For the Benefit of All

Living in an area where five land trusts protect land for us and the species with whom we share the Earth 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.

m1-first lodge

One of the biggest re-designers of the landscape is the beaver. And this afternoon, Jinny Mae and I ventured onto land owned by a friend and under conservation easement by the Greater Lovell Land Trust, to see what changes may have occurred in the past two months since we last visited.

First, we tramped off a logging road and checked on a lodge that was active two years ago. Today, the water level was low and there was no sign of activity. And so we continued on.

m2-pipsissewa

As we climbed up a small incline we stumbled upon a large patch of pipsissewa and had to celebrate our find.

m5-hexagonal pored fungi upperside

Back on the logging road, a tree brought down by one of nature’s recent whims introduced us to a fungi we had not met before–or at least as long as we could remember. And once we saw the underside, we were sure we would have remembered it.

m4-hexagonal-pored

Hexagonal-pored polypore (Polyporus alveolaris) caused us to emit at least six ohs and ahs.

m6-grape fern

Our next discovery–a grape fern. Actually, more than one grape fern once our eyes keyed in on them.

m7-checkered rattlesnake plantain

And then the checkered rattlesnake plantain; and again, once we spied one, we noticed that a whole patch shared the space. We just needed to focus for their presence was subtle amidst the brown leaves.

m8-bees nest 1

Before we met a snake of another kind, Jinny Mae spotted honey combs on the ground.

m8-excavation site

A look about and the realization that a raccoon or skunk had probably excavated the nest.

m9-snake liverwort

And then we met that other snake. You see, the last time we walked this property, we did see a garter snake. As we began our wander today, we commented that there would be no snakes or toads. But . . . we were wrong. This second snake was a snakeskin liverwort (Conocephalum salebrosum). For us, this was a second in another way for it was our second sighting of the species. Maybe now that we are aware of it, we’ll notice it growing in other places. We do know that its preferred habitat is wet or damp.

m10-umbilicate lichen?

In the same area, but across the brook in a place that we couldn’t reach today due to high water, we saw what looked like an umbilicate lichen, aka rock tripe. The color and substrate threw us off and so we’ll just have to visit again for further study. (“Oh drats!” they said with a smile.)

m11-beaver 1

The liverwort and mystery lichen were our turn-around point. On our way back, we decided to follow the water because we were curious. And within minutes our curiosity was appeased. The beavers we’d suspected might be casually active two months ago, had become incredibly active.

m12-beaver 2

Statue . . .

m13-beaver 3

upon statue . . .

m19-beaver 6

upon statue . . .

m20-beaver 7

upon statue announced their presence. And we acknowledged the fact that they have to turn their heads to scrape off the bark.

m14-beaver 4

Any trees that hadn’t been hauled away had been downed and gnawed upon in situ.

m15-beaver 5

It looked as if this one was a more recent dining adventure for there were wood chips upon the thin layer of ice and a hole showing were the diners had entered and exited the refectory.

m16-oak leaf and ice

Because of the ice, we noted other works of art worth admiring.

m18-lungwort 2

And occasionally, our downward gaze turned upward when we spied trees covered in lungwort worthy of notice.

m21-beaver 8

But really, it was the beaver works that we celebrated the most.

m23-beaver 10

And the fact that thanks to the beavers we learned that the inner bark or cambium layer of a red maple is . . . red.

m23a--not all cuts work in the beavers favor

No matter where we looked, in addition to recent windstorms, the beavers had changed the landscape. The curious thing is that most often the trees landed in the direction of the water, making it easier for them to enjoy their chews of inner bark and twigs in a relatively safe environment, but occasionally, hang ups occurred. And that brought about the question, how is it that most trees are felled toward the water? But not all?

m23a--lodge

While our focus was on the trees along the shoreline, we also kept admiring the water view as well.

m24-lodge

And noted the most recent activity at this particular beaver lodge, including a mud coating to insulate it for the winter.

m28-welcome flag on lodge

We also appreciated that a welcome sign blew in the breeze–in the form of an evergreen branch.

m29-otter scat

And where one finds water and beavers, there are otters. We knew of their presence by the scat left behind in a trail well traveled. Several times we found examples of the same.

m31-main channel open

As the sun lowered while we approached the beaver dam, we quietly hoped to see North America’s largest rodents at work, but settled for sky reflections on water and ice. And the knowledge that by their works and sign, we trusted they were present.

m32-dam1

At last we reached the dam, an expansive one at that. It’s in great shape and so no time had been wasted repairing it. That’s a good thing given that a few flurries floated earthward on this day that felt like winter. There’s food to gather and a home to prepare so work must be efficient.

m33-dam other side

Water trickled through in a few places and ice formed, but the infinity pool created by the dam continued to exist.

m34-brook

And below, the water flowed on–to other beaver dams and otter adventures we were sure. For Jinny Mae and me, our adventure needed to draw to a close. But . . . we made plans to explore again in a few months to see what changes may have occurred–with land owner permission, of course.

