To Fly or Not to Fly?

Sigh. And sigh again. Happy sighs are these. Because . . . the dragonflies are transforming from their aquatic form to flyers. In either lifestyle, they are predators, but it’s the latter flyer that we appreciate the most. Especially during years like this when the Black Fly and Mosquito populations are prolific. We give thanks, of course, for such prevalence, because these little stinging fliers become odonata and amphibian and bird food, or so we like to pretend that we give thanks. Really, we’re grateful for the insistent buzzing and biting, but even more grateful for those who predate upon them.

The exciting thing about this week is that several of us had the great opportunity to spy some dragonflies eclosing, the act of emerging from their larval forms. So here’s the deal: fully developed aquatic larvae, aka nymphs, crawl out of the water onto emergent grasses, sedges, shrubs, and rocks, split the back of their skin and emerge as winged adults like the one in view here.

Newly eclosed dragonflies lack pigment so identifying them isn’t always easy. Of even more importance, they are extremely vulnerable to predation as they clutch their old skin while pumping air into their bodies and liquid into their expanding wings. One way to note an emergent adult is by the cloudiness of the wings as they set their internal systems in motion. The tough part is that they must wait in this position, unable to escape predators, until wings dry and they can fly. The process can take several hours.

And so it was with great glee that we noticed wee, yet mature Hudsonian Whiteface dragonflies, members of the Skimmer family, flying and posing, flying and posing.

The yellow spot on segment seven (dragonfly abdomens consist of ten segments) is triangular in shape, aiding in the identification as I get my dragonfly eyes back on.

In no time, it seemed, there were dragonflies everywhere. Well, not everywhere for I traveled several trails and realized that those who were emerging tended to be near stiller waters. The Common Baskettail, as this species is known, is a member of the family Corduliidae (the Emeralds). Unlike other Emerald family members, baskettails lack the kryptonite-green eyes, though as they age the color does change. But they make up for it by being super hairy. As a naiad, the hair apparently traps tiny pieces of debris, thus hiding it from predators in the muck. In its adult form, the hair serves as a spring jacket, holding in heat.

All that is fine and well and there will be many more odonata references during the next six months as I wonder my way. but today I happened upon one who added to my knowledge bank and I’ll forever celebrate this opportunity to learn more. Do you see the neon green appearing to drip off the wings?

Look closely at the left behind aquatic structure, aka exuvia or cast skin, and you can see the length of the former nymph that helps define this species to family based on its shape: Darner.

Though I first thought this specimen was dead, suddenly it walked along the underside of an old stump beside the water. Try as I could to separate its wings, I was unsuccessful. For some reason they were stuck together. And one was even folded still as it would have been upon first emerging, thus there was green at its tip, though it appeared at first glance to be in the middle of the wing.

Based on the fact that its thorax stripes were already taking on its adult colors, I knew this darner had been trying to reach flight stage for hours. What had gone wrong? What was the neon green? Something must have gone astray as this dragonfly tried to pump hemolymph (Insect fluid like blood) through to its wings to stiffen them for flight.

Hemolymph is made up of water and other characteristics like carbohydrates and amino acids, and also pigments, though the latter are typically clear but may be tinged with yellow or green. In the case of this darner, it seems that green is the color of choice. Had it been able to expand its wings, the fluid would have drained out of the wings and back into the body. Usually, it takes about an hour or more for the wings to reach full length and they have a cloudy appearance as the fluid is pumped into them. They are held together over the back, much like a damselfly, but once the fluid drains out of them, the dragonfly is able to extend the wings and there’s a shiny glint to them until they full dry and stiffen. And then, in a split second, when one such as me is watching, flight happens.

For some reason, this darner will not know flight, but I gave thanks for the opportunity to see its blood and slow my brain down to think about the process.

To fly or not to fly?: it’s a complicated question.

As The Vernal Pool Turns

If you follow me either virtually or in reality, you know that during April and May I spend a lot of time beside vernal pools. And this year is no different. Thankfully, I also get to take others along on the journey, from school children to their parents, and members of the public, plus colleague naturalists in the form of Greater Lovell Land Trust’s volunteer docents.

And so it’s been that this particular pool on a land trust property has received tons of attention this year. We’ve always known it to be special because it’s home to Fairy Shrimp, which just the occurrence of one makes it significant by State of Maine standards.

Vernal pools provide essential breeding habitat for certain species of wildlife, including salamanders and some frogs species. At the same time, juvenile and adult amphibians associated with such a pool provide an important food source for small carnivores as well as large game species. Many of these amphibians are pool specific in that they must return to their natal vernal pool to breed, thus making them and the surrounding habitat important and the loss of such would lead to loss of local amphibians, a decrease in biodiversity, and a decline in food available to others who inhabit the surrounding natural community.

Upon visiting this past week, the pool had taken on a new sheen, appearing at first glance to resemble ice. But it was much too warm for that to be the case.

Floating upon the pool’s surface were male Red Maple flowers, the oval items at the ends of slender, threadlike stalks the pollen producing anthers dangling on their filaments and the release of said pollen the cause of the ice-like presentation.

So the exciting thing about this particular pool is that though It has long been a breeding ground for Fairy Shrimp (and mosquito larvae), this year we spotted more of the former than ever swimming along on their backs as they filtered the water and sought a mate.

Though the pollen on the pool may give it a look of being polluted, the presence of Fairy Shrimp actually serve as an indicator of good water quality.

Where a month ago we were scooping up hundreds of these tiny crustaceans, this past week we found only a few, which served as one sign that this is a pool in transition. Their life cycle isn’t long, but if you checked in recently with the post entitled Peering Into the Pool, you’ll have learned a cool fact or two about their existence.

Back to now. Wood Frog tadpoles had suddenly emerged and their egg masses began to disintegrate, though still adding a source of food in the symbiotic relationship with an algal form.

Mosquito larvae and pupae, though still present, were not as prevalent, given that their flying, biting form had begun to hatch.

And then there was another change to note. And it’s a major change in my book of these habitats. Large Bullfrogs had taken up residence.

The wee bit smaller but similar Green Frogs had as well.

How does one decipher between a Bullfrog and Green Frog? First, as you approach a pool and you hear a squeal as a frog jumps from the edge into the water, you know that Green Frogs are in the midst.

And if you finally get to spy one, look for the line behind the eye. If it follows along both edges of the frog’s back, called dorsal lateral folds, it’s a Green Frog.

If, however, the line extends from the back of the eye and wraps around the round disk, or tympanum membrane (think ear), it’s a Bullfrog.

Also, Bullfrogs don’t leap away quite a suddenly as Green Frogs. In fact, they can stay quite still for hours on end.

Once human eyes adjust to the surroundings, shadows may pretend to be frogs, but they aren’t. The real deal, however, lurks at the surface, often only its eyes making its presence known.

Hemlock needles and maple flowers decorate it, and much to my surprise don’t frustrate it. Though some frogs may seem super sensitive to us, they also exhibit a patience not to be matched as they sit and wait.

Oh, did I mention that they were everywhere? Literally.

The thing is. these two frog species weren’t in the pool to breed like the Wood Frogs had been. They, after all, need a permanent water source because their tadpoles take two years at a minimum to morph into adults and a vernal pool that dries up each year would not be suitable. This tadpole was spied at a nearby pond, indicating that perhaps the Bullfrog came from that source to the vernal pool.

So what were the Bullfrogs and Green Frogs doing at the pool? Predating all that live within. Remember what I said earlier, that vernal pools provide food for small and large predators. These would be on the smaller size, though not the smallest.

Perhaps that’s why we weren’t seeing as many Fairy Shrimp this past week. And given the prevalence of these two frogs, who knows what will hop or crawl out of the pool, but we suspect some Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders will make it to adulthood so that they can carry on the tradition of returning to their natal pools to breed.

The thing about visiting a pool such as this with the younger set is that they are bound to make exciting finds. And so one did, locating a Spring Peeper swimming about.

And in the surrounding uplands, another found a Pickerel Frog. We could hear their snoring chorus, so this discovery wasn’t unexpected. But still it was special.

How to tell a Pickerel Frog from a Leopard Frog (the latter a species I’ve only seen a few times): by the spots on its back. The Pickerel’s spots are more symmetrical than the randomness of a Leopard’s and the Pickerel’s spots are outlined while a Leopard’s are not.

And then there was this teeny, tiny American Toad covered with warts and suddenly the ground was hopping with these wee creatures and Spring Peepers and one had to be careful where one stepped.

The final find of the week, an adult Wood Frog with its robber mask making for a sure ID. This one was a poser.

As the vernal pool turns, so do its inhabitants and I give great thanks for the opportunity to learn from it and share it with so many others who add to the lessons.

Dedication: This one is for Nancy Hogan Posey cuze I was going to write about something completely different today and your question turned the page to this one. Thank you.

Just Another Boring Mountain Mondate

No need to read on. You know it will be photos of today’s finds. Ho hum.

Our day began as it always does, with a shared piece of CraftonMain Lemon Meringue Pie topped with a raspberry, while we sat and watched this pair enjoy a meal of their own. Wait. We don’t always begin with the pie–but sure wish we could. Cardinals, however, have been blessing us with their appearance for years.

And then there was the sighting of the neighborhood fox in the field beyond our stonewall; it had its eyes on the neighbor’s dogs while we had our eyes on it. Don’t worry, the dogs didn’t become breakfast. In fact, as their mistress began to walk toward the fox (we don’t think she spied it, nor did the dogs or they would have given chase), the fox turned and dashed across the field, over another stonewall and into our woodlot.

At last, it was time to begin our hike along a trail we haven’t visited since August 2019. Our intention had been to climb it in 2020, but during the first year of the pandemic, it was closed and then we never considered it . . . until this morning. And as we started up, I remembered . . . this is the mountain where the Early Saxifrage grows.

 It’s also known as rockbreaker for its habit of cleaving to the rocks, and perhaps suggested the Latin name–Saxifraga virginiensis. Saxum-rock and frangere-to break.

A funny name for such a diminutive and delicate display.

Round-leaved Violet with its scalloped-rimmed leaves more heart shaped than its name suggests also grew along the trail. Spying these tiny offerings of yellow with those incredible magenta runways meant to attract pollinators always brings a smile as if they were meant to brighten the day of all who hike this way.

Our journey found us enjoying the sound of the water’s rhythm as we climbed higher . . .

and contemplating each step once we turned away from the brook.

At the summit, the view from lunch rock included a look to the southeast where the sky predicted the forecast of a front moving in.

Meanwhile, our hometown mountain stood out in the sun.

But the grand lady, Mount Washington, was starting to disappear into the clouds.

It was windy and a bit chilly at the summit, but that didn’t stop the Brown Elfin butterfly from flirting with a few others where the blueberries grow.

I also spotted one Spring Azure. Both are rather small butterflies and if you look closely, you might spot that their antennae are patterned white and black.

On the way down, we did what we often do–looked for bear claw trees because we know they exist here. And because I know such an activity will slow my guy down. 😉 Bingo. He spotted one that was new to us.

