“A Perpetual Astonishment”

It was actually still winter when I joined Lakes Environmental Association’s Education Director Alanna Doughty and LEA member Betty for a “Welcome Spring” snowshoe hike at Holt Pond Preserve this afternoon–but really, for western Maine, it was a delightful spring day.

Our hearts smiled as our journey began beside a clump of pussy willow shrubs, so named for their resemblance to tiny cats’ paws. Actually, the white nubs are flowers pre-bloom. Their soft, silvery coating of hairs provides insulation thus protecting these early bloomers from cold temperatures.

That being said, they aren’t protected from everything and if you look, you may see pineapples growing on some. Those pinecone-like structures were created with leaves by a reaction to a chemical released by the larva that allows a gall gnat midge to overwinter on the willows. It’s a crazy world and everything seems to have its place.

Hanging out with the pussy willows were speckled alders, some with protrusions extending from last year’s cones. It was almost like they had tried to flower. In reality, they were alder tongue galls–resulting from a fungus rather than an insect infecting the female catkins. Apparently, the tongue-like growths are green to begin, but transform to orange, red and finally brown. I’ve yet to see it in its early form but time will tell.

We passed a spider walking across the snow and then came upon another member of the lilliputian world–a winter stonefly on the move. How they and the spiders survive the cold and snow is dependent upon special compounds including glycerol, proteins, and sugars that act like antifreeze. By its presence, we knew we were approaching a fast-moving stream.

More evidence of the stream’s presence became immediately apparent when we moved from the field to woods and immediately spied a sign of beaver works.

Stepping down beside the Muddy River, we began to see beaver tree after beaver tree. Each a most recent work.

Alanna stood upon an old dam, but though it was obvious they’d crossed over it by the well traveled trail of tracks, repair work was not yet part of the scheme for the water flowed forth.

We stood there for a few minutes and tried to understand what they had in mind, when one in our group spied the beaver chews in the water–their snack of choice.

We wondered if they were active downstream or up, and decided to follow the trail north.

A few minutes later, we came upon another trail well-traveled and knew that they’d been working in the vicinity.

In the brook, covered with spring ice, which features a different texture than the frozen structures of winter, was a small tree.

And then our eyes followed the beavers’ tracks back and we saw from whence it had been sawn.


And dragged through the snow. In our minds’ eyes we appreciated their efforts.

Still, we didn’t know what the beavers were up to, so we moved on in hopes of learning more about their activities. All the while, there were other things to notice, like the orange brain fungus growing on the inside of a stump. We weren’t the only ones to appreciate it for snowfleas, aka spring tails, also searched the surface.


Since we were beside the river, it might have made sense that we checked out the beaver works via canoe, but . . . the snow is slowly melting and it will be a while before we need to bring our own paddles, personal flotation devices and duct tape (just in case the canoe springs a leak).

From the boat launch we followed the secret trail and made our way out to the red maple swamp.

In a sunny spot we spied a swab of earth–a taste of what is to come. And the ever delightful wintergreen offering the first shade of spring green with a dash of spring pink.

Slowly we made our way back out to the Muddy River, where we stood and looked across at two beaver lodges on the other side. We didn’t dare cross, but from where we stood, it appeared that the lodges may be active given that we could see the vents at the top. It also appeared that they’d been visited, though we weren’t sure if the tracks were created by predators. Was this where the beavers who had been so active downstream were living? Or were these the homes of their parents? Were the new beaver works those of the two year olds who had recently been sent out into the world to make their own way? Our brains wondered and wondered?

We weren’t sure, but with questions in our mind, we moved on toward Holt Pond.

There were other things to see as we walked across the wetland, including the woody structures of maleberry capsules and their bright red buds.

Rhodora, that delightful pink beauty showed us that she’s waiting in wings.

As we made our way back, more wood chips on the ground indicated that a carver of another type had been at work–of the bird type rather than rodent.

To identify it, we looked not only at the shape of the chiseled structure, but also the scat we found among the chips.

Because it was filled with the body parts of carpenter ants and we knew its creator’s name–pileated woodpecker.

And then we found an insect of another type. Why was a hickory tussock caterpillar frozen to a twig? Was it shed skin from last fall? How did the structure last throughout the winter? We left with questions, but gave thanks for the opportunity Alanna provided to share the afternoon wandering and exploring and thinking and looking forward–to spring.

