I Spy . . .

This afternoon’s goal: To find a Christmas Tree to decorate for the Christmas at Ladies Delight Walk on December 1st. For the reconnaissance mission, I joined the Coombs family at the GLLT’s Chip Stockford Reserve.

The Coombs children are homeschooled by their amazing mother, Juli, and though they learn many lessons at home, they are also well educated in the outdoors. In fact, they are among my favorite naturalists.

And they belong to a 4-H Homeschool group that will decorate a tree(s) with biodegradable ornaments prior to the December 1st walk.

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And so we set off on our tour looking for just the right tree. But . . . as is always the case with this family, there was so much more to see.

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Since Juli is a Maine Master Naturalist Program student, so are her children. And every topic she studies, they study, so it was no surprise to me that six-year-old Wes picked up stick after stick loaded with various forms of lichens.

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Of course, they are children, ranging in age from six to eleven, and puddles are invitations. The family motto is this: No puddle shall remain unsplashed.

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But just after the puddle, at the start of an old log landing, we began to notice something else. A mushroom drying on the whorl of a White Pine.

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As we stood and looked at the first, someone among us spied a second.

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And then a third, and so it went. We knew that squirrels dried mushrooms in this manner, but never had we seen so many. It dawned on us that we were standing in a squirrel’s pantry. One squirrel? Two squirrel? Gray Squirrel? Red Squirrel? One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

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For a while we paused by an erratic boulder and looked at the lichens that grew atop it. The kids and their mom also checked the sand under and behind it and I told them that the only critter sign I’d ever noticed was that of a Ruffed Grouse sand bath–and I only recognized it as such because I’d startled the two birds and they startled me as they flew off. In fact, on another hike this morning at the GLLT’s Five Kezar Ponds Reserve, friend Teresa and I had startled a grouse and we talked about how the bird’s explosive behavior makes us feel as if we’ve encountered a moose.

Well, just beyond the boulder, as we all chatted and moved about with quick motion, Caleb spotted something and told us to stop. A Ruffed Grouse!

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It threw leaves about as it sorted through them in search of seeds and buds and we all watched in silence.

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As we stood or sat still, the bird moved this way and that, making soft clucking sounds the entire time.

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Ellie stood in front as the bird moved a few feet ahead of her and crossed the trail. I kept looking back at Juli in wonder. How could this be? Why wasn’t it disturbed by us? I’ve spotted Spruce Grouse in higher elevations and they are much “friendlier” or less wary of people, but I’d never been able to get up close to a Ruffed Grouse.

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Our fascination continued and we noted its feathered legs, making us think perhaps it had pulled on some long johns for a cold winter night.

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It eyed us and we eyed it back–our minds filled with awe.

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Think about this: four children and two adults and we were starting to get fidgety because we’d been still for fifteen or more minutes and we had begun to whisper our questions and still . . . it let us watch.

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And it let Ellie be the Grouse Whisperer for she began to follow it off the trail. Eventually, it climbed up a fallen tree and she knelt down beside, taking photos as it stood less than a foot from her. How cool is that?

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We were all wowed by the experience, but when Ellie finally turned back, we continued on . . . sometimes running and other times pausing to ride imaginary horses.

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Or listen to Birch Polypores! Yes, Juli did listen for it’s part of an assignment for the Maine Master Naturalist class. So what exactly does a Birch Polypore sound like? “I couldn’t hear the ocean,” she said with a smile.

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And what does it smell like? “Wood.”

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The next moment of glee–poking Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold and watching it ooze.

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“It’s cool and gross at the same time,” said Ellie.

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Onward and again, more fungi drying in trees as Aidan pointed out.

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We even found a few stuck on spiky spruces much like ornaments might be and we reminded ourselves that we were on a mission and still hadn’t found the right tree to decorate.

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At last, however, we did. And then we made our way out to the spur and recently opened view of Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay and Cranberry Fen, plus the mountains.

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This became our turn-around point as it was getting cooler by the minute and the sun was setting. We promised Wes we’d look only at our feet as we followed the loop trail down, though occasionally we stopped again to admire more fungi tucked onto tree branches and a set of trees that formed a rainbow arched over the trail.

As for the fungi, we wondered if we were seeing so many because last year’s mast crop of pinecones, beech nuts, and acorns didn’t exist this year. And when the 4-H club returns in a couple of weeks to decorate the tree, will the mushrooms still be there? Will there be more? How long do the squirrels wait before consuming them? So many questions and so many lessons still to be learned.

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And so many things to spy. We were honored with the opportunity to do just that and my heart smiled with the knowledge that the kids appreciated it as much as their mom and I did.

I spy . . . we spied . . . INDEED!