I went in for a closer look and couldn’t believe all the marks on display.

And so I began to circle around the trunk.

One can only imagine the crop of Beech Nuts this tree must have offered.

But enough is enough. It’s just another bear claw tree, after all. Nothing to write home about. Or is it? Think about the bear and the blueberries the Brown Elfin Butterfly will help pollinate and the Beech Nuts the trees will produce and all the connections that will be made, which will include the Cardinals and the Red Fox and the flowers and all that is part of the forest. And be wowed like us. It was hardly just another boring mountain mondate on Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield, Maine.

Peering Into The Pool

If you’ve been following wondermyway for a few years, you know that each spring I make a bee-line for vernal pools, those shallow, short-lived ponds that fill with snowmelt or spring rain for at least several weeks most years, have no major inlet or outlet, and most importantly, no fish. Without fish, reproductive success is more likely for some amphibians, crustaceans, and insects who depend upon these ephemeral water bodies for breeding.

There are four indicator species in Maine that define a vernal pool as significant. Since 2007, significant vernal pool habitat has been protected by law under Maine’s Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA): “Significant Vernal Pool (SVP) habitat consists of a vernal pool depression and a portion of the critical terrestrial habitat within a 250-foot radius of the spring or fall high water mark of the depression. Any activity in, on, or over the SVP or the 250-foot critical terrestrial habitat zone must avoid unreasonable impacts to the significant vernal pool habitat and obtain approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, either through Permit by Rule (a streamlined permitting process) or full individual NRPA permit.”

Those four indicator species that define such significance: Wood Frogs, Spotted Salamanders, Blue Spotted Salamanders, and Fairy Shrimp. The pool must contain 40 Wood Frog egg masses, or 20 Spotted Salamander Egg masses, or 10 Blue Spotted Salamander egg masses, or one Fairy Shrimp. I’ve yet to see a Blue Spotted Salamander or its eggs.

Some may see these ponds as oversized puddles, but let your eyes focus and suddenly you’ll realize that they are places teeming with life.

As you do, it might surprise you to spot lots of flying activity just above the pool’s surface. It’s actually Midges on the move, trying to get a date so that there will be even more Midges on the move. They look rather like mosquitoes, but don’t bite, so not to worry.

Male Midges have a longer, more slender body that the females, and they like to posture in attempts to interest one of the opposite gender. They’re actually fun to watch.

Of course, equally, ahem, fun to watch are the larval forms of Mosquitoes as they wriggle and wraggle through the water column, some even forming dense clusters.

If you do some container dipping at a vernal pool near you in order to take a closer look, I trust you won’t dump these onto the leaf litter rather than back into the water. As much as the females annoy us once they morph into that annoying flying insect that needs to suck mammal blood to gain proteins and nutrients for their eggs, they play an important part in the food web.

Especially for warblers such as this Yellow-rumped that was part of a flock that arrived in western Maine this week–just as it should have, being the end of April. It was spotted quite near one of the pools, so I suspect Mosquito Mash will soon be on the menu.

Back to those four indicator species for a significant vernal pool . . . it was this week that while looking close up at some Wood Frog eggs, I realized we had babies in the form of tadpoles.

I saw “we” because mom and dad Wood Frog do not hang around. Once they’ve canoodled and eggs have been fertilized and deposited, they exit the pool and return to their upland habitat, where they spend the next fifty weeks, so it’s up to us to watch over their young ones. Their metamorphosis, or change to adult form, will be completed by late June or earlier should temperatures rise and the pool begin to dry out.

I encourage you , dear readers, to do what I do and stare intently into the leaf litter to see if you can spot some tadpoles. And who knows what else you might discover.

While looking into another section of the pool, you might notice another type of egg mass, this one coated with a gelatinous mass that encompasses all of the eggs. Spotted Salamanders made their Big Night return to the pools about a week or so later than the Wood Frogs, so the embryos are still developing.

I find it fascinating to see the little forms take shape. It’s like looking into a mother’s womb without medical devices.

Okay, it’s time for you to peer into the pool again. This time you are looking for Fairy Shrimp, those tiny crustaceans that are about a half inch long, swim on their backs, and move eleven pairs of legs like a crew team in a rowing shell. Remember, I said one Fairy Shrimp makes a pool significant according to the State of Maine. How many do you see in this photo?

Those in the first Fairy Shrimp photo are males, but females are present as well. The way to identify a female is to look for her two brood sacs that are positioned just under her legs or appendages.

So here’s the thing. Fairy Shrimp have a short life span, but . . . their eggs must dry out and freeze before they can respond to environmental cues such as reflooding to hatch. One of the pools I’ve been frequenting lately I’d only discovered last year and it had no Fairy Shrimp. The other day when I approached with some volunteer docents from Greater Lovell Land Trust, one exclaimed within seconds of our arrival, “Fairy Shrimp.”

That got me thinking: how is it that we didn’t spot any last year, and this year we started seeing them everywhere. Also, in another pool where we’ve often spied a few, we’ve noticed they are in abundance. Previous to this week, I knew that the eggs, known as cysts, can remain dormant for years, but assumed that if the pool flooded each year, they all hatched. It didn’t make sense though that one pool suddenly has shrimp and the other has so many more than normal. It was time to do a little research, and what I learned from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies , is that only a small portion of cysts hatch each year, thus leaving plenty more for the future. And temperature plays a key role in hatching. So I thought about winter 2021 and how we didn’t have a lot of snow and the temperature was on the mild side. This past winter was much snowier (though not enough still in my book) and much chillier. My unscientific conclusion, based only on limited knowledge and observation, is that conditions weren’t conducive in 2021 at that one pool and so no shrimp hatched. I’m already looking forward to next year.

For your enjoyment I’ve included a video of a Fairy Shrimp moving through a pool this past week. Fairy Shrimp indicate unpolluted water, so finding one is significant. Finding so many . . . bliss.

When you are peering into the water for such a long time, other life forms make themselves known, such as Predacious Diving Beetle larvae, aka Water Tiger. Just like the adult this insect will morph into, it eats everything including tadpoles and insects, and even its siblings sometimes.

It wasn’t just the docents and I who had fun at the pools, but also a group of middle school students I have the immense honor to work with each Friday and yesterday they enjoyed documenting life at the pool that suddenly had Fairy Shrimp this year. Quiz yourself on ID of the species one student scooped up in this bug box. And rest assured that these critters were released back into the pool after being studied for a few minutes.

As I said, I’ve done a lot of scanning this week, including on a couple of solo trips, and it was on one of these that I made one of my favorite discoveries: a Caddisfly larvae. In larval form, Caddisflies are resourceful architects who repurpose their surroundings to create their homes. Sometimes I find them constructed of hemlock needles topped with a maple flowers, and a friend sent a photo today of one she found who had built its house of grains of sand. My find . . . in the pool that suddenly had Fairy Shrimp this year: a mobile home built of leaves. It was so well camouflaged that only the movement made me realize what was before my eyes.

Larval Caddisflies eat various types of detritus, including bits of leaves, algae, and miscellaneous organic matter so they, too, are important as they break down what is in the pool.

If it wasn’t that I need to eventually find my way home and make dinner, I’d probably still be out there. But yikes, it’s 7:00pm, and I haven’t even started dinner, and my guy will be home from work soon, so I’d better get going.

If you are looking for me in the next few weeks, however, I’ll be the one with hands on bent knees as I hunch over the pool. Join me and we can peer in together.

Reading the Signs

Make each mind-filled step count as it presents reminders of wonder . . .

whether beside rushing waters that nourish with sight and sound,

or along mountain ledges where one is reminded that gravity holds us down.

Admire first the Trailing Arbutus as you drop to a knee to take in the sweet scent of spring enclosed within its delicate petals.

Don’t overlook the tiny fly seeking nourishment from Coltsfoot, pollinator at work upon a flower whose modified leaves give it an otherworldly appearance.

Notice the wee fiddleheads rising up beside Polypody ferns,

their hairy crosiers so minute that if you don’t search under leaves and moss, you’ll surely miss them.

Let the Eastern Comma Butterfly entertain as it dances up and down a forest trail,

occasionally pausing to allow onlookers to spot the tiny white comma, for which it was given its name, on its hind wing.

Let the past also astound in the form of last year’s Ghost Pipe flower appearing now as an intricate woody capsule.

Consider the American Beech with its canopy a bit askew, especially when compared to its neighbors.

And then gaze down the trunk until claw marks left behind years ago by a very hungry Black Bear make themselves visible.

Look with awe at the granite so evenly and naturally sliced and delight in the hues once hidden within now on view.

Embrace the panorama from a windswept summit where turbines producing energy define a nearby ridge line.

See also the old mill town that continues to produce paper products from its location nestled among mountains.

Note also the bronze geological monument used by surveyors since 1879 for mapping purposes as our forebears laid stake to the land that we can never truly claim.

And on the way home, don’t forget to take a few steps toward the barn that features memories of the past.

Try to make time to be present in the moment and see the wonders of life that surround us. Be awakened by reading the signs and not just whizzing by, no matter how or where you travel across the Earth.

A Wonder-filled Easter Parade

While bonnets are on display each Easter in New York City, the parade takes a different form in the wilds of Maine. This year’s festivities began in the late afternoon of Good Friday.

It was then that this handsome Yellow-bellied Sapsucker tapped an announcement inviting everyone to the avenue.

A River Otter was one of the first to arrive, pausing in the midst of playing with a relative.

From a branch above, a Grackle showed off its iridescent spring finery as it viewed the procession below.

Fluttery marchers moved along, pausing in their routines before flying high and then dancing toward the ground again.

Willows stood along the way, waving flowery flags to the tap of the music.

And Ring-necked Ducks wondered what all the frivolity was about.

The route changed over the course of the weekend, and Saturday night found it along a backroad where Wood Frogs showed off their float techniques and sang love songs as rain drops fell.

A female heard the band and hurried across the road to get to the other side. (She may have had some help)

Spring Peepers high-pitched notes filled the air and all felt a sense of excitement despite the weather.

As the night went on, the grand marshal, a Spotted Salamander, finally arrived.

Actually, there was more than one grand marshal and some needed a little help to get to the grand stand so they could watch and participate in the action.

And then Easter Day dawned and after a festive church service, the parade resumed, this time along a gated Forest Road where Beavers had created sculptures to decorate the way.

Those Beavers had completed other work and due to the footwear of some of the onlookers, the route had to be changed for crossing the beaver dam proved a challenge.

Instead, it followed miles and miles of Forest Roads, where brooks contributed happy babbling songs to compliment the local Wood Frog and Spring Peeper chorus.

It wasn’t just music, though. Balsam Fir natural essence rainbows reflected bird balloons for everyone to enjoy.

As the parade neared its end, an early spring flower known as a Coltsfoot, appeared along the way.

And suddenly there were three, a trinity. Faith, Hope, and Love. Sunshiny faces for all to see.

Then a Sapsucker tapped the final announcement. This may not be New York, but the weekend’s Easter Parade has drawn to a close and hope, and awe and wonder are in the air.

