What the Tree Spirit Knows

As I drove to Lovell this morning to take a photo for the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s winter newsletter, the crisp outline of a snow-covered Mount Washington made me realize that I had a short, unintended hike in my immediate future.

1a-Flat Hill view

Yesterday, I’d climbed the Flat Hill Trail at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve to take another photo for the newsletter–that one of the view from the summit of snow falling in the White Mountains. This past summer, staff and volunteers of the land trust had made some trail changes and opened several views, the one from Flat Hill being the most dramatic and the foliage, snow and sky enhanced the opening. But . . . today’s view was different and I knew I needed to capture it again.

Page 3 a

So . . . after a staff photo shoot at the Kezar River Reserve of Stewardship Associate Dakota, Associate Director Aidan, and Office Manager Alice, I headed north.

1-voss sign

And laughed at myself for yesterday I never noticed the yellow Voss blazes that had been mounted to mark the trail. The hope is that eventually all the trails will be signed with different colored diamonds that will ease navigation.

2-big tooth aspen

It’s a trail I know well, even with a new backwards S curve about two thirds of the way up that erased a steep and slippery portion and so instead I focused on those sights at my feet. While many leaves had already begun the long process of decomposition as they slowly break down and give nutrients back to the earth from which their trees grew, a few still sparkled like gems, including this Big-Tooth Aspen, aka poplar.

3-sugar maple

I was thrilled to discover Sugar Maple, defined by the U shape between its pointed lobes;

4-red maple

its V between lobes and toothier cousin, Red Maple;

5-striped maple

and even toothier kin, Striped Maple, known ’round these parts a goosefoot because its shape is similar. Some of us also refer to it as nature’s toilet paper for it’s large, soft, and easy to identify. You wouldn’t think of confusing it with poison ivy.

The curious thing about the Maple family, like all families in our northern New England forests, is that while the shape and color of the leaf helps us specify the family origins, each leaf within the family is different–whether in color or flaws or insect bites or galls. But despite their differences, they are all family.

6-large red oak

With the Striped Maple, I thought I’d found the largest species of the day, but a few more steps toward the summit revealed a rather large Northern Red Oak leaf.

7-even larger basswood leaf

And then the biggest of all–Basswood. My hiking boots are size 8. And the leaf–also a size 8, with an asymmetrical base. That must prove a challenge when trying to find the right fit.

13-polypody ferns

Focusing on the leaves took my mind off the climb and within no time I’d reached the summit where Polypody ferns in their evergreen form decorated the northwestern corner of an otherwise bald rock.

14-red maple flower and leaf buds awaiting
From the ferns where I’d planted my feet, I looked skyward and noticed the leaf and flower buds of a Red Maple, all tucked inside their waxy scales. It was the right place to be for as the north wind blew and my cheeks turned rosy red, I looked to the west.

9-Baldfaces to Carter Dome

Yesterday’s view had been transformed. No longer was it snowing from the Baldfaces to Carter Dome, with Mount Washington the whitest of all, posing between them. But still, it was chilly.

10-telescoping in on Mount Washington

A slight push on the camera lever and I pulled the scene a wee bit closer.

16-Perky's Path

At last I pulled myself away and hiked down, but so delightful was the morning, that I knew my newsletter work would have to wait a few more minutes at the intersection with Perky’s Path, for I felt the calling.

17-wetland--old beaver pond

It’s a wetland I visit frequently and once upon a time about five years ago it was filled to the brim with water because beavers had dammed it for their convenience.

18-suds reflect leaf

The only water today was found in a small stream that flowed through, its origin at Bradley Pond and terminus at Heald Pond. I stopped at the rock stepping path to admire what the water had to offer, including suds forming their own rachis or mid-vein from which side veins extended, a sideways rendition for the birch leaf caught between twigs.

19-view from the rock

In the middle of the stepping stones is a large flat rock. It was there that I settled in for a while, enjoying the feel of its sun-absorbed heat and the sound and views offered as the brook flowed slowly forth.

