Solving the Puzzle Mondate

What season is it exactly? That was today’s puzzlement as we headed up a trail in Newry, Maine.

The temperature was in the 20˚s at best and wind gusted to at least 25 miles per hour as we hiked along the forest trail, but my heart sang with the sight of a field of Trout Lilies, a plant that I sadly seldom encounter. We’ve hiked this trail a bunch of times and never could I recall seeing these delightful spring ephemerals so named because the maroon markings on the leaves resemble a brown or brook trout. And then it occurred to me: being ephemerals, they bloom early when the canopy isn’t yet closed in with leaves and then disappear into the landscape as so many other flowers and ferns fill the space. Though the yellow nodding flowers hadn’t yet opened completely, it was enough to see into the future.

Similar in color were the Forest Yellow Violets, their tiny flowers offering teeny rays of sunshine beside the trail like runway lights at an airport. Their purple veins served as runways all their own and despite today’s brisk weather, the translucent coloring of the flower’s tips indicated that insects had done their duty and pollenated the plants.

And then, my heart be still, a Red Trillium waiting to blossom. That, of course, brought out a comment from my guy about a trillion trilliums because he knows well that I find it difficult not to honor each one.

Through a deciduous wood we climbed for two miles and then decided to find lunch rock. It happened to be beside a stream and so we sat, ate our PB&J sandwiches, topped off with cookies from Fly Away Farm, all the while enjoying the water’s babble and view beyond with Sunday River Ski Area in the offing.

If I had to say exactly where lunch rock was located it would be this: where X marks the spot.

Ah, but notice the icicles. Can you feel the chill of the day?

And then it was onward and upward, with a brief stop at the infamous trail sign where many have carved their names in a proclamation of love or at least acknowledged ascent of the trail.

Eventually we emerged onto the start of the ledges where we met the wind head on and it grabbed our bodies in an attempt to whip us off the mountain. Did I mention that for the first mile we wondered about our choice of trail given the day’s conditions and considered other possibilities for today’s hike, but neither wanted to give in and so the wind was ours and likewise we belonged to it.

That said, rosy-cheeked as we were, we posed for a selfie and wondered it might be the highest height we’d reach. And then upward we continued to hike, uncertain about the future.

Over and over again, Sunday River Ski Area became our focal point as we viewed it from a variety of vantage points.

With a half mile to go before reaching the 3000+ foot summit, we peered into boulder caves and wondered if anyone was home.

Our best finds: more icicles.

And so onward and upward we continued, our hoods helping to keep the wind at bay.

Suddenly, only a few boulders stood between us and the summit. Tackle them and we’d arrive.

Which we did, the cairn at the top the first recipient of our honor.

One of three survey markers our second focus.

And a quick pause to mark the fact that we were actually there, and then we found the trail down the backside that led toward a spur that circles below the summit.

It was there that we climbed down into winter.

Or perhaps it was late, late fall that met us along the trail.

As we followed the spur, snowflakes flew sideways in front of us and started to blur Sunday River’s face.

My guy, the naturalist 🙂 in his own right, did what he often does and pointed out things of interest to me, like the #4 tree. So, what created the 4? I had ideas; he’d already moved on.

We eventually found our way back to the main trail and continued the descent. It was rather quick as is my guys’ custom, but I know a few tricks to slow him down and one is to mention the potential for bear paw trees.

Bingo! He found one we’ve missed on previous journeys.

Eventually we left late fall/winter behind and upon the descent met spring again, this time in the form of Canada Mayflower making preparations to bloom.

And then . . . a first bloom of one of the trillion Trillium.

With that the puzzle was solved. Even if it feels like a cooler season on Puzzle Mountain in Newry, Maine, blossoms like that of a Stinking Benjamin (Red Trillium) tell the truth. It is spring after all.

One Act Play: The Bog and Just Beyond

Act One, Scene One.

Setting: The forest road, a two-mile walk beyond closed gates.

Sound effects: Woodpeckers drilling; Chickadees singing cheeseburger songs; Spring Peepers peeping; Wood Frogs croaking.

Props: dirt road, birch, aspen, and maple trees.

Cast: Tiny skipper butterflies flitting from one spot to another as they seek minerals from the road.

Star of the act: Mourning Cloak Butterfly: Clothed as it is like one who is in mourning.

Scene Two.

Setting: A bog.

Sound effects: A certain Grackle with a regular rusty-gate note; turtles slipping into water; ducks in the distance.

Cast: A shy Painted Turtle basking in the sun.

A second Painted Turtle stretching its neck in reflection.

Two looking south in reverence of the day’s warm temperature.

Three turtles in a . . . bog.

And one smug female.

Scene Three.

Setting: An underwater rock.

Sound effects: A certain Grackle with a regular rusty-gate note; turtles slipping into water; an American Bittern in the distance

Cast: An Eastern Newt (adult form of a Red Eft salamander).

A bullfrog tadpole entering its second year of growth.

And lots of leeches that change shape constantly as they swim by the rock.

Scene Four.

Setting: varies between bird blind with Eastern Phoebe nest, tree branches, ground.

Sound effects: Fee-bee; a guttural readle-eak or rusty gate; low-pitched peek; plumbing sound.

And singing the fee-bee song.

A Common Grackle appearing aloof while consistently rasping that rusty gate sound . . .

and appearing to look upward, while really looking down.

And a Hairy Woodpecker representing many.

Some aren’t quite ready to sing yet having just arrived, like the White-throated Sparrow.

Scene Five.

Setting: On the water.

Sounds: Canada Geese honking; Spring Peepers peeping; American Bittern plumbing; Barred Owls in a duet.

Cast: Male Hooded Merganser–an actor who loves to transform his shape for the occasion.

The action requires focus on the male’s head as he becomes the star of the show.

All eyes focus on the white patch on his head.

She goes into shock as he starts to raise his hooded crest.

She takes his show into consideration.

Scene Six: Grand Finale.

Setting: The road home.

Sounds: Silence.

Action: A bear cub crosses the road and pauses in bramble.

This is the first of one act plays featuring the bog and beyond. Stay tuned as life plays out in the water, on the ground and among the tree limbs.

Bound and Determined

For his birthday in the fall, as you may recall, I gave my guy a baker’s dozen list of geocaches to locate in the wilds of Maine and New Hampshire. Prior to this past weekend, he’d located twelve with one left–burning a bit of a hole in his pocket because we thought we’d get there on Thanksgiving, but rain changed that plan. And then winter happened and we knew the journey would require more time because gates on the Forest Road would be closed and we’d have to trek a longer distance. With the dawn of spring, however, he thought we should take our chances. Oh, we’d still have a ways to hike, but thankfully it’s light later and so we had that on our side.

That was Saturday. But . . . that journey wasn’t enough, and so despite high winds on Monday, I created a mini-list for him and off we went in search of five more geocaches.

Our Saturday adventure found us practicing our balance beam skills, for if we fell off, which we did from time to time, we’d sink into snow that was at least knee deep.

That said, not only were we gymnasts, but we also had to pull some ballet leaps out of the daypack; sometimes the stream crossings like this one, were obvious, but other times we had to guess where the softest spot might be and try to jump to the other side without crashing through the snow bridge. Success wasn’t always on our side.

On a different trail, we outbested the conditions by walking in the stream that was actually a woods road, having chosen different footwear.

And yet again, there was a narrow balance beam to climb across. Thank goodness we had such great training in junior high and knew how to stay on top, otherwise we would have gotten soaked. Haha! I don’t know about him, but I’m pretty sure I failed the gymnastics unit all those years ago.

At one point in our journey, we spotted a gate ahead and thought for sure it would be our turn-around spot, but upon reaching it we found this kind note, which inspired us to pick up downed branches along the private drive since the owners were kind enough to let us venture forth.

And beyond said destination (read: geocache), we continued on to a summit we’d never reached before.

We also spent a few moments on the property of the Parsonsfield Seminary, founded by the Free Will Baptists as a seminary, aka high school in 1832. The eight-acre campus includes four buildings and once served as part of the Underground Railroad. Though the buildings are no longer used for education per se, special events are hosted by the Friends of Par-Sem, and it’s available for private functions.

Over the course of the two days, we crossed the state line between Maine and New Hampshire multiple times, both via truck and foot. Our favorite crossings came in the form of stumbling upon standing split granite stones in the woods.

Maine must have been the poor cousin for we could almost not see the M.

The marker on top, however, clearly established who owned what portion of the land.

and a sign in Taylor City, where Earl Taylor served as mayor until his death at the age of 95 in 2018. Earl was a graduate of Par-Sem it seems. He ran the general store and was quite active in town affairs–on both sides of the border.

Mind you, hiking and history weren’t the entire focus of our time together. Nature also was on display like the underside of lungwort showing off its ridges and lobes that reminded someone long ago of lung tissue. In reality, Lobaria pulmonaria is an indicator of a rich, healthy ecosystem.

There was also a bear nest high up in a beech tree–where last summer a black bear sat for a bit, pulled the branches inward till some of them broke, and dined on the beech nuts.

Multiple times we spotted moose tracks in deep snow . . .

and mud.

One of the creme de la creme sightings for me, was the first Beaked Hazelnut flower of the year. Gusty wind prevented a better photo, but still, it was worth capturing the moment.

