Book of August: BARK

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Book of August

It was my journey through the Maine Master Naturalist class several years ago that lead me to this book of the month: BARK–A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech.

The book actual evolved from Wojtech’s work, under the tutelage of Tom Wessels, toward a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology at Antioch University New England.

Between the covers you’ll find information about bark structure, types of bark and bark ecology. There is a key for those who are so inclined.

And then the biggest chunk of the book is devoted to photographs and descriptions for each type of tree that grows in our New England and eastern New York State forests. These include the common and Latin names, family, habitat, range maps, leaf and branch pattern, leaf shape and notes.

For me, there are two take away items from this book. First, I learned to categorize bark based on its pattern from smooth to ridges and furrows, vertical strips, curly and peeling to others covered in scales and plates. He breaks bark type into seven varieties that I now find easy to identify.

Second, I came to realize something that I may have known but never gave much thought to–except for  American beech bark, which remains smooth all its life (unless it’s been infected by the beech scale insect), bark differs from young to mature to old for any particular species. Oy vey!

Though this book is useful in the winter, now is the time to start looking. To develop your bark eyes. The leaves are on and will help with ID, thus you can try the key and you’ll know if you’ve reached the correct conclusion or not.

Go ahead. Purchase a copy and give it a whirl. I must warn you, it becomes addictive and can be rather dangerous when you are driving down the road at 50mph. As Wojtech wrote in the preface, “If you want to experience a forest, mingle among its trees. If you want to know the trees, learn their bark.”

While you are at it, I encourage you to visit the small western Maine town of Bridgton, where the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge leads into Pondicherry Park. Each of the sixteen bridge beams is constructed from a different tree and the bark is still on them. Test yourself and then grab one of my brochures at the kiosk to see if you got it right. If there are no brochures, let me know and I’ll fill the bin.

And while you are there, stop by the independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, to purchase a copy of BARK.

BARK: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech, University Press of New England, 2011.

Three Times A Charm

One might think that following the same loop through the woods in slow motion three times in one day would be boring. One would be wrong. My friend Joan and I can certainly attest this fact.

Round One: 9 am, Wildflower and Bird Walk with Lakes Environmental Association co-led by birder/naturalist Mary Jewett of LEA and the ever delightful botanist Ursula Duve.

h-hobblebush

In abundance here, the hobblebush bouquet–a snowy-white flower that is actually an inflorescence, or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Yeah, so I’ve showed you this before. And I’ll probably show it again. Each presentation is a wee bit different.

h-beech cotyledon1ph

And then we spied something that I’ve suddenly seen almost every day this week.

h-beech coty 4ph

The cotyledon or seed leaf of an American beech. Prior to Monday, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this and yet, since then I’ve continued to discover them almost every day. Worth a wonder.

h-beech coty 3ph

Think about it. The journey from seed to tree can be a dangerous one as the root is sent down through the leaf litter in search of moisture. Since the root system is shallow, lack of moisture can mean its demise. When conditions are right, a new seedling with a rather strange, yet beautiful appearance surfaces. The seed leaves of the beech, aka cotyledons, are leathery and wavy-margined. They contain stored food and will photosynthesize until the true leaves develop, providing a head start for the tree. I realize now that I’ve seen them all my life in other forms, including maple trees, oak trees and vegetables. But . . . the beech cotyledon captures my sense of wonder right now, especially as it reminds me of a luna moth, which I have yet to see this year.

h-green frog 2

Crossing the first boardwalk through the red maple swamp, a large male green frog tried to hide below us. Notice the large circular formation behind his eye. That’s the tympanum, his visible external ear. A male’s tympanum is much larger than his eye.

h-rhodora ph1

Other red maple swamp displays included the showy flowers of rhodora and their woody capsules.

h-rhodora1

Ralph Waldo Emerson knew the charm of this spring splendor:

The Rhodora

On being asked, whence is the flower.
In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.

h-LEA group

To avoid getting our feet too wet, we spread out as we walked on the boardwalk through the quaking bog.

h-five morning

Morning light highlighted the layers from the pond and sphagnum pond up to Five Fields Farm and Bear Trap above.

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And because it was ever present, I couldn’t resist pausing to admire the painted trillium once again (don’t tell my guy).

h-dwarf ginseng1ph

One plant that I will always associate with this place and Ursula, who first introduced me to it years ago, is the dwarf ginseng. I love its global spray of flowers and compound leaves. But maybe what I love most is its beauty in diminutive form–just like Ursula.

Round Two: Noon, Lunch and a walk with my dear friend Joan.

h-bigtooth aspen

After returning to our vehicles following the morning walk, Joan and I grabbed our lunches. And I paused in the parking lot to enjoy the silvery fuzziness of big tooth aspen leaves. The quaking aspen in our yard leafed out a couple of weeks ago, but big tooth aspen leaves are just emerging. Like others, they begin life with a hairy approach–perhaps as a protective coating while they get a start on life?

h-muddy riverlunch

We ate lunch beside Muddy River where the spring colors were reflected in the water.

h-blueberries 1ph

And then we heard something jump in the water, so we moved silently like foxes as we tried to position ourselves and gain a better view. In the back of our minds, or perhaps the front, we wanted to see a turtle, beaver or especially an otter. Not to be. But we did see highbush blueberries in flower.

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And the bees that pollinate them.

h-pitcher 5ph

In their out-of-this universe form, we knelt down to honor the pitcher plant blossoms that grow along a couple of boardwalks.

h-red maple samaras

We were wowed by the color of the red maple samaras,

h-red winged

prominent shoulder patch of the red-winged blackbird,

h-cranberries

and cranberries floating on the quaking bog.

h-lone larch

And then our eyes were drawn to the green–of the lone larch or tamarack tree

h-green 9ph

and the green frogs.

h-green 8ph

I spent some time getting to know one better.

h-green 3

She even climbed out to accommodate me–I’m sure that’s why she climbed up onto the boardwalk.

h-green 6

Or maybe she knew he was nearby. What a handsome prince.

