Walking with Dragons

As I drove down the dirt road into Brownfield Bog today, I began to notice ruts on the side where previous vehicles had gotten stuck in the mud. And then I came to a puddle the looked rather deep and to its right were several rocks that I didn’t feel like scraping the truck against to avoid the water. That’s when I decided I’d be much better off backing up and parking at the beginning of the road. Besides, I knew if I walked I’d have more chance to see what the road and bog had to offer. But . . . back up on that curvy narrow road–for a quarter mile or more? Yup. Thankfully, no one drove in or out and somehow I managed to get myself out of that predicament.

I knew I’d made the right choice when I was greeted by an immature Chalk-fronted Corporal. First it was one, then two, and then so many more. And the mosquitoes and black flies? Oh, they were there, but not in abundance.

Also helping patrol the roadway was a Spring Peeper, the X on its back giving reference to its scientific name: Pseudacris crucifer–the latter meaning cross-bearer. Notice his size–about as big as a maple samara.

A more mature female Chalk-fronted Corporal perched upon an emerging Bracken Fern was my next point of focus. She’s larger and darker than her young counterparts, her corporal stripes on the thorax marked in gray.

And then there was a June Beetle, also maple samara in length with its thorax and abdomen robust.

My own eyes kept getting larger and larger for every step I took I felt like there was someone new to meet. Practicing ID was helped a bit as I’ve begun to recognize certain traits of the different species. Of course, each year I need a refresher course. By the green eyes, I knew this one was in the Emerald family, and with its green and brown thorax, black abdomen with a narrow pale ring between segments 2 and 3, and the fact that the abdomen is narrow to start and finish with a widening in between, I decided it was an American Emerald.

Reaching the bog at last, I was glad I’d worn my Muck boots, for the water flowed across the cobbled road and in several places it was at least five inches deep.

Within one puddle floated a dragonfly exuvia, its structure no longer necessary. I will forever be in awe about how these insects begin life in an aquatic nymph form, climb up vegetation or rocks or trees and emerge as winged insects.

As I continued to admire them, there were others to note as well, like the metallic green Orchid Sweat Bee pollinating the Black Chokeberry flowers.

The next flyer to greet me had a white face that you can’t quite see. By the yellow markings on her abdomen, I think I’ve identified her correctly as a Frosted Whiteface.

Birds were also abundant by their song and calls, though actually seeing them was more difficult since the trees have leafed out. But . . . a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker did pause and pose.

Again, shadows blocked the face of this species, but the wings and abdomen were far more worthy of attention as it clung to a Royal Fern. In fact, with so much gold, I felt like I was greeting a noble one. The Four-spotted Skimmer is actually quite small, yet stocky. The four spots refer to the black nodus and stigma (Huh? nodus: located midway between the leading edge of each wing where there is a shallow notch; stigma: located toward the wingtips). But notice also that the amber bar at the base of its wings and black basal patch on the hind wings–giving it an almost stained glass look.

By now, you must be wondering if I was really at the bog for I’ve hardly shown any pictures of it. Yes, I was. And alone was I. When I first arrived by the water’s edge, I noted two vehicles that had braved the road and as I stood looking out at the old course of the Saco River, I heard a couple of voices which confirmed my suspicion that they’d gone kayaking. But other than that, I had the place to myself. Well, sorta.

Me and all the friends I was getting reacquainted with as I walked along. The name for this one will seem quite obvious: White-faced Meadowhawk, its eyes green and brown.

Nearby a pair of Eastern Kingbirds, perched, then flew, enjoying such a veritable feast of insects spread out before them.

I worried for my other winged friends, including the female Bluet damselfly.

And the Common Baskettail. How long will they survive?

I also wondered about reproduction for I saw so many, many female Chalk-fronted Corporals, but not a male in sight. Until, at last, before I left the bog, I spied one.

And for a long time we studied each other. Have you ever realized how hairy dragonflies are?

