Grateful For Your Company

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Today’s hike found me traveling solo, as is the norm in this current time, but I took each and every one of you along with me because so excited was I by all of our finds.

We began at parking lot #5 of Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

As I showed you in the parking lot, our plan was to begin on the Roger’s Family Trail and then circle around on the orange Heritage Loop Trail with a side trip to the summit of Amos Mountain in the midst of the journey. You all agreed that it sounded like a great plan.

I had previously warned you that part of the route could be a bit wet and was pleased to see that some of you had remembered to don your rubber boots, but those who forgot managed to find a way around. I trust no one had wet feet by the time we finished. Was my assumption correct?

Of course, I love water and so before we crossed over the bridge, I insisted that we take a look and try to spy tracks in some mud or aquatic insects or plants springing forth.

Bingo on the latter and we all rejoiced at the sight of False Hellebore with its corrugated leaves so green.

Finally, after poking about for a bit, I suggested we move along. It seemed like we managed to walk about five steps and then something would catch our attention and all forward motion came to pause. But that’s the way we like it for we notice so much with such slow movement. Do you remember this spot? Where we paused to look for Trailing Arbutus buds and noticed Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain growing in a colony. And remember how I told you that the only way I can remember the common name of this latter species is because it doesn’t look “downy” to me.

As often happens, the trail enhanced the lesson for not too much further along we practically stepped on another family member, this one bearing the name Checkered. Really, had Mr. Linnaeus asked me, I would have switched it around for the dullness of these leaves seems more downy in my mind and the other more checkered. Alas . . . he didn’t ask.

By this point, we’d hit drier trail conditions, if you recall, as we started climbing uphill. Drier, but rockier, that is. And then upon one, we spied a little package that you knew would delight me. Fox scat, indeed. With a blunt end and even a twist. Classic fox scat.

It took us a while, but we managed to reach the intersection with the orange trail and turned to the left to proceed. It was there that we began to meet common polypody ferns. Some of you explained that you know it as rock cap fern or rock polypody fern. What we all know is that it’s most often found growing on rock surfaces in moist, shady woods.

I did hear the hushed groans when I turned it over, but what could I say? I can’t resist checking to look at the underside. Like little pompoms, the organs or sori that housed the dust-sized spores or sporangia are arranged so neatly in two rows upon each leaflet. In their old age, the sori of these common polypody are orange-brown.

You, however, were eager to move on and so we did. Until we didn’t. For we stopped once again at “El Pupito,” the pulpit rock.

And did what one should do at the pulpit–honor the view through nature’s stained-glass window.

Oh yeah, and on the back of the boulder, you knew the minute you saw it what was going to happen next.

Out came my water bottle as I sacrificed some H20. But really, you are also equally amazed each time the magic happens and the greenish color of algae on rock tripe lichen makes itself known.

I saw a few of you gawk.

With a snap of our fingers and twitch of our noses (no we didn’t touch our fingers to our faces), we soon made it to the summit of Amos.

It was there that while zooming in to note the glorious red maple buds we spied another in the form of a spider. And we all took a closer look, one at a time, of course, allowing for six feet of space.

Then we backtracked down to where the blue trail met the orange trail and continued on the orange. That is . . . until sweet bird songs stopped us in our steps.

The trills lasted a few seconds and began again.

Most of us couldn’t recall who it was and gave great thanks to have Peter and Joe along for a positive ID: Pine Warbler indeed.

At our next stop I was so sure that one of you would provide a definitive answer to the structure’s use and history, but you only asked more questions to which I didn’t have the answers and so it shall remain a mystery. Who built it? Why? What? When? We do know the where and have some ideas about the how, but can’t quite respond to the Five Ws and an H in a complete manner.

And so we left there and moved on to the spot where we chatted about all the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties that seemingly followed us through the woods.

Each time we heard a sound from one of the above, if it wasn’t a dried leaf blowing across the forest floor, it turned out to be a chipmunk. Why is it, we wondered together, that they can be so still one moment, but in the next insist upon calling attention to their presence?

Moving along, we eventually crossed over the wall and onto what was once the property of Amos Andrews.

Here, only a few years ago, one among us, yes Alice, that would be you, realized that in this spot grew white oak, a tree that we had previously believed no longer grew in these parts given its use in barrel making and other purposes. That is, until we recognized the chunky blocks of bark that helped to negate that assumption.

The leaves below also defined the new story, with red oak’s bristly pointed lobes on the left and white oak’s rounded lobes to the right.

As it would be, we realized we weren’t the only ones looking. And again, we had to take turns getting close to ohh and ahh at the alternating light and dark markings on the abdomen’s edge, legs and antennae of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. Okay, so we know these beasts inflect considerable damage to some fruits and crops, and can be a nuisance when it takes shelter in our homes, but still.

Around the corner from the oak tree we paused beside the homestead of Amos Andrews and wandered about his walled property for a bit, each of us trying to answer the question, “What was Amos thinking?” We haven’t answered it yet, but time will tell as perhaps more understandings will be revealed.

Down the former road we walked, grateful that being two rod wide, (a rod at 16.5 feet), we had plenty of room to spread out.

At the intersection with the Amos Mountain Trail, our route crossed over and we continued on to the lookout point where the Balds to the left, Mount Washington a wee white pyramid in the background, and Kezar Lake below held our focus.

And then we began to retrace our steps, back toward the parking lot where we’d first gathered. But there were two more things to notice, the first being a skeleton of a paper birch, its roots till seemingly intact.

And finally, water striders not doing a very good job of practicing social distancing.

We, on the other hand, had nailed that one, for while you all walked with me, I was alone. And ever so grateful for your company.

Nature’s Denouement

Due to today’s inclement weather, I postponed a Tracking expedition and thought it might be a good day to become a couch potato. But still, my feet itched to get outside as the raindrops fell.

And then a text message arrived: “Potential loon trapped in the ice; rescue happening on Lower Bay.” I was in my truck and on my way before I even knew the exact location.

As I drove, rain changed to big slushy balls that struck the windshield with noisy inkblot-shaped splats. I pulled into a parking area to check on the intended meet-up point and learned I was a bit early, so I went for a walk. All around me, the forest was alive with sounds–of wet snow striking marcescent leaves, and birds chirping as they flew from branch to branch. I’d hoped to meet an old friend, Argee, but he was nowhere in sight.

By the time I did join the rescue group, they were already loading an aluminum boat into the lake.

The Lower Bay of Kezar Lake had sealed over this past weekend and was coated with an inch or more of ice.

Thus the need for the rescue mission. An immature loon got caught by the sudden freeze. Thankfully for it, Susan Clout, a local resident, noticed its situation and put out a call for help.

Responders included Heinrich and Linda Wurm, Paul Buckley, Steve Lewis, and Jim Buck.

Donning life jackets, their only gear: paddles, a net and a box. It all seemed so simple. Paddle out, coo to the bird as it might talk to another, and either make open water for it to fly (loons need at least a quarter mile for take off, this one had a circle that maybe measured twenty feet–it was difficult to tell from the shore) or capture and release it on an open section of the lake. As one of the text messages stated about the plan: Evolving.

The task of breaking the ice was daunting and though it looked like they were crossing the Potomac, all they really wanted to do was maneuver part way across the bay.

Because it made sense for the person in the bow to stand and break ice as the sternman paddled, stability became an issue and within minutes the boat returned to shore and a third passenger climbed aboard.

Though you can see the circle of open water and it may appear close by, it was all a matter of perspective and they had a long path to create.

Meanwhile, back on shore, those of us who remained behind and felt like we might need to rescue the rescuers, were entertained by Susan as she sang the most delightful lines of a song she’d been writing about the loon’s dilemma.

Back on the water, or rather, ice, progress was slow.

And still the loon swam, occasionally calling out. We interrupted its voice to mean, “I see you. Keep coming my way.”

On board the SS Icebreaker, oarsmen shifted positions because it was tiring to chop continuously.

We kept assuming they were making headway given their position.

And they were. But they still had a long way to go. After 75 minutes, with probably two more hours separating them from the loon, and a cold rain falling, they decided to turn around and hope that higher temps and maybe a breeze in coming days will do the trick. All are hopeful.

I was invited to the scene because my friends’ thought it would make a good story. In the end, my story is nothing compared to the one Nature is writing. She, apparently, has Her own plans for the denouement. We can’t wait to read how She resolves this matter.

