Spring In Slo-Mo

Spring is so fleeting in Maine. Oh, I know, it lasts the usual three months and the beginning and ending overlap with its seasonal partners, but really . . . one must take time to pause and watch or you’ll miss the most amazing action that occurs in slow motion right outside the window–and beyond.

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Jinny Mae and I drove beyond today to catch a glimpse of this most splendid season.

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Among the offerings, red trillium also known as stinking Benjamin. The Benjamin part is from benzoin, a mid-16th century word derived from the French benjoin, that refers to “a fragrant gum resin obtained from a tropical tree of eastern Asia, used in medicines, perfumes, and incense.”  It’s been tagged “stinking”  because its nodding flower has an unpleasant odor. We didn’t bother to sniff. We were too busy being wowed by the fact that it surrounded us in great number.

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That smell, however, is of extreme importance. Along with the flashy coloration, the odor helps to attract pollinators–green flesh-flies that prefer to lay their eggs on rotting meat. Though this isn’t the perfect nursery, the flies assist the plant on the procreative end. And in this spot, stinking Benjamin rules, but I prefer to think of it as red trillium.

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Even from the backside, its design is one to behold.

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Equally abundant were the leafy structures of false hellebore.

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I was mesmerized by its pattern.

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Unlike the trillium, wood anemones have little scent.

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Their graceful heads drooped, perhaps because the day threatened rain.

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The offerings included sessile-leaved bellwort (aka wild oats),

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Dutchman’s breeches with leaves as interesting as their flowers,

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the delicate white flowers of dwarf ginseng,

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and  zigzag pattern of clasping twisted stalk.

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Its key features are minutely-toothed leaf margins, stalkless leaves that clasp the stem, and flowers dangling below.

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The flowers hadn’t opened, but the closer we got, the more we appreciated its finer details.

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Ever so slowly, as is the case in all things, hobblebush flowers began to bloom.

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Outer sterile flowers form a ring around the delicate inner flowers that are fertile. Nature has a way of protecting its own.

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When we first spotted the fluff ball of seeds across the brook, we thought we were looking at dandelions. And then we saw the scaled stalks and lack of leaves. Coltsfoot it is.

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It wasn’t just the flowers that had us getting down on our hands and knees. There was the brownish wool covering of the cinnamon fern.

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And the hairless ostrich fern

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with its crook-shaped crosier, reminiscent of a bishop’s staff.

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But my favorite today was one I’d never noticed before.

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Oh, I know it’s a Christmas fern, but the tightly-wound, silvery-scaled crosiers were new to me. It was yet another chance for us to wonder how we could have missed something that’s been here all along.

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And then we looked up. Well, sort of up. Striped maple leaves slowly opened in the understory.

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And have you ever noticed that young red maples are a tad hairy along the margin?

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Even hairer, beech leaves.

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All winter long, bud scales enclosed leaves that are now slowly emerging.

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They’re absolutely beautiful in their plaited and hairy state.

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What leaves me wondering (ah, a pun), is the fact that these leaves are so hairy. It seems the hairs are intended to keep insects and others at bay.

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And yet, it won’t be long before the insects discover that beech leaves make a good meal and home.

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Speaking of insects, we found a ladybug presumably feeding on aphids–already. So why do ladybugs sport  bright orange or red color and distinctive spots? To make them unappealing to predators. They can secrete a foul-tasting fluid from their leg joints–the coloring is therefore intended to shout out,  “I taste awful.”

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And Jinny Mae sported her own insect–a Mayfly, known to be more fleeting than spring, landed on her jacket. Oh, and did I mention the black flies? They swarmed our faces, but we practiced mind over matter.

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We were in one of the most beautiful places on Earth,

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as evidenced by brook,  pond and mountains beyond.

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And then there was the gorge.

As we watched the water rush through, we gave thanks for a day spent moving in slo-mo to take in all that this fleeting season has to offer in its spring ephemerals.

