Cranberry Memories

It’s amazing how a simple act such as taking cranberries out of the freezer and transforming them into a relish can take one back in time, but so it did today.

My family knows best that I’m not a foodie, and cook only because we can’t survive on popcorn alone (drats), but one of my favorite flavors brings a burst of tartness to any meal. And as I concocted the simple cranberry orange relish we so enjoy, moments spent picking them kept popping up.

On several occasions last fall, I bushwhacked toward the fen, stopping first to explore the kettle holes that dot the landscape.

And though I love tracking all winter, it’s those unexpected moments in other seasons when I recognize the critters with whom I share the Earth that make my heart quicken.

Especially when I realize that one of my favorites has also passed this way, stomping through the water . . .

and then onto the drier land. Yes, Ursus americanus had been on the hunt as well.

He wasn’t the only one fishing for a meal, though of a much smaller spidery-style scale.

And then there were my winged friends, the meadowhawks.

I remember the mating frenzy occurring as that most ancient of rituals was performed both on the leaf and in the air.

Other winged friends, showing off a tad of teal, dabbled nearby.

Eventually, I tore myself away from the kettle holes and tramped through winterberry shrubs filled with fruits and cinnamon ferns ablaze in their fall fashion.

After all, my destination was the cranberry fen.

And last year was a mighty fine year for those little balls of wonder that hid below their green leaves. I filled my satchel to overflowing before taking my leave, knowing that in the coming months I’d share the foraged fruits with family and friends and remember time well spent.

Not only did the abundant fruit make it so special, but on my way out I stumbled upon another kettle hole and much to my delight spotted two Sandhill Cranes, part of a flock that returns to this area of western Maine on a yearly basis.

While the cranes foraged on the ground, a Great Blue Heron watched them approach.

And then in flew a Bald Eagle who eventually settled in a pine tree beside a crow.

With that, the cranes flew off and a few minutes later so did the heron. And then I left, trying to find my way out, but I’d gotten a bit twisted and turned and ended up cutting through someone’s yard to get back to the road. Because I was a wee bit confused, I couldn’t find my truck right away, and in the process of looking I dropped a few cranberries. It was all worth it! And still is as we’ll enjoy that relish in our chicken salad sandwiches tonight.

Ah, cranberries. And bears. And spiders. And dragonflies. And birds. Ah, cranberry memories.

A “Fen-tastic” Afternoon

I was on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon for next week I’m leading some middle school students into a wetland and talking about forest ecology before sharing the joy of foraging with them.

1-Into the jungle

To reach the wetland, it was like walking through a jungle where the ferns grow tall, their fall coloration enhancing the scene. Cinnamon Ferns are a species that easily grow in medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. The moist, rich, acidic soils, I walked through were much to their liking.

1a-cinnamon fern

It appeared that they were named for their autumn presentation, but really it refers to the cinnamon-colored fibers found near the frond bases.

1b-hairy underarm

Because they look so similar to their relatives in the Osmundaceae family, the Interrupted Fern, I looked to the back of the frond for confirmation. Sure enough, where the pinnae (leaflet) met the rachis (center stem), a tuft that we refer to as the hairy underarm was present.

2-kettle

Onward I continued, not sure what the moisture situation might be. So, in the past, I’ve paused by the kettle hole, but never actually entered it. All that changed today and my plan is to take the students into this special place. A kettle hole is a basin created when a large block of glacial ice was left stranded and subsequently melted in place, producing a basin or depression. These basins fill with water up to the depth of their surrounding water table, which currently happens to be rather low.

3-white face meadowhawk

Because the temperature had risen after a damp, chilly start to the day, the meadowhawk dragonflies flew . . . and landed. This one was a White-faced Meadowhawk, aptly named for that face.

4-white face meadowhawk abdomen markings

Its abdomen markings of dark black triangles also help in identification.

4b-autumn meadowhawk dragonfly

Flying in the same airspace where the Autumn Meadowhawks, with their light-colored legs. All other meadowhawks have dark legs.

4c-autumn meadowhawk love

Love was in the air and on the leaf as a pair of Autumns took advantage of the warm weather to canoodle in the sunlight.

4c-dragonfly love everywhere

They weren’t alone.

