I’m pretty sure I said to the friend whom I met on the dirt road that I never see frogs there except for the painted boulder that has faded with age and I no longer even think to honor with a photograph.
But still, she reminded me, “I’m sure we’ll see something interesting.”
After walking one stretch of the road and only pausing a few times in the hot sun, we hopped back into our vehicles and made our way to a much more shaded location. As we stepped toward the river, in flew a Kingfisher. And we knew we were in for a treat or two or three . . .
But first, we had to explore the structure that has spanned the river for 163 years: Hemlock Covered Bridge. My friend is a history buff and I’m a wanna-be so it was apropos that we should take our time as we walked across–pausing to look and wonder as frequently as when we’re on a path.
I first saw this relic of the past years ago when I canoed up the Old Course of the Saco River with a group of tweens whom I took on weekly adventures when my summer job was as Laconia YMCA’s Summer Camp Director. In those days, one could get permission to camp by the bridge. Things have changed and that land is now posted with No Trespassing signs.
The bridge is a woodworking masterpiece and a symbol of the pioneering spirit of the 19th Century. In this 21st Century, there are others who also have a pioneering spirit and create their own masterpieces within.
Built of Paddleford truss construction with supporting laminated wooden arches, Hemlock Bridge is one of the few remaining covered bridges still in its original position. Peter Paddleford of Littleton, New Hampshire, created this design by replacing the counter braces of the Long-style truss bridge, creating an unusually strong and rigid structure.
Though reinforced in 1988 so you can still drive across, it’s more fun to walk. As we did we took time to admire the work of our forefathers,
peer at the river,
and read the carved messages on Maine’s oldest remaining covered bridge.
It was designated as a Maine Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers on January 17, 2002. I’m not sure what happened in 1922, but obviously it was another date to note.
Originally there were 120 covered bridges which spanned rivers throughout Maine. Covers or houses were constructed to protect the wooden span from the weather.
They were also places where travelers and animals could seek refuge from a storm, or lovers could sneak a kiss. Six of the remaining nine in Maine are located in the Lakes and Mountains Region.
We admired every facet of the bridge for moments on end, and then made our way to the river’s edge, where Slaty Blue Skimmers continued to dance. But as is their habit, this one kept landing on the same broken branch. Eventually, I coaxed it onto my finger, but then a sweetheart zipped by and he was off, hoping to sneak a kiss of his own making.
Next, our attention focused on a bullfrog. A huge bullfrog.
Two little Green Frogs were focused on the same and remained as still as possible in hopes of not attracting Mrs. Bully’s attention.
She at last began to move and her forward motion was slower than either of us have ever witnessed. We watched as she slithered forth one frog leg length at a time.
At last she reached a destination and paused. Was she hiding from us? Had she slithered like a snake in hopes we wouldn’t see her? Or did she have her eyes on a meal?
We’ll never know for a rare treat suddenly flew onto the branch where Slaty Blue had posed time and again. Meet a Dragonhunter. This huge clubtail dragonfly is known to eat butterflies and even other dragonflies. Thank goodness Slaty Blue had moved on.
Suddenly it was time for us to move on as well, but not before spying one more frog–this one a small Pickerel with sets of dark rectangles decorating its coppery-colored body.
With that, before my friend and I bid adieu, I had to eat my words that there are no frogs on Frog Alley. But technically, we weren’t on Frog Alley, but rather Hemlock Bridge Road. Still, the two are connected and we gave thanks for the chance to honor the past and wonder about the present in this locale.
For the past few years, we’ve either produced a limited winter issue or no issue at all of Lake Living magazine because those who purchase ads have been wary about spending money during those lean months. And it’s ads that support this free magazine. Everyone wants to be written about, but . . .
After some back and forth discussion with editor/publisher Laurie LaMountain, we decided to produce a fall/winter issue that would encompass the usual “at home” features of the fall magazine, but also include the book reviews written by the Pam and Justin Ward, plus their employees, Sue and Perri, of Bridgton Books, that typically appear in the winter issue.
Tada. Click on the link above and you can view the magazine in its entirety.
Laurie tackled four topics, while I worked on three ideas. Hers include “The Big Idea” about a Maine inventor, “Maine Dwelling” about a guy who flips houses locally, and “A Good Keeper” about winter squashes.
Her most interesting article, however, is one that everyone should read–whether you are a male or female. Don’t let the theme of it scare you. Entitled “Fierce Girls,” and yes that is Laurie in the photo, it’s about WOMEN. And more specifically . . . men-o-pause. When she proposed it, I was curious but not certain it would work. You have to read it.
My articles all ended up with a Lovell theme–probably because I spent most of the summer in Lovell and it was always on my mind.
The first is entitled “Resurrecting the Past,” about the Harriman Barn that Robin Taylor-Chiarello (board member of the National Council on White House History and associate member of the American Institute of Architects) lovingly restored with the help of Timberframer J. Scott Campbell of Maine Mountain Post and Beam in Fryeburg and Builder Bryce Thurston of Lovell.
The marriage marks above were chiseled into the beams when the barn was built in the early 1800s. Scott used his own system as he pulled the timber frame down, and then reassembled it on a different site a couple of years later, but the early marks are still visible.
My second article is about two couples who chose to move north rather than south in retirement. Rather than snowbirds, as we fondly refer to those who spend six months in warmer climes, they are birdsofsnow. Okay, so I made that term up, but really, it does describe them.
In their retirement, they’ve discovered ways to get involved in their communities and that has made all the difference. Heinrich Wurm fills his days with environmental activities, especially as related to Kezar Lake Watershed Association or Greater Lovell Land Trust. Here, he’s studying a spider web. And that’s only part of his local involvement.
Linda, Heinrich’s wife, is a docent with Greater Lovell Land Trust, where she also enjoys looking at the finer details of the natural world.
But one of her main fortes is sharing those details with youth, whether they be her own grandchildren, or kids involved in GLLT-sponsored events, like those in the after-school Trailblazers.
For Elna Stone, retirement gave her an opportunity to pursue her artistic talent and painting local landscapes has consumed much of her time. On the left, she poses beside a painting of Shawnee Peak Ski Area at Pleasant Mountain that she donated to a fundraiser for Gallery 302 in Bridgton. For years, Elna created calendars of local scenes that were sold as a fundraiser for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
Helping others either via the St. Peter’s or Bridgton Hospital Cafe has long been a passion for the Stones. Even cleaning windows at church can offer Tom a sense of satisfaction.
In the end, though they all love the life they’ve created in Maine, they admit there are some downfalls. One is that the winters seem to get longer each year. Linda Wurm has found a way to overcome that: a bowl of shells to gaze upon from time to time.
And then there’s my final article. It’s about three entrepreneurial men. They each bring a different talent to the . . . table. Literally. Eli Hutchins of Hutch’s Property and Tree chops the tree down.
Brent Legere of Lovell Box Company and Western Maine Slab Works cuts it into live-edge slabs.
And Eugene Jordan of Jordan Custom Carpentry, Inc, turns it into a beautiful piece of furniture. You can read all about it in “A Tree Falls in Lovell.”
So, yeah. Brew a pot of tea, curl up in your favorite chair, and enjoy this issue of Lake Living magazine.
Oh, and please support the advertisers, including my guy, so we can keep doing what we love to do: learn about the many talented people in this area. I am constantly amazed. I hope you will be as well.
I’ve no idea how many times I’ve driven past the Kezar Outlet put-in on Harbor Road in Fryeburg and noticed others either embarking or debarking from a canoe or kayak trip and always desired to do the same. Occasionally, I’d stop and take photos, and once I co-led a trip from the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake to the dam, but until August I’d not gone any further. And then our friend, Pam Katz, invited my guy and me to join her for a journey from the dam to Charles River, on to Charles Pond, and part way up Cold Brook.
The put-in can be a bit tricky with rocks and stirring water flowing from the dam, but somehow the three of us managed not to tip as we kerplunked into our kayaks. That day inspired all of the subsequent trips for really we were scouting out a route for the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend paddle co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Upper Saco Valley Land Trust.
On that first journey and two that followed, we were wowed by the floral displays including, Cardinal Flowers,
Sessile-fruited Arrowhead and . . .
Ground-nut, and . . .
Turtlehead. Today, only a few asters showed off their composite form.
We’d paddled along, my guy, of course, always in the lead so he was the first to reach the old beaver dam. Pam was surprised by it because the water had been higher when she’d last followed this route. But it was obvious from the fact that there were no new sticks and the water wasn’t at dam level on the far side that there was no current beaver activity. My guy, feeling chivalrous, hopped out of his boat and shuffled us around on the wet grassy area to the far right of the dam.
Upon the sticks and branches Emerald Jewelwings flew, males such as this one with the white dot on its forewing waiting for a second before attempting to dance with a mate.
Once all three of us were on the other side, the water was a wee bit deeper and it seemed we’d entered Brigadoon.
And then the community changed again and Swamp Maples allowed glimpses of the mountains beyond.
Before one of the final turns in the Charles River, we reached an abandoned beaver lodge.
And then Charles Pond opened before us.
We crossed the pond to Cold River, found a great lunch spot and reflected upon our sightings, which included a few ducks, an eagle, and a heron.
