Perennial Mondate

It’s an old fav, Bald Pate Mountain Preserve in South Bridgton. And we love to visit it in any season. That being said, winter will “end” in a few weeks and this morning we realized we needed to head on over.

Our plan was to follow the Moose Trail for its entire length, then continue on the South Face Loop to the summit, start down the Bob Chase Trail, veer off to Foster Pond Lookout and then make our way back by rejoining Bob Chase.

One might expect to see a moose along the first trail, and we hoped to have such luck, but it was not to be. Instead, do you see the ski tracks? Portions of the preserve are groomed for cross-country skiers as part of the system at the adjacent Five Fields Farm.

What else did we spy? Some wicked cool finds in my book of wonder. For instance, you may think that this broken off piece of a twig is merely dangling from its counterpart, but . . . it is solidly stuck in place by a fungus known commonly as glue crust. It glues together twigs and branches that touch each other.

And sometimes twigs meet the bark on the trunk of a tree and hang in what you might think of as an unnatural stance.

The fungus is the dark bumpy structure that the second twig is stuck to, much like a magical act performed by nature. Really though, this fungus doesn’t let the twig fall to the ground where it would be decomposed by other fungi. Pretty tricky–making a claim all for its own benefit.

Continuing on, we scanned every beech tree in hopes of finding bear claw trees. We did find a beech worth honoring for we loved how it rested an elbow on the boulder below and with two arms formed a frame of the scene beyond.

Ever so slowly we climbed upward, our pace not my guy’s usual because of the bear paw challenge. When one is looking, however, one discovers so many other things upon which to focus like this rather common birch polypore in a rather uncommon shape, almost like a Christmas bell jingling in the breeze.

And then there was a display of snipped hemlock twigs scattered across the snow-covered forest floor.

We looked up and saw not a silhouetted form, but by the debris, which include diagonal cuts on the twigs, comma-shaped scat (some a bit more rounded than others), and even the soft, curly belly hairs of the creator, we knew a porcupine had dined overnight.

We looked a wee bit, but found not its den. By its tracks, however, we could tell that it had made more than one visit to this fine feasting spot.

Had we climbed the Bob Chase Trail we would have reached the summit in twenty minutes, but our choice to circle about before hiking up meant we spent two hours approaching the top where the bonsai trees of the North grow–in the form of pitch pines.

The true summit is a wee bit higher and so we continued on and then turned back to take in the view of Peabody Pond below.

It was there that while looking for insect cocoons I came across the gouty oak gall caused by teeny wasps no bigger than fruit flies. The structure was woody as it’s a couple of years old. And almost creepy in its display, like a head with many eyes looking every which way.

We did take the hint and looked every which way ourselves, the next point of view beyond Hancock Pond and beyond.

And then we moved on, until that is, we reached the wall of tripe, which always invites me to stop.

Water had also stopped in the form of several frozen falls.

And again, more of nature’s magic for the icicles facilitated photosynthesis by the algal partner of the lichen’s symbiosis. It’s a thing worth liken.

Nearby, a relative also begged a notice. Do you see the black flat-headed disks upon the surface? Those are the fruiting bodies or apothecium where this lichen’s spores are produced. The common name for this umbilicate structure: toadskin.

Just above the tripe and toadskin offerings, Pleasant Mountain came into view. Hidden behind a cloudy veil was Mount Washington, which typically sits in the saddle of the Pleasant Mountain ridgeline.

As we wound down and around, polypody ferns spoke about the weather–some were curled as it was cooler in their location upon a boulder in a hemlock grove, but others were flattened bespeaking the rising temperature.

Our last focal point before heading back to the parking lot was the lookout to Foster Pond. Where once stood a tall cairn, there are now two shorter ones marking the point of view and turn-around.

It was there that we discovered another gouty oak gall, its size at least that of a golf ball; a rather holey, warty golf ball.

This preserve is forever a fav in any season, which on this Mondate offered a flash ahead (think the opposite of flashback, rather like a preview) of what is to come. We love winter. And we especially love snow. But . . . we also love all the other seasons and the perennial plants on the southern side of the mountain where the snow has melted a bit, showed off their evergreen shades and hints of future events. Wintergreen and Trailing Arubuts, the later with the long buds atop a hairy stem.

The Dog Days of Winter

A sunny, 43˚ day in the middle of February is reason to celebrate, especially given all the snow of the past two weeks. And so Bridgton, Maine, did just that with its annual winter carnival sponsored by the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.

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Highland Lake in downtown Bridgton was the setting for the activities, including dog sled rides and an ice fishing derby.