Round Three: 2:30pm, Joan and I (co-coordinators of the Maine Master Naturalist Bridgton 2016 class) were joined by another MMNP grad, Pam Davis Green, who will lead our June field trip to explore natural communities at Holt Pond.

h-striped maple flower

h-spriped flowers 2

Cascading down from the striped maple leaves, we saw their flowers, which had alluded us on our first two passages.

h-speckled 2

The cottony white masses of wooly alder aphids decorated many of the speckled alders in the preserve. In a symbiotic relationship, ants stroke the aphid with their antennae, while  the aphid releases a drop of honeydew, much like a cow being milked. It’s actually rather creepy.

h-duck

Two Canada Geese squawked from another part of the pond, but Mrs. Mallard stood silently by.

h-tree pants

Our final sight brought a smile to our faces–someone put his or her pants on upside down!

We hope that charms your fancy. Joan and I were certainly charmed by our three loops around and those we got to share the trail with today.

We also want to thank Ursula, Mary and Pam for their sharings. And we send good vibes and lots of prayers to my neighbor, Ky, and Pam’s brother-in-law.       

 

 

On Another Day

Today was a perfect day for a hike–cool temps and a breeze kept the bugs at bay. And so my guy and I headed off after lunch with a destination in mind. Backpack–check. Camera–check. Map–check.

And with the latter, it all ended.

a-squiggly sign

We’d hiked our intended trail once before within the last ten years, but remembered that back then we had a difficult time following it. We were sure, however, that we could find our way today and we did. Until, that is, we reached a junction and read the snowmobile trail signs. Our gut told us to go straight but because we were on a snowmobile trail, the signs listed destinations. We looked at the map, looked at the signs, and convinced ourselves to turn right.

a-hobble 3

And so we journeyed on, enjoying the beauty of hobblebush even as it forced us to do what it was named for–hobble through the undergrowth.

a-hobble 2

But how could we resist such beauty. Or should I say, how could I resist such beauty–my guy trudged on. I think it’s the complexity of the blossom that intrigued me most–large, five-petaled, sterile flowers encircled petite and fertile, waxy-white flowers. Why big showy flowers surrounding such tiny ones complete with stamens and pistils? Perhaps the outer sentry attract insects for the sake of pollination.

a-round-leaved violet 2

Also thinking about pollination–those purple runway lines of the round-leaved violets.  I’m not a fashion girl, but it’s flowers like this that make me realize you can combine a variety of colors to make a statement.

a-rose twisted stalk

A much more subtle display of color–rose twisted-stalk. Not a great photo, but the  flowers dangled below the twisted stalk. Why rose?  The bell-shaped flowers that occur singly at the leaf axils are pale rose in hue. Why twisted? Because at each leaf junction the stem takes a distinct twist.

a-sarsaparilla

Adding to the subtle color of the season–sarsaparilla. I love the fact that this particular example shows the variety in the finely toothed compound leaves–in this case, two leaves sporting five leaflets, while another consists of three. It’s the three that sometimes gives this plant an undeserved bad rap–leaves of three, leave them be, refers to poison ivy. But this is not P.I. as we used to call it when I was a kid.

a-coltsfoot1

Another sorta look-alike, coltsfoot that resembles a dandelion. The difference–a coltsfoot seed ball retains its flower parts.

a-spring color

As the tender new leaves emerge, the landscape softens.

a-oak 1

From subtle colors

a-beech 3

to hairy fringes

a-sumac 1

and fuzzy coatings, the world embraces a softer point of view.

a-wet trail

Though we continued to make delightful discoveries, it was evident that we were on the wrong trail.

a-brook crossing.jpg

After a couple of hours, we turned back.

a-trail blaze.jpg

And at the point where we ignored our gut feelings and decided to turn right, we checked on the other trail–and found that it was blazed. Oh well.

We’ll save it for another day.

 

 

Barking Up A Bridge

On September 11, 2010, the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge was constructed in true barn-raising fashion. The bridge is a key feature of Pondicherry Park in downtown Bridgton.

bridge, summer

Bob Dunning, who died suddenly, was a builder, an artist, and among other things, a teacher–sharing his craft with students young and old.

bridge 1bridge 2

bridge 3bridge 4

bridge 7bridge 5

bridge 6

To honor Bob, who treasured traditional building techniques, his friends and fellow craftsmen designed and built a covered bridge leading into the park.

bridge beams

“As the poet said, ‘Only God can make a tree’–probably because it’s so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.” ~Woody Allen

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

Until I took the Maine Master Naturalist class, I recognized only a few species by their bark. But my eyes were opened to the fact that each species has its own presentation, which is true for everything in the natural world. I wanted to know all of them so I set out to teach myself, beginning with the species on the bridge. These became the focus of my capstone project for the class. I spent hours upon hours pouring over reference books such as BARK by Michael Wojtech, The Tree Identification Book by George Symonds, Manual of Trees of North America by Charles Sargent and Forest Trees of Maine by The Maine Forest Service.

I sat in front of trees and sketched them, trying to gain a better grasp of their nuances. I dragged foresters into the field and picked their brains. And I drove hiking companions crazy as I tried to point out clues.

The result was a brochure that you can pick up at the kiosk (let me know if you can’t find a copy) and a powerpoint presentation that breaks down the species by types of bark. Did you know that there are seven types of bark? I learned that from Wojtech’s book and it made it easier to note the differences.

image

Follow me now, as I take you across the bridge and give you a glimpse of each tree. We’ll begin on the east side (closest to Renys) and work our way west.