The Brownfield Bog (Major Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area) can put the brain on nature overload as all senses are called into action. But today, because with every step I took at least fifty dragonflies flew, they drew my focus and I gave thanks to them for reteaching me about their idiosyncrasies, as well as eating the smaller insects so I came away with only a few love bites behind my ears.

Walking with dragons. As life should be. In western Maine.

Because of the Elder Alder

“Mind your elders,” they say. And so today I did.

It all began when I stood by a river in expectation of spying a few dragonfly exoskeletons. Low temperatures of late mixed in with lots of rain, however, meant that while the Black Fly and Mosquito populations are on the high side, the dragonflies have been slow to delight us with their presence. But . . . while I looked my eyes began to focus on another bug. On small saplings of Hemlock and others along the river bank, I found numerous takes on the same insect. Though winged, none of them appeared to be in a great hurry.

While I looked about, I realized that they weren’t the only ones who chose to stand rather still. The same was true of the Mayflies recently hatched, their eyes so big, bodies so striped, and mouths non-existent for eating was not their prime duty. Mating was the name of the Mayfly game.

And it appeared that others had the same intention in mind. And so I continued to circle back to them in my usual stalking routine.

“My, what long antennae you have.”

“The better to stroke you with, my dear.”

While I looked about, a bird flew in. My initial reaction: a thrush. More specifically: a Hermit Thrush. But . . . recently I’d learned that what I thought was a Hermit turned out to be a Swainson’s Thrush–a species I tended to ignore because I didn’t realize it might be a possibility in western Maine, until it was. And in the past two weeks, I’ve had three occasions upon which to make its acquaintance.

What I’m learning to note is its buffy eye ring and consistent color. I’m not a great birder, and don’t ask me about sound. Though I was raised in a musical family, the gene somehow was dropped from my DNA. I find that I appreciate the songs and calls that I hear. In fact, my life is enlightened by the morning orchestra. But . . . don’t ask me to repeat a note for it goes in one ear, out the other, and continues on into the forest reverberating against bark and leaves and illuminating the world in a manner ethereal–just not one I can remember.

As for the resident bugs, I found one that had bird droppings on it, but somehow it had managed to avoid becoming dinner. So far.

While I looked about, a bird of another sort made itself known–via a pellet filled with hair and bones.

Meanwhile, back on the first Hemlock sapling, I overheard this:

“Do you want to see me Hemlock needle collection?”

“Oh yes, please. I thought you’d never ask.”

While I looked about, I also noticed Starflowers in bloom, their tender blossoms practically imitating the leaves below.

Back at the ranch, or rather branch, the dance had finally begun. It was a slow one, indeed.

While I looked about, one with much more speed scurried across the forest floor. Where’s Waldo Spider? Do you see him?

And on the branch the slow dance continued as the partners spent time getting to know each other.

While I looked about, ants ran up and down stems all around on a quest I couldn’t quite understand, though I’m sure there was sugar involved.

On the branch: He stepped in closer with his left foot and she with the right as they began to Rumba.

While I looked about, I realized other insects had become meals so caught were they in the tangle of a web.

On another sapling, others waited to cut in. It’s a recognized practice to cut in. The guy who wants to cut taps the gal’s partner quietly on the shoulder. The dancer must let her go both courteously and cheerfully. She, of course, has no choice in the matter.

On the branch: He was going to allow no one to cut in. And she felt the same.

While I looked about, I discovered a white Lady’s Slipper not yet in full bloom, but when it does, it will be the perfect dance shoe.

When I at last left, the couple continued to explore each other, though mating doesn’t typically take place until nighttime. I guess this male was ready to get a head start. After all, their window of opportunity isn’t long, so they must make hay while the sun doth shine.

Because of these elder Alderflies, I had the honor to see and learn so much today.

Beaver Caper

Our interest was piqued a couple of weeks ago and we promised each other we’d return to learn more–thus today was the day that Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and I ventured to the Muddy River at Holt Pond Preserve.

Crossing the Emerald Field at the corner of Grist Mill and Chaplins Mill Roads, we found our way to the trail, passed into the woods and immediately noticed some fresh works created by Castor canadensis.

