The Irish Colors

With so much snow still on the ground, it’s easy to see the landscape as a monochrome palette of grays. And so I set out on this St. Patrick’s Day to find some color.

f-bridge

My destination was the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s Flat Hill trail and Perky’s Path from the end of Heald Pond Road. The parking lot is almost non-existent, so much snow do we have. And the bridge crossing tricky.

f-cherry bark

As I climbed upward, the thought that some see the world as black (cherry) and . . .

f-paper birch 1

white (paper birch) kept racing through my brain.

f-gray birch 1

And then there are those who accept that gray areas exist (gray birch–a brother of paper birch from another mother).

f-yellow birch bark

Textures visible in shadows reflected differences (yellow birch–a cousin),

f-hop hornbeam

even among family members (hop hornbeam–also a birch relative.)

f-mink tracks

It may have seemed there wasn’t much new to see and wonder about, but . . .

f-mink prints

the straddle (width from outside of one print in a set to outside of the other) and angle of these prints told a different story. A mink had crossed the trail. (My mitten had to hold the Trackard in place or it would have slid down the trail.)

f-porcupine trail

Nearing the top, I went in search of another mammal who has frequented this area for years–and I wasn’t disappointed. The porcupine trough was fresh.

f-view from Flat Hill

And then I reached the summit of Flat Hill (forever an oxymoron) and the whites, greens, browns and blues of mountains and sky opened before me. There was even a hint of red in swelling buds.

f-downhill from Flat Hill

The wind was cold, so I didn’t pause for long. Instead, I retraced my own tracks down the hill.

f-orange trail

And then I turned onto the orange trail that is Perky’s Path and realized the symbolism of the color and this day. My Scottish ancestors smiled down on me.

f-beaver lodge

I’m always drawn to the wetland and had to take a peek at the beaver lodge, which remained snow covered, indicating that no one was home. But there again, the sky enhanced my view.

f-wetland from bridge

The path leads to another set of small bridges, and there I stood for a while, taking in the peacefulness and beauty before me. Oh, and the warmth of the sun as its strong rays embraced me.

f-chickadee 1

While I stood and listened, a chickadee called and I watched as it entered a hole in the birch snag. This was a wow moment, for though I know birds use old pileated holes, I rarely see them come and go.

f-chickadee 3

Out he popped, giving a curious look–perhaps because I was pishing.

f-chickadee 2

He paused for a moment and then flew off, chickadee-dee-deeing across the bright blue sky.

f-brook view

I, too, took off, but not before enjoying a few more reflective moments.

f-ice swirls

The juxtaposition of snow, hemlock branches, water and ice created colorful swirls of artistic design beyond understanding.

f-wintergreen

And then I found a few wintergreen plants, their waxy leaves transforming from winter maroon to summer green.

f-beaked hazelnut

On my way out, I stopped to examine a few buds–and catkins, in this case. I love winter, but I am beginning to crave color and beaked hazelnuts will be among the first to flower.

f-striped maple bud1

A striped maple showed off its waxy buds, leaf scars and growth rings. The bud reminded me of hands in prayer–perhaps worshipping the patron saint of Ireland.

f-striped maple covered

One bud was sheathed in white. Even with my hand lens, I couldn’t figure it out. I’d like to think it was an angelic covering, but suspect it is a cocoon.

f-basswood 2

And then there were the bulbous bright buds on the basswood tree.

f-basswood lateral bud

Indeed, they were a sight to behold. Though winter reduced the color palette to the essentials, slowly the transition to spring has begun.

f-Irish flag in breeze

My journey was done, but I made one more stop along Route 5, where Irish flags flapped in the breeze to commemorate this day. The Irish color–where white signifies the truce between the Orange and the Green.

I always wear a hint of orange on this day in contrast to my Irish guy’s green. And I remind him that St. Patrick was born in Scotland.

 

 

 

 

 

Beware the Ides of March

As I write, snow flurries float earthward landing atop the almost two feet of snow we received yesterday. Perhaps I should have heeded the soothsayer who warned Julius Caesar to “Beware the ides of March,” in Act 1, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play about the Roman politician. 

But I didn’t. I stepped out the door this morning and took my friend, Judy Lynne, with me for today is her birthday, thus making March 15 a day of celebration rather than one to be dreaded.  

As for “ides,” that word refers to the day in the middle of the month. Every month has a day that divides it in half, therefore, every month has an ides. But still, in the play it sounds so ominous–and is eventually.

And as for Judy, she missed the blizzard (and all our winter weather) because she teaches in China. And she is not at all like the Roman soldiers. Rather, Judy embraces every person and critter around the world and sheds love wherever she goes. 

p-porky

Since she can’t be in western Maine to enjoy the results of a late season storm, she’ll have to travel vicariously–beginning with the porcupine who didn’t let a little snow stop him from plowing through. Those of us who know Judy travel in a similar manner as she shows us parts  of the world we may never actually visit. 

p-Mount Wash

The view of Mount Washington will help her get her bearings. It is this and Pleasant Mountain and our orientation to them on the horizon that help us recognize our place in the world.

p-snowshoe hare

I didn’t expect to see many tracks this morning, but was pleasantly surprised. Besides the porcupine, I saw deer, mouse, red and gray squirrel, chipmunk and these. I can’t give you lobsters for your birthday, Judy, but I can give you the lobster-like prints of snowshoe hare. 

p-AMC bridge

I often don’t know where I’m headed when I walk out the door, and today was no different. This journey took me into Pondicherry Park where I stopped by the AMC bridge and thought about Judy’s ability to cross bridges with people of other cultures, no matter how deep the snow may be.

p-AMC bench

Today, however, if she wanted to pause after making such a crossing, she’d need a shovel, such was the depth on the bench by the bridge.

p-willet brook from bench site

Together, we headed down the trail to the viewpoint beside Willet Brook. Judy is an artist and I had visions of her recreating this scene of winter snow and spring ice. This picture of transitions reminded me of the changes in her life as she interviews for jobs in other countries.

p-Willet 2

The change will be difficult as she leaves behind friendships formed in the last five years, but I trust in reflection she’ll know she’s making the right choice.

p-false tinderconk

As I snowshoed, I found a few things I knew, but didn’t necessarily understand. Bumps in the road you might say, Jude, or at least on the spore surface of a false tinderconk.

p-hammered, green shield and cocoon

Because she loves design and has an insatiable curiosity, I knew she’d enjoy taking a look at the shield lichens, both hammered and common green.

p-cocoon 2

And that would have brought her to notice something else on the bark. She’d have laughed as I stuck my chin against the tree to get a closer look at the silky-hair cocoon embedded on the lichen. Perhaps a tussock moth?

p- Hooded Merganzer

As I wound my way back, I checked Willet Brook again–and spied a hooded merganser swimming away, its crest described as a hammerhead. Hammershield, hammerhead. Methinks Judy will nail down a new job soon.

