Sprinting up Mount Tom

With the Four on the Fourth Road Race only five days away, my friend Marita Wiser and I are in training. Perhaps a more apt description would be cross-training, for our actual time spent running has been sporadic, but we’ve both been on hikes that we’re sure will give us an upper edge. Look for us to cross the finish line in record time on Tuesday–or not.

To that end, this morning we climbed Mount Tom–with a desire to see what the new West Ridge Trail had to offer in a different season. In the past year, she and I hiked it in October, while my guy and I snowshoed up the trail in February. And so, Marita did what I like best because we wanted to make a loop–she parked at the base of the original trail about 2.3 miles in on Menotomy Road and we walked 1.4 miles down the road to the new trailhead.

t-Mount Tom Preserve sign

The last time I visited, the snow was deep and up to the base of the preserve sign. Today, a red maple sapling claimed that spot.

t-bristly sasparilla 2

Next to it grew a bristly sarsaparilla, its rounded umbels standing tall above the leaves.

t-bristly sarsapirilla 2

As we stood there and applied some bug dope, a hoverfly, an important pollinator, worked its magic on the flowers.

t-relic 1

And then we stepped onto the trail and were immediately reminded of the past by a relic someone left on a rock.

t-homestead foundation

The homestead, possibly that of A.H. Evans, is located within feet of the trail’s head. And it appears that if this did belong to A.H., he was the head of a large family for it’s a huge foundation.

t-center chimney

Equally large was the center chimney.

t-outbuildings and barn

And based on the configuration of rocks and boulders we stepped over as we turned left between the house, outbuildings and barn, all were once attached.

t-barn

The barn foundation was also impressive and we could sense the work that went into such a creation. Among all the buildings were some recovered artifacts and I’ve a feeling I know who unearthed them. I love to see these relics, but hope that others won’t continue to follow suit and look for them. Or take them. Okay–that’s my salt box speech for today.

Again, assuming all of this belonged to A.H., I did discover a 1916 document that suggested he grew rutabagas: “A. H. Evans, Fryeburg, raised 90 bushels rutabagas in 1-8 of an acre.”

t-old pine 2

We followed the white-blaze trail, which was fairly well defined, and passed through a mixed forest, where at least one old white pine spoke to the history of this land, for it obviously once stood in an opening allowing it to stretch its arms and perhaps provide shade for farm animals.

t-ledges 1

One of my other favorite features of the West Ridge Trail, besides the foundations, are the ledges that stand as tall rock gardens.

t-ledges 2

Some were even terraced and though we didn’t pause to look for evidence today, we got the sense of where the house and barn foundation stones were found.

t-wild sarsapirilla plant

As we continued to climb (and sweat for it was a bit of a cardio workout–and humid), a couple of woodland plants stood out, including the wild sarsaparilla, which had flowered  in the spring. It was fun to note the difference between the bristly and wild–for the former flowers now with those umbels above the leaves, while the flowers of the latter developed below its leaves.

t-wild sarsa fruits 2

The wild sarsaparilla flowers have since turned to green fruits, which in time will ripen to a reddish-purple display. They were rather like mini green pumpkins in fireworks formation, a description conceived due to the pending holiday.

t-marginal wood fern 2

Another offering was the bluish-green fronds of a marginal wood fern.

t-marginal wood fern 1

A bent frond on one showed off the round sori located near the margins.

t-summit 1

After about an hour and a half, which included our walk down the road to the trailhead and then up the trail, we reached the summit. In the fall and winter, Pleasant Mountain had been plainly visible in the background, but today we had to peek through leaves to see it.

t-new oak leaves

As we peeked, Marita asked about the red leaves on an oak–fall couldn’t be on the horizon already, could it? I shared one theory with her, but after a wee bit of research discovered there may be a second–and possibly more.

The leaves were young and the red may act as a sunscreen, protecting them until photosynthesis takes place when they are fully developed.

The other thought is that the red may serve as a warning sign to mammals that the leaves contain chemicals that will taste bad, thus preventing them from being eaten.

