The Invitation Stands

It took me by surprise, this change of seasons.

Despite all the clues from fading otter prints . . .

and not so deep moose tracks . . .

to reverse tracks raised above the snow cover as a result of a frozen crust followed by wind and warmer temperatures.

But still, somehow I was fooled into thinking winter would hold its grasp for a wee bit longer because I don’t like to let it go. The faces hiding in the ice knew otherwise.

As did the constitution of pond ice that despite recent brisk days and nights began to react to the sun’s rays and display the tea-stained color of organic matter decomposing in the water below.

Even Winter Dark Fireflies, who don’t carry lanterns like their summer cousins, and aren’t even flies as their name suggests (they are beetles), knew what was happening before I did for in their adult form they’d been tucked under bark in recent months, but in a flash are now visible on many a tree trunk as they prepare to mate in a few weeks.

The same is true of the Winter Stoneflies who only recently started crawling out of the water. and drumming as an announcement that they too are ready to let the mating season begin.

The birch trees also knew before I did and made sure to let last year’s catkins release their scaled fleur de lis, thus scattering the seeds that look like tiny winged insects upon the snow where they’ll join the melt down and eventually find a moist spot upon which to germinate.

And so it is that spring snuck in a few days after St. Patrick’s Day as it always does, but still surprising me and now I join others and anticipate the changes to come.

But . . . there’s something different about this spring. Oh, I’ll still stalk vernal pools until they dry up.

I’ll marvel at each and every tiny bud preparing to bloom like those of Trailing Arbutus.

I’ll spy on spiders and insects for hours on end.

I’ll continue to look for fine specimens of scat, including otter filled with shiny, mica-like fish scales . . .

and coyote that at first glance I might think is bobcat, but the tapered ends offer one hint of its owner . . .

and the sight of bones and toenails tucked within remind me that bobcats are true carnivores who grind the contents of a meal so no bones are typically visible in their deposits, while such do show due to the omnivore appetite of a candid. I will be sure to question the meal based on the color of the fur as well as the contents.

But . . . this spring will be different. Yes, such was the same a year ago when we all moved into our bubbles. Now, though, there’s a glimpse of hope on the horizon and with that comes an assimilation to being with others and I can’t help but wonder, how will I react? I’ve become so accustomed to this forced insulation, and I have to admit that there are parts of it that haven’t bothered me, perhaps because I don’t mind being in my own space.

The question has been on my mind a lot lately and the answer flew in this morning as I listened in on a ZOOM church service. Just as it was to begin a small flock of Common Redpolls arrived to check out our birdfeeders.

“Invite in” were the words I heard another utter on the computer screen.

Indeed. Each day this past week, the variety of birds at the feeders grows, some species arriving at their breeding grounds, while others like the Redpolls pause before passing through. For the most part, our feathered friends accept the presence of others. An over-the-shoulder look being what it is, they remind me that I must behave like them and be open to opportunities.

As the snow melts, I realize that I must share space with all who wander here . . .

including the deer who tried to walk the labyrinth path.

The Invitation Stands. Spring is indeed here and I invite you to join me for a wander when you are able so we can wonder about nature’s communities together. I look forward to welcoming you back with a smile . . . though please don’t expect a hug.

Tree Spirit Mondate

Four days ago I happened upon a set of fresh coyote tracks, which didn’t surprise me for I’d seen so many of the same in that particular area all winter. But it was the color of scat left beside one print that stymied me.

I wanted to know what had been on the menu for breakfast. Noting hair as a component, I wondered: red squirrel? Didn’t think so. Red fox? Maybe. White-tailed deer? A possibility.

What to do? Backtrack the track, of course. Which worked well for a bit, until I realized it was going to lead me up a hill and across the street and snow was falling and I needed to head home. But . . . despite the fact that the prints would get filled in by the flakes, I promised myself a return venture in search of the main course. And I was pretty sure I could convince my guy to make the journey with me.

The moment we stepped onto the trail, I chuckled for even if I hadn’t known that some friends who had seen the photo I’d posted of the scat and prints had gone in search of the same meal over the weekend, I would have known by their tracks left behind where they had traveled. Well, especially his. Pretty cool when you can look at snowshoe tracks and identify the gender, don’t you think? But I know the pattern of Tom’s wooden snowshoes and can spot them in an instant. Paula’s are more generic, but he followed her wherever they went except for a few times when they split up like a fox or coyote would do when trying to surround prey (or figure out the maker of the prints as Tom and Paula had done), the imprint of his shoes covering hers both on and off trail.

Their journey and ours followed a certain brook where noon sunshine gleamed upon the snow and ice as the water flowed forth.

