I’m with the TREES

When Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association asked me to join her in co-leading and co-sponsoring a tree identification walk during Great Maine Outdoor Week(end) at LEA’s Highland Research Forest in Bridgton, I jumped at the opportunity. Alanna, you see, is a great joy to be in the presence of and I knew she’d make it a fun and unique experience.

I wasn’t disappointed; nor were the thirteen others who joined us this morning for a two-hour hike that turned into two and a half and even a little bit more.

Alanna had gone out ahead of us and placed hearts with tree-related information along the trail we’d travel. Our crew was a delightful mix that included young and old, with members of LEA and the Greater Lovell Land Trust, which I was representing, as well as a woman from North Conway and man from Portland. Yes, Linda and Henri–that would be the two of you.

The first heart provided information about hemlock trees and after she read it, we encouraged everyone to channel their inner hemlock and so they leaned as this particular evergreen does. Check out those smiles. Don’t you want to be a hemlock too?

Of course, because we were among the trees on this property that the David and Carol Hancock Charitable Trust donated to LEA several years ago, and the snow was super soft from yesterday’s storm, the mammal tracks were outstanding.

One of the favorites of the day–that of the snowshoe hare. It’s not often that one can see the hare’s toes so clearly, but today was the day. And as David Brown’s Trackards indicated, the footprint size depends upon the conditions.

When it came to demonstrating and identifying the action of the mammal there were two rock stars among our group. Alanna was one for she got down on all fours and demonstrated how a hare moves (before she sorta fell). And Pam Marshall was the other for she correctly identified and shared information about how to recognize all of the track and print patterns that we saw. Pam only began tracking this year with the GLLT’s Tuesday Trackers, but she’s a quick study.

Onward we trekked, pausing whenever we saw a heart of red. And each time, Alanna’s voice came through in the message. Love at first bite! Indeed.

At a beech tree, we paused for a bit longer as we noted not only the twigs and buds that are beginning to swell, but also talked about how bear claw marks are most visible on them and how the beech scale insect has altered the once smooth look of the bark. The word marcescent, meaning withering but remaining attached to the stem, also entered the conversation.

After a bit of time, we emerged onto a wetland where only last week Alanna and a couple of people including one in our midst, Anne, had spotted a hole and lots of tracks and scat left behind by an otter. Today, no sign of that member of the weasel family, but still . . . we enjoyed the warmth of the sun.

And I took advantage of the time to dress Alanna as a twig. She was the perfect Miss Twiggy model and Henri took time to pose with her.

Back in the woods, we were stopped in our tracks by the tracks of another weasel–a mink.

And then as we retraced out steps and paused by a speckled alder to admire its male and female catkins and last year’s cones, someone honed in on something that wasn’t a remnant of yesterday’s snowstorm.

The cottony white masses of wooly alder aphids decorated a couple of branches. As Alanna explained, in a symbiotic relationship, during the warmer months, ants stroke the aphid with their antennae, while the aphid releases a drop of honeydew, much like a cow being milked. It’s actually rather creepy. Today, there were no ant farmers about, but a few like Justin, did step forward to take a closer look.

After that, we were confronted with a math problem. And you thought we were just out for a walk in the woods.

Finally, well sorta, we made our way back to an opening and stood around enjoying hot cocoa and tea, plus some goodies, and each others company.

Sherpa Anne had been kind enough to haul the supplies to the opening for us as our trek began. I know she was thankful she didn’t have to pull the sled all the way out to the wetland. And we were thankful for the good tidings it bore.

You see, Alanna is a woman of many, many talents, and baking is one of them.

Did she get carried away with the cookie cutters?

We didn’t think so for we all love Maine.

And we also love trees, including red oaks with their bristly-tipped leaves and acorns.

That wasn’t all Alanna had created.

Her tree model was to be envied (at least by me). And she explained the different functions, from roots to leaves and outer bark to inner workings.

And just in case you are interested, I’ve come up with a new mnemonic, because we love memory aids.

Xylem is the vascular tissue in plants that conducts water and dissolved nutrients upward from the root and also helps to form the woody element in the stem.

Phloem is the vascular tissue in plants that conducts sugars and other metabolic products downward from the leaves.

My mnemonic: Xy high (think upward); Phlo low (think downward).

Of course, that didn’t occur to me until several hours later.

Before we finished off our delightful morning, there was one last heart with tree information to read. Hmmm. Porcupines, bark, needles, scat, look up? “You might spot one dining!”

And so up we looked.

And down as well. We found some tracks and even took a closer look at some comma-shaped scat.

Because . . . the resident male was high up in the tree! Look at that handsome fella! We did. Over and over again. Henri was sure we had planted him and that he wasn’t real.

But he was. And if you look closely, you might see his orange teeth which one (like me) could almost mistake for a Valentine heart. Check out those toe nails. And can you see the rough soles of his feet, the better to grip the tree with?

