Bear to Beer Possibilities: Brownfield’s Burnt Meadow Mountain

It’s been a while since my guy and I have ventured on a Bear to Beer Possibility hike, but today dawned bright and even a wee bit chilly. A perfect August day. A perfect hiking day.

As he dipped his hand into the little box filled with potential, Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield surfaced.

And so it was that we decided to hike up and down the Twin Brooks Trail rather than doing the loop to the North Peak. Though a bit longer, it proved to be a good choice as we came upon a couple of bear trees we hadn’t met previously. The first was the best for so many claw marks did it feature.

Even from the back side there was proof that not only was this our favorite bear tree, but it was also some bear’s favorite.

A little further on we found another we hadn’t met before. Or . . . perhaps we were meeting it for the first time all over again. That happens to us sometimes and, after all, we were approaching from a different angle than is our norm.

There were other things to slow us down, like the occasional Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly, especially in an area where the trail had been rerouted a few years ago during a logging operation and most of the growth is early successional.

And a Bald-faced Hornet nest that was quite active. “How does your nest grow?” I asked the lady of the house. “With chewed wood fibers mixed with saliva,” she responded. The result was an impressive condominium a few feet off the trail.

Continuing on, there was a cave that deserved a visit so my guy peeked in. Fortunately, no one peeked out.

And then . . . another bear tree, though not nearly as impressive as those we spotted previously.

Onward and upward we climbed. Thankfully, we didn’t have to partake of the heart-throbbing scramble of the North Peak Trail that sometimes gives me pause, but we still had some scrambling to do on the trail of today’s choice.

It was worth it, for we paused at one point and turned to take in the view of Mount Washington.

At last we reached the flat top of Burnt Meadow Mountain. It always amazes us that with all the boulders and ledges we encounter on the way up, the summit is rather like a mesa.

Lunch rock found us taking in the view to the east. The Atlantic Ocean is somewhere beyond the sea of trees.

And though there were still plenty of berries at the top, we never met an interested bear. (Almost 20 years ago, we did when hiking there with our sons.) Nor was my guy interested in what I typically call his blue gold.

Instead, he chose to nap.

As for me, well, you can guess what I was doing before we descended. This tiny dragonfly is a female Eastern Amberwing and this was our first meeting. I first met her male counterpart last month in NYC’s Central Park.

She wasn’t a bear, but in my book, she was the next best thing.

And the Backburner Restaurant in Brownfield wasn’t open when we passed by on our way home, so . . . our bear to beer possibility this time included bear trees but not beer. Even so, it was a great hike.

Bear to Beer: Bishop Cardinal to Lord Hill

Our destination sounded rather regal; as if we’d be paying our respects to Bishop Cardinal and Lord Hill. And indeed we did.

We also paid our respects to telephone poles. Well, actually only certain ones. They had to have a certain look–as if a Black Bear had backed into the pole and turned its head around at an angle and bit the wood with its upper and lower canine teeth thus leaving nearly horizontal marks that look like a dot and dash. In the process, the aluminum numbers had to be a bit mangled in order to receive our attention. This particular pole was right by the trailhead and so after examining it, we headed up the blue trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Bishop Cardinal Reserve on Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell.

Along the way, we examined every American Beech we saw, but actually passed by a spot where we know there are several with the marks we sought. If you go, look for the blue dot on the white arrow and hike in at a diagonal from there.

Our hope today was to find other bear claw trees we’d missed previously and so we kept going off trail in search. Turning onto the red trail, we continued to check. Sometimes it’s the shape of the tree’s crown that makes us wonder.

We have learned that we can’t dismiss any bark without walking all the way around and bingo–we had a new-to-us bear claw tree.

I don’t know why it is, but those marks make our hearts sing. Perhaps it’s the knowledge of the wildness of it all and the fact that we share this place with such intelligent beings.

Whatever it is, we decided that rather than creating waypoints for each tree we found, we’d try to remember the location by using other landmarks such as a certain waterbar that was intended to divert snowmelt and rain from washing out the trail. When you reach that certain waterbar on the red trail, turn left and walk in about twenty yards. If you don’t find our tree, perhaps you’ll discover another.

Continuing up the trail, we did note a few other favorites off to the right.

Sometimes, in my mind’s eye, I could just see the movement of the climber.

With one such tree, the marks were lower than most and I wondered if it was a younger bear. Of course, we have no idea how long ago those marks were left behind. Mary Holland suggests a way to age them that we haven’t tried yet. And we didn’t look for fresh marks. Really, we need to be better sleuths going forward.

In case you are wondering, occasionally we noted other points of interest, such as the burst of beech buds, their spring green leaves all hairy and soft, which is actually quite a contrast to the papery feel they eventually acquire.

Here and there, the cheerful display of Round-leaved Violets brightened the path.

And drone flies, with their bigger than life eyes, posed. Any black flies? Yes, a few, but not biting . . . yet.

We were almost to the old shack site, if you know where I mean, when our journey off trail revealed another fine specimen. Again, the claw marks were on the backside since we approached from the trail. Always, always, always circle about and you might be surprised.

Eventually, we reached the intersection with the trail to Lord Hill and continued our surveillance as we continued our hike.

Once we turned right onto the Conant Trail, we did find one tree with marks long ago made . . . by some bears with either an extreme understanding of relationships, or more likely, a few who weren’t all that intelligent after all.

At last, the trail opened onto the ledges overlooking Horseshoe Pond and it was there that we sat down on the warm granite as a nippy breeze flowed across. Enjoying the view of Horseshoe Pond below and the mountains beyond, we ate lunch.

We also toasted a few others with a Honey of a Beer brewed by Lee of another spelling! Dubbel Trouble was double delicious. Thank you, Lee Fraitag. 😉 Our toast was also doubled for we gave thanks to Paula and Tom Hughes, who live just below on the pond. Tomorrow we’ll enjoy a Mother’s Day Brunch at the Old Saco Inn courtesy of the Hugheses. 😉

Clink. Clink.

After enjoying lunch rock we journeyed up to the Lord Hill Mine.

According to mindat.org, Lord Hill Mine was “a former rare mineral specimen quarry. Briefly worked in episodes in the mid-20th century for feldspar. Originally a mineral collector’s site in the late 1870s. Opened by Nathan Perry and Edgar D. Andrews in the early 1880s. Originally called Harndon Hill, but the named changed in a complex change of names about 1917. Operated solely by Nathan Perry by 1882. Operated for massive topaz for educational mineral collections in the 1970’s by Col. Joseph Pollack of Harrison, Maine. The locality is the type locality for hamlinite, now regarded as a synonym for goyazite. Granite pegmatite. Oxford pegmatite field. Local rocks include Carboniferous alkali feldspar granite (muscovite accessory mineral).

We spotted several people busy digging for their fortunes and decided to let them. They either were so tuned in to their work that they didn’t hear us or they chose not to. No matter. After a quick look about, we quietly followed the mine trail down–our own focus still on the trees.

And at the point where the National Forest abuts the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s property, we turned back onto the land trust’s loop trail. We’d come up from the left, so turned right to continue our descent.

And yes, we found one more bear tree. Somewhere along the way, I lost track of the number of new finds. But, we trusted that for all we found, there were so many more we must have missed. And then some.

Back on Horseshoe Pond Road, we turned left and checked all the telephone poles along the edge, examining each for bear hair because we’ve seen it stuck on them before. Today, no hair.

So why do the bears pay attention to telephone poles? Think of it as a combo backscratcher and messageboard. Pretend I’m a young male, ready and available. Wanna go out for a date tonight? Give me a call.

Despite the lack of hair, because we were looking, we found a Mayfly. That in itself, was another reason to celebrate.

Bishop Cardinal and Lord Hill. We thank you both. Black Bears, we thank you. Lee, we thank you. Paula and Tom, we thank you. (Happy Mother’s Day, Paula) All are regal indeed.

Bear to beer possibilities: Bishops Cardinal Reserve and Lord Hill Mine.

Duck, Duck, Porky Bear!

Our mission today, which we chose to accept, was to revisit a Porcupine den and check on the activity there and if time allowed, find a certain Red Pine tree in the forest. We knew the location of the den for we’ve visited it several times in the past three or four months, but had only a vague idea of where the Red Pine grew tall.