p-beech bud breaking

And then there was the beech bud already breaking–I’ve seen this happen in previous years; a few scales bursting open before their time.  For Judy, it would have turned into a science lesson for her Chinese high school students. And perhaps a drawing lesson for art class.

p-deer, maple leaves on ground

Throughout the park, I didn’t roam alone for deer tracks were obvious everywhere and I saw three of the creators. But it was the leaves atop the snow that made me pause and I’m sure Judy would have done the same.

p-maple leaves

Occasionally I spot a single withered maple leaf on a tree, but this tree was covered and it made no sense. Maples aren’t typically marcescent–they don’t retain their leaves like beech and oak. It wasn’t until I stepped back and looked at the tree that I finally understood; this was a branch that had fallen when the tree was still in leaf and the deer browsed the tips of some branches, though I trust they didn’t find much nutrition for they moved on. I laughed again and heard Judy roar with me.

p-deer crossing stream:watercress

At the stream below the spring, I noticed the deer had walked right through the water to get to the other side.

p-watercress 1

I couldn’t tell for sure, but trust they sampled some wild watercress that grows freely there. And I thought of the foods Judy has sampled during her time in China and other travels.

p-deer crossing bridge

Not all of the deer chose to walk through the water. Some actually crossed the bridge. It struck me that they learned to use it to get to the other side. Judy has learned so much about herself and the world as she’s crossed bridges I’ll never set foot on.

p-dunning bridge 1

The best bridge of all awaited, its roof supporting the weight of the snow. This bridge was built by many to honor a community member, whose wife just happened to be the reason Judy and I met 25 years ago. Wow–it’s been that long since we practiced breathing techniques in Lamaze class .

p-snow on Dunning bridge

One of the cool things this morning because I was the first one there, the peaks and valleys left behind by the storm. If she’d been here, Judy would have taken the very same photo.

p-ducks 1

I went to the bridge to see the other ducks that frequent this location. The sight of the snow-topped rocks and vegetation made me think of frosting and guess who also teaches a cooking class–yup, Judy.

p-ducks 4, black:mallard hybrid?

Within the mix, what I think are two black ducks. I’m still learning my birds, but it did look like one may be a hybrid–a cross between a black duck and a mallard. Of course, I could be wrong on all accounts. No matter–what does matter is that they all get along and that’s what is important to Judy. She’s also a great believer in random acts of kindness and has performed so many good deeds for others.

p-robins 2

I was almost home when I saw some color in the gray birches–more color than the berries being eaten.

p-robin 3

A flock of robins dined on the “junk” food of the bird world–bittersweet berries.

p-robin 1

After one drank some snow, it showed off its rufous-colored breast, reminiscent of Judy’s red hair.

This one posed atop the snow-covered branch seemed a mighty fine representation of our move from one season to the next. (Or might it be one country to the next, Jude?)

In the end, today’s journey reminded me once again to Be Aware–the eyes of March. And be thankful.

I am thankful for my friend, Judy Lynne, born on the Ides of March, but not actually reading this until the day after her birthday. I’ll be forever in awe of her.

Beautiful Maine Mondate

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

s1-Stone House Road 1

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

s2-bear number

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

s3-bear hair

Hair sticks out from splinters. Bear hair.

s4-more bear hair

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

s6-another pole

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

s8-bear dogs

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

s9-gate

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

s10-black cherry bark

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

s11a-birch and red maple

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

s14-pileated works

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

s15-porcupine

porcupines,

s16-beaver works

beavers,

s13-yellow birch burl

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

s17-Yale blue

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

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

s18-my guy

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

s19-pond views

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

s20-cliff views

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

s22-water 1

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

s23-ice castle

While I marveled at a castle made of ice,

s24-Christmas tree

my guy spotted a Christmas tree.

s25-polypody

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

s26-polypody

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

s27-partridgeberry

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

s28-lunch bench

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

s29-lunch

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

s30-Shell Pond

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

s31-brook

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

s32-ostrich fern

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

s33-airfield

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

Again, the views were breathtaking.

s34-stone house and Blueberry Mtn

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

s35-another wetland

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

s36-Beautiful Maine

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

Welcome to Beautiful Maine and another scenic Mondate.

 

 

 

 

Because I Wandered

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

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

o-quaking aspen

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

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

o-striped maple

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

o-gray fox tracks

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

o-gray fox prints

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

o-gray fox and coyote 1

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

o-gray fox and coyote intersect

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

o-gray fox sat and peed

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

o-turkey plus

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

o-turkey wings

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

o-many travelers

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

o-bs lichen

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

o-crustose mosaic

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

o-beech 1

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

o-beech leaves

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

o-beech 4

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

o-beech scales

 

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

o-witch hazel leaves

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

o-witch hazel scalpel

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

o-witch hazel bracts

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

o-witch hazel pods

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

o-moose scat

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

o-moose browse

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

o-coyote x2

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

o-cherry

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

o-deciduous forest

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

o-deer 1

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

o-deer browsing first

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

o-deer browsing

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

My day was made because I wandered.

 

 

 

Focusing Our Eyes at Wilson Wing

I almost canceled our Tuesday Tramp this morning. The weather seemed iffy and though that doesn’t often stop us, road conditions do. But Mary and I exchanged a few e-mails and decided that even though we were the only two available, we’d go for it.

w1--deer 1

As we made up our minds, I watched another who also experienced some indecision. Lately, eight deer have spent many moments in the field and our yard, nipping buds along the edge.

w2-deer 2

While the rest of its clan was further out, this one came over the stone wall.

w3a--deer 3a

For me, it was a matter of watching how its legs worked and where it placed its cloven toes.

w4-deer 5

About to visit some trees, it turned suddenly when it realized it was being stalked–not by me but rather a neighbor’s cat. Well, maybe I was as well, but I was indoors.

w6-deer 6

Gingerly, it moved in for a closer look.

w7-deer 7

Tail down, it seemed curious to make a new acquaintance. And the big, tough cat–it ran home.

w8--Sucker Brook 1

And so, I packed up and met Mary for our adventure at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s  Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve on Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell. We’d had a dusting of snow overnight and weren’t sure what to expect. Always expect the unexpected.