Please take note of the small portion of a sapling trunk in the bottom of this photo, for I promise that you’ll see it again. And again. And . . .

But in the meantime, we slipped, slid, and postholed our way to the brook, and noted where water flowed over an old dam so it was obvious this wasn’t the spot to which the beavers had dragged their sawn logs.

Also notice the “Posted” signs on the trees. Can beavers read? It did seem that they stayed away from the far shore. Maybe they can read 😉

We looked upstream, but decided to turn around and follow the river down, ever curious about what we might find.

First, however, we did pause to admire the ice sculptures where the water rushed and gurgled and bubbled over the old dam. Soon, these will be a thing of the past and we’ll miss their varied forms frozen in time only momentarily.

And then, as we started to walk south, the foamy water drew our attention.

Where Alanna saw frozen froth of rootbeer floats . . .

I saw mini ice discs in their final form.

And one that created a tree skirt with a lacy slip below.

Just beyond we spied the largest of all the sculptures and gave thanks for its existence. In our minds’ eyes we could see the upper part of the sculpture taking shape when the snow was deeper beside the brook. And the lowest part a more recent attempt of the chiseling artist.

The artwork was enhanced by the chips splayed about as if creating a textured pedestal for the display.

Just beyond that spot, we looked further south and scanned the shoreline, not noting any further work of the sculptor. The water didn’t seem particularly backed up so we figured there wasn’t a dam below. What did it all mean? We knew from our previous visit that there was more work north of our location, but had so hoped to find something new to the south.

The only thing visible, a few old beaver stumps such as this one. Given that, we did a 180˚ turn and made our way north.

First, however, we had to walk through the water and gave thanks for our boots, before passing “the” tree one more time.

Alanna, being much younger and far more agile than me, was kind enough to lead and wait, lead and wait. And because she was ahead, she went shopping when I wasn’t looking. I don’t remember what we were talking about when it suddenly occurred to me that she held a piece of the sapling trunk we’d spied earlier. This is a woman who loves to laugh and so she did when I commented on the specimen tucked under her arm.

Notice how snug she held it as she walked with intention across one of the stream bridges.

We walked for another bit before we found more beaver works, including a cache of debarked twigs–beaver chews. They seemed so fresh, and some were actually green, that we got to thinking. Winter food stash? We know that in the fall they gather saplings and branches, anchor them in the mud and when the ice covers the river, they slip out of the underwater tunnel in their lodge and chew off a stick from the stockpile to bring into the feeding compartment for a meal, thus keeping themselves safe from winter predators. But . . . these weren’t near a lodge and seemed like the result of a fresh logging operation and so we wondered, did they have a new lodge in mind? Are they planning to build a new dam?

We also had to wonder about their debarkation–so smooth were the sticks.

As we continued on, our nature distraction disorder kicked in periodically, as it should, and we rejoiced in the sight of buds on Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower.

But still, it was more beaver works that kept calling our names and we tried to pay homage to all of them.

The last fresh one we saw was on a beech and we knew by the height that the cuts had been made when the snow was deeper. So . . . were the beavers still around?

Oh, wait. While we wondered, Alanna also had deer scat to collect.

And just beyond that–weasel scat found its way into her bag.

And then a winter firefly crossed our path as seems to happen frequently of late.

Onward we continued for we wanted to check on a couple of lodges we knew existed. Do you notice that the art work remained tucked safely under her arm?

For a little bit our trail took us away from the Muddy River, but when we returned to it, we focused on old beaver works–a fallen tree and a girdled hemlock. That got us thinking about the fact that they do girdle trees–often, in our experience, it’s hemlocks that they seem to debark in a band that encircles the tree, thus killing it. These they don’t drop to use for building or feeding. So why go to all that effort? We’ve heard different theories, including that once the tree dies, a species more to their liking will grow? True? Maybe.

We continued to look for more recent works, but found none. Until . . . we spotted some brown snow.

