute the final numbers and wonder why they were so low. Too cold in November? When the snow and cold snap occurred early, did the birds fly elsewhere? Was there not enough food this season? One among us has spent the last few weeks joining the CBC in various locations around Maine, and he said that our experience was not unique.
Despite that, Juli, Caleb, Ellie, and I finished up the day smiling because we had seen an eagle. And today was Juli’s birthday–so it was certainly a wonder-filled present for her on this year’s Christmas Bird Count. Happy Bird-day, Juli!
With a mantra of “Shop Locally,” I did just that on this Black Friday 2018. Thankfully the time to take advantage of the doorbuster sales wasn’t limited and so it was okay that I didn’t pull into the Flat Hill parking lot until 1pm.
Turns out, as in any shop today, the aisles were a bit crowded with customers searching for items on clearance and other great deals.
I paused for a bit in aisle one, where I contemplated the Made-in-Maine artwork and thought about those on my Christmas list. Perhaps a water scene for Marita because she likes the gurgling sound of a brook.
For Pam K., I decided on an ice sculpture to add to her winter home.
And for Pam M., I was sure that an abstract piece would be just right–especially as it echoed the mountain range and transformed into a bird, only sorta/kinda M.C. Escher in style.
There were others on the list to consider and the decisions became more difficult as the selection increased in aisle two. Mouse, vole, squirrel both red and gray, deer and coyote tracks all were on display and the sign indicated I could buy one and get one free. But which one to buy? And for whom?
And then just like that, it became clear–the coyote track for Simon because he’d caught on quickly to the squirrel patterns and appreciated that the predator was hungry.
For every one set of tracks, there were fifty others, especially those of the mice and squirrels. But I chose the porcupine trough as my “get one free” when I saw it on the climb up the hill.
The trough with its pigeon-toed prints and sashaying tail would be perfect for Bob.
Of course, I could have mixed and matched the prints, but thought it best to keep them separate.
Continuing the dash for more must-have gifts, I spied a mossy maple polypore on a lower shelf and thought immediately of my guy. He doesn’t like to consume mushrooms, but there’s something about the mossy maple that draws his attention.
And then on an end cap I saw the kissing beech/maple out of the corner of my eye and turned to read the sign: Limited in Quantity. On impulse I purchased it. Maybe I’ll stick it on my guy’s bureau and he can wrap it up for me. I’ve done that before 😉
There were a few free surprises. Not all freebies are created equal, but I really liked the bronze ornament that would be a nice addition on our Christmas tree.
At last it was time for a little break at the Flat Hill Cafe. Today, the view offered more bang for my buck as Mount Washington glistened white behind the other mountains.
Also enjoying the view and the oxymoron of the name Flat Hill were fellow shoppers Bob, Pam K., Marita, Simon and Pam M. I made sure they didn’t see what was in my pack and visa versa. I do so hope they are as excited as I am about the gifts I purchased for them.
When the cafe got crowded, we decided to walk back down the main aisle together toward the check out. And then a few of us remembered we had coupons for the seasonal section. But . . . alas, we were too late. It was the only part of the store that was closed because everything had sold out. The stepping stones were covered with water and ice to keep us from venturing any farther. We turned around, only a bit disappointed that our shopping adventure was about to come to an end, but understood that being a three-season section we had taken our chances by arriving so late in the day.
No matter. The view from Perky’s Path thrilled us. All afternoon, we enjoyed the lighting, and especially the sun as it lowered–making this Black Friday light up, naturally.
I highly encourage you to visit; the doors are open all hours and it’s a great place to shop in style.
Today’s Black Friday Lit Up, Naturally experience was brought to you by the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Flat Hill, Heald Pond Road, Lovell.
Some people collect salt and pepper shakers, others small figurines or coins or stamps or antique cars or beer caps or . . . TWIGS! Yep, I would fall into the latter category and because I used them last week to teach a class, I thought I’d also share them with you.
If you stop reading right now, I understand. If you choose to continue, please know that some of what you read I’ve learned from the Maine Master Naturalist course, which first opened my eyes to twigs and buds; some from a variety of books on the subject; and lots from personal observation. You may not always agree with me, but I strongly encourage you to step outdoors and take a look. Keep track of your observations and begin to note idiosyncrasies. But do remember this: nature hasn’t read the books and doesn’t always follow the rules we’ve insisted upon as we try to make sense of the world around us.
Next year’s flower and leaf buds formed this past summer and overwinter inside bud scales, which are actually modified leaves. Most scales, such as this one, provide protection with a waxy coating. (Species: Norway Maple, Acer platanoides)
Terminal buds are located at the tips of most twigs. When that bud forms, the tree ceases to grow for the year. At the base of the terminal bud is a leaf scar where a former leaf stem was attached to the twig. And within the leaf scar are little corky dots called bundle scars that were actually the vascular tissue that had connected the leaf to the twig. Think veins. The shape of the leaf scar and number of bundle scars can be used as an identifying mark since they are often consistent across a species. (Species: White Ash, Fraximus americana)
Leaf scars come in a variety of shapes, including monkey faces topped with hairy caps. (Species: Butternut, Juglans cinera)
Others may be shield shaped, though you could also see a bit of a funny face in this one. (Species: Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata)
And there are those that nearly encircle the bud. (Species: Staghorn Sumac, Rhus hirta)
Some twigs feature a false terminal bud. In reality, it was a lateral or side bud that took the position of the terminal bud. On twigs that don’t have actual terminal buds, such as American Elm and Basswood, the wood kept growing until the tree could no longer supply it with nutrients or something else impeded its growth. The twig then died back to the last terminal bud and dropped off. (Species: American Elm, Ulmus americana)
On those twigs with a false terminal bud, a branch scar was left behind when the woody structure broke off. The branch scar is located . . .
opposite the leaf scar, which contains bundle scars. (The branch scar does not have bundle scars.) (Species: American Basswood, Tilia americana)
Below the terminal or false terminal buds are lateral buds, those which grow on the side of the twig. Their orientation may be opposite, such as this example. (Species: Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum)
Others are alternate. The cool thing about this example is that the alternate buds are also appressed, meaning they grow flat to the twig; and they are one scaled (well, actually two scales fused together as one). (Species: Willow, Salix spp.)
Alternate appressed buds may grow far apart or quite close to each other such as with this particular tree and its globous buds. (Species: Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides)
Others are divergent and stick out away from their twig. (Species: American Beech, Fagus grandifolia)
Then there’s the pith. I just like saying that word–pith, pith, pith. Pith is the soft central core or interior of the twig. It comes in a variety of patterns including round, triangular and star-shaped such as is illustrated here. (Species: Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides)
In some species, its shape is best viewed in cross-section by halving the twig lengthwise with a sharp knife. Diaphragmed pith, solid with partitions, can be seen in Black Gum, which I didn’t find. But this example is chambered pith, which is hollow with partitions. (Species: Butternut, Juglans cinerea)
Another fun characteristic that aids in identification is the occurrence of catkins on members of the birch family. (Note: Betulaceae, the birch family, includes six genera of deciduous nut-bearing trees and shrubs: the birches, alders, hazels, hornbeams, hazel-hornbeam, and hop-hornbeams.) (Species: Speckled Alder, Alnus incana ssp.rugosa) Speckled Alder is really a shrub, but don’t tell it that.
