Stop, Look, and Listen

I’m a wanderer both on and off trail, and sometimes the path has been macadamized. Such was my following this morning as I paused on the way home from running an errand in North Conway, New Hampshire.

I’d stuck to the backroads on my way out of state to avoid road construction on Route 302, but knew that upon my return I wanted to stretch my legs along the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg.

The delightful four-mile rail trail, so named for the railroad line it parallels, intended for walkers, runners, bikers, roller bladers, etc., extends from the Maine Visitors Center on Route 302 to the Eastern Slope Airport on Route 5 and can be accessed from either end or several points between.

The wind was blowing and the bug count low, so though it wasn’t a warm, sunny spring day, it was a purely enjoyable one. And the cheery cherry flowers enhanced the feeling.

All along the way, it seemed, the Red Maples had not only leafed out, but yesterday’s flowers had magically transformed into today’s samaras that dripped below like chandeliers.

Lovely tunes and chips were also part of the landscape and I have no idea if I’ve identified this species correctly, but I’m stepping out on a branch and calling it an Alder Flycatcher. I’m sure those who know better will correct me. The naming isn’t always necessary, however. Sometimes, it’s more important to appreciate the sighting, the coloration, and the sound. For this bird, it was the dull olive green on its back that caught my attention.

And then up above on the other side of the track, it was the “Cheery, Cheery, Cheerio” song that helped me locate the American Robin in another maple raining with seeds.

Maples weren’t the only trees showing off their flowers, and those on the Northern Red Oaks reminded me of grass hula skirts below Hawaiian-themed shirts.

Even the ordinary seemed extraordinary like the Dandelion. Each ray of sunshine was notched with five “teeth” representing a petal that formed a single floret. Fully open, the bloom was a composite of numerous florets.

Nearby, its cousin, the early blooming Coltsfoot, already had the future on its mind and little bits of fluff blew in the breeze.

Eventually, I reached Ward’s Pond and after scanning the water found a Painted Turtle seeking warmth. The day was overcast and there was a bit of a chill in the strong breeze. Being down below the trail, at least the turtle was out of the wind and I had to assume that the temperature was a bit higher than where I stood.

This is a trail that may look monotonous, but with every step there’s something different to see like a Pitch Pine showing off three generations of prickly cones. What was, is, and shall be all at the tip of the branch.

It seemed like every time I looked to the left, such as at the pine, a sound on the other side of the trail caught my attention. And so it was that I realized a White-tailed Deer was feeding on grasses behind a fence by a now-defunct factory (so defunct that the roof had collapsed under the weight of snow). Notice her ears.

And now look at her again. A deer’s ears are like radar and she can hone in on a sound by turning them.

I don’t know if she was listening to me or to the Eastern Towhee telling us to drink our tea.

After 2.5 miles, I decided to save the rest for another day and follow the path back. Though loop trips are fun, following the same path back brings new sights to mind, like the Interrupted Fern I’d walk past only a few minutes before. Notice its clump formation known in the fern world as vase-like.

And the butterfly wings of its interrupting leaflets covered with sporangia. My wonder came with the realization that within the interruption not all of the pinnules or subleaflets were covered with the bead-like shapes of fertility. Spores stored within essentially perform the same function as a seed: reproduce and perpetuate the species. So–is part of the pinnule fertile while the rest remains sterile? Do I need to check back? Oh drats, another trip to make along the Mountain Division Trail. Any excuse to revisit it works for me, though one hardly needs an excuse.

Further along I looked to the other side of the tracks for I’d spotted bird movement. Behind it was the reason–my White-tailed Deer friend. I have a feeling people feed it for it seemed not at all disturbed by my presence, unlike the ones in our yard and the field beyond that hear my every move within the house even in the middle of winter and are easily spooked.

The deer, however, wasn’t the only wildlife on or near the trail. Suddenly, a Red Fox appeared and we each considered the other. He blinked first during our stare down and trotted away.