Leaves and river muck had been pulled up and distributed over the snowy surface beside the water. We stepped closer and saw footprints that were indecipherable, but knew by the pile of gunk that we’d discovered the makings of a beaver scent mound. Had the two-year-olds left the lodge and set out to claim their own territory? We suspected such.

Atop it all, we noted where a scent mark had been left behind. Of course, we both had to get down on all fours and sniff. I thought it smelled a bit like wintergreen, perhaps an indication of a meal consumed. Most often it smells more vanilla in nature. We found the starts of another scent mound a bit further along that emitted a muskier scent and we thought of the beaver marking its territory with castoreum.

Oh, and then there was some more scat to collect for Alanna spied the round nuggets or malt balls of a snowshoe hare.

At last we reached the board walk that leads back out to the Muddy River, some of it under water and again we gave thanks for our boots–hers Boggs and mine Mucks. Both perfect for our adventure.

From the board walk we could see the twin lodges on the river, but neither had any fresh logs atop and so we still didn’t know from whence the beavers came. It appeared they hadn’t used the old lodges, but we never found any new ones. Or a dam. But the scent mounds were super fresh. And so, we concluded that we’ll have to revisit the area either early in the morning or later in the day in hopes of spying the industrious builders in action.

In the meantime, we left with new findings, new questions, and for Alanna, some new scat and new beaver works–the one tucked under her arm a reminder of our Beaver Caper.

Birds of a Feather

My intention was to check the condition of several vernal pools as I tramped into the woods today. Only a few years ago I was taking photographs of wood frogs on this very date, but I knew that would not be today’s focus.

As I approached the first and saw that it was still snow covered, though the northeast side displayed the pastel bluish hue of slushy ice, I began to wonder what would draw my attention.

And then I looked down by my snowshoes and suspected I’d found the answer. That answer, however, brought other questions to mind. To whom did the feathers belong? What had happened? Were there others? How did they get there? And when?

Beside the pool and just below a hemlock, I found another. The hemlock’s needles provided perspective for they were only about a half inch in length.

As I moved onto the pool, my eyes cued in to a feather here and a feather there and occasionally a cluster in the mix.

While most were slate gray, I began to note some with tints of brown on the outer fringe.

There were even a few that I thought might be tail feathers, but really my bird knowledge needs to increase greatly. Again, however, with their orientation beside the beech leaf, it was obvious that the bird of choice was not big.

With so many feathers on display, as minute as they were, I wondered who had dined. Or rather, who had snacked for it hardly seemed like a full-fledged meal (pun alert) had been consumed. I found the tracks and then scat of one of the neighborhood deer and knew it was intent on the hemlocks beside the pool and small birds were not on its menu.

In the melted water by the scat were a a couple of feathers of lighter colors. And then it occurred to me. All had been plucked.

Finding no other evidence of tracks other than deer and turkeys, my mind began to gaze skyward for I considered a bird of prey as the predator. The pool is surrounded by a mixed forest of beech, maples, oaks, hemlocks and pines. Several would have been fine candidates for a feeding tree.

And so I began to wonder if there was more evidence somewhere near the pool. With that in mind, I climbed out of it, and still here and there tiny clumps or individual presentations caught my attention.

With that knowledge, I made a plan. I began on the northern edge looking south and then turned around and walked out, scanning the ground and trees, both at eye level and above, looking for evidence.

I’d walk out as far from the pool as I found evidence, also checking every tree well on the way. Do you see the bits of gray?

Any feathers were more scattered the further from the pool I went, but still they were present. And if you’ve noticed, all were atop any other ground debris. That was significant.

At the point where I saw the last of the feathers, I’d turn around and approach the pool again at an angle, thus zigzagging in and out as I circled it. The furthest away that I got was about 15 snowshoe lengths.

By the time I reached the southerly shore I realized that there were no feathers. That also proved to be significant.

While I was searching, or perhaps because, I found other things of interest like the jelly ear fungus, Auricularia auricula-judae.

It’s one of my favorites this time of year and I love its rubbery and gelatinous feel.

