A Berry Pleasant Mountain Hike

Thirty-two years ago I moved to Maine (the only place I’ve ever lived where the number of years counts as bragging rights) and Pleasant Mountain quickly figured into my life. The first day I drove past it on Route 302, I was killing time before a job interview and one look at Moose Pond with the mountain looming over it and I knew I very much wanted to live here. A couple of days later, I received the phone call I’d been waiting for and principal Larry Thompson said it was only a matter of formality that my name go before the school board. By the next week, I was packing up in New Hampshire and making my way further north. I’d found a place to live that meant I’d pass by the mountain on my way to and from school each day. And then that October I attended a Halloween party with friends at the ski lodge of what was then called Pleasant Mountain Ski Resort. I was an olive and I met this guy dressed as a duck hunter. Turns out he’d never been duck hunting, but had a great duck puppet and he could turn its head with the stick within. He certainly turned my head!

Thus began the journey with my guy. Our first hike together–up the Southwest Trail of Pleasant Mountain. That first winter, he taught me to downhill ski, well sorta. My way of turning that first time included falling as I neared the edge of the trail, shifting my body once I was down on the snow, begging for the components of a steak dinner, rising and skiing across at a diagonal to the opposite side only to repeat my performance. Dinner was great that night! And well deserved.

Time flashed forward four years, and at noon on August 4, 1990, we were married; our reception in the Treehouse Lounge at the Ski Resort. In all the years since we first met and then were married and beyond, we’ve skied (though I have managed to avoid that concept more recently) together and with our sons before their abilities outgrew mine, snowshoed and hiked and grown only fonder of the place we call home. Our intention yesterday was to climb the mountain in celebration of our 28th anniversary, but the weather gods outpouring of moisture was not in our favor.

Today, however, dawned differently and so mid-morning we made our way with a plan to hike up the Bald Peak Trail, across the ridge to the summit, and down the Ledges Trail. We’d left the truck at the Ledges, ever mindful that the last thing we want to do after climbing down the mountain is to walk 1.5 miles to reach our vehicle.

1-heading up

As I’ve done over and over again in the past 32 years, I followed my guy–over rocks and roots and bald granite faces.

2-Pinesap

Once in a while I announced the need for a stop because my Nature Distraction Disorder ticked into action. In this case, it was Pine-sap, or Monotropa hypopitysMono meaning once and tropa turned; hypopitys for its habitat under a pine or fir. Also called Dutchmen’s Pipe, this is a parasitic plant that obtains all its nutrients by stealing them from the roots of a host tree. It doesn’t enter the host directly, but through a fungal intermediary. And like Indian Pipe, it has no green tissues. It differs from I.P. in two ways, its yellow color as compared to white, and two to eleven flowers versus a single flower. In my book of life, both Pine-sap and Indian Pipe are great finds.

3-Moose Pond below

I didn’t let my NDD get the better of me too often on the way up. It was extremely humid and so we did stop frequently, but also kept a pace that worked for both of us and soon emerged onto the ridge where a look back through the red and white pines revealed a peek of the causeway that crosses Moose Pond.

5-hidden camp

Employing the telephoto lens, I spied our camp hidden among the trees, only the dock and our little boat showing. It’s amazing how obvious all the neighboring camps seemed when viewed from up high.

7-ridge line trail

After the climb up, the ridge always seems a cinch as the pathway wanders through blueberries, pines and oaks.

6-lunch rock

At last we found lunch rock, a place to pause in the shade and enjoy our PB&J sandwiches. We’d packed cookies for dessert, but decided to save those for later. My guy, however, had accidentally unpacked my work backpack and discovered a few pieces of a dark chocolate KitKat–my stash when I’m tired at the end of the day and need a pick-me-up before driving home. It looks like the purchase of another KitKat is in my near future for we topped off the sandwiches with a sweet treat.

8-picking blueberries

After lunch, my guy’s eyes focused in on one thing only. That is after he moved away from his original spot behind the rock we’d sat upon for our repose. Unwittingly, he’d stirred up a yellow jacket nest and managed to walk calmly away, only one bee stinging his leg.

14-blueberries

While his attention was on the gold at his feet–in the form of low-bush blueberries, I turned my lens in a variety of directions. Oh, I helped pick. A. Wee. Bit.

9-Lake Darner Dragongly

But there were other things to see as well and this dragonfly was a new one for me. A few highlights of this beauty: Do you notice the black cross line in the middle of the face. And on the thoracic side stripe, do you see the deep notch?