Hug An ASH Mondate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holes in the tree offered further intrigue . . .

and so my guy climbed up and looked in first.

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

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

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

Where the Bobcat led us

When GLLT Tuesday Trackers meet at a property, we never know what animal sign we’ll need to interpret or what greater understanding we’ll gain. Today was no different and we had a few surprises along the way.

What we’ve all learned is that we need to take a bird’s eye view and consider where we are, whether it be forest or field or wetland, look at how the mammal is moving and what type of pattern it is creating as it moves, get down and count toes, look for nail marks and notice other idiosyncrasies, and then follow the trail for a ways, looking at the prints in different light, or under different trees. Often under hemlock trees we find the best prints because there’s not as much snow since the boughs hold it.

And so today’s adventure began with us following this particular animal and debating—do we see claw marks, is the overall shape round or oval, is there a lead toe, is the ridge creating a C on its side or an X between the toes and heel pad? It took some time, but we finally found a few prints that gave us confidence it was a bobcat we were following. So, where did the bobcat lead us?

Our first stop was along a stream where he walked beside the edge—about two or three feet above the open water for such is the snow height—but then paused for a moment and seemed to step down because he was curious about something. And so were these three, Pam, Dawn, and Emily, for they spied something in the water below.

From our position on the opposite bank, a few of us saw what we thought they were looking at. “It’s furry,” Dawn told us.

She wanted to go down into the water because it didn’t appear to be all that deep, but still that would have meant she’d be wet and so Emily hunted around and found a branch to use as a poker instead.

As Dawn wiggled the stick, all the time exclaiming that it was big, whatever it was, and trying to turn it over, Emily and Pam grabbed her to make sure she didn’t turn into an otter and slide down, though I suspected she would have laughed about the experience.

We all watched intently, making suggestions about the critter’s identity while Dawn continued to poke at it and move it. Mammal? Skull? Full body?

The coloration was definitely unique, but it is winter after all, so the freezing temperatures and fact that it was in water may have altered its appearance.

Those were our thoughts anyway, and we voiced our opinions, until . . . Dawn flipped it over and saw . . . a tag.

So hoping for a kill site where the bobcat may have dined, instead we found ourselves looking at . . . a stuffed owl.

Peter took Pippi’s hiking pole and aided Dawn in rescuing the sopping wet bird and if you look closely you may see water dripping from it.

Our chuckles must have rippled through the forest as we laughed at our great find. Mighty trackers are we. But . . . we think the bobcat was almost fooled as well. Almost.

The owl then flew from Peter’s hands to a perch and there it shall remain, or so we think.

For a few minutes we returned to and continued upon a logging road, and then the bobcat called for our attention again and so we did follow it. As I said to the group, normally I’d insist that we backtrack the animal so we don’t put stress on it, but the tracks were at least a day old.

This time the bobcat led us to a hemlock tree. Do you see the debris under the tree?

How about now? And stained snow by the trunk?

There were even little brown commas atop the snow that could easily be mistaken for hemlock cones. But rather, they were a form of scat.

Like us, the bobcat had been here, but for some reason he chose to pass by.

Whenever we spy downed hemlock branches, comma-shaped scat, and lots of urine at the base of a tree, we know to look up and so we did. High above sat a male porcupine. Males are known to stay in a tree during the day while females typically return to the den each morning and head back to the tree of dining choice at twilight. Here’s are two curious things: 1. the bobcat passed by—they will go after a porcupine, but perhaps this one was too high up. (Fishers are a porcupine’s #1 enemy.) 2. we looked all around and couldn’t find any porcupine tracks. If we had, we might have followed them to see if we could locate the den. But, since we couldn’t we came to the assumption that this porcupine has been up in the tree since at least our last major snowstorm on Friday, February 25.

Back on the bobcat’s trail we did go, being stymied occasionally because though we knew it was a bobcat, there were a few prints that resembled a deer and we came up with all kinds of stories about flying deer and other critters of our imaginations.

But always, we’d find a few classic prints and again feel 100% confident of our ID. Well, not ours, but the bobcat’s.

So where would it lead us next? To a spruce tree all covered with sap . . . and fur.

Some of the hair was dark and coarse.

In other spots it was redder and softer. After much debate, and noting that it was all up and down the tree from just above snow level to at eye sight and maybe a bit above, I think we all agreed it was a bear marking tree. Bears sometimes nip and bit trees and rub their backs on them and their hair gets stuck on splinters or in this case also sap.

According to North American Bear Center: “Favorite trees have little ground vegetation to prevent a bear from approaching them, and they often lean slightly toward the trail.  Look for hair caught in the bark or wood 2 to 5 feet high and look for bites 5½ to 6½ feet high.

The hair often bleaches to brown or blond after a few months but can still be distinguished as bear hair from its length and appearance.  Guard hairs are typically coarse and 3-4 inches long and have a narrow base that may be wavy.  Bears are shedding their winter fur when much of the marking is done in spring or early summer, so the bark may also catch underfur, which is thin, wavy and shorter.”

Two feet up made sense given the snow’s depth.

You’d think that would have been enough, but again we wondered: where will the bobcat lead us?

This time it was a snapped snag and we noticed he’d walked along the top of it.

And then one among us spotted this. Brown snow and more hair. We were sure it was a kill site. Yes, as trackers we really like kill sites because they are fun to interpret and we appreciate the energy passed from one animal to another via the predator/prey relationship.

For a few minutes we took turns walking around the site trying to take in everything presented to us, including some hair that had fallen into the snag’s hollow.

I think it was the two=toned hair that helped us figure this one out. Plus the fact that there was no blood. This was a spot where the bobcat sat down, thus the rather tamped down snow that had turned brown. The warmth of his body helped to flatten it and in so sitting, some of his hair, which is black and white, got stuck, similar to what we see in deer beds at this time of freezing and warming temps. The mammals are beginning to shed their winter coats and last week we had an unusually warm day so change is in the air.

We admired his hunting spot and balance beam. And then it was time for us to leave.

But those grins remained on our faces for we were grateful we’d taken the time to see where the bobcat might lead us at GLLT’s Charles Pond Reserve today.

Happy 7th Birthday to you, wondermyway!

Seven years ago today I gave birth–rather a record at my age. It was February 21, 2015, when I welcomed wondermyway into the world. It’s been quite an adventure that we’ve shared together and one of my favorite things to do each year to celebrate is to take a look back.

As I reviewed this past year, the reality hit home. I’ve written less than half the number of posts of any other year. That all boils down to one thing. Time. There’s never enough. Oh, I’ve taken the photos, and had the adventures, but I haven’t made the time to write about all of them. Sometimes, they sit off to the side in my brain and I think I’ll use some of them together in a cumulative post, and there they sit.

That all said, I’ve had more views and visitors this past year than any other. Views = 24,955; Visitors = 16,994. Followers = 701. And over the course of wondermyway’s lifespan, the blog has received 121,765 hits.

An enormous heart-felt thanks to all who have joined me for any or all of these journeys. I get excited to share with you and love hearing from you.

In case you are wondering, my guy and I did have a Mondate this afternoon–along Bemis River and then up to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.

It was here at the falls that we celebrated wondermyway.com with a couple of those Bavarian Haus chocolates we purchased last Monday.

And now for a look at a few excerpts from posts I made during the past year, beginning with March 2021. To read or re-read the entire post, click on the link below each photo.

The Invitation Stands

It took me by surprise, this change of seasons. Somehow I was fooled into thinking winter would hold its grasp for a wee bit longer because I don’t like to let it go.

Even Winter Dark Fireflies, who don’t carry lanterns like their summer cousins, and aren’t even flies as their name suggests (they are beetles), knew what was happening before I did for in their adult form they’d been tucked under bark in recent months, but in a flash are now visible on many a tree trunk as they prepare to mate in a few weeks.

But . . . this spring will be different.

How so? And what invitation still stands? Click on the link under the beetle’s photo to find the answers.

Whispers Along The Trail

“The way to be heard isn’t to shout,” said the Reverend Dr. Sam Wells of St. Martins in the Fields, London. “It’s to whisper.” But who are the whisperers?

Listen for the slightest murmur of Trailing Arbutus’s delicate blossoms beneath its leathery leaves.

Hear also the soft words of a rattlesnake-plantain explaining that its striking veins may suggest “checkered,” but it actually goes by “downy” in common speak.

You’ll have to click on the link under the photo of the Trailing Arbutus flowers to hear what other species had to say.

Surveying the Wildlife of Charles Pond

For the past two weeks at Greater Lovell Land Trust we’ve had the good fortune to conduct a wildlife survey in the waters that surround the newly acquired Charles Pond Reserve in Stow, Maine.

MDIFW maintains a comprehensive database on the distribution of Maine’s amphibians and reptiles, as well as terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates and the data we’ve collected will add to the bigger picture. What we discovered was just as important as what we didn’t find.

The survey began with a day of setting and baiting fifteen traps in the pond and associated rivers. What’s not to love about spending time in this beautiful locale, where on several occasions lenticular clouds that looked like spaceships about to descend greeted us.

Our favorite bird sighting was this bald eagle, who found a silver maple snag at the outlet of Cold River into Charles Pond. I was a wee bit nervous as that was Change The Trap Bait Day, and I had a bag of stinky old sardine cans in my lap as I paddled a kayak.

He was intent, however, on something else and barely gave us a glance.

This story of the survey would not be complete, however, without the absolute best sighting that occurred on the last day. Our mammal observations on almost every trip included a muskrat, plus occasional squirrels, and once a beaver. From our game camera set up at various locations, and from tracks and scat, we also know that coyotes, raccoons, otters, a bobcat and a black bear share this space.

But . . . you’ll have to click on the link under the Bald Eagle photo to figure out what our best sighting was.

The Saga of a Vernal Pool

Warning: Some may find parts of this post disturbing. But it is, after all,  about the circle of life. 

A climbing thermometer in March signaled one thing amidst many others: the time had arrived to check the vernal pool. 

Completely covered with ice at the start of my explorations, I noted puddling on top and knew it was only a matter of days. 

Not wanting to rush the season, though truly I did, I rejoiced when the edges melted because life within would soon be revealed.

And then one day, as if by magic, the ice had completely gone out as we say ‘round these parts. It was early this year–in late March rather than April. That same night I heard the wruck, wrucks of Wood Frogs, always the first to enter the pool. 

The next day he had attracted his she, grasping her in amplexus as is his species’ manner. 

Ah, but how does the story end? Click on the link under the photo to find out.

Consumed by Cicadas

I walked into a cemetery, that place of last rites and rest, looking for life. It should have been a short visit, for finding life in such a location hardly seems possible, but . . . for two hours yesterday I stalked the gravestones and today I returned to the same spot where I once again roamed, and then continued up the road to another that surprised me even more.

Upon the granite wall that surrounded the Hutchins plot, two small, but actually rather large in the insect world, nymphs crawled and paused, crawled and paused. And my heart sang as it does when I realize I’m in the right place at the right time.