Other theories?

t-spotted st johnswort 2

Our summit stay wasn’t long, but long enough to enjoy the bushy stamen of spotted St. Johnswort.

t-pink corydalis 1

And the daintiness of pink corydalis.

t-hiking down the old trail

And then we followed the old trail down, through the hemlock grove and onto the logging road, which had grown in so much that it made us wonder if The Nature Conservancy wants to discourage its use. The thought of ticks crossed our minds, but she sported her treated tick gators and I used Repel®. Both worked for us, though I do want to get a pair of gators. I’m taking recommendations for brand.

t-Mt Tom cabin sign 2

Just before the end of the trail, we once again paused by the Mt. Tom Cabin, the real deal for a 19th century “camp” experience, but with a few added amenities including electricity. I like it for its structure, views and Northern white cedar.

t-Mt Tom cabin pond

Across the field, Old Glory blew in the breeze and reminded us of our need to “train.”

Our hike to the summit–it was as quick as we could make it, even with me taking a few pics, for the mosquitoes were thick. But–thanks to those very mosquitoes, we sprinted up Mount Tom in honor of our training regime.

 

 

 

 

 

Mount Tom Revisited

As we tried to figure out where we’d hike today, we decided a familiar route would suit us and I was pleased when my guy suggested Mount Tom in Fryeburg. It’s an old favorite that has improved with age since The Nature Conservancy added a new trail recently. This property was important to them because the Saco River flows below.

I’d first explored the new trail with Marita Wiser, author of HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION, in October and then with my guy a short time later.

m1-cemetery-buried

Today, we decided to park our truck across from the old trailhead and walk down Menotomy Road so we wouldn’t have that trudge after our hike. I wish the trail was a loop, but it can’t be and so we made our own. The snowstorms of the last two weeks had buried the cemetery entrance and only a couple of headstones poked out.

m2-preserve-sign

One and a half miles later, we climbed over the snowbank at the trailhead and strapped on our snowshoes.

m5-my-guy

We were thankful that someone or two or three had packed the trail before us.

m4-center-chimney

Just after stepping onto the West Ridge Trail, we passed between a house and barn foundation. All that was visible–the center chimney’s supporting structure, which probably dates back to the 1800s. Perhaps the original homesteaders were buried in the cemetery.

m6-tinder-1

At first the tromp was easy because it passes gently across the terrain and so I had time to look around. Fresh tinder conks growing on paper birch trees pleased my eye.

m7-tinder-2

I love their colors, which reminded me of oyster shells I’d spent a childhood collecting.

m8-erratics

A few minutes later I spied a house I hadn’t noticed in the fall. My guy looked over and told me it wasn’t a house at all.

m9-erratics-2

He was right, of course. Two large boulders, erratics dropped by the glaciers that formed Mount Tom, a Roche Moutonnée, stood out because of their snow covered tops. We didn’t move closer, but I’ve a feeling they provided homes for mosses and ferns and other assorted flora and perhaps even wildlife. So maybe I was also correct.

m10-summit-in-distance

After crossing the snowmobile trail that passes through the preserve, we continued on through the hardwood forest and started climbing up and sometimes down. Through the trees we spied the summit, but still had a ways to go.

m11-white-oak-bark

One of my favorite trees grows in this forest–white oak. And though it’s not common in the woods I normally traverse, I’m learning to identify it by the plated blocks of its bark.

m12-white-oak-leaf

It helps, of course, when the round-lobed leaves are found nearby.

m13-ledges

At last we reached the ledges, where I’d hoped to see bobcat sign. We did see porcupine evidence, but the snow was soft and tracks almost indecipherable.

m14-pileated-pile

We also found plenty of signs of another frequent visitor. But with that–a major disappointment. I’m sorry to report that I didn’t find any pileated woodpecker scat today.

m16-squirell-works

Across the trail from the pileated debris, the work of a gray squirrel. Dinner required toil–it had dug a hole that looked to be about three feet deep. How do they know where to find those acorns they cached last fall? I’m always in wonder of such digs. And those that they don’t find become trees. It’s all good.

m17-tree-welcome

I probably wouldn’t have missed this tree, but my guy wanted to make sure I saw it. He spread his arms in the same manner and felt it was welcoming us to the ridge. Indeed.

m18-downy-feather

Nearby, someone else was welcomed–and I’m not referring to the acorn. Yes, that provided a squirrel meal, but scattered feathers indicated a downy woodpecker met its demise. And a predator dined.

