Funky Mondate

It seems like it’s been forever since my guy and I shared a Mondate, but truth be told we snuck away to Diana’s Bath and beyond in Bartlett, New Hampshire, a week ago and here’s a sneak peek.

We’d had snow two days prior and the lower falls of Lucy Brook showed off the force that the Lucy family had harnessed in the late 1800s to operate a saw mill.

Remnants of the mill’s foundations still exist.

Fortunately, the falls are watched over by fairy-sized snow people.

Stopping by the Upper Falls, we had memories of ice discs spinning counterclockwise, but they remained just that: memories from a Romancing the Stone Mondate two years ago. Last week, the temp was not quite as frigid so no discs formed.

Despite that, we hiked on for a couple of miles and eventually turned around to retrace our steps.

Fast forward to today and we headed off to explore two land trust properties in western Maine, the first of which we’d never traversed before. My extreme excitement upon arriving at the first was to learn that an outermost trail was named for G. Howard Dyer.

I had the pleasure of knowing Howard, who died at age 103 in 2009, when he lived at a local assisted living home where my mom also resided. He was an independent Mainer who drove a car into his late 90s and I remember his license plate: GHD. To me, it read: GOD. He’d turn into the home’s parking lot practically on two wheels, and though the old car had some dings, somehow Howard’s adventures weren’t thwarted by his age, maybe because he was GOD.

At the time that Mom lived in the same home, I volunteered to help the Activities Director one day a week and one of the things I did besides arts and crafts was create a monthly newsletter filled with recipes, poetry, songs and memories of yesteryear that the residents shared with me.

For one issue, I spent some time interviewing Howard about his life and experiences. He was a great storyteller and shared with me that over the years he’d lived in Otisfield on and off. Knowing that state law required perambulation of the town’s boundaries, in 1946 he conducted his first walk about town. Fifty-six years later, in 2002, he knew that no one had walked the boundaries in a long time. So, at 95 years of age, he decided to do it again. “Weren’t sure I could do it,” Howard told me as his eyes twinkled. “Didn’t say it to anybody.”

It took him months to complete because he’d walk here today, there tomorrow. When he finally finished the job, he told town officials. As Howard told it, they were surprised because they couldn’t get anyone to do it due to “swamps and all, you know.”

Howard’s accomplishments were included on the 2002-2004 House Appendix of the Legislative Record when he received Otisfield’s Boston Cane. “Town law required perambulation of the boundaries every ten years, and as a gift to the town, Mr. Dyer walked the 34-mile Town of Otisfield’s boundary line, once at the age of 39 and more recently at the age of 95.”

He was quite a guy and actually ten or more years ago my guy and I decided to follow his example and perambulated the boundary of our town, a section this Monday, another section the next Monday, taking a year to connect all the dots.

I was thrilled to see that Howard had been honored by having a trail named for him, and suggested to my guy that perhaps we need to consider repeating our perambulation. To which he readily agreed.

For today, however, we had other things to notice, and lately it seems no hike is complete unless a Winter Firefly can be found.

There were other insects burrowed in place and they shall remain nameless because I didn’t want to expose them any more than they already were.

My learning continued as we journeyed on and we were almost finished exploring Howard’s trail when I spied an oval shaped sawfly cocoon on a Northern Red Oak twig.

But it was the cluster of cocoons at the end of the twig that deserved even more attention. I’m 95% certain (until someone tells me otherwise) that this is the random formation of a parasitic bracinoid wasp cocoon. The question remains: who died so this structure could be created? Because that’s what these wasps do–parasitize other insects by laying their eggs upon them.

We soon left Howard’s Trail behind and moved on to tramp along another trail, where a White Oak pulled me in because the salmon color and rounded edge of the leaves always stops me in my tracks.

Because I stepped in for a closer look, the sapling honored me with the offering of what I think is an old Wooly Sower Gall, which I believe only has a relationship with this species. When first formed, it would have consisted of white wool highlighted with pink spots, but apparently it takes several years for the larvae to mature and the structure develops “horns” over time.

Lest you think I have been ignoring mammals to focus on insects, never fear–I delighted with the discovery of a large cache/midden created by a Red Squirrel.

Our journey took us beside a river that follows a crooked course through the landscape, but what always amazes me is the erosion along the edge. For how much longer will this tree stand?

As we stood on the edge ten to fifteen feet above the river, we had to wonder–how high does it get that the bank should be so eroded at this height? We never seem to visit in late winter, but maybe this year we should. Though given the current lack of precipitation, maybe this isn’t the year to gain a baseline understanding.

At last we reached the trail end, and knew it was time to turn toward home.

It had been a successful day, coming unexpectedly upon the trail named for Howard and my guy locating a winter geocache that wasn’t really a winter geocache for he had to dig through some snow to find it and the snow isn’t at all deep. Yet.

We also discovered an impressive hollowed out tree through which we just had to chat. If I were a bear in the woods . . . this would be my den. Note to self: if you ever need an out-of-the-way place to rest, remember this spot.

And we found a fun key hanging from a tree, adding icing to our funky Mondate.

Giving Thanks Mondate

Today’s adventure found us exploring another “new-to-us” trail system, this one located beside the Swift River in Albany, New Hampshire.