And upon the ground, an old bee structure, each papery cell precise and reflective of all that surrounded it.

others medium in size . . .

and a couple on the larger side.

Water always seemed to be part of the scene. We hiked for at least a mile beside a racing brook.

And stood for a few minutes enjoying the sun at Mountain Pond.

There was a wetland that we explored from all sides (actually, there was more than one wetland that we explored and got to know rather personally–from the soles of our feet), full of future life and opportunity.

Spanning it all, we hiked thirteen miles through snow, ice, mud, and water, and found five of six geocaches, including completing the birthday baker’s dozen list.

The fact that we didn’t find one is driving my guy a bit buggy and we actually returned to the location, but to no avail. He’s bound and determined, so I have a feeling we’ll look in that spot again. But overall, we felt successful and appreciated that our quest led us to a mountain lake we’ve enjoyed in other seasons, but not this one, and new vistas/locations where nature provided moments of wonder.

March Madness

I awoke early, filled with concern for Greater Lovell Land Trust’s March Madness hike planned for today. The wind was blowing and the temperature had dropped significantly after several days of “Fake Spring.” Would volunteer docents and staff be ok in parking lots and summits at GLLT’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve where we were encouraging people to climb one, two, or all three “peaks”?

We had it all planned–“snowman” passports available in the parking lots, along with trail maps, healthy snacks, magazines, and advice. Oh, and a donation jar 😉

At each summit, participants would have their passports stamped and choose one GLLT/nature-related swag item.

But that wind. A check of the weather report, thankfully, promised that the wind advisory suggesting gusts up to 45 mph, would end by 10am. Our event was planned to begin at 9:30. As I wrote in an email to volunteers and staff, “Let’s go for it.” No one balked. One replied, “We’ll be there.” And another wrote, “They don’t call in March Madness for nuthin’.”

After making sure everyone was set, at parking lot #4 on Route 5 in Lovell I opened the back of my truck to display the offerings. Our talented executive director had created a snowman out of the three summits, one of them actually being the snowball, and the buttoned breast serving as connector trails.

For the first two hours or so, my only companions were chipmunks, which despite, or maybe because of the cold, ran frantically from one side of the trail to the other, in and out of holes, and disappearing at one section of stone wall, while a short time later reappearing at another. Or was that a different chipmunk?

I counted four, but really, there could have been more for they entered and exited so frequently. Meanwhile, I was also on the move in an attempt to stay warm. The wind may not have been gusting per se, but it was rather breezy and certainly quite chilly.

And so I walked (and sometimes ran) around the parking lot and about a tenth of a mile up the trail, over and over again. In a way I wish I’d tracked my trail, because it would have looked as if I was indeed mad.

But . . . I made discoveries, including raccoon prints in the mud,

Yellow birch catkins flying like flags upon their twigs over my head,

and their associated trunk showing off its curly bark.

A Red Maple sported the perfect target fungus that I often mention to others, who can’t always see the bulls-eye pattern.

And somehow, though I’ve walked this trail many times over many years, I’ve never spotted the burnt potato-chip bark of a Black Cherry right beside the path before.

I also learned something about chipmunks. They scampered for several hours, but early afternoon must be siesta time and I never did see any of them again, though I checked frequently.

By 11:30, participants began to pull into the lot and I felt a certain sense of relief. Being without cell phone reception, I had no idea how things were going with anyone else, but gave thanks that people wanted to participate in the hike and had learned about it from several forms of media.

As they hiked, my parking lot meandering continued, though the space to move shrunk due to their parked vehicles.

With the chipmunks no longer offering entertainment, I decided to add an examination of the kiosk to my point of view.

Upon it I found a bunch of larval bagworm moths, their structure such that they remind me of the caddisflies I’ll soon be looking for as waterways open.

Another frequent observation at any kiosk is the cocoon structure of tussock moths. This one didn’t let me down.

Speaking of down, it was down that my eyes were next drawn and I spotted an old apple oak gall that curiously sported two exit holes–or had someone dined upon the goods once forming inside. How it survived two feet of snow and retained its global shape stymied me. Another thought though is that it may have remained attached the tree for a long time and only recently blew to the ground.

While I considered that, something hopped. Seriously.

The hopper turned out to be a . . . grasshopper instar. A what? An instar is a phase between two periods of molting in the development of an insect larva or other invertebrate animal. Think of it as a nymph, if you will.

Spying one seemed an anomaly, but . . . I spied three more upon the snow.

They couldn’t yet fly, but they certainly could hop up to three feet despite their diminutive size of about 2 centimeters. Their direction wasn’t always forward, but sometimes more sideways.

In the end, thirteen folks hiked from my lot and the others had 12 and 9, so I’d call the first annual March Madness a success. All volunteers and staff stayed sorta warm–each finding their own way to do so.

As for me, I somehow managed to cover 7.8 miles in a small space and found myself smiling frequently as March Madness was really March Gladness.

Grasshoppers?!!!

Ghost of the North Woods

For almost thirty years I’ve roamed this particular wood and for the most part you’ve eluded me.

Oh, I’ve seen you cross the field. And heard your snort in the distance.

You’ve taught me to recognize your old prints by their figure-eight or egg-timer resemblance and heart-shaped fresh impressions.

Your depth compared to mine has been another indicator of your identification.

Occasionally I’ve stumbled upon your beds, old and fresh, and recognized them as places where you take a rest in the middle of the day or night.

I’ve learned to examine said beds for artifacts left behind including wisps of tubular hair meant to insulate.

And always, your calling card includes scat and urine.

Above the scat at a height only you can reach, you tag the trees with mini flags after ripping off their buds with your lower incisors yanking against that toothless upper palate.

After finding so many signs year after year, today . . . today I spied an uprooted tree at the very spot I thought might be a good place to stop and spend a few hours in silence. As I made plans to do such in the near future, the tree moved.

And transformed into you!

You looked at me. I looked back in complete awe.

And while I thought we were having a staring contest, I later realized you continued to feed as I continued to photograph you.

Standing beside you and way more interested in dining that wondering about me, your yearling.

Our time together lasted ten minutes. Or was it twenty?

Who knows? Who cares? What mattered was that in this woodland that has served as my classroom for all these years, you showed that your priorities had everything to do with food and nothing to do with me.

Thankfully, or so it seemed, my presence didn’t interrupt your dining for I know that in winter tree buds and bark offer some sustenance, but still you loose weight at a time when you most need it, especially if you are expectant.

When at last you and your youngster departed, despite your sizes, it was as if you walked through the forest in silence. My every move comes with a sound like a bull in a china shop, but you . . . Alces alces, you weigh over one thousand pounds, stand six feet at your shoulder, and move through the forest like a ghost. For that reason and because you let me spend some time with you today, February 11 will henceforth mark the day that I celebrate the Ghost of the North Woods.

This post is dedicated to my grand-nephews: Andrew, Finnegan, and Maxy Moose. I trust they will someday meet my moose or their own.

Tire’m Out Mondate

Recently someone whispered in my guy’s ear (from a moose-length away and fully masked, of course) an alternate trailhead to a small mountain we’d hoped to climb last week but avoided because there were too many vehicles. “Take a left, and then drive a mile or two down the road, and I don’t know if there is a plowed parking area,” is the way the message was relayed to me.

And so we did.

And much to our delight there was not only a small parking area that had been cleared, but also blazes painted on the trees and footsteps showing the way. We felt like we’d found the pot of gold, especially since there were a few cars at the other trailhead as we passed by.

The cool thing about the trail we followed today is that it reminded us of the walled path on our property; not wide enough to be a road, but two stonewalls indicating a previous use of the land. Maybe for cows. Maybe each farmer marking a boundary. Doesn’t matter; it made for a delightful beginning.

In a short time, we reached another wall that ran perpendicular to the two we’d walked between, though this one was intentionally made of flatter field stones. While it called to mind stonewalls in Connecticut more than Maine, given the ledge mountain upon which we hiked today, it made perfect sense that construction should be such. And gave me reason to consider a return on another day when there is no snow on the ground so I can further explore it.

For today, our focus was first on reaching the summit via this new-to-us trail that was like a walk in the park. After passing through the field stone wall, below which mixed hardwoods grew, we entered a hemlock grove and knew the summit wasn’t far off.

It was by the summit that we took a turn in order to visit the castle, a place our sons in their youth used to love to explore. We took them with us in spirit today as we played while they were in their respective cities and hard at work.

Long ago, the rocks were deposited upon this mountain top as the glaciers receded and over time weathering split them creating spaces for playmates like us to wave to each other from opposite sides.

And peek through . . .

before crawling out.

We finally moved on to the summit outlook, where our view embraced Keoka Lake to the east . . .

Bear Pond in front of lunch rock . . .

and our beloved Pleasant Mountain to the west with the ski trails at Shawnee Peak showing off their white paths.

Following lunch, we decided to hike down a different trail with hopes of eventually reaching the road and then climbing back up the main trail we’d passed by earlier. Sounds crazy, I know, but that’s the way we are: crazy.

We thought we knew what we were doing as we followed a skidder trail down. After a bit, while my guy went ahead, I paused by a downed tree in search of what I might find.