The Wonders of Wilson Wing

A wander at Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve is the perfect way to celebrate the start of snow season. The 20.7 acres of land near Horseshoe Pond that was donated by the Wing family combined with the twelve acres surrounding Sucker Brook that The Nature Conservancy previously owned create the Preserve, which is a Greater Lovell Land Trust property.

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My friend Jinny Mae and I donned our snowshoes and headed off on the trail, not sure what we might find. It was snowing lightly when we started, so we didn’t expect to see any mammal tracks.

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Thus we were delighted with our finds–especially this one which was rather fresh. A look at the formation and we knew we had a member of the mustelid or weasel family. A few measurements of prints, straddle and stride–and we determined it was a mink.

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In true mink fashion, it enjoyed a slide into the brook. We also saw mice, red squirrel, deer, bird  and domestic dog tracks–some were blurred by the snow, but the pattern and behavior helped us come to a conclusion. Well, the bird stumped us at first. It wasn’t clear at all. But then we saw juncos. And under the platform were clear prints beside some muted ones.

red squirrel midden

Though we neither saw nor heard any red squirrels, their presence was well pronounced. I was surprised to see a midden. All fall, I searched for caches. Usually cones are piled in various places, but this year I found only a few. Were they fooled by the warm weather?

ash cork

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I don’t know if it’s because it is winter and everything seems more pronounced or what, but the ash bark appeared chunkier and corkier than ever. Of course, the snowflakes added to the scene.

Sucker Brook

We were beside Sucker Brook, which flowed with winter magic.

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And ice. Its many forms of presentation always fill me with awe and wonder.

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And whimsy. Check out these gigantic feet and

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the hemline of this snowy skirt.

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Another favorite (oops, I forgot, everything is my favorite, but these really do stop me in my tracks–or snowshoes) is hobblebush. In any season this shrub provides an incredible display, but its the winter buds that are especially astounding. (OK, wait until it blossoms and I’ll be saying the same thing.) While most buds have waxy scales that protect the leaves, hobblebush is naked. The same is true for witch hazel buds. What you see in these photos, is miniature leaves clasping each other. And embraced within, the flower bud. Here’s hoping the snow provides warmth until spring.

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Another “favorite” display adorned a rock hidden beneath the snow.

poly 3Common polypody ferns seemed to hold the snow tight between their curled blades. That made us pause and wonder once more.

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And because we did so, we realized that clusters of sporangia were ready to catapult their spores into the world.

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They look like miniature clusters of balloons waiting to broadcast the arrival of a new year. But, why were the pinnae curled inward? It’s certainly not a stance that would protect the spores–those are to be spewed outward in order to further the population. We know that the blades curl up if conditions are dry, but it’s hardly been dry the past few weeks–lots of rain and now snow. My research turned up little, but I wonder if it’s a protective measure similar to the rhododendrons in our front yard. As nature’s thermometers, they let us know what the temperature is based on the behavior of their leaves–about 40˚ they extend outward, about 32˚ they droop and in the low 20˚s the rhodies’ leaves curl. I’m always sure they will die and drop off, but that’s not the case. Could it be the same for the polypody? Do their dense covering of scales located on the underside prevent the loss of moisture? Now I need to keep track of the temperature and see if it follows the same pattern.

Worth a wonder. Worth a thanks to the Wing family (and especially Dr. Wilson M. and June Wing) for helping to make the Preserve a place for all of us to wander.

Questions To Be Asked

A friend and I drove to Evans Notch today with the mission of exploring a trail that was new to us. The Leach Link Trail connects Stone House Road to the Deer Hill trail system.

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We started at Stone House Road and turned back at the Cold River Dam. Not a long trail, certainly. And rather flat for the most part. Despite that . . . it took us four hours to cover 2.4 miles. You might say we stopped frequently.

There was a lot to see along this enchanted path. And questions to be asked.

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We walked beside the Cold River as we passed through hemlock groves and mixed hardwoods covered with a myriad of mosses and liverworts.

