“A Perpetual Astonishment”

It was actually still winter when I joined Lakes Environmental Association’s Education Director Alanna Doughty and LEA member Betty for a “Welcome Spring” snowshoe hike at Holt Pond Preserve this afternoon–but really, for western Maine, it was a delightful spring day.

Our hearts smiled as our journey began beside a clump of pussy willow shrubs, so named for their resemblance to tiny cats’ paws. Actually, the white nubs are flowers pre-bloom. Their soft, silvery coating of hairs provides insulation thus protecting these early bloomers from cold temperatures.

That being said, they aren’t protected from everything and if you look, you may see pineapples growing on some. Those pinecone-like structures were created with leaves by a reaction to a chemical released by the larva that allows a gall gnat midge to overwinter on the willows. It’s a crazy world and everything seems to have its place.

Hanging out with the pussy willows were speckled alders, some with protrusions extending from last year’s cones. It was almost like they had tried to flower. In reality, they were alder tongue galls–resulting from a fungus rather than an insect infecting the female catkins. Apparently, the tongue-like growths are green to begin, but transform to orange, red and finally brown. I’ve yet to see it in its early form but time will tell.

We passed a spider walking across the snow and then came upon another member of the lilliputian world–a winter stonefly on the move. How they and the spiders survive the cold and snow is dependent upon special compounds including glycerol, proteins, and sugars that act like antifreeze. By its presence, we knew we were approaching a fast-moving stream.

More evidence of the stream’s presence became immediately apparent when we moved from the field to woods and immediately spied a sign of beaver works.

Stepping down beside the Muddy River, we began to see beaver tree after beaver tree. Each a most recent work.

Alanna stood upon an old dam, but though it was obvious they’d crossed over it by the well traveled trail of tracks, repair work was not yet part of the scheme for the water flowed forth.

We stood there for a few minutes and tried to understand what they had in mind, when one in our group spied the beaver chews in the water–their snack of choice.

We wondered if they were active downstream or up, and decided to follow the trail north.

A few minutes later, we came upon another trail well-traveled and knew that they’d been working in the vicinity.

In the brook, covered with spring ice, which features a different texture than the frozen structures of winter, was a small tree.

And then our eyes followed the beavers’ tracks back and we saw from whence it had been sawn.


And dragged through the snow. In our minds’ eyes we appreciated their efforts.

Still, we didn’t know what the beavers were up to, so we moved on in hopes of learning more about their activities. All the while, there were other things to notice, like the orange brain fungus growing on the inside of a stump. We weren’t the only ones to appreciate it for snowfleas, aka spring tails, also searched the surface.


Since we were beside the river, it might have made sense that we checked out the beaver works via canoe, but . . . the snow is slowly melting and it will be a while before we need to bring our own paddles, personal flotation devices and duct tape (just in case the canoe springs a leak).

From the boat launch we followed the secret trail and made our way out to the red maple swamp.

In a sunny spot we spied a swab of earth–a taste of what is to come. And the ever delightful wintergreen offering the first shade of spring green with a dash of spring pink.

Slowly we made our way back out to the Muddy River, where we stood and looked across at two beaver lodges on the other side. We didn’t dare cross, but from where we stood, it appeared that the lodges may be active given that we could see the vents at the top. It also appeared that they’d been visited, though we weren’t sure if the tracks were created by predators. Was this where the beavers who had been so active downstream were living? Or were these the homes of their parents? Were the new beaver works those of the two year olds who had recently been sent out into the world to make their own way? Our brains wondered and wondered?

We weren’t sure, but with questions in our mind, we moved on toward Holt Pond.

There were other things to see as we walked across the wetland, including the woody structures of maleberry capsules and their bright red buds.

Rhodora, that delightful pink beauty showed us that she’s waiting in wings.

As we made our way back, more wood chips on the ground indicated that a carver of another type had been at work–of the bird type rather than rodent.

To identify it, we looked not only at the shape of the chiseled structure, but also the scat we found among the chips.

Because it was filled with the body parts of carpenter ants and we knew its creator’s name–pileated woodpecker.

