Book of April: I’m in Charge of Celebrations

Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

And so it was that upon arrival home from a short hike with my guy this morning, we discovered a package addressed to me in the mailbox. When I saw the town in Florida I knew exactly from whence it had come, but still didn’t know what was inside.

Well, much to my delightful surprise it was a children’s book.

I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor with illustrations by Peter Parnall.

Upon opening to the inside cover, several pieces of paper fell out. The first was a letter from Ben and Faith Hall; though actually it was written by Ben. Here’s an excerpt: “One of my favorite children’s books is Everybody Needs a Rock. It was written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall. When Byrd Baylor’s name appeared on the cover of the book I saw, I purchased it for fifty cents.

Ben and Faith, you see, are part of a group of twelve retired residents in their Florida town who tutor second graders struggling with reading comprehension. Given that, they are always on the lookout for appropriate books to share with their students.

Ben continued in his note to me, “After reading the book, I left it by Faith’s chair without saying anything. Obviously, I wanted to see if her reaction was similar to mine. It was. The story reminds us of your blog with its information and imagination. Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Keep going!

My ulterior motive in sending you the book is that hopefully you will write a children’s book. In no way should you take time away from your blog, but with your depth of spirit it would be worthwhile.

The illustrations in the book are fascinating and remind me of your skill with photography.”

Well, Ben and Faith, thank you so much for this gift. And for your love and support for what I enjoy doing. As for the children’s book, ideas fly through my brain all the time, but . . . I’d have to self-publish and it isn’t going to happen.

As for I’m in Charge of Celebrations, I totally get it. My guy wasn’t in the house when I sat down to read it and it’s a book that needs to be read aloud. And so I did. When he walked around the corner into the living room, he thought I was talking to someone on the phone.

For those of you not familiar with the title, Baylor begins the story with an explanation of how she’s never lonely as she explores the desert.

I feel the same way and on January 11, 2019, I actually wrote, “People often ask me this question: Aren’t you afraid of hiking alone. My response is that I’m more afraid to walk down Main Street than through the woods, the reason being that it’s a rare occasion I encounter a mammal. Oh, I do move cautiously when I’m alone, but there’s something uniquely special about a solo experience.”

As Baylor goes on to say, part of the reason she’s not lonely is this: “I’m the one in charge of celebrations.” Indeed. Each celebration marks the day she made an incredible discovery.

And so, I took a look back at some of my blog posts, and it’s all your fault Ben and Faith that this is a long one. But you inspired me to review some exciting discoveries I made just in the past year. With that, I attempted to follow Baylor’s style.

Friends,
while reveling
in the colors 
of dragons and damsels,
their canoodling
resulting in 
even more predators
of my favorite kind,
I met Prince Charming,
a Gray Tree Frog
who offered
not one rare glimpse, 
but two.
And so it is
that May 30th is
Gray Tree Frog Day.
For over thirty years
I've stalked this land
and July 14th
marked
the first time 

noticed
the carnivorous plant
growing beside
the lake. 
Droplets glistened
at the tips 
of the hair-like tendrils 
of each leaf
filled
to the brink 
as they were
with
insect parts. 
On this day
I celebrated
Round-leaved Sundews. 

A celebratory parade 
took place
on
September 22.
The route
followed the old course
of a local river.
Along the way,
trees stood in formation,
showing off 
 colorful new coats.
Upon some floats, 
seeds rustled 
as they prepared
to rain down
like candy tossed
to the gathered crowd. 
My favorite musicians
sported their 
traditional parade attire
and awed
those watching
from the bandstand.
With an 
"ooEEK, ooEEK,"
and a
"jeweep"
they flew 
down the route.
Before it was over
a lone lily
danced on the water
and offered
one 
last 
reflection. 
And then summer marched into autumn. 
With wonder
in my eyes
and on my mind
I spent November
in the presence 
of a Ruffed Grouse. 
The curious thing: 
the bird followed me, 
staying a few feet away
as 

tramped 
on. 

