It’s become a tradition for us to spend Memorial Day or at least a day during this weekend searching for one of My Guy’s favorite blooms. I don’t even remember how the count began, but now he cannot not count them.
What we’ve learned over the years is that they like a variety of habitats. from dark forests to bogs, and even mountain tops. And they like to hide. So we must really don our Lady’s Slipper eyes (just as I’ve been donning my dragonfly eyes lately) and look for them.
I mean . . . really hide.
It’s acidic soil that they are rather fond of, just like Yellow Clintonia, the beacons of many a forest trail. But while Clintonia seems to bloom anywhere and everywhere, Lady’s Slipper need Rhizoctonia fungi in order to grow and show off a blossom. According to Jack Sanders, author of The Secrets of Wildflowers, “Unlike most seeds, the minute and dustlike Lady’s Slipper seeds contain no food to allow them to grow. However, the outside of the seed is susceptible to attack by Rhizoctonia fungi, which digest the outer cells. If things balance out just right, the inner cells escape digestion and absorb some of the nutrients the fungus obtained from the soil. Not until this happens can the seed germinate and begin growing . . . The symbiosis with the fungus doesn’t end there. In order for the infant corm (or ‘proto-corm’) to obtain minerals and other soil foods, it must use the ‘go-between’ services of Rhizoctonia fungi. The fungi, in turn, take from the seedling Lady’s Slipper foods that are photosynthetically manufactured. These sensitive and complex relationships make native orchids of all kinds relatively uncommon . . . What’s more, in the wild, it takes from 10 to 17 years for a Lady’s Slipper seed to become a mature plant capable of blooming.“
So here’s the thing. Yellow Clintonia and Pink Lady’s Slipper flowers look nothing alike. But their leaves–that’s a different story and when there are no flowers to confirm, one like me, must slow down and notice the features. Do you see what I mean? Clintonias are members of the Lily Family, with six lily-like tepals (segment of the outer whorl in a flower that has no differentiation between petals and sepals). And their leaves can be folded in half with the inner vein forming the fold line.
Lady’s Slippers, on the other hand, are orchids. The flower is a moccasin-shaped, inflated pouch, but also two lateral petals that twist outward. And the leaves–take a look. Remember folding paper in an accordion-like manner to create fans, or tissue paper to create flowers? That’s what Lady’s Slipper leaves look like to me. Multiple pleats.
Lest you think nature didn’t distract us, there was a male swallowtail puddling in a wet seep that we had to pause and admire.
And we certainly didn’t want Indian Cucumber Root, in the same lily subfamily as Clintonia, to think we were ignoring it for it has just begun to offer its unique flower to the world.
But our real focus, of course, were the slippers, even those decorated in white, which is a form of the pink.
Until, that is, the Common Loons begged to be noticed and so we did.
A few miles into the hike, we reached one of My Guy’s favorite spots. Just the other day I heard him describe it as a field of Lady’s Slippers. I’m pretty sure he was thinking football field. I happen to think it’s closer to the size of my office. But, it does produce about fifty flowers each year.
While he was meticulously counting those fifty, a Bald-faced Aerial Yellowjacket flew in and started chewing some wood. My attention was indeed diverted.
Heading to the summit, we didn’t find as many, but still they were there and we paused to admire this grouping. I wonder if there was a nurselog below them that offered the right growing conditions and thus the line.
At the summit, after finishing dessert (we’d eaten our sandwiches below by the pond), someone had to survey his kingdom.
It’s always worth a look.
We found some more as we descended and then followed a different trail out, where another lady made herself known.
Meet a female Common Whitetail Skimmer dragonfly, who is hardly common with her tail markings, and spots on her wings.
We were almost finished when we spotted this Lady’s Slipper blowing in the breeze. Note the curve in the stem, and the closed moccasin.
I don’t know if removing the leaf will help the flower to fully develop, but it made me think of today, Memorial Day, and the fact that so many have in the past and do presently work so that we can enjoy the freedom of going for a hike in the woods–thank you to all who have served our country, past, present, and future, including our dads, uncles, cousins, and friends.
The question remains: How many Lady’s Slippers did we honor on this Mondate? 351. And those were only the ones we could spot from the trail. I’m sure we missed some. Can you imagine how many more might be out there.
Standing beside quiet water in so many places this past week offered rewards for those of us who took the time to look.
The first order of business was to watch for large aquatic insects moving quickly toward the shore or vegetation. Hormones send the signal that any give day is THE day to begin the quest. In Kurt Mead’s Dragonflies of the North Woods, he explains that just prior to THE day, the aquatic insect rests (goes into a state of diapause), “while the final changes are made inside the larval exoskeleton.”
Once out of the water, it can be quite a journey to cross land and find the right plant or tree. I’ve seen some travel more than ten feet for just the right spot upon which next to pose.
Should a boardwalk get in the way, scampering across it is of utmost importance. When one is on a mission, road blocks must be overcome.
I do have to say I had to relocate a few who thought my boot, green as it is, offered the right opportunity. Certainly I would have protected it from any predators at the period of time when a dragonfly switches from aquatic predator to teneral land prey before becoming a terrestrial flying predator. For hungry nesting birds, these could become quick snacks.
Once the perfect substrate is chosen, it takes a while before the insect begins to undergo metamorphosis into an adult. Then the magic begins. The skin at the back of the head cracks open, and ever sooooo slowly the head, thorax with wings that had been stuffed into little packages on its back, legs, and abdomen begin to emerge. This process of emerging from the larval skin is called eclosing.
With all the effort it can muster, it briefly pumps its body as it arches backward away from the vegetation. The pumping is followed by periods of rest because this process takes so much energy.
Over time, as in at least an hour, more and more of the body pulls free and its aquatic breathing tubes are no longer needed.
Colors are drab throughout the process making it difficult to ID to species, but that will come.
Ever so slowly, the legs harden and the dragonfly begins to extend them. If you look closely at this photo you might notice one emerging and another climbing up the vegetation to find its own spot for emergence.
Just before fully pulling its abdomen free, the dragonfly reaches up and grabs its shed skin or exuviae. And then it begins to unfurl its wings while pumping hemolymph, aka bug blood, into them. Once elongated, the wings are cloudy. It’s actually one of the easiest times to spot the process, for the cloudy grayish brownish wings become obvious among the foliage.
It’s rather like a “Where’s Waldo” moment when you do start to look. One here, another there. And, and look, yet another.
The next step, while still clasping the shed skin, is to extend the wings out, pumping the bug blood back into the body so the abdomen can extend and colors begin to emerge. At this point, the spread wings take on a shiny sheen as they dry.
This is the second most obvious way to spot a newly emerged dragonfly, for the shiny wings glisten with hints of rainbow colors.
Remember the naiads making a quick exit from life spent below water? Many of them stalk their prey among the underwater vegetation, and it seems sometimes the vegetation stalks them. Can you see a stem sticking through the body of this larval form?
I have to wonder if it’s the reason some wings are folded and never quite open all the way, thus leaving the insect unable to fly. Well, maybe it’s one reason.
Those who do fly off find that first flight to be a bit tenuous, lift off happening suddenly and the insects act like balloons floating toward the heavens. Within a day, however, the sheen begins to dry and true colors, like those of this Belted Whiteface form.
The same was true for this Stream Cruiser, the only cruiser species in our neck of the woods (at least to date). But, the right hind wing was stuck to the front wing and flight was difficult. That said, this particular species was found at least a quarter mile from water and it got there somehow.
All this being said, I highly encourage you to head to the water’s edge and take a look. I wasn’t rewarded each day this week, but more often than not, and I suspect you will be too. If nothing else, you might discover the papery remains of a discarded exuviae and once you locate one, you’ll surely see a bunch of others.
Go ahead. Take a peek.
The best part of this week for me was that not only did I don my own set for another year, but I had the pleasure of sharing the opportunity with so many people, young and more mature (nice way to say old), who developed their own set of dragonfly eyes.
Saturday found My Guy and me doing some trail work in the rain along a local path that we’ve helped maintain for probably close to twenty years. On Sunday we went on one of the buggiest hikes we’ve endured in a while. But there was a prize to be had. And today. Ah today. What a gorgeous day. And few bugs. There was a reason for that.
We were in a wetland where the dragonflies were emerging. So this is a member of the Baskettail family. I’m just getting my dragonfly eyes back on and need to refresh my memory.
Looking at it from a different angle, my brain wants to call it a Spiny Baskettail rather than Common for it seemed dark behind its head and the dark basal marks on the wings seemed to match up, but . . . if you think otherwise, I’m open to clarification.
We also spotted Belted Whiteface Skimmers seeking meals, and there were damselflies on the hunt as well. If these Mosquito/Black Fly/Deer Fly-eating predators haven’t reached your backyard yet, know that help is due to arrive any day.
Not all the sights we saw were predatory and so we delighted that a few new butterflies of the season were in our midst, including this Mustard White, with its striking venation a feature of the spring brood. The coloring has to do with developing in the chrysalis during shorter spring days versus the pure white or mustard-color which occur in summer broods.
Also fluttering about were a few Canadian Tiger Swallowtails, adding bright dashes of color in a woodland growing ever so green.
While the butterflies help with pollination, this humongous Bumblebee was hosting a pollen party for one and if you look closely, you may see the yellow specks flying in the air and all over its face.
It was no surprise to see the pollen sacs on its hind legs filled to overflowing.
There was so much to take in everywhere we looked and we were glad we’d driven an hour and a half to spend time in this special place where one of My Guy’s favorite flowers grows. Though not in bloom yet, they are preparing and we can’t rush the season. I know some have blossomed closer to home, but think our location a bit further north meant things are delayed by a week or so.
Equally as fun to find was evidence of last year’s flower in the form of a football-shaped seed capsule–and we can only hope that some of those seeds will find the right conditions and show off their showy blossoms. Of course, those seeds might remain dormant until conditions are just right, so it could be years before we can enjoy them. We’re willing to wait.
Today’s journey found us enjoying the mountains and wetlands in Whitefield, New Hampshire, where there was still some snow on distant peaks. Look below the clouds and you’ll see what I mean.
So many stars we enjoyed and really have only honored a few here.
But the real star among us we spent some time with yesterday . . . until the insects drove us home, literally!
This Black Chipmunk and its forebears have been rather reliable residents on a certain trail and though I don’t spot one every year, it’s always a treat to meet it again. This was the prize.
As we watched, the chipmunk behaved as one would expect, dining upon seeds it had cached, then running along a log, jumping down to the ground, and disappearing into a hole beside a tree. I have to wonder how many more it may be feeding with its stuffed cheeks. And having observed 315 15-second game camera videos of a Red Squirrel a couple of years ago, and watching this particular chipmunk, as well as those who live around our house, I know that it repeated its routine from hole to food source and back to hole from sun-up to sun-down.