7-kettle 2

What I learned as I explored was that the kettle was actually a double pot for a second one had formed behind the first. Notice the layered structure of the area from trees on the outer edge to shrubs to grasses and flowers to water.

5-mammal tracks

And everywhere–deer and raccoon tracks crisscrossed through mud and water.

5a-racoon and bird tracks

Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.

6-six-spotted fishing spider

And because I was interested in learning who lived there, I had to pay homage to the six-spotted fishing spider.

8-spatterdock leaves and root

The spider flirted with me as he moved quickly among the spatterdock leaves that sat in the wee bit of water left in the center of the kettle.

9-another kettle

I finally left the kettle only to discover another and again the formation of layers.

10-green teal ducks

The water was a bit deeper and a family of Green Teal Ducks dabbled.

11-bottoms up

Bottoms up!

12-my destination

It took some time and steady foot placement as I climbed over downed trees hidden by winterberry and other shrubs, but at last I reached my intended destination, a cranberry bog.

13-cranberries

And then I spent the next hour or so filling my satchel for so abundant were the little gems of tartness. The best where those hidden among the leaves–dark red and firm were they.

14-some nibbled cranberries

As I picked, I realized I wasn’t the only one foraging. It appeared that either chipmunks or squirrels also knew the value of the flavor–though they only nibbled.

15-October colors layered

Occasionally, or even more often, I looked up to take in the colors and layers that surrounded me–from leatherleaf bronze to blueberry red to Gray Birch and Red and Silver Maples with a few White Pines in the mix.

16-buttonbush

Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.

17-finding my way out

At last I decided to find my way out. (Sorta for I did get a wee bit disoriented.)

18-royal fern fertile fronds

Among the offerings were ferns of a different kind–though still related to the cinnamons I’d seen earlier. The Royal Fern’s fertile crown had months ago shared its spores with the world and all that was left were salmon-colored structures.

21-buttonbush galore, but more

I picked my way carefully and eventually found one of the kettles. And . . . drum roll please . . .

22-two sandhill cranes

two Sandhill Cranes. Others can tell you better than I how long the Sandhills have returned to this area, but it’s been for a while now and some even saw a nesting pair this past summer. My sightings have been few and so it’s always a pleasure.

23-sandhill cranes

I stood still as they moved about and they didn’t seem to notice my presence.

24-sandhill cranes

While they foraged for roots, another also watched.

25-great blue heron

The Great Blue Heron was cautious as they strolled in his direction.

29-bald eagle

And then . . . and then . . . in flew a Bald Eagle. And out flew the heron.

30-cranes flew out

The cranes waited a couple of minutes and then they flew, bugling on the wing.

And I rejoiced. Oh, I still had to find my way out and did eventually cross through a property about a quarter mile from where I’d started. But, all in all from kettles to cranberries to birds, it was a Fen-tastic afternoon as I explored an outlet fen.

 

Outing on the Outlet

This morning dawned clear and chilly, with the temperature at 50˚ when I headed toward Lovell at 7:15. After placing some “Land Trust Walk Today” signs in pre-planned positions, I headed to the dam on Harbor Road in Fryeburg to wait for a ride.

u1-outlet dam

Water flowed over the tiered dam, which was built in the early to mid 1900s at the request of the Pepperell Manufacturing Company in Biddeford. The townspeople contested its existence for it would raise the water level on Kezar Lake, but the textile mill located many miles away on the Saco River won the rights to construct such at the site of an 1800s saw & gristmill. Thankfully, though it did raise the level of the lake water, not all of the predicted problems came to pass.

u2-Harbor Road bridge

The dam was our intended take-out for today’s paddle co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. Though it’s located off Harbor Road in Fryeburg, it’s owned by the Town of Lovell. No longer used, it still serves to provide a historic reference. And a great place to either portage and continue on to the Old Course of the Saco River and then the “new” course, or take out as we intended to do.

u5-silver maple

While I waited, I poked around, and rejoiced in the sight of trees that like wet feet. High above the dam, the leaves of a silver maple shown brilliantly in the morning light.

u3-green ash leaves

Other leaves also caught my attention for their coloration–with veins of red interrupting their olive greenness. Green ash, another tree that likes wet feet but isn’t as abundant as its siblings, white and black ash, also stood tall beside the dam.

