Filling Our Buckets Mondate

Our day began with a journey to Green Thumb Farms in western Maine because we were curious about their native blueberry sod. We had hoped to see some, but that wasn’t to be and instead we were given a contact number for a sales rep. Our hope is to purchase a couple of pallets worth and use it as one more filter system at our camp in our continuing efforts to protect water quality. We recently learned that we qualified for a LakeSmart Award, but don’t want that to stop us from finding other ways to create a more lake-friendly property. Stay tuned on the sod because once we figure that out, it will be a story worth telling.

1-lunch spot, Eaton Village Store

From Green Thumb Farms we zigged and zagged along the back roads until we reached Eaton, New Hampshire. Lunch awaited at the Eaton Village Store on Route 153. Inside, one wall is covered with mailboxes and the post office. Grocery and gifty items are displayed in an aisle or two. And then there’s the lunch counter and a few tables for the eatery. A most pleasant eatery. The menu is simple, food fresh, and all served with a smile and conversation.

2-falling snow sign

Oh, and one more thing. They are eternal optimists! Or procrastinators like me. Heck, eventually there will be falling snow to watch for again.

3-Foss Mtn Trail

After lunch, we zigged and zagged again, winding our way up a road we once remember sliding down–in the winter on our bellies with our eight and ten year old sons in tow. Our destination today was much easier, though I did put the truck into four-wheel-drive to reach the trailhead parking lot for Foss Mountain. I’d told my guy about the blueberries and views and neither of us gave a thought to today’s weather for in the newspaper the forecast predicted it to be “rather” cloudy, “rather” being a rather unscientific term. It turned out to be more than “rather.” And raindrops fell, but still we went.

4-Foss Mtn Map

We examined the sign and my guy was thrilled with the possibilities.

6a-no picking

Some fields, however, were closed to public picking for a private operation leased those from the town.

5-Ryan Bushnell Blueberry Operation

Off to the side, we spied their sorting machines. Note the blueberry color of the equipment.

6-blueberry envy

And the abundance of blueberries.

7-hands in pockets

After testing a sample to make sure they were acceptable for human consumption, my guy stuck his hands in his pockets to avoid further temptation.

8-Joe Pye Weed all in disarray

Upward we journeyed, following the path of this property that is owned by the Town of Eaton. Along the way, a large patch of Joe Pye Weed shouted for attention, its petals disarrayed much like my own hair on this misty of days.

9-into the fog

The habitat changed and still we climbed–anticipation in every step my guy took at full speed.

10-pick blueberries sign

At the next natural community boundary, where conifers gave way to saplings and undergrowth, my guy rejoiced. At last we’d reached the promised land.

11-my guy disappeared ;-)

And immediately he stepped off the trail to find those tiny blue morsels that bring him such delight.

12-summit fog

While he picked, I headed toward the summit, where a blanket of fog enveloped the view. It didn’t matter, for our focus zeroed in on what was before us rather than being swept up with the beyond.

14-my guy picking

From my place at the top, I could see him below–a mere speck intent on filling his bags to the brim.

15-erratic

I began to look around and felt an aura that made me feel as if I was in Ireland rather than New Hampshire. The fog. The green. The gray. The world disappeared.

16-more colorful eratic

And the world before me opened up.

17-Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellitta

Like yellow caterpillars that are all the rage right now, Common Goldspeck Lichen inched across the granite face.

18-granite-speck rim lichen

Beside it, Granite-speck Rim Lichen stood out like tiles in a mosaic work of art.

19-fog danced across ridge

Meanwhile, the fog danced across the ridgeline, twirling and whirling in a ghostly quiet manner, its transparent gowns touching the ground ever so tenderly before lifting into the next move.

19-my guy picked some more

And my guy found a new location and picked some more.

15-steeplebush

My attention turned to the Steeplebush, a spirea that grew abundantly at the summit, its flowers of pink offering a tiny splash of color to brighten any day.

25-American Copper Butterfly

The American Copper Butterfly and a bumblebee also found the Steeplebush much to their liking.

26-American Copper

And I, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from admiring this tiny butterfly and its beautiful markings.

28-American Copper Butterfly

From every angle that it posed while seeking nectar, I stood in awe–those striped antennae, giant black eyes, copper-silver color, and hairy scaled wings.