Melanistic mammals have an increased amount of the dark pigment melanin in their hair, and though they are considered rare, I know of at least three local areas where Black Chipmunks have been spotted for years.
There may be stars in the sky as this beautiful day gives way to night, but indeed there are many more stars at our feet if we take the time to notice.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mother, but was blessed with two sons more than two decades ago.
When the boys were young, I soon discovered that each day there was something to rejoice about beginning with those early accomplishments like rolling over, blowing bubbles, learning to walk, loosing a tooth, tying a shoe, zippering a jacket, skipping down the road, whistling a tune, or riding a bike without training wheels.
Always, it was traditions that we shared which brought great delight. S and I had a secret hand code that meant “I love you.” P would say, “Ding, ding, snuggle time,” at the end of many meals and climb onto my lap to cuddle.
At bedtime, there was that sense of relief because these two dynamos were finally going to sleep, but special moments occurred each night as we shared important memories of the day with thanksgiving and snuggled some more while reading books.
For P’s first two years, I was convinced he and S were twins. It took me that long to accept that we had two individuals. By looks it was obvious with S’s coarse, curly hair and P’s much finer curls. But there was more.
At age six, S loved science, reading, writing, swimming, mazes, Winnie-the-Pooh, the computer and pretending to be a Private Eye. He constantly planned businesses and designed buildings. S was our organizer and enjoyed figuring out strategies. He was intense with a wonderful sense of humor.
Four-year-old P loved sports, knights in shining armor, super heroes, and dressing as a police officer, fireman, or postman. He loved to tell long, embellished stories. And P learned by observing and taught himself how to ski, skate, and ride a bike. He was quick to smile and loved to joke.
As teenagers, some things had changed. S’s passions included reading, theme parks, roller coasters, computers, Walt Disney, cinematography, geography, research, stocks, and business adventures. He was a member of the honor society, three sports teams, drama club, and Boy Scouts. In addition, S loved to volunteer for our local access cable station where he’d film events as well as work on audio and production. He had grown more intense than ever, but his humor provided a balance.
P’s interests included more sports, writing, drawing, fixing things, playing games, creating meals, playing percussion, yard work, hiking, any outdoor activities, and time spent with family and friends. He had developed a definite sense of justice and he was thoughtful. P participated on three sports teams, drama club, and Boy Scouts. In addition, he and three friends formed a rock band and played at school and community events. He continued to tell great stories and loved a good joke.
As I wandered today, I thought of how proud we are of our sons. After graduating from college with a degree in communications and thinking he was going to work in the newspaper industry, S decided instead to pursue a career dealing with hardware. And for those of you who know, that apple did not fall far from the tree as he has recently returned to town and is in the midst of taking the reins at My Guy’s store.
P also surprised us and chose to major in film, an avenue we thought his brother might have followed. And he has made waves in the film editing business in New York City, a location we never envisioned as being part of his future.
Going back to my story, while carrying S, I remember sharing concerns with other soon-to-be parents. I was most worried about what my child would be like as a teen because at that time I was teaching and knew the struggles teenagers faced daily. Eventually I learned not to focus on that, but rather to worry more about getting the boys safely to that point. A strange thing happened to me along the way. I stopped worrying about them becoming teenagers and adults because they taught me to live in the here and now.
My Guy and I worked hard to give them the right tools to deal with situations as their lives evolved. We nourished them and in return they nourished us.
I remember having a great need for my mother’s ongoing presence and love. I can only hope our boys will always have the same need for us. And that their lives will forever be colored by that love.
As it says in Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, My babies you’ll be.”
Happy Mother’s Day to all, even those who are not mother’s because I’m sure your acts have nourished others on more occasions than you realize.
I’ve spent the past few days shopping for gifts that make me think of you, and you know how I love to shop. But I think I found just the right selections to celebrate your day.
Of course, I needed to cast my broad wings and use my hawk eyes to survey the choices.
The first was as easy to make as it was difficult, for I knew that if I was purchasing one for you, I should also buy another for me since we’ve always had similar tastes for so many things.
But, there were a trillion Painted Trillium from which to choose and I can only hope these two will work for us.
Stinking Benjamin, aka Red Trillium, also demanded a look. I threw one into the cart because every room needs a dash of red and I thought you could perhaps find the perfect spot for it. Just don’t put it near your bed since the odor may not appeal to you, especially at night.
One of the biggest purchases occurred when My Guy and I stood near a body of water and a loon surfaced by our feet. Its velvety black texture reminded me of your baby doll with the china head and black velvet dress. If you recall, the dress had a lacy white collar. Of course, you remember, because if memory serves me right, she’s still a part of your life.
The next gift took me back to your college days. I’m getting old too, but didn’t you participate as a bell ringer in college? The Sessile-leaved Bellwort brought that memory to mind. I can see that performance in my mind’s eye. But, what you may not know is that I was in a bit of hot, soapy water at home when I asked at the dinner table, “Who the hell are the bell ringers?” I thought the rhyme was quite clever. That thought was not shared by all present.
On a more cheerful note, spring beauty is realized in Spring Beauty and when I espy such I know there is even more reason to celebrate spring ephemerals–YOU!
That special day always arrives when the beech leaves burst open and show off their fringed hemline. Being the seamstress and beach girl that you are, this should be your favorite tree, even if you don’t know it.
And My Guy found you another who had admired “your” tree repeatedly in the past. Bear claw marks are a favorite of ours and so they must be a favorite of yours as well.
As your day comes to a close, BS, I leave you with the subtle, ephemeral foliage color scheme to decorate your celebratory cake.
No cake is complete without sparkling candles, these in the form of Dwarf Ginseng.
At last, the gift giving must come to an end and so it does with the perfect choice–the floral display of a Hobblebush with its sterile flowers encircling tiny fertile flowers just beginning to open. Though these shrubs may make you hobble and trip as you make your way through the forest of life, they beg you in any season to stop and notice because they always have something to share. This is the gift that keeps on giving as you celebrate another 31,536,00 seconds of the year.
We are between rain storms and last night’s was a whopper and I’m willing to take the blame because like I wish for snow, so was I wishing for rain. After all, there are vernal pools to tend to and since the mamas and papas have all either hopped or crawled out and headed back to their upland habitat, someone has to watch over the young’uns.
I’ve accepted the responsibility, knowing full well that there will be heartbreak in a month or two, but with the hope that a few days of rain might fill the pools for now to give frog and salamander embryos a chance to grow and emerge and feed and grow some more.
And so as the sun shone in the midst of major flooding, I stood sentry and took note of my various wards.
My peeps include the larval and pupal forms of mosquitoes because they do, after all, play an important part in the food web, especially in the ephemeral pool where my kids need food. And later, my other young’uns who emerge as dragonflies and damselflies will also benefit from dining on such biting insects. Birds, too, will find nourishment with these tiny morsels. And so, when I go pond dipping with others, I always encourage them to return the mosquito-ridden water back to the pool rather than following their instinct to pour them onto the ground and let them dry out and die in an attempt to keep the population down.
With focused attention today, I watched as the bubble-butts also drew attention, for Predacious Diving Beetles, who head to the surface to trap oxygen-filled air between their wings and body, prolonging their time under water. and thus can stay under for long periods of time, were chasing after each other, thus extending their need to stay below for some canoodling efforts.
At last I reached my babes, some of them still forming within their bubble-shaped egg sacs. Wood Frogs will these become. In time.
Older siblings hung out on the leaves that form the pool’s lining, their diminutive tadpole size contrasted by the background of a Northern Red Oak leaf.
As was to be expected, my Spotted Salamander tykes have yet to emerge as they grow stronger within their gelatinous matrix. It always strikes me as being impenetrable, but is it?
Right now, however, the most prolific members of the pool appear to be the half-inch Midges, who swim on the water’s surface, and skitter and fly about on leaves and any other vegetation.
Click on the arrow and watch these crazy little, non-biting flies. One of my favorite posts from last year was Midges I Have Known. And I’ve known a few. In case you are wondering, she still shares a room with us.
As I stood silently guarding my little friends of many, a surprising event occurred. The local Yellow-bellied Sapsucker makes its presence known each time I am out there. But today, today was bath day.
And I had the good fortune to be standing on a rock across the way, hidden by branches that create the blurry effect, serving as a bit of a bird blind, while the woodpecker splashed about.
I could not believe my good fortune to spend time with this male making himself more handsome by the moment.
His splashes, mixed with today’s breeze, created ripples that sometimes distorted my view of Wood Frog egg masses, but at the same time created a work of art I can only imagine my friend Jessie painting.
It is my job to keep an eye on the nursery and it’s a job I am honored to hold.
On April 10, the ice had started to melt on the little vernal pool behind our house. And I got excited.
Suddenly it was time to start paying attention on a daily basis.
Within a few days, following a long winter of being frozen under the leaf litter, male Wood Frogs arrived at the pool. I heard their “Wruck, wruck” quacks as I approached and recognized that love was in the air. But the moment I stepped to the edge, all went silent and the frogs dove to the bottom. Standing as still as possible, I watched as they slowly began to resurface.
A few days later, it was in the pool. Love that is. The females had arrived, their abdomens swollen with eggs. And tada, the Wood Frogs were in business. A male, and it could be more than one, jockeyed for a chance to grasp a female around her waist in a long embrace and fertilized her eggs externally as she laid them.
A week or so later, and all was quiet again on the vernal pool front, for momma and papa had exited the water and returned to the forest floor in search of food, and the nursery was left to develop on its own in the form of a lumpy mass of eggs with a single embryo elongating within each.
About a week later, Spotted Salamanders crossed the road with a little help from some human friends, and they (the salamanders) also sought out their natal vernal pools in which to breed.
To do this, the salamanders performed a dance in which he stimulated her rather than participate in amplexus like the frogs. Then he deposited little packets of spermatophores consisting of mucus and a sperm capsule, and enticed her to crawl over such. According to Mary Holland’s blog, Naturally Curious, the female “positions her vent, or cloaca, so as to allow the lips of her cloaca to detach the sperm capsule . . . she collects his sperm into her body and internal fertilization takes place.”
If you look closely at the two plugs attached to the leaf, you’ll notice that the one to the right still had a sperm capsule attached.
I always think of them as little bundles of cauliflower.
And another tada, the eggs were laid and began to swell up, surrounded as they were by a gelatinous mass (and this one momentarily lifted into a container at the surface of the water for educational purposes), and the parents returned to the their mole-like life below the leaf litter, to be spotted rarely until next year’s Big Night.
In yet a different wetland locale, I found Painted Turtles basking together on a log. Being ectothermic, or cold-blooded, their body temperature depends upon the environment and in the spring they need the sun’s rays to warm them up to an internal temperature of 63˚ – 73˚.
Because the spot where I saw the turtles was not a vernal pool, but rather a bog, I didn’t spy any Wood Frog or Spotted Salamander egg masses, but there were tadpoles of another type upon which to dine, like this Bullfrog, which takes two years to mature.
