The Bears of Mount Tire’m

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

who might emerge.


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


Meditation in the City

Though I grew up outside New Haven, Connecticut, and spent a great deal of time there as a child/tween/teen, I am not a city girl. In fact, stepping onto a sidewalk in even the smallest of cities yanks me from my comfort zone.

And so it was with great surprise that I met a city I rather liked. Over the last thirty years, I’ve passed through it numerous times, but twice this past week, I followed my tour guide from one monument to the next–my eyes wide and mouth gaping open with each new view, the obvious sign of a tourist.


Meet my tour guide, Bob Spencer, who proudly displayed a future landmark sign.


Bob’s world view begins at City Center, aka Watson’s Falls.


From the home he and his wife, Gere, have made in a former mill, the view encompasses one of nine water privileges or mill sites. Theirs is the fifth privilege along the stream, which was originally granted to Isaac Smith in 1795 for a saw mill. Over the course of its lifetime, the building served as a cloth and linseed oil mill, saw mill, salt box factory and cider mill. I love that apples still dangle above the water, a reminder of that last rendition.


On Saturday, we stepped north for a few minutes, and chatted about the mill pond and its function while Bob pointed out foundations and retaining walls and told stories of the standing buildings.


Then we turned south along the brook, where remnants of dams and the stonework foundations of other water-powered mills flourished from the days of the town’s settlement until the mid 1900s.

Bob is a fellow writer and naturalist with a keen interest in history. I’m flattered that he shared this place with me as well as his own written musings:

For most travelers on busy state Route 35/37, our brook is of little interest or importance. To the village of South Waterford, however, a cluster of thirty buildings which lie on either bank of this stony rill, it has served as a source of life and vitality throughout much of history. Landforms here were carved into the granite bedrock as a much larger ice-age water course scoured out a valley between Bear and Hawk Mountains to the east and Mount Tir’em and Stanwood Mountain to the west. Native Americans gathered along its banks to fish and camp. Eighteenth century settlers were drawn to the environs for a source of their fresh water and of power to produce lumber and flour, which were essential to survival. Nineteenth century industrialists, before and after the Civil War, earned their livelihoods by producing both commercial and consumer goods traded locally and in cities such as Portland and Boston.


As we walk along he pointed out buildings still standing, those in stages of disrepair, and others that were merely memories. We paused by a meadow where he described the spring flooding events and I examined the evergreen wood ferns.


And then we noted the gouge that deepened as we climbed, where “a glacial moraine as melt water engorged the brook into a raging river 15,000 years ago. The brook serves as the marshy wetland home of fish, birds and mammals. Such a short stream can teach everyone who allows the time many lessons about our ecology systems: how they work and how they were born.”


At the emergence of the brook we’d followed with two smaller brooks (Mutiny and Scoggins), we paused as Bob described their origins and journeys.


And then we turned to Bear Pond–the outlet. The temperature was relatively warm and pond almost inviting.


With Bear Mountain overlooking, we’d reached the southern most point of the city.


On our return trip, we found numerous signs that local residents were still industrious. Sometimes they were successful and the trees fell to the ground.


As with all industrious efforts, there were times when hang ups prevented success.


Sunshine and late afternoon reflections gave me a taste of why Bob referred frequently to the meditative nature of this place.


As we climbed a small hill and crossed a field, we again approached City Center.


And then we doubled back, walking to the intersection of Sweden Road with Routes 35/37. Plaster mills, bucket mills, a carding mill, saw mill and grist mill–waterpower was a necessity to any enterprise–beginning with lumber sawed for dwellings, grain ground for life-sustaining bread, shingles for siding and roofing, carded wool for the seamstress.


With the sun’s rays dipping lower in the sky, we stood in awe of the sluice and thought about the men and oxen and all the work that went into creating the mill–before the real work actually began.


How many times have I traveled past this site and never spied it? Too many.


After our first tour ended, I paused at the southernmost end of Bear Pond for further reflection.


But . . . there was still more to see of the city and so a few days later I eagerly joined my tour guide again. This time we walked north, and wondered about the rock placements and considered their role as runways that once helped direct the water flow.


All along, we saw evidence of human intervention.


We noted the feather and wedge marks on split stones.


