Put The Lawn Furniture Away Holiday

I don’t know the why of it, but it seems that each year when we plan to put the lawn furniture away, the forecast either includes wind gusts or snow. Well, yesterday it snowed. Not a lot of snow, mind you. But enough.

1-snow on the kayaks

It was, however,  melting quickly when we stopped by camp to begin our autumn chores.

3-porcupine tracks

Upon our return home, I diverted my attention for a bit and headed off into the woods, where much to my delight, tracking opportunities made themselves known. Though I didn’t see any of the creators, I smiled with the knowledge that I can share this land with them. Along the way I found a porcupine track pattern,

4-coyote--18 inch stride

plus a coyote with a stride of about nineteen inches (when you don’t take a tape measure it pays to improvise),

5-snowshoe lobster

and my favorite for this first tracking day of the season . . . a snowshoe lobster–I mean hare.

6-moose scat

Another favorite sighting, which I spied a few times–rather fresh moose scat the size of chocolate nuggets. (And no, I didn’t collect it to make jewelry. ;-))

7-my own track

As I moved, I left behind my own tracks and wondered if the mammals looked at those and knew I’d passed by. “Middle-aged female, the one who stalks us,” they might comment if they could talk. But really, it’s by my scent that they probably know me best. “Stinky middle-aged female . . .”

7a-leaves enhanced by snow

It wasn’t just tracks that caught my attention. The snow, spotted with tree drips, enhanced the color and borders of the foliage, making each leaf stand out.

7b-leaves under slush

In contrast, a more muted tapestry formed where foliage was trapped in slush-topped puddles.

8a-melted snow on sugar maple

And then there were those leaves turned upside down. I was fascinated by the variation of size in the water drops left behind as the snow melted. Every dot enhanced the pastel back-side colors . . .

8-melted snow on big tooth aspen leaf

and acted as a scope by showing off segments of venation.

9-snowdrops on grass

Patterns changed depending on the shape of the structure to which they clung.

10-goldenrod

And all were momentary for each drop eventually did what they do . . . dripped.

11-tachinid fly

While I admired the beauty, I wondered about the goldenrod that still bloomed and reminded me that though it had snowed and we’ve had some rather cold days, today was a bit warmer and it’s not winter yet. But those cold temps of a few days ago, I think they caught some by surprise, including this tachinid fly that dangled from another flower stalk.

12-hickory tussock moth caterpillar

And several times I found hickory tussock moth caterpillars frozen in place. While I admired the way the melted snow drops clung to the hair, I wondered about what I was seeing. Was it a shed skin? Or had this caterpillar been taken by surprise with weather conditions?

If you know, please enlighten me.

As it was, I needed to finish my wander for there was more furniture to put away on the homefront.

13-red-backed salamander

And when we opened the cellar hatch door to store the table and chair downstairs, another discovery was made . . . an Eastern red-backed salamander on top of the first step.

The day probably should have been named “Day After the First Snow Storm of the Season” but instead it was our “Put the Lawn Furniture Away Holiday.” Not everyone celebrates this day, but we do because as exciting as it is to bring the furniture out in the spring, it’s equally exciting to put it away and anticipate the coming season. Oh, and when we pull it again in the spring, you can trust that it will snow at least one more time.

 

 

 

What the Tree Spirit Knows

As I drove to Lovell this morning to take a photo for the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s winter newsletter, the crisp outline of a snow-covered Mount Washington made me realize that I had a short, unintended hike in my immediate future.

1a-Flat Hill view

Yesterday, I’d climbed the Flat Hill Trail at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve to take another photo for the newsletter–that one of the view from the summit of snow falling in the White Mountains. This past summer, staff and volunteers of the land trust had made some trail changes and opened several views, the one from Flat Hill being the most dramatic and the foliage, snow and sky enhanced the opening. But . . . today’s view was different and I knew I needed to capture it again.

Page 3 a

So . . . after a staff photo shoot at the Kezar River Reserve of Stewardship Associate Dakota, Associate Director Aidan, and Office Manager Alice, I headed north.

1-voss sign

And laughed at myself for yesterday I never noticed the yellow Voss blazes that had been mounted to mark the trail. The hope is that eventually all the trails will be signed with different colored diamonds that will ease navigation.

2-big tooth aspen

It’s a trail I know well, even with a new backwards S curve about two thirds of the way up that erased a steep and slippery portion and so instead I focused on those sights at my feet. While many leaves had already begun the long process of decomposition as they slowly break down and give nutrients back to the earth from which their trees grew, a few still sparkled like gems, including this Big-Tooth Aspen, aka poplar.

