Stars in the Circle

I never had the good fortune to meet John A. Segur, but I’ve given him thanks repeatedly over the years. You see, Mr. Segur left a bequest to the Greater Lovell Land Trust to preserve habitat so that native wildlife might thrive.

It was my choice today to check on how that was playing out as I circumnavigated the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge from Farrington Pond Road. Since the parking lot isn’t plowed for the winter, I pulled off at the cul-de-sac at the end of the road, which actually was a better spot because I didn’t want to be enticed to follow the trails.

A wise decision it was, for as I tramped along the property line on a northeasterly route to start, a grin immediately emerged. It was the downhill slide that made me instantly happy for I knew that rather recently an otter had also visited the refuge. As it should.

The bottom of the slide ended at the shore of Farrington Pond, a view those of us who visit the refuge rarely see for there is no path to it. But I rather like it that way for bushwhacking allows for new discoveries that aren’t as sterile as a maintained trail. And I suspected Mr. Segur would have felt the same. Plus, his vision was all about a wildlife corridor.

He also would have smiled when he realized that the beavers by Farrington had been active at some point in the fall. Unfortunately, (or as I’m sure some neighbors feel: fortunately) I didn’t see any other “fresh” beaver works, though I didn’t walk all the way around the pond, so I’m not sure of their status in this locale.

But, they had visited in the past including at least ten years ago, based on the growth rings on display around the wound. It’s my understanding that Eastern Hemlock is not a favorite species of beavers and they will often girdle a tree by eating the bark and cambium layer all the way around the trunk, perhaps in hopes it will die. I’ve heard a few theories on this including that beavers do such so that their preferred species will have a chance to grow where the hemlock once provided so much shade that no other trees could set root. But here’s another to throw onto the table: what if the beaver starts to dine and then realizes the flavor is not to his liking? And so he moves on to another tree. Hey, it’s just a theory.

Another thing about beavers is that sometimes they chop down trees that don’t exactly fall as planned. In this case, the entire upper portion dangles from another in the form of a widow maker–as in, don’t stand, or in this case sit, below it.

While studying the tree and thinking about the beaver, I looked down to the pond and saw more mammal sign. Can you spot the otter slide?

Eventually my bushwhack led me toward a stream crossing where the ice wasn’t exactly solid. But the bubbles that had formed within it were like little round spirals that reminded me of the inside of abalone shells. Or perhaps snails.

Suddenly, leaf cracklings filled the air that had been silent except for the sound of wind whooshing at a higher elevation. It took my eyes a few moments to discover the source of the noise, and then I realized I was near a flock of robins. My movement disturbed them, but they didn’t fly far and so we each spent a few moments contemplating our next moves.

As I stood there, I noticed a small tuft of feathers stuck to a hemlock branch, which reminded me that I need to stand still more often for it’s in those moments that things make themselves visible.

Finally I carried on, pausing again, however, when an old, old Yellow Birch showed off the stilts upon which it grew. From their height, I could just imagine the long rotted trunk that once served as its nurse tree, allowing its seed to germinate and set down roots.

Nearby was another ancient, this one a hemlock that preferred to begin life in the same manner as the Yellow Birch. I was sure it had stories to tell and know I’ll return one day soon to spend some time enwrapped by those roots as I listen.

The trees led the way to the wetland and I really, really wanted to explore it, but because I was alone (well, not exactly alone for Mr. Segur was with me kinda sorta, not really) I thought that that too should wait for another day.

If you peer closely at the snow-covered ice beginning from the lower right hand corner and moving toward the shrubs, you may spy the track of another mammal. Do you recognize the pattern? Once you learn patterns, you don’t always have to see the prints up close to know the creators.

Finally, I decided to turn away from Farrington Pond for there was another wetland on the property that I wanted to visit. But first, I found an old beaver dam. Given the lower level of water behind it, I knew that it was not in use, but it looked like a mighty sturdy structure.

Across the landscape I made my way, noting tracks of a million wild animals. Well, maybe not a million, but certainly many including coyote, fox, deer, raccoon, squirrel, vole, mouse, hare, weasel, and fisher. Some were fresh, while others a bit diluted from fluctuating temperatures. This was a place where the mammals wander freely as Mr. Segur intended.

In so doing, I also spied some puff balls that reminded me of applehead dolls with their weathered faces.

There were others who also offered a different take on their natural form–one might call this the star steeple for aster seeds had landed upon the woody structure of steeplebush capsules.

And then in a field I made a “new to the property” discovery: Tamarack trees. I love the nubs that once supported their leaves (aka needles) and the upright cones. Cones remain on the trees for about two years. I wondered about them being upright, but I suppose that as the scales open to release the winged seeds, they catch the breeze and rather than merely rain down below their parent, they are uplifted to a new location.

Continuing my bushwhack, I also continued to keep a keen eye on the world.

But there were a couple of locations I wanted to check on before my time with Mr. Segur ended. At last I reached Sucker Brook and again I chose not to venture onto the ice. One of these days.

