Questions To Be Asked

A friend and I drove to Evans Notch today with the mission of exploring a trail that was new to us. The Leach Link Trail connects Stone House Road to the Deer Hill trail system.

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We started at Stone House Road and turned back at the Cold River Dam. Not a long trail, certainly. And rather flat for the most part. Despite that . . . it took us four hours to cover 2.4 miles. You might say we stopped frequently.

There was a lot to see along this enchanted path. And questions to be asked.

CB 2

We walked beside the Cold River as we passed through hemlock groves and mixed hardwoods covered with a myriad of mosses and liverworts.

lungwort

Because it had rained last night, Lungwort, an indicator of rich, unpolluted areas, stood out among the tree necklaces. Why does it turn green when wet?

water strider

The shadow of the water strider tells its story. To our eyes, it looks like their actual feet are tiny and insignificant. What we can’t see is the  fuzzy little hairs that both repel water and trap tiny air bubbles, thus allowing them to float or skate along the water’s surface. But still, why is the foot shadow so big while the body shadow is more relative to the strider’s size? Is it the movement of the foot against the water that creates the shadow?

bobcat

While the river was to our right on the way to the dam, we noted ledges on the left. Prime habitat for the maker of this print: bobcat. You might be able to see nail marks in front of the toes. We always say that cats retract their nails, but in mud like this, traction helps.

bobcat & coyote

A little further along we discovered the bobcat was still traveling in the same direction and a coyote was headed the opposite way. What were they seeking? What was the difference in time of their passing?

CR4

Periodically, we slipped off the trail to explore beside the river.

WH 3

Ribbony witchhazel blossoms brightened our day–not that it was dark.

grasshopper 1

We weren’t the only ones taking a closer look at hobblebush.

hobblebush berries

As its leaves begin to change from green to plum, the berries mature and transform from red to dark blue. Will they get eaten before they all shrivel? We think they’ll be consumed by birds and mammals.

doll's eye

Most of the “doll’s eye” fruit is missing from this white baneberry. The archaic definition of “bane” is something, typically poison, that causes death. I’ve read that  ingesting the berries can bring on symptoms such as stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, delirium and circulatory failure. Think: respiratory distress and cardiac arrest. YIKES. So what may have eaten these little white eyeballs? Wildlife may browse it, but it’s said to be quite unpalatable and low in nutrition. Interestingly, birds are unaffected by its toxic qualities.

Indian Cucumber root

Berry season is important to migrating birds. The purplish black berries of Indian Cucumber-root are only consumed by birds. Other animals, however, prefer the stem and cucumberish-flavored root of this double decker plant. Why does the center of the upper whorl of leaves turn red? Is this an advertisement for birds?

state line

Soon, well, not all that soon, we arrived at the state line and passed onto Upper Saco Valley Land Trust property.

dam 3

And then we came upon the dam.

dam 2

It was the perfect day to sit on the rocks and eat a peanut butter and jam sandwich–with butter.

 tree face

As we walked back toward Stone House Road, we realized we were being watched. Perhaps this tree muse has all the answers.

Thanks to P.K. for a delightful wander and a chance to wonder together.

Signs of Life

I headed up to the vernal pool this afternoon with every intention of pausing along the way to sketch.

Mt Wash

The only snow left is atop Mount Washington.

vp1

Egg masses continue to accumulate. Blue sky with a few cumulous clouds, warm sunshine (almost too warm, but I’m not complaining), a gentle breeze, white-throated sparrows singing to each other–signs of life were everywhere.

FROG

Including this secretive wood frog. From above, his coloration matched the leaves beside and below.

frog2

We eyed each other as he floated near a large mass of eggs that have turned green with envy, I mean algae, in the past few days.  Their egg masses can include 500-1,500 eggs. Yooza!

sally eggs

Salamander eggs are either clear or opaque, like these two masses. They usually contain anywhere from 30 to 250 eggs.

at mansion road

My guy was sanding the dock at camp and I had finished several writing projects this morning, so I decided that rather than sit and sketch, I’d walk out to the log landing. Walking along the snowmobile trail was like walking in Clinton Harbor at low tide. The mud squelched underfoot, sucking in my boots. Rocks underneath felt like clams–maybe I was just hungry.trail