21-chipmunk

And then there was another, which I thought was a bird when I first heard it scamper out of the bushes.

22-chippie eating berries

But Chippie soon made himself known and I discovered that he, too, sought those little morsels so blue. Competition for my guy.

23-fog lifts a bit

Ever so slowly, the fog lifted a bit and even the sun tried to poke through for a moment or two. Still, my guy picked–somewhere. I couldn’t always see him, but trusted he was in the great beyond.

24-cedar waxwings

Much closer to me, three Cedar Waxwings circled the summit over and over again in a counter-clockwise pattern. Thankfully, they also paused, eyeing the potential for their own berry picking sights from the saplings on which they perched.

24-cedar wax wing bad hair day

I fell in love . . . with their range of colors:  cinnamon, black, gray, brown, red, yellow, and white. And the bad-hair day tufts, for like the Joe Pye Weed, the Cedar Waxwings and I also shared a resemblance.

29-My guy finishing up

At last my guy finished up, though not before standing on a yonder piece of granite, looking west and calling for me. “I’m up here, behind you,” I shouted softly into an almost silent world, where the only sounds came from cicadas and crickets and occasionally the Cedar Waxwings.

30-blueberry caterpillars

As we made our way down, he stopped again for about a half hour to pick some more in a spot he’d noted on the way up. And I looked around, discovering other blueberry lovers among us–Yellow-necked Moth Caterpillars were slowly stripping some bushes of their greenery.

35-blueberries!

At last we passed by the forbidden fields, where my guy later confessed he felt like we were in Eden.

31-Burnt Meadow Blueberries in operation

Ryan Bushnell of Burnt Meadow Blueberries was at work, raking and sorting the sweet morsels of blue.

32-Blueberries!

It was his business to make sure each pint would be filled by day’s end.

33-Filling the buckets

We wanted to chat with him more about the operation, but he was intent upon working and so after the initial greeting and a few more words, we knew it was time to move on. Mr. Bushnell’s buckets would be filled over and over again. (And I suspected that upon seeing this operation, my guy, should he ever decide to retire from his hardware business, may just ask to work in the field–the blueberry field.)

Our buckets were full as well–for my guy, it was bags of blueberries to freeze for future consumption. For me, it was all that I saw as I poked about the summit, thankful that I wasn’t distracted by the 360˚ view. We did indeed fill our buckets on this Mondate.

 

A Berry Pleasant Mountain Hike

Thirty-two years ago I moved to Maine (the only place I’ve ever lived where the number of years counts as bragging rights) and Pleasant Mountain quickly figured into my life. The first day I drove past it on Route 302, I was killing time before a job interview and one look at Moose Pond with the mountain looming over it and I knew I very much wanted to live here. A couple of days later, I received the phone call I’d been waiting for and principal Larry Thompson said it was only a matter of formality that my name go before the school board. By the next week, I was packing up in New Hampshire and making my way further north. I’d found a place to live that meant I’d pass by the mountain on my way to and from school each day. And then that October I attended a Halloween party with friends at the ski lodge of what was then called Pleasant Mountain Ski Resort. I was an olive and I met this guy dressed as a duck hunter. Turns out he’d never been duck hunting, but had a great duck puppet and he could turn its head with the stick within. He certainly turned my head!

Thus began the journey with my guy. Our first hike together–up the Southwest Trail of Pleasant Mountain. That first winter, he taught me to downhill ski, well sorta. My way of turning that first time included falling as I neared the edge of the trail, shifting my body once I was down on the snow, begging for the components of a steak dinner, rising and skiing across at a diagonal to the opposite side only to repeat my performance. Dinner was great that night! And well deserved.

Time flashed forward four years, and at noon on August 4, 1990, we were married; our reception in the Treehouse Lounge at the Ski Resort. In all the years since we first met and then were married and beyond, we’ve skied (though I have managed to avoid that concept more recently) together and with our sons before their abilities outgrew mine, snowshoed and hiked and grown only fonder of the place we call home. Our intention yesterday was to climb the mountain in celebration of our 28th anniversary, but the weather gods outpouring of moisture was not in our favor.

