We got a later than normally late start to our hike today and didn’t arrive at the trailhead for Puzzle Mountain until 11:45 am. It’s a trail we’ve hiked only once before, but knew the chance to see trees with bear claw marks would be numerous.
The Mahoosuc Land Trust and Maine Appalachian Trail Club maintain the trails. Our starting/ending point were at the trailhead on Route 26 in Newry. The plan, should we wish to complete it, was to hike up the Grafton Loop Trail to the summit, then veer to the right and follow the Woodsum Spur Trail in a clockwise manner back to the GLT.
Our other plan to locate bear claw trees . . . was soon fulfilled. The first we spotted about twenty feet off trail, but once our eyes became accustomed to the pattern, we realized they were everywhere.
And some trees had been visited repeatedly.
A few had hosted other guests such as Pileated Woodpeckers.
For about two miles, we traveled under the summer green leaves of a hardwood cathedral. And within such we noticed numerous bear claw tree both beside the trail and beyond.
Occasionally, we noted others worth mentioning such as spring ephemerals like False Solomon’s Seal that showed us the season on the slopes is a bit delayed as compared to our lower elevations.
At last we reached a false summit where the views to the west enhanced the mountains and their natural communities, so defined by shades of green: darker defining conifers and lighter the deciduous trees.
Sunday River Ski Area was also part of the display.
It was at this ledge that we met two young men. They started up a trail behind us and then made their way back and asked us to take a photo. When we asked where they were from, the older of the two said he lived in a small town outside of New Haven, Connecticut. Being a Nutmegger by birth, (and in fact having been born in New Haven), my ears perked up.
“Where in Connecticut?” I asked.
“A small town called Wallingford,” he said.
“I grew up in North Branford (about 15 minutes or so from Wallingford),” I replied. “And have friends in Wallingford.”
Turns out he’s a teacher at Choate-Rosemary Hall, a private school. And his hiking partner was his nephew from New Jersey. They were on their first day of a multi-day backpack expedition.
I took photos for both and then we sent them on the right path, which was behind their first choice. We paused before following them as we didn’t want to be on their tail, but heard the older of the two exclaim, “Wow, that was fortuitous. If we hadn’t gone back for a photo, we wouldn’t have known where the trail was.” We didn’t have any treats to give them as trail angels do, but perhaps our gift of direction was just as important.
While we waited, I honed in on the newly formed flowers of Mountain Ash. I love these trees for the red stems of their leaves and fruits to come.
At last we began the push to the summit, but I had to pause much to my guy’s dismay for the black flies swarmed us constantly. I discovered, however, one reason to celebrate them–besides the fact that they feed birds and members of the Odonata family. I do believe they pollinate Clintonia for we found them on the anthers of those in flower.
Not long after the false summit that the two guys we’d met thought was the top, we reached the junction with the Woodsum Spur Trail. Our plan was to continue to climb and then locate the other end of the spur to follow down from the top. It would take longer, we knew, but be a wee bit gentler in presentation. A wee bit.
As we continued up, another ledge presented a view of Sunday River and so my guy took a photo and sent a text message to our youngest son, who works in Manhattan, and lives in Brooklyn with two buddies he meet while skiing at Sunday River when they were all in high school.
Onward and upward, the conifer cones added a bit of color to the view.
And then we reached a cairn just below the summit. Mind you, the Black Flies were so incredibly thick that we could barely talk without devouring a few. In fact, we gave thanks for eating our lunch much lower on the trail, but even then we’d devoured PB&J with a side of BF.
The view, however, was one to be envied and as long as the wind blew, we could enjoy it in all its panoramic glory.
Again we spied Sunday River. But what always makes me wonder is the tallest tree in the forest. What makes it stand out?
Still, we weren’t quite at the tippy top and had a few more feet of granite to conquer.
There we found the second of two survey markers. Why two? That was puzzling.
Equally puzzling as had happened to us before, where did the trail go?