From the start, we found older coyote tracks that we decided to follow. Those led us to mink tracks that began near Sucker Brook. For a while, we followed both as they ran parallel, the mink tracks being much fresher. And then we stood in one spot and realized we were encircled by coyote, mink, red squirrel and short or long-tailed weasel tracks. We could have gone home then, but of course we didn’t.

w9-ice skirt

We decided to follow the brook for a while, hoping to see otter tracks and a slide. Instead, we were treated to aprons of ice surrounding boulders and tree roots.

w10-hoar ice

Some hoar frost at a hole made us wonder who might be within.

w11-mink tracks with tail drag

And our eyes again recognized that we were still on the trail of the coyote and mink. All along, we were curious to see the drag marks left behind by the mink’s tail. Unless it was carrying something–another option.

w12-Sucker Brook 2

As we stood and looked about, movement caught our eyes and we realized we were looking at the mink. Unfortunately, neither of us thought to capture it in a photograph, but it will remain forever in our mind’s eye. While I did exactly what I tell others not to do–tried to follow it for a couple of minutes–Mary stood and listened. A sound above make her crick her neck.

w13-black backed woodpecker

On a dead trunk, a woodpecker foraged among the bark scales. We watched it for a while, trying to note its features from below and we then moved on.

w14--hobblebush

My visits to Wilson Wing are never complete without a stop to worship the hobblebush. For those anticipating spring, it’s only a few weeks away. It won’t be long and these naked leaf and flower buds will unfurl and I’m sure I’ll share their blooming glory with you.

w15-Moose Pond Bog

Another stop that I can’t pass by is a climb up the stairs to the platform–the perfect viewing spot for the bog.

w16-car

Finally, we continued along the trail and I realized my focal points were redundant of all past visits, but it’s fun to view some of these in various seasons. For those who know, this is the old blue vehicle.

w17-lungwort

And right near it, my favorite of all foliose lichens–lungwort, indicative of unpolluted air. At Wilson Wing–indeed.

w18-hemlock catkins ;-)

We crossed the last little stream, found some deer tracks and a beaver chew, and then decided to follow the trail back rather than the road. One of our stops included admiring the hemlock catkins. (Smiley face)

w19-black backed 2

And then we returned to the woodpecker. By now he was our woodpecker, just as the mink that we saw and other critters we didn’t see were also “our mink” and “our coyote,” etc. It’s amazing how even when we don’t see the mammal, recognizing that it has passed through is enough to excite us. But this bird . . . oh my.

w20-black backed 3

We noted the orangey yellow crown as it cocked its head.

w26-black backed 8

Its face was black and white, including a black mustache and white eye line.

w22--black backed 5

We were surprised by its stocky build.

w24-black backed 6

And those black and white barred sides or flanks weren’t like the woodpeckers we normally see.

w25-black backed 7

It worked constantly, flaking the scales off the trunk as it searched for insect larvae.

w27-black backed 9

Cinnamon colored underbark revealed itself where the bird had recently excavated.

w28-black backed 10

As it contemplated its next move, it didn’t seem to mind our admiration.

w30-black backed 11

With its strong beak, it probed and probed.

w31-black backed 12

Then held its head back and . . .

w32-black backed 13

probed some more.

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First it cocked its head to the right.

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And then back to the left.

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Frequently, it paused for a brief break. Or perhaps it was dining and we didn’t know it.

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We were mesmerized.

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And delighted . . .  for we’d had the opportunity to focus our eyes on so many wonders, but especially the mink and this . . . a black-backed woodpecker. This was a rare opportunity for these birds seldom show themselves, especially this far south–all the more reason to be thankful that we decided to go for it and focus our eyes on the nature of Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve.

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 the community center at Two Echo Cohousing to meet some feet.

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Meet the feet? Yes, mammal feet. It was an Advanced Seminar prepared for students and graduates of the Maine Master Naturalist Program by one of our founders and past president, Dorcas Miller.

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Dorcas has gathered mammal feet from road kill and gifts. And we gathered to take a closer look at them, determine if their stance was plantigrade (walking–entire foot on ground as we do), digitigrade (tip-toeing like a fox or coyote), or unguligrade (en pointe in ballet, like the ungulates–deer, moose, sheep), and sketch what we saw.

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Sketching is a fabulous way to take a closer look.

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And so we did,

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with intensity,

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curiosity,

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smiles,

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and giggles.

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From tiny

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to big, we had them all to study.

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We wondered what we’d find.

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And survived some interesting scents (think skunk).

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Probably the best part was that we renewed friendships formed through a combined interest in learning about the natural world.

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My own sketches were rather primitive.

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But it was noticing the details that appealed to me most.

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One of my favorite pairs–the opossum with its opposable thumb, puffy pads and grip bumps.

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When we finished sketching, we made some casts in clay. These illustrate the opossum better than I ever could.

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My final cast was the red fox–I love that the chevron shows in the print on the left and the hairiness of its feet is evident.

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At the end of the seminar, we celebrated the release of the second edition of Track Finder, written by Dorcas.

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And coveted her bear claw shawl–a gift from her guy.

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As she gave me my signed book, she told me to take a look at the Acknowledgements. She acknowledged me! I’m not sure why, but I’m certainly humbled and honored.

I also love her note to her guy–about the road kill in the freezer.

Yup, we stayed indoors today and tickled some feet. They tickled us back.

 

 

The Bears of Mount Tire’m

Mary Holland posted in her Naturally Curious blog that black bears are emerging now and it’s time to bring in the bird feeders. Maybe so, but today surely didn’t feel like a good day to give up a cozy spot and head out in search of food that doesn’t exist because the snow is crusted and two feet deep.

Winds were out of the northwest at about 18 miles per hour. The temperature was 8˚ that felt like -10˚ or lower. But sunshine. We had plenty of sunshine. So maybe the bears are waking from their long winter’s nap.

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Post lunch, my guy and I decided to don micro-spikes because of the snow conditions and ascend the trail to the summit of Mount Tire’m in Waterford. Only a few seconds after starting up the trail, we spied downed hemlock branches and knew one of the critters that frequents these woods.

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As I looked on the stonewall beside the trail, I could see that the porcupine had left its own trail while it came and went. We wondered where it might be, but when I turned and looked back down to the road, I saw that the trail continued that way and have a feeling that Porky lives under one of the nearby barns, much the same as our local Porky lives under our barn.

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Our hike to the summit was brisk because it was so cold. Every once in a while, my guy paused, including beside this newly excavated pileated woodpecker hole. If I were the local chickadees, I’d choose this one tonight and gather all my friends and relatives within since it was deeper than many.

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There were the fire tenders nearby–birch bark and false tinder conks–so keeping the home fire lit should help keep them warm.

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Over halfway to the summit, there’s a brief opening to Keoka Lake and Streaked Mountain in the offing. We could see a wee bit of open water below, and know that despite this weekend’s weather, change is in the air.

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It seemed like we reached the summit in a matter of minutes, so cold was it. But, we were out of the way of the wind and the southerly exposure meant less snow.

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We looked to the left, with Keoka Lake below. And behind the single pine, Bear and Hawk Mountains.

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To our right and through the pines, we could see the snow covered ski trails at Shawnee Peak Ski Area on Pleasant Mountain.

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Straight below, Waterford City, Bear Pond and Long Lake beyond.

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This hike is never complete without a visit to the rock castle hidden in a hemlock stand behind the summit. It was a favorite for our sons when they were youngsters and we still like to pay homage.

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Life on a rock has long been exemplified here, with crustose lichens topped by mosses that grow among the cracks, where pine needles and seeds gather.

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The result– dirt so birch trees may grow out of the side of the boulders.

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When one visits the castle, it’s important to check out the caves because you never know . . . t-me-2-1

who might emerge.

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We decided to bushwhack on our way down. Turns out, Ms. Holland was right. We met a bear in the woods today.