The Porcupine’s entry hole was just as we’d remembered it, but it was the scene about that had changed since our last visit. Hemlock boughs decorated the still snow-covered forest floor in great quantity.

And so we looked up–at two trees now mere skeletons of their former selves. All that was left–backbones and ribs. The meat and flesh had been almost completely nipped off. But, it still made us smile for the Porcupine had done what Porcupines do. And except for our occasional visits, it seemed they’d not been interrupted by human interference.

The other thing Porcupines do is scat. Prolifically. Below their tree of choice. And by their dens. Of course, I needed to document such. This presentation offered a delightful contrast, subtle though it may have been, of the prickly rodent’s scat and a Hemlock cone. Sometimes the color is so similar, and as you can see the size is as well, that it’s difficult to tell them apart. But, if we are what we eat, then their similarities make perfect sense.

After admiring the Hemlocks, we returned to the hole and noticed a few quills. You may need your detective eyes to locate them. I’ll leave it at that (Faith and Sara–good luck).

And then we moved out to the edge of the brook to check on another entrance to the same den. It didn’t appear to have been used recently, but that got us wondering about the melting snow. Having said that, we could see the pathway created to the upper right of the tunnel was worn, but any scats we found there were quite dried out and deteriorated to the point of being almost unrecognizable.

Just above the tunnel, however, a new discovery–another Porcupine tree. This one a Beech sapling–most of it denuded of bark and even a few twigs. Our questions continued. Was the upper part of this seven or eight foot tree dined upon when the snow was deep? And the lower part as the snow melted? Or had the Porcupine recently climbed up? How in the world can such a large animal climb such a small tree without snapping the trunk in half? I could practically wrap my thumb and pointer finger around it. Ah, but they do. Another amazing feat by one with grippers for feet.

Leaving the Porcupine area behind, we moved along beside the brook and paid our respects to the Itt family. Cousin Itt and his cousins stood clustered together eagerly awaiting the sun that was to come.

Our slow motion then found us beside a stump upon which Pixie Cup lichens grew. Pixie Cups or Goblet lichens are members of the Cladonia group. This find made us realize that as the snow pack dwindles we have so much to learn or relearn. Thank goodness it’s a slow melt and we have time. 😉

Our time today next involved a magic trick. One of us poked the blisters on the trunk of a Balsam Fir.

With a glob of resin attached to the broken twig, she tossed it into the water. Then we stood and watched . . . as the oil dispersed, changed shape and colors, and the tiny piece of twig moved about like a water fairy’s motorboat.

The essential oil within the sticky tree goo propelled the twig and created a map that could have been the United States.

As we watched, some of the oil broke away and feathered out in the movement of the water . . . but in a fashion we didn’t understand for it seemed to only float so far and then circled back.

As I said, we watched for a while, and where the little twig settled, we began to notice another shape emerging . . . a duck. Some people look at clouds, but we were fascinated by a substance that has antiseptic properties to seal cuts and protect them from infection, lessens the pain of burns if smeared gently onto skin, and serves as nature’s gasoline when one wants to start a fire. Oh, and reacts in water by creating fascinating rainbows while propelling objects.

At last we pulled away for I had a time crunch, but we still wanted to reach the Red Pine. To get there, we passed a Turkey kill site we’d discovered in January. The feathers remained and reminded us of the day we’d spent trying to solve the mystery of the Turkey’s demise. If nothing else, we came up with a good story that day.

From the feathers, we journeyed on, reaching the edge of a wetland that stretched away from the brook. My time was running out, but we gave ourselves six more minutes (why not five, you ask? Why not?) and scanned the tree tops in search of one Red Pine. And then . . . we spied it.

We weren’t the first, for a Winter Firefly moved out from under the bark as we admired its colors and jigsaw presentation–of the bark that is. We admired the insect as well, but that bark. Oh my.

And then our real “Oh my!” exclamations began for we had found what we sought. Bear claw marks on the bark! They are much more subtle on Red Pines than American Beech, but as we circled the tree we kept seeing them.

The thing about the Red Pine is that the flaky bark must make it difficult to climb, but then again, we couldn’t tell how high Ursus americanus had gone. Mind you, we didn’t look at any other trees in the forest, and as I sit and think about this one now, I can’t wait to return (I’ve a feeling my guy will want to be in tow for the next expedition) because this morning I’d forgotten that Black Bears use lone Red Pines as communication poles–turning their heads and biting into the tree while rubbing their backs against it to leave a scent (Think date night invitation). Usually, some hair is left behind in the sap. We did located old Pileated Woodpecker holes filled with sap, but no hair. Yet.

Our journey out was more of a bee-line because our six minutes took longer and I was a wee bit late to an interview, but my hostess was gracious when I explained that a Red Pine had held me up! And then on my way home I stopped by some more open water and much to my delight, a pair of Wood Ducks struck just the right pose.

And now I’m torn. Which duck do I prefer? The Balsam Fir Duck or the male Wood Duck? Such decisions to have to make at the end of the day.

Duck, duck, porky bear! They were each special in their own way.

Cranberry Memories

It’s amazing how a simple act such as taking cranberries out of the freezer and transforming them into a relish can take one back in time, but so it did today.

My family knows best that I’m not a foodie, and cook only because we can’t survive on popcorn alone (drats), but one of my favorite flavors brings a burst of tartness to any meal. And as I concocted the simple cranberry orange relish we so enjoy, moments spent picking them kept popping up.

On several occasions last fall, I bushwhacked toward the fen, stopping first to explore the kettle holes that dot the landscape.

And though I love tracking all winter, it’s those unexpected moments in other seasons when I recognize the critters with whom I share the Earth that make my heart quicken.

Especially when I realize that one of my favorites has also passed this way, stomping through the water . . .

and then onto the drier land. Yes, Ursus americanus had been on the hunt as well.

He wasn’t the only one fishing for a meal, though of a much smaller spidery-style scale.

And then there were my winged friends, the meadowhawks.

I remember the mating frenzy occurring as that most ancient of rituals was performed both on the leaf and in the air.

Other winged friends, showing off a tad of teal, dabbled nearby.

Eventually, I tore myself away from the kettle holes and tramped through winterberry shrubs filled with fruits and cinnamon ferns ablaze in their fall fashion.

After all, my destination was the cranberry fen.

And last year was a mighty fine year for those little balls of wonder that hid below their green leaves. I filled my satchel to overflowing before taking my leave, knowing that in the coming months I’d share the foraged fruits with family and friends and remember time well spent.

Not only did the abundant fruit make it so special, but on my way out I stumbled upon another kettle hole and much to my delight spotted two Sandhill Cranes, part of a flock that returns to this area of western Maine on a yearly basis.

While the cranes foraged on the ground, a Great Blue Heron watched them approach.

And then in flew a Bald Eagle who eventually settled in a pine tree beside a crow.

With that, the cranes flew off and a few minutes later so did the heron. And then I left, trying to find my way out, but I’d gotten a bit twisted and turned and ended up cutting through someone’s yard to get back to the road. Because I was a wee bit confused, I couldn’t find my truck right away, and in the process of looking I dropped a few cranberries. It was all worth it! And still is as we’ll enjoy that relish in our chicken salad sandwiches tonight.

Ah, cranberries. And bears. And spiders. And dragonflies. And birds. Ah, cranberry memories.

Framed by the Trees

Our journey took us off the beaten path today as we climbed over a snowbank at the end of Farrington Pond Road and onto the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. We began at a piece of the parcel neither Pam Marshall or I had ever explored before, which added to the fun. At first, we followed the tracks of a giant, and eventually decided they might have belonged to another human being. Might have. Always wonder.

And then we were stopped in our tracks as we looked up and recognized a Great Blue Heron–or so it seemed in the dead snag that towered over the edge of Farrington Pond. Except for one tiny area of water, the pond is still very much ice covered so it will be a while before this ancestor of the Greats sees her relatives return.

Standing beside the bird-like structure was another that helped us find beauty and life in death.

We peered in, and down, and up, and all around. With each glance, our understandings increased. So did our questions.

There were holes that became windows looking out to the forest beyond.