21-view from the bench

At last I pulled myself away and continued toward the bench that overlooked the wetland. All was quiet on this brisk day, but its a place of life and love and change.

22-back to the wetland

From there I continued to circle the old beaver pond to the point where I knew it had formerly been dammed. Climbing over and around moss-covered rocks, and into former stream beds, I made my way to the edge of what I used to call an infinity pool for the water was once at the dam’s upper level.

23-view from the beaver dam

Once I reached the dam, making my way one step at a time, for it was rather tricky footing at times, I discovered life on the other side. For all the years I’ve been involved with the land trust, I’d never seen this edge from this view. My surprise included the almost bald rocks.

25-coyote scat full of bones

Stepping from boulder to boulder, I made my way into the wetland a wee bit, but along the way realized someone had visited prior to me. Actually probably almost a year prior given the conditions of the scat left behind. Based on its shape, size, and inclusion of multiple bones plus lots of hair, I suspected a coyote had feed on a hare.

26-spider view

The coyote and I weren’t the only ones who knew of this secret place. A wolf spider darted in and out among the leaves, more afraid of me than I was of it.


And then I discovered something that perhaps they both already knew: the water supported a small colony of Spatterdock, a plant that will need to be added to the list of flora for this property. Do you see the ice on the Micky Mouse ear leaves?


Ice had also formed around a fallen log, its swirls portraying a high-heeled boot that certainly might be appropriate in an ice sculpture but not on ice.

28-tree spirit

All of what I saw the tree spirit already knew. And yet, it allowed me to make discoveries from my feet to the sky.

29-Mount Washington summit

And every layer between. I know he’s not there anymore, but can’t you imagine Marty Engstrom on top of Mount Washington?


Spring Erupts–Sort of

Two days ago the thermometer climbed to 68˚ and old records were broken. But then, as it does in New England, we had a low of 15˚ this morning. And now it is sleeting.

w-beech snag in complete decay

Before the sleet began, however, I decided to do a loop hike at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve, beginning from the Gallie Trail and climbing up the Hemlock Trail to the summit of Whiting Hill, with a return via the Red Trail back to the Gallie. It’s a perennial favorite that always has some different things to offer, including the skeletal remains of a beech snag. I think what intrigued me most, besides the pileated woodpecker holes, were the lines of the wood, curved in nature.

w-Lactarius deterrimus (orange latex milk cap)?

Similarly curved were the gills of a decaying Orange Latex Milk Cap (Lactarius deterrimus)–at least that’s what I think it was–found beneath a hemlock.

w-bear 1

Part of my love for the Hemlock Trail can be found among the beech trees that also grow there and it is my habit to admire the lines that decorate them as well.

w-bear 2

No matter how many times I visit, I’m filled with awe.

w-bear 3

And wonder.

w-bear 4

For the black bears that left their signatures behind.

w-paper birch bark 2

Other trees also gave me pause, for though some know them as white, I prefer to call them paper birch. The curled-back bark offered hues of a different color reminiscent of a sunrise in the midst of a graying day. As my mother was fond of saying, “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” Today was a day to heed said warning.

w-paper birch bark 1

Others bespoke a setting sun.

w-paper birch bark--stitchwork

And not to go unnoticed, more bark from another paper birch that had fallen to the ground. It too, offered subtle pink hues, but it was the stitchery created by former lenticels (the tree’s pores) that drew my eye. They reminded me of a million zippers waiting to reveal hidden secrets.

w-yellow birch bark

And then there was the yellow birch–with its ribbony bark shedding its own light on the world.


Around the base of some trees, the snow had melted and wintergreen plants showed off their transitional colors–winter magenta giving way to summer green.

w-bench over Heald Pond

At last I reached the summit and headed to the east side first, where Heald Pond was visible through the bare trees.

w-Mollisia cinerea--gray cap?