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As folks got settled on the sled, the lead dogs eagerly awaited their chance to follow the course.

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And then they were off for a short journey around the lake.

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Though we didn’t go for a ride today, my guy and I have taken several and it’s a delightful way to explore. Bridgton is also home to the Mushers Bowl, a sanctioned race which occurred two weeks ago at Five Fields Farm.

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Today the dogs weren’t competing, but rather providing scenic rides and they did so with smiles on their faces. They were born to run.

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If you haven’t been snuggled in a sled behind a team, I strongly encourage you to try it.

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Further out on the lake, the fishing derby was in progress. We didn’t walk out because we were eager to get to another event closer to the beach. Plus, we’d left our snowshoes at home and post holing was the name of the game without them.

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Instead, we turned our attention to an open spot created by the town crew.

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Many gathered to watch the annual polar dip called Freezin for a Reason, a benefit for Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in neighboring Fryeburg. Harvest Hills is a shelter that accepts stray, neglected and abandoned dogs and cats.

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Those taking the plunge donned a variety of costumes.

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And their faces told the story.

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They offered support with smiles.

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Some disappeared under water for a few seconds.

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While there were those who dove in, others were more cautious.

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All kinds of critters came out to cheer them on.

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Laughter, hoots and hollers filled the air, while rollers curled the hair.

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Kids of all ages got into the act.

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And some accepted the challenge to get to the other side of the “pool” where local firefighters were ready–just in case–and happy to offer high fives. Thankfully, their rescue services weren’t needed.

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It was fun to watch co-workers and their individual approaches.

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Each reacted differently to the common goal.

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And the best was saved for last, when Jen was introduced.

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She waved to the crowd as she walked the white carpet to the water’s edge.

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Joan gave her hand so she wouldn’t slip.

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And the fire crew moved in to provide additional support.

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Jen loves to swim.

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And so she did, kicking up water in the face of her aids.

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To the cheers of all watching, she finally got out.

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Like all who took the plunge, she was greeted with a warm towel.

In honor of dogs and cats, all of these folks raised money to the tune of over $20,000. They deserved all the cheers they received as they celebrated this beautiful and balmy dog day of winter.

 

 

 

A Color-filled Mondate

The fleeting fall foliage offered the backdrop for our afternoon Mondate.

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We started with a stop at Five Fields Farm to purchase a pumpkin and enjoy a chat with owners Tom and June Gyger.

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Their orchard overlooks Holt Pond, that speck of blue among the trees. Because of this year’s drought, the water is lower than ever, but Tom pointed out that during heavy rainstorms they’ve often watched it quickly fill and then lower as the water pours in and then slowly flows down the Muddy River. We need such a storm.

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In fact, once we got onto the trail, my guy tested a bridge he’d built in the spring–noting that currently it’s useless because no water flowed below.

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We continued on, turning our hike into a trail clearing activity because this is a trail we steward for Lakes Environmental Association. A few blow downs were easily cleared–by my guy. I worked as well–documenting his good deeds.

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But really, it was the color that drew our attention.

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At our feet, a rich carpet covered the forest floor.

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It’s vibrant variety was pre-determined by the species. Red maple leaves offer shades of red or scarlet, sugar maple leaves vary from brilliant orange to fiery red to yellow, while striped maple, quaking aspen and birch feature only yellow. Ash leaves range from yellow to magenta and beech offers up a golden bronze.

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So, how does it work? It’s been dry and many thought that would mean a lack of color this fall. Yes, some trees will dry up and their leaves wither and fall. But for most, it’s a different story as old as time.

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During the spring and summer the leaves worked as food-processors for their trees. Their numerous cells contain chlorophyll or the green coloration. The chlorophyll absorbed energy from the sunlight, which it then used to change carbon dioxide and water to  sugars and starch (think carbohydrates).

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But, also at work alongside the green pigment, yellow and orange carotenoids. As you can see with these quaking aspen leaves, the carotenoids are masked by the greater amount of green coloring for most of their season.

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With the change in daylight hours and temperature, the leaves go on strike from processing food. And thus, the chlorophyll breaks down, green color begins to disappear and the yellowish color becomes visible to our delight.

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At the same time, other chemical changes occur that cause the formation of more pigments from red . . .

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to purple. The red pigment called anthocyanin forms.

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It’s like being in nature’s paint store.

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And I have to admit that it occurred to me I should spend some time sorting leaves by color  and trying to match them to paint chips so I could better describe the gems before me.

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OK, so I didn’t dwell on that thought for too long, just long enough to realize that it would need to be a quick assessment before the leaves dry up and all become a shade of brown.

