Seeking Red Mondate

When I invited my guy to join me in a wetland today to mark out a trail, I truly expected him to hem and haw about going. And then when we got there, I thought he’d want to rush through the process and be done with it.

But perhaps it was the setting that slowed him down. I know that it always slows me down.

It’s a place where over and over again I’m surprised to discover that others have come before. Last year, it was bear prints that stopped me in my tracks. Today, bobcat. The print is upside down in the photo, but do you see the pad, C-shaped ridge and four toes heading toward you? Notice that the two front toes are a bit asymmetrical. Ah mud. It’s as good as snow. Though I can’t wait to go tracking in snow.

Another reason that this place slows me down is all that it has to offer. The Winterberries were a major part of our stumbling movement, but still they made me smile even though I had to untwist each foot as I tried to step over, around, and through their woody stems.

Among the mix in the shrub layer was Maleberry, its woody fruits of last year displaying shades of brown, while the newer fruits were tinged green.

And then there was the Nannyberry with its oval shaped fruits so blue upon red stems, and . . .

Withe-rod just a wee bit different shape that always makes me question my identification.

Rhodora also showed off its woody structure of last year embraced by this year’s softer fruiting form.

But what we really sought were little gems of red hiding among sedges in a different herbaceous layer.

I totally didn’t expect my guy to develop cranberry greed quite the way he has a penchant for blueberries, but he did. And he also rejoiced in eating the tart berries right off the stem. Even he commented that the little balls of red were like the blue-gold he usually sought during the summer.

Seriously, it got to the point where I gave up picking, and cranberries are much more my thing than blueberries. And I began to focus on other shades of red, like those that the Pitcher Plants loved to display.

The pattern on the Pitcher leaves always makes me think of the Tree of Life. But . . . equally astonishing are the hairs that coat each pitcher. If you rub your fingers down into the urn-like leaf, you can feel the hairs and gain a better understanding of them creating a landing strip for insects. The true test, however, comes when you dare to escape this carnivorous plant. Can you climb out of the leaf? The way out is sticky and rough and by tracing a finger upward, its suddenly obvious why insects can’t find their way out.

Equally unique, the flower structure that remains, waiting to share its 300+ seeds to the future. For now, it reminds me of a windmill on the turn.

My guy wasn’t as taken with the Pitcher Plant as I was. And he certainly didn’t care about the fact that a Funnel Weaver spider had recently taken up home among the plants urn-like leaves. But me . . . I was totally wowed. Why did a spider that likes to wait in its funnel tunnel until something landed on the net it had created, use a carnivorous plant as its home base? Did it have an agreement with the plant? I’ll bring you food if you don’t see me as food? And was that dark V-shape on the web a leg of one devoured?

With no spider in sight, I knew I’d have to let my questions go, but still . . . it was a mosaic web worth appreciating.

The Pitcher Plant grew on the edge . . . of an Arrowhead wetland . . .

growing beside a Sphagnum Moss peat bog.

And as I walked among it all, I felt the bog quake below my feet.

The pom-pom mosses were responsible for the environment in which we travelled . . . and for its inhabitants.

And because of the Sphagnum the cranberries grew. Abundantly.

Our movement continued as my guy wanted to find as many little red balls of tart glory as ever. And in the midst, the natural community came to focus on Devil’s Beggarstick.

Notice the spines along the seed’s structure.

The beggars chose to stick indeed. Volunteers. They hoped we’d move them on to another place, but we chose to pull each one off . . . Not an easy task.

At last it was time for us to take our leave. And so we found our way out as we’d come in, but felt like crowned royalty for all the finds we’d made, so many of them featuring a shade of red.

In the end, a look back was a look forward. We sought red and so should you—head to your favorite cranberry bog as soon as possible for the fruits await your foraging efforts. And wherever you go, don’t share the location with others. It’s much more fun to have a secret spot as you seek red.

A Circle Completed

The day began with a reconnaissance mission to the Kezar Outlet Fen and a check on the cranberry crop. One of the most delightful ways to spend an early October morning is foraging for those little red balls of tartness and while my guy may have blue greed in his  need to pick every blueberry in sight, my greed turns red this time of year.


Of course, on the way to the fen, other red berries showed their shiny faces–and we rejoiced in their presence as well. Winterberries were they.

f4-cranberries 1

But it was those little gems that grew closer to the ground that caught our attention on this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust docent tramp. And like those who have come before, we each claimed a spot and made sure not to trespass in our quest to fill our bags with such redness.


It didn’t take long. And really, there is no better way to spend the morning . . .

f3-kettle hole

for this is a place to share the joy of foraging, the beauty of place, and the conversation of friendships.

m1-abandoned lodge 1

And then one friend and I returned to the beaver quest I’ve been pursuing for the past two weeks. It was another reconnaissance mission intended to find some new activity. Today, we traveled a different trail and visited an old lodge–again several years abandoned.


Though no one was home at the stick lodge, we did find a few inhabitants of a nearby sand lodge, aka ant hill. And Forester Dave, with whom I was traveling, pointed out that the sweet and bracken ferns circled the spot, but didn’t grow within at least a foot of the hill. His theory is that the ants chemically affect the ferns. That was new to me and one to observe in other places.

m4-side lodge

We continued on our way and eventually came to another beaver pond that seemed equally abandoned. The lodge was built along a side bank, but no new construction had taken place recently. Nor was there a display of food gathering in preparation for winter.