Today, however, dawned differently and so mid-morning we made our way with a plan to hike up the Bald Peak Trail, across the ridge to the summit, and down the Ledges Trail. We’d left the truck at the Ledges, ever mindful that the last thing we want to do after climbing down the mountain is to walk 1.5 miles to reach our vehicle.

1-heading up

As I’ve done over and over again in the past 32 years, I followed my guy–over rocks and roots and bald granite faces.

2-Pinesap

Once in a while I announced the need for a stop because my Nature Distraction Disorder ticked into action. In this case, it was Pine-sap, or Monotropa hypopitysMono meaning once and tropa turned; hypopitys for its habitat under a pine or fir. Also called Dutchmen’s Pipe, this is a parasitic plant that obtains all its nutrients by stealing them from the roots of a host tree. It doesn’t enter the host directly, but through a fungal intermediary. And like Indian Pipe, it has no green tissues. It differs from I.P. in two ways, its yellow color as compared to white, and two to eleven flowers versus a single flower. In my book of life, both Pine-sap and Indian Pipe are great finds.

3-Moose Pond below

I didn’t let my NDD get the better of me too often on the way up. It was extremely humid and so we did stop frequently, but also kept a pace that worked for both of us and soon emerged onto the ridge where a look back through the red and white pines revealed a peek of the causeway that crosses Moose Pond.

5-hidden camp

Employing the telephoto lens, I spied our camp hidden among the trees, only the dock and our little boat showing. It’s amazing how obvious all the neighboring camps seemed when viewed from up high.

7-ridge line trail

After the climb up, the ridge always seems a cinch as the pathway wanders through blueberries, pines and oaks.

6-lunch rock

At last we found lunch rock, a place to pause in the shade and enjoy our PB&J sandwiches. We’d packed cookies for dessert, but decided to save those for later. My guy, however, had accidentally unpacked my work backpack and discovered a few pieces of a dark chocolate KitKat–my stash when I’m tired at the end of the day and need a pick-me-up before driving home. It looks like the purchase of another KitKat is in my near future for we topped off the sandwiches with a sweet treat.

8-picking blueberries

After lunch, my guy’s eyes focused in on one thing only. That is after he moved away from his original spot behind the rock we’d sat upon for our repose. Unwittingly, he’d stirred up a yellow jacket nest and managed to walk calmly away, only one bee stinging his leg.

14-blueberries

While his attention was on the gold at his feet–in the form of low-bush blueberries, I turned my lens in a variety of directions. Oh, I helped pick. A. Wee. Bit.

9-Lake Darner Dragongly

But there were other things to see as well and this dragonfly was a new one for me. A few highlights of this beauty: Do you notice the black cross line in the middle of the face. And on the thoracic side stripe, do you see the deep notch?

10-Lake Darner Dragonfly

Both of those characteristics helped in ID: Meet a Lake Darner. Even the male claspers at the tip of the abdomen are key, for they’re paddle-shaped and thicker toward the end. Though he didn’t pause often, Lake Darners are known to perch vertically on tree trunks. I was in awe.

11-grasshopper

All the while we were on the ridge, the Lake Darners flew about, their strong wing beats reminiscent of hummingbirds, so close did they come to our ears that we could hear the whir. And then there was another sound that filled the summer air with a saw-like buzziness–snapping and crackling as they flew. I couldn’t capture their flight for so quick and erratic it was, but by rubbing pegs on the inner surface of their hind femurs against the edges of their forewings, the grasshoppers performed what’s known in the sound world as crepitation. Crepitation–can’t you almost hear the snap as you pronounce the word?

12-coyote scat

It wasn’t just insects that caught my eye, for I found a fine specimen of coyote scat worth noting for it was full of hair and bones. It was a sign bespeaking age, health, availability, and boundaries.

12A

Turns out, it wasn’t the only sign in the area and whenever we hike the trails on Pleasant Mountain these days, we give thanks to Loon Echo Land Trust for preserving so much of it. According to the land trust’s website: “Currently, Loon Echo owns 2,064 mountain acres and protects an additional 24 acres through conservation easements.”

13-picking some more

Our time on the ridge passed not in nano seconds, for my guy was intent on his foraging efforts. I prefer to pick cranberries, maybe because they are bigger and bring quicker satisfaction as one tries to fill a container. But, he leaves no leaf unturned. And enjoys the rewards on yogurt or the possible muffin if his wife is so kind, until late in the winter.

