To Pause and Focus

I had no idea what to expect of today’s tramp with two friends as I didn’t even know prior to this afternoon that the trail we would walk even existed. And so I pulled in to the parking area at the end of Meetinghouse Road in Conway, New Hampshire, sure that we’d only be able to walk down to the Saco River about a hundred feet away and that would be the extent of our adventure.

1-Conway Rec Path

But . . .  much to my pleasant surprise I was wrong and in the northeastern corner of the parking lot we crossed a bridge into the unexpected setting.

2-Saco River framed

For the entire journey, we walked above and beside the Saco River. And our minds were awed by the frames through which we viewed the flowing water and boulders.

3-clear view of the Saco River

Occasionally, our view was clear and colorful, the colors now more pastel than a week ago.

5-witch hazel, understory

Even as the colors have begun to wane and leaves fall, we looked up from our spot below the under and upper stories and sighed.

4-Witch Hazel

For much of the time, we were wowed by the Witch Hazel’s flowers–for so thick were they on many a twig.

4a-witch hazel flowers

In fact, if one didn’t pause to notice, you might think that each flower featured a bunch of ribbons, but really, four was the count over and over again.

4b-witch hazel flowers, leaf:bundle scars

And some were much more crinkly than others. One of my other favorites about this shot is the scar left behind by a recently dropped leaf. Do you see the dark smile at the base of the woody yet hairy flower petiole? And the dots within that represented the bundles where water and nutrients passed between leaf and woody structure?

6-spotted wintergreen

And then one among us who is known for her eagle eyes spied a Spotted Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, a name that has always made us wonder for its dark green leathery leaves seem far more stripped than spotted. It’s one of those plants with a bunch of common names and so we should try another one on: spotted wintergreen; striped prince’s pine; striped wintergreen; striped pipsissewa; spotted pipissewa; and pipissewa. But perhaps the fact that it’s striped and referred to as spotted helps me to remember its name each time we meet. A sign of how my brain works.

7-spotted wintergreen patch

While we know it to be rare and endangered in Maine, it grew abundantly under the pines on the slight slope beside the river in New Hampshire, and we rejoiced.

8-spotted wintergreen capsules

Its newer capsules were green, but a few of last year’s woody structures also graced the forest floor. Reseeding helps the plant propagate, but it also spreads through its rhizomes.

9-maple-leaf viburnum

Everywhere we looked there was a different sight to focus our lenses and we took photo upon photo of the variations in color of some like Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), a shrub with three-lobed maple-like leaves and small white flowers in the spring that form blue fruits in the early fall and had been consumed, only their stems left to tell the story.

10-red maple leaves

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) leaning over the river offered their own hues that bespoke autumn.

16-platter sized mushrooms

And tucked into a fungi bowl, we found the yellow form of Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum). 

11-Saco River with Moat Mountains in background

Onward we continued with the river to our left, outlined with maples and evergreens, and backdropped by the Moat Mountains.

12-small pond stained glass window

And to our right, a small pond where trees in the foreground helped create a stained glass effect filled with autumn’s display.

13-reflection

And once again, in the pond’s quiet waters reflections filled our souls.

14-turn around trespass

A wee bit further, we trespassed onto private land, and decided to make that our turn-around point as we got our bearings via GPS.

15-trail

Backtracking was as enjoyable as our forward motion. We had been on a trail called the Conway Rec Path, part of the Mount Washington Valley Rec Path, intended for walking, running, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, bird watching, wildflower viewing , tree study, plus river and mountain views. Kennett High School athletes ran past us and we encountered couples out for exercise. None took their time as we did, but that’s our way and occasionally we ventured off trail because something caught our eye.

9-rock carvings match the waves

Meanwhile, the river continued to flow, as it has for almost ever, and the water continued to carve patterns yet to be seen, but we enjoyed those that reflected its action.

17-old silver maple

Back at the parking lot, we were wowed by a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), its girth suggesting an age older than a century.

