Sherpas for the Loons

I can’t remember what year I began volunteering to haul food to the top of Pleasant Mountain for Loon Echo Land Trust’s Trek. I do, however, remember this–it was chilly that first time. I also remember some of the folks I hiked up to our location at the summit with–including JoAnne Diller, Carol Sudduth and Sara Stockwell. And then, at some point  in the future my position was switched to the summit of Southwest Ridge and I’ve been there every since–along with my pal in crime, Marita.

l1-me 4 (1)

And so it was that this morning she and I packed as much as we could into our backpacks and extra bags as we started up the trail at 7.

l2-into the fog

The fog had been so thick as I’d driven across the Moose Pond Causeway of Route 302, that I couldn’t even see the mountain. As we started up the trail, the morning light added a ghostly effect.

l3-web 1

At viewpoints along the way, the mountains beyond remained invisible, but . . . we could see the work of others.

l4-web 2

Webs decorated branches like Christmas ornaments decorate trees.

l7a-following the loons

Despite the fog, we easily followed the hiking loon up the trail,

l7-breaking into the sunlight

and eventually broke through into the sun.

l8-looking westward

As we continued to climb, we looked back, but our view was limited . . .

l9-islands among the sea of clouds

to mountaintops that looked like islands poking above a sea of clouds.

l9a-teepee and islands in background

Finally, we reached our destination–just below the teepee at the summit of Southwest Ridge.

l10-rest area 1

It was there that we set up our rest area with an assortment of goodies.

l12-Maine to China

Some were quite local, like the salsa from Windham, Maine, apples from Five Fields Farm in Bridgton, hot pepper jelly from Massachusetts and coffee mug filled with Dreamlands coffee by Magnolia Coffee of North Carolina, which benefits Five Kezars Watershed Association in North Waterford. (Judy Lynne–I believe you know the origin of my coffee thermos. I’m still using it every day.)

l13-me 1

While the temperature had cooled off a bit at the end of August, this mid-September day was hot and muggy–especially if one was hiking. But, we were ready to greet our guests  with a smile and plenty of food. Our hope was that they’d gobble it all up.

l14-Marita

Of course, being on the Southwest Ridge, one must look the part.

l15-young hikers

Slowly our guests trickled up–full of smiles despite the heat.

l18-family time

Our hikers for the six mile trek included families and friends, and even one dog.

l16-mountain islands 1

Ever so slowly, the sun began to break through the sea of clouds.

l17-mountain islands disappearing

Suddenly, as if in a poof, the mountains and lakes came into view.

l20-view from main summit, Kezar Pond, Mt Wash in clouds

After several hours, the Sweep came through and it was time for us to pack up and move on. And so we did–hiking across to the main summit, where the western views showed that Mount Washington was still in hiding.

l22-Jon

It was at the summit that we met up with Loon Echo’s stewardship manager, Jon Evans, whose work we greatly appreciate.

l23-Paul

His partner in crime was Loon Echo’s biologist, Paul Miller. Today, Paul taught us a new word: crepitation–the snapping or crackling sounds some grasshoppers make with their wings as they fly.

l24-Moose Pond 1

After chatting with them for a few minutes, we continued on across the ridge line, going backwards or so it felt for often we hike in the opposite direction. Just before reaching the point that the Bald Peak trail takes a sharp right hand turn downward, we paused among the pines to take in the view of Moose Pond and the causeway below.

l25-Marita in split rock

Rather than turn down at the Bald Peak junction, we continued on. At the North Ridge, we passed through one of our favorite parts (though like I said to Marita–every part along this mountain is my favorite), passing through the narrow split in the granite.

l26-Shawnee Peak summit 1

Finally, we reached the summit of Shawnee Peak Ski Area where we paused at the last rest stop to enjoy some watermelon slices.

l26-slowly descending

And then it was time to descend along the ski trails, first via the Main and then the Pine, traversing as we went to take the pressure off our knees.

l27-painted lady 1

It was there that the goldenrod grew and we admired the Painted Ladies seeking nourishment.

l28-painted lady 2

Though they look similar to the regal monarchs, we noted their characteristics–the painted ladies having forewings that are mostly orange, highlighted with black and spotted white. Their undersides really tell the story for they feature shades of brown, tan and white, with prominent veins, and row of blackish-blue spots along the margin.

l29-framing camp

Eventually, we left the flower zone as we continued down on grass. The lower we descended, the more our camp came obscurely into view. It’s framed in this photo, but unless you know it, you may not see it.

l30-water snake 1

At the ski area, we helped ourselves to a free Allagash and lunch, then sat on the lawn to chat with friends who’d either volunteered their time or biked 100 miles (Go Alanna!).