10-Lake Darner Dragonfly

Both of those characteristics helped in ID: Meet a Lake Darner. Even the male claspers at the tip of the abdomen are key, for they’re paddle-shaped and thicker toward the end. Though he didn’t pause often, Lake Darners are known to perch vertically on tree trunks. I was in awe.

11-grasshopper

All the while we were on the ridge, the Lake Darners flew about, their strong wing beats reminiscent of hummingbirds, so close did they come to our ears that we could hear the whir. And then there was another sound that filled the summer air with a saw-like buzziness–snapping and crackling as they flew. I couldn’t capture their flight for so quick and erratic it was, but by rubbing pegs on the inner surface of their hind femurs against the edges of their forewings, the grasshoppers performed what’s known in the sound world as crepitation. Crepitation–can’t you almost hear the snap as you pronounce the word?

12-coyote scat

It wasn’t just insects that caught my eye, for I found a fine specimen of coyote scat worth noting for it was full of hair and bones. It was a sign bespeaking age, health, availability, and boundaries.

12A

Turns out, it wasn’t the only sign in the area and whenever we hike the trails on Pleasant Mountain these days, we give thanks to Loon Echo Land Trust for preserving so much of it. According to the land trust’s website: “Currently, Loon Echo owns 2,064 mountain acres and protects an additional 24 acres through conservation easements.”

13-picking some more

Our time on the ridge passed not in nano seconds, for my guy was intent on his foraging efforts. I prefer to pick cranberries, maybe because they are bigger and bring quicker satisfaction as one tries to fill a container. But, he leaves no leaf unturned. And enjoys the rewards on yogurt or the possible muffin if his wife is so kind, until late in the winter.

15-middle basin of Moose Pond

As we slowly moved above the middle basin of Moose Pond, I found other berries growing there.

14-lingonberries

Among them, lingonberries were beginning to ripen. They grow low to the ground, below the blueberries, and resemble little cranberries. In fact, some call them mountain cranberries. Like blueberries, they like acidic, well-drained soil. For all the leaves, however, there were few fruits and I had to wonder if the birds were enjoying a feast.

16-huckleberries

Huckleberries also grow there, though not quite as abundantly as along our shorefront on Moose Pond. They’re seedier than blueberries, though the local squirrels don’t seem to mind. Both red and gray harvest them constantly as they move throughout the vegetated buffer in front of camp.

17-summit fire tower

It took some convincing, but finally my guy realized that we needed to move on and so we gradually made our way to the summit, where the once useful fire tower still stands as a monument to an era gone by.

18-summit view in the haze

Our pause wasn’t too long for so strong was the sun. And hazy the view, Kearsarge showed its pointed profile to the left, but Mount Washington remained in hiding today.

19-ledges view of Moose Pond's southern basin

The journey down was rather quick. Perhaps because we were so tired, it felt like we just rolled down. But we did stop to admire the view of the southern bay of Moose Pond in Denmark. Our intention was also to eat the cookies we’d packed once we reached this point. Through both bags we hunted to no avail. I remembered packing the cookies under our sandwiches. And then moving the sandwiches to the second pack, but leaving the cookies. Did we accidentally take them out after all? Were they on the kitchen counter? In the truck? The final answer was no on all fronts. We think we must have taken them out at lunch rock and they never made it back into the pack. I had moved the backpacks with great calmness once we discovered the yellow jacket nest. Just maybe the yellow jackets are dining on some lemon cookies. Perhaps it was our unintended peace offering.

20-hiking down following this guy

After a five plus hour tour, filled with blueberries and sweat, I followed my guy down. We’ve spent the greater part of our lives following in each other’s footsteps and it’s a journey we continue to cherish, especially on our favorite hometown mountain.

Here’s to many more Berry Pleasant Mountain Hikes with my guy.