Barbed wire made us think about the land being used for agriculture. Though it didn’t seem that the land had been plowed, we wondered if farm animals had roamed. Bob reminded me that a carding mill once stood nearby and so we envisioned sheep.




Barrel wire and staves made sense to us, but we didn’t always recognize the artifacts for their use.


We even found a cellar hole, or perhaps a cellar hole, that Bob hadn’t seen before. Of course, we speculated. It certainly had structure. But why was it cut out around large boulders, we wondered.


And we noted the industrial work of trees that forged their own way beside the brook.


For every sight that we seemed to understand, there were more that we didn’t. With his vast knowledge of local history and the land formations along the brook, Bob pointed out natural and man-made features, but even he admitted he didn’t always get it. The pile of obviously quarried granite was one such.


Suddenly, we reached what might be considered the crossroads of long ago and more recent past.


To the west, an obvious rock sluiceway.


To the right, stanchions from a former, yet more recent power site.


This was all located at the original spot of the first dam along the brook.


Curiously, Bob explained as we walked along,  a more modern dam was built about a quarter mile north.


We’d reached Keoka Lake, formerly known as Thomas Pond. Supposedly, in the early 1900s, Thomas Chamberlain ran away from Native Americans and survived by hiding in a crack in a rock. Though the lake is no longer named for him, Tom Rock Beach holds his legacy. Today, the clouds told the story of the much cooler temperature. 


Bob directed my attention to our left, where Waterford Flats was visible.


And then we looked south, to the outlet of Keoka and the beginning of City Brook–the place where it all began. Though no longer held by dams and funneled through the rock sluiceways, it was the water that passed this very way that once provided the energy converted by water wheels and turbines to power the life of the city.




“Waterford City” as it was known, has changed, though some standing monuments still speak to its former life. Until Saturday, I had no idea the brook was named City Brook or that South Waterford was known as a city, so named for the industry that once existed here.

As Bob wrote, “The age of industrial prosperity is now long gone, victim to growth of large manufacturing plants which required more powerful rivers and many other economic changes since the 1870s. At that time, South Waterford was dubbed “Waterford City” for the noise and bustle brought to the town by nine mills and many supporting outbuildings lining the brook. Invisible to today’s busy passerby are many remnants of a past industrial heyday: a large concrete and split stone ruin on the access road to Keoka’s modern dam, two-story stone work that served as the foundation for a 19th century bucket mill, a simple shingled mill building atop a 1797 stone dam beside the town’s last rustic stone bridge. Further exploration may reveal lost foundations beneath the water surface, a 36-inch rusty circular saw blade, burnt remains of Waterford Creamery or an earthen dam long overgrown by bushes and brambles. These vestigial remains of human endeavor are of historical interest to many.”


After our tour came to an end,  I paused below the cider mill one more time–a fitting spot to share another of Bob’s ponderings on this place:

“The whirling bubble on the surface of a brook
admits us to the secret of the mechanics of the sky.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is appropriate to begin this study with a quote from American philosopher, existentialist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1802-1882), whose life spanned from early days of village settlement through the denouement of its industrial zenith. Emerson spent much of his boyhood visiting three aunts who lived in Waterford. He likely honed his naturalistic views while exploring City Brook or Mutiny Brook near Aunt Mary Moody Emerson’s home, Elm Vale, which was located across from the cemetery of the same name on Sweden Road.

This is one city I’m thankful to have visited. And I look forward to further explorations.

I’m grateful to Bob for sharing this place with me and especially for pointing out all of his favorite meditative places. Meditation in the city–Waterford City style.


Taking In The Views

The Pequawket Indians of Fryeburg, knew the 1,100-foot mountain in Waterford as the mountain that would “tire um out” because climbing its steep side wasn’t easy. Fortunately, a much gentler trail that is only a bit steep at the start, has led to the summit of Mount Tire’m for many moons. And that was my trail of choice this afternoon.

While my guys (and a girlfriend) toiled at the family business, I snuck off to the mountain to enjoy the views.