15-middle basin of Moose Pond

As we slowly moved above the middle basin of Moose Pond, I found other berries growing there.

14-lingonberries

Among them, lingonberries were beginning to ripen. They grow low to the ground, below the blueberries, and resemble little cranberries. In fact, some call them mountain cranberries. Like blueberries, they like acidic, well-drained soil. For all the leaves, however, there were few fruits and I had to wonder if the birds were enjoying a feast.

16-huckleberries

Huckleberries also grow there, though not quite as abundantly as along our shorefront on Moose Pond. They’re seedier than blueberries, though the local squirrels don’t seem to mind. Both red and gray harvest them constantly as they move throughout the vegetated buffer in front of camp.

17-summit fire tower

It took some convincing, but finally my guy realized that we needed to move on and so we gradually made our way to the summit, where the once useful fire tower still stands as a monument to an era gone by.

18-summit view in the haze

Our pause wasn’t too long for so strong was the sun. And hazy the view, Kearsarge showed its pointed profile to the left, but Mount Washington remained in hiding today.

19-ledges view of Moose Pond's southern basin

The journey down was rather quick. Perhaps because we were so tired, it felt like we just rolled down. But we did stop to admire the view of the southern bay of Moose Pond in Denmark. Our intention was also to eat the cookies we’d packed once we reached this point. Through both bags we hunted to no avail. I remembered packing the cookies under our sandwiches. And then moving the sandwiches to the second pack, but leaving the cookies. Did we accidentally take them out after all? Were they on the kitchen counter? In the truck? The final answer was no on all fronts. We think we must have taken them out at lunch rock and they never made it back into the pack. I had moved the backpacks with great calmness once we discovered the yellow jacket nest. Just maybe the yellow jackets are dining on some lemon cookies. Perhaps it was our unintended peace offering.

20-hiking down following this guy

After a five plus hour tour, filled with blueberries and sweat, I followed my guy down. We’ve spent the greater part of our lives following in each other’s footsteps and it’s a journey we continue to cherish, especially on our favorite hometown mountain.

Here’s to many more Berry Pleasant Mountain Hikes with my guy.

 

 

 

Island Hopping Mondate

Paddling together in “Big News,” our double kayak so named for it was a gift from the Neubigs many moons ago (thank you, Carissa and Bob), is one of our favorite summer pastimes. With wrist almost fully mended, it’s an even sweeter journey for me because it means I don’t have to work hard.

1-prepping the kayak

And so it was that my guy prepped Big Red for today’s journey–an exploration of the northern basin of Moose Pond. The “pond” is a 1,697 water body with a 33.3 mile perimeter that’s broken into three sections. We know the north best, which offers about a four-mile round-trip journey from camp up into the islands of Sweden. The other section that we don’t visit as often, but do enjoy exploring, is the southern section in Denmark, for it’s equally interesting.

2-BLUEBERRIES!

Today, though, my guy had a mission worth gold in mind–to make some headway on his blueberry greed.

6-yellow-necked caterpillars

Along the way we discovered an interesting sight. Our friend, and pond neighbor from the western shore, Lili Fox, asked yesterday if I could identify some yellow and black caterpillars. After a wee bit of research, I suggested Yellow-necked Moth Caterpillars. I didn’t expect to meet them quite so soon myself, but immediately recognized the group that clustered at the tip of a blueberry twig. At first, they seemed immobilized, but then I realized they were in the defense form that I’ve witnessed with other caterpillars, curling outward to form a U. I’d just picked a few berries below and so they saw me as prime predator. Fortunately, no attack was made.

8-yellownecked 2

Overall, they have yellow and black stripes, but it’s the yellow segment or neck behind their black heads for which they were named. These very hungry caterpillars were reaching maturity and soon should drop to the ground. They’ll apparently overwinter burrowed below as pupa and emerge in adult form next year.

10a-fluffy yellownecked

I assumed that those with the most wiry hair were the oldest. We probably should have shaken them off the branches and into the water, but we didn’t. Nature knows what to do and some will become a food source for wasps or birds, passing along the energy contained in the blueberry leaves to another level.

3-variable dancer damselfly

In the meantime, I became the Yellow-necked Lookout Warden as my guy continued to pick. Accompanying me with his own bulbous set of eyes was a male Variable Dancer Damselfly.

