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.

Progressive Lunch Mondate

Today’s hike found us climbing one of our favorite mountains in western Maine. We love the fact that we can ascend along various trails and change it up if we want with up and back routes, circular routes and ridge-line routes.

p-trail-sign

Since we chose the Southwest Ridge Trail, we drove to the parking area on Denmark Road. Ours was the only vehicle, but trail conditions and a single Stabilicers™ ice cleat indicated many others had traveled this way recently. As for those ice cleats, my guy informed me he’s sold tons this winter and he has STABILicers™ Powder Straps for sale as well, so they don’t end up as trail sign decorations.

p-deer-skipper-and-doe

The beginning of the trail was mostly covered in frozen snow. Immediately we wondered who had used the trail more–humans or deer? The imprints of the latter spoke of timing. The smaller skipper on the left, must have moved this way after a recent warm day and the adult, which I suspected was a doe, earlier when temperatures were colder and the snow firmer. With temps a bit lower than yesterday, we found it rather firm for our purposes.

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At least seven different deer runs crossed the trail between the parking area and first ledge.

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Being on the southwestern side of the mountain, the snow level was significantly less than elsewhere and one run was completely open to the leaf litter, making it easier for food foraging.

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Conditions kept changing for us as well. A friend from Florida had been asking about signs of spring, and this trail certainly hinted at a change of seasons.

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In fact, we experienced a bit of every season, from snow and ice to leaves, mud and water.

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About an hour into our climb, we found two rocks meant for a pause. And so we did.

p-cracker-cheese

Lunch Course Number One: Pineland Farms Creamery’s Salsa Jack cheese on crackers.

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Our break gave us time to take in the view toward the White Mountains where we’d hiked yesterday. Though our visibility was rather good for a cloudy day, it was obvious that those mountains were again in the mist.

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A bit further on, the bright orange-red fruit clusters of staghorn sumac brightened our day. As vibrant as they are, most of the pompom fruits remained, waiting for songbirds, turkeys and grouse. Apparently, they are not a preferred food source and will often remain until late winter. Though I’ve never tried it, the crushed fruit can be used to make a lemonade-like tea. And the tannin-rich bark was used to tan hides.

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The “staghorn” part of the common name derived from the fact that the stem is covered in reddish-brown hairs and features a manner of growth that somewhat resembles the velvet-covered horns (antlers) of a stag (male deer).

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We solved the problems of the world as we continued up, all the while looking down to choose the right foot placement so we were both surprised when we realized we’d already reached the teepee at the summit of the trail.

p-soup

Lunch Course Number Two: Black Bean Soup.

The recipe was shared with me eons ago by my friend Carissa. When our sons were young, they loved to help me make it. And I was thrilled when our oldest asked for the recipe last week. I thought you might appreciate it.

Black Bean Soup

1 lb plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise

1 large onion, halved and cut into wedges

1 lb carrots, peeled and quartered

3 lg garlic cloves, chopped

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

4 C vegetable broth

3 1/4 C cooked black beans or two 15oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained

Combine first six ingredients and roast at 350˚ for one hour, stirring occasionally. Set carrots aside. Purée other roasted veggies. Pour some broth into roasting pan and scrape up bits. Hold aside one cup beans. Purée other beans, using some broth if necessary. Chop carrots. Heat everything together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt.

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We enjoyed the view and talked about the Hike and Bike Trek that Loon Echo Land Trust hosts each year. This is the spot that my friend, Marita, and I spend the day at as we perform our hostess duties for the six-mile hikers.

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Before we began our descent, we took one last look at the teepee, created years ago by the late George Sudduth, director/owner of Wyonegonic Camps, the oldest camp for girls in America.

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Back down we went, carefully picking our way. We were actually surprised at how quickly we finished, the climb down not nearly as treacherous as at least one of us had anticipated.

We’re expecting a Nor’easter overnight into tomorrow and hope it’s an all snow event (despite the prediction for freezing rain and sleet after the snow) because we aren’t ready to give up winter yet.

Lunch Course Number Three: Two Dark Chocolate McVitie’s Digestives when we reached the truck. A perfect ending to a Progressive Lunch Mondate on Pleasant Mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep an Open Mind

While I always head out with expectations of what my forest wanderings will offer, I’m happily surprised time and time again with the gifts received.

o-deer

And so it was the other day when a friend and I happened upon this trophy in an area I’ve only visited a few times. We’d been noting the abundant amount of deer tracks and realized we were between their bedding and feeding areas and then voila–this sweet sight sitting atop the snow. It now adorns a bookcase in my office, a wonder-filled addition to my mini natural history museum. (I’m trying to give Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny of the Boxcar Children series a run for their money in creating such a museum.)

o-deer-1

Being on the receiving end of such a gift can lead to want or greed. And when I spied several deer crossing the trail before I slipped into the woods today, I expected to find numerous more antlers.

Certainly, I thought I’d find at least one, but the possibility for several seemed realistic given the local population.

o-deer-tracks

To that end, I followed fresh tracks and examined areas they’d pawed as they sought acorns and mosses. My eyes scanned the surface, but perhaps it was the fault of the fresh layer of snow that hid the possibilities. Then again, we’d only received a few inches of fresh white stuff and it was rather warm for a January afternoon, the snow’s surface dotted with drip drops.

o-landmark

I didn’t pay attention to my direction as I moved and then suddenly found myself nearing an old landmark, surprised as usual that it still existed. I did notice that the deer didn’t travel below this widow maker. Nor did I.