But those same windows helped us realize they were framed by the results of their injuries. You see, it appeared that a pileated woodpecker had dined on the many insects who had mined the inner workings of the tree. After being so wounded by the birds, the tree attempted to heal its scars as evidenced by the thick growth ring structure that surrounded each hole. Or at least, that’s what we think happened.

To back up our story, we looked from the outside in and saw the same.

We also noted the corky bark with its diamond shapes formed where one chunk met another.

And much to our surprise, we found one compound leaf still dangling. No, this is not a marcescent tree, one of those known to hold its withering leaves to the end of time (or beginning of the next leaf year). But instead, this old sage is one of the first to drop its leaves. So why did one outlast the race? Perhaps to provide a lesson about leaves and leaflets, the latter being the components of the compound structure.

Adding to the identification, we realized we were treated to several saplings growing at the base of the one dying above. By its bud shape and opposite orientation we named it Ash. By its notched leaf scars and lack of hairs, we named it White. White Ash.

Because we were looking, Pam also found a sign of life within. We suspected a caterpillar had taken advantage of the sheltered location, but didn’t know which one.

About simultaneously, our research once we arrived at our respective homes, suggested a hickory tussock moth. Can you see the black setae within the hair?

Pam took the research one step further and sent this: “I read that the female lays eggs on top of the cocoon and then makes a kind of foam that hardens over them so they can survive the winter. How cool is that?” Wicked Cool, Indeed!

We probably spent close to an hour with that tree, getting to know it from every possible angle.

And then it was time to stop looking through the window and to instead step into the great beyond.

We did just that, and found another set of mammal tracks to follow. Tracking conditions were hardly ideal and we followed the set for a long way, never quite deciding if it was a fisher or a bobcat, or one animal traveling one way and another the opposite but within the same path.

Eventually, we gave up on the shifty mammal and made our way into the upland portion of the property where I knew a bear claw tree stood. Pam’s task was to locate it and so she set off, checking all the beech trees in the forest.

Bingo! Her bear paw tree eyes were formed.

It was a beauty of a specimen that reminded us of all the wonders of this place.

From that tree, we continued off-trail, zigzagging from tree to tree, but never found another. That doesn’t mean we visited every tree in the refuge and so we’ll just have to return and look some more.

We did, however, find some scratch marks on a paper birch.

They were too close together to have been created by even a young bear, but we did consider squirrel. Wiping off the rosy-white chalk that coated the bark, we did find actual scrapes below. Now we’ll have to remember to check that tree again in a year or so and see what we might see.

What we finally saw before making our best bee-line out (don’t worry, our Nature Distraction Disorder still slowed us down) was the view of Sucker Brook and the mountains beyond.

At last we pulled ourselves away, but gave great thanks for that ash tree that framed our day and our focus and for all that we saw within it and beyond.

Doozy of a Playdate

When I sent out the invite to the Maine Master Naturalist Program’s Lewiston 2013 class for a tracking expedition at one of two possible locations, grad Alan responded, “Any place you pick in western Maine is fine; you know the area and conditions well. The only request I have is for you to try to show me a ‘bear tree.’”

Bingo! I pulled a third location out of my hat because it was within an hour of those who would join us and I knew that it passed the bear tree test.

And so six of us met at 10am, strapped on our snowshoes, and ventured forth. It’s always such a joy to be with these peeps and talk and laugh and share a brain.

Because our focus at first was on beech bark while we looked for bear claw marks left behind, we also shared an imagination. One particular tree made us think of a horseshoe.

Even

Eventually we found a few trunks with the etched scratches of bear claws that had grown wider with the years. After the first find, which was actually on a different tree, the others developed their bear tree eyes and became masters at pointing them out.

And though we’d come to track, there wasn’t a whole lot of movement in the preserve except for the occasional deer. But . . . we still found plenty to fascinate us, including Violet-toothed Polypore.

Alan was the fungi guru of the group and so to him we turned to confirm our ID. We were correct, but in the process he taught us something new about this gregarious mushroom. There are two types of Violet-toothed: Trichaptum biforme grows on hardwoods; Trichaptum abietinum grows only on conifers. Now we just need to remember that. Before our eyes the former reached to the sky on the red maple.

All along, as I’ve done all winter, I searched for an owl in a tree. Penny found one for me. Do you see it?

What I actually saw more than the owl was the face of a bear. OK, so I warned you that we took our imaginations with us.

We were almost down to the water, when the group paused. Tracks at last. Near water. Track pattern on a diagonal meaning one foot landed in front of the other in a consistent manner for each set of prints. Trail width or straddle: almost three inches. Stride we didn’t measure because it varied so much, but it was obvious that this mammal bounded through the landscape. Identification: mink. Repeatedly after first finding the tracks, we noted that it had covered a lot of territory.

At last, we made our way out onto the wetland associated with South Pond and followed the tracks of a much bigger beast–in fact multiple beasts: snowmobiles.

Rather than find lunch rock, we chose lunch lodge and stood in the warm sun to enjoy the view.

We did wonder if it was active and determined that though there had been some action in the fall as evidenced by the rather fresh looking sticks, there was no vent at the top so we weren’t sure any beavers were within. Maybe it was their summer cottage.

Close by, however, we found another lodge and the vent was open so we didn’t walk too near.

Because we were on the wetland, we did pause to admire the cattails, their seeds exploding forth like a fireworks finale (but of the silent type, which I much prefer).

Back on the trail, the bark of another tree stopped us. We looked at the lenticels, those lines that serve as a way to exchange gases much like our skin pores, and noted that they were thin rather than the raised figure 8s of a pin cherry.

We had a good idea of its name, but to be sure we conducted a sniff test.

Smells like . . . wintergreen! We were excited to have come face to face with black or sweet birch. Some also call it cherry birch. Hmmm . . . why not wintergreen birch? Because, yellow birch, a relative, also has that wintergreen scent when you scratch the bark, especially of a twig.

Continuing along, the temperature had risen and snow softened so periodically we had to help each other scrape snowballs off the bottoms of shoes.

Otherwise the feeling was one of walking on high heels.

As I said earlier, all kinds of things stopped us, including the straight lines of the holes created by sapsuckers, those warm-weather members of the woodpecker family. One in the neighborhood apparently decided to drum to a different beat as noted by the musical notes of the top line.

Speaking of woodpeckers, for a few minutes we all watched a pileated and admired its brilliant red crest in the afternoon sun, but we couldn’t focus our cameras on it quickly enough as it flew from tree to tree. We did, however, pause beneath a tree where it had done some recent excavation work.

And left behind a scat that resembled a miniature birch tree.

At last, four hours and two miles after starting (we’d intended to only be out for three), we’d circled around and stopped again at the kiosk to look at the map. Do note that we’d also picked up a passenger along the way for Carl Costanzi, a Western Foothills Land Trust board member and steward of the Virgil Parris Forest came upon us and joined our journey. We picked his brain a bit about the property and he picked up a pair of snowshoes that had malfunctioned for one of us. Thank you, Carl! That’s going above and beyond your duties.

Before departing, we did what we often do–circled around and took a selfie.

And then we left with smiles in our hearts and minds for the time spent reconnecting. Our memories will always be filled with the discovery of the first bear tree not too long after we began. As Penny said, “That first one was a doozy.”

Our entire time together was a doozy–of a playdate.

Thanks Beth, Gaby, Roger, Alan, and Penny. To those of you who couldn’t join us, we talked about you! All kind words because we missed you.

Bear to Beer: Middle and Peaked Mountains

My guy opened his Christmas Bear to Beer box and considered the possibilities. The winner was . . .

Middle to Peaked Mountains in North Conway, New Hampshire.

The day had dawned warm after the recent deep freeze and so we had to consider how to dress and what to use for footwear.

Given that our route would take us uphill as we ascended via the Middle Mountain Trail to Middle Mountain, retrace our steps to the connector before summiting Peaked Mountain and then follow the Peaked Mountain Trail down, we knew we needed to dress in layers, but not quite so many and not quite so heavy.

We also weren’t sure of our footwear until we arrived at the parking area and saw the well-packed trail. Our choice–micro-spikes over snowshoes. We only hoped that when we reached the intersection of the Middle Mountain Trail and the Connector Trail, we wouldn’t regret our decision. But time would tell.