It’s located up the street from the quintessential New England village known around these parts as Waterford Flats. Think white clapboard houses, all of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And a triangular green. To the right of the sign is the former Lake House, which for many  years was a high-end restaurant and inn. It’s for sale now. And comes with an interesting history–in 1847, it was known as Shattuck’s Hygienic Institution, or “Maine Hygienic Institute for Ladies” and offered a water cure.

Another house on the  green was home to Artemus Ward, pen name of Charles Farrar Browne, a favorite author of Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain’s mentor.

Then there’s the  Waterford Library designed by John Calvin Stevens and his son, John Howard Stevens. And the former town office and meeting hall–ladies sat on one side of the room facing their menfolk during town meetings and were not allowed to vote or even speak. Can you imagine?


The Waterford Congregational Church was one of Stevens’ designs.

trail head

It’s easy to miss the nondescript trailhead located up the road from the church.

trail sign

The public path that has traversed the mountain for many years was apparently known as the Old Squire Brown Trail. From what I gather, Daniel Brown owned a large house and farm near Bear Pond–perhaps the Lake House? He was involved in town politics and went on to serve in both houses of state legislature, becoming known as Squire Daniel Brown.

Red trillium

Though the flower is long past, the leaves of Red Trillium reminded me that I need to hike this trail earlier in the spring.


Stonewalls announce that this land was once upon a time used for agriculture.

ash leaves 2

The odd leaf formation of this young ash tree made me stop. It has become host to either a fungus or insects who  are using the leaves as protection while they complete their lifecycle.

ash 2

Another ash has been invaded by mites that cause the raised galls.

challenges along the path

Like most trails, this one provides the rocks and roots that draw my eyes downward, so I pause frequently to look around. It’s just as well that I was alone, because not only was I taking my time, but my mind was so filled with chatter that I doubt I would have heard anyone else speak.

pine needles

On the drive to Waterford, I’d noticed that so many of the white pines are once again suffering from the needle drop fungus. The same was true on the trail. In the newspaper, an article about climate change referred to the needle drop as occurring for only the past several years. Methinks more like ten years. The fungus infests trees during a wet spring, such as we had last year and the resulting defoliation is seen the following year. So–I’m thinking out loud here–though we haven’t seen much rain lately, the needles are dropping because of last year’s infestation. While they look so pitiful right now, within a few weeks, they’ll finish dropping. But . . . do the trees have the energy to survive? And what about next year? Will it be a good year for white pines? And then I think about all the pinecones the trees produced last year–it was certainly a mast year, so maybe it doesn’t affect them to such an extreme. Yeah, this was the sort of chatter I was experiencing.

beech spots

Some beech leaves are displaying their own relationship with a fungus. Where only weeks ago, they were the site of beauty as they opened and their hairiness kept insects and others at bay, they can’t fight off everything. Nor can we.

candy pink insects

Through my hand lens, the bright pink on the Red Maple leaves has a crystal-like formation. It’s actually quite beautiful.

candy pinkcp2

I had no idea what caused this until I looked it up. These are maple velvet erineum galls, also caused by mites. Apparently they won’t harm the tree, so they aren’t considered parasitic. It’s all a wonder to me. If you do find this, take a close look.

spittle on hemlock

Growing up, whenever we saw spit on wildflowers and grasses, we assumed it was from snakes. A rather scientific observation. Do snakes even spit? And a foot off the ground? I’ve since learned that the foamy substance is the work of Spittlebugs. As the nymphs feed in the spring, they excrete undigested sap and pump air into it.

spittle 2

But I didn’t expect to see this on a hemlock. Turns out–there’s a pine Spittlebug that attacks evergreens. More reasons to keep my eyes open.

Keoka Lake and Oxford Hills

Enough about hosts and fungi. It was time to take in the views. About halfway up, Keoka Lake and the Oxford Hills are visible through a cut in the trees.

gnome home

Gnome homes are everywhere.


And finally, the summit with Pleasant Mountain in the background.

BP from summit

And Bear Pond and Long Lake below.

the rocks

No visit is complete without a stop at the glacial erratics.

the rocks split

Maybe I shouldn’t use the plural form as it’s obvious this was all one rock

the rocks 2

that split apart.

tr 5

Perhaps there’s more to come.

As the saying goes, “so much to see, so little time.” Thanks for joining me to take in the views.