But I digress. And so back to my bird. I didn’t encounter feathers again until about half way back on the westerly side. That lead me to make some conclusions that may be totally wrong, but I’ll put myself out on limb (oh geesh, another one) with my findings: 1. The perpetrator had dined from high up in one of the trees on the north side and I suspected a pine or oak. 2. And if it had dined from above, then the predator was a larger bird 3. The meal was rather recent for all of the feathers were on top of the surface, rather than having sunk into the snow or appearing from under any other debris. 4. I suspected the victim was a Dark-eyed Junco. While the Juncos were everywhere in the fall, once the snow fell in early November, we didn’t see them for a couple of months. And then in mid-January a few found our feeders. This week, the flock has increased substantially as they migrate north and I counted twenty on the ground and in the trees by our home, which isn’t far from the pool.

I never did make it to the other vernal pools today, for so taken was I with trying to figure out the mystery of the feathers. Another thing about Juncos is that though many we see are slate gray, females may be a bit buffy on top of their head, back, and wings.

The other thing about Juncos is their countershadowing coloration.

Looking at the bird from the ground, it tends to blend in with the sky, especially on this gray day. And if you were to look down on the bird from above, it would blend in with the ground. That is, unless of course, you have snow on the ground as we have had for quite a while. It’s beginning to melt, especially in this afternoon’s rain and fog, but it does make the wee birds an easy target for the bigger ones.

Yesterday I saw a big one, but not in my backyard. Well, in a way I guess it was for I saw it near our camp. And I should have recognized it for I spent all last summer watching an immature and adult in the very location but it’s coloration threw me off.

When I first spied it, I thought it was an eagle or an owl. But the closer I got (mind you, I wasn’t as close as this may seem given that it’s a telephoto lens on a Canon Powershot), the more the white spots on those wings confused me. So, I settled for a hawk–either an immature Broad-winged, Red-shouldered or Red-tailed. But . . . . for once I did what I should always do–and reached out to those who know more than me.

Thank you to Alan and Linda Seamans and the Stanton Bird Club for they all agreed that it was a sub-adult Bald Eagle. Notice the mask. According to the Cornell allaboutbirds site, which I visited at least a hundred times yesterday: “Third year birds [Bald Eagles] have a mostly white belly, with some brown mottling, a brown chest, and a broad brown mask on the face.” Said my friend Alan, who is also a Maine Master Naturalist, “The huge schnozz is being noted by all, much too big in proportion for a red-tailed.”

Thank you also to the birds who continue to teach me about their life stories every day. I don’t always interpret what I see correctly and I admit I may be wrong about thinking the feathers belonged to a Junco, but I do enjoy the journey. Birds of a feather, they keep me wondering.

Book of February: Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer

Yikes. Here it is the end of February and I’ve spent the month mentally flipflopping between two books to recommend–one about tracks and the other about tree buds.

And then this day dawned. Not long into the morning as I sat at my desk beside a window, a swift motion captured my attention . . .

and I knew immediately that Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer by Mary Holland would be the February Book of the Month.

In this factual, yet delightful story, Mary tells of Ferdinand’s birth, childhood activities, and growth as he and his siblings are born and eventually weaned. Her amazing photographs fill the pages and alone are worth a reason to purchase this book. But there’s so much more and one doesn’t need to be 3-8 years old to enjoy it. Even those of us who are more “mature” can surely learn from the information shared on each of the book’s 32 pages.

And there’s even more to the book because at the end is a section her publisher labels “For Creative Minds.” Though one can’t copy other pages in the book, we are encouraged to use the material in this section for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Included are “Red Fox Fun Facts and Adaptations” with photographs and brief blurbs to describe various behaviors of these canines. (I remember a time when I had to get it through my brain that a fox was a canine and not a feline.)

One of my favorites from this section: “Red foxes are most active at dusk and dawn (crepuscular). In summer, they are more active at night (nocturnal) because their prey, mice, are more active then. Foxes may hunt during the day (diurnal) in the winter because it’s harder to find food.”

Bingo! That brings me to the reason why I chose this book for February.