And leeches. A plethora of leeches floated past the rock upon which I stood. Not all leeches suck human blood. Many prefer that of amphibians and reptiles.
Visiting several other vernal pools, Predacious Diving Beetles soon made themselves known in several forms, from this, the larva, aka Water Tiger, with its strong mandibles, ready to grasp prey at any second . . .
to an adult.
The body of a Predacious Diving Beetle is oval with oar-shaped hind legs that feature fringed hairs to increase stroke power. So here’s a thing I learned last week and now try to pay attention to: when swimming, Predacious Diving Beetles kick both hind legs simultaneously, whereas Water Scavenger Beetles, which look similar, kick their hind legs alternately.
Oh, and do you see the Mosquitoes wriggling behind the beetle?
Speaking of behind, look at the beetle’s behind–it’s an air bubble. They trap oxygen-filled air between their wings and body, prolonging their time under water. and thus can stay under for long periods of time, returning to the surface when it runs out.
So back to the Mosquitoes. Meet the third stage in their life cycle (egg, larva, pupa) known as a tumbler. Tumblers lack mouth parts because they don’t eat while undergoing the magical transformation into an adult. Spying this means that very soon biting female Black Flies and Mosquitoes will be part of the landscape. They’ll annoy us, but we need to remember that they are food for others, like tadpoles and birds and dragonflies.
As for the biting insects, I’ll try to practice mind over matter because I can’t resist the opportunity to learn more and be present as I hone my focus above and below the water’s surface.
It seems there are never enough rainy days to complete home chores so when today dawned as such I thought that all the contents I’d been sorting from a closet would finally make their way to new homes like the dump store or community clothing closet or back into containers to be stored for another rainy day.
Apparently, I thought wrong for the Cardinal beckoned and we answered the call to head out the door.
When I mentioned a location for today’s hike to My Guy, he agreed that it sounded good, though come to find out, in reality he thought we were going someplace else and even when we arrived at Great Brook, he couldn’t recall our last visit, which was in 2016. Fair enough. I’ve been there many more times.
It soon became apparent that we were in Moose territory and our excitement rose. Actually, on another trail in this same neck of the woods we once spotted a Moose, so all we could do was hope that today we’d receive the same honor.
But first, there were other honors to receive, such as this bouquet of flowering Red Maple.
And the first of the season for us, maple leaves bursting forth in all their spring glory of color.
Onward we hiked deeper into the woods where a place one might think of as no place was once some place. This particular foundation has long been a favorite of mine because within is a root cellar.
It’s one I can’t resist stepping into because you never know what tidbit might have been left behind.
Porcupine scat! Rather old, but still.
My friend, Jinny Mae (RIP), was a talented techie and though the red line isn’t the entire route we followed today, it’s one she and I explored back in 2016. The map is from a section of the 1858 map of Stoneham. And we were at E. Durgin’s old homestead.
Knowing that there were some gravestones in the woods behind the house, we once again followed the Moose who led us directly to the family cemetery. Someone has cleared the site a bit, so it was easy to spot, especially since the trees haven’t fully leafed out.
Sarah, daughter of Anna and Ephraim Durgin, is the first tombstone. She died in 1858 at age 22.
Beside her is the stone for Mary, wife of Sumner Dergin, who died before Sarah–in 1856. She, too, was 22 years old. As best I can tell, Sarah and Sumner were siblings.
And Ephraim, Sarah’s father, died in 1873 at age 81. Notice the difference in stone from the two girls to Ephraim? Slate to cement. And the name spelling–Dergin and Durgin. As genealogy hobbiests, we’ve become accustomed to variations in spelling.
8. ANNA3 FURLONG (PATRICK2, JOHN1) was born 1791 in Limerick, Maine, and died 1873 in Stoneham, Maine. She married EPHRAIM DURGIN June 18, 1817 in Limerick, Maine14. He was born April 13, 1790 in Limerick, Maine, and died in Stoneham.
Children of ANNA FURLONG and EPHRAIM DURGIN are: i.OLIVE4 DURGIN, b. 1811, Stoneham, Maine; m. DUNCAN M. ROSS, April 11, 1860, Portland, Maine. ii.SALOMA DURGIN, b. 1813. iii.ELIZABETH DURGIN, b. 1815. iv.SALLY DURGIN, b. 1817. v.SUMNER F. DURGIN, b. 1819, Of Stoneham, Massachusettes; m. MARY ANN DURGAN, July 11, 1853, York County, Maine; b. Of Parsonsfield, Maine. vi.CASANDIA DURGIN, b. 1821. vii.EPHRAIM DURGIN, b. 1823. viii.FANNY DURGIN, b. 1825.
Sarah isn’t listed above. But . . . Sally and Sarah were often interchangeable.
By 1880, there had been a change in ownership of the neighborhood homes and the Rowlands had moved into the Durgin house.
Again, we followed the moose, this time in the form of a Striped Maple browsed upon, curious to see what might be ahead.
A chuckle. Yes, a mailbox in the middle of nowhere, this spot being a place where someone once had a camp. Our Moose tried to send a letter, but missed by a couple of feet.
Willard Brook was our next stop and I was reminded that when I first started wondermyway.com, a post about this brook initiated some discussion about the Indigenous stonework found throughout the area. I’ve explored it looking for such and convinced myself in the past that I saw the turtles in most of the stonewalls. In fact, I see them everywhere, but today I was looking at different subjects.
Beside the brook, lots of Hobblebush looked ready to burst into life and we thought how fortunate that the moose hadn’t decided to dine. Yet.
There were even tiny Hobblebush leaves to celebrate for their accordion style.
And Broad-leaved Dock looking quite happy and healthy.
Back to Great Brook we eventually wandered, still with no actual Moose in sight.
But beside the brook I did spot some Trailing Arbutus buds preparing for their grand opening.
As we walked back on the dirt road we’d walked in on, we paused beside a beaver pond where Spring Peepers sang their high-pitched love songs. I made My Guy scan the area with me because just maybe . . .
or maybe not. We did spot a Mallard couple. Oh well, We still had fun discovering everything else where the Moose led us on this rainy day.
And when we arrived home I had an email from an acquaintance double-checking with me that the print he found on his shore front of Kezar Lake was a moose print. Indeed it was!
(And now it’s time to prepare for Big Night. Finally. The temperature is in the 40˚s; it’s been raining all day and will continue tonight; and though lots of amphibians have moved to their native vernal pools, I think there will be some action tonight and we’ll be able to help them cross the road safely.)
It’s April Fools Day and the weather tried to trick us into thinking it is still winter by adding at least two inches of snow to our world that is for the most part . . . still covered by at least a foot of snow. In some places it is even deeper. In others, bare ground and leaf litter are visible. And evergreen plants like Goldthread and Wintergreen and Partridgeberry show off their shades of green.
But this isn’t about snow or flowers. Instead, I want to take you into the water. YES. It’s time to stop tracking on a regular basis and begin squatting beside open water and peering in, which a friend and I did just this week when we were checking on beaver activity.
We didn’t spy any beavers, though there was lots of activity including these logs underwater, which told us the family was still in residence. But . . . take a look at the logs. Yes, you can see the chew marks left by the beavers as they dined on the cambium layer. There’s so much more though.
Each of those dark spots on the logs . . . Mayfly larva! A fly fisherperson’s delight. Ours as well. We know from experience because this past year we’ve dipped D-nets into streams in all seasons, that the larval forms of aquatic insects are alive and well whether there is a foot of ice or no ice. But where the ice has started to melt (and that’s not everywhere yet, though this week is supposed to warm up), life that has been there all along is emerging before our eyes.
Did you know that there are 614 species of Mayflies in New England? Eggs are laid in the water, where the larval form or nymph develops. #1.Shows the egg that had been deposited on the bottom maturing into a nymph. #2 is the nymph growing in stages called instars until it matures. By #3, the mature nymph or emerger swims to the surface. Some species shed their skin and becomes a dun or subimago on the water’s surface. First It floats until its wings are dry enough for flight. This is a unique stage in the insect world as only Mayflies are fully winged before the adult stage. Others climb upon vegetation or an upright object to everge. For #4, you can see that the dun flies into bushes or trees along the water’s edge, where it sheds its skin and, #5, becomes an adult known as a spinner or imago. #6. The spinner flies off to join the mating swarm. #7. After mating, the female spinner dips her eggs on the water’s surface, and they fall to the bottom where it takes anywhere from ten days to months to hatch. Finally, #8 depicts the end for both male and female spinners fall to the water’s surface and die after mating. Keep in mind, this is a general description of a Mayfly’s life cycle.
If you look with a keen eye you can see some of what I found one day–at least ten Mayfly nymphs on a leaf. I’ve used black arrows to point to some of them.
Here’s your challenge. Quiz #1: I’ve done the squatting for you. See if you can locate at least one Mayfly nymph in this photo.
Not all nymphs are equal–in size that is. Remember, there are 614 species. Again, if you look closely, you’ll see that this one large nymph is surrounded by two smaller ones. Notice the tails. Mayflies have elongated bodies with 2 – 3 very long, tail-like appendages called cerci at the end of their abdomens.
Here’s another reference for size as the large beetle is a Predacious Diving Beetle and there are three small Mayfly nymphs in the picture.
This is a dun or subimago who had just flown from the water. Well, I should correct that as I had picked it up from the water’s surface and let it dry its wings while resting on my finger. And then I helped it to a nearby shrub. Look at those wings.So many people don’t like Mayflies, but I find their structures and life cycle to be amazing. Take note of how “cloudy” the wings are. That’s how I know this is a dun.
Mayflies, of course, don’t just land on bushes and trees, but some species may choose stems or rocks upon which to transform. Others meet obstacles along the way, including my pants. But again, notice those wings–another dun or subimago. And notice how the hind wing is so much shorter and rounder than the forewing.
A little bit about Mayfly anatomy. Like all insects they have a head, thorax, and abdomen, whether as a nymph, subimago, or adult (imago). The head typically is for seeing and feeding, though while Mayflies feed in their nymphal form, any mouthparts in the adults are reduced or non-functional. The thorax is the section of the body that supports three pairs of legs and two sets of wings–a forewing and a hindwing and therefore it’s located in the center of the body. In the larval or nymph form, the abdomen features gills, which are absent in the older two molts. And you can see the tails attached to the end of the abdomen. Notice, too, the gender ID. So the abdomen bears the reproductive structure and in some insects it also carries the digestive tract.
So, Quiz #2: Male or female?
Sometimes the safe place isn’t a shrub or some other natural setting for a final molt, but rather the screened porch at our camp. Often, early in the morning, as I sit in a rocking chair to sip coffee, I’ll notice a visitor on the outside of the screen. And not just in May. These were in August.
Mayflies often molt at night by breaking out through the top of the thorax. In the process, the Mayfly pulls a fresh set of wings from inside the subimago wing cuticle. How cool is that?