In the midst of our wandering, we did discover a fairy house and suspect that tonight some wild dance moves are on display under the Super Equinox Worm Moon.

“Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.”

British Author Edith Mary Pargeter, also known by her nom de plume, Ellis Peters (1913-1995)

Wondering With Jinny Mae

It takes us forever and we like it that way. In fact, today a woman who saw us in our typical slo-mo movement commented, “It’s like you’re on a meditative walk. I always move quickly and miss so much.” Indeed we were and when I travel beside Jinny Mae there isn’t much we don’t see. But always, we’re sure that we’ve moved too quickly and missed something. Then again, we realize that whatever it was that we accidentally passed by this time may offer us a second chance the next time.

1-winterberry

Today’s wonder began with the realization that winterberry holly or Ilex verticillata, grew abundantly where we chose to travel. This native shrub will eventually lose its leaves, but the plentiful berries will last for a while–until they’ve softened considerably that is and then the birds will come a’calling.

2-winterberry

Everywhere we turned, or so it seemed, we found them ranging in color from spring green to shades of red. As summer turns to autumn, the leaves will yellow and eventually fall.

3-winterberry

And then the brightly colored berries that cling to every stem will add color where it’s otherwise lacking in the landscape.

4-winterberry

Even while the leaves still held fast, we found some brightly colored berries that offered a breathtaking view.

5-to Muddy River

We passed through numerous natural communities, tiptoeing at times, such as on the boardwalks, for we didn’t want to disturb the wildlife around us–no matter what form it took.

9-dragonfly attachment

And we rejoiced in spying a cherry-faced meadowhawk couple in their pre-canoodling mode. Can you see how he has used his cerci to clasp the back of her head? His hope is that he can get her to connect in the wheel position and they’ll take off into the safety of the nearby shrubbery to mate.

6-Muddy River

At the river, we began to notice other signs that we’ve once again entered a transition between seasons, for subtle were the colors before us.

7-beaver lodge

Across the river and just north of where we stood, we spotted an old lodge, but weren’t sure anyone was in residence for it didn’t seem like work was being done to prepare for winter. Then again, we haven’t done anything to prepare either, for though the temperature has suddenly shifted from stifling to comfortable (and possibly near freezing tonight), it’s still summer in Maine. And we’re not quite ready to let go.

17-Sheep Laurel

That being said, we found a most confusing sight. Sheep laurel grew prolifically in this place and we could see the fruits had formed from this past spring’s flowers and dangled below the new leaves like bells stringed together.

18- sheep laurel flowering in September

Then again, maybe it wasn’t all that odd that it still bloomed for when I got home I read that it blooms late spring to late summer. I guess we’ve just always noticed it in late spring and assumed that was the end of its flowering season. But then again, it appeared that this particular plant had already bloomed earlier in the season and produced fruit, so why a second bloom? Is that normal?

10-pitcherplant 1

As we continued on, we started to look for another old favorite that we like to honor each time we visit. No matter how often we see them, we stand and squat in awe of the carnivorous pitcher plants.

11-pitcher plant 2

But today, we were a bit disturbed for one that we’ve admired for years on end looked like it was drying up and dying. In fact, the location is typically wet, but not this year given the moderate drought we’ve been experiencing in western Maine. What would that mean for the pitcher plant?

13-pitcher plant flower

Even the flower pod of that particular one didn’t look like it had any life-giving advice to share in the future.

14-Pitcher Plant 4

Fortunately, further on we found others that seemed healthy, though even the sphagnum moss that surrounded them had dried out.

14a-pitcher plant

Their pitcher-like leaves were full of water and we hoped that they had found nourishment via many an insect. Not only do I love the scaly hairs that draw the insects in much like a runway and then deter them from exiting, but also the red venation against the green for the veins remind me of trees, their branches spreading rather like the tree of life. Or maybe a stained glass window. Or . . . or . . . we all have our own interpretations and that’s what makes life interesting.

15-pitcher plant flower 2

Speaking of interesting, the structure of the pitcher plant flower is one we revere whenever we see it because it’s so otherworldly in form. And this one . . . no the photo isn’t sideways, but the flower certainly was. If you scroll up two photos, you’ll see it as it grew among the leaves. The curious thing is that it was sideways. Typically in this locale, Jinny Mae and I spy many pitcher plant flowers standing tall. Today, we had to squint to find any.