 

 

 

Endowing the Future

The morning began with a Greater Lovell Land Trust guided hike into the wetland of the John A. Segur West Preserve on New Road in Lovell.

w-shrike kill still in tree

Despite the cold temp, there were eleven of us along for the journey. To stay warm, we made a sort of beeline to the wetland, but stopped a few times, including to measure the straddle of mink tracks, and then to see if a shrike’s deposit we’d spotted a few weeks ago was still pinned to a tree in the log landing. It was, which wasn’t a surprise. As Dave, one of our docents commented, shrikes are not all that common here so it may have left this  dinner behind before it moved on. But, we wondered–why hadn’t a blue jay or another bird taken advantage of the free meal?

w-ruffed grouse tracks

From the landing, we moved on toward Bradley Brook, where we spotted tracks left behind by ruffed grouse, mink, deer, and a kazillion squirrels. But, other than the mink, no predator tracks, which was curious.

w-snowshoe hare print

Out on the wetland, we noticed where a hare had packed the substrate and yesterday’s wind blew any soft snow away creating a raised impression.

w-Dave channeling his inner deer

It was there, also, that docent Dave, bent down in the background,  demonstrated how a deer rubs its forehead against tree bark–leaving behind information about its health and wealth.

w-squirrel bridge

Our plan had been to venture further into the wetland to make more observations, but ice conditions were such that we didn’t dare. Instead, we returned to the brook and followed it back, noting ice bridges that none of us dared to cross. We left that action to the squirrels.

w-Robie Meadow 3

The John A. Segur West property was a new one on my guy’s list, and so we went with that theme and after lunch I dragged him to two other land trust properties. Our first stop was at Western Foothills Land Trust’s Robie Meadow on Scribner’s Mill Road in Harrison.

Again, given the brook that we’d have to cross, we paused and decided to enjoy the view from the edge.

w-fox track to brook 2

Throughout the property we did note the usual squirrel tracks and red fox. As we walked beside the brook, I hoped for others that weren’t to be, but at a spot where last week on a walk co-hosted by the GLLT and WFLT, we’d noted a pathway to the water created by either coyote or fox and a bobcat traveling back and forth to the water. Today–fresh red fox tracks.

w-red fox print

The size of individual prints, fuzzy appearance due to a hairy foot, and chevron feature of the foot pad all spoke to its maker.

w-deer ribs and fox track1

As we made our way back to the road, we stopped by a kill sight discovered last weekend. The ribs and backbone of a deer reached toward the sky. And right behind–more fresh red fox tracks. The fox had paused briefly before journeying on in search of a new food source.

w-red pine plantation beside Crooked River

Our final destination was across Scribner’s Mill Road to Loon Echo Land Trust’s Crooked River Forest Preserve-Intervale.  Neither of us had ventured forth on this property previously. While no true trails yet existed, the logging roads were easy to follow and we chose that route because we wanted to get down to Crooked River. As we approached the river, we realized we had traveled through a red pine plantation.

w-white pine at LELT

Right by the river, we discovered a white pine that had lost its terminal leader, thus allowing lower whorls to reach skyward. As my guy said, it looked like a great climbing tree–had we been so inspired. Blame it on the cold. Blame it on our age. We passed up the opportunity.

w-Crooked River 1

The river, so named Crooked for its meandering nature, offered a mixture of ice and open water.

w-fox prints and pee

And everywhere throughout the property we found evidence of red foxes, including prints and pee.

w-coyote bed

We also noted a spot where a coyote paused for a bit, so smooth and indented was the impression left behind. I threw a mitten down temporarily to give a sense of the bed size.

w-Crooked River 2

Though we eventually crossed over the LELT boundary, we had followed a snowmobile trail, and so we decided to see where it would lead–hopeful we wouldn’t find ourselves in someone’s back yard.

w-Scribners Mill bridge

Our worries were squelched when we spied the Scribner’s Mill bridge in the distance.

w-mill:blacksmith shop

And soon came up beside the old blacksmith shop.

w-mill sign

The mill complex was built in 1847. Three generations of Scribners operated it continuously until 1962.

w-mill

In its heyday, the mill produced clapboards, shingles, barrels, and lumber. The Scribner’s Mill Preservation, Inc. formed in 1975 with the mission to transform it into an accurately reconstructed saw mill powered by water.

w-mill:signs

As we stood and looked at the ads of local businesses on the long shed (including one we know intimately), we wondered about the annual “Back to the Past” Celebration that used to be held each August. During that weekend, we recalled how we’d watched the machinery at work. The lathe workshop and the blacksmith shop were also open. Tours of the homestead included exhibits and demonstrations of traditional crafts such as weaving, spinning, rug-hooking and quilting.

w-mill from bridge 2

Today, all was idle. Except for the water.

w-mill from bridge 3

It swirled by, carrying memories of the past into the future.

And we gave thanks for the opportunity to visit properties owned by three different local land trusts who do the same as they carry memories of the past forward for future generations.

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.

Our local land trusts offer numerous hikes open to everyone, providing a great way to explore and learn more about the diversity of the natural communities.