Here’s a look at the discarded exuvia or shed skin and you can see the adult to the left.
Here is a clearer view of the adult or imago, which, you remember, will only live long enough to join the mating swarm, mate, and then die.
Notice how clear the wings have become.
And those conspicuous eyes. They are like a mini-set of dumbbells. But no mouth because with such a short life-cycle, there is no need to feed.
This is a shed skin I found on the surface of a swampy section of a river.
And right next to it, the dun or subimago crawling away as its wings dried.
Quiz #3: What stage is this? And is it male or female?
Quiz #4: And what stage is this?
Not all Mayflies die on the water as there are other hazards one might encounter such as this very sticky spider web.
That’s all I have to say about Mayflies for today, but going forth, expect more of these tiny critters to appear in this space. Along with others like dragonflies and cicadas and robberflies and . . . I can’t wait. Oh yeah, and it’s almost vernal pool season too.
Thanks for taking the Mayfly Challenge on this April Fools Day.
We chose a trail we’ve never hiked before, though we’ve conquered this mountain from two other trails many times over the years. Today’s choice was based on an email from Allen Crabtree, leader of the Denmark Mountain Hikers. The lovely thing about it was we walked along a snowmobile trail to the summit and so were happy to be on micro-spikes and not snowshoes or postholing. And the temperature was crisp enough to keep the snow firm, at least on the way up Burnt Meadow Mountain.
After passing by what I think was an old barn foundation, the trail continued on fairly level ground for a bit and we worried that I may have misunderstood the directions.
But that didn’t really matter because we were in the woods, together, and enjoying the fact that a fisher had loped across the landscape probably last night when the snow was still soft enough to leave impressions before this morning’s temp of 17˚.
At last the trail began to get steeper and I gave great thanks that it was such a packed trail for it made for an easy ascent. We had no idea what conditions might be under the snowmobile trail, but I suspect on a summer day this isn’t an easy way to go. Not that the other two trails are either.
My real reason for suggesting this hike to My Guy was because I wanted to revisit this site, which we’d reached previously on a exploration down from the summit in 2012.
At the time I was working on an article for Lake Living magazine entitled “Maine’s Lost Ski Areas” and interviewing various skiers and making MG tag along with me as I visited the former ski areas. “Trails hidden in the forest provide us with clues that our town fathers worked hard to create recreational areas, but also to boost the local economy,” I wrote in the article. “You can still find some of the trails and remnants of rope tows and chair lifts. When you unexpectedly come upon cement pads and towers while hiking, it’s a bit like entering a ghost town, a place that has seen a livelier day. So many people have a history with these legendary ski areas. They learned to ski at this one, met their spouse at that one, or won first place in a race.
The skiing industry began in the lakes region in 1936 when a group of ten businessmen each invested $25 and considerable labor to build the first rope tow in Maine. The Jockey Cap Ski Tow helped make Fryeburg ‘The Ski Capital of Maine’ for a brief time.
According to newspaper articles and brochures preserved by the Fryeburg Historical Society, the Fryeburg Winter Sports Committee hired Paul Lamere, a ski instructor, to run a branch of the Lamere School of American Skiing. Lessons were offered one day a week.
Because the Maine Central Railroad had a station in town, Fryeburg residents saw the ski area as a means to support businesses during the Depression. Leaflets proclaiming “Weekends for Your Winter Sports” mentioned “good motels, good restaurants, good rooms in private homes, all prices reasonable . . . use the lighted ski-tow, Friday and Saturday nights, a brilliantly lighted slope and rope to pull you up the hill, a new thrill for winter sports enthusiasts” were distributed in the Portland area. The cost for a ride on the snow train from Portland to Fryeburg was $1.50 and a ski ticket was about $1.00.” (I should mention that the photo above was made possible to Lake Living by the Fryeburg Historical Society.)
But we weren’t at Jockey Cap today. And this ski area was a wee bit newer as I quoted former Lake Region High School principal Roger Lowell telling me he’d skied at Burnt Meadow Mountain, which had one lift and a lodge. If you look below the arrow, the top tower was the end of the line and skiers had to exit off the T-bar at that point.
From my article, “According to NELSAP (New England Lost Ski Area Project), in 1967 the Burnt Meadow Mountain Recreation Area received a loan from the Farmer’s Home Association to create a ski area that opened for the 1971-72 season, but saw its demise when several bad snow years followed. In 1980, Wendell Pierce, owner of a northern Maine ski area, purchased Burnt Meadow and renamed it Zodiac Skiway.”
“‘It had pretty good skiing from the top,’ recalls Roger, ‘but three quarters of the way down it flattened out and you had to get up steam to make it all the way without poling.’ He and his team got into trouble for going too fast. ‘WE were bombing the thing so we wouldn’t have to skate to the lift,’ he says.
While there on his own one day, Roger learned about a race. After discovering he couldn’t inspect the course, he found himself last in line. ‘I figured what have I got to lose so I went fast. It didn’t matter if the gates were down a bit. You would have thought I was Jean-Claude Killy.’
Roger won the race and received a blue ribbon similar to what they award at the Fryeburg Fair. ‘I think it said something like FIRST on it,’ he says, a wry look on his face. ‘It was very generic. A conversation piece.’ That was the last race held there. The ski area continued to lose money and closed in 1982. The T-bar still stands intact.” That was 11 years ago, but today’s photos speak to the fact that it still stands intact.
It didn’t take long for us to reach the summit, where we walked around taking in the views beyond, this a look toward Stone Mountain, which is accessible via the Twin Brook Trail.
Finally, we sat upon lunch rock to enjoy our sandwiches, followed by Fly Away Farm’s Almond Biscotti with Mocha Drizzle. MG just thought it was chocolate so let’s keep that secret between us.
At last we began our descent, with a goal to find Mount Washington. And we did. Do you see it between the trees?
And then we found it again when we slipped off trail to take in the scene from a ledge. We always love to know where we are in the world. Our little world.
As we continued downhill, I was stopped in my tracks. That happens occasionally. (Insert smiley face) But this tree that leaned across the trail begged to be noticed and I’d missed it on the climb up the mountain.
Its manner of growing needles upon the trunk like no other evergreen that I know of gave me an immediate identification.
Add to that the number of needles that grow in short individual bundles: 3. Three strikes and you are out. Pitch Pine. Get it?
In the end, we thought we’d lost winter, but we found it alive and well and holding on for a wee bit longer. And even longer than that if you are at the summit of Mount Washington.
At the same time, because we are on the cusp of a seasonal change, we found spring in the form of swelling Red Maple buds . . .
and Striped Maple.
We also found some stuff left behind by other recent hikers. We left the sunglasses on a cairn at the summit.
And a glove at the trail intersection.
In fact, just after putting the glove on the sign we found an optic cleaning clothe–maybe to clean the sunglasses?
This was indeed a lost and found Mondate.
Oh, and thanks again to Allen Crabtree for his write-up and directions to the trailhead and mention of my friend Marita Wiser’s book: Wrote Allen: “The origin of the name “Burnt Meadow” is not clear. Most trail guides attribute the lack of large trees on the mountain to the Great Fires of 1947 which also burned more than 80% of the old homes in Brownfield. Marita Wiser, in her Hikes in and around Maine’s Lake Region says,”…the name of Burnt Meadow was established long before . It is shown on…an 1858 map of Brownfield.’”
After three snowstorms this past week, the latest dumping over a foot of white stuff in western Maine, winter has finally arrived. Or, as a friend calls it, “Second Winter.”
In fact, there is finally so much snow, that my wee studio, the spot where I used to escape to write and sketch many moons ago, looks as if it’s being gobbled up and about to disappear into the landscape.
I love winter and so I’m thrilled to know that it’s not ready to give up on us yet. I also love how winter likes to play, creating tree boas that defy gravity.
In spite of all that, I do need a touch of color now and then and so I headed to a local brook where I know the Mallards gather.
And tread water as they wait for what, I don’t know. Perhaps for me to admire them: those shiny green heads, the sharp white necklaces, and cute little curly tail feathers. They tolerate our cold winters and as long as there is food and open water, such as this spot, I know where to find them.
I finally left the ducks behind and continued walking beside a second brook, pausing occasionally to reflect on the changes I’ve observed in this spot over the years, including one late November afternoon when I heard the water flowing as if over a fall and then spotted beavers hard a work, building a dam. Today, it was the spring ice that caught my attention and I know that as much as I want winter to last, spring is just around the corner and soon I’ll be peering into vernal pools.
And then, something quite small captured my attention. A Winter Stonefly! Scurrying across the snow.
Suddenly, what began as one sighting turned into two and then . . . hundreds as my eyes focused. In winter, crazy as it may seem, the aquatic immature stage of a Winter Stonefly, aka naiad, crawls from the rocky bottom home of the brook where it has spent the last year or more maturing (going through as many as thirty molts)and shredding falling leaves, climbs up through crevices in the snow that covers the brook, finds a plant or some other spot to emerge as an adult, and leaves behind its shed skin, much like a dragonfly or damselfly.
My attention in tune, I began to notice several things. First, there were large Winter Stoneflies . . .
and some much smaller, known as Small Winter Stoneflies in common terms. Their wings are non-functional, thus they crawl. But herein was the curious thing, at least to me. They all were headed west.
It didn’t seem to matter if I found them where the brook was to the east, or to the north, all of the Stoneflies walked in a westerly direction. Why?
I began to wonder where they were headed, so . . . I followed them. To tree trunks. I’d say any tree trunk, for the species didn’t seem to matter, but maturity did and they all headed to older trees. At least, the insects I observed.
This Small Winter Stonefly had obstacles of ice crystals to work around, but it was on a mission to reach that tree.
Once there, the insects crawled down under the snow beside the trunk and I had to wonder if a party was in the making. The bark is warmest in that spot, so it was a good place to get out of the weather.
Stoneflies have hammer-like structures on their abdomen that make noise when thumped against a surface, like a tree trunk or a twig or even the ground. This is a mating call. The males drum, and the females drum back, and voila, they find each other and canoodle.
It’s not the same drumming sound as we hear daily from our resident Pileated Woodpecker. In fact, it’s made for Stonefly ears only and it’s not a party for which we receive an invitation.
Seeing so many Stoneflies made me want to celebrate anyway for they, like Mayflies, and Caddisflies, are particularly sensitive to pollution and serve as bioindicators of water quality. That means the brooks beside which I walked have excellent water quality.
And though I couldn’t hear the percussion instruments at the base of the trees, I am grateful to have spent some time with those who march to the beat of a different drummer.
That is the question. But the answers aren’t always obvious.
Before I go further I need to warn you. There are some photos that may disturb you because friends and I have recently stumbled upon fresh mammal kill sites–the work of other critters and not by human hand.
But as one friend said recently when I asked if she and her husband wanted to visit one of the sites, “A kill site! Yes, we want to join you. A kill site is even better than scat!” And so they turned their car around and changed their afternoon plans.