My second visit was with Trisha Beringer, Outreach and Office Manager for Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. It was an opportunity for me to show Trisha the route and for us to create our plan for the GMOW event. And to bask in the sun much the way the Painted Turtles did.
She was as wowed as I was by the journey and excited to share it with others.
Our turn around point was Charles Pond, but we paused for a few moments to take in the view.
And on the way back, as I contemplated sliding over the dam because the water was a bit higher due to some rain, three otters surprised me as they played below. Only one is visible with its head above water, but the others had just dunked under. Once they realized we were there, they took off. Our portage wasn’t a portage at all for rather than go over the dam, we did the dam shuffle, maneuvering our boats around it with a full-body back and forth motion.
Finally, it was time for the GMOW event, and the night before we decided to let those who had signed up know that we needed to postpone it from last Saturday to Sunday because of the weather. As it turned out, it was the right choice to make and Sunday dawned bright and beautiful with dew drops to top off the gathering.
Just beyond the Harbor Road bridge we passed under, a maple astounded us with the first official glimpse of the season to come and many of us paid it homage with photographs and words of awe.
At the beaver dam, the water was lower than on the previous visits, but thankfully two paddlers hopped out and helped everyone get out of boats and shift them around to the other side.
Continuing upstream, the Swamp Maples that offer the first glimpses of the mountains, showed that they too were trying on their new coats for the next season.
The group took in the view while crossing to Cold River and continuing on until we couldn’t travel easily any more. As always, the return trip was quicker and we finished up in three hours, grateful for an opportunity to explore the water that connects the GLLT’s fen property on Kezar Outlet with USVLT’s Stearns Property on Cold River and make new friends. It was a spectacular day and we were pleased that we’d made the choice to postpone.
One who had to back out of the GMOW trip at the last minute, asked if we’d offer it again, thinking we’d gone ahead with our Saturday plan. She really wanted to check out the course because though she’s lived locally forever, she’d never been below the dam on Harbor Road. And so this morning, I met Storyteller and GLLT member, Jo Radner. As we moseyed along, we began to notice bank tunnel after bank tunnel for so low was the water. In a muddy section, we found prints with a tail impression thrown into the mix and deciphered them as beaver.
It made perfect sense when we noticed a sight not spotted on the previous trips: beaver works on a maple. Given that, we began to wonder what the dam might look like.
Despite the fact that we found more and more evidence of recent beaver works, the dam certainly was bigger, but not because it had been added to by the rodents. Rather, the water level was much, much lower than I’d seen on any previous visit.
It seemed the beavers were active, but we couldn’t help but wonder why they hadn’t added to the dam. That meant that they were probably not at the lodge either, but we still had more water to travel through before reaching that point.
The trip around the dam was more challenging than upon any other visit, and we were both sure we’d end up in the water, but somehow we did it with more grace than we realized we possessed.
And then the spot that I’d called Brigadoon on the first visit showed off a much more colorful display.
Closer to the pond, the curtain hiding the mountains also had undergone a transformation.
Just beyond, we reached the lodge that is longer than tall and always reminds me of a New England farmhouse: big house, little house, back house, barn. Jo’s canoe helped characterize the length of the lodge.
We too, lunched on Cold River as has become the habit, and then turned around.
It was on the way back that the Painted Turtles, basking in the sun in order to thermoregulate, began to show themselves. As usual, they took on a Yoga-like pose with back feet extended to collect additional heat.
Like Jo, I want to come back to this world as an otter because they love to play in summer and winter, but a Painted Turtle might be my next choice if I ever feel the need to let winter pass by while I nestle into the mud.
Speaking of otters, we found stone pile after stone pile above the water, each a copy of the next. They line both sides of the river. In high water, they’re not visible, but with today’s low height, they were quite obvious. Upon this one we found a beaver chew stick that wasn’t there a week ago.
All are almost pyramid shaped, in a rounded sense, and constructed of varying sizes from gravel to stone potatoes. Not only did we find beaver chews upon a few, but fresh water mussel shells and the ever present acorns that are currently raining in such a fashion that one feels like the sky is falling.
The mussel shells would have indicated that the otters had been dining. And so we began to develop a story about otters piling the stones on purpose to confuse us. Beavers also took advantage of the piles so they became part of our interpretation.
I’ve asked several people about these formations and have a few theories of my own, but would love to hear your take on this. I suspect a few fishermen may have the answer about the stone piles.
Four hours after we started, today’s journey ended. I suspect it will be a while before I return, for so low is the water, but . . . you might twist my arm.
Thanks to Pam, and Trisha, and Jo: today I got to paddle into autumn in a most amazing place.
Don’t tell her husband who wasn’t able to join us today, but Pam fell fast and hard for another guy. His name is Charles.
It was supposed to be just the three of us kayaking when we launched this morning, Pam, my guy, and me.
But it soon became apparent that this other guy was trying to woe her with bouquets of wildflowers, including Cardinals so red,
Turtleheads so white,
Arrowheads with broad leaves,
and those whose leaves overtopped the flowers.
But I think Pam was most wowed when he presented her with Ground-nut, its maroonish flower with a pair of upper petals forming a hood or keel, a pair of lower lateral wings, and a lower keel that curled upward.
And then Charles made a point of inviting his friends to meet Pam, though we wondered if the Painted Turtle always grimaced or if perhaps he was jealous of all the attention bestowed upon her.
The female Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly was much friendlier and happy to say hello in its lighthearted manner.
And the Dragonhunter Dragonfly made frequent visits to get . . .
to know . . .
Pam better. We’re grateful he didn’t decide to gobble her up.
But perhaps Pam’s favorite moment was when Charles presented not just a Pickerel Weed in flower, but also a Clearwing Hummingbird Moth pollinating it.
Oh, he wasn’t one to make things super easy, that Charles.
But he’d asked my guy to help us portage around the dam, and so we never had to get out of our kayaks. Chivalry at its best.
Continuing our paddle, we began to think of Charles’ estate as Brigadoon for such were the colors each time we rounded a bend.
Around a final corner, Charles revealed his mansion with promises of many happy days to come.
It was so large that we knew it was an example of a big house, little house, back house, barn, which made sense given that Charles’ family had long lived in the area.
On one of the walls inside, he’d painted a scene that reflected the outdoors, including the mountains in the background.
From the backdoor it was a straight shot and suddenly we emerged onto his pond. The man was wealthy, but we told Pam that if she was going to fall for him, she had to do some serious thinking for her guy Bob is really the one who holds the strings to her heart.
In the end, though she thanked him for sharing his place with us today, Pam did inform Charles that they could remain friends, but not get any closer than that. And she added that the next time they meet, Bob will be with her.
My guy and I were thankful that she introduced us to the kind man as the three of us explored his property: Charles River and Charles Pond in Fryeburg, Maine. But we’re equally grateful that their relationship will remain merely aquatic.
Of course, I got to hike many a trail with her and so perhaps my review is a wee bit biased.
The article ends with a brief description of several hikes–I tried to choose different levels of ability for those.
All offer incredible fall foliage viewpoints, including Shell Pond off Route 113 in Evans Notch. (Wait a month and it will like this again.)
Then there is the article about barbershops. In the process of writing this one, I learned the story behind the barber pole. Do you know it?
Sitting in four local barbershops was fun–a great way to catch up on gossip and listen to some funny stories. Again I was a wee bit biased as Steph of Steph’s Barber Shop in Fryeburg is our next door neighbor at camp.
And finally, I spent some time with Arborist Josh of J and C Trees and learned more about his talent, entrepreneurial spirit and love of trees.
To say it was a busy summer would be an understatement, but the final product of Lake Living was worth it–as usual. Oh, and Laurie and Perri also wrote articles that will appeal to you.
So . . . as usual, brew a cup of coffee or tea and curl up with Lake Living. You won’t be disappointed.
When opportunity knocks, so they say, open the door. Today, it wasn’t really a door that I opened, but rather a trail that I explored. And it wasn’t a new trail to me, for I’ve ventured along the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg many times before.
But my morning and afternoon plans changed and I happened to be in the vicinity and I don’t think I’ve ever walked that way in late summer before–so I did what I love to do best and set off down the path beside the now defunct railroad track. And I was curious to discover who else might be taking advantage of it on this fine September day.
Within minutes, I made my first discovery–a monarch butterfly caterpillar crawled along the paved trail. I’d actually chosen this spot for I hoped to see a few monarchs and my chances suddenly increased.
Also using the asphalt were innumerable grasshoppers of several types including this red-legged, and crickets galore. In fact, between them and cicadas, I could almost not hear the traffic on Route 302 at the start. Almost.
Within minutes, however, the trail passed behind several businesses and then curved away from the road and toward Eastern Slope Airport. It was occasionally flat, occasionally straight, occasionally curved, and occasionally hilly. But always paved. And much quieter.
Constantly, the offerings changed. Knapweed with its pineapple-like base, which loves disturbed areas, had made itself at home. And a spider had used the structure to create its own home.
As I walked, I began to notice them–a monarch fluttering past here and another there. At last, I found one that had paused to take advantage of the nourishment offered by an aster.
I stood for as long as it would allow . . .
enjoying every pose presented.
