Rocking the First Mondate

Christmas gifts don’t always have to cost and such was one that my guy cashed in on today. You see, I gave him a card and wrote a message within that read something like this: “Let’s travel to Tin Mountain Conservation Center’s Rockwell Sanctuary in Albany, New Hampshire, one Monday this winter. Your task will be to identify three reasons why I chose this place for us to journey. If you figure out all three, I’ll buy you a beer.”

And so we went. And I wondered how quickly he would figure it out.

At the kiosk, we examined the map and decided we’d start off on the Maple Leaf Loop to the left and stay to the left, thus covering all of the outer trails. That meant we wouldn’t see everything, but in three or four hours we would see enough. Maybe.

From the get-go, he tried to figure out what three things I had in mind. Was it the signage on the trees for he appreciated that they boasted their names?

I liked that as well, but, no, the tree signs weren’t part of the deal.

What about the trail being well marked, he wondered. Yes, that was a good thing and we do sometimes have a tendency to get “fake” lost, but donning snowshoes meant we could always backtrack and find our way out. So that wasn’t it.

Could it be the decorated Christmas tree? Well, that certainly is what introduced me to the trail system a month ago for the tree was decorated as part of the ME/NH Christmas Tree Quest I’d coordinated, but that wasn’t why I wanted to travel these trails with him.

Maybe it was Chase Pond? No again. I did, however, love its layers and really wanted to walk onto it to explore some more, but I’m not ready to trust ice recently formed and then coated with an insulating layer of a foot of snow. Soon, but not yet.

In the meantime, however, the edge of the pond presented the woody structures of Leatherleaf’s former flowers and I rejoiced. He marched on, totally oblivious, but that was okay. I knew these would capture my heart, not his, and the goal was for him to figure out the three things that would appeal to both of us.

“Could it be the beaver works?” he asked as we circled the Beaver Loop.

No, but the high ridge of an old beaver dam in the mid portion of this photo made me wish we’d seen more recent works. It appeared the beavers had done their work and moved on a few years ago.

Was it the canoe half hidden in the snow? That surely was fun to stumble upon and reminded us both of canoes at LEA’s Holt Pond in Bridgton. This looked like another case of bring your own PFD and paddles. You might throw in some duck tape, just in case. But, no, it wasn’t the canoe.

We followed Stoney’s Spur down to the water’s edge and again a question: Perhaps it was that we could be the first to make tracks in the snow? Well, sorta the first, for a fox and mink had been there before us. I reminded him that when I wrote the message on the card I had no idea exactly when we would visit the sanctuary or what the trail conditions would be so again, that wasn’t one of the thoughts on my mind.

The spur did lead us to a boardwalk and we broke trail on it before heading back around to the Laurel Loop.

A sudden stop by me and he knew that this wasn’t part of the equation for he had no idea what the structure was that drew my attention. We find these occasionally and they always make me happy. This was the capsule of a Lady’s Slipper and while I suspected that there are more such plants in these woods, we’ll have to return in the spring to verify that assumption.

The Laurel Trail lead us across Bald Hill Road and it was there that the great signage we’d enjoyed came to an abrupt end. And so we moved about searching left and right to figure out where to go next.

No blaze led diagonally behind us, but down through the trees my guy spied some yellow paint and so he checked it out before beckoning me to join him.

It was that way for much of the trail and though we enjoyed the lay of the land, we had a difficult time determining where to go next.

The glacial boulders, however, were a sight to see.

And upon one I discovered an act of gravity I didn’t understand: icicles extending outward and growing parallel to the ground rather than perpendicular to it.

Was this some sort of magnetic hill? My guy never saw these so he couldn’t add his two cents, which I would have gladly welcomed. Sometimes he sees things that make sense of what I spy.

The thing about the trail, however, was that neither of us could spy the blazes most of the time, unless we turned around and looked back. We were supposed to be exploring a loop and crossing back over the road, but suddenly found ourselves traveling back toward whence we’d come. Even with GPS, which didn’t pick up the actual trail, we could see our movement but couldn’t determine where we were supposed to be since the map wasn’t geo-referenced.

That was okay because our wander found us traveling through a Mountain Laurel field we would have otherwise missed.

My guy was rather certain the plant was not for his focus and so he moved on while I paused for the old Kodak moment.

Finally crossing back over the road by backtracking our steps for a bit, he wondered if the Owl Prowl Trail was one of the three reasons I’d chosen this place. No, though we both love owl encounters.

Crossing a bridge, he didn’t realize that he was suddenly getting hotter.

The bridge marked the outlet of Chase Pond and huge boulders formed its old damming point.

Our next left hand turn took us on to the Quarry Trail.

As we traversed it, a lightbulb went off and he asked, “The quarry?” YES! Quarries fascinate both of us and I knew he’d enjoy finding and exploring this one. He was feeling rather successful and grateful that he wouldn’t be the victim of a shut out.

At the next intersection he had his second answer: Bear Trees. Bingo. But, would we be able to actually see any?

Indeed we would. We both love the discovery of scratches left behind by the big mammals.

And so, as we climbed about through the quarry, we continued to look for beech trees with marks showing the way of the climber.

The rocks left behind offered their own interesting forms.

And the trees, lots of evidence.

There was more on the trees as well, and not all of it worth celebrating: do you see the tiny white spots mingled occasionally among the red bloom? Those white dots are the minute beech scale insects. The holes the tiny insect makes in the bark create a perfect entry point for nectria pathogen to make its way into the tree. The pathogen, a type of fungus, kills some areas of the tree at the point of entry. In reaction, the tree develops a canker as a defensive attempt to ward off the invader, but by doing so the canker blocks the vascular tissue of the infected beech by stopping nutrient flow in that one area.