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.

 

 

Sunday’s Point of View

After church we had exactly five hours to pack our lunches, drive to the trailhead and complete our trek. After all, the New England Patriot’s were scheduled to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship game at 3pm and we intended to be in the audience–from the comfort of our couch, of course.

p1-pleasant mountain sign

By 10:30, we’d pulled into the Ledges Trail parking lot on Mountain Road in Denmark (Denmark, Maine, that is) and began the one and a half mile walk back down the road. Our intended route along the trails of Pleasant Mountain in Loon Echo’s preserve was to climb up the Bald Peak Trail to the fire tower at the summit and then follow the Ledges Trail down. We love hiking a circular route, and like to get the road walk out of the way first.

p2-mountain stream

We had no idea what trail conditions would be like, but decided on micro-spikes, which proved to be the best choice. Beside the trail, the mountain stream was layered thick with icy sculptures.

p3-brook ice

Everywhere we looked, the water had frozen into a variety of formations.

p4-Needle's Eye

Less than a half mile up, we came to the sign for Needle’s Eye.

“Do you want to go in?” I asked my guy.

“It’s up to you,” he replied for he knows my love/hate relationship with the spur path to the geological feature.

“Let’s try,” I said.

p5-Needle's Eye

Somehow, we made it to the chasm in only a few minutes. And then we stood in awe, rejoicing that we’d made the effort for we were well rewarded.

p6-ice of the needle

At the back of the eye, the waterfall stood still for a moment. Eventually, we made our way back to the main trail, and I’m proud to say I only exclaimed once when a tree that I grabbed wiggled. I thought of my friend, Marita, and her patience with me last spring when my brain didn’t want me to venture forth along the spur.

p8-ice layers

Upward we continued, chuckling as we always do at the sign for Sue’s Way that also indicated we would reach the intersection of the North Ridge Trail in three tenths of a mile. Somehow, that three tenths always feels like three miles. Is it really only three tenths of a mile, we wondered.

p7-Sabattus Island on Moose Pond

We were rewarded again, however, when we did pass by the intersection and continued on to the summit of Big Bald Peak. It’s always a spot to stop and look back at Moose Pond below where we could see our camp and Sabatis Island.

p8a-lunch rock looking north

It was just beyond that stop that we found lunch rock. Our view to the northwest was a bit obscured by the pines, but they helped block the breeze, so we didn’t mind.

p8-fire tower in distance

And to the southwest, the ridgeline we intended to walk. We could even see the fire warden’s tower at the main summit.

p9-crossing the ridge

After lunch, across the ridge we trekked, enjoying the sights along the way.

p10-Sebago Lake's open water

In the distance, we could see Sebago Lake and noted its open water which evoked a conversation about global warming. Many thought this would be the year it finally froze over again, but . . . not to be.

p11-racing through blueberry patch

Because trail conditions on the ridge were favorable, we moved quickly–practically running through the blueberry fields that will call my guy’s name come July.

p12-the tower

In what seemed like no time, we turned left onto the Fire Warden’s Trail and then made our way up to the iconic tower that was built in 1920. My hope is that it will still stand stalwart in 2020 and celebrate its one hundredth birthday.

p13-summit view toward Washington

Sometimes the summit view includes Mount Washington, but today the summits of the Presidentials were hidden in clouds.

p14-red pine scale

One scene that didn’t make us happy was that of the red pines. About five years ago I noted their decline and communicated with a forester who was studying red pine scale. Since then, most of the trees have been infested by the tiny insect and died.

p14-Southwest Ridge and sky

A much prettier picture we saw as we began our descent down the Ledges Trail, where the sky displayed a rainbow of colors above the Southwest summit of the mountain.

p15-Moose Pond from the ledges

As we made our way down, we paused as we always do along the ledges for which the trail was named. The south basin of Moose Pond dominated the vantage point.

p16-smiley face and heart

Along the entire route, we only met a few other hiking parties, but one apparently enjoyed the journey as much as we did and left smiles for our hearts.

p17-Needle's Eye

We arrived home with ten minutes to spare until kickoff.

Before the game began, we both agreed that our favorite point of view for this Sunday  was Needle’s Eye.

And now, the Patriot’s just defeated Jacksonville. That may mean two other scenes compete for today’s fav–when #24 Gilmore blocked Jacksonville’s final pass or Bill Belichick showed emotion before the game officially ended.

