Time Well Spent

Time. I never seem to have enough of it. Time with my guy. Time with our sons. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to explore. Time to reflect. Time to write. Time to sketch. Time to be . . . in tune with the world around me and my own soul.

b-pileated 1

And so today, when I heard a pileated woodpecker as it worked on a dead ash tree by one of the stonewalls, I decided to take a break from my own work and give it the attention it so loudly demanded.

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Its a repeat visitor to that tree; along with crows and hawks and smaller birds as well. The tree can no longer create its own source of food, but it continues to provide for others, be they bird, insect or mushroom. And I suspect that it secretly shares its knowledge of the world with the younger ash it towers over–to the right. As for the pileated, his time at that tree came to an end . . . for the moment. He’ll be back–probably soon.

b-ash tree 1

Because I stood below and no longer need to look up, I turned my gaze downward. And then had to pause. What had happened? Who had visited? And scraped the ground right down to the roots? And left a pile of leaves and sticks and other debris at the edge? A mushroom foray? An acorn frenzy? I looked for hair and found none. Turkey? Squirrel? Porcupine?

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And at the base of the next old ash, similar behavior.

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Returning to the first tree, I discovered that what looked like dirt was actually little pellets of scat . . . tiny scat. Tons of scat. A latrine. Did perhaps a meadow vole live somewhere nearby and a predator went after it? I did also suspect that there may have been a bunch of mushrooms that were harvested and in the process the vole’s latrine was exposed. I’m not sure if I’ll ever really know, but since I had stopped to look, I noticed something else.

b-pigskin poison puffball (Earthball)

Tucked near the base of the tree and relatively untouched by whatever had spent some time clearing the area, was a pigskin poison puffball, so named for its outer skin that feels like a football. (In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman writes: “historical note: footballs used to be made of pigs’ bladders, not pigskin.”) The dark spore mass within seemed to reflect the ashen color of the tree beside which it grew.

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I should have returned to work then, but the puffball discovery and my wonders about the latrine made me want to poke about some more. Since I’d missed the puffball, what else hadn’t I noticed. A few steps to the left upon another tree root–a pelt lichen with many fruits, aka many-fruited pelt. I first discovered this lichen upon Bald Pate Mountain a few years ago, but didn’t know that it grew here–right under my nose.

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Its smooth brown lobes shone brightly due to all the recent moisture, but it was the reddish-brown apothecia or fruiting forms that I found so intriguing. They’re described as saddles, and I suppose if you look at one from the right angle, yes, you can see the saddle-like structure.

b-field dog lichen

On the next tree, another pelt known as dog lichen–apparently named because its fruits reminded someone of dog ears.

b-spring tails 1

The algal component of a lichen goes into food production during rain, and so I continued to peer around. But first, a clump of Indian pipes caught my attention and upon them I noticed springtails doing their thing–springing about in search of food. Their diet consists of fungi, pollen, algae and decaying organic matter. Springtails are among the most abundant of insects, but because they are so small, they often go undetected unless you see them on snow in the winter.

b-mealy pixie cups

And then back to the lichens it was. I found mealy pixie cups in great number growing on a stonewall.

b-pixie cups fruiting

And one large patch looked like it was going to produce another, for so prolific were its fruits of tiny round balls.

b-lichen design

Also among my great finds, were the lichens decorating branches that had fallen to the ground in our recent wind storm. I loved the picture they painted with variations on a theme of color . . .

b-foliose and fruticose

and form.

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My favorite of all reminded me of so many things–a rose in bloom, waves echoing forth with ripples, and even a topographical map.

Alas, I was short on time and needed to head in, but my finds–were the greatest. Even a wee bit of time spent wondering is time well spent.

 

Tagging Along with Jinny Mae

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” ~ Albert Camus

While I sometimes walked beside Jinny Mae this afternoon, I spent more time following her and am still her friend (I think).