In a spot where two weeks prior I’d noted bobcat tracks crossing the brook via a log, there were fresher tracks today, though not so fresh to determine feline or canine.

Eventually, because we were close to the spot where I’d first made my discovery, and it was time for a meal of our own, my guy and I climbed up the stairs to a treehouse and sat down to dine.

We unwrapped our sandwiches while taking in the view of a bog beyond. Maybe as we ate we’d spy some action in the bog beyond. Maybe we wouldn’t. We didn’t.

Finally, we were ready to pick up where I’d left off on backtracking the coyote four days ago. Because of snow over the weekend, the prints were filled in, but still the pattern was visible, making them easy to follow. We could see that in the more recent past, a fisher had crossed over the track in search of a meal of its own.

The coyote tracks took us uphill, and eventually forced us to cross the road upon which we’d parked.

Crossing over, we followed them until they led to an area near a stream and again fisher prints entered the mix and we suspected something of importance had happened here, but couldn’t be sure what, and beyond this point the fisher went one way and the coyote crossed onto a private property and we decided we needed to give up the hunt. Drats.

In the midst of it all, however, deer tracks led the way. And so we followed those to see where they might lead.

And bingo. A feeding area where the disturbed snow indicated the deer had been seeking acorns.

Not only was it a feeding area, but also where the ungulates had bedded down, such as this youngster. Can you see its head, rounded back and legs tucked beneath?

We found at least seven beds in this spot and actually another bunch in a second spot later in our journey and gave thanks to know that the land through which we ventured is a deer yard.

A deer yard frequented by predators including the coyote we’d tracked earlier and this fisher.

Eventually, we made tracks upon a different trail for though I was there in search of someone’s meal source, my guy had a destination in mind.

Upward we climbed upon rock ledges hidden beneath snow.

A look back revealed the mountains beyond and horseshoe-shaped pond below.

It was there that white and red pines showed off their bonsai form among brothers and sisters who grew straight and tall.

Cones galore presented themselves as we reached the summit, such as these upon a red pine.

High upon the White Pines the same.

And the spruce trees didn’t want to be left out of the offerings.

We could hear the sweet chirps of birds and finally focused in on our feathered friends, puffed up as this chickadee was in response to the chilly wind. Four or five layers kept us warm, while the birds depended upon air they could trap within their feathers to feel the same way.

At last we reached an old mine and peeked within, thinking perhaps a critter or two had taken advantage of a cave to take refuge. If that was the case, we weren’t cognizant of it.

But we did enjoy the layers and reflections and colors of the mica, quartz, and feldspar for which this spot is known.

Eventually it was bear trees that captured our attention. Imagine this–your right paws grasping the beech as you climb in search of its nutritious nuts.

Simultaneously, of course, your left paws did the same as you shimmied up the trunk of the tree.

Some bears chose to leave their signatures with claw marks, while others preferred to leave their initials behind.

Either way, the bears had visited. As had fishers, deer, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, mice, squirrels, birds, and who knows how many others. Oh, and Tom and Paula–whose tracks twisted and turned like the mammals they followed.

The tree spirit knows as we learned on this Mondate. And he shows it in his heart which is filled with hope within colored green for all that has passed this way and all that is yet to come. The fact that we didn’t discover what the coyote ate didn’t matter. What mattered more is that this is a place for all to be and become.

Nature’s Never Static

Mid-morning found me slipping into my smiling place where I decided to follow a route I usually save for snowshoe season.

slipping into the woods

I know it will come eventually, but the realization that we can’t predict when the first snowstorm will arrive or how much snow we’ll get over the course of the year reminded me that nature is never static.

trail boggy

I, for one, am looking forward to snow and hoping for lots of it because it will be so much easier to make my way through this boggy area.

creeping snowberry

In the meantime, I focused my attention on the ground–checking each step as I went. It’s easy to get caught on the slash the logger left behind. And when I looked down, I noticed things I don’t get to see once the white stuff falls, like the creeping snowberry that grows abundantly here.

hawk 1

Pausing frequently to look around, I suddenly noticed I had company.

hawk 2

The curious thing–this sharp-shinned hawk slowly made its way east, while further down the trail

bird flock 2

a flock of birds chitted and chatted as they moved among the tree tops.

chickadee

An ever curious chickadee landed nearby to check me out. And visa versa.

goldfinch

A goldfinch sporting its winter coloration also paused to peek. Lucky for all of them, the hawk was headed away rather than closer. Maybe it had already feasted.