I had actually been told about this spot about five days before my first visit, and probably a lot had changed since it was initially spotted. But still, look at all that hair. And all the footprints surrounding it.
It was deer hair. Winter deer hair. Hollow hair that helps trap air and keep them warm during cold winters in New England. While in the summer, their coats are reddish-brown, in winter, the color may be brown or grayish-brown. Possibly the darker color helps them absorb more sunlight, adding to the warmth factor.
Looking about, it was obvious that a lot had happened in this spot. There was hair everywhere, and blood, and scat, and bones, and even mud as the perpetrators traveled through the adjacent wetland, which given the ice/water conditions, was too treacherous to follow.
But at the scene, leftovers, like this leg and foot.
And part of the hide with more bones to nosh on.
A scapula, that was outlined with teeth marks.
The top of the head, spine and ribs, plus another leg. Do you see that whitish oval on the leg? That is the tarsal gland, a key for deer communication. It is found on both bucks and does. Each hair in that oval secretes an oily substance and when a deer rubs-urninates, bacteria living within the gland mixes with the urine and the deer leaves behind its own unique odor–possibly providing important information like age, health, and other characteristics.
A few feet from the top of the head, the lower mandible sat, completely stripped of any meat and skin that had covered it.
About fifteen feet away lay the rumen, or stomach contents. In Mark Elbroch’s Mammal Tracks & Sign, he writes: “Coyotes tend to open a carcass from the rear and then move into the ribs and cut out the internal organs. They often remove the rumen right away; this may be an indicator of the original kill site or the place where the carcass was encountered. Within a short time, the carcass is dragged and moved several times, and it is cut into smaller pieces and dragged in different directions by different coyotes seeking a spot to feed in solitude.”
It turned out, however, that it wasn’t just a coyote family enjoying this grand feast. The print with the asymmetrical toes indicated another, more solitary figure had entered the scene.
A friend placed his game camera on a nearby tree and captured some of the action by the one with the bobbed tail.
Click on the white arrow and watch the bobcat dine.
He looked quite healthy and sated after partaking in such a meal.
And left plenty of tarry, segmented scats behind–as a parting thank your note.
The bobcat wasn’t the only one to leave his calling card. If you take a look inside the eye orbit, you might spy the mark of another.
It was a small deposit, the sign of an ermine or long-tailed weasel.
So, the story of this deer’s tale goes something like this: “A neighbor told us that a couple of days before the deer carcass was found, a deer was chased out of the forest onto the pond by two coyotes. When the coyotes saw the neighbors they ran off and the deer ran down the pond to the outlet. The deer had been wounded and left an intermittent blood trail. We are thinking this was the same deer that was killed on the nearby trail,” wrote Paula, the one who’s face lit up when I invited her to change her afternoon plans and visit the site.
One final look at the tippy toes and dew claws of the deer–can you imagine walking on your tippy toes all day as ungulates do?
And then it was on to another place on another day–after a recent fluffy snowstorm. The storm had ended during the previous day, but then there was a dusting overnight, followed by gusty wind. Two friends and I met at a trail system and within minutes one set of tracks led to another and that set led to a half dozen others, all traveling together. Like a pack. Or a family. Mom, Dad. And the kids.
At first we thought domestic dog, but then we found a tuft of fur. And so we continued on, spying something amiss in the track ahead.
Another kill site. If you know us, you can imagine our glee. Who did it? And what happened next? What we noticed: the area had been visited by many, who had then taken off in different directions. The meal had been buried under a pine sapling. There was some urine deposited by the midnight raiders. We found some hair of varying colors. And we had lots of questions.
On one side, a rib cage well cleaned.
On the other side of the hole, a second rib cage that at first we considered had been torn from the first, but then decided it belonged to a different critter.
And there was a leg by the hole. To whom did the leg belong? The foot was gone, which would have provided a clue. We did spot some reddish hair still clinging to it.
All appeared to have been excavated from the hole so we decided to take a closer look.
Up close, there didn’t seem to be anything else of note.
But, we’re a curious sort (in more than one way) and so Joan and Dawn used the tools we had to dig in.
To our discerning eyes, there was nothing more, though we could have missed a clue.
What we did find curious, was that upon closer inspection of a tuft of hair that looked grayish at first glance, it was really black and orangey tan. We had talked about a young deer at first, then switched our minds to a fox. but if you look back at the head of the deer at the other site, there is a lot of similarity. And the leg was long–which we thought could perhaps be the hind leg of a fox, but maybe it makes more sense that it belonged to a young deer.
We didn’t reach a definitive conclusion, but what we did think about was that the first site had been the work of coyotes, which a bobcat had visited. It occurred to us that the second site was probably the work of a bobcat, which coyotes had visited. As Elbroch writes, “Bobcats cover their prey and often move the carcass and recover it on successive nights. They appear to be unable to break the large bones of mature deer, so they sever and separate them from the carcass at the joints as they feed. A cleaned carcass with intact large bones is a good indicator of a bobcat kill.”
Not to cache or to cache? That is the question. But, occasionally coyotes will cache too. Tracking. It’s not a simple, straightforward art and each time we practice it, we come away with questions and learn a wee bit more to store in our brains for the next time.
We didn’t know what to expect when we headed off on a trail today. Or even what to wear on our feet–besides winter boots that is. And so we donned snowshoes initially in hopes that should we locate a Tiger, we’d be able to move easily across the snow rather than posthole and get slowed down.
Ah, but there were things that did slow us down. If you are a long-time follower of wondermyway.com, then you know I can’t resist a Pileated Woodpecker tree . . . among other subjects that repeatedly slow me down. This one was fun because it was obvious that the bird stood on the snow to excavate at least the bottom hole. In my mind’s eye, I could see it using its tail feathers as the third leg in a tripod while its beak pounded away at the tree, excavating a hole. Did it find any food?
Indeed it did and several healthy looking cylindrical scats full of the indigestible parts of the Carpenter Ants it sought were waiting to be discovered like little piles of treasure.
Was the Tiger hiding among the wood chips? No, unfortunately not.
The next great sight was the cocoon of a Promethea silkworm moth. When the caterpillar or larval form of the moth was ready to pupate at the end of last summer, it strengthened the stem, or petiole, of a leaf with silk, and then attached the silk to a nearby branch as you can see, assuring that the leaf would remain attached to the tree rather than fall off. It then spun the cocoon inside the curled leaf.
This species overwinters as pupae in a state known as diapause. During pupation, the larval structure breaks down into a soupy form and then restructures so that by the end of the process (in late May/early June) adult structures, including wings appear before its time to emerge and fly.
Was the Tiger hiding behind the cocoon? No, unfortunately not.
And then there was the Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar–climbing a tree to look for food on a winter day? Hardly. At a certain point in its growth, it lightly locked its legs into mat of silk it had produced on the branch. It then released enzymes that dissolved the inner layer of its cuticle, and a day or so later, much like a dragonfly or cicada emerging from exuviae, the caterpillar’s cuticle split above the thorax and the caterpillar literally crawled out of its skin. This is an old cuticle left behind.
Was the Tiger hiding amid the HTM’s cuticle? No, unfortunately not.
As we hiked along the snowshoe trail, we had to work our way around, over, and under downed trees, but this one encouraged me to pause for it’s one I don’t encounter on an everyday basis, much like its cousin with bristles on its leaf lobes. The cousin in Northern Red Oak, but the leaves we met today belonged to White Oaks. Oh, there were red oaks along the way, and I don’t mean to downplay them, but I’m forever in awe of the marcescent (leaves that wither but remain attached to the stem) of White Oaks. Those veins. That color. And the shape. Always curled in winter as if an open palm.
Was the Tiger masked by the downed tree? No, unfortunately not.
At an erratic the size of a small house, I had to take a closer look and convinced my guy to pause. He did and circled the boulder in search of the Tiger.
Did he find the critter? No, unfortunately not.
It was next to a Speckled Alder that our attention, well, my attention turned. What initially stopped me in my tracks was the woolliness of Woolly Alder Aphids. Those fuzzy aphids feed on the sap of the shrub and produce white wax, or “wool,” filaments from their abdominal glands.
They drink volumes of sap in order to get enough nitrogen, which they then exude as honeydew. In the summer, I find ants farming them to sip the honeydew.
But that’s not all that is interested in the sweet liquid. A Black Sooty Mold loves the honeydew as well.
The funny thing is that I was just discussing this yesterday with Land Steward Leah of Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The Black Sooty Mold is actually a Poop Eater! What? Yup. A poop-eating fungus. The natural world is more otherworldly than one can even imagine.
The Sooty Mold’s name comes from the dark threadlike growth (mycelium) of the fungi resembling a layer of soot or rather, a bit like elongated coffee grounds, and within my hands, its brittle structure quickly splintered into tiny specks.
Was the Tiger hiding among the Sooty Mold? No, unfortunately not.
Eventually, we returned from whence we’d come because one of the snowshoe trails is an out-and-back, found a rock upon which to sit for lunch, and the same served as a storage hide-away for our snowshoes while we donned micro-spikes, for the rest of the journey would be along a snowmobile trail. The thing about snowmobile trails in our area–they were closed a few days ago, just at the start of Spring Vacation, oops I mean Winter Vaca, but such have been the temps of late and the trails are not safe–especially where they cross waterways or boggy areas.
That said, I stepped off the trail and located this tree–a wonder unto itself. For those who know the species, it’s a Hophornbeam gone astray. Typically, these trees of sorta shaggy, yet tight bark, if one can be such, grow straight and strong, but obviously there was an interruption in the growth of this tree, though eventually it found its way skyward as is its normal behavior.
Was a Tiger hiding among the trees? No, unfortunately not.
I discovered the disfigured Hophornbeam because I’d gone closer to the water to spy on a couple of Beaver lodges. And I’m happy to report that based on the mud and fresh branches, they appeared to be active.
Was there an active Tiger in the area as well? No, unfortunately not.
Shortly after reaching Snowmobile Trail ITS 89, we noted the double-wide stonewall, a hint of days gone by when the property was probably plowed for agricultural reasons. We also noted that it’s been a while since that practice occurred for so old did the Eastern White Pine that grew atop the wall appear.
Was it large enough to hide a Tiger? No, unfortunately not.
So the next spot brought a smile to my face, for often, when I’m leading a hike my mouth gets ahead of my brain and I know I mean birch when I say beech, or visa versa, but here they were representing as one in the same for over time they had rubbed against each other for so long that they rubbed together.
Here’s a new word for me: Inosculation–when the friction between two trees causes the outer bark of each to scrape off at the point of contact. The trees respond by producing callus tissue that grows outward, thereby increasing the pressure between the two. This pressure, along with the adhesive nature of sap or pitch that exudes from their wounds, reduces the amount of movement at the point of contact. But the question remains: Does the cambia layer from the two trees come in contact and the vascular tissues become connected, allowing for the exchange of nutrients and water? Maybe if they are trees of the same species, but these were two different species and I suspect they are actually false grafts, which means the two trees have not formed a union of conductive tissues. Going forward, when I say Birch and mean Beech, or Beech and mean Birch–I shall remember these trees.