Beam 1, cherry, smooth bark breaks into scales that are curled outward on the edges. outer scales begin to flake off, revealing smaller, darker, irregularly shaped scales without prominent lenticels

beam 1 e, black cherry

Beam #1: Black Cherry (Prunus serotina): Scales; gray-brown to almost black; small, rough scales randomly placed; curled outward like burnt cornflakes or potato chips.

Beam 2, yellow birch

beam 2 e, yellow birch

Beam #2: Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis): Peeling/Curling; bronze to yellowish-gray; curls away horizontally into thin, papery strips; shaggy appearance.

Beam 3, red maple,smooth, light to dark gray, vertical cracks

red maple

Beam #3: Red Maple (Acer rubrum): Vertical Strips; light to dark gray; almost smooth or cracked vertical, plate-like strips; curls outward on either side; sometimes bull’s eye target caused by fungi.

BEam 4, American BAsswood, GRay to brown, Narrow furrows form long, flattened ridges with parallel edges, ridge surface broken horizontally by hairline cracks, often into squarish segments, ridges loosely intersect

Basswood bark

Beam #4: American Basswood (Tilia americana): Ridges; gray to brown; flattened, square-like ridges with parallel edges; may intersect like a woven basket every 6-12 inches.

Beam 5, red oak, rough, dark brown to blackish furrows, sepaprate smooth, light-colored, often lustrous ridges flush with circumference of trunk or slightly concave, ridges like ski tracks, loosely intersect

beam 5 e, red oak

Beam #5: Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra): Ridges and Furrows; light colored, with rusty red inner bark; wide, flat-topped ridges run vertically parallel like ski tracks; dark, shallow furrows separate ridges.

Beam 6

hemlock

Beam #6: Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis): Scales; cinnamon-red to gray; rounded or irregularly-shaped scales; inner bark has purplish tint.

BEam 7, beech, light gray to bluish gray, smooth and unbroken

beam 7 e, beech

Beam #7: American Beech (Fagus grandifolia): Smooth/Unbroken; silver-gray or grayish-green; sometimes blotched with lichen; carved initials remain visible forever; often pockmarks caused by fungi.

Beam 8, Ash, gray to brownish-gray diamond-shaped furrows, resembles woven basket.

ash

Beam #8: White Ash (Fraximus americana): Ridges and Furrows; ashy-gray to brown; intersecting ridges form obvious diamond-shaped furrows; look for letter “A” or pattern of cantaloupe rind.

BEam 9, white pine, dash-like lenticels, turns gray to reddish-brown, thick, irregular shaped scales, turn out, develops fine, horizontal lines/cracks consistently spaced like writing paper.

eastern white pine

Beam #9: Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobes): Scales; dark gray to reddish-brown; thick, irregularly-shaped scales; fine horizontal lines evenly spaced along scales like lines on a legal pad.

BEam 10, Red Pine (Norway), reddish brown to pinkish, irregular, thin, flaky scales like jigsaw puzzle, surface of blocks roughly aligns with circumference of tree

red pine

Beam #10: Red Pine (Pinus resinosa): Scales; mottled red and grayish-brown; flaky scales; jigsaw puzzle or sandstone appearance.

BEam 11, sugar maple

sugar maple

Beam #11: Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum): Vertical Strips; gray to brown; finely cracked; looks like old paint; curls away from trunk on one side; look for horizontal scars indicating work of maple sugar borer.

BEam 12, poplar, Big-toothed aspen, deep furrows, rough and more rounded?

beam 12 e, big tooth aspen

Beam #12: Big-Tooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata): Ridges and Furrows; greenish-brown to dark gray; V-shaped furrows intersect every 6-12 inches; flattened ridges appear sanded down; gnarly look; periodic horizontal lines; on older trees resembles Northern Red Oak at bottom and Birch toward top.

BEam 13, white oak, light gray, can appear whitish with a reddish cast, furrows form flattened ridges, broken into somewhat rectangular-shaped blocks, furrows steep and narrow, with sides of blocks often parallel, old bark+irregular in shape, might look like shingles

beam 13 e, white oak

Beam #13: White Oak (Quercus albra): Ridges; light gray with reddish cast; rectangular-shaped blocks with flaky surfaces; ends of blocks curl outward; feather-like in mature trees.

Beam 14, elm

beam 14 e, American Elm

Beam #14: American Elm (Ulmus americana): Ridges and Furrows; ashy-gray; diamond-shaped furrows; flat-topped ridges; alternating light and dark layers like vanilla and chocolate wafer cookies.

BEam 14, black birch

beam 15 e, black birch

Beam #15: Black Birch (Betula lenta): Lenticels Visible (note: all trees have lenticels, but they are more obvious on some than others. Lenticels are tiny slits in the bark that allow for gas exchange, just like our pores); gray to brown-gray to black; may crack and form scales that curl away from trunk; long, thin horizontal lenticels.

Beam 15, paper birch, white birch

beam 16 e, paper birch

Beam #16: Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera): Peeling/Curling; white to creamy white; peeled bark reveals pink or orange tints; small, horizontal lenticels visible.

That’s it in a nutshell. Ah, but here’s the thing. Except for the American Beech, tree bark changes as a tree ages. And beech trees can be equally confusing because some are severely affected by beech scale disease. So, just when you think you know a species, you may come upon a younger or older version and get totally thrown off. The key is to take your time, walk all the way around the tree, and look at other clues like the twig and bud formation. Touch the bark. Smell it.

And take a walk across the bridge and into the park during any season. Chances are, I’ll be there doing the same.

bridge to park

Thanks for joining me for this lengthy wander. I hope you’ll find time to wonder about bark.

Renewing the spirit

My guy and I drove to the central Maine town of Madison this morning to join Master Naturalist Kate Drummond on a walk that combined the natural and historical context of a trail beside the Kennebec River.

The Pines

The Pines, as this area is aptly named, once served as an Abenaki settlement.