And then we found an insect of another type. Why was a hickory tussock caterpillar frozen to a twig? Was it shed skin from last fall? How did the structure last throughout the winter? We left with questions, but gave thanks for the opportunity Alanna provided to share the afternoon wandering and exploring and thinking and looking forward–to spring.

In the midst of our wandering, we did discover a fairy house and suspect that tonight some wild dance moves are on display under the Super Equinox Worm Moon.

“Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.”

British Author Edith Mary Pargeter, also known by her nom de plume, Ellis Peters (1913-1995)

The Wonders of Kezar River Reserve

How many people can  travel a familiar route for the first time every time? I know I can.

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And so it was this morning when I ventured to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Kezar River Reserve off Route 5 in Lovell. I went with a few expectations, but nature got in the way, slowed me down and gave me reason to pause and ponder–repeatedly.

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As I walked along the trail above the Kezar River, I spied numerous oak apple galls on the ground. And many didn’t have any holes. Was the wasp larvae still inside?

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While the dots on the gall were reddish brown, the partridgeberry’s oval drupes shone in Christmas-red fashion. I’m always awed by this simple fruit that results from a complex marriage–the fusion of pollinated ovaries of paired flowers. Do you see the two dimples? That’s where the flowers were attached. Two became one. How did they do this?

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After walking along the first leg of the trail, I headed down the “road” toward the canoe launch. And what to my wondering eyes should appear–fairy homes. Okay–true confession: As a conclusion to GLLT’s nature program for the Lovell Recreation Program this summer, the kids, their day camp counselors and our interns and docents created these homes.

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I was impressed that the disco ball still hangs in the entrance of this one. Do you see it? It just happens to be an oak apple gall. Creative kids. I do hope they’ve dropped by with their parents to check on the shelters they built.

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And then I reached the launch site and bench. It’s the perfect spot to sit, watch and listen. So I did. The bluejays kekonked, nuthatches yanked and kingfishers rattled.

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A gentle breeze danced through the leaves and offered a ripply reflection.

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And I . . . I awaited great revelations that did not come. Or did they? Was my mind open enough to receive? To contemplate the mysteries of life? The connections? The interactions?

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At last, I moved on and entered a section that is said to be uncommon in our area: headwall erosion. This is one of five ravines that feature deep v-shaped structures. Underground streams passing through have eroded the banks. It’s a special place that invites further contemplation. And exploration.

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One of my favorite wonders on the bit of stream that trickled through–water striders. While they appeared to skate on the surface, they actually took advantage of water tension making it look like they walked on top as they feasted on insects and larvae that I could not see.

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Lots of turtle signs also decorated the trail. Literally.

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In fact, I found bear sign,

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cardinal sign,

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and lady’s slipper sign . . . among others. Local students painted the signs and it’s a fun  and artistic addition to the reserve.

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Of course, there was natural sign to notice as well, including a blue jay feather.

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Asters and goldenrods offered occasional floral decorations.

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And hobblebush berries begged to be noticed.

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And then a meadowhawk dragonfly captured my attention. I stood and watched for moments on end.

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And noted that the red maples offered similar colors.

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When I reached the canoe launch “road,” I was scolded for my action.

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Despite that, I returned to the bench overlooking the mill pond on the river. Rather than sit on the bench this time,  I slipped down an otter slide to the water’s edge.

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My efforts were rewarded. Frogs jumped. And a few paused–probably hoping that in their stillness I would not see them. But I did . . . including this green frog.

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My favorite wonder of the day . . .

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moments spent up close and personal with another meadowhawk.

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No matter how often I wander a trail, there’s always something, or better yet, many somethings, to notice. Blessed be for so many opportunities to wonder beside the Kezar River.

 

 

Book of June: The Giant’s Shower

Since it’s June and Midsummer’s Eve occurs in June, I thought I’d post this fairy tale I wrote years ago.

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Book of June

Once upon a Midsummer’s Eve, on Sabattus Mountain, a group of fairies gathered in a circle for a night of magic and merriment. All wore crowns of wood sorrel and ferns about their heads. Their sparkly skirts matched the color of their hair, purple and green and yellow and orange and blue. Together they danced and sang this tune:

We whirl and twirl and dance around,                                                                                                     Our feet, they barely touch the ground.                                                                                                     We wish and wish and wish tonight,                                                                                                        For a Midsummer’s Eve that is fun and bright.

