Into the Mystery

Step along the path with the Greater Lovell Land Trust docents and you’ll soon discover that we don’t have all the answers, but we enjoy considering the questions.

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For starters, we love the otherworldly structure of beaked hazelnuts but why do they  have such long beaks? Is it to keep animals at bay? The fuzziness isn’t enough? And why do some beaks form where no nut is present? Plus, how do the animals know when they are ripe? We asked the latter as a couple of us stood in the Flat Hill parking lot this morning at the end of Heald Pond Road.

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The resident hazelnut is loaded and we’ve a feeling it won’t be long before they are harvested because as we looked under the leaves for other fruits, we discovered several splitting open. Perhaps that answers the question about how the animals know–do they smell the nuts that are exposed?

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Then there’s the Indian pipe that’s been fertilized. So, typically, the flower hangs down until fertilization. Who fertilizes it? I’ve heard moths and flies. But last year I saw a bee visit several. I’ve never seen either of the former, though they may be nocturnal. And then, how do the flowers make that transition from drooping to upright? Of course, it’s not just the Indian pipes that do that.

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Indian cucumber root is another example. Just a month ago, its dainty flowers drooped below and now the fruits have formed above the second layer of leaves. Soon, as the fruits mature and turn purplish blue, so will the inner ends of the leaves–why is that? Is it a shout out to birds that the fruits are located there?

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And then there was the marginal wood fern growing on top of a rock, its stipe or stalk below the blade covered with brown scales and fronds blue-green in color, which is often a give-away clue that it’s a wood fern. How does it survive on this rock where there isn’t much soil?

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We know how it got its name–for the round sori located on the margins of the underside of the pinnules or leaflets. Based on their grayish-blue color, they hadn’t yet matured. But why are some sori such as these covered with that smooth kidney-shaped indusium? What aren’t all sori on all ferns so covered? And why aren’t there more wood ferns in these woods?

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At last we arrived at our biggest mystery of all–a stone structure on the back side of Amos Mountain. Last summer, after we visited this site with Dr. Rob Sanford, a University of Southern Maine professor and author of Reading Rural Landscapes, we came away with so many questions about this structure located on a mountainside so far from any foundations.

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Who built it? What was it used for? Was there a hearth? Did it have a roof? Was it fully enclosed? Was there a front wall?

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Large boulders were used in situ and smaller rocks fit together. One part of the “room” is curved. For what purpose?

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Immediately after that walk with Dr. Sanford, two of our docents decided to dig in and do some research at the Fryeburg Registry of Deeds and Lovell Historical Society. They are currently in the process of doing just that and maybe the mystery will be solved soon.

As curious as I am about the answers, I think I’ll be a wee bit sad if they are able to tell the story. Stepping into mysteries keeps us all on our toes–forever asking questions and seeking answers. Stay tuned on this one.

 

 

 

Spring In Our Steps Mondate

Our usual celebration of the vernal equinox begins with a hike up Bald Pate Mountain with Loon Echo Land Trust, but either we missed it or we slept through it this morning even though we awoke before sunrise. Given that, we chose a different summit on which to welcome this new season.

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Our great debate, be it all one-sided, centered around which trail to follow in order to reach the top of the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s Amos Mountain. Knowing that the route from the Flat Hill parking lot would be mostly via the snowmobile trail, we (or I) decided on the Gallie Trail located off Route 5.

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From the start the snow was a bit crusty and hadn’t been traversed since the last storm, though a few critters had crossed it. We plodded along at breakneck speed, my guy trudging first while I followed and packed those spots between his prints.

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The hike begins with a gradual rise, but still I welcomed opportunities to take a rest, so quickly were we moving. It was the white target on beech bark that slowed me down. I knew what I was looking at but hadn’t seen it in this formation previously. In several spots on this tree, the beech scale insect presented itself in bull’s eye formation as it filled in small crevices on the bark.

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All winter the insects, in their nymph stage, have been blanketed with a wooly wax. Now that it’s spring, I need to keep an eye on this tree for the nymphs will emerge as short-lived second instars that will soon molt to become adult females. Will I see it happen? Will I know what stage I’m looking at? Stay tuned.

a-picnic table

My guy tolerated my curiosity and then we moved on, bypassing the old foundations where I suspect everyone was undercover. Certainly, the picnic table at the base of the Amos Andrews Trail had kept warm all winter.

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A picture of the man for whom the mountain was named hangs from a tree by the table.