We had one other visitor–a young water snake that seemed to have lost its way from the pond.

By the time we left in the late afternoon, we were tired, sweaty and stinky, but happy for the honor of serving as sherpas to haul food and set up the rest area in this annual event that helps protect the lands around us and those who live here–whether they be loons, painted ladies or water snakes.

Congratulations Loon Echo Land Trust on another successful Trek.

 

Propinquity

I slipped into a kayak this morning and rather than paddle two miles north into the islands, decided to turn the bend round our point and search the shallows closer to home.

c-stump garden

It is there that the old stumps remind me once again that this water was once land until it was dammed back in the early 1800s. The stumps have given way to gardens and I have to wonder about the age of the mosses and plants that call them home.

c-fragrant 5

In a water garden below the stumps, fragrant water lilies added grace.

c-fragrant with visitors 2

And within, they offered a feast for those who foraged.

c-feather

Nearby was evidence of another foraging expedition. It didn’t bode well for the young bird that sacrificed its life, but I suspect a larger bird gained a few jules of energy.

c-cove views

Everywhere I turned, there was another garden to inspect.

c-spider 1

And friends to meet, be they spiders . . .

c-dragonhunter exuvae

dragonhunter exoskeletons . . .

c-meadowhawk 2

or meadowhawks.

c-spatulate-leaved sundew and insects

Among my favorites were the sundews and I watched several insects approach a spatulate-leaved bent down to the water.

c-round-leaved sundew

Among the spatulates, another showed its face–the round-leaved sundew standing tall above its family members.

c-pickerel 1 a

As I continued to swoon over those beauties, a different color caught my attention.

c-pickerel frog 1

As still as could be, a pickerel frog posed and waited . . . I suppose for me to move on.

c-bullfrog 1

Eventually I did, and then I met a large male bullfrog–its external eardrum or tympanum larger than its eye. This guy was certainly all ears. 😉 (The female’s eardrum is about the same size as the eye). He sat in wait . . .

c-bullfrog youngster

while a young bullfrog of two or three years tried to hide about eighteen inches away. A bullfrog is a carnivore and while its diet consists of crayfish, water beetles, snails and dragonfly larvae, they also dine on fish, small turtles, young water birds . . . and other frogs. Beware little friend.

c-bullfrog reflection

For a while another bullfrog and I took a stab at a starring contest. He won.

c-beaver scent mound

Again I moved on and at last found one of the reasons I headed around the corner. I’d been  wondering about beaver works in this area–and found a scent mound that looked rather fresh.

c-beaver lodge

Across the way was the lodge–that’s been in place since I’ve frequented Moose Pond, which means for just over thirty years.

c-beaver lodge garden

I noticed that the beavers have their own kitchen garden from which to choose–and poking out from it were a variety of sticks. Which ones came from our property? And how many more will be added in October, for I know that’s when they’ll come shopping.

c-camp from south side

Finally, it was time to head back out of the cove to our humble abode on the point.

c-camp 2

It was there that I would finally join my guy for some time in our  rocking chairs.

Propinquity.

Embracing Quiet

If you are like me, you spend too much time racing from one moment to the next during this fleeting season of summer. With that in mind, I chose to slow down today.

m-stump islands

I know of few better places to do that than among the stump islands in the Upper Basin of Moose Pond. It’s been my place since I moved to Maine over thirty years ago.

Once upon a time, this was timberland–albeit prior to impoundment. A log sluiceway was built at the Denmark end in 1792 by Cyrus Ingalls, thus turning pastureland into the Lower Basin, so he could float logs to a nearby mill. In 1824, a more substantial dam was created and the height of that dam was raised by William Haynes in 1872 to create the current impoundment. While the Middle Basin of the nine-mile “pond” may be the largest at over 900 acres, its the 300-plus-acre Upper and Lower Basins that I like best to explore. And because the Upper is right out my summertime back door, I spend the most time there.

m-painted turtle

As I moved slowly, I greeted old friends like this painted turtle and even had the opportunity to pet a snapping turtle, so close to my kayak was it, but I paddled on.

m-newly emerged damsel 2

Actually, I didn’t paddle much once I reached the islands and stumps. Instead, I floated. And noticed. Before my eyes newly emerged damselflies pumped fluid into their bodies and wings, while their shed exuviae sat empty.

