Poking About Among the Trees

My intention this morning was to meet up with a few old friends, namely a porcupine and a beaver family. Added into the mix with any luck would be a barred owl.

But alas, it was not to be as I wandered on and off trail through the northeast corner of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

Instead, it was those who seemed inanimate that came to life repeatedly.

Right from the start the trees pulled me in for I needed to, well, it wasn’t exactly a need, but still, I needed to check on the swelling red buds of a basswood that grows near the edge of the parking area.

And I could hardly pay homage to one and ignore its neighbor, and so I moved a few feet to enjoy the glory of a beaked hazelnut catkin and bud as they began the countdown toward spring.

Climbing the Flat Hill trail, an old tree grinch tried to sneer, but I noticed a tweak of a smile and knew he was glad to have me there.

He must have been for he made sure that I saw . . . such things as a beech leaf layered upon an oak atop the snow–mirroring the skyspace above.

And speaking of beech, I noticed one spiky husk, which actually surprised me with its presence for so few were the beech seeds this past summer.

The same was true of acorns and without a mast production, the squirrel middens were rather sparse in the landscape, but I did find two, both a couple of feet deep. But there’s something else to note–the trickle of yellow pee by the pine needles to the upper left of the hole. By its skunky scent, I knew that while the squirrel sought sustenance in the form of an acorn, a red fox hoped to dine on the rodent. The latter meal didn’t happen anywhere nearby, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur.

With lots of meandering on the way up, I finally reached the summit of Flat Hill, where the mountains beyond hinted at today’s snow flurries and this weekend’s impending storm. But it wasn’t to the mountains that I spent much time focusing. Instead, I scanned all the trees around–hoping for the sight of another spiky one–a prickly porcupine.

I suspected that I wasn’t alone in my search for just below the summit ledge, I spotted a bobcat track.

The evidence of the porcupine’s presence was everywhere as it had left its mark on so many trees where it scraped the outer bark to reach the softer inner tissue.

Shallow and narrow tooth marks were all that remained. I love bear trees, but porcupine trees rank right up there.

And the same is true for pileated woodpecker trees, which are easy to sight not only by their oblong holes, but the woody debris below them as well.

Who can resist searching the debris for scat? I know I can’t. What I found today was an exploded version with ant body parts spewed about in such an array that I almost wanted to glue them back together. Almost.

My wander continued as I walked a portion of Perky’s Path where the wetland mounds were so littered with snow drops that it was impossible to decipher any mammal tracks. I did make my way to the old beaver lodge in the center of the photo, the mound standing tallest toward the background, but the sight and sound of water meant caution was necessary.

The same was true at the rock stepping stones to the south of the wetland and though I have an affinity for water, I chose not to cross for a chilly bath wasn’t in my plans.

Instead, I backtracked and then followed the snowmobile trail for a bit until I reached the outlet of the old beaver pond.

It was there that I turned off trail and followed the stream through the woods.

Water gurgled below its frozen form and ice bridges offered crossings for those who dared. I did not.

My purpose was to check on another lodge that had been quite active a year ago. Today, I was surprised to find no one at home in the stick-built inn.

Beyond, the dam stood high, but the water behind it was low–another indicator that the beavers had moved on by their own doing. At least I hoped it was their own doing.

Evidence of their previous works was apparent all along the brook, where many a tree had been logged by the rodents, including this yellow birch.

Though that birch and others had been toppled, upon the snow old catkins, their fleur de lis scales grown large, added texture to the scenery and seeds to the future.

Finally, I made my way out and smiled at the smiles in the ice and water that mimicked my own. Today, my heart rejoiced with the affirmation this morning that my friend, Jinny Mae, had received good news about her health. She is one of my pokey hiking friends and I tried to emulate her as I celebrated. From Jinny Mae I’ve learned to do what Mary Oliver recommended in “Sometimes”:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

And so it was that as I paid attention just before leaving, I was astonished–by the tree I saw in the ice. I knew Jinny Mae, had she been beside me, would have taken the same photograph, for that’s what we often do when we’re together.

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

~Mary Oliver

Today, I stayed awhile, poking about among the trees that shined in honor of these two women who have shared the gift of bowing often.