Passing by Ward’s Pond once again, I stopped to check on the turtle. It was still in the same spot I’d seen it probably a half hour before.

Not far from the visitors center, a Big-Toothed Aspens chose to be examined for the soft downy feel as well as color of its leaves. The various hues of color in leaves during spring is caused by the presence of pigments called anthocyanins or carbohydrates that are dissolved in the cell sap and mask the chlorophyll. As the temperature rises and light intensity increases, red pigment forms and acts as a sunscreen to protect the young leaves from an increase in ultraviolet rays.

Because I was standing still and admiring the leaves, I heard another bird song and eventually focused in on the creator.

And so I have the Big-Toothed Aspen to thank for showing me the Indigo Bunting. My first ever. (Happy Birthday Becky Thompson.)

A turtle. A deer. A fox. A towhee. A bunting. All of that was only a smattering of wonder found along the Mountain Division Trail. If you go, make sure you recall the old railroad signs: Stop, Look, and Listen.

Gifts from the Land

B & H sign

A friend and I met at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve in Lovell this morning. I only just noticed that this sign places Bradley Pond first–I’ve always heard it the other way. Funny how your mind reads what it thinks is there. At least mine does. Makes the job of editing a slow process–for good reason.

I love that the sign shows three peaks, as there are three peaks here–Whiting Hill, Flat Hill and Amos Mountain. Our mission today, however, was to check out the saw mill site off Slab City Road and walk to Otter Rocks.

We completed said mission and chuckled that it took us less than three hours to walk the short distance out and back. But the gifts we received along the way were many.

To begin with, it was an absolutely gorgeous spring morning.

mill 2

Water raced over the dam at the mill site. Timber long played an important role in Lovell, as in other towns throughout New England.  And water provided the power at the saw and grist mills before steam engines were put to use.

In her book, Blueberries and Pusley Weed, The Story of Lovell, Pauline W. Moore wrote: “Slab City (so named because when the mills were running, the slab or outside of the logs was piled high on either side of the road), had two cooper shops and two stave mills as late as 1881, representing the period when one mill produced the staves and a cooper put the barrels together.”

Robert C. Williams, author of Lovewell’s Town, adds, “In 1840, Benjamin Heald built a sawmill in the area east of Kezar Lake known locally as Slab City–a common New England term for the lumbering area of a town–in order to produce shook, the thin boards used to make barrel staves. Slab referred to the outside cuts of logs with bark that piled up unused by the roadside. Shook mills soon abounded in Lovell, and barrel staves went off to the Caribbean, especially Havana, Cuba, to produce barrels that could be filled with molasses and rum.”

Mill 4

This mill site features a combination of quarried stone and cement. On the Lovell Historical Society’s Web site, there are several photos of mills in the Slab City area.

 cherry tree

I wonder about the efforts to quarry the stone, move it to the brook, and build the dam. I also wonder about other things–like this cherry tree that grows out of the sloped land, dips down toward the water and then reaches skyward. Enviable perseverance.

mill pond

Here’s a look at the mill pond above the dam.

bird 2

And then there was the gift of song as this warbler sang to us from a branch above. Or is it a Louisiana Waterthrush?


lady ferns

And an evergreen fern, matted from a long winter’s rest.

grape fern and frond

Plus grape fern and its old fertile frond, for which it derives its name because the sporangia have a grape-like appearance when they are fresh.

Christmas fern

The third fern gift of the day–Christmas fern, so named because each leaflet looks like a Christmas stocking or Santa in a sleigh behind his reindeer.

Christmas 2

I didn’t notice any fern fiddleheads, but the snow only melted this past week. There’s still so much to look forward to.

beech leaf

I’ve been watching beech tree buds for at least a month. What I noticed today is that most buds are still wrapped up in scales and retain their cigar shape. On saplings, however, it’s a different story. Along the path, several were unfurling. Perhaps because of their smaller size, they want to be first to leaf out, thus taking advantage of any available sunlight before the larger trees form a canopy above them. Just a thought.

otter rocks sign

Our destination–Otter Rocks.