A family of three passed by in a canoe and I asked if they wanted to see something cool. When I told them about the damselfly, the father asked what a damselfly was and I told the family about its size and wing formation. They knew about dragons but had never heard of damsels. And didn’t want to stop and look. The mother commented on how magical it all was, but the father was eager to move on. I was sad for the son’s sake. He missed the real magic.

m-emerging damsel 3

Returning to my quiet mode, I found another, waiting as they all do, for the transformation to be completed. Do you see that the wings are not yet clear? I decided my presence was important, for I was keeping predators at bay.

m-orange bluet male

And then . . .

m-orange bluet 3

and then I met a new friend. An orange bluet–this being the male. I wanted to name him the Halloween damsel, but my field guide told me differently.

m-water shield and orange bluets 2

I kept waiting for him to meet her

m-orange bluets on water shield 1

and finally he did–

m-orange bluets mating

completing the wheel of damselfly love.

m-water shield 4

Because of the orange bluets, I also met the watershield flowers in their moment of glory. The flowers are described as being dull purple and inconspicuous. I found them to be various shades from mauve to muted red and lovely in presentation on day one of their life cycle.

According the US Forest Service Website, “On the first day the bud emerges above the water. Sepals and petals open and bend downward. Although stamens and pistils are present in each flower, on the first day of blooming, only the pistils emerge. Stalks of the pistils lengthen and spread outward over the petals. At night, the flower stalk bends and the flowers submerge beneath the water. On the second day, flowers emerge from the water again, but with the pistils retracted. The stamen stalks are lengthened and the anthers open. In this way flowers are cross-pollinated (Osborn and Schneider).

m-water shield old

Hardly dull, certainly unique. Even on day two.

m-newly emerged Hudsonian whiteface

Today, I also met a new dragonfly. And thought that I did it a favor, but I may not have. You see, when we first met, I noticed a web all around this immature Hudsonian whiteface (or so I think it is). With my paddle, I removed the web to free the dragonfly. But, um, it flew off and that’s when I realized it was several hours old and still drying its wings. Do you see how shiny they are? And the exuviae to which it clung prior to my “helping” hand? It’s best to leave nature alone. If it had been caught in the web, then good for the spider.

m-cotton grass 1

Speaking of spiders, I found some cotton grass gone to seed . . .

m-cotton grass with spider 2

and when I moved to photograph it with the sun behind me, I noticed what looked to be a camouflaged crab spider hiding in wait.

m-beaver lodge 1

Among the stumps, I’ve seen numerous beaver lodges over the years and know from the saplings they cut down on our property, that at least a few are active.

m-beaver scent mound 1

Today a recently visited scent mound added to that knowledge. Beavers pull aquatic plants and mud up from the bottom of the pond and create these mounds. They then secrete castoreum from castor glands beneath their tails to mark territory, deter predators, and say, “Hey baby, wanna check out my sticks?”

m-meadowsweet

The island flowers also grabbed my attention, including the fluffy heads of meadowsweet and . . .

m-grasspink orchid

grass-pink orchids now waning.

m-sweet-scented water lily

But . . . besides the dragons and damsels, I really went to see the aquatic flowers, like the sweet-scented water lily,

m-spatterdock

spatterdock,

m-pickerel weed 3

and one of my favs–pickerelweed.

m-pickerel weed

I love it for all its fine hairs and the way the flowers spiral up the stalk.

m-pickerel 2

I also love the coloration with two yellow dots on the upper lip providing a guide to the nectar it offers.

m-white face on leatherleaf 1

While I looked, another white-faced dragonfly, small in stature, kept following me. Finally, it paused on a leatherleaf shrub.

m-spatulate-leaved sundews with flower 2

And I paused beside the spatulate-leaved sundews.

m-spatulate--leaved sundew flower

I was about a week early, but one was in flower, with promises of plenty more to come.

m-pitcher plant 1

As I looked at the sundews, I realized that I’d never seen a pitcher plant in this place. As should happen, I was proven wrong, though I never would have noticed it if it didn’t have such a tall flower since its leaves were hidden by a mass of vegetation.

m-pitcher flower

Damselflies, dragonflies, and carnivorous plants–its an eat or be eaten world out there on the pond.