Update: November 21, 2019

And here is the rest of the story as Heinrich interpreted it for us: “The loon we were aiming our mission toward took off this morning! Just as the Game Warden showed up the loon started flapping its wings and headed east toward the Narrows. Amazing!

created by dji camera

Unfortunately these remnants were left near the other open space
where a loon had been sighted before.

I later learned that two Bald Eagles were spotted near the loons.

Nature’s Denouement: Find a balance.

Paddling into Autumn

I’ve no idea how many times I’ve driven past the Kezar Outlet put-in on Harbor Road in Fryeburg and noticed others either embarking or debarking from a canoe or kayak trip and always desired to do the same. Occasionally, I’d stop and take photos, and once I co-led a trip from the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake to the dam, but until August I’d not gone any further. And then our friend, Pam Katz, invited my guy and me to join her for a journey from the dam to Charles River, on to Charles Pond, and part way up Cold Brook.

The put-in can be a bit tricky with rocks and stirring water flowing from the dam, but somehow the three of us managed not to tip as we kerplunked into our kayaks. That day inspired all of the subsequent trips for really we were scouting out a route for the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend paddle co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Upper Saco Valley Land Trust.

On that first journey and two that followed, we were wowed by the floral displays including, Cardinal Flowers,

Pickerel Weed,

Sessile-fruited Arrowhead and . . .

Common Arrowhead,

Ground-nut, and . . .

Turtlehead. Today, only a few asters showed off their composite form.

We’d paddled along, my guy, of course, always in the lead so he was the first to reach the old beaver dam. Pam was surprised by it because the water had been higher when she’d last followed this route. But it was obvious from the fact that there were no new sticks and the water wasn’t at dam level on the far side that there was no current beaver activity. My guy, feeling chivalrous, hopped out of his boat and shuffled us around on the wet grassy area to the far right of the dam.

Upon the sticks and branches Emerald Jewelwings flew, males such as this one with the white dot on its forewing waiting for a second before attempting to dance with a mate.

Once all three of us were on the other side, the water was a wee bit deeper and it seemed we’d entered Brigadoon.

And then the community changed again and Swamp Maples allowed glimpses of the mountains beyond.

Before one of the final turns in the Charles River, we reached an abandoned beaver lodge.

And then Charles Pond opened before us.

We crossed the pond to Cold River, found a great lunch spot and reflected upon our sightings, which included a few ducks, an eagle, and a heron.

My second visit was with Trisha Beringer, Outreach and Office Manager for Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. It was an opportunity for me to show Trisha the route and for us to create our plan for the GMOW event. And to bask in the sun much the way the Painted Turtles did.

She was as wowed as I was by the journey and excited to share it with others.

Our turn around point was Charles Pond, but we paused for a few moments to take in the view.

And on the way back, as I contemplated sliding over the dam because the water was a bit higher due to some rain, three otters surprised me as they played below. Only one is visible with its head above water, but the others had just dunked under. Once they realized we were there, they took off. Our portage wasn’t a portage at all for rather than go over the dam, we did the dam shuffle, maneuvering our boats around it with a full-body back and forth motion.

Finally, it was time for the GMOW event, and the night before we decided to let those who had signed up know that we needed to postpone it from last Saturday to Sunday because of the weather. As it turned out, it was the right choice to make and Sunday dawned bright and beautiful with dew drops to top off the gathering.

Just beyond the Harbor Road bridge we passed under, a maple astounded us with the first official glimpse of the season to come and many of us paid it homage with photographs and words of awe.

At the beaver dam, the water was lower than on the previous visits, but thankfully two paddlers hopped out and helped everyone get out of boats and shift them around to the other side.

Continuing upstream, the Swamp Maples that offer the first glimpses of the mountains, showed that they too were trying on their new coats for the next season.

The group took in the view while crossing to Cold River and continuing on until we couldn’t travel easily any more. As always, the return trip was quicker and we finished up in three hours, grateful for an opportunity to explore the water that connects the GLLT’s fen property on Kezar Outlet with USVLT’s Stearns Property on Cold River and make new friends. It was a spectacular day and we were pleased that we’d made the choice to postpone.

One who had to back out of the GMOW trip at the last minute, asked if we’d offer it again, thinking we’d gone ahead with our Saturday plan. She really wanted to check out the course because though she’s lived locally forever, she’d never been below the dam on Harbor Road. And so this morning, I met Storyteller and GLLT member, Jo Radner. As we moseyed along, we began to notice bank tunnel after bank tunnel for so low was the water. In a muddy section, we found prints with a tail impression thrown into the mix and deciphered them as beaver.

It made perfect sense when we noticed a sight not spotted on the previous trips: beaver works on a maple. Given that, we began to wonder what the dam might look like.

Despite the fact that we found more and more evidence of recent beaver works, the dam certainly was bigger, but not because it had been added to by the rodents. Rather, the water level was much, much lower than I’d seen on any previous visit.

It seemed the beavers were active, but we couldn’t help but wonder why they hadn’t added to the dam. That meant that they were probably not at the lodge either, but we still had more water to travel through before reaching that point.

The trip around the dam was more challenging than upon any other visit, and we were both sure we’d end up in the water, but somehow we did it with more grace than we realized we possessed.

And then the spot that I’d called Brigadoon on the first visit showed off a much more colorful display.

Closer to the pond, the curtain hiding the mountains also had undergone a transformation.

Just beyond, we reached the lodge that is longer than tall and always reminds me of a New England farmhouse: big house, little house, back house, barn. Jo’s canoe helped characterize the length of the lodge.

We too, lunched on Cold River as has become the habit, and then turned around.

It was on the way back that the Painted Turtles, basking in the sun in order to thermoregulate, began to show themselves. As usual, they took on a Yoga-like pose with back feet extended to collect additional heat.

Like Jo, I want to come back to this world as an otter because they love to play in summer and winter, but a Painted Turtle might be my next choice if I ever feel the need to let winter pass by while I nestle into the mud.

Speaking of otters, we found stone pile after stone pile above the water, each a copy of the next. They line both sides of the river. In high water, they’re not visible, but with today’s low height, they were quite obvious. Upon this one we found a beaver chew stick that wasn’t there a week ago.

All are almost pyramid shaped, in a rounded sense, and constructed of varying sizes from gravel to stone potatoes. Not only did we find beaver chews upon a few, but fresh water mussel shells and the ever present acorns that are currently raining in such a fashion that one feels like the sky is falling.

The mussel shells would have indicated that the otters had been dining. And so we began to develop a story about otters piling the stones on purpose to confuse us. Beavers also took advantage of the piles so they became part of our interpretation.

I’ve asked several people about these formations and have a few theories of my own, but would love to hear your take on this. I suspect a few fishermen may have the answer about the stone piles.

Four hours after we started, today’s journey ended. I suspect it will be a while before I return, for so low is the water, but . . . you might twist my arm.

Thanks to Pam, and Trisha, and Jo: today I got to paddle into autumn in a most amazing place.

Election Day Tramp

It always strikes me that no matter how often one travels on or off a trail, there’s always something different that makes itself known–thus the wonder of a wander.

And so it was when Pam Marshall, a member of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, joined me for a tramp at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge West on Farrington Pond Road this morning. She had no idea what to expect. Nor did I.

13-puff balls to pop

It was misty when we met, but neither of us was daunted by the weather. Ever so slowly, we made our way over the wet leaves, roots, and rocks, pausing frequently–especially each time we saw puff balls. How can one resist poking or squeezing them to watch the spores waft out like smoke. The skin of mature puffballs split prior to releasing spores. And we . . . we helped the process a wee bit.

20-blue stain fruiting

Green stain fungus also drew our attention. Its fruiting bodies were minute, but well worth wet knees for a closer examination.

19-hexagonal-pored polypore

With Pam in the lead for most of the way, she kept finding cool stuff, like this hexagonal-pored polypore.

1-Sucker Brook Outlet

It took us a while, but we finally reached the wetland by the Sucker Brook Outlet where blueberry, maleberry and leatherleaf shrubs added color to the otherwise gray day.  For a while we stood under the protection of a large hemlock and took in the scene in silence.

2-Silhouettes on Lower Bay and cotton grass

From our vantage point, an island in Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay looked like a ghost ship. And in the foreground, cotton grass still touted its tufted heads.