Click on the link under the photo to see the story of the Cicadas unfold.

Not Just An Insect

Out of curiosity, and because it’s something I do periodically, I’ve spent the last four days stalking our gardens. Mind you, I do not have a green thumb and just about any volunteer is welcome to bloom, especially if it will attract pollinators.

There were millions of other insects, well, maybe not millions, but hundreds at least, flying and sipping and buzzing and hovering and crawling and even canoodling, the latter being mainly Ambush Bugs with the darker and smaller male atop the female.

But why the title, “Not Just An Insect”? Ahhh, you know what you’ll need to do to find the answer.

A Collection of Mondates

Every Mondate is different, which goes without saying, and the adventure always begins with a question, “What are we going to do today?”

The answer is frequently this, “I don’t know, you pick.”

The instantaneous reply, “I asked first. You need to figure it out.”

We did figure it out. Over and over again. This collection happens to include places that make us happy and many of our family members and just looking back puts a smile on my face. Oh, and the selfie–taken at the same place where we went today–only in September 2021.

Beautiful Maine

A vacation loomed in front of us. Where to go? What to do?

Click on the link, Beautiful Maine, to see what surprises awaited us as we got to know our state a wee bit better.

Pondering the Past at Pondicherry Park

Before today’s deluge began, I slipped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine, to fill the innermost recesses of my lungs with November air, and at the same time my brain with memories of so many people who have traveled these trails with me from Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and Lakes Environmental Association’s Alanna Yanelli and Mary Jewett, and friends and friends and friends, including the late JoAnne Diller, Sue Black, and Jinny Mae. But today’s journey also included memories of one I took two years ago with Becky Cook, who shared her remembrances of growing up along South High Street and romping through these trails as they were part of her backyard. If anyone ever had a sense of this place, it is Becky.

This post is full of information of an historic and natural nature. Go ahead, click on the link above to learn more.

Following the Circle of Life

Upon an aimless journey into our neck of the woods a pattern soon emerged, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Sometimes, it’s best that way. To be present is the key.

Click on the link to find out more about the pattern.

Good Hair Mondate

The temperature dipped overnight and wind picked up out of the WNW but given the destination we had chosen, we knew if we dressed appropriately we’d be fine because we’d be in the woods most of the time, unlike last week’s walk where we were completely exposed to the elements on Popham Beach. That said, it was cold today.

But what could good hair possibly have to do with this Mondate? You’ll have to read it to find out.

The Duck’s Tale

Dear Readers, This post may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s something those of us who track find incredibly exciting as we try to interpret the gory story. Yes, you read that correctly. Blood and guts are to follow. You are now forewarned, and if you decide not to read on, I totally understand.

So how is this stuffed beaver connected to a gory story?

Starring wondermyway, episode 3 on LRTV

Finally, settle into a comfy chair and click on the following link to listen to fourteen minutes of wondermyway: wondermywayIII.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I hope you’ll continue to wonder along with me as I wander through the woods.

The Duck’s Tale

Dear Readers, This post may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s something those of us who track find incredibly exciting as we try to interpret the gory story. Yes, you read that correctly. Blood and guts are to follow. You are now forewarned, and if you decide not to read on, I totally understand.

For those who are still with me, here’s the scoop. Last Wednesday during a Greater Lovell Land Trust walk on Groundhog Day, where shadows were the main focus, and yes, Lovell Lil, the beaver, did spy her’s and predicted six more weeks of winter, a group of us noticed a pile of feathers on the far side of a brook we snowshoed beside. (Notice how I used this photo as an intro so that those who didn’t want to deal with the aforementioned gore could exit with a beaver image in their minds?)

Here’s how it all began. First, a few of us glimpsed a large bird that we thought was an owl, fly off with something in its mouth. Though we were supposed to be looking for shadows, our nature distraction disorder (NDD being the best kind of disorder to possess) took over and we decided to walk quietly in hopes that we might spy the owl in a tree. Imagine a group of curious people on snowshoes attempting to walk quietly. But we did. Or so we thought. Until three ducks flew up out of the brook and headed in the same direction as the owl.

Shortly after, we spotted this scene and two of us decided that once the public hike ended, we’d find our way to the other side and try to decipher the story of the feathers and the blood and the slides. I was sure I knew the predator.

As we approached, we spotted wing marks at the base of a tree.

What we’d seen from the other side was the plucking station where the predator had pulled the feathers off to get to the meaty part of its avian meal.

Once the bird was plucked, then it dragged it up the hill and sat down to dine behind the tree. Do you see the circular area where the predator left an impression. I’m sure the prey was not at all impressed, though by this time it was . . . dead.

Here’s another look from the dining table down toward the plucking site and the brook below.

Of course, I need to give you a closer look–at the duck’s entrails. I often find these left behind at a kill site and wonder why. Do they not taste good? Is there some sort of bacteria that makes them indigestible? Or do they not offer any discernible nutrition?

Another body part not to be overlooked was the foot with its tendons still attached that sat on the dinner table beside the entrails. Can you see the webbing between the toes? That confirmed our ID that the prey was a duck. But who was the predator? We looked around for mammal prints and found none.

What we did find was a slide. Actually there were a couple of slides. And as I often do, I wanted to confidently say that an otter was the predator. But . . . rather than seeing otter tracks in any of the slides, there were wing marks beside them. From the duck? Or someone else?

We hunted around as we tried to decipher the story. It appeared that quite a struggle had taken place.

And no feather had gone unplucked.

The bright red blood was quite fresh and I could just imagine the pain the duck endured.

While most of the blood was at the plucking station, there was some on a small mound on the brook and again I wondered: was that where the initial attack occurred?

As I said, we found no signs of a mammal, but we did find large splatters or splays of bird feces. Birds don’t produce urine and instead excrete nitrogenous wastes in the form of uric acid, which emerges as a white paste for most.

Fellow tracker, Dawn, and I also found several long shots of excrement that I cannot explain, but perhaps the owl had spent some time up in the tree?

I guess by now you’ve figured out that our assumption was that the owl we saw fly off was the predator. That’s the story we’re telling anyway about how this particular duck lost its tail and its life.

But . . . think of it this way: Plants the duck fed on were primary producers who used energy from the sun to produce their own food in the form of glucose. The primary producers were eaten by the duck, a primary consumer. The duck was then eaten by the owl, a secondary consumer. Who knows how the duck’s tale will actually end because we don’t know who might eat the owl. In the midst of it all, however, energy flowed and in this case may continue to flow from one trophic level, or level of the food chain, to the next.

I know you expected a Mondate, and my guy and I did explore Laudholm Farm in Wells, Maine, today as I prepped for a Maine Master Naturalist field trip related to tree bark and buds, but the story of the duck and owl have been forming in my brain for a few days. And then this morning another tracker sent me this email:

Subject: Tracking Forensics:

Weird thoughts in the early morning…

I was thinking about the Tracking Tuesdays that you lead on the GLLT properties and about how similar they are to all those CSI shows – coming in a day or two after the events have occurred and trying to piece together who was there and what happened. From seemingly little information you figure out who was there, what they were doing, where the gang hangs out, and sometimes who killed whom. 

Bring in the TV cameras!

That’s when I knew I should take a chance with the blood and guts story. Nature can seem brutal, but it’s all part of the system.

Dedication: This one is for Pam and Bob Katz for leading the Shadows Hike that led us to make this discovery; for Dawn Wood who helped me interpret the site; and for Joe Scott who sent the email. Bring on the TV cameras indeed!

Good Hair Mondate

The temperature dipped overnight and wind picked up out of the WNW but given the destination we had chosen, we knew if we dressed appropriately we’d be fine because we’d be in the woods most of the time, unlike last week’s walk where we were completely exposed to the elements on Popham Beach. That said, it was cold today.

Our plan was to follow the trail around Shell Pond at the Stone House property and do it with micro-spikes on our boots rather than snowshoes. Or at least on my boots. Given that there had been some foot traffic, we hoped that when we actually arrived at the trail we’d made the right decision.

As it turned out, most of the traffic had headed to the air strip, but a few had walked our way and really, there’s more ice than snow in this part of western Maine right now.

We cruised along at My Guy’s speed, which boded well for keeping our bodies warm and gave thanks that we were both quite comfortable as we began to circle the pond. Mammal tracks were numerous, but most muted and really, we didn’t want to take time to stop and measure so we only named to each other those we were certain we knew.

Well, one of us did walk a tad faster than the other, but that’s nothing new.

In what felt like no time, we greeted the Keeper of the Trail who gave us a smile from below his winter hat.

And then we reached lunch bench, which my guy cleaned of snow so we could dine on our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in comfort. Well, sorta in comfort. It was here that we met the wind as it swept across Shell Pond from Evans Notch. So, it was a quick lunch.

And a quick journey to the orchard. As we crossed the bridge over Rattlesnake Brook I recalled once watching a muskrat swim beneath. My guy informed me that I’d probably not see such today–how right he was.

I was feeling a bit bummed that we’d circled so quickly but we did promise ourselves that by the Stone House we’d turn off the air strip and check out Rattlesnake Pool and Gorge, which we’d missed on a Thanksgiving Day hike when we journeyed up Blueberry Mountain located behind the house to Speckled Mountain.

Each time we pass this way I give thanks to the owners who long ago put most of the forested part of the land into a conservation easement with Greater Lovell Land Trust and allow hikers and hunters and rock climbers to use their trails.

And so up the Stone House Trail we went, passing the gorge to start so we could meet the brook at a spot above and watch as the water swirled under ice,

below boulders,

and down through a chute,

creating ice sculptures all along its journey.

Briefly it danced into Rattlesnake Pond, and then followed the course below.

The pool’s nature as forever emerald green never ceases to amaze me.

We met it again at Rattlesnake Gorge were the flow continued despite all the frozen formations.

Down it continued on its way to the point where I earlier showed it in its calm and completely frozen flatwater oxbow.

Click on the video to briefly enjoy the sound.

As much as I was thrilled to have visited the Rattlesnake sites because it was too dark to do so the last time we hiked here, it was the image in the negative space of the ice that really put a smile on my face today.

Do you see a bear?

Back at the air strip we turned right and headed back to the gate. After that, we still had another mile to walk because we’d parked closer to Route 113 since the road in to Stone House isn’t plowed.

And then we played my favorite Stone House Road game–checking telephone poles for bear hair. Black bears LOVE telephone poles. For the creosote? Maybe. Is it the soft pine that they can so easily chew and claw? Maybe. Is it a great place to hang a sign that you are available for a date or this is your territory? Probably, but maybe it’s the other two possibilities that lead the bears to the poles. I do know this. They are well marked along this road.

In the process of biting and scratching some hair is left behind. Mating usually takes place in late June or July, so possibly this hair was left then and has since bleached out in the sunshine.

Shiny numbers also seem to draw their attention, or perhaps the bear wants to hang its own sign and tear down the one left by a human.

Look at the horizontal dots and dashes–can you see them? Think of the bear turning its head and the upper and lower canine teeth meeting as it bites at the wood.