Bullfrogs bellowed from the edges, green frogs plinked, and fish splashed. I listened to Eastern kingbirds’ wingbeats as they dropped to the water to snatch insects, and red-winged blackbirds delightful conk-la-rees. I startled a great blue heron, the first I’ve seen on the pond all summer, and it flew off. In the midst of all the natural sounds and sights around me, I embraced the quiet on my four-hour paddle/float. And as Robert Frost might say, “That has made all the difference.”

 

Flying on the Wild Wind of Western Maine

My intention was good. As I sat on the porch on July 1st, I began to download dragonfly and damselfly photographs. And then the sky darkened and I moved indoors. Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the wind came up. Torrential rain followed. And thunder and lightening. Wind circled around and first I was making sure all screens and doors were closed on one side of the wee house and then it was coming from a different direction and I had to check the other side. Trees creaked and cracked. Limbs broke. And the lightening hit close by. That’s when I quickly shut down my computer and checked my phone to see how much battery life it had. And saw two messages. One was an emergency weather alert. Tornado Watch. And the other was from my friend Marita, warning me that there was a tornado watch for our area. I stood between the kitchen door and the downstairs water closet, where a hatchway leads to the basement. But, there was stuff in the way and I really wanted to watch the storm. At the same time, I was frightened. Of course, in the midst of it all, the power went off.

ph 3 (1)

It didn’t last all that long, as storms go, but the damage was incredible, including telephone poles left standing at 45-degree angles. Soon, the neighbors and I assessed our properties. We somehow lucked out and only two branches plus a bunch of twigs fell. Others were not so fortunate. Trees uprooted along the shoreline or crashed onto houses, sheds, vehicles and boats. Our neighbors float shifted about thirty feet north from its usual anchored spot. And the National Weather service did indeed determine it was an EF-1 Tornado with winds of 90-100 miles per hour.

d-firetruck on causeway

At first traffic along the causeway moved extremely slowly because fallen trees had closed the south-side lane, but eventually the police shut the road down and the fire crew arrived to begin the clearing process. After the first storm, it rained on and off, but once my guy got back to camp (he dodged a detour–don’t tell), we still managed to grill a steak and sat on the porch in the dark, which is our evening habit anyway. Central Maine Power worked most of the night and they’ve been at it all day–resetting poles and lines while neighbors’ generators and the buzz of chainsaws filled the air.

And my focus returned to others who also fill the air–though in a much more welcome manner, to we humans that is. Damselflies and dragonflies. Other insects don’t necessarily agree with us–as they become quick food.

Therefore, it seems apropos that the Book of July is the Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, with Donald & Lillian Stokes.

d-book

It’s not a big book by any means, and doesn’t include all species of the insect order Odonata, but for me right now, it’s enough. And it fits easily into my pack. I can not only try to give a name to what I see, but more importantly to recognize the subtle differences in these favorite of insects.

d-book key

One of the features I really like is that it has a key on the inside cover, first divided between damselflies and dragonflies, and then further divided by families based on size, percher or flier, flight height, wings, body colors, eye position and other clues. As you can see, there are color tabs and I can quickly move to that section and search for the species before me. I’ve discovered that I’m now looking at eye position and colors as a quick key, with other features falling into place.

The book also discusses the life cycle and behavior of damselflies and dragonflies.

d-pond damsels mating, Marsh bluets 1

Of course, it all begins when he grabs her–for damselflies such as these marsh bluets, he clasps her by the neck. Dragonflies do the same, only he clasps his female of choice behind the eyes.

d-damsel love, variable dancers

Eventually damsel love occurs as the mating couple forms a “copulation” wheel, thus allowing him to remove any sperm she may have already received from another, and replacing it with his own. Sneaky dudes. Soon after, hundreds to thousands of eggs are deposited, either in the water or on vegetation, depending on the species.