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And along the way, terraced stonewalls on the east side speak to his occupation.

a-rock tripe

It was a boulder on the west side of the trail, though, that made me stop again. This time I really needed a break. The temperature had risen and black snow pants were absorbing the heat. Gloves–off. Hat–off. Sweater and turtleneck sleeves–pushed up. What caught my eye was the rock tripe that showed off its dry and wet forms. Lichens come in a variety of colors, but once wet, they turn green as the algal component kicks into action. Snow topped the boulder and its melting pathway was obvious.

a-approaching summit

I wasn’t the only one who was shedding clothing as we neared the summit.

a-sweet fern

Just before we got there, I spied some dried sweet fern leaves poking out of the snow. Sweet fern is a woody plant, rather than a fern, and its developing catkins were a sign of the transition that is slowly occurring. The good news about sweet fern is that not only does it smell wonderful, but it’s also a good insect repellent.

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Speaking of insects, next to the sweet fern I saw this tent caterpillar mass–a matrix of 150-400 eggs. It’s a shiny, varnished structure that encircles the branch and is a bit wider than a pencil.  The sweet fern won’t have any influence on the tent caterpillars or beech scale insects, but will help keep mosquitoes at bay.

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An hour after starting, we reached the summit, having followed the Homestead, Gallie and  Amos Andrews Trails.

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Lunch bench offered a great spot to sit and cool down.

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And take in the view–of Heald Pond on the left and Kezar Lake on the right, plus the mountains beyond.

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Our trek down was like a walk in the park and we practically floated. The snow had softened and our trail was packed making for a quick descent.

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But, we still had one more stop to make and I reminded my guy to turn left at the yellow birch–the most beautiful yellow birch on this route.

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I wanted to locate this very spot that is off the beaten path.

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And I wasn’t disappointed as we watched the water boil up through the sand in mesmerizing  movement. We’d found the spring once again.

Indeed, we found spring in our steps on this Mondate.

 

 

 

 

Same Old is New

Same old, same old. Sometimes it feels that way as we travel familiar trails and recognize members of the community. And so it seemed today.

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We paused to check on a few neighbors along the Homestead Trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve, but no one was home.

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And so we decided to climb to the summit of Amos Mountain.

Along the way, I realized we weren’t the only ones exploring this property–several times we saw where a mink had bounded across, even enjoying a short downward slide in the midst of its journey.

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From the summit, Kezar Lake stretched before us as we ate our PB&J sandwiches and Girl Scout cookies–Lemonades™.

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And another view, Whiting Hill in the center foreground and a peek at our beloved Pleasant Mountain, visible just to left of the center pines.

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On the way down we decided to explore the stonewalls for a bit, at times terraced and following the contour of the mountain.

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And that’s when the same old started to change. Yes, we found another bear tree.

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And on what side of the tree should we find the claw scars? Why the north of course, adding to our unscientific theory that bears climb trees on this side. Typically, the northern side is the uphill side. Our mission is to continue to pay attention to this–tough job that we choose to accept.

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Sometimes the walls appeared to enclose pens.

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And other times they opened–perhaps to pastures?

a-northern white cedar

As we wandered and wondered about the walls the farmer had created and why, we noticed other things we’ve somehow missed upon previous visits, including this northern white cedar tree.

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In what today appears to be the middle of nowhere, a small foundation. House? Shed? Sugar shack?

a-red-belted polypore

We climbed a hill to see what was on the other side and found this red-belted polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola) growing on an Eastern white pine. In Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England, he says this is “apparently not a picky fungus. F. pinicola has been recorded on more than 100 different species of tree hosts.”

a-stonewall last

The snow had softened since we first started so we did some slipping and sliding as we followed another stonewall back to the trail.

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And then my brain kicked into birch tree mode. These woods are filled with paper, gray and yellow birch. And next week, the GLLT will host a “Which Birch Is It?” walk about the birches and their relatives.

a-yellow bark

The ribbony curls and whorls of yellow birch bark are signatures of this tree that can change in color from silver to yellow to reddish brown and circle back to silver again in old age. Did you know that a yellow birch can live to 200 hundred years, unlike its cousins, the gray birch and paper birch? Gray birch live about fifty years and paper reach a ripe old age of somewhere between 50 and 150 years.

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Another cool fact about yellow birches: the interior of dead branches begin to decay quickly, even while still on the tree; eventually reduced to mush, the trees rid themselves of these non-productive limbs quite easily with the help of wind. Look for tubes of outer bark  filled with rotting wood on the ground.