A little further, I found something I only remember seeing for the first time a few weeks ago–I think it’s a crystalline tube gall on the oak leaf, but urchin gall would be my second guess.
On the same leaf, either a banded-tussock moth caterpillar or a Sycamore tussock moth caterpillar munched away, so similar are they. Check out all the bristles by the head–both an extra set of black and a more subtle set of white.
By what I assumed was an old mill pond fed by a small brook, the watery world quietly intercepted all other communities found along this path.
And today, a painted turtle watched nonchalantly from a log in the pond as the world passed by–runners, walkers and bikers on the path above . . . some who hardly noted his presence.
And dragonflies, including this mighty handsome green-eyed blue dasher, below. Do you see the hint of amber in his wings? One of the telltale signs.
Continuing on, I was surprised by a sight I’d seen before because I’d forgotten its presence. Pokeweed flowered and fruited and . . . poked through the fencing that formed a boundary along parts of the trail.
There’s also a short section where northern white cedar formed a wall, its woody cones all opened in an expression of giving forth new life and its leaves scaled like skinny braids.
Being a greatly disturbed zone, pilewort grew in abundance and its seeds danced and twirled and sashayed through the air like ghostly angels blowing in the wind. Actually, the graceful seedheads were much more attractive than the flower in bloom.
Queen Anne’s Lace had also bloomed profusely, but today showed only its winter weed form full of tiny seeds edged with rows of bristles. The better to ground itself somewhere when the time comes, I supposed.
Speaking of bristles, bristly sarsaparilla sent its many-fruited umbels out through the fence, perhaps in offering to those passing this way.
So many offerings I’d seen by the time I reached about the three mile mark and I knew there would be even more on the way back so I used my own imaginary turntable and began the return trip.
It was then that a web strung with great and amazing strength between two pileworts caught my attention. First, I couldn’t believe the distance between the two plants or the thickness of the anchoring web. And then I noticed something else . . .
An orb about two thirds of the way across, decorated with pilewort seeds that will take a little longer than usual to get established on the ground. Will they be viable, I wondered.
Another industrious arachnid had used one of the fence pipes to make himself a home. Can you see the funnel spider waiting in the tunnel for delectable prey to land on his web?
And then there were the goats, this one and two others who munched beside the trail. I called their owner because I feared they’d broken out of their pen (or someone had opened the gate). Her number was on a board attached to a tree as she’d advertised her daycare business to all who passed by. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation and I learned that she lets them out for an hour or so each day to feed on the weeds. Weeds? What weeds. All I saw where wildflowers aplenty. Anyway, if you go, do know that you may encounter the goats and they are not gruff at all.
While I saw a few more monarchs as I wandered back, a few other butterflies at least half the size of the royal ones moved with dainty motions. For the cabbage white butterfly, the asters were all the thing. But like so many of the wildflowers that have taken root in this disturbed place, this butterfly also disturbs people because it has a penchant for damaging crops.
Even smaller was the northern cloudywing skipper that stopped atop a red maple sapling. Males perch near the ground awaiting females, so his chosen spot made sense. His wing scales gave him such a satiny look as he shown in the light and his earth-tone colors included hints of purple.
It was all about the earth, I noted, as I walked along the Mountain Division Trail. Years ago, the path that I followed today had been used to construct the railroad track. And then in the 2000s, the rail trail had been built beside it. Over the years, I’m sure the railroad track had been enhanced. So the land was indeed disturbed . . . repeatedly.
And now, just as I took advantage of it to follow the well-constructed trail, so many others had done the same–both human and non. Not all were beneficial, but still they eeked out a life in that place. From insects and “weeds” to turtles and tree, there are so many advantages available along the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, Maine.
It’s been a while since Jinny Mae and I had wandered and wondered together, but this afternoon the opportunity finally arose. And so we agreed on a time and place (though she did change the time 😉 ), and pulled into the parking lot of the Mountain Division Trail located closest to the Eastern Slopes Airport on Route 5 in Fryeburg, Maine.
Rather than a rail trail, this is actually a rail-with-trail even though the rail is not currently active.
From the start, we were surprised and delighted to see so many lupines in bloom along the edge. Lupines are members of the pea or legume family, Fabaceae. As such, the flowers have a distinctive upper banner, two lateral wings, and two lower petals fused together to form a keel. Those lateral wings earned the plant’s place in this contemplation.
Of course, being that not everything in nature is as perfect as we might desire, we did discover destruction in action on a few stems and flowers. Lupine aphids seeking honeydew suck the juices from a plant. They’ll continue to feed until midsummer, even after they’ve destroyed the flower.
While there isn’t much to celebrate about these garden pests, it is worth noting that all aphids are female and give birth to live young, without mating. And another cool fact–once the population grows too large, they will develop wings and fly to a new host plant.
We continued our journey at our typical slow pace and stopped frequently to admire the dragonflies. There were quite a few species, but many spent time patrolling in flight and so we couldn’t photograph them. We did, however, give thanks for the work of all for we felt the sting of only a few mosquitoes. And we appreciated the perchers as well, for by letting us get a closer look we could learn their characteristics, and therefore ID: Chalk-fronted Corporal;
and Calico Pennant.
We also noted a crazy ant act. The ant apparently got a great deal at the grocery store and somehow managed to single-anticly drag the remains of a grasshopper home–that’s one flier we won’t see in the air again.
We also stumbled upon another interesting find–the galls of a wood sower gall wasp. As I told Jinny Mae, I’ve seen them before and knew they were associated with oak trees, but couldn’t remember the name in the moment. Maybe if I say it five times fast and spin around three times I’ll remember its name the next time I encounter it. Doubtful.
The cool facts about this fuzzy white gall with pink polka dots, which is also known as oak seed galls: it only grows on white oak; the fuzziness is actually secretions from grubs of the gall wasp; and within are seed-like structures that cover the wasp larva.
Finally, it was a swallowtail butterfly that stopped us in our tracks and mesmerized us for moments on end. The question was this: which swallowtail–Eastern or Canadian, for both fly here.
Earlier in the day I’d photographed an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in the backyard. Tiger comes from the four black stripes, while swallowtail refers to the long tails extending from the hind wings that these butterflies often lose to their prey as spring gives way to summer.
This was a female given that her hind wings featured blue with bright orange accents when viewed from the top. The areas that are blue on the female are black on the male.
And notice her main body, which is a rather muted combo of black and yellow.
Now look at the butterfly Jinny Mae and I each took at least fifty photographs of and do you see the darker body? The Canadians have more black hairs covering their bodies.
Also look at the underwings. I regret that I didn’t get a shot of the Eastern’s underwings, but for the Canadian this matches the pattern: Note the yellow band just inside the outer edge on the underside of its forewings. Had it been an Eastern, it would have featured a series of disconnected yellow spots on the black band. The Canadian has a continuous yellow band. And then there are the orange and blue markings.
At the end of the day all that detail really didn’t matter–Eastern or Canadian, both were tiger swallowtails.
And I gave thanks for the opportunity to flex my wings beside Jinny Mae. It felt so good to fly along the path together again. For those who don’t know, Jinny Mae’s journey has been one of varied wing beats as she’s lived with cancer for the last three years. Her current treatment is going well and we look forward to more flight paths.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about living in the moment lately, a concept that really drove itself home during the years that my mother dealt with dementia and I was forced to realize that each time I left the room, my return was a new visit; a new adventure. And now, so many friends are dealing with issues that make every second precious and I realize once again the importance of slowing down and noticing and making the most of being present. Now.
Such was the case this afternoon when I joined two friends who had pulled in from their winter home in Florida this week. We met at one of the parking lots for the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, Maine, a rail trail that makes one feel like you could walk to the White Mountains in a matter of miles. But, to get back to the moment, the original plan had been to travel the trail with two different friends and then one had to back out and I found out that the Florida friends had returned and so I invited them to join the other and me, and then my other friend had to back out and so it was the Florida duo and me. And it was so fabulous to spend time with them that we walked rather quickly, which completely surprised me when I thought about it for I know that they love a slow journey. But we had much to catch up on and because the trail is paved we didn’t have to think about foot placement and perhaps that’s what spurred us on.
At last, however, it was spurs that stopped us, for one of them spied a branch with upward facing cones and little spurs and she wondered what it was. The cones certainly looked like hemlock cones. But why were they upright? And what happened to the needles? When I explained that it was a tamarack, she again questioned it for she’s always been here in the autumn when the needles are a brilliant yellow and she thought those needles stayed on all winter. Not so, I explained, for a tamarack (larch, hackmatack–take your pick of common names) is our only deciduous conifer in northern New England. The golden needles fall the same as maple leaves.
We also put on the brakes when she spied pussy willows–a sure sign of spring in their Zen-like presentation.
Onward we marched, catching up on past months. But then, as the day would have it, first he had to turn around and head back to the parking lot and then a short time later she had to do the same. And that got me thinking about how the walk had evolved. I was sorry that the two I had originally planned to share the trail with couldn’t join me, but equally thankful for the two with whom I did travel. Living in the moment means embracing a change in direction.
The rail trail is four miles long in one direction and I turned around at the 2.5 mile marker. On my return, I was entirely surprised by the offerings that had escaped my attention previously, like the beauty of an Evening Primrose’s basal rosette.