I headed down the logging road with mixed emotions. My heart cried, but my head knew better. Like other paths that I’ve frequented over the years, I loved this one and knew its quirky features well enough that I recognized the slightest change. Yup, that’s change you see in front of you. This logging operation has been going on for two years. Prior to that, the gray birches, paper birches and speckled alders, plus hemlock and white pine saplings bordered the old road. It was last logged about thirty years ago so those species grew in first. They’ve all been hacked down to make room for the equipment and trucks.

gray birch

I went in search of beauty and life among the destruction. Sometimes, you just have to look for it.

moose

One of the good things about such an operation is that it provides easy vegetation for wildlife, like the moose that are frequenting the trail.

moose bobcat

The herbivores, like moose and deer, love the easy feeding. And the bobcats like that the herbivores are easy feeding.

bobcat

A closer look at the bobcat tracks.

bobcat1

And even closer. I don’t often see bobcat claw marks, but muddy conditions warranted their use. In the back of the foot pad, you might see the imprint of hair.

bob scat

I was bound to find this. Bobcat scat–filled with dark organ meat and lots of hair. Bobcats, being carnivores, grind their prey right up with their sharp-pointed molars.

coyote scat

Coyotes, on the other hand, are omnivores and their molars are flatter, thus big bone chips pass through. The funny thing (to me anyway) about this scat, is that it looks exactly like some I found near the beaver lodge pond that I shared in yesterday’s May Day Celebration. Both were filled with extra large bone chips and hair. I took some of the scat I found yesterday. Today, I left it all.

Yes, my fetish for scat continues, but I only take a sample that will be an effective teaching tool. Really. And, I need to keep in mind that scat is a sign for other mammals–health, wealth and status quo are all wrapped up in it. If I take it, they have to work harder (or scat more) to get the word out about who and where they are. So, the next time you wander with me and we see some scat and I get all buggy-eyed over it, give me a nudge. OK, enough about scat.

weaselsquirrel

Dinner anyone?

Weasel and squirrel.

turkey

And the ubiquitous turkey.

landing

This is the second of two landing areas. When the job is completed, we’ll have new trails to explore via snowshoe–it’s rather wet and the trails are currently covered in a lot of slash.

The logging operation is a one-man job and he’s been selective. The end result, as ugly as it may look now, is that the ecosystem will be healthier because of this project. Grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and tree saplings will grow in–early succession. And the fauna will follow.

eggs at landing

The vernal pools associated with the area are still here for the most part–and show signs of life. I found wood frog and salamander egg masses. Even startled a couple of frogs, including a bull frog.

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And just when you think that wood frogs only return to their natal vernal pools . . . here is proof they’ll take advantage of any water.

eggs

An opportunist recently used a wet depression in the landing.

Signs of life. No matter how devastated an area may look, they’re there.

Thanks for joining me on today’s wonder-filled wander.

We Will Be Known Forever By The Tracks We Leave

So said the Dakota Sioux, who were woodland people. That Native American proverb was with me today as I moved along a logging road behind our land. A muddy, sometimes frozen, sometimes gushy and smushy, logging road.

coyote and deer

I think I missed the party. Deer and coyote prints were abundant and if I’d only visited a few hours earlier, I may have seen some of the action. But, part of my problem is that I don’t walk like a Native American, who supposedly could move through the woods with fabled stealthiness. Of course, that may be referring to a much grassier woodland than we know–especially in a logging area where slash is left behind. But, logging or not, I clunk along–crackling through ice, splashing through puddles, sloshing through mud and crunching through snow. I’m hardly quiet–ever.

ice and rocks

The logging road has changed over the last two years, but it’s not all bad. I get to see sites like this where the water and rocks make art together.

It used to be that the gray and paper birch, those early succession trees, hung over the road. After a heavy snowstorm, my guy and I, or a friend of ours (that’s you, D.B), would snowshoe down the road, trying to relieve the trees of some of their burden. It was rare that anyone else ever went there, so the three of us made it our mission to take care of the trees. Those trees are all gone now to make way for the logging truck, but their offspring will soon fill in the space.

In the meantime, a playground has been created for our local wildlife. And play they did. Their tracks are everywhere–traveling to and fro.

bobcat

Including bobcat.

moose

And moose.

moose 1deer

Moose and Deer

muddy boots

Not to be left out, I also got a bit muddy.

my boot

And left behind my own set of prints.

landing

I crossed the landing and decided to return home via one of my snowshoe trails. This time I was walking on top of the snow for the most part–thanks to last night’s low temperature.

following snowshoe trail

As usual, I stopped frequently to scan the woods, looking for movement or some anomaly. I startled a few ruffed grouse, who in turn startled me. Of course, I couldn’t catch it in film.

grouse

But I did capture this moment. A grouse must have burrowed into one of my former boot prints–maybe because the snow is crustier some nights. It munched the fungus on a small branch and left a pile of its trademark scat.