Male porcupines are known to hang out on a tree during the day. I know we’re particularly thrilled about this one because he hasn’t let us down yet.

Think about this–while the male was hanging out in the sun, porcupines (like the one that lives under our barn) typically stay in their dens until dusk and then head off to munch on bark and needles in the darkest and coldest hours of a day. That’s to be admired.

So is the work of our two organizations, Lakes Environmental Association and the Greater Lovell Land Trust. Both of us are with the Trees and we loved sharing the trail together this day.

We’re doing the same again on Sunday at 12:30 in Lovell, where we’ll go on a Porcupine Prowl–will we actually see the rodent as we did today? Who knows, but we’ll have fun as we join together again to celebrate Great Maine Outdoor Week(end).

I’m with the TREES. Are you?

Our Final Mondate

I should have known it would come to this as nothing lasts forever. My guy and I had driven to Lake Environmental Association’s Highland Research Forest and the sight at our feet when we stepped out of the truck might have been the first clue.

It was a vole tunnel–covered only by a thin layer of snow and it showed the different directions the little rodent had taken as it searched for food in the subnivean zone, that rather warm (think 32˚) space between the ground and snow where one might be protected from the harsh realities of winter. It looked like first the vole wanted to go this way and then that and there were even holes where he’d come to the surface. But what about her? Had she followed him? Or taken her own route?

Maybe it was because I’d said before we’d started that we’d check out the trails LEA had designed, but within minutes I thought it was better that we bushwhack instead for I’m forever curious about wetlands.

Or was it the fact that I said, let’s go out on the ice just after I said we need to be careful? But if we hadn’t done so, we might not have seen the small beaver lodge that we spied through the tree carcass.

Could it have been that he really wanted to get back on the trail while I wanted to look for the heron nest?

I will say he didn’t seem to mind that we saw the larger beaver lodge, though we didn’t cross too close to it.

He did seem excited about the rather fresh beaver works we discovered when I finally did what he wanted and climbed up the hill away from the ice.

But he certainly wasn’t as excited as I was about the lungwort that grew all the way up the trunk of the old sugar maple the beaver was in the process of chopping down and made me realize that the tree had survived the past history of this land . . . until now.

Below the tree was the beaver dam and I thought for sure he’d want to go down and take a look, but he didn’t have that desire.

Instead, he wanted to try to relocate the blue-flagged trail and so he followed deer tracks and headed inland.

But, my heart was drawn to the water and I really wanted to follow the brook.

For I had a feeling it would feature some cool finds. And it did.

His heart wasnt filled with joy at the sight of those five tear-drop shaped toes or the diagonal orientation of the fisher prints.

What did excite him? The discovery of blue flagging.

He did seem a wee bit enthused by another set of prints–that of a bobcat.

A burl covered in violet-toothed fungi, however, was not a view he needed to pause under.

Instead, he moved on quickly and discovered water we might need to ford.

I, on the other hand, took a few moments to get my fill of ice sculptures dangling over the rushing water.

Ice. It’s so fleeting, like a summer flower. And like a flower, every day it opens up a little more and changes and then . . . whoosh. A day too warm and it dries up.

As he looked for a place to cross the brook and then realized we should just follow it, barbed wire growing through a tree drew his attention for he’d been wondering if anyone had wandered this way a hundred years ago.

As it went today, we followed the trail and one another sometimes and bushwhacked across the landscape in other moments.

We didn’t exactly stay within the forest, for eventually we found ourselves sitting on a privately owned association beach overlooking Highland Lake.

We actually sat on lunch rock together as we topped off our PB&J sandwiches with a shared Guinness in honor of this being the birthday of Arthur Guinness’ St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin. Oh, and piece of shortbread from the Shortbread House in Scotland added a sweet touch to this: Our Final Mondate . . .

of 2018. And then I followed my guy back into the forest.

Book of December: Rewilding Our Hearts

It all started with an email message from my long-time mentor and former education director of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, Kevin Harding.

Wrote Kevin, “I rarely find a book that I’m willing to recommend to friends and colleagues. I rarely read books on saving the environment because I find them too depressing. I am guilty of feeling totally overwhelmed by the chaos and daily news of political disfunction that makes any kind of progress toward “saving the environment” seem impossible. Despite these feelings, I would like you to consider reading Rewilding Our Hearts by Marc Bekoff. No doubt many of you know this author and you may have already read some of his work. Bekoff can help us understand that the work we do in Lovell is in fact meaningful and productive.

Book of December

And so I added Rewilding Our Hearts by Marc Bekoff to my Christmas list and a few days ago my guy handed me this copy, which he’d ordered from Bridgton Books.

A professor emeritus of ecology and evolution at the University of Colorado, Boulder, (our youngest son’s alma mater), Bekoff is the author or editor of twenty-five books.

Since receiving the book, I’ve turned up the bottom corner of pages in the foreword and introduction that I want to reread and taken copious pages of notes.