A HOT afternoon. Despite the heat, however, I’m always tickled to follow her because she knows her 40-acre property intimately–including all of its nooks and crannies and cool sights.

j-green frog in water

 

We had some rain this morning, but Jinny Mae’s land is naturally wet and well loved by mosses and ferns . . . and green frogs. As we approached, several leaped into this mini pool and then posed.

j-green frog

Others waited patiently–probably hoping we’d move along.

j-polypore

J.M. has a fascination for fungi. Many fruiting bodies, like this gilled polypore, showed their faces as we moved about.

j-gilled polypore

We rolled the log to get a better look at the maze-like underside.

j-false chanterelle

Among our finds–chanterelles (deleted false because fungi expert, Jimmie Veitch informed me that they are true chanterelles. If you want to know more about Maine fungi or to purchase some, visit White Mountain Mushrooms) and . . .

j-coral

a coral fungi. Given today’s humidity, it felt like we were in the Bermuda of the North.

j-fern

Jinny Mae also showed me a fern-like moss that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: stair-step moss. This moss is particularly fond of the moist coniferous and hardwood forest we tramped through. Its new growth arose from the previous year’s growth–climbing like a staircase.

j-yellow birch and hemlock

Nearby, she pointed to one of her favorite tree displays–a hemlock and yellow birch sharing space. Both have seeds that germinate best on rotting logs or rocks, where moss gathers and provides moisture. In a compatible relationship, they’ve reached for the sky with equal success. I’m reminded of two friends who know the importance of supporting each other–similar to the chitchat and occasional silence Jinny Mae and I share as we bushwhacked.

j-lightning 2

And then she introduced me to Excalibur. Even King Arthur probably couldn’t pull this    sword-like piece of a tree out of the ground–well, maybe he could. But we couldn’t.

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The reason for Excalibur’s existence: a recent lightning strike.

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We looked around and saw that the energy passed through at least three trees.

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Bark peeled off.

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And shredded wood scattered. What surprised us both was that we couldn’t find any burnt wood. Thankfully.

j-beech drops

Making our way back toward her house, we entered a beech forest and began to see beechdrops everywhere we looked.

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These are parasitic plants that don’t manufacture their own nutrition, thus they depend on the roots of American beech trees for food.

j-coteledon

In this same area, we come across a young beech tree Jinny Mae flagged in the spring when she first observed a cotyledon. We chuckled when we remembered how we both were so taken with cotyledons a few months ago–a new sighting for us. One of those things that was always there, but we’d never noticed it previously. Today, she was filled with pride for this young beech. It’s had a healthy start and in forty years may provide beech nuts for the neighborhood bears. In the meantime, it will probably nourish a few beech drops.

j-Indian pipe .jpg

And then she showed me the final cool find of the day–an Indian pipe with stamens that appear to have split away from the flower. It seems that these friends made the move together–much the same as Jinny Mae and I did today.

I may have tagged along and followed her, but really, we walked side by side and I’m thankful for her friendship.

Sundae School

I went on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon and visited a land trust property I’ve never stepped foot on before. My intention was to scope it out for possible use with a future Maine Master Naturalist class. My realization from the get-go was a happy heart. I can’t wait to return and take others along so we can make discoveries together.

n Preserve sign

I’ve only been on one other Western Maine Foothills Land Trust property, so had no idea what to expect. The small parking area for Shepard’s Farm Preserve is at 121 Crockett Ridge Road in Norway. (Norway, Maine, that is.) This is one of seven preserves owned by the trust. I should have known I’d enjoy myself immensely just by the name. Though we spell Shephard with an “h,” it’s a family name for us. Who knows–maybe there’s a connection.

n-trail sign

On the back of the brochure I grabbed at the kiosk, I read the following: “Originally owned by Benjamin Witt, the high undulating pasture of Shepard’s Farm Family Preserve was transferred to Joshua Crockett in 1799, Charles Freeman in 1853, John Shepard in 1910, and to Bill Detert in 1984.” Mr. Detert and his family donated the property in memory of his wife, Jan, to the WMFLT in 2010.

n-Indian pipe bee 1

My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

n-Indian pipe

As I continued along the trail I found the upturned mature flower and again wondered–who stopped by for a sip of sap? Lessons should evoke further questions and a desire to learn more.

n-hawkweed

The trail offered other familiar flowers, like hawkweed,

n-pearly everlasting

pearly everlasting, goldenrods and asters, Queen Anne’s lace, boneset and jewelweed.

n-monkeyflower 3

And then I come upon a wildflower I don’t recall meeting before. The lesson included a look at the leaves, their arrangement on the stem, and the flowerhead.

n-monkeyflower 1

The answer to the quiz–lavender-flowered Sharp-winged Monkeyflower. Monkeys in the woods! You never know. Sometimes I think that red squirrels sound like monkeys when they chit at me, but in this case, it’s the fact that the flower looks something like a monkey’s face.

n-thistle young and old

Further on,  I spotted a favorite that I don’t see as often as I’d like. What I didn’t realize is that thistles are in the aster family. Always learning. Its presence here is referenced by trail conditions, which change periodically from mixed hardwoods to softwoods to open places. Thistles prefer those open places–fields and waste places. Hardly waste in my opinion. Rather, early succession to a woodland.

n-bee on thistle 2

A bee worked its magic on the flowerhead so I moved in for a closer look.