The Albany Town Forest is protected with a conservation easement by Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. It seemed apropos that we should choose such a trail for today marked the last day with the land trust for their Outreach and Office Manager, Trisha Beringer. Trish is moving on to new horizons, for which I commend her, but at the same time, I’ll miss bouncing collaborative ideas off of her, searching for anacondas as we paddle local rivers, and giggling till we almost wet our pants as we try to strap kayaks onto our vehicles. (Wait, what? An anaconda? In Maine or New Hampshire? Well, when you’re out in the wilds with Trish, you never know what to expect. We did once encounter three otters.)

The route my guy and I chose for the day was posted at the kiosk located on the Kancamagus Highway, aka the Kanc. Our plan: follow the outermost trails in a counterclockwise pattern–just cuze we felt like going against the grain.

But first, there were other things to appreciate including a tiny beetle on the wood of the kiosk. It looked like a shield bug, but was ladybug in size and had an interesting blue coloration. If you look to the insect’s right, you may note more of the blue hue. I suspect this curious insect somehow met a bit of chalk or paint.

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A few more feet and we found apples decorating the forest floor. Though some had nibble marks, these appeared untouched. Perhaps the critters kept them in cold storage with thoughts that on Thursday they’ll make a delightful addition to a turkey dinner.

A small bird nest also decorated the forest floor, though we suspected it had fallen from the limbs above.

It seemed ornaments were everywhere and we found this Polyphemus Moth Cocoon dangling from a shrub’s branch. This is a member of the giant silk moth family who draw their collective name from the fine silk they use to spin their cocoons. The cocoons serve as protection for the pupal stage in their life cycle. I don’t know about you, but every little thing in nature astonishes me. How do all Polyphemus moths know to spin this shape?

Maybe the wise old chipmunk knows for he seems to be the keeper of the forest this year. And there are plenty of acorns on the ground to add to his pantry.

Through the forest we walked, enjoying the grade of the trail and feel of the place.

And then the community changed and we found ourselves moving beside bent over coneflowers, gum-drop shaped in their winter form. And do you see the baseline for a spider’s web?

Next door was a goldenrod bunch gall created by a midge. Looking like a mass of tiny leaves, it’s also known as a rosette gall for the shape at the top of the stem. In both cases, it’s amazing that insects can change a plant’s growth pattern so dramatically.

As the natural community changed, so did the material world and suddenly we heard the buzz and saw a jet zoom by.

We were fooled momentarily for it circled round and round, came in low for an almost landing as we approached and then took off again. We’d stumbled upon the site of the Mount Washington Valley Radio Control Club.

Airplanes and helicopters weren’t the only ones waiting to lift off into flight. Part of the field was filled milkweed pods, their parachute-equipped seeds waiting for the control tower to give the signal so they could fly.

And where there are milkweed pods, there are also milkweed flowers in their winter form, for such did the structures look with petals of five or six creating the display.

The Davis Farm trail passed by the milkweeds and cut through the fields and I had visions not only of my guy in front of me, but of summer visitors. I’m thinking butterflies, dragonflies, pollinators, oh my.

For now, the fields are dormant, save for a few lone pumpkins adding to the autumn landscape.

And the Moat Mountains providing the backdrop.

By the far edge of the field, hardly cuddly thistles added more texture to the scene.

Staghorn Sumac’s offering was its raspberry color.

At the edge of the field we reached the Swift River and train trestle that crosses it as memories of rides on the Valley Train of the Conway Scenic Railroad when our “boys” were young flashed through our shared memory.

Meeting the river meant that our journey along the Davis Farm Trail had morphed into a western path beside the river and we welcomed its voice as it moved slowly at first over the river rocks.

We did discover one patch of berries that had we not known better, we would have rejoiced over the color for it reminded us of the “white” pumpkins that decorate the season. But . . . we knew better and stayed on the trail in order to avoid Poison Ivy. Yes, it is native. But equally yes, it is a nuisance. Especially if you are allergic.

The trail was shaded beside the river and therefore more snow/ice cover had resulted from a slushy weather event yesterday, but that didn’t stop my guy. You see, I had introduced him to Geocaching.com and my guy loves a challenge.

He found the first and read off the trail names of previous discoverers.

I’ll give you a hint other than the one on the site: look for the Grape Fern. 😉

A wee bit further we came upon a couple of granite blocks and wondered where they’d come from and how they’d ended up in this spot.

Following the compass, we eventually made our second geocache find–this one to my credit. It was enough–my guy is hooked and I see geocaching adventures in our future.

If you can’t locate the second site, ask this chipmunk. We saw no squirrels as has been our experience this year (but do expect a payload amount of squirrels next year in response to this year’s acorn and beech nut mast), but the chipmunks dart across trails and roads on frantic missions as they prepare for the coming season.

My guy wasn’t on his own frantic mission for a change and paused beside this burl to point it out to me. That being said, I did chuckle as he moved on while I paused to admire it. Those folds. And curves. Inlets and outlets. It was like arms, long arms, that circled around and over. All because the tree’s growth hormones were disrupted when its metabolism was hijacked by some other organism, be it a virus, fungus, or bacterium.

Our time beside Swift River began to draw to a close as the sun started to set behind the mountains.

We were almost done with the hike when we noticed deer tracks–indicting they’d travelled to and fro with the river as a main point of their destination.

An individual deer print is heart shaped and such described our journey on several levels–as I continued to appreciate Trisha of Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, and also my guy who has put up with me for over three decades.

On this November day, I gave thanks . . . for this day, for these two people, and for all who have traveled this journey with me.

Blessed be.