Closer to the truck one pole indicated that the bear won–it had almost totally remodeled the pole including removing most of the number.

As Mondates go, I have to say this one was a very good hair date! And I’m not talking about mine or my guy’s, since we didn’t care what we looked like as long as our warm hats smooshed our manes.

Making Tracks into 2022 Mondate

On this coldest day of the new year, with winds gusting from the north, my guy and I chose to go for a walk on a beach and peer into the future. What did we see?

A clean slate to start.

What did we learn? Rather than clam up, be happy and express your true colors.

Break free from the crowd occasionally and make sure your pop is the loudest.

Know that some layers will erode, but still, strong roots will persist.

Find works of nature’s art in the midst.

Recognize the value of local plants just like your Dad always did.

Liken bursts of sunshine upon rocks that add color to gray days.

Take a brief second to pause, as you skitter along.

If you feel trapped, find a way out.

Spew when you need to, but do make it colorful and dramatic.

Despite the cold temperature, paddle like heck.

When the moment is right, ride the waves.

Let life’s lines intersect and go with the pattern presented.

And most of all, together make tracks as you step into 2022.

Happy New Year to all and to all a good night.

Following the Circle of Life

Upon an aimless journey into our neck of the woods a pattern soon emerged, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Sometimes, it’s best that way. To be present is the key.

And so I began by walking slowly and breathing deeply as I followed the labyrinth in and out.

Eventually I met an old friend who shouted with glee that I had stopped by.

Behind said friend, her age lines were revealed and it was obvious that from time to time she’d hosted a variety of others who ate at her inner core in such a manner that her death provided a means for their life.

Similarly, her sibling showed off his own marks of healing and growing.

And then I moved into a different neighborhood, this one a conifer stand, where an obvious meal had been interrupted and I wondered why.

Upon another rock, another midden indicated an earlier meal consumed, perhaps in a safer place as maybe the barbed wire added some safety.

And then I saw them. Prints that is. Impressions in the snow. Created by not one, but two coyotes. Why did they change direction?

By the hair-filled scat one of them had left not long ago on another rock along the wall it was obvious they’d been here before.

A few steps more and I knew why. I’d discovered the crossroads–that intersection of life where red squirrel headed left, snowshoe hare in the same direction as my boots, and the coyotes circled about.

The red squirrel survived. This I know because it left fresh prints that led to a hemlock stand where, though I couldn’t see it, it scolded me from high above. Or perhaps it was telling me a tale of its heroic adventures to outwit the coyotes.

The coyotes’ trail indicated they’d moved north. The snowshoe hare? I’m not sure where it went.

As for me? I returned home to enjoy this gift I received from dear friends that now graces our kitchen wall. It was fun naming all the ornaments they’d bestowed upon the wreath from Northern White Cedar leaves to Evening Primrose, lichens, sensitive fern spores, an acorn, a hemlock cone, and Queen Anne’s lace in its winter form.

Taken all together, today’s adventure followed the circle of life and the circle of friends from trees to woodland critters to givers of the wreath. I am grateful for all.

Beautiful Maine

Two weeks ago a week of vacation loomed before us and we had no plans. Where to go? What to do? My friend, Marita Wiser, suggested the Bold Coast of Maine. Though she hadn’t been, she’d collected articles about it and felt a yearning to get there. I told my guy. He liked the idea, but also wondered if we might spend some time inland. Bingo. Another friend, Molly Ross, serves on the board of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and so I asked her to suggest some trails. Somehow we lucked out and found places to stay and so on Monday morning, October 4, our adventure began.

We broke up the drive to Lubec with lunch in Machias, and then a quick five mile out and back hike at Cutler Coast Public Lands for a view of the Bay of Fundy. From there it was on to our resting place where we settled in for a couple of nights’ stay.

Thankfully, we left the curtain open as our hostess had mentioned something about sunrises. When the dormer window suddenly lit up, we threw on as many layers as possible and headed outside.

I’m pretty sure we were the first people in the world to ever observe sunrise, or so it felt to us in that moment.

Sitting on the deck, we each took a million photos as the sky kept changing and then, in a flash, there it was–that golden orb upon the horizon between Campobello Island and Grand Manan, with Lubec Channel in the foreground.

It was that same morning light that we rejoiced in as we journeyed along the trails at Bog Brook Cove Preserve and then a return to Cutler Coast Public Lands for a much longer adventure. Along the Inland Trail, though there were rocks and roots, there was also so much moss gracing the scene as spruce and birch and maples towered above that we felt the presence of fairies.

The Coastal Route offered a different feel and we soon learned to appreciate that the coast was indeed bold. And bouldery. Even the beaches featured rocks; rocks so warn by the sea that they had become rounded cobbles.

Speaking of round, lunch and lots of water kept us going, but the real treats were what we looked forward to most, these being M&M cookies baked by a long-ago student of mine, Lisa Cross Martin, owner of Stow Away Baker in Stow, Maine.

Cookies consumed, we soon realized sometimes a helping hand was most welcome–or at least a helping rope.

Other times found us peering down into thunder holes where we could only imagine the water crashing in at high tide.

As the sun had risen, so did it set with us enjoying one more trail at Eastern Knubble Preserve. Because the tide was low, the cobble bar connecting the mainland to Eastern Ear (also known as Laura Day Island) was visible. With the setting sun lighting the treetops, campfire flames came to mind.

Another beautiful day found us exploring some of the trails at Quoddy Head State Park, the easternmost point in the USA. The candy-striped lighthouse was originally fueled by sperm whale oil, and later lard oil, and then kerosene, and finally electricity.

Why the stripes? It’s easier to spot in fog and mist, and given that the coast is rather bold, that makes perfect sense.

We walked a section of the trails at the park, but saved some for another day in another year deciding that we will return because there is so much more to see than our time allowed.

And then we transitioned to our inland location where the setting sun cast a glow upon the mighty Mount Katahdin. It had been years since we’d last visited the area and upon that previous trip we’d rafted on the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Our plan was to support Millinocket businesses as much as possible, and to explore the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

We knew we were blessed when another morning dawned with a brilliant blue sky that accentuated the fall foliage. The funny thing, to us anyway, is that we hadn’t given a thought to this being a peak foliage week. But then again, we’d hardly made time to give much thought to this trip.

Our first adventure into the monument found us driving to the northern most part and then hiking beside the East Branch of the Penobscot, where we followed as many spur trails as possible to the water’s edge, this one being Stair Falls, so named by a surveyor in the 1700s.

Our next stop, Haskell Hut, a cabin open to the public when there isn’t a pandemic wreaking havoc with the world. We peeked through the windows and what should stand out on a shelf across the kitchen?

Why a True Value bucket, this one filled with kindling for a fire. And we thought we’d left our work worlds behind!

Beside Stillwater we paused and ate lunch, finding nourishment not only in our PB&J sandwiches, but also the scene that surrounded us.

Beyond Stillwater, the water was hardly still. We didn’t know this previously but on Maine rivers, a pitch is a waterfall that’s too large to navigate in a canoe and one must portage around it. In what seems a play on words, falls are navigable whitewater.

A curve of the river and downstream, we discovered a conglomerate mass reported to be about fifteen feet tall. The right hand structure bespoke a person to me, perhaps leaning against a river creature, the two giving thanks for sharing the space. We certainly gave thanks for the opportunity to be witnesses.

Our turn-around point was Grand Pitch, where the water thundered over the rocks.

Take a moment to listen to the roar.

Before turning completely around, however, we had to pull another sweet treat out of the bag. Again, a creation by Stow Away Baker, this one being a brownie for it was my guy’s birthday.

If you are getting a sense that we hike to eat, you would be correct. What I neglected to mention is that we also dined upon pie we’d purchased from Helen’s Restaurant located in Machias. It made for a delicious breakfast. Yes, we ate pie for breakfast–lemon meringue for him and chocolate cream for me. And it didn’t occur to us until after we’d finished, that we should have offered each other at least a taste!

Our final day at Katahdin Woods and Waters dawned rather gray, and so we drove along Swift Brook Road to reach the loop trail, with our first stop being a hike to Deasey Pond.

The next stop in our line-up was a hike to Orin Falls. It’s along an old logging road and as we walked, we met another traveler who complained that the trails weren’t more “trail-like.” At times they are, but this is an area that had been logged and we actually enjoyed the roads because we could walk side-by-side for a ways.

We also met another traveler on this trail, but first I must back up a bit. I’m not sure how this happens, but frequently we can be in places we’ve never been before, either here in Maine, in another state, or another country, and inevitably my guy will run into someone he knows. It happened to us at Bog Brook Cove Preserve when he greeted a young couple and then the parents behind them. All of a sudden the light bulb went off simultaneously for my guy and his counterpart as they realized that though out of context, they knew each other for they had played on opposing town basketball teams about thirty years ago, and the other man is a frequent customer at my guy’s hardware store.

And then on our way to Orin Falls, we met a single hiker and paused to chat, only to discover that he was on a birthday celebration hike. It turns out he is one day younger than my guy. And because the other man lives in Old Town, Maine, he knows some of my guy’s former classmates at UMaine. Though trite, it’s apropos to say it’s a small world.

At last we reached Orin Falls along Wassataquoik Stream, fearful we’d be disappointed after the wows of the previous day, but this offered a different flavor that complemented lunch.

And to think I can’t remember what we ate for dessert!

Finishing up the hike, we continued around the loop road, realizing we were probably doing it backwards for we’d chosen to drive counterclockwise. But, given the grayness of the morning, I think it was the right choice for the mighty mountain for whom this land was named, had been shrouded. By the time we reached the Scenic Outlook, the weather had improved and once again we were graced with an incredible view. It was our last look before we drove home to western Maine.

Being home didn’t stop our vacation, and after two days of yard work, we treated ourselves to a hike today that proved to be much longer and more difficult than anticipated. But the reward–more incredible fall foliage to fill our souls.

In the end, it wasn’t just the bigger landscape that made us smile. We also enjoyed all that presented itself along the way such as this Tricolored Bee frantically seeking nectar and pollen upon a White Beach Rose.

And then there was a small Red-bellied Snake on the coastal trail at Cutler Coast Public Lands, a new species for me.

My guy rejoiced when we spotted seals frolicking by the bridge to Campobello in Lubec.

I have to admit that I rather enjoyed them as well.

Another fun sighting was that of a Ruffed Grouse that walked out of a Spruce Bog and onto the loop road as we made our way around.

Today, we also found an oft-visited bear tree that made us smile as they always do.

The funny thing for us–we found only two piles of moose scat while in the national monument, but upon today’s hike we counted over thirty piles along the trail. My guy really wanted to spot a moose. Anywhere.

I reminded him that we need to go without expectation.

And so we did and were completely startled to spy a porcupine waddling toward us this morning.

Fortunately he did what porcupines do and climbed a hemlock tree beside the trail, then walked out onto a branch, keeping an eye on us. We skirted off trail for a second to get out of his way.