Nearby, still another tree invited a closer look. I love the bark of hophornbeams, but this one sported a growth I wasn’t familiar with until I checked Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England upon my return home. In the world of mushrooms my knowledge is enough to be dangerous, but I trust my fungi friends will weigh in if I’m wrong on the ID. I’m going out on a limb and calling this one Gray Cup (Mollisia cinerea), for it seemed to match Millman’s description: “With luck, you might find several hundred of these stalkless ascos . . . each fruiting body will be more or less cup or saucer-shaped, but wavy or irregular in age.” And he describes their habitat as scattered or densely crowded under hardwood logs. Well, these weren’t under a log, so that made me question my ID, but they certainly seemed to match the rest of the description and hophornbeam is among the hardest of the hardwoods.


Below another hornbeam I found the ground scattered with little fruits.

w-hophornbeam hops

The common name for the tree derived from those fruits, which when attached to their twig (the arrow points to such) are so arranged that they look like hops. As they fall, each little bladder that contains a single seed separates from the group in hopes of finding the right spot to grow into the future.

w-vole tunnels

As I moved toward the western outlook, half tunnels in the snow let me know that the vole community had been active. It probably still is . . . maybe.

w-Whiting Hill view toward Kearsarge

And then, the view to the west, which encompasses Kezar Lake, Mount Kearsarge and the Whites. The scene changed a bit last October when a windstorm just before Halloween toppled a dead white pine . . . and the cairn that marked the summit.

w-asters in snow

While there, I looked around for evidence of the wild columbine that will bloom in a few months, but found only asters hugging the snow.

I stayed for a few minutes, but the wind had picked up and so I finally turned to head back down.

w-white pine blue sap

For a short link, I followed the same path until I turned right onto the Red Trail. Just prior to that I realized I’d missed a sight on my way up–the blue sap that bled from a white pine. I’ve seen it often over my years of noticing, but have no idea why the color blue, which was really almost periwinkle. In this case, the sap flowed because a pileated woodpecker had been hard at work.

w-pileated scat

And that meant I had to look–and wasn’t disappointed. Woodpecker scat. It was so well packed, that I pulled out my hand lens and got down on my knees for a closer examination. I practically kissed it but can say for certain that insect parts were layered within.


A few minutes later, the trail split and as I said earlier, I followed the Red Trail to descend. I had only gone a wee bit when I heard a barred owl call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It was noon, after all, so it seemed totally appropriate. The call came from somewhere near the summit and I had to wonder if I’d made the mistake of not looking up quite enough, so taken was I with the hops and the view to the west. Perhaps that vole had provided a meal. And then I heard a response somewhere quite possibly along the Hemlock Trail by which I’d ascended. For about five minutes they called back and forth and I thought of the irony, for months ago I’d scheduled an Owl Prowl for this evening, but had cancelled it this morning due to the weather forecast. That decision was the right one, but perhaps the prowl should have been scheduled for an earlier time. No matter–what’s not to love about hearing an owl hoot at any time of day or night? Especially if one happens to be standing near a tree sporting a heart.

w-lunch bench

Continuing down, another critter made me scan the forest constantly for I saw bobcat tracks and smelled a musky cat odor that I’ve previously associated with this trail. But . . . all I saw were gray and red squirrels scampering from tree to tree and signs of lunch consumed on benches.


At the bottom, I switched back and forth between the Gallie and Homestead Trails. It was along the Homestead that another sign of spring’s advent being around the corner showed its face as a chipmunk darted in and out of a hole in a stonewall and watched me from the safety of a fallen tree.

w-foundation filled with chunks of ice

Because I was there, I decided to pay a visit to the McAllister family spirits and told them of my great finds. Of course, what I shared was nothing new to them for they’ve been keeping an eye and ear on this property since the mid 1800s.

w-foundation 2

I also let them know that I was impressed they’d stacked up on ice blocks in the root cellar–certainly their produce had remained fresh throughout the season.

w-spring 1

I was almost back to my truck when I detoured by a certain yellow birch. All along I’d been walking on tracks others had made, so packed was the snow. And even when I went off trail, which was frequently, I didn’t sink. But . . . up to my knees I went as I approached my final destination–the light colored sand in the middle of  the water.

w-spring 2

It was well worth the wee challenge to get to it for the action of bubbles and sand flowing like lava was ever mesmerizing. At last I’d reached a spring that erupts in all seasons.