3-sugar maple

I was thrilled to discover Sugar Maple, defined by the U shape between its pointed lobes;

4-red maple

its V between lobes and toothier cousin, Red Maple;

5-striped maple

and even toothier kin, Striped Maple, known ’round these parts a goosefoot because its shape is similar. Some of us also refer to it as nature’s toilet paper for it’s large, soft, and easy to identify. You wouldn’t think of confusing it with poison ivy.

The curious thing about the Maple family, like all families in our northern New England forests, is that while the shape and color of the leaf helps us specify the family origins, each leaf within the family is different–whether in color or flaws or insect bites or galls. But despite their differences, they are all family.

6-large red oak

With the Striped Maple, I thought I’d found the largest species of the day, but a few more steps toward the summit revealed a rather large Northern Red Oak leaf.

7-even larger basswood leaf

And then the biggest of all–Basswood. My hiking boots are size 8. And the leaf–also a size 8, with an asymmetrical base. That must prove a challenge when trying to find the right fit.

13-polypody ferns

Focusing on the leaves took my mind off the climb and within no time I’d reached the summit where Polypody ferns in their evergreen form decorated the northwestern corner of an otherwise bald rock.

14-red maple flower and leaf buds awaiting
From the ferns where I’d planted my feet, I looked skyward and noticed the leaf and flower buds of a Red Maple, all tucked inside their waxy scales. It was the right place to be for as the north wind blew and my cheeks turned rosy red, I looked to the west.

9-Baldfaces to Carter Dome

Yesterday’s view had been transformed. No longer was it snowing from the Baldfaces to Carter Dome, with Mount Washington the whitest of all, posing between them. But still, it was chilly.

10-telescoping in on Mount Washington

A slight push on the camera lever and I pulled the scene a wee bit closer.

16-Perky's Path

At last I pulled myself away and hiked down, but so delightful was the morning, that I knew my newsletter work would have to wait a few more minutes at the intersection with Perky’s Path, for I felt the calling.

17-wetland--old beaver pond

It’s a wetland I visit frequently and once upon a time about five years ago it was filled to the brim with water because beavers had dammed it for their convenience.

18-suds reflect leaf

The only water today was found in a small stream that flowed through, its origin at Bradley Pond and terminus at Heald Pond. I stopped at the rock stepping path to admire what the water had to offer, including suds forming their own rachis or mid-vein from which side veins extended, a sideways rendition for the birch leaf caught between twigs.

19-view from the rock

In the middle of the stepping stones is a large flat rock. It was there that I settled in for a while, enjoying the feel of its sun-absorbed heat and the sound and views offered as the brook flowed slowly forth.

21-view from the bench

At last I pulled myself away and continued toward the bench that overlooked the wetland. All was quiet on this brisk day, but its a place of life and love and change.

22-back to the wetland

From there I continued to circle the old beaver pond to the point where I knew it had formerly been dammed. Climbing over and around moss-covered rocks, and into former stream beds, I made my way to the edge of what I used to call an infinity pool for the water was once at the dam’s upper level.

23-view from the beaver dam

Once I reached the dam, making my way one step at a time, for it was rather tricky footing at times, I discovered life on the other side. For all the years I’ve been involved with the land trust, I’d never seen this edge from this view. My surprise included the almost bald rocks.

25-coyote scat full of bones

Stepping from boulder to boulder, I made my way into the wetland a wee bit, but along the way realized someone had visited prior to me. Actually probably almost a year prior given the conditions of the scat left behind. Based on its shape, size, and inclusion of multiple bones plus lots of hair, I suspected a coyote had feed on a hare.

26-spider view

The coyote and I weren’t the only ones who knew of this secret place. A wolf spider darted in and out among the leaves, more afraid of me than I was of it.

27-spatterdock

And then I discovered something that perhaps they both already knew: the water supported a small colony of Spatterdock, a plant that will need to be added to the list of flora for this property. Do you see the ice on the Micky Mouse ear leaves?

28-ice

Ice had also formed around a fallen log, its swirls portraying a high-heeled boot that certainly might be appropriate in an ice sculpture but not on ice.

28-tree spirit

All of what I saw the tree spirit already knew. And yet, it allowed me to make discoveries from my feet to the sky.

29-Mount Washington summit

And every layer between. I know he’s not there anymore, but can’t you imagine Marty Engstrom on top of Mount Washington?

 

Amazing Race–Our Style: episode nine

“Drive to Newry and receive your next clue,” was the message we received midday yesterday and so as soon as my guy closed his store and sent in an order for more merchandise, we hopped into the truck and began our journey north. In Newry, just beyond Bethel, we found out we were to continue on to Rangeley and patronize the local businesses.

