There’s a place here in western Maine that I frequent on hot summer days. Oh heck, there are many places I frequent, but this one is extra special and it doesn’t involve a hike. In fact, from my perspective, there’s only a short distance of a road that consumes hour after hour of my time. But always, it’s time well spent.
The road is dirt and crosses through a hay field that has yet to be cut. Smack dab in the center stands a beautiful Elm and though I’m not sure the Bluebirds nest there, I do know that they at least rest upon its mighty branches for I watched them fly down and disappear into the wildflowers and grasses below and then zoom back up into the tree a few minutes later, their wings of iridescent blue mesmerizing me during flight.
As the Bluebirds flew back and forth to the tree, so I walked back and forth below it. And back and forth again. And again. I have no idea how many times I turned or how often I muttered, “One more time and then I’ll leave.”
But . . . because I stayed I had the good fortune to spend some time admiring a Twelve-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly. In true character, it paused for long periods of time, flew off for a moment or two, and then returned to the same perch. And I gave thanks.
The only other dragonfly I saw was also a skimmer, but about half the size of the Twelve-spotted. At about one inch in length, the female White-faced Meadowhawk also paused for long breaks. And I was equally grateful.
With each step, grasshoppers did what they do–scattered from the dirt road to nearby stems. By the dozens. Providing constant motion and sound.
But then . . . I found two who chose a different activity to entertain themselves and ensure that there will be future generations of grasshoppers in the field.
Aren’t they amazing? And I don’t mean in their canoodling, but rather their design.
My pacing included frequent stops to check out the visitors upon the flowers as well. The Steeplebush appeared to offer a feast to any who chose to stop by.
Because the grass was so high beyond the flowers at the edge of the road, I didn’t realize at first that I wasn’t alone. Twice I was startled because I’d startled another. Both times it was a deer that I didn’t see until they ran off. Do you see the white flag of the tail as one bounded toward the woods?
There was more movement in the grasses and among the flowers. It was accompanied by sound. Looking for stalks moving at odds with the slight breeze, I finally spied the creator of the “Cheap” that resounded almost constantly. A Common Yellowthroat Warbler hopped from one plant to another, possibly seeking a meal to share with youngsters relaxing in a distant tree.
Curiously, a different sound could be heard from the other side of the road, where a male and female frequently took flight before settling down for a bit.
The Bobolink’s song hit notes both low and high, offering a serenade that bubbled forth in a rather bouncy and most pleasant warble.
Every which way I looked, something different presented itself. Some I knew, but others I met for perhaps the first time, such as this large bee fly. I’ve since learned that they are also commonly known as humbleflies, and I found that curious given that with the banded abdomen and patterned wings and overall large size, it hardly seemed humble.
What I’d really gone to check on, however, were the Milkweed plants and their visitors. I wasn’t disappointed for there were both big and little Milkweed beetles.
And Tiger Swallowtails seeking nourishment. This one needed all the nourishment it could get to continue its flight and avoid the birds and other predators. Do you see its tattered wing?
Some, like the Fritillary, chose the road for nutrition and did what butterflies often do.
It puddled. To puddle means to extend your mouthparts and probe the dusty road in search of nutrients. There is no actual puddle involved, but there may be raindrops or in this case, morning dew that help the butterflies extract minerals to share with their gals.
What I’d really gone to see, however, were the Monarchs. And I wasn’t disappointed for a few fluttered about and occasionally landed, much to my delight.
At last, my “One more time and then I’ll leave” utterance became reality and I drove off. And then . . . there was one more sight to behold. I stopped the truck and watched as a fawn bounded in its awkward fawn manner.
Because of the Monarchs . . . I experienced a wonder-filled morning.
We knew not what to expect when we met this morning. My intention was to visit a structure of unknown use, then follow a trail for a bit before going off trail and mapping some stone walls. Curiosity would be the name of the game and friends Pam and Bob were ready for the adventure when I pulled into the trailhead parking lot.
We traveled rather quickly to our first destination, pausing briefly to admire only a few distractions along the way–if you can believe that.
