Whispers Along the Trail

“The way to be heard isn’t to shout,” said the Reverend Dr. Sam Wells of St. Martins in the Fields, London. “It’s to whisper.” But who are the whisperers?

Listen for the slightest murmur of Trailing Arbutus’s delicate blossoms beneath its leathery leaves.

Hear also the soft words of a rattlesnake-plantain explaining that its striking veins may suggest “checkered,” but it actually goes by “downy” in common speak.

Take notice of an old beaver wound upon a hemlock healed in such a way that it could be a snake embracing the trunk.

Be attentive to hobblebush no matter how much it makes you hobble for it always has more to offer including corrugated leaves unfurling and a flowerhead silently forming.

Give audience to Rhodora’s woody structure of last year before her magenta flowers soon distract.

Concentrate on the red back of the Red-backed Salamander before it goes back into hiding beneath a flipped log.

Heed the ruby red lips and hairy lining of a Pitcher Plant’s leaves as they invite all to enter . . . and never leave.

Pay attention to the male Hairy Woodpecker who speaks in hushed pecks as two females squabble for his attention.

Give ear to otter scat full of scales that mutter the name of its last meal.

Tune in to the secret hieroglyphic message a beaver leaves in chew sticks left behind.

Remember to keep your voice low as you spy the first crosiers of those most sensitive.

Walk in silence through the forest and wetlands while listening intently to all who whisper along the trail. May their hushed voices shout from every corner and uplift your spirits now and forever.

Spring Awakening

The note on the counter listed two destinations as I had no idea where I wanted to wander today and had mulled several places over in my mind. I like to let my guy know where I’m headed, or at least where I might be headed. The final decision, however, was made by my truck for it wasn’t until I was several miles beyond the first possibility when I realized I’d missed the turn. OK, so maybe the truck didn’t decide, but still . . . I surprised myself.

When I arrived, I began to drive in on the muddy part of the road first, but then I saw the icy section, and decided that rather than get stuck, I’d back out and find a different place to park. My next choice was what to wear on my feet. I’d already donned my Muck boots, which almost reach my knees, but decided to not wear snowshoes or Micro-spikes. In hindsight, either would have been helpful at times, but I think I made the right decision and if you read on, I think you’ll agree.

The road way in might seem long to some if you have to walk its length, but it gave me an opportunity to slip into the place and notice . . . things like vireo bird nests below eye-level given the snowpack. It was a rather holey nest, but still its structure was one to behold.

And then there was the ever present big-toothed hemlock to consider 😉 A rare species that grows only in these woods.

At last I reached the bog of my dreams and took in the expansive view from sky to mountains to trees and shrubs and ice and snow.

In the beyond stood Mount Washington.

And closer by was the southwestern side of Pleasant Mountain.

But . . . it was the little things that I’d ventured in to see, occasionally post-holing up to mid-thigh when I paused to focus on something such as a stonefly. It was a stonefly haven, so many did I spy.

Spiders were also out to enjoy this fine day.

And then I saw a piece of dried bark dangling from a stick in the snow. It fooled me momentarily.

But then it began to maneuver along its silky thread and I realized I was in the presence of another spider, an orbweaver.

A little further along, the melt down was officially underway. Not only by the sight of water, but in its still form I recognized the musty, muddy smell. New Haven Harbor at low tide came instantly to mind.

And roaming about in and out of the water was an American Robin. I used to think these birds were harbingers of spring, but all winter I’ve spied them in various places. This one cuck, cucked as it moved, and poked and sipped. Eventually, another responded.

My main route, which I chose to stay upon because of my footwear, began to give way as the bog water flowed over the cobbled stones.

And I gave thanks for my choice of footwear.

For a while I managed to cross the wet spots determined to see what other harbingers of spring might speak to me. While admiring some pussy willows, I heard the whispering sound of Wood Ducks and several times startled them so they took to the air as is their nervous habit.

I continued on, passing through more water until I almost reached what I call beaver bridge for the rodents love to make a dam below it. At that point the water was too high and I decided to apply some common sense and turn around. As I walked back I spied a couple of Black Ducks who were equally quick to take flight. And then I heard one of my favorite spring sounds–the check, check, check call of Red-winged Blackbirds. A few flew past and landed in treetops, all the while communicating with each other.

The final sound was that of a male Hairy Woodpecker. He seemed to drum and then listen, and spent time staying in one area where he visited several dead snags while I looked on, my presence not seeming to matter.

Was he listening for a response, I wondered.

It was on the walk back that I spied another shrub worth worshipping, Wild Raisin or Witherod, as it is known. Its fruits had been consumed but its buds were growing in expectation.

And suddenly I realized . . . so was I. I do LOVE winter, but really, I appreciate all of our seasons and can’t imagine living in a place where I can’t experience each in its own right and the change from one to another. Today, the color of the ice, a pastel blue, gave me pause and as much as I wanted to walk out onto Brownfield Bog, I knew better.

Spring awakens slowly in western Maine where a blanket of snow still covers the earth. That’s okay by me. It’s worth the wait and gives us the opportunity to treasure each revelation.

Halting Beside Holt Pond

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

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

h-pitcher  flower up close

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

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

h-Muddy across

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

h-speckled bug and speckles

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

h-speckled alder catkins

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

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

h-speckled old cones

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

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

h-cotton grass

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

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

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

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

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

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The view toward Five Fields Farm was equally appealing.

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

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

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

h-green frog

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

h-hobblebush berries

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

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

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chicken of the woods fungi grew on a tree trunk;

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and a chipmunk paused on alert.

h-American Woodcock

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

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