1-Moose and snow

First, however, we had to get there. Darkness enveloped us and flurries confused my vision as I drove with caution through Grafton Notch to Errol, New Hampshire, and then back into Maine toward our destination. Our wildlife sightings: two raccoons, a snowshoe hare still brown in color, a couple of deer and a cow moose and the bull moose you might see to the left of the first telephone pole. We were excited to say the least. And, I had proof that my slower speed was apropos–cuze my guy was teasing me.

3-the place to ourselves

It was almost 8:00pm when we pulled into town and stopped at Parkside and Main for a burger. The restaurant closed at 8, but owner Kash Haley was gracious and told us to relax. So between plays in the football game, and bites of our burgers, we oohed and  aahed as one of the waitresses shared photos of her grandchildren with us.

2-hanging out at Parkside and Main

And then once all the patrons and staff had left, we sat for a bit longer at Kash’s insistence and enjoyed the game and each others company while he cashed out and sanitized the kitchen.

4-blue sunrise, blue sky in morning, snowflakes are forming

This morning found us rising to a blue sky over Rangeley Lake. Doesn’t the saying go like this: Blue sky in the morning, snowflakes in the offing? For they were and we knew we had to dress appropriately for a day outdoors. But first, we had a few more local businesses to visit, the first being Keep’s Corner Cafe for breakfast and then we grabbed sandwiches from Woody’s Deli at Loony Bin Variety. And with the check came our next clue: “Rangeley–equator to pole, it’s all the same.” Huh?

5-halfway between equator and north pole

But, we did our research and sure enough, the western Maine town of Rangeley is located precisely between the Equator and the North Pole. How cool is that? And it was at that sign that another clue appeared. “Choose one: Either explore Orgonon or Find your way to the giant AT sign and seek the piazza.” Several years ago we’d snowshoed the trails at the Wilhelm Reich Museum, aka Orgonon, so we chose the latter for today’s challenge. The AT we understood to be the Appalachian Trail, but a piazza on the trail? Would there be a hut with a porch? Perhaps a fancy porch?

6-AT

A few miles south we found the giant AT. And across from the parking lot on Route 4 we spied the opening to the part of the trail we thought we should follow.

7-red fox scat

And so we ventured forth, stopping moments later for a couple of deposits of red fox scat. Another critter to add to our 24-hour menagerie.

8-sluice

We crossed a sluice way of the Sandy River, and imagined the history stored in the rocks.

9-snowflakes gathering

As we hiked, snowflakes decorated the variety of maple leaves.

10-snow on trail

And we began to notice that our journey would pass through a variety of natural communities and over various obstacles including roots,

11-boardwalks

boardwalks,

12-rocks and roots

and rocks mixed with roots.

16-Piazza Rock

My guy was in the lead, though he commented throughout that I wasn’t far behind, trailing only by a few footsteps. But when he reached a certain point, I’d been looking down for careful foot placement and so I didn’t know what he was exclaiming about–until I looked up. At. Piazza. Rock.

From Maine Trailfinder we discovered this tidbit: “According to the geological notes about this area, ‘The granite of Saddleback is jointed into huge building blocks. An unusually large one has slid out of its place in the mountain side and, instead of breaking and skating down the slope like the others, has balanced across another block to create one-half of a cantilever bridge, forming Piazza Rock.'” Oh, did I mention that we were hiking up Saddleback Mountain?

17-contemplating climb up Piazza Rock

Perspective isn’t gained until one actually stands under the building block. The clue said that one of us must climb atop the structure and the other view it all from below. Thankfully, despite his fear of heights, my chivalrous guy chose the upper path.

18-and then onto the Piazza

He made it seem so simple as he crawled up the rock and then contemplated the platform before him. For a second, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to go further. But, that could mean the loss of points for us. I didn’t say anything to encourage or discourage because I was standing on safe ground below.

19-under piazza rock

My job was to appreciate the boulder from its underside. And certainly I did as I looked up at the stone diving board planted for a giant’s leap.

20-My guy on top of Piazza Rock

And bravely making his way toward the tip–my guy!

21-My guy atop the turtle head of Piazza Rock

I looked up to where he stood–atop a turtle head, for after all, we stood on turtle rock.

23-looking down at me from Piazza Rock

And he looked down . . .

Later he told me that his father always said as he stepped onto a porch, “I’m going out to the piazza.” Indeed.

28-climbing onward

Interestingly, both of our fathers accompanied us on this leg of the race for apparently as my guy thought of his dad, I spent some time thinking about my father and how much he would have loved exploring trails such as this one with us.

13-temperature

But, we were in a race and so though we reveled in memories of our fathers, we had to move back to the trail signs and check for our next clue, which was again a choice: “Make the next move or Channel your best bat.”  What?

21-Piazza Rock Hut

We followed the trail, crossed one of many streams and located the Piazza Rock Campsite–all set for the next temporary residents who would leave no trace behind.

