Giving Thanks Mondate

Today’s adventure found us exploring another “new-to-us” trail system, this one located beside the Swift River in Albany, New Hampshire.

The Albany Town Forest is protected with a conservation easement by Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. It seemed apropos that we should choose such a trail for today marked the last day with the land trust for their Outreach and Office Manager, Trisha Beringer. Trish is moving on to new horizons, for which I commend her, but at the same time, I’ll miss bouncing collaborative ideas off of her, searching for anacondas as we paddle local rivers, and giggling till we almost wet our pants as we try to strap kayaks onto our vehicles. (Wait, what? An anaconda? In Maine or New Hampshire? Well, when you’re out in the wilds with Trish, you never know what to expect. We did once encounter three otters.)

The route my guy and I chose for the day was posted at the kiosk located on the Kancamagus Highway, aka the Kanc. Our plan: follow the outermost trails in a counterclockwise pattern–just cuze we felt like going against the grain.

But first, there were other things to appreciate including a tiny beetle on the wood of the kiosk. It looked like a shield bug, but was ladybug in size and had an interesting blue coloration. If you look to the insect’s right, you may note more of the blue hue. I suspect this curious insect somehow met a bit of chalk or paint.

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A few more feet and we found apples decorating the forest floor. Though some had nibble marks, these appeared untouched. Perhaps the critters kept them in cold storage with thoughts that on Thursday they’ll make a delightful addition to a turkey dinner.

A small bird nest also decorated the forest floor, though we suspected it had fallen from the limbs above.

It seemed ornaments were everywhere and we found this Polyphemus Moth Cocoon dangling from a shrub’s branch. This is a member of the giant silk moth family who draw their collective name from the fine silk they use to spin their cocoons. The cocoons serve as protection for the pupal stage in their life cycle. I don’t know about you, but every little thing in nature astonishes me. How do all Polyphemus moths know to spin this shape?

Maybe the wise old chipmunk knows for he seems to be the keeper of the forest this year. And there are plenty of acorns on the ground to add to his pantry.

Through the forest we walked, enjoying the grade of the trail and feel of the place.

And then the community changed and we found ourselves moving beside bent over coneflowers, gum-drop shaped in their winter form. And do you see the baseline for a spider’s web?

Next door was a goldenrod bunch gall created by a midge. Looking like a mass of tiny leaves, it’s also known as a rosette gall for the shape at the top of the stem. In both cases, it’s amazing that insects can change a plant’s growth pattern so dramatically.

As the natural community changed, so did the material world and suddenly we heard the buzz and saw a jet zoom by.

We were fooled momentarily for it circled round and round, came in low for an almost landing as we approached and then took off again. We’d stumbled upon the site of the Mount Washington Valley Radio Control Club.

Airplanes and helicopters weren’t the only ones waiting to lift off into flight. Part of the field was filled milkweed pods, their parachute-equipped seeds waiting for the control tower to give the signal so they could fly.

And where there are milkweed pods, there are also milkweed flowers in their winter form, for such did the structures look with petals of five or six creating the display.

The Davis Farm trail passed by the milkweeds and cut through the fields and I had visions not only of my guy in front of me, but of summer visitors. I’m thinking butterflies, dragonflies, pollinators, oh my.

For now, the fields are dormant, save for a few lone pumpkins adding to the autumn landscape.

And the Moat Mountains providing the backdrop.

By the far edge of the field, hardly cuddly thistles added more texture to the scene.

Staghorn Sumac’s offering was its raspberry color.

At the edge of the field we reached the Swift River and train trestle that crosses it as memories of rides on the Valley Train of the Conway Scenic Railroad when our “boys” were young flashed through our shared memory.

Meeting the river meant that our journey along the Davis Farm Trail had morphed into a western path beside the river and we welcomed its voice as it moved slowly at first over the river rocks.

We did discover one patch of berries that had we not known better, we would have rejoiced over the color for it reminded us of the “white” pumpkins that decorate the season. But . . . we knew better and stayed on the trail in order to avoid Poison Ivy. Yes, it is native. But equally yes, it is a nuisance. Especially if you are allergic.

The trail was shaded beside the river and therefore more snow/ice cover had resulted from a slushy weather event yesterday, but that didn’t stop my guy. You see, I had introduced him to Geocaching.com and my guy loves a challenge.

He found the first and read off the trail names of previous discoverers.

I’ll give you a hint other than the one on the site: look for the Grape Fern. 😉

A wee bit further we came upon a couple of granite blocks and wondered where they’d come from and how they’d ended up in this spot.

Following the compass, we eventually made our second geocache find–this one to my credit. It was enough–my guy is hooked and I see geocaching adventures in our future.