It’s fractal fashion was reflected in the pitch pine cones I spotted on the ground and surrounding trees.
The pitch pines always draw my fancy and I was especially intrigued by the past, present and future–as I tried to live in the moment. It’s not as easy as it sounds for we so often get caught up in what was or what could be.
The past produced fruits long since deployed.
The future grew longer before pollinating the shorter.
But in the moment–I spied the first blossoms of Trailing Arbutus.
My return journey was much slower than the first leg, for there was so much to see. Included in the expedition was an examination of a small vernal pool. And what to my wondering eyes did I see? Spotted salamander spermatophores–those little chunks of sperm left behind by males atop cauliflower-shaped platforms.
As if that wasn’t enough, further on I heard a familiar quack and knew wood frogs were active though I couldn’t see them.
And still further I discovered a wetland I’d never noticed before. Spring peepers sang from the far edges. It was all a surprise for on the walk out I’d told my friends from Florida that I hadn’t seen or heard any vernal pool action yet.
I just need to spend more time listening and waiting and letting it all play out before me, the same as the chipmunk that was sure I couldn’t see him.
After a three-hour journey, I found my way back to the truck and then decided to take some back roads home. As I passed through farmland where cornfields are prolific, I noticed movement. I so wanted the movement to be another bird, but it was a huge flock of Canada Geese that attracted my attention. Again, I had to live in the moment and enjoy what was before me.
And then I turned into the harbor, and was pleasantly surprised for suddenly my eyes cued in on those I sought who stood tall.
And craned their necks. Sandhill Cranes. In Fryeburg, Maine. They have returned to the harbor for at least the past five years, probably more and I’ve had the privilege to hear them fly over several times, but today was the first time I was honored to see them. Thank you, Parker, for the tip.
I craned my neck and gave thanks for the moments spent in their presence and lifted up several people who will benefit from a dose of this medicine–Tom, Jinny Mae and Lifeguard Wendy: this one is for the three of you.
I somehow slept in and totally missed the early bird specials today, but still by midmorning I found my way to the store of my choice.
It had been two years since I’d stepped over the threshold into the MDT shop and I’d forgotten what great selections it had to offer. While the last time I approached from the Fryeburg Information Center near the Maine/NH border, today I decided to use the back door and entered by the Eastern Slopes Airport.
Beginning along the main aisle, I was delighted with the display before me. And lack of customers. Oh, I passed several groups, some in a hurry as they ran, others chatting amiably with friends or relatives, but all quite friendly and courteous. Even dogs were well behaved and therefore welcome.
Immediately I had decisions to make. Which shade did I want?
And would I prefer a different style or shape?
Had I thought about brown and bristly?
Or did I like salmon and rounded?
Though I preferred the salmon color of the white oak, I did like how the red oak leaves dangled in hopes of being plucked by a customer. And if not a customer, then perhaps the wind.
In aisle five I found some cattails ready to explode into the future.
Their tiny, parachuted seeds reminded me of sparklers on the Fourth of July, but because today is the day after Thanksgiving, I suspected these fireworks were intended for New Year’s Eve.
It seemed that everywhere I looked, the store was decked out with hues of silver and . . .
And while admiring the golden decorations, I discovered I wasn’t the only one looking. A brown lacewing had heard there were deep discounts to be had.
As one should when one is spending an exorbitant amount of time (and perhaps money, though in this case no cash or credit was part of the deal), rehydrating is a good thing and the birch had been tapped for just that purpose. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed the unique taste of a birch beer, but thanks to a sapsucker it was on the menu at the snack bar.
And what better place to sit and sip, than on a bench in aisle 6.
Refreshed, I was again ready to shop till I dropped. Everywhere I looked, the Christmas decorations impressed me.
The season’s colors enhanced the merchandise.
And all ornaments were handsome in their own way.
As is always part of my shopping adventure, I didn’t know what I was looking for when I entered the store. But as soon as I saw this display, I knew I had to have it.
Its label was lengthy–tamarack, larch, hackmatack. Call it what you want, it’s our only deciduous conifer for it looses its needles in the winter. But first, the needles turn from green to gold and announce their presence.
Also in abundance as this shop–pitch pines. It’s so easy to confuse a pitch pine with a red pine, but a few identifying tips help. The unique thing about this tree is that not only do the stiff, dark yellow-green needles grow on the branches, but they also grow on the trunk. If you spy a tree that you think may be a red pine, scan upward and if you see green needles along the trunk, then you’ve discovered a pitch pine.
The name, pitch, refers to the high amount of resin within this tree.
It’s the needles of pitch pine that also add to its identification for they grow in bundles of three, like a pitchfork’s tines.
As for their cones, you can barely see the stalk because they tend to be clustered together, but their key feature is the rigid prickle atop each scale tip.
I was nearly at my turn-around point of three miles when I realized I was standing beside a row of doorbuster deals.
I couldn’t resist feeling the scale-like leaves of the northern white cedar. I had to have this item.
I did find one thing I decided to leave on the shelf–for the spines of the black locust would have pricked my fingers, I’m sure.
Apparently, others did purchase this, for only one fruit pod remained.
At last, I was on my way back up the main aisle with hopes to make a bee-line out, but had a feeling something around the bend would stop me in my tracks.
Sure enough–the pokeberry display was both geometric . . .
and artistic in a dramatic sort of way.
As I continued on, I saw and heard birds flitting about and thought about the fact that I need to visit this shop more often, particularly in the spring and summer for the various habitats made me think that birding would be spectacular. And then I spied a nest attached to some raspberry bushes. I knew not the species that made it, but hoped some small brown critter might use it as a winter home and so it remained on the shelf.
At last, I’d raided enough aisles. My cart was full to the brim and my brain overwhelmed. I guess I’m not really a “shop-til-you drop” kind of gal. It was time to wind along the trail and end my Black Friday shopping extravaganza.
This morning dawned clear and chilly, with the temperature at 50˚ when I headed toward Lovell at 7:15. After placing some “Land Trust Walk Today” signs in pre-planned positions, I headed to the dam on Harbor Road in Fryeburg to wait for a ride.
Water flowed over the tiered dam, which was built in the early to mid 1900s at the request of the Pepperell Manufacturing Company in Biddeford. The townspeople contested its existence for it would raise the water level on Kezar Lake, but the textile mill located many miles away on the Saco River won the rights to construct such at the site of an 1800s saw & gristmill. Thankfully, though it did raise the level of the lake water, not all of the predicted problems came to pass.
The dam was our intended take-out for today’s paddle co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. Though it’s located off Harbor Road in Fryeburg, it’s owned by the Town of Lovell. No longer used, it still serves to provide a historic reference. And a great place to either portage and continue on to the Old Course of the Saco River and then the “new” course, or take out as we intended to do.
While I waited, I poked around, and rejoiced in the sight of trees that like wet feet. High above the dam, the leaves of a silver maple shown brilliantly in the morning light.
Other leaves also caught my attention for their coloration–with veins of red interrupting their olive greenness. Green ash, another tree that likes wet feet but isn’t as abundant as its siblings, white and black ash, also stood tall beside the dam.
My dam-side exploration ended a few minutes later when Jesse Wright of Upper Saco Valley Land Trust and her friend, Shareen, pulled into the landing. We hoisted my kayak onto her already laden truck and found our way over the bumpy road to our intended put-in at a private residence–thanks to the generosity of its owners. Slowly the number of boats increased by the water’s edge as twenty-plus folks joined us.
Once all had gathered, Jesse showed off the map of our intended paddle, the red dots indicating our path from beginning to end, and I shared a bit of information about the fen, a GLLT property purchased in 2005. Today, the symbolic boundary between the two land trusts disappeared as we ventured off together.
It takes good neighbors and lake stewards to pull off such an event, and the Wurms are such. They helped us arrange the put-in, gathered a couple of canoes for several paddlers and took photos at the start.
Linda’s view included Jesse heading off as our lead,
and the rainbow of colors once we hit the water.
It took us a wee bit of time to get all the boats onto the lake, but it wasn’t a day made for rushing. And once in the sun, we began to warm up.
Before we headed off, we gave thanks to Linda (and Remy).
We also thanked Heinrich, who drew our attention skyward . . .
as he flew a drone above us.
Our first destination was to paddle north for the view.
The drone spied the mountains before we did.
And spotted our intended course . . .
into the fen.
A quick turn-around from the water gave us bearings as we noted the Baldfaces to the west.
We circled an island that serves as an environmental study plot for the US Forest Service and then paddled southward.
Jesse led the way through the pickerelweed.
As we followed, the view got better and better.
Acting as sweep, I took up the rear while the group snaked along.
We followed the twists and turns of the water trail, where red maples showed off their autumn display from the canopy.
Occasional leaves fluttered down, begging to be noticed in their singularity.
Though we didn’t get out of our boats and actually walk into the fen, we did stop to chat about what it had to offer. The GLLT owns 260 acres of the 500-acre fen, an acidic ecosystem with a deep layer of organic material including peat moss atop a sandy substrate. Several bird species of concern breed or hunt in the fen, including American bitterns and Sandhill cranes, the latter of which we had the good fortune to hear but not see. Long’s bullrush, a globally rare sedge, also grows here. But the crème de la crèmefor many are the cranberries. Folks on today’s paddle weren’t familiar with the plant and I couldn’t show them at the time, but I shared with them the experience of picking in the past with students from Molly Ockett Middle School in Fryeburg.