The best find I made in a limited amount of scanning was a sweet, yet dried, capped mushroom.

My guy’s discovery: we’d reached an apple orchard and no trespassing signs and so much to his dismay we turned 180˚ and started back up, in hopes of finding another skidder trail to follow in a different direction.

Success greeted us eventually, though like the turkeys, we did a bit of postholing on the next route we traveled. Or perhaps we were the turkeys.

At last we reached the road as we crossed someone’s land, walked about fifty to one hundred feet down and then found the main trailhead to climb up once again.

And so up we went, though by now my guy had followed my example and donned his micro-spikes as the conditions warranted.

At the end of the day, he was tickled because he’d discovered not one . . .

but two geocaches.

When he opened the first, though the contents were in baggies, they were wet and frozen, but the second was in prime condition and we saw that our friend David Percival had signed the log this past summer.

I was happy to spend a couple of minutes searching for winter bug sites, and found the egg sac of a spider . . .

and pupating form of a bagworm moth caught in someone’s web, both discovered upon a shed as we trespassed on property that wasn’t posted.

A double red-belted mushroom also caught at least my eye.

Our best find of the day, however, was one we’ve seen before, but always brings a smile to our faces as it gives new meaning to bear tree.

It was back to the summit outlook for a Lindt candy before following the trail back to the cowpath.

Up and down, up and down with a little bit of a third up and down along way, turkey-style. No wonder they call it Mount Tire’m. To that end, my guy took a power nap on the way home. Good thing I was driving.

Special thanks to Bob Spencer for being the whisperer of trailhead information.

Sharp Observation

I was early–a rare occasion as usually I’m the one who arrives at least ten minutes after the agreed upon time. It wasn’t always that way, but has become a bad habit. That said, it was a creature of habit that I went in search of because I had some time to spare.

And much to my delight a sign hanging from a tree announced what I’d hoped. Can you read it? The hemlock sprig dangling from the birch stating that So-and-So was in residence?

Suddenly I realized there were a million items shouting the obvious, scattered as they were upon the snow and rocks like neon signs on a city street: “So-and-So Slept Here;” “So-and-So’s Diner;” and “So-and-So’s Rest Rooms.”

Hemlock twigs with angled nips and singular scats spoke to So-and-So’s presence. Was So-and-So present? I could only hope so.

As I looked about, I noticed the signs dropped by one or two others, including one of whom I totally expected to surprise me as it has on several occasions in the recent past. While I didn’t startle the bird, I knew by its offering left on the rock that it continued to frequent the locale–do you see the “golden” cylinder among the brown scat? That would be a notice from the local grouse.

And then I stepped under the hemlock because there was more bird sign on the tree created by a Pileated Woodpecker and I hoped to find its scat. No such luck among the wood chips, but plenty more fresh pellets stating that the occupant was possibly in situ.

All the telltale signs were there. About one inch long. Comma shaped. Groove down the inside. Fresh. Did I say fresh?

From every angle the evidence was clear. I shouldn’t be standing below because just possibly that certain So-and-So might be resting above. And said being has been known to fall out of trees as I’ve told others while standing in this same spot on previous occasions. Did I say this is a creature of habit?

Whenever I visit I look up. But it’s not until winter that my sight is graced with that of such another. Can you see it? The anomaly in the canopy?

How about now? Do you see the dark blob sitting up there?

Porcupines are indeed creatures of habit and every winter I know certain places to locate a few locals, including this big guy. A guy? Yes, because it’s the males who tend to rest in trees during the day.

He was up there enjoying the cambium layer of the bark as witnessed by the goldeny color of the branch by his feet. All those downed twigs–apparently they were in his way so he nipped them off and dropped them to the ground in order to get to the nutrients he sought for his winter diet.

Check out his eye. We were both sharp observers as we eyed each other from a distance.

Winter Bug Safari

I’m a winter gal and snow and tracks and scat and bark and buds all pull me out the door on a daily basis as I try to understand who has traveled where and why, and through what natural community the journey has been made.

But now . . . I have another reason to slip outside: Bugs. And how they overwinter. And where.

On one tramp through the woods this past week, with eyes peeled for the tiniest movement on the snow or twigs or tree trunks, I spotted the fresh work of a Pileated Woodpecker. Though I would have loved to see the bird, I was equally thrilled to see the pile of debris below the hemlock tree. (And that gorgeous magenta-colored inner bark, of course.)

The fresh wood chips on the snow invited a closer examination. And you thought this post would be about bugs. But indeed it is for it’s Carpenter Ants that the bird sought. By the two clumps of bird scat that I found, it was obvious the woodpecker had been successful.

For you see, within the cylindrical casing coated with uric acid were body parts.

Ant body parts. Now, here’s the thing that I need to learn more about. I’ve watched Pileated Woodpeckers land on trees and pause, sometimes deciding to excavate, but other times moving on. And I’ve been told that they test the tree out and listen for the ants. I’ve never been able to prove that. But here’s the thing: what I learned today is that Carpenter Ants not insulated by snow or the warmth of your home enter diapause, a low-energy state that allows them to survive the cold and go for long periods without eating. So the question remains, how does the woodpecker know which tree to pick on, or is it a lucky strike?

Further along that same trail, I came upon the prints of a horse that had stymied me a few weeks ago when I tried to mentally turn its track pattern into either a bear or a moose, knowing full well that what I was seeing didn’t quite fit what I knew to be true of those species. Horse manure would have helped, but there was none to be seen . . . until the other day when a fresh plop in the middle of the trail offered an invite to look for insects seeking minerals upon it. I saw one small fly that I couldn’t identify, but beside the manure was this Winter Cranefly. It was a brisk day and today I learned that this species is only active when the temperature is below freezing. My kind of bug, indeed.

On another day and another trail, it was a Winter Firefly that drew attention. First, fireflies are not flies; they are beetles.

Second, unlike many beetles, Winter Fireflies overwinter as adults.

Third, Winter Fireflies are diurnal and don’t have lanterns to light up the night sky.

And fourth, though I find most tucked into the bark of maple trees, the first one this week was on a hemlock. After that, it seemed to be maples upon which I found others.

As the temperatures rise bit in the next month, they’ll become more active and will be visible crawling up the tree trunks and eventually flying. By summer, you’ll see not a one but their nocturnal cousins will light up the night.

One day, it was Snow Fleas, aka Spring Tails upon lichenized bark that garned a look.

And another day, upon another crustose lichen on a maple tree, shed larval skins of possibly Twice-Stabbed Lady Beetles were visible. Kinda creepy, especially when you are looking up-close and personal with a hand lens, but oh, so cool.

And then there were the spiders, thus the reason this isn’t just an Insect Safari. This minute eight-legged creature that practically ran across the bark must have had antifreeze in its blood.

Behind another piece of bark was this slightly active crab spider . . .

and its more dormant relatives hunkered down who had probably supercooled through the process of accumulating glycols in their blood (antifreeze again). Apparently, despite the below freezing temps, their tissues remained unfrozen and they won’t become spidercicles. How in the world did spiders and other critters physiologically adapt via the antifreeze compounds so that they won’t turn to ice?

It’s all a wonder to me.

Before I finish, let me leave you with one last image. It’s some sort of beetle, I know not what. And I don’t know what is on its wings–perhaps some sort of mite or parasite? When class reconvenes again, I will ask the instructor.

I am so excited to be taking Bugs In Winter, taught by Charley Eiseman, author of Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: a Guide to North American Species. Thank you to Maine Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood for suggesting it to me (perhaps so I’d stop sending him photos of mystery bugs and asking his advice).

The course has only just begun and a few naturalist friends are taking it with me. We have tons to learn and so I invite you to tag along cuze for the next two months I’m going to be on a Winter Bug Safari, which will then turn into Spring Bug Safari, and after that . . . you get the picture.

Frog Alley

I’m pretty sure I said to the friend whom I met on the dirt road that I never see frogs there except for the painted boulder that has faded with age and I no longer even think to honor with a photograph.

But still, she reminded me, “I’m sure we’ll see something interesting.”

No way.

After walking one stretch of the road and only pausing a few times in the hot sun, we hopped back into our vehicles and made our way to a much more shaded location. As we stepped toward the river, in flew a Kingfisher. And we knew we were in for a treat or two or three . . .

But first, we had to explore the structure that has spanned the river for 163 years: Hemlock Covered Bridge. My friend is a history buff and I’m a wanna-be so it was apropos that we should take our time as we walked across–pausing to look and wonder as frequently as when we’re on a path.

I first saw this relic of the past years ago when I canoed up the Old Course of the Saco River with a group of tweens whom I took on weekly adventures when my summer job was as Laconia YMCA’s Summer Camp Director. In those days, one could get permission to camp by the bridge. Things have changed and that land is now posted with No Trespassing signs.

The bridge is a woodworking masterpiece and a symbol of the pioneering spirit of the 19th Century. In this 21st Century, there are others who also have a pioneering spirit and create their own masterpieces within.

Built of Paddleford truss construction with supporting laminated wooden arches, Hemlock Bridge is one of the few remaining covered bridges still in its original position. Peter Paddleford of Littleton, New Hampshire, created this design by replacing the counter braces of the Long-style truss bridge, creating an unusually strong and rigid structure.

