In 2015, my dear friend Jinny Mae (sometimes I referred to her as Jinnie Mae), was on the receiving end of an ominous cancer diagnosis. She underwent all sorts of treatments, including a Stem Cell transplant, and showed incredible bravery as she faced each set back with tenacity.
Yesterday, she lost the fight. The world has lost an incredible woman who was an engineer, not only in career, but in person and in community. I always think of engineers as seeing black and white, but Jinny Mae saw the gray areas and mastered them with her wit and creativity. She was an historian and a naturalist and a warm, inviting friend. She taught me to slow down and ask questions, to stop for great periods and pause and ponder.
Together we made discoveries and accepted the fact that the answers weren’t always obvious.
We laughed. We noticed. We questioned. We laughed some more.
I’m sad, but at the same time grateful about the fact that I got to wander and wonder with Jinny Mae on so many occasions.
Her path has changed, but I suspect she’ll continue to guide mine and for that I’ll be forever thankful.
On your new path, Jinny Mae, beginning with a dandelion–may you find bright spots along the way.
If stonewalls are placed in front of you, may you pause like the tortoise and then continue your journey in a steadfast manner.
Should there be moments when you must curl up, may they be followed by . . .
times when you’ll slowly unfurl.
May you spread your wings again and again.
May you feel new life flow through your veins,
and embrace tender moments.
May you always be wowed by the little things,
especially those that have been there all along but somehow you missed until now.
At the end of the day, may the moon and stars embrace you and remind the rest of us that you are only a whisper away.
This morning I chose to channel my inner Jinny Mae in honor of my dear friend who has been in isolation for medical reasons since last January. That meant I had to try to slow down and be sure to notice. And ask questions. Mostly it meant I needed to wonder.
She’s a lover of fungi, so I knew that she’d pause beside the Violet-toothed Polypores that decorated a log. The velvety green algal coating would surely attract her attention. Why does algae grow on this fungus?
I didn’t have the answer in my mind, but a little research unearthed this: “As is the case for lichens, the algae on top of a polypore arrangement appears to benefit both partners. The algae (usually single-celled ball-shaped green algae), being filled with green photosynthetic pigments, use sunlight to make sugars out of carbon dioxide gas. Some of these leak out and are absorbed and consumed by the fungi as an extra source of energy-rich organic carbon. The fungus, in turn, provides a solid platform upon which the algae can set up shop and grow into dense green communities.” (~rosincerate.com)
The next stop occurred beside the fall forms of asters where the seeds’ parachutes could have easily passed as a flower. What’s a seed’s parachute and why does it have one? The parachutes are made up of hair-like structures. As an immobile parent plant, it needs to disperse its young so that new plants can grow away from those pesky competitive siblings. And maybe even colonize new territories. At this stage of life, the seedy teenager can’t wait to fly away from home and start its own life. Do you remember that time in your life?
And then, it was another fungus that asked to be noticed. Those gills. That curly edging. And crazy growth structure. Jinny Mae would have keyed in on it right away, but it took me a while. I think it’s a bioluminescent species, Night Light aka Bitter Oyster (Panellus stipticus). But as I often say, I don’t know mushrooms well, so don’t look to me as the authority. What would Jinny Mae ask? Hmmm. What makes it glow? That’s even further beyond my understanding than naming this species. But I can say that it has to do with enzymes that produce light by the oxidation of a pigment. And have I ever actually seen such a glow? NO. But one of these nights 😉
As I continued to walk along, I noticed movement and realized I was in the presence of a butterfly. A butterfly I don’t recall ever meeting before. It had the markings of several familiar species, but it wasn’t until I arrived home that I figured out its name. Do you see its curled proboscis?
Jinny Mae would have been as wowed as I was by this species that I can confidently call a Faunus Anglewing or Green Comma. Typically it flies from May to September, so why today? I got to wondering if this week’s Nor’easter caught it in a more southern clime and forced it north on the wind? But I discovered that its a boreal species and was perhaps at the southern end of its range. Maybe the storm did have something to do with its presence today after all.
Eventually the journey became a mix of following a trail and bushwhacking. Both provided examples of the next moment I knew Jinny Mae would love. Dead Man’s Fingers, all five of them, in their fall form, the lighter color spores having dispersed and the mushroom now turning black. Why the common name for Xylaria longipes? According to Lawrence Millman, author of Fascinating Fungi of New England, “Certain African tribes believe that if you’ve committed a crime, and you rub the spore powder from an immature Xylaria on your skin, the police won’t identify you as the culprit.”