Celebrating First Day 2018 Lovell-Style

In the name of tradition, today the Greater Lovell Land Trust hosted a hike up Whiting Hill at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve to welcome the new year. Last year’s inaugural hike attracted eight of us and the temp was so comfortable that we began to shed layers as we climbed. This year, six of us made the trek and conditions were a bit on the cool side–um, that would be an understatement.

f-Heald Pond dam

But . . . the crisp air enhanced the beauty all around us and we began with a brief stop to appreciate the dam. What we didn’t realize until a minute later was that we’d also startled some wood ducks who immediately flew off.

f-snowshoe journey up Whiting Hill Trail

Though our group was small, old friendships were renewed and new ones formed as we shared the trail.

f-otter trough 2

Periodically, we stopped to admire others who had carved their own trails. We read the stories of many mouse journeys, a fisher chasing a red fox, red and gray squirrel adventures and these–an otter bounding through the landscape.

f-otter trough 1

Otter troughs are about 6-10 inches wide, this one being the larger size. And in what can seem like two by two format, their front feet touch down as back feet rise, coming forward to land where the front feet had been just moments ago for they are bounders. Occasionally, this fun-loving critter chose to slide down on its belly.

f-summit achievement

By the time we reached the summit sign and turned right, we weren’t sure what to expect. Would it be so cold that we’d take a quick peek at the view and retreat? Would we be able to toast Lovell as planned?

f-who said it was cold?

As it turned out, a few in our group found their hands getting too warm, so welcomed a chance for a mitten break.

f-sit a minute

Others sat for a moment on the bench and left behind impressions.

f-hot water carafe

One of our docents had made pumpkin bread to enhance our toast and we brought a carafe full of hot water for cocoa or tea.

f-Heinrich filling cup

The water was very hot indeed and warmed us right up.

f-enjoying the summit and each other

And so it was with big grins that we shared camaraderie at the summit, enjoyed the view and noted the fact that it wasn’t too windy and the cold air was tolerable.

f-red fox print and pee

When we did finally pack up to make our descent, we snowshoed first over to the bench on the Heald Pond side of the summit, where last year we found a sacrificial squirrel upon the altar. Prints left behind indicated a fox had dined there. Of course, a few of us got excited about the kill site and perhaps scared others away from joining us again this year. But . . . we just like to know what the mammals have eaten.

Today, an offering of another kind at the same bench. We found more fox prints all around it and as is typical on a raised object, a hint of pee–its skunky scent indicating it was a red fox. (Yes, I sniffed the pee. By the way, deer pee smells rather piney–just saying.)

f-deer trail

On the way down, more fox and mouse prints everywhere we looked, some old, others fresh. But also, deer tracks a few days old and filled with beech leaves that had recently blown down. It was much colder on our descent given that we were on the eastern side of the mountain and for the most part out of the sun.

f-John Fox Homestead

But that didn’t stop us from making a quick trip to Otter Rocks where two members of our party told us they had the great joy of watching a couple of otters frolic last summer.

f-dragonfly exuvia, lichen and ice:snow on otter rock

We stepped onto the ice and looked back at the large, erratic boulder that marks the point, and reveled in the sight of lichens, dragonfly exuviae and ice displayed.

f-dragonfly exuvia 2

We always check the area for dragonfly exoskeletons but now that the ice has frozen, we can visit the rock’s backside for a change. A few remain, and it was easy to see the hole from which the dragonfly had cast off its external covering during last spring/summer’s moult.

f-Toasting Lovell

The temperature dropped drastically by Heald Pond and wind picked up, so we soon made our departure and headed back to the parking lot.

We were, however, tickled with the knowledge that we’d taken the opportunity to hike on this First Day of 2018. And while at the summit of Whiting Hill, on the count of three, we’d shouted Happy New Year to  Lovell, Stoneham, Stow and Sweden. Did you hear us?

Pay Homage at Otter Rock

This holiday season, why not take a short hike and smell the roses along the way?


Or at least admire the milkweed plants that grow in the field across from the boat launch. I did just before I walked the blue/red trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve this morning. It wasn’t a long walk, but worth every moment. And I encourage you to do the same, whether here or somewhere else.


Listen to the water flow over the dam.


Notice the greenery across the mill pond.


Follow the path sprinkled with snow.


Rejoice in the ice shapes atop various leaves.


Check out the Pileated Woodpecker works in dead snags.


Let the Beech leaves brighten your day.


Distinguish between the hues of Beech and Witch Hazel.


Greet four amigos–Paper, Yellow and Gray Birch, with the trickster Cherry posing as a Black Birch.


Applaud the maroon-fringed Grape Ferns at your feet.


Follow the directions found on the sign.


Rejoice in late blooming fungi like these Bleeding Mycenas (Mycena haematopus).


Wonder at the various lichens that adorn the trees.


Get up close and personal with a few, including the Bristly Beard.


Laud the reflections of water not yet frozen.


Praise the warm color of Royal Ferns gone by.


Revere dragonfly and damselfly exoskeletons that still cling.


Take in the view–ice and water and the old John Fox place–a testimony of yesterday, today and a glimpse toward tomorrow.

To Otter Rock–whether it takes you twenty minutes or three hours, make time in this busy season to pay homage.