In the meantime, after we climbed over the snowbanks to get to the trailhead, we had to conquer the gate. We’ve climbed Peaked in the past, as well as walked the Pudding Pond Trail, both part of the Green Hills Preserve, so we knew that typically one walks around the gate. Today, we merely stepped over it–which tells you something about the snow depth.

At .2 miles, the trail comes to a T. The right hand route leads to Pudding Pond, while the left requires a brook crossing before continuing on to the mountain trails.

A bit further along, we came to one set of several that denote the trail system. In terms of following it via the signs, trail blazes, and well worn path, it was easy. Given the soft snow conditions and contour, we’d rank it a moderate hike.

It was one that got the hearts pumping, which is always a good thing. And when one of us needed a rest, we pretended that we just wanted to admire the sound and sight of the gurgling brook.

We passed through a few natural communities, including hemlock groves, and mixed forest. But our focus was really on any beech trees and by the leaves that littered the path, we knew there were plenty.

We scanned the bark every time we spied a beech, and saw not a nail scrape anywhere. But . . . sad to say we did notice tarry spots which oozed out of the cracks in the bark caused by cankers a tree develops as a defensive attempt to ward off beech scale insects and the nectria pathogens that follow their entry points.

The community changed again as we approached the summit of Middle Mountain, where red pines dominated the scenery. And in the warm sun, the snow became softer.

Two miles and some sweat equity later, we’d shed some clothes and reached the top.

From there, my guy went in search of lunch rock and I eventually followed.

It was actually more of lunch ledge and we set up camp, using the jackets we weren’t wearing as our seating area.

The view beyond our feet included Conway Lake in the distance. Lunch consisted of chicken salad sandwiches made with our own cranberry orange relish offering a taste of day in the fen picking berries, a Lindt peppermint dark chocolate ball, and an orange, topped off with frequent sips of water.

While we sat there, I did what I do. There were no beech trees to look at and so I focused in on the bonsai red pine in front of us. Its form, unlike its relatives who stood tall behind us, was the result of growing on the edge of the ledge where it took the brunt of the weather.

I took the liberty of turning a photo of a lower branch 90 degrees because I could see the face of the tree spirit reaching out as it formed a heart. It is February after all.

But enough of that. We were on a mission to find a bear paw tree. When I chose this trail, I had no idea if we’d see one. Yes, we’d climbed Peaked in the past, but never had we noticed any trees with such marks left behind.

So, down we slid, I mean climbed, off Middle Mountain until we reached the connector and could see Peaked’s summit in the background.

We weren’t too far along when our constant scanning paid off! Bingo. A bear paw tree. Some people bag peaks. We bag bear paw trees.

Our mission accomplished, though we continued to look, we journeyed on to the second summit.

From there, we had more of a view of North Conway below, the Moats forming the immediate backdrop, and Mount Chocorua behind.

In front of us, we looked across to Middle Mountain from whence we’d just come.

And behind, Cranmore Mountain Ski Area and Kearsarge North in the background.

With my telephoto lens I could pull in the fire tower atop Kearsarge. It’s among our favorite hiking destinations.

We didn’t stay atop Peaked as long as we had on Middle because the wind was picking up. On our journey down, the mountain views included Washington.

We continued to look for bear trees but found no others. That being said, there were plenty of beech trees on the Peaked Mountain Trail, but the sun was in our eyes for much of the journey, and we had to pay attention to where we placed our feet because traveling was a bit slippery given the soft snow. Maybe there were others after all, and we just didn’t notice.

We completed the 5.5 mile hike about four hours after beginning, ran a few errands, and finally found our way to the finish of today’s bear to beer possibility at the Sea Dog Brewing Company. Black bears like to sip too!

Election Day Tramp

It always strikes me that no matter how often one travels on or off a trail, there’s always something different that makes itself known–thus the wonder of a wander.

And so it was when Pam Marshall, a member of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, joined me for a tramp at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge West on Farrington Pond Road this morning. She had no idea what to expect. Nor did I.

13-puff balls to pop

It was misty when we met, but neither of us was daunted by the weather. Ever so slowly, we made our way over the wet leaves, roots, and rocks, pausing frequently–especially each time we saw puff balls. How can one resist poking or squeezing them to watch the spores waft out like smoke. The skin of mature puffballs split prior to releasing spores. And we . . . we helped the process a wee bit.

20-blue stain fruiting

Green stain fungus also drew our attention. Its fruiting bodies were minute, but well worth wet knees for a closer examination.

19-hexagonal-pored polypore

With Pam in the lead for most of the way, she kept finding cool stuff, like this hexagonal-pored polypore.

1-Sucker Brook Outlet

It took us a while, but we finally reached the wetland by the Sucker Brook Outlet where blueberry, maleberry and leatherleaf shrubs added color to the otherwise gray day.  For a while we stood under the protection of a large hemlock and took in the scene in silence.

2-Silhouettes on Lower Bay and cotton grass

From our vantage point, an island in Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay looked like a ghost ship. And in the foreground, cotton grass still touted its tufted heads.

3-beaver lodges

At our feet we could see some aquatic plant roots floating in the water, a beaver treat, and trusted by the mud on the lodges that there had been recent activity. Perhaps they rested indoors before planning to spend time later in the day preparing for the cold months ahead.

4-Pitcher Plants

After a while and because I knew they were there, I took Pam along the edge of the brook for a short distance to locate several pitcher plants. Someone once photographed them in their young green form and described them as rare. While helping Dr. Rick Van de Poll, principal of Ecosystem Management Consultants (EMC) in Sandwich, New Hampshire, set up study plots at Lakes Environmental Association’s Highland Lake Reserve in Bridgton during July 2017, we had to watch where we stepped to avoid crushing pitcher plants. It was a perfect time to ask Rick about the green color. Were there green pitcher plants in Maine? And if so, were they rare? He explained that it was just a matter of sunlight and age, all would eventually take on a redder hue in veins and then overall leaf coloration as they matured.

5-pitcher plant runway

This morning, we found some sporting brighter red leaves.

6-spiders within and webs above

And another plant that was duller in color. Since we were in the locale where the green plant had been discovered, I trusted that it was beginning to show its age. It was the duller one that drew most of our fascination. Carnivorous pitcher plants obtain nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Their oddly-shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: an insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Do you see what we saw? A spider web across the top of the leaf? And within?

8-larger spider manuevering the smaller one

Dueling fishing spiders.

9-pulling it under its body

And so we watched.

10-and out again

The larger one continuously manipulated the smaller one, which appeared to be dead. Back and forth under its body, it kept moving the smaller kin.

11-and back under

Was it trying to eat the other? One last meal before it too succumbed to the plant? Was it trying to move past the dead spider so it could try to climb out? Should we save it?

12-let 'em be

In the end, we left the action with questions in our minds and didn’t interfere.

7-watching the spider action

Except, that is, to take photographs and make a film. Again, our knees were wet and we didn’t care.

14-pigskin puffball 1

Back on the trail, we found an area where Earthballs decorated some old lumber slash. Their warty outer skin drew our attraction.

15-skin of pigskin

Another common name for Scleroderma citrinum is Pigskin Poison Puffball. Since it’s football season, it’s good to note that footballs used to be made of a pig’s . . . bladder and not its skin, though historically they were called pigskins. Rather than feel leathery, these seemed more rubbery, thus the reference I guess.

15-popping pigskin

And because they were puffballs, they invited a poke.

16-an explosion of spores

From a couple of slits, mature blackish spores erupted. I had to chuckle for no matter with whom I share a trail, puffballs always invite the same reaction–pick up a stick and give it a jab. And each time we share the same moment of glee. And our inner child is released one more time. Thankfully.

18-insect within pigskin

Of course, we found ourselves on our knees yet again when Pam spied something within an Earthball that had exploded prior to our visit. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an inanimate insect that looked like it was covered in spores. Canary in the coal mine?

25-Pam and the bear scat

Our next great find was of a different sort and I had to pull the Trackards from my pack while Pam got down for another upclose and personal look. Notice her knee?

22-bear scat

Black bear scat! Indeed. Cylindral and large. We looked for tracks, but conditions were such that we didn’t find any. The scat was enough for this day.