Another fun thing to point out are the growth rings on twigs. We often think of aging a tree by counting the rings from the heartwood out to the bark, but . . . twigs have rings of their own. They’re a bit raised and wrinkled in presentation, but each cluster of rings indicates where that year’s leaf and flower buds had formed, developed, and released their seeds. After that, the twig continued to grow. The same will develop once the current buds complete their cycle. (Species: Striped Maple, Acer pensylvanicum)
If you’ve stuck with me, know that the end is in sight. I’d like to conclude this post with examples of some of my favorite trees found in the western Maine woods. I’ll begin with those deciduous trees with alternate buds. This particular twig is in a family that features catkins. It has several cousins so it’s worth getting to know a few of them. Notice the hairy twig, but not so hairy and rather pointed buds. Buds on older branches grow on stacked scars, which I’ll share an example of in a minute. If you were to squeeze these buds, they’d be sticky. Those are all great clues, and here’s one more. The tree’s bark is white and it curls away from the tree in rather big sheets.
Did you guess correctly?
Here’s a cousin and that example of stacked scars with the bud at the end that I promised. Notice the lack of hair? The clues for this species: scrape the bark on the twig and sniff it. Does it smell like wintergreen? And the bark on the trunk–does it peel away like ribbons? (Species: Yellow Birch, Betula alleghaniensis)
And another member of the Betula family. This one is an early succession tree, meaning it grows quickly in fields and along roads that have been disturbed. But it is also the shortest lived of the family and doesn’t reach an old age in tree years (Yellow Birch can grow to be about 250 years and Paper Birch about 150). This species is lucky if it reaches its 90th birthday. Though you can’t see it here, the twig isn’t hairy, but it is quite bumpy or warty. And it doesn’t have a wintergreen odor if scratched. Also, the bud isn’t sticky. Though only one catkin is shown here, it could have two, while Paper Birch has three and Yellow three or four. Who is this?
I’m sure you guessed it.
Another of alternate twig and bud orientation, this particular bud is often described as a cigar. I’m not sure that works for me–maybe as it expands a bit in the spring, but the multiple overlapping scales and pointed tip make it seem obvious as its different from all other presentations. Plus, its leaves are marcescent, meaning they wither or remain on many younger trees throughout the winter. Actually, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking a mammal is moving nearby for in a slight breeze the marcescent leaves rattle. I’ll admit I’ve jumped a few times. Back to the buds–the other thing to note is that like a New York Fern, it tapers at both ends (maybe they, too, keep their lights on at both ends of the day). Who is this?
Bingo! You are on a roll! I should define lenticel at this point. Those raised white dots on the twig are the lenticels, which are the pores that provide openings for air-gas exchange.
We haven’t talked about the fact that some twigs have buds crowded at the tip. In this particular case, I think of them as a crown.
This cousin also wears a crown. So, what are their differences? The first is more conical and shinier than the second. And look at their colors. Number 1 comes in shades of chestnut brown, while number 2 is much darker and almost reddish brown in tone. You’d have to look carefully to see the silky hairs at the pointed tip of number 1, but trust me that they are there. Number 2 is hairless and blunt.
This is number 1. Did you guess that correctly? And number 2 is . . . White Oak, Quercus alba.
Now it’s on to trees with opposite orientation. And if you think you’re seeing double, you are! I used this photograph at the start. But now, let’s compare this twig to that of a cousin.
Can you see the fuzz on this one? And no fuzz on the one above? Also, notice in the first one the notched leaf scar. The second is not deeply notched. Who are they?
Two of the three ashes that grow locally. Identifying White and Green Ash, as they are respectively, is never easy, but the hairs or lack of, and the shape of the leaf scars are the key elements.
And finally, two members of probably everyone’s favorite fall trees. Notice the lateral buds are arranged on opposite sides. The buds and branch are purplish brown. On the twig, the buff colored lenticels practically jump out. The bud is a tad bit hairy and sharp pointed. Do you see the leaf scar bundles? How many? I hope you counted three. And who might this be?
You are almost done. Only one last twig to examine.
This one is probably Maine’s signature tree when it comes to fall foliage. And of all the members of the Maple family, this is the most abundant species. So, remember the crowded buds on the Oaks? Well, this twig also sometimes wears a crown. But, the terminal bud is wedged between two opposite lateral buds. And the color–red, because there’s always something red on this tree. Hint. Hint. If that didn’t give it away, this will . . .
I love Red Maple. If you haven’t done so, follow the progression of its buds and I hope you’ll be wowed when it flowers next spring. Until I looked, I never noticed its dainty flowers. Now, I can’t not look.
If you’ve stayed with me thus far, congratulations. You deserve an award. Or at least a hearty THANK YOU!
There’s more, but I’ll let the bigwigs handle that. I just learned of a new book about trees that I plan to purchase soon entitled Woody Plants of the Northern Forest: A Photographic Guide by Jerry Jenkins. Thanks to fellow naturalist Anita Smith for the recommendation. I can’t wait to add it to my bookshelf.
Who knew there could be so many idiosyncrasies? After all, aren’t they all just twigs and buds? Ah, the wonder.
I hope you’ll refer to this primer periodically as you gain a better understanding of twig morphology. And share it with your friends 😉
We headed south today in search of spring. LOL! Indeed, we found as much snow on Sawyer Mountain in Limington as we have in western Maine.
The mountain was a new one for us. It featured two trailheads and we chose the one on Route 117 where only one map was available. We borrowed it and later returned it for others.
Much of the mountain, as in 1,472 acres, was purchased over the course of eleven years by the Francis Small Heritage Trust. According to an article in the Portland Press Herald written by hiking enthusiast Carey Kish in May 2016, “Francis Small, the namesake of the trust, was a fur trader and landowner who lived from 1625 to 1714. Small is said to have owned the largest amount of land of any person who has ever lived in Maine.
In 1668, Small operated a trading post a few miles northwest of Sawyer Mountain, at the confluence of the Ossipee and Saco rivers and the crossroads of three major Native American travel routes, the Sokokis Trail (now Route 5), the Ossipee Trail (now Route 25) and the Pequawket Trail (now Route 113).
Newichewannock Abenaki tribesmen who owed debts to Small plotted to kill him to avoid payment. Their chief, Wesumbe, warned Small in time to foil the plan, but not before Small’s home was burned to the ground.
To compensate for the loss, Chief Wesumbe sold Small 20 square miles of land for two large Indian blankets, two gallons of rum, two pounds of powder, four pounds of musket balls and 20 strings of beads.
Small’s Ossipee Tract was bounded by the Saco, Great and Little Ossipee, and Newichewannock (later Salmon Falls) rivers, and included today’s towns of Limerick, Limington, Cornish, Newfield and Parsonsfield, the area where Francis Small Heritage Trust works to conserve land.”
Wooden blocks with yellow turtles carved into them blazed the trail. According to Kish, “This is the mark of Captain Sandy, also known as Chief Wesumbe, of the Newichewannock Abenaki tribe.” Having been a turtle enthusiast for most of my life, I smiled each time I saw one.
Not everyone felt the same way. Less than a half mile up, we came upon a cabin beside the trail. It had been named Camp Ticumoff. Say it slowly.