If you can’t locate the second site, ask this chipmunk. We saw no squirrels as has been our experience this year (but do expect a payload amount of squirrels next year in response to this year’s acorn and beech nut mast), but the chipmunks dart across trails and roads on frantic missions as they prepare for the coming season.

My guy wasn’t on his own frantic mission for a change and paused beside this burl to point it out to me. That being said, I did chuckle as he moved on while I paused to admire it. Those folds. And curves. Inlets and outlets. It was like arms, long arms, that circled around and over. All because the tree’s growth hormones were disrupted when its metabolism was hijacked by some other organism, be it a virus, fungus, or bacterium.

Our time beside Swift River began to draw to a close as the sun started to set behind the mountains.

We were almost done with the hike when we noticed deer tracks–indicting they’d travelled to and fro with the river as a main point of their destination.

An individual deer print is heart shaped and such described our journey on several levels–as I continued to appreciate Trisha of Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, and also my guy who has put up with me for over three decades.

On this November day, I gave thanks . . . for this day, for these two people, and for all who have traveled this journey with me.

Blessed be.

Pay Homage at Otter Rock

This holiday season, why not take a short hike and smell the roses along the way?

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Or at least admire the milkweed plants that grow in the field across from the boat launch. I did just before I walked the blue/red trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve this morning. It wasn’t a long walk, but worth every moment. And I encourage you to do the same, whether here or somewhere else.

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Listen to the water flow over the dam.

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Notice the greenery across the mill pond.

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Follow the path sprinkled with snow.

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Rejoice in the ice shapes atop various leaves.

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Check out the Pileated Woodpecker works in dead snags.

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Let the Beech leaves brighten your day.

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Distinguish between the hues of Beech and Witch Hazel.

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Greet four amigos–Paper, Yellow and Gray Birch, with the trickster Cherry posing as a Black Birch.

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Applaud the maroon-fringed Grape Ferns at your feet.

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Follow the directions found on the sign.

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Rejoice in late blooming fungi like these Bleeding Mycenas (Mycena haematopus).

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Wonder at the various lichens that adorn the trees.

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Get up close and personal with a few, including the Bristly Beard.

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Laud the reflections of water not yet frozen.

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Praise the warm color of Royal Ferns gone by.

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Revere dragonfly and damselfly exoskeletons that still cling.

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Take in the view–ice and water and the old John Fox place–a testimony of yesterday, today and a glimpse toward tomorrow.

To Otter Rock–whether it takes you twenty minutes or three hours, make time in this busy season to pay homage.

Sluggish Moments

It’s not every day that someone shares time with a slug, but this morning that’s exactly what I did. It had poured until about 5:30am, so the conditions were prime.

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Actually, I was hunting for a spring peeper that frequents one garden and the grasshoppers that live in another, when a spot of orange caught my attention. And so I bent down for a closer look.

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A slug is like a snail without a shell, which makes it vulnerable to dehydration. That’s why we only see them foraging on rainy or cloudy days. I suppose we should think of slugs as weather predictors, much the same way common polypody indicates the temperature. Of course, if you look under leaf cover in the garden, you’ll surely find them as well, no matter what the weather is. Cool and damp conditions prevail in their world view.

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As Mr. Slug munched on a mushroom at my feet, I admired the pattern on his back and thought about my past experiences with slugs. I’ve licked their backs because I’d heard that they release a chemical which works like a natural anesthetic, thus providing a cure for toothaches. The numbness did last for a short period of time. That being said, my nursing friends encouraged me to stop because slugs may also carry parasites. And so I did.

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Since I was upclose and personal, I could see Mr. Slug’s two short antennae and even shorter eye stalks. Then there was his accordion-shaped mouth that he used to grasp and shred plant material. At first I thought he sucked it in, but as I watched, I could see the chewing motion.

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Being a mollusk like a clam or oyster, one might think about sautéing slugs. Or not. Really, I’m surprised my parents never tried that. Dad always sacrificed some beer so Mom could pour it into a tin pan in the garden to attract slugs. It worked–better for her than the slugs who thought they’d found the holy grail only to instead meet their fate. A perfect marinade. Thank goodness Mom and Dad didn’t think of that. But really, though slugs do have a bad reputation because they eat plant material in our gardens, they also play an important role as decomposers–of fungi and lichens and dead insects and plant material, all of which they turn back into soil.

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And here’s another curious thing about slugs–their mode of transportation. Remember their vulnerability to dehydration? Well, in order to move along they must create a slimy mucous. And so a chemical reaction occurs in their bodies causing them to secrete a sticky, slippery substance. That probably helps in keeping their predators, like toads and snakes and birds, at bay. Once they’ve moved on, it dries up.