16-pitcher flower and aster

She found the sideways presentation and this one. But that was it. Because of the drought? Or were we just not cueing in to them?

20-cinnamon fern

We did cue in to plenty of other striking sights like the light on a cinnamon fern that featured a contrast of green blades and brown.

21-cinnamon fern drying up

Again, whether the brown spoke of drought or the transition to autumn, we didn’t know. But we loved its arching form dramatically reflected in each pinna.

18a-swamp maple

But here’s another curious thing we noted. We were in a red maple swamp that is often the first place where the foliage shows off its fall colors and while some in other locales have started to turn red, only the occasional one in this place had done so. Our brains were totally confused. Sheep laurel blooming for a second time; pitcher plants drying up and dying; and few red maples yet displaying red leaves?

19-witch's caps or candy corn

We needed something normal to focus on. And so we looked at the candy corn we found along the trail. Some know them as witch’s caps. They are actually witch hazel cone galls caused by an aphid that doesn’t appear to harm the plant. It is a rather cool malformation.

24-white-faced meadowhawk

On a boardwalk again, we stepped slowly because the white-faced meadowhawk kept us company and we didn’t want to startle it into flight.

25-white-faced meadowhawk dining

One flew in with dinner in its mouth and though I couldn’t get a photo face on before it flew to another spot to dine in peace, if you look closely, you might see the green bug dangling from its mouth.

26-New York Aster

All round us grew asters including New York, water-horehound, cranberries, bog rosemary and so many others.

27-Virginia marsh-St. John's Wort

There was Virginia marsh St. John’s Wort,

28-fragrant water lily

fragrant water lilies,

28-jewelweed

jewelweed,

29-pilewort globe

and even pilewort to admire. The latter is so much prettier in its seed stage than flowering. Why is that we wondered.

30-Holt Pond Quaking Bog

Ahhhh, an afternoon of wondering . . . with Jinny Mae. At LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve. In Bridgton. An afternoon well spent. Thanks JM.

 

 

 

 

 

Otherworldly in Nature

One doesn’t necessarily step into the woods and expect transcendent events to occur, but then again by learning to live in the moment one never knows what to expect. And so it was that I traveled the trail at LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve with my friend Ann this morning–both of us delighted to just spend some quiet time exploring together.

o1-bunchberry

Our tramp began with a pause beside bunchberries because it’s a plant I always associate with Ann due to her trailside teaching about its finer points years ago. Today, as the flowers began to morph into fruit, it was the points of the four white petal-like bracts and green leaves that asked to be noticed in the most subtle of ways for each was decorated with a dewdrop.

o2-red maple swamp

Not far beyond where the bunchberries grew, we stepped onto the first of the boardwalks that provided for a delightful amble through the red maple swamp.

o3-green frog

Just off the edge of the wooden walkway, we spied some eyes starring up at us and realized we were the subject of the green frog’s discontent.

o4-green frog male

His camouflage almost worked as he tried to hide among the sphagnum moss . . .

o5-green frog and insects

but again we found him. How did we know he was a he? By his tympanum (ear), the circle behind his eyes. We really wanted to see him feed and if you look closely, you may see a mosquito and other insects nearby, but he seemed focused on us–in case he needed to defend his territory we supposed.

o6-pitcher plants

A wee bit further we met the first of many of their kind–the incredibly unique pitcher plants with their strikingly beautiful magenta flowers that stood like the wind spinners we used to create as kids.

o7-pitcher plant leaves

In the water below were the pitcher-shaped leaves that gave this plant its common name.

o17-pitcher pitchers

The carnivorous pitcher plant obtains nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Its oddly shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by its red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: An insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs.

o8-frosted whiteface dragonfly

As we paid attention to the plant, damselflies and dragonflies, like this Frosted Whiteface Skimmer, flew in the surrounding airspace. We appreciated that he landed so we could take a closer look at the details of his body, including the golden outline of the upper edge of his wings.

o8-red maple leaf

Moseying along, our next great find was a red maple leaf, which made perfect sense given that we were in the midst of the red maple swamp. What didn’t make sense was the fact that it donned its autumnal coloration, but ours was not to make sense of everything.