In this book, Bekoff’s intention is to use the big picture challenges of “climate change, population explosion and constant damage to Earth’s ecosystems and loss of diversity” as the backdrop to encourage us all to change how we think and act–especially as it pertains to nonhuman animals.

“Rewilding our hearts is about becoming re-enchanted with nature. It is about nurturing our sense of wonder. Rewilding is about being nice, kind, compassionate, empathetic, and harnessing our inborn goodness and optimism,” writes Bekoff.

In the first chapter, he states, “Our effects on other species are wide-ranging and far-reaching, and we most likely understate the extent of our destructive ways. As with climate change, we often don’t know or fully understand what we’ve done or the extent of our negative impacts. Even worse, we have no idea how to fix the ecological problems confronting us, whether we are at fault for them or not.”

A live and dead spider within a pitcher plant leaf.

He encourages us to open our hearts and form a compassionate connection with nature–even in those moments when we don’t understand. For instance, in November a friend and I discovered two spiders in the water-filled “urn” of a pitcher plant on a land trust property. The larger spider was alive, while it seemed to play with the smaller dead spider that it kept moving with its hind legs. Was it trying to revive the youngster? Would the two or even the one be able to escape the carnivorous pitcher plant?

Great Blue Heron youngsters waiting for a meal

Watching something as small as the spiders or as large as young great blue herons is something some of us could easily take for granted, for we are fortunate to spend many hours as observers. Thankfully, we are constantly filled with awe and wonder.

ArGee as last seen a few weeks ago. A ruffed grouse startled me in the same area yesterday. Was it him? Or another? I’m not sure, but I am grateful that it behaved as a ruffed grouse should by flying off.

As I read Bekoff’s book, numerous visions flashed through my mind and I thought of the corridors that our local land trusts have worked diligently to create. And with that came the memory of an article I wrote for Lake Living magazine in 2015 entitled “Land That We Trust”:

My happy moments are spent wandering and wondering in the woods of the lakes region. And photographing and sketching what I see. And writing about the experience. And trying to find out the answers. Honestly though, I don’t want to know all of the answers. For the most part, I just like the wandering and wondering.

Passing through a stonewall, I’m suddenly embraced by the fragrance of white pines that form the canopy over what was once an agricultural field. Beech and hemlock trees grow in the understory. Lowbush blueberries, Canada mayflowers, bracken ferns, Indian pipe, partridgeberry, sessile-leaf bellwort, Indian cucumber root and a variety of mosses and lichens add to the picture.

I follow a former cowpath that opens to the power line. At the edge, taller hemlocks and northern red oaks stand high, with a few beech trees in the mix. But my eye is drawn to the ground cover, varied in color and texture. Sphagnum moss, several species of reindeer lichen, British soldier lichen, wintergreen, bunchberries, junipers and sheep laurel appreciate the bogginess and sunshine of this space.

To the right of another opening in the wall, the neighborhood changes. This time it’s gray and paper birch that grow side by side. Nearby, a vernal pool teems with life.

In each space, I encounter evidence of animals, amphibians, birds and insects. Sometimes I even get to see these neighbors with whom I share the land. Gray squirrels build their dreys up high in the hardwood trees, while red squirrels prefer the white pine forest. Deer bed under the hemlocks. Snowshoe hare browse among the birch grove and its vegetative undergrowth. Yellow-spotted salamanders and wood frogs lay egg masses in the vernal pool. Snakes slither nearby. Frequent visitors to each area include porcupines, raccoons, skunks, turkeys, gray and red foxes, deer, woodpeckers, thrushes, chickadees, nuthatches and warblers. Occasionally, I’m treated to moose and bear evidence and sitings.

People, too, are part of this habitat. They recreate along the snowmobile trail that follows the power line. The stonewalls, dug wells and rusty equipment speak to the area’s history.

It’s land like this that our local land trusts work diligently to preserve.

A wee disclaimer: I’ve been a volunteer docent for about eight years and am now education director for the Greater Lovell Land Trust. My involvement stems from my desire to learn about what makes up the landscape that surrounds me.

Sometimes alone, sometimes with my husband or friends, I hike all of the GLLT properties on a regular basis. Trekking along trails with like-minded people who pause frequently to identify and appreciate what they see in any season puts a smile on my face. Something stops us in our tracks every time we explore and we gain a better understanding of ourselves and this place we inhabit.

This past winter, I started recording my outdoor adventures, wonders and questions in a blog entitled wondermyway.com. Sometimes those hikes on land trust properties became the subject for a post.

Bear print and deer print in a kettle bog in Lovell

February 23, 2015: Bishop’s Cardinal Reserve, I’m fascinated by bear sign and love to find claw marks on beech trees. Oh, they climb other trees, but beech show off the scars with dignity for years to come. While bark on most trees changes as it ages, beech bark is known for retaining the same characteristics throughout its life . . . Seeing all the animal tracks and sign, some decipherable, others not so, makes me thankful for those who have worked hard to preserve this land and create corridors for the animals to move through.