Remember that motion I mentioned observing this morning. Well, I went to the kitchen door and there on the snowbank by the back deck was my neighborhood fox.

He was on the prowl. Do you see all the gray and red squirrel tracks on the snow? And Mary’s comment that foxes will hunt during the day in the winter. One would think that given all the squirrels and mice folks were dealing with last fall, a result of the previous year’s mast crop production of acorns, pinecones, and beechnuts, the foxes and coyotes and bobcats would have plenty to feast on. But . . . there wasn’t so much food for those little brown things to cache this winter and so it’s a rare occasion that I find a squirrel midden or even mouse tracks in the snow right now. Instead, they are all at my bird feeding station. And my daily fox knows this. Though I haven’t seen him find success, he returns repeatedly and follows the same route each time so I suspect he’s helped himself to a few local delicacies.

Notice that long snout–the better to smell you with, my dear. Oh wait, that was the big bad wolf, not the big, bad fox.

Just after I shot this photograph, he pivoted and dashed off in the direction from whence he’d come.

And then he returned, with nothing dangling from his mouth. His eyes, in the front because he was born to hunt (eyes on the side, born to hide–like a deer), focused on something in the quaking aspen that I couldn’t quite see from my vantage point.

He went back to the tree and for a second I thought he was going to climb it. Hmmm, gray foxes climb trees, not red.

Again, this was from the edge of the door and I couldn’t quite see what had captured his attention. Prior to his visit, the feeders and ground had been a party spot for a slew of squirrels and birds. I doubted a bird would hang out in a tree while a fox lurked below, but wondered if a squirrel was trying its darnedest to blend in with the tree trunk. And if it was a red squirrel, it was keeping its mouth shut for a change for I heard not a bit of its usual chatter.

After a minute or two, Fred, as I’ll call him (after all, Mary named her fox) moved a few feet away, sat down and began to scratch behind his ear. Those darn fleas.

He sat there for a few minutes and then got up and began to walk away. But his eyes . . . still they were focused on that tree.

At last he gave up on that particular quarry and ran off, following his usual route across the yard toward the neighbor’s house. I wonder how many cats they have left.

I gave Fred a wee bit of time to move on so I wouldn’t disturb him and then I headed out because, after all, who can resist the opportunity to check out brand, spanking fresh tracks? Remember that red fox’s feet are quite hairy so their prints look rather muffled, even in the fresh dusting of snow that fell overnight.

Do you see the X between toes and pad? Some semblance of nails? And can’t you just envision him loping across the yard?

Remember how he sat down to scratch behind his right ear (looking head on it would have been his left to us)? Well, I found the spot where he’d left an impression on the snow. And more. A tad of pee and SCAT! He’d dined on something.

I backtracked him for a while, crossing over stonewalls and into neighboring tree lots curious about where he comes from, but as Mary Holland reminded me, “As the weather turns cold, Ferdinand and his siblings sleep outside on the ground and no longer use their den.” Instead, they curl up and their bushy tails keep them warm. At last, I came to a tree where he’d dillydallied.

And then I spied a tiny amount of yellow snow–he’d tinkled (what fun to write “tinkled”) there. The sniff test results: skunky scent. Has he not mated yet? One day more than a month ago he did bring a gal by, but I haven’t seen her since. Red foxes typically breed in January and February, and it is, after all, still February for a few more hours.

At the end of our cowpath, he’d turned south as he always does and his track became but a memory.

Mary’s book can help keep that memory alive. It’s only one of numerous children’s books she’s now written. All have cross-curriculum teaching activity guides that one can download from www.SylvanDellPublishing.com.

Mary is also the author of Naturally Curious, which is now out of print (though someone told me there is an updated edition, but I’m not sure its been published yet), and Naturally Curious Day-by-Day, and she shares a blog post about five times a week with those who wish to learn more.

I’ve had the honor of being in her presence twice, both times here in western Maine, and she is delightful, down-to-earth, and extremely gifted as a naturalist, photographer and author. She’s also quite approachable and I’m always amazed that she takes the time to answer questions via e-mail.