Kate D

Kate began by sharing the history of Father Sebastien Rasle, who lived among the Abenakis, learned their language and converted them to Catholicism. For more than thirty years in the late 17th/early 18th century, he served as a Jesuit missionary and built at church here. Father Rasle educated the children and developed a dictionary of the native language. He also helped keep the English at bay when they tried to encroach upon Indian lands–until that fatal day–August 23, 1724.

While Father Rasle had earned the respect of the Abenakis, the English militia was wary of him. They combined forces with the Mohawk Indians to destroy the village and killed at least 80 Abenakis and Father Rasle 300 years ago today.

And so it was that Kate chose to honor Father Rasle and the Indians he lived amongst by sharing the trail with local townspeople (and us–from two hours away) to tell his story and recognize the natural elements that were a part of their daily life.

Kate is a high school chemistry teacher, so captivating her audience is a part of her makeup. To begin, she asked us to stand still for a minute and listen, look, be in the moment. After we shared our observations, she took us back in time, to imagine what the area looked like three hundred years ago.

matching cards to cool facts

matching cards

And then our real work began. We were given a set of cards and had to match the photos to the card listing cool facts about a particular species. Thankfully, there was no quiz at the end, but I suspect this group would have passed with flying colors–everyone was equally engaged.

We found some cool finds along the way:

acorn plum gall

Our first was a mystery. This speckled red ball, about the size of a jawbreaker, had us puzzled. We found several on the ground beneath Northern red oaks and Eastern white pines. Cutting one open, it looked rather fleshy and we could see what appeared to be an insect, but we still weren’t sure. And when we later found an empty acorn apple gall, we realized it was the same size. Well, a quick Google search for “large speckled red ball beneath oak” revealed acorn plum gall. It’s the home of a wasp species that uses this as a nursery. The grub slowly eats the gall’s tissue and metamorphs into a pupa before changing into a small wasp that eats its way out through a hole. This particular gall grows at the base of the acorn cup.

red and sugar maple leaves

A red maple and a sugar maple stood side by side, making for a lesson on leaf id. Red on the left, sugar on the right. Red–more teeth, or as Kate said, R=rough. Sugar–a U between the lobes, and as Kate said, Sugar has a U in it. It’s their sap that the Abenakis knew.

beaver works

Though we didn’t see any fresh sign of beaver activity, we knew by this statue that they’ve been here in the past. I love that those who actually cut the rest of the tree down to prevent it from falling across the path, had the foresight to leave the beaver works for all to see. The beavers were important to the Abenakis for a variety of reasons, including as food, tools and warmth.

basswood leaf

The asymmetrical base of the basswood tree makes it easy to identify. It was the bark, though, that was of prime importance all those centuries ago–the stringy fibers were used to make line or rope.

jer art 1

In bloom were the Jerusalem artichokes. In Notes on a Lost Flute: A Field Guide to the Wabanaki, author Kerry Hardy writes, “Peeking out of the woods at Old Norridgewock are Jerusalem artichokes, the penak [ground nut]of the Abenakis who lived here.  I believe these plants must be descendants of those grown here centuries ago.” How cool is that? The plants tubers are edible.

jersaleum artichoke

On this day of reflection, remembrance and revelation, they shown brilliantly, perhaps a sign that reconciliation is possible.

Kennebec River 2

We spent some time beside the Kennebec where eels and alewives were important food sources.

immature bald eagle and nest

And an immature bald eagle let us know of his presence. He’s in the oak on the right, while his nest is toward the top of the pine on the left.

FR monument 1

FR mon 2

FR school

It is Kate’s hope that more people will want to learn about the history of this place. Kudos to her for embarking on renewing its spirit.

Observing the Cycle of Life

The Maine Master Naturalist class of 2015 graduated last night and for the second year in a row I had the privilege of helping students focus their eyes and develop a strong foundation about the natural communities of Maine. And now, they are ready to go forth and educate others.

In some ways, the year reminds me of life in a vernal pool.

And at the vernal pool I’ve been visiting on a regular basis since March, the transformation continues. I know I’ve included it in several (probably more than several) posts, but today seems like a good day to reflect upon its life cycle.

VP March 25

March 25: A snow-covered depression with some indecipherable tracks crisscrossing the surface.

VP April 4

April 4: Snow, water and slush. Something caused a disturbance.

VP April 12VP April 12 A

April 12: Freeze and thaw and freeze again, trapping newly fallen beech leaves.

VP April 21

April 21: Three days ago, this was still covered in slush. Suddenly, open water.

VP woodfrog eggs, April 21

April 21: The wood frogs didn’t waste any time.

VP April 24

April 24: More and more egg masses appear–attached to the branches or each other, as is their habit.

VP April 28

April 28: Though most are wood frog, there are some spotted salamander egg masses in the mix. All are taking on the green tinge from the algae with which they have a symbiotic relationship.

VP Predacious, April 28

April 28: Meanwhile, not even bothering to lurk in the shadows, a predaceous diving beetle swims about.

VP frog May 2

May 2: A well camouflaged wood frog still hopes for some action.

 VP wood frog, sally, May 4

May 4: Wood frog egg mass at top; spotted salamanders mass at bottom.

VP Babies May 4

May 4: Tadpoles at last.

Swarm

May 4: With communal living comes warmth.

VP, larvae, May 4

May 4: Mosquito and other larvae flip-flopping around.

VP, drying up, May 5

May 5: A sign that the pool is beginning to dry up–egg masses suspended in midair.

VP, life, May 5

May 5: Meanwhile, in the water, life continues. Tadpoles and others feed on the algae.

VP, May 12

May 12: Due to a lack of rain, the pool size decreases.

VP, lower, May 12

May 12: I can only hope that these blobs are just the remains and that most of the tadpoles have hatched.

VP, May 12, more life

May 12: A peek into the variety of life below the water.

May 14

May 14: Shrinking more and more.

VP, May 14, drying up

May 14: Some masses are left high and dry.