4-spreadwing

The damselflies actually could care less about the caterpillars and more about finding a mate and so they all posed, either on the kayak, or nearby vegetation.

5-orange bluet damselflies

Both turned out to be the right substrate on which to perform mating rituals, this being a pair of Orange Bluet Damselflies on the kayak.

7-emerald spreadwings canoodling

And Emerald Spreadwings offering a reflection on the pond of their canoodling efforts.

10-heading north

At last we continued further north, island hopping along the way.

12-Eastern Pondhawk Dragonfly

Though their natural communities all looked similar, with each stop came a different offering, including the Eastern Pondhawk that displayed one of my favorite combinations of color-sky blue pond green.

13-EAstern Pondhawk

Eye to eye, we contemplated each other. I have no idea what he thought of me. Well, actually, I’ve no idea if dragonflies can think. Is all their action instinctive? As for my thoughts, I didn’t want to gobble him up in a literal fashion, but wish I could have taken him with me so I could continue to stare, infatuated with his colors as I was. On his thorax I saw a watercolor painting reflecting a sunny day by the pond.

14-Floating Heart Plant

Another island and another find–the delicate flower of a Floating Heart Plant.

14-bullfrog on lily pad

And then a frog on a lily pad, a young frog that is.

15-bullfrog froglet

If you look closely, you may see her tail extending behind. I couldn’t help but think that she’s got big feet to grow into.

16-beaver lodge

Beside one of the last islands we visited, we saw that the neighborhood had changed quite recently and a new house had been built. Though none of the residents came out to greet us, we weren’t surprised. Based on the greenery and wet mud we suspected they’d been busy as beavers all night and needed a rest.

17-beaver island

A quick look around and we knew the source of their building materials. It reminded us that they’ve been secret visitors to our land in the past and have helped themselves to young saplings much to our dismay. Then again, it is their land as well. We’re just the ones who pay the taxes.

11-spadderdock with damselfly exuvia

Of course, no water adventure is complete without a photo of Spatterdock, this one featuring a damselfly exuvia.

17-fragrant water lily

And Fragrant Water Lily. That rayed presentation. Those prominent yellow stamens. The symmetry. And, of course, the fragrance.

18-honeybee

What could be better than the two together? The two together with small flies on one and a honey bee, its buckets full, visiting the other.

19-painted turtle

At last, it was well after lunch, which we’d neglected to pack and my wrist was sore, so my guy said he’d paddle us home. And because we’d startled a turtle earlier, he said he’d find one for me. Wow! Both the turtle and I were impressed.

20-turtle basking

As turtles do, he stretched out his back legs demonstrating how they need to capture additional heat given that they are cold-blooded animals. Basking helps them to absorb warmth and vital UV rays.

21-waving goodbye

What he did next surprised us. He began to wave his front left leg–I took it as a goodbye, but it was probably either a way to push an insect toward his mouth or an aggressive move telling us to move on. We did, heading back to camp as we finished up our Island Hopping Mondate.

 

 

Filled to the Brim Mondate

It’s been a few weeks since my guy and I shared a Mondate. And so, this morning after joining our youngest for breakfast, we mosied on over to Pleasant Mountain in West Bridgton. Leaving the truck at the base of the Ledges Trail, we walked 1.5 miles down the road to the Bald Peak Trailhead. Since we didn’t have two vehicles, it was much easier to get the road piece done first, rather than at the end when we would be hot and tired. The climb up was a wee bit slippery since it had rained most of the weekend and was still raining at 5am. But the rain had stopped, the sun shone brilliantly and the breeze made for a pleasant adventure up our favorite mountain.

p-Indian cucumber root

My guy encouraged me to go first and I surprised him with a steady pace. I did pause, however, when I spotted fruit beginning to form on Indian cucumber root.

p-berries wet

By the time we reached the intersection with the North Ridge Trail, we realized we were in for more fruit–a sweet treat. Since the high bush blueberries at home aren’t ripe yet, we didn’t even think to bring containers for the low bush berries that carpet the mountain’s ridgeline.

p-rain on berry leaves

Bejeweled berries and leaves sparkled in the morning sun.

p-ridge view 2 (1)