stopped. 
Frequently.
So did the bird. 
And we began 
to chat. 
I spoke quietly
to him
(I'm making a gender assumption)
and he
murmured back
sweet nothings. 
Together 
we shared the space, 
mindful
of 
each other. 
As he warmed up
below a hemlock,
I stood nearby, 
and watched, 
occasionally offering
a quiet comment, 
which he
considered
with
apparent nonchalance. 
Sometimes
the critters 
with whom we share
this natural world
do things
that make no sense,
but then again, 
sometimes we do 
the same. 
Henceforth,
November will always be 
Ruffed Grouse month 
for me. 
At 6am 
a flock of crows
outside the bedroom window
encouraged me 
to
crawl out of bed. 
Three black birds
in the Quaking Aspen
squawked
from their perch
as they stared 
at the ground.
I peeked
but saw nothing 
below.
That is,
until I looked
out the kitchen door
and tracks drew
my attention.
It
took
a
moment 
for my
sleepy brain
to click into gear, 
but when it did
I began to wonder
why the critter
had come
to the back door
and sashayed about
on the deck. 
Typically,
her journey
takes her
from under the barn
to the hemlock stand.
Today,
as the flakes fell, 
and the birds scolded,
she sat on the snowpile,
occasionally retreated 
to her den, 
grunted, 
re-emerged, 
and then
disappeared
for the day. 
I went out again
at dusk
in hopes
of seeing 
the prickly lady
dig her way 
out
but 
our time schedules
were not synchronized. 
I don't know
why she behaved
strangely this morning,
but I do know this:
when the crows caw--listen.
And look. 
And wonder. 
April 8th
will be the day
I celebrate
the Barred Owl
for he finally
flew in
and landed.
As I watched
he looked about
at the 
offering of treats. 
Cupcakes and cookies
were for sale
to the left
in the form
of Juncos and Chickadees. 
And then he turned 
his focus right, 
where drinks
were on tap
as the snowflakes fell.
He even
checked out 
the items 
below his feet, 
hoping upon hope 
to find
a morsel
of a vole
to his liking. 
Eventually, 
he changed
his orientation
to take 
a better look 
at the 
entire spread
of food. 
But still, 
he couldn't
make up his mind
and so
he looked some more, 
swiveling 
his neck. 
In the end,
he never did 
choose. 
Instead,
off he flew 
without munching 
any of 
the specialty items. 
But I finally got to see my owl. 

Ah, Ben and Faith, there are moments when one miraculously arrives in the right place at the right time, such as when a dragonfly emerges from its exuvia and slowly pumps blood into its body and you get to be a witness.

It strikes me as serendipity that this book should arrive today. You see, all month I’ve been debating what book to feature and time was of the essence as May approached. And then today, your lovely note, a copy of I’m in Charge of Celebrations, and the Christmas homily you wrote, Ben.

You are both the salt of the earth and I am honored to be your friend. Thank you for your kindness. (I’m only now realizing that we’ve shared a few celebrations that we’ll never forget including the fawn at Holt Pond and your smiling Bob the Bass.

Once again, the April Book of the Month: I’m in Charge of Celebrations.

I’m in Charge of Celebrations, by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986.

Wondermyway Celebrates Third Anniversary

Three years ago this journey began as a quiet entry into the world of blogging, of sharing my finds and questions found along the trail. And ever so slowly, you joined me to wander and wonder.

So really, today is a celebration of you, for I give thanks that you’ve continued to follow and comment and wander and wonder along, whether literally or virtually.

I absolutely love to travel the trail alone and do so often. But I also love hiking with my guy and others because my eyes are always opened to other things that I may have missed while hiking on my own.

I’m blessed with the community of naturalists with whom I’m surrounded–and this includes all of you for if you’re following along and taking the time to actually read my entries, then you share my interest and awe. And you may send me photos or I may send you photos and together we learn.

t6-cecropia cocoon

Just yesterday, while tramping in Lovell, Maine, with fellow trackers, I spotted a cocoon  dangling from a beech tree. My first thought–Cecropia moth, but I contacted Anthony Underwood, a Maine Master Naturalist who has great knowledge about insects, and learned that I was wrong. He said it looked more like the cocoon of a Promethea moth. “They hang down whereas Cecropia are usually attached longitudinally,” wrote Anthony. And there you have it.

Now I just have to remember it, which is part of the reason I value my post entries. The information has been recorded and I can always plug a key word, e.g. Promethea, into the search bar and today’s blog will come up–jogging my memory.

And so, without further ado, I present to you my favorites of the past year. It’s a baker’s dozen of choices. Some months, I had difficulty narrowing the choice to one and other months there was that one that absolutely stood out. I hope you’ll agree with my selection. I also hope that you’ll continue to follow me. And if you like what you read here, that you’ll share it with your families and friends and encourage others to follow along.