But . . . we found a food source of a different kind in the form of watercress.

m8-green frog

We also watched a number of green frogs leap into the leaf-strewn water to hide–and yet slowly float to the surface in an ever curious way.

m9-hornbeam hop

And we saw numerous “hop” balloons, those little slightly inflated cases of hop hornbeam fruits that protect the seeds–many of which flowed in the water. So where was the source?

m10-hornbeam bark

We scanned the forest and finally found the shaggy barked tree beside the water.

m11-bobcat print

After that, some bushwhacking found us passing through a muddy zone–and prime tracking location. Deer, raccoons, coyotes and bobcats had previously walked where we stepped. Do you see the C for cat in this print?


At last we reached our intended destination, only to realize that the beavers still eluded us. We were sure that since all other areas had been abandoned, this one would be active.

m14-beaver pond of yore

We were wrong. The only activity seemed to be leaves clustering on the water’s surface.

m16-raccoon prints

And so we backtracked and made our way down to another beaver pond, deciding  that we’d travel in the opposite direction of the raccoons and follow the stream downhill. From the top of the land to the lower portion, we encountered four or five well built dams, all still intact, yet the water levels were much lower than we would have noted if the ponds had active beavers. To say we were disappointed would be an understatement.

m17-bobcat scat?

We did, however, find a great scat specimen. We debated bobcat and coyote–sectioned as it was had us leaning toward bobcat, but there were some large bone pieces that suggested coyote. Either way–we knew both had passed through.

m18-spring peeper

And we found a spring peeper and chatted about their callings in autumn weather that reflects their mating season–the fall echo season.

m20-brook view

A little more bush and whack and at last we reached the brook below.

m21-single leaf

As we stood in companionable silence, a single leaf floated past.

m24-balsam seedling

When it was time to turn away, we continued on, reveling in sights missed on previous missions, including a balsam sapling growing on a fern-covered stump.

m25-fresh beaver works!

And then, and then, much to our surprise, we encountered fresh beaver works where only three days ago there had been none. In at least three locations, we discovered that tree roots had been gnawed upon. It was a subtle sign–but a positive sign.

m26-smaller lodge

The lodges, which number at least three in this particular beaver pond that keeps pulling me back, still don’t look like they’ve been attended to. And there are no winter food platforms yet, but apparently they have time and don’t need to button down the hatches yet.


Happy in the knowledge that we’d found the beavers, though we never saw them, we decided to continue to follow the stream to a trail that abuts the property boundary.

m27-black ash

And being a forester, Dave quizzed me on a tree or two. This one I got wrong by its bark because it doesn’t exactly look like its white and green siblings, but knew by its leaf–black ash with no petioles on the leaflets.

m29-foam reflecting bark

About three hours later, we left the beaver community behind–our circle completed, figuratively and literally. Even the brook appeared to know, its froth circled in reflection of the log above.






Mondate Fix

I have bad camera karma as my guy can tell you and last week my Tamron
SP 60MM F/2.0 Di II 1:1 Macro decided to quit. I know not why. But, we were headed south for today’s Mondate, so we detoured into Portland hoping for a quick fix. Not to be. Two or three weeks they said. ARGH!


C’est la vie. As my nephew once responded about thirty years ago when he was a little tyke, “La vie.” We didn’t get to see him today, but if his ears were burning it’s because we met up with his parents at the GROG in Newburyport. I needed a sister fix–and a sister hug. Thanks lmacbud and docbud 😉 And thanks also for the chocolate chip cookies. I’m amazed they survived the trip home. Guess we were full.

p-board 1

After we parted ways, my guy and I drove out to Plum Island, an 11-mile barrier island off the shore of Newburyport and Newbury, and home to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the parking areas along the salt marsh were closed and so we headed back and walked along the board walk in the Salt Pannes Wildlife Observation Area.

p-dunes to ocean

Due to the fact that it’s plover nesting season, we eventually reached a stopping point. According to the refuge’s Web site: “The Atlantic coast population of this small shorebird was listed as threatened on the Federal Endangered Species List in 1986. As with so many other species in decline, plover populations plummeted primarily due to habitat disturbance and loss. Plovers arrive to breed and nest on the refuge beach beginning in late March. Refuge management efforts focus on minimizing human-caused disturbance by restricting public access to the refuge beach during this critical time.”


As we stood there, we realized that there was a small cranberry bog below. And we found a little sign that listed a couple of interesting facts: 1. the bog’s sphagnum moss sits atop sand. I look at wet or damp sphagnum every day and had no idea it could survive on sand; 2. like a vernal pool, the bog is used as a breeding pool and in this case by a rare and elusive amphibian–the Eastern Spadefoot Toad. I was itching to get down there and explore, but . . .


we paused for a few more moments and then followed the board walk back.

p-board 2

Again we stopped and this time we could follow a board walk all the way to the beach. As I walked, I wondered about the crooked mile but came to the conclusion that it follows the lay of the land–or rather dunes we were crossing.


To our right, our movement was restricted. I suspect Rachel Carson would have approved of these signs. In 1947, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a booklet Ms. Carson wrote about the refuge.

p-beach right

We walked to the water’s edge and looked south. The stretch of beach invited exploration, but we don’t always need to get what we desire.


Nearby, my guy found a piece of drift wood to sit upon.


In no time, he was mesmerized.

p-bird 2

p-bird 1

I needed to follow in the tracks of others.


A day beside salt water always evokes memories of my childhood spent exploring the Connecticut coast. How many times did I stick a line attached to a clothespin down into the jetty in Clinton harbor to catch crabs?

p-m & r1

How many mussels did I use as crab bait? How many broken razor clam shells sliced my feet?


How many pieces of sea glass did I collect?


And how many clam shells became Christmas presents?

p-ocean 3

We couldn’t stay long and know that there is so much more to see and wonder about in this special place. Before leaving, we filled the innermost recesses of our lungs with salt air and then returned to the board walk.

Suffice it to say, for this Mondate, we got our fill of fixes.