Into the future

Turning the clock back two months, I can recall my slight apprehension about working with three interns at the Greater Lovell Land Trust this summer. Hannah I knew and loved from our time together last year, but the other two were complete unknowns. Not only that, but in the past we’ve always had two interns, so what would it mean to throw a third into the mix?


And then I met them and our first hike was a bug-ridden adventure to Otter Rock at Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve on the evening of the summer solstice. To say the mosquitoes were intense that night would be an understatement, but Dakota, Kelley and Hannah didn’t complain.


In fact, their broad smiles that would accompany them throughout our time together broadcasted their strength as individuals and a combined force. And I knew all would be well.


Each week they joined us for the Tuesday Tramps the GLLT docents take on the properties to learn from each other. And occasionally they had an opportunity to show us the efforts of their hard work, for they built solid benches and platforms, cleared trails, and even built water bars to prevent erosion. They learned about land conservation and spent hours developing an understanding of the inner workings of a land trust.


On Tuesday Tramps the main focus was to develop a better understanding of species that call this place home–both flora and fauna–and all of us shared knowledge and asked questions as we poked along.


At our annual docent training, the interns jumped right into the flower ID workshop,


and worked on their new skills . . .


while studying details.


Their skills grew, but one was especially evident for wherever we went, they found the blueberries first.


They also helped us with the Lovell Rec Summer Camp Nature Program we provided each week. This was our third summer offering said program, and based on last year’s numbers we’d split the group in two–divided mainly by younger and older kids, with a few overlaps due to interest levels. As it turned out, the Rec Program numbers doubled in size. Because I knew she has a talent for working with young children, Hannah became the mainstay of the younger group, while Dakota and Kelley took on the task of leading the older kids who wanted “less talk, more walk.” Speed hikes were the name of their game.

i-interns at annual meeting

Somehow, the summer passed by much too quickly and though it isn’t over yet, suddenly it dawned on this week and it was their turn to be the featured speakers at our Wednesday night program and then to say something brief at this morning’s Annual Meeting. The triplets, as I fondly referred to them for they had formed a bond that I hope will last a lifetime, had to face the crowd. Wednesday night wasn’t so bad for they had a developed a slideshow and had fun recalling the various aspects of their summer job in front of a friendly crowd, most of whom they knew. But this morning the crowd reached 105. As they stood there, they looked like they were jail mates, but with steady voices they shared pieces of their combined experience.

i-Kelley 2

The moment to shine, however, wasn’t over. This afternoon, they led about twelve people on a walk along the Homestead Trail at Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve. It’s a trail they knew well, but still they wowed us with their knowledge . . . of ferns,

i-Hannah at plantain

rattlesnake plantain, and

i-Dakota 2

even the forested landscape.

i-Kelley and Dakota up close

They looked for the tiniest of details,

i-Dakota, number on scythe

and took pleasure in recognizing old tools long ago left behind.

i-caesar explanation

With her hands, Hannah explained how when a Caesar’s mushroom expands, its universal veil is broken and the bottom of the veil forms a cup-shaped volva.

i-caesar 2

Then she pointed to one nearby that was a couple of days old and all wondered about the variation in shape.

i-Dakota explains foundations

It was our immense pleasure to travel the trail with them this afternoon and be in awe by all that they had learned and could share. One of the fascinating things for me was to hear their hypotheses, for there isn’t an answer to everything we see, but they asked questions and considered various answers.