February 23, 2017:  Knowing Our Place

h-muddy-river-from-lodge

Holt Pond is one of my favorite hangouts in western Maine on any day, but on that particular day–it added some new notches to the layers of appreciation and understanding.

March 5, 2017: Tickling the Feet

CE 3

I don’t often write about indoor events, but while the rest of the world was out playing in the brisk wind of this late winter day, a few of us gathered inside to meet some feet.

April 22, 2017: Honoring the Earth

h-spotted sallie 2 (1)

It would have been so easy to stay home that night, curled up on the couch beside my guy while watching the Bruins play hockey. After all, it was raining, 38˚, and downright raw. But . . . the email alert went out earlier in the day and the evening block party was scheduled to begin at 7:30.

May 21, 2017: On the Rocks at Pemaquid Point

p16-fold looking toward lighthouse

Denise oriented us northeastward and helped us understand that we were standing on what is known as the Bucksport formation, a deposit of sandstone and mudstone metamorphosed into a flaky shist. And then she took us through geological history, providing a refresher on plate tectonics and the story of Maine’s creation–beginning 550 million years ago when our state was just a twinkle in the eyes of creation.

June 9, 2017: Fawning with Wonder

p-fawn 2

Though fawning is most oft used to describe someone who is over the top in the flattery department (think old school brown nose), the term is derived from the Old English fægnian, meaning “rejoice, exult, be glad.”

July 3, 2017: Book of July: Flying on the Wild Wind of Western Maine

d-skimmer, yellow legged meadowhawk, wings

My intention was good. As I sat on the porch on July 1st, I began to download dragonfly and damselfly photographs. And then the sky darkened and I moved indoors. Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the wind came up. Torrential rain followed. And thunder and lightening. Wind circled around and first I was making sure all screens and doors were closed on one side of the wee house and then it was coming from a different direction and I had to check the other side. Trees creaked and cracked. Limbs broke. And the lightening hit close by.

August 6, 2017: B is for . . .

b-bye

Our original plan was to hike to the summit of Blueberry Mountain in Evans Notch today,  following the White Cairn trail up and Stone House Trail down. But . . . so many were the cars on Stone House Road, that we decided to go with Plan B.

September 15, 2017: Poking Along Beside Stevens Brook

s22-cardinal flower

Raincoat? √

Notecards? √

Camera? √

Alanna Doughty? √

This morning I donned my raincoat, slipped my camera strap over my head, and met up with LEA’s Education Director Alanna Doughty for our reconnaissance mission along Stevens Brook in downtown Bridgton. Our plan was to refresh our memories about the mill sites long ago identified and used beside the brook.

October 5, 2017: Continued Wandering Into the World of Wonder

i-baskettail, common baskettail 1

May the answers slowly reveal themselves, while the questions never end.

November 24, 2017: Black Friday Shopping Extravaganza

b8-the main aisle

At last, I’d raided enough aisles. My cart was full to the brim and my brain overwhelmed. I guess I’m not really a “shop-til-you drop” kind of gal. It was time to wind along the trail and end my Black Friday shopping extravaganza.

December 29, 2017: Oh Baby!

s-screech owl 2

We shared about ten minutes together and it was definitely an “Oh baby!” occasion. But there was more . . .

January 21, 2018: Sunday’s Point of View

p17-Needle's Eye

We arrived home with ten minutes to spare until kickoff.

February 8, 2018: Hardly Monochromatic

p18-Stevens Brook

My world always takes on a different look following a storm and today was no different.

To all who have read thus far, thanks again for taking a trip down memory lane today and sticking with me these past three years. I sincerely hope you’ll continue to share the trail as I wander and wonder–my way.

And to wondermyway.com–Happy Third Anniversary!

 

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.