u7-preparing to launch

My dam-side exploration ended a few minutes later when Jesse Wright of Upper Saco Valley Land Trust and her friend, Shareen, pulled into the landing. We hoisted my kayak onto her already laden truck and found our way over the bumpy road to our intended put-in at a private residence–thanks to the generosity of its owners. Slowly the number of boats increased by the water’s edge as twenty-plus folks joined us.

u6-map by Will from USVLT

Once all had gathered, Jesse showed off the map of our intended paddle, the red dots indicating our path from beginning to end, and I shared a bit of information about the fen, a GLLT property purchased in 2005. Today, the symbolic boundary between the two land trusts disappeared as we ventured off together.

u9d-Linda 1

It takes good neighbors and lake stewards to pull off such an event, and the Wurms are such. They helped us arrange the put-in, gathered a couple of canoes for several paddlers and took photos at the start.

u9a-LInda's view 1

Linda’s view included Jesse heading off as our lead,

u9c-Linda's view 3

and the rainbow of colors once we hit the water.

u8-on the water with Jesse and gang

It took us a wee bit of time to get all the boats onto the lake, but it wasn’t a day made for rushing. And once in the sun, we began to warm up.

u10-send off by Linda

Before we headed off, we gave thanks to Linda (and Remy).

u11-and Heinrich

We also thanked Heinrich, who drew our attention skyward . . .

u12-drone

as he flew a drone above us.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0056.JPG

Our first destination was to paddle north for the view.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0061.JPG

The drone spied the mountains before we did.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0059.JPG

And spotted our intended course . . .

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0067.JPG

into the fen.

u18-veiws from the lake

A quick turn-around from the water gave us bearings as we noted the Baldfaces to the west.

u19-heading toward the fen

We circled an island that serves as an environmental study plot for the US Forest Service and then paddled southward.

u20-Jesse in the lead

Jesse led the way through the pickerelweed.

u21-more mountain views

As we followed, the view got better and better.

u22-slowly we followed

Acting as sweep, I took up the rear while the group snaked along.

u25-early fall color

We followed the twists and turns of the water trail, where red maples showed off their autumn display from the canopy.

u28-red leaf

Occasional leaves fluttered down, begging to be noticed in their singularity.

u-cranberries 1

Though we didn’t get out of our boats and actually walk into the fen, we did stop to chat about what it had to offer. The GLLT owns 260 acres of the 500-acre fen, an acidic ecosystem with a deep layer of organic material including peat moss atop a sandy substrate. Several bird species of concern breed or hunt in the fen, including American bitterns and Sandhill cranes, the latter of which we had the good fortune to hear but not see. Long’s bullrush, a globally rare sedge, also grows here. But the crème de la crème for many are the cranberries. Folks on today’s paddle weren’t familiar with the plant and I couldn’t show them at the time, but I shared with them the experience of picking in the past with students from Molly Ockett Middle School in Fryeburg.

u-cranberries 2

On a fall day each year, about thirty students in the school’s MESA program (Maine Environmental Science Academy–an experiential place-based curriculum for 6-8 grades) visit the fen with the GLLT’s Executive Director, Tom Henderson.

u-cranberries 3

They learn about the hydrology of this place, but one of their highlights is to pick cranberries, and to that end, they become very possessive. As one student approaches another, a common statement is shared: “Don’t come over here. There aren’t any cranberries here.”

u-cranberries 4

Over the course of several hours, they fill their bags and sometimes even show off their creative talents in other ways–all in celebration of the cranberries.

u30-weir1

Continuing along the river this morning, we noted beaver activity and talked about scent mounds and their usefulness within the beaver community. And then we reached the fish screen.  Jesse had paddled the course last Sunday and made it under the screen without any issues.

u31-clearing a beaver dam

Since then, the beavers had been busy damming it up. One of our members worked to adjust some of the branches so we could all get through.

u34-offering a shove

Of course, sometimes a helping paddle was needed to push a boat forward.

u33-cow 2

While we took turns, our efforts didn’t go unnoticed.

u35-other side measurement

On the other side, a ruler indicated depth.

u36-approaching the bridge on Harbor Road

And then, and then, in what seemed like only minutes but was actually a couple of hours filled with camaraderie between familiar friends and new, plus a touch of natural history thrown into the discussion, we found ourselves at the bridge and the end of the journey for some. Others chose to paddle back rather than hitch a ride. We had come full circle.