It seemed these woods were a mushroom garden and one after another made itself known. I could practically feel Jinny Mae’s glee at so many fine discoveries. Resembling cascading icicles (I was wearing a wool hat and my snowpants actually, which turned out to be overdress after three hours), I wanted to call it Lion’s Mane, but to narrow down an ID decided to leave it at the genus Hericium. I suspected Jinny would agree that that was best and it should just be enjoyed for its structure no matter who it really was.
Nearby, another much tinier, in fact, incredibly teenier fungus could have gone unnoticed had the sun not been shining upon it. I was pretty certain 2019 would be the year that would pass by without my opportunity to spy this one. But, thankfully, I was proven wrong. Forever one of my favorites, I knew Jinny Mae also savored its presence. The fruiting body of Green Stain are minute cup-shaped structures maybe 1/3 inch in diameter. I used to think when I saw the stain on wood that it was an old trail blaze. And then one day I was introduced to the fruiting structure and rejoice each time I’m graced with its presence. There was no reason to question these delightful finds. Noticing them was enough.
In complete contrast, upon a snag nearby, grew a much larger fungus.
Part of its identification is based on its woody, shelf-like structure projecting out from the tree trunk. Someone had obviously been dining upon it and based on its height from the ground and the tooth marks, I suspected deer.
The pore surface, however, is the real reason to celebrate this find for it stains brown and provides a palette upon which to sketch or paint, thus earning it the common name of Artist Conk. But the question: while some mushrooms fruit each year and then if not picked, rot and smell like something died in the woods, what happens with a shelf fungus? The answer as best I know: A shelf fungus adds a new layer of spore tissue every growing season; the old layer covered by the new one, which look like growth rings in a tree.
A lot of the focus on this morning’s walk tended to be upon the fungi that grew in that neck of the woods, but suddenly something else showed its face. Or rather, I think, her face. A Wolf Spider. Upon an egg sac. Super Mom though she may be for making a silk bed and then enveloping her young in a silk blanket, and guarding it until her babies hatch, this spider did not make the slightest movement, aggressive or not, as I got into its personal space. Usually the mother dies either before or after her babies leave the sac. What would Jinny Mae think? Perhaps that for some reason Momma waited too long and maybe the cold weather we’ve experienced upon occasional lately got the better of her?
I don’t know entirely what Jinny Mae would think, but I have a pretty good idea because the reality is that today, she and I traveled the trail together for the first time in forever. For each of these finds, it was like we played trail tag–first one spying something wicked cool and then the other finding something else to capture our attention as we tried to capture it with our cameras.
We caught up. We laughed. We noticed. We questioned. We laughed some more.
Our three-hour journey drew to a close as we revisited the Stair-step Moss that grows in her woods.
I’m still giddy about the fact that I got to wander and wonder the Jinny Mae way today.
P.S. Jinny Mae returned to Super Momma spider a couple of days later and as she paused to take a photo, Momma scooted into a tree hole, carrying her sac. She LIVES.
Instead, it was those who seemed inanimate that came to life repeatedly.
Right from the start the trees pulled me in for I needed to, well, it wasn’t exactly a need, but still, I needed to check on the swelling red buds of a basswood that grows near the edge of the parking area.
And I could hardly pay homage to one and ignore its neighbor, and so I moved a few feet to enjoy the glory of a beaked hazelnut catkin and bud as they began the countdown toward spring.
Climbing the Flat Hill trail, an old tree grinch tried to sneer, but I noticed a tweak of a smile and knew he was glad to have me there.
He must have been for he made sure that I saw . . . such things as a beech leaf layered upon an oak atop the snow–mirroring the skyspace above.
And speaking of beech, I noticed one spiky husk, which actually surprised me with its presence for so few were the beech seeds this past summer.
The same was true of acorns and without a mast production, the squirrel middens were rather sparse in the landscape, but I did find two, both a couple of feet deep. But there’s something else to note–the trickle of yellow pee by the pine needles to the upper left of the hole. By its skunky scent, I knew that while the squirrel sought sustenance in the form of an acorn, a red fox hoped to dine on the rodent. The latter meal didn’t happen anywhere nearby, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur.
With lots of meandering on the way up, I finally reached the summit of Flat Hill, where the mountains beyond hinted at today’s snow flurries and this weekend’s impending storm. But it wasn’t to the mountains that I spent much time focusing. Instead, I scanned all the trees around–hoping for the sight of another spiky one–a prickly porcupine.
I suspected that I wasn’t alone in my search for just below the summit ledge, I spotted a bobcat track.