It’s a stone structure on the back side of Amos Mountain. Three years ago we visited this site with Dr. Rob Sanford, a University of Southern Maine professor and author of Reading Rural Landscapes. At that time we came away with so many questions about this structure located on a mountainside so far from any foundations. Today, we still had the same questions and then some.
Who built it? What was it used for? Was there a hearth? Did it have a roof? Was it ever fully enclosed? Was there originally a front wall? Could it be that it extended into the earth behind it? Was it colonial? Pre-colonial?
Why only one piece of split granite when it sits below an old quarry?
And then there’s the left-hand side: Large boulders used in situ and smaller rocks fit together. One part of the “room” curved. For what purpose?
Pam and Bob stood in the center to provide some perspective.
And then I climbed upon fallen rocks to show height.
We walked away still speculating on the possibilities, knowing that we weren’t too far from a stone foundation that belonged to George Washington and Mary Ann McCallister beginning in the mid-1850s and believed the structure to be upon their “Lot.”
As we continued along the trail, we spied several toads and a couple of frogs. Their movement gave them away initially, but then they stayed still, and their camouflage colorations sometimes made us look twice to locate the creator of ferns in motion.
At last we crossed over a stonewall that we assumed was a boundary between the McAllister property and that of Amos Andrews. It was the walls that we wanted to follow as there are many and our hope was to mark them on GPS and gain a better understanding of what seems like a rather random lay out.
The walls stand stalwart, though some sections more ragged than others. Fallen trees, roots, frost, weather, critters and humans have added to their demise, yet they are still beautiful, with mosses and lichens offering striking contrasts to the granite. Specks of shiny mica, feldspar and quartz add to the display.
The fact that they are still here is a sign of their endurance . . . and their perseverance. And the perseverance of those who built them.
But the fashion of these particular walls has stymied us for years. As we stood and looked down the mountain from near the Amos Andrews foundation, we realized that the land was terraced in a rather narrow area. And so we began to follow one wall (perspective isn’t so great in this photo) across, walk down the retaining wall on the right edge and at the next wall follow it across to the left. We did this over and over again and now I wish I’d counted our crossings, but there were at least eight.
Mind you, all were located below the small root cellar that served as Amos Andrews’ home on and off again beginning in 1843.
And below one of the terraced walls just beyond his cellar hole, there was a stoned off rectangle by the edge. Did it once serve as a foundation for a shed?
Had Amos or someone prior to him tried to carve out a slice of land, build a house, and clear the terraced area for a garden?
It seems the land of western Maine had been forested prior to the 1700s and there was plenty of timber to build. A generation or two later, when so much timber had been harvested to create fields for tillage and pasture, the landscape changed drastically, exposing the ground to the freezing forces of nature. Plowing also helped bring stones to the surface. The later generation of farmers soon had their number one crop to deal with–stone potatoes as they called them. These needed to be removed or they’d bend and break the blade of the oxen-drawn plowing rake. Summer meant time to pick the stones and make piles that would be moved by sled to the wall in winter months. Had the land been burned even before those settlers arrived? That would have created the same scenario, with smaller rocks finding their way to the surface during the spring thaw.
As it was, we found one pile after another of baseball and basketball size stones dotting the landscape. Stone removal became a family affair for many. Like a spelling or quilting bee, sometimes stone bees were held to remove the granite from the ground. Working radially, piles were made as an area was cleared. Stone boats pulled by oxen transported the piles of stones to their final resting place where they were woven into a wall.
Occasionally, however, we discovered smaller stones upon boulders. Were they grave markers? Or perhaps spiritual markers?
There were double-wide stone walls with big stones on the outside and little stones between, indicating that the land around had been used for planting. But why hadn’t all the piles been added to the center of these walls? That’s what had us thinking this was perhaps Pre-colonial in nature.
Pasture walls also stood tall, their structure of a single stature. I may be making this up because I’ve had an affinity with turtles since I was a young child and own quite a collection even to this day, but I see a turtle configured in this wall. Planned or coincidence?
My turtle’s head is the large blocky rock in the midst of the other stones, but I may actually be seeing one turtle upon another. Do you see the marginal scutes arching over the head? Am I seeing things that are not there? Overthinking as my guy would suggest?
