Today's Mystery Tour

The message arrived in the form of a text: “Meet me at North Fryeburg Fire Station at 10:30. I’ll drive.”

And so we did. Upon our meeting we realized we’d each left some gear home, but between us, much like we share a brain, we shared resources that would benefit us along the trail. The back of the Subaru packed with snowshoes and hiking packs, up the road we rode, one of us driving while the other two anticipated the near future.

Beside two Norwegian Fjord horses named Marta and Kristoff blankety, blank, blank, (cuze one of their owners couldn’t remember his full name), our driver did park.

Before us, a groomed trail presented itself–leading to infinity and beyond or so it seemed.

And within a mailbox, tucked into plastic sleeves, maps and track charts were available.

Rather than take either, we took photos of the map; and knew that we had a set of David Brown’s Trackards for our trail finds.

We were still by the road and farmhouse, when we noticed sap buckets tied to Sugar Maples and realized that the season had begun.

One of our good fortunes, and we had many as the day progressed, was to stumble upon Jim, the owner of the property who explained to us that the sap had only just started to flow and he had 200 trees tapped. Sap season can be fickle, but we hope the good fortune his land shared with us could be returned many times over in the form of gallons of syrupy sweetness.

Up the trail we finally tramped, stopping frequently to take in as many treasures as possible as we tried to gain a better understanding of the world that surrounded us.

One item that drew our attention was the thick twig and dome-shaped bud of an ash. Its corky leaf scar below the buds was filled with a smiley face of dots we knew as bundle scars–where sugar and water had flowed between last year’s leaf and twig/trunk.

By the shape of the leaf scar, its bud dipping into the cup and creating the form of a C, we knew its name: White Ash. Had it been a Green Ash, the bud would have sat directly atop the leaf scar, which would have looked like a D turned on its side.

I keep trying to come up with a mnemonic to remember these two species and may have just discovered such: C = cup = white cup of coffee; D = hmmmm? So much for that thought. Stick with C and if it doesn’t look like that, chances are it’s a D.

We paused beside many buds, examining them all for their idiosyncrasies, but equally prevalent on the trail were the tracks left behind by so many critters. Deer, snowshoe hare, birds of varying sizes, chipmunk, red squirrel, and the list went on. Red fox were part of the forest mix. And coyote as well. We so wanted bobcat and several times tried to convince ourselves that such was the case, but indeed, our further study made us realize it was no more than a wish.

We also wanted porcupine tracks and bear claw trees to make themselves known. We searched and searched for all three: bobcat, porcupine, and bear claw marks, but found none.

What we did discover, however, was the namesake of the trail upon which we tramped. My, what deep impressions it had left.

Perhaps the creator was Sasquatch?

No indeed. Where it had traveled upon the trail we followed before it traversed cross country, it left discernible prints that gave another sense of its size and we talked about the fact that its stomach would have been at our eye level.

By the crescent-shaped halves and dew claw marks, we knew that somewhere in the forest beyond moved a moose. Actually, by the number of tracks we saw on the trail, we thought that at least two had traveled this way.

And directly above we could see that it had dined, for the tags on the Red Maples where buds had once been bespoke its breakfast source.

At last we came to Moose Bog and briefly let our minds slip into seasons to come and offerings yet to be, but quickly pulled ourselves back into the moment and reveled in the fact that beside the sign was a sign left behind by the one for whom the bog was named.

The impressions were so deep that we decided to measure them.

Fifteen inches. We had barely sunk in an inch or two on our snowshoes, so the moose’s prints lead us to realize the immensity of its weight.

While in the same area, an abnormal growth on Speckle Alder gave us pause. At first glance, we recalled the fluffy colonies of Woolly Alder Aphids and wondered if what we saw was somehow related. A bit of white appeared in the structure, but it didn’t quite match anything we’d seen previously or our understanding.

About twenty feet down the trail, we found it again, this time on an American Beech twig. The curious thing, it only grew on one side.

Upon closer examination, we realized it looked a bit like elongated coffee grounds, and within our hands, its brittle structure quickly splintered into tiny specks.

It wasn’t until I contacted Maine Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood several hours later that we realized we were on the right track. Anthony is my go-to entomologist and I bug him (pun intended) frequently for identification or explanation. He never fails to reveal some amazing fact.

Today’s find: The Beech Aphid Poop Eater! What? Yup. A poop-eating fungus. We were thrilled to discover that we were on the right track thinking it was related to aphids, and we knew that ants like to farm them so they’ll secret honeydew, but . . . a poop eater. The natural world just got more otherworldly for us and our wonder will never cease.