22-Privy

It was right behind the hut that we noticed the privy–and location for any who chose to make a move . . .

23-cribbage board in two seater privy

In the game of cribbage that is for a game board sits between the two-seater. My guy might have chosen this for he knew he could beat me, but he was once again chivalrous and suggested we channel our best bats. Team Pink did stop at the privy and we never saw them after that so we wondered if they gave up on their card game and moved on to Orgonon.

25-onto the caves

We, however, continued on and reached “The Caves.” One after the other, we shimmied through, hardly as graceful as a bat might fly.

27-the caves

It wasn’t easy, but we moved in and out and reached our next clue: Locate lunch rock with an aquatic view.

28-Ethel Pond?

Onward we climbed, reaching Ethel Pond first, where the ice at the edge was thin and my guy reminded me that I should approach with care.

29-another wetland

About a half mile up the trail we spotted another wetland. Really, we expected to see a moose in each, but when one expects to see a moose or any other form of wildlife, it doesn’t happen. And it’s truly more enjoyable when the offering is a surprise.

29-ice formations

Speaking of surprises were the first ice formations of the year.

30-crossing to lunch rock

Periodically, we crossed water, but the ice formed best at our last crossing, where lunch rock awaited. We’d made it to the stream that flowed from Moose and Deer Pond, a place we couldn’t necessarily visit, but could appreciate for the wildness it offered its wildlife residents.

Lunch rock stood in front of my guy and it was there that we enjoyed the chicken salad sandwiches we’d ordered from Woody’s Deli at the Lonny Bin.

32-squirrel midden

As we looked about, we discovered that we weren’t the only ones to dine in that vicinity, for the balsam fir scales and cone cobs indicated that the resident red squirrels were also frequent diners.

32a-junco joule=foe of a different feather

And, it appeared, another had also consumed a meal for Junco feathers were plentiful. A foe of a different feather had gained a few joules of energy.

33-back to the sluice

Our lunch spot became our turn-around point and with great speed we made our way back to the sluice in now time at all,  completing our eight mile hike with side trips in 5.5 hours, sorry that we couldn’t summit Saddleback Mountain because we were told to return to our truck by 3:30pm. We actually reached the truck by 3:10. In our minds, another day will find us returning and summiting Saddleback as we really like the trail and were eager to discover what else it had to offer.

34-reaching the mat at Puzzle Mtn Bakery

As we drove toward Errol on our return trip, we spotted Team Mustang stopping just below Orgonon and wondered what they questioned when they stepped out of their car.

We continued on to the starting point in Newry, ready to step on the mat and end this leg of the race, only to discover that we’d made a mistake.

How could that be?

We thought that lunch rock was our turn-around point, but we should have continued about 50 more feet where a spur trail would have led us to Eddy Pond. Oh, we could see the pond, but not get close to it. If only . . . we’d paid closer attention to the map.

As it was, when we arrived at the mat beside Puzzle Mountain Bakery in Newry, we had to sit for a half an hour and wait. No one arrived. Thankfully. And then we had to answer one important question:  How many streetlights are there in Upton? Eight. Check.

25-the prize

We finished third but got the streetlight question right and so we received a blueberry raspberry pie. YUM.

The Amazing Race–Our Style: episode nine . . . and the fun continues; we’re still in. Phew.

 

 

 

 

To Pause and Focus

I had no idea what to expect of today’s tramp with two friends as I didn’t even know prior to this afternoon that the trail we would walk even existed. And so I pulled in to the parking area at the end of Meetinghouse Road in Conway, New Hampshire, sure that we’d only be able to walk down to the Saco River about a hundred feet away and that would be the extent of our adventure.

1-Conway Rec Path

But . . .  much to my pleasant surprise I was wrong and in the northeastern corner of the parking lot we crossed a bridge into the unexpected setting.

2-Saco River framed

For the entire journey, we walked above and beside the Saco River. And our minds were awed by the frames through which we viewed the flowing water and boulders.

3-clear view of the Saco River

Occasionally, our view was clear and colorful, the colors now more pastel than a week ago.

5-witch hazel, understory

Even as the colors have begun to wane and leaves fall, we looked up from our spot below the under and upper stories and sighed.

4-Witch Hazel

For much of the time, we were wowed by the Witch Hazel’s flowers–for so thick were they on many a twig.

4a-witch hazel flowers

In fact, if one didn’t pause to notice, you might think that each flower featured a bunch of ribbons, but really, four was the count over and over again.

4b-witch hazel flowers, leaf:bundle scars

And some were much more crinkly than others. One of my other favorites about this shot is the scar left behind by a recently dropped leaf. Do you see the dark smile at the base of the woody yet hairy flower petiole? And the dots within that represented the bundles where water and nutrients passed between leaf and woody structure?