I didn’t have to overthink when I spotted this woody specimen–last year’s Pine Sap with its many flowered stalk turned to capsules still standing tall.
And a foot or so away, its cousin, Indian Pipe also showing off the woody capsules of last year’s flowers, though singular on each stalk.
As we continued to follow the walls, other things made themselves known. I do have to admit that we paused and pondered several examples of this plant because of its three-leaved presentation. Leaves of three, leave them be–especially if two leaves are opposite each other and have short petioles and the leader is attached between them by a longer petiole. But, when we finally found one in flower we were almost certain we weren’t looking at Poison Ivy. I suggested Tick-Trefoil and low and behold, I was correct. For once.
Our journey wandering the walls soon found us back on what may have been a cow or sheep path and it was there that we noted a cedar tree. Looking at it straight on, one might expect it to be dead. But a gaze skyward indicated otherwise. Still, the question remained–why here?
A Harvestman Spider may have thought the same as it reached out to a Beech Nut. After all, the two were located upon a Striped Maple leaf.
Onward we walked, making a choice of which way to travel each time we encountered an intersection of walls. This one had a zigzag look to it and we thought about the reputation Amos Andrews had with a preference for alcohol. But . . . did Amos build all or any of these walls?
We continued to ponder that question even as we came upon a stump that practically shouted its name all these years after being cut, for the property we were on had eventually been owned by Diamond Match, a timber company. Do you see the mossy star shape atop the stump? And the sapling growing out of it? The star is actually a whorl–of White Pine branches for such is their form of growth. And the sapling–a White Pine.
And then . . . and then . . . something the three of us hadn’t encountered before. A large, rather narrow boulder standing upright.
Behind it, smaller rocks supported its stance.
The stone marked the start of another stone wall. And across from it a second wall, as if a road or path ran between the two and Bob stood in their midst adding coordinates to his GPS.
We chuckled to think that the stone was the beginning of Amos’ driveway and he’d had Andrews written upon it. According to local lore, he had a bit of a curmudgeon reputation, so we couldn’t imagine him wanting people to stop by. The road downhill eventually petered out so we didn’t figure out its purpose. Yet.
In the neighborhood we also found trees that excited us–for until ten months ago we didn’t think that any White Oaks existed in Lovell. But today we found one after another, much like the piles of stones. With the nickname “stave oak,” it made sense that they should be here since its wood was integral in making barrels and we know that such for products like rum were once built upon this property.
Trees of varying ages grow quite close to Amos Andrews’ homestead.
Also growing in the area was Marginal Wood Fern, its stipe or stalk below the blade covered with brown scales and fronds blue-green in color, which is often a give-away clue that it’s a wood fern.
We know how it got its name–for the round sori located on the margins of the underside of the pinnules or leaflets. Based on their grayish-blue color, they hadn’t yet matured. But why are some sori such as these covered with that smooth kidney-shaped indusium? What aren’t all sori on all ferns so covered?
So many questions. So many mysteries.
As curious as we are about the answers, I think we’ll be a wee bit disappointed if we are ever able to tell the complete story of the stone structure and the upright stone and all the walls between.
Walking among mysteries keeps us on our toes–forever asking questions and seeking answers.
It’s a difficult sound to describe, rather primordial in nature. Maybe it’s a duck’s quack? Or a dog’s bark? Or some combination of the two. And yet, all is quiet and then the noise erupts suddenly from one nest as a parent flies in, a meal in the oven about to be regurgitated.
It’s a scene that plays out at individual nests for a while before all become quiet again as if lunch has ended and the kids should take time for a nap. But until such time, the neighbors in the high rise next door watch enviously as their playmates are fed.
Just down the block one of the tweens, for suddenly after about a month of life they are such, flexes his wings as he stands out on a branch. It’s a tradition as old as time–tweens and teens going out on a limb to show their capability to survive in the world. The question remains, however: when will he reach the right age to get a license?
As the tween to the right finishes flexing, the one in the center lets a shiver pass through his body. Is it a pre-flex motion? His other sibling watches and wonders what it’s all about. Perhaps he’s trying to prove something?