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Eventually my wanderings found me following tracks left behind by a larger mammal.

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I worked my way through a thicket of gray birch, those early successors in an area logged about ten years ago, and then heard a sound–a crashing noise.

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As I stood still and waited, I looked around. Everywhere, the young gray birch and red maple buds had been nipped. Everywhere. It was almost as if no tree had been left untouched. Sometimes I noted traces of hair.

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There was no further sound of crashing branches, but plenty of evidence of who had been crisscrossing through these woods on a regular basis. Signs indicated action and I had visions of antler velvet being rubbed off.

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Sometimes bent . . .

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and other times completely broken, I saw moose behavior that meant antlers in my future.

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On some trees, rubs were smooth in the middle and ragged on the ends, with points scratching the surface. At least that’s what I thought I was seeing.

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Scrapes, those areas where the moose had used their lower incisors to pull bark and the cambium layer from the trees, were also visible everywhere I looked.

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In a matter of minutes I found a bed and that’s when I realized that this was probably the moose I’d frightened off, given the freshness of the structure.

o-moose-heart

One of my favorite parts of the find–moose scat within a moose track. And all in the shape of a heart.

Indeed, no antlers. Indeed, other offerings. And a reminder to keep an open mind. And heart.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

Quiet Beauty

Sixty-five degrees in the shade. Time to shed a few layers. And so I did before I stumbled through the snow to my sit spot. I didn’t feel like wearing snowshoes, so it felt like I was digging post holes again.

cowpath

I set up camp at the opening of the cowpath. Shades of green, brown and white surrounded me. Once in a while I spied a touch of contrast–one red berry on a Wintergreen and a few weathered purplish-red berries of a Canada Mayflower.

canada mayflower

The deer had moved through yesterday afternoon and again this morning. We watched them cross the field, which is still snow-covered. They paused by the stonewall to browse before climbing over it and into our woods. Their presence was noted everywhere.

stone wall deer

juniper 2juniper 3

Before moving on, they stopped at the junipers that grow along one section of the stonewall. The shrubs are filled with berries–green, blue and even gray. I find it curious that these berries are supposed to provide food for deer and yet, there are still so many there. All of the exposed juniper bushes are laden with berries.

Log

Right at the opening of the cowpath is this decaying log. I’ve observed the life it supports for the past few years. It reminds me of a similar log below a tree in my childhood backyard. My two playmates and I named the tree “Treetonic” and we each had a chosen branch that served as our home. Mine was the lowest one–I was the more cautious of the three. We used to dig small chunks out of the log below to create our “meals” of meat and vegetables. Wow–I can’t believe I remember that.

Back to the present–two years ago I found a couple of tiny white pine saplings growing on this log, but today there was no sight of them. Often, I’ve discovered acorn shells. And once, close to Halloween, I found plugs of red squirrel hair–lots of it. It was extremely soft, about an inch or more long, white at the base, then black, and topped with reddish brown–which had some black specks. I called it the Frankenhair Mystery in honor of Halloween and the fact that “Frankenstorm” Sandy was on the horizon.

Today, it was the mossy mat that made me pull out my colored pencils. A tree dies, falls to the ground, begins to decompose. Lichens colonize it, blown in as spores in the air–a topic for another day. Moss grows over the lichen, taking advantage of moisture trapped in the organic matter. Eventually, the moss adds to the organic material and helps build a soil base. Once the moss mat is established, grasses, sedges, ferns and herbs invade–arriving by wind-borne spores or seeds (or perhaps even via rainwater and spring tales, aka snow fleas, as suggested in “A Chemical Romance . . . Among the Mosses” in the winter 2012 issue of Northern Woodlands magazine.)

common haircap

The moss mat, like that created by this Common Haircap Moss, takes on vertical complexity–soil,  moisture, organic matter all build up. Plant richness increases. If the soil builds up sufficiently, it can support more extensive root systems of woody plants, like the white pine sapling.

sapling

Common Haircap Moss grows in thick patches everywhere I look. Using my hand lens, I can see that the narrow, lance-shaped leaves have toothed edges. I love getting a closer look through the lens. I can see how the leaves clasp the stem. Then I looked at the spore capsule with its copper-wiry stem and four-sided hood that looks like it’s seen better days–because it has.

moss?

I’m not sure about this photo–I thought I was looking at two different mosses, but it may be that one is a moist form of haircap and the other is a dry form, with the leaves drawn in–but it does seem to have a wilder appearance. What wowed me when I looked through the lens was the color of the stem. Without the lens, it looked like it was basic brown. A closer look revealed reds, and pinks, and yellows and greens. And scaly leaves hugging the stem. Maybe as time goes on I’ll have a better idea of what it is–but I’m so glad I took the time to view it up close, where it quietly revealed its beauty on a day dedicated to quiet reflection.

sketch

Days when I make time to wander and wonder and discover the quiet beauty that surrounds me are my favorite kind of days.

Thanks for tagging along to enjoy today’s wonder.