VP, May 14, tadpole:sally

May 14: A tadpole visits the salamander embryos.

VP, May 14, peanuts

May 14: Peanut shells. What? There hasn’t been much evidence of any person or critter visiting the pool . . .  until this.

vp 1

May 28: Almost completely dried up.

wet spot

May 28: The only wet spot left.

tadpoles

May 28: Tadpoles make the most of the wee bit of water.

tadpoles galore

May 28: The wet depression boils with action.

peanuts

May 28: And peanut shells are everywhere in the pool, but only one on the snowmobile trail. Another mystery.

With the end of class, eighteen new master naturalists are heading off into the woods to teach others. I hope the tadpoles have a chance to continue their development so that they, too, can hop away from the pool.

As for the vernal pool–vernal means spring and though spring isn’t over, unless we receive a substantial rainstorm, it has almost completed its cycle of life.

Thanks for wandering and wondering with me today.

Never Call It Just A Dandelion

I lent out my copy of a book by a similar title: Never Say It’s Just A Dandelion by Hilary Hopkins so I don’t have it in front of me to check her notes.

IMG_1966

field

This field of dandelions that I saw at Viles Arboretum in Augusta during a Maine Master Naturalist field trip yesterday inspired me to take a closer look at the species that brightens our backyard.

1

While some green bracts turn downward to keep insects at bay, others protect the developing flower.

2

One ray at a time

3

it begins to open.

4

Notice how every ray is notched.

teeth

I brought one in to take a closer look at the notches. Each has five “teeth” representing a petal and forms a single floret.

5

Fully open, the bloom is a composite of numerous florets.

6

Each stigma splits in two and curls.

6a6b

Bees and other insects seek the nectar.

seed

A seed grows at the base and fine hairs form a parachute.

7

In time, the bloom closes up and then turns into a fluffy ball of seeds waiting for you or the wind to disperse them.

8

Though you may not be able to see it here, each seed is covered with tiny spikes that probably help it stick to the soil when it lands.

9

The yellow carpet will continue to change in our backyard

10

one seed at a time.

Who knew a Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinal) could be something to wonder about? Emily Dickinson did:

The Dandelion’s pallid tube

Astonishes the Grass,
And Winter instantly becomes
An infinite Alas-

The tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower,-
The Proclamation of the Suns
That sepulture is o’er.

Emily Dickinson

Walking With Nature On Earth Day

I only got fake lost on my way to Old Point beside the Kennebec River in Madison this morning. The plan was that I would meet K.D., a Maine Master Naturalist student, near the monument honoring Father Rasle. All was going smoothly and I was almost to my destination by 10am–right on time. Maybe it was because I was feeling so smug about getting there without any hassles. Or maybe it was because I’m just not tech savvy.

Somehow, I either plugged the wrong address into Map Quest last night, or Map Quest decided that I should go to the wrong address. Anyway, I turned onto Blackwell Hill Road and drove along looking for the trail head and K.D.’s car. And then I reached the end of the road and had to make a choice. It was a T–turn this way or that (oh my, I’m tired and “turn” and “that” also begin with T). Instead, I made a U turn and headed back to town. Mind you, I had our cell phone with me, and K.D. had given me her number, but I never bothered to jot it down. Lesson learned? Probably not.

I kept hoping she’d stop being polite and just call me. Back in Madison, I pulled over and examined the Delorme map again. Blackwell Hill didn’t seem like the right place because I knew the trail was near the Kennebec River, but it looked like there might be trails off another road in that area, so I turned around.

Again, I hoped she’d call. After a third U-turn, she did. And she was on the other side of town. Yeegads. But as I said earlier, I was only fake lost. I could find my way home (sort of).

Kennebec River

Like all rivers in Maine, the mighty Kennebec was roaring today. Snow melt and rain.

I was meeting K.D. because she’s working on her capstone project for the MMNP course. The focus, a trail that honors Father Rasle, a Jesuit missionary who lived among the Abenaki people and died there during an English raid. K.D.’s plan is to tie the historical aspect of the trail in with the natural world. I’m excited for her and can’t wait to see the final product. I just may have to return for her walk during Madison-Anson Days, but don’t tell her that.

Father R

This is the monument erected in 1833 on what is believed to be the site of the 1724 massacre.

Father R 2

Father Sebastian Rasle (there are several spellings of his name) lived here for 34 years. K.D. said that the western side of the river was the English side and the eastern side was the French side. I think I got that right.

Father R 3

During his tenure, Father Rasle taught the Abenakis and created a dictionary of their language.

start of Sandy River

Though we didn’t try to go down the steep embankment, in this photo is an island and here the Sandy River discharges into the Kennebec. It’s her understanding that the Abenaki people originally settled on the island, but moved to the eastern side, which in the end led to the demise of the reverend and some members of the tribe. Perhaps the vantage point wasn’t as good.

jelly ears

As we walked along, thinking about what had happened here, we also identified species. For K.D.’s project, she’ll stick to the Native American theme–how was it useful to them? I’m not sure about these Jelly Ear’s (Auricularia auricle), but they are a good find anyway–and we found plenty.

Rush

And then there was a large patch of Equisetum, the only descendant of ancient horsetail plants that grew during prehistoric times.

beaver work

Occasionally, we saw evidence of beaver works. I’m glad that the person who cut this red oak left the chewed section as a monument to these industrious critters.

cellar home

A cellar hole is filled with snow and evergreen wood fern. As it turns out, K.D. believes this was the home of one of her husband’s ancestors. His family dates back three generations in the area.

Hermit thrush

While my bird expertise ends at my backyard feeders that must come down soon, K.D. is an avid birder. With her, I saw my first ever Kinglets today. They are little round balls of action. Golden Eyes played on the river, Tree Swallows soared above and a Bald Eagle sat in a nest watching over all. In this photo–a Hermit Thrush. We watched it for a while and heard another singing nearby.