 

 

 

 

Winter Reflections

My world is always transformed during a snowstorm and even the day after. So it was that yesterday about four inches of the fluffy white stuff drifted down and created a wonderland effect.

a1-snowflackes on Queen Anne's Lace

Even this morning, the individual snowflakes were still visible in their crystalized form (and I kicked myself for not packing my macro lens.)

a2-coyote and red fox tracks

I began the day with a slow journey from home to Pondicherry Park, with the intention of meeting a hiking group. Along the way, I realized that others had trekked before me. Two red foxes and a coyote had crossed paths, forming an X that mimicked the X pattern in their individual footprints. (The bigger prints from upper left to lower right being the coyote; and the smaller prints from lower left to upper right being the two foxes.)

a3-red fox with chevron

In almost direct registration, a hind foot of the fox landed on snow previously packed down by the front foot, so what you see are the two prints. The top print was a bit fuzzy in formation for so much is the hair on the fox’s foot. Despite that, toe nails, toes and the chevron pad at the back, plus the X formation between toes and pad seemed obvious.

a4-Stevens Brook

As I made my way through the park, the morning light on Stevens Brook drew me off trail to the frozen edge. And ice along the bank indicated the change in water levels since the heavy rain of a few days ago.

a5-Bob Dunning Bridge

At last I reached the gateway to town, which is also the gateway to the park–the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge. I have a great fondness for this bridge on many levels, including memories of Bob who passed away suddenly at least ten years ago, the barn-raising community effort to build it, and the fact that each beam represents a different tree, bark included. You can learn more about it by reading my previous blog post: Barking Up A Bridge.

a6-snow on bridge

And each time I walk across it, it seems to offer up something different. This morning, it was how the snow coated the railing. I think the artistic side of Bob would have approved.

a7-AMC group at bridge

On the other side, I met up with a group of seven women. Led by AMC volunteer JoAnne Diller, our intention was to tramp through the park following all the outer loops, including a link on the Lake Environmental Association‘s Pinehaven Trail at the Maine Lake Science Center. Along the way we visited with each other, enjoyed the beauty that surrounded us, and got some exercise.

a10-Stevens Brook

And then we returned to the bridge and parted ways. I choose to follow the inner trails home, pausing first to enjoy the color of Stevens Brook from the bridge’s center.

a8-mallards

And no winter visit to the park is complete without taking time to watch the ducks–and listen as well.

a8a-mallards

They gather by the dozens, some to rest while others seemed to be in constant motion.

a12-ice skirt

Before following the trails leading west and toward home, I returned to the scenic overlook where ice skirted a tree–again indicating that the water was recently much higher.

a13-eddy

In the same spot I watched water swirl in a small eddy and am amazed that I’m not still standing there–mesmerized as I was by the action.

a14-yellow birch sculpture

But my stomach was growling and so I continued on–stopping to admire another of nature’s wonders–a yellow birch that germinated atop an old pine stump and today stands as a sculpture of one member of the community supporting another despite their differences. Hmmmm.

a15-bench awaiting visitors

The trail I followed home was less traveled than the others and the snow a bit deeper because it hadn’t been packed down. When the park was first created by Lakes Environmental Association and  Loon Echo Land Trust, the AMC did some trail work and part of their offering was this bench. Though it hasn’t recently supported a weary traveler or one who just wants to set for a time, I trusted that day will soon come again.

a16-AMC bridge

I crossed the bridge near the bench, which was also built by the AMC crew. And from there, I headed home to lunch, but not without offering a smile of gratitude to JoAnne for continuing to volunteer to lead walks for the AMC and giving us all an excuse to enjoy the company of each other in this beautiful place.

a17-Saco Old Course

Later in the day I found myself in Lovell for a quick errand and the light was such that I felt the need to spend a little time beside the Old Course of the Saco River just down the road in North Fryeburg.

a18-Saco Old Course

The scene is never the same, nor is the light. What may have seemed monochromatic was hardly that.

a19-church

As the sun began to set, the water still harbored reflective moments.

a20-setting sun

And it transformed some reflections from crisp representations into impressionistic paintings.

a11-ice chimes again

At the end of the day, however, my favorite reflection of all was one spied along Willet Brook in Pondicherry Park by Eleanor, a member of our morning AMC trek.

a9-ice chimes

Winter chimes. Winter reflections.