18-silver maple buds

As had been the case all along the way, we experienced another wow moment when we realized how developed were the flower and leaf buds already. We know they form in the summer, but . . . they looked ready to pop!

19-white-throated sparrow

As we stood and admired, a flock of Juncos and White-throated Sparrows flew from one spot to the next as they sought seeds on the ground. Occasionally, the sparrows paused for a moment.

20-2 white-throated sparrows

And then moved on again.

21-Eagle over Moose Pond

At last it was time for us to move on as well and head for home, my friends’ to their mountainside abode in New Hampshire and me to my humble house on the other side of the Moose Pond Causeway. But as I always do when making the crossing, I looked up.

22-immature Bald Eagle

And was honored by a sighting that pulled me out of my truck. The immature Bald Eagle I’d watched and listened to all summer graced me with another opportunity to view it.

One scene after another, it was a delightful autumn afternoon. Thanks P&B, for the sharing a new trail with me and providing many moments to pause and focus.

A Keen Eye for the Wonders at Our Feet

As beautiful as the trees are right now with their autumnal display in full force, if you walk slowly in the woods and on the bald faces of our local granite, I think you might find yourself amazed. I know a friend and I always are and this afternoon was no different. We didn’t journey far; we didn’t need to journey far. We just needed to be present in the moment.

1-bird's nest fungi

Our first find was actually a discovery she’d made the other day. In her front yard, mixed in with the acorn caps, were teeny tiny examples of Cyathus striatus or Splash Cup Fungi.

2-bird's nest

Only two weeks ago, she’d shown me a larger version of this Bird’s Nest Fungi in the form of Fluted Bird’s Nest, but today she had this miniature version to share. They really do resemble their common name.

3-beads of slime mold

Because our eyes were focused on the minute, it was no surprise that Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold, all beady in structure, should attract our attention.

4-stink horn

Our next great find discovered by my friend with the eagle eyes was a Common Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii). She said it stunk. I didn’t notice, but the flies loved it. Love, in fact, seemed to be a common theme, for on the stalk, which is typically white, appeared a heart, with arms/hands wrapped around below. Even though it’s “common,” I don’t often encounter any form of a Phallus fungus, so I’m not sure if the two-toned stalk is a common feature.

6-green stain fungi

The next discovery–the fruiting form of Green Stain Fungi (Chlorociboria aeruginascens). The turquoise fruiting body was only about a third of an inch in diameter and so it’s another one that’s easy to overlook. But . . . our movement was intentionally slow as we moved without expectation and were constantly excited by our discoveries.

7-onto the granite

At last, we stepped out of the forest and onto a bit of a bald spot where granite greets sky, with lots of life layered between the two.

8-liliputian world

And onto our knees we knelt for life on the granite was lilliputian in nature.

9-candy lichen

And varied, but it was the lichens that really pulled me into the fold. Some, like the Candy Lichen, a blue-gray crustose lichen with orange to salmon colored fruits, grew so abundantly that we practically ignored it.

9a-pixie cups

Then there were the delightful pixie cup goblets scattered throughout awaiting a visit from the wee folk.

10-British soldiers

And British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) standing tall yet branched as they watched over all, their crimson red caps bespeaking their ancestral heritage.

11-lipstick powderhorn

Beside them were a few Lipstick Powderhorns (Cladonia macilenta) with bright red caps above single stalks, rather like the lipstick I’ve never worn.

12-red-fruited pixie cups

And rounding out the red-cap series were the Red-fruited Pixie Cups (Cladonia pleurota), with their multiple red fruiting bodies outlining the cups.

13-red-fruited lichens

Pixie cups would have been enough. But pixie cups with bright red caps–and we were wowed. The other cool thing–like the Bird’s Nest Fungi with its splash cup form, these lichens offered something similar. The Bird’s Nest depends on droplets of water (think rain) to release its spores from the tiny “eggs” situated within each cup. For the Red-fruited Pixie Cups, it’s the same idea–the splash cup goblets allow the lichen to disperse its reproductive materials.