Aisling stopped suddenly and stared at the delicate pink lady’s slipper they circled around.

“What is it, Aisling?” asked Carys. “Why did you pause?”

“I had a vision,” Aisling said. Her wings fluttered as fast as a hummingbird’s, which they always did whenever she had a vision.

“Tell us,” insisted Imma.

“It’s about Falda,” said Aisling.

“Oh, will my wings work again?” pleaded Falda, for her wings were folded and though she could dance and jump, she could no longer fly.

“No, Falda. It’s not that, but something even better, I think. And there’s a nice ogre too,” explained Aisling.

“Tsk. Tsk. A nice ogre. Whoever heard of such a thing?” demanded Biddie. “The only ogre we ever knew was a devil. Remember his sign in Crawford Notch: ‘Devl Hom.’ That ogre was so mean, he couldn’t even spell.”

The fairies continued dancing and forgot about Aisling’s vision for a few hours. When the merriment was over, Falda and Biddie, the older fairies, returned to their homes beneath the thick foliage and moss-covered tree stumps. Imma, Carys and Aisling used pine needles to sweep the area so no hikers would discover them.

“Tell us more about your vision, Aisling,” said Carys. “Who is the ogre? And what does he have to do with Falda?”

“I don’t know for sure,” said Aisling.

“Biddie always says that there was a giant who lived near our old home in Crawford Notch. He was cursed and not to be trusted,” said Imma.

“Let’s go back there and check him out,” suggested Carys.

“Yes, let’s,” said Aisling. “Remember, we can always avoid contact with him by reciting the backward chant: Ogres bad big with contact eye avoid always.”

“OK,” agreed Imma. “Let’s go.”

In a twinkle and a flitter, the three fairies left their home in Lovell, Maine, and reached Crawford Notch. The rising moon glowed on the giant’s staircase made of carefully placed tree trunks.

Aisling was the first to smell something awful. “What stinks?” she asked.

“I think it’s him,” said Imma, pointing to where the giant stood building a two-hundred-foot high granite wall. “Biddie said his smell is why we left.”

“Shhh,” whispered Carys from her hiding place high up in a beech tree. “Listen to him.”
This is what they heard: “Humph. I sure hope I can find water to flow over this fall. Then I can finally take a shower. And who knows, maybe Sweet Falda will hear that I’m clean and she’ll finally return.”

The three fairies held their noses and giggled.

“That’s your vision, Aisling,” squealed Imma.

“Humph. What was that sound?” the giant demanded. In the gruffest voice he could muster, he said, “Who goes there?”

Imma quickly waved her magic wand and a breeze moved the leaves. The giant could no longer hear them. He returned to his work of stacking granite boulders on top of one another.

“We’ve got to figure out how to get Falda and the giant together,” said Carys.

“Don’t you think he’s a mean, old ogre?” asked Imma.

“Not at all,” said Carys.

“Me either,” said Aisling.

“OK then. I have a plan, but I’ll need to ask my cousin to help,” Imma said.

In a twinkle and a flitter, the fairies returned to Sabattus Mountain and their village under the moss-covered tree stumps in the old pine grove.

“Falda, Biddie, wake up,” they called.

“What is it?” Falda asked as she walked out of her wee house, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

“We just came from Crawford Notch and we saw the most amazing thing,” said Carys.

“Tsk. Tsk. There’s nothing amazing left in Crawford Notch,” said Biddie.

“Oh, but you are wrong, Biddie. We saw a giant staircase, a giant waterfall . . . well, almost waterfall, and a certain giant himself,” said Imma.

“Almost waterfall?” asked Falda.

“Yes, it just needs water,” said Imma.

“Tsk. Tsk. Did you say ‘a certain giant’?” asked Biddie.

Carys fluttered up and down. “Yes, Aisling’s vision is coming true. We saw a certain giant building the almost waterfall and . . .” She was so overcome with excitement that she choked up and cried happy tears.

Aisling continued, “ . . . and he mentioned you, Falda.”

Falda’s cheeks turned as pink as the lady’s slippers that bloomed around them.