24-Tamaracks

If you go, we strongly encourage you to follow the green trail all the way to the bird/wildlife viewing point along Sucker Brook. Today, the tamaracks on the shore to our right added a tone of bright beauty to the overcast day.

25-Sucker Brook--beaver lodge

And another old beaver lodge also looked like it had received a mud treatment. We could see some beaver chew sticks in the water by the edge of the brook and so we knew again that there had been recent activity. It just means we’ll have to return for another visit if we want to catch some action–perhaps earlier in the day.

In the meantime, we let the view point become our turn-around point and quickly (sorta) followed the blue trail back for we both needed to move on to the rest of our day.

But . . . despite the mist and occasional raindrops, we elected to tramp. And were delighted with the results. Here’s hoping the rest of the day goes like that.

 

Bishop Cardinal Reserve: Where (Wo)Man and Nature Intersect

Perhaps we should have tiptoed and tried to silently pass through the woods much the way a fox or bear might, but that is not our habit. And so on today’s Tuesday Tramp for the Greater Lovell Land Trust, we chatted and wondered aloud as we hiked along the  trails of Bishop Cardinal Reserve on the upper side of Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell. Consequently, our wild mammal sightings were non-existent. Despite that, we saw soooo much.

9-docents Bob and Pam

Our team was small this morning, with only docents Bob and Pam joining me, but still we made plenty of noise as we looked about.

4-bear pole

The first sign of mammal and human interaction, of course, was the telephone pole beside the trailhead. If you’ve traveled with me either literally or virtually before, you know how I LOVE a telephone pole. It’s not the fact that such brings electrical power and other modern day amenities to our homes, but instead the realization that bears are attracted to them and like to leave a mark as they claw and bite at the anomaly in the forest surroundings. I always check for hair left behind, but today was disappointed to find none.

5-scratches on bear poles

Despite the lack of hair, there were a few newer scratches worth celebrating.

6-spider

And a small spider tossed into the mix. The temperature was on the chilly side as the wind blew, but not cold enough to begin the process of accumulating glycols in its blood (e.g., antifreeze) that would allow the spider to supercool. By physiologically adapting via special antifreeze compounds, the tissues of some Maine spiders remain unfrozen at temperatures well below freezing, and thus avoid turning into little blocks of ice once winter sets in. Of course, had it been a little bit cooler, this spider probably would have hidden in the leaf litter below rather than trying to send a telegram via the phone pole.

7-bear tree

A little further along the trail, however, we did find more bear sign in the form of claw marks on beech trees. And that raised the question: Do bears only climb beech trees? No. But, beech bark is one of the best to show off their signature scratches.

10-Pam's bear tree 1

After I showed Pam and Bob a couple of trees with claw marks, they began to look about and Pam spied one I’d not noticed before.

10-Pam's bear tree

Congratulations on your First To Find (FTF) Award, Pam! Well deserved.

11-deer skull

It wasn’t only bear sign that made the walk intriguing. A year and a half ago, this same couple had spied an entire deer carcass along the lower part of the trail. And so when we arrived in the vicinity today, we looked around. And eagle eyes Pam spied half the skull atop the leaves. What had happened to the deer? Human interaction? Old age? It was a rather large skull.

12-herbivore teeth

My, what flat teeth it had. Because herbivore teeth are highly specialized for eating plant matter which may be difficult to break down, their molars tend to be wider and flatter, thus allowing the animal to grind its food and aid in digestion.

13-lower jaw

We looked about for other bones and had to satisfy ourselves with a lower jaw. Had the rest of the skeleton been scattered and we just couldn’t see it below the recent leaf cover or had mice and other rodents dined on the bones from which they sought calcium? Coyotes, bears, and even another deer may also have moved the bones and found their own nourishment. Whatever happened, we knew it had been recycled . . . naturally.

14-coyote scat

And not far away on the edge of a bridge over a stream . . . coyote scat. It was not fresh, but fresher than the deer skull event, and full of hair. On what did the coyote dine? Snowshoe hare? Gray squirrel? Some other delectable offering? We weren’t sure.

15-squirrel storage

Dinner in the woods came in many forms, however, and on a fallen tree about four feet from the ground we found a mushroom turned upside down. Despite recent wind storms, we didn’t think it had blown up to that spot. Instead, a squirrel had set it there to dry. A squirrel’s food pantry is far bigger than a kitchen cupboard. Would it remember where it had placed the mushroom? Probably. Would another squirrel discover and snag it? Possibly.

16-squirrel storage

But there were others set in different spots to dry, so the original cacher might have some success in retrieving the food it had stored.

17-icy formation

As our time drew to a close, we noticed patterns in the mushrooms imitated by icy spots in a stream that spoke to the morning’s chill.

18-Horseshoe Pond Road

But the sun had come out and we relished its warmth as we headed back to our vehicles and on into the rest of our days.

16a-man-made wonder

Before doing so, however, there were two more sights to commemorate–the man-made line up of doors found deep in the woods . . .

2-Sand castle

and rain-made castles along the road side.

Bishop Cardinal Reserve–where man and nature intersect.

 

A Special Mondate

Our plan was to hike up Blueberry Mountain and continue on to the summit of Speckled in Evans Notch today, but as we drove toward the White Mountains I mentioned that a friend had shared a photograph of ice inside a mine near the Basin on Route 113. And so in an instant said plan changed.

b1-sign

We parked near the iconic Welcome to Beautiful Maine sign and ventured off in search of the mine. Of course, I’d forgotten where exactly it was located, so we walked about a mile on a snowmobile trail until we spied private land in front of us. That was our turn around point, but . . . me thinks we should have continued because I later learned that the mine sits between public and private property.

b2-gray birch

We didn’t mind for we knew we’d return with more accurate directions. It wasn’t the first time we’ve erred. And besides, the gray birches were beautiful.

b3-lemonade stand

After we’d covered about three miles, we headed back to the truck and drove to Stone House Road, where we parked near the trailhead for the Leach Link Trail. We could have continued toward the Stone House since for the first time ever, it was plowed, but the lane was narrow and had we met another vehicle, it would have been a challenge to back up. Besides, I love to walk the road for there’s always something to see . . . like the lemonade stand. Who knew?

b5-Pole #15

My other favorite sight along the road–telephone poles. In the past year the poles had received more attention–from black bears. Last year it seemed that any number with a 5 in it drew the most attention. Smart bears around here.

b6-pole 17 1

But it appeared that the bear(s) had added a new number to their count–#7, or in this case, #17.

b7-pole 17 2

I didn’t have my macro lens with me, but found bear hair attached to some of the scrapes. It was light colored, indicating it had bleached out in the sun.

So why telephone poles? It’s my understanding that males rub their shoulders and neck to leave a scent and may also claw and bite a pole during mating season. Bites leave nearly horizontal dots and dashes–can you see them? Think of the bear’s upper and lower canine teeth meeting. How cool is that?

Eventually, I promised my guy that I’d stop pausing to check on and photograph them, but he noted that I couldn’t resist every time we passed by one. I was just looking.

b9-Stone House Road

To my guy’s relief, we soon reached the gate, where the power line went underground.

b10-balds

Near the airfield, we turned and paused to enjoy the view of the Baldfaces, and promised ourselves a return to those trails in the late spring or summer.

b11-gorge 1

Our choice of trails today was the Stone House Trail. And no hike up is complete without a stop at Rattlesnake Gorge. First we looked north.

b11a-water racing

Ice and water, ice and water–I couldn’t get enough of the freeze and flow.

b11d-gorge 3

And then we looked south–with continued awe.

b13-pool view

We’d thought about eating lunch at the gorge, but moved on up the trail. From lunch log, where we dined on peanut butter and blueberry jam sandwiches, we took in the view of  Rattlesnake Pool.

b12-rattlesnake pool

Any time of year it’s a magical place, but on a winter day–ah . . .

b12-emerald pool

that emerald color.

b14-rocks in brook

The brook above offered its own touch of wonder.

b17-hiking up

After lunch, we continued our climb on conditions that ranged from ice to snow to bare rocks. But mostly ice and snow. Microspikes served us well.