m19-burl-revealed

We were almost to the summit when a burl revealed some of its inner beauty–the bark having fallen off. Grains once straight twisted and contorted thanks to a virus or fungus or some other means. I loved the swirl of lines, some thin and squiggly.

m20-summit-view

And then the beauty of the view greeted us–Pleasant Mountain in the distance and the Saco River valley below. We met a young family at the summit and thanked them for paving the way. They’d never climbed here before and asked about the old trail down.

m21-trail-signs-at-intersection

We explained that that was our choice and though it’s a bit steeper, it’s a quicker way back to the road.

m22-blazing-trail

We also told them we’d do the honor of paving the way because it had been a storm or more since anyone had trudged that way.

m23-mount-kearsarge-in-view

Because it’s a rather straight downhill, we felt like we were floating for most of the trail and welcomed the sight of Mount Kearsarge among the beauty of the young birches. Once the trail widened, the snow was deeper and it became a trudge again, but the end was nearing.

m24-flag

Right before reaching the road, Old Glory flew as she faithfully does in the field.

m25-barn-and-kearsarge

And always a favorite–the barn beside the trailhead highlighted by the mountains and sky.

We’d come to the end and were thankful for the opportunity to climb Mount Tom again. We were especially thankful for the family who’d gone before on the West Ridge Trail–it was a bit of a slug for us, but even more so for them and we wondered if we’d have completed the loop had it not been for their hard work. We don’t know their names, though we do know their dog’s–Roscoe. May Roscoe’s owners sleep well tonight.

 

 

 

 

Spotlight on Sabattus

Following this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust trek at Chip Stockford Reserve, where we helped old and new friends form bark eyes as they examined various members of the birch family, my feet were itchy. Not in the scratchy sort of way–but rather to keep moving.

It was a lovely day for a hike and Sabattus Mountain in Lovell was my destination. I love this little mountain because it offers several different natural communities and great views.

s-com 1

Though there are a few softwoods on the lower portion of the trail, it’s really the land of a hardwood mix.

s-downed twigs

About halfway up, the neighborhood switches to a hemlock-pine-oak community. It was then that I began looking for downed hemlock twigs in an array at the base of trees. I’ve found them here before, and today I wasn’t disappointed.

s-porky chew 3

The twigs had been chewed off and dropped by a porcupine as evidenced by the 45˚-angled cut and incisor marks. Though red squirrels also nip off the tips of hemlock twigs, they do just that–nip the tips. Porcupines cut branches.

s-porky cliff

Downed branches usually mean scat, but I searched high and low and under numerous trees that showed signs of activity and found none. A disappointment certainly.

s-pippipsewa

My search, however, led me to other delightful finds that are showing up now that most of the snow has melted, like this pipsissewa that glowed in the afternoon sun. As is its habit, the shiny evergreen leaves look brand new–even though they’ve spent the winter plastered under snow and ice. A cheery reminder that spring isn’t far off.

s-Pleasant 1

At the summit, I got my bearings–the ridge of Pleasant Mountain and Shawnee Peak Ski Area to the southeast.

s-mount tom & kezar pond

To the southwest, the asymmetrical Roche Moutonnée, Mount Tom, visible as it stands guard over Kezar Pond in Fryeburg.

s-Kearsarge 2

And to the west, Kezar Lake backed by Mount Kearsarge in New Hampshire. I wanted to venture further out on the ledge, but some others hikers had arrived and I opted not to disturb their peace.

s-summit wind

Instead, I sat for a few minutes and enjoyed the strong breeze offering possibilities as it floated over the summit and me.

s-porky cuts1

Crossing the ridge, I left the trail and found more porcupine trees, including this young hemlock that had several cuts–look in the upper right-hand corner and lower left hand. A number of younger trees along this stretch will forever be Lorax trees.

s-golden moonglow1

On the outcrop of quartz, I paused to admire the golden moonglow lichen–it’s almost as if someone drew each hand-like section in black and then filled in the color, creating an effect that radiates outward.

s-polypody patch

I was pleasantly surprised to find a patch of polypody ferns on what appears to be the forest floor but was actually the rocky ridge. Notice how open-faced it is, indicating that the temperature was quite a bit warmer than what I’d seen on cold winter days.

s-polypody sun

Sunlight made the pinna translucent and the pompoms of sori on the backside shone through.