BL 1

And then we got stumped. Yup, more bark. We think we figured this one out, but if you know better, holler. Black Locust. The bark, light gray, deeply furrowed and intersecting.

 bl bark 3

The ridges are finely cracked. Now that the snow has melted, we looked for leaves on the ground because the branches were high above us. Below each tree, we found what we believed to be dried leaflets that were about two inches long and had entire margins. Again, if you know otherwise, holler.

bl

Curiously, we found these Black Locust saplings at a different site along the trail. Apparently, the thorns are found on the branches of young trees–a warning sign to animals. Ingenious.

After three hours (it seems like it always takes three hours), it was time for me to head southwest.

wood frog eggs

Once home, I couldn’t resist the urge to walk up to the vernal pool. The ice melted while we were away this weekend, and already there are wood frog egg sacs. I waited for some action, but between some rain drops and a breeze, they weren’t making themselves known.

red maple flowers

And the other moment I’ve been waiting for–Red Maples beginning to flower. Time to sketch asap.

John Muir quote

This sign was along the trail beside the Kennebec. I’m thankful for the opportunity to walk and wonder with nature today, to share it with K.D. Happy Earth Day!

Naturally Wavy

The roads were coated in black ice when I drove toward Jefferson, Maine, early this morning to meet up with the Maine Master Naturalist class. The morning sun, brilliant blue sky with scattered cumulous clouds, and mist rising from open waterways, made me want to pause along the highway and take some photos, but I wasn’t sure how I’d explain to a state policeman that indeed it was an emergency. Instead, I continued on to Gardiner, got off the highway and followed backroads over rolling hills and through farm country to my destination–Hidden Valley Nature Center. 

Aptly named, the 1,000-acre natural education center consists of contiguous forest dotted with vernal pools, a kettle bog, ponds and 30 miles of trails.

Bambi

Bambi Jones, a Master Naturalist and co-founder of HVNC, spent the morning with us, showing us the vernal pools and sharing her knowledge. Things aren’t exactly hopping at the pools yet, but . . . the weather is supposed to warm up this week and once the snow melts–look out!

vp1

When I first looked at this vernal pool photo, I thought it was upside down–such is the reflection.

vpsign

A wee bit of info and a reason why we should pay attention.

fen2

This is a kettle hole bog apparently, caused by glacial action. I was looking up the difference between a bog and a fen and found this on The International Carnivorous Plant Society’s Web site: “People commonly describe wetlands with words like pond, bog, marsh, fen, and swamp, thinking these are mostly interchangeable. Actually, there are careful definitions for each of these names. The only problem is that a hydrologist may use one set of definitions, while a botanist may use another, and an ecologist may use yet another.”

While we stood looking across, someone in the group spotted what they thought was a bobcat across the way and coming down a hill. I never saw it, but I did note lots of ledges in the area and on the way out saw some potential bobcat tracks.

fen1

Another view. Lots of black spruce, sheep laurel and pitcher plant seed pods visible.

pitcher plant flower

The seed pod of a  pitcher plant, one of our carnivorous plants.

beaver lodge:fen

And a beaver lodge along the edge.

2nd beaver lodge

There were so many things to see, including a second beaver lodge that may have more action. Do you see it in the center of the photo?

beaver dam

This dam is nearby and had seen lots of activity. Due to yesterday’s rain, it’s a bit hard to decipher the tracks.

Cheryl , spring tails

Remember when I mentioned snow fleas or spring tails in my post entitled, The Small Stuff? Well, this is one of our students enjoying a circus performance.

cat

You never know what you might see when you take the time to look.

looking for life

So they did–look that is. And almost fell in.

what's in your dannon?

More observations–whatcha got in your Dannon container?

white oak1

One of my joys was meeting two new trees. I was excited to make the acquaintance of White Oak (Quercus alba) today. Rather than the ski trails and redness of Northern Red Oak, this species features bark that looks like irregular blocks.

white oak 2

And sometimes it looks shaggier, with long, vertical plates. Like its red brethren, the leaves are marcescent, meaning they stay on the tree through the winter months.

white oak leaf

What I love about the White Oak leaf is its rounded lobes.

red oak

Here’s a middle-aged (just like me!) Northern Red Oak for comparison. The flat-ridged ski trails are forming and the red is clearly visible between them.

red oak leaf

Then there’s the bristle-tipped leaf.

amer hornbeam

My second new encounter was with the American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroloiniana). Again, a thrilling experience. OK, it doesn’t take much. Now I understand why it’s called musclewood. It could easily be mistaken for a beech tree because the bark of a young  tree is smooth, but there is a sinewy beauty to it. My bark eyes are now cued into this one.

Hop Hornbeam

The fun part was that not far away stood this old friend. Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginians) has thin, flaky vertical strips. Both species, members of the birch family, are known as ironwood.

stream

As the day went on, though our focus was on vernal pools and communities, we often got distracted by other things–which I’ve dubbed Nature Distraction Disorder.

What I began to notice was a natural waviness. I saw it in the snow along the edge of this stream.

folds

In the folds of the rocks.

more folds

And more folds.

beech 2

In the scar on this beech tree.

red oak growth

And the growth on this red oak.

 sculpture

But probably my favorite, this naturally wavy sculpture on display by the barn where we convened a few times. It invites reflection.

Thanks for joining me for today’s wonder-filled wander.