And those red spots, as pretty as they appear, are actually tarry spots which ooze out of the cracks in the bark caused by the canker. Essentially, it appeared the tree was bleeding.

We preferred to focus on the scratches, some indicating a more recent visit than others, based on the width of the marks.

We kept finding them and wondered how many more there must be within the sanctuary and beyond.

It was no wonder for many of the trees are mature and, as evidenced by the husks left scattered on the snow, they’ve been producing fruits, aka beech nuts, for a long time.

After almost four miles in three hours, my guy and I finished up our trip and he was thrilled to have figured out that I chose this place for the quarry and the bear trees. But the third reason alluded him.

That’s okay. It just means we’ll have to return again so he can figure it out. Of course, that also meant no stop for a beer on the way home.

Perhaps the next time. In the meantime, we’re both still thrilled with the finds we did make as we rocked this first Mondate of the new year.

Mondate on Mount Will

It’s been a while since we’ve actually had a Mondate. After two days of hiking the trails up Pleasant Mountain, today’s journey found us venturing a wee bit out of the neighborhood as we made our way through Bethel to Mount Will.

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The parking lot is located between these two signs. Part of the Mount Will trail system is within the 115-acre Bethel Town Forest that had served as the Town Farm back in the day.

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The South Cliff trail leaves from the left, while the North Ledges is on the right. This is a loop and we decided on a counterclockwise trek. It had been at least five years since we last hiked here and we’d forgotten about some of the steep sections.

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Of course, at the start, it seemed almost parklike. Three years ago, several local organizations including Mahoosuc Pathways, the Oxford County Conservation Corps, Outward Bound and the Bethel Conservation Commission rerouted this particular section of the loop.

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Now switchbacks wind their way up toward the North Ledge.

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When I wasn’t looking down, I scanned the woods, ever searching for my favorite species–bear claw trees.

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And I wasn’t disappointed.

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We saw them over,

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and over again. Oh happy day! We found more than these, which leads me to believe that there are even more. Let the search continue!

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A few trees displayed other surprise packages–burls or warty growths caused by some environmental condition such as injury, virus, fungus, insect infestation or mold. Though this growth can put stress on a tree if it becomes too heavy, generally trees with these features are healthy. And woodworkers covet burls for the unique pattern and beauty found within. That sounds like a comment on the world–we all have hidden treasures, but they aren’t always visible.

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Other tree growths include artist’s conk and

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red-belted polypores.

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The trail passed below rocky outcrops–and my imagination saw bobcats. But, what would they eat? The undergrowth is limited, so I doubted snowshoe hare. That being said, spruce and hemlock cones are many and red squirrels chided us constantly.

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Meanwhile, at a vernal pool just off the trail, all was quiet–and still partially covered in ice.

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Lunch rock was the North Ledge. Below, the Androscoggin River wends its way through the landscape. The Androscoggin has a long history as a life-giving force–beginning with the Abenaki Indians who used it as a water trail and knew the nuances of this 170-mile river.

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The fertile, ancient floodplain has served many a farmer, including the Carters who own the farm across the river below where we sat. While we ate, we shared our memories of cross-country skiing across those fields, beside the river and into the woods.

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We continued on across the ridge and through the spruce forest where the sap ran blue.

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Before turning toward South Cliffs, we caught a glimpse of the trails at Sunday River Ski Area in Newry.

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And then we saw a sign that had us wondering. The Gray Memorial? We had no previous memory of it, so we followed the detour and walked along a snowmobile trail for about a quarter of a mile.

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The story is sad. The airplane remnants powerful in suggestion. Upon arriving home, I found an article in the Sun Journal referencing the event. Leroy was a state trooper and his wife, Brenda, an executive secretary who became head dispatcher for the Bar Harbor Police Department. With their 14-year-old daughter, Karen, they were flying their Cherokee Piper to Bethel to spend time with relatives when the plane “crashed nose first” into Mount Will about 7:30pm. Despite her own injuries, Karen hiked down the steep mountainside to seek help. A somber site indeed.

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We backtracked to the trail and continued on to the South Cliffs, where our view again showed the river, with Route 2 following beside and both leading to Bethel village.

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Moving off the cliff, we were sure mountain goats had laid out the trail.

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Again, we were in bobcat territory, frequented by chatty red squirrels who seemed to feel quite safe as they scrambled from tree to tree.

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And then we moved into the land where the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz jumped out upon Dorothy and her friends. My guy started humming the music from his favorite movie. The reality is that these trees knew the wrath of previous storms.

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Once again the trail turned S curves as we continued downward and

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listened to water trickling over the mossy stream bed beside us.

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And then we found ourselves in the midst of a recent logging operation–remember, this is a working forest. Slash galore decorated the landscape, but we suspect that all of this will be chipped eventually. One thing we happily noted–bird song. Lots of bird song at this spot.

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We were almost to the bottom of the trail when an anomaly grabbed our attention and forced us to investigate.

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We’d stumbled upon a winter weather station. We only knew that because “winter weather station” was printed in faded paint across the box. So, we get the tape measure for snow depth, but the box? And the hole covered with mesh? Worth a wonder, so we did.

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Apparently, a moth appreciated the efforts of the citizen scientists who created this shelter. Our hike was over, but this chrysalis holds the future.

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We decided to complete our Mount Will Mondate with a visit to Artist’s Bridge over Sunday River–the perfect culmination of our love for nature and history.