Though reinforced in 1988 so you can still drive across, it’s more fun to walk. As we did we took time to admire the work of our forefathers,

peer at the river,

and read the carved messages on Maine’s oldest remaining covered bridge.

It was designated as a Maine Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers on January 17, 2002. I’m not sure what happened in 1922, but obviously it was another date to note.

Originally there were 120 covered bridges which spanned rivers throughout Maine. Covers or houses were constructed to protect the wooden span from the weather.

They were also places where travelers and animals could seek refuge from a storm, or lovers could sneak a kiss. Six of the remaining nine in Maine are located in the Lakes and Mountains Region.

We admired every facet of the bridge for moments on end, and then made our way to the river’s edge, where Slaty Blue Skimmers continued to dance. But as is their habit, this one kept landing on the same broken branch. Eventually, I coaxed it onto my finger, but then a sweetheart zipped by and he was off, hoping to sneak a kiss of his own making.

Next, our attention focused on a bullfrog. A huge bullfrog.

Two little Green Frogs were focused on the same and remained as still as possible in hopes of not attracting Mrs. Bully’s attention.

She at last began to move and her forward motion was slower than either of us have ever witnessed. We watched as she slithered forth one frog leg length at a time.

At last she reached a destination and paused. Was she hiding from us? Had she slithered like a snake in hopes we wouldn’t see her? Or did she have her eyes on a meal?

We’ll never know for a rare treat suddenly flew onto the branch where Slaty Blue had posed time and again. Meet a Dragonhunter. This huge clubtail dragonfly is known to eat butterflies and even other dragonflies. Thank goodness Slaty Blue had moved on.

Suddenly it was time for us to move on as well, but not before spying one more frog–this one a small Pickerel with sets of dark rectangles decorating its coppery-colored body.

With that, before my friend and I bid adieu, I had to eat my words that there are no frogs on Frog Alley. But technically, we weren’t on Frog Alley, but rather Hemlock Bridge Road. Still, the two are connected and we gave thanks for the chance to honor the past and wonder about the present in this locale.

P.M. Gathering

A friend and I met this afternoon and ventured forth upon a path that was quite different from those we usually travel. Our finds began as soon as we stepped out of our vehicles.

First there was the White Admiral Butterfly, preparing to puddle with its straw-like proboscis, at the moment curled but ready to extend into the gravely parking area to search for nutrients he might share with a gal.

And after only a few minutes into the woodland habitat, as is its preference, a Northern Pearly-eyed Butterfly fluttered into the scene, and posed–also with its proboscis curled.

Keen eyes of my friend spotted the next mention of wildlife–that of a very young garter snake who slithered across our path and then found a stick upon which to blend into the scene.

There was so much to see, such as a giant burl upon a White Cedar, its growth a consequence of an injury, virus, or fungus, creating a vase-like base enhanced by the tree’s shaggy-lined bark.

The tree’s leaves were as interesting as the bark with scaly leaves offering another texture to the forest.

Occasionally, as we continued, we stumbled upon Indian Pipes in their clustered colonies. Though some were just emerging and had their single flowers dangling low, many had been fertilized and showed off a dash of maturity with upright flowers. Eventually a woody structure filled with dust-like seeds will be produced, though it is doubtful many will germinate and grow into these most interesting plants that lack chlorophyll and depend upon a fungus and tree root to survive. And yet they will.

In the midst of it all, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, Raven, and Bluejays considered our attention and as we practiced using the Merlin App for bird identification, two little brown things flitted here and there. Turns out they were House Wrens with their upright tail feathers and barbed wings, an exciting find for us.

That was, until we met a fungus we couldn’t identify, but could certainly appreciate for its formation upon a couple of Balsam Firs.

It poured forth out of the tree like pancake batter on a Sunday morning.

Further along, where the red and gray squirrels made sure to announce their presence, a lone chipmunk posed for moments on end and so we all stood still, thinking at first its cheeks were full, but then realizing it had elbows reminiscent of favorite aunts’ flabby arms. OK, so maybe we’ve reached that age when such flabbiness gathers despite our efforts to exercise and we’re now trying to find ways to laugh about such features. .

There was so much more to see, including a Purple-fringed Orchid,

Arrowhead flower,

and Joe Pye-weed topped with a green iridescent sweat bee.

Our journey was almost over when we spotted a bluet damselfly dining upon a crab spider,

and a Ruby Meadowhawk dragonfly with its straw-colored face pausing upon a boardwalk.

Said boardwalk offered the most abundant selection of species, but there was still more to accumulate on this long weekend. And my friend knew that though our time together had been special, there was still more to rejoice in.

You see, our youngest son and his gal had ventured north from New York City because they could.

And their smiles filled our souls as they took in the sights and sounds and smells of our most delightful western Maine locale.

Eventually, they honored us by preparing a meal, and chuckled as they worked for she slaved over a large pan while he managed the smallest of the collection.

Several times we sat around our new kitchen table, grateful to those who had created it, the dishes and food upon it, and those who at last could gather round it as we’d intended.

Thank you P and M, for heading north from the Big Apple, enjoying the fresh air, sharing talents and gifts and laughter, and just being YOU. And thank you, P.M. for sharing the trail and appreciating the gathering that was happening in our midst.

Summer by Nature

Given the fact that the day the spring issue of Lake Living was to be distributed to stores and other businesses throughout the lakes region of Maine was the day the state shut down because of COVID-19, thus meaning Laurie LaMountain had box loads sitting around with no where to go but her garage, and many businesses had completely shuttered their doors and windows and those that stayed open were serving a limited number of customers and didn’t necessarily want magazines, we weren’t sure there would be enough advertising dollars to produce a summer issue.

By the same token, we both felt it was our duty to produce a summer issue. And so we did. It did not come out on June 20th, as would have been the case in the past, but suddenly that didn’t matter. It’s not as long as prior summer editions, but suddenly that didn’t matter. The three to four page calendar spread is missing, because, um, not a whole lot is going on, but suddenly that didn’t matter.

As happens more often than not, a theme emerged. Laurie addressed it in her Editor’s Notes. I’ll just say this: Take your time. And notice.

Be sure to check out the book reviews from Bridgton Books and picnic recipes. Plus read about some wicked cool fish food, Lake Environmental Association’s history, and a few local businesses that are employee owned.

I was given the good fortune to write about my passion for the world beyond doors and windows, which allowed me to weave a bunch of ideas together in a ramble of sorts.

I also wrote about a woman who can take a slab of wood and turn it into a three-dimensional piece of art. Sue Holland’s work is incredibly intricate and always tells a story.

I can’t help but smile every time I look at the cover of this issue. Sports Illustrated move over!

We’ve even got a centerfold you might want to hang on a wall!

This issue of Lake Living is about summer by nature. Pour a cup of tea or glass of wine, click on the link and enjoy the articles: Lake Living Summer 2020

Under the Bubbles

Wander outdoors if you can and let the anomalies pull you into their realm. I promise, your eyes and your mind will be opened to so many wonders that you’ll resist the urge to move along for so enamored will you be by your finds. Slow down and look and be wowed.

May it begin with an oval-shaped structure sitting atop a tree stump and filled, curiously, with a red maple samara, the latter’s own shape a decaying, many-veined wing.

Creating an oval by touching your thumb to your pointer finger, may you know the size of this leafy building created to protect a luna moth’s cocoon. Sadly, it seems, the pupal stage that had started life within had been predated. Still, the structure adds a lesson–to notice one that reminded me of an oak apple gall, but wasn’t because of its shape being more oval than round and much tougher than the gall’s papery construction. If you are like me, you’ll need to stick that in the back of your mind the next time you encounter such.

And then may you encounter one whom you know well, but still, each time you greet the Striped Maple twig and bud a sense of awe simply overwhelms you because of its striking beauty demonstrated in the pattern of leaf and bundle scars topped by growth rings over and over again.

As your eyes tune in, may you notice another who is easily overlooked for its diminutive size and may it remind you of work upon the ceilings of cathedrals that is oft under appreciated for so few can view. Each time you come to recognize the tiny, magenta blossoms of Beaked Hazelnut, may you celebrate their existence matched by your noticing.

With your awareness of the hazelnut’s flowers, may you be equally wowed by the occasional presentation of last year’s fruits, beaked as they are.

In the midst of your adventure may you meet a slab that poses a story featuring warriors of the past and may you have fun recreating the saga by letting your imagination flow. What happened here?

And just when you are thinking that there can’t be anything else to spy, may you suddenly spot the barrel-shaped egg cases of Wheel Bugs and wonder who lives within–Ambush Bug or Assassin? What you may know for sure is that the residents are Hemiptera or True Bugs.

Walking five more steps before stopping to wonder again, and then five more and so it goes, may you stumble upon a tussock moth cocoon with life formulating within and consider its possibilities–perhaps a White-marked Tussock Moth?

Next, may a long silky string with a cocoon swaying at the bottom capture your attention.

As you peer within, may you spy a Prometha Moth peering out.

May your viewing opportunities be enhanced by others who also look, including the Six-spotted Fishing Spider, who’s six spots are hidden below its upper abdomen that features twelve.

As you continue to develop an understanding may a forked tongue sniff you out as you sniff the snake out.