08a-muddy river

At last we reached the boardwalk to the Muddy River, where we embraced stillness and listened to the green frogs strum their banjo voices and red-winged blackbirds sing their conk-la-ree songs.

o9-red-winged and painted

One blackbird, in particular, stood out as if he were the king of the river. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the photographs tell the story for he did have a subject in mind–in the form of a painted turtle.

o10-red winged :painted

Off his high horse he flew, but continued to squawk from a lower pulpit. What did it all mean?

o11red winged blackbird

While we’ll never know, he did seem pleased with a gaze into his own reflection.

o12a-

Our gaze also became more focused when we realized we stood in the midst of a newly emerged dragonfly. By its cloudy wings folded over its back damselfly-style and the abandoned exuvia on the other side of its perch did we realize what we were witnessing.

o12b

We felt a sense of caretakers for suddenly it was our honorable duty to stand watch and protect this vulnerable being from becoming prey. With wonder, we watched as it slowly changed position and suddenly spread its wings. For at least an hour we stood sentry and noted the slightest changes while we delighted in how the breeze occasionally fluttered through its wings.

o13-female eastern forktail damsel

Oh, we looked around and spied a female Eastern Forktail damselfly . . .

o14-chalk-fronted corporal

and many a Chalk-fronted Corporal dragonfly among others.

o15-spreading his wings

But our attention continued to return to the subtle beauty before us. How did it know to climb the vegetation? How did it know to emerge? How did it know today was sunny? How could such delicate wings support its meaty body? Where do dragonflies hang out on rainy days? How long would it take before it flew off? Our questions were numerous, but . . .

o15-dragonfly exuvia

in a flash, as I moved in for a closer shot of the exuvia, the dragonfly decided it had posed for enough photos, and Ann and I watched with continued fascination as it flew off. Really, we felt like proud parents who had sent our offspring into the world. And we rejoiced. We had just witnessed one of nature’s greatest spectacles. It wasn’t only thrilling to watch, but was an all-encompassing experience that pulled us in with our sight and minds.

016-pitcher

After such an awe-inspiring opportunity, we couldn’t imagine anything else, but as we moved along the boardwalk through another section of the red maple swamp we again encountered pitcher plants.

o18-pitcher flower

And this time we decided to take a closer look at the flower structure, which was umbrella-like with those five broad and waxy sepals situated above. Unless you physically turn it and take a peek, it’s difficult to see what is going on beneath where five more bright red, oval petals, curved in at the base and covered the ovary.

o19-pitcher anthers

Within, yellow stamens surrounded the base of ovary. Below, a slender style extended from the round ovary and flattened out into an angled yellowish green structure like an inverted umbrella that curved back over the center of the flower. Certainly another novel spectacle for us to behold.

o20-four-spotted skimmer

Along the same stretch we were equally wowed by a Four-spotted Skimmer.

o21-four-spotted face

He gave us the opportunity to take in his mightiness from more than one vantage point.

o25-quaking bog

At last we reached the quaking bog and despite the water that filled our hiking boots, we moved forward toward Holt Pond with some caution. (Think right wrist still in cast.)

o26-caddisfly case

Along the way we discovered an abandoned caddisfly larva case,

o23-blue flag iris

blue flag irises,

o24-green frog

another green frog,

o27-tadpole

and a huge tadpole swimming over the boardwalk.

o28-muskrat works

At the water’s edge, though we sought sundews and could find none where they used to grow in abundance, we did realize someone had come with a different quest and because it seemed the pickerel weed roots had been foraged, we suspected a muskrat.

o29-hp northwest

After enjoying the view and trying to make the bog quake by jumping to no avail, we journeyed on.

o32a-Muddy River

Our walk back via the road passed much more quickly and in what seemed like no time, we were at the parking lot. But I had one more site to show Ann and so we headed down to the Muddy River, our circle completed–though we were a wee bit east of our first river encounter.

o32-canoe

It’s there that LEA has long left a canoe for anyone to use–just bring you own paddles and pfds.

o33-sawdust

And as our walk had begun, so it ended . . . with us again looking at bunchberries. but these were different for they were covered with sawdust and we suspected carpenter ants were busy residents in the pine tree behind them.

o35-exuvia

Because we were looking we were again rewarded as we noticed something else–a dragonfly exuvia.

o36-ghosts

And behind the tree two ghosts stared up at us in awe–completing the picture of this morning filled with the otherworldly so often encountered in nature.