d-damselfly nymph1

Emerging from an egg, the larvae develop underwater. Damselflies such as this one, obtain oxygen through the three tail-like projections at the end of their abdomens. From 8-17 times, they molt, shedding their outer shells, or exoskeletons.

d-exoskeleton shrubs

In the spring, the big event happens. We all celebrate the emergence of the last stage in the larval skeleton, when the insects climb up vegetation or onto rocks, or even the ground, and make that final metamorphosis into the damsel or dragonfly form we are so familiar with, thus leaving their shed outer shell (exuviae) behind.

d-emerging dragonfly

On a warm, sunny spring day toward the end of May, there’s no better place to be than sitting in the presence of an emerging adult.

d-emerging 2

I encourage you to look around any wetland, even as the summer goes on, for you never know when those moments of wonder might occur.

d-Broad-winged damsel, River Jewelwing 1

In the guide, the authors include all kinds of observation tips. And then, the real nitty gritty. The first thirty-six pages of the Identification section are devoted to damselflies. And those are divided into Broad-winged damsels, Spreading, and Pond damsels. This is a river jewelwing, and for me it was a first a few weeks ago. I spotted this beauty beside the Saco River in Brownfield Bog–its iridescent green body showing through the dark-tipped wings.

d-pond damsel, ebony jewelwing, male

In the same category, the ebony jewelwing is equally stunning with brilliant green highlighted by black accents. This was a male; the female has a white dot or stigma toward the tip of her wings.

d-spreadwing, common spreadwing

Spreadwings are next and so named for their spread wings. This one happened to be a common spreadwing, though really, I don’t find them to be all that common.

d-pond damsel, variable dancer

The pond damsels are the ones I do see often, including the female variable dancers. Check out her spotted eyes.

d-pond damsel, sedge sprite 1

And one of my favorites for its colors and name–the sedge sprite. If you noted the dancer’s eyes, do you see how the sprite’s differ?

From page 79-155, dragonflies are identified. I don’t have one from every type, but I’m working on it.

d-clubtail, lancet clubtail, male

Clubtails have clear wings, and their coloration is often green, yellow or brown. Check out those eyes–and how widely separated they are. Meet a lancet club tail, so named for the yellow “dagger” markings on its back.

d-Emeralds, Ameican Emerald 2

The emeralds are known by their eyes, which are often green. This American emerald has a black abdomen with a narrow yellow ring at the base near the wings.

d-baskettail, common baskettail 1

Also included with the emeralds is the common baskettail. Notice how stout this handsome guy is.

d-skimmer, chalk-fronted corporal male

Among the easiest dragonflies to actually get a good look at are the skimmers. And it seems that on many paths I follow, the chalk-fronted corporals are there before me. His thorax has two bluish-gray stripes with brown on the sides. And his wings–a small brownish-black patch.

d-skimmer, slaty blue 2

Then there’s the slaty skimmer, in a shade of blue I adore. His wings are clear, except for the black stigmas toward the tips.

d-skimmer, common whitetail

The common whitetail is also a skimmer. Not only is his abdomen different–with white markings on the side, but he has wings with black and chalky white bases and broad black bands in the middle.

d-skimmer, calico pennant, male

They’re all pretty, but I think that so far, my all time favorites are the calico pennants; the male with red highlights including stigmas on his wings and hearts on his back, plus a hint of red everywhere else.

d-skimmer, calico pennant female

For once the male isn’t to be outdone in the color department, and the female looks similar except that she’s yellow.

d-skimmer, yellow legged meadowhawk, wings

There’s so much to admire about damselflies and dragonflies. I mean, first there are those compound eyes. But look at the thorax–where both the three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings attach. I find that attachment to be an incredible work of nature. It’s awe inspiring at least.

d-ending, female calico pennant on screen

Then again, nature is awe-inspiring. When I awoke as the sun rose yesterday morning, I wondered about the damsels and dragons. Did they survive the storm? I stepped outside to once again check for damage and look who I spotted on the porch screen. Mrs. Calico stayed for about an hour or two, letting her wings dry off before heading out to perform today’s duties–flying on the wild wind of western Maine.

Damselflies and dragonflies are one more point of distraction for me these days. I won’t always get their ID correct, but I’m thankful for the Book of July, Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies, that I found at Bridgton Books.

Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, with Donald & Lillian Stokes. Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

Homecoming Mondate

After months of waiting and an arduous drive, we arrived at our camp on Moose Pond late yesterday afternoon. It’s that anticipation following months away and the five mile road trip that always make the final turn into the driveway so sweet.

m-night sky 2

We unpacked and put everything away, ordered a pizza because our Sunday night tradition of making our own takes a hiatus for a couple of months, and then settled on the porch as dark clouds gathered, their hues enhanced by the water’s reflection. And then we spotted a friend from across the pond jumping into his boat and pulling away from his dock. He raced south and we thought perhaps he hadn’t seen the lightning that was visible to us. Suddenly the wind increased dramatically and then the rain came. We moved indoors and checked windows and looked to our south and assumed Brian’s boat was fast enough to get beyond the storm. When the rain began to teem, we realized he hadn’t outrun it for two boats came flying back into the North Basin, his being one. We knew he was soaked and probably had a story to tell. Such is life on the pond, where our focus switches from world news to the news of our immediate world.

m-loon off the dock

And so we awoke this morning to the announcer of said news–a pair of common loons calling. We answered as we headed outdoors.

m-robber fly 1

Of course, being back meant we had chores to complete, but most of them were outside. I finished mine first and so I began taking inventory–greeting old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. The first was a robber fly posed by the porch door.

m-robber fly side view

Its compound eyes aren’t as large as those of a dragonfly, but still . . . they are large enough and allow this mighty predator to spot and catch prey more than a foot away in a split second. I wanted to see it, but wasn’t privy. Instead, I admired his body features.

m-flesh fly

Then I headed to the pond. My first find beside the water was a flesh fly–and I wondered what dead insects his bright red eyes may have feasted upon.

m-familiar bluet 2

More to my liking was the sight of a male familiar bluet damselfly. I can’t see enough of these and I think it has something to do with the color blue–especially when it contrasts against a dark green leaf.

m-chalk-fronted corporal 1

As I stood there, a perennial favorite appeared. It seems the chalk-fronted corporal dragonfly and I like the same habitats for wherever I go, at least a half dozen are also there. Perhaps that means that wherever I go, I’m always at home.

m-lancet 1

And then another dragonfly caught my eye and I recognized it as another familiar friend,  a lancet clubtail. But what surprised me was that a damselfly, possibly a familiar bluet, was exploring the underside of the same leaf.

m-lancet 2

That is . . . until I looked again.

m-lancet 3

And noticed the bend in the damselfly’s abdomen.

m-lancet 5

And watched the dragonfly move the damsel body with one wing attached and another dropped.

m-lancet 7

Ever so slowly . . .

m-lancet 8

the damselfly . . .

m-lancet 9

disappeared . . .

m-lancet 10

until only a bit of its abdomen,

m-lancet 11

a leg part and the wing were left. Wow. I felt privileged to have observed such a meal. Of course, I was sad for the damselfly, but also thankful for the energy it passed on to the dragonfly.

m-loon in Sweden, Maine 1

At last, my guy’s chores were completed. We pulled out the kayaks and paddled north to Sweden. Sweden, Maine, that is. And in the shallows of the northern-most end of the pond (Moose Pond is actually nine-plus miles long), we again met the loons.

m-eastern kingbird

A trillion damselflies and dragonflies darted about, some in mating position. And the kingbirds hovered above the water before making quick dips to retrieve insects.

m-rose pogonia driftwood garden 1

We floated around and noted that the water was deep enough for us to get almost to the very tip of the pond. At the same time, the old stump islands delighted us with their gardens.

m-rose pogonia 1

And within some of those islands another delight–rose pogonia in bloom.

m-looking south 2

At last it was time to leave our favorite section of the pond where all kinds of life thrived, knowing that we’ll return time and time again.

m-red winged blackbird

As we moved along, a red-winged blackbird began to turn circles above us–squawking as he showed off his shoulder patches in glaring scarlet form. He landed on a cattail and we paddled on, assuming there was a nest nearby. We also spotted Mrs. Red-Winged, who chose to go grocery shopping at that time. Even though we were headed away, the Mr. came after us one more time, so close that we could almost touch him. He was definitely a good dad–protecting the nest and/or young.

m-painted turtle 1

Continuing south, a painted turtle surprised us by staying atop a rock until we passed by, as if he wanted to welcome us back (or so we believed–after all, this is our story).

m-camp 1

A couple of hours later and we returned to camp sweet camp, to this place that has marked many occasions in our journey together since we first started dating in 1986.