 

 

 

The Sun Sets On 2017

Go without expectation I told a friend the other day. But I hardly take my own advice and so as I set out to snowshoe along the trails of Loon Echo Land Trust’s Bald Pate Mountain Preserve today, I silently hoped I’d spy a snowshoe hare or bobcat. Of course, both would have been over the top, but the possibility existed for their tracks were everywhere.

b1-Moose Trail sign

My first trail of choice was the Moose Trail. Maybe it was the snow cap atop the sign that helped me choose, but really, I like it because it circles halfway around the base of the mountain and then joins the South Loop Trail to complete the journey and ascend to the summit. Plus, it isn’t well traveled, except by critters. And so I went.

b5-q for question

Immediately, I saw a snowy Q and questioned what I’d see.

b2-spring is on the way

Despite the cold, there were signs of spring in many forms. One referenced a former use of the land.

b3-striped maple samaras

Another bespoke future offerings.

b4-water feathers

And a third bubbled up and created wispy feathers.

b6-nature's cathedral

Overhead, so much ice continued to cling to trees and jingled like a series of wind chimes along every path I traveled.

b8-porky 1

At last I was in an area of erratic boulders and certain that a bobcat was watching me. But . . . to my surprise a porcupine quickly waddled down its own well-packed trail.

b9-porky 2

In my excitement, I could barely focus.

b10-porky

I did hear other people approaching and so called ahead to warn them. Turns out that was a good thing for they had a dog companion. Porky actually crossed the man-made trail and continued on its way.

b11-porky trail

The other hikers and I stood and watched it and then examined the trail left behind by this pigeon-toed mammal. I’ve always thought that the tail left a swish, but this big guy held its tail high. I’m more inclined to think its toenails and quills are responsible for the lines between prints.

b13-Peabody Pond

At last I climbed upward and Peabody Pond came into view.

b14-Pebody and Sebago beyond

And in the distance Sebago Lake, not yet covered in ice, though I read in this morning’s paper that forecasters think this might be the year that it finally freezes over again.

b25-Hancock Pond

From the summit, I could hardly see the bald pate for which this mountain was named. But, the views outward included Hancock Pond.

b16-Mt Washington

And then Pleasant Mountain with Mount Washington in its saddle.

b18-trail to outlook

Rather than follow the Bob Chase Trail down, I chose the scenic overlook trail to the Foster Pond outlet.

b20-Foster Pond cairn

Shadows were growing longer and I didn’t stay long. At that point my camera battery began to die and so I placed it inside my mitten to take advantage of a hand warmer. And took it as a hint–my cheeks were also beginning to feel the cold.

b17-subtle signs

It was time to follow the subtle . . .

b22-home sign

and not so subtle signs home.

b23-sun setting

After all, the sun was setting on 2017.

b24-following porky

Tomorrow will dawn a new day and a new year.

Thanks to all who have wandered with me this past year. Here’s to a wonder-filled 2018.

Happy New Year!

Sherpas for the Loons

I can’t remember what year I began volunteering to haul food to the top of Pleasant Mountain for Loon Echo Land Trust’s Trek. I do, however, remember this–it was chilly that first time. I also remember some of the folks I hiked up to our location at the summit with–including JoAnne Diller, Carol Sudduth and Sara Stockwell. And then, at some point  in the future my position was switched to the summit of Southwest Ridge and I’ve been there every since–along with my pal in crime, Marita.

l1-me 4 (1)

And so it was that this morning she and I packed as much as we could into our backpacks and extra bags as we started up the trail at 7.

l2-into the fog

The fog had been so thick as I’d driven across the Moose Pond Causeway of Route 302, that I couldn’t even see the mountain. As we started up the trail, the morning light added a ghostly effect.

l3-web 1

At viewpoints along the way, the mountains beyond remained invisible, but . . . we could see the work of others.

l4-web 2

Webs decorated branches like Christmas ornaments decorate trees.

l7a-following the loons

Despite the fog, we easily followed the hiking loon up the trail,

l7-breaking into the sunlight

and eventually broke through into the sun.

l8-looking westward

As we continued to climb, we looked back, but our view was limited . . .

l9-islands among the sea of clouds

to mountaintops that looked like islands poking above a sea of clouds.

l9a-teepee and islands in background

Finally, we reached our destination–just below the teepee at the summit of Southwest Ridge.

l10-rest area 1

It was there that we set up our rest area with an assortment of goodies.