The end of his tail marks the end of vacation 2021 that allowed us the opportunity to explore bunches of new trails and corners of our state that we’d not seen before and we gave thanks for the suggestion from Marita and recommendations from Molly because this tour certainly reminded us that Maine is a beautiful state. And we all need to work to keep it that way.

Slipping Into Fall

I went with intention for such was the afternoon. Sunny, cloudy, rainy, dry. Change. Constantly. In. The. Air.

Of course, my intention led to new discoveries, as it should for when I spotted the buttons of Buttonbush, a new offering showed its face–that of Buttonbush Gall Mites, Aceria cephalanthi. Okay, so not exactly the mites, but the structures they create in order to pupate. Mighty cool construction.

Continuing on, into the Red Maple Swamp did I tramp, where Cinnamon Fern fronds stood out like a warm fire on an autumn day. But wait, it wasn’t autumn. Just yet, anyway.

And then there was that first sighting of Witch Hazel’s ribbony flower, the very last perennial to grace the landscape each year.

And color. All kinds of color in reality and reflection beside Muddy River.

Even the fern fronds glistened, individual raindrops captured upon a spider web adding some dazzle to the scene.

Next on the agenda, a Goldenrod Rosette Gall created by the midge Rhopalomyia capitata. The midge formed a structure that looked like a flower all its own. What actually happened is that the midge laid an egg in the topmost leaf bud of Canada Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, causing the stem to stop growing, but the leaves didn’t.

A few steps farther and I realized I wasn’t the only one who appreciated the sight (or nectar) of Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, or Spotted Touch-me-Not. The latter name because upon touching the ripe seed pods, they explode. Try it. Given the season, the pods have formed as you can see behind the bee’s back.

Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, its fruits bright red also graced the trail in an abundant manner, but wait a few months and they’ll be difficult to spy. For a month or two we’ll enjoy their ornamental beauty, but despite their low fat content, birds, raccoons, and mice will feast.

All of these sights meant one thing.

The Red Maple swamp bugled its trumpet with an announcement.

The announcement was this: Fall freezes into winter, winter rains into spring, spring blossoms into summer, but today . . . today summer slipped into fall and I gave great thanks for being there to witness it all.

To Be Continued Sun/Mondate

We drove forty minutes north at midday on Sunday with the intention of hiking a trail we’d enjoyed only once previously. Our memories of it had petered a bit, but we did look forward to bear trees and cascading falls.

And we were not disappointed. Within minutes of beginning the ascent, a look up at the gnarled top of a Beech gave me reason to scan the bark below and by the number of claw marks left behind it was obvious that this had been a well-used source of nuts in the past.

We could just imagine the bear scrambling up, sitting upon the branches and pulling them in to form a “nest,” or so it looks when they’ve been broken and folded inward, foraging for beech nuts, and then, once all were consumed, scrambling back down and on to the next tree.

Bears weren’t the only animals that have known this land and beside a stone wall we paused for a second. Our first ponder was whether it was a boundary fence or meant to keep animals in or out. Until . . . we spotted a piece of barbed wire growing out of a tree. No wait, barbed wire doesn’t grow out of trees. Trees grow around it. And our question was answered: the wire would have been added to keep the animals in the pasture.

That said, it had been a while since the wire was installed and even longer than a while since the stone wall had been built, for the trees had had time to grow and mature and incorporate the wire into their souls and while one still knew the flow of xylem and phloem, this other was a source of new life for insects and birds.

Our next pause was at picnic knoll where two tables and two Adirondack chair invite hikers to take a respite and enjoy the view. We tarried not given that we had a football game to get home to and pizza dough to prepare. Well, one of us had a football game to get home to and the other the dough.

Onward and upward we hiked, keeping an eye on ankle biters (saplings not cut to the ground that caused us to stumble repeatedly if we weren’t paying attention) at our feet, while searching for more bear trees, not an easy task during leaf season. But our best reward was the sight of this oft-climbed tree and the realization that the two behind it had also been visited.

We know there are more like those in this forest thus giving us a reason to return in late autumn and search off trail to see how many we can count. If memory serves us right, from the trail we once counted over twenty such bear trees.

Oh, there were other things to see along the way, like the Hobblebush’s ripening berries . . .

and Bald-faced Hornets gathering nectar.

But the second object of our intention was eventually reached for we’d found the cascades, beginning with one named for the family that farmed this area: Chapman.

It was a bit of a scramble but we were well rewarded for our efforts.

Again and again. After viewing this final flow, Library Cascades, we practically ran back down the trail. Just in time to catch the start of the game on the radio. Pizza was a wee bit late, but we didn’t mind.

The story should have ended there, but while hiking on Sunday we came up with a plan for Monday. So . . . back into the truck for that forty-minute drive we did go. This time, in the same forest, we hiked up an esker, which I saw as the stick of a lollipop.

At a junction, we chose the Red Pine Trail, a tree with bark so rich in color and design, it creates an art gallery in the forest.

Along the way, we paused at openings to enjoy the views, but . . .

a ridge off-trail, and really off-property (Shhhh, don’t tell. The boundary was marked but not posted.) invited us and we couldn’t refuse. What view might there be that we would miss if we didn’t accept the summons?

We were rewarded with the sight of the surrounding mountains showing off their summits in crisp contrast to the sky above.

I’m pretty sure the invitation included lunch and so we sat down and dined.

Our off-trail pursuit offered one final gift as we headed back to the trail–galls created by a wasp upon a Northern Red Oak twig.

A few steps later and we startled a Garter Snake who flicked its tongue to get a better scent of us before deciding we weren’t worth the effort and slithering away.

Again, there was water to cross, but it wasn’t nearly as impressive as the cascades of Sunday.

And some porcupine work to acknowledge, though we had hoped to see a den, but determined it was probably in the ledges below.

One final view at the land beyond and then we completed the loop that formed the sucker at the top of the lollipop stick and began our descent. Again, this should have been the end of the story. But . . .

There was plenty of daylight left and this day’s football game wasn’t until much later and so we sought a third trail in the same forest. The natural community differed, which made us grateful because each trail had its own unique flavor, this one including Striped Maple dripping with seeds of the future.

Once again, we climbed toward the view.

One sight that caught our attention for it was the only one of its kind that we saw along any of the trails was a Lady’s Slipper, and we gave thanks that it had been pollinated for perhaps its future will spill forth in multitudes we can enjoy next spring.

A flock of nuthatches, woodpeckers, and chickadees entertained us occasionally, but it was the silent Hermit Thrush who paused that caused us to do the same.

At last we reached the end and stood for a moment to take in the range beyond, before turning around and retracing our steps for this last trail wasn’t a loop.

Nailed to a tree, was this sign: To Be Continued. As so it was on this Sundate/Mondate. We trust we’ll return to see where the trail may lead next.

Not Just An Insect

Out of curiosity, and because it’s something I do periodically, I’ve spent the last four days stalking our gardens. Mind you, I do not have a green thumb and just about any volunteer is welcome to bloom, especially if it will attract pollinators.

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iWhat I’ve discovered is that in sunshine and rain, the place is alive with action from Honeybees and Gnats . . .

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to Paper Wasps,

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and even several Great Black Wasps, their smoky black wings shining with blue iridescence as they frantically seek nourishment and defend territories (including letting this particular human know that she’s not welcome at the party by aggressively flying at her).

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Bumblebees were also full of buzz and bluster and it was they who reminded me of one important fact.

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The color of the storage baskets on their hind legs depends upon the color of the pollen grains in the plants they’ve visited.

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There were millions of other insects, well, maybe not millions, but hundreds at least, flying and sipping and buzzing and hovering and crawling and even canoodling, the latter being mainly Ambush Bugs with the darker and smaller male atop the female.

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And then, because I was looking, I discovered an insect in the process of being wrapped for a meal intended for later consumption. I’ve long been fascinated by Ambush Bugs and Assasin Bugs and this, the Black and Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia. What’s not to love? She’s an orb weaver, meaning she spins a complex circular web, in this case among tall plants, that features spokes which are non-sticky that she uses to walk upon, and round wheels that are sticky to capture prey. The web is the size of a platter. A large platter. And . . . every night she consumes the entire thing and rebuilds a new one for the next day. In the process of consuming the threads, she can take advantage of any little insects like mosquitoes that get caught in the stickiness, but it’s the bigger insects that she prefers to eat.

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Do you see the rather conspicuous zigzaggy line down the middle of the web? That’s called the stabilimentum and may have several purposes: providing stability; attracting insects with the multiple threads like an ultraviolet runway such as the colorful lines and dots on plants; or perhaps announcing to birds that they shouldn’t fly through the web. Whatever the reason, it’s in the center of the stabilimentum that the spider hangs in suspension, waiting for the dinner bell to announce ring.

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Though she has eight eyes, her vision is poor. But . . . her hairy legs may also help in the detection that a meal has arrived, perhaps signaling sound and smell, plus she can sense the vibrations.

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Once captured, she injects a venom (that is harmless to us bipeds) to immobilize her subject and then begins to spin a sac around it.

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Remember, I’ve been watching her for four days, while she’s hanging upside down playing the waiting game and showing off her egg-shaped abdomen with its asymmetrical yellow markings on the carapace (much like a turtle’s shell) to her silver-haired head.

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Some days I felt like she might just be Charlotte, writing a message only Wilbur could interpret.

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And one day she surprised me by turning right-side up. It was then that I was offered a closer look at those little bumps on her head that serve as eyes. And the pedipalps, those two little hairy appendages sticking up on her head that work like sensory organs.

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An hour or so after finding her upright, when I checked again, I thought she’d gone missing. Instead, I discovered she’d climbed to the top of one of the plants upon which she’d spun her web.

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Perhaps she was surveying the area as she waved her front legs, looking about her domain.

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A day later, a new web, and another meal packaged, and slowly my buzzers were being consumed. But, she also likes grasshoppers and crickets and the garden is full of them.

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And then this morning dawned, with T.S. Henri in the offing and a few raindrops upon a broken web announcing the storm’s intended arrival. Wait. The web–it had holes but had not been entirely consumed. That wasn’t all, yesterday’s meal also hadn’t been consumed. And the spider was nowhere to be seen. I looked up and down and all around and couldn’t find her. Had she meant to save the meal, waiting for her venom to pre-digest it by liquifying the internal organs and in flew something larger than her and dinner went uneaten? Had our time together come to an end just like that?

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I wasn’t going to let the issue go, and so I continued to search, and guess who I found about three feet away upon a new web?

Even more exciting was the discovery that I can see her from the kitchen window AND, the view is of her underside so I can actually see her brown spinnerets at the end of her abdomen and maybe I’ll get to watch her capture a meal.

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Well, so I thought, but two hours later, when I next looked, I realized I’d missed the action and she’d already securely wrapped her latest victim–all that was still visible was a leg.

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Though the prey may be one, this is NOT just another insect in the midst of my quest. Actually, it’s not an insect at all for spiders are arachnids, with eight legs versus an insect’s six. She may be scary big, as well as carnivorous, but she is beneficial to the garden as she helps control insect populations, including some pests.