On a fall day each year, about thirty students in the school’s MESA program (Maine Environmental Science Academy–an experiential place-based curriculum for 6-8 grades) visit the fen with the GLLT’s Executive Director, Tom Henderson.
They learn about the hydrology of this place, but one of their highlights is to pick cranberries, and to that end, they become very possessive. As one student approaches another, a common statement is shared: “Don’t come over here. There aren’t any cranberries here.”
Over the course of several hours, they fill their bags and sometimes even show off their creative talents in other ways–all in celebration of the cranberries.
Continuing along the river this morning, we noted beaver activity and talked about scent mounds and their usefulness within the beaver community. And then we reached the fish screen. Jesse had paddled the course last Sunday and made it under the screen without any issues.
Since then, the beavers had been busy damming it up. One of our members worked to adjust some of the branches so we could all get through.
Of course, sometimes a helping paddle was needed to push a boat forward.
While we took turns, our efforts didn’t go unnoticed.
On the other side, a ruler indicated depth.
And then, and then, in what seemed like only minutes but was actually a couple of hours filled with camaraderie between familiar friends and new, plus a touch of natural history thrown into the discussion, we found ourselves at the bridge and the end of the journey for some. Others chose to paddle back rather than hitch a ride. We had come full circle.
As we pulled boats out, we were surprised at how warm it was since we were out of the shade, the temp having reached into the 80˚s.
Our outing on the Kezar Lake Outlet would not have been doable without Jesse Wright, who did the yeoman’s work of pulling it together, William Abbott, USVLT’s executive director who created the map, the Wurms and their neighbors who contributed land, boats, photographs and time, and all who ventured with us on this most lovely first full day of autumn. Thank you all.
Because I have the good fortune to be involved with the Greater Lovell Land Trust, I spend my summers attending talks and walks on a variety of topics. Prior to this week, we learned about lichens, bryophytes, pileated woodpeckers, fungi, flowers, ferns, medicinal plants, peat bogs, wild turkeys, and land conservation. And then last night our focus turned to pollinators and the pollinated.
Guy Pilla, a beekeeper from Fryeburg, Maine, gave an informational talk on the art of beekeeping, followed by a question and answer period, and the crème de la crème –honey tasting. How often have you had a chance to taste Tupelo honey?
This morning we met up with Guy again, as he took us to a hive he has set up on private property under conservation easement with the land trust. Twenty-six of us gathered around to listen, watch, and wonder.
In his alien costume, Guy passed around frames, giving us an opportunity to look at a range of cells as he explained about spacing for honey expansion, storage and more. We learned about the good and the bad of beekeeping, but mostly the good.
As frames were passed around, we noted variations and the fact that some were lightweight and others heavy.
At last it was time for Guy to open the hive. Notice the electric fence surrounding it? And the fact that it’s strapped down. Bear defense. And we know there’s at least one in the area.
And then he walked through the crowd and chose Mary to be his assistant. She donned a hat and veil to protect her face and neck, and took on the look.
Into the bee yard, she followed Guy. If you look closely, you’ll see two platforms on the ground and might notice that the one directly below the hive has nails sticking up (the other is turned upside down because Guy only has one hive at this location this year). Those are to deter skunks, another predator. As Mary watched from behind and the rest of us watched from a few feet away beyond the fence (and out of the bee line), Guy ignited the smoker he’d filled with pine needles.
It took a few minutes, but finally, smoke puffed out.
He then passed it to Mary, and her task was to press the bellows and create smoke. The smoker is an important line of defense.
As we continued to watch, Guy took the straps off and explained the construction of the hive with one super stacked atop another in a vertical fashion. Though he ordered his equipment, he refashioned some of it including the roof, designed to let wet weather flow off rather than gather in puddles on the top of the structure.
As Guy wedged a hive tool into the bee glue (a resin-like propolis), Mary got ready to use the smoker. Smoke fools the honeybees into thinking a wildfire is nearby, thus prompting them to eat more honey in case they need to move to a new location.
And with honey in their bellies, they become more docile. Note that Guy isn’t wearing any gloves. Usually he does, but Mary wore his gloves this morning and he trusted all would go well and the bees would remain calm. He was certainly calm, but spoke of his early days in the beekeeping business and how sometimes he would jump. Bees sense fear behavior exhibited by heavy breathing and that’s when stings occur. Having been stung recently after some youngsters received stings, I thought I was remaining calm, but apparently my breath spoke for me.
We learned so much from Guy last night and today–about their various jobs as male drones, queens, and female workers who really do so much of the work. The workers clean out old material from inside the cells, attend to the queen, carry dead bees or larvae outside the hive, guard the hive’s entrance, fan at the entrance during the hot weather to keep the inside temperature down and to circulate fresh air throughout the hive, receive nectar and pollen, store it away in cells, nurse newly laid egg, and seal cells around larvae at the appropriate moment. After doing all of this for about three weeks, they’ll earn the rights to collect nectar and pollen for about six. And then . . . they’ll die of exhaustion. Indeed.
After our time at the hive, one of the land owners, Linda, took us on a mini-tour of the 100-hundred-acre property. Her goal was to take us to a flower meadow she and her husband have created. Originally, it was a garden with raised beds, but Linda has been collecting wildflower seeds from roadsides in Maine and New Hampshire and sowing them in the meadow.
Today we were wowed by the results.
And so were Guy’s honeybees.
They were on the move everywhere we looked.
We watched as they sucked nectar with their proboscis mouth part.
Bumblebees also took advantage of the sweet offerings.
And filled their pollen baskets with the goods.
Not to be left out, a fritillary was among those seeking reward.
And because we were there, we saw meadowhawk dragonflies on the prowl, he being red . . .
and she similar but brown.
Guy was tickled to see his bees at work and share his knowledge to all as we listened.
Linda was thrilled to see so many enjoying what she and her husband, Heinrich, had created.
And speaking of Heinrich, just before we left he had one more insect to share.
An orb spider known as a yellow and black garden spider or argiope aurantia had built its web near the greenhouse. I used to see these in our gardens frequently, but haven’t lately. Of course, I say that and tomorrow I’ll spy one.
In my brain, this is the smartest spider of them all for they create a web consisting of a series of concentric circles divided into sectors by lines that radiate out. And in the center–that amazing zigzag pattern, which is called a stabilimentum and perhaps intended to attract other insects. Or maybe its a message written in code and intended for a certain pig named Wilbur. This is Maine after all.
We do know one message we learned in the last 24 hours: Bee kind–to one another for we’re all interconnected and we need each other to survive. And that includes letting the undesirables flourish in our yards, including the dandelions. Do so and watch them and just maybe you’ll realize they are desirable after all.
(Two final notes: Support your local beekeepers. Guy’s honey is available at Spice and Grain in Fryeburg; but really, you should buy honey from your area. And if you are interested in learning more about beekeeping, look for your local chapter of the Maine State Beekeepers Association.
With the Four on the Fourth Road Race only five days away, my friend Marita Wiser and I are in training. Perhaps a more apt description would be cross-training, for our actual time spent running has been sporadic, but we’ve both been on hikes that we’re sure will give us an upper edge. Look for us to cross the finish line in record time on Tuesday–or not.
To that end, this morning we climbed Mount Tom–with a desire to see what the new West Ridge Trail had to offer in a different season. In the past year, she and I hiked it in October, while my guy and I snowshoed up the trail in February. And so, Marita did what I like best because we wanted to make a loop–she parked at the base of the original trail about 2.3 miles in on Menotomy Road and we walked 1.4 miles down the road to the new trailhead.
The last time I visited, the snow was deep and up to the base of the preserve sign. Today, a red maple sapling claimed that spot.
Next to it grew a bristly sarsaparilla, its rounded umbels standing tall above the leaves.
As we stood there and applied some bug dope, a hoverfly, an important pollinator, worked its magic on the flowers.
And then we stepped onto the trail and were immediately reminded of the past by a relic someone left on a rock.
The homestead, possibly that of A.H. Evans, is located within feet of the trail’s head. And it appears that if this did belong to A.H., he was the head of a large family for it’s a huge foundation.
Equally large was the center chimney.
And based on the configuration of rocks and boulders we stepped over as we turned left between the house, outbuildings and barn, all were once attached.
The barn foundation was also impressive and we could sense the work that went into such a creation. Among all the buildings were some recovered artifacts and I’ve a feeling I know who unearthed them. I love to see these relics, but hope that others won’t continue to follow suit and look for them. Or take them. Okay–that’s my salt box speech for today.
Again, assuming all of this belonged to A.H., I did discover a 1916 document that suggested he grew rutabagas: “A. H. Evans, Fryeburg, raised 90 bushels rutabagas in 1-8 of an acre.”
We followed the white-blaze trail, which was fairly well defined, and passed through a mixed forest, where at least one old white pine spoke to the history of this land, for it obviously once stood in an opening allowing it to stretch its arms and perhaps provide shade for farm animals.