 

 

 

Left-handed Mondate

Yesterday I discovered a male ring-necked pheasant in our backyard–a most unusual sighting. As I watched, he headed over a stone  wall and into our woodlot where he cackled and beat his wings in hopes of attracting a mate. The only responses he received were gobbles from Tom Turkey. And so it went for a while . . . cackle . . . gobble . . . cackle . . . gobble.

This morning we were awakened at 5 a.m. to the same mating calls. Who needs a rooster?

w1

When I stepped out the back door, neither bird was anywhere to be seen or heard.

w2

But the double daffodils that came with our house showed off their cheery faces to all who looked.

w3

And by the road, the magnolia we planted about fifteen years ago added its own pastel palette to the scene–however momentary.

w4

By late morning, we changed our focus from the yard to a woodland a few miles away for today was the day we chose to work on the section of trail we steward at Lake Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve. 

w5

There were trees and limbs to clear. And trimming to be done as well. The last time we were on the Southern Shore Trail, which was only a couple of months ago, we noted a few trees that would need our attention, but today there were between fifteen and twenty.

w11

Occasionally, as my guy used the chainsaw and I waited to clean up, I spied old friends like a wild oat or sessile-leaved bellwort in bloom.

w6

And then I made a discovery that had eluded me in the past–a spotted wintergreen. It was an exciting find for it’s listed as S2 ranking, meaning “Imperiled in Maine because of rarity (6-20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) or because of other factors making it vulnerable to further decline.”

w7

We were close to an outlook by Holt Pond when we saw the spotted wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, and so we paused to take in the view looking across to the quaking bog as we dined atop a stump.

w10

From there we moved on, making rather quick progress to the “field,” a former log landing where the forest is slowly reclaiming its ground.

w8

As we approached we startled a ruffed grouse and came upon a familiar sight at this spot for the trail through the field has always provided a dust bath for these birds.

w9

And on the edge of the “tub” a telltale downy feather.

w12

Typically, when doing trail work, our turn-round point is the field for that’s what we’d agreed to years ago. Today, we decided to keep going and made a small stream our end point. We shifted a bridge and watched the water striders for a while. Apparently, love wasn’t just in the air, but on the water as well.

W13

On the way back, I was delighted to discover my first painted trillium of the season. I sensed my guy’s groans for he knows I’ll exclaim over and photograph each one I see–not satisfied until I reach a trillion trilliums.

W14

Oh, and there were fern crosiers to celebrate, especially the scaly spiral of the Christmas fern.

w15

At last we reached the beginning of our section of trail and I told my guy that I wanted to go down by the water for a moment, but not cross the boardwalk because my hiking boots leak. He put the saw down, contemplated the water, and made the crossing. From the other side he suggested I join him since the water wasn’t that deep. Before I did so, however, he asked me to move the saw off the trail and out of sight. As I started to hide it, he crossed back over and said, “I’ll take it in case we need it.” And back again he went, the saw in his left hand for he’s a southpaw. He’d just reached the other side when I stepped on the boardwalk and began to carefully move, ever mindful of my boots . . . until those very boots slipped out from under me. Down I went. Crash. Bam. Smash. On the wood. My right forearm took the brunt of the fall and my camera ended up in the water.

My guy came to the rescue as he lifted me up . . . though first I insisted on the camera being saved. And now I have used the hunt and peck method to type this story for I am a southpaw for the next six to eight weeks as I recover from a fracture to the ulna and radius. That’s how today became a left-handed Mondate.

The camera is also in recovery mode–here’s hoping a rice bath will work wonders.

 

 

Clockwise Circumnavigation of Holt Pond

Though we were headed to a place we frequent, we thought we’d change up our trek by hiking in the direction that is opposite our norm along the trail system.

h14-trail map

And so for us, 12 o’clock was at the point where the trail was closest to Grist Mill Road. As we stepped on to it, I wore micro-spikes and my guy just his hiking boots. Within about fifty feet, I’d already banged snow off my spikes twice and decided they’d serve me better by being in my backpack.

h1-Following the boardwalk

It meant being aware of the boardwalks, most of which were covered with ice and snow, and post holing occasionally, but even if we’d worn snowshoes, we’d have ended up taking them off for the temp was in the 40˚s and snow not too deep.

h2-bear

One of the things I love about visiting a place often is that each time it has something different to offer. As we made our way to one and two o’clock on the map and passed through a hemlock grove, we discovered a bear den. Bears don’t always hibernate in caves and this one chose an old tree stump to spend the winter.