Camp will always represent a homecoming to us, made especially sweet when we can share a Mondate here as we rediscover the world that surrounds it.

 

 

 

A Good Mourning Mondate

A good mourning? Indeed it was. Yesterday we celebrated Easter and the resurrection. Today we celebrated an opportunity to climb our favorite mountain.

p-Mountain stream

And so we parked the truck at Loon Echo Land Trust’s Ledges Trail parking lot on Mountain Road in Denmark and then walked 1.5 miles back to the trailhead we chose to make our ascension up Pleasant Mountain. Along the way, mountain streams quickly moved the meltwater downward toward Moose Pond, where it will mingle with the lake water and eventually find its way to another stream and then the Saco River and finally out to sea. And whether via future raindrops or snowflakes or even fog, traces of the same water molecules may again find their way down these streams.

p-bald peak trail

At last we reached the trail head for the Bald Peak Trail, where less than a week ago Marita and I had to climb over a tall snowbank to reach the path.

p-ice chunk

As we climbed and paused to admire the water flowing beside us, I noted differences between last week and today, including the shrinking of an ice chunk tucked under a rock. Ever so slowly, it joined the forces of downward motion, as if letting go was meant to happen with care.

p-Needles Eye

And then at the spur, my guy and I turned left to Needles Eye. Some ice and snow still covered parts of the path, but it was much easier to negotiate than last week. And he did. I followed him, but didn’t need to step into the chasm since I’d just been there. (wink) Instead, I climbed below to try to capture the world above.

p-returning from Needles Eye

And then I rejoined my guy and wished I’d taken a photo of this section last week for today’s conditions didn’t reflect the same treacherous stretch Marita and I worked our way across.

p-snow on trail

We continued up the trail, where snow and ice were more prevalent. Though we had micro-spikes in our pack, we managed to avoid wearing them. And only once did I completely sink in–just below Big Bald Peak. I actually went up to my thigh, so deep was the snow. And cold. But I was hot, so it felt refreshing.

p-pileated scat

But before we reached the sharp left turn on Big Bald Peak, we noticed tons of chips at the base of a hemlock tree. Such a discovery invited a closer look–and I spied the largest pileated woodpecker scat I’d ever seen. Later on, when we were almost at the Fire Warden’s Trail, we saw two hikers on their way down and I quickly realized one was my dear friend Joan–another lover of scat and all things mammalian. Of course I told her what to look for as she and her hiking friend headed down the Balk Peak Trail. And I just received an e-mail from her: “Deb and I saw it! It was huge! She was so excited to see all the little ant bodies!” Indeed.

p-Mt Wash from top of Bald Peak Trail

The wind blew fiercely when we reached Big Bald, where white and red pines framed a view of another big bald–Mount Washington in the distance.

p-view from lunch rock 2 (1)

Not far along the trail, we found lunch rock in a section that offered some protection from the gusty wind. It was the perfect place to enjoy our PB&Js followed by Cadbury Digestives (thanks sis).

p-view from lunch rock

Through the trees, we could again see the mighty mountain to our west.

p-blueberries 1

And at our feet–blueberry buds galore. My guy began to see blue where no blue yet exists–the promise was enough.

p-along ridge line

Walking along the ridge line was like a walk in the park. At times, where the sun didn’t hit the northwest sides of ravines, we found more snow, but more often than not, the trail was neither icy nor muddy.

p-wood frogs

It was in one of the ravines, however, that we heard a song of spring–the wruck of the wood frogs singing from a vernal pool located below. A first for us this year and we were happy to be in the presence of such a sound.

p-fire tower 1

It seemed like in no time, we approached the main summit where the iconic fire tower still stands tall.

p-summit 6 (1)

We took in the view toward Brownfield and beyond.

p-summit toward Washington

And again looked toward Mount Washington.

p-Mt Wash1

Even upon the mighty one, we could see the snow has melted gradually. But our stay wasn’t any longer than a few minutes for the wind was hat-stealing strong and I had to chase mine.

p-hiking down ledges

And so down Ledges Trail we descended in order to complete our loop. Here we rarely saw signs of snow or ice.