 

 

Orchid-Maine-ia

m-bald eagle 2

I took it as a sign when I first heard and then spotted a bald eagle on a white pine towering over Moose Pond. It seemed apropos that it should serve as a token of good luck, or at least a push out the door to spend some time wandering and wondering. And so I made the instant decision to drive to Holt Pond, where tomorrow I’ll join Ursula Duve and Kathy McGreavy as we lead a guided walk.

p-grasspink2

Our focus will be on orchids, such as the grass pink, which seems such a common name for this blooming beauty.

p-grass pink 1

The magenta flowers or Calopogons I spotted today are a wee bit off the boardwalk in the quaking bog, but even still I could see their showy formation with knobbed hairs on the upper lip. It is thought that the yellow crest on that lip imitates pollen, to attract pollen-seeking bees. But the real deal for orchids is that a collected mass of pollen grains are gathered together in a pollinium or anther lobe and thus deposited onto the bee’s abdomen.

p-rose pogonia 1

Rose pogonias were also blooming abundantly. In a way, their formation is opposite that of the grass-pink, with the fringed lower lip providing an attraction for pollinators.

p-pitcher leaf

Also on display as the water receded a wee bit despite a beaver dam on Muddy River–my favorite carnivorous pitcher plants with their urn-like leaves that serve as pit traps appeared quite robust.

p-pitcher flower

Carnivorous plants are orchid companions as they both prefer the bog habitat, like to fool their pollinators and are otherworldly beautiful. There is one aspect in which they differ–the orchids like to attract insects for pollination and the pitcher plants for nutrients. But first, the pitchers may use the insect as pollinators, thus fooling them into a visitation. Pollinators beware!

p-sundew

Equally seductive are the spatula-leaved sundews visible at the end of the quaking bog boardwalk. Until now, they’d been under water and difficult to see. The scent of sugary liquid on the leaf tips attracts unsuspecting insects who get stuck to the tentacles, which then curl inward and thus digest the nutrients from their prey. Again–beware.

p-trail sign

Orchids and their bog companions weren’t the only thing on view today.

p-painted turtle by Muddy River

When I stepped onto the short boardwalk to the Muddy River intent on hunting for dragonflies, I discovered a painted turtle sunning at the edge.

p-blue dasher 1

And then I found what I’d hoped–blue dashers dashed about, although occasionally one stopped so I could take a better look.

p-bluet love

And familiar bluets canoodled on a stem.

p-variable dancer

I discovered a female variable dancer damselfly on a small twig,

p-ebony jewelwing

a male ebony jewelwing fluttered and paused on red maple leaves,

p-flyby

and slaty blue dragonflies buzzed about Holt Pond in record-breaking speed.

p-slaty skimmer1

Finally, one stopped long enough for me to soak in its gray-blue color.

p-steeplebush

There were other flowers to enjoy as well, including the spirea,

p-swamp rose

swamp rose,

p-cranberry flowers

cranberry,

p-cowwheat

cow-wheat,

p-blue flag iris with hoverfly

and blue flag iris. If you look carefully, you may see a hoverfly following the runway on the left lobe.

p-blueberries ripening

I noticed blueberries beginning to turn blue,

p-cinnamon fern

cinnamon ferns with shriveled fertile fronds,

p-hobblebush leaves turning purple

and a few hobblebush leaves already taking on the fall shade of purple. Uh oh.

p-Holt Pond to the south

The wonders of Holt Pond . . .

p-Holt Pond west

never cease to amaze me.

p-quaking bog boardwalk

I hope that you can venture there yourself and discover your own Orchid-Maine-ia. Who knows what else you might notice along the way.

Reverence Beside Holt Pond

There was a time when I’d either shout for my parents to kill a tiny spider in my bedroom or walk around the numerous apartments I lived in with my hands clenched, pacing until I built up enough nerve to do the critters in.

h-Holt Pond boardwalk

And today . . .

h-carpenter ants1

I stopped to watch carpenter ants dance with each other and was amazed by their mandibles, very large mandibles–the better to chew wood and create connecting tunnels in their nests.

h-lady beetles 1

I admired convergent lady beetles feeding on pollen and nectar in the absence of prey.

h-wandering glider dragonfly

And celebrated the first dragonflies of the season.

hpp-boots

In hopes of seeing others, I got my boots wet.

h-dragonfly emerging

Thankfully, it was well worth it and I wasn’t disappointed as I had the opportunity to watch one dry its wings out before taking flight.

h-dragonfly nymph 1

Because I was beside water,  I knew to look for exoskeletons,

hp-dragonfly exo 2

and wonder about the transformation that took place.

hp-bog rosemary

But, it’s not just insects that were worth a wow moment. Bog rosemary bloomed.

h-blue flag iris 1

I spied my first blue flag iris of the season.