6-spotted wintergreen

And then one among us who is known for her eagle eyes spied a Spotted Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, a name that has always made us wonder for its dark green leathery leaves seem far more stripped than spotted. It’s one of those plants with a bunch of common names and so we should try another one on: spotted wintergreen; striped prince’s pine; striped wintergreen; striped pipsissewa; spotted pipissewa; and pipissewa. But perhaps the fact that it’s striped and referred to as spotted helps me to remember its name each time we meet. A sign of how my brain works.

7-spotted wintergreen patch

While we know it to be rare and endangered in Maine, it grew abundantly under the pines on the slight slope beside the river in New Hampshire, and we rejoiced.

8-spotted wintergreen capsules

Its newer capsules were green, but a few of last year’s woody structures also graced the forest floor. Reseeding helps the plant propagate, but it also spreads through its rhizomes.

9-maple-leaf viburnum

Everywhere we looked there was a different sight to focus our lenses and we took photo upon photo of the variations in color of some like Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), a shrub with three-lobed maple-like leaves and small white flowers in the spring that form blue fruits in the early fall and had been consumed, only their stems left to tell the story.

10-red maple leaves

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) leaning over the river offered their own hues that bespoke autumn.

16-platter sized mushrooms

And tucked into a fungi bowl, we found the yellow form of Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum). 

11-Saco River with Moat Mountains in background

Onward we continued with the river to our left, outlined with maples and evergreens, and backdropped by the Moat Mountains.

12-small pond stained glass window

And to our right, a small pond where trees in the foreground helped create a stained glass effect filled with autumn’s display.

13-reflection

And once again, in the pond’s quiet waters reflections filled our souls.

14-turn around trespass

A wee bit further, we trespassed onto private land, and decided to make that our turn-around point as we got our bearings via GPS.

15-trail

Backtracking was as enjoyable as our forward motion. We had been on a trail called the Conway Rec Path, part of the Mount Washington Valley Rec Path, intended for walking, running, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, bird watching, wildflower viewing , tree study, plus river and mountain views. Kennett High School athletes ran past us and we encountered couples out for exercise. None took their time as we did, but that’s our way and occasionally we ventured off trail because something caught our eye.

9-rock carvings match the waves

Meanwhile, the river continued to flow, as it has for almost ever, and the water continued to carve patterns yet to be seen, but we enjoyed those that reflected its action.

17-old silver maple

Back at the parking lot, we were wowed by a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), its girth suggesting an age older than a century.

18-silver maple buds

As had been the case all along the way, we experienced another wow moment when we realized how developed were the flower and leaf buds already. We know they form in the summer, but . . . they looked ready to pop!

19-white-throated sparrow

As we stood and admired, a flock of Juncos and White-throated Sparrows flew from one spot to the next as they sought seeds on the ground. Occasionally, the sparrows paused for a moment.

20-2 white-throated sparrows

And then moved on again.

21-Eagle over Moose Pond

At last it was time for us to move on as well and head for home, my friends’ to their mountainside abode in New Hampshire and me to my humble house on the other side of the Moose Pond Causeway. But as I always do when making the crossing, I looked up.

22-immature Bald Eagle

And was honored by a sighting that pulled me out of my truck. The immature Bald Eagle I’d watched and listened to all summer graced me with another opportunity to view it.

One scene after another, it was a delightful autumn afternoon. Thanks P&B, for the sharing a new trail with me and providing many moments to pause and focus.

Mondate Challenge

It was a mere drizzle when we stepped outside and walked to Pondicherry Park, but eventually we needed to pull up the hoods of our raincoats. Our journey was rather quick as we followed first the Snowshoe Hare trail, and then the Pasture Trail, which led us to the Stonewall Loop, where two thirds of the way around, we diverted.

1-crossing onto LEA property

Our main intention had been to cross over the stonewall that marks the park’s boundary and explore the Pinehaven Trail owned by Lakes Environmental Association. It is on this land that the Maine Lake Science Center is located, but there are other cool features as well.

2-You Are Here

As the first sign informed us, we had arrived. And you can see by the moisture that it was raining in earnest.

3-park rules

Funding for the Pinehaven Trail signs and low-element course was provided by LEA Board Member Roy Lambert and his wife Mary Maxwell, summer residents of Bridgton who have made a huge impact on protecting the lakes and ponds we all love. Roy has brought the LakeSmart Program to LEA and Mary has spearheaded LEA’s invasive plant patrols.

Despite the fact that the sign warned us the course is “dangerous when wet,” we decided to test it out. After all, we were accompanied by a leaf as indicated.

4-Birds on a Wire

Broken into four wonderful sets, each offering a variety of activities, we began by becoming birds on a wire.