We continued across the ridge, but in the slowest of motions for us. My guy lagged behind, which isn’t usually the case.

p-picking berries 1

Unless, that is, he spies blue. Everywhere.

p-picking4

At first, we ate them on the spot.

p-picking2 (1)

But then he decided that his hat would serve as the perfect container.

p-picking berries 1 (1)

And that’s when greed set in.

p-picking 6

Blueberry greed.

p-picking 5

He couldn’t pick them fast enough.

p-filled to the brim

Even as we sat to eat our sandwiches in an area where the only view was blueberry bushes, a few oaks and pines, he continued to pick until his hat was filled to the brim.

p-summit 1

Somehow, he finally pulled himself away and we continued on to the summit.

p-wood lily 2

I was eager to get to the summit and then move on because I hoped to find the wood lily in bloom.

p-wood lily 2 (1)

And I wasn’t disappointed.

p-ledges 2 (1)

Our descent was much quicker as the berries aren’t quite so abundant along the Ledges Trail. Speaking of that, those who fear that I’ve given away a prime location, fear not. My readership is low and the berries plentiful.

p-camp kayak

Back at camp, we checked on some high bush berries, but they’re still green. The greed will have to hold off for a few more days. Thank goodness we could find our way home with the help of a cairn–in the water?

p-cake 2

And then it was time to prepare dinner and help our youngest celebrate his birthday. He’d spent the day playing in Boston, much more fun that hanging out with the ‘rents.

A pleasant Mondate indeed. Filled to the brim were we–with each other, blueberries, cake and family time.

Blue Gold Mondate

Thunder rumbles in the distance, while clouds mask the setting sun, creating a golden blue/pink/purple sky. We need a word for that. Just as I made up Mondate to describe the Monday dates my guy and I share, I feel obligated to describe tonight’s sky as golden blinkle.

After a rainy weekend, we awoke to another gray morning. But . . . there was a bright spot. Our yard was filled with mats of spider webs.

webs 1

OK, so maybe “filled” is an exaggeration, but they weren’t here yesterday.

web 2

My initial intrigue was with the water droplets sitting atop these finely woven blankets.

funnel 2

And then I spotted a hole in the center of one.

funnel 1

A look at the others, and I knew we had a yard filled with funnel weavers.

funnel 3

Imagine the industrious nocturnal work it took to complete this masterpiece.

spider 1

As I stood watching, one of the weavers appeared.

spider 3

I saw something land, I know not what, and he quickly scampered over to snatch it, and then moved into the funnel to dine. That reminded me that it was time for breakfast.

My guy had been out for a morning run and when I pointed out the webs scattered about the yard, he said he’d seen them all along his route. So . . . why today? Why so many? Will they be here tomorrow. As the day wore on, it became more difficult to see the webs.

spider web dock 2

This masterpiece, however,  has been gracing the dock for weeks. I keep waiting for Charlotte to leave a message.

We had some errands to run in North Conway and then decided to head off in the kayak. I wish I could take a selfie of our paddles as we work together in unison. It reminds me of our relationship–we’ve always prided ourselves on our ability to think things through and come to an agreement as one. Oh yeah, sometimes we get a bit out of sync and one paddle dips into the water ahead of the other or the water splashes one of us, but all in all, we lower and raise the paddles together–and as Robert Frost would say, “That has made all the difference.”

beaver mound

As we paddled along the edge of the islands, we discovered one large beaver scent mound–it had to be three feet high.

beaver mound disturbance

While this was probably created in the spring to mark a boundary, it appears to have been visited recently.

buttonbush

Numerous buttonbush plants bloom along the water’s edge. In all their manifestations, they are spectacular.

bluegold3

Spadderdock continues to offer a brilliant reflection of gold on blue

water garden

in the water garden.

female red-winged blackbird

But it’s the birds we follow today. Here, a female red-winged blackbird.

out on a limb

Her guy is out on a limb.

kayak

They don’t give us the exact information we want, but the catbirds are nearby. We hear their mews emanating from the shrubs and know that it’s time to abandon ship.

blueberries

This is blue gold. A happy afternoon spent foraging together. We made sure to leave some for the birds in thanks for their guidance.

And now, the thunder continues in the distance and occasionally lightening flashes  across the sky, but nothing can shine brighter than a blue gold Mondate.