3-beaver lodges

At our feet we could see some aquatic plant roots floating in the water, a beaver treat, and trusted by the mud on the lodges that there had been recent activity. Perhaps they rested indoors before planning to spend time later in the day preparing for the cold months ahead.

4-Pitcher Plants

After a while and because I knew they were there, I took Pam along the edge of the brook for a short distance to locate several pitcher plants. Someone once photographed them in their young green form and described them as rare. While helping Dr. Rick Van de Poll, principal of Ecosystem Management Consultants (EMC) in Sandwich, New Hampshire, set up study plots at Lakes Environmental Association’s Highland Lake Reserve in Bridgton during July 2017, we had to watch where we stepped to avoid crushing pitcher plants. It was a perfect time to ask Rick about the green color. Were there green pitcher plants in Maine? And if so, were they rare? He explained that it was just a matter of sunlight and age, all would eventually take on a redder hue in veins and then overall leaf coloration as they matured.

5-pitcher plant runway

This morning, we found some sporting brighter red leaves.

6-spiders within and webs above

And another plant that was duller in color. Since we were in the locale where the green plant had been discovered, I trusted that it was beginning to show its age. It was the duller one that drew most of our fascination. Carnivorous pitcher plants obtain nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Their oddly-shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: an insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Do you see what we saw? A spider web across the top of the leaf? And within?

8-larger spider manuevering the smaller one

Dueling fishing spiders.

9-pulling it under its body

And so we watched.

10-and out again

The larger one continuously manipulated the smaller one, which appeared to be dead. Back and forth under its body, it kept moving the smaller kin.

11-and back under

Was it trying to eat the other? One last meal before it too succumbed to the plant? Was it trying to move past the dead spider so it could try to climb out? Should we save it?

12-let 'em be

In the end, we left the action with questions in our minds and didn’t interfere.

7-watching the spider action

Except, that is, to take photographs and make a film. Again, our knees were wet and we didn’t care.

14-pigskin puffball 1

Back on the trail, we found an area where Earthballs decorated some old lumber slash. Their warty outer skin drew our attraction.

15-skin of pigskin

Another common name for Scleroderma citrinum is Pigskin Poison Puffball. Since it’s football season, it’s good to note that footballs used to be made of a pig’s . . . bladder and not its skin, though historically they were called pigskins. Rather than feel leathery, these seemed more rubbery, thus the reference I guess.

15-popping pigskin

And because they were puffballs, they invited a poke.

16-an explosion of spores

From a couple of slits, mature blackish spores erupted. I had to chuckle for no matter with whom I share a trail, puffballs always invite the same reaction–pick up a stick and give it a jab. And each time we share the same moment of glee. And our inner child is released one more time. Thankfully.

18-insect within pigskin

Of course, we found ourselves on our knees yet again when Pam spied something within an Earthball that had exploded prior to our visit. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an inanimate insect that looked like it was covered in spores. Canary in the coal mine?

25-Pam and the bear scat

Our next great find was of a different sort and I had to pull the Trackards from my pack while Pam got down for another upclose and personal look. Notice her knee?

22-bear scat

Black bear scat! Indeed. Cylindral and large. We looked for tracks, but conditions were such that we didn’t find any. The scat was enough for this day.

24-Tamaracks

If you go, we strongly encourage you to follow the green trail all the way to the bird/wildlife viewing point along Sucker Brook. Today, the tamaracks on the shore to our right added a tone of bright beauty to the overcast day.

25-Sucker Brook--beaver lodge

And another old beaver lodge also looked like it had received a mud treatment. We could see some beaver chew sticks in the water by the edge of the brook and so we knew again that there had been recent activity. It just means we’ll have to return for another visit if we want to catch some action–perhaps earlier in the day.

In the meantime, we let the view point become our turn-around point and quickly (sorta) followed the blue trail back for we both needed to move on to the rest of our day.

But . . . despite the mist and occasional raindrops, we elected to tramp. And were delighted with the results. Here’s hoping the rest of the day goes like that.

 

Book of October: Writing My Will

Judy Steinbergh has fed me repeatedly. She’s nourished my body and soul with actual food, but also with her poetry and prose. And recently, she gifted me one of her books entitled Writing My Will.

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Though it’s her poems about Maine that I love the most in this collection, I feel honored not only to have been the recipient of such a gift, but also to be offered the opportunity to peek into her life and share the path that she’s walked through marriage and motherhood, divorce and death.

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I hear Judy’s voice even when she isn’t reading to me. And I covet her descriptions and command of lyrical language and imagery, especially as she captures the natural world:

“. . . after speculating on the slap of water, whir of wings,

out of the grainy dusk, some creature bursts

from the forest. Before we focus on its shape,

almost before it can be named,

it twists back, leaps, makes its escape.”

~ excerpt from “Wild Things”

or this one:

“. . . roughs the lake up like the wrong direction of fur

until it is leaping dolphins and whales in rows

until it is sleek stampeding panthers in droves

until we, in our small boats, are driven to shore.”

~excerpt from “The Wind”

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Each summer, she’s gathered her own poems, and those of other landscape poets, and shared them with an intimate group of writers through a workshop co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust, Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, and Hewnoaks Artist Colony at the Hewnoaks property overlooking Kezar Lake in Lovell, Maine. After talking about rhythm and form, and having us read her works and others, she sends us off to find a comfortable spot in which to contemplate and write.

1a

Poets young and old flock to her and she embraces all with a listening ear and mentoring manner.

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And sometimes we travel the path together, either hunting for mushrooms, looking at plants and any of the millions of other things that capture our attention, or spending time writing and sketching.

Judy has written five books of poetry, three poetry teaching texts, and recorded other works. She’s the Poet Laureate for the town of Brookline, Massachusetts. And she teaches and mentors students and teachers for Troubadour, Inc. throughout greater Boston and serves as Poet-in-Residence in various communities.

This particular book, Writing My Will, is an assortment of Judy’s treasures from her family, including her dying mother, to the natural world that embraces her. Based on the theme, she’s divided it into sections: Heirlooms; My Mother Comes Back to Life; What Memories Will Rise; Talking Physics With My Son; This Wild; Meeting the Birthmother; Long  Distance; The Art of Granddaughters; Working on Words; Elegies; Writing My Will.

And it ends with one most apropos for this month:

October Song

Wild asters and the birds whir over

in flocks, Queen Anne’s Lace curls up

by the docks, the tide runs out,

runs out like it hurts, our step

is so light on this earth.

I love these times alone, thinking

about how my children have grown,

and how I come into this age

illuminated, softened

as the marsh’s edge.

And the tide runs out, as forceful

as birth, as if nothing else mattered

but rushing away and rushing back in

twice a day. Our step

is so light on this earth.

We’re given October like a gift, the leaves

on the warp, the light on the weft,

and the gold drips through

like cider from the press; we know,

we know that our lives are blessed.

But the tide runs out, runs out like it hurts,

what were fields of water only hours ago

are meadows now when the tide

is low; our step is so light

on the earth. Wild asters. All

we are sure of is change, that maple

and sumac will turn into flame, this softness

will pass and the winter be harsh

till the green shoots push

up through the marsh. And the tide

rushes in like a thirst and will keep

its rhythm even after our time,

the seasons, too, will repeat

their design. Our step

is so light on the earth.

And so, dear Judy, as my thank you for the gift of your book, I want to now share a melody of photos from previous autumns, all taken during Octobers past in your beloved Maine locale when you can’t be here. (Well, maybe one is from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont–shhhh!)

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“Our step is so light on the earth”

Book of October: Writing My Will–Poems and Prose, by Judith W. Steinbergh, Talking Stone Press, 2001.

 

 

 

 

 

Eyes of Wonder

On the first and third Tuesday of each month since the snow first flew in 2017, I’ve had the privilege of tramping through the woods with our Tuesday Trackers group. As it happened this month, we were also able to tramp together today–the fourth Tuesday.