As for the Tiger, did he know them as well? No, unfortunately not.
As the sun began to shine, we found ourselves pausing beside Cold Rain Pond, where Sheep Laurel showed off its plans for the future. I want winter to continue, and apparently it might, for such is the forecast for later in the week when temperatures are supposed to dip to more seasonal numbers and snow is in the forecast, but note those buds.
Did they obscure the Tiger? No, unfortunately not.
As we backtracked our journey and followed the snowmobile trail out several hours later, I found the evidence we sought. A footprint. Certainly that of a Tiger. A very big Tiger for our area.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to locate the Tiger. We knew it was there somewhere, but just like our Bobcats, it chose to remain elusive and hid among the shadows. Do you see it?
After all, we had traveled over 7 miles of Loon Echo Land Trust trails at their Tiger Hill Community Forest.
There must be Tigers in the midst, indeed. For why else would it be named such?
Disclaimer: the Tiger print is actually a bleached out Bobcat print–made larger as the temperatures rise.
Field Trip! It was actually planned for yesterday, when more would have joined us, but Greater Lovell Land Trust’s docent Joe knew that it was best to postpone given yesterday’s weather–a blustery rainy day. Today, however, dawned sunny and bright and so five of us drove over an hour to reach the coast.
By 9:00am, we had scopes and binoculars in play, each looking in a different direction until one among the group made a discovery and then all focused on the same. Behind the scopes, Dawn, Joe — our leader, Lisa — Joe’s co-leader, and Izzy.
We came in search of Common Loons because we spend summers listening to their musical tremolo laughter and blood-curdling yodels, the latter being the most primordial of calls that echo across the lakes and ponds of western Maine. We watch them fish and preen and raise their young. Occasionally, they surface beside our kayaks as we paddle. And then, in late summer/fall, they gather socially in what’s known as a raft, as they prepare for migration. By the time ice forms, they’ve flown the coop, or rather our freshwater bodies. But where do they go? That was the question we wanted to answer.
And did so within minutes of arriving at the Atlantic Ocean. Our loons actually don’t have far to go, That said, the loons that winter here may also be from points North and West. What surprised our leaders today was that the birds we spotted were already molting from their drab winter plumage to the dapper summer attire.
But there were so many more to spy through our lenses, including these Brant Geese. This was a new species for me, and one of the clues I need to remember for future ID is the white necklace it donned, plus the pale belly as compared the dark back and neck.
Another first, and I never would have seen these birds if Joe and Lisa hadn’t spotted them, Purple Sandpipers roosting on a rock, which apparently was a gift to us, for we were told they are often quite active as they search for mussels and crustaceans. I have never actually heard of a Purple Sandpiper before, so named for a violet-colored sheen of some feathers.
Common Eiders were . . . rather common on today’s quest, given that in the four spots we visited over the course of 5 hours, 97 were counted. I was not one of the counters as I spent the time trying to get my bird eyes on and just plain recognize what made an eider an eider and not a loon. Long beak–yes, but not as long or pointed from my point of view. Head shape a bit different, much more mottled head, and a completely different pattern of feathers. Just for starters.
In one of the locations we visited, there were Scoters, and Harlequins, and some of those 97 Common Eiders. It was here that we learned to watch the surf rise and fall closer to the rocks and the Harlequins dive and pop up over and over again. Pop. Pop. Goes the Weasel. I mean Harlequin.
In a third spot, another Common Loon, this one preening.
Our eyes were at once drawn skyward where we watched in wonder as a Broad-winged Hawk soared and then back to the brackish estuary water where a female Common Goldeneye with its brilliant amber eye glistening in the midday sun. Like so many of today’s birds, we had to keep looking to spot this one for it did what its species does and dove for food before resurfacing nearby.
Seals were also part of the scenery, but I do apologize for the photo not being clear. If you care to look, they are the light-colored blobs atop the rocks.
At 2:00pm, our time together came to an end, but we gave great thanks that we’d had a chance to do what the loons do and go for a deep dive into the winter lives of so many feathered friends.
Joe reported on eBird that we spotted 26 species in all.
I’ve been wanting to take My Guy to a certain place in North Chatham, New Hampshire, for the last few years and today was the day that the stars lined up.
Though it appeared we were the second and third humans to head out on the trails this morning, for at the start we spotted only one set of snowshoe tracks, it was obvious that so many others had followed or crossed before us–such as this vole, who tunneled through the fresh inch or two of snow that fell yesterday and then changed its gait.
And then I spotted a sign that always brings me to my knees–fox prints and a dash of urine, probably that of a male in search of a date. Confirmation that it was a fox, and a red one at that, came in the form of the urine’s scent–rather skunk-like. I asked My Guy if he wanted to take a sniff, but he passed on the opportunity.
A wee bit farther and we came upon a smattering of activity, where two foxes had left their dancing cards and I think at least announced their intentions for each other as a date.
These classified ads could be that of the male stating his desire, while the vixen left her own marks of estrus blood as she perhaps investigated his intentions and decided to say yes. The scat? It came from one of them. Another advertisement of health and age and vitality.
While I suspected a meal was not on their minds as she’s only ready to mate for about a week or less, by the amount of snowshoe hare tracks we spotted, we knew that there was plenty of food available. Other offerings on the pantry shelf included ruffed grouse and red squirrel.
Most of the trails at this place are well-groomed by the owners, but we also tried one or two that weren’t.
For the first time in the four or five years that I’ve traveled this way, I finally found the Old Sap House. The owners still tap trees, but obviously this is not where they boil the sap to make maple syrup.
So . . . this was my first journey on the network of trails with My Guy as I mentioned. And I had no idea that it is possible to circle Moose Alley in under an hour. In the past, when I’ve gone with a couple of friends, it has taken us hours and hours because we stop to look at every little thing. And go off trail to follow tracks. And make all kinds of discoveries. But today was different, and that was fine.
I’d also never been on the Sugarbush Trail, which brought us back to the Route 113 and an intersection with Snowmobile Corridor 19. It was here that we heard Chickadees and Red Crossbills singing and I finally located one of the latter in a maple tree.
Crossbills are finches with specialized bills that let them break into unopened cones. Can you see how the top of the bill cross over the bottom?
My intention was that we would eat lunch at one of the benches along the trail system, but we’d hiked most of the system before I knew it and so we sat on the back of my truck and ate. And then we headed back out on Corridor 19, a super highway through Evans Notch.
Only about a quarter mile from the farm boundary, we spotted moose tracks showing two had passed this way recently. We knew they’d been seen on the farm and hoped we might get to spy them, but just seeing their tracks and knowing they were still in the area was enough.
Can you imagine sinking two feet down with each step? Well, actually I can, because I’ve post-holed through snow many a time, but moose and deer must do this daily. For them, it’s routine.
Our reason for continuing on the snowmobile trail was that we had a destination we wanted to reach, that we hadn’t even thought about before reaching the intersection of Corridor 19 just prior to lunch. Eventually, we had to break trail again, and this time it was all uphill, and rather steep at that.
But our real plan was to climb to the Millard Chandler Feldspar Mine (aka North Star Mine) in Evans Notch.
Millard Chandler was a descendent of one of the founding families of Chatham. Originally, mica was mined from the pegmatites but prior to World War II, Whitehall Company, Inc, focused on feldspar.
From the top of the cavern, where life on a rock was evident as the trees continued to grow up there, the water flowed and froze and formed stalactites of sorts. Icicle sorts.
StalacTites grow down from the ceiling of the cavern–think T for Top.
StalaGmites, on the other hand, grow up from the floor–Think G for ground.
In this case, they looked like little fingers reaching up.
This was definitely a Mondate with a view, including Evans Notch from the mine . . .
Norwegian Fjord horses Kristoff and Marta at the farm . . .
and a window that caught my fancy at the sap house.
Our many, many thanks to Becky and Jim for sharing Notch View Farm with all of us. And thank you to Jim for chatting with us twice today. I’m still chuckling about the story of the women from Lovell who visit several times a year and spend hours upon hours on the trail. And then one of them writes long prose and includes pictures of every little thing spotted along the way. Yes, that would be Pam, and Pam, and me! Once, Becky even came looking for us on the snowmobile because we’d been out there for so many hours.
Today, with My Guy, it was a different adventure, but still a fun one and we appreciate that both of you work so hard to share your land with the rest of us.
Winter finally arrived in western Maine this past week in the form of three snowstorms, the last ending with a coating of ice. Between storms, I’ve been teaching others the art of tracking mammals and birds through my work at Greater Lovell Land Trust, as well as a two-day class I taught for a local Senior College, and a day-long class for Maine Master Naturalists.
I love, love, love watching others experience joy as they begin to notice the nuances of print and patterns and scat and sign.
This being the work of a White-tail Deer who scraped its lower incisors up the bark of a tree to get at the cambium layer where the sugars and starches flow. The tags at the top of the scrape are a tell-tale sign because ungulates like deer and moose do not have upper incisors or canines, but rather a hard palate, and yank at the wood as they press their lower incisors against the palate to pull the bark off a tree–mostly Eastern Hemlock or Red Maple.
It wasn’t long after the Senior College outing on Wednesday that snowflakes announcing the third storm began to fly and one of our resident Red Squirrels stopped by to check out the offerings at the bird feeders.
This hearty sole is Ed and as you can see, he’s lost an eye–probably in a disagreement with a sibling, but that doesn’t stop him. He’s perfectly capable of finding food, seeking cover when necessary, and fighting off his brothers.
Ed wasn’t the only one out in the snow, for a male Downy Woodpecker made frequent trips to the suet feeder.
And then, just before twilight the Deer began to appear. The first walked to a Squirrel feeder I was gifted recently, with some peanut butter added to the corn as an enticement. She didn’t seem impressed. I thought that was weird because if you’ve ever made a bird feeder out of pinecones smothered with peanut butter and sunflower seeds, you might notice that the Deer lick everything off within hours of hanging the cones from a branch.
Following the arrival of the first Deer, a sibling came in with mom, but they too, were not impressed.
So the thing about watching the Deer, was that they provided a photographic lesson–beginning with the two cloven toes that form the heart-shape of the impression they leave in the snow–with the pointed end of the heart always indicating the direction of travel. And further up the foot are the dew claws, which sometimes show in a print. If you look at the two hind legs, you can see the dew claws just above the snow. I’ve been told that if the dew claws appear, then it is a buck. I’m not 100% convinced of that. I think it has more to do with snow conditions.
And sunflower seed is not their only form of nutrition, for one of the Hemlocks by the stonewall between our yard and woodlot offered some delectable needles full of vitamin C. Do the Deer know that?