Meanwhile, because I stood beside a river with a friend so I could count Great Blue Heron nests, active nests, young, young in nests, fledglings, and adults, we also began to notice other life that surrounded us like a Kingbird who posed for moments on end.
Constantly, however, my eye was drawn to the tiptop of the White Pines, where I began to realize there were more and more birds than my first count because many were feeling their oats and testing their individuality.
Other birds added to the rhythm as we listened for and shared with each other the location of the song makers in our midst.
And then, and then . . . a male Belted Kingfisher pause smack dab in front of us, his tuft of head feathers earning him the “Wicked Cool Dad” award in the neighborhood.
He looked right at us and made dorky dad comments that left us exclaiming with delight.
Meanwhile, back at the rookery, some of the tweens continued to wait in the most patient manner. They muttered hardly a word. We did have to wonder how such big birds could fit in those nest of twigs. The nests were large in bird terms, but the birds were even larger. At last it was time for us to depart, and we left the young in their quiet mode.
My journey continued on the other side of the river. It was there that I spotted Robber Flies in that age-old act of mating.
And a moth I believe to be known as a Virginian Tiger Moth or Woolybear Moth clinging.
But perhaps my favorite of all, that I found because we chose today to check on the rookery, was the Sphinx moth holding onto a pine sapling. At first I thought it was a dead leaf caught on the twig.
My wish was granted. I had hoped to have the bog to myself, and except for three cars that passed by headed east and two headed west, which I could only hear and not see from my stance in front of the “blind,” not a soul disturbed my solitude.
That’s not completely true. Many souls actually disturbed the peace from low-pitched bellows to squeaks and whistles and croaks and splashes. But . . . they were all to be expected in such a place as this.
I new I’d made the right decision to visit when I spied a shed snake skin on the path to the front of the blind. Just maybe I’d get lucky and see one.
At last I found a spot from which to channel my inner bullfrog and watch for the next insect to snatch . . . though in my case it was to snap a photo.
And I didn’t join the chorus of GA-DUNK, GA-DUNK, GA-DUNK, GA-dunk, GA-dunk, ga-dunk, ga-dunk each time it rose and fell, beginning in one corner of the bog and eventually extending all the way around.
My other thought was that perhaps I should be like a sapling and then I might encourage a dragonfly to land upon me.
It was a good thought, but I wasn’t sure it would work. Instead, I began to slowly scan the area to see what I might see–and the painted turtles didn’t let me down. Can’t you just hear the one in the front tell the other to stop following her?
From water to foliage, everywhere every minute there was something new to focus on and I rejoiced with the sighting of my first Slaty Skimmer of the season. He’s an easy one to ID with his body entirely blue, enhanced by those dark brown eyes and black face. And then there’s that long black stigma toward the tip of his wings. A handsome guy indeed.
Another handsome guy was the Common Grackle with his seed-eating bill so big and thick. And that iridescent bluish head accenting the bright yellow eye. The Tree Swallows were too quick for me, but they frequently chased the Grackles and I suspected there was a swallow nest in one of the dead snags in the water.
My pose as a sapling seemed to be working for the Corporal kept landing right at my roots. There were so many and they all zipped about before taking breaks such as this.
Meanwhile, on another log another turtle basked, soaking up the warmth of the sun’s rays on this delightful morning.
Not every log served as a sunbather’s lounge chair, but they all had something of interest upon them, such as the Round-leaved Sundew bouquet, its flowers not yet in bloom, but standing tall and curled like crosiers.
Also scanning the stumps and any small hummock were the Grackles as they sought their next meal. Typically, they are seedeaters, but the insects, spiders, frogs, and salamanders of this place can also provide tasty morsels.
With my legs as the sapling’s trunk, finally the Corporal did land.
And if that wasn’t exciting enough, then I spotted a turtle in a surfing pose ;-).
Actually, according to Mary Holland, author of Naturally Curious, “Being cold-blooded, or ectothermic, they need this external source of heat to warm their body, but the UV light also regulates their metabolism and breeding as well as helps produce Vitamin D3, which is essential for the health of their bones as well as their internal organs.