Each week, the participants vary as they come when they can. But no matter who shows up, by the end of our two-four hour exploration, we are all wiser for the experience–and filled with gratitude for the opportunity to spend a winter morning in the Maine woods. We are also grateful for the wonder that is right in front of us, not only materializing in the form of mammal tracks, but all manner of things that make up the web of life.

j1-otters romping across the snow

Usually the age of our attendees ranges from 50-something to 80-something. But today we were joined by four little otters who reminded us what it’s like to be a child again as they bounded across the snow’s crust, and rejoiced at the sight of any and every little thing that presented itself from squirrel and chipmunk holes to fungi.

j2-squirrel prints

Of course, we were there to track and though most prints were bleached out from the sun’s March rays, we did find a few that showed well their finer points such as toes.

j14-measuring straddle

And with any discernible prints, the kids reminded us to take time to measure straddle, in this case that of a gray squirrel. We also found what we believed was a bobcat track based on the round shape of the somewhat melted print and the stride.

j3-ice and water

Most of us began the journey with snowshoes, but soon joined the kids and shedded them as we moved from frozen snow to bare ground and back again. And then we discovered water. Actually, a few of us were a wee bit behind, when one child ran up to her mom and said, “A vernal pool.” If it does turn out to be a vernal pool, we feared it will dry up too soon, but that doesn’t mean the amphibians won’t take advantage of the spot in a few weeks. It was half covered in ice, which offered a challenge because two of the boys wanted to break through it with a stick. The third boy did break through–much to his dismay. But as his calm mom said, ” Well, now he’ll know next time.” (Juli–I can’t help but smile–you are the best.)

j4-helping hands

Fortunately, for his sake, we came upon a maple tree with a huge burl on which he sat while others on the journey came to his aid and squeezed a gallon of water, or so it seemed, out of his socks. His mom had an extra pair of mittens in her pack and those covered his toes for the rest of the trek. He wore his boots, of course. While we were there, we wondered about burls and tried to remember what created them. I suggested insects and another thought perhaps fungi. It turns out we were both correct. They may also be caused by bacteria or a virus. What the young lad sat upon was a reaction of the tree to the infestation which resulted in abnormal growth due to changes in the tree’s hormones. Think of its vascular system as a twisted ball of yarn.

j5-sucker brook outlet into Kezar Lake's Lower Bay

After the sock ringing and mitten fitting episode played out, we turned around to take in the beauty of the Sucker Brook Outlet at the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake for we were on the John A. Segur East Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road.

In the distance, one lad spied a beaver lodge. You might see it as a brown dot on the snow-covered ice directly above a swamp maple snag in the center of this photo.

j6-wintergreen and spring tails

We also looked at our boots, where we rejoiced in the site of wintergreen plants evolving from their magenta winter coats. And spring tails jumping about on the leaf litter like performers in an unorganized circus.

j9-squirrel table

Upon a downed birch tree, a certain young lady found the perfect spot to set up a dinner table for a squirrel. She was kind enough to include a dessert treat by stuffing pieces of a wintergreen leaf into an acorn cap.

j10-ice bridge

Much to the delight of the younger set, they next discovered an ice bridge and took turns walking across it. The rest of us decided to pass on that opportunity, sure that we’d ruin the effect.

j11-tree stump examination

Getting up close and personal was the theme of the morning and everything drew their attention and ours, including a decaying trunk of a hemlock that was downed by a lightning strike several years ago.

j12-tree holes

Because we were curious, we noted holes of the tree’s decayed xylem, the system of tubes and transport cells that circulate water and dissolved minerals. One of the boys decided to see if it worked and poured water onto the stump, which immediately flowed into the holes. We’ve viewed tree stumps and rings many a time, but this was the first time we recalled seeing the holes. No tree stump will go unobserved on our path from now on.

j13-lodges reflect mountains

Our turn-around point was at another spot along Sucker Brook where three beaver lodges reflected the mountains in the backdrop.

j21-beaver lodge

A few of us walked across the ice for a closer look because one appeared to serve as this winter’s home site. We trusted the family within included their own young naturalists.

We were certainly thankful for our time spent with four children who allowed us to look at the world through their eyes of wonder.

(On behalf of Joan, Dave, Steve, Dick, Jonathan, and I, we thank you, Caleb, Ellie, Aidan and Wes. Oh, and your mom as well, or especially–thank you Juli. We’re all in awe of you and the gifts you’ve passed on to your kids.)

 

Spring Erupts–Sort of

Two days ago the thermometer climbed to 68˚ and old records were broken. But then, as it does in New England, we had a low of 15˚ this morning. And now it is sleeting.

w-beech snag in complete decay

Before the sleet began, however, I decided to do a loop hike at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve, beginning from the Gallie Trail and climbing up the Hemlock Trail to the summit of Whiting Hill, with a return via the Red Trail back to the Gallie. It’s a perennial favorite that always has some different things to offer, including the skeletal remains of a beech snag. I think what intrigued me most, besides the pileated woodpecker holes, were the lines of the wood, curved in nature.

w-Lactarius deterrimus (orange latex milk cap)?

Similarly curved were the gills of a decaying Orange Latex Milk Cap (Lactarius deterrimus)–at least that’s what I think it was–found beneath a hemlock.

w-bear 1

Part of my love for the Hemlock Trail can be found among the beech trees that also grow there and it is my habit to admire the lines that decorate them as well.

w-bear 2

No matter how many times I visit, I’m filled with awe.

w-bear 3

And wonder.

w-bear 4

For the black bears that left their signatures behind.

w-paper birch bark 2

Other trees also gave me pause, for though some know them as white, I prefer to call them paper birch. The curled-back bark offered hues of a different color reminiscent of a sunrise in the midst of a graying day. As my mother was fond of saying, “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” Today was a day to heed said warning.

w-paper birch bark 1

Others bespoke a setting sun.

w-paper birch bark--stitchwork

And not to go unnoticed, more bark from another paper birch that had fallen to the ground. It too, offered subtle pink hues, but it was the stitchery created by former lenticels (the tree’s pores) that drew my eye. They reminded me of a million zippers waiting to reveal hidden secrets.

w-yellow birch bark

And then there was the yellow birch–with its ribbony bark shedding its own light on the world.

w-wintergreen

Around the base of some trees, the snow had melted and wintergreen plants showed off their transitional colors–winter magenta giving way to summer green.

w-bench over Heald Pond

At last I reached the summit and headed to the east side first, where Heald Pond was visible through the bare trees.

w-Mollisia cinerea--gray cap?

Nearby, still another tree invited a closer look. I love the bark of hophornbeams, but this one sported a growth I wasn’t familiar with until I checked Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England upon my return home. In the world of mushrooms my knowledge is enough to be dangerous, but I trust my fungi friends will weigh in if I’m wrong on the ID. I’m going out on a limb and calling this one Gray Cup (Mollisia cinerea), for it seemed to match Millman’s description: “With luck, you might find several hundred of these stalkless ascos . . . each fruiting body will be more or less cup or saucer-shaped, but wavy or irregular in age.” And he describes their habitat as scattered or densely crowded under hardwood logs. Well, these weren’t under a log, so that made me question my ID, but they certainly seemed to match the rest of the description and hophornbeam is among the hardest of the hardwoods.

w-hophornbeam

Below another hornbeam I found the ground scattered with little fruits.

w-hophornbeam hops

The common name for the tree derived from those fruits, which when attached to their twig (the arrow points to such) are so arranged that they look like hops. As they fall, each little bladder that contains a single seed separates from the group in hopes of finding the right spot to grow into the future.

w-vole tunnels

As I moved toward the western outlook, half tunnels in the snow let me know that the vole community had been active. It probably still is . . . maybe.

w-Whiting Hill view toward Kearsarge

And then, the view to the west, which encompasses Kezar Lake, Mount Kearsarge and the Whites. The scene changed a bit last October when a windstorm just before Halloween toppled a dead white pine . . . and the cairn that marked the summit.

w-asters in snow

While there, I looked around for evidence of the wild columbine that will bloom in a few months, but found only asters hugging the snow.