From past experience we knew that the descent wasn’t all that well marked, but we found it much more quickly today than in the past. And we made sure to point it out to our fellow hikers from CT, whom we’d somehow passed on our final ascent. Our hope for them is that they made it to the shelter on the GLT where they planned to spend the night and that they were well prepared for the bugs. As we left them at the summit, they looked a bit like deer in headlights.
The descent via the Woodsum Spur is as varied as the ascent, but not always as easy to follow. There were downed trees, overgrown sections, lots of mud, and times when we had to search for the trail, much unlike the carpenter ants who knew exactly where they were going on a tree snag.
We passed through one section that reminded my guy of the Munchkins in the The Wizard of Oz, his favorite movie. Just after that we entered an enchanted forest where the giant in my fairy tale, The Giant’s Shower, could have lived happily every after with Falda the fairy.
It was ledges to woods and back to ledges as we descended. But the mileage was questionable for the signs we encountered that indicated distance didn’t necessarily agree.
What did agree with the Woodsum Trail was a moose or two or three. For much of the trail we spotted scat indicating they’d traveled this way all winter.
It was natural signs like that which we most appreciated, but . . . once we finished the spur trail and rejoined the GLT, we spotted a boulder filled with messages we’d missed upon our ascent. You might be put out that some left messages in the moss, but as Ralph Pope, author of Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts, told us on a Greater Lovell Land Trust walk in 2017, this sort of activity won’t hurt the bryophytes.
When humans leave their initials upon beech trees, however, it does affect them. And I suppose the bear claw marks do as well, but still we are thrilled each time we spy the latter.
Our plan had been to stop for a beer on the way home and make this a Bear to Beer Possibility. But we were pooped for we hiked almost nine miles on a hot summer day and knew if we stopped we might not be able to drive home.
As it happened, driving south on Routes 5/35 and just before the intersection with Vernon Street, a Black Bear ran across the road. For us, it will be another in our shared minds’ eye as I couldn’t take a photo.
Thus today’s hike was a Bear to Bear rather than Bear to Beer Possibility.
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.”
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
We love Maine both for its natural beauty and historic nature. And so it was today that we enjoyed a wee bit of both as we headed off to Greenwood.
More specifically, Greenwood City. According to the town website, “The first saw and shingle mill was constructed at ‘Greenwood City’ in 1805. In the mid-1800s, the wood industry moved to the Village of Locke’s Mills as a result of the railroad and a fire which destroyed Greenwood City.” Apparently, the city had been the economic and civic center of Greenwood, but the fire of 1862 changed everything. Nevertheless, this was our kind of city and our intention was to climb the mountain to the left of the sign–Peaked Mountain.
For years now, I’d heard of Maggie’s Nature Park, but never gave it much thought as a destination. That all changed today. The park encompasses 83 acres of mixed forest across the street from South Pond. It was gifted to the town by Maggie Ring, who had placed it under conservation easement with the Mahoosuc Land Trust. According to an article by Josh Christie in an April 2016 issue of the Portland Press Herald, “As Ring told the MLT in 2005, ‘I gave the land so my grandchildren and everyone else’s grandchildren can enjoy these woods. I want them to enjoy some of God’s good earth.’”
Our plan was to begin on the orange Ring Hill Trail, and consistently stay to the right as we wove our way around the hill and up Peaked Mountain before descending via Harriet’s Path and finishing with the yellow trail.
Because the temperature was on the crisp side, the snow pack was firm, though there were icy portions in the hemlock grove, and bare trail and ledges as well. As we began, we immediately noted an elbow tree, so formed probably when another tree landed upon it.
Moving along at my guy’s brisk speed, I was delighted to note the variety of trees, including cedar, and couldn’t help but imagine the teaching opportunities.