Speed Date

dunning bridge

Some Mondays we only have time for a quick trek. Such was the case today, so we walked down the  street and headed off on the trails in Pondicherry Park. We actually exited a couple of hours later via this bridge, but it’s the entrance most people use and a work of art. The Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge was built by master craftsmen and women, family and friends to honor Bob, himself a master craftsman who was taken from this world much too early. One of my favorite  features is that each of the sixteen crossbeams was created from a different tree species and the bark was left on all. For my Maine Master Naturalist capstone project, I created a brochure and slide show to help others identify the trees. The slide show is available on the LEA Web site and the brochure is available at the kiosk by the bridge (when I remember to fill it. My guy pointed out that it’s empty again–tomorrow, tomorrow.)

bittersweet

I know it’s an invasive species and this photo proves it, but I didn’t realize that for years. I used to cut it in November and use it for decorations. This is a bittersweet vine. It does make for an interesting scene. And provides the birds with lots of berries . . . which, um, provides the park and town with more bittersweet.

bittersweet up close

A closer look.

bittersweet on ash

It’s got a grip hold, that’s for sure.

MLSC1

Because it’s too early for leaves, the new Maine Lake Science Center stands out among the trees. This is a pet project of LEA (Lakes Environmental Association), where yours truly serves on the Board of Directors.

MLSC2

Last year, LEA purchased a sixteen-acre lot with an existing building adjacent to Pondicherry Park. The building is being renovated to serve as researcher housing, a meeting room, lab, education center and a park welcome center.

This is destined to become a hub for world-class lake research by providing support to researchers in Maine and beyond who come to study our lakes. While Executive Director Peter Lowell will continue to head LEA, Dr. Bridie McGreavy will serve as the director of the center. I’m tickled about that because she has always been one of my mentors. In fact, she taught me the joy of sniffing red fox pee. Yup, it doesn’t get any better than that.

MLSC3

We are the Lakes Region of Maine, and the lake science center will serve as the voice of change. We are on the brink of something really big here.

MLSC Bridie's view

Though she won’t officially work here full-time until 2016, this is part of Bridie’s new digs.

MLSC main conf room

And what once was a living room, dining room and kitchen is being transformed into a conference room. When my guy and I stepped over the stonewall and onto the property this morning, Peter happened to be pulling in so we had another tour. The building is on schedule to open this summer.

beaver 1

We looped back into the park because I wanted to check on the beaver works.

beaver 2beaver 3

Yup, they’ve been busy. Some of this work was done in December. But the tree on the left has been worked on since then.

beaver teeth

My, what big teeth you have. Their teeth, which never stop growing, are like chisels.

Beaver tracks Dec 5

I have to be honest. I took this photo of beaver tracks in December.

Willet brook

We paused quickly at Willet Brook.

new uniform

But we had to keep moving. As you can see, my guy’s uniform is changing. It’s a wee bit warmer in these parts.

Stevens Brook

And then we were back on Main Street and heading homeward bound. Our speed date had come to an end. I didn’t even bother to make PB&J.

Thanks for stopping by and taking a quick wander with us today.

My Native Land

stonewall

As winter draws to a close, I head out to capture its fleeting moments. The snow is here today, and will be tomorrow, but it’s changing in texture and amount. And all that has been covered and protected is slowly emerging.

vernal pool

It won’t be long before the vernal pool teems with life. Already, deer and skunks have stopped by.

bobcat

I ventured deeper into the woods behind us, into my smiling place, without snowshoes. That meant I had to follow my old tracks, which deer and a coyote had also used. And then I saw signs of commotion on the snow and some tracks that crossed my trail. Drats–without snowshoes, I couldn’t follow it. Will I ever learn? I certainly wouldn’t make a good Boy Scout! “Be, be, be prepared, the motto of the Boy Scouts.”

Anyway, bobcat tracks always make my heart jump with joy. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s their wildness. Or beauty. The fact that they are solitary, elusive and oh, so clever. Coyotes are cool too, in their own way, but they are loud and gregarious.

old beech

As I walked back, I paused by this old beech. Mr. Cretella, my high school Spanish and Latin teacher, popped into my head. No, not because he’s old now, if he’s still living. It actually had nothing to do with the tree and everything to do with the tree. In my yearbook, Mr. C. wrote, “Never lose your desire to learn.” Those words have reverberated with me over the years. I don’t remember what anyone else wrote, but his sentiment struck a cord. Pretty amazing, given that when I took Latin I my senior year, I was forever substituting Spanish words if I didn’t know the answer on a quiz or test.

Back to the old beech tree. I guess it was the realization that this tree is in the process of breaking down and giving back and I never would have understood this before I took the Maine Master Naturalist class. Tomorrow I’m going to attend an MMNP advanced seminar and learn about bone biology. Huh? Me? Don’t worry–I won’t be able to astound you with my knowledge after a three hour class. But it’s that desire to learn that Mr. Cretella encouraged all those years ago. Thank you, Mr. C., wherever you are.

beech life

One more thing about the old beech. It still has signs of life as evidenced by the twigs with buds.

red maple

Finally, I settled down at the edge by the cow path and did some sketching because I don’t want to miss the grand moments in the lives of these trees.

red maple 1

Red Maple, Acer rubrum

red oak

red oak1

Northern Red Oak, Quercus rubra (oops, I forgot the “s” in the sketch)

beech

beech 1

American beech, Fagus grandifolia

Winter will draw to an end in an hour and 30 minutes (6:45pm). To celebrate spring, I’ve started reading a new/old/used book: Springtime in Britain by Edwin Way Teale. On page 2 (so I haven’t read much yet, but it isn’t spring yet), he writes, “Three centuries ago, an old English writer admonished the prospective traveler: ‘Know most of the rooms of thy native land before thou goest over the threshold thereof.'”

I’m still learning those rooms of my native land. I’m thankful for the opportunity and glad that you joined me on today’s wonder-filled wander.

P.S. Lake Living magazine is now being distributed throughout the Lakes Region of Maine. I’ll let you know when the Web site has been updated.