In the end, may it not be an end. May it be a beginning. May you live under the bubbles and give thanks that to your bubble are attached so many others as you share a brain.

I speak for myself when I say that I appreciate those who answer my questions as Anthony Underwood did today with my many insect photos (and others have done as well on a variety of topics) and I equally welcome your questions about what you are seeing. We may all live under a bubble, but may our bubbles continue to be connected.

Grateful For Your Company

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Today’s hike found me traveling solo, as is the norm in this current time, but I took each and every one of you along with me because so excited was I by all of our finds.

We began at parking lot #5 of Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

As I showed you in the parking lot, our plan was to begin on the Roger’s Family Trail and then circle around on the orange Heritage Loop Trail with a side trip to the summit of Amos Mountain in the midst of the journey. You all agreed that it sounded like a great plan.

I had previously warned you that part of the route could be a bit wet and was pleased to see that some of you had remembered to don your rubber boots, but those who forgot managed to find a way around. I trust no one had wet feet by the time we finished. Was my assumption correct?

Of course, I love water and so before we crossed over the bridge, I insisted that we take a look and try to spy tracks in some mud or aquatic insects or plants springing forth.

Bingo on the latter and we all rejoiced at the sight of False Hellebore with its corrugated leaves so green.

Finally, after poking about for a bit, I suggested we move along. It seemed like we managed to walk about five steps and then something would catch our attention and all forward motion came to pause. But that’s the way we like it for we notice so much with such slow movement. Do you remember this spot? Where we paused to look for Trailing Arbutus buds and noticed Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain growing in a colony. And remember how I told you that the only way I can remember the common name of this latter species is because it doesn’t look “downy” to me.

As often happens, the trail enhanced the lesson for not too much further along we practically stepped on another family member, this one bearing the name Checkered. Really, had Mr. Linnaeus asked me, I would have switched it around for the dullness of these leaves seems more downy in my mind and the other more checkered. Alas . . . he didn’t ask.

By this point, we’d hit drier trail conditions, if you recall, as we started climbing uphill. Drier, but rockier, that is. And then upon one, we spied a little package that you knew would delight me. Fox scat, indeed. With a blunt end and even a twist. Classic fox scat.

It took us a while, but we managed to reach the intersection with the orange trail and turned to the left to proceed. It was there that we began to meet common polypody ferns. Some of you explained that you know it as rock cap fern or rock polypody fern. What we all know is that it’s most often found growing on rock surfaces in moist, shady woods.

I did hear the hushed groans when I turned it over, but what could I say? I can’t resist checking to look at the underside. Like little pompoms, the organs or sori that housed the dust-sized spores or sporangia are arranged so neatly in two rows upon each leaflet. In their old age, the sori of these common polypody are orange-brown.

You, however, were eager to move on and so we did. Until we didn’t. For we stopped once again at “El Pupito,” the pulpit rock.

And did what one should do at the pulpit–honor the view through nature’s stained-glass window.

Oh yeah, and on the back of the boulder, you knew the minute you saw it what was going to happen next.

Out came my water bottle as I sacrificed some H20. But really, you are also equally amazed each time the magic happens and the greenish color of algae on rock tripe lichen makes itself known.

I saw a few of you gawk.

With a snap of our fingers and twitch of our noses (no we didn’t touch our fingers to our faces), we soon made it to the summit of Amos.

It was there that while zooming in to note the glorious red maple buds we spied another in the form of a spider. And we all took a closer look, one at a time, of course, allowing for six feet of space.

Then we backtracked down to where the blue trail met the orange trail and continued on the orange. That is . . . until sweet bird songs stopped us in our steps.

The trills lasted a few seconds and began again.

Most of us couldn’t recall who it was and gave great thanks to have Peter and Joe along for a positive ID: Pine Warbler indeed.

At our next stop I was so sure that one of you would provide a definitive answer to the structure’s use and history, but you only asked more questions to which I didn’t have the answers and so it shall remain a mystery. Who built it? Why? What? When? We do know the where and have some ideas about the how, but can’t quite respond to the Five Ws and an H in a complete manner.

And so we left there and moved on to the spot where we chatted about all the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties that seemingly followed us through the woods.

Each time we heard a sound from one of the above, if it wasn’t a dried leaf blowing across the forest floor, it turned out to be a chipmunk. Why is it, we wondered together, that they can be so still one moment, but in the next insist upon calling attention to their presence?

Moving along, we eventually crossed over the wall and onto what was once the property of Amos Andrews.

Here, only a few years ago, one among us, yes Alice, that would be you, realized that in this spot grew white oak, a tree that we had previously believed no longer grew in these parts given its use in barrel making and other purposes. That is, until we recognized the chunky blocks of bark that helped to negate that assumption.

The leaves below also defined the new story, with red oak’s bristly pointed lobes on the left and white oak’s rounded lobes to the right.

As it would be, we realized we weren’t the only ones looking. And again, we had to take turns getting close to ohh and ahh at the alternating light and dark markings on the abdomen’s edge, legs and antennae of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. Okay, so we know these beasts inflect considerable damage to some fruits and crops, and can be a nuisance when it takes shelter in our homes, but still.

Around the corner from the oak tree we paused beside the homestead of Amos Andrews and wandered about his walled property for a bit, each of us trying to answer the question, “What was Amos thinking?” We haven’t answered it yet, but time will tell as perhaps more understandings will be revealed.

Down the former road we walked, grateful that being two rod wide, (a rod at 16.5 feet), we had plenty of room to spread out.

At the intersection with the Amos Mountain Trail, our route crossed over and we continued on to the lookout point where the Balds to the left, Mount Washington a wee white pyramid in the background, and Kezar Lake below held our focus.

And then we began to retrace our steps, back toward the parking lot where we’d first gathered. But there were two more things to notice, the first being a skeleton of a paper birch, its roots till seemingly intact.

And finally, water striders not doing a very good job of practicing social distancing.

We, on the other hand, had nailed that one, for while you all walked with me, I was alone. And ever so grateful for your company.

My Great Escape

The past two days have found me wandering on and off trail at John A Segur Wildlife Refuge in Lovell, where spring slowly emerges.

Yesterday’s journey, which began beside New Road, required me to climb up over the snow bank. If you go, don’t worry; I did my best to carve out steps for you.

Do, however, choose your footwear appropriately for I spent a lot of time creating post holes.

My intention was to locate timeless sights I can upload to a Google Map for at the Greater Lovell Land Trust we are working to create virtual hikes for those who can’t get onto the trails right now.

But there were other things that garnered my attention and I’m never one to pass by a White Pine personally decorated by the rain.

And then there was the beech leaf that arced in such a manner its veins mimicked rays of sunshine on a gloomy day.

Speckled Alder catkins poured forth with their own presentation of color as they added more cheer to the landscape.

And Trailing Arbutus (aka Mayflower) buds, like all others, provided a sign of hope that the future will arrive.

Beside Bradley Brook, an Eastern Hemlock held a raindrop-in-waiting, its gift from the sky soon to be transferred back to the place from whence it came.

The brook flowed forth with a rhythm all its own and I rejoiced in its gurgles, temporarily forgetting the world beyond.

Eventually I followed it back, giving thanks for all its meandering curves in hopes that we will all be able to continue to enjoy life around the bend.

Today dawned a new day, and a much brighter one at that, and so my truck made its way to the other trailhead along Farrington Pond Road. The parking lot wasn’t plowed this winter and so I tucked into the edge.

Lost in thought, the sight of a fruit still dangling on a Maple-leaf Viburnum pulled me back to reality.

One of my favorite places on this property isn’t along an actual trail, but rather its one folks can easily find on their own. I prefer to think of it as the secret garden.

It offers views of Sucker Brook Outlet feeding into Kezar Lake’s Northwest Cove. But even more than that, it offers layers and colors and teems with life. Today I startled two Wood Duck couples who quickly flew off “oweeking” all the way.

Life in the secret garden includes three beaver lodges that reflect the mountains beyond.

And flowers like this Rhodora, waiting for their chance to burst into color beyond understanding.

Back on the Blue Trail, I discovered one small feather, so light and delicate and fluffy, and yet barbed, the better for all of its kind to interlock and protect.

At a wet spot, the feather slipped from my mind and I marveled at the thin layer of ice that transformed the watery display.

Within the puddle, a broken Paper Birch trunk showed off the fact that even in death, life continues.

And then I met death. At first, I thought it was a scattering of more feathers.

That is, until I bent down and realized it was deer hair. Had the deer shed its winter coat?

That was my first thought until I spied this. Do you know what it is?

I hope I’m not disgusting you, but I found it fascinating. As best I could tell, it was the contents of the deer’s rumen or first stomach chamber.

And what exactly were the contents? Acorns. Can you see a few shells not quite digested?

Beside all of that was some scat filled with hair and a chunk of something.

And just beyond, more rumen offerings and then an even larger area of deer hair.

As best I could, I tried to piece together the story. Earlier on the trail i’d seen what I thought were bobcat prints until the behavior didn’t quite match for a bobcat wouldn’t follow the entire length of a trail and the presentation seemed to morph into coyote.

I searched high and low for a carcass, but found none. Nor any blood.