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As with any flower, it was a pollen frenzy.

n-thistle with seeds

Seconds later–maturity! Well, maybe not quite that fast.

n-thistle seeds 1

But the seeds had developed their downy parachutes and the breeze was a’blowing.

n-thistle seed 2

They knew it was time to leave the roost and find a new classroom.

n-trail ferns

Another lesson worth more time was a look at the natural communities along the trail. Bikers and hikers share this space, but what I found fascinating was the constant change.

n-trail hay

The original trail for the Shepard’s Family Farm Preserve was located on a 19-acre parcel. Recently, the Witt Swamp Extension was added, which almost circles around a 250+ acre piece. Hay covers some of the new trail right now–giving it that farm-like feel and smell.

n-trail 1

I’m not certain of the mileage, but believe that I covered at least 4-5 miles in my out and back venture over undulating land and through a variety of neighborhoods. The trail conditions–pure bliss. No rocks or roots to trip over. Instead, I could look around for the next lesson.

n-cedar bark

One of the things I love about hiking in Norway is that I get to be in the presence of cedar trees–Northern white cedar.

n-cedar leaves

I’m fascinated by its scale-like leaves.

n-deer tracks

So are the deer, who feed on the leaves during the winter months.

n-dry stream

I found only deer tracks, and noted that all stream beds were dry, though the moss gave a moist look to the landscape. We’re experiencing a drought this summer.

n-red leaf

Due to that lack of rain, some red maples already have turned and colorful leaves are beginning to float to the ground.

n-porky 3

Deer aren’t the only mammals that inhabit this place. From the trail, I noticed hemlock trees with bases that looked like perfect gnome homes. And then I spotted this one that invited a closer look.

n-porky den

A pile of porcupine scat–the pig-pen of the woods. Even Charlie Brown would note a distinct odor.

n-toad camo

And in true “Where’s Waldo” tradition, a young American toad crossed my path. The camo lesson–blend in for safety’s sake.

n-turtle 2

Being former farmland, stonewalls wind their way through the preserve. And my childhood fascination with turtles was resurrected. Do you see it?

n-turtle 3

How about now? Hint: the head is quartz.

n-turtles

And this one? They’re everywhere. It makes me wonder if it was a style of the times.

n-stone wall ending

I crossed through a gap in the stonewall and noted two smaller stones topped by a large flat one. A reason why? The questions piled up. I need to ask the teacher.

n-stonepile

And then there were the stone piles. Why so many smaller stones around a boulder? What I love about this spot is that a hemlock took advantage of the boulder and grew on top of it.

n-stone structure 2

And another favorite find–a stone structure.

n-stone structure, flat

Created with rather flat field stones.

n-stone structure 1a

It’s near a stonewall, so I surmised it was a shed of some sort rather than a root cellar for a home. I could be wrong, but am thrilled by the opportunity to see it.

n bird sculpture

One of the coolest features of this property is that it’s home to sculptures created in the 1970s by Bernard Langlois, including this bird in flight. The sculptures were made possible recently by the generosity of his widow, Helen Langlois, Colby College and the Kohler Foundation.

n-bird lady 2

Mrs. Noah is my favorite. She has stories to tell and I have lessons to learn.

It’s Sunday and by the time I finished hiking I was hot. I’d intended to check out a few more preserves, but the thought of a creamsicle smoothie at a local ice cream shop had my focus–until I pulled in and saw this posted: “Cash and local checks only.” No cash. And though our checks would be local, I didn’t have any with me either. Lesson learned.

I drove home and made my own sundae.

Rather a Mondate

Yes, it’s Monday. But as has been the case lately, my guy and I haven’t been able to hike together. We both had chores and projects to complete and so we did.