From there, it was on to another place more secret than the last that I had my sights set upon. First, however, I stopped to look at the marcescent beech leaves, some like this one that were mere skeletons of themselves so thoroughly had they been munched. It was almost like all that was left was the backbone and rib cage.

Seeing this reminded me of a spring day on this property about four years ago: A Perfect Beech Day. On that day I’d been wowed by the unfurling beech leaves and noticed how hairy they were. In my book, the hairs are meant to keep insects at bay, and yet beech leaves are attacked by many, many little bugs. On that day I also made a bunch of other cool discoveries. You really should click the link above and read about it.

Speaking of little bugs, I also found a pupating ladybug beetle, its form so unique. If I hadn’t known, I never would have guessed it was a ladybug.

At last I reached that spot that I think of as the secret garden. There isn’t an official trail to it, but over the years many have had the opportunity to discover it on their own and been wowed. That’s how I think Mr. Segur would have liked it. We don’t need trails bisecting every inch of a property. We just need more curious people.

This is a spot where three beaver lodges are located as one gazes north.

In the distance to the south there are two more, but you’ll have to visit the secret spot in order to see them.

While you are there, don’t forget to honor the Rhodora, which is slowly preparing to wow all of us in the spring.

And if you choose to bushwhack out, eventually you might stumble upon the inflated capsule of Indian Tobacco. (Hint: it’s near the edge of an opening)

A little more than three hours and over three miles after beginning, my time wandering the property with Mr. Segur had drawn to a close.

I gave thanks to him for showing me all the stars within and surrounding the circle.

Framed by the Trees

Our journey took us off the beaten path today as we climbed over a snowbank at the end of Farrington Pond Road and onto the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. We began at a piece of the parcel neither Pam Marshall or I had ever explored before, which added to the fun. At first, we followed the tracks of a giant, and eventually decided they might have belonged to another human being. Might have. Always wonder.

And then we were stopped in our tracks as we looked up and recognized a Great Blue Heron–or so it seemed in the dead snag that towered over the edge of Farrington Pond. Except for one tiny area of water, the pond is still very much ice covered so it will be a while before this ancestor of the Greats sees her relatives return.

Standing beside the bird-like structure was another that helped us find beauty and life in death.

We peered in, and down, and up, and all around. With each glance, our understandings increased. So did our questions.

There were holes that became windows looking out to the forest beyond.

But those same windows helped us realize they were framed by the results of their injuries. You see, it appeared that a pileated woodpecker had dined on the many insects who had mined the inner workings of the tree. After being so wounded by the birds, the tree attempted to heal its scars as evidenced by the thick growth ring structure that surrounded each hole. Or at least, that’s what we think happened.

To back up our story, we looked from the outside in and saw the same.

We also noted the corky bark with its diamond shapes formed where one chunk met another.

And much to our surprise, we found one compound leaf still dangling. No, this is not a marcescent tree, one of those known to hold its withering leaves to the end of time (or beginning of the next leaf year). But instead, this old sage is one of the first to drop its leaves. So why did one outlast the race? Perhaps to provide a lesson about leaves and leaflets, the latter being the components of the compound structure.

Adding to the identification, we realized we were treated to several saplings growing at the base of the one dying above. By its bud shape and opposite orientation we named it Ash. By its notched leaf scars and lack of hairs, we named it White. White Ash.

Because we were looking, Pam also found a sign of life within. We suspected a caterpillar had taken advantage of the sheltered location, but didn’t know which one.

About simultaneously, our research once we arrived at our respective homes, suggested a hickory tussock moth. Can you see the black setae within the hair?

Pam took the research one step further and sent this: “I read that the female lays eggs on top of the cocoon and then makes a kind of foam that hardens over them so they can survive the winter. How cool is that?” Wicked Cool, Indeed!

We probably spent close to an hour with that tree, getting to know it from every possible angle.

And then it was time to stop looking through the window and to instead step into the great beyond.

We did just that, and found another set of mammal tracks to follow. Tracking conditions were hardly ideal and we followed the set for a long way, never quite deciding if it was a fisher or a bobcat, or one animal traveling one way and another the opposite but within the same path.

Eventually, we gave up on the shifty mammal and made our way into the upland portion of the property where I knew a bear claw tree stood. Pam’s task was to locate it and so she set off, checking all the beech trees in the forest.

Bingo! Her bear paw tree eyes were formed.

It was a beauty of a specimen that reminded us of all the wonders of this place.

From that tree, we continued off-trail, zigzagging from tree to tree, but never found another. That doesn’t mean we visited every tree in the refuge and so we’ll just have to return and look some more.

We did, however, find some scratch marks on a paper birch.

They were too close together to have been created by even a young bear, but we did consider squirrel. Wiping off the rosy-white chalk that coated the bark, we did find actual scrapes below. Now we’ll have to remember to check that tree again in a year or so and see what we might see.

What we finally saw before making our best bee-line out (don’t worry, our Nature Distraction Disorder still slowed us down) was the view of Sucker Brook and the mountains beyond.

At last we pulled ourselves away, but gave great thanks for that ash tree that framed our day and our focus and for all that we saw within it and beyond.