Otter rock

I’ve not had the privilege of seeing otters here, but plenty of other things revealed themselves today.

ice:eggs look alike

The melting ice fooled us only momentarily. On first glance, it looked like egg masses, but proved to be small masses of ice floating on the surface.


Though you can’t see it here, we watched a kazillion aquatic macro invertebrates swim about.


I scooped a few into my hand and my friend, Jinny, snapped this photo of a Mayfly nymph with three cerci or tails. (Thanks J.M.)


On otter rock itself, there are exoskeletons from hatchings that occurred in previous years.

Heald Pond

It was difficult to pull ourselves away and we have plans to return with sketch books and food and cameras and maybe even some wine–to spend some time taking in all that this lovely spot has to offer.

For today, we needed to wend our way back up the trail. There were still a few more moments of wonder to be had.

partridge berry

Take, for instance,  the partridge berry with its opposite evergreen leaves and berries with two spots on the surface, a result of the fusion of two ovaries. This plant produces two white flowers, one with short pistils and long stamens and the second just the opposite. In order for a berry to form, both flowers have to be pollinated. Nature has it all figured out. Why don’t I?


A princess pine club moss shows off its upright spore-producing candelabra or strobili. Funny thing about club mosses–they aren’t mosses. I guess they were considered moss-like when named. Just as the mills take us back in time, so do these–only much further back when their ancestors grew to 100 feet tall during the Devonian Period. They make me feel so small and insignificant. And yet, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in awe of them.

tinder conks and bird holes

Again the insignificance makes itself known–as this tree dies, it provides life–for carpenter ants, pileated woodpeckers, mosses, lichens and  tinder polypore or hoof fungus. And probably so many more species.

hoof 2

On a nearby tree, the  fruiting bodies of the tinder conks  grow at the base, giving them a true hoof-like appearance. Giddy-up.


We were almost back to my truck when we saw a clump of staghorn sumac shrubs. I grew up in the land of poison sumac, so it’s taken me a while to warm up to this species. But the hairy red fruits are a work of art in their own right. Plus, they provide food to wild turkeys, ruffed grouse and others.

sumac 2

Some people make tea from the summer berries. I, um, can’t bring myself to try it.

 sumac 3

Check out the hairy antler-like growth pattern. So maybe I won’t seep the fruits for tea, but I can certainly enjoy the other features staghorn sumac offers up.

cedar bark

And though not all of my posts include tree bark, I like it when they do. In this case, Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentals). The lines of the bark follow the shape of the tree.

cedar leaves

And its leaves are flat and scaly–reminiscent of princess pine.

My friend, Jinny, and her husband Will, are forever naturalists. He wasn’t with us today, and doesn’t often trek with us, but I suspect that he was channeling our adventure. They own many acres and know their land intimately. Sometimes they invite me along to walk their trails and wonder with them. Together, we learn.

And they get me. I know this because every so often they give me gifts from their land.

Today, I was the recipient of two gifts.

green stain

Trail blaze on a downed tree? No, Green Stain (Chlorociboria aeruginascens). In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman writes, “The stain was once used for Tunbridge ware–decorative wooden objects inlaid with strips of colored veneer.” I’d much rather have this piece of wood.

 bark 2

The other present is an intact piece of paper birch bark–peeling, chalky white outer bark, orangey inner bark, a hole where the branch was and a fu manchu over the branch hole. Perfection.


It will certainly be a useful teaching tool, but in the meantime, it’s earned a spot on top of the bookcase in the summer kitchen.

One last gift from the land.

matted ferns

These evergreen ferns, matted from a winter under snow, invoke a touch of spring fever.

It was a short wander with a lot of wonder. Thanks for joining me.