Zooming in on the side of the cabin, we noted a sign–“Guided Turtle Hunts.” And there was another sign as well about the Francis Small Heritage Trust being an ethically challenged organization. We weren’t sure what it was all about, but obviously not all were thrilled with the trail that we immensely enjoyed.
Continuing on, we came across the first of several cemeteries. With the snow so deep, we didn’t climb up to inspect the gravestones more carefully.
But in the center stood a marker recognizing various members of the Estes family. Salome died March 30, 1874, aged 66 years, 11 months and 6 days. We often see that in old cemeteries–the number of days into the person’s final month indicated.
As we crossed over a brook, a caution sign gave an indication of its own–did I mention how deep the snow was?
And then we found another turtle reference–on the negative side. Definitely some unhappy neighbors in the old ‘hood.
We were in an old ‘hood, after all, for most of our journey was along Sawyer Mountain Road, which was discontinued over one hundred years ago. Left behind were not only cemeteries, but also foundations, this one quite large and I wasn’t sure if it was a home or a barn.
Right by the foundation, we stood for a few minutes and examined a trail map.
Apparently others have examined it as well, and decided it suited them. I wasn’t surprised. Kiosks often serve as nest sites for Eastern Phoebes, which I trust will return soon.
It was about a mile and a half to the spur trail that led to the summit. All along, we noted the lack of mammal activity. Not total lack, for occasionally we did see squirrel tracks, but that was all. And then on the spur we found lots of deer activity–where they’d pawed through the snow in search of last year’s acorns.
Apparently they don’t have a feeding station like the deer in our neighborhood.
At last, we reached the summit, the site of a whale oil lighthouse used for navigation within Portland Harbor during the eighteenth century. It’s our understanding that the mountain is visible from the ocean so sailors would line up the light with other points to guide their ships into the harbor. We had hoped for a view of the ocean, but as it turned out, the summit was rather anticlimactic. To the northwest, we did catch a glimpse of Sebago Lake, but that was about it as too many trees had taken over the space. It didn’t matter too much as we’d enjoyed the climb and the history, both old and new, encountered along the way.
After sharing lunch on two tree stumps at the summit, we began our journey down, again traveling through deep snow.
Because we were on our way down and no one had previously carved a trail to another cemetery, we decided to go for it. We’re not sure what the sign meant–was David Walker old? Or had his burying ground been moved to another site?
Up a hill, we located a small plot with a couple of stones. The first was for John Walker, who died in 1863.
And then another leaning against a granite pillar–so my guy wiped the snow away.
That one was for Ebenezer Walker. So where was Old David Walker buried?
Back at the trailhead, I decided to loop around the nature trail while my guy headed to the truck. A sign said a nature trail map would be available at the trailhead, but I found none.
And so I followed the blue turtles and decided to interpret the trail my way.
1. White pines: the Maine state tree, took advantage of the clearing and started to fill in the space.
2. Stories in granite: A stone wall at least four feet high; a lacy wall perhaps built to keep sheep in or out.
3. Hemlock grove: The perfect habitat for mammals, including deer. Because of their evergreen leaves (needles) that hold snow, its easier for critters to move below them.
4. A Mixed Forest: Beech, maples, oaks, hemlocks, pines–all living together in harmony of sorts.
5. Glacial erratics: Large boulders dropped by the last glaciers about 12,000 years ago.
6. Life on a ledge: From lichens and mosses to hemlock trees, the ledge was a prime example of the abiotic and biotic interactions that create an ecosystem.
7. I dunno: A piece of blue flagging and another of orange. Perhaps it was the downed trees to the left–several hemlocks had fallen during a storm with winds out of the southeast–indicating a summer storm probably.
8. I Dunno Ditto: Perhaps the stream that flowed just below.
9. Big White Pine: But really, was it the tree?
Or the giant boulders beside it?
Perhaps one day, I’ll learn how I did on the quiz–though I do think I got at least two wrong.
I rejoined my guy and together we reflected upon our journey. One of the things we most enjoyed was the historical features along the way, including the 1940s hunting camp built by the father of Sherwood Libby, one of the Trust’s founders.
And our absolute favorite–a sign on the hunting camp door–“Went out for supplies. Be back soon.”
We will also return–once the snow melts– for there’s so much more to see, as well as other trails to explore. What a fine place for a Mondate on this last day of winter. Be Back Soon. Indeed.
Three nor’easters in two weeks. Such is March in New England. The latest delivered over twenty inches of snow beginning yesterday morning. And still the flakes fall.
But staying inside all day would be much too confining and so I stretched my legs for a few hours before giving my arms another workout with driveway cleanup duty. It was much more fun to explore and listen to the chickadees sing.
There are a few places in our woods that I find myself stopping to snap a photo each time a snowstorm graces our area. The stand of pines with their trunks snow coated was one such spot yet again. And tomorrow the scene will transform back to bare trunks and so it was one I was happy to behold in the moment.
As was the older pine that grows beside a stonewall along the cowpath and perhaps served as the mother and grandmother of all the pines in my forest–bedecked in piles of flakes, her arms reached out as if to embrace all of her offspring.
With the snow so deep, I felt like a plow as I powered through under the insulated insulators.
Finally, I reached one of the entryways to Pondicherry Park and while I love being the first of the day to leave my mark, I’d secretly hoped someone had trudged before me. But . . . a few steps at a time meant taking frequent breaks to rest and look around.
Again, it was the snow’s manner of hugging tree trunks that drew my awe.
Sometimes it reminded me of giant caterpillars climbing into the canopy.
Even the roots of a downed tree took on an artistic rendition.
And that most invasive of species in these woods, bittersweet, offered curves worth appreciating–ever so briefly, of course.
Snow blanketed fences of stone and wood.
Enhanced the bridge.
And buried a bench.
Beside Stevens Brook, it looked as if winter still had a grasp though we’re about to somersault into spring.
And the reflection in Willet Brook turned maples into birches.
At Kneeland Spring, water rushed forth in life-giving form and the sound was one we’ll soon hear everywhere as streams and brooks overflow.
I went not to see just the snow in its many variations, but also the wildlife. I found that like me, the squirrels and deer had tunneled through leaving behind troughs. And the ducks–they didn’t seem at all daunted by the mounds of white stuff surrounding them.
In fact, one female took time to preen.
I found mourning doves standing watch.
And heard robins singing.
And because I spent a fair amount of time looking down, I began to notice life by my feet, such as the snow spider–an indicator that the thermometer was on the rise. It lives in the leaf litter, but when the temp is about 30˚ or so, it’s not unusual to see one or more. Today, I saw several. And wished I had my macro lens in my pocket, but had decided to travel light.
Winter stoneflies were also on the move. They have an amazing ability to avoid freezing due to the anti-freeze in their systems.
I also found a winter dark firefly. While the species is bioluminescent, I’m not sure if this one was too old or not to still produce light.
At last the time had come for me to head home for not only was the snow still falling, but so was the sky–or so it felt each time a clump hit my head as it fell from the trees.
We’ve got snow! In fact, we’ve got snows! And in reference to a question an acquaintance from Colorado had asked yesterday–“Are you hunkered down?” My answer was, “No, Jan, I’m not. Nor is the world around me. In fact, except for the shoveling, I relish these storms as winter holds on for just a wee bit longer.”