One of my other favorite features of the West Ridge Trail, besides the foundations, are the ledges that stand as tall rock gardens.
Some were even terraced and though we didn’t pause to look for evidence today, we got the sense of where the house and barn foundation stones were found.
As we continued to climb (and sweat for it was a bit of a cardio workout–and humid), a couple of woodland plants stood out, including the wild sarsaparilla, which had flowered in the spring. It was fun to note the difference between the bristly and wild–for the former flowers now with those umbels above the leaves, while the flowers of the latter developed below its leaves.
The wild sarsaparilla flowers have since turned to green fruits, which in time will ripen to a reddish-purple display. They were rather like mini green pumpkins in fireworks formation, a description conceived due to the pending holiday.
Another offering was the bluish-green fronds of a marginal wood fern.
A bent frond on one showed off the round sori located near the margins.
After about an hour and a half, which included our walk down the road to the trailhead and then up the trail, we reached the summit. In the fall and winter, Pleasant Mountain had been plainly visible in the background, but today we had to peek through leaves to see it.
As we peeked, Marita asked about the red leaves on an oak–fall couldn’t be on the horizon already, could it? I shared one theory with her, but after a wee bit of research discovered there may be a second–and possibly more.
The leaves were young and the red may act as a sunscreen, protecting them until photosynthesis takes place when they are fully developed.
The other thought is that the red may serve as a warning sign to mammals that the leaves contain chemicals that will taste bad, thus preventing them from being eaten.
Our summit stay wasn’t long, but long enough to enjoy the bushy stamen of spotted St. Johnswort.
And the daintiness of pink corydalis.
And then we followed the old trail down, through the hemlock grove and onto the logging road, which had grown in so much that it made us wonder if The Nature Conservancy wants to discourage its use. The thought of ticks crossed our minds, but she sported her treated tick gators and I used Repel®. Both worked for us, though I do want to get a pair of gators. I’m taking recommendations for brand.
Just before the end of the trail, we once again paused by the Mt. Tom Cabin, the real deal for a 19th century “camp” experience, but with a few added amenities including electricity. I like it for its structure, views and Northern white cedar.
Across the field, Old Glory blew in the breeze and reminded us of our need to “train.”
Our hike to the summit–it was as quick as we could make it, even with me taking a few pics, for the mosquitoes were thick. But–thanks to those very mosquitoes, we sprinted up Mount Tom in honor of our training regime.
As we tried to figure out where we’d hike today, we decided a familiar route would suit us and I was pleased when my guy suggested Mount Tom in Fryeburg. It’s an old favorite that has improved with age since The Nature Conservancy added a new trail recently. This property was important to them because the Saco River flows below.
Today, we decided to park our truck across from the old trailhead and walk down Menotomy Road so we wouldn’t have that trudge after our hike. I wish the trail was a loop, but it can’t be and so we made our own. The snowstorms of the last two weeks had buried the cemetery entrance and only a couple of headstones poked out.
One and a half miles later, we climbed over the snowbank at the trailhead and strapped on our snowshoes.
We were thankful that someone or two or three had packed the trail before us.
Just after stepping onto the West Ridge Trail, we passed between a house and barn foundation. All that was visible–the center chimney’s supporting structure, which probably dates back to the 1800s. Perhaps the original homesteaders were buried in the cemetery.
At first the tromp was easy because it passes gently across the terrain and so I had time to look around. Fresh tinder conks growing on paper birch trees pleased my eye.
I love their colors, which reminded me of oyster shells I’d spent a childhood collecting.
A few minutes later I spied a house I hadn’t noticed in the fall. My guy looked over and told me it wasn’t a house at all.
He was right, of course. Two large boulders, erratics dropped by the glaciers that formed Mount Tom, a Roche Moutonnée, stood out because of their snow covered tops. We didn’t move closer, but I’ve a feeling they provided homes for mosses and ferns and other assorted flora and perhaps even wildlife. So maybe I was also correct.
After crossing the snowmobile trail that passes through the preserve, we continued on through the hardwood forest and started climbing up and sometimes down. Through the trees we spied the summit, but still had a ways to go.
One of my favorite trees grows in this forest–white oak. And though it’s not common in the woods I normally traverse, I’m learning to identify it by the plated blocks of its bark.
It helps, of course, when the round-lobed leaves are found nearby.
At last we reached the ledges, where I’d hoped to see bobcat sign. We did see porcupine evidence, but the snow was soft and tracks almost indecipherable.
We also found plenty of signs of another frequent visitor. But with that–a major disappointment. I’m sorry to report that I didn’t find any pileated woodpecker scat today.
Across the trail from the pileated debris, the work of a gray squirrel. Dinner required toil–it had dug a hole that looked to be about three feet deep. How do they know where to find those acorns they cached last fall? I’m always in wonder of such digs. And those that they don’t find become trees. It’s all good.
I probably wouldn’t have missed this tree, but my guy wanted to make sure I saw it. He spread his arms in the same manner and felt it was welcoming us to the ridge. Indeed.
Nearby, someone else was welcomed–and I’m not referring to the acorn. Yes, that provided a squirrel meal, but scattered feathers indicated a downy woodpecker met its demise. And a predator dined.
We were almost to the summit when a burl revealed some of its inner beauty–the bark having fallen off. Grains once straight twisted and contorted thanks to a virus or fungus or some other means. I loved the swirl of lines, some thin and squiggly.
And then the beauty of the view greeted us–Pleasant Mountain in the distance and the Saco River valley below. We met a young family at the summit and thanked them for paving the way. They’d never climbed here before and asked about the old trail down.
We explained that that was our choice and though it’s a bit steeper, it’s a quicker way back to the road.
We also told them we’d do the honor of paving the way because it had been a storm or more since anyone had trudged that way.
Because it’s a rather straight downhill, we felt like we were floating for most of the trail and welcomed the sight of Mount Kearsarge among the beauty of the young birches. Once the trail widened, the snow was deeper and it became a trudge again, but the end was nearing.
Right before reaching the road, Old Glory flew as she faithfully does in the field.
And always a favorite–the barn beside the trailhead highlighted by the mountains and sky.
We’d come to the end and were thankful for the opportunity to climb Mount Tom again. We were especially thankful for the family who’d gone before on the West Ridge Trail–it was a bit of a slug for us, but even more so for them and we wondered if we’d have completed the loop had it not been for their hard work. We don’t know their names, though we do know their dog’s–Roscoe. May Roscoe’s owners sleep well tonight.
Highland Lake in downtown Bridgton was the setting for the activities, including dog sled rides and an ice fishing derby.
As folks got settled on the sled, the lead dogs eagerly awaited their chance to follow the course.
And then they were off for a short journey around the lake.
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.
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.
If you haven’t been snuggled in a sled behind a team, I strongly encourage you to try it.
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.
Instead, we turned our attention to an open spot created by the town crew.
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.
Those taking the plunge donned a variety of costumes.
And their faces told the story.
They offered support with smiles.
Some disappeared under water for a few seconds.
While there were those who dove in, others were more cautious.
All kinds of critters came out to cheer them on.
Laughter, hoots and hollers filled the air, while rollers curled the hair.
Kids of all ages got into the act.
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.
It was fun to watch co-workers and their individual approaches.
Each reacted differently to the common goal.
And the best was saved for last, when Jen was introduced.
She waved to the crowd as she walked the white carpet to the water’s edge.
Joan gave her hand so she wouldn’t slip.
And the fire crew moved in to provide additional support.
Jen loves to swim.
And so she did, kicking up water in the face of her aids.
To the cheers of all watching, she finally got out.
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.
I ventured this afternoon with my friend Marita, author of Hikes and Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION, along with her daughter’s beagle, Gracie, on a new trail in Fryeburg.
Mount Tom, a Roche Moutonnée, is an asymmetrical hill with a gently sloping up-ice side that has been smoothed and polished by a glacier. The other side is abrupt and steep–the down-ice side where the rocks were plucked off, leaving a more cliff-like appearance. As Marita noted, its most impressive view is from a distance, but today we sang its praises from up close. We’ve both hiked a 1.5 mile trail to the summit for years, but recently The Nature Conservancy developed a new trail that we were eager to explore.
Within seconds I was exclaiming with joy. A huge, and I mean HUGE foundation shared the forest floor. Note the outer staircase to the basement.
And the large center chimney.
On an 1858 map, I found that A.H. Evans owned a home in about this vicinity, but I don’t know if this was his. Or any more about him. It will be worth exploring further at the Fryeburg Historical Society.
The house extended beyond the basement.
And was attached to an even bigger barn.
Ash trees grow beside the opening, but I wondered if we were looking at the manure basement.
Finally, we pulled ourselves away and returned to the trail. Well, actually, we tried to return to the trail but couldn’t find it. So we backtracked, found this initial blaze and again looked for the next one. Nothing. Nada. No go. How could it be?
That didn’t seem right, so we decided to follow our noses, or rather Gracie’s nose, and sure enough we found the trail. If you go, turn left and cross between the house and barn foundations.
After that, for the most part, we were able to locate the trail, but it was obscured by the newly fallen leaves and could use a few extra blazes. Gracie, however, did an excellent job following the scent of those who had gone before and leaving her own.