Oh, and  please join the GLLT for Christmas at Ladies Delight. I have the inside word that there will be hot cocoa and cookies somewhere along the trail.

December 1, 9:30 – noon
Christmas at Ladies Delight: The Maine Christmas Tree Hunt is a fun holiday scavenger
hunt to find decorated trees in western Maine. We’ll search for the decorated tree along the Bill Sayles Loop at the Chip Stockford Reserve and may add a few of our own biodegradable ornaments along the way. Location: Chip Stockford Reserve, Ladies Delight Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

This Lady’s Delight

There’s something about the Chip Stockford Reserve on Ladies Delight Road in Lovell that keeps pulling me back. I think it’s the history associated with this property that fascinates me. And the questions it raises.

From the start, there is a cellar hole and barn foundation. foundtion 1

About seven years ago, during a visit to the Lovell Historical Society, I learned that  Eldridge Gerry Kimball had purchased 200 acres on January 31, 1880 from Abraham E. Gray.

Various journals from that time period include entries about driving cattle over to the Ladies Delight pasture, picking cranberries over by The Pond, as they called Kezar Lake, picking apples, driving sheep to pasture, picking pears, mowing oats and trimming pines.

large pines

Today, it’s the huge pasture pines, stonewalls and a couple of foundations that tell part of the story. I’ve also heard that this area was used as a cattle infirmary. According to local lore, diseased cattle were brought to Ladies Delight to roam and die, thus preventing disease from spreading to healthy cattle.

pileated condo

The big old pines provide investigation for others.

p scat

Who sometimes leave presents. Can you see the ant bodies?

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Yup, that’s snow. I took this photo in December because I was impressed with the stock pile of cones a red squirrel had made.

midden

It took me a few minutes to locate the tree today. I wanted to see what the midden looked like and wasn’t disappointed.  In trying to find the tree, however, I developed an appreciation for the red and gray squirrels who cache their food and then return to it. Of course, if a gray squirrel doesn’t remember where it stored an acorn, then a turkey or deer may find a treat, or a tree may grow. No matter how you look at it, it’s all good. As for me, I need to learn how to use our GPS.

Another story about Ladies Delight hill is that this is the place where people would come to picnic in the 1800s. Did the women get dressed up to enjoy a day out, a break from their farming duties? I have visions of them wearing long dresses and bonnets and carrying picnic baskets. But could they really afford a day away from their chores?

red spur

The blue trail loops around the 155-acre reserve, and a spur trail (red) leads to the vantage point–a view of Lower Bay on Kezar Lake and the White Mountains.

chip stockford

A bench at the outlook was placed in memory of Chapman “Chip” Stockford, a founding officer of the GLLT who lived in the neighborhood.

view

Spring color–more subtle than fall foliage.

white pine

On the short spur between the red arrow and the outlook, the variety of trees offers a study in bark. Eastern White Pine–with horizontal lines on the scales.

hemlock

Flaky, cinnamony-gray (is that a word?) scales of Eastern Hemlock.

ash

Ash’s diamond-shaped furrows.

beech

And the smooth, silvery-gray American Beech–with some blotches of lichen adding a dash of green and white.

hop hornbeam

Hop Hornbeam’s shaggy strips.

red maple

And the bull’s eye target on Red Maple.

red oak

Finally, the flattened ridges of ski tracks that run down a Northern Red Oak.

pine age

Back on the blue trail, the sun poked through the clouds, shining on pines that represent a variety of ages.

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I’m not sure who lived in the house above this cellar hole, but it’s always fun to visit and wonder.

In her book, Blueberries and Pusley Weed: The Story of Lovell, Maine, Pauline W. Moore wrote that Ladies Delight, “was not named for the view. Nor because it made a delightful walk for ladies to take on a Sunday afternoon or because it was covered with wonderful blueberries . . . (It was) named in sarcasm because women who tried to live in two houses built there could not endure the loneliness and isolation.”

Was this one of the houses?

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It’s been a long time since any vegetables were stored in this cellar.

As I was told at the historical society,  the bridge across The Narrows wasn’t yet built when the ladies lived there, so the only way to get to the other side was walking across the ice.

the rock

No visit to Chip Stockford is complete without a visit to The Rock. Today, I startled two grouse that flew up from behind it.

grouse dust

Dust bath? Nest site?

sweet fern

A few more things to see as I headed out. Sweet fern, which is really a shrub.

baubles

Baubles on pine saplings.

paper birch bark

Young Paper Birch bark.

striped maple

Swollen Striped Maple buds.

phoebe nest

And a phoebe nest under construction.

This lady was delighted to have time to wonder and wander. Thanks for taking a look.