14-red-fruited brown

We found a few with the red caps turned brown and assumed they’d done their duty.

15- Ladder Lichen Cladonia verticillata

Just when we were about to move on my friend made another exciting discovery. Ladder Lichen (Cladonia verticillata) with its brown fruits reminded me more of fountains containing chocolate treats at the outer edge of each level.

16- Ladder Lichen Cladonia verticillata

Or perhaps a way for Jack to ascend from the world of the minute to the giants in the sky.

17-milkweed seeds

And with that, our eyes moved upwards–to the milkweed seeds that awaited their turn for release and a chance to find their own place in the world.

18-large milkweed bug

A Large Milkweed Bug reached the end of one pod, but the future possibilities seemed endless for it–as long as the spider web didn’t hinder any progress.

19-ash leaves

With upturned attention, we noted a young ash tree presenting its fall colors ranging from golden green to magenta all on the same trunk.

20-oak leaves

And even higher up, a Red Oak already showing off its carotenoid chemistry with yellows and oranges overtaking the green pigment.

21-colors

While fall foliage is at or near peak in western Maine and causing all of us to stop in our tracks to note the beauty of the live paintings that surround and embrace us in their ever changing way, its the color and variety and wonders at our feet that drew the attention of my friend and me today. And I’m forever grateful for her keen eye.

(And help searching for a needle in a haystack a little while later–thanks J.M.)

Summer Marches On

Today I attended a celebratory parade.

0-Subtle colors

The route followed the old course of a local river and along the way the trees stood in formation, some showing off their bright new coats.

5-colors in the field

Each float offered a different representation of the theme: transition.

3-ash seed raining

Upon some floats, seeds from the Ash rustled as they prepared to rain upon the ground like candy tossed into the gathered crowd.

4-crystalline tube gall on red oak

Oak leaves showed off their pompoms of choice–some being crystalline tube galls and others . . .

19-hedgehog gall?

possibly called hedgehog.

8-bald-faced hornet

Playing their instruments were the Bald-faced Hornets,

9-autumn meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonflies,

11-immature green stink bug

and even an immature Green Stink Bugs.

10-green frog

On the percussion instruments at the back of the band were the green and . . .

23-pickerel frog

pickerel frogs.

15-yellow-rumped warbler

Adding a few fainter notes were a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers.

16-yellow-rumped warbler

They didn’t want the chickadees to get all the credit for the songs of the woods.

17-hairy woodpecker

A Hairy Woodpecker also tapped a view beats.

12-wood ducks

Probably my favorite musicians, however, sported their traditional parade attire and awed those watching from the bandstand.

13-wood duck

Even a non-breeding male made the scene look like a painting.

14-wood ducks taking off

Their real contribution, though, came from the modestly plumaged females who offered a squealing “oo-eek, oo-eek”  each time they took flight.

18-sensitive fern

Though green attire was the most prominent of the day, others sported colors of change from yellows and browns to . . .

6-red emerging

brilliant reds.

21-Brigadoon

As is often the case along such a route, vendors offered works of art for sale, including local scenes painted with watercolors.

22-lily reflection and aquatic aphids

Before it was over, a lone lily danced on the water and offered one last reflection.

24-season transformation

And then summer marched on . . . into autumn.

Hanging On

To say the colors have been fantastic this fall is an understatement. Maybe they are just as spectacular as last year’s display, but I don’t remember. Or maybe it’s that the leaves turned at a later date than in recent history and the anticipation was rewarded by the brilliance.

morning view

All I know is that I can’t get enough.