Where the snow had melted, shades of green drew my attention. And with a new season ever so slowly unfolding, I realized I needed to practice my fern ID and so I slowed my guy down for a wee bit. I think he secretly welcomes the breaks for he always finds a rock upon which to sit. One of the characteristics that helped in this ID was the first downward pointing pinnule–it being shorter than the one next to it. I also noted that the stipe or lower stalk, was shorter than the blade, and it was grooved.
A look at the underside added to my conclusion for last year’s sori were round and all in a row between the midrib and margin. So what was it? Evergreen Wood Fern or Dryopteris intermedia if you choose to get technical. I choose to brush up on my fern ID.
As we continued along Ring’s Hill, we took in the views from the ledges and under them as well, where icicles pointed toward the land they’d nurture.
Eventually we followed the yellow blazes to the summit of Peaked Hill–and what to our wondering eyes should appear at a downed log near the view point? Two Dove eggs–the dark chocolate species. A perfect reward for our efforts. But really, the trail required little effort due to its well-executed construction with many zigs and zags to prevent erosion. We hardly felt like we were climbing yet we constantly moved upward.
The summit of Peaked offered the best views–this one being of Mount Abram, with its ski area at the top and to the right. The ski area is closed for the season, but snow still covered the trails that we could see.
Also within our view–highbush blueberry buds suggesting a delightful treat for another day.
And common toadskin lichen reminded me that Big Night is coming soon–that special rainy night(s) when we become sally savers and help amphibians cross that the road to their natal vernal pools. Stay tuned for that–there might be some migration later this week.
All along, we’d noted the trail markers–bright colors and frequent placement made it easy to stick to the trail. But one caused me concern for it looked like it pointed us over the edge.
Not to worry, it was merely noting a junction and curve–my guy came in from the right because he’d chosen to follow the ledge from the Mt. Abram viewpoint, while I chose to return to our snack log and then follow the trail to meet him. Together again, we journeyed to the left as the trail markers indicated.
Rather than stay on the Peaked Mountain Trail all the way back to the parking lot, we continued with our right-hand-turn progression and chuckled when we found one trail marker painted around the curve of a rock–so indicating yet another zig.
A short spur on the red trail, aka Harriet’s Path, lead to one last point of view.
South Pond below with Buck and Lapham Ledges in the distance–hikes saved for another day.
We looped back to the yellow trail and continued down through a boulder field–one more piece of what made this hike so interesting. It wasn’t long after that we completed the journey, but talked immediately about returning in other seasons for so delightful a trek it was. I can’t wait to see what flowers it has to offer and we both could only imagine it decked out with autumn’s tapestry.
On the way home, because I was driving, we had one last stop to make–by the Greenwood Cattle Pond built in 1835 just north of the city. Pounds were important features to secure stray animals prior to the invention of barbed wire and the stones would have stood taller than they do today, but still . . . another piece of history saved for this one is on the National Register of Historic Places.
At the end of the day we wondered why it had taken us so long to discover Maggie’s Nature Park, but thankfully we now have. And we gave thanks to Maggie Ring and her vision to protect “God’s good earth” for all of us. We loved the nature of Greenwood on this Mondate. Indeed.
P.S. Another claim to fame for this town: LL Bean was born in Greenwood in 1872.
Our favorite Monday mornings begin with my guy unscrambling the Jumble words in the newspaper, but leaving the final answer cells empty so I can give it a try, me decoding the cryptoquip, and both of us solving the crossword puzzle. And then our day can begin.
And so it was this morning before we drove an hour north to a Mahoosuc Land Trust trailhead on Route 26 in North Newry. Our plan was to climb the trail to the summit and then make our descent via the Woodsum Spur before connecting back to the main trail. We figured we’d finish up about 3:30pm.
And so we began our climb, crossing six or seven dry streams, where not even a trickle pleased our ears.
But our eyes knew otherwise for we were in a beech forest and scratch marks were prevalent.
In spite of the nectria caused by beech scale insects and others, we spied a familiar pattern that always thrills us. Our first puzzle teaser–do you see the pattern we saw?