As we walked out, we gave thanks for the owners and their appreciation of the landscape and those that call it home today and tomorrow.

From the land comes food and water that benefits the critters who live here and us. It also offers us good health when we take the time to embrace it by exploring, exercising and just plain playing outdoors.

Protection is key. So is education, which develops understanding and appreciation. I know for myself, my relationship with the landscape continues to evolve.

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 properties owned by land trusts and individuals.

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.

 

Sundae School

I went on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon and visited a land trust property I’ve never stepped foot on before. My intention was to scope it out for possible use with a future Maine Master Naturalist class. My realization from the get-go was a happy heart. I can’t wait to return and take others along so we can make discoveries together.

n Preserve sign

I’ve only been on one other Western Maine Foothills Land Trust property, so had no idea what to expect. The small parking area for Shepard’s Farm Preserve is at 121 Crockett Ridge Road in Norway. (Norway, Maine, that is.) This is one of seven preserves owned by the trust. I should have known I’d enjoy myself immensely just by the name. Though we spell Shephard with an “h,” it’s a family name for us. Who knows–maybe there’s a connection.

n-trail sign

On the back of the brochure I grabbed at the kiosk, I read the following: “Originally owned by Benjamin Witt, the high undulating pasture of Shepard’s Farm Family Preserve was transferred to Joshua Crockett in 1799, Charles Freeman in 1853, John Shepard in 1910, and to Bill Detert in 1984.” Mr. Detert and his family donated the property in memory of his wife, Jan, to the WMFLT in 2010.

n-Indian pipe bee 1

My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

n-Indian pipe

As I continued along the trail I found the upturned mature flower and again wondered–who stopped by for a sip of sap? Lessons should evoke further questions and a desire to learn more.

n-hawkweed

The trail offered other familiar flowers, like hawkweed,

n-pearly everlasting

pearly everlasting, goldenrods and asters, Queen Anne’s lace, boneset and jewelweed.

n-monkeyflower 3

And then I come upon a wildflower I don’t recall meeting before. The lesson included a look at the leaves, their arrangement on the stem, and the flowerhead.

n-monkeyflower 1

The answer to the quiz–lavender-flowered Sharp-winged Monkeyflower. Monkeys in the woods! You never know. Sometimes I think that red squirrels sound like monkeys when they chit at me, but in this case, it’s the fact that the flower looks something like a monkey’s face.

n-thistle young and old

Further on,  I spotted a favorite that I don’t see as often as I’d like. What I didn’t realize is that thistles are in the aster family. Always learning. Its presence here is referenced by trail conditions, which change periodically from mixed hardwoods to softwoods to open places. Thistles prefer those open places–fields and waste places. Hardly waste in my opinion. Rather, early succession to a woodland.

n-bee on thistle 2

A bee worked its magic on the flowerhead so I moved in for a closer look.

n-bee on thistle1

As with any flower, it was a pollen frenzy.

n-thistle with seeds

Seconds later–maturity! Well, maybe not quite that fast.

n-thistle seeds 1

But the seeds had developed their downy parachutes and the breeze was a’blowing.

n-thistle seed 2

They knew it was time to leave the roost and find a new classroom.

n-trail ferns

Another lesson worth more time was a look at the natural communities along the trail. Bikers and hikers share this space, but what I found fascinating was the constant change.

n-trail hay

The original trail for the Shepard’s Family Farm Preserve was located on a 19-acre parcel. Recently, the Witt Swamp Extension was added, which almost circles around a 250+ acre piece. Hay covers some of the new trail right now–giving it that farm-like feel and smell.

n-trail 1

I’m not certain of the mileage, but believe that I covered at least 4-5 miles in my out and back venture over undulating land and through a variety of neighborhoods. The trail conditions–pure bliss. No rocks or roots to trip over. Instead, I could look around for the next lesson.

n-cedar bark

One of the things I love about hiking in Norway is that I get to be in the presence of cedar trees–Northern white cedar.

n-cedar leaves

I’m fascinated by its scale-like leaves.

n-deer tracks

So are the deer, who feed on the leaves during the winter months.

n-dry stream

I found only deer tracks, and noted that all stream beds were dry, though the moss gave a moist look to the landscape. We’re experiencing a drought this summer.