The evidence of the porcupine’s presence was everywhere as it had left its mark on so many trees where it scraped the outer bark to reach the softer inner tissue.
Shallow and narrow tooth marks were all that remained. I love bear trees, but porcupine trees rank right up there.
And the same is true for pileated woodpecker trees, which are easy to sight not only by their oblong holes, but the woody debris below them as well.
Who can resist searching the debris for scat? I know I can’t. What I found today was an exploded version with ant body parts spewed about in such an array that I almost wanted to glue them back together. Almost.
My wander continued as I walked a portion of Perky’s Path where the wetland mounds were so littered with snow drops that it was impossible to decipher any mammal tracks. I did make my way to the old beaver lodge in the center of the photo, the mound standing tallest toward the background, but the sight and sound of water meant caution was necessary.
The same was true at the rock stepping stones to the south of the wetland and though I have an affinity for water, I chose not to cross for a chilly bath wasn’t in my plans.
Instead, I backtracked and then followed the snowmobile trail for a bit until I reached the outlet of the old beaver pond.
It was there that I turned off trail and followed the stream through the woods.
Water gurgled below its frozen form and ice bridges offered crossings for those who dared. I did not.
My purpose was to check on another lodge that had been quite active a year ago. Today, I was surprised to find no one at home in the stick-built inn.
Beyond, the dam stood high, but the water behind it was low–another indicator that the beavers had moved on by their own doing. At least I hoped it was their own doing.
Evidence of their previous works was apparent all along the brook, where many a tree had been logged by the rodents, including this yellow birch.
Though that birch and others had been toppled, upon the snow old catkins, their fleur de lis scales grown large, added texture to the scenery and seeds to the future.
Finally, I made my way out and smiled at the smiles in the ice and water that mimicked my own. Today, my heart rejoiced with the affirmation this morning that my friend, Jinny Mae, had received good news about her health. She is one of my pokey hiking friends and I tried to emulate her as I celebrated. From Jinny Mae I’ve learned to do what Mary Oliver recommended in “Sometimes”:
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
And so it was that as I paid attention just before leaving, I was astonished–by the tree I saw in the ice. I knew Jinny Mae, had she been beside me, would have taken the same photograph, for that’s what we often do when we’re together.
When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile.” The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”
Today, I stayed awhile, poking about among the trees that shined in honor of these two women who have shared the gift of bowing often.
We’ve wandered there before, my friend and I, and we’ll wander there again. For as she said, “No matter how often we come here, there’s always something new to see.” And so it was that we found ourselves crawling over the crusty snowbank to get onto the trail of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Reserve.
Virgin snow greeted us as we sauntered ever so slowly beside Sucker Brook, which drains out of Horseshoe Pond. All along, we were serenaded with water songs, but bereft of such from any birds, which seemed eerily odd.
We did, however, have plenty of sights to admire, including the beaded fertile fronds of sensitive fern standing stalwart in the cold water. And then it dawned on us. Yes, the fern was standing in water. We know it prefers the edges of wetlands, but today’s offerings were at least ankle deep. And then we remembered. During the summer, it would have sprouted at the margin for the brook barely trickled through the landscape prior to the rain and snow that have fallen since then.
As we stood there, we noted reminders of others, such as the basal leaves of the Cardinal flowers that grace the brook in late summer. Visions of their red heads danced through ours.
And within our crowns, we mentally gathered the fertile fronds of royal fern. Already the days are lengthening and in a flash we’ll wonder how winter passed so quickly (well, some of us will) and dried brown leaves gave way to lush green.
Then we let the brook gather our attention again. The late morning sun played with the water and snow-covered mounds, casting shadows to its liking–and ours.
Beside the brook grow hardwoods and soft, but none were as brilliant as the yellow birch. Perhaps it was the glow of a winter day that encouraged their golden sheen to stand out among the rest.
For a few moments we stood before one of my favorite yellow birches. I love how its spindly legs stand tall above the rocks in the middle of the brook. Today, all were but another memory as they stayed snug below the blanket of white.
The boulders were also skirted in a coating of white, and hemmed with an icy floral display.
Eventually, we moved on–but only a few steps at a time. In this wintry landscape one might think there is so little to see. And one might be wrong. The trees know, their bark displaying crustose lichens of various shades and shapes overlapped by frullania.
Frullania is a genus of leafy liverworts that you’ll see on many a tree as it splays across the bark in a spiderweb-like manner. Each leaf consists of two parts, giving it a three-dimension look. On this particular tree it could have been a work of art–a scene that included the branching arms of a tree against a blue sky, the blue being a trail blaze.