The path took us over a large mound of sawdust, something I’ve found in several areas of Fryeburg.
The predominate trees were beech, white and red oaks, thus providing a golden glow to the landscape.
And then we came to the ledges. Bobcat territory. Note to self: snowshoe this way to examine mammal tracks.
The trail was situated to provide a close up view of the ledge island, where all manner of life has existed for longer than my brain could comprehend. Life on a rock was certainly epitomized here.
We continued our upward journey for over 2.3 miles (thanks to Marita’s Fitbit for that info) and eventually came to the intersection with the trail we both knew so well.
From there, we walked to the summit where the views have become obscured by tree growth.
But . . . we could see the long ridge of Pleasant Mountain in front of us,
Kezar Pond to our left,
and the Richardson Farm on Stanley Hill Road to our right.
Also along the summit trail, the woody seedpod of a Lady’s Slipper. Ten-to-twenty thousand seeds were packaged within, awaiting wind dispersal.
We decided to follow the old trail down, which passes through a hemlock grove and then suddenly changes to a hardwood mix. Both of us were surprised at how quickly we descended. And suddenly, we were walking past some private properties including the 1883 Mt. Tom cabin.
The cabin sign was actually attached to a Northern White Cedar tree. I’m forever wowed by its bark and scaly leaves.
In the field beyond, Old Glory fluttered in the breeze.
Since we’d taken the loop trail approach rather than an out and back on the same trail, we had to walk along Menotomy Road, so we paid the cemetery a visit and checked out the names and ages of those who had lived in this neighborhood.
One of the older stones intrigued me with its illustration. I think I would have enjoyed getting to know these people.
As we continued on, I was reminded of recent adventures in Ireland and the realization that we notice more when we walk along the road rather than merely driving by. We both admired this simple yet artful pumpkin display.
If you go, you might want to drive to the old trailhead, park your vehicle and then walk back to the West Ridge Trail. We parked at the latter and had to walk the 1.5 back at the end, when it seemed even longer. But truly, the road offers its own pretty sights and the temperature was certainly just right, even with a few snow flurries thrown into the mix, so we didn’t mind. We were thankful we’d found our way along the new trail and revisited the old at Mount Tom. And I’m already eager to do it again.
Back in October 1947, catastrophic wildfires erupted throughout Maine during what became known as “The Week Maine Burned.”
It hadn’t rained for 108 days and the dry woods were like tinder. Here in western Maine, Fryeburg, Brownfield and Denmark thought they had a fire under control, but overnight a strong wind blew and gave it new life. About 2,000 acres burned by the next night as the fire spread to the edge of Brownfield.
With the winds continuously shifting, town folks began to panic. Farmers either turned their livestock loose or herded them to neighboring towns. Others packed as many belongings as they could and evacuated.
By morning, most homes and public buildings in Brownfield were mere piles of ash. Stately places including the Farnsworth Place where Dr. Philo Farnsworth, a pioneer in the field of television, spent his summers, had burned. Churches, schools, the post office, Grange hall, library and town hall all went up in smoke–only twenty houses survived. In the end, 85% of the town was destroyed, including a mountain trail.
Today, Marita and I ventured to Burnt Meadow Mountain for a loop hike. It used to be that one had to hike up and back on the same trail, now known as the North Peak. Though that’s the shortest way up and back (about an hour each way), I for one, am thankful to the Friends of Burnt Meadow Mountain, who sought landowner permission to create a loop and spur–Twin Brook Trail and Stone Mountain Trail.
From the parking lot and kiosk, it’s a bit of a climb to reach the trail split. We followed the blue blazes of the North Peak trail, which though it is shorter, is also the more difficult of the two.
Immediately we noticed that the white oaks that grow at the bottom of the mountain play host to numerous leaf miners and other insects.
Some are decorated with pronounced galls. I always think about how a bud protects the whisp of a leaf all winter long, and how hairy it is as it slowly unfolds and then–kaboom–the insects have to survive too. And they do. Until something eats them. And their energy passes up through the web, where it’s enhanced at each level by sun and air and rain and . . . even when life doesn’t look so good, it is.
As we climbed, the blueberries became more prolific. And bluer.
Spreading dogbane showed forth its tiny pink bells.
And the trail became a scramble. If I said we scampered up the ledge quickly, I’d be telling a fib. (Do people still tell fibs?) Near the summit is a section of hand-over-hand climbing. It doesn’t really last long, but in the moment it seems like forever.
And so it invites a pause to take in the view to the south and east.
The relatively flat summit is rather barren–in memory of those 1947 wildfires.
We were glad it was cloudy as there are no shade trees at the top.
Our view included Stone Mountain and the saddle between it and Burnt Meadow Mtn.
Normally in the landscape, red pines stand tall and proud. At the summit, however, their scrubby form presents their features at eye level–bundles of two needles, pollen cones and older seed cones. Young red pines typically germinate and grow only after forest fires or some other event that causes tree loss.
While we took a break, an Eastern Towhee sang its metallic yet musical “drink your tea” song.
Descending via the much longer, but a wee bit easier Twin Brook trail, we were treated to mountain views to the west.
And driftwood. Oops. Wrong setting. But still, mountain wood can be as beautiful as ocean wood.
One of our pleasant surprises was the discovery of bear claw marks on rather small beech trees. Perhaps made by even smaller bear cubs who scampered up and down a year or two ago, leaving their marks much the way we left our own today without knowing it.
Further along, the hole in this older beech stopped Marita in her tracks. We noticed saw dust on the ground below. And numerous bear claw marks on the bark above.
Another oft visited tree.
From bare to bear, Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield is worth the trek. (You probably thought we saw a bear today. No such luck, but my guys and I encountered a bear on the North Peak trail on a summer day years ago. It seemed content to lumber along about fifteen feet from us–probably full of blueberries.)
After leaving a truck at the base of the Ledges Trail on Pleasant Mountain, my guy and I drove to Denmark Village to attend an annual celebration of fiber: the Denmark Sheepfest.
Like us, local sheep were ready to shed their winter coats.
Waiting their turn, they offered sheepish looks.
But we heard no complaints as the shearing began.
From there, we continued on to the Southwest Ridge Trail of Pleasant Mountain. As we climbed, we thought about the former name of the trail: MacKay’s Pasture Trail.
Between the rock outcrops and slope we decided that in the 1800s sheep probably roamed this side of the mountain. I found an 1858 map on the Denmark Historical Society’s Web site, but it’s too small to check names.
(Thanks to Jinny Mae for sending me a better copy of the map–the McKay’s property is located near the base of the trail on the Denmark/Fryeburg line–makes perfect sense that the side of the mountain served as pastureland for their farm.) Sheep and shepherds–We feel a certain affinity to shepherds/shephards because it’s a family name and were saddened to learn yesterday of the death of one relative we met this past fall in New Brunswick, Canada. Our acquaintance was short, but relationship long. As the Irish say, “May the light of heaven shine upon your grave.” Rest in peace, Ellis Shephard.
We love climbing up this trail and pausing . . .
to take in the views behind us–Brownfield Bog, Lovewell Pond, Eastern Slopes Airport in Fryeburg, Maine, and White Mountains of New Hampshire in the distance.
In no time, or so it seemed, we reached lunch rock by the teepee. The teepee was constructed by the late George Sudduth, director/owner of Wyonegonic Camps , the oldest camp for girls in America. His wife, Carol, whom I’ve had the pleasure of hiking with, and family still run the camp, located below on Moose Pond.
Our view as we appreciated fine dining–ham and swiss instead of PB&J–Moose Pond’s lower basin to the left, Sand (aka Walden) Pond with Hancock Pond behind it, Granger Pond and Beaver Pond directly below us. Actually, if you look closely, you might see Long Lake between Moose and Hancock. This is the Lakes Region of Maine.
We continued along the ridge and the fire tower came into view. Once the leaves pop, this view will disappear until fall.
At the vernal pool between knobs, we only saw one large egg mass–I had to wonder if the number is related to the amount of human and dog traffic.
And then . . . we were there. At the summit of Pleasant Mountain. With a kazillion other people and dogs.
Again, we could see the bog and Lovewell Pond behind it,
plus Kezar Pond in Fryeburg and Mount Washington beyond.
No matter how often I gaze upon this view, I’m always awestruck.
We had two options because we’d left two trucks, and decided to follow the Ledges Trail to Mountain Road.
Though I was with my guy, Mr. Destinationitis, I did stop long enough to admire the common toadskin lichen with its warty pustules.
Had this been a teaching moment, the lesson plan was laid out in front of me–toadskin versus common rock tripe. Warty versus smooth. A difference in color. Both umbilicate lichens–attached to the rock substrate at a single point. OK, so maybe it was a teachable moment.
But one of us didn’t give two hoots. He tolerated me . . . while he rested. 😉
For the most part, we hiked within feet of each other, but I can never resist stopping at this point as we come upon the beginning of the ledges that gave this trail its name.
Continuing down, I frequently grasped trees and thought about how many handprints are imbedded in the history of this land–from Native Americans to surveyors to shepherds to trail blazers and hikers. On this made-in-Maine type of day, we encountered many people of all ages and abilities–and were glad to share the trail with them.