mud

Eventually I found mud. I LOVE mud. With each step it squelches and squerches as it sucks my boots in and I pull them out. (And takes me back to Clinton Harbor at low tide, where my father always insisted that people paid millions of dollars to sink their feet in mud.)

my tracks

The beauty of mud here in western Maine is that prints are well defined and easily identified–homo sapien, female, average height and weight, just over middle age, blue eyes–wait a second. I wish I could read that much information in the prints I find, but I’m satisfied to be able to identify the animal to species.

coyote 2

Reaching into my pocket, I discovered I had my trusty six-inch ruler–left there since early spring. It helps to give perspective of a print–in this case a coyote. Middle toes parallel, nails leaning inward, 2 inches across, x-shaped ridge between toes and heel pad.

coyote and bobcat

I love it when nature happens side-by-side. Coyote on the left and bobcat on the right. The coyote had passed this way more recently, when the ground was softer and moved through quickly as evidenced by the slide into position. The classic C of the bobcat’s ridge between toes and pad is clearly visible.

 moose 2 directions

Moose frequent the area and I’m not sure if this is the same one passing to and fro or two different moose. It’s obvious that the first print was made as the animal moved in the direction of the ruler and the second shows the moose moving away.

deer, direction change 1

And then there was the deer that decided to change directions. Did it hear the mighty hunter coming along? Or another predator? Maybe me, though I suspect these prints were fresh last night and not this morning.

ice-mud

The other thing about mud–combined with ice it becomes nature’s artwork.

ice ground 2

Sometimes it sits upon icy pedestals begging to be noticed.

ice puddle abstract art

And ice itself is ever forming, ever changing. That’s the thing about nature. It isn’t static. Nor am I. Growing. Evolving. Seeking. And thankful for the opportunity.

 

 

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.

IMG_1338

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.

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.

Milling About

snow waves

Today’s tramp found us heading north on Moose Pond again. The pond is covered in snowmobile tracks and snow swirls like these.

coyote print

Though we sink into the snow, this coyote had no problem moving along.

snowshoes

Snowshoes were a must for both of us. Our intended destination was Rueben Bennett’s saw mill–or at least the remnants of it. I’d been there about a year and a half ago with the current land owner and another friend, and wanted to show my guy. A couple of men who lived in the Old City neighborhood I wrote about yesterday, may have worked at the mill.

beaver lodge

We were almost to the outlet of the brook when we saw that this beaver lodge is active. Notice the breathing hole at the top. We moved away quickly so as not to add any more stress to them.

 cat tails

It looks like the fluffy seeds of these cattails are still emerging. It won’t be long before the Red-winged Blackbirds are perching on them.

stream

Following the stream, we kept looking for the rocks left from the mill site.

liverwort

Along the way, I spotted this lungwort or lung lichen. It’s one of my favorites because when it’s dry like this, it’s light in color and very brittle. But after a rain storm, it turns bright green and is quite pliable. And it’s got that lettuce leafy look to it. Some describe it as a lung tissue appearance. I’ll stick with the lettuce, thank you very much. Lungwort is an indicator species for a rich, healthy ecosystem. Always a good find.

chaga

I’m not a mushroom expert, but I do know that this is Chaga. Another good find.  Unlike most other  hard, woody fungi, Chaga is coveted for its nutritional and medicinal benefits. If you want to know where this one is, you’ll have to follow our breadcrumb trail. I recently learned that the Siberians call it the “Gift from God” and the “Mushroom of Immortality.” To the Japanese, it is “The Diamond of the Forest,” and for the Chinese, “The King of Plants.” A mighty good find. It’s still there.

red maple swamp

We looked high and low for the mill site. At last we came to this Red Maple swamp and decided that perhaps it was Duck Pond, and we’d gone too far.

old City up the hill

Old City is located right up the hill. I was almost certain we were in the right place, but our search turned up nothing.

examining the erratic

We examined this rock to see if it was a glacial erratic or had been moved here for some reason. I vote for glacial erratic.

slush

After three hours of tramping about, we started for home. The wind was cool at our backs, but someone took of his snowshoes and you can see that it’s getting a bit slushy on the pond.

heading home

What’s that line about walk beside me and be my friend. I know it looks like I’m always following, but that’s not the case all the time. I do like to pause frequently and take photos to remember and ponder at a later time.

It turns out that we were milling about in the wrong area. I should have looked at my friend’s Web site prior to today’s adventure. She almost always has her GPS handy and had posted the exact location. I knew it didn’t feel quite right, but I was so certain it was closer to Old City than it actually is.

Oh well. A destination for another time.

Thanks for joining me for today’s wonder-filled discoveries.