Given the conditions, the blazes were hidden by many works of nature. But staying on trail wasn’t always our focus.
Between the two of us we spied one sight after another that begged to be noticed, like the fruiting bodies of a lichen possibly called Snag Pin that topped small stems sticking out perpendicular to an old tree stump.
And then there was the fungi to note, like witch’s butter, this particular specimen reminding me of a duck posing in a frilly gown and crown.
Almost hidden by the snow, an old false tinder conk with its cracked black upper surface sporting a velvety margin below.
We also found tinder conks with their equally velvety spore surface, concave as opposed to the convex form of the false tinder conk. Both are known as a hoof fungus for their shape somewhat resembles that of a horse’s hoof. Somewhat. Perhaps this particular horse high stepped through the woods.
My friend’s affinity is more to the fungi, but she knew I was equally drawn to the hobblebush, their leaves tucked inside praying hands embracing the global flowerhead. Do you see the touch of green peeking out? Again, for those of you who would prefer to wish winter away, spring isn’t far off.
It took us a while to reach the viewing platform along this not so long trail and we chose not to climb up.
Instead we opted for the view beside the brook as it flowed forth into Moose Pond Bog.
Our main reason for such was that we were curious to know if any others had traveled beside the water as well. And we weren’t disappointed when we immediately spied mink tracks.
If you look closely, you’ll also note a slide, for why bound all the time when occasionally you can take advantage of the snowy landscape and save some energy. And have a little fun.
The Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve was born prior to the organization of the Greater Lovell Land Trust. Outside the White Mountain National Forest, it was the first parcel to be conserved in the area. Behind the scenes, retired Episcopal Bishop and outdoor enthusiast George Cadigan, who summered in Lovell, encouraged his Lower Bay of Kezar Lake neighbor Wilson Wing to purchase some acreage along Sucker Brook in the early 1970s and donate it to The Nature Conservancy since the GLLT didn’t yet exist. Additional acreage was added in the late ’70s, but because the nearest office of the conservancy was located closer to the coast and the GLLT was beginning to take shape, the land was deeded to the land trust with the request that it be named for Mr. Wing.
The 32 acres beside the brook is a preserve managed primarily in its natural state for preserves are deemed to be forever wild due to fragile ecological conditions. That means that when a tree falls at Wilson Wing, its voice will resonate in a variety of ways before it finally decomposes because it can’t be touched. It will serve as habitat to a variety of species whether on land or in water.
Across the street, the Bishop Cardinal Reserve is managed to protect water quality and provide recreation and habitat.
Today, I had the pleasure of meandering beside Sucker Brook with Jinny Mae in a fashion that I imagine Wilson Wing would approve–wandering the Wilson Wing way.
As a kid, science and history eluded me. Reading, and writing, and even, ‘rithmitic, I embraced. Well, only a wee bit of the latter, though my father thought my abilities were far greater than they were and he saw a bank position in my future. He was the mathematician. It wasn’t a subject for me to pursue. And so I became an English teacher.
And then one day I woke up and found I’d developed an interest in the how and why and the science of stuff. Added to that was a desire to know more about the past. And voila, here I am, some days spending way too many hours pursuing insects in the garden or bark on tree or dragonflies buzzing about. Other days, its following trails of yore and trying to understand the lay of the land and those who came before that interests me. My favorite days are probably those that find me pursuing the two subjects simultaneously.
Today, I devoted spurts of time to a hydrangea bush that we rescued from a shady spot in our yard about fifteen years ago and transplanted to a sunny spot. What once was a dying shrub that rarely produced more than one flower is now a healthy specimen laden with blooms. And the insects love it.
My biggest surprise, however, was to find an Ambush Bug sitting atop one of the newly opened white flower petals. For the first time since I’ve been paying attention, the bug was on something other than a goldenrod and I could truly see its body. I’ve always thought it exhibited a hint of a smile, and do believe I’m correct.
An Ambush Bug is my “iguana” insect for its body structure always brings to mind a neighbor’s iguana that got loose one day and never was spied again when we were kids. (Or was it? Didn’t we find a dead iguana on the old dump road, Kate and Lynn? Was that Rob’s lizard?) Anyway, I think the Ambush Bug resembles an iguana, on a much smaller scale, of course. MUCH smaller.
Seeing the bug on the white petals really threw me for a loop. Why was it there? What would it ever find to eat? The pollinators no longer bothered with the shrub on which it stood. They’d moved on to the goldenrods and asters below.