Sometimes, when we’re on a hike and I pause to take a photo or extropolate on something I see, my guy points to my tracks and says, “I wonder if the deer look at these and say, ‘A human came this way. Don’t you detect a whiff of PB&J?'” I have to remind him that he likes making discoveries just as much as I do.

fresh deer

A little further along, a flash of movement. I looked up and saw only the tail of a deer as it dashed across my trail. But it left behind a bit of a muddy footprint. Dew claw marks and all.

And then the  crème de la crème . . .

moose scat

Moose scat. Mind you–it isn’t fresh. You can see the hemlock needles atop it. But it’s a firm winter scat–I’m thinking it was deposited earlier this season.

moose scat 1

My glove loved modeling in these photos. Ya know, some people make jewelry out of moose scat. I didn’t have a container to collect this today, but I know where it is. Maybe tomorrow or sometime in the near future. And maybe I’ll think about Christmas presents–hmmm . . . who wants to be on my list?

snowmobile trails

Finally, I’d finished the loop and found myself back on the snowmobile trail.

Red maple

Time to look at the Red Maple twigs.

red maplesketch

It won’t be long now before they burst into flower.

I hope you’ll find some time to search for tracks during this mud season. And think about the tracks you leave behind–literally and figuratively. I’ve left some that would best be washed away in the rain, but others that I wish could last forever.

Thanks for wondering my way.

Eagle Eyes

CL market

Today’s Mondate began with the ritual PB&J creation at home. Our destination was a hiking trail in New Hampshire, but on the way, we realized the need for gas. So . . . a jig here and a jag there over the bumpy backroads and we landed at Center Lovell Market. While my guy was inside paying for the gas and chatting with a friend who works there, he was handed a slice of blueberry cake just out of the oven. He brought it out to share with me–and I sent him back in, hoping he’d buy the whole thing. Such self-restraint. He only purchased one piece–a good decision, certainly. But really?

Eagle 1

We made our way back to Harbor Road in North Fryeburg, where something in the landscape caught my eye.

Eagle 1a

Always an impressive sight.

Eagle 2

A mature Bald Eagle checking out the area around Charles River, near the old course of the Saco River.

trail parking sign

Our destination–Province Brook Trail. This hike is for my friend, P.K., who first introduced me to this trail in her summer backyard a few years ago. While she winters in Florida, I hope she’ll enjoy today’s view.

We had to park on South Chatham Road, in South ChatHAM, New Hampshire. I once interviewed Frank Eastman, a South Chatham native, who informed me that it’s pronounced ChatHAM, not Chat’em, because H-A-M spells ham. A lesson I’ll never forget.

trail men

While we walked along the snowmobile trail, aka 2.5-mile Peaked Hill Road or Forest Service Road 450, two members of the White Mountain National Forest trail crew came along to close gates–a sure sign of spring.

pot hole

Seeing a few potholes like this one, we could understand why.

moose printmoose

We opened our eagle eyes and things began to appear.

Moose 3

Criss-crossing the trail, through snow and mud, moose prints.

bearbear 1

Our eyes are forever scanning beech trees–on the lookout for bear claw marks. We weren’t disappointed.

hairy scat

On the trail, we saw several old scat samples. Coyote or bobcat. This one is all hair. I’m leaning toward bobcat–but am open to other conclusions. There were no obvious tracks to make a certain id.

yellow birch

And here–one very large Yellow Birch growing on granite.

yb2

Yellow Birch seeds find optimum growing conditions on moss-covered rocks, stumps and logs. Once the tree establishes itself, it clings to the rock and sends its roots in search of the soil below. Hemlocks do the same.

trail head

Finally, we reached the trail head. Oops, I lopped off the head of the hiker on the sign.

trail closed

Province Brook Trail is currently closed to snowmobiles and ATVs, but we walked around the gate and continued on.

ice

Still plenty of ice in the streams beside the trail.

snow:brook

And lots of snow.

polypody fern

Polypody Fern peeking out from under a snow-covered rock.

hobblebush

And Hobblebush preparing to bloom.

glacial erratics

Lots of glacial erratics along the way. This one supports an entire community.

mushrooms

The tree in the center invited a closer look.

mush 1

Fan-shaped Artist’s Conks.

mush 2

Their white pore surface.

mush 3

Looking skyward.

mush 4

And a sense of perspective.

 pond1

At last, we reached Province Pond.

shaw mtn

Shaw Mountain is in the background–we’re saving it for another day.