Same Old is New

Same old, same old. Sometimes it feels that way as we travel familiar trails and recognize members of the community. And so it seemed today.

a-fdn 1

We paused to check on a few neighbors along the Homestead Trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve, but no one was home.


And so we decided to climb to the summit of Amos Mountain.

Along the way, I realized we weren’t the only ones exploring this property–several times we saw where a mink had bounded across, even enjoying a short downward slide in the midst of its journey.

a-summit view

From the summit, Kezar Lake stretched before us as we ate our PB&J sandwiches and Girl Scout cookies–Lemonades™.

a-whiting to pleasant

And another view, Whiting Hill in the center foreground and a peek at our beloved Pleasant Mountain, visible just to left of the center pines.

a-stonewalls 1

On the way down we decided to explore the stonewalls for a bit, at times terraced and following the contour of the mountain.

a-bear 3

And that’s when the same old started to change. Yes, we found another bear tree.

a-bear 4

And on what side of the tree should we find the claw scars? Why the north of course, adding to our unscientific theory that bears climb trees on this side. Typically, the northern side is the uphill side. Our mission is to continue to pay attention to this–tough job that we choose to accept.

a-stonewalls 4

Sometimes the walls appeared to enclose pens.

a-stonewalls 6

And other times they opened–perhaps to pastures?

a-northern white cedar

As we wandered and wondered about the walls the farmer had created and why, we noticed other things we’ve somehow missed upon previous visits, including this northern white cedar tree.

a-stonewall fdn

In what today appears to be the middle of nowhere, a small foundation. House? Shed? Sugar shack?

a-red-belted polypore

We climbed a hill to see what was on the other side and found this red-belted polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola) growing on an Eastern white pine. In Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England, he says this is “apparently not a picky fungus. F. pinicola has been recorded on more than 100 different species of tree hosts.”

a-stonewall last

The snow had softened since we first started so we did some slipping and sliding as we followed another stonewall back to the trail.

a-3 birch

And then my brain kicked into birch tree mode. These woods are filled with paper, gray and yellow birch. And next week, the GLLT will host a “Which Birch Is It?” walk about the birches and their relatives.

a-yellow bark

The ribbony curls and whorls of yellow birch bark are signatures of this tree that can change in color from silver to yellow to reddish brown and circle back to silver again in old age. Did you know that a yellow birch can live to 200 hundred years, unlike its cousins, the gray birch and paper birch? Gray birch live about fifty years and paper reach a ripe old age of somewhere between 50 and 150 years.

a-yellow 4

Another cool fact about yellow birches: the interior of dead branches begin to decay quickly, even while still on the tree; eventually reduced to mush, the trees rid themselves of these non-productive limbs quite easily with the help of wind. Look for tubes of outer bark  filled with rotting wood on the ground.

a-birch stitch

Also becoming visible as the snow melts, paper birch bark from downed trees. It seems curious that the lenticels resemble stitches, especially considering that Native American’s built sturdy, lightweight canoes from birch bark; the bark was stretched over a framework of white cedar, stitched together and sealed with pine or balsam resin. All the components exist in these woods.

a-tripe 1

Back on the trail, a few other things revealed themselves, including smooth rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata). No matter how many times I see this, it’s never the same old.

a-tripe 4

In great contrast to the smooth upper surface is the coarse pitch black of the underside reminding me of fresh tar–kind of like what town crews are using to fill pot holes right now.

a-tripe 3

The greenness of the upper side was witness to the melting snow.


Similarly, lungwort displayed its dryer gray presentation because it lacked moisture.

a-heading out

As we continued down the Gallie Trail, bypassing the Homestead, it seemed that we were back in the land of the sameness.

a-speckled catkins 2

But . . . speckled alder, a member of the birch family, is about to come into its own. While the burgundy brown male catkins hang from the ends of twigs, smaller female catkins await the release of pollen.

a-speckled leaf

Speckled alders are pioneer species–that first step in natural transition of farm land or logged land back to forest. In this instance, it’s both of the former.

And that’s not its only claim to fame. Speckled alders are nitrogen fixers. Atmospheric nitrogen absorbed by bacteria live in nodules on the alder roots and change into a form of nitrogen plants can utilize as fertilizer, thus fertilizing fields that may have been depleted of nitrogen by years of farming. Its leaves are also rich in nitrogen, so when they fall they help to fertilize soil. For some reason, this one chose to hang on, but its moment will come. In the meantime, it offers grace in form and design.

a-gumdrop 2

Equally graceful, the hairy bracts and seed head of Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) found near the parking lot.

It’s all always been here. It’s all the same, day in and day out and yet it’s all new. Change is the only constant–offering moments of wonder.