 

Knowing Our Place

It doesn’t matter how many times I explore the same space, I’m always amazed at the opportunity to learn something new. And so it happened at the Holt Pond Preserve this very morning. It’s one of my favorite hangouts in western Maine on any day, but today–it added some new notches to the layers of appreciation and understanding.

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Because  Grist Mill Road that bisects part of the preserve serves as part of the snowmobile trail in the winter, parking occurs on the sharp curve that marks the end of Perley Road and beginning of Chaplin Mill Road. (You have to know you are moving from one road to the next because there are no road signs.) A couple of parking spots have been plowed and its from those that this first sight was viewed. I was a bit confused when I saw alder catkins and cones, with pussy willows growing among them. On the same shrub? Shouldn’t be. And it wasn’t. Rather, a closer look cleared the confusion when I realized that the two shrubs favor the ditch at the edge of Emerald Field.

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I was with Alanna Doughty, Education Director for Lakes Environmental Association and our intention was to focus on tracks. But . . . we suffer from Nature Distraction Disorder, thank goodness, and so our NDD forced us to notice all things, including the beauty that is Tingley Brook.

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And the way the snow and morning sun enhanced the color of mosses decorating old maple trees.

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The mosses weren’t the only shade of green in the neighborhood. A young ash tree angled across the path and its D-shaped leaf scar helped us identify it as a green ash.

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As we moved along, we spied a new beaver dam and began to notice their works in the vicinity.

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We know what trees they chose for construction.

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And we wondered why they didn’t finish the job on this beech tree. Will they return? Only time will tell.

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Though we periodically saw downed hemlock twigs, some appeared to be wind drops. But, these drew us in for closer inspection.

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Through a hand lens, we spied the works of a different mammal–in this case, red squirrel. Ends of twigs were cut and dropped and then their buds nipped. But that wasn’t all we noticed. We were wowed by the petioles and how those little stems attached the needles to the twigs. And the tiny warts on the twigs. And . . . and . . . and. Who knew there was so much to admire about a hemlock twig?

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We continued on, turning from the brook to Muddy River, where  a larger and older beaver dam easily identified itself given the snow cover.

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We followed some indiscernible tracks of a perfect walker and then lost them by the time we reached the canoes–also hiding under the white blanket.

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At the canoes we could have turned and found our way out, but ever curious, we continued on toward the red maple swamp. And then we decided to take a different course. Rather than follow the boardwalk, our usual pathway, we took advantage of the current conditions and decided to walk through the swamp toward the Muddy River. Earlier, we’d noted that a snowmobile had passed along the river and though we’d questioned the choice of its driver, we felt a compelling drive to take in the view from a different vantage point.

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With that in mind, and all caution thrown to the wind, we crossed the Muddy River to take a closer look at the beaver lodge we normally admire from a nearby boardwalk.

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We took it in from all sides, noting the fresh saplings added during fall reconstruction, as well as the mud. It was a warm day–and we wondered if we might have seen steam rising had the temperature been colder.

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It was from here that we looked back across the river to the hemlock hummock and boardwalk area where we normally stand. There was a certain satisfaction in being on the other side for a change.

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When we made our way back to the red maple swamp, a little tree drew our attention. Small in stature, yet big in personality is the tamarack or Eastern larch. It’s our only deciduous conifer and somehow we’d missed its existence in the swamp all these years, perhaps because we don’t often actually walk through the swamp. While larches have needles, they typically turn yellow and then drop, leaving behind a winter form that yields horizontal branches with nubs.

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We noted that though the fruits reminded us of hemlock cones, on the larch they stand upright in contrast to those that dangle on their cousin’s branches.

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Once we realized we were looking at larches, we started to see them everywhere. Finally, we pulled ourselves back to the river’s edge and continued our journey to Holt Pond.

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Again, we found tracks that had been bleached out by the warm sun of the last few days, but we surmised a member of the weasel family had bounded along, crossing the outlet of Holt Pond.

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We crossed the quaking bog, home to spaghnum moss, pitcher plants, sundews, cranberries, and so much more. But our attraction was overwhelmingly to today’s tree of choice–more larches.

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While we appreciated the young ones, we were completely in awe of the grandparents, who had grown long beards and supported a variety of barnacles in the form of lichens.

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Foliose and fruticose, they added texture and color to the presentation.

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Some describe the branches as wart-like, but we saw roses.

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And a composition of structure and age and growth that spoke to an art form.

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All warranted further examination.

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And then we realized there was also another sign of the tree’s history–barbed wired wrapped around and growing through the trunk. Stonewalls in one section of the preserve speak to a former farmer’s need to keep livestock from entering the swamp. But the barbed wire was a distance from the walls and quite far out in the swamp and so we wondered who had placed it there and why.

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At last it was time to turn back. And as we moved closer to shore and the speckled alders, a bird’s nest made itself known. Grasses, cattails and leaves were woven into the structure that was securely attached to the shrub’s branches.

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Before following the river back to the woodland trail, where we realized some tracks we’d followed earlier were those of a bobcat, we looked at the layers from the swamp to shrubs to deciduous trees to conifers to blue sky and clouds–and the colors mixed within.

And we knew that we’d shared an appreciation for the time –getting to know each other and our place better.

 

 

 

 

The Second Anniversary of Wondermyway

Milestones are always important as they mark significant events in our lives. And for me, such an event occurs today as I celebrate the second anniversary of the day wondermyway.com was born.

Since I was in elementary school and made few and far between entries into a chunky journal bound in a green cover (which I still own), to the first empty book journal my sister gave me when I graduated from high school, to a variety of travelogues and other journals I’ve filled from cover to cover,  I’ve recorded my life’s journey from time to time.

The most satisfying for me has been this very blog, to which I’ve added numerous events and discoveries, both natural and historical, over the last two years. As personal as it all is, I’ve taken a leap of faith by sharing it with you. And you have been gracious enough to read it, and comment on it, and “like” it, and sometimes “love” it, and offer me suggestions, corrections and gentle nudges.

Thank  you for following along on the journey. It’s been scary to put myself out there, but I have.

And now, I thought I’d review some favorite finds I noted in posts over the past year. My learnings have been many and it’s been fun to review all that I’ve seen and thought and admired and wondered about. I hope you’ll feel the same and will continue to follow along and comment and share those that you enjoy with your family and friends.

Here’s my countdown , or maybe I should say my count up of favorite moments in time over the past year:

Feb 21, 2016: Celebrating a Year of Wonder-filled Wanders

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I made time one year ago to sit and sketch–one of my favorite activities. To be still and embrace life around me. To notice. And commemorate.

February 28 2016: Gallivanting Around Great Brook

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Usually, we drive the forest road in to the gate on Hut Road in Stoneham, but in winter it isn’t passable, and thus one must walk–which means paying attention to things you might not normally notice, such as this: a special relationship between a yellow birch and a white pine. Rooted in place, they embrace and share nutrients. Forever conjoined, they’ll dance through life together.