March 31, 2015: John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge, It’s one of those places that I could spend hours upon hours exploring and still only see a smidgeon of what is there. I’m overwhelmed when I walk into a store filled with stuff, but completely at home in a place like this where life and death happen and the “merchandise” changes daily.

April 15, 2015: Otter Rocks, A princess pine club moss shows off its upright spore-producing candelabra or strobili. Funny thing about club mosses–they aren’t mosses. I guess they were considered moss-like when named. Just as the mills take us back in time, so do these–only much further back when their ancestors grew to 100 feet tall during the Devonian Period. They make me feel so small and insignificant. And yet, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in awe of them.

Middle school students from Molly Ockett’s MESA program picking cranberries in the GLLT fen

May 3, 2015: Chip Stockford Reserve, 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. 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. 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. . . 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?

May 10, 2015: Bald Pate Mountain, The “bald” mountain top is the reason I am who I have become. Being outside and hiking have always been part of my makeup, but when our oldest was in fifth grade, I chaperoned a field trip up this mountain that changed everything. The focus was the soils. And along the way, Bridie McGreavy, who at the time was the watershed educator for Lakes Environmental Association, sat on the granite surrounded by a group of kids and me, and told us about the age of the lichens and their relationship to the granite and I wanted to know more. I needed to know more.

June 16, 2015: Bishop Cardinal Reserve, Though we never plan it that way, our journey lasted three hours. Suddenly, we emerged from the wet woodland onto Horseshoe Pond Road–all the richer for having spent time in the land of the slugs, bears and caterpillar clubs. Oh my!

We are fortunate to live in an area where five trusts protect land for us and the species with whom we share the Earth: Greater Lovell, Loon Echo, Western Maine Foothills, Mahoosuc and Upper Saco Valley. This strikes me as a valuable reflection of who we are and where we live.

Land trusts work with community members to acquire land for permanent conservation through purchases and donations. They also create legal and binding conservation easements that allow residents to protect land holdings in perpetuity, while retaining private ownership. Scenic views, wildlife corridors, flora and fauna, and topography remain, subject only to the whims of nature itself, which is ever-changing.

Conserving the land doesn’t mean it can’t be touched. The organizations develop management plans and steward the land. Timber harvesting, farming, residency and recreation continue, while specific wildlife habitat, wetlands, unique natural resources and endangered or rare species are protected. And in the process, they strengthen our towns. Ultimately, they give us a better sense of our place in Maine and opportunities to interact with the wild.

The service area of each of the local trusts include watersheds and wildlife corridors. Greater Lovell Land Trust is committed to the protection of the Kezar Lake, Kezar River and Cold River and adjacent watersheds located in Lovell, Stow and Stoneham.

Loon Echo Land Trust serves seven towns: Bridgton, Casco, Denmark, Naples, Harrison, Sebago and Raymond, and their efforts actually reach beyond to the 200,000 residents of Greater Portland for whom Sebago Lake is the public drinking water source.

Western Foothills Land Trust serves the Greater Oxford Hills towns of Buckfield, Harrison, Norway, Otisfield, Oxford, Paris, Sumner, Waterford and West Paris. The watersheds they protect include Lake Pennesseewassee, Thompson Lake, Crooked River and Little Androscoggin River.

The Mahoosuc Land Trust works in central Oxford County, Maine, and eastern Coos County, New Hampshire. It strives to protect the watersheds and natural communities of Albany Township, Andover, Bethel, Gilead, Greenwood, Hanover, Milton Plantation, Newry, Rumford, Shelburne, Upton and Woodstock.

Likewise, the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust crosses the border and includes the communities of western Maine and northern New Hampshire that make up the upper watershed of the Saco River. Its service area flows from the source of the Saco in Crawford Notch toward the Hiram Dam and includes Harts Location, Jackson, Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Albany, Madison and Eaton, New Hampshire and Fryeburg, Denmark and Brownfield, Maine.

In addition to their service areas, the land trusts collaborate with each other and local lake associations. Most recently, the GLLT, LELT, WMFLT and USVLT, plus the Portland Water District have joined forces to protect the fifty-mile Crooked River. The river is the largest tributary flowing into Sebago Lake and it provides primary spawning and nursing area for one of four known indigenous populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon in Maine.

Lovell Girl Scout Cadette Troop 67 up close and personal with tree cookies

Protection is key. So is education, which develops understanding and appreciation. I know for myself, my relationship with the landscape continues to evolve. The mentors I’ve met along the way have played an important part in my involvement and caring for the environment.

All five land trusts offer numerous hikes open to everyone, providing a great way to explore and learn more about the diversity of the natural communities. Staff and volunteers lead walks, stopping frequently to share a bit of knowledge, ask questions and wonder along with the participants. These organizations also offer indoor programs featuring knowledgeable guest speakers.