It’s not only people and sheep who have moved across Pleasant Mountain. Even today, dinosaurs made their presence known.
Following this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust trek at Chip Stockford Reserve, where we helped old and new friends form bark eyes as they examined various members of the birch family, my feet were itchy. Not in the scratchy sort of way–but rather to keep moving.
It was a lovely day for a hike and Sabattus Mountain in Lovell was my destination. I love this little mountain because it offers several different natural communities and great views.
Though there are a few softwoods on the lower portion of the trail, it’s really the land of a hardwood mix.
About halfway up, the neighborhood switches to a hemlock-pine-oak community. It was then that I began looking for downed hemlock twigs in an array at the base of trees. I’ve found them here before, and today I wasn’t disappointed.
The twigs had been chewed off and dropped by a porcupine as evidenced by the 45˚-angled cut and incisor marks. Though red squirrels also nip off the tips of hemlock twigs, they do just that–nip the tips. Porcupines cut branches.
Downed branches usually mean scat, but I searched high and low and under numerous trees that showed signs of activity and found none. A disappointment certainly.
My search, however, led me to other delightful finds that are showing up now that most of the snow has melted, like this pipsissewa that glowed in the afternoon sun. As is its habit, the shiny evergreen leaves look brand new–even though they’ve spent the winter plastered under snow and ice. A cheery reminder that spring isn’t far off.
At the summit, I got my bearings–the ridge of Pleasant Mountain and Shawnee Peak Ski Area to the southeast.
To the southwest, the asymmetrical Roche Moutonnée, Mount Tom, visible as it stands guard over Kezar Pond in Fryeburg.
And to the west, Kezar Lake backed by Mount Kearsarge in New Hampshire. I wanted to venture further out on the ledge, but some others hikers had arrived and I opted not to disturb their peace.
Instead, I sat for a few minutes and enjoyed the strong breeze offering possibilities as it floated over the summit and me.
Crossing the ridge, I left the trail and found more porcupine trees, including this young hemlock that had several cuts–look in the upper right-hand corner and lower left hand. A number of younger trees along this stretch will forever be Lorax trees.
On the outcrop of quartz, I paused to admire the golden moonglow lichen–it’s almost as if someone drew each hand-like section in black and then filled in the color, creating an effect that radiates outward.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a patch of polypody ferns on what appears to be the forest floor but was actually the rocky ridge. Notice how open-faced it is, indicating that the temperature was quite a bit warmer than what I’d seen on cold winter days.
Sunlight made the pinna translucent and the pompoms of sori on the backside shone through.
The trail doesn’t pass this glacial erratic, but I stepped over the logs indicating I should turn left and continued a wee bit further until I reached this special spot.
Its backside has been a porcupine den forever and ever. Nice to know that some things never change.
After returning to the trail, I followed it down through the hemlocks and oaks. This is my favorite part of the trail and though it’s a loop, I like to save this section for the downward hike–maybe because it forces me to slow down.
For one thing, it features the land of the fairies. I always feel their presence when here. Blame it on my father who knew of their existence.
I had a feeling a few friends were home–those who found their way into a fairy tale I wrote years ago. I left them be–trusting they were resting until this evening.
As swiftly as the community changed on the upward trail, the same was true on my descent.
On our morning trek, we’d looked at paper birch, but none of the trees we saw showed the range of colors like this one–a watercolor painting of a sunset.
This one shows the black scar that occurs when people peel bark. The tree will live, but think about having your winter coat torn off of you on a frigid winter day. Or worse.
Off the trail again, I paused by a few trees that I believe are black birch. Lately, a few of us have been questioning black birch/pin cherry because they have similar bark. The telltale sign should be catkins dangling from the birch branches. I looked up and didn’t see catkins, but the trees may not be old enough to be viable. This particular one, however, featured birch polypores. So maybe I was right. I do know one thing–it’s not healthy.
And then I reached a section of trail that I’ve watched grow and change in a way that’s more noticeable than most. I counted the whorls on these white pines and determined that they are about 25 years old. I remember when our sons, who are in their early twenties, towered over the trees in their sapling form. Now two to three times taller than our young men, the trees crowded growing conditions have naturally culled them.
Nature isn’t the only one that has culled the trees. Following their selection to be logged, however, some became planters for other species.
Nearing the end of the trail another view warmed my heart. Three trees, three species, three amigos. Despite their differences, they’ve found a way to live together. It strikes me as a message to our nation.
Perhaps our leaders need to turn the spotlight on places like Sabattus. It’s worth a wonder.
The other day a friend handed me a piece of paper and told me to read it later. We were about to go tracking, so I stuck it into my pack and forgot about it. This afternoon, as I prepared for a hike up Mount Tom in Fryeburg, I found the paper.
I’d originally thought it was an article, but instead, it’s a quote from the October 1967 issue of Yankee. A friend had given it to him and he passed it on to me: “We hunt as much for the memories as for the birds. For the memories, and for the hours afield in the autumn woods where a man can get back, for a while, to remembered realities, to a time and a way of life close to the eternities of the land. It’s hard to explain this to the outlander who never knew such things. He thinks of it as an escape. To us it is more like a homecoming. We live here, of course, but only in the leisure after we’ve done the stint at our jobs do we go out on the hills and up the brooks. There we find the truth of our world, even the truth of ourselves.” ~author unknown.
I reflected upon those words as I slipped into my snowshoes at the trail head. I’d made a decision to end one of my freelance writing/editing jobs this week (not Lake Living, which is my all time favorite writing job. Hard to believe the spring issue will mark my tenth anniversary!) and declutter my world.
It will never happen, but certainly the porcupines that inhabit this mountain should consider the same.
I had a hunch I’d see evidence of their existence once I got up into the hemlock neighborhood, but a small stump dump early on provided ample den space.
I didn’t even realize as I climbed toward the summit that I wasn’t taking too many photos. Instead, I was cued into the tracks left behind by two people who had traveled this way before me and the porcupines, deer, hare, coyote, bobcats and little brown things. While the people stuck to the trail, I wandered this way and that as I tried to decipher what I saw–my own zig zag trail reminiscent of those I followed.
I didn’t get lost today, though truly, when I do get fake lost, it’s a time to understand myself better– listening to my inner self sort things out. Most of today’s trail is an old logging road. And most of what I saw was familiar. Perhaps that’s what it’s all about–knowing a place so no matter where you are, you recognize it.
The community changes abruptly from birch, beech and maple saplings to hemlocks and pines. I, too, can change abruptly and have a tendency to be blunt. I don’t see that as a bad thing, though occasionally I do regret what I’ve said.
And then I began to look up and notice other parts of my surroundings like these old deer or moose scrapes on striped maples. Forever scared, they provided nourishment in the past–and may do so in the future when the time is right.
One striped maple still sported a few seeds that have yet to go forth in the world. What’s holding them back? Don’t they know the time has come to let go?
Amongst the evergreens a paper birch offered a twist on life. I believe this is the result of sun scald–the heating and freezing of thin bark. Typically, the white reflective bark helps the tree avoid such danger–but something obviously happened to cause this candycane-like stripe..
Though it was getting late in the day, rays of sunshine illuminated the darker side of things.
As I followed more porcupine tracks at the summit, a dried leaf captured my attention. In my ongoing attempt to draw an imaginary line showing the boundary of white oak, I added another dot.
Nestled within animal tracks, three leaves told me more about the members of this neighborhood–white oak, beech and Northern red oak.
So then I searched for the white oak trees–and found them. My bark eyes still don’t cue into this one immediately and I need to learn its idiosyncrasies, including its ashy gray color and blocky presentation.
I discovered a snow-covered nest that made me ask–bird-made or human-made? It’s constructed of reindeer lichen and sits upon a base of sticks about four feet up in a scrubby old oak. I was as excited by the find as I was by my wonder and lack of an answer. What fun would it be to know everything?
From the summit, I could see Pleasant Mountain’s ridge–giving me another sense of home. The view isn’t spectacular, but that isn’t the point.
Heading down, a second old favorite came into view–Kearsarge North. I stopped frequently as I descended–to listen and watch. And smell. Twice, a strong cat-like pee odor tickled my nose. The tracks were there, but I couldn’t find any other bobcat evidence. One of these days.
A rainbow of color presented itself among the paper birch trees–such variation for what is commonly called white birch.
Near the bottom, the Mt Tom cabin speaks to an earlier time when living off this land was the norm. Though I like to think that I could stay here by myself for a week, I’m not so sure. Of course, that would force the issue and surely the truth about myself would be revealed. Maybe it’s best left a mystery. 😉
Before slipping out of my snowshoes, I paused beside the staghorn sumac. It was my height, so I had an opportunity to examine its hairy features closely. Animal from The Muppets must have cloned himself.
There was a time when I was easily unnerved being in the woods alone. And I still have moments–especially when a ruffed grouse erupts. Geesh–that can certainly make my heart sound like it’s going to jump out of my body. But, the more time I spend out there, the more time I want to spend out there–exploring, discovering, wondering. This afternoon, I finally followed the full moon home, thankful to find even an inkling of my spirit. I recognize that the word “home” has come to mean more than one place. Our abode is our home, but time in the woods is also a homecoming.
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