A man walked into a hardware store . . . and told my guy about a couple of mountains we should climb. And my guy came home and told me. And we looked for trail maps and found none. And we decided to go anyway because we had a sorta idea about where one of them was located.
And so we drove up Hunts Corner Road in Albany, Maine, and located a road sign that bore the same name as the mountain we hoped to climb–and the road wasn’t plowed. But . . . another man was gathering mail across the street and so my guy asked him about the trail. The man said it would be fine for us to head in and we’d probably get as far as the pond where a few old camps stood, but wouldn’t reach the summit. We weren’t sure we would either, but figured it was worth a try.
For those who have followed our Mondates previously, you’re well aware that my guy is often far ahead of me and such was the case today. The snow was deep and journey up a bit of a trudge, but that didn’t stop him. I really don’t mind for it gives me time to take in all that is around me and listen to the voices in my head. And I’ve a feeling he does the same–solving all the problems of the hardware world and any other issues that need to be addressed, plus possibly singing a few tunes to himself. The latter would never occur to me, but that’s another story.
Today, we met periodically, the first time being at No Name Pond, where we enjoyed the backdrop of Round Mountain–a hike we’ve previously completed. Truthfully, this pond has no name–at least that I can find on any topo maps.
Onward we journeyed, for a few steps–because a telephone pole caught my attention. Do you see what I see? (Karen H.–I took you with me today and mentioned your name several times to my guy–read on.) Bites and scratches courtesy of a black bear.
And hair left behind. There was actually quite a bit of hair. But . . . I’d forgotten to put the battery in my Canon Rebel camera and so had to depend on my phone to capture all the moments.
We really had no idea where we were going, and when we came to a Y, chose the left-hand route, which had a few water obstacles.
And then we decided to do some bushwhacking because we had no idea where the road might lead and we assumed the mountain was to our right.
It wasn’t totally an assumption, for I’d downloaded a GPS program recently and played with it a bit. The mountain was to our right, but there was a ledge between us and it.
And so we did some traversing, and slipping and sliding, and offered each other advice and occasionally a hand. Well, he offered me a hand, which I gladly accepted. And all the while I dreaded our descent, though we figured we’d probably need to sit on our bums and pretend we were otters–belly up.
We finally saw the light of day and assumed the summit was just above. Only one more downed tree to conquer.
We did–with lots of giggles thrown in as we practiced our graceful moves.
But, we weren’t at the summit. Instead, we were in moose alley for such was the evidence we found on the numerous striped maple trees.
There were no fresh tracks, but we knew who had dined . . .
by the size of the tooth marks they left behind.
Because we were in a striped maple community, my eye was drawn to their moose nipped buds of previous years, but also to the artful twist of occasional dried leaves.
We had also entered snowshoe hare (snow lobster) territory and their tracks were innumerable.
Again, we found ourselves on an old logging road, and then we decided to go off it and bushwhack some more. As we checked the GPS periodically, it showed that we were following a ridge, but still had a ways to trek.
We thought we’d been so smart when we left the road, until we swung through the forest and came to a bit of an opening where we realized it was in front of us again. Or at least we thought it was the same road.
And so we followed it through the winter wonderland.
And at last, according to the GPS, reached the summit, where the view through the trees was of the Bald Faces in Evans Notch. It wasn’t much of a view–and we wondered if we might have missed one, but decided to save that thought for another time.
After treating ourselves to some dark chocolate McVities digestives, we started to follow our tracks back down. About fifty feet away, we spotted a cairn we’d walked right by–it was large and we didn’t know its purpose. To mark the summit? Or did it represent something else?
On the way back down, we paused again–by some prints I’d seen earlier. Yes, Karen–this one is for you. A bobcat indeed. Because of the deep, soft snow, its nails had provided traction.
When we reached the spot where we’d done some bushwhacking, we decided to take a chance and stay on the road. It proved the right choice and soon we picked up our previous tracks.
And then we got to see a couple of other things we’d missed on the way up, like this quartz snag. Huh? Funny things grow in trees ’round these parts.
And big mammals climb trees ’round these parts.
Yes, Karen, another bear tree. 😉
Just below that we found ourselves back at the point where we’d climbed up the ledge. And discovered that the road turned to the right. Again, we weren’t sure we were making the right choice, but decided to take our chances. Bingo–it eventually curved around and we found our own tracks once again. We were tickled with ourselves and paused by one of the old camps to take in their view–the same view we’d enjoyed from above, but more open because some trees had been cut.
Roger Lowell had suggested this hike to my guy and the man collecting the mail said that the land belongs to the Stiflers, who own Round Mountain, Long Mountain and Overset Mountain, all hikes that we had enjoyed in the past. We weren’t sure the mountain road we were on was open to the public, but we gave thanks to Roger for the suggestion and the Stiflers for not posting the land. And we toasted this Mondate with sips of water–as we appreciated our love and joy for today’s journey–on Lovejoy Mountain.
As March continued to roar in like a lion, I stepped into the park this morning and was embraced by beauty. Snowflakes, white and pure and eternal drifted my way. Though I was alone, I wasn’t.
For within each flake I felt millions of wings brush against my face–reminding me of those I know who are at the moment downtrodden and have hurdles to conquer. Some may be tiny, others immense, but all were angelic in nature.
As the flakes gathered together, they enhanced the reflection of harmony . . .
They brought Heaven down to earth . . .
and reminded me that even in the darkest hours I hope my friends remember that grace surrounds them.
May they find healing energy,
and unwavering strength–both inner and outer. Support is everywhere and often floats softly about while carrying a bigger presence.
May they realize they are surrounded by so many angels offering comfort, reassurance and encouragement,
while looking so ordinary that at times they may not be recognized.
May they maintain a sense of balance going forward,
and let the flakes soften any rough edges.
May they listen carefully . . .
and hear whispers in the breeze that I trust will tickle their beings.
May they hear the universe sing (or occasionally quack),
its song as sweet or maybe sweeter than that of the cardinal.
And at the end of the day, may they follow the tracks home, no matter how big . . .
May they continue to look up as the flakes fall and know that our friendship is a privilege I honor.
May we all recognize the angels among us, innocent and yet brilliant. Even on a days when a nor’easter blows through. Or especially then.
P.S. I was going to dedicate this post to Jin, and Tom, and Cris, and Bob, and Ronny, and Becky, and Bev, and Pammie, and Rosemary, and so many others. I do dedicate it to them, but really–to everyone for I may not know what you face day in and day out. May you all persist and be strong.
We thought we were so smart. A friend had drawn a map in the snow last week to show me the location of an alternate trailhead for Peary Mountain in Brownfield, Maine, and spoke of a round-trip hike that would include Frost Mountain. A quick look at a map in our worn and torn Delorme Gazeteer and we knew exactly where we were going–until we didn’t. We soon discovered that the gate and sign I’d been told about didn’t exist and the road turned 90˚ to the left and eventually became impassable and so we turned around and paused again at the sharp turn and wondered some more and drove back out to the main road and continued on to another road and looked for other possible trailheads that appeared on the road map and turned around again and returned to that sharp turn and parked the truck and slipped on our micro-spikes.