h-pitcher plant 1a

And awaited the blooms of pitcher plants.

h-cinnamon fern 2

The cinnamon fern’s fertile fronds also begged to be noticed.

h-royal fern

The same was true for the royal fern,

hp3-interrupted fern 1

and interrupted–all three members of the Osmundaceae family who, like me, don’t mind wet feet.

hp-tea bridge

As I moved through this wetland, I welcomed occasional glimpses of sun and warmer temps. But thanks to the coolness and breeze, the mosquitoes didn’t bother me–that and the fact that I finally started using Skeeter skidaddler, an all natural bug repellant made in Windham, Maine. (I bought it at my guy’s store a few years ago and have encouraged him to purchase more.)

h-tadpoles 1

Eventually, I left the trail and followed Grist Mill Road for a while, when what to my wondering eyes should appear in the newly created trenches–tadpoles galore.

h-aquatic larvae on rock

And aquatic insects climbing a rock as they prepared for their own metamorphosis.

h-veery 2

My intention was to follow the road all the way back to my truck, but at a side trail (the tire highway for those of you who know), I decided to retrace some of my steps and check on the dragonfly at the quaking bog. As I walked, I heard a spiraling song in the distance and then when I approached the bog boardwalk the veery showed its face–a sweet moment indeed.

h-red winged blackbird at quaking bog1

The red-winged blackbirds also sang, and my heart sank when I spied one near the dragonfly.

hp-dragonfly 5

But all was well and still he clung–in limbo. My hope is that his wings finally dried and predator he became, but I’ll never know for finally I had to leave and let nature take its course.

h-water spider 1

During my second visit, however, I had a chance to spy another who isn’t an insect, but is still worth a wonder–a water spider. I found it curious that there were dragonfly wings in the water. Oh my. Related to the spider’s presence? I don’t know.

And then I reminded myself that spiders aren’t insects, but both are invertebrates.

If you look back at the carpenter ants, you’ll see that they have a head, thorax and abdomen. And the thorax is where the three pairs of legs are attached. You can see it on the dragonfly as well. Insects also have eyes, antennae and mouthparts–like the ants’ mandibles. Most insects also have wings.

Spiders, however, have two main body parts–a combined head and thorax (or cephalothorax), and an abdomen. Their eyes, mouthparts and four pairs of legs are all part of the cephalothorax. Unlike insects, they can’t chew and they don’t have wings.

Insects belong to Insecta and spiders to Arachnida.

But in my book both are worth a wonder and so today I’m glad I had a chance to revere them.

 

 

 

 

 

Walking with Ursula

No matter when or where I walk, Ursula Duve is always along. She sees what I see, smells what I smell, feels what I feel, tastes what I taste and knows way more than I’ll ever know.

h-Ursula 2

And so it was today that a bunch of us followed this delightful little woman as she led us down the trail at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve.

h-sign

We gathered in the parking lot, where the black flies tried to swallow us whole. But, we got the better of them and practiced mind over matter. Of course, bug spray and our flailing arms helped–or at least made us feel as if it was worth the effort.

h-wild oats 1

After an introductory greeting from LEA’s teacher/naturalist Mary Jewett, we stopped frequently as Ursula shared stories of plants and life. You see, she was born in Hamburg, Germany, and grew up during WWII so she has quite a few memories flowing through her system, but as she reminded us, with the bad comes the good. And the good comes from moments she associates with wildflowers, like this bellwort.

h-painted trillium

Having lived in the United States for 50+ years now, with the last nineteen in Maine, Ursula considers herself a Mainer despite her German accent because she loves it here. And she knows when and where each flower will bloom, such as the painted trillium.

h-chokeberry buds

Even those not yet in bloom drew her attention–this being a chokeberry along the first boardwalk.

h-pitcher 3

One of the finds Ursula enjoys sharing with others is the pitcher plant, a perennial herb with pitcher-shaped leaves. We noted that this particular one sported new flower buds.

h-pitcher flower

And on another, the otherworldly shape of last year’s now woody flower capsule–its job completed.