I’m thankful for the work being done to protect the ecosystem. There’s so much I still don’t understand, but with each nugget of knowledge gained, the layers build. Maybe someday I’ll get it. Maybe I never will. Either way, I’m happy for the chance to journey and wonder on land trust properties.

Even though we can’t all endow the future of our properties, we can get involved to ensure that these organizations continue to protect land for future generations of humans and wildlife so it will remain in its natural state for the benefit of all.

Water snake at the GLLT Otter Rock

So back to Bekoff’s book, he quotes many biologists and others as he makes the point that when we experience alienation from nature we make bad decisions including “wanton killing of wild species, clear cutting, pollution and other human impacts, and caging of nonhuman animals.”

“What we do,” writes Bekoff, “does make a difference and rewilding our hearts is about fostering and honoring our connections to one another and all life.”

My daily fox–12/30/18

After all, as evidenced in our yard each day and night when the visitors are many, we share this place with and in fact live in the world of our nonhuman neighbors. We need to figure out how to live together–and that premise is at both nonhuman and human levels since we are all interconnected in the web of life.

Inside structure of an oak apple gall

Though Bekoff’s focus is on nonhuman animals, I do wish he’d also addressed other forms of life, such as fungi, insects, plants, and the like.

He does list what he calls the “8 Ps of Rewilding” as a guide for action: Proactive, Positive, Persistent, Patient, Peaceful, Practical, Powerful, and Passionate. “If we keep these eight principles in mind as we engage one another and wrestle with difficult problems, no one should feel threatened or left out,” says Bekoff.

As the book continues, there are definitions provided for catch phrases such as compassionate conservation and stories of unsung heroes who have made it their life’s work to “rewild our hearts and to expand our compassionate footprint.”

GLLT/Lovell Recreation Trailblazers created a woodland map

Bekoff is a realist and so am I. He would love to see us all become vegetarians or vegans, but realizes we will not. He knows that it will take people time to unlearn preconceived notions, especially given that the media thrives on misrepresenting animals. He knows that his rewilding our hearts is a concept with a broad agenda.

One of my take-away thoughts was that all of local environmental organizations are working hard to create corridors and raise awareness and awe about the natural world. Of course, we could all do better. But, we’ve already got a good start on doing what Bekoff suggests: “Figure out how to foster a love of nature and other animals so that every generation sees this connection as precious and vital and worth nurturing.”

But . . . he concludes that “if we all made some simple changes to our lives, the world would soon become a more compassionate place for all beings and landscapes.

Great Horned Owl Plastica species

And he reminds us to be humble and able to laugh at ourselves. Yeah, so um, I was the one who stopped a small group of friends as we moved along a trail on private property because I was the first to spot a great horned owl this fall. Yeah, um. It was plastic. And a set up. I’m still laughing.

Dear readers, if you’ve read this far, you deserve a reward. I know I got a bit off track by including my own article, but I do believe that we’ve got a start on rewilding our hearts in western Maine. Yes, we have a long way to go. Let’s do this. Together!

And remember, my guy purchased this copy of Rewilding Our Hearts at Bridgton Books.

Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence by Marc Bekoff, 2014, New World Library.

Amazing Race–Our Style: episode eleven

The second to last episode of the Amazing Race–Our Style was upon us and we hoped it wouldn’t be the final one for us. 

Today’s clue was a bit different than most. It gave us four specific locations–and much to our delight, all were within 20 minutes of home! How could we be so fortunate? 

We were also given a time frame and a few other instructions. We were to arrive at our first destination at 10:30am. From that starting time, we had until 5pm to finish our tasks and send four photos to a certain website. The sooner we completed all of the tasks, except for sending the photos, the better our chances of hanging in for the final episode. The pressure was on. 

One of the biggest challenges was that the photos we needed to send were selfies. We aren’t selfie fans, unless you count photos of our footwear! 

Our overall mission today: to locate the four trees that had been decorated by homeschooled children and/or local land trusts. Since there were four teams left and four different properties, we were each given a different location in which to begin. 

Our starting point on this very foggy morning was Western Foothill Land Trust’s Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway, Maine. As instructed, we arrived at 10:30 and made sure to stay on the snowshoe trails only, for there is also a network of groomed ski trails. The trail was long and sometimes wet, while other times icy, but we didn’t notice too much as our eyes were focused on the trees. Of course, we were occasionally distracted, such as when a downy woodpecker flew into sight. 

My guy was certain he knew where the tree would be located, but . . . it wasn’t, at least as far as we could tell in the fog. 

We did spy a spider web embellished with beads of water and I remembered a story based on a legend about a poor family who had no decorations for their Christmas tree. As the tale goes, while the children slept, spiders spun webs of silver around the tree’s branches. The next morning, the family awoke to a Christmas tree sparkling with silver webs. Today’s webs were such and though we hadn’t found the decorated tree I was already richer for the experience of looking.