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This morning, after we’d spent about a half hour together, Mr. Slug decide it was time to move on–toward the garden. It’s raining again as the sun sets and he’s probably slip sliding away across the yard in search of another feast.

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Because you stayed with me through my slug praise, dear reader, I thought you’d enjoy stopping by to wonder about a few pollinators like the ant that visited the milkweed. Did you know that insects get their feet caught in the sticky pollen sacs of the flower? They have to twist and turn as this one did while trying to get out. In the process, their feet get covered with pollen that they carry to the next flower.

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Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, but I found one who looks like it wears a Halloween costume on a daily basis.

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And this final pollinator of the day–loves to get totally immersed in its job.

I never did find the spring peeper today, and only one grasshopper, but my moments spent wandering and wondering were hardly sluggish.

Rain Drops and Mondates Always Make Me Glad (and humble)

My guy and I ventured off to the Major Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area in Brownfield today. Cooler temps and plenty of sunshine marked the early morning hours.

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Covering almost 6,000 acres, this area was formerly known as the Brownfield Bog, but was renamed to honor Major Sanborn, a beloved Maine Warden, who lost his battle with cancer several years ago.

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This is a place we return to often, but I have to admit that my sense of place was thrown off within the past week.

Saco River

We came to explore the Saco River. So this is where our pride takes a ribbing. We’ve walked to the river on most of our visits, but we never realized that this was the actual river. Huh? Yup, it’s true. In our brains, this was either the Shepard River or an old course of the Saco. Maybe it’s because when we’ve stood beside its bank, we’ve never seen anyone paddling along. Maybe it’s because until yesterday we never looked at the map. We never bothered to locate our place–just assumed we knew where we were. Another life lesson. Just a week ago, we were the merry paddlers, cruising along at tandem kayak speed, passing through the bog from Lovewell Pond to maybe a  half mile north of the Brownfield Bridge (maybe less). Maybe it’s because we were such swift paddlers that we were clueless. Anyway, now we know: The Saco River bisects the bog.

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Exploring the floodplain became our focus as we followed the river.

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Each year, the river consumes more land, making me wonder what it was like when Brownfield was founded in 1802.

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We walked down a mowed path, where the sensitive fern grows chest high on either side.

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And the royal ferns are equally large and plentiful.

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We explored in a different direction, perhaps trespassing on private land. (Oops, did that chain between the posts really mean “keep out”?)

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We recognized an elm growing over the river that we’d spotted while kayaking last week and knew that we’d established our sense of place.

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And then we turned from the river, retraced our steps and continued on to explore more of the bog via foot.

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Wild raisins are abundant.

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Eventually, the fruits will all turn blueish black and if the birds don’t eat them, they’ll shrivel up–like raisins.

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The showy red fruits of common winterberry also dot the landscape. The curious thing about this plant–though this is a member of the holly family, the leaves are not sharply toothed like other hollies, nor are they evergreen.

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Milkweed is ready to fly away and find a new home.

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Speaking of flying, if I hadn’t seen this green darner fly into the foliage, I never would have discovered it.

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Meadowhawk dragonflies were much easier to spot, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine.

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Openings in the shrubs and trees provide frequent views,

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including the backside of Pleasant Mountain.

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The community changed a wee bit, and suddenly we were under white oaks with their flaky-surfaced, rectangular, block-like bark.

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Beside them grow the Northern red oaks, with their flat-topped ridges outlined by the rusty red inner bark.

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The horizontal/vertical line design of big-toothed aspen also made its presence known.

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And on the ground, a big-toothed leaf provides a hint of what is to come.

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A few red maples are beginning to announce the changing season as well.

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When we reached our turn-around point, we were feeling a bit hot and sticky. We’d shed our sweatshirts and were thankful for a slight breeze.

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I admired a few fragrant water lilies still in flower, while my guy followed the action of a northern harrier through the binoculars.

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And then the wind really picked up. I looked at the trees and could see the backs of the leaves–my mother had long ago told me that that was a sure sign of rain to come.

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We looked up and had an Eeyore moment.

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I was wearing my boots, but no raincoat.

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It rained. It poured. It felt good.

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And then it was only a memory–and a pleasant one at that.

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We watched it move across the southwest end of Pleasant Mountain as we headed back.

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When we arrived home, the air was a bit cooler. I stepped outside to check out the insect activity in the yard and through the camera lens I realized something was photobombing the bee.

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Two somethings in fact–a pair of locust borers apparently shared their own Mondate. The only locust tree in the neighborhood is down the street, but I suspect that momma will be laying some eggs in the bark at dusk tonight.

It looks like rain once again, but we’re glad for the opportunity to explore together on another Mondate–and gain a better understanding of our greater neighborhood, our sense of place. So much for pride. Life is a humbling experience.