I know I wasn’t alone in the fact that I didn’t want today’s walk to end, for that meant this team of three would head off toward their next adventures.

Tree 3 (1)

I can only hope that some day in the future when I least expect it, I’ll hear my name being whispered in the breeze . . . and I’ll recognize the voices and look up to see the triplets.

If our future is in their hands, we are in the best of hands in the land.

I want to end by sharing a poem written by Hannah. And I should add that writing and reciting poetry was another talent we discovered they have for we host a poetry workshop each summer followed by an open mic night of sharing and once again, their voices were powerful.

One who walks the woods often

Has learned silence is power

Silence allows for you to see

What lies beneath trees of tall green

Dragonflies of iridescent magic flight

Birds perched and ferns unsearched

One that has been rewarded the gift

after silence

Teaches others the wonders 

of observation

Appreciation for what surrounds us

Nature’s beautiful creations. 

~ Hannah Rousey

Thank you, Hannah, Dakota, and Kelley. As you travel into the future, I hope you’ll remember friendships formed and paths created this summer. I know I certainly will.

Until our paths cross again . . .





Gifts from the Land

B & H sign

A friend and I met at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve in Lovell this morning. I only just noticed that this sign places Bradley Pond first–I’ve always heard it the other way. Funny how your mind reads what it thinks is there. At least mine does. Makes the job of editing a slow process–for good reason.

I love that the sign shows three peaks, as there are three peaks here–Whiting Hill, Flat Hill and Amos Mountain. Our mission today, however, was to check out the saw mill site off Slab City Road and walk to Otter Rocks.

We completed said mission and chuckled that it took us less than three hours to walk the short distance out and back. But the gifts we received along the way were many.

To begin with, it was an absolutely gorgeous spring morning.

mill 2

Water raced over the dam at the mill site. Timber long played an important role in Lovell, as in other towns throughout New England.  And water provided the power at the saw and grist mills before steam engines were put to use.

In her book, Blueberries and Pusley Weed, The Story of Lovell, Pauline W. Moore wrote: “Slab City (so named because when the mills were running, the slab or outside of the logs was piled high on either side of the road), had two cooper shops and two stave mills as late as 1881, representing the period when one mill produced the staves and a cooper put the barrels together.”

Robert C. Williams, author of Lovewell’s Town, adds, “In 1840, Benjamin Heald built a sawmill in the area east of Kezar Lake known locally as Slab City–a common New England term for the lumbering area of a town–in order to produce shook, the thin boards used to make barrel staves. Slab referred to the outside cuts of logs with bark that piled up unused by the roadside. Shook mills soon abounded in Lovell, and barrel staves went off to the Caribbean, especially Havana, Cuba, to produce barrels that could be filled with molasses and rum.”

Mill 4

This mill site features a combination of quarried stone and cement. On the Lovell Historical Society’s Web site, there are several photos of mills in the Slab City area.

 cherry tree

I wonder about the efforts to quarry the stone, move it to the brook, and build the dam. I also wonder about other things–like this cherry tree that grows out of the sloped land, dips down toward the water and then reaches skyward. Enviable perseverance.

mill pond

Here’s a look at the mill pond above the dam.

bird 2

And then there was the gift of song as this warbler sang to us from a branch above. Or is it a Louisiana Waterthrush?


lady ferns

And an evergreen fern, matted from a long winter’s rest.

grape fern and frond

Plus grape fern and its old fertile frond, for which it derives its name because the sporangia have a grape-like appearance when they are fresh.

Christmas fern

The third fern gift of the day–Christmas fern, so named because each leaflet looks like a Christmas stocking or Santa in a sleigh behind his reindeer.

Christmas 2

I didn’t notice any fern fiddleheads, but the snow only melted this past week. There’s still so much to look forward to.

beech leaf

I’ve been watching beech tree buds for at least a month. What I noticed today is that most buds are still wrapped up in scales and retain their cigar shape. On saplings, however, it’s a different story. Along the path, several were unfurling. Perhaps because of their smaller size, they want to be first to leaf out, thus taking advantage of any available sunlight before the larger trees form a canopy above them. Just a thought.

otter rocks sign

Our destination–Otter Rocks.