Route 93 mtn view

Route 93 2

As I drove toward Lovell this morning, a break in the treeline beside the road forced me to back up and jump out of the truck. I recalled another October when the foliage caught my attention–I can’t believe I remember this, but it was either 1974 or ’75 when I often traveled the back roads with my high school cohorts–Carissa and Sarah. I only hope I remember this fall as vividly as that one has always stood out in my mind.

purple aster

It felt like rain when a couple of friends and I walked along the short trail at the GLLT’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge on New Road this morning. We didn’t get far because there were so many wildflowers to view, some still in bloom and others gone to seed. Like so many trails, this is an old logging road. It would be so easy to dismiss it as an ugly tangle of shrubs and weeds. But it’s hardly that. Gray and paper birch grace the border of the road, mixed with evergreens and a few red maples.

gall of the earth flower 2

But the flowers really caught our attention today. One Gall of the Earth displays its nodding head.

sundew leaves dying back

The round-leaf sundew is beginning to die back.

silverod

It seemed like in most cases only one plant of the species still had flowers, like this silverrod, our only white goldenrod.

Pearly everlasting

Pearly everlasting,

steeplebush

steeplebush and

aster seeds 2

asters are letting go.

witch hazel flowering

Meanwhile, the witch hazel is in full bloom.

wh flower and pod

Apparently, its ribbony yellow flowers bloom late in order to take advantage of pollinators at a time when everything else has finished blossoming.

baby woodfrog

We didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the property, but this little guy caught our attention–a young wood frog. He’ll need to find his way under the leaf litter soon.

Route 93

On the way home, another photo call.

Mount Washington

And later in the day, some work behind me, I stepped out the door again. It’s a compulsion a this point; a strong desire to catch every shade of yellow, orange, red and purple before it’s too late. I haven’t turned north on the snowmobile trail under the power line in a while, so today I did.

Mansion Road

My journey took me down a logging road that has become a super highway in the last two years. I think the operation is finally over.

log landing 1

The landing and beyond have been my destination for 23 years. I’ve watched the succession play out in this space. And now it will happen again. I have to look at it as a lesson–watching the species gradually take over this muddy lot. The land was probably last logged about thirty years ago, so I met it in its early stages. Now I will get to see it transform from the get go. And I have to say, it’s one of the cleanest log landings I’ve ever encountered.

logging road

Considering how wet it is in these woods, I’m impressed with the forester’s work.

ferns filling in

Ferns already grow in roads created a year ago.

grass filling in logging roads

Grass fills in others.

mud

But mud is predominate and I love mud.

bobcat tracks 1bobcat 2

Bobcat tracks were everywhere. It’s been my understanding that bobcats don’t travel trails like coyotes and foxes, but instead cross over them in a corridor that is about 40 feet wide. My observance, however, is that this isn’t always the case. Heck, I’d follow the easier trail as well. I did today. I started to return home via one of the trails I use when on snowshoes, but because this is a wet countryside, the slash left by previous loggers and the most current one makes that trail almost impassable until the snow flies (which may be soon–at least for a few flakes).

bobcat 3bc pattern

I’m curious about the number of tracks. Bobcats are solitary except during breeding season in February-March. Are these youngsters? Do they travel together? Or is this an individual passing through repeatedly?

bc and deer-opposite

Deer are among a bobcat’s prey and thus part of the reason this is such fertile hunting grounds. I love the view of both passing through this space in opposite directions. And the turn of the bobcat’s toe nails, which show clearly in the mud even though they are able to retract them. The deer also seemed to have slid into a turn. Though you can’t see my boot prints here, I love that the three of us passed this way side-by-side, at different moments. I looked for them, but am sure they were much more astute about knowing my whereabouts.

leaves in puddle

Puddles along the way were filled with fallen leaves

leaves in puddle & reflection

and reflections of trees to which they once clung.

old squirrel drey

Back on our land, I found an old squirrel drey that had fallen from quite high in a tree.

red maple leaf scar

And noted the red maple twigs–new buds already offering hope for next year, leaves still hanging on, and a bright green leaf scar from one that fell off recently.

fewer leaves

At the end of the day the leaf pile grows. I guess we can only hang on to the old for so long.