n-red leaf

Due to that lack of rain, some red maples already have turned and colorful leaves are beginning to float to the ground.

n-porky 3

Deer aren’t the only mammals that inhabit this place. From the trail, I noticed hemlock trees with bases that looked like perfect gnome homes. And then I spotted this one that invited a closer look.

n-porky den

A pile of porcupine scat–the pig-pen of the woods. Even Charlie Brown would note a distinct odor.

n-toad camo

And in true “Where’s Waldo” tradition, a young American toad crossed my path. The camo lesson–blend in for safety’s sake.

n-turtle 2

Being former farmland, stonewalls wind their way through the preserve. And my childhood fascination with turtles was resurrected. Do you see it?

n-turtle 3

How about now? Hint: the head is quartz.

n-turtles

And this one? They’re everywhere. It makes me wonder if it was a style of the times.

n-stone wall ending

I crossed through a gap in the stonewall and noted two smaller stones topped by a large flat one. A reason why? The questions piled up. I need to ask the teacher.

n-stonepile

And then there were the stone piles. Why so many smaller stones around a boulder? What I love about this spot is that a hemlock took advantage of the boulder and grew on top of it.

n-stone structure 2

And another favorite find–a stone structure.

n-stone structure, flat

Created with rather flat field stones.

n-stone structure 1a

It’s near a stonewall, so I surmised it was a shed of some sort rather than a root cellar for a home. I could be wrong, but am thrilled by the opportunity to see it.

n bird sculpture

One of the coolest features of this property is that it’s home to sculptures created in the 1970s by Bernard Langlois, including this bird in flight. The sculptures were made possible recently by the generosity of his widow, Helen Langlois, Colby College and the Kohler Foundation.

n-bird lady 2

Mrs. Noah is my favorite. She has stories to tell and I have lessons to learn.

It’s Sunday and by the time I finished hiking I was hot. I’d intended to check out a few more preserves, but the thought of a creamsicle smoothie at a local ice cream shop had my focus–until I pulled in and saw this posted: “Cash and local checks only.” No cash. And though our checks would be local, I didn’t have any with me either. Lesson learned.

I drove home and made my own sundae.

Wondering Among Giants

Robinson Woods

It’s not every day that I get to wander and wonder among 300-year-old giants, but such was the case today. A friend and I met at Robinson Woods in Cape Elizabeth. It was a reconnaissance mission for me as I’ll be leading a senior college class there next month. And for both of us, it was a delightful way to spend three hours snowshoeing on and off the trail, with frequent pauses to look, listen, touch, smell and learn.

Because the land was not suitable for farming (terrain rocky and uneven), it was left unchanged for all these years. Actually, we met the executive director of the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust along the way, and he told us that the Robinson family was a paper company family, but they left this piece untouched. Thanks go to them. And to the land trust for preserving the land so that it will remain in its natural state.

feeding cone

We could hear the birds sing and call as we moved along. Someone apparently wanted to make sure they have enough to eat as we found a couple of these “bird-seed” pine cones dangling from trees. (Separate note: back at home, for the second day in a row, I’ve had chickadees landing on my mitten to eat crushed peanuts–well, they don’t actually eat them on my hand, they just grab and fly to a nearby branch, where they use their feet to hold the nut or seed and then peck away at it.)

porcy trail

We followed this porcupine trail for a bit. As we backtracked our way toward the people trail, something caught our attention:

bear claws

Yes, even in Cape Elizabeth, and only steps from the ocean, you can find bear claw sign on beech trees.

bear claws2

We showed these photos to the executive director of CELT–he had no idea they were there. I’ll be curious to see if he adds black bears to the list of mammals that frequent the property. I did see that they have pine martens on the list–that surprises me.

gnarly tree

I know I’ve spent a lot of time writing about beech trees, but this one looks like a totem pole of gnarly faces. Think gargoyles. Was the beech scale disease initially responsible for this? I wonder.

gnarly face

more gnarliness

Very gnarly indeed. In the center, you can see where a branch broke off.

burls on a maple

This Red Maple had some serious burls. Perhaps they were caused by stress or injury, though researchers don’t know for sure why they occur. Despite the bumpy, warty growths, the tree appears to be healthy. You can see that there is new growth–young red branches sprouting from the burls. Removing a burl causes a large wound that could eventually harm the tree, so they’re best left alone–though I know woodworkers covet them.

walnut?

We were almost back to our trucks when we came across this tree. It’s a young tree and we tried to key it out. We’re pretty sure it’s Shagbark Hickory, but if you know otherwise, please enlighten me.

Thanks for wondering along with me on today’s wander through the woods.