h3-quaking bog

I was with my guy, so it was no surprise that within no time we were at 3 o’clock, where we had to shuffle across the ice covered boardwalk in the quaking bog.

h4-bog rosemary

On the way back to the main trail, I mentioned that I’d be a bit slower, for there were reasons to take notice, like the bog rosemary leaves . . .

h5-pitcher plant flower pod

and dried pods of a pitcher plant.

h6-snowshoe hare tracks

Moving on toward 3:15 on the map, we began to notice snow lobsters everywhere. This particular hare, whose pattern reminded me of our marine crustaceans, had come from the quaking bog and passed into the red maple swamp. Do you see the pattern I’m referring to? The snowshoe hare had hopped toward the point where I stood, its front feet landing on a diagonal first, while its larger back feet swung around and landed in front. Consequently, the front feet served as the lobster’s tail, and the hind feet its claws.

h7-through the red maple swamp

Through the red maple swamp we journeyed to 3:30 with my guy obliterating more snowshoe hare prints as he went. Notice how his tracks were rather sloppy–he was again trying to keep from slipping off the icy boardwalk.

h9-two lodges

At about 4:00 by following the map, we stepped precariously onto the boardwalk that led to the Muddy River. Where once stood one beaver lodge, there were two–and both looked active.

h10-river to pond

In the opposite direction, we looked out to Holt Pond, from which the frozen river formed.

h11-canoe

The canoe launch, further along the river, is located at 4:30. The only ones using it recently were some red squirrels who had created a midden beneath. But should you choose to venture out, bring your own pfd and paddle.

h12-beaver dam

As we moved on toward 5:00, we began to encounter beaver dams–at least three of them, for so active had been this community of large rodents.

h13-mink tracks

And at 5:30, as we followed the river out to Chaplins Mill Road, we started to encounter tracks on a diagonal that spoke of their creator–a mink. Notice how one print in each pair is just ahead of the second. That’s a typical characteristic for all members of the mustelid or weasel family.

h16-southern end of Holt Pond

Lunch stump was at 6:00, where the trail veered back off Chaplins Mill Road and returned to the pond. As we ate, we realized we weren’t the only ones who chose to dine in this spot, such were the pinecone caches under every white pine and hemlock.

h17-mink

Continuing on toward 7:00, we spied more mink tracks. I didn’t have my usual tracking gear with me, but the AARP card measured about three inches, the trail width or straddle of a bounding mink.

h18-mink

For straddle, we typically measure the distance from the outside of one foot to the outside of the other within a set of prints. Stride, or the distance from one set of prints to the next, varies greatly with bounders like a mink, so that’s not important. But that diagonal orientation–rather consistent.

h21-snow and ribbon lichen

As we made our way toward 8:00, a hemlock tree gave me pause–for the intersection of lines and color upon its bark–the vertical white snow enhanced the horizontal green ribbon lichen.

h22-fisher tracks

By 8:45, we had reached the northern end of the pond, which was to our right. It was there that we realized another traveler had joined the dance–as evidenced by its larger prints. A fisher.

h23-fox

And then we kept encountering a red fox from 9:00 on. Well, not the fox exactly, but its own telltale prints.

h24-water obstacle

All along, we wondered what we’d encounter at our 10:00 point, the trail intersection closest to Fosterville Road. We could hear the water before we saw it. And then my guy met it up close and personal, breaking through ice and coming up with wet feet. I, too, had one wet foot for one of my Sorel boots had a blowout and the upper split from the sole–a major disappointment for though the boots are old, they have plenty of traction left.

h25-water over boardwalk

Anyway, we contemplated the underwater boardwalk and knew we had an escape route behind us, for we could have walked up to the road. But . . . we didn’t. The water was about four inches deep and we went for it, figuring we were already wet and we only had about a half mile left to cover in the five mile journey.

h26-pileated tree

On the map, we were at 10:15 when my guy noted fresh pileated woodpecker works.

h27-pileated scat

I had to look. And wasn’t disappointed. Several scats were visible, filled with seeds and insect body parts.

h28-northern end

We moved on to 11:00 and passed through another red maple swamp . . .

h27-winterberry

where the color of winterberries had changed from bright red to wine,

h28-frozen mink tracks

frozen tracks spoke of an earlier journey by a mink,

h31-yellow warbler nest

and a yellow warbler nest remained attached in the crouch of a shrub.

h29-northern end of Holt Pond

Our last look at the pond was through the shrub level and though we couldn’t actually see it, we knew it was there, outlined to the south by the evergreens.

h33-my guy's print

At last I followed my guy out. We’d reached 12:00, the beginning and ending point of our clockwise circumnavigation around Holt Pond.