What I did find was more deer hair as if something had circled around a tree.

But the curious thing: there were lots of downed branches but none of them were broken. If a coyote had dragged a carcass, surely there would be blood and guts and broken branches. My wondering began to focus on a human. Some of the twigs were on top of the hair so the incident would have occurred at an earlier time? And perhaps all of this had been hidden by snow for a while? And then recent rain events obliterated some signs?

I may never know the answers, though I’ll return to look for more evidence. About a quarter mile away, I did find more proof that a coyote had dined on something quite hairy. It included a big chunk of bone.

For those wishing I’d get back to the prettier scenes, my tramp eventually took me to a lookout point, where the backdrop was provided by the Bald Face Mountains in Evans Notch.

And the foreground included another beaver lodge.

Eventually I turned around and followed the Green Trail out, stopping to pay reverence to a Bear Claw tree. With the scars being gray/black and at least a half inch wide, I’d say these were created more than seven years ago. In fact, I know that for I’ve been visiting that tree for far more than seven years. But . . . it never gets old.

Nor does the sight of ice as it turns anything into a pleasing-to-my-eyes work of art.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to sneak away and even though I had a work project on my mind, these trails have been my greatest escape so far. May you also find escapes of your own making.

Tales of the Trees

“Can you meet on Wednesday morning for a hike?”

“Yes, where and when?”

After a few notes sent back and forth, the decision was made: Sawyer Mountain in Limington, Maine, at 10:00am. Though we were coming from opposite directions, somehow we timed it just right and both pulled into the parking area on Route 117 at 9:47. I’m never on time. She’s never late.

For at least the first half mile or more of our four mile hike, we talked non-stop, barely taking the time to notice our surroundings for so much catching up did we have to do. But then . . . two old Red Oaks growing upon a ledge with rock tripe and spring green moss between made us stop and pay reverence.

And because we stopped, we began to notice others who deserved our deep respect for we recalled a hike years ago upon the Ledges Trail of Pleasant Mountain, a place where this species also grows. It was there that we were first introduced to it and it is there that our minds always take us back to the first moment of meeting: Hophornbeam with its lovely thin, shaggy strands of vertical strips.

A quick scan of the bare ground and we found the seed structure (hops) for which is was named.

Crossing through one of many stonewalls, I followed my dear friend, for she was leading the way today.

And she told me that it was places like this pasture and the walls that surrounded it that made her think of me upon her previous tramps in this place. Just imagine: In 1815, Ebenezer Walker let his livestock graze the high pasture. We don’t know when such farm activity ended, but the trees that have filled in the space probably only have stories passed on by their ancestors to tell of times past for rather on the youthful side did they seem.

Still, there were others that showed their age and inner workings.

Like wise sages, they pointed out their idiosyncrasies and by their whorled inner branches we knew their names: White Pine.

Shortly after meeting the pine, we came upon another sight that reminded us of another day. It was along a stone wall at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Chip Stockford Reserve that the two of us first realized the offerings of such.

A look up and we knew the tree had been visited by a Pileated Woodpecker in the past tense and present.

And because of our GLLT experience all those moons ago (we really can’t remember how many moons, but it’s been many), we knew to look through the debris on the ground. As is often the case, we were rewarded with the tubular bird scat filled with insect body parts.

Further on, a burl upon a Yellow Birch invited us to curtsy. And in looking at that, my friend spied something else nearby.

A bear claw tree. Ah, another memory was evoked . . . the time we led a bear walk for the GLLT upon the Bishops Cardinal Trail. Only one participant joined us and we got rather carried away with our bear evidence sightings.

That participant didn’t come back for a while and we feared we’d scared her off, but I’ve since learned otherwise. Her job and her family occupied much of her time and now she comes to events when she can.

And by all the opened beech nut husks, we knew that last summer had been a mast year for such nuts and we hoped that meant a great supply of nutrition for Ursus americanus.

Then there was the tree with the hieroglyphics that resembled a treasure map. Really though, they represented trails followed by various bark beetles that bored through the wood. Each pattern represents a different species, and a place where eggs were laid and the larvae ate their way through the tunnels.

We were almost to the end of our hike when another group of trees begged our awe for so white were they that we could have been easily fooled. It seemed that in Tom Sawyer fashion, these trees had been painted . . . with Whitewash Lichen. It’s a crustose lichen that looks like . . . whitewash.

With our vehicles in sight, we spotted one more to bow before, for by the colors, lines, and cracks of its dead inner bark we saw sculpted art.

And stepping back a few feet, we noticed several faces.

The most obvious whispered tales to all who would listen. Tales of the land upon which we’d hiked. Tales of the people whose pastures and foundations and gravestones we encountered. Tales of the issues between the land trust that owns the property and the current residents.

If we listen to the trees, we might hear the stories of the canopy as reflected in the bubbles and the gurgling water. Trees can talk; we just need to pay more attention.

P.S. Thank you, Joan, for sharing the trail and a brain with me today. The trees evoked so many memories and helped us make new ones.

LOVE ME, love me: Three state park gems in a row

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you: Maine that is. And more specifically, its state parks. To that end, my guy and I have been traveling at a snail’s pace since we began this journey a year ago,. In 2019, we checked two off the list. But today . . . the number finally more than doubled.

Our journey began with lunch at Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth. Shout out to several local businesses and friends: Pam and Justin Ward of Bridgton Books for the book bag in which we packed today’s picnic, Sierra Sunshine Simpson for the bee’s wax wrap that kept our sandwiches fresh, Fly Away Farm for the sourdough wheat bread and grape jam that enhanced our Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, and my sister for the chocolate-covered McVitie’s digestive biscuits that rounded out the meal.

Lunch completed, we began to look around and right beside the picnic table grew ever-hairy Staghorn Sumac twigs with heart-shaped leaf scars surrounding new buds. What’s not to love?

At last we headed off onto the trails. Do you see what I see? Or rather, do you not see what I don’t see? Snow. Back home, it’s quite deep, but along the coast, it seemed to be non-existent.

Eventually the trail led to the Atlantic Ocean and the infamous rocky coast of Maine. It’s really my mom’s rocky coast of Maine for she was always in search of such. Having grown up in Connecticut like she did, I understand her fascination.

My limited understanding of geological folds created by heat and pressure during the mountain-building process was enhanced by crashing waves.

Within the complexity of the geological formations was another with its own history written throughout its structure.

Sunburst lichen, foliose to umbilicate, spreading extensively, yet loosely attached, smooth to somewhat wrinkled, featured a complex organism that arose from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of fungi in a mutualistic relationship that included yeast in the mix. How’s that for a simple life form?

Step by step, one amazing feature after another made itself known, including a quartz vein cutting a quartzite bed.

Eventually we came a rock that could have been a sculpture of a bald eagle. Or perhaps a story written that still needed to be deciphered.

We continued to walk along the edge, enjoying the action of the waves as juxtaposed beside the prehistoric rocks. Part of the splendor, in fact, a major part, included the color. Our western Maine eyes don’t mind the blues and browns and greens and whites of winter, but beheld the beauty and bounty that was the splendor of this winter day.

We stood in wonder as the waves moved in, met the rock with splashes high and lo, and then retreated.

At last we walked higher ground, but still noted buckets of wonder as waves interacted with rocks to the southwest.

Beside the well-worn path we walked, others who have known this way from one generation to the next offered their winter forms, such as this Queen Anne’s Lace.

The woody form of Evening Primrose also greeted us in the midday midst.

Bulbous and colorful, yet equally full of flavor (so noted in days of yore by my father) and vitamins , rose hips offered their own take of winter.

I soon learned as we stepped away from the coastline that we weren’t the only soles who wandered the area. A vole had traveled in the subnivean layer between the ground’s surface and snow that had been–leaving its telltale tunnel.

After we circled about the edge of the 41-acre property, we headed “inland” toward the reason for its special upkeep as a state park. Once upon a time this had been a prime piece of land that offered a protective layer to Portland’s port. While a battery had been constructed, with clear points of view and contact, as well as enemy protection, no guns had ever been fired.

About a tenth or two down the road, a mini harbor provides protection for any who travel the fingered coast of Maine.

Because it offered smaller rocks among its mix, I asked my guy to look for hearts. Seek and ye shall find.

Seaweed and seashells added to the array and provided another colorful hue to this mid-winter day.

Across the harbor from our stance stood one of the two former lighthouses for which the area was known.

No longer in use, its light warned ocean farers of the rocky coast. Life has changed since its day of service, but as we stood nearby we could hear the toll of its well-revered friend, a bell buoy.

In the opposite direction of the lighthouse, the folded rocks bespoke their ancient form.

Beside such, we could feel the bend and imagine the creation.

Stepping atop, we looked back and took in the landscape.

And then we moved on, stepping out toward a beach whose shape rendered its name.

Walking upon its much softer coastal offering, we noted artistic “trees” that appeared to be deer hiding in the sandy forest.

And then there was the moss-colored seaweed making us think of the Emerald Isle miles and miles beyond.

After crossing from the seaweed-covered rocks to an upland piece, we then stepped down toward the water again where red sand greeted us and if your imagination is in as full gear as ours was, you may see a heart within the sandy artwork.

In places where water flowed over rock faces, we rejoiced in the interface of ripples upon ridges.