And how do I know she is a she? Her male counterpart I’ve yet to meet, but he’s much smaller and all brown, unlike her beautiful coloration.

There’s more to this story I’m sure and I look forward to learning more about her as I try to interpret the messages she leaves. If you have a chance, go out and stalk your gardens and be wowed by what you find.

Ode to a young Great Blue Heron

Oh youthful one, 

Life began with your parents 

Taking great care 

To build a nest 

Stick by stick. 

Constructed upon a tree snag

They located it

Close to homes of their kin

In a colonial manner

Known as a rookery.

Once incubated eggs hatched, 

You and your siblings, 

Necks outstretched, 

Vied for attention

With a chorus of primordial croaks.

Just as fast as 

you could turn 

the soundtrack on

You turned it off, 

And silence ensued.

Until, that is,

Your parents flew in, 

Each taking a turn,

With a meal ready

To be regurgitated. 

And then it was a case 

Of who 

Could outsquawk whom 

For a chance to dine

On food so fine.

I watched 

From the wetland’s edge

Where Painted Turtles basked,

Four-spotted Dragonflies paused,

Wood Ducks paraded and Watershield bloomed.

With the passage of time

You outgrew your soft bed,

And stood to show off

A body slaty gray,

accentuated in chestnut and black.

Eventually,

The meals changed

To large fish or other delights,  

While tug-of-wars ensued,

But you held tight. 

Growing stronger by weeks,

You soon practiced

Balance beam moves

On branches beside 

Your high-rise home. 

Flaps of wings

Anticipated flight.

Until the moment arrived, 

When stronger beats

Led to lift off.

As you flew,

A wise parent, 

Its head white

Topped with a long, black plume,

Stood sentry in protection mode.

Two months after

Entering this world,

You fledge, that bird moment 

Of solo flights

And food forages.

It’s in another wetland setting

I next found you, 

Silently stalking,

In search of frogs and fish

Passing by.

With practice 

You’ll strike a meal 

As you quickly 

Grab or impale prey 

Trying to pass by. 

My hope for you,

Young Ardea herodias, is this:

May you live long, 

Building, canoodling, 

Foraging, parenting.

May you

Demonstrate strategies 

Of making one’s own way

In the world

Rather than relying upon others. 

To best observe you, 

May I take a page from your book,

And stand or sit still

In meditative contemplation

As I try to not cause commotion.

As colonial as you’ll become when breeding, 

Which serves as a survival strategy, 

May you develop into a truly solitary creature,

Reminding us to occasionally spend time alone

And always be present in the moment.

Consumed by Cicadas

I walked into a cemetery, that place of last rites and rest, looking for life. It should have been a short visit, for finding life in such a location hardly seems possible, but . . . for two hours yesterday I stalked the the gravestones and today I returned to the same spot where I once again roamed, and then continued up the road to another that surprised me even more.

It seemed the Hutchins family was watching over the first little specks of my attention, keeping them safe at a most tender moment in their life cycle.

Upon the granite wall that surrounded the Hutchins plot, two small, but actually rather large in the insect world, nymphs crawled and paused, crawled and paused. And my heart sang as it does when I realize I’m in the right place at the right time.

Who are these land lobsters, for such do their claws remind me. Dog-Day Cicadas. They complete their life cycle in 1 – 3 years. As nymphs or larvae, they remain underground feeding on plant juices from tree roots. In July, the nymphs tunnel up through the ground and crawl onto tree trunks or other surfaces like gravestones, which they latch onto with those over-sized claws.

Tickled to see two who looked like they were about to burst into new life, I watched with intensity, noticing that this, the second one, had green wings forming. And really, its head was already emerging, for if you look closely, you’ll note a small set of brown eyes closer to its claws and the new eyes much larger and darker in color protruding.

Winged cicadas emerge from a slit along the back of the nymph’s exoskeleton.

Back to the first, you’ll notice the same is true. And do you see where the second cicada had that hint of green, this one is more rosy red in color.

I could say that within minutes I noticed more of the body bulging, giving the nymph a hunchback look, but this is a transformation that takes time. Lots. Of. Time. They begin the process by arching and expanding the thorax until the larval cuticle fractures and the adult’s thorax appears, soon, or sorta soon, followed by its head.

Ever so slowly . . .

the rest of the body . . .

comes to life.

Both red and green complete this process simultaneously as I squat and watch.

Eventually, legs and wings are visible. Do you see the proboscis, that elongated sucking mouthpart or stylet that is tubular and flexible, extending from its nose?

How about now?

As the abdomen extends, four wings take shape.

In continued slow motion, they begin to unfurl . . .

and the insect wiggles its legs . . .

ready to get a grip.

Next, it pumps insect blood into its body and wings, which takes even longer, as in hours. After the cuticle hardens for a while and muscles grow stronger, the cicada pulls itself out of its former self.

Before it can fly, those wings need to dry, some resembling a rainbow.

Teneral to start, a breeze creates an angelic quality befitting the setting.

In time, the wings will fold over the cicada’s back, but until that happens, the rose-version offers a lesson that not all Dog-Day Cicadas look like camouflaged leaves among which they sing–the tree-top males producing the droning whirr of a song we all associate with summer by using their tymbals or paired membranous structururs in their abdomens that vibrate through muscular action–it’s this song that attracts females.

Today, I visited yesterday’s cemetery and found not much action, but a few miles north it seemed the summer chorus was preparing to take in new members.


First, however, they had to finish donning their choir robes.

And as I’d noticed for the first time yesterday, not all robes are the same color. Variation apparently is normal among cicadas, which provide me a wonder-filled lesson.

My question is this: what determines color? It can’t be temperature as from the many I saw today and few yesterday, all emerged at about the same time. And it can’t be location, for they were all in the same locale.

In fact, some even morphed upon the same family plot corner stone, this being the Evans family in Center Lovell, and their transformation occurred within minutes of each other.

Then there was another question–if they were so close to each other in emergence, would they get along? I watched these two for a long time, and though they got quite close occasionally, they seemed rather territorial, using. a foot or tarsus to push the other away. That, of course, is my human interpretation of what I was observing. The reality may be different.

A few headstones away, another for the red variety.

There are other lessons, such as this–like dragonflies, some nymphs transform atop the discarded exuviae of their relatives.

And while I expect that they only climb a few feet off the ground to morph, I’m proven wrong when I have to use my warbler neck to spy at least two on branches high above. Do you see them? Are there others that I missed?

I have so many more questions, but pull myself away once again.

I do often wonder if my presence bothers then, but have to hope that they realize I’m there to protect them from predators and learn from them during this time of transition.

Note that the proboscis is tucked under their bodies, as it won’t be needed until these cicadas reach the tree tops. Once up there, where I won’t be able to spy them, males will produce the droning whirr of a song we all associate with summer by using their tymbals or paired membranous structures in  their abdomens that vibrate through muscular action–it’s this song that attracts females. After mating, the female lays her eggs in slits she makes in twigs. The young nymphs hatch, fall to the ground, burrow underground and feed on sap from roots for a year or two or three. 

And then the day I wait for happens and I once again roam places where I know I can find them, cemeteries being my place of choice, and I spend hours stalking one stone and then another and back to first and then the second, over and over again, consumed as I am by cicadas.

The Giant’s Shower Mondate

As we drove to North Conway, New Hampshire for an errand today, we had no idea where we might hike. And then in the midst of said errand, my guy suggested Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch. It had been a while since our last visit so we decided it was a great idea.

It’s funny how the trail seems flat in my mind’s eye, but it’s hardly that as roots and rocks or boulders keep all eyes looking down while we climbed up. While it’s long been this way, the impact of hikers seeking solace during the past fifteen months means it’s been trodden even more than in the past.

The hike to the falls is rather generic and I soon decided I wouldn’t need to write about it until . . . we reached the Devlin’s staircase. And then it dawned on me that summer began late last night and we were in the right place, only having missed the celebration by half a day. My only hope was that we might glimpse our friend who had built them.

When we arrived at the falls, I could see that he had indeed turned on the shower and others were standing below taking advantage of the cool water on such a hot day. Do you see the heart created by leaves and trees at the top of the waterfall? That was another sign.

When in Rome–and so yes, we did the same.

After hanging out there for a bit, we hiked down and decided to detour via the trail to Bemis Falls, where even more roots slowed us down a bit, but the water spilling into the tiered basins made the trip well worth the effort. Notice how rather than a shower, the basins offered a place to bathe. It was another sign and again we knew Devlin was responsible.

Farther down the trail, we walked into Colesium Falls and again sat for bit while White Admiral butterlies fluttered around us.

One even paused long enough for us to admire its handsome features. We suspected their presence in this particular area was to serve as decoys.

For without realizing it until we returned to the Bemis Trail, we’d entered Falda’s home range. My heart be still. It was all coming together as planned.

The icing on the cake was a single Pink Lady’s Slipper, which we’re convinced Devlin had planted for Falda.

So . . . who are these two: Devlin and Falda? Why a giant and a fairy, of course. And perhaps you’ve read my fairy tale before, but even if you did, I’d love for you to read it again. And share it. And if you haven’t then, sit back and enjoy. And one more and, if anyone cares to illustrate it for fun, give it a whirl, but please share your works with me and maybe when I post this again in a year or two (It seems I’m on an every-two-years plan for sharing this story) I’ll include your works, with attribution, of course.

Once upon a Midsummer’s Eve, on Sabattus Mountain, a group of fairies gathered in a circle for a night of magic and merriment. All wore crowns of wood sorrel and ferns about their heads. Their sparkly skirts matched the color of their hair, purple and green and yellow and orange and blue. Together they danced and sang this tune:

We whirl and twirl and dance around,
Our feet, they barely touch the ground.
We wish and wish and wish tonight,
For a Midsummer’s Eve that is fun and bright.

Aisling stopped suddenly and stared at the delicate pink lady’s slipper they circled around.

“What is it, Aisling?” asked Carys. “Why did you pause?”

“I had a vision,” Aisling said. Her wings fluttered as fast as a hummingbird’s, which they always did whenever she had a vision.

“Tell us,” insisted Imma.

“It’s about Falda,” said Aisling.

“Oh, will my wings work again?” pleaded Falda, for her wings were folded and though she could dance and jump, she could no longer fly.

“No, Falda. It’s not that, but something even better, I think. And there’s a nice ogre too,” explained Aisling.

“Tsk. Tsk. A nice ogre. Whoever heard of such a thing?” demanded Biddie. “The only ogre we ever knew was a devil. Remember his sign in Crawford Notch: ‘Devl Hom.’ That ogre was so mean, he couldn’t even spell.”

The fairies continued dancing and forgot about Aisling’s vision for a few hours. When the merriment was over, Falda and Biddie, the older fairies, returned to their homes beneath the thick foliage and moss-covered tree stumps. Imma, Carys and Aisling used pine needles to sweep the area so no hikers would discover them.

“Tell us more about your vision, Aisling,” said Carys. “Who is the ogre? And what does he have to do with Falda?”