In the late afternoon, however, I headed out the back door. My mission–to locate something orange to photograph for our young neighbor who is prepping for a bone marrow transplant. Not an easy task, but like others I know, as often as he can, he smiles through this journey.

m team orange

Orange hawkweed provided today’s support to Team Kyan. May he continue to be strong. And his family, as well.

m cicada 5

After my orange find, I journeyed on–headed for our woodlot. And only steps from it, I discovered this camo-dressed insect fluttering on the ground. The male member of this species is known for the high-pitched buzz we hear on summer days. Sometimes, it’s almost deafening.

m cicada wings

This is a cicada, one that appeared to have a wing issue. A set of wings was held close to its  thick body, while the other set extended outward. (I thought of Falda, the faerie with folded wings in The Giant’s Shower.) I love the venation, reminiscent of a stain-glass window. Strong, membranous wings for a large insect.

m cicada flap

When I returned a second time, it was flapping those wings like crazy, but take off wasn’t happening. Did a predator attack at some point? Will it still be there tomorrow? So much to wonder about.

m cicada up close 2

And being me, I took advantage of the fact that it wasn’t going far to take a closer look. Notice the three legs extending below the thorax.

m-cicada kiss

Face on! We might as well have kissed. I’ve licked a slug, but passed on the opportunity to kiss a cicada. I do love this broad head, however. Check out that mouth that protrudes. Hidden inside are mandibles and maxillae used to pierce plants and drink their sap (xylem). Even if this chunky one couldn’t fly, it could still eat. And those eyes, oh my. So, here’s the scoop. The two obvious outer  eyes are compound, the better to see you with. But then I noticed three red spots located between the two compound eyes. Do you see them? These are three more eyes known as ocelli–they look rather jewel-like and are perhaps used to detect light or dark. Yup, this is a five-eyed insect. Certainly worth a wonder.

m indian pipe 6

As I continued my wander, I noticed that in the past few days a large number of Indian Pipes made their ghost-like presence known.

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Ever so slowly they broke through the ground–these under a hemlock grove.

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Though each is one flowered, they love communal living.

m indian pipe 5

Their waxy flowers dangle as they pull up through the duff.

m indian pipe

Once fertilized, their pipes slowly turn upright, where the flowerhead will transform to a capsule encompassing the seeds of the next generation. Notice the lack of leaves–scales take their place.

m pine sap group

Also in these woods, I knew today to look for a relative of Indian Pipe because I found their capsule structures last winter. Pinesap growing below an Eastern white pine.

m pine sap 3

Since it was dark under the trees, I needed to use a flash, thus the color. But really, these are amber. And multi-flowered on a raceme. Pinesaps and Indian Pipes produce no chlorophyll, therefore they can’t make food on their own. And because they aren’t dependent on light, they thrive in shady places.

m-pine sap flowers

What sustains them is their saprophytic nature–they aren’t a fungus, but depend on fungi to obtain carbohydrates from another plant, so the mycorrhizal fungi serves as the connector between the host and the Pinesap’s roots.

m-pine sap up

While the Indian Pipe is scaly, the Pinesap has a hairier appearance. Both are members of the heath family.

As for me and my guy, today we’ve been near each other, but not on a playdate. In fact, as I sit in the summer kitchen and write, he’s doing a huge favor for me. Isn’t that how it should be? No, not really. We’d rather be on a Mondate together.

Samplings of Wonder

The day began with a journal hike along Perky’s Path, a trail in the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve. It was a first for us–a journal walk that is, and we had no idea how it would turn out. But our fearless docents, Ann and Pam, did a wonderful job of listening to the voices of those gathered and knew when it was time to stop and when it was time to move on again.

h-LMH

Each of us got lost in the world around us as we sat. We looked. We listened. We contemplated. We wrote. We sketched. We photographed. I know that I was so intent on sketching that I never realized Pam took this photo until she sent it to me. Thank you, Pam.

h sampling

Ever since I’ve started looking at the natural world through my macro lens, I haven’t taken as much time to sketch, so today was a welcome excuse to do so. And to color. Since my Aunt Ruth gave me colored pencils at least 50 years ago, those have been a favorite medium. I no longer have the gift from her, but my guy replenishes my supply when necessary.

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Our group was small, seven in total. We all admitted that small is good for this sort of activity.  And we came away thankful for the experience of making time to notice.

h beetle

And then I walked to the summit of Hawk Mountain with Jinny Mae–on a trail that may seem rather sparse in offerings, but actually proved to be quite rich. This banded longhorn beetle didn’t really like being the center of attention. His focus was on steeplebush pollen and I kept getting in his face. So–he did what flying insects do–and flew off.

h fern indusium

We were excited to discover several clumps of marginal wood ferns and some even with the indusium still intact. The indusium is a membranous covering that protects the sporangia inside the spore cases until they are ready to leave home on a dry day. In this case, the indusium is kidney shaped. As the sporangia ripen, they push the covering off and dust-like spores fly off in a wee cloud, breaking free to set down their own roots.

h white oak

Here, both Northern red and white oak grow side by side. It was the white oak’s fruiting structure that called our names. The immature acorns growing in pairs are both warty and hairy, but their structure is more reminiscent of a miniature pine cone at this stage. They should mature by fall.