I stayed for a few minutes, but the wind had picked up and so I finally turned to head back down.

w-white pine blue sap

For a short link, I followed the same path until I turned right onto the Red Trail. Just prior to that I realized I’d missed a sight on my way up–the blue sap that bled from a white pine. I’ve seen it often over my years of noticing, but have no idea why the color blue, which was really almost periwinkle. In this case, the sap flowed because a pileated woodpecker had been hard at work.

w-pileated scat

And that meant I had to look–and wasn’t disappointed. Woodpecker scat. It was so well packed, that I pulled out my hand lens and got down on my knees for a closer examination. I practically kissed it but can say for certain that insect parts were layered within.

w-heart

A few minutes later, the trail split and as I said earlier, I followed the Red Trail to descend. I had only gone a wee bit when I heard a barred owl call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It was noon, after all, so it seemed totally appropriate. The call came from somewhere near the summit and I had to wonder if I’d made the mistake of not looking up quite enough, so taken was I with the hops and the view to the west. Perhaps that vole had provided a meal. And then I heard a response somewhere quite possibly along the Hemlock Trail by which I’d ascended. For about five minutes they called back and forth and I thought of the irony, for months ago I’d scheduled an Owl Prowl for this evening, but had cancelled it this morning due to the weather forecast. That decision was the right one, but perhaps the prowl should have been scheduled for an earlier time. No matter–what’s not to love about hearing an owl hoot at any time of day or night? Especially if one happens to be standing near a tree sporting a heart.

w-lunch bench

Continuing down, another critter made me scan the forest constantly for I saw bobcat tracks and smelled a musky cat odor that I’ve previously associated with this trail. But . . . all I saw were gray and red squirrels scampering from tree to tree and signs of lunch consumed on benches.

w-chipmunk

At the bottom, I switched back and forth between the Gallie and Homestead Trails. It was along the Homestead that another sign of spring’s advent being around the corner showed its face as a chipmunk darted in and out of a hole in a stonewall and watched me from the safety of a fallen tree.

w-foundation filled with chunks of ice

Because I was there, I decided to pay a visit to the McAllister family spirits and told them of my great finds. Of course, what I shared was nothing new to them for they’ve been keeping an eye and ear on this property since the mid 1800s.

w-foundation 2

I also let them know that I was impressed they’d stacked up on ice blocks in the root cellar–certainly their produce had remained fresh throughout the season.

w-spring 1

I was almost back to my truck when I detoured by a certain yellow birch. All along I’d been walking on tracks others had made, so packed was the snow. And even when I went off trail, which was frequently, I didn’t sink. But . . . up to my knees I went as I approached my final destination–the light colored sand in the middle of  the water.

w-spring 2

It was well worth the wee challenge to get to it for the action of bubbles and sand flowing like lava was ever mesmerizing. At last I’d reached a spring that erupts in all seasons.

 

 

 

 

 

Outing on the Outlet

This morning dawned clear and chilly, with the temperature at 50˚ when I headed toward Lovell at 7:15. After placing some “Land Trust Walk Today” signs in pre-planned positions, I headed to the dam on Harbor Road in Fryeburg to wait for a ride.

u1-outlet dam

Water flowed over the tiered dam, which was built in the early to mid 1900s at the request of the Pepperell Manufacturing Company in Biddeford. The townspeople contested its existence for it would raise the water level on Kezar Lake, but the textile mill located many miles away on the Saco River won the rights to construct such at the site of an 1800s saw & gristmill. Thankfully, though it did raise the level of the lake water, not all of the predicted problems came to pass.

u2-Harbor Road bridge

The dam was our intended take-out for today’s paddle co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. Though it’s located off Harbor Road in Fryeburg, it’s owned by the Town of Lovell. No longer used, it still serves to provide a historic reference. And a great place to either portage and continue on to the Old Course of the Saco River and then the “new” course, or take out as we intended to do.

u5-silver maple

While I waited, I poked around, and rejoiced in the sight of trees that like wet feet. High above the dam, the leaves of a silver maple shown brilliantly in the morning light.

u3-green ash leaves

Other leaves also caught my attention for their coloration–with veins of red interrupting their olive greenness. Green ash, another tree that likes wet feet but isn’t as abundant as its siblings, white and black ash, also stood tall beside the dam.

u7-preparing to launch

My dam-side exploration ended a few minutes later when Jesse Wright of Upper Saco Valley Land Trust and her friend, Shareen, pulled into the landing. We hoisted my kayak onto her already laden truck and found our way over the bumpy road to our intended put-in at a private residence–thanks to the generosity of its owners. Slowly the number of boats increased by the water’s edge as twenty-plus folks joined us.

u6-map by Will from USVLT

Once all had gathered, Jesse showed off the map of our intended paddle, the red dots indicating our path from beginning to end, and I shared a bit of information about the fen, a GLLT property purchased in 2005. Today, the symbolic boundary between the two land trusts disappeared as we ventured off together.

u9d-Linda 1

It takes good neighbors and lake stewards to pull off such an event, and the Wurms are such. They helped us arrange the put-in, gathered a couple of canoes for several paddlers and took photos at the start.

u9a-LInda's view 1

Linda’s view included Jesse heading off as our lead,

u9c-Linda's view 3

and the rainbow of colors once we hit the water.

u8-on the water with Jesse and gang

It took us a wee bit of time to get all the boats onto the lake, but it wasn’t a day made for rushing. And once in the sun, we began to warm up.

u10-send off by Linda

Before we headed off, we gave thanks to Linda (and Remy).

u11-and Heinrich

We also thanked Heinrich, who drew our attention skyward . . .

u12-drone

as he flew a drone above us.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0056.JPG

Our first destination was to paddle north for the view.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0061.JPG

The drone spied the mountains before we did.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0059.JPG

And spotted our intended course . . .

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0067.JPG

into the fen.

u18-veiws from the lake

A quick turn-around from the water gave us bearings as we noted the Baldfaces to the west.

u19-heading toward the fen

We circled an island that serves as an environmental study plot for the US Forest Service and then paddled southward.

u20-Jesse in the lead

Jesse led the way through the pickerelweed.

u21-more mountain views

As we followed, the view got better and better.

u22-slowly we followed

Acting as sweep, I took up the rear while the group snaked along.

u25-early fall color

We followed the twists and turns of the water trail, where red maples showed off their autumn display from the canopy.

u28-red leaf

Occasional leaves fluttered down, begging to be noticed in their singularity.

u-cranberries 1

Though we didn’t get out of our boats and actually walk into the fen, we did stop to chat about what it had to offer. The GLLT owns 260 acres of the 500-acre fen, an acidic ecosystem with a deep layer of organic material including peat moss atop a sandy substrate. Several bird species of concern breed or hunt in the fen, including American bitterns and Sandhill cranes, the latter of which we had the good fortune to hear but not see. Long’s bullrush, a globally rare sedge, also grows here. But the crème de la crème for many are the cranberries. Folks on today’s paddle weren’t familiar with the plant and I couldn’t show them at the time, but I shared with them the experience of picking in the past with students from Molly Ockett Middle School in Fryeburg.

u-cranberries 2

On a fall day each year, about thirty students in the school’s MESA program (Maine Environmental Science Academy–an experiential place-based curriculum for 6-8 grades) visit the fen with the GLLT’s Executive Director, Tom Henderson.

u-cranberries 3

They learn about the hydrology of this place, but one of their highlights is to pick cranberries, and to that end, they become very possessive. As one student approaches another, a common statement is shared: “Don’t come over here. There aren’t any cranberries here.”

u-cranberries 4

Over the course of several hours, they fill their bags and sometimes even show off their creative talents in other ways–all in celebration of the cranberries.

u30-weir1

Continuing along the river this morning, we noted beaver activity and talked about scent mounds and their usefulness within the beaver community. And then we reached the fish screen.  Jesse had paddled the course last Sunday and made it under the screen without any issues.

u31-clearing a beaver dam

Since then, the beavers had been busy damming it up. One of our members worked to adjust some of the branches so we could all get through.

u34-offering a shove

Of course, sometimes a helping paddle was needed to push a boat forward.

u33-cow 2

While we took turns, our efforts didn’t go unnoticed.

u35-other side measurement

On the other side, a ruler indicated depth.

u36-approaching the bridge on Harbor Road

And then, and then, in what seemed like only minutes but was actually a couple of hours filled with camaraderie between familiar friends and new, plus a touch of natural history thrown into the discussion, we found ourselves at the bridge and the end of the journey for some. Others chose to paddle back rather than hitch a ride. We had come full circle.

As we pulled boats out, we were surprised at how warm it was since we were out of the shade, the temp having reached into the 80˚s.

Our outing on the Kezar Lake Outlet would not have been doable without Jesse Wright, who did the yeoman’s work of pulling it together, William Abbott, USVLT’s executive director who created the map, the Wurms and their neighbors who contributed land, boats, photographs and time, and all who ventured with us on this most lovely first full day of autumn.  Thank you all.