Without going off trail, the bear paw trees were plenty and our quest for such satisfied.
Our questions, however, continued beyond the bear trees. How did this beech leaf happen to be dangling in suspended animation?
Why did we find only one jack-in-the-pulpit?
What is the purpose of red on the Indian cucumber root leaves?
And why are white baneberry’s fruits, aka doll’s eyes, poisonous?
We noticed all of these great finds as our upward climb took us through a neighborhood of hardwoods.
Along the way we also noted sugar maple leaves atop sensitive fern fronds.
And one tree bedecked with oyster fungi. Their name always throws me off given that I grew up on the Connecticut coast where I often cut my feet on oyster beds.
As we continued upward, suddenly the smell and look changed. We’d entered the Christmas Tree Shop where hemlocks, balsam fir and spruce trees dominated the landscape.
At last we approached a scenic view . . .
but all that we could see in the great beyond . . . fog.
The further up we climbed, however, other shrubs added color to a gray day, including wild raisins, aka witherod.
Eventually the trail conditions became more difficult and we worked our way through a boulder field that made me think of bobcats.
Eventually we emerged from the fog into the sun, thankful all the time for cairns marking the way. And the sight of the summit above.
As we advanced, other summit views made theirselves known.
But, we weren’t there yet. To reach the summit, we had to climb on.
Along the way, mountain ash trees showed off their prolific fruits.
Finally, the summit was just a few steps above.
We’d reached the high point of 3,133 feet.
Lunch rock quickly presented itself–backed by the summit cairn.
And the view–mountain islands amidst a sea of clouds. Had the day been clear, we would have had a 360˚ vantage point, but it was beautiful no matter.
After lunch we looked for the trail beyond so we could follow the Woodsum Spur for 1.7 miles before looping back to the main trail. We found many mini-trails that led nowhere and two or three times my guy looped down and around on one that promised hope, only to find himself back at the summit. But after about a half hour of searching, we spied a splash of blue paint that held promise and so we followed it, in hopes that we’d eventually find our way down.
Along the way, we found lots of bobcat scat, which made perfect sense given our locale.
And sphagnum moss interrupted by snowberry tendrils.
And then we reached a cairn with no trails to follow down over a rather steep ledge. We looked and looked and looked, again spending at least a half hour trying to find our way. At last, much to our disappointment we decided we’d need to retrace our steps to the summit and follow the main trail down.
Somehow, about fifty feet back, we discovered a sign that we’d previously missed. Apparently, those who had created the trail wanted us to go forward as we had to enjoy the scenic overlook, but what we didn’t realize was that then we needed to backtrack. At this point, we wished we’d had a magic marker in our pack so we could highlight the sign.
As we headed down, we were still in the sun, which was incredibly toasty, but the fog prevailed below.
The Woodsum Spur felt much longer than its 1.7 mile length, maybe because we were so hot and tired, but we thrilled at a sight in some mud–my guy’s print on the left and a bear on the right.
It was a front print of the bear–and we wondered where it might be.
At last, we emerged from the spur and only had 2.6 miles to go to get back to the trailhead. I swear we ran down. My guy said that I always say that. He’s right–because we do.
Six and half hours (an hour later than our intended departure time) and nine miles later, we were sweaty and stinky and happy to have made the acquaintance of Puzzle Mountain–though we still had many questions–puzzling as it was.
On the way home, we stopped for some ice water followed by a couple of local brews at Sunday River Brewing Company–Long Haul Lager for me, because it was such, and Raspberry Wheat (Razzle Dazzle) for him, because he was curious.
Be puzzled? We were. But we toasted this Mondate and trust we’ll travel the same trail again.
My guy and I set off on a quest this morning–not a long and arduous search, but a search none-the-less.
The setting for our quest–Rumford Whitecap made possible by the Mahoosuc Land Trust.