Trees continued to attract our attention, but upon the trail were a slew of tracks, the prints of coyote and fox especially decorating the way. And then, and then some coyote scat and pee, the former so full of hair and a selection of the latter at another spot that sent us all staggering from the strong scent.

A bit further on we found an older coyote scat that contained large bone chips. Do you see one in the upper left-hand corner of the specimen?

We also found fox scat filled with hair and seeds, for like coyotes, omnivores are they.

And then, some small, cylindrical shapes within a print.

X marked the spot where the latter scatter crossed its own path.

And then it flew off. Who dat scat? A Ruffed Grouse.

At least five hours after we began our tramp, the farm house finally came into view. And so did Becky, one of the owners. She was actually looking for us for so long had we wandered.

We’d taken a photo of the trail map, as I said earlier, before we set off, but never again did we look at it. No wonder Becky was worried about us. The trail we followed was only eight tenths in length, but because we’d stopped every three steps or so to look at the next best thing, it had taken us five plus hours to complete the loop.

We chuckled again for after meeting up with Becky and reassuring her that we were fine and happy and well (super well and thankful for such was the day and all that her land had offered us), we wondered if she and Jim had made a bet on how long it would take us to travel the last few hundred feet to the road.

There were still things to note, including sap seeping into buckets.

Red maple buds growing more bulbous with age also garnered our focus.

As for our mystery tour: we were treated to the Moose Loop at Notch View Farm on Route 113 in Evans Notch. That would be in North Chatham, New Hampshire.

As we were greeted, our journey ended, with a smile from Kristoff and grins across our faces for the finds we’d discovered, understandings we’d made, and time spent together exploring.

Many, many thanks to Jim and Becky Knowles for sharing their land with all of us, and for Pam K for discovering this treasure and providing the mystery tour. Well done.

PS. Our last few hundred yards took about 25 minutes–who placed the correct bet on our time–Jim or Becky?

Marathon Mondate

As he’s done every year for the past however many, my guy is training for the Moose Pond Half Marathon, a race around Moose Pond in Bridgton and Denmark that supports the Shawnee Peak Adaptive Ski Program. The race is only two weeks away and so this morning he headed off to run ten miles. And afterward, he said he felt like he could have run the additional 3.1 miles that would complete the race. That being said, we headed west to join our friends, Pam and Bob, on a hike at a new preserve in New Hampshire.

The plan was to meet at the trailhead near Hurricane Mountain Road on the Chatham/Conway town line. We knew the road, but not the spot, and were racing to get there, so of course I drove right by. But . . . I spied Pam sitting in their car in the parking lot and probably burned some rubber as I came to a screeching halt and then quickly put the truck into reverse. Fortunately, my guy didn’t get whiplash. It’s a back road, so not well traveled, thus I could drive backwards for a hundred feet or more without any problem–thus is the way ’round these parts. And one of the reasons we love it so.

m-sign 1

Another is that local land trusts preserve land for the benefit of the species who call this place home, both flora and fauna–and for us so that we, too, may benefit from time spent tramping along trails, making discoveries and forging friendships. The preserve we visited today isn’t quite open, but Pam said she’d heard they plan to open on November 4th. There were no signs on the kiosk or trail maps, but we quickly learned that none were necessary for the route was easy to follow. We were at the Monroe-Lucas Preserve, a 62-acre property donated to the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust.

According to their website: “The land was given to USVLT by Barrett Lucas in honor of his wife, the late Leita Monroe Lucas. Leita’s family has deep roots in East Conway and Redstone, and her father, Ernest “Red” Monroe, also wanted to see the land preserved. Adjacent to the Conway Common Lands State Forest, The Nature Conservancy’s Green Hills Preserve, and the White Mountain National Forest, this parcel builds on an existing network of preserved land, and has wonderful opportunities for future trail development and increased public access. A branch of Weeks Brook also runs through the property, and the property lies within USVLT’s ‘Green Hills’ focus area. The site is also remarkable as the one-time summer residence of the American Impressionist painter Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and his fellow painter and wife, Maria Oakey Dewing. Their cottage, built in the late 1800s, fell into disrepair in the mid-1900s. Now only the chimney remains onsite.”

m-puff ball fungi 1

With Pam in the lead, we started up the trail and within minutes the fun began. She spotted a large patch of puff balls begging to be poked. The spores wafted up and away with hopes of finding the perfect place to grow nearby. We assume they will be successful, for within a fifteen foot area, we found patch after patch and knew we weren’t the first to encourage their spores to blow in the breeze.

m-bobcat print

And then Pam began to spy prints in the mud. First, a moose. Then this bobcat–if you look closely, as we did, you may see the hind pad matted down; above that a raised ridge in the form of a C for cat; and four large toes, the two in the center being asymmetrical. Because it was a muddy substrate, we even saw nail marks, especially above the two center toes. Five feet further, we found deer prints. And so we rejoiced in the foresight of the Monroe-Lucas family to protect this land.