 

 

 

Brief Retreat at HewnOaks Artist Colony

Brief Retreat

p-pyrola

Stepping out the door,

I immediately spot

the round-leaved pyrola

in bloom

with elongated pistils

arcing below

its petals of white

turned downward,

as if too shy

to share

its inner beauty.

p-mole ridge

Walking across the lawn,

I notice

a sudden change

in the ground

below my feet—

from solid to cushy,

where a raised ridge

about six inches across

snakes through the grass,

the work

of a mole

whose tedious tunneling

through the earth

is hardly ever

recognized as favorable.

p-red and white pines

p-red and white pines 2

Making my way

down the gravel road,

I find myself

in the land

of giant pines—

both red and white,

and so,

I bend my head

into a birder’s pose

to see their crowns—

so tall are they,

with branches and needles

intermingling,

even with

a neighboring hemlock,

as each vies

for the sun’s

life-giving rays.

p-trees kissing 1

Turning to the trees

beside them,

I spy

another white pine;

this one directly

connected to a hemlock,

like kissing cousins,

their trunks

naturally grafted,

providing internal support

as they

figure out

how to share

the space.

p-road

Moving downhill

with intention,

so as not to slip and fall

on the steep incline

and yet wanting

so desperately

to avoid the gnats

that harass my face

in their annoying fashion,

I wish for a breeze.

p-daylilies

p-daylily flower

Spying a splash

of vibrant color,

my attention

suddenly distracted

from the gnats,

I see Daylilies,

the perfect flower

with thee sepals

and three petals,

six stamen,

their anthers

loaded with pollen,

and one pistil

protruding straight out

as she seeks

the offerings of others.

p-meadowsweet 1

p-meadowsweet flowers

p-raindrop reflections

p-ants farming aphids

Rounding a corner

on the road,

I spy a clump

of meadowsweet

standing tall,

its buds

slowly opening

to flowers,

crazy full

of stamens

showing forth

a fireworks display,

and its leaves

holding raindrops

that reflect colors

of the canopy above,

while on one stem

ants farm aphids

in search

of the honeydew

they produce

from sucking

the sugar

out of the plant.

p-sweet-fern patch

p-sweet-fern leaves

Nearing the end

of my journey,

I pause

beside a patch

of sweet-fern,

which isn’t really a fern

for it has a woody stem,

but its presentation

of leaves

appear fernlike,

and I celebrate it

as much

for its look

of curly leaves

extending outward

in every direction,

as for its scent

that tickles my nose

in the most pleasant

of manners.

p-Kezar lake

Standing at last

beside the lake,

I watch dark clouds

flirt with mountains,

and it is here

that I meet

the breeze,

light as can be,

barely ruffling oak leaves

and only slightly swaying

boughs of hemlocks,

while creating

mere ripples

across the water’s surface

that give way

to gentle waves

lapping the tops

of mostly submerged rocks,

just enough

to distract the gnats.

p-HewnOaks 2

p-Hewnoaks

Revering the scene

before me,

I give thanks

for I’ve reached Kezar Lake

at HewnOaks Artist Colony,

where each year

due to

the generosity of others

I get to spend

two hours—

a time to listen

as Judith Steinbergh

shares poetry

in form and sound

and encourages all

to notice,

to hear,

to see,

to be,

and then sends us off

as if

we were world renown writers,

and in those moments,

I am renown

in my own world

as I listen

to my muse

and let thoughts form

first in my head

and then

on paper,

all the while contemplating,

writing and taking photos,

and come away blessed

by the voices

I hear

of the flowers,

and moles,

of the trees,

and ferns,

of the lake,

and this place.

Being.

I am.

It is enough

no matter

how brief.

Thank you,

Judy,

for once again

giving me

the opportunity

to retreat.

On the Prowl at Heald & Bradley Pond Reserve

My original intention when I set out this morning was to snowshoe from the Gallie parking lot on Route 5, follow the Homestead Trail and then connect with the Hemlock Trail as I climbed to the summit of Whiting Hill. I planned to make it a loop by descending via the red trail back to the green Gallie Trail.

w-mill-in-morning-light1

Not to be as the parking lot hadn’t been cleared yet of yesterday’s Nor’easter, which dumped several inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain upon the earth. When Plan A fails, resort to Plan B. A drive down Slab City Road revealed that the Fairburn parking lot wasn’t yet cleared either, but the boat launch was open (because the pond serves as a water source for the fire department) so I parked there and headed to the trailhead beside Mill Brook. The sight of so much water flowing forth was welcome, especially considering it was a mere trickle a few months ago.

w-snow-layers-brookside

The layers of snow overhanging the brook told the story of our winter. And it’s not over yet–at least I hope it isn’t. We’re in the midst of a thaw, but let’s hope more of the white stuff continues to fall. We need it on many levels, including ecologically and economically.

w-fox-print

Because of the storm, I thought I wouldn’t see any tracks, but from the very beginning a red fox crossed back and forth between the pond’s edge and higher elevations.

w-fox-and-squirrel

While it may be difficult to discern, a gray squirrel, the four prints with long toes below the Trackards, had leaped up the hill, perhaps after the fox. Lucky squirrel. The fox prints can be viewed to the left of the cards.

w-vernal-pool

My new plan was to follow the red/blue trail to the summit of Whiting  Hill. And along the way, a side trip to the vernal pool. Visions of fairy shrimp swam in my head. No, I wasn’t rushing the season, just remembering a fun time pond dipping last spring.

w-fringed-wrinkle-lichen

Back on the red/blue trail, I noted that most of the recent seed litter was covered by yesterday’s storm. The Fringed Wrinkle Lichen, however, did decorate the snow. Tuckermanopsis americana, as it’s formally known, grows on twigs and branches of our conifers and birches and often ends up on the forest floor.

It’s a foliose lichen that was named for Edward Tuckerman, of Tuckerman’s Ravine fame on Mount Washington. According to Lichens of the North Woods author Joe Walewski, Tuckerman was “the pre-eminent founder and promoter of lichenology in North America.As a botanist and professor in Boston, he did most of his plant studies on Mount Washington and in the White Mountains.”

w-pileated-debris

Further along, I saw some pileated woodpecker scat about twenty feet from the tree it had hammered in an attempt to seek food. It made me realize that even when I don’t find scat in the wood chips below the tree, I should seek further.

w-pileated-holes

The holes weren’t big–yet.

w-pileated-scat-bursting-with-body-parts

But the scat–oh my. It looked as if insects were trying to escape the small cylindrical package coated in uric acid.

w-mossy-maple-fungi

The trail turned right and so did I, beginning the climb. For most, the ascension doesn’t take more than five or ten minutes. Um . . . at least 45 on my clock today. There was too much to see, including the mossy maple fungi hiding in a tree cavity.

w-tube-moth-3

And then I saw something I’d looked for recently after seeing it on the blog  Naturally Curious with Mary Holland. Notice how the pine needles are clumped together?

w-pine-tube-moth-pupae-overwintering-1

Eastern White Pine needles grow in bundles of five (W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E for our state tree), but the clumps consisted of a bunch of needles from several different bundles.

w-tube-moth-2

What I learned from Ms. Holland is that these are tubes or tunnels created by the Pine  Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. They used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. Notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and in April when I come back to check on the vernal pool, I need to remember to pay attention, for that’s when they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news, says Holland, is that “Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.” I only found the tubes on two young trees, but suspect there are more to be seen.

w-beaked-hazelnut-1

And a few steps later–an old beak. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was then that I realized if I’d been able to stick with the original plan I would have missed these gems. Oh, I probably  would have found others, but these were in front of me and I was rejoicing. Inside that bristly tan husk was the protein-rich nut of a Beaked Hazelnut overlooked by red squirrels and chipmunks, ruffed grouse, woodpeckers, blue jays and humans.

w-beaked-hazelnut-2

Catkins on all of the branches spoke of the future and offered yet another reason to pause along this trail on repeated visits.

w-burl-on-sugar-maple

With my eyes in constant scan mode, I looked for other anomalies. One of my favorites was the burl that wrapped around a Sugar Maple. If I didn’t know better, it would have been easy to think this was a porcupine or two.

w-buried-bench-on-way-up-whiting

About two thirds of the way up, there was no rest for the wary, for the bench that offered a chance to pause was almost completely buried.