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Also becoming visible as the snow melts, paper birch bark from downed trees. It seems curious that the lenticels resemble stitches, especially considering that Native American’s built sturdy, lightweight canoes from birch bark; the bark was stretched over a framework of white cedar, stitched together and sealed with pine or balsam resin. All the components exist in these woods.

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Back on the trail, a few other things revealed themselves, including smooth rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata). No matter how many times I see this, it’s never the same old.

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In great contrast to the smooth upper surface is the coarse pitch black of the underside reminding me of fresh tar–kind of like what town crews are using to fill pot holes right now.

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The greenness of the upper side was witness to the melting snow.

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Similarly, lungwort displayed its dryer gray presentation because it lacked moisture.

a-heading out

As we continued down the Gallie Trail, bypassing the Homestead, it seemed that we were back in the land of the sameness.

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But . . . speckled alder, a member of the birch family, is about to come into its own. While the burgundy brown male catkins hang from the ends of twigs, smaller female catkins await the release of pollen.

a-speckled leaf

Speckled alders are pioneer species–that first step in natural transition of farm land or logged land back to forest. In this instance, it’s both of the former.

And that’s not its only claim to fame. Speckled alders are nitrogen fixers. Atmospheric nitrogen absorbed by bacteria live in nodules on the alder roots and change into a form of nitrogen plants can utilize as fertilizer, thus fertilizing fields that may have been depleted of nitrogen by years of farming. Its leaves are also rich in nitrogen, so when they fall they help to fertilize soil. For some reason, this one chose to hang on, but its moment will come. In the meantime, it offers grace in form and design.

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Equally graceful, the hairy bracts and seed head of Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) found near the parking lot.

It’s all always been here. It’s all the same, day in and day out and yet it’s all new. Change is the only constant–offering moments of wonder.

 

 

What Would Jinny Mae See?

My friend, Jinny Mae, was recently blindsided by a dreaded diagnosis. It has slowed her down significantly, but today she was with me in spirit as I walked along the Homestead Trail/Gallie Trail at Heald and Bradley Pond Reserve in Lovell, and then headed to the summit of Amos Mountain.

What would Jinny Mae see? That became my mantra along the way. I love to explore with her because she makes me slow down and take a closer look. She asks questions. She is incredibly knowledgable about the natural world. And even more so about the historical context of our area.

So . . . this one is for you, Jinny Mae.

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It was a beautiful afternoon and the mosquitoes were almost non-existent. I felt Jinny’s presence in the breeze that kept the biting insects at bay.

Interrupted Fern

And I knew the Interrupted Fern would draw her in for a closer inspection.

dragonfly and cinnamon fern

As would the fertile frond of a Cinnamon Fern–and a dragonfly.

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She’d love the juxtaposition of a young Bracken Fern beside an older one.

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Then there was the wooly texture of the Common Mullein leaves begging to be caressed.

Foundation and stuff

Jinny Mae and I have explored these foundations before, so I needed to stop by again.

Hemlock foundation

And I knew that she’d marvel at how this hemlock tree has grown among the rocks and bricks.

Amos Andrews Trail

The Homestead Trail comes to an end at the handicap-accessible picnic area. And here the Amos Andrews Trail begins.

uphill

It’s a bit of an uphill climb, though not steep. For Jinny Mae, I’m thinking positive thoughts that her experience will be uphill all the way. Chin up, girl. You can do this. You’ve already amazed me with your attitude. May I strive to be half the person you are.

Maple Leaf Viburnum

There’s more to see like this Maple Leaf Viburnum,

wild oats

the three-angled seed pod of Wild Oats,

Indian Cucumber Root

flowering Indian Cucumber Root,

stone walls

terraced stonewalls,

young American toad

and a young American toad.

summit

At last I reached the summit.

stick bug

Again, I looked around and wondered what Jinny Mae might see. Despite its camouflage, I knew she’d find this walkingstick insect. The woman has eagle eyes.

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Maybe a more apt description is dragonfly eyes–with 30,000 lenses, they can see all the way around.

damsel fly

Not to be overlooked, a damsel fly.

strawberry

Wandering about, I found Wild Strawberries

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and Raspberries in bloom.

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But I saved the best for last. Wild Red Columbine. I can hear Jinny’s happy sigh. I was going to pick it. Kidding.

She’ll be happy to know that I arrived back at my truck three hours later. Another three hour tour–somehow that always happens when we explore together, so I knew for sure that she was channeling this hike.

Here’s to you, Jinny Mae. I know you would have seen even more than I found along the way, so I can’t wait to hit the trail with you again.