Bark Eyes

powerline

Looks Like We Could Walk to Mount Washington

Though it was a blustery day, the wind wasn’t much of a bother in the woods beyond the power line. I crossed the snowmobile trail and slipped into my peace-filled mode.

pine

Until a couple years ago when I was working on my capstone project for the Maine Master Naturalist Program, I didn’t know a lot about tree bark. Since then, I’ve been developing my bark eyes. Seriously, I have a difficult time driving down the road–my distraction isn’t a cell phone. It’s tree bark.

pine sketch

I like the pattern visible on the plates of Eastern White Pine–its numerous horizontal lines remind me of writing paper. Hmmmm . . .

What better way to get to know it than to sketch it. One thing I’ve learned over the years about sketching is that it doesn’t have to be exact. Only God is perfect–thank goodness I don’t have to aspire to that goal. So my sketches represent what I see.

red oak

red oak sketch

The red inner bark of Northern Red Oak is visible through the furrows. In older trees, the flattish furrows look like ski tracks coming down the tree.

ash

Do you know this one? Can you see the diamond shape? Some people see a letter A. Others see the rind of a cantaloupe. I guess, whatever works for you is the best way to describe it.

white ash sketch

White Ash it is. I feel like we’re not only on a texture tour of trees, but also a color tour 🙂

Last one for today before I share a few other cool things that I discovered.

red maple

This one always catches my eye. No only is it known for the color of its twigs, flowers and fall foliage, but look at the bark. Do you see the bull’s eye pattern in the cracks? Bull’s Eye Target on Red Maples is caused by a fungi that only affects this species. Most Red Maples in our area display the target. It doesn’t appear to kill the tree–immediately.

red maple sketch

Though the snow is still deep, it’s getting more and more difficult to move–crusty on top and then, whoosh, suddenly I sink in–snowshoes and all.

porc tree

As I tromped along, my eyes were drawn to the area under a large hemlock that I’ve visited many times this winter. At first there was activity there, and then nothing, until today that is.

porc cut

The porcupine had nipped the branches and you can see the incisor marks on this one. The fallen branches become prime deer food.  Deer had been under the tree. I took a photo of their tracks and scat but, alas, the wrong camera setting and it was overexposed.

Also seen under this tree, a spot where a red a squirrel paused on a branch to strip a white pine cone–and let the scales and leftover cob fall to the ground. Another cafe in the woods.

  porc scat and cone

Porcupines scat as they eat. Under this tree, I found some of the largest porcupine scats I’ve ever seen. The one photographed here is normal size, but I wanted to show it beside a hemlock cone. They do look similar until you get up close and personal. While the scat is woody, the cone has scales.

large porc scat

I couldn’t resist sharing this one. One rather large porcupine scat.

hare gnawing

I hope you are still with me. A mystery that I think I’ve solved. Unfortunately, the tracks were diluted by the recent warm temps we’d had but I had a general idea of the movement this critter made.And there was no scat–I looked around as you can imagine.

hare 3

A closer look. Did you notice that the work is all toward the base of the saplings?

hare 4

Final clue–an angled cut. Rather clean cut, unlike those made by ungulates (deer and moose). This critter has sharp teeth. And we can thank it for our ability to move on the snow. What is it? Any guesses?

As you wander, take some time to wonder about the bark in front of you. I’ll keep sharing more as my bark eyes continue to develop.

You’d Better Look Out: Santa’s Reindeer May Be Watching

santa

Apparently, Santa’s reindeer frequent the area. Of course they do. Isn’t he always making a list and checking it twice because he needs to know if I’ve been naughty or nice?

Cape

This morning, I revisited Robinson Woods, owned by the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, with two other Maine Master Naturalists. A funny thing happened on the way to the forum . . . as we stood in the parking lot looking at materials in my tree notebook, two other women who had just completed a nature walk with elementary school students, came over and asked what we were doing. Feeling rather smug, I replied, “We’re Maine Master Naturalists.” I was about to go on when one woman immediately said, “So am I.” Gadunk. Turns out she was in the first class of the program, which graduated in 2012. We’d found another member of the tribe.

shagbark hickory

Last week, my friend and I found this young tree with buds. We keyed it out and were pretty sure it was Shagbark Hickory, but we couldn’t see any parent trees. Well, today we found them not too far away.

shagbark

Shagbark hickory is found most frequently in southern Maine. Those who named this one got it right–certainly shaggy with those long, loose plates.

shagbark 1

Because it is strong, tough and flexible, historically it was used to manufacture tool handles, carriages and wagon wheels. My hardware store owner husband tells me those are made of resin today. Shagbark Hickory is  now used for wood pallets, pulp and firewood.

lighthouse

After leaving the preserve, I drove down the road to Fort Williams Park, home of Portland Headlight, to eat my PB&J. I do eat other food occasionally–honest. Popcorn. With grated cheddar cheese.

According to the Cape Elizabeth town Web site, “On April 13, 1899, President McKinley named the one-time subpost of Fort Preble, Cape Elizabeth’s first military fortification, Fort Williams. Named after Brevet Major General Seth Williams, Fort Williams grew to be a tremendous military asset during World War II. Besides protecting the shoreline of Cape Elizabeth, the infantry and artillery units provided the Harbor Defense for Portland. After the war, many of the forts in Casco Bay were closed, including Fort Williams, which traded in its defense of the coast for caretaker status and Army Reserve accommodations. Fort Williams was officially closed and deactivated on June 30, 1963.” I was four and a half years old.

castle

The Goddard Mansion still stands on the property. It’s not in great shape certainly, but was the home of Colonel John Goddard and his family during the 1800s. As youngsters, our boys loved to explore the nooks and crannies of this property that overlooks the fort.

hideaways

More remnants of the fort. You’d better watch out, because Santa might be hiding in there.

water

One last look at the water before heading west.

Thanks for wondering along with me today . . . and Santa.

Wondering Among Giants

Robinson Woods

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

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

feeding cone

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

porcy trail

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

bear claws

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

bear claws2

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

gnarly tree

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

gnarly face

more gnarliness

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

burls on a maple

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

walnut?

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

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