w-polypody-and-rock-tripe

Closer to the summit, the ledge boulders were decorated with snow, Common Polypody ferns and lichens, including Common Rock Tripe, its greenish hue reflecting yesterday’s precipitation.

w-whiting-view-1

And suddenly, the summit and its westward view, Kezar Lake in the foreground and Mount Kearsarge  showing its pointed peak in the back.

w-whiting-other-bench

As I’d hiked along the red/blue trail, I noted that the red fox had crossed several times. At the other end of the summit, I checked on the bench where on our First Day 2017 hike for the Greater Lovell Land Trust, we’d discovered the remains of a red squirrel. Today, fox tracks paused in front of the bench before moving on and I had to wonder if had been the one to use this spot as a sacrificial altar.

w-bear-claw-tree

Finally, it was time to head down. My choice was to follow the red trail toward the Gallie Trail. I love this section because it features some of my favorite bear trees.

w-beech-leaves-rustling

The fox tracks continued to cross frequently and so I paused often. And sniffed as well. What I smelled was a musky cat-like scent that I’ve associated with bobcats in the past. What I heard–dried beech leaves rattling in the breeze. They always make me think something is on the move. Ever hopeful I am.

w-striped-maple-buds-and-twig

One of my favorite finds along this section was the bright red branches of young Striped Maples. From leaf and bundle scars to growth lines, lenticels and buds, their beauty was defined.

w-striped-maple-leaves

Another sight that surprised me–Striped Maple leaves still clinging, rather orangey in hue.

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And here and there, as if in honor of the trail color, Red Pines reached skyward.

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Eventually I reached the bottom, and turned right again, this time onto the stoplight trail–well, red and green at least.

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My wildlife sitings were few and far between, but red squirrel tracks and a midden of discarded cone scales next to a dig indicated where the food had been stored in preparation for this day.

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Following some grouse tracks took me off trail and tinder conks made their presence known.

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The swirled appearance of these hoof fungi threw me off for a bit, but I think my conclusion is correct.

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At last I reached the red trail that runs parallel with Heald Pond. Again, the fox tracks crossed frequently, but beside the path and leading to and fro the water and higher heights, another set of tracks confirmed my earlier suspicions.

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Bobcat. I thought I smelled a pussy cat. I did.

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Sometimes the bobcat moved beside the trail, while the fox crossed over. I’d thought when I started out this morning that I wouldn’t see too many tracks because the animals would have hunkered down for the storm. I was pleasantly surprised–for my own sake. For the sake of the animals, I knew it meant they were hungry and on a mission.

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My own mission found me following the spur to Otter Rock. I noted that the fox had walked along the shoreline on its eternal hunt.

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My hunt was of a different sort. No visit to the rock is complete without a look at the dragonfly exoskeletons. But today, it was a bit different because I, too, could walk on the ice. And so I found exoskeletons on parts of the rock I haven’t been able to view previously. Their otherworldly structure spoke to their “dragon” name.

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The slit behind the head and on the back of one showed where the dragonfly had emerged from the nymph stage last spring. Or maybe a previous spring as some of these have been clinging to the rock for a long time.

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While I was looking, I noticed some other pupae gathered together within a silky covering. Another reason to return–oh drats. I don’t know if I’ll be there at the right time, but with each visit, I’ll check in.

w-mill-dam-in-afternoon-sun

The sun was shining and warm. High 30˚s with slight breeze–felt like a summer day, with the sun reflecting off the snow. And at the mill, further reflection off the water. After four hours, it was time for me to check out.

As always, I was thankful for my visit, even though it wasn’t my original plan. Like the mammals, I’d been on a prowl–especially serving as the eyes for a friend who is currently homebound. I think she would have approved what I saw.

 

A Devil of a Mondate

Ever since I first saw a photo of a family donning their Sunday best and standing on rocks that form the “Devil’s Staircase” in Lovell, Maine, I’ve been intrigued.

d-historical-society

The photo and description on Lovell Historical Society’s Web site refers to a “staircase” on Sabattus Mountain. And so for years I imagined the staircase leading to that summit, but never located it. And then I learned that a section of trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Pond’s Reserve had earned the same name. Is there a staircase at Sabattus? Or was it accidentally misidentified? Whatever the case, when I suggested to my guy that we attempt the staircase off Route 5, he embraced the opportunity. (I’ve since learned from several friends that indeed, there is a staircase on Sabattus and the photo likely was taken there. The base of the staircase is apparently on private property and no longer a safe climb.)

d-trail-map

And so about noon we ventured forth and figured out a direction that would take us up the steep portions of the trail to the staircase and El Pulpito, and then down the easy trail–with hope that there was such a thing as an easy trail.

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Actually, at the start it all seemed quite easy as I followed our Monday tradition of racing to keep up.

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We chuckled when he found an arrow that aimed heavenward–perhaps a sign that all would be well.

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My guy played spin the arrow to set it toward our destination. (Actually, on the way down, he spun it the other way. Note to GLLT–perhaps this arrow needs two nails.)

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Minutes later, we approached the ledges and visions of bobcats danced through my head.

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Acting as our scout, my guy contemplated the upward advance.

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We were forewarned and chose to bypass a bypass.

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He started up what we believed to be the same trail traveled by those Sunday venturers.

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I followed but not quite as speedily.

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My heart pounded in Edgar Allen Poe manner as I followed him up. I have to admit that there was a point where I wanted to turn around and climb down, but wasn’t certain that would be any easier. And so after pausing for a few moments, I tried to put mind over matter and placed my hands and feet in what seemed to be “safe” spots as I continued to climb.

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Above the staircase we were rewarded with a vantage point of Kezar Lake and the White Mountains and a chance to slow down our heartbeats.

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And later, at El Pulpito, the pulpit, the complete opposite of the Devil’s Staircase–a place to pause, eat PB&J sandwiches, and contemplate life in a relaxed manner.

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Within an hour we reached the summit of Amos Mountain and spent some time being.

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Though the sun was in our eyes, the view south was a bit hazier than one would expect on a clear November day. We later learned that a forest fire burned in Albany, New Hampshire.

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For our descent, we followed the blue blazes of the Amos Mountain Trail.

d-tree-across-trail

Though hardly as steep as the climb up, I was thankful for a few downed trees that slowed my guy–momentarily.

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The beech and oak leaves were over a foot deep in places and obscured rocks and roots, making for a slippery slide down.

Nevertheless, we did it. Devil’s Staircase up and a devil of a climb down–and yet, two hours later we knew we’d do it again.

 

 

Hewnoaks

This morning, the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library in Lovell co-hosted a poetry workshop conducted by poet Judith Steinbergh of Brookline, Massachusetts. The setting: Hewnoaks Artist Colony.

It’s always a special treat to listen to Judy and others read poetry, wander the grounds which overlook Kezar Lake, and share with like-minded people.

Sixteen of us found our voices this morning. Or tried to. Here’s my attempt:

h-hewnoaks 1

Hewnoaks

h-raindropsMG_1835

Where raindrops jiggle

h-backs of leaves (1)

and leaf backs glow,

h-pine needles

pine needles dangle

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and new cones land,

h-pepperbushIMG_1836

shrubs sway

h-ferns

and ferns dance,

h-queen anne's lace1

flowers blossom

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and seeds fly,

h-feather

feathers pause

h-driftwood (1)

and driftwood poses,

h-white caps 2 (1)

white caps form

h-waves 2 (1)

and waves crash.

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Hewnoaks, where poets write

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as the north spirit renews our souls

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with each gust of fresh air. ~LMH

h-Listening to Ann (1)

Later we gathered inside, out of the wind, to share our offerings–each one a gift.

Thank you, Judy. And Anna. And Ann 😉

 

 

 

Same Old is New

Same old, same old. Sometimes it feels that way as we travel familiar trails and recognize members of the community. And so it seemed today.

a-fdn 1

We paused to check on a few neighbors along the Homestead Trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve, but no one was home.

a-signs

And so we decided to climb to the summit of Amos Mountain.

Along the way, I realized we weren’t the only ones exploring this property–several times we saw where a mink had bounded across, even enjoying a short downward slide in the midst of its journey.

a-summit view

From the summit, Kezar Lake stretched before us as we ate our PB&J sandwiches and Girl Scout cookies–Lemonades™.

a-whiting to pleasant

And another view, Whiting Hill in the center foreground and a peek at our beloved Pleasant Mountain, visible just to left of the center pines.