And how could this insect behave as one who ambushes when it was hardly camouflaged on the white petal? It must have questioned the same (if Ambush Bugs can question) for it turned this way, then that, and back again, and then moved from petal to petal and flower to flower. Usually, it hardly seems to flex a muscle as it remains in one spot for hours or days on end.
We studied each other, eye to eye, or perhaps more correctly, lens to lens, until I blinked and it flew off. I trust it landed on a nearby goldenrod, where a meal wasn’t too long in the making.
Just after the Ambush Bug and I parted ways, I noticed a subtle movement below and watched a tiger moth caterpillar that reminded me of a soft boa scarf one might wrap around a neck quickly slither down another flower on the shrub until . . . it reached the edge of the final petal and fell to the ground, climbed up a fern frond, found its way back to the shrub and moved on to the world within.
I was beginning to think that all of the insects on the hydrangea would move on or in, but then I met the Red-legged Grasshopper. He set his elbow on the leaf bar and we consulted each other. Would he fly away if I moved into his personal space, I wondered. He wanted to know why I stalked him.
I mentioned his body of armor and the herring bone design and the leg joints and the spurs on its legs that drew my awe.
As a solo traveler, I knew it didn’t appreciate that I wanted to share the space. But, I couldn’t resist. Notice its feet and the segments on its abdomen and even the veins in its wings. Did I mention its mandibles?
As it turned out, there may have been a reason it wanted to be alone, but I was there. To. Witness. The. Poop. A blessed moment. It would have been more of a blessed moment had it pooped on me. Oh, and did I mention that grasshopper poop, like all insect poop, isn’t called scat. Rather, it is frass. Thanks go to Dr. Michael Stastny, Forest Insect Ecologist in New Brunswick, Canada for reminding me of that term. Cheers Mike.
Another moving about was a shield bug, so named for the shield on its back. It does make me think of a piece of metal one might use as protection. Combine the shield with the grasshopper’s suit of armor and you might think you were spending time in an earlier era. Much earlier.
But this shield bug didn’t care about the Middle Ages. Instead, it had one thing on its little mind.
Its offering was almost minute, yet pearl-like in structure.
The world I watched on the outside of the hydrangea made me wonder what might possibly go on within. As much as I wanted to break through the branches and take a better look, I knew I’d ruin everything and after all, it wasn’t my place. I did, however, get to witness one moving about briefly for a paper wasp left the goldenrods and heading under the hydrangea leaves to move the pollen about on its body. Why did it go under? Why not pause atop a leaf for such behavior? And how did it escape the inner world without . . .
encountering a spider web? Funnel spiders had practically veiled the entire shrub with their silken structures.
Though anchored with strength, they were extremely soft to the touch.
As the day progressed, I kept tabs on three funnel spiders, the mighty weavers that they were. All were wary of daylight.
But one had set up its home on the eastern side of the shrub and so it spent the day in the shade and enjoyed fine dining on a small bee that I assume made a mistake of pausing while shifting some pollen on its body.
There wasn’t much left of it by the time this spider had finished its meal.
Later in the day, a web weaver on the western side began to show itself–and it also had a meal secured.
All of the insects and arachnids I saw, and I had to assume even more enjoyed the inner structure of the condo that the shrub certainly was, all spoke not to the past, but to the future.
And with that, I dedicate this blog entry to you, Jinny Mae. You have a better eye and understanding and ask better questions than I ever will. Here’s to the future!
It’s been a while since Jinny Mae and I had wandered and wondered together, but this afternoon the opportunity finally arose. And so we agreed on a time and place (though she did change the time 😉 ), and pulled into the parking lot of the Mountain Division Trail located closest to the Eastern Slopes Airport on Route 5 in Fryeburg, Maine.
Rather than a rail trail, this is actually a rail-with-trail even though the rail is not currently active.
From the start, we were surprised and delighted to see so many lupines in bloom along the edge. Lupines are members of the pea or legume family, Fabaceae. As such, the flowers have a distinctive upper banner, two lateral wings, and two lower petals fused together to form a keel. Those lateral wings earned the plant’s place in this contemplation.
Of course, being that not everything in nature is as perfect as we might desire, we did discover destruction in action on a few stems and flowers. Lupine aphids seeking honeydew suck the juices from a plant. They’ll continue to feed until midsummer, even after they’ve destroyed the flower.
While there isn’t much to celebrate about these garden pests, it is worth noting that all aphids are female and give birth to live young, without mating. And another cool fact–once the population grows too large, they will develop wings and fly to a new host plant.