Basking can also help relieve aquatic turtles of ectoparasites. Leeches are a blood-sucking ectoparasite that can cause anemia in reptiles. Drying out in the sun causes the leeches to shrivel up and die. Algae on basking aquatic turtles can also dry out and fall off, allowing the shells to retain their aerodynamic nature.”
While the turtles took care of themselves, the Grackles had other business at hand. If you look carefully at the right hand side of the snag, on the burl you may see tail feathers sticking out. Each time a Grackle entered, it had food in its mouth. And a few seconds later when it departed, it had fecal matter which it deposited in the water. I couldn’t hear the babes calling for food among the din of all the other sounds in the bog, but it soon became obvious that they lived within.
As for my own tree-like stature, it worked. All morning the dragonflies landed on my pants, shirt or hat and their wingbeats reminded me of Hummingbirds as they flew onto or off quickly, always in competition with others.
And then, one blessed me by landing as soon as I stuck my limb out. He looked at me in as much a curious way as I looked at him.
I should have known it would be this kind of a day when I spotted a Snowshoe Hare on the road. It’s a rare spot for me, though all winter long I see their tracks and scat. Only occasionally do I get to glimpse one and even then, it’s just that . . . a glimpse.
But today was different. As I drove to a Greater Lovell Land Trust property, movement on the pavement slowed me down. To. A. Stop. Not wanting to scare it, I took a photo from behind the windshield and then watched as it hopped on the road for a couple of minutes and then off into the grass.
My destination was just around the corner where the Sundews grow. Carnivorous Round-leaved Sundews. Check out the glistening droplets at the ends of the hair-like tendrils that extend from each round leaf. The droplets are actually quite sticky. Just like a spider sensing a bug on its web, the tendrils detect the presence of prey and then curl inward, thus trapping the victim.
The whole leaf will eventually wrap around an insect and in the process of digesting it, the plant will absorb the bug’s nutrients. Can you see the action in process of the lower leaf on the left?
Sundews tend to grow in areas that lack sufficient nutrients, so this is the plant’s way of supplementing its diet. And if that isn’t enough–it’s just plain beautiful.
When I first ventured onto this wildlife refuge with others for a morning of trail clearing, the sky was overcast and mosquitoes plentiful. But . . . the sun eventually burned through the clouds and with that, some of my favorite over-sized, prehistoric looking insects did fly. Thankfully, they also paused so I could admire their structures, colors, and habits. This member of the Odonata family loves to skim across the land at low level and pause on rocks or leaves. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking with them for such is their behavior to lift off from one rock as I approach and settle on the next just a few feet ahead. That is, until I approach that one and then they move on to the next. Over and over again. Of course, all the time they’re hunting for a meal.
The two photographs above are of the same species and same gender. Both are females of the Chalk-fronted Corporal sort. But notice the cloudier abdomen of the second. There’s just a bit of the grayness in the first photo. So here’s a word to stick under your hat and remember: Pruinescence–meaning a “frosted or dusty looking coating on top of a surface.” The female’s abdomen turns chalky gray with pruinosity. In my under-educated brain, I’d say the second is older than the first for her pruinose markings are more obvious.
I was standing in the middle of a former log landing when I began to notice the insects. It’s an area where forest succession is slowly occurring and may need to be addressed. But for now, the wildflowers include Yellow Hawkweeds. And because their resting position is different from the Corporals, upon the flowers perched Calico Pennants. The first I saw was a male, so identified by the red markings on its abdomen.
In many male/female contrasts, be it dragonflies, damselflies, or even birds, the female is in no way as attractive as the male. But for the Calicos, both are worth celebrating. Check out those wings–their basal patches like stained glass windows.
It wasn’t just dragonflies that visited the field, for as I said it’s a land once stripped of vegetation that now plays hosts to flowers and shrubs and saplings all competing for space. And Syrphid flies also competed, their focus not on other insects, but rather pollen and nectar.
Equally stained-glass like are the wings. And notice the hair on its body. The natural world is incredibly hairy. Looks rather like a bee, doesn’t it? I was fooled, but my entomologist friend Anthony corrected me–thankfully.
Notice the lack of pollen baskets on those big funky hind legs, lack of antenna with “elbows,” and the shape of the eyes. Similar to a bumblebee, yes, but with subtle differences.