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Because it had rained last night, Lungwort, an indicator of rich, unpolluted areas, stood out among the tree necklaces. Why does it turn green when wet?

water strider

The shadow of the water strider tells its story. To our eyes, it looks like their actual feet are tiny and insignificant. What we can’t see is the  fuzzy little hairs that both repel water and trap tiny air bubbles, thus allowing them to float or skate along the water’s surface. But still, why is the foot shadow so big while the body shadow is more relative to the strider’s size? Is it the movement of the foot against the water that creates the shadow?

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While the river was to our right on the way to the dam, we noted ledges on the left. Prime habitat for the maker of this print: bobcat. You might be able to see nail marks in front of the toes. We always say that cats retract their nails, but in mud like this, traction helps.

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A little further along we discovered the bobcat was still traveling in the same direction and a coyote was headed the opposite way. What were they seeking? What was the difference in time of their passing?

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Periodically, we slipped off the trail to explore beside the river.

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Ribbony witchhazel blossoms brightened our day–not that it was dark.

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We weren’t the only ones taking a closer look at hobblebush.

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As its leaves begin to change from green to plum, the berries mature and transform from red to dark blue. Will they get eaten before they all shrivel? We think they’ll be consumed by birds and mammals.

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Most of the “doll’s eye” fruit is missing from this white baneberry. The archaic definition of “bane” is something, typically poison, that causes death. I’ve read that  ingesting the berries can bring on symptoms such as stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, delirium and circulatory failure. Think: respiratory distress and cardiac arrest. YIKES. So what may have eaten these little white eyeballs? Wildlife may browse it, but it’s said to be quite unpalatable and low in nutrition. Interestingly, birds are unaffected by its toxic qualities.

Indian Cucumber root

Berry season is important to migrating birds. The purplish black berries of Indian Cucumber-root are only consumed by birds. Other animals, however, prefer the stem and cucumberish-flavored root of this double decker plant. Why does the center of the upper whorl of leaves turn red? Is this an advertisement for birds?

state line

Soon, well, not all that soon, we arrived at the state line and passed onto Upper Saco Valley Land Trust property.

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And then we came upon the dam.

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It was the perfect day to sit on the rocks and eat a peanut butter and jam sandwich–with butter.

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As we walked back toward Stone House Road, we realized we were being watched. Perhaps this tree muse has all the answers.

Thanks to P.K. for a delightful wander and a chance to wonder together.

Through Rose-Colored Glasses

Beaver works was the name of my first adventure today. Last fall, some of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s docents and I walked along the trail of this private property and saw the beaver trees, dams, ponds and lodges. But today, I felt like I was stepping into a completely different territory.

This week, thanks to the generosity of the landowners, we have a walked planned on the same property and someone has been rather busy–cutting off the path with a fallen tree and a flooded pond. With today’s pre-hike we have a sense of what to expect.

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You know they are busy when you see their well-traveled path

beaver 2and downed trees.

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Or those that have been girdled but have yet to fall.

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This old dam is quite large and no longer productive–you can see that the pond it once held is diminished to a small stream. The vegetation on top provides another sign of inactivity.

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Inactive on the part of a beaver perhaps, but someone else passed by and left a baby-hand type print in the mud recently–or sorta recently.

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The beavers moved on and changed things up elsewhere–one needs wellies in order to follow the straight line. We chose to go around.

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In the process, we got to see another beaver pond. They’re everywhere!

The landscape is constantly evolving. I used to think it took a hundred years for a forest to change–that belief founded on what a junior high school science teacher said. I now know a wee bit more–it’s all in a state of constant flux. I think the same can be said for us–growing and changing with the years–physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

Off my soapbox–There are other fun things to see along this particular trail. I’ll only mention one–some bear sign. And yesterday morning, while placing a land trust sign on Route 5, I watched a young black bear cross the road–less than a mile from this trail and in a seemingly straight line with what we found today. I know that because of my X-Ray vision. (Disclaimer–what we found wasn’t created by the bear yesterday, but it shows evidence of a bear’s presence. Then again, there’s lots of bear sign in these woods.)

My guy was working and it’s been a while since I’ve gone on a solo trek, so I decided to journey on at another GLLT property–Flat Hill and Perky’s Path.