b16-Caribou sign

At last we crossed from the Stone House property into the White Mountain National Forest as denoted by a rustic sign.

b16-arrow

All along we searched beech bark for bear sign. And found one–a very smart bear had left a sign indeed–indicating the way of the trail. We kept climbing.

b20-cairns

At last we reached the summit. It was later in the afternoon than we’d intended when our morning began because of our mine mission, and so we decided to skip Speckled Mountain, but were happy to check out the views from Blueberry. On the Lookout Loop we did get off trail for a bit as we missed a cairn buried under the snow. At that point we did a lot of post holing, sinking as we did to our knees and above. But finally we found the right trail.

b19-spruce

It’s there that the red spruces grew–their yellow green needles pointing toward the tip of the branches and dangling reddish-brown cones seeping sap.

b21-view 1

And then we found the view that stretched from Pleasant Mountain (our hometown mountain) on the left to Kearsarge on the right.

b22-Shell Pond and Pleasant Mountain

Below us, Shell Pond on the Stone House Property, showed off its conch shell shape.

b23-Kearsarge

We took one last look at the mountains and valleys under a blanket of clouds before following the loop back to the main trail and retracing our steps down.

b24-bear tracks

It was on the down that I got my guy to stop and examine a mammal track with me. I’d noticed it on the way up and he’d been ahead, but we both remembered that it was located at the point where the community switched from hardwoods to soft. Do you see the large prints? And distance between. It had been warmer yesterday and those prints looked like they’d been created then.

b18-bear print

Black bear prints! Oh my!

It was the five large toes that first drew my attention as we climbed up. Was I seeing what I thought I was seeing? The pattern of the overall track was a bit different than what I’ve seen in the past where the rear foot oversteps the front foot because in snow black bears tend to direct register like coyotes, foxes and bobcats–one foot landing on snow pre-packed by another foot.

Bears are not true hibernators and this guy or gal must have been out foraging during yesterday’s thaw.

We didn’t find any bear paw trees or see the actual bear, but we were thrilled with our telephone pole signs and the prints left behind.

Indeed, it was a beary special Mondate on Blueberry Mountain.

(Corny humor comes with teacher training)

 

 

 

Gifts A Many

I was seranaded three times this morning, first by my guy, then my friend Marita (well, her family cut her short and maybe I helped by quickly thanking her), and finally by Gracie the beagle. The latter was the funniest of all and she managed to get through all the verses. But really, what Gracie wanted was to butter me up in hopes of joining Marita and me for a hike. Sorry Gracie. Maybe next time.

d-sign

We crossed the state boundary a few times as I drove up into Evans Notch. Our plan was to start the day at The Roost, though we weren’t sure we could get there as we didn’t know if the gate on Route 113 had been closed. As we approached the “Welcome to Beautiful Maine” sign, we saw that the gate was open and so on we continued. Until . . . we hit ice. For those who know the road, and the steep ravines to the left as you travel north, you’ll understand why we decided to back up and turn around.

d-morning colors

Back to the sign and gate we went, pulling off for photos because we love the sign and because the field across the way offered an array of colors and more ice.

d-ice layer

It was a case of bad ice and good ice, much like the witches in the Wizard of Oz and WICKED.

d-frost on goldenrod

And the good ice sparkled like winter flowers.

d-Cold Brook 1

The curious thing was that along Cold Brook, which flowed beside the field, there was barely any ice.

d-bear scat

After a few minutes, we headed down the road to the parking lot for the Baldfaces and Deer Hill. The latter was our choice for today. And it turned out to be the perfect choice for early on the trail we found rather fresh bear scat. How sweet is that?

d-leaf bouquet

The trail is flat to begin as it follows the course of a dry river beside the Cold.  Evidence of high water from fall storms was everywhere and it was obvious that the dry section of the river hadn’t always been so. Left behind were displays floral in nature–this one reminded us of a stacked bouquet.

d-Cold Brook 2

Again we reached the real deal–Cold Brook.

d-Cold Brook 3

And stopped to admire the view.

d-Granite and ice

And more good ice.

d-dam

Then it was time to make the crossing. Marita went first and when she got to the other side of the green planks she looked back and said, “You can do this.” She knows me well and that my brain kicks into “No, I can’t,” gear every once in a while. It seemed so simple and yet, at her encouragement, I kept taking deep breathes and finally after what seemed like hours but was only minutes, I put mind over matter and made my way across. And it wasn’t difficult at all.

d-hiking with Marita

The climb up was moderate and we were glad we’d donned our blaze orange on this last day of hunting season. In the parking lot, a hiker had laughed at me and asked if I thought I was going to see a moose. On the trail, we met a hunter who was out with his two sons. And at the summit we heard shots, though coming from a different direction. Yup, we were glad to be wearing blaze orange.

d-whale or frog?

We paused briefly on the climb, and noted that we weren’t alone. At first we both saw a whale, but then I noted a frog–a stone cold frog at that.

d-reaching the summit

We were only following one of the trails on this mountain today, and it wasn’t a long one.  Within the hour we reached the summit.

d-summit signs

Years ago, the signage was confusing, but it seemed much improved. Then again, we only hiked to Little Deer and don’t know about the others.

d-bald faces

From our snack spot, we enjoyed the view of the Baldfaces across the way.

d-Mount Meader

And Mount Meader to the right.

d-biotite plates?

At our feet were biotite (black mica) plates that reminded me of script lichen.

d-feather

And in the ladies room I always find the coolest sights when I pause and look around. Today it was a downy feather.

d-crossing 1

In what seemed like no time, we were back at the dam. Again, Marita went first.

d-crossing 2

She turned back, grinned at me and then watched as I quickly followed. “Yes, I can.”

d-Amy's article on Long Mountain Trail

When I arrived home, I discovered cards from family and friends in the mail, as well as a copy of the Bethel Citizen. Thanks to writer Amy Wight Chapman, Marita and I were both mentioned in an article she wrote about Long Mountain in Greenwood.

A few minutes ago, my sister and brother-in-law also called to serenade me.

It’s my birthday and I’ve enjoyed gifts a many–from ice crystals to bear scat to feathers, mixed in with songs and calls and cards and comments from family and friends near and far. I am blessed. Thank you all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mighty Tracker

“Quick, look at the bird feeder,” my guy said this morning.

I expected some exotic bird and chuckled to myself, a memory of our youngest son telling me about the huge gray bird with a black head and long, long tail that it was in the driveway last week. I showed him a picture of a catbird. Bingo.

So when I did look out the kitchen window, I was taken aback–a large black bear stood at the feeder. I know I should have taken it in a month ago, but took my chances. And then I ran for my camera, not remembering that I’d left it on the counter right next to where I’d been standing. Finally, camera in hand, I dashed out the back door.  And . . .

b-bear !

he’d moved on. At the stonewall, he gave me one backward glance before climbing over it. Consequently, the bear is in this photo on the other side of the wall, but I was so excited I forgot to focus it and my guy and I will be the only ones that truly know it.

b-boots

But, I love to track mammals and so this afternoon I donned my tracking uniform and headed off on the trail to see what I might see.

b-bird feeder

I began at the spot of our first sighting–the bird feeder by the garden.

b-bear impression

All that my closer examination revealed was a few stomped leaves. No hair. Nothing else.

b-stonewall

From there, I kept examining the grass on my way to the stone wall. And then the wall itself and the trees around it. Nada.

b-tree stump

Stepping over the wall, I tried to determine the bear’s next direction. Still nothing to see. And so I started checking the numerous tree stumps, figuring it was hungry and might have looked for ants or other insects. All the disturbance I saw was made prior to this morning.

b-hemlock cones

My next decision was to follow the cowpath east and then west, but still nothing to report. I did notice the baby hemlock cones showing off their aquamarine color.

p-gray squirrel

As I walked, I heard some commotion. Did you know that gray squirrels can make more noise than a black bear?

b-deer prints

When I got to the the ruts in the snowmobile trail, I thought I might finally find what I was looking for. Instead, I spotted plenty of deer prints and  . . .

b-squirrel prints

even those made by the squirrels.

b-wood frogs 1

Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to stop by the vernal pool, thinking perhaps the bear had done the same.

b-wood frog 2:gills

Nothing looked disturbed and the tadpoles showed off their latest growth. This might be the year wood frogs finally hop out of the pool.

b-blue-eyed grass

Not far from the pool, I discovered the first blue-eyed grass of the season.

b-turkey track

And as I returned, I went a bit beyond the cowpath and found turkey prints.

b-turkey and fox prints

There were some coyote prints as well, but one of my favorite print sightings was that of the turkey headed north and fox headed south. The fox print shows where the front foot came down and the hind foot fell almost directly into the same spot thus looking like two sets of front toes and nails pointed inward–direct registration.