h-pitcher plant 1

Ursula is as awed as I am by the power of the pitcher plants. Color, scent (that I’ve never smelled) and nectar in glands near the top of the pitcher leaf attract insects. Once inside, those downward-pointing hairs make it difficult to leave. So what happens next? The insect eventually drowns in the rainwater, decomposes and is digested by the plant’s liquid, which turns phosphorus and nitrogen released by the insect into supplemental nutrients for the surrounding peat. Interestingly, no “joules” or units of energy are passed on through this process to the plant itself. The plant gathers its energy through the process of photosynthesis instead.

h-rhodora 1

As we continued, we were wowed once again–this time by the sight of the showy rhodora. Rhodora flowers fully before its leaves emerge and so today they were but small nubs located alternately along the shrub’s branches.

h-rhodora 3

But those flowers–oh my! The rose-purple bloom has what’s considered two lips–with the upper consisting of three lobes and the lower of two. And each produces ten purple-tipped stamen surrounding the pistil, where the pollen will germinate into a many-seeded capsule.

h-leatherleaf

Like the rhodora, another member of the heath family in bloom was the leatherleaf–with bell-shaped flowers formed in leaf axils and dangling below the stem as if it was laundry hung out to dry. One way to differentiate this plant from the highbush blueberries that can be found throughout the preserve, are the alternate, upward-pointing leaves, which decrease in size as your eye moves toward the tip of the stem.

h-honeysuckle 1

Just before we stepped out onto the Quaking Bog boardwalk, Mary pointed out a native honeysuckle. In my memory bank, I couldn’t remember ever seeing it before, and if I had, well . . . I was glad to make its acquaintance again.

h-green frog 2

And then we stepped onto the boardwalk. Folks up front paused to admire a green snake, while those of us in the back noticed a green frog. It stayed as calm as possible in hopes that we wouldn’t see it. Nice try.

H-Holt Pond

Like all ponds and lakes right now, the water level remains high and so walking the boardwalk meant wet hiking boots.

h-quaking bog 2

But that didn’t stop some of us. Fortunately, mine are waterproof.

h-green frog

Just before we stepped from the boardwalk back onto land, I saw that the frog was still there.

h-hobblebush flowers 1

On the trail again, another showy flower called for our attention–hobblebush.

h-hobblebush 1

While some looked fresh, others were beginning to pass and their fruits will soon form. We noted the sterile outer blooms that surround the inner array of small fertile flowers. And a beetle paying a visit.

h-Mayfly1

Speaking of insects, a slight movement on the ground pulled us earthward.

h-mayfly 2

We’d found a Mayfly–perhaps just emerged and its wings drying.

h-Indian Cucumber root 1

In the last wooded section we would cover for the day, we noticed that the two-tiered Indian Cucumber Roots have a few buds. I can’t wait for them to flower soon.

h-goldthread 2

Among the flowers that I’ll always associate with Ursula because she’s the first to have introduced me to them, is the goldthread, so named for its golden-colored root. We usually identify it by its cilantro-shaped leaves, but right now the dainty flowers are not to be missed. What looks like petals are actually sepals and there can be five to seven of them. And stamen–many. Goldthread can feature 5-25 stamen.

h-goldthread 3

Even the number of yellow-and-green pistils can vary from three to seven. Ah nature–forever making us think.

h-dwarf ginseng 1

The other plant I associate with Ursula is dwarf ginseng. Its explosive umbel consists of many flowers. And in this one, a dining crab spider.

h-spring tail wave

Finally, we found our way to Grist Mill Road and headed back toward the parking lot. But even on the road we found something to wonder about when one member of our group pointed to the curvy black design. In the past, I’ve always dismissed it as some sort of mineral associated with the dirt.

h-spring tails on sand1

Today, I learned it was none other than those good old spring tails or snow fleas we associate with late winter, but are really present all year. Something new to notice going forward.

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At the end of our walk we all gave thanks to Mary and Ursula. We’d come away with refreshers and new learnings.

And we’d been reminded by Ursula that though she and her husband, Wolfgang, can no longer get out as often as they’d like, after sixty years of marriage they still have fun reminiscing about their many explorations together. A goal for all of us to set.

Most often this wildflower and bird enthusiast walks vicariously with me as she reads my blog entries, but today it was my immense pleasure to walk with her. Thank you, Ursula, for once again sharing your love of all things natural with the rest of us . . . and your optimistic philosophy of life.

Oh and a question for Wolfgang, while Ursula walked with us, did you get on the treadmill?