And then . . . my guy walked right by it. I was surprised I didn’t, for we both expected a different evergreen species to be adorned. 

Most of the ornaments were meant to feed the critters and we saw deer tracks in the snow. 

Among the mix was a tree cookie with a wood-burned sketch–perhaps of Roberts Farm? 

While my guy picked up fallen treats to rehang on the tree, I practiced my selfie skills. I was feeling confident that we could pull this off. 

And when I told him that we’d have to send the photos to mainechristmastreehunt.com, he was eager to pose–and I was shocked. We tried to make sure that the tree was visible in the background. 

We checked off that tree, hopped into the truck and headed to Lovell. 

OK, so we knew when the clue arrived that we had a bit of an advantage for we’d been invited to join the Fairs, Farms, and Fun 4-H Group that decorated the tree at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Chip Stockford Reserve on Ladies Delight Road in Lovell a few weeks ago, and I’d just co-led a walk on the trail this past Saturday where other adults had fun looking for it. And redecorating it.

Oh well. Other teams had had different advantages during different episodes, so it was our turn. 

But, the most curious thing–when we arrived . . . there were no tracks made by any of the other teams. Team Purple was supposed to begin at this point. Had she gotten lost? 

Because we knew right where to go, our journey was quick and we easily relocated the tree on the one mile loop with a spur. And . . . discovered that the birds and deer had once again dined on the bird seed ornaments. 

When it comes time to remove the decorations after Chrismas, the task will be super easy. 

Thankfully, the subtle birch bark hearts continued to add a festive note. 

And so we posed. 

We did discover a new clue at the kiosk on our way in–we were to find something in the woods that represented our team. We found an H for Team Hazy. 

Within the clue package, we were also told to take time to eat–at a place locals frequent. We chose Quinn’s Jockey Cap Country Store in Fryeburg and somehow managed to resist the sweet treats while we ordered sandwiches. 

And then it was on to the Mountain Division Trail on Route 113 in Fryeburg to look for Upper Saco Valley Land Trust’s Andrews Preserve. There are no signs or trails at that preserve, but our adventure on Saturday had included a visit there. That’s why I couldn’t believe that this was the intended challenge for today’s episode, but all had been decided almost a year ago and it just worked out that I knew where we needed to go today. That being said, I let my guy lead. 

He had a bit of help as one or two others had been that way–leaving their tracks in the snow. 

And . . . he did a super job, quickly spying the tree. What I love about this scavenger hunt is that each tree has a different theme and flavor. The USVLT tree was decorated by a teen and her mom, and the teen didn’t want the animals to eat all the ornaments. Understood. 

They created a pipecleaner garland and added glittery bulbs. It’s a bright spot in the middle of a thickly wooded site. 

And so we posed again. 

Our final destination was to Lake Environmental Association’s Pinehaven Trail at the Maine Lake Science Center on Willet Road in Bridgton. This is a place we know well for it’s practically in our backyard, but we didn’t know which tree would be decorated. And so we began our hunt, pausing briefly to remember the fun we’d had on the low elements challenge course that dots the trail. We’d actually completed that challenge one rainy day and were thankful (and surprised) we didn’t have to attempt it in the snow. 

Suddenly, the decorated tree jumped out with its brightly colored garland and we rejoiced for we’d found all four trees. And still had plenty of time. 

The laminated garland featured words related to LEA’s mission and activities. And so did the tree cookies, much to our liking. 

And so we posed for one final time. We still aren’t great in the selfie department, but it would have to do. 

Our next task before sending off the selfie photos to the website, was to create a scavenger hunt for others. You already know the four properties and their locations. Plus for each organization, I’ve included a link to their websites. 

Your task, should you choose to complete it while you look for the decorated trees, is to also locate these finds. 

#1: Phoebe nest protected from the weather.

#2: Shiny chrome in the forest

#3: Home for flying salamanders

#4: Wet wetland

#5: Fairy castle with many spires and towers

And finally, #6: Snowshoe snowflake! 

The numbers: 

4 trees: √

4 selfies: √

Photo to represent our team: √

Scavenger hunt for others: √

Total time to complete race: 5 hours

We finished this leg of the Amazing Race–Our Style by 3:30pm, uploaded the selfies, sent them to Maine Christmas Tree Hunt, and found out that we took first place today! Yippee. (We were sad to learn that Team Purple made some wrong turns and got delayed.)

One more leg to go in January. Who will be the winners of the Amazing Race–Our Style? Stay tuned. 

Book of November: Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England

All month I’ve been thinking about which book to recommend and then a recent purchase came to the forefront. Finally. It’s a good thing given that this is the last day of November. 