l12-Maine to China

Some were quite local, like the salsa from Windham, Maine, apples from Five Fields Farm in Bridgton, hot pepper jelly from Massachusetts and coffee mug filled with Dreamlands coffee by Magnolia Coffee of North Carolina, which benefits Five Kezars Watershed Association in North Waterford. (Judy Lynne–I believe you know the origin of my coffee thermos. I’m still using it every day.)

l13-me 1

While the temperature had cooled off a bit at the end of August, this mid-September day was hot and muggy–especially if one was hiking. But, we were ready to greet our guests  with a smile and plenty of food. Our hope was that they’d gobble it all up.

l14-Marita

Of course, being on the Southwest Ridge, one must look the part.

l15-young hikers

Slowly our guests trickled up–full of smiles despite the heat.

l18-family time

Our hikers for the six mile trek included families and friends, and even one dog.

l16-mountain islands 1

Ever so slowly, the sun began to break through the sea of clouds.

l17-mountain islands disappearing

Suddenly, as if in a poof, the mountains and lakes came into view.

l20-view from main summit, Kezar Pond, Mt Wash in clouds

After several hours, the Sweep came through and it was time for us to pack up and move on. And so we did–hiking across to the main summit, where the western views showed that Mount Washington was still in hiding.

l22-Jon

It was at the summit that we met up with Loon Echo’s stewardship manager, Jon Evans, whose work we greatly appreciate.

l23-Paul

His partner in crime was Loon Echo’s biologist, Paul Miller. Today, Paul taught us a new word: crepitation–the snapping or crackling sounds some grasshoppers make with their wings as they fly.

l24-Moose Pond 1

After chatting with them for a few minutes, we continued on across the ridge line, going backwards or so it felt for often we hike in the opposite direction. Just before reaching the point that the Bald Peak trail takes a sharp right hand turn downward, we paused among the pines to take in the view of Moose Pond and the causeway below.

l25-Marita in split rock

Rather than turn down at the Bald Peak junction, we continued on. At the North Ridge, we passed through one of our favorite parts (though like I said to Marita–every part along this mountain is my favorite), passing through the narrow split in the granite.

l26-Shawnee Peak summit 1

Finally, we reached the summit of Shawnee Peak Ski Area where we paused at the last rest stop to enjoy some watermelon slices.

l26-slowly descending

And then it was time to descend along the ski trails, first via the Main and then the Pine, traversing as we went to take the pressure off our knees.

l27-painted lady 1

It was there that the goldenrod grew and we admired the Painted Ladies seeking nourishment.

l28-painted lady 2

Though they look similar to the regal monarchs, we noted their characteristics–the painted ladies having forewings that are mostly orange, highlighted with black and spotted white. Their undersides really tell the story for they feature shades of brown, tan and white, with prominent veins, and row of blackish-blue spots along the margin.

l29-framing camp

Eventually, we left the flower zone as we continued down on grass. The lower we descended, the more our camp came obscurely into view. It’s framed in this photo, but unless you know it, you may not see it.

l30-water snake 1

At the ski area, we helped ourselves to a free Allagash and lunch, then sat on the lawn to chat with friends who’d either volunteered their time or biked 100 miles (Go Alanna!).

We had one other visitor–a young water snake that seemed to have lost its way from the pond.

By the time we left in the late afternoon, we were tired, sweaty and stinky, but happy for the honor of serving as sherpas to haul food and set up the rest area in this annual event that helps protect the lands around us and those who live here–whether they be loons, painted ladies or water snakes.

Congratulations Loon Echo Land Trust on another successful Trek.

 

Carving Time

Summer arrived through the back door as we walked out the front on our way to the Raymond Community Forest for a lunch hike. We’d last hiked the property conserved by Loon Echo Land Trust on a fall Mondate and were curious about its offerings in a different season. That and we knew it would be a quick venture, which would serve us well today.

p-false solomon seal

The minute we stepped out of the truck, we were greeted by the cheerful cluster of flowers spraying forth from the tip of a False Solomon’s Seal. I immediately reminded my guy that I’d be taking photos, like he needed to hear it again. But really, it was too hot to move fast and we were thankful for the shaded route. I don’t think our blood has thinned yet as only a week ago we wore several layers.

p-maple leaf viburnum 1

One of the blessings of such a habitat is maple-leaved viburnum, with at least one already sporting flowers about to open, plus last year’s dangling fruits. We weren’t the only ones happy to view it up close, a pollinator already at work.

p-spider web 2

A bit off the trail, the sun shone through the canopy, casting rays of light upon spider works worth noticing.