We continued our journey at our typical slow pace and stopped frequently to admire the dragonflies. There were quite a few species, but many spent time patrolling in flight and so we couldn’t photograph them. We did, however, give thanks for the work of all for we felt the sting of only a few mosquitoes. And we appreciated the perchers as well, for by letting us get a closer look we could learn their characteristics, and therefore ID: Chalk-fronted Corporal;
and Calico Pennant.
We also noted a crazy ant act. The ant apparently got a great deal at the grocery store and somehow managed to single-anticly drag the remains of a grasshopper home–that’s one flier we won’t see in the air again.
We also stumbled upon another interesting find–the galls of a wood sower gall wasp. As I told Jinny Mae, I’ve seen them before and knew they were associated with oak trees, but couldn’t remember the name in the moment. Maybe if I say it five times fast and spin around three times I’ll remember its name the next time I encounter it. Doubtful.
The cool facts about this fuzzy white gall with pink polka dots, which is also known as oak seed galls: it only grows on white oak; the fuzziness is actually secretions from grubs of the gall wasp; and within are seed-like structures that cover the wasp larva.
Finally, it was a swallowtail butterfly that stopped us in our tracks and mesmerized us for moments on end. The question was this: which swallowtail–Eastern or Canadian, for both fly here.
Earlier in the day I’d photographed an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in the backyard. Tiger comes from the four black stripes, while swallowtail refers to the long tails extending from the hind wings that these butterflies often lose to their prey as spring gives way to summer.
This was a female given that her hind wings featured blue with bright orange accents when viewed from the top. The areas that are blue on the female are black on the male.
And notice her main body, which is a rather muted combo of black and yellow.
Now look at the butterfly Jinny Mae and I each took at least fifty photographs of and do you see the darker body? The Canadians have more black hairs covering their bodies.
Also look at the underwings. I regret that I didn’t get a shot of the Eastern’s underwings, but for the Canadian this matches the pattern: Note the yellow band just inside the outer edge on the underside of its forewings. Had it been an Eastern, it would have featured a series of disconnected yellow spots on the black band. The Canadian has a continuous yellow band. And then there are the orange and blue markings.
At the end of the day all that detail really didn’t matter–Eastern or Canadian, both were tiger swallowtails.
And I gave thanks for the opportunity to flex my wings beside Jinny Mae. It felt so good to fly along the path together again. For those who don’t know, Jinny Mae’s journey has been one of varied wing beats as she’s lived with cancer for the last three years. Her current treatment is going well and we look forward to more flight paths.
Last week a friend sent me some photos of an odd phenomenon in a wasp nest over her porch door. Thankfully, she also included Mary Holland in the e-mail, who probably had a much better idea of what was going on than I did.
My two thoughts–green in the woody tissue the paper wasps consumed or small green caterpillars somehow at the nest. Neither made sense. My friend is away for a while, but she suggested I go take a look and bring a ladder.
And so I did, but first I invited Jinny Mae to join me. Feeling well these days, I’m thankful she’s up for some adventures. We found the nest and up I climbed, but I guess I was a wee bit shaky for my photos were fuzzy. Nonetheless, I saw no green and so the mystery remains. But, if you have such a nest nearby, take a look–going only as close as you are comfortable. And let me know if you see anything green.
We found another nest over a different door, but it appeared the wasps had abandoned it. Why is that? They work so hard to build these and then move on.
Since our wasp adventure wasn’t successful, we decided to take advantage of the situation and explore our friend’s property, a lovely woodland and garden under conservation easement. (Hope you don’t mind, MY.)
Along the trail we came upon a downed beech tree that seemed equally alive in death as in life.
It sported lichens and mosses that combined looked like a 3-D topographical map of the property. And only now am I seeing something I can’t believe Jinny Mae and I missed earlier–script lichen across the bottom of the map. As it should be.
Puffballs also appreciated the substrate and fruited en masse.
.While we both looked into the hollow of the tree hoping to find someone at home, we didn’t. But, we did note that before the trunk snapped and toppled, it had leafed out–a last shout out to the world that sugar and water flowed through its pipeline.
We pulled away from that exploration, when something else caught Jinny Mae’s eye. I didn’t see it at first, and can’t imagine how I missed it–Prince Charming, the king of the toads.
He had so many warts that he had warts atop warts, a right robust old guy.
A little further along, more fungi attracted Jinny Mae, while I pulled out my hand lens to take a closer look at some fuzz balls that I first thought were cocoons. You might say they are also fungi upon fungi, so coated were they with a hairy mold. Or you could see them as alien forms frolicking on a fallen log. I prefer the latter.