Here’s the scoop: I was scanning book titles at Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm Bookstore and happened upon Kaufman’s Field Guide to Nature of New England. Since I already had National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England on my bookshelf, I wasn’t sure I needed Kaufman’s guide. But my friend Karen Herold highly recommended it and said she preferred it to the other book. I’m am hear to state that I wholeheartedly agree. 

Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England was written by husband/wife team Kenn Kaufman and Kimberly Kaufman. Both are naturalists extraordinaire, he being the author of other field guides (which I don’t yet own) and she the executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ohio. 

The Kaufmans have color coded each section of the 7.75 X 4.75-inch book, making for easy reference. And though it’s a wee bit heavy (no heavier than the other book), it fits easily into the small pack I carry for explorations of the natural world. Of course, David Brown’s Trackards, accompany it. 

Speaking of tracks, the Kaufmans do offer a few identifying features of such, but they also recommend two other sources: the Peterson Guide to Animal Tracks and Paul Rezendes’ Tracks and the Art of Seeing.  I highly recommend both as well,

plus Dorcas Miller’s Track Finder,

which just happens to include me in the acknowledgements. But . . . 

my go-to guide in the field remains David Brown’s Trackards

Back to the Kaufman guide: I wish I’d had it with me this past summer when I encountered sulphur butterflies puddling on a dirt road in the western Maine town of Fryeburg. First off, the section on butterflies and moths begins with an explanation of their life cycles and the differences between the two, including an illustration of their antennae. 

In addition, a feature I really like is the view of the upper and underside of the wings since . . . 

 some butterflies “keep their wings tightly closed above their backs when at rest, 

showing their bright undersides mainly in flight,” state the Kaufmans on page 302. 

I could have fluctuated between Clouded Sulphur and Pink-edged Sulphur in my determination, but the description on page 302 reminded me that the latter prefers bogs and blueberry barrens and I was standing in the midst of a farm where milkweed, other wildflowers and hay grew. The other thing that supported my attempt at ID was that though my butterflies did have  pink-edged wings, the dots matched those of the Clouded in the book. 

And since it is now winter, the guide will be handy to pull out when showing others what a critter looks like–especially if we have the joy of spying one. 

Occasionally that happens, such as on one occasion last winter when a few of us saw this mink. Please forgive the fuzziness–a result of my excitement. 

And had I purchased the book sooner, I could have pulled it out as two friends and I watched an otter frolic in early summer. 

But . . . now I have it and it is the perfect addition to my pack, whether for solo hikes or with others when we question what we’re seeing. 

I think one of the things that I really appreciate about this book is the voice of the authors, which echoes my own thoughts. (And their sweet dedications to each other on page 4.)

In the introduction, Kenn writes, “Once a person goes outdoors with senses attuned to nature, the sheer diversity of living things is both delightful and maddening, both reassuring and overwhelming.” Just this morning, Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and I exchanged an email conversation about the very same thought and gave thanks that we still have so much to learn. 

Kaufman continues, “If we try to look at everything in nature, we find so many things that we never get past the edge of the parking lot.” I chuckled when I read that because my peeps and I have said the same thing, whether I’m tramping with the docents of the Greater Lovell Land Trust or a group of Maine Master Naturalists

Does the book cover every single species to be discovered in New England? That would be impossible–or at least too heavy to tote along on a tramp. “Our intent has been to cover those things that people are most likely to notice, so we have exercised a bias toward the most conspicuous plants and animals.” With that in mind, my suggestion: purchase Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England and throw it into your pack. Then purchase any other guide books and refer to them when you get home. 

Book of November: Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England by Kenn Kaufman & Kimberly Kaufman, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

Childhood Magic

Why did the Greater Lovell Land Trust co-host (or rather tri-host) a hike through Pondicherry Park in Bridgton this morning? Because it’s hunting season, and it didn’t make sense to invite the public on a property that isn’t posted. (Not that we don’t still tramp on GLLT properties in November, mind you, but not on a public walk necessarily.)

And when I asked Jon Evans of Loon Echo Land Trust and Alanna Doughty of Lakes Environmental Association to join me in leading the tramp, they both quickly and graciously agreed to do so. I couldn’t wait because not only would it be a chance to share the special place with GLLT members, but also to bounce off of Jon and Alanna as we shared our knowledge of the natural and historical aspects of the park.

1-Bob Dunning Bridge

But . . . this morning dawned rainy and snowy. Still, we didn’t cancel. And though we knew that not everyone who had planned to join us could because there was more snow in the Lovell area and no power, we were pleasantly surprised to have a small contingent of participants that represented all three of our groups. And really, I love leading smaller groups because it’s so much easier for everyone to participate.

2-Jon giving the bridge history

Our group, consisting of Pam, Jon, Bill, Connie and JoAnne, plus Alanna and me, stood for a bit on the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, the gateway into the park from behind Reny’s Department Store on Depot Street. As Jon explained, on September 11, 2010, the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge was constructed in true barn-raising fashion.

3-Stevens Brook

The bridge spans Stevens Brook, the source of power when Bridgton was first founded and for many years thereafter.