March 18, 2016: On the Verge of Change

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While exploring the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s  Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham with my friend, Parker,  who is a master mycologist, he found Panellus stipticus, a bioluminescent species. Check out those gills on the underside. According to Lawrence Millman in his book Fascinating Fungi of New England, ” . . . specimens in the Northeast glow more obviously than specimens in other parts of North America.” So if you are ever in these woods late at night, don’t be freaked out by a light greenish glow. It just might be nature’s night light.

March 22 2016: Wet Feet at Brownfield Bog

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When I first spied this lump of gray I assumed it was a dead mouse. I know, I know–I should never assume because I risk “making an ass out of u and me.” And so I took a closer look. And noticed tons of bones and those orange teeth. An owl pellet filled with the remains of dinner. Owl pellets are extra cool and dissecting one is even cooler. I collected this one but haven’t dissected it because I think it makes for a great teaching tool as is. If you want to see it, just ask.

April 13, 2016: So Many Quacks

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At the vernal pool, or frog pond as we’ve always fondly referred to it, just steps from our property, I kept a keen eye on the situation last spring. In general, each mass laid by  female wood frogs was attached to a twig or branch. They tend to take advantage of the same site for attachment and usually in a warm, sunny spot.

A couple of masses were positioned independent of the rest, like this one–embraced in oak and maple leaves. Eventually, they’ll gain a greenish tinge from algae, which actually helps to camouflage them. One of the many wonders is that any given mass may contain up to 1,000 eggs–from a two-to-three-inch frog.

April 28, 2016: The Big, The Little and Everything in Between

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The phone rang as I stepped out of the shower and a male voice yammered away about something in the snow and it had come last night and I had to get there quickly. My friend, Dick,  was standing in a friend’s yard about a half mile from here and looking at bear tracks in the snow.

As he knew he would, he had me on the word “bear.” His voice was urgent as he insisted I stop everything and get to his friend’s house. “I just need to dry my hair and then I’ll be right there,” I said. Deadlines loomed before me but bear tracks won my internal war. Dick suggested I just wrap a towel around my head. Really, that’s what I should have done because my hair has no sense of style whether wet or dry, so after a few minutes I said the heck with it and popped into my truck, camera and trackards in hand.

May 21, 2016: Wallowing in Wonder

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Along Perky’s Path at the GLLT’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Preserve, a bunch of us had the honor to watch a dragonfly split open its exoskeleton and emerge from the nymph stage. Of course, we were standing by a beaver pond, and so it seemed only appropriate that it would use the top of a sapling cut by a beaver. As it inflated the wings with blood pressure, they began to extend.

May 31, 2016: Slippers Fit for a Princess–Including Cinderella

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Members of the Orchid family, lady’s slippers feature the typical three petals in an atypical fashion. The pouch (or slipper or moccasin), called the labellum, is actually one petal–inflated and veined. With a purplish tint, the petals and sepals twist and turn offering their own take on a ballroom dance. From every angle, it’s simply elegant.

June 10, 2016: The Main(e) Exotics

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At Lakes Environmental Association‘s Holt Pond Preserve, a friend and I had moved from the swamp to the first hemlock hummock and chatted about natural communities when suddenly we realize we were being hissed at. Its coloration threw us off and beautiful though it was, the hairs on the back of our necks stood on end. Apparently we made it feel likewise. And so we retreated. It was a common garter, but really, there didn’t seem anything common about it in the moment.

June 18, 2016: Paying Attention

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In May, trailing arbutus wowed us by its gentle white and pale pink flowers. In June,  they faded to a rusty tone. And some transformed into swollen round seed pods–a first for me to see.

The sepals curled away to reveal the white fleshy fruit speckled with tiny brown seeds. It was well worth getting down on knees to look through a hand lens–especially since ants, chipmunks and mice find these to be a delicacy so they wouldn’t last long.

July 9, 2016: Wondering About Nature’s Complexity

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I posed a question this day: So dear reader, I enjoy teaching you, but now need you to teach me. I found this under another leaf on a shrub. And I often see the same thing stuck to our house. It reminds me of a caddisfly case. What is it?

And fellow Master Naturalist Pam Davis responded: Check out bagworm moths to see if it might be an answer to the stick thing on the leaf and your house. Here’s a discussion: http://nature.gardenweb.com/discussions/2237505/not-a-bug-maybe-a-gall and a Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagworm_moth

Indeed.

July 27, 2016: Searching for the Source of Sweetness

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It was no mistake the this fritillary butterfly chose the beebalm on which to land. Check out its mouth. A butterfly feeds through a coiled mouth part called a proboscis. When not in use, the proboscis recoils and is tucked into position against the butterfly’s head.

August 21, 2016: Sundae School

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My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian Pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

August 27, 2016: Halting Beside Holt Pond

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Halting–prone to pauses or breaks. I didn’t break, but I certainly was prone to pauses as I moved along the trails and boardwalks at the Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton. One of my first stops–to admire the pitcher plant flowers in their August form. When I took a closer look, I realized that the seeds were developing–certainly a WOW moment in the world of wonder.

September 9, 2016: Golden Rulers

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What first caught my eye was a bee that dangled upside down. And then I spied the green legs of an assassin bug. What? Yup, an assassin bug. I believe this one is a nymph. Regardless of age, here’s the scoop: Assassin bugs are proficient at capturing and feeding on a wide variety of prey. Though they are good for the garden, they also sometimes choose the wrong species like this bee. The unsuspecting prey is captured with a quick stab of the bug’s curved proboscis or straw-like mouthpart. Once I saw this, I continued to return for a couple of hours, so stay tuned.

September 15, 2016: The Wonders of Kezar River Reserve

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My favorite wonder of the day . . . moments spent up close with a meadowhawk.

October 17, 2016: Everybody Loves Raymond? Mondate

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My guy and I discovered several of these examples of fungi on fungi at Loon Echo Land Trust‘s Raymond Community Forest and had no idea what they were–so I sent the photos to Parker and Jimmie Veitch, of White Mountain Mushrooms, and Jimmie responded with this explanation:

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

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

October 22, 2016: Cloaked By the Morning Mist

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On a rainy day adventure with the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust in nearby New Hampshire, we paused to admire candy lichen, a crustose (think–flattish or crust-like) lichen with green to bluish-green coloration. Its fruiting bodies, however, are candy-pinkish berets atop stalks, even reflected in the raindrops.

November 6, 2016: Focus on the Forest Foliage

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And then . . . and then . . . and then just as our eyes trained on the red caps before us, something else made itself known. We spied another lichen that I’ve only seen once before: Cladonia cervicornis ssp. verticillate.

Its growth formation is rather unique. In one sense, it reminded me of a sombrero, but in another sense, I saw fountains stacked one atop another, each giving forth life in their own unique fashion. But rather than being called Fountain Lichen, its common name is Ladder Lichen–perhaps referring to the fact that the pixies can easily climb up and up and up again.

