Hug An ASH Mondate

My guy and I began this day with a list . . . of things to do and places to go, all within about 15 miles from home. Our starting point was our camp, where I wanted to do a few things inside, while he picked up branches that had fallen over the winter.

Once our chores were completed, we paused for a moment and enjoyed the view of Shawnee Peak Ski Area at Pleasant Mountain and the almost iced-out northern basin of Moose Pond.

Maybe the ice finally went out this afternoon, but the longer it stays, the better in my opinion. Not all that long ago we could predict the event to occur in mid-April, but sadly everything is happening earlier than it should.

From there we hiked up a hill on some land we own behind his store because he’d recently spotted a site he knew I’d appreciate: a carpet of Eastern Hemlock twigs. We looked up, but no porcupine was in sight.

Following a quick lunch at home, we headed off for a quick hike up Mount Tir’em where another porky tree greeted us beside the trail.

From the summit, we spied first Keoka Lake to the east, its ice still in.

And Bear Pond to the south, also still covered in ice. And yes, toward the west, that is Pleasant Mountain and the ski area of the earlier photo.

No trip up this mountain is complete without a visit to the glacial erratics that our sons, back in their youth, called The Castle. I’ve always thought of it as offering a great bear cave and so we went in search.

We did find the neighborhood bear who has been keeping an eye on this spot for a number of years now. My, what long, sharp claws you have.

In the best cave though, only this momma bear emerged and she seemed kinda friendly ;-).

Our final adventure of the day found us following several Yetis into the woods.

They led us to this tree, which bespoke a long and gnarled history.

On one side it sported a burl, that strange-looking collection of tree cells. Known as callus tissue, the burl forms in response to an environmental injury such as pruning, disease or insect damage.

On the other side, a tree spirit smiled. They often do if you take the time to look.

Its bark was so stretched that though it remained a bit corky, its diamond pattern had stretched into sinewy yet chunky snakes of furrows and ridges.

Upon the ground a shed limb ready to give nutrients back to the earth that will continue to aid the tree sat in its shadow.

Holes in the tree offered further intrigue . . .

and so my guy climbed up and looked in first.

I followed and couldn’t believe the site within. This tree is still producing leaves, thus the xylem and phloem still function, but almost entirely hollow and I fully expected to see a bear or two or a slew of raccoons in residence. Certainly, it would have created a delightful hideaway to sit and read and sketch, and watch . . . life inside and out.

By now you’ve possibly figured this is one mighty big tree . . . and I found this information about it: On October 30, 1969, the Maine Forest Service stated that it was the largest of its species in the state. And in 1976, the bicentennial year, it still held that honor. The dimensions in 1969 were these: circumference 17′ 81/4″, height 70′ and crown spread 77′. I’m not sure if any of those measurements have changed, but I learned last week that is still the biggest of its kind.

So this blog post is entitled “Hug an ASH Mondate.” I actually hugged two ASHes today–this White Ash that deserves to be honored for who knows how much longer it will be around and I was so excited to meet it, but my own ASH as well for if you look at the watermark on the two photos of me you’ll see © ASH. You may have thought that my guy’s initials were M.G., but really they are A.S.H. Hug an ASH. In any form, what an honor.

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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


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

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


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.


Book of September: Forest Trees of Maine

The other day a friend and I made plans for an upcoming hike. Before saying goodbye, she said, “Don’t forget to bring your tree book.”

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Really? I have at least thirty books dedicated to the topic of trees. But . . . I knew exactly which one she meant: Forest Trees of Maine. I LOVE this book–or rather, booklet. You’ll notice the tattered version on the left and newer on the right. Yup, it gets lots of use and often finds its way into my pack. When I was thinking about which book to feature this month, it jumped to the forefront. I actually had to check to see if I’d used it before and was surprised that I hadn’t.

Produced by the Maine Forest Service, the centennial issue published in 2008 was the 14th edition and it’s been reprinted two times since then.

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In previous years, the book was presented in a different format. Two editions sit on my bookshelf, and I need to share with you two things that didn’t find their way into the most recent copy.

From 1981: Foreword–“It is a pleasure to present the eleventh edition of Forest Trees of Maine. 

Many changes have occurred in Maine’s forest since 1908, the year the booklet first appeared. Nonetheless, the publication continues to be both popular and useful and thousands have been distributed. Many worn and dog-eared copies have been carried for years by woodsmen, naturalists and other students of Maine’s Great Out-Of-Doors.

We wish the booklet could be made available in much greater quantity, however, budgetary considerations prevent us from doing so. I urge you to use your copy of Forest Trees of Maine with care. If you do, it will give years of service in both field and office.”

Kenneth G. Stratton, Director.

From 1995: One of two poems included. I chose this one because it was one my mother often recited.


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

~Joyce Kilmer

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The most recent edition of Forest Trees of Maine provides a snapshot of the booklets history and information about the changes in the Maine landscape. For instance, in 1908, 75% of the land was forested, whereas in 2008, 89% was such. The state’s population during that one hundred year period had grown by 580,457. With that, the amount of harvested wood had also grown. And here’s an intriguing tidbit–the cost of the Bangor Daily News was $6/year in 1908 and $180/year in 2008.

Two keys are presented, one for summer when leaves are on the trees and the second for winter, when the important features to note are bark and buds.

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Terms for leaf shapes, margins and structure, twig structure, plus needle types and flower types are illustrated and various terms defined.

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There’s even information on how a tree works because they do–for our well-being and for the benefit of wildlife.

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And then the descriptive pages begin. Each layout includes photographs, sketches and lots of information, both historical as in the King’s Arrow Pine, and identifiable as in bark, leaves, cones, wood, etc.

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t-pines yellow book (1)


Though some of the information is the same, it’s fun to note the differences from the two earlier publications.

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At the beginning of each family, major descriptions are noted in an easy to follow format.

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And like the conifers, the broadleaves are portrayed.

Tomorrow, when my friend and I venture off, I’d better remember to pack this booklet. She’s peeked my curiosity about what she wants to ID because I’ve climbed the mountain before and perhaps I missed something. She already has a good eye for trees so I can’t wait to discover what learning she has in mind for us.

This Book of September is for you, Ann Johnson. And it’s available at Bridgton Books or from the forest service: or

Forest Trees of Maine, Centennial Edition, 2008, published by The Maine Forest Service