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At last we reached a vantage point from which to view the pond. I often stand across the way on the quaking bog boardwalk, so looking back provided a different perspective.

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And those swamp maples–oh my!

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For this beautiful display to occur, we must have warm sunny days followed by cool nights. The sugar is made in the leaves during the day, but those cool nights trap it there, preventing it from moving into the tree.

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Not only do the colors vary, but the degree of color may also be different from tree to tree or even on one tree. Direct exposure to the sun may turn leaves red on one side of a tree and they may be yellow on the shady side.

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As for clouds and rain, too much in the fall means less red (a bright side of the drought). On those types of days it also tends to be warmer at night, thus changing up the process and providing duller colors. Not so this year, thankfully.

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There was nothing dull about what we saw today, including the presentation of fallen leaves, some captured by their evergreen comrades.

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A few dangled like ornaments hung by spiders.

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Others held on precariously, attached only by a few points.

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And even others portrayed a shadow show.

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At last we reached a small stream, our turn-around point, where all gathered to show off their glory.

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We took one last look at the pond while making our way back. And what to my wondering eyes should appear–Nessie. Or maybe I should name her Holtie, the Holt Pond Monster! Do you see her?

My guy–he chuckled at me. He often does that. It’s OK. I know what I saw.

You might say our Mondates are always colorful, but today’s was especially color-filled as we celebrated the work of the leaves.

Halting Beside Holt Pond

Halting–prone to pauses or breaks. I didn’t break, but I certainly was prone to pauses as I moved along the trails and boardwalks at the Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton this afternoon.

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One of my first stops–to admire the pitcher plant flowers in their August form.

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When I took a closer look, I realized that the seeds were developing–certainly a WOW moment in the world of wonder.

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The global seed heads of buttonbush also demanded to be noticed. Upon each head are at least two hundred flowers that produce small nutlets. What strikes me as strange is the fact that this plant is a member of the coffee family. Maine coffee–local brew; who knew?

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At the Muddy River, the water level reflected what is happening throughout the region–another case of “Honey, I shrunk the kids.” It’s downright scary.

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Both by the river and on the way to the quaking bog, this wetland features a variety of shrubs, including one of my many favorites, speckled alder. Check out the speckles–those warty bumps (aka lenticels or pores) that allow for gas exchange. And the new bud covered in hair.

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This shrub is so ready for next year–as evidenced by the slender, cylindrical catkins that are already forming. This is the male feature of the shrub.

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It also bears females–or fruiting cones filled with winged seeds.

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It’s not unusual for last year’s woody cones or female catkins to remain on the shrub for another year.

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Whenever I visit, it seems there’s something to celebrate–including ripening cranberries.

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Common Cotton-grass dotted the sphagnum bog and looked as if someone had tossed a few cotton balls about. Today, they blew in the breeze and added life to the scene. Note to self–cotton-grass is actually a sedge. And sedges have edges.

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Just like the Muddy River, Holt Pond was also obviously low. Perhaps the lowest I’ve ever seen. At this spot, I spent a long time watching dragonflies. They flew in constant defense of their territories.

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Male slaty skimmers were one of the few that posed for photo opps.

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As I watched the dragonflies flit about along the shoreline and watched and watched some more, I noticed a couple of fishermen making use of the LEA canoe. I don’t know if they caught any fish, but I heard and saw plenty jumping and swimming. Well, a few anyway. And something even skimmed across the surface of the water–fish, snake, frog?

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Rose hips by the pond’s edge reminded me of my father. He couldn’t pass by a rose bush without sampling the hips–especially along the shoreline in Clinton, Connecticut.

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The view toward Five Fields Farm was equally appealing.

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And then I moved down tire alley, which always provides frequent sightings of pickerel frogs. I’m never disappointed.

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At the transition from a red maple swamp to a hemlock grove, golden spindles embraced a white pine sapling as if offering a bright light on any and all issues.

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In this same transitional zone, a female hairy woodpecker announced her presence.

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When I crossed Sawyer Brook, green frogs did what they do best–hopped into the water and then remained still. Do they really think that I don’t see them?

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At last, I walked out to Grist Mill Road and made my way back. One of my favorite surprises was the amount of hobblebush berries on display.

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Walking on the dirt road gave me the opportunity for additional sights–a meadowhawk posed upon a steeplebush;

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chicken of the woods fungi grew on a tree trunk;

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and a chipmunk paused on alert.

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But the best find of the day–one that caused me to halt on the road as I drove out of LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve–an American Woodcock.

Worth a wonder! And a pause. Certainly a reason to halt frequently at Holt Pond.