November 20, 2016: Forever a Student

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

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

December 4, 2016: The Art of Nature

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Some cut stumps reminded me of the circular movement leading toward the center of a labyrinth–appearing quick and easy, and yet providing a time to slow down while following the path.

December 23, 2016: Won’t You Be My Neighbor

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I followed the porcupine trail along his regular route and over the stonewall only to discover prints I’ve never met before. My first impression was raccoon, but the shape of the prints and the trail didn’t match up in my brain. More and more people have mentioned opossum sightings in the past few years, but I’ve only seen one or two–flattened on the road. Today, in our very woods, opossum prints.

January 19, 2017: Keep an Open Mind

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

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

January 25, 2017: On the Prowl at Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve

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Notice how these pine needles are clumped together? What I learned from Mary Holland, author of Naturally Curious,  is that these are tubes or tunnels created by the Pine Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. They used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. Notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and in April when I come back to check on the vernal pool, I need to remember to pay attention, for that’s when they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news, says Holland, is that “Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.” I only found the tubes on two young trees, but suspect there are more to be seen.

February 8, 2017: Embracing the Calm

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A bull moose, like a buck deer, thrashes bushes and small saplings when the velvet on its antlers dries. It could be that the velvet itches. But it could also be a response to increasing testosterone and the need to scent mark.

February 16, 2017: When Life Gives You Flakes

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When life gives you flakes . . . make a snow angel in the middle of the trail.

To all who have read this far, thanks again for taking a trip down memory lane today and sticking with me these past two years. I sincerely hope you’ll continue to share the trail as I wander and wonder–my way.

And to wondermyway.com–Happy Second Anniversary!

 

 

 

 

 

Mount Tom Revisited

As we tried to figure out where we’d hike today, we decided a familiar route would suit us and I was pleased when my guy suggested Mount Tom in Fryeburg. It’s an old favorite that has improved with age since The Nature Conservancy added a new trail recently. This property was important to them because the Saco River flows below.

I’d first explored the new trail with Marita Wiser, author of HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION, in October and then with my guy a short time later.

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Today, we decided to park our truck across from the old trailhead and walk down Menotomy Road so we wouldn’t have that trudge after our hike. I wish the trail was a loop, but it can’t be and so we made our own. The snowstorms of the last two weeks had buried the cemetery entrance and only a couple of headstones poked out.

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One and a half miles later, we climbed over the snowbank at the trailhead and strapped on our snowshoes.

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We were thankful that someone or two or three had packed the trail before us.

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Just after stepping onto the West Ridge Trail, we passed between a house and barn foundation. All that was visible–the center chimney’s supporting structure, which probably dates back to the 1800s. Perhaps the original homesteaders were buried in the cemetery.

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At first the tromp was easy because it passes gently across the terrain and so I had time to look around. Fresh tinder conks growing on paper birch trees pleased my eye.

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I love their colors, which reminded me of oyster shells I’d spent a childhood collecting.

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A few minutes later I spied a house I hadn’t noticed in the fall. My guy looked over and told me it wasn’t a house at all.

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He was right, of course. Two large boulders, erratics dropped by the glaciers that formed Mount Tom, a Roche Moutonnée, stood out because of their snow covered tops. We didn’t move closer, but I’ve a feeling they provided homes for mosses and ferns and other assorted flora and perhaps even wildlife. So maybe I was also correct.

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After crossing the snowmobile trail that passes through the preserve, we continued on through the hardwood forest and started climbing up and sometimes down. Through the trees we spied the summit, but still had a ways to go.

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One of my favorite trees grows in this forest–white oak. And though it’s not common in the woods I normally traverse, I’m learning to identify it by the plated blocks of its bark.

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It helps, of course, when the round-lobed leaves are found nearby.

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At last we reached the ledges, where I’d hoped to see bobcat sign. We did see porcupine evidence, but the snow was soft and tracks almost indecipherable.

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We also found plenty of signs of another frequent visitor. But with that–a major disappointment. I’m sorry to report that I didn’t find any pileated woodpecker scat today.

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Across the trail from the pileated debris, the work of a gray squirrel. Dinner required toil–it had dug a hole that looked to be about three feet deep. How do they know where to find those acorns they cached last fall? I’m always in wonder of such digs. And those that they don’t find become trees. It’s all good.

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I probably wouldn’t have missed this tree, but my guy wanted to make sure I saw it. He spread his arms in the same manner and felt it was welcoming us to the ridge. Indeed.

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Nearby, someone else was welcomed–and I’m not referring to the acorn. Yes, that provided a squirrel meal, but scattered feathers indicated a downy woodpecker met its demise. And a predator dined.

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We were almost to the summit when a burl revealed some of its inner beauty–the bark having fallen off. Grains once straight twisted and contorted thanks to a virus or fungus or some other means. I loved the swirl of lines, some thin and squiggly.

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And then the beauty of the view greeted us–Pleasant Mountain in the distance and the Saco River valley below. We met a young family at the summit and thanked them for paving the way. They’d never climbed here before and asked about the old trail down.

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We explained that that was our choice and though it’s a bit steeper, it’s a quicker way back to the road.

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We also told them we’d do the honor of paving the way because it had been a storm or more since anyone had trudged that way.

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Because it’s a rather straight downhill, we felt like we were floating for most of the trail and welcomed the sight of Mount Kearsarge among the beauty of the young birches. Once the trail widened, the snow was deeper and it became a trudge again, but the end was nearing.

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Right before reaching the road, Old Glory flew as she faithfully does in the field.

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And always a favorite–the barn beside the trailhead highlighted by the mountains and sky.

We’d come to the end and were thankful for the opportunity to climb Mount Tom again. We were especially thankful for the family who’d gone before on the West Ridge Trail–it was a bit of a slug for us, but even more so for them and we wondered if we’d have completed the loop had it not been for their hard work. We don’t know their names, though we do know their dog’s–Roscoe. May Roscoe’s owners sleep well tonight.

 

 

 

 

The Dog Days of Winter

A sunny, 43˚ day in the middle of February is reason to celebrate, especially given all the snow of the past two weeks. And so Bridgton, Maine, did just that with its annual winter carnival sponsored by the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.

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Highland Lake in downtown Bridgton was the setting for the activities, including dog sled rides and an ice fishing derby.

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As folks got settled on the sled, the lead dogs eagerly awaited their chance to follow the course.

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And then they were off for a short journey around the lake.

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Though we didn’t go for a ride today, my guy and I have taken several and it’s a delightful way to explore. Bridgton is also home to the Mushers Bowl, a sanctioned race which occurred two weeks ago at Five Fields Farm.

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Today the dogs weren’t competing, but rather providing scenic rides and they did so with smiles on their faces. They were born to run.

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If you haven’t been snuggled in a sled behind a team, I strongly encourage you to try it.

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Further out on the lake, the fishing derby was in progress. We didn’t walk out because we were eager to get to another event closer to the beach. Plus, we’d left our snowshoes at home and post holing was the name of the game without them.

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Instead, we turned our attention to an open spot created by the town crew.