Phew, I am the mighty tracker after all.

But that bear–it eluded me. It’s one for our mind’s eye as a memory shared and there it shall remain.

 

Love/Hate Sundate

Some days are made for hikes and today was one of them. The temperature was right–in the upper 40˚s-low 50˚s. No sun. And no bugs.

So, after church, my guy and I drove to the trailhead for Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield, Maine. At the signs indicating the trail splits in two–North Peak to our right, Twin Brook to the left, we knew we planned on covering the loop, but my guy stopped and asked which way I wanted to ascend the mountain.

Nose scrunched, I replied, “North Peak.”

He chuckled for he knows my love/hate relationship with this mountain.

b-red oak leaves

Today my love began with the new leaves, like that of the red oak,

b-red maple1

red maple,

b-striped maple

striped maple,

b-beech leaves 1

and beech. I worshiped them all for their subtle colors and textures. Spring is the time of year that reminds us to live in the moment, for the natural world demonstrates constant change.

b-trailing arbutus

And then there were the flowers, like the trailing arbutus, aka mayflower.

b-Canada mayflower

And another of a similar name, Canada mayflower.

b-shad 1

In the shrub layer, occasionally we came upon the beauty of serviceberry or shadbush flowers flowing in the breeze, exhibiting their own take on these fleeting moments.

b-early saxifrage

And cleaving to the rocks as we climbed, early saxifrage. It’s also known as rockbreaker for this habit, and perhaps suggested the Latin name–Saxifraga virginiensis. Saxum-rock and frangere-to break. A funny name for an uncommon display.

b-summit ahead

I did my best admiring my surroundings for I knew what awaited. My guy paused as the summit came into sight,  expecting me to comment. For once, I kept quiet.

b-summit climb

And then, when the time arrived, we both channeled our inner mountain goat and sought hand holds and foot holds as we scrambled up the nasty dash to the top. Ha ha. It’s difficult to scramble when your heart pounds while your body quivers. This is the section I most hate–and as I always told our sons when they were youngsters, hate is a strong word. I knew I could do this for I’ve done it many times before, so I tried not to take too long as I considered my next move. Plus, rain drops began to fall and I didn’t want to be stuck contemplating on slippery granite. But still.

b-lunch rock

Finally–success. We’d reached the flattened top of the mountain–such a welcome relief after that horrible section. You’d think it was miles long the way I carry on about it. The rain drops ceased and we sat on lunch rock to dine–dirty hands and knees our badges of honor.

b-summit 1

Our view from the rock–looking back toward our point of ascension.

b-summit 2

And forward toward Stone Mountain. After lunch, our plan was to follow the Twin Brooks Trail that passes through the saddle between Burnt Meadow and Stone.

b-summit 3

And to our right–looking toward the White Mountains.

b-summit trees:layers

Though the view is almost 350˚, our immediate view behind lunch rock offered layers of life–blueberries, a young paper birch and a white pine.

b-twin brooks trail down

At last we started down. The Twin Brooks Trail is longer, but less of a struggle. That being said, it’s not a walk in the park as there are constant roots and rocks seeking attention.

b-mt washington1

But occasionally there are views. I was afraid we might not see Mount Washington today, but it didn’t disappoint.

b-birch catkin1

On the way down, we were in the land of the birch, their catkins growing long . . .

b-birch catkin pollen

and exploding with life-giving pollen.

b-viola

There were violas to admire.

b-shad 2

And more shadbush.

b-bear claws 1

But one of my other favorite things about this trail is the bear claw trees. No matter how many times I see them, they still bring a smile to my heart–and face. And a memory of seeing a bear on the North Peak trail one summer–it sauntered past us, not seeming to care that we were there. I suspect its belly was stuffed with blueberries.

b-twin brook 1

As we continued to descend, we soon heard the sound of one of the brooks for which the trail is named. Quite often on this trail, the water barely trickles, but today it rushed over the moss-covered rocks.

b-logging

Continuing on, we remembered that two hikers we meet at the start said there had been some logging and sometimes it was difficult to follow the trail. At last, my guy found the area they’d referenced. The trails are on private land and so while we couldn’t find some familiar landmarks, we nevertheless were thankful that we were still able to hike there. And, we were mindful to look for the yellow blazes as we stepped over some slash. It was quite doable.

b-bear tree 2:eye level

The result–a bear tree we hadn’t seen before was revealed.

b-bear tree 2:looking up

It must have offered plenty to eat in the past for the tree was well climbed all the way to its crown. Maybe we’d once met the very bear.  Maybe not. Who knows. But it’s worth a wonder.

b-bear of a different sort

A bear of another kind also left behind a sign of its presence. We obviously weren’t the only ones who headed to the mountain for a date.

b-bear tree 3

In one last spot a short way from finishing the loop, we found our last bear tree–again seen because of the logging. I suspect there are many more in these woods and hope they don’t all get cut.

Emerging leaves. Spring flowers. Jagged outcropping. Flowing water. Bear trees.

Really, it was a love/hate/love Sundate–joyfully spent with my guy.

 

 

 

Beautiful Maine Mondate

Some Monday’s we look for new places to explore or mountains to climb, but today found us visiting an old favorite that is gorgeous in any season.

s1-Stone House Road 1

Because it’s still winter (and she’s not letting go right away), we knew our hike would be extended by more than a mile on either end. We parked by the Leach Link Trail on Stone House Road and followed the telephone poles in.

s2-bear number

These are my favorite telephone poles in the world–well, for today that is, for they show the works of the clever bears that inhabit this place. The wood has been scratched and bitten, while the shiny pole number was mutilated. This was pole 5. I suppose it still is.

s3-bear hair

Hair sticks out from splinters. Bear hair.

s4-more bear hair

We found lots of it on several poles today. More than we’ve seen in the past.

s6-another pole

I’m thinking that the bears in the area have a fondness for 5. Or a dislike, for pole 15 also received rough treatment. There are more, but it was on 5 and 15 that we noticed the number destruction.

s8-bear dogs

Despite that, the bears in this area are most welcome. Because the signs are new, I asked my guy what he thought the bears will do when they emerge from their dens soon. In my mind, I saw a similar behavior to the other poles and imagined that when we return again we’ll see that the signs have also been destroyed because that’s what bears do. My guy’s response, “Clap.” Indeed, they should.

s9-gate

At last we reached the gate where we usually park to hike the Stone House property and Blueberry Mountain trails. The Stone House property encompasses about 890 acres surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest. In 2011, the owners, David Cromwell and Sharon Landry, established a conservation easement held by the Greater Lovell Land Trust. The easement allows for traditional uses including commercial agriculture and forestry, but prohibits development and subdivision in perpetuity. Thus we have both this couple and the GLLT to thank for today’s adventure.

s10-black cherry bark

When we finally reached the Shell Pond trailhead, a black cherry immediately jumped out at me. The property was last logged in 1977 and features a mix of hard and softwoods. My bark eyes love the diversity.

s11a-birch and red maple

And my bark mind appreciates the kindred spirit of the trees that manage to support each other despite their differences–in this case a beech and red maple.

s14-pileated works

I’m not the only one who likes bark–the work of pileated woodpeckers,

s15-porcupine

porcupines,

s16-beaver works

beavers,

s13-yellow birch burl

and even insects was evident throughout our three-hour tour.

s17-Yale blue

As we hiked, my dad was also on my brain. I’d received a message this morning from his former boss at Yale University who fondly recalled Dad and his brother Bob. Though quiet men, he and his brother had a twinkle in their eyes, a love for music, especially opera, and always a good joke or prank up their sleeves.