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On the way down we decided to explore the stonewalls for a bit, at times terraced and following the contour of the mountain.

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And that’s when the same old started to change. Yes, we found another bear tree.

a-bear 4

And on what side of the tree should we find the claw scars? Why the north of course, adding to our unscientific theory that bears climb trees on this side. Typically, the northern side is the uphill side. Our mission is to continue to pay attention to this–tough job that we choose to accept.

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Sometimes the walls appeared to enclose pens.

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And other times they opened–perhaps to pastures?

a-northern white cedar

As we wandered and wondered about the walls the farmer had created and why, we noticed other things we’ve somehow missed upon previous visits, including this northern white cedar tree.

a-stonewall fdn

In what today appears to be the middle of nowhere, a small foundation. House? Shed? Sugar shack?

a-red-belted polypore

We climbed a hill to see what was on the other side and found this red-belted polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola) growing on an Eastern white pine. In Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England, he says this is “apparently not a picky fungus. F. pinicola has been recorded on more than 100 different species of tree hosts.”

a-stonewall last

The snow had softened since we first started so we did some slipping and sliding as we followed another stonewall back to the trail.

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And then my brain kicked into birch tree mode. These woods are filled with paper, gray and yellow birch. And next week, the GLLT will host a “Which Birch Is It?” walk about the birches and their relatives.

a-yellow bark

The ribbony curls and whorls of yellow birch bark are signatures of this tree that can change in color from silver to yellow to reddish brown and circle back to silver again in old age. Did you know that a yellow birch can live to 200 hundred years, unlike its cousins, the gray birch and paper birch? Gray birch live about fifty years and paper reach a ripe old age of somewhere between 50 and 150 years.

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Another cool fact about yellow birches: the interior of dead branches begin to decay quickly, even while still on the tree; eventually reduced to mush, the trees rid themselves of these non-productive limbs quite easily with the help of wind. Look for tubes of outer bark  filled with rotting wood on the ground.

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Also becoming visible as the snow melts, paper birch bark from downed trees. It seems curious that the lenticels resemble stitches, especially considering that Native American’s built sturdy, lightweight canoes from birch bark; the bark was stretched over a framework of white cedar, stitched together and sealed with pine or balsam resin. All the components exist in these woods.

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Back on the trail, a few other things revealed themselves, including smooth rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata). No matter how many times I see this, it’s never the same old.

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In great contrast to the smooth upper surface is the coarse pitch black of the underside reminding me of fresh tar–kind of like what town crews are using to fill pot holes right now.

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The greenness of the upper side was witness to the melting snow.

a-liverwort

Similarly, lungwort displayed its dryer gray presentation because it lacked moisture.

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As we continued down the Gallie Trail, bypassing the Homestead, it seemed that we were back in the land of the sameness.

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But . . . speckled alder, a member of the birch family, is about to come into its own. While the burgundy brown male catkins hang from the ends of twigs, smaller female catkins await the release of pollen.

a-speckled leaf

Speckled alders are pioneer species–that first step in natural transition of farm land or logged land back to forest. In this instance, it’s both of the former.

And that’s not its only claim to fame. Speckled alders are nitrogen fixers. Atmospheric nitrogen absorbed by bacteria live in nodules on the alder roots and change into a form of nitrogen plants can utilize as fertilizer, thus fertilizing fields that may have been depleted of nitrogen by years of farming. Its leaves are also rich in nitrogen, so when they fall they help to fertilize soil. For some reason, this one chose to hang on, but its moment will come. In the meantime, it offers grace in form and design.

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Equally graceful, the hairy bracts and seed head of Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) found near the parking lot.

It’s all always been here. It’s all the same, day in and day out and yet it’s all new. Change is the only constant–offering moments of wonder.

 

 

Branching Out

I felt privileged this morning to sit under the tall pines overlooking Kezar Lake and the White Mountains while participating in a poetry workshop.

Judy Steinbergh, a published poet and summer resident of Lovell, conducted the workshop for the Greater Lovell Land Trust, Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library and Hewnoaks Artist Colony. The latter graciously served as the setting.

Hewn Oaks porch

From 2012-14, Judy served as the inaugural poet laureate of Brookline, Massachusetts and she has over forty years of experience teaching poetry to students of all ages. It’s a delight to listen to her share her passion for her work and that of others. She epitomizes the rhythm of nature.

And so it was, that after Judy shared examples and techniques with us, we were set free to wander about this magnificent property in search of inspiration. Hewnoaks  was originally established as an artist colony by the Volk family in the 1890s. Today, it is a non-profit organization that gives “artists time and space to create within a natural, rustic environment.”

pines

Hewn Oaks

mountain views

Kezar

morning view

Finally, I pulled out my hand lens and focused on smaller details.

A Leaf

Life begins

 striped maple buds

As a tree bud

 oak bud 2

Tightly embraced

by Mother Earth.

quaking aspen scales

Its waxy scales

buds

and peachy fuzz

provide protection

leaf unfurling

until it unfurls

new leaves

and gathers energy

new red maple leaves

in the hope

 hope

of branching out.

~LMH, 7/22/15

Mountain Mondate

Sabattus Mtn sign

Our Monday date took us to Sabattus Mountain in Lovell this morning. It’s an easy trek offering great views, lots of wildlife activity and a decent workout in a short amount of time.

trail sign

Which way should we go? I ask myself that question over and over again. Habit took us up the right-hand trail, but in hindsight, maybe we should have mixed it up this time. A life lesson?

burl

Check out this burl. Over and under and around, oh my!

transition 1

I stood at this spot on the trail and looked down–Lots of beech, hemlock, birch and maple in the mix.

transition 2

And then I turned to look up the trail. Oak, pine and hemlock dominated the scenery. A transition point.

growing apart

Speaking of transitions, this hemlock grew apart after a couple of years. With two rather than one terminal leaders growing side by side, they eventually found their way back together.

and together again

Here they are woven back together–it’s almost difficult to tell that the two have become one. It made me think of our relationship as we trekked up the mountain. Maybe this tree didn’t really grow apart, the two parts just respected each other as their life together began and they allowed each other to continue growing in their own way, knowing that they needed to stay together ultimately because being united and supportive is what it’s all about. And maybe I’m reading way too much into a natural occurrence.

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A porcupine tree. Lots of porcupine activity in the hemlock grove both on this trail and on the way down.

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A well-traveled porcupine trail.

fire tower

The concrete stanchions that once supported a fire tower. Apparently, the tower was removed in 1963.

bench 1

Perfect spot for a hot cocoa break.

oake and pine

Eastern White Pine and Northern Red Oak–looks like the oak is ahead in the race to the sun right now. I wonder if that’s how it will play out over the years.

buried bench

And then there’s the other bench at the summit. We couldn’t actually sit on this one.

bobcat 1

Heading along the ridge, we found these prints that always excite me. This critter had traveled to and fro before going off trail. Notice the “C” shape between the toes and the pad. C is for cat. Yup, a bobcat. And it was at some point in the last six hours or so, because we’d had a dusting of snow. These were fresh. Yippee!

bobcat2

A bobcat is a “perfect” walker. Ah, perfection. But really, it places a front foot down, and as that foot moves forward, the hind foot steps into its place. I think you can see that here–it looks like it might be two feet sharing almost the same space.

bobcat dinner?

Breakfast? The bobcat obviously snatched some little brown thing–or tried to. This was just off the man-made snowshoe trail and right by the ledge. I was a bit surprised that the cat had followed the trail for as long as it had. They usually cross our trails and have their own corridor. But, it sure makes for easier traveling to follow where others have gone before.

old oak

This old oak has seen better days. Amazing that it’s still standing.

support of a friend

But then I looked up. We all need the support of a friend. In this case, the friend is a white pine. They may compete for sunlight, but apparently they can count on each other occasionally.

heading down

Heading down. Transitioning again. There were a zillion snowshoe hare trails. And  mice. And squirrel. Good feeding grounds for a bobcat.

lunch 3

We finished up our trek before we were hungry for lunch. But, when hunger struck we ate PB&J sandwiches beside Kezar Lake.

Thanks for wondering along on this wander through the Maine woods.