Other visitors who sampled the goods in a much faster manner included Hummingbird Clearwing Moths. The wings of this one pumped so quickly that it appeared wingless. If you look closely, you may see the comb-like structure of its antennae, which helps to differentiate moths from butterflies with their club-like antennae.
I had been feeling rather blessed for all I’d seen to this point and then an old friend made itself known. This dragonfly is one that I know I’ll eventually photograph on my hand or leg this summer and it honors me with those landings for I feel like a Dragonfly Whisperer in those moments. Today we were merely getting reacquainted. And instead of landing on me, it let me photograph its face. Take a look and wonder.
And then look at the abdomen of the same dragonfly: a Lancet Clubtail. By its bluish gray eyes that remind me of my own, and narrow yellow daggers on each segment of its abdomen, I hope you’ll recognize it going forward should you have the opportunity to meet.
Butterflies were also among the visitors of the field, including a Tiger Swallowtail with a tale to tell of how it lost a part of its tail.
And then I spotted a skipper or two moving just a wee bit slower than the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. My what big eyes you have.
As I slowly made my way back up the trail, it was the Kennedy’s Emerald, named for Dr. Clarence Kennedy, a renowned Ohio State University professor and odonatologist that asked to be noticed. I knew we’d met before when I realized it had two downward-arched yellow spots on the first two segments of its otherwise dark abdomen. The yellow coloration indicated it was a female.
Then I watched a most curious thing as I stood by a fence that stands beside a short portion of the trail. Do you see the dragonfly crawling along the fence?
It seemed to be on a mission that I couldn’t understand.
Perhaps it had its sight on an insect I couldn’t spy.
For a few minutes it posed and gave me time to at least decide it was a darner, though I keep changing my mind about which one. But notice its markings. The venation of its wings was rather fine compared to so many, yet the markings on its abdomen were well defined. Oh, and do you see the paddle-like claspers–used to hold the female’s head during mating? And then it flew off.
My heart was filled by all that I’d been seeing. And then . . . in flew another that seemed to top the rest. A Twelve-spotted Skimmer. Count each one on all four wings–twelve dark spots. Crazy beautiful. And to think that I always used to think dragonflies were dragonflies and they were wonderful because they consume mosquitoes and make our woodland hikes so much more bearable. But like ferns that I always thought were all the same, they are not. Slowly I’m learning them by their names and give thanks for every moment I get to spend in their presence.
What’s not to wonder about and love–notice the yellow hearts on the female Calico Pennants abdomen. And her reflection on the leaf below.
I knew that hare brought me good tidings. And will be forever grateful.
As Laurie comments in her editor’s note, a theme emerged while we brainstormed article ideas. You’ll have to read this from cover to cover to get the full effect.
My first contribution: “The Maine Event” about four local wedding or retreat venues–each one with a unique twist. Even if you aren’t planning a grand event, it’s still fun to peek into the places and meet the people who make the magic magical.
A second contribution: “Summer Living,” which is a listing of what’s happening in the lakes region of Maine this summer. There are several shout-outs throughout this section, including one for our local land trusts and LEA as we collaborate to bring history alive through a series of walks along our trails.
And my final contribution: “You Get What You Give.” This is probably my favorite for this issue because, well, I won’t tell you why. You have to read it. And figure out. Let’s just say I was completely moved by the experience.
Laurie has written about a new venture for a young couple in “A Passion for Play,” cuze Becca and Scott, plus their son Parker, do love to do that. Especially on our lakes and ponds, as well as mountains.
She also wrote about a local farmer who does more than that–something about music and feet in “Geof’s Farm Pedals.” Another gotta read.
And her final piece is about Cannabased Wellness, aka “The Back Room at Nectar.”
Then there are the book reviews a la Justin, Pam, Sue, and Perri of Bridgton Books.
Plus all the colorful ads. If you do live locally, please let the advertisers know that you saw their ad in Lake Living. It helps with ad sales, which are key because the magazine is free to you.
Finally, I just LOVE the cover–thanks to Mary Jewett’s fine photography. It makes me grin every time I look at it.
Lake Living magazine: Summer 2019 is upon us now. 😉