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.

1c

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.

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Our first destination was to paddle north for the view.

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The drone spied the mountains before we did.

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And spotted our intended course . . .

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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.

w-red-pine-on-red-trail

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

w-redgreen-trail

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

w-squirrel-midden

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.

w-tinder-2

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

w-tinder-fungi

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

w-bobcat-trail

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.

w-bobcat-prints

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

w-fox-and-bobcat

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.

w-john-fox-1

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.

w-dragonflies-2

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.

w-dragonfly-nymph-exoskeleton

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.

w-other-pupae-overwintering

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.