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Many gathered to watch the annual polar dip called Freezin for a Reason, a benefit for Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in neighboring Fryeburg. Harvest Hills is a shelter that accepts stray, neglected and abandoned dogs and cats.

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Those taking the plunge donned a variety of costumes.

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And their faces told the story.

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They offered support with smiles.

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Some disappeared under water for a few seconds.

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While there were those who dove in, others were more cautious.

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All kinds of critters came out to cheer them on.

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Laughter, hoots and hollers filled the air, while rollers curled the hair.

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Kids of all ages got into the act.

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And some accepted the challenge to get to the other side of the “pool” where local firefighters were ready–just in case–and happy to offer high fives. Thankfully, their rescue services weren’t needed.

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It was fun to watch co-workers and their individual approaches.

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Each reacted differently to the common goal.

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And the best was saved for last, when Jen was introduced.

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She waved to the crowd as she walked the white carpet to the water’s edge.

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Joan gave her hand so she wouldn’t slip.

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And the fire crew moved in to provide additional support.

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Jen loves to swim.

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And so she did, kicking up water in the face of her aids.

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To the cheers of all watching, she finally got out.

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Like all who took the plunge, she was greeted with a warm towel.

In honor of dogs and cats, all of these folks raised money to the tune of over $20,000. They deserved all the cheers they received as they celebrated this beautiful and balmy dog day of winter.

 

 

 

When Life Gives You Flakes

After a delightful childhood in Connecticut, I began my journey north . . . in search of more snow. And a job, of course. Eventually I found my way to western Maine and love followed–for my guy and for the good fortune of snowy winters. Some are more icy and rainy, but this year–ahhhhhh, what a treat.

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I know that not everyone agrees, but when life gives you flakes I hope you can find your way out the door. This was the view that beckoned me this morning, but the door was blocked by sixteen inches of the white stuff so I had to use the front door.

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In the past ten days over five feet has piled up on top of the base we already had. My studio can attest to it all.

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I wanted to capture the landscape and see what it offered before the sun and wind changed the world. There’s something about the pines plastered in white that makes my heart smile as I step into the woods.

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One of my favorite pines is an old wolf tree along the cow path. It’s lovely on any day, but particularly when its arms are outlined.

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And beside the path, several large hemlocks offered secret forts beneath their laden branches.

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Further along, red maples, their buds growing rounder each day, provided enormous support as a few flakes continued to fall.

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Below the maples, I crossed over mouse tracks, surprised to see that they’d ventured forth on a risky mission to find food.

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And then I followed a deer run, marvelously straight, along the snowmobile trail.

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Where the deer paused to browse, I paused to notice.

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And once in a while I spotted deer hair.

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Just above, one caught between two hemlock twigs.

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There were other observations to make, like the snow wrapped around trees much the way we wear scarves . . .

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and woolen ponchos.

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Occasionally, treats presented themselves, like this double scoop ice cream cone.

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Eventually, the morning light gave way . . .

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to the sun.

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And I knew it wouldn’t be long until the plops and drips began . . .

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releasing the snow one branch at a time.

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Rather than see it as a dead end, I long ago chose to embrace winter.

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And so this morning, I stopped by the snowy archway, stepped out of my snowshoes . . .

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And made a snow angel in the middle of the trail.

When life gives you flakes . . . have fun!

(Back at home, it was time to shovel by the back door and scoop the driveway–our world is getting smaller and we’re all dealing with tunnel vision, but warmer temps are just around the corner.)

 

Falling Stars

The sight of falling snowflakes filled that spot in my soul that is devoted to wonder.

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Each tiny morsel unique.

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Many stacked high.

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Some precariously perched.

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Others well supported.

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Foundations varied.

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Stairways formed.

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Boardwalks hid.

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Moss Monsters smiled.

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Moose chuckled.

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Mallards speculated.

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And the red fox paused.

Watching snowflakes gather reminded me of the impermanence of it all. They are exquisite and beautiful, yet temporary.  Here one moment, trampled and melted the next. Yet, I am forever awed by each tiny star that falls from the sky.

Embracing the Calm

Yesterday it snowed and the air held its winter red-cheeked nip.

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Today, five inches of fresh snow on the ground and stone walls with temps in the upper 40˚s–certainly a feeling of spring.

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As I headed into my smiling place, I had high hopes of seeing the golden-crowned kinglets I heard and saw the other day when my fingers were too cold to snap a photo. So the pishing began–me repeating “pish” over and over again in hopes of a repeat performance. No kinglets, but the chickadees came and followed me for a bit–I felt like the Pish Piper.

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As I snowshoed, I spotted numerous  trees like this striped maple, broken and worthy of inspection. Each time, I stepped in for a closer look. And finally was rewarded.

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Hair.

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Moose hair.

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A bull moose, like a buck deer, thrashes bushes and small saplings when the velvet on its antlers dries. It could be that the velvet itches. But it could also be a response to increasing testosterone and the need to scent mark.

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The frayed striped maple held messages I couldn’t read. But I had the joy of knowing they were there. And a better understanding of why this tree is called moosewood.

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Taking a different route home, I spied the pattern of our neighborhood porcupine. Apparently it had made a journey during the overnight hours when the storm was still in progress.

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I didn’t see any hemlock twigs scattered on the ground, but one nipped end starred me in the face from its suspended position on the branch of another tree.

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And in the hemlock, yesterday’s snow gathered still on more nipped twigs. Porky has certainly been active. For now, he rests under the barn.

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As the sun finally set on this beautiful day, I ran outside to capture the red sky. My mother used to say, “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.” I’ve a feeling that there will be a red sky in the morning and the sailors will need to heed the warning. Another storm is pending.

Between the storms, I embraced the calm. And was rewarded.

Tonight, one more reward that was captured in our minds’ eyes–my guy turned on the deck light and called to me. We watched an opossum move across the deck and head to the spot where the shed meets the barn and all critters enter and depart–porcupines, raccoons, skunks, woodchucks and now an opossum. It was our first sighting of this homely mammal.  I’d wondered where it might be and haven’t seen its tracks since the first time I spied them just before Christmas.

Barns are meant to house animals, especially when they need to get out of a storm. Our animals just happen to live under the barn (well, all but the squirrels and mice that live in it), though I have to wonder how this menagerie embraces the calm as they coexist.

Between storms, seek calm and embrace it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mondate with Tom and Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“You looking at me?” asked Tom.

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

“Well, I guess I am rather handsome.”

“I didn’t say that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Seeing Red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Book of February: The Stars–A New Way to See Them

If you don’t mind stepping outside on a crisp winter night, it’s the perfect time to turn your eyes skyward. With less ambient light and no humidity, the stars and constellations (and the cold air) will take your breath away.

The first thing to do is move away from any house or street lights to orient yourself. With arms outstretched, point your right hand toward sunrise and your left toward sunset–thus you’ll now face north with the east to your right and west to your left. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, your backside should face south.

Now, if you were an Ancient Greek or Roman, you’d look at the stars above and draw elaborate pictures in the sky to represent the gods and goddesses you knew so well. But you aren’t. Nor am I.