5-my own nuthatch pose

Though I would have liked to say that I was a Barred Owl or Cooper’s Hawk, being a Nuthatch wasn’t so bad.

6-my guy nuthatch

My guy . . .

7-walking the tightrope

was also a Nuthatch.

8-next set of challenges

Set Two meant getting more practice in the art of walking on a balance beam. It looked so easy, but with each one, the level of difficulty increased a bit as our confidence did the same . . . for the most part.

10-balance beam series

And at first, our eyes saw only a few anomalies in the woods, but once we focused we realized each leg of the course was more involved than first anticipated.

11-swinging beam

The second set found us not only keeping our balance on the beams that zigzagged through the grove, but also on a swinging beam.

12-stepping up

And then we had to step up and up and up.

14-around the white pine

One of my favorite parts was circling the tree like a rock wall climber might do.

15-tree hugger!

In the process, I got to hug the pine, not that I ever need an excuse.

13-bench

My other favorite part of Set Two was the bench. There were other benches along the trail, but I found this one to be the most aesthetically appealing. Even if you don’t want to try out the course, you can walk the trail and sit a bit. You might just see a deer–we did. And in the past I’ve seen other animals including a red fox.

16-Alanna's signs

As we walked on, not sure if there were more sets, we spied the first interpretive sign created by LEA’s Education Director, Alanna Doughty, and featuring her explanations and drawings. I LOVE them. And want to decorate my house with them. I didn’t tell my guy that. The other thing I loved about all the signage–it was mounted on rough-edged boards, adding to the natural look. Do I know the creator of those boards? A local box company perhaps?

17-third set

Much to our delight, not much further on we came to Set Three.

18-Enchanted Forest

The forest really was enchanted and we found ourselves using all four modes of operation in order to get from one piece of wood to the next.

19-tree cookie steps

There were lots of tree cookies to step on and more balance beams to conquer.

20-hopping along

Sometimes we hopped like toads, who don’t leap as far as frogs with their longer hind legs.

21-a balancing act

Other times we had to channel our inner Cooper’s Hawk as there was no place to put our hands.

22-waiting for the wires to stop swaying

And in doing so, my guy figured out that pausing to wait for the wire to stop swaying made for an easier crossing. He succeeded. (I need to sneak back and practice this one some more as my knees were a tad too shaky.) We suspected that kids run across without giving it a thought. And so our excuse–it was raining.

23-yeegads--getting higher

Though it looked intimidating at first, moving across the log was fun, but I wasn’t so sure about the beam that turned out to be the highest one yet. It felt like crossing a brook and so after he finished I asked my guy to come back and give me a supporting hand. He laughed and asked if I expected him to stand in the imaginary water. Yes! Chivalry at its best. Once I started across while grasping his hand, I felt rather confident and soon let go. At the other side, I rejoiced in my success. And thanked him, of course.

24-clean water

Onward still, we encountered another one of Alanna’s signs, simple yet informative. And still, we were accompanied by a leaf. And no, we didn’t place the leaves on the signs.

This sign struck me as extremely important, not that the others weren’t. But . . . clean water is what the Lakes Environmental Association is all about.

26-Paul Bunyan's Playground

At last we reached the final set, or first if you approach from Willet Road. Again, a leaf 😉

As for how good would we be as lumberjacks? Well, my guy would pass. I’d almost get there, but I have to work on my log rolling skills.

26a-variety of swings

What I liked about the final set was not only the focus on various types of trees, but also that the same theme was executed in a variety of ways and so we crossed another swinging step bridge.

27-I got this!

Sometimes, the choice to be a Nuthatch or Barred Owl didn’t exist and we had to become Cooper’s Hawks as we had nothing to grab onto while moving forward.

28-now you don't see him

There were opportunities to be apes as well and then disappear around the back sides of rather large pine trees, their girth indicative of the fact that the land had once been agricultural and the trees grew in abundant sunshine after it was no longer farmed. So, do you see my guy?

30-now you do

Now you do! Circling around that tree was as fun as the first and it had ash tree foot and hand holds.

31-Me Tarzan

He Tarzan! And notice how the piece he was about to step onto was set on a log. Yup, it was a foot seesaw. There were several and we really liked them.

32-rope climbing, log rolling

The last set included climbing a rope to the upper deck and then descending the ladder to another and on to a balance beam and then the log rolling. He did it all. I saved the wet log for another visit.

33-Mast sign

Just beyond the final set was Alanna’s last sign and a hot topic this year since last year’s mast crop of white pine cones, acorns, maple samaras, and beech nuts have meant a banner year for squirrels and mice. Remember, those little rodents don’t have as much food this year and they’ll become food for the predators and nature will try to balance itself once again. Oh, and not only are Alanna’s drawings beautiful but her humor and voice come through in the interpretive signs.