Up close and beyond, the scenery and the scents filled the innermost recesses of our souls.

And the artwork of those who had come before touched our whimsical sides.

After we’d reached the southwestern edge and turned back, the reason for this state park’s name became most obvious: Crescent Beach.

Walking back, we continued our quest for the shape of a heart. I found one in the suds of the retreating tide.

At exactly the same moment, my guy found one in a more rounded form among the stone offerings.

And then a gull captured our attention. He appeared to have found a hamburger roll upon which to dine.

For a few minutes he played with his meal, perhaps softening its texture in the low water.

When he finally did partake of his meal, he swallowed it all in one piece and if you look carefully at his neck, you may see the bulge on its way down.

Our third and final park of the day, for so are they closely located along the roads of Cape Elizabeth here in Maine, was Kettle Cove. Of course, it’s located between the other two, but we saved it for last.

On another day we’ll revisit it and take a look at the tidal pools that it offers, but the sun was growing low in the sky when we arrived and so our journey was on the rather quick side and didn’t do it the true honor it should receive.

In the end, however, we were thrilled with the opportunity to explore three state parks in our quest to get to know Maine better. Today’s LOVE ME, love me tour included Two Lights State Park, Crescent Beach State Park, and Kettle Cove State Park–three gems in a row.

wondermyway turns 5

Five years ago today I turned from taking a hundred million photos on each tramp to taking a hundred million photos and writing about them.

Typically, on the anniversary I scan the past year’s posts and choose one from each month, providing a photo to represent it, with a brief (or not so brief) comment and link to the full read.

But . . . because this is a milestone I never imagined reaching (posts: 733; views: 76,793; visitors: 44371; followers: 578), I thought I’d take the time to thank you, the readers, for wandering through the wonders with me

THANK YOU

This afternoon I decided to step back into my happy place where the journey began on February 21, 2015. I had no idea back then what I might write about, but I was so excited, and a wee bit anxious, no, I was wicked anxious (don’t you love that Maine descriptor?) to share the little things with others.

It felt a bit egotistical to invite people along, but I took the first step and so many others have followed.

Over these five years, I’ve been humbled by the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and greet new ones through this effort.

Please know that typically it is late in the day when I sit down to write a post, first having spent at least a few hours tramping (“You’re stating the obvious, Mom,” my sons would say if they actually read this; nor does my guy just so you know–those of you who comment to him about something that you read may have noticed his bewildered look; and then he realizes you must follow the blog), more time downloading photos in hopes of finding a few key ones to use, and then figuring out what the story is and how to tell it.

As I wander, whether alone or with you, the first draft often forms in my head, but by the time I stomp the snow or mud or pine sap off my boots, it shakes loose and disappears. I trust, however, that whatever phrase I thought was brilliant in the field will flash back through my mind at some point. Does it? Perhaps, but I’ll never know because that first draft doesn’t get recorded.

Writing is a process, one that I’ve forever enjoyed, but what you read is only part of the whole picture. Because it’s late in the day, as I said earlier, and I’m tired, I make mistakes, which I don’t always catch before I publish. For those who are email followers, or those who quickly read one of my “stories” just after I’ve posted it to social media, please forgive me. You see what I consider draft 2 without any further edits. Laurie LaMountain, the editor of Lake Living magazine, for which I’ve worked since 2006, knows full well that draft 3 is not the final from me. Sometimes it takes 18 drafts before I’m ready to go to print, and even then I know that when I turn the page to one of my articles, I’ll cringe with frustration for I missed something.

Thank you to all of you who catch my grammatical errors and gently let me know. I love having you along to share the journey.

And thank you to those who do the same when my identification or explanation is not quite correct. As in, it’s downright wrong. I appreciate your engagement.

Thank you to all of you for reading this long story and so many others that I’ve written. I know some of you just scan the photos, and I can’t say I blame you.

For me, wondermyway is a diary that I can look back upon to recall all the amazing sights and insights the natural world has shared with me. I’m happy to be able to share that with so many others–to invite you into this part of my life.

Thank you also to those of you who, because of the blog, have bestowed gifts upon me from books and calendars to ornaments, pillows, wrist warmers, scat, feathers, and even a camera on loan for an extended period of time when mine went kerplunk into the water.

No, I am not asking for more gifts; I just want to say that I am often surprised to know that what I shared or time I spent with you touched you as much as it did me.

As a parting gift, today, for helping me celebrate this fifth anniversary, let me share one post that I thought stood out this past year.

Do you remember The Secrets of Life Found Among the Dead?

Each journey has offered refresher courses and new learnings and I appreciate that you let me share them.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I celebrate the wonder that has been revealed on so many wanders thus far.

Again, thank you.

From Lovell to Lewiston, Naturally

This morning dawned as all do, but not all are quite so pristine. As I drove to Lovell I gave thanks that I’d be able to explore with a friend as we completed a reconnaissance mission before leading a wetland hike next weekend.

My friend Alice brought along her friend, Diana, and we tried to bee-line to Bradley Brook and the wetland beyond, but there were so many things to stop of us in our tracks, including the numerous prints of white-tailed deer and an occasional squirrel. Plus beech buds and marcescent leaves and . . . and . . . and. If I share all now, you won’t need to join us on February 8 and we really want you to come.

Eventually we reached the brook and were wowed by the colors and textures it offered.

As the brook flowed so did the ice form and its variation bespoke the water’s varying ways.

It was beside the brook that another local resident revealed its name by the prints it had made. We welcomed conditions that have been a bit on the warmer side of late (it wasn’t exactly warm when we began this morning, but these prints were made a night or two ago and actually showed some details or clues that led to identity). Do you see the baby hand in the upper left-hand print? And the diagonal orientation of one foot ahead of the other?

We continued following the raccoon and the brook toward the wetland of our destination, but paused again and again to rejoice in the presentation before us, including the tree that formed a triangle in reality and shadow.

At last we arrived at our destination, curious about the possibilities it offered. Though the temp was on the chilly side and we’ve had some really cold days this winter, we’ve also had some with much milder temps and so we watched our footing because none of us wanted to break through.

It’s a place where animal tracks intersect with nature’s lines and shadows grow long, whether arced or straight.

While we focused on the offerings, Alice and I gave thanks for Diana’s questions, which helped us consider how and what to share with participants who join us next weekend. Male and female catkins? Oh my.

Eventually we found our way back to the brook, and if it seems like I’ve failed to show you all that we saw, it’s only because I don’t want to give away any treasures we want to share. Did I mention that Alice and I are leading a walk for the Greater Lovell Land Trust on February 8th at 9:30am.

We noted an ice bridge that crossed the brook, but it was thin and no critters had yet taken advantage of its structure. Next weekend, however, we’ll check again.

At the old yellow birch we paused before turning away from the brook, but really, don’t you just want to spend some time in this landscape? Listening to the babble of the water and calls of the chickadees and nuthatches? It’s a perfect place to get lost for a few moments and let the forest refill the innermost recesses of your lungs.

And then to look for lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria), an indicator for rich, healthy ecosystems such as old growth forests.

Alice teased me because I love to pour water upon it and watch as it magically turns bright green. The main photobiont is a green alga, and when water hits it it immediately photosynthesizes and goes from dull and dry to vibrant and pliable. It’s also a type of cyanolichen, meaning it contains nitrogen-fixing bacteria. When it falls to the ground and decomposes into the forest floor, it contributes its nitrogen reserve to the soil.

Eventually our time in Lovell came to an end and within the hour I drove to Lewiston for another meeting with some like-minded friends.

The plan was for me to deliver sets of tree cookies to Cheryl Ring and Sue Kistenmacher, two of four co-coordinators for the Maine Master Naturalist class now taking place in Waterville. After filling Cheryl’s car with boxes of bark, we headed off for a walk in the woods of Lewiston.

Within moments, we found ourselves admiring the red in the bark of a red oak and Cheryl went forth to honor it for announcing its name.

Red maple also announced itself, though in a completely different manner. It’s the only tree in Maine that suffers from bullseye target canker which creates . . . a bullseye shape or circular plates caused by a fungus.

With these two notorious birders, we spent a lot of time looking up and saw chickadees, nuthatches, crows, a downy woodpecker, heard a pileated, and the icing on the cake: two brown creepers upon the tree trunks.

But . . . we also spent time looking down and the footprints beside our feet amazed us.

It was the orientation of prints always presented on a diagonal with five tear-drop shaped toes and in a bounding pattern that first heard us exclaiming.

Taking measurements and noting all the details, while using Dorcas Miller’s Track Finder book and David Brown’s Trackards, we nailed it. Fisher. (I just have to say this: not a fisher cat. It’s not in the feline family; it’s a weasel.)

As we followed the fisher tracks we met another traveler of these woods. It threw us off at first because its pattern led us astray. But we followed the track for a bit and examined the prints until we found a few that helped us make a positive ID.

We’d considered fox, but none of the measurements matched up and we were pretty sure we were seeing five toes rather than four and then we knew the creator. The second raccoon of my day.

As it happened we followed both the fisher and raccoon and noticed that while the raccoon walked by the pine trees, the fisher’s prints were visible on one side and then on the other in a way that was not humanly or fisherly possible, unless the mammal climbed the tree and jumped off the other side.