When I saw this tree in the shape of a Y, I knew it was for Dad. Even the sky spoke of the university–though several shades lighter than Yale blue. And with that came the memory that any paint my father mixed had a touch of Yale blue in it–thus was his way. It was all meant to be for Mr. Cromwell, the property owner, is associated with Yale.

s18-my guy

I couldn’t help but think that Dad would have loved the idea of our Mondates. He also would have loved my guy, but sadly they never met. Dad died of a heart attack only days before he and Mom were to spend a weekend with me in Maine–thirty years ago.  But, my guy continues to wear a Yale sweatshirt when he runs, which he did this morning. In that way, he’s made his own connection. Yeah–that’s my guy!

s19-pond views

Now that I’m writing through tears, I’ll get back to the trail, which is delightful in winter because it offers more views of Shell Pond below.

s20-cliff views

And the icy ledges above. Later in our journey, I noted the trail to the ledges had been well used–probably by rock/ice climbers.

s22-water 1

Trail conditions were such that we walked on top of the hardened snow, though I did wear micro-spikes for the entire tour. Someone waited to put his on and did a little slipping and sliding along the way. Brook crossings required stepping low and high, so deep is the snow still.

s23-ice castle

While I marveled at a castle made of ice,

s24-Christmas tree

my guy spotted a Christmas tree.

s25-polypody

We even found a few hints of green. These polypody ferns were opened, indicating warmer temps and today we certainly noted the difference compared to the brisk weekend.

s26-polypody

Of course, on another rock, some were still curled in their cold formation. They were under a hemlock and more shaded.

s27-partridgeberry

Any bit of green is a welcome sight about now and I was surprised to see partridgeberry poking through the snow.

s28-lunch bench

At last we reached lunch bench, which my guy stood upon. Yup, that’s the granite bench under his feet.

s29-lunch

We sat on it to eat our PB&J (with butter for me, of course) sandwiches. And tried to keep from sliding right down to the pond.

s30-Shell Pond

Lunch view included Shell Pond and the Baldfaces in the background. All along, we’d noted mice, squirrel, mink, fisher, coyote, bobcat, ruffed grouse, turkey and moose tracks. But as we ate we listened to the whales groan–so moaned the ice in the afternoon sun.

s31-brook

A short time later we reached Rattlesnake Brook and the orchard, where the natural community transitioned and appeared almost bucolic.

s32-ostrich fern

One of my favorite finds along this section is the ostrich fern. The structure of its fertile frond makes me smile.

s33-airfield

From the orchard we moved on to the old airfield and wondered if the family ever flies to their summer home. Though I don’t think it’s used these days, the airstrip was apparently built in the 1940s by the military for practice landings and takeoffs during World War II.

Again, the views were breathtaking.

s34-stone house and Blueberry Mtn

As hikers, we’re reminded by signs to stay on the marked trails, thus protecting the land and giving the family some space. I’m in awe of their home. The Stone House was built in the early 1850s by Abel Andrews. He quarried the large, hand-hewn granite slabs from Rattlesnake Mountain and built the 40-foot by 25-foot house for his wife and thirteen children.

s35-another wetland

I did stay on the trail most of the time, but occasionally I heard the landscape calling my name and had to investigate. Fortunately, my guy stayed on the trail all the time and kept us honest.

s36-Beautiful Maine

We walked back out to the truck and then decided to take a quick detour before driving home. Being on Stone House Road, we were only a mile from the winter closure point for Route 113 in the White Mountain National Forest. The road forms the state line between Maine and New Hampshire for several miles. And then it passes into Maine at the gate by the Cold River Campground and The Basin. And it’s there that you’ll find this iconic sign.

Welcome to Beautiful Maine and another scenic Mondate.

 

 

 

 

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.

t-porky-works-2

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.

t-porky-wall-walk-1

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.

t-woodpecker-hole-1

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.

t-fungi-1

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

t-keoka-1-1

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.

t-summit-view-2-1

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.

t-summit-view-4-1

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

t-summit-view-3-pleasant-1

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

t-summit-view-2-1

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

t-tirem-rocks-2-1

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.

t-rock-cracks-1

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.

b-tree-on-rock-1

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

t-bear-cave-2-1

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

who might emerge.

t-bear-1-1

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

 

Shell Pond Speed Date

While our thoughts were (and are) with our family and friends south of us along the Eastern Seaboard as you deal with a major winter storm, my guy and I drove over to Evans Notch for a hike around Shell Pond.

SP-September

Whether you’ve traveled this way before or not–a summer photo might be just the dose you need today.

road 1

We parked near the trailhead for the Leach Link Trail because Stone House Road is never plowed beyond that point. Others had skied, walked and snowmobiled before us, but no one seemed to be snowshoeing so we left ours behind. As it turns out, that decision was fine. We dug some post holes in a few drifts, but other than that, we really didn’t need them. I did, however, use micro-spikes–and am glad because it’s a rather wet trail and we encountered lots of ice, much of it just a few inches below the snow.

Stone House gate

Thanks to the owners of the Stone House for putting much of the land under conservation easement with the Greater Lovell Land Trust and for allowing all of us to travel the trails–whether around the pond or up Blueberry Mountain and beyond.

Shell pond loop sign

Before the airfield, we turned onto the Shell Pond Loop trail. It’s blazed in yellow and easy to follow. Some trees have come down, but we got over or around them. We took care of a few today and the rest will be cleared by summer.

beaver works

Of course, some trees were intentionally harvested. We found these beaver works near the beginning of the trail where the brook opens into a small wetland.

beaver lodge 2

beaver lodge 1

On top of the lodge, you might be able to see the lighter color of fresh additions to the structure. This was the first of three.

beaver lodge 3

Lodge number 2 is toward the far side of the pond.

beaver view

But it’s lodge number 3 that I’d stay at. It’s worth a payment of a few extra saplings to get a room with that view.

pileated work

The beavers aren’t the only one making changes in the landscape. Pileated woodpeckers in search of food do some amazingly shaggy work on old snags.

trail debris

Winter debris covers much of the trail. Strong winds have brought much of this down.

yellow and hem yellow birch & hemlock

And two of the most prominent trees make themselves known among the debris. A hemlock samara beside a yellow birch fleur de lis and a hemlock needle atop a more complete fleur de lis flower of the birch.

Shell Pond 1

Shell Pond takes on an entirely different look in the winter. We could hear the ice whales singing as we ate our PB&J sandwiches and sipped hot cocoa.

mink

mink tracks 1

While we ate, we noticed a mink had bounded through previously. I’m always thankful to have David Brown’s Trackards in my pack.

cliffs 2

cliff flow

Continuing on the trail found us taking in views of the cliffs, which we don’t normally see so well once the trees leaf out.

ostrich 3 ostrich 4 ostrich fern 1

Before continuing through the orchard, I wandered closer to the brook in search of this–the fertile fronds of the ostrich fern that give it its common name because they resemble plume-like ostrich feathers. Come spring they’ll release their spores.

 airfield 2

The sun tried to poke out as we crossed the wind-blown airfield.

stone house 2

From the field, we always admire the Stone House and its setting below Blueberry Mountain.

 snowshoe 2

Walking back on the road, we spotted a classic snowshoe hare print. Most of the tracks we saw were filled in by blowing snow, but these were textbook perfect.

pole 4

And then . . .

pole attack

And then . . .

pole numbers

And then . . .

bear hair 1

And then . . .
bear hair

And then . . . on our way back down the road, I introduced my guy to the wonders of telephone poles. We found several sporting chew marks, scratches and hair. Yup . . . bear hair. Black bear. Even the shiny numbers were destroyed on one of the poles. Of course, my guy was sure someone would come along and ask what we were doing as we inspected one pole after another. I was hoping someone would come along and ask what we were doing. Bear poles. Another thing to look for as you drive down the road–think tree bark eyes, winter weed eyes and now, bear pole eyes.

bear paw

I took this photo on the Shell Pond Loop trail a year and a half ago. Oh my.

Those of you who have traveled this way with me before will be amazed to know that we finished today’s trek in just over three hours, even with the added walk down Stone House Road. Yup, not an advertised three hour tour that turns into six. Hmmm . . . Apparently it can be done–I just need to get Mr. Destinationitis to join our treks for a Shell Pond Speed Date.