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Book of February

Instead, I connect the dots in a manner learned from H. A. Rey, author of the Curious George series (think Man with the Yellow Hat). Mr. Rey also wrote The Stars: A New Way to See Them, which guides us amateur stargazers in how to look at the constellations in a graphic way that shows the shapes implied by the name.

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Almost everyone recognizes the Big Dipper, the seven stars that form a large scoop–or dipper. The curved handle is created by three stars while four others form the bowl. Though we may think of the Big Dipper as a constellation, it is actually an asterism or group of stars within a constellation. In this case, the asterism is within Ursa Major, the Great Bear constellation. The tip of the dipper serves as Great Bear’s nose and the bowl forms part of his back–like a bicycle saddle bag. If you follow Rey’s diagram, you’ll see the rest of the side view, including the bear’s front and back legs and paws, plus his rump.

With Rey’s help, you can use the pointer stars in the Big Dipper to locate Polaris, the North Star, and then navigate your way around the night sky to other constellations. It’s a fun journey to take, especially when the sky is clear and wind calm.

Other winter favorites include Orion the Hunter and Gemini the Twins.

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An easy way to locate Orion is to first find the three bright stars lined up that create his belt. Do you see his sword dangling from the belt? He’s the heavily armed guy that dominates the sky right now with one arm raised high and holding a club, while the other extends forward and grasps a shield. The constellation includes the brightest star–Betelgeuse (pronounced beetle juice), which marks his left shoulder (leading to the club in his hand).

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Above Orion stand the Twins or Gemini (to the south),  who remind me of the stick figures I used to draw in elementary school (and beyond). Their heads are the bright stars–Castor and Pollux. I love how they stand side-by-side, holding hands.

There’s so much more to see and I like the simplicity Rey has taught me to find my way about the night sky. Yeah, you can hold your phone up and use an app, but that takes the fun out of it.

Go ahead, treat yourself to Rey’s The Stars and turn your eyes to the sky.

I found my copy of The Stars: A New Way to See Them at Bridgton Books. Where did you find yours? (I hope you’ll join me in supporting local independent bookstores whenever possible.)

The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H.A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008 (with update on the solar system and our planets), originally published in 1954.

Circle of Life

Searching for circles

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as a reflection of life

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revealed uniqueness.

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Beginnings and endings intertwined

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deleted any lines defined.

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The alpha and omega

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designed with layers between.

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And a variety of form

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in presentations never ending.

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Names describe some as rounded

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and others: bull’s eye,

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spiral,

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whorl,

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and cylindrical.

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But what about those incomplete?

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Did life slip out

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or slowly drip away?

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And wounds left behind

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that never fully healed?

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The answers, like shapes,

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aren’t always obvious.

Circles sought and circles found.

No two alike.

My hope–that we end as we began—the circle completed around a life well embraced.

On the Prowl at Heald & Bradley Pond Reserve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The holes weren’t big–yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Progressive Lunch Mondate

Today’s hike found us climbing one of our favorite mountains in western Maine. We love the fact that we can ascend along various trails and change it up if we want with up and back routes, circular routes and ridge-line routes.

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Since we chose the Southwest Ridge Trail, we drove to the parking area on Denmark Road. Ours was the only vehicle, but trail conditions and a single Stabilicers™ ice cleat indicated many others had traveled this way recently. As for those ice cleats, my guy informed me he’s sold tons this winter and he has STABILicers™ Powder Straps for sale as well, so they don’t end up as trail sign decorations.

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The beginning of the trail was mostly covered in frozen snow. Immediately we wondered who had used the trail more–humans or deer? The imprints of the latter spoke of timing. The smaller skipper on the left, must have moved this way after a recent warm day and the adult, which I suspected was a doe, earlier when temperatures were colder and the snow firmer. With temps a bit lower than yesterday, we found it rather firm for our purposes.

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At least seven different deer runs crossed the trail between the parking area and first ledge.

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Being on the southwestern side of the mountain, the snow level was significantly less than elsewhere and one run was completely open to the leaf litter, making it easier for food foraging.

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Conditions kept changing for us as well. A friend from Florida had been asking about signs of spring, and this trail certainly hinted at a change of seasons.

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In fact, we experienced a bit of every season, from snow and ice to leaves, mud and water.

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About an hour into our climb, we found two rocks meant for a pause. And so we did.

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Lunch Course Number One: Pineland Farms Creamery’s Salsa Jack cheese on crackers.

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Our break gave us time to take in the view toward the White Mountains where we’d hiked yesterday. Though our visibility was rather good for a cloudy day, it was obvious that those mountains were again in the mist.

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A bit further on, the bright orange-red fruit clusters of staghorn sumac brightened our day. As vibrant as they are, most of the pompom fruits remained, waiting for songbirds, turkeys and grouse. Apparently, they are not a preferred food source and will often remain until late winter. Though I’ve never tried it, the crushed fruit can be used to make a lemonade-like tea. And the tannin-rich bark was used to tan hides.

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The “staghorn” part of the common name derived from the fact that the stem is covered in reddish-brown hairs and features a manner of growth that somewhat resembles the velvet-covered horns (antlers) of a stag (male deer).

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We solved the problems of the world as we continued up, all the while looking down to choose the right foot placement so we were both surprised when we realized we’d already reached the teepee at the summit of the trail.

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Lunch Course Number Two: Black Bean Soup.

The recipe was shared with me eons ago by my friend Carissa. When our sons were young, they loved to help me make it. And I was thrilled when our oldest asked for the recipe last week. I thought you might appreciate it.

Black Bean Soup

1 lb plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise

1 large onion, halved and cut into wedges

1 lb carrots, peeled and quartered

3 lg garlic cloves, chopped

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

4 C vegetable broth

3 1/4 C cooked black beans or two 15oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained

Combine first six ingredients and roast at 350˚ for one hour, stirring occasionally. Set carrots aside. Purée other roasted veggies. Pour some broth into roasting pan and scrape up bits. Hold aside one cup beans. Purée other beans, using some broth if necessary. Chop carrots. Heat everything together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt.

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We enjoyed the view and talked about the Hike and Bike Trek that Loon Echo Land Trust hosts each year. This is the spot that my friend, Marita, and I spend the day at as we perform our hostess duties for the six-mile hikers.

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Before we began our descent, we took one last look at the teepee, created years ago by the late George Sudduth, director/owner of Wyonegonic Camps, the oldest camp for girls in America.

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Back down we went, carefully picking our way. We were actually surprised at how quickly we finished, the climb down not nearly as treacherous as at least one of us had anticipated.

We’re expecting a Nor’easter overnight into tomorrow and hope it’s an all snow event (despite the prediction for freezing rain and sleet after the snow) because we aren’t ready to give up winter yet.

Lunch Course Number Three: Two Dark Chocolate McVitie’s Digestives when we reached the truck. A perfect ending to a Progressive Lunch Mondate on Pleasant Mountain.