Otter rock

I’ve not had the privilege of seeing otters here, but plenty of other things revealed themselves today.

ice:eggs look alike

The melting ice fooled us only momentarily. On first glance, it looked like egg masses, but proved to be small masses of ice floating on the surface.


Though you can’t see it here, we watched a kazillion aquatic macro invertebrates swim about.


I scooped a few into my hand and my friend, Jinny, snapped this photo of a Mayfly nymph with three cerci or tails. (Thanks J.M.)


On otter rock itself, there are exoskeletons from hatchings that occurred in previous years.

Heald Pond

It was difficult to pull ourselves away and we have plans to return with sketch books and food and cameras and maybe even some wine–to spend some time taking in all that this lovely spot has to offer.

For today, we needed to wend our way back up the trail. There were still a few more moments of wonder to be had.

partridge berry

Take, for instance,  the partridge berry with its opposite evergreen leaves and berries with two spots on the surface, a result of the fusion of two ovaries. This plant produces two white flowers, one with short pistils and long stamens and the second just the opposite. In order for a berry to form, both flowers have to be pollinated. Nature has it all figured out. Why don’t I?


A princess pine club moss shows off its upright spore-producing candelabra or strobili. Funny thing about club mosses–they aren’t mosses. I guess they were considered moss-like when named. Just as the mills take us back in time, so do these–only much further back when their ancestors grew to 100 feet tall during the Devonian Period. They make me feel so small and insignificant. And yet, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in awe of them.

tinder conks and bird holes

Again the insignificance makes itself known–as this tree dies, it provides life–for carpenter ants, pileated woodpeckers, mosses, lichens and  tinder polypore or hoof fungus. And probably so many more species.

hoof 2

On a nearby tree, the  fruiting bodies of the tinder conks  grow at the base, giving them a true hoof-like appearance. Giddy-up.


We were almost back to my truck when we saw a clump of staghorn sumac shrubs. I grew up in the land of poison sumac, so it’s taken me a while to warm up to this species. But the hairy red fruits are a work of art in their own right. Plus, they provide food to wild turkeys, ruffed grouse and others.

sumac 2

Some people make tea from the summer berries. I, um, can’t bring myself to try it.

 sumac 3

Check out the hairy antler-like growth pattern. So maybe I won’t seep the fruits for tea, but I can certainly enjoy the other features staghorn sumac offers up.

cedar bark

And though not all of my posts include tree bark, I like it when they do. In this case, Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentals). The lines of the bark follow the shape of the tree.

cedar leaves

And its leaves are flat and scaly–reminiscent of princess pine.

My friend, Jinny, and her husband Will, are forever naturalists. He wasn’t with us today, and doesn’t often trek with us, but I suspect that he was channeling our adventure. They own many acres and know their land intimately. Sometimes they invite me along to walk their trails and wonder with them. Together, we learn.

And they get me. I know this because every so often they give me gifts from their land.

Today, I was the recipient of two gifts.

green stain

Trail blaze on a downed tree? No, Green Stain (Chlorociboria aeruginascens). In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman writes, “The stain was once used for Tunbridge ware–decorative wooden objects inlaid with strips of colored veneer.” I’d much rather have this piece of wood.

 bark 2

The other present is an intact piece of paper birch bark–peeling, chalky white outer bark, orangey inner bark, a hole where the branch was and a fu manchu over the branch hole. Perfection.


It will certainly be a useful teaching tool, but in the meantime, it’s earned a spot on top of the bookcase in the summer kitchen.

One last gift from the land.

matted ferns

These evergreen ferns, matted from a winter under snow, invoke a touch of spring fever.

It was a short wander with a lot of wonder. Thanks for joining me.