And planted a solid landing–like any great gymnast.

How great it was to stand there and note where the fisher and raccoon tracks had intersected–both overnight perhaps, but for as far as we had traveled no interaction had taken place.

We did, however, find an area that explained why the fisher was on the hunt: a hillside filled with squirrel middens. This spot offered more squirrel middens than I’ve seen all winter.

A midden is a garbage pile. The red squirrel finds a high spot, either the lay of the land, a rock, tree stump, or branch, upon which to “eat” a white pine cone like an ear of corn. The squirrel pulls off each scale on the cone and munches on the tiny pine nuts, discarding the inedible parts.

Each pine scale holds two pine nuts with attached wings or samaras–think maple seed with its wing. If you look closely at the inside of the pine cone scale, you can see the shape of the samaras and seeds.

Just before we turned back on our afternoon journey, we discovered a coyote track and gave thanks that we were in a city space that provided an incredible sanctuary for the mammals and birds.

My thanks began in the morning when I spent time exploring the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge in Lovell with Maine Master Naturalist Alice and her friend Diane.

And it concluded with the afternoon spent with Maine Master Naturalists Cheryl and Sue at Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary in Lewiston.

From Lovell to Lewiston, naturally with naturalists. Thanks be.

Lighting The Way

It felt like months had passed since our paths had crossed, but finally the stars aligned as they say, and my friend Marita and I found time for a hike this afternoon. Our chosen destination: Mount Tom in Fryeburg, Maine.

Within the foundation at the start of the trail the snow outlined the stones. In other seasons, these structures blend in with the landscape but on this day they were highlighted and we could almost imagine the stories of yore.

Lines intersected and wood interrupted, much as we’ve raised our children both together and independently.

Higher up, again the snow showed off the details in a way that might normally blend in and remain invisible. It all seemed so symmetrical and then in the debris below–a much more random design reflecting the course our paths have taken.

At the edge of the ledges we noted edges. Rounded and straight, interwoven as our families have been with variation along the way.

As we followed the path made by others we caught up on each other’s lives and shared a few memories of the past for ours is a journey that began long before we actually knew each other since we are from the same hometown.

Occasionally, the trail offered shades other than snow white and gray granite; a glimpse into the future was featured by the evergreen leaves of Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower. What will our future hold? A continued friendship we know.

We know not what the future holds, but revel in the possibilities as indicated by fresh Pileated Woodpecker holes.

And when scat happens, we’ll be there–to examine it, decipher it, and help each other through it, or at least listen and offer comments of reassurance and consideration.

Two and a half miles later we reached the summit where the contrast of sky and landscape pleased our eyes and gave us our bearings.

And a view of Little Mountain to the far left and the long ridge of Pleasant Mountain pointed to the hometown we have shared for over thirty years, almost twice the time of the place where we grew up but still have some ties.

Our stay at the top wasn’t long for we wanted to descend before daylight gave way to night.

At last we returned to the foundation where our journey had begun and again admired the stones and their placement.

Lighting the way had been the glory of the January light, but really there was more: friendship, understanding, similarities, differences, and hearts that may sometimes turn sideways, but always love.

Secret Giver of Gifts

Though I first posted this in 2016, I keep returning to it. Thought you might want to as well. Peace and joy be with you.

Snow quietly drifted earthward as baking scents wafted through the house and, Christmas lights sparkled from the living room. The spirit of the season has settled upon me at last. And today I was reminded of a time when our youngest asked, “Mom, are you Santa?”

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He’d held onto the belief for far longer than any of his classmates. And for that reason, I too, couldn’t let go. And so that day as we drove along I reminded him that though the shopping mall Santas were not real, we’d had several encounters that made believers out of all of us.

The first occurred over thirty years ago when I taught English in Franklin, New Hampshire. Across the hall from my classroom was a special education class. And fourteen-year-old Mikey, a student in that class, LOVED Santa.

Each year the bread deliveryman dressed in the famous red costume when he made his final delivery before Christmas break. To Mikey’s delight, he always stopped by his classroom. That particular year, a raging snowstorm developed. The bread man called the cafeteria to say that he would not be able to make the delivery. School was going to be dismissed after lunch, but we were all disappointed for Mikey’s sake.

And then  . . . as the lunch period drew to a close, Santa walked through the door and directly toward Mikey, who hooted with joy as he embraced the jolly old elf. As swiftly as he entered, Santa left. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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And about nineteen years ago, as the boys sat at the kitchen counter eating breakfast on Christmas Eve morning, we spotted a man walking on the power lines across the field from our house. We all wondered who it was, but quickly dismissed the thought as he disappeared from our view, until . . . a few minutes later he reappeared. The second time, he stopped and looked in our direction. I grabbed the binoculars we kept on the counter for wildlife viewings. The man was short and plump. He wore a bright red jacket, had white hair and a short, white beard. The boys each took a turn with the binoculars. The man stood and stared in our direction for a couple of minutes, and then he continued walking in the direction from which he’d originally come. We never saw him again. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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Another incident occurred about seventeen years ago, when on Christmas Eve, our phone rang. The unrecognizable elderly male voice asked for our oldest son. When I inquired who was calling, he replied, “Santa.” He spoke briefly with both boys and mentioned things that they had done during the year. I chatted with him again before saying goodbye. We were all wide-eyed with amazement. I have no doubt that that was Santa.

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Once I reminded our youngest of those stories, he dropped the subject for the time being. I knew he’d ask again and I also knew that none of us wanted to give up the magic of anticipation for those special moments we know as Christmas morning, when the world is suddenly transformed.

I also knew it was time he heard another story–that of Saint Nicholas, the Secret Giver of Gifts. It goes something like this . . .

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The nobleman looked to Heaven and cried, “Alas. Yesterday I was rich. Overnight I have lost my fortune. Now my three daughters cannot be married for I have no dowry to give. Nor can I support them.”

For during the Fourth Century, custom required the father of the bride to provide the groom with a dowry of money, land or any valuable possession. With no dowry to offer, the nobleman broke off his daughters’ engagements.

“Do not worry, Father. We will find a way,” comforted his oldest daughter.

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Then it happened. The next day, the eldest daughter discovered a bag of gold on the windowsill. She peered outside to see who had left the bag, but the street was vacant.

Looking toward Heaven, her father gave thanks. The gold served as her dowry and the eldest daughter married.

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A day later, another bag of gold mysteriously appeared on the sill. The second daughter married.

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Several days later, the father stepped around the corner of his house and spied a neighbor standing by an open window. In shocked silence, he watched the other man toss a familiar bag into the house. It landed in a stocking that the third daughter had hung by the chimney to dry.

The neighbor turned from the window and jumped when he saw the father.

“Thank you. I cannot thank you enough. I had no idea that the gold was from you,” said the father.

“Please, let this be our secret,” begged the neighbor. “Do not tell anyone where the bags came from.”

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The generous neighbor was said to be Bishop Nicholas, a young churchman of Myra in the Asia Minor, or what we call Turkey. Surrounded by wealth in his youth, Bishop Nicholas had matured into a faithful servant of God. He had dedicated his life to helping the poor and spreading Christianity. News of his good deeds circulated in spite of his attempt to be secretive. People named the bishop, “The Secret Giver of Gifts.”

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Following Bishop Nicholas’ death, he was made a saint because of his holiness, generosity and acts of kindness. Over the centuries, stockings were hung by chimneys on the Eve of December 6, the date he is known to have died, in hopes that they would be filled by “The Secret Giver of Gifts.”

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According to legend, Saint Nicholas traveled between Heaven and Earth in a wagon pulled by a white steed on the Eve of December 6. On their doorsteps, children placed gifts of hay and carrots for the steed. Saint Nicholas, in return, left candy and cookies for all the good boys and girls.

In Holland, Saint Nicholas, called Sinterklaas by the Dutch, was so popular for his actions, that the people adopted him as their patron saint or spiritual guardian.

Years later, in 1613, Dutch people sailed to the New World where they settled New Amsterdam, or today’s New York City. They brought the celebration of their beloved patron with them to America.

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To the ears of English colonists living in America, Sinterklaas must have sounded like Santa Claus. Over time, he delivered more than the traditional cookies and candy for stockings. All presents placed under a tree were believed to be brought by him.

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Santa Claus’ busy schedule required he travel the world in a short amount of time. Consequently, as recorded in Clement Moore’s poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer replaced the wagon and steed.

Since Saint Nicholas was known for his devout Christianity, the celebration of his death was eventually combined with the anniversary of Christ’s birth. December 24th or Christmas Eve, began to represent the Saint’s visit to Earth.

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Traditionally, gifts are exchanged to honor the Christ Child as the three Wise Men had honored Him in Bethlehem with frankincense, gold and myrrh.

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One thing, however, has not changed. The gifts delivered by Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, or whomever your tradition dictates, have always and will continue to symbolize the love people bear for one another.

Though they are now young adults, my continued hope for my sons is that they will realize the magic of Christmas comes from the heart and that we all have a wee bit of Santa in us. Yes, Patrick, Santa is real.

May you continue to embrace the mystery and discover wonder wherever you look. And may you find joy in being the Secret Giver of Gifts.