“I don’t know for sure,” said Aisling.

“Biddie always says that there was a giant who lived near our old home in Crawford Notch. He was cursed and not to be trusted,” said Imma.

“Let’s go back there and check him out,” suggested Carys.

“Yes, let’s,” said Aisling. “Remember, we can always avoid contact with him by reciting the backward chant: Ogres bad big with contact eye avoid always.”

“OK,” agreed Imma. “Let’s go.”

In a twinkle and a flitter, the three fairies left their home in Lovell, Maine, and reached Crawford Notch. The rising moon glowed on the giant’s staircase made of carefully placed tree trunks.

Aisling was the first to smell something awful. “What stinks?” she asked.

“I think it’s him,” said Imma, pointing to where the giant stood building a two-hundred-foot high granite wall. “Biddie said his smell is why we left.”

“Shhh,” whispered Carys from her hiding place high up in a beech tree. “Listen to him.”
This is what they heard: “Humph. I sure hope I can find water to flow over this fall. Then I can finally take a shower. And who knows, maybe Sweet Falda will hear that I’m clean and she’ll finally return.”

The three fairies held their noses and giggled.

“That’s your vision, Aisling,” squealed Imma.

“Humph. What was that sound?” the giant demanded. In the gruffest voice he could muster, he said, “Who goes there?”

Imma quickly waved her magic wand and a breeze moved the leaves. The giant could no longer hear them. He returned to his work of stacking granite boulders on top of one another.

“We’ve got to figure out how to get Falda and the giant together,” said Carys.

“Don’t you think he’s a mean, old ogre?” asked Imma.

“Not at all,” said Carys.

“Me either,” said Aisling.

“OK then. I have a plan, but I’ll need to ask my cousin to help,” Imma said.

In a twinkle and a flitter, the fairies returned to Sabattus Mountain and their village under the moss-covered tree stumps in the old pine grove.

“Falda, Biddie, wake up,” they called.

“What is it?” Falda asked as she walked out of her wee house, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

“We just came from Crawford Notch and we saw the most amazing thing,” said Carys.

“Tsk. Tsk. There’s nothing amazing left in Crawford Notch,” said Biddie.

“Oh, but you are wrong, Biddie. We saw a giant staircase, a giant waterfall . . . well, almost waterfall, and a certain giant himself,” said Imma.

“Almost waterfall?” asked Falda.

“Yes, it just needs water,” said Imma.

“Tsk. Tsk. Did you say ‘a certain giant’?” asked Biddie.

Carys fluttered up and down. “Yes, Aisling’s vision is coming true. We saw a certain giant building the almost waterfall and . . .” She was so overcome with excitement that she choked up and cried happy tears.

Aisling continued, “ . . . and he mentioned you, Falda.”

Falda’s cheeks turned as pink as the lady’s slippers that bloomed around them.

“Tsk. Tsk. You talked to that devil? Didn’t I always teach you that he is a cursed ogre and not to be trusted? Did you use the backward chant?” demanded Biddie.

“Oh, Biddie, don’t worry. We didn’t talk to him,” Imma said. The she whispered, “Yet.”

“No, we didn’t talk to him. We just listened to him,” said Aisling.

“I never even knew his name,” said Falda. She twisted her wee hands together. “He used to leave me beautiful gifts though, like a pinecone wreath and an oak picture frame.”

Biddie said, “Tsk. Tsk. He’s the devil, I tell you. And he stinks.”

“Yes, he did have a certain odor,” said Falda. “That was one reason we moved to Maine.”

“Maybe he smelled bad because he was always busy building something and couldn’t take a shower,” suggested Carys.

“Tsk. Tsk. He’s the devil and we’ll not return to Crawford Notch. It’s obvious that he put a curse on Falda and her wings got caught on a branch when we landed here. Now they are folded and she cannot fly,” insisted Biddie. “Enough of this nonsense. Go back to bed all of you.”

Aisling, Imma and Carys returned to their homes . . . momentarily. A few minutes later, when they were sure they could hear Biddie snoring, they met under an oak leaf behind Aisling’s house.

“I’ll ask Cousin Arethusa to provide a spring so water will flow over the boulders,” said Imma.

“Oh goody,” Carys said as she clapped her hands.

“Shhh,” Aisling whispered. “Quiet or they’ll hear us. We must act quickly before the sun rises on a new day.”

Silently, the three fairies formed a circle. Imma held her magic wand high and swung it in a sweeping arch above their heads. Fairy dust sprinkled upon them. Out of the dust, Cousin Arethusa appeared. In a whisper, Imma explained the need for a spring in Crawford Notch to which Arethusa agreed as long as the waterfall would be named for her.

“Thank you, Cousin Arethusa. Now we must go,” said Imma.

In a twinkle and a flitter, the three fairies returned to the Notch. They found the giant placing the last granite boulder on top of the wall.

He blinked when they landed on it. “Humph,” he growled, again using his gruffest voice, which wasn’t really gruff at all. “Who might you be?”

Immediately the three fairies covered their noses and gasped for air.

“Oh my. Do I smell that bad?” the giant asked. His cheeks turned red as the wintergreen berries that grew on the forest floor.

“Yes,” Carys squeaked.

“But if you turn around three times . . .” gasped Aisling.

“ . . . And say ‘water, water, everywhere’ five times fast,” added Carys.

“ . . . Water will flow over the falls and you can finally shower,” finished Imma.

“Really?” asked the giant.

“Try it,” said Carys.

“And hurry,” added Aisling.

“Do it for Falda,” finished Imma.

“Fal . . . da? You know Sweet Falda?” asked the giant.

“Yes, but hurry . . . you need to shower,” said Imma.

“Oh, yes.” So the giant turned around three times, said, “Water, water, everywhere,” five times and water flowed over the falls.

“Look, Arethusa Falls,” exclaimed Imma.

“I can’t believe it. I’m not very good at being mean and scary, but I can make wonderful things with my hands. Only I did wonder how I’d make this shower work,” said the giant.

“Well, you must thank Arethusa for that. And by the way, Biddie thinks you ARE mean and scary,” said Imma.

“Biddie. As I recall, she’s just an old biddie,” said the giant.

The fairies giggled.

“Why are you laughing?” he asked.

“Because that is exactly what Falda always says about Biddie,” explained Aisling.

“Oh, Sweet Falda. I must shower now so I can see her again.”

The fairies told him that Sabattus Mountain was only a few giant steps east of Arethusa Falls. Then in a twinkle and a flitter they returned to their village.

A few winks later, the Earth rumbled. All five fairies quickly gathered at Falda’s house.

“What was that?” they wondered together.

“Sounds like thunder,” said Falda. “A storm must be approaching.”

“But I thought I saw the sun rising as I rushed over here,” said Carys.

Suddenly, the sky darkened. The fairies fluttered closer together. Falda lit a candle. Then they heard a tapping sound near the entrance. She peeked out, but saw no one. Curious, the fairies cautiously walked outside. Standing atop the mountain was a certain giant.

“Oh,” said Falda and her face brightened with a smile.

“Tsk. Tsk. If it isn’t the devil himself. And he’s flattened the trees,” exclaimed Biddie.

“The devil? Why on Earth do you say that, Biddie? And sorry about the trees. I tried my best to tiptoe,” said the giant.

“Tsk. Tsk. That’s what your sign said, ‘Devl Hom,’” said Biddie.

“Oh, that sign. It broke in an ice storm. I just never got around to fixing it. I was too busy building other things. My name is Devlin. That sign should read, ‘Devlin’s Home,’” said the giant.

“Tsk. Tsk . . . you stink too,” stammered Biddie.

“Not anymore. Now I can shower whenever I want. You must come see all the changes in the Notch.” Devlin leaned down, picked Falda up and placed her in the palm of his oversized hand. “What happened to your wings, Sweet Falda?”

“Nothing really. Just a wee accident,” she said.

So Devlin carried Falda over to Crawford Notch for a visit. In a twinkle and a flitter, Carys, Imma and Aisling followed behind him. Biddie tagged along, tsk-tsking all the way.

And they all lived happily ever after. All but Biddie were happy, of course.

Arethusa Falls and Sabattus Mountain Hikes

Guess what! You can hike to both locations mentioned in The Giant’s Shower. First, climb the giant’s staircase to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. Be sure to pack a snack or lunch to enjoy beside the falls. Who knows, you might even see Devlin working nearby. If he smells, remind him to take a shower.

The trailhead to Arethusa Falls is located on Route 302 at the southern end of Crawford Notch in the White Mountains. The hike is easy, but it does take about 45-60 minutes to reach the over 200-foot high falls. Several trail options are available so be sure to check local guides, such as the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide and bring a map.

And only a few giant steps east of the falls is Sabattus Mountain in Lovell, Maine. If you are traveling via car rather than giant steps, Sabattus Mountain is about an hour and a half from Arethusa Falls. Follow Route 302 East to Route 5 North in Fryeburg, Maine. Stay on Route 5 through the villages of Lovell and Center Lovell. Just after the Center Lovell Inn, turn right onto Sabattus Road. Drive about 1 1/2 miles, then turn right onto Sabattus Trail Road.

The trailhead and parking area are a half mile up the road and clearly marked. The round-trip hike takes about 1 hour and is fairly easy, with one moderate spot. From the top, you will see Kezar Lake and Pleasant Mountain to the south. The White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire are to the west.

For more information about this hike, check Marita Wiser’s guidebook, HIKES and Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKE REGION, which is sold at local stores.

Hike up the right-hand trail. You’ll reach the top in about 45 minutes. Take time to enjoy the view left behind when the giant flattened trees with his footsteps. Some trees still stand tall, because he was only tiptoeing. Continue along the ridge until the trail turns left to descend.

In an old pine grove along this trail, you might suddenly feel the presence of fairies. Their homes are among the moss-covered tree stumps. They enjoy visiting Crawford Notch, but Sabattus is now their forever home. Pause a bit and let the magic of this place overtake you.

Do be sure not to add to or take away from the fairies’ homes. These are natural homes and you shouldn’t disturb them.

Happy hiking! And say hello to Carys, Imma, Aisling, Falda and Biddie for me.

**********

Meanings of names used in the story:
Aisling–vision, dream
Carys–love
Imma–water bearer
Falda–folded wings
Biddie–strength
Arethusa (Ara-Thuse-A)–spring
Devlin–brave, one of fierce valor
Pink lady’s slipper–moccasin flower, large, showy orchid found in the woods of Maine and New Hampshire

How to make your own fairy dust:
Combine dried flower petals, leaves and birdseed in a small bowl. Crush together. Sprinkle outdoors wherever magic is needed.

Fairy houses:
Best if made from natural materials, e.g. bark, sticks, leaves, pinecones, rocks, grass, moss, berries, wood chips and flowers.
Fairies particularly like the thick foliage of moss and old tree stumps.
Remember, they hope that humans won’t discover them, so be cautious and don’t upset nature.

 ©  The Giant’s Shower by Leigh Macmillen Hayes, first published June 1, 2015, wondermyway.com, written in 2004