I couldn’t resist taking a selfie at the trailhead.
Though this is a popular trail during blueberry season, we never think of it until fall.
And this fall is particularly spectacular. The red maples are on fire everywhere we turn.
Our initial quest was two-fold: 1. to hike to the summit, and 2. to absorb as much color into our mind’s eye as we could. The palette will change soon ’round these parts and though we love winter, we relish the dance of color that seems to last only for a fleeting moment.
Aptly known as the red/orange trail, we ascended the mountain, ever mindful of the water on the rocks. Along the way, we recalled hikes along this same trail much later in the season, when crampons were a necessity.
Though an option presented itself, we stuck to our quest for the summit of Whitecap. We’re saving Black Mountain for another day.
As we moved out of the woods and onto the bald ledges, the tapestry revealed itself.
Splashes of blueberry plants and sheep laurel grace the granite landscape.
No matter where we turned, color begged to be captured.
The whitecap at the top of this photo is not the summit, but our destination was getting closer with each footstep.
We weren’t the only ones on a quest. I’m not sure of the species, but this lone caterpillar moved quickly across the bald face.
Finally, we reached the top, where the display was over the top.
It’s always fun to find the survey monument–bronze disks used by surveyors since 1879 for mapping purposes.
In the middle of this photo are the larger-than-life satellite dishes located in Andover. When I was a kid and we vacationed in Maine, our parents took us to the Andover Earth Station. It was one of the first satellite stations in the USA, built in 1961 with the Telstar 1 satellite–an experimental link between North America and Europe. The Telstar Bubble, which housed the immense horn antenna, was taken down in the 1990s.
For the past few years, these wind turbines have been visible. Today, we noticed two other ridges decorated with turbines. I’m of two minds on this topic–the old wishy washy self that I am. In Canada, wind turbines are located across the landscape and even as we hiked the Cape Mabou trails on Cape Breton Island last week, we stood below one and listened to its airplane engine-like sound, but we didn’t hear it until we were quite close. I actually think they are quite beautiful as they turn–ballet of a sort.
In the midst of the mountains, a peek at Rumford.
After our usual PB&J, I explored further along the ridge while my guy napped. You might be able to spot him in the center of the top photo. Of course, he did run this morning before hiking–he’s training for the Moose Pond Half Marathon, a race that raises $$$ for the Maine Adaptive Ski Program at Shawnee Peak in Bridgton.
It was a short nap–given that it was on a bed of rock.
We hiked down the Starr trail, where our color quest found further fulfillment.
As we descended, we switched from one community to another.
Sometimes, it was the bracken fern that lit the way.
Other times, the sugar and striped maples cast a bright light.
We took only photos and memories, and left only footprints–mine on the left, his on the right.
Before our Mondate ended, we decided an ice cream was in order. We hike so we can eat. This turned out to be the more arduous part of our quest–hiking 6 or so miles was a cinch in hindsight. A drive through Bethel revealed no ice cream shops. We continued on Route 2 for a bit and found one hopeful spot, but it had closed an hour earlier. My mouth was watering for a peppermint stick hot fudge sundae–with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Half an hour later, with my tongue hanging out, we stopped at Melby’s in North Waterford. After purchasing a pint of Hagen Daz chocolate (not a sundae, but sometimes you just have to make do), we turned and my dear friend Ursula Duve appeared before our eyes. She was on her own ice cream quest. I had the pleasure of introducing her to my guy and he instantly fell in love. As we chatted about our outdoor adventures, Ursula gave us this advice, “For as long as you can do it, do it.” Well, maybe those weren’t her exact words–after all, I did have ice cream on my brain–but they’re mighty close to it. She and her husband have hiked many more trails than we’ll ever conquer, but we’re thankful for the opportunity to wander together as often as we can–especially on a Mondate.
We finished that pint in record time. It was arduous, but someone or two had to do it.
A Mondate with quest or two or three–always brings a smile to our faces.