Following the storm, a coat of ice covered the tree branches and even the corn, but that didn’t stop Ed’s brother, Fred, from grabbing a kernel. Actually, the corn had originally been placed about two feet off the ground in an area we’d shoveled, but the snow had piled up again, making the meal easy to reach.
I spent yesterday shoveling what felt like cement. The first two storms offered a much fluffier take on snow consistency. Periodically, like Ted, another brother of Ed, I’d duck into the house. His home is a network of tunnels near the feeders, and so far it has provided good protection.
This morning dawned brighter, and a bit frosty to start. While Fred, Ted, and Ed, ate birdseed and chased each other round and round, a Gray Squirrel stopped by to get a handle on things.
The perfect meal was garnered.
As it turned out, today was a super busy day at the feeders, which Black-cap Chickadees and Nuthatches making frequent visits.
And the puffed up feathers of a male Downy bespoke the temp in the teens. Birds fluff up in the cold to trap as much air in their feathers as possible. The more trapped air, the warmer the bird.
A couple of American Goldfinches were early morning visitors as well, and I love that unlike the Chickadees, Finches are much calmer and stay in one spot for a bit.
Probably my favorite visitor was a surprise for as I was watching the Hairy Woodpeckers, in flew a Red-bellied who worked at a chunk of suet and finally flew off with it.
When I finally headed outside this afternoon, donning my snowshoes to stay atop the 2.5+ feet of snow, I couldn’t believe that for the most part I could stay on top of it, for such was the crusty coating from yesterday’s rain finale. And with each step I took, I heard the crunch below–sounding much like breaking glass.
Much to my surprise, I found the track of a Ruffed Grouse, who did break through the snow.
Of course, it was no surprise to find the figure eight of a deer print, with the foot impression about two feet down. This is a difficult time of travel for them. And I suspect mine will be back by the feeders during the night looking for an easy meal.
And then I discovered a disturbance that I had to investigate. A deep hole had been excavated.
A look at the size and X between the toe and metacarpal pads and I knew who had done the job: an Eastern Coyote.
What it consumed I could not say, but there were some drops and I wonder if they were blood that had darkened a bit as they aged. It’s funny, because I was so sure that I’d come upon a Ruffed Grouse’s snow cave and totally expected to see the bird’s scat in the hole. That was not the case at all, but I don’t know who the victim was that provided the Coyote with a meal. Or at least a snack.
Back in our woods, I met an old friend who has graced these woods for years–or at least members of his family have done so.
He, too, was looking for food. And so intent upon his job was he, that I stood only about fifteen feet away while he worked.
I didn’t step under to check the scat because I didn’t want to scare him off, so I’m not sure if the Pileated Woodpecker’s needs were fulfilled, but given that he had worked on the tree for a while and some of the holes were quite deep, I suspect he had dined on his favorite meal of Carpenter Ants.
Finding food is the name of the game, though it’s hardly a game at all–especially when it’s cold, the snow is deep, and there’s a crust of ice atop it. And that’s just for the critters. Never mind people who have to deal with the elements on a daily and nightly basis.
We finally have a decent amount of snow on the ground after Friday’s storm and another storm is expected to begin in a couple of hours. That meant it was time to don the snowshoes. And so I did. And headed into the woods behind our house.
Immediately I was greeted with nature’s art work, and seeing snowflakes dangle like this will always capture my fancy.
But that wasn’t all that captured said fancy, for at a point where I’d been dealing with trying not to fall into water since it’s quite a wetland out there, I suddenly spotted bobcat prints. And knew I had to follow them.
I hadn’t bothered with my tracking bag full of gear, but did think to stick this little card into my pocket for reference. Can you see the C-shaped ridge between the toe pads and metacarpal pad? And the lead toe–making the overall print asymmetrical. Take a look at your hand. It’s also asymmetrical with a lead finger.
The snow is such a depth that there was foot drag. I got thinking about what the bobcat was hunting for and had seen plenty of snowshoe hare and deer runs so knew there was food available. Where would this cat lead me, I wondered.
It was at that point, however, that I thought about a tracking lesson I taught to future Maine Master Naturalists yesterday–if the prints look fresh, backtrack rather than follow them forward, so you don’t put pressure on the animal. I heeded my own words and turned around.
Of course, there was more art work to spy, like this candy cane dangling from a branch.
In my backtrack exploration, I spotted where the bobcat had climbed over a fallen tree. There were other spots where it went under trees and I had to find a different way around.
Back on track, there were more intersections with deer and even mice. But all continued to live for the moment.
And then my journey led me to another I’ve been looking for all winter because usually I see so much evidence of this critter–a porcupine had sashayed through the snow over night.
I found what I think is its den, given the amount of scat, and a hole. And I’m just now making sense of the story. The hole was not large due to snow in front of it and the scat was a bit frosted. BUT . . . what might have happened is that as the day warmed up, snow fell from the limbs above and the porcupine will dig its way out–in fact, it probably already did about an hour ago, for they emerge during twilight.
I followed the tracks, which led to a hemlock tree where there were a couple of twigs below.
And the bark and cambium layer had been chewed on the main trunk and another branch above.
So at some point in my journey, while I was following the bobcat and off my regular trail, I decided to turn on my GPS until I knew where I was. What surprised me is the circle I made as I followed the porcupine’s trail. I need to make time to visit it again, for it seemed to be a new resident to this spot and there wasn’t any more evidence that it had dined in the area.
It took a few minutes, but eventually I found the bobcat tracks again. Only . . . this time I was following the cat forward. What?
They led me to a spot at the base of a tree where the bobcat took a break and must have curled up. And then it turned around.
And it suddenly became apparent to me: I’d followed the forward track on the left to the turnaround point and on the way back I noticed the backtrack trail I’d previously been following. I never did find the bobcat or the porcupine, but seeing evidence of their activity was enough and it was getting late so I followed an old logging road home.
There were still more baubles to spy, including this one upon a Red Maple that had provided food last winter in the form of buds–a fav of the deer.
And when I returned to our woods, I discovered that four deer had bedded down last night under a raised sleeping platform our youngest son had built about eleven years ago when he was in high school. Look for the smooth edges and you’ll realize each one is oriented in a bit of a different direction, the better to see that bobcat, or even the coyotes, whose tracks I also saw today.
Just for fun, I’ve added these photos of the MMNP students channeling their inner child–each mentor group was assigned a mammal. This group needed to become a bobcat and though you may not quite see it, the bobcat was walking in the zigzag pattern with the hind foot landing where the front foot had packed down the snow, thus each print representing two feet, and conserving energy. And those fingers on the bobcat’s head–ear tufts. Plus the “person” in the back was holding a mitten to serve as the bobcat’s tail.
There was a pigeon-toed porcupine as well that waddled through the snow.
And then it gnawed on the branches of a tree.
They had fun with the assignment. My hope is that these students will get a sense of the tracking glee that I feel every time I follow a trail. Even if I don’t get to see the critter, which is most of the time, just developing an understanding of their behavior makes me so happy.
Once upon a time . . . no wait. This isn’t a fairy tale.
Rather, it’s about changes in the landscape that one might observe, such as a brook suddenly overspilling its banks as was the case in this location upon a December visit. We’d had rain, but that much?
It wasn’t long before a friend and I spotted the reason for the high water. Some new residents had moved into the area and built a lodge of sticks. Unlike the story of the three little pigs, one of whom built a house of sticks that the big bad wolf came in and blew down, the makers of this structure took special care to make it solid and strong and weatherproof. Yes, a beaver or two or six had taken up residence with the intention of spending the winter. Beaver families usually consist of a monogamous couple, plus their two-year-old (almost adult) kids, and yearlings. Mating occurs in the water during the winter and kits are born inside the lodge in the spring.
In order to move into the lodge, a dam needed to be constructed as well. If you look closely, you’ll see that above it there was a bit of an infinity pool with the ice at level with the dam, while below it some water flowed at a much lower level. Though we couldn’t walk along the ice to measure the length of the dam, it was quite long. and made of sticks and leaves and mud. Typically, the family works on this project by creating a ridge of mud and probably the herbaceous plants of the meadow, and then they use the mud and sticks to stabilize it. Maintenance is a constant as water or other critters or humans have a way of breaching the dam.
We, too, build dams to serve similar purposes, such as this one originally constructed to operate a saw mill. Hmmm.
Getting back to the lodge: it also needs nightly work as long as conditions allow and this has been a winter of despair for those of us who love cold temperatures and snow and even ice if it’s in the right place, like on a pond or lake and not in the driveway.
Take a look at how the beaver is holding the small twig.
A beaver’s dental formula is this: 2 incisors on top, 2 incisors on bottom, 0 canines on top, 0 canines on bottom, 2 premolars on top, 2 premolars on bottom (that look like molars), 6 molars on top and 6 molars on bottom, for a total of 20 teeth. Recently, I was able to sketch the upper part of the skull of an older family member, who’d lost some of its molars.
These large, semi-aquatic rodents are gnawers like their relatives. To that end, their incisors are highly specialized for chewing through really, really tough things and they grow continually throughout the critter’s life.
And like all rodents, the front surface of their incisors is coated in enamel reinforced with iron (hence the orange color), which makes it resistant to wear and tear from gnawing. When the chisel-like teeth chew and fell trees, the much softer white dentine layer (the section behind the enamel) is ground down quicker than the enamel, thus creating a sharp chisel surface.
But to me the coolest aspect is that their lips close behind the incisors, thus permitting them to gnaw and carry sticks underwater without choking.
And bingo, you can see the stick being carried in that gap between the incisors and molars. Food sticks become lodge or dam sticks once their nutritional value has been consumed: a true plan of repurposing.
As it turns out, that wasn’t the only beaver family at work in town. This next family, however, chose to park their tree in a spot the fire department lay claim to for filling a water tank. But . . . reading is not on a beaver’s talent list.
In this other place, so many trees have been felled, but not all have fallen as intended, getting hung up on other trees instead. Not wanting to anthropomorphize, but I have to wonder what expletives flash through a beaver’s brain when trees don’t hit the ground as planned.
As strict herbivores, a beaver’s diet varies with changes in the season. During spring and summer, they are drawn to waterlilies, algae, grasses, sedges, herbs, ferns, shrub leaves and shoots. By late summer, however, tree cutting begins as they gradually change their dietary habits from herbaceous to woody materials. Twigs, roots, bark and especially inner bark become the source of nutrition. Aspen, birch, alder, and willow are favored species, but beavers will cut almost anything including conifers.
Imagine this. A beaver cocks its head to the side as it gnaws, thus the consistent angle of the half inch groove as the upper and lower incisors come together.
Likewise, porcupines gnaw, but their incisors are much narrower and the pattern more random.
So, the question remains. Where were the parking lot beavers living? In the past, a family has inhabited the northern most reaches of this pond, but in this case, they had built a lodge on a point not far from the southern end.