“Tsk. Tsk. You talked to that devil? Didn’t I always teach you that he is a cursed ogre and not to be trusted? Did you use the backward chant?” demanded Biddie.

“Oh, Biddie, don’t worry. We didn’t talk to him,” Imma said. The she whispered, “Yet.”

“No, we didn’t talk to him. We just listened to him,” said Aisling.

“I never even knew his name,” said Falda. She twisted her wee hands together. “He used to leave me beautiful gifts though, like a pinecone wreath and an oak picture frame.”

Biddie said, “Tsk. Tsk. He’s the devil, I tell you. And he stinks.”

“Yes, he did have a certain odor,” said Falda. “That was one reason we moved to Maine.”

“Maybe he smelled bad because he was always busy building something and couldn’t take a shower,” suggested Carys.

“Tsk. Tsk. He’s the devil and we’ll not return to Crawford Notch. It’s obvious that he put a curse on Falda and her wings got caught on a branch when we landed here. Now they are folded and she cannot fly,” insisted Biddie. “Enough of this nonsense. Go back to bed all of you.”

Aisling, Imma and Carys returned to their homes . . . momentarily. A few minutes later, when they were sure they could hear Biddie snoring, they met under an oak leaf behind Aisling’s house.

“I’ll ask Cousin Arethusa to provide a spring so water will flow over the boulders,” said Imma.

“Oh goody,” Carys said as she clapped her hands.

“Shhh,” Aisling whispered. “Quiet or they’ll hear us. We must act quickly before the sun rises on a new day.”

Silently, the three fairies formed a circle. Imma held her magic wand high and swung it in a sweeping arch above their heads. Fairy dust sprinkled upon them. Out of the dust, Cousin Arethusa appeared. In a whisper, Imma explained the need for a spring in Crawford Notch to which Arethusa agreed as long as the waterfall would be named for her.

“Thank you, Cousin Arethusa. Now we must go,” said Imma.

In a twinkle and a flitter, the three fairies returned to the Notch. They found the giant placing the last granite boulder on top of the wall.

He blinked when they landed on it. “Humph,” he growled, again using his gruffest voice, which wasn’t really gruff at all. “Who might you be?”

Immediately the three fairies covered their noses and gasped for air.

“Oh my. Do I smell that bad?” the giant asked. His cheeks turned red as the wintergreen berries that grew on the forest floor.

“Yes,” Carys squeaked.

“But if you turn around three times . . .” gasped Aisling.

“ . . . And say ‘water, water, everywhere’ five times fast,” added Carys.

“ . . . Water will flow over the falls and you can finally shower,” finished Imma.

“Really?” asked the giant.

“Try it,” said Carys.

“And hurry,” added Aisling.

“Do it for Falda,” finished Imma.

“Fal . . . da? You know Sweet Falda?” asked the giant.

“Yes, but hurry . . . you need to shower,” said Imma.

“Oh, yes.” So the giant turned around three times, said, “Water, water, everywhere,” five times and water flowed over the falls.

“Look, Arethusa Falls,” exclaimed Imma.

“I can’t believe it. I’m not very good at being mean and scary, but I can make wonderful things with my hands. Only I did wonder how I’d make this shower work,” said the giant.

“Well, you must thank Arethusa for that. And by the way, Biddie thinks you ARE mean and scary,” said Imma.

“Biddie. As I recall, she’s just an old biddie,” said the giant.

The fairies giggled.

“Why are you laughing?” he asked.

“Because that is exactly what Falda always says about Biddie,” explained Aisling.

“Oh, Sweet Falda. I must shower now so I can see her again.”

The fairies told him that Sabattus Mountain was only a few giant steps east of Arethusa Falls. Then in a twinkle and a flitter they returned to their village.

A few winks later, the Earth rumbled. All five fairies quickly gathered at Falda’s house.

“What was that?” they wondered together.

“Sounds like thunder,” said Falda. “A storm must be approaching.”

“But I thought I saw the sun rising as I rushed over here,” said Carys.

Suddenly, the sky darkened. The fairies fluttered closer together. Falda lit a candle. Then they heard a tapping sound near the entrance. She peeked out, but saw no one. Curious, the fairies cautiously walked outside. Standing atop the mountain was a certain giant.