Allen-snow

On our way to a forest service shelter that was built in the 1930s (I know this because I read it in Hikes & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION written by my friend, Marita Wiser), the deep snow caught us a few times. My guy is knee-deep.

brook crossing

It pays to let him go first. I can then figure out where not to step. Here, he’s contemplating the brook crossing to the shelter. It was actually quite easy.

Shelter

A sheltered lunch locale–just right for those PB&J sandwiches.

lunch viewlunch 2

Best view in the house.

initials

I’ve a feeling these walls could tell many tales.

snowing

It was snowing as we headed back down the trail. Yet another wintery-spring day.

Eight miles later, we were thankful for the opportunity to stretch our legs and use our eagle eyes.

Thanks for wandering by to wonder.

Mountain Mondate

Sabattus Mtn sign

Our Monday date took us to Sabattus Mountain in Lovell this morning. It’s an easy trek offering great views, lots of wildlife activity and a decent workout in a short amount of time.

trail sign

Which way should we go? I ask myself that question over and over again. Habit took us up the right-hand trail, but in hindsight, maybe we should have mixed it up this time. A life lesson?

burl

Check out this burl. Over and under and around, oh my!

transition 1

I stood at this spot on the trail and looked down–Lots of beech, hemlock, birch and maple in the mix.

transition 2

And then I turned to look up the trail. Oak, pine and hemlock dominated the scenery. A transition point.

growing apart

Speaking of transitions, this hemlock grew apart after a couple of years. With two rather than one terminal leaders growing side by side, they eventually found their way back together.

and together again

Here they are woven back together–it’s almost difficult to tell that the two have become one. It made me think of our relationship as we trekked up the mountain. Maybe this tree didn’t really grow apart, the two parts just respected each other as their life together began and they allowed each other to continue growing in their own way, knowing that they needed to stay together ultimately because being united and supportive is what it’s all about. And maybe I’m reading way too much into a natural occurrence.

porcupine 1

A porcupine tree. Lots of porcupine activity in the hemlock grove both on this trail and on the way down.

porc trail

A well-traveled porcupine trail.

fire tower

The concrete stanchions that once supported a fire tower. Apparently, the tower was removed in 1963.

bench 1

Perfect spot for a hot cocoa break.

oake and pine

Eastern White Pine and Northern Red Oak–looks like the oak is ahead in the race to the sun right now. I wonder if that’s how it will play out over the years.

buried bench

And then there’s the other bench at the summit. We couldn’t actually sit on this one.

bobcat 1

Heading along the ridge, we found these prints that always excite me. This critter had traveled to and fro before going off trail. Notice the “C” shape between the toes and the pad. C is for cat. Yup, a bobcat. And it was at some point in the last six hours or so, because we’d had a dusting of snow. These were fresh. Yippee!

bobcat2

A bobcat is a “perfect” walker. Ah, perfection. But really, it places a front foot down, and as that foot moves forward, the hind foot steps into its place. I think you can see that here–it looks like it might be two feet sharing almost the same space.

bobcat dinner?

Breakfast? The bobcat obviously snatched some little brown thing–or tried to. This was just off the man-made snowshoe trail and right by the ledge. I was a bit surprised that the cat had followed the trail for as long as it had. They usually cross our trails and have their own corridor. But, it sure makes for easier traveling to follow where others have gone before.

old oak

This old oak has seen better days. Amazing that it’s still standing.

support of a friend

But then I looked up. We all need the support of a friend. In this case, the friend is a white pine. They may compete for sunlight, but apparently they can count on each other occasionally.

heading down

Heading down. Transitioning again. There were a zillion snowshoe hare trails. And  mice. And squirrel. Good feeding grounds for a bobcat.

lunch 3

We finished up our trek before we were hungry for lunch. But, when hunger struck we ate PB&J sandwiches beside Kezar Lake.

Thanks for wondering along on this wander through the Maine woods.