The top of the lodge is the only section not covered with mud, for it serves as a “smoke stack” of sorts, a place for beaver breath to escape. Visit a lodge on a cold winter day and you might observe the vapors rising.
And then it was on to another locale, where beavers have inhabited the same lodge for a number of years. When beavers choose to live in a pond or lake or sometimes even a river, there’s no need to build a dam for the water is usually deep enough for their underwater movement.
I often tell people that beaver prints are a rare find because they are either wiped over by the tail or by trees being hauled to the water. Once in a while, however, I’m proven wrong and the sleety snow on a recent day awarded just the right conditions for the webbed feet to be observed.
Tree work and broken ice added to the story of the critters’ journey to and fro the pond. While quite adept at time spent in the water, they are rather clumsy on land and most of their work is within a hundred feet of the edge.
Winter food is cached close by the lodge entrance so that they can swim under the ice to retrieve a stick. A beaver’s ears and nose have a valve that closes when it is submerged and they can stay underwater for up to fifteen minutes. Back at the lodge, there is a raised chamber surrounded by a moat that leads to the entrance tunnel. It’s upon the raised area that they dine, and groom, and even give birth.
At this particular pond, My Guy and I noted two lodges connected by an open channel between. Given the number of tail slaps that announced our presence near both lodges, we thought perhaps both were active and inhabited by the same family.
And then, and then . . . finally, we spotted a beaver that spotted us. We kept expecting it to slap the water with its tail in a manner of warning so other family members would seek deeper water or cover. Instead, it swam past us.
The thing is that a rodent relative, namely the muskrat, exhibits many similarities, but also differences, including a skinny, snake-like tail.
The beaver’s tail is a source of wonder. While its furry body consists of long, shiny guard hairs covering dense and softer hair that traps air and helps protect the critter from the cold, the tail is broad and flat and scaly. It’s used for a variety of reasons including stability when standing upright on land (think tripod), as a rudder for propulsion in water, as fat storage and thermal regulation, and how we are most familiar, as a warning device.
January 6, 1998: Epiphany; the icy rain storm began.
January 7: Even icier.
January 8: No school, power on and off and then OFF, with no more ons.
On the 8th, My Guy had to park his red truck at the neighbor’s house because wires and limbs prevented him from driving up to our house.
Via battery operated radio, CMP (Central Maine Power) officials warned customers not to talk to power people–just let them do their work as they’re under a tremendous amount of pressure. And definitely no bribing them with food.
After our neighbor, Mr. Mush, stopped by in the afternoon to check on us, I looked out the window and noticed a man wearing a hardhat walking up the road. Mr. M. approached him.
“We aren’t supposed to talk to those guys, but he is. I’m going out there,” I thought.
Our youngest joined me. We donned our winter gear and headed out the door. I said to P, “We aren’t supposed to talk to CMP workers. We’ll let Mr. Mush do the talking.” As I said that, I looked for the CMP truck, but didn’t see it. Then I did a double-take.
“Mr. Hall, that’s you,” I said shaking my head as I realized it was another neighbor under the hardhat. “I thought you were a CMP worker. I was so hopeful.”
He chuckled and said, “You haven’t been listening to the news. You aren’t supposed to talk to CMP workers.”
Jan 9: Wee hours of the morning: SNAP! CRACKLE! POP! CRASH!
My Guy flew across our bed as I sat straight up.
“It’s OK,” I choked. “It’s just a tree hitting the roof.”
After which I hyperventilated and struggled to add, “It’s just a tree. It’s just a tree.”
I could hear My Guy trying to reassure me, but I was frozen with wild terror. My throat, which felt like it had closed, finally opened. From that point on, I shook.
The cracking and clashing sounded worse than firecrackers and continued all night long.
January 10: Our friend Bob called from a job he was working on in Massachusetts. He couldn’t get through to his wife, Marita, as their phone line had been affected by the storm. Somehow, however, she and I figured out that we could talk if we picked up our phones at the same time and I guess I called her. Anyway, I assured Bob that she and the girls were fine and she was her chipper self. What I didn’t have the heart to tell him was that his goldfish had not survived the storm. They froze to death.
January 11: Our sons, S and P have storm clean-up all figured out. The town crew will plow up the branches and trees. Logging trucks will also be needed. They’ll haul the wood away to mills to be turned into baseball bats and paper.
We had heat for the first time. No lights, but plenty of warmth and I actually thought of shedding a layer of clothing. Another neighbor’s son-in-law lent us a small generator to fire up our furnace for warmth and to keep our pipes from freezing.
One thing a storm of this magnitude made us realize that people are good. My Guy was one of the best. And my biggest hope after all was said and done was that the people he helped would remember that he stayed open for them without power at the store. And he kept ordering stuff so that he would have what they needed.
Outdoor conferences with the neighbors became a constant.
And family and friends called to offer warmth and a shower.
Marita and I offered each other encouragement and she came to fill water jugs daily. We loved the bread she baked.
January 12: We heard via our battery-operated radio that Baltimore Power trucks arrived in Maine today. Apparently they were sighted on the turnpike bearing signs that read: “Maine or Bust!”
My Guy and I took showers thanks to the generator on loan. And we invited Mrs. Mush over to shower as well. My sister-in-law took the boys for the day, which gave us a chance to do some clean-up, though despite the fact that My Guy wasn’t at the store, he was constantly in contact and thinking about it often. The wee bit of slow-down that the day offered him, gave him time to reflect and sort through all that had happened in the last few days.
One of our tasks, other than yard work, was to clean out the refrigerator and freezer–stinky and sticky. We cleaned it and turned it into a momentary breadbox.
Mrs. Mush and I also picked up sticks and branches in an elderly neighbor’s yard while she was away staying with her daughter and son-in-law.
January 13: 124 hours of no power. School has been cancelled until next Tuesday.
Last night we began helping our next-door neighbors raise the temperature in their house with our Kerosun heater.
The ice, as much as it’s been a menace, is incredibly beautiful.
As cold as it was outside, the boys and I spent as much time outdoors as possible, so it would feel warm when we went back in–at least for a few minutes.
While they skated on our outdoor rink, I chatted with another neighbor, Tom, owner of Tom’s Homestead Restaurant, which he’d turned into a shelter for some people. Despite the fact that we didn’t have power, Tom was still able to function with a woodstove and gas furnace.
“I’ll teach you how to skate, P,” said S.
And so he did. The boys were five and three, S in kindergarten and P in preschool.
They also enjoyed the snow fog that rolled down the street. Oh, and those signs at the end of the driveway: announced to the world that Winnie-the-Pooh’s Studio was located in our barn and everyone was welcome to visit.
Writing that now, I’m reminded of a sign Mr. Mush stuck in the snow at the end of the road: “245 people live on this road.” Um, I’m pretty sure there were only ten houses and residency ranged from 1 to 4 or 5 in any particular abode.
January 14: Imagination has always been the name of the game and the boys have always had vivid ones so, of course, we celebrated Tigger’s birthday, homemade party hats for all.
Another big event today: an NBC affiliate from Washington D.C. came to town to film the proper use of generators. They stopped at Hayes Hardware and interviewed My Guy. Then he sent them to our road to tape a generator in use at a neighbor’s house. The boys and I followed them around the neighborhood. We then called everyone we knew out-of-state and told them to watch at 6pm. We listened on our radio. No mention of our town much to our disappointment–it wasn’t our day to become movie stars.
7:30pm, 148 hours without power. We’re especially concerned tonight because it’s already -2˚ with a full moon. But, there are now five generators being shared between 8 homes on our street.
January 15: With the advent of a full moon, we knew more trouble was brewing as the temperature dropped. Pipes froze in our pantry sink. We placed the Kerosun heater by it and I kept pouring boiling water (thank goodness for a gas stove so we could cook on top, using a match to light the burners), into the sinks–to no avail. At 9:30am, Mr. Mush came over with a torch and warmed the pipes (at that time located literally outside the pantry).
Then he tucked insulation around them.
In between working, My Guy helped to keep everyone on our road under control.
That afternoon, S and I did some yard work, hauling branches to the pile. The boys also sold me some snow cones, snow pies, and lemonade.
While we were outside, a CMP truck drove up. I slowly approached and asked the driver, “Can we talk?”
“Uh oh, you’re scaring me,” he said.
“No, I just want to know if we have any hope,” I replied.
“Well, the crew is in South Bridgton now. When they finish there, they’ll head back into town. They’ll be here. Maybe today, but don’t count on that. Probably tomorrow. But, do you know what the storm looks like?” he asked.
“They’ve lowered the amount of snow to six inches,” I said.
“Good, what about the temp?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Oh, well, we’ll see.” And off he drove.
Later, Marita appeared bearing muffins.
And I had this conversation with P: “What are you doing?” I asked as he chewed his fingernails.
“My fingernails are stuck,” he said.
“What do you mean, your fingernails are stuck?”
He studied his hands, “My fingernails are stuck to my fingers.”
One really bad thing we learned today. Moe Needham’s house burned to the ground last night.
Late that night, after My Guy and I had settled into bed, the most powerful light lit up the street. Of course, anything brighter than a Coleman lantern illuminates our world. But this light was different. High intensity and not flickering like a plow, though it was snowing as predicted.
My Guy dressed and ran outside. I was so excited that I called my sister to tell her men were in buckets up in the trees. I wasn’t sure if they were there to cut trees or reattach wires. After I hung up, I headed out the door. Arborists from Cohrain, Massachusetts. In a state that is proud of being 90% trees, there were many, many downed ones to cut.
January 16: I had the best helpers as we dug out from the overnight storm. S shoveled the snow off the steps.
I only wish I remembered what advice P was offering as he worked. Or perhaps he was gleeful because he was eating snow.
January 17: A CMP scout checked things out.
While the boys and I shoveled six inches of snow off the driveway, the CMP truck crept up the road. The driver told Mr. Mush he was waiting for an out-of-state power company to come work on our lines.
At last they arrived! I phoned neighbors at work.
From the neighbors’ driveway, we watched the action.
At last, the man in the bucket lowered himself. “The power will be on momentarily,” he said.
Mr. Mush met me in the driveway to ask about our furnace hook-up. We walked up the driveway and saw My Guy in the barn. I yelled, “It will be on momentarily.” Above a bulb was lit.
“Look,” I exclaimed. “How is that on?”
“The power is on,” My Guy said with a smile.
The boys had to check it out after 186.5 hours without such.
Meanwhile, at the store, the line was long. Somehow, My Guy managed during all this time to meet the needs of customers, the needs of neighbors, and the needs of his family. And always with a grin.
Thank goodness our boys saw it as an adventure.
The list of thanks probably left someone out, but in the end we were all so grateful for the sense of community and neighbors helping neighbors.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the Ice Storm of ’98 Cameth and we were afraid that it would never Leaveth, but it finally did.
You must be logged in to post a comment.