4-Bob Dunning Bridge

One of the unique things about the bridge is that each tie beam comes from a different tree species, with the bark left on. As I walk across the bridge, my eyes are always drawn to the beams.

Until I took the Maine Master Naturalist class, I recognized only a few species by their bark. But my eyes were opened to the fact that each species has its own presentation, which is true for everything in the natural world. I wanted to know all of them so I set out to teach myself, beginning with the species on the bridge. These became the focus of my capstone project for the class and from that I created a Barking Up A Bridge brochure that is available at the kiosk.

5-sugar and Norway maple leaves

Into the park we finally went, stopping periodically along the way to notice and learn, including the similarities and differences between a sugar maple leaf on the left and Norway maple leaf on the right. Both have the same number of lobes (5) and look so similar, but . . .  the Norway maple leaf, an invasive planted along the main streets as a shade tree after the loss of Elms, is much boxier and more rectangular in shape. Plus, as Jon pointed out, the stem seeps a milky substance, which is a quick way to identify it.

6-pine soap

Our finds included many as we moved along at our usual slow pace, but one thing kept showing its form on pine after pine. Froth. It’s not unusual and occurs following a rain event such as we’d had all night and morning. So what causes the tree to froth? During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up the tree’s oils on the way. Air in the bark furrows bubbles through the oily film and produces the froth.

7-pine soap

Conditions were just right for it to occur so we spied frequent examples.

8-tussock moth cocoon

And because we were looking so closely at the bark, we noticed other things like tussock moth cocoons. We also found tube caterpillar moth cocoons created with pine needles and even pulled one apart to take a closer look. And the tiny sawfly cocoons on various twigs.

10-Willet Brook

Eventually, we found our way beside Willet Brook, which flows into Stevens.

11a-JoAnne photographing script lichen

And again, our eyes were drawn to tree bark and crustose lichen in particular. JoAnne snapped a photo of a script lichen that decorated a red oak.

13-crossing onto LEA property

Our intention was to turn away from the brook and cross the boardwalk that leads onto the Lakes Environmental Association’s adjacent property. Before doing so, however, we began to channel our inner child and rolled some logs.

12-baby red-backed salamander

And we weren’t disappointed for we found young and mature red-backed salamanders as hoped. If you roll a log, always pull it toward you so any critters that want to escape can do so in the opposite direction; and always put the log back into place quickly (well, after a couple of photographs, that is.)

14-Maine Lake Science Center Lab

At LEA’s Maine Lake Science Center, Alanna gave us a quick tour of the premises,

15-MLSC Lab

including the lab where various water quality tests are conducted.

16-Connie on the low-impact challenge course

Back outside, we headed up to LEA’s Pinehaven Trail and tried our talent as birds on a wire along the newly installed  low-impact challenge course.

17-Pam and Bill manuevering the wire walk

We all succeeded as Nuthatches for none of us fell off. If we’d done it with one hand, we  would have been Barred Owls and if we hadn’t used any hands, we would have been Cooper’s Hawks. But we were happy to be Nuthatches. There are four sets of challenges, each with a variety of activities to complete. Challenge your inner child.

18-watching balsam sticks

Crossing back into Pondicherry Park, we said we’d bee-line back to the bridge, but several times we just had to stop . . . especially when we found Balsam Fir blisters inviting us to poke them with twigs and drop the resin-tipped sticks into calm water.

19-balsam rainbow

We watched with fascination as the essential oil propelled the twig and created a rainbow, again satisfying that child within.

22-crossing back over the bridge

At last, a half hour after our intended finish time of 12:30pm, we found our way back to our starting point, all delighted to have spent time exploring and playing on a rather raw morning.

Thank you again to Jon and Alanna for sharing your knowledge and sense of wonder. And thank you to Pam, Bill, Connie, and JoAnne for coming out to play with us.

23-Chili and Beer

Later in the day, my guy and I drove to Lovell for yet another special event at the VFW Hall: LOVELL’S 1st ANNUAL BOWLS & BREWS fundraiser for the Sunshine Backpack Food Program.

It was a chili cook-off and beer tasting event featuring locally crafted chili and locally crafted beer from Bear Bones and Saco River Breweries. Plus, National Distributors in Portland donated Harpoon and New Belgium beers.

24-Paula and Diane

Diane Caracciolo nailed it and won first place from the judges and as the people’s choice. Her take away was a coveted apron, actually two, designed by local students who benefit from the Sunshine Backpack Food Program. As Paula Hughes, one of the event’s organizers explained, the packs are sent home on Fridays and filled with nutritious, non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food to ensure the kids get enough food on weekends.

At the end of the day, it seemed an interesting juxtaposition to have spent the morning channeling our inner child and the afternoon thinking about children who are so hungry that they can’t enjoy such childhood magic.

If you’d wish to contribute, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Paula.

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.