Everywhere we turned it seemed fungi presented itself in various forms and patterns, which was apropos given that the friend who owns this land is a mushroom aficionado.
As we walked, we looked and looked for bear trees, finding none. We did, however, find some beaver works–both fresh and . . .
old. Even tree roots attracted their attention.
Beside the wetland, we scanned high and low–hoping for activity of some sort. Jinny Mae saw what was probably a cormorant, but that was all.
Our view, of course, included a lodge that looked like it had some fresh wood atop. The winter prep was under way.
And nearby, a lodge of a different sort, its construction equally intricate in an interesting geometric form.
After expressing our awe, we finally turned ourselves around–our stomachs indicating that it must be getting toward noon.
We walked out the same way we’d walked in, and as was to be expected, found more, like a false tinder conk that measured almost ten inches across.
And a young snake about ten inches long.
And then we spied something even longer in the grass.
This guy stayed absolutely still, its head held high.
But we noticed the thickness about halfway along its body.
It had beat us to lunch and we wondered what we’d missed.
Whatever it was, it apparently put up a bit of a fight if that’s blood on the snake’s neck.
We’d wandered and wondered for three hours on this last summer morn.
And gave thanks for the opportunity to spot several clouded sulphur butterflies on red clover,
the first of the milkweeds spilling its beans,
and painted ladies feasting on Joe Pye Weed. Summer was slowly coming to an end.
But Jinny Mae and I managed to embrace its last moments thanks to MY’s question about the wasp nest. We knew that before the sun set over the mountains, fall would be upon us.
I had two books to choose from and couldn’t decide which one to promote as the Book of May, and so . . . I chose both.
And it seems only right that both should be presented, for though they aren’t about the flowers or birds or leaves that are making our days brighter, they are about one of my other favorite May events. Yes, we celebrate Big Night in April, that night or those nights, when amphibians cross the roads as they return to their natal vernal pools to continue the life cycle. But it’s in May that so much growth occurs within those pools and if we take the time to notice, we can watch it all happen–changing daily. And the more we understand what we are looking at, well . . . the more we get it. (“Stating the obvious again, Mom,” our two twenty-something sons would say if they were to read this. But they don’t so I can get away with it.)
Enough said. The May Books of the Month are . . . the following:
A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools
Maine Amphibians and Reptiles.
The former, A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools by Leo P. Kenney and Matthew R. Burne, is about 8″ x 5″ and fits easily into any pack I decide to carry. Its pages are glossy, so I don’t worry too much about it getting ruined if I get it wet. And though it was written to represent Massachusetts, most of the species described match what Maine vernal pools have to offer.
After an introduction to vernal pools, their indicator (obligate) species, protection, importance and human impacts upon them, there is a pictorial guide to the adult amphibians and reptiles. This is a quick and easy reference, and especially useful when trying to determine the difference between species, e.g. bullfrogs and green frogs or leopard frogs and pickerel frogs. Besides frogs, it includes salamanders, snakes and turtles.
And then there are more descriptive pages for each species. These have helped me over the years to gain a better understanding of what I’m looking at.
Even today, when Jinny Mae and I discovered these spotted salamander eggs, I loved that we could see that gelatinous matrix that surrounded the individual eggs.
And the book has helped me recognize the difference between those salamander eggs and these wood frog eggs.
In the field, there’s so much more to see, including the invertebrates that inhabit the pool, and ever so slowly I’m learning to identify them as well–you know, predaceous diving beetles, damselfly larvae, water scorpions, backswimmers, water striders . . . the list goes on. Each of them is featured in the back of the book with a photograph and paragraph or two describing their larval and adult forms.
Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Aram J.K. Calhoun and Mark McCollugh, is my at-home reference book. Well, sometimes it goes for a ride in my truck, but usually, it’s left at home because it’s larger and offers a much more in-depth take on amphibians and reptiles, their habitats and conservation. Besides a photo gallery, each amphibian and reptile that makes its home in Maine is featured, with thorough descriptions, taxonomic status, distribution, reproduction, habitat, diet, and interactions with people and other animals. There are sketches and maps to further enhance the information presented. And it’s all quite readable.
One of the best features of this book (and unfortunately, mine is cracked) is the CD at the end. Yes, you can actually listen to the individual species so that when you hear them in the day or night, you might begin to recognize them, much as you would a bird, by their voices before you spy them.