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I was on the purple trail to begin and surrounded by hues of green.

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So shades of red like the stems of red maple leaves became my focus. They were subtle, but I was surprised with how many examples I found.

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The salmon-colored inner bark of northern red oak.

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Striped maple leaf stems.

red sarsapirilla

Wild sarsaparilla leaves.

red pinkish mushroom

A Rusulla, I think.

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The kitchen table of a red squirrel.

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Sandstone-patterned red pine bark.

red wintergreen berry

Wintergreen berry  and

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partridgeberry.

Flat Hill view

Not red at this moment, but home to many a red sunset, the view from the summit of Flat Hill. Don’t you love an oxymoron?

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Following the orange trail of Perky’s Path provided more shades of red.

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A whorl of starflower leaves and bunchberry fruits.

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A single red maple leaf.

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The fruit of a trillium.

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And hobblebush leaves and fruit.

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More Russulas emerge, displaying their red caps.

Steeplebush

And finally, a pink steeplebush.

Though my eyes were fixated on red, I did see a few other things.

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A yellow Russula. (Hope my partial ID is at least partially correct.)

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A leaf and twig bird nest tucked against the tree trunk. Surely, someone can help me ID the creator of this masterpiece.

Indian Cucumber root

And the world’s largest Indian cucumber root. Soon those berries will turn red.

I thoroughly enjoyed today’s wander through rose-colored glasses. Thanks for coming along.

A Watchful Eye

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On my way to meet a friend at the Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve, the amount of sand on the road made me appreciate all the snow we had this winter and give thanks to those who cleared the way and kept us safe –constantly.

Never mind that I was lost in thought and this is beyond Foxboro Road where I should have been. After stopping to take this photo, I saw three things that were out of place–a road sign (at which time, I thought, “I didn’t realize the ‘no thru trucks, 26,000 RGVW at anytime’ sign was on Foxboro Road”–it isn’t); my friend passed me headed in the opposite direction; I came to the curve by Wiley Road and knew something wasn’t quite right. Whatever you do, don’t follow me. I’ll surely lead you astray. But if you don’t mind wondering, then let’s go.

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It’s so different to be at Wilson Wing during the spring when the water tumbles over the rocks in Sucker Brook. We accepted the invitation to pause and ponder.

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And enjoy fluid moments.

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And hope in the greenery. This scallop-leafed goldthread made us get down on our hands and knees for a closer look.

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As did the heart-shaped dewdrop leaves.

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Another heart also spoke to us.

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And the lichen and moss on this rock invited an up close and personal inspection through the hand lens.

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We tried to figure out which crustose lichen it is. I’m leaning toward a disk lichen (Lecidella stigmata) because the black fruiting bodies are raised.

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Then we saw a contrast in styles–soft moss and hard quartz.

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Some trees were adorned with necklaces. Tree necklaces.

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Our focus also included hobblebush, with its unscaled leaf buds

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clasped together, perhaps in silent prayer for the bog and the life it supports.

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Flowers are forming, but we don’t want to rush the season.

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Then again, I can’t wait.

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And then there was another story to unfold.

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I thought beaver. My friend thought porcupine.

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It was the wee amount of debris at the base of the beech that stumped us. And the fact that this was the only tree in the area that had been chewed in this manner. No scat to confirm. But my, what wide teeth you have.

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We walked along and then moved off the trail. Looking around, we saw these and were finally able to turn the pages of the book.

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Munched treats

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and munched saplings told us who had moved about.

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These chips are more what we would expect from a beaver. So here’s how we read the story. The fresh chew that caused the initial debate was perhaps the work of a two-year-old beaver forced to leave the lodge. It stopped along the way recently to nibble some treats. The sapling in the later photos was felled last fall, when it was time to renovate the lodge.

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At the platform, we climbed up to enjoy the view, which includes the lodge.

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We weren’t the only ones with a watchful eye.

I’m so glad you wondered along on today’s wander. Keep watching. There’s so much more to see.