If you follow her blog or read her books, you’ll feel as if she’s either walking beside you or just ahead. Mary, if your ears are burning, it’s because those of us who do follow in your tracks often comment on the fact that what we see you just happened to post. Thank you for helping all of us, no matter our age, become naturally curious.

Once again, the February Book of the Month: Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer.

Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer by Mary Holland, Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2013.

Transitional Stars

I wandered a bit of the Tenmile River Demonstration Forest with Laurie LaMountain, owner/editor/publisher of Lake Living magazine, this morning as we played catch up. Typically, we are in frequent touch with each other, especially while producing a magazine each quarter. But this winter, there will not be an issue, and so our contact has been less frequent. 

Making our way via snowshoes was a bit of a challenge for the last heavy snowstorm downed many a tree and it was like maneuvering through an obstacle course. 

As I stated in a blog post last year, the Tenmile River Demonstration Forest was donated to the Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District (OCSWCD) in 1950 by Frank Merrifield, three years after the Great Fire of 1947.

Back in October 1947, catastrophic wildfires erupted throughout Maine during what became known as “The Week Maine Burned.”

It hadn’t rained for 108 days and the dry woods were like tinder. Here in western Maine, Fryeburg, Brownfield and Denmark thought they had a fire under control, but overnight a strong wind blew and gave it new life. About 2,000 acres burned by the next night as the fire spread to the edge of Brownfield.

With the winds continuously shifting, town folks began to panic. Farmers either turned their livestock loose or herded them to neighboring towns. Others packed as many belongings as they could and evacuated.

By morning, most homes and public buildings in Brownfield were mere piles of ash. Stately places including the Farnsworth Place where Dr. Philo Farnsworth, a pioneer in the field of television, spent his summers, had burned. Churches, schools, the post office, Grange hall, library and town hall all went up in smoke–only twenty houses survived. In the end, 85% of the town was destroyed.

According to the property brochure available at the kiosk, “The District Supervisors replanted the property with red and white pine” between 1950 and 1960. “It was their plan to turn the land into an example of wise and sustainable forest management and to use it as an education resource area to demonstrate good conservation management practices.”

Today, we noted some of the work that had been done as we made our way to the Tenmile River for which the property was named. And at the river, it was the amount of water passing through that drew us to a stop.

Standing beside it, we paused for the longest time. As it always does, the sound of the flowing water and sight of the ice captured our attention. 

When the temperature dropped, the motion energy of water molecules dropped. At 32˚, water molecules slowed enough to link up with each other and formed a hexagon matrix.  At that point, the liquid that once flowed became brittle ice in its varying forms. 

There were examples of rime ice coating downed twigs. While frost forms from water vapor, the rime ice formed from water droplets–perhaps in a mist of our recent foggy days. If the temperature of the droplets was below the freezing point, they adhered to any surface below freezing.

Rime ice is hard and depending on conditions can be thick, heavy and white or clear in color. Today’s examples were the former and helped create unique shadows that danced in a way that will never be seen again. 

That’s the thing about ice. It is ever changing and the patterns created intertwined with reflections upon the water provided lines portraying all manner of motion.

If you look closely in the lower right-hand corner, you may see the outline of a few people being pulled into the picture–the true water worshipers.  

There was also a lady who reached up from her couch to grasp something–perhaps a bird of paradise. It appeared that the heart within her bosom was enlarged with love. 

Every second of every day the pattern changes and so our observations were in the moment. 

But no matter what, each rendition was a work of art, a sculpture to fill our souls and take with us. 

As we took our leave, Laurie and I gave thanks for the opportunity to stand in awe and notice and be filled by the wonder of it all. 

The stars of the show–forever in transition. 

A Sign of Hope

We’ve entered that season many of us know as Christmas; a time of year when hustle and bustle can so easily overtake our lives. As youngsters, it was our desires, our longings, our yearnings that became the focus of our lives during the month of December. We thought we wanted, in fact needed, that pair of ice skates or that furry hat with the pom-pom balls at the end of the ties. At least, those were my desires when I was ten and eleven years old. 