It was worth a try we decided. The name was right though it looked less like a road and more like a snowmobile trail. No matter, we figured we’d give it a whirl and if nothing else, at least we’d enjoy exploring.
Almost immediately, we spied two mountains above a wetland and wondered if those were the two summits we sought. We’d never looked at Peary from what we considered the back side before, since all of our previous experiences had been from Farnsworth Road off of Routes 5/113.
The road was quite icy and it had been more than a few days since any snowmobiles had passed by.
Eventually we came to a snowmobile sign, looked around for a map that I thought my friend had mentioned, and decided to begin with a journey up the Peary Mountain Trail.
Conditions were such where previous logging had left the southwestern side open to the sun’s powerful rays and so in places the snow had melted and wildflowers such as trailing arbutus and winterberry basked in the warmth.
We continued on up, hopeful that we were on the right path, when a familiar foundation confirmed our location. It’s directly across from this foundation that the Peary Mountain trail makes a 90˚ turn–in the past the turn had always been to the left, but yesterday’s turn was to the right. That is, after we noted that my guy should probably encourage the homeowners to purchase a sump pump, so full was their cellar.
If you do approach from Peary Mountain Road, you’ll only see a tad of the back of this sign. And if you come from Farnsworth Road, again, it’s not very obvious. But, for both, the turn is located at the height of land . . . and directly across from the foundation.
The hike to the bald summit isn’t difficult and offers the best of views on any day, but especially in the fall when the tapestry of color stretches forever–or at least to the White Mountains in the distance.
Yesterday, the view of Mount Washington was obscured by clouds, but we could see that even there the snow was receding.
We stood for a bit, taking in the scene to the west.
And to the north.
And then we followed the ridge, certain that at the end we’d slip onto another trail we’ve never traveled before and begin to make the loop to Frost Mountain.
Just before slipping onto that other trail, we had one more view to partake–Brownfield Bog and the Saco River were backdropped by Pleasant Mountain.
Well, we followed that other trail for a while, but realized that rather than going toward Frost Mountain, we were moving further and further away from it. And so . . . we backtracked and rose once again to the summit of Peary and retraced our steps down.
We were disappointed, except that we knew we would return. And as often happens when following the same trail, we made new discoveries, including an L-shaped foundation.
And then I spied a circular sunken formation subtly outlined with rocks and trusted it was a well.
Bingo. For behind it was another foundation, the largest we saw.
And so late this morning we returned. But first, we looked for maps in our hiking books and online and found only those created by the local snowmobile club. We had a copy that dated to 2011 and decide to bring it along. We also copied a portion of the map from the Delorme Gazeteer–just in case.
Upon our return, we remembered to pause at the beginning of the trail and take note of the red pine cathedral. Brownfield is a town that knew the fury of the wildfires of October 1947. Most homes and public buildings were mere piles of ash the day after the fire. Many stately places including the summer home and laboratory of Dr. Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television, had burned. Churches, schools, the post office, Grange, library and town hall all went up in smoke–only twenty houses survived. In the end, 85% of the town was destroyed.
Red pines were planted in reaction and today they stand tall in honor of that event of just over seventy years ago.
Our plan today was to follow the same route to the turn off for Frost Mountain. And so we did. This time the snow and ice were softer and mud a constant as snow melted and streams formed.
One of the things we noted yesterday was a lack of mammal prints. But today made up for that and we found plenty of deer tracks in mud and snow. And then, a pile of bird scat–left behind by a ruffed grouse who had probably plowed into the snow when it was a couple of feet thick and spent the night, leaving behind its signature.
We also found a kill site with no tracks leading to or fro and so we thought a bird had eaten another bird. The circle of life continued in the Maine woods.
A bit further up the trail we spied weasel prints–left behind by a fisher, the meanest of mean. Notice the teardrop shaped toes and diagonal positioning.
We were distracted (or at least I was) by sculptures a many, including those created by sweet-fern.
My guy was also distracted and spied an opening in the woods.
It was another L-shaped cellar. And nearby were what would have been some outbuildings and possibly even a mill. Along most of today’s trail we encountered one stone wall after another, some single and others double.
I don’t know how to decipher stone that’s known fire, but hope one of these days to be able to make that interpretation. In the meantime we wondered–why had these homes been abandoned. Did they burn? I did later note that homesteads in the area belonged to the Johnsons, Grays and other families in the 1880s.
Though we continued on, we really had no idea where we were going and hoped that we had made the right decision with the intention of reaching the summit of Frost Mountain. But, even if we didn’t, we were delighted with our finds. And confused by the signs.
And then, we started to climb. I turned around as we moved upward and noted our beloved Pleasant Mountain behind us.
And finally–success. We’d reached the summit of Frost Mountain.
About 300 feet below, we had a view from the ledge, but it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as that on Peary Mountain, which my guy looked toward. It was hardly visible from where we stood.
From the summit, we followed a loop around, pausing to take in the view of Burnt Meadow Mountain.
And the town of Brownfield below. As the historical society likes to proclaim, “Brownfield’s still here.” Indeed.
We’d planned to climb Frost and then make our way to Peary, but changed our minds. We’d already climbed Peary yesterday and after finding our way today had a better understanding of the trail system. We also knew that had we made the loop, we’d have walked on Farnsworth Road for over a half mile and then climbed up and down Peary on trails we already knew. Instead, we let our hearts bleed pine blue sap with happiness.
Our happiness overflowed when we spied the final set of prints.
A black bear. How cool is that? Our second sighting of black bear prints this winter.
We’d connected the dots–even if not literally–and gained a better understanding of the neighborhood and all who live(d) there.
Fresh snow. Blue-bird sky. Mid-range temperature. Day off. All the makings for a fine Monday date with my guy.
We weren’t sure if snowshoes would be the right choice as we feared the snow might stick to the cleats and make us feel like we were walking on high heels–hardly our style. But, actually, conditions were perfect. Of course, my guy tried going without at first, but after creating one post hole after another, he strapped his on while I headed over to an apple tree to enjoy the view.
We were on a private property in Lovell that is under conservation easement with the Greater Lovell Land Trust.
I’d been on this property only a few days ago and the tracks were many, but with the advent of yesterday’s snow, we found only a few. One set was that of a coyote. And fairly fresh was it.
We moved quickly (of course we did for I was with my guy–but I was equally anxious to get to two destinations) and in no time found ourselves walking along beside a brook.
As we approached we wondered how open the brook might be and decided we’d cross that “bridge” when we got to it. But really, there was no bridge.
The ice, however, delighted our sense of sight, understanding, and artistic form. Like the water from which it was created, it flowed in much variety.
Without any problems, we found our way to the other side and realized we were in the company of others who had done the same. One moment it seemed we’d followed one, but then realized we were on the trail of two coyotes when their path split.
And it split for a reason. To check out a previous kill site. But they only seemed to sniff and not partake.
Just as well for it was a porcupine. But really, I was surprised they didn’t try to flip it over to get at the stomach. Maybe somebody else had already taken the pleasure.
On we trekked, until we reached water again. And this time we stopped to look around, while the coyotes moved on.
High in the trees across the way we spied the heron rookery–one of our reasons for visiting. We knew the nests would be empty, but still, it’s fun to take note.