34-across the boardwalk and back into the park

As for us, we had finished our balancing act, crossed the science center’s driveway, followed the second portion of the Pinehaven Trail and wound our way down to the board walk that passes back into Pondicherry Park. From there, we found our way home.

What a blast. I think we were both a bit let down that we’d finished the course.

Thank you LEA, Alanna, Roy and Mary, for providing us with a delightful Mondate Challenge . . . even in the rain.  My guy and I highly recommend the Pinehaven Trail.

The Gathering

I can’t remember when our yearly ritual began but it has become tradition for three college friends and me to meet somewhere for a fall weekend. And so this year found us staying at a borrowed house in York, Maine. I was late to the gathering but we spent last night catching up as we surrounded the kitchen island. It seems like a table or island is always the spot where we spend most of our time each year while we tell new stories and recall old ones.

1-duck pond

This morning found us dining at a local restaurant. Years ago, I’d spent many an hour in York, either eating at Rick’s, combing the beaches, or standing beside a duck pond. And after this morning’s breakfast, voila–the duck pond. I’m not sure it was the one I remembered for so much had changed in town since I’d last looked for it, but still . . . it was a pond . . . with ducks.

2-fall mallards

Dabbling Mallards to be exact, their iridescent colors as brilliant as the fall foliage.

3-Long Sands Beach

Our next stop was the beach–Long Sands Beach that is. With the tide rolling out, we were able to stroll along most of its mile and a half length.

5-herring gull-shadow and reflection

Our sights included a Herring Gull in triplicate, with both its shadow and reflection cast on the watery surface.

9-ripples in the sand

Equally impressive were the ripples in the sand that matched the water that had once flowed over it,

11-patterns

and those in a small stream bed (which we chose not to cross).

10-snail trails

Our sense of wonder was again aroused when we saw a message in the sand and realized it was not someone writing in script, but rather the trail of a snail.

8-half dollar

We also found a few broken sand dollars, the fifty cent piece being the largest.

6-three old friends

We walked and chatted and walked and chatted some more until our time together came to an end. Once more we gathered round the kitchen counter, then shared a group hug and said our goodbyes.

12-until we meet again

But we each left knowing that when the time comes to meet again, we’ll follow the signs and pick up where we left off.

13-Nubble Light

As I turned north out of the lane, I wasn’t quite ready to hop onto the highway and find my way home, so I detoured. My first stop was a Nubble Lighthouse, where “in 1874 President Rutherford B. Hayes appropriated money to build a lighthouse on this “Nub” of land.” All these years later, it’s getting a much needed facelift.

14-Barrier Beach Trail

A wee bit further up the road, I pulled into Wells Reserve at Laudholm , a 2,250-acre estuarine zone. Trails loop about the property and I followed a few.

15-bumblebee pollination

Beside the estuary, bees aplenty buzzed about some late asters in the warmth of the sunshine.

16-yellow rump hiding

And closer to the ocean, Yellow-rumped Warblers flew and landed among the shrubs.

17-beach rose

As I walked across a boardwalk toward the beach, a few beach roses showed off their brilliant blooms.

18-Drake's Island Beach

At last I reached Drake’s Island Beach on the Atlantic Ocean, one of my old haunts on daytrips long ago.

19-more squiggles in the sand

And there, another squiggly message in the sand, longer than the first but about half as wide in trail straddle (just getting back into my winter tracking frame of mind and terminology.)

21-Rachel Carson Wildlife Reserve

On my return, I looped around on the Laird-Norton Trail, where a well-built boardwalk was decorated with so many shades of red speaking to the Acer rubra Maples that arched above.

23-garter snake

In one sunny spot, a garter snake sunned and I tried to warn a woman who was walking toward me, but she didn’t hear and the startled snake practically jumped off the boardwalk. The woman almost did as well!

24-apple tree

Snakes and apples and I began to wonder if I was in the Garden of Eden. But really, I wondered if a squirrel had wedged the apple into the nook of the tree to dry. I’ve seen the same with mushrooms and just last week watched a red squirrel snatch a dried mushroom in a movement so quick that it will remain in my mind’s eye only.

20-drone fly, looks like a European honey bee

Certainly, the bees and flies, such as this hover fly, were taking advantage of the nutrition offered at the reserve. Temperatures are forecast to dip this week, so I’ll be curious to see how long the flowers and pollinators last.

25-estuary

My final stop of the day was to walk a trail that connects to the reserve. The Carson Trail is named for Rachel Carson. The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1966 to protect valuable salt marshes and estuaries for migrating birds. My views today included heron, an egret, and a sandpiper.