 

 

Autumn Falls With A Smile

It seemed only yesterday the colors were rather on the dull side, not quite offering that magical tapestry we all relish. And then today dawned with a the mix of sun and clouds and occasional raindrops and a breeze and somehow the world transformed.

hp3-Holt Pond1

And I had the good fortune to take it all in at Holt Pond Preserve, where I traveled the trail with two friends. The leaves had gone on strike from their food producing summer job and we rejoiced in the result as they prepared for the dormant season that is on the horizon.

hp1-quaking bog 1

Gold, orange, topaz, crimson, salmon, ruby, gold green, yellow green, gold brown, green brown, gray, white . . .

hp2-swamp maples

even a hint of blue; it was as if we stood in nature’s paint store.

hp4-tire alley

As always when I look at paint chips, I had a difficult time deciding which color to choose.

hp6-tree tops

Stick with a deep red?

hp9-more skyward views

Lean more toward the greens and yellows with a hint of orange and red?

hp7-leaves in brook

Or go with a mosaic–intermixing all that was available?

hp11-button bush

And what about the decorative accents?

hp10-sensitive fern fertile frond

Again, I couldn’t decide . . .

hp13-fireweed

which was my favorite.

hp12-following friends old and new

Nor could my companions, JoAnne and Jen, and so we slowly moved about, filling our hearts and souls with the memory of it all by painting the scene in our minds.

hp17-Grist Mill Road

And smiling at the offerings.

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.” ~ William Cullen Bryant

Swamp People

The phone rang as I was getting ready this morning and I don’t usually answer those with IDs such as “Private Caller,” but I did. And that made all the difference. Alanna Doughty was on the other end of the “line” and wanted me to know that this morning’s Lakes Environmental Association walk to explore the wetland plants at Holt Pond was still a go. She also asked if I wanted to borrow a pair of waders. Indeed, I did.

About 30 minutes later a group of eight had gathered at the preserve parking lot despite the raindrops. A few didn’t learn about the event until they read a description in this week’s Bridgton News, and so though they were prepared with raincoats and bug spray, they didn’t have Bogg boots or waders, but Alanna had brought along a few extra pairs and most made do. One gentleman had large feet and said he didn’t mind getting his sneakers wet. Such was the spirit of the morning.

p-red maple swamp

Without much further ado, we stomped down the trail and then slipped off it, through the woods and directly into the red maple swamp . . .

p-blue flag iris

where raindrops enhanced the dainty leaves of the blue-flag iris. Going off trail offers a certain liberating feeling.

p-pitcher plant

It also offers different species. Our movement was interrupted frequently by our findings, and as we stopped to determine the identification of a shrub that stumped us for a while, another plant drew our attention. Holt Pond is home to many pitcher plants, but this one cast its spell upon us for the curvy flower stems and new urn-shaped leaves. Most often, the stems stand stalwart.

p-pitcher spider

The otherworldly flowers protect friendly pollinators from accidentally being consumed. Unlike the pit trap below, aka the urn-shaped or pitcher leaves, the flowers are friendly and provide bees and other insects with nectar and pollen. This morning a spider wandered within, stepping on fallen anthers.

p-pitcher 4

I’ve forever found it a wonder that the extremely large style sits below the rest of the structure in order to capture pollen in its upside-down umbrella shape.

p-pitcher flower 1

Though those flowers have aged, their leathery sepals remained, fading from red to magenta. Below the sepals the large swollen ovary may house as many as 300 tiny seeds.

p-working our way through the swamp

After a long period of admiration, we finally pulled ourselves away and continued our tramp, finding our way through the swamp. And only briefly did we feel fake lost, but knew that wherever we came out, we’d recognize our position and continue the journey.

p-Great St. Johnswort

Among the sphagnum moss grew Great St. Johnswort not yet in flower.

p-slug

And slugs dined.