And they’re easier to see in the winter than spring/summer when this rookery is monitored for the state HERON project: the Heron Observation Network of Maine. I’ve had the honor of visiting this particular rookery in the past and helping to document the number of residents. Though it was active last April, something happened later to upset the neighborhood and so I’ll be curious to see what the status will be in the future.
For today, the nests looked like they were in great shape and even two in the condominium were awaiting the return of the snowbirds who’d spent the winter south of this location.
Because we were there, I also turned to check on another tree–which sports a healthy colony of lungwort–photosynthesizing because it had been snowed upon.
We stayed for a while, my guy and I, enjoying the peace and quiet and colors and textures of the afternoon that curled around us.
At last, we pulled ourselves away and crossed back over the brook. It was a piece of cake. Well, at least we didn’t fall in.
Our next destination took us past a condo of another sort–one created by a chipmunk who kept an eye on us, then swiftly disappeared. We could only wonder about the inner chambers of its home.
It was after that that we began to encounter the works of another rodent, this time upon striped maple.
The art pieces were sometimes large,
other times small,
and sometimes mistaken–as in logistics of the felling.
But that didn’t matter for their buildings were many. Oops, the first one we spied was actually a boulder.
Further along, however, we found the main building. It was topped with fresh wood and well mudded, so we assumed warm bodies dined and wined within.
There was another nearby, and we could see indentations denoting visitors had stopped by prior to yesterday’s storm. We also noted that the ice had melted all around it. Was someone home? We knew not.
On we moved and then turned back to enjoy the view as shadows grew long.
Turning 180˚ again, we looked toward the beaver dam that stretched before us. I’d last visited in late November and wondered what it would look like today.
It looked . . . snow covered.
But . . . in that snow we spied our critter. Do you see him?
We followed him downstream–he was on the other side of the brook, but moved in his telltale manner . . .
across the landscape . . .
in and out of the water . . .
bounding and sliding . . .
and sliding some more . . .
leaving behind fresh scat and prints . . .
for our pleasure. We had the time of our lives watching the otter–did you see him?
Truth be told, we never did actually see him, but in our minds eyes we knew his every motion. When we first spied the prints and trough on the other side, we thought he had moved in the same direction as we did. But when he crossed to our side, and we could get an upclose look, we realized we were traveling in opposite directions. He had moved through not long before we arrived. Was he also checking out the beaver lodges? Probably. And hunting for his next meal.
Though we didn’t get to actually see this member of the weasel family, the signs left behind were enough to tickle our fancy and on this Mondate we were indeed otter spotters.
Three years ago this journey began as a quiet entry into the world of blogging, of sharing my finds and questions found along the trail. And ever so slowly, you joined me to wander and wonder.
So really, today is a celebration of you, for I give thanks that you’ve continued to follow and comment and wander and wonder along, whether literally or virtually.
I absolutely love to travel the trail alone and do so often. But I also love hiking with my guy and others because my eyes are always opened to other things that I may have missed while hiking on my own.
I’m blessed with the community of naturalists with whom I’m surrounded–and this includes all of you for if you’re following along and taking the time to actually read my entries, then you share my interest and awe. And you may send me photos or I may send you photos and together we learn.
Just yesterday, while tramping in Lovell, Maine, with fellow trackers, I spotted a cocoon dangling from a beech tree. My first thought–Cecropia moth, but I contacted Anthony Underwood, a Maine Master Naturalist who has great knowledge about insects, and learned that I was wrong. He said it looked more like the cocoon of a Promethea moth. “They hang down whereas Cecropia are usually attached longitudinally,” wrote Anthony. And there you have it.
Now I just have to remember it, which is part of the reason I value my post entries. The information has been recorded and I can always plug a key word, e.g. Promethea, into the search bar and today’s blog will come up–jogging my memory.
And so, without further ado, I present to you my favorites of the past year. It’s a baker’s dozen of choices. Some months, I had difficulty narrowing the choice to one and other months there was that one that absolutely stood out. I hope you’ll agree with my selection. I also hope that you’ll continue to follow me. And if you like what you read here, that you’ll share it with your families and friends and encourage others to follow along.
February 23, 2017: Knowing Our Place
Holt Pond is one of my favorite hangouts in western Maine on any day, but on that particular day–it added some new notches to the layers of appreciation and understanding.
March 5, 2017: Tickling the Feet
I don’t often write about indoor events, but while the rest of the world was out playing in the brisk wind of this late winter day, a few of us gathered inside to meet some feet.
April 22, 2017: Honoring the Earth
It would have been so easy to stay home that night, curled up on the couch beside my guy while watching the Bruins play hockey. After all, it was raining, 38˚, and downright raw. But . . . the email alert went out earlier in the day and the evening block party was scheduled to begin at 7:30.
May 21, 2017: On the Rocks at Pemaquid Point
Denise oriented us northeastward and helped us understand that we were standing on what is known as the Bucksport formation, a deposit of sandstone and mudstone metamorphosed into a flaky shist. And then she took us through geological history, providing a refresher on plate tectonics and the story of Maine’s creation–beginning 550 million years ago when our state was just a twinkle in the eyes of creation.
June 9, 2017: Fawning with Wonder
Though fawning is most oft used to describe someone who is over the top in the flattery department (think old school brown nose), the term is derived from the Old English fægnian, meaning “rejoice, exult, be glad.”
July 3, 2017: Book of July: Flying on the Wild Wind of Western Maine
My intention was good. As I sat on the porch on July 1st, I began to download dragonfly and damselfly photographs. And then the sky darkened and I moved indoors. Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the wind came up. Torrential rain followed. And thunder and lightening. Wind circled around and first I was making sure all screens and doors were closed on one side of the wee house and then it was coming from a different direction and I had to check the other side. Trees creaked and cracked. Limbs broke. And the lightening hit close by.
August 6, 2017: B is for . . .
Our original plan was to hike to the summit of Blueberry Mountain in Evans Notch today, following the White Cairn trail up and Stone House Trail down. But . . . so many were the cars on Stone House Road, that we decided to go with Plan B.
September 15, 2017: Poking Along Beside Stevens Brook
Alanna Doughty? √
This morning I donned my raincoat, slipped my camera strap over my head, and met up with LEA’s Education Director Alanna Doughty for our reconnaissance mission along Stevens Brook in downtown Bridgton. Our plan was to refresh our memories about the mill sites long ago identified and used beside the brook.
October 5, 2017: Continued Wandering Into the World of Wonder
May the answers slowly reveal themselves, while the questions never end.
November 24, 2017: Black Friday Shopping Extravaganza
At last, I’d raided enough aisles. My cart was full to the brim and my brain overwhelmed. I guess I’m not really a “shop-til-you drop” kind of gal. It was time to wind along the trail and end my Black Friday shopping extravaganza.
December 29, 2017: Oh Baby!
We shared about ten minutes together and it was definitely an “Oh baby!” occasion. But there was more . . .
January 21, 2018: Sunday’s Point of View
We arrived home with ten minutes to spare until kickoff.
February 8, 2018: Hardly Monochromatic
My world always takes on a different look following a storm and today was no different.
To all who have read thus far, thanks again for taking a trip down memory lane today and sticking with me these past three years. I sincerely hope you’ll continue to share the trail as I wander and wonder–my way.