p-ledge view 1

The southern basin of Moose Pond stretched before us, most of its surface still covered with the grainy gray ice of spring. Any day now, ice out will be declared, late as it is.

p-tent caterpillars

It was on the ledges that I noticed tent caterpillars already at work.

p-red maple 1

Thankfully, there were more pleasant sights to note, including the first flowers of red maples.

p-striped maple buds

And along the trail below the ledges, plenty of striped maples showed off their swelling buds.

p-acorn

Last summer, the oaks produced a mast crop and those not consumed by the squirrels and turkeys have reached germination. This one made a good choice about a place to lay down its roots–hope burst forth.

p-beaked hazelnut 2

As we neared the end of the trail, I began to notice the beaked hazelnuts and savored  their tiny blooms of magenta ribbons. And we could hear spring peepers. So many good sights and sounds along our journey.

p-mourning cloak 1

On each trail we hiked today, we were also blessed with butterfly sightings. It’s always a joy to see these beauties, who actually overwinter as adults in tree cavities, behind loose bark, or anywhere they can survive out of the wind and without being consumed by predators. They survive by cryopreservation–the process of freezing biological material at extreme temperatures. In Britain, their common name is Camberwell Beauty. In North America, we know them as Mourning Cloaks–so named for their coloration that resembled the traditional cloak one used to wear when in mourning.

I think I may have to stick with Camberwell Beauty for a name, given those velvety brown wings accented by the line of black with azure dots and accordian yellow edge. What’s to mourn about it?

So we didn’t. Instead, we enjoyed a good morning Mondate–and afternoon.

Filled to the Brim Mondate

It’s been a few weeks since my guy and I shared a Mondate. And so, this morning after joining our youngest for breakfast, we mosied on over to Pleasant Mountain in West Bridgton. Leaving the truck at the base of the Ledges Trail, we walked 1.5 miles down the road to the Bald Peak Trailhead. Since we didn’t have two vehicles, it was much easier to get the road piece done first, rather than at the end when we would be hot and tired. The climb up was a wee bit slippery since it had rained most of the weekend and was still raining at 5am. But the rain had stopped, the sun shone brilliantly and the breeze made for a pleasant adventure up our favorite mountain.

p-Indian cucumber root

My guy encouraged me to go first and I surprised him with a steady pace. I did pause, however, when I spotted fruit beginning to form on Indian cucumber root.

p-berries wet

By the time we reached the intersection with the North Ridge Trail, we realized we were in for more fruit–a sweet treat. Since the high bush blueberries at home aren’t ripe yet, we didn’t even think to bring containers for the low bush berries that carpet the mountain’s ridgeline.

p-rain on berry leaves

Bejeweled berries and leaves sparkled in the morning sun.

p-ridge view 2 (1)

We continued across the ridge, but in the slowest of motions for us. My guy lagged behind, which isn’t usually the case.

p-picking berries 1

Unless, that is, he spies blue. Everywhere.

p-picking4

At first, we ate them on the spot.

p-picking2 (1)

But then he decided that his hat would serve as the perfect container.

p-picking berries 1 (1)

And that’s when greed set in.

p-picking 6

Blueberry greed.

p-picking 5

He couldn’t pick them fast enough.

p-filled to the brim

Even as we sat to eat our sandwiches in an area where the only view was blueberry bushes, a few oaks and pines, he continued to pick until his hat was filled to the brim.

p-summit 1

Somehow, he finally pulled himself away and we continued on to the summit.

p-wood lily 2

I was eager to get to the summit and then move on because I hoped to find the wood lily in bloom.

p-wood lily 2 (1)

And I wasn’t disappointed.

p-ledges 2 (1)

Our descent was much quicker as the berries aren’t quite so abundant along the Ledges Trail. Speaking of that, those who fear that I’ve given away a prime location, fear not. My readership is low and the berries plentiful.

p-camp kayak

Back at camp, we checked on some high bush berries, but they’re still green. The greed will have to hold off for a few more days. Thank goodness we could find our way home with the help of a cairn–in the water?

p-cake 2

And then it was time to prepare dinner and help our youngest celebrate his birthday. He’d spent the day playing in Boston, much more fun that hanging out with the ‘rents.

A pleasant Mondate indeed. Filled to the brim were we–with each other, blueberries, cake and family time.