p-hop hornbeam

Though not long in length, the trail provided some upward movement that got the heart ticking. And tickled my fancy along the way for some of its trees like the hop hornbeam, which prefers rich soils and often is found on warm slopes. It also made me chuckle to see that this was the tree chosen for the trail blaze. Given the hardness of the wood, it couldn’t have been easy to pound in the nail.

p-scarlet waxy cap 2

Most flowers had either already bloomed or are still to come. But we found a fruit of another kind–its waxy cap shining brightly at our feet.

p-scarlet waxy cap 1

The shiny bright tops of the scarlet waxy caps were hard to miss in a couple of spots.

p-scarlet gills

But even more attractive were the gills below with their arched formation and orangy-yellow coloration.

p-grass 1

As we approached the summit, the understory changed from woodland shrubs and much leaf cover to grass, bracken ferns and wild sarsaparilla–a signature to the forest’s past life before the trees grew tall.

p-signs 2

Last fall, we got mixed up at one point along the Highlands Loop, but today we noted how well marked the entire trail system was. And so, when we reached these signs, we turned right and headed to the bluff.

p-lunch view

Stopping briefly for a water break, we rejoiced in the breeze and realized that we’d dealt with nary a mosquito.

p-lady's slipper 2

Next, we decided to travel the Highland Loop in the opposite direction we’d followed in the fall. Being my guy, he was often far ahead, but then would find a stump or rock to sit patiently and wait. And while he waited, he noticed things. I love that for it’s not his intention to gawk about every flower or leaf, but he does see. So it was, that the only lady’s slipper we curtseyed to today was across from one of his perches.

p-trail work

Overall, the trail was well-maintained, but my guy did offer a hand by moving a recently fallen tree out of the way.

p-trail work 2

I told him he’d earn brownie points for his efforts. Perhaps I should bake him some brownies.

p-beech flowers 1

Today’s lesson came along the loop. And I’m still not sure I completely understand for this was the first time that I recall such a sight. But there are so many firsts in my life and once I’m finally aware of something, it seems to appear everywhere as if it had been there all along. Because . . . it had. Confused? Me too. I found these beech flowers on a tree that stood about two or three feet tall. I can’t recall ever seeing flowers on such a small beech before. And I know they have to be about 40 years old before they produce fruit. Beech can grow for a long time in the understory, but could such a short tree be so old? Did this tree not read the books? Do beech trees put energy into producing flowers that won’t be viable? Do I need to contact my district forester for a better understanding? Yes. Fortunately, he doesn’t mind when I pick his brain. And obviously, I have much to learn.

(NOTE: As promised, I contacted our district forester for the Maine Forest Service, Shane Duigan. Here’s what he had to say: “Hi Leigh, Those are good questions. The easy answer is, no, the trees never read the books. Beyond that, it is possible that such a little shoot could be 40 years old but more likely it is a root sprout–a young shoot arising from an old root system. Beech stumps sprout readily when cut and beech trees also produce root sprouts as a result of stress or physical damage to roots. In that scenario, though the shoot appears too young to flower, the organism (root system) is old enough to flower. Does that all make sense?” Yes, Shane–that does make sense. Another lesson learned.)

p-basswood bark and leaves

After wondering so long before the beech tree, I had to pick up my pace. But that only lasted for a bit because another of my favorite trees that also likes the richness of the soil stood tall beside the trail. I couldn’t resist running my hands over the smooth sections of bark on the basswood (linden) and admire the leaves already big on an offshoot below.

p-grassy field at summit

We knew we were completing the loop and approaching the trail to the bluff when the understory once again turned to grass.

p-bluff view 2

From the same rock where we’d taken our earlier water break, we sat for lunch as we looked out at Crescent Lake and across to Rattlesnake Mountain.

p-white oaks blowing in breeze

The wind continued to blow, causing the leaves to swish and sway with its language.

p-bedstraw

On our descent I spied various plants including a small patch of bedstraw not yet in flower.

p-cranefly 2

And because I was looking down, a cranefly couldn’t escape my focus.

p-descent

It didn’t take us long to descend on the path carved by others along the side of Pismire Mountain. In the end, though we wanted to venture on the Spiller Homestead trail that is part of the forest, we had to head home. My guy has worked way too many hours this week, including all day yesterday and again this afternoon, on this, his weekend off, due to a customer appreciation sale that this year benefited the Lions Club (each year a different local charity is the beneficiary). But . . . we were thankful we carved out some time to be together doing what we most love to do.