And to wondermyway.com–Happy Third Anniversary!
I’m sure when we said our wedding vows back in 1990, there was something in there about only riding a snowmobile once. And I did that once two years or so ago–mostly because I knew it would please my guy. Certain memories remain from that experience: I felt like a bobblehead inside the helmet; I lacked control as I sat behind him and couldn’t see; when I did peek around, I was sure my head was going to strike a tree so narrow was the trail; and I didn’t like the speed. Oh yeah, and at a road crossing, I do believe I jumped off and walked to the other side. With all of that in mind, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I created a Valentine’s gift for him–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. All that being said, our race includes twelve events, one for each month. And this month’s activity meant a snowmobile ride for two. Oy vey. I created this so I could only blame me.
We awoke to five inches of snow this morning and knew that today was the day. After an early lunch, I tried to delay the inevitable. The dishes needed to be washed. And dried (I never dry the dishes). Toilet cleaned. I even thought about vacuuming, but my guy stopped me. And presented me with a black helmet. It was much too big and kept shifting around. He gave me a second helmet to try on. I felt claustrophobic and couldn’t take it off fast enough. “We have another,” he said as he headed to the barn. Darn. And the third one fit just right. Double darn.
Our mode of transportation was ready and waiting. No long lines of others vying for a seat. No being put off until a later time. Our race had begun.
We hopped aboard and headed off down the trail. At first it was sort of okay and I almost relaxed, until that is, we took a sharp corner and I clenched my hand rails while leaning away. Sometimes, I felt like I was a kid again in the back of the school bus and jumping up and down as we went over the bumps on Valley Road in my hometown.
I was glad my guy couldn’t hear me unless I leaned close and spoke up–I kept my own running commentary for the first twenty minutes, which occasionally included an expletive not worth repeating.
At last we reached the Narrow Gauge trail, where my guy picked up the speed, but given it’s a fairly flat old railbed, I chose not to complain. And as good as his word, he stopped whenever I asked. One of my favorite spots along the trail is what we refer to as the tunnel, for in that section only, the walls are high on both sides and hemlock trees tower over.
One of the things about riding on the machine is that you don’t get to really see anything. He loves it because it takes him places he wouldn’t ordinarily go. Yeah, there’s that. But . . . I prefer a slo-mo approach. And so today, we melded our ways–full speed ahead (although he thinks he took it slow) and complete stops every once in a while to take a look at things like sap forming an icicle,
hemlock roots and rocks intertwined,
and an elephant.
At last I walked back to him and we continued on our way. We were only going to go the length of the Narrow Gauge, but I was surviving and my guy smiling.
Our next destination–Hancock Pond in Denmark.
I asked him to stop by this camp intentionally, for I wanted to show its owners, Faith and Ben, the midwinter view–and lack of snow mainly because of its orientation to the sun.
Despite the fact that most of last night’s snow had already melted, rock tripe along their shoreline had turned green–photosynthesis in action.
As we walked back to the chariot, we noted the houses on top of Bear Trap. My guy suggested that we turn around and head in that direction next. From the start, I suspected our plan of an out and back trip wouldn’t occur for he loves to return via a different route, while I don’t mind following the same path back because I usually see something I missed previously. But . . . I agreed with him.
We did have to travel a wee bit back on the Narrow Gauge to reach the turn toward Narramissic, located just below Bear Trap. Since we were passing by for a second time, I asked to stop at Perley Pond for a quick look.
Around the edges, the melt down was beginning.
And then onward and upward we rode to Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Homestead erected in 1797 by William Peabody, one of Bridgton’s first settlers. Today, the property is owned and managed by the Bridgton Historical Society.
Our main mountain wasn’t part of today’s journey, but the view of the ridgeline was spectacular from the farm’s field.
From there, we passed by the spur to the bear trap, and continued on toward Holt Pond. For a while, I felt lost in a daze as we flew through woods in varying degrees of succession due to logging events over the years. I tried to look for bear trees for I knew there should be some, but didn’t spy any. And hardly recognized our place when we suddenly arrived at the emerald field near Holt Pond.
I also completely missed the quarry from which the Stonehouse was built. The house had an interesting history. In the early 1800s, John Mead built a primitive house in South Bridgton. Like the big bad wolf of fairy tales, wind huffed and puffed and blew the house down. Mr Mead was quoted as saying, “I can and will build a house that will stand the winds and weather.” And so he did–using the plug and feather method to cut the stone from the nearby quarry and transporting it a half mile via a stone boat or sledge. The stone treasure rose from the hillside, where Mead had situated it out of the wind. The field was certainly windy and we didn’t pause for long.
Our next stop was to a place I’d never visited before and I was impressed by its size–Otter Pond. Today, I felt like we were the otters as we slid across the snow-covered ice.
At the far edge, I found a spot I hope to return to for it looked like an interesting wetland.
For today, the cattails, their seeds blowing in the breeze, were enough to whet my appetite.
And then in a few more zigs and zags, we found ourselves in familiar territory as we passed by my guy’s store.
Two more road crossings and a few more bends in the trail–and finally the mat welcomed us home after a successful finish to the first leg of The Amazing Race–our style.
Aimless wanders are among my favorite and today was such when I headed out the back door. Rather than follow any trail or even in my own former footprints, my direction changed with many a whim.
Porcupine tracks first caught my focus and I followed them to a hemlock that is slowly being consumed–on a nightly basis. Just beyond, I noticed a dead snag that was once a healthy pine had some fresh wood chips surrounding its base. A pileated woodpecker had worked above, but there were also two new holes near the bottom. I’ve watched pileateds work from the ground, but it still seems amazing that they’d take such a risk. And they do–frequently.
Scat left beside those particular excavations were filled with insect body parts. A while later I came upon another well-drilled tree and discovered scat filled with bittersweet seeds.
Right near the pileated works, I spied a set of prints that made my heart flutter. Might I find a kill site? Did a porcupine meet its demise?
The five tear-drop shaped toes and diagonal of paired prints, plus great strides between sets informed me that I was following a fisher. I thought perhaps it might lead me to a porcupine den other than under our barn, but no such luck. Instead it led me to another set of tracks and then disappeared into thin air. I’m not sure how the fisher’s story ended. Then again, I rarely read a complete chapter for any of the mammals I track.
That’s okay, for where the fisher left me hanging at the end of a page, a raccoon picked me up. And along a double-wide stonewall I traveled with it.
The raccoon tracks led to turkey tracks and I felt as if I knew the creators for I was probably a quarter of a mile from home and they’ve been spending the nights high up in the white pines of our woodlot and part of their days consuming bird seed in our yard. Ten hens and one tom are they.
The turkey tracks led me to a favorite spot–the vernal pool, where I noticed deer had also paid a visit. I crossed over, thankful that the ice was still frozen, and followed the deer.
They led me to a grove of gray birches that grow among the pines, beech and red maple. And in one opening below a bent tree, catkins had rained seeds and scales shaped like fleur de lis upon the snow. And a snowshoe hare leaped.
The hare led me to more deer and turkeys. Again, I climbed a double-wide wall and while reflecting on the size of the field this plot formerly was for it had been plowed many moons ago, I noticed the deer had also paused. To my left were four beds, those icy looking impressions left behind by their warm bodies.