In the past few years, the vernal pool that I study frequently, has dried up before the amphibians have matured. I find solace in the fact that even when the pool dries up, the species growing there still provide nourishment and pass on energy to their consumers.
But . . . maybe this year will be different. We had a lot of snow, and now a lot of rain. Maybe this will be the year the amphibians and insects that reside in the pool will actually mature and hop or fly out.
It all begins with MAY.
The Books of May:
A Field Guide of the animals of Vernal Pools, by Leo P. Kenney and Matthew R. Burne, available through the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program. (Curiously, the copy I own was from the third printing in MAY 2009)
Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Jr., Aram J.K. Calhoun, and Mark McCollugh, The University of Maine Press, Orono, 1999. (I purchased my copy at Bridgton Books.)
When I invited Jinny Mae to join me at Loon Echo Land Trust’s Bald Pate Preserve this afternoon, she eagerly agreed. And three hours later, I know she had no regrets. Though we never reached the summit, neither of us cared. Our minds were boggled by all that we had noticed.
Somehow we managed to beeline our way to the Foster Pond Lookout. And then we slowed down. To a stop.
And so we got rather personal with the rock substrate as we took a closer look. At lichens. For what seemed like ever, it was thought that lichens were symbiotic life forms consisting of Freddy Fungus and Alice Algae, who took a liken to each other and their marriage formed a single organism. Sometimes, cyanobacteria or blue-green algae was tossed into the mix. The fungus provided shelter (algae can only live where they won’t dry out and so being surrounded by fungal cells meant Alice could live outside of water), while either of the photosynthetic partners, algae or cyanobacteria, produced food from the sun.
It’s no longer just a story about Freddy and Alice living together, however. New scientific research deems another partner in the mix–yeast, which also provides protection. I feel like just stating that puts me way out of my league.
Our goal wasn’t to understand those relationships per say. We just wanted to spend some time looking and developing an eye to recognize these structures while appreciating their life’s work that often goes unseen.
Some grow at an especially slow rate–think hundreds of years rather than decades. That in itself, should stop us in our tracks. And yet, as we stand 5+ feet above those that grow on rocks, we hardly notice them.
The dark brown fruiting bodies, called apothecia, are where spores are produced and life continues. Walk tenderly, my friends.
Jinny Mae’s excitement over the toad skin lichen was contagious. Notice its warty projections–much like the skin of an American toad, which varies in color.
I spied this toad a few days ago, but its skin certainly helps qualify the lichen’s common name.
If you look in the center, you can see the point where the lichen attached to the rock–the belly button of this particular lichen making it known as an umbilicate lichen.
And among the favorite finds of the day, Jinny Mae was the first to spy this. It had rained this morning and everything was dry by the time we hiked, but some signs of moisture remained. In this case, it’s wet toad skin contrasted by dry toad skin. If you are willing to give up some water from your water bottle, you can create the same contrast. And note the black dots–its fruiting bodies or apothecia where its spores are produced.
The more we looked, the more we saw.
British soldiers were topped by their brilliant red caps–forever announcing their presence.
Pixie-cup lichen stood like goblets, ready with magical potions.
Some were filled to the brim and almost overflowed with life.
We marveled at the green,
and foam-like structure of reindeer lichen. These are treats for reindeer and caribou, neither of which frequent our region except for one night a year.
And then we looked at the next layer in succession on a rock. Once the lichens have established themselves, mosses move in. Did you ever think about the fact that mosses don’t have flowers, stems or roots? Instead, they feature tiny green leaf-like structures and microscopic hair-like structures. They send their “hairs” into the crevices created by the lichens and anchor themselves to the rocks. Today, we found a moss neither of us remember seeing before.
To us, it offered a square presentation and we debated its identity. While we thought it may be yellow yarn moss, I’m now leaning toward medusa moss–though their leaf edges are smooth and these are obviously toothed. Do you know? Which ever it is, we were wowed.
We finally moved on, hiking to a false summit to take in the western view.
The late afternoon sun and breeze played havoc with our views, but we eventually reached the rock tripe wall, where common polypody took advantage of the living conditions.
The lichen covered a ledge, some of it green from the morning rain, but surprisingly much of it still brown. Like the toad skin lichen, rock tripe are umbilicate and attached to the rock at a single point. They reminded me of elephant ears flapping in the breeze.
From there, we headed down. Our pace on the slow side all afternoon.
And sometimes we had absolutely no pace at all, unless you consider the motion (and grunts) as we got down on our hands and knees and even our bellies to take a closer look. It was all worth a wonder. And we did.