As we pulled boats out, we were surprised at how warm it was since we were out of the shade, the temp having reached into the 80˚s.

Our outing on the Kezar Lake Outlet would not have been doable without Jesse Wright, who did the yeoman’s work of pulling it together, William Abbott, USVLT’s executive director who created the map, the Wurms and their neighbors who contributed land, boats, photographs and time, and all who ventured with us on this most lovely first full day of autumn.  Thank you all.

 

 

 

Halting Beside Holt Pond

Halting–prone to pauses or breaks. I didn’t break, but I certainly was prone to pauses as I moved along the trails and boardwalks at the Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton this afternoon.

h-pitcher flower2

One of my first stops–to admire the pitcher plant flowers in their August form.

h-pitcher  flower up close

When I took a closer look, I realized that the seeds were developing–certainly a WOW moment in the world of wonder.

h-buttonbush.jpg

The global seed heads of buttonbush also demanded to be noticed. Upon each head are at least two hundred flowers that produce small nutlets. What strikes me as strange is the fact that this plant is a member of the coffee family. Maine coffee–local brew; who knew?

h-Muddy across

At the Muddy River, the water level reflected what is happening throughout the region–another case of “Honey, I shrunk the kids.” It’s downright scary.

h-speckled bug and speckles

Both by the river and on the way to the quaking bog, this wetland features a variety of shrubs, including one of my many favorites, speckled alder. Check out the speckles–those warty bumps (aka lenticels or pores) that allow for gas exchange. And the new bud covered in hair.

h-speckled alder catkins

This shrub is so ready for next year–as evidenced by the slender, cylindrical catkins that are already forming. This is the male feature of the shrub.

h-speckled cones new

It also bears females–or fruiting cones filled with winged seeds.

h-speckled old cones

It’s not unusual for last year’s woody cones or female catkins to remain on the shrub for another year.

h-cranberries

Whenever I visit, it seems there’s something to celebrate–including ripening cranberries.

h-cotton grass

Common Cotton-grass dotted the sphagnum bog and looked as if someone had tossed a few cotton balls about. Today, they blew in the breeze and added life to the scene. Note to self–cotton-grass is actually a sedge. And sedges have edges.

h-holt pond left

Just like the Muddy River, Holt Pond was also obviously low. Perhaps the lowest I’ve ever seen. At this spot, I spent a long time watching dragonflies. They flew in constant defense of their territories.

h-slaty skimmer, male

Male slaty skimmers were one of the few that posed for photo opps.

h-canoe on pond

As I watched the dragonflies flit about along the shoreline and watched and watched some more, I noticed a couple of fishermen making use of the LEA canoe. I don’t know if they caught any fish, but I heard and saw plenty jumping and swimming. Well, a few anyway. And something even skimmed across the surface of the water–fish, snake, frog?

h-rose hips.jpg

Rose hips by the pond’s edge reminded me of my father. He couldn’t pass by a rose bush without sampling the hips–especially along the shoreline in Clinton, Connecticut.

h-pond toward 5 Fields

The view toward Five Fields Farm was equally appealing.

h-pickerel frog

And then I moved down tire alley, which always provides frequent sightings of pickerel frogs. I’m never disappointed.

h-golden spindle

At the transition from a red maple swamp to a hemlock grove, golden spindles embraced a white pine sapling as if offering a bright light on any and all issues.

h-hairy woodpecker

In this same transitional zone, a female hairy woodpecker announced her presence.

h-green frog

When I crossed Sawyer Brook, green frogs did what they do best–hopped into the water and then remained still. Do they really think that I don’t see them?

h-hobblebush berries

At last, I walked out to Grist Mill Road and made my way back. One of my favorite surprises was the amount of hobblebush berries on display.

h-meadowhawk

Walking on the dirt road gave me the opportunity for additional sights–a meadowhawk posed upon a steeplebush;

h-chicken

chicken of the woods fungi grew on a tree trunk;

h-chipmunk

and a chipmunk paused on alert.

h-American Woodcock

But the best find of the day–one that caused me to halt on the road as I drove out of LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve–an American Woodcock.

Worth a wonder! And a pause. Certainly a reason to halt frequently at Holt Pond.