“Oh,” said Falda and her face brightened with a smile.

“Tsk. Tsk. If it isn’t the devil himself. And he’s flattened the trees,” exclaimed Biddie.

“The devil? Why on Earth do you say that, Biddie? And sorry about the trees. I tried my best to tiptoe,” said the giant.

“Tsk. Tsk. That’s what your sign said, ‘Devl Hom,’” said Biddie.

“Oh, that sign. It broke in an ice storm. I just never got around to fixing it. I was too busy building other things. My name is Devlin. That sign should read, ‘Devlin’s Home,’” said the giant.

“Tsk. Tsk . . . you stink too,” stammered Biddie.

“Not anymore. Now I can shower whenever I want. You must come see all the changes in the Notch.” Devlin leaned down, picked Falda up and placed her in the palm of his oversized hand. “What happened to your wings, Sweet Falda?”

“Nothing really. Just a wee accident,” she said.

So Devlin carried Falda over to Crawford Notch for a visit. In a twinkle and a flitter, Carys, Imma and Aisling followed behind him. Biddie tagged along, tsk-tsking all the way.

And they all lived happily ever after. All but Biddie were happy, of course.

Arethusa Falls and Sabattus Mountain Hikes

Guess what! You can hike to both locations mentioned in The Giant’s Shower. First, climb the giant’s staircase to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. Be sure to pack a snack or lunch to enjoy beside the falls. Who knows, you might even see Devlin working nearby. If he smells, remind him to take a shower.

The trailhead to Arethusa Falls is located on Route 302 at the southern end of Crawford Notch in the White Mountains. The hike is easy, but it does take about 45-60 minutes to reach the over 200-foot high falls. Several trail options are available so be sure to check local guides, such as the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide and bring a map.

And only a few giant steps east of the falls is Sabattus Mountain in Lovell, Maine. If you are traveling via car rather than giant steps, Sabattus Mountain is about an hour and a half from Arethusa Falls. Follow Route 302 East to Route 5 North in Fryeburg, Maine. Stay on Route 5 through the villages of Lovell and Center Lovell. Just after the Center Lovell Inn, turn right onto Sabattus Road. Drive about 1 1/2 miles, then turn right onto Sabattus Trail Road.

The trailhead and parking area are a half mile up the road and clearly marked. The round-trip hike takes about 1 hour and is fairly easy, with one moderate spot. From the top, you will see Kezar Lake and Pleasant Mountain to the south. The White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire are to the west.

For more information about this hike, check Marita Wiser’s guidebook, HIKES in and around Maine’s LAKE REGION, which is sold at local stores.

Hike up the right-hand trail. You’ll reach the top in about 45 minutes. Take time to enjoy the view left behind when the giant flattened trees with his footsteps. Some trees still stand tall, because he was only tiptoeing. Continue along the ridge until the trail turns left to descend.

In an old pine grove along this trail, you might suddenly feel the presence of fairies. Their homes are among the moss-covered tree stumps. They enjoy visiting Crawford Notch, but Sabattus is now their forever home. Pause a bit and let the magic of this place overtake you.

Do be sure not to add to or take away from the fairies’ homes. These are natural homes and you shouldn’t disturb them.

Happy hiking! And say hello to Carys, Imma, Aisling, Falda and Biddie for me.

**********

Meanings of names used in the story:
Aisling–vision, dream
Carys–love
Imma–water bearer
Falda–folded wings
Biddie–strength
Arethusa (Ara-Thuse-A)–spring
Devlin–brave, one of fierce valor
Pink lady’s slipper–moccasin flower, large, showy orchid found in the woods of Maine and New Hampshire

How to make your own fairy dust:
Combine dried flower petals, leaves and birdseed in a small bowl. Crush together. Sprinkle outdoors wherever magic is needed.

Fairy houses:
Best if made from natural materials, e.g. bark, sticks, leaves, pinecones, rocks, grass, moss, berries, wood chips and flowers.
Fairies particularly like the thick foliage of moss and old tree stumps.
Remember, they hope that humans won’t discover them, so be cautious and don’t upset nature.

 ©  The Giant’s Shower by Leigh Macmillen Hayes, first published June 1, 2015, wondermyway.com, written in 2004