Into Focus

Sunshine. Spring sunshine. Need I say more. No, but I will as I bring the focus to two of my favorite watering holes.

h-Mount Wash

Of course, a visit to my first pond isn’t complete without a pause to recognize the power and the powerful.

h-wood frog eggs 1

As I approached the vernal pool, I heard not a sound. But, my heart filled when I spotted a clump of wood frog eggs.

h-wood frog 1

When our sons were youngsters, we always called it the frog pond rather than the vernal pool. And so it is . . . both.

h-willow pollination

After an hour spent in the pond’s midst, I drove to another–Holt Pond–where I decided to park on the corner of Perley and Grist Mill Roads. I wasn’t sure of the conditions on Grist Mill Road and figured that provided the perfect excuse for a walk and an opportunity to take in the sights along the way. Stepping out of the truck, pussy willows called to me . . . and to their pollinators.

h-queen anne's lace

And on the corner, a dried Queen Anne’s lace displayed its fireworks formation.

h-sensitive fern frond

There were sensitive fern fronds, their beads still encapsulating many cases containing dust-like spores.

h-beaked hazelnut

And I even found a few beaked hazelnuts still showing off their minute magenta flowers.

h-Grist Mill Road

I knew by my observations that I’d made the right decision to walk in–both in my findings and in the road conditions.

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After following the initial trail and climbing over the stonewall, I was about to step onto the first boardwalk when I realized the beavers had been busy.

h-board walk-first section

The water was high as I quietly moved along the board walk, but not too high.

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Although in some cases pitchers were submersed in the wet goodness.

h-speckled alder 1

The speckled alders didn’t mind for they love wet feet.

h-Muddy River

I stepped out to the Muddy River and listened to the chickadees sell cheeseburgers galore.

h-beaver lodge

And then I turned in the opposite direction to admire the beaver lodge and winter feeding pile beside it.

h-Boardwalk through red maple swamp 1

On the next boardwalk, the beauty of the red maple swamp surrounded me again.

h-Red Maple Swamp 1

Layers and colors spoke to the community and season.

h-red maple in swamp

And standing like sentries were the red maples for which it is named.

h-moose scat

It was here that I found evidence of another visitor, albeit this past winter–moose scat.

h-blueberry bud

And noted the swelling buds of highbush blueberries–their season in the offing.

h-Quaking Bog 2

After passing through the woodlands a couple of times in between the swamp journey, I at last reached the quaking bog and Holt Pond.

h-cranberries

Beside the board walk, last autumn’s cranberries floated in the water.

h-pitcher 2

And more pitcher plants showed off their hairy entrance ways.

h-pitcher flower

Withered pitcher plant flowers dangled in their woody fashion–as beautiful in death as in full bloom.

h-Holt Pond south

By the time I reached the T on the boardwalk, I was standing atop it, but in six inches of water–thankful for my rain boots.

h-Holt Pond to Five Fields

And thankful for the opportunity to stand there on a gorgeous spring day as I looked toward Five Fields Farm.

h-Canada Geese

In that very view–two Canada geese. I wondered if they’d found a nest site.

h-dragonfly exoskeleton 2

Also in view, last year’s dragonfly exoskeleton that bobbed in the water flowing over the boardwalk.

h-cinnamon crosier 1

On the way back, I stopped once again. My first photo call was an ostrich fern that I didn’t realize grew there. See why you should walk in rather than drive? That photo didn’t come out so well, but I was standing in an area filled with cinnamon ferns and suddenly realized I was looking at my first crosiers of the season.

I was actually down by a stream beside the road when I found these. A truck came along and the driver paused. He and his friend thought I was fishing and were going to ask what I’d caught. “Only photos,” I said playfully.

h-garter snake 1

Upon returning home I decided to visit the frog pond one more time, thinking the lighting would be different. At the end of the cowpath I found a garter snake enjoying the warmth of the sun . . . and probably a few insects.

h-wood frog eggs 2

When I’d walked to the pond this morning, I was surprised at how quiet it was. That changed this afternoon as a chorus of wrucks added music to my day. And another egg mass had been added to the display.

h-wood frog 2

Of course, all quieted down once I arrived, but I waited . . . and realized the pond really is full of life.

I’d spent the day beside my favorite ponds and was well rewarded. I’d also played with my camera settings, avoiding auto-focus all day. I’ve got a lot to learn, but hey, isn’t that what it’s all about?