And to my right five more. There was actually one at my feet, making a total of ten. I find beds all the time, but I’m not sure I’ve ever found them upon a wall before–all in a row.
The wall is located under a hemlock grove, and so it was no surprise to discover hemlock cones beside deer scat. Deer dine on hemlock bark and buds and their scat mimics the size, shape and color of a cone, often with a dimple at one end and nipple at the other. That the color should be similar makes sense, but I’d never thought about the similarity with the size and shape. As my guy would say, I’m overthinking.
I continued to follow the deer’s lead when I thought I heard a slight noise above. It wasn’t the chatter I usually associate with a red squirrel. This one was so busy pulling scales off a pinecone to get to the two seeds imbedded within each, that it hardly noticed I stood watching.
For about ten minutes he allowed me to watch him work.
A glance around and I knew that time and again he’d dined in the same area, turning a fall cache of cones into a winter midden of scales and cobs.
It was near the squirrel haven that I began to notice vole tunnels–a sight I didn’t expect to see so soon. Voles spend the winter mainly in the subnivean layer–between the snow and ground. Under the hemlocks, the snow depth was shallow and the vole’s travels revealed.
Of course, I was still following deer tracks, for really, this is their home site, aka yard. The place where they eat and sleep, with well packed runs leading from one to the other. And secretly (though it’s no longer a secret since I’m about to reveal it) I hoped to find an antler. Or two! I found none–yet this year. But . . . I did spy a track of another sort. A couple of moose also passed through, their prints so much larger than that of the deer.
Consequently, I found a shed of a different sort for by some of the moose prints I noticed hair. It may have felt a bit wintery today, but tomorrow the temperature should rise into the 40˚s. Spring is on its way.
I wasn’t the only one who wanted to take a closer look at the hair–a couple of spring tails, aka snowfleas, were also checking it out.
I let the moose be my turnaround point and followed a different route home. And had the pleasure of discovering bobcat prints. I also saw fox tracks. The only prints I didn’t find for the perfect walkers were coyote, which surprised me. All in all, it was an extremely successful wander.
Made even better when I realized I wasn’t the only one looking. “Did you see what I saw?” asked the bespectacled ice goddess. “Indeed, I did,” was my reply.
A morning message from my dear friend Carissa set the tone for today. Her Lenten devotional is based on the poetry of Mary Oliver and she thought of me when she read “The Summer Day.”
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
A perfect beginning, indeed.
A short time later I joined a couple of other friends and we traveled together to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve. Our snowshoe journey began beside Horseshoe Pond where we paused to enjoy its beauty and recall trips up Lord Hill, whose face was obscured to the left.
Once we got onto the trail, it was the little things that we noticed, like the hemlock cones with partially opened scales, their seeds all released. One tiny seed sits atop my name in this photo, but we wondered together why we’ve always seen the cones only in their closed up formation, whether fresh or old. Had they always looked like this one in late winter and we just never realized it previously?
And then we paused beside yellow birches where the liverwort Frullania eboracensis grew in abundance. Again, a new realization for us. We knew it to have brown stems, but today spied the green. As it turns out, in his book, Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts, author Ralph Pope begins his description with this: “Plant dark green to brown . . .” Our eyes were opened.
Next there was the Crowded Parchment fungus that threw us off momentarily. We recognized the cap, but were unsure about the part of the fungus that was spread out flat like a crust. It turns out, the flat parts or fertile surfaces of this mushroom laterally fuse or join together at the dark ridges. This behavior certainly spoke to its name of crowded. In Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman refers to it as “One of the most common fungi as well as one of the most crowded in New England . . . It’s not unusual to see several hundred gregarious fruiting bodies laterally fused or in dense clusters on a single branch.” Common or not, we were wowed.
And because we stopped to gain a better understanding of the Crowded Parchment, another gift was offered in the form of script lichen writing its own story on an adjoining branch.
Nearby, there was a similar cinnamonish color on beech bark. This particular beech was dotted with the waxy exterior winter coating of the beech scale insect. As I’ve noted before, the scale insect or more technically, Cryptococcus fagisuga, is a tiny insect that sucks sugar and other nutrients from beech trees only.
Soon, the beech scale insect will molt into its second, legless nymph stage and emerge. Immediately, it will start sucking sap through its tubular mouthpart or stylet. That instar stage doesn’t last long, and quickly it will become a mature female. For the rest of its life it will remain sedentary, but repeatedly remove and reinsert its piercing stylet, wounding the tree and providing entry points for fungi to enter. An interesting fact about beech scale insects–its a world of females who reproduce by parthenogenesis; there are no known males.
But what about that cinnamon color? Was it a fungus? Or was it related to the insects? Yes and yes. As some further research revealed, two species of nectria fungi are associated with beech bark disease, Nectria coccinea var. faginata and Nectria gallengia. It is now my understanding that what we examined was a large area of the former’s fruiting bodies. Oh my.
We also paused frequently beside gardens dominated by lichens. Crustose, foliose and fruticose varieties completely enveloped the bark of this toppled tree, their individual colors and textures adding to the visual display.
And then . . . and then . . . as we looked, a motion captured the attention of one in our group. I only wish my focus had been better, but still, it was enough.
We were blessed with the opportunity to spend a few moments with a mink as it bounded down the hill before realizing it had an audience.
Of course, after it disappeared down a hole into a stream and we’d waited a bit, we checked out the tracks it left behind. The size of the prints and length of the straddle or measurement from the outside of one print to the outside of the other confirmed our ID.
From that point on, we continued to find evidence that the mink had traveled to and fro over the course of several days. Our hearts were grateful to have shared such a moment.
And as we took measurements, we spotted something else on the snow. Something hairy and bony found about three or four inches from the fresh mink tracks.
A scapula from a little brown thing, possibly a vole. Dropped from the mink or from above by a bird? We’ll never know. But we do know that someone consumed someone else–as it is in the natural world.
Seeing the mink made perfect sense because we traveled on and off trail beside Sucker Brook.
It was there that the naked but hairy hobblebush leaves and flower buds reminded us that spring isn’t far off. The three of us don’t necessarily want winter to end for we love how it forces us to notice other things such as the nectria’s fruiting bodies. And we love to track. But . . . we also love the other seasons, so we’re happy exploring at any time of the year.
Beside the water, the icy formations kept calling my name and I honored many by snapping a photograph. But, then we met the suds. Water foam is caused by the decay of twigs and plants and occurs naturally in streams and brooks. As they release compounds, the interaction breaks the surface tension, allowing air to mix in and create bubbles. And just as we found the Crowded Parchment living in a large community, we also found this congregation of bubbles–creating a design all its own.
Despite the short trail, it took us forever to reach the point where the brook becomes Moose Pond Bog, but we did.
And then we beelined (sort of, for still we kept stopping) to the final stream crossing on the trail for we wanted a glimpse of the rattlesnake liverwort we’d discovered growing there last year. Alas, it was buried under snow. And that means we’ll have to return again. Darn.
In the end, it was a morning well spent as we dillied and dallied over the littlest of things. And watched a mink. We got to see a mink!
No, it wasn’t a summer day. But . . . we were distracted by nature. As Mary Oliver asked, “What else should we have done?”