In fact, I coveted that hat to the point where on Christmas morning I snuck down the hall to the living room and peeked into the gift bag with my name that sat under the tree. I was at once delighted/disappointed. Yes, Mom and Dad had fulfilled my wish and I would look like the other girls at school who donned such; but . . . the moment of surprise was gone and I’d have to feign my excitement. I don’t remember if it ever dawned on me that the hat was just that–an expensive, fancy covering for my head. One I didn’t need given that Mom loved to knit hats for us.

And then there were the Christmases that my guy and I bent over backwards as we tried to create a special day for our sons. And as we all know, the empty boxes were the best toys of all. 

Now, as I take an honest look at my past and wonder about the future, I realize that my attitude has shifted. No longer is it a frenetic, mad dash for the best deal or piece of plastic. My life has taken on the form of slowing down, noticing, watching, even in the darkness. 

And it was in doing so yesterday and today, that I realized something rather special in the ordinary. 

We’ve all become used to seeing wild turkeys on roadsides, in our yards and occasionally even up in the trees they fly to when danger lurks or  nighttime falls. But . . . think about it. Meleagris gallopavo, that fancy scientific name, have been the comeback kids since farms of yore reverted  to forest, thus allowing these large birds to reestablish in their former range. 

Because I put bird seed in feeders and spread it on the ground, the neighborhood turkeys stop by for an hour or two at least twice a day. 

And they aren’t the only visitors to the feast, for red . . . 

and gray squirrels also take advantage of the free meal. 

But it was the male turkeys upon whom I focused much of my attention for it occurred to me today that they were unicorns in their own right. Unicorns had a single horn protruding from the center of their heads, right? Okay, so maybe its a snood. But still.

As for their magical powers, have you ever noticed that a male’s featherless head of blue and pink and red raised bumps called caruncles change colors with his moods?

Shifting my eyes to the back of the shanks or leg, the unicorn theme was reiterated in the form of a pointed spur. 

The theme again was repeated behind the toes, where a claw stuck out on its own in the area we might call a heel.

Check out the bottom of that foot, its bumpy surface much like a no-skid sock. Certainly there must be more magical powers protected within.

From behind a window in the back door that served as a bit of a screen, I watched the feeding station without disturbing the activity. The squirrels and male turkeys (their rafter ranging in size from 9 to 13 depending on the hour), devoured the sunflower seeds. 

It appeared to be a blissful co-existence. 

Until it wasn’t. The gray squirrel was the aggressor. 

Every few minutes, it took a flying leap and so did the young jakes and older Tom. 

Simultaneously, other gray squirrels decided to show off their own super powers, such as finally scaling one of the poles. Too bad I hadn’t put a suet feeder on it yet. 

He moved on to the bigger feeder–jumping first onto a baffle intended to keep him out. From there, he reached the top of the squirrel-proof feeder, and . . . um . . . 

proceeded to open the cover of the seed tube. 

The interior must have seemed like manna from heaven. 

Into the inner sanctuary he descended. 

His super powers included his ability to debunk “squirrel proof” and perform a disappearing act–almost. 

The day continued and so did the turkey and squirrel activity. And then, as the turkeys were moving away, a healthy red fox climbed over the stone wall, walked among the turkeys and paused. The squirrels again performed a disappearing act and were silent for once, but the turkeys didn’t appear threatened. Perhaps the fox was sated for the moment. 

In the case of the turkey, and yes, also the squirrels, we complain there are too many. But, we should give thanks that we’ve created an environment that’s conducive to successful turkey breeding. As for the explosive squirrel population that resulted from last year’s mast production of pine, beech and oak fruits, the red fox is on the hunt. 

At the end of the day, calling a turkey a unicorn is in the eye of the beholder. But, in his own form of handsomeness, he portrays a similar sign of hope.

As the holiday season continues, I hope you’ll also make time to watch . . . and be attentive to other signs of hope.