h stag stalk

And then we celebrated the one who is all hair and color . . .

h stag leaves

and distinct shapes and

h stag leaf

a combination of all three.

h stag flower

Staghorn sumac. The king of the mountain.

h berries 2

Little things excited us and the twin fruits of the Hairy Solomon’s Seal that tried to hide beneath the leaves didn’t escape our focus. Or our cameras. Sometimes we are sure that we share all the same photos.

h indian pipe

One of our final stops as we headed down the trail–to worship the heads-up version of a fertilized Indian pipe. While most flowers nod when fertilized, Indian pipe chooses to be different. It wins in my wonder department.

I’ve only shared a few finds from today’s wanders. Just a smattering or a sampling. All worth a wonder.

 

 

Chore-date Mondate

Some Mondays we’re forced to stay home and complete chores. And so it was today.

But, one item on our list included a mid-afternoon trip to Holt Pond, where we did some trail maintenance on the Southern Shore Trail.

blowdown

saw 1

A couple of blow downs and some stray branches required our attention.

nature art

So did nature’s art work, visible on a nearby boardwalk.

birch polypores

While I did a wee bit of labor, I constantly scanned the landscape for things like this birch polypore garden.

bp pore surface

Viewed from below, it’s easy to see the pore surface.

deflated puffballs

A stump covered with deflated puffballs took me back to my childhood, when we used these as smoke bombs. I’ve lived a life well spent.

stinkhorn?

I’m not sure how I saw this one and I’m not sure my ID is correct, but I think it’s a stinkhorn. We were moving quickly, so I didn’t take time to sniff.

 Indian Pipes

I loved this bouquet of Indian Pipes that have transformed from ghostly white pipes to their brown stick stage topped with handsome woody seedpods.

shades of brown

When we weren’t passing quietly under Hemlocks, we scrunched through shades of brown–certainly a feast for the eyes of those who create Crayola crayons and paint chips.

HP 1

We paused briefly to look at the quaking bog across Holt Pond–a different point of view.

field 1

At last we reached our turn-around point in the field, which isn’t much of a field anymore. It’s a classic example of succession–an area where a disturbance (log landing) created an opening, which filled in with wildflowers that some would consider weeds. Shrubs and tree saplings have taken over and will soon create shade so the sun-dependent flowers will die back.

Field 2

Though their stay here is short-lived, the flowers play a major role by decomposing and releasing nutrients that improve the soil for those that follow.

field goldenrod

So sing your praises to the goldenrods

sweet fern

and Sweet-fern for the work they do to enhance the earth . . . and for their free-form structures–more of nature’s art work.

We relished this “chore” in the middle of our working Monday. And now to get that barn cleaned.

 

A Little of This and a Little of That

As I sit here listening to the undelightful sound of an artesian well being drilled on a neighboring property, I have to wonder how deep they must go. After all, we’re beside a lake.

To distract myself, I wandered about our lot, wondering what I might see. I’d also wandered at Holt Pond early this morning, sharing the pitcher plants and some other great finds with K. So . . . here’s a little of this and a little of that.

Muddy River

Morning has broken . . . on the Muddy River.

HP boardwalk

And the quaking bog at Holt Pond.

pp2

Home of the pitcher plants and the reason for our visit.

Horned Bladderwort

A new find for me: Horned bladderwort. It’s growing at the edge of the pond. The stalk is erect and there are no apparent leaves–because . . .  “tiny leaves grow beneath the soil” according to Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.

Indian pipe

Check out this Indian Pipe. Usually we see the ghostly white version, but Newcomb states that occasionally the plants are pink. This is one of those occasions. And these flowers have been fertilized–therefore, they are standing upright, rather than nodding.

Staghorn sumac

On my way home, I stopped by the side of the road to admire the staghorn sumac. The cluster of upright flowers reminded me a wee bit of the sundews we’d been admiring at Holt Pond. Color and hairiness–similar but entirely different.

rose

Back at camp and by the water’s edge, a single swamp rose bush.

serviceberry

The berries of a shadbush dangle like ornaments.

exoskeleton

Under a porch floorboard, the exoskeleton of a dragonfly.

blue dasher dragonfly

Perhaps it previously protected this one–a blue dasher.

thistle

And finally, a field thistle on our neighbor’s side of the driveway. Such a suit of armor.

There’s more, but that was enough this and that for the day. And besides, the well folks are finally departing. Let there be silence.