27-selfie

Finally it was time to head for the hills. But like the ducks and pollinators and birds that foraged for nourishment, I was grateful for the opportunity once again to gather with friends and be sustained by each other’s company.  We’d pose for our traditional selfie before heading off in individual directions to our everyday lives in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine,  and Vermont. Thanks Pammie, Bev, and Becky, and a special thanks to Lynn and Tim for letting us make ourselves at home in their York place.

Until we meet again . . .

 

A Keen Eye for the Wonders at Our Feet

As beautiful as the trees are right now with their autumnal display in full force, if you walk slowly in the woods and on the bald faces of our local granite, I think you might find yourself amazed. I know a friend and I always are and this afternoon was no different. We didn’t journey far; we didn’t need to journey far. We just needed to be present in the moment.

1-bird's nest fungi

Our first find was actually a discovery she’d made the other day. In her front yard, mixed in with the acorn caps, were teeny tiny examples of Cyathus striatus or Splash Cup Fungi.

2-bird's nest

Only two weeks ago, she’d shown me a larger version of this Bird’s Nest Fungi in the form of Fluted Bird’s Nest, but today she had this miniature version to share. They really do resemble their common name.

3-beads of slime mold

Because our eyes were focused on the minute, it was no surprise that Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold, all beady in structure, should attract our attention.

4-stink horn

Our next great find discovered by my friend with the eagle eyes was a Common Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii). She said it stunk. I didn’t notice, but the flies loved it. Love, in fact, seemed to be a common theme, for on the stalk, which is typically white, appeared a heart, with arms/hands wrapped around below. Even though it’s “common,” I don’t often encounter any form of a Phallus fungus, so I’m not sure if the two-toned stalk is a common feature.

6-green stain fungi

The next discovery–the fruiting form of Green Stain Fungi (Chlorociboria aeruginascens). The turquoise fruiting body was only about a third of an inch in diameter and so it’s another one that’s easy to overlook. But . . . our movement was intentionally slow as we moved without expectation and were constantly excited by our discoveries.

7-onto the granite

At last, we stepped out of the forest and onto a bit of a bald spot where granite greets sky, with lots of life layered between the two.

8-liliputian world

And onto our knees we knelt for life on the granite was lilliputian in nature.

9-candy lichen

And varied, but it was the lichens that really pulled me into the fold. Some, like the Candy Lichen, a blue-gray crustose lichen with orange to salmon colored fruits, grew so abundantly that we practically ignored it.

9a-pixie cups

Then there were the delightful pixie cup goblets scattered throughout awaiting a visit from the wee folk.

10-British soldiers

And British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) standing tall yet branched as they watched over all, their crimson red caps bespeaking their ancestral heritage.

11-lipstick powderhorn

Beside them were a few Lipstick Powderhorns (Cladonia macilenta) with bright red caps above single stalks, rather like the lipstick I’ve never worn.

12-red-fruited pixie cups

And rounding out the red-cap series were the Red-fruited Pixie Cups (Cladonia pleurota), with their multiple red fruiting bodies outlining the cups.

13-red-fruited lichens

Pixie cups would have been enough. But pixie cups with bright red caps–and we were wowed. The other cool thing–like the Bird’s Nest Fungi with its splash cup form, these lichens offered something similar. The Bird’s Nest depends on droplets of water (think rain) to release its spores from the tiny “eggs” situated within each cup. For the Red-fruited Pixie Cups, it’s the same idea–the splash cup goblets allow the lichen to disperse its reproductive materials.

14-red-fruited brown

We found a few with the red caps turned brown and assumed they’d done their duty.

15- Ladder Lichen Cladonia verticillata

Just when we were about to move on my friend made another exciting discovery. Ladder Lichen (Cladonia verticillata) with its brown fruits reminded me more of fountains containing chocolate treats at the outer edge of each level.

16- Ladder Lichen Cladonia verticillata

Or perhaps a way for Jack to ascend from the world of the minute to the giants in the sky.

17-milkweed seeds

And with that, our eyes moved upwards–to the milkweed seeds that awaited their turn for release and a chance to find their own place in the world.

18-large milkweed bug

A Large Milkweed Bug reached the end of one pod, but the future possibilities seemed endless for it–as long as the spider web didn’t hinder any progress.

19-ash leaves

With upturned attention, we noted a young ash tree presenting its fall colors ranging from golden green to magenta all on the same trunk.

20-oak leaves

And even higher up, a Red Oak already showing off its carotenoid chemistry with yellows and oranges overtaking the green pigment.

21-colors

While fall foliage is at or near peak in western Maine and causing all of us to stop in our tracks to note the beauty of the live paintings that surround and embrace us in their ever changing way, its the color and variety and wonders at our feet that drew the attention of my friend and me today. And I’m forever grateful for her keen eye.

(And help searching for a needle in a haystack a little while later–thanks J.M.)