p-grasses, sedges and rushes

There were maples of course, and gray birches and speckled alders and royal and cinnamon ferns. But, there were also grasses and sedges and maybe even rushes. When at last we left the swamp and found ourselves on Tire Alley, about where we wanted to be, Alanna shared the ditty that helps us to maybe not name a particular species, but at least to know where to begin: Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have joints all the way to the ground. Of course, she passed around examples so everyone could feel the edges of the sedge and see the joints on the grass.

p-Alanna describing hobbleush flowers

Then she stopped to describe the former flower of hobblebush, and I noticed the bouquet in her hand had expanded–her collection intended for further study later in the day.

p-slime mold on birch

We were about to head from the trail into the quaking bog by Holt Pond when Mary Jewett spied a growth on an old birch tree.

p-slime mold 2

My best guess was a slime mold for it looked like the Son of Blob had arrived. She and I both touched it and the outer coating fell off. It was rather creepy.

p-dark green fritillary caterpillars

At that point, we did a 180˚ turn and started out onto the quaking bog, literally, but a few in the front decided it wasn’t quite what they had bargained for since the water was especially deep. So, Alanna and Mary ventured that way and I joined the rest for a walk on the boardwalk, which was wet as well, but a bit more stable. Along the way, we spotted caterpillars actively consuming spirea leaves. Upon later research, I determined they were dark green fritillary caterpillars that will soon metamorph into those beautiful orange butterflies that we often mistake for monarchs. (Note: I spotted a monarch on milkweed not yet in bloom yesterday)

p-bog rosemary

Among the many plants growing on the quaking bog, the bog rosemary stood out with its bluish gray leaves.

p-bog rosemary 1

Newer leaves formed at the top, giving off a reddish hue and adding to their distinctiveness.

p-bog rosemary 2

The netlike venation on the leaves was also noticeable and though the blooms have passed, the pretty pink fruits hadn’t yet matured into brown capsules.

p-sundew with Mary

Since we’d seen the pitcher plants, Mary wanted to find the sundews that grew near the boardwalk. With the high water as a result of a beaver dam on the Muddy River, it’s been  hard to spot the sundews, but she persevered and located one, showing off its glistening tentacles intended to capture small insects. Should one land on the tiny leaf, the insect’s feet become ensnared in the sticky secretion and the end is eminent. Within mere minutes the tentacles curl around the victim and suck the nutrients out of it.

p-snakeskin 1

Meanwhile, Alanna continued to wander off the boardwalk and suddenly she discovered a shed snake skin. I had intended to join her, but I have to say that though I wore hip waders and my feet and legs were mighty dry, I could feel the bog quake with each step and I didn’t get far. Blame it on my camera, but I didn’t want to risk a fall. And do you know that squelchy sound of pulling a foot out of several inches of mud? That’s how it was when I tried to get back on the boardwalk. It’s not just a few plants that are carnivorous–it’s the entire bog.

p-snake skin 1

Never fear. We all survived and she brought the skin back for us to admire.

p-black chokeberry 1

We stayed on the boardwalk and trail as we finally looped back and still, there was much to see. The shrub that had stumped us when we first spotted the pitcher plant in the red maple swamp suddenly spoke its name and we knew we were looking at the fruits of the black chokeberry. Only a week or two ago we’d admired their flowers.

p-serviceberry 2

And then there was the berry that reminded us of a rose hip, as it should for it was in the rose family.

p-service berry gall?

Its ripening pomes will eventually turn purplish-black. But . . . we spied something we weren’t familiar with at all–do you see the growth on one? It rather reminded me of the Son of Blob slime mold we’d seen earlier and must have been a gall. Nature certainly provides as many questions as answers.

p-Northern Arrowwood

All spring and summer the flowers of the bog change by the week, or so it seems. This week, the Northern arrowwood was showing off its creamy-white blooms.

p-sheep laurel 2

And the sheep laurel, its fuchsia-colored blossoms.

p-bog monster web

For three hours we oohed and aahed and had great fun. We made one last stop before returning to the parking lot for the spirit in the hemlock called out to us–seemingly doing its own oohing and aahing.

Such were the offerings of the preserve this morning. And the people who gathered . . . I only knew Alanna and Mary before we began, but because of our shared experience the group was quite chummy by the time we were ready to depart. That’s what I love about walks such as this where complete strangers become instant friends, even if it’s only in the moment.

Swamp people . . . don’t mind rain or mosquitoes or wet feet. Swamp people . . . get to move where the spirit takes them. Swamp people . . .  find joy and wonder along the way.