m-Weeks brook flowing 1

A bit further on, we heard the brook before we saw it–a branch of Weeks Brook that borders the property. We all stood beside and let it mesmerize us.

m-weeks brook 1c

We thought about its forceful action each spring and the eons it took to carve into the rocks along its banks.

m-weeks brook baths

We shared visions of a summer day spent sliding down its smooth channels and slipping into the pools below.

m-weeks brook between the rocks

And we marveled at the way it split the granite above . . .

m-weeks brook between 3

and flowed between the shelves.

m-weeks brook bubbles

All the while, it raced to the finish line and we could only assume it made good time.

m-hobblebush flower?

It was beside the brook where the hobblebush grew prolifically and offered a myriad of colors among their leaves and clasping or clapping hands among their buds. Because we were looking, we noticed one flower forming into its globe shape as it usually does in late winter. Was it confused?

m-hobblebush new leaf

And on another, a new leaf.

m-hobblebush 2

Fortunately, most behaved as they should and gave us an autumnal display worth celebrating.

m-hobblebush:hemlock shadows

One even added some shadow play.

m-mount kearsarge

Eventually, we turned away from the brook and followed the trail down. A peak through the trees and we could see Mount Kearsarge across the way.

m-slime mold 1

On a tree stump, we found a couple of fascinating fungi including a slime mold all decked out for Halloween.

m-jelly fungi

And on the same stump, a display of jelly ear fungi.

m-old moose scat

Around the corner was more evidence of moose traffic, though since it was moss-covered, we decided it was a couple of years old. None of us could ever recall seeing moss grow on moose scat before, but it made perfect sense that it would be a suitable substrate. I did wonder how they’d categorize that on a moss ID key–grows on rock, tree, ground, moose scat?

m-pippsisewa

Our moments of awe weren’t over yet. We sent up three cheers for the pipsissewa and its seedpods (Bob, did you take one?),

m-red-belted polypore

and red-belted polypore.

m-frullania 2

And then Bob spied the frullania. The smaller, spider-webby display in the lower right hand corner is Frullania eboracensis, a liverwort with no common name. But the larger mass is known as Frullania asagrayana, so named for a botanist and natural history professor at Harvard University from 1842-1873–Asa Gray.

m-frullania

We all went in for a closer look at its worm-like leafy structure.

m-frullania and muy guy

Even my guy got into the act, much to his reluctance. And he was certain he didn’t need a lesson on how to use a hand lens. Thankfully, he doesn’t read these blog posts, so I can get away with this. Shhhh.

m-uprooted pine 1

Around the next bend, for the trail has enough S curves to make the descent easy, we came upon a white pine long since uprooted. Did anyone hear the crash?

m-uprooted picture frames

It offered a wonderful view–of more red-belted polypores, the root system and rocks, plus several windows on the world beyond.

m-photo frame hand

If you go, watch out . . . Thing of The Addams Family, might be lurking about.

m-Pam holding a huge striped maple leaf, Bob photobombing

Continuing on, we moved out of the hemlock and pine grove and back into the land of the broadleaves, including one with the broadest of them all–a huge striped maple leaf that Pam spotted; and Bob made sure to photo bomb the Kodak moment.

m-cottage sign 2

And then, as the trail evened out, we crossed a narrow gangplank to the location of the original cottage. According to a sign posted there, “Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) and Maria Oakey Dewing (1845-1927) were 19th century American painters based in New York City. Maria often painted flowers and garden scenes, while Thomas is known for his figure paintings of aristocratic women, notably ‘Lady in Yellow’ hanging at the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston. The couple spent their summers at a popular artists’ colony in Cornish, NH, during the early 1900s. The Dewings also lived and painted in a cottage located here on the Monroe-Lucas Preserve for several years.

m-site of Dewing cottage 1

All that’s left is the chimney.

m-cottage stove

And some artifacts.

m-toilet

Including the john.

m-pokeweed

Our final view was a pokeweed still in flower and fruit. Again, we wondered about its timing, while appreciating its offering.

With that, we were back at the parking lot, where Bob informed us that our distance was just over a mile and time two hours–hardly record breaking. And hardly a “quickest to the destination hike” for my guy, but he kept finding stumps to sit upon as we gazed more intently on our surroundings; I think he secretly appreciated our slow pace and the opportunity to rest his legs.

If you want support his effort to raise funds for the Shawnee Peak Adaptive Ski Program, stop by and see him. Any and all donations are most welcome.

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.