s-glacial 1

The trail doesn’t pass this glacial erratic, but I stepped over the logs indicating I should turn left and continued a wee bit further until I reached this special spot.

s-porky scat 1

Its backside has been a porcupine den forever and ever. Nice to know that some things never change.

s-hemlocks and oaks

After returning to the trail, I followed it down through the hemlocks and oaks. This is my favorite part of the trail and though it’s a loop, I like to save this section for the downward hike–maybe because it forces me to slow down.

s-fairies 1

For one thing, it features the land of the fairies. I always feel their presence when here. Blame it on my father who knew of their existence.

s-fairies 2

I had a feeling a few friends were home–those who found their way into a fairy tale I wrote years ago. I left them be–trusting they were resting until this evening.

s-community transition 1

As swiftly as the community changed on the upward trail, the same was true on my descent.

s-birch bark color

On our morning trek, we’d looked at paper birch, but none of the trees we saw showed the range of colors like this one–a watercolor painting of a sunset.

s-birch bark 1

This one shows the black scar that occurs when people peel bark. The tree will live, but think about having your winter coat torn off of you on a frigid winter day. Or worse.

s-black birch 1

Off the trail again, I paused by a few trees that I believe are black birch. Lately, a few of us have been questioning black birch/pin cherry because they have similar bark. The telltale sign should be catkins dangling from the birch branches. I looked up and didn’t see catkins, but the trees may not be old enough to be viable. This particular one, however, featured birch polypores. So maybe I was right. I do know one thing–it’s not healthy.

s-pines 2a

And then I reached a section of trail that I’ve watched grow and change in a way that’s more noticeable than most. I counted the whorls on these white pines and determined that they are about 25 years old. I remember when our sons, who are in their early twenties, towered over the trees in their sapling form. Now two to three times taller than our young men, the trees crowded growing conditions have naturally culled them.

s-birch planter

Nature isn’t the only one that has culled the trees. Following their selection to be logged, however, some became planters for other species.

s-3 trees

Nearing the end of the trail another view warmed my heart. Three trees, three species, three amigos. Despite their differences, they’ve found a way to live together. It strikes me as a message to our nation.

Perhaps our leaders need to turn the spotlight on places like Sabattus. It’s worth a wonder.

 

 

 

 

The Homecoming

The other day a friend handed me a piece of paper and told me to read it later. We were about to go tracking, so I stuck it into my pack and forgot about it. This afternoon, as I prepared for a hike up Mount Tom in Fryeburg, I found the paper.

I’d originally thought it was an article, but instead, it’s a quote from the October 1967 issue of Yankee. A friend had given it to him and he passed it on to me: “We hunt as much for the memories as for the birds. For the memories, and for the hours afield in the autumn woods where a man can get back, for a while, to remembered realities, to a time and a way of life close to the eternities of the land. It’s hard to explain this to the outlander who never knew such things. He thinks of it as an escape. To us it is more like a homecoming. We live here, of course, but only in the leisure after we’ve done the stint at our jobs do we go out on the hills and up the brooks. There we find the truth of our world, even the truth of ourselves.” ~author unknown.

trail sign

I reflected upon those words as I slipped into my snowshoes at the trail head. I’d made a decision to end one of my freelance writing/editing jobs this week (not Lake Living, which is my all time favorite writing job. Hard to believe the spring issue will mark my tenth anniversary!) and declutter my world.

porky paths stump dump

It will never happen, but certainly the porcupines that inhabit this mountain should consider the same.

stump dumpporcupine den

I had a hunch I’d see evidence of their existence once I got up into the hemlock neighborhood, but a small stump dump early on provided ample den space.

porcupine tracks 1

I didn’t even realize as I climbed toward the summit that I wasn’t taking too many photos. Instead, I was cued into the tracks left behind by two people who had traveled this way before me and the porcupines, deer, hare, coyote, bobcats and little brown things. While the people stuck to the trail, I wandered this way and that as I tried to decipher what I saw–my own zig zag trail reminiscent of those I followed.

logged community, thin trees

I didn’t get lost today, though truly, when I do get fake lost, it’s a time to understand myself better– listening to my inner self sort things out. Most of today’s trail is an old logging road. And most of what I saw was familiar. Perhaps that’s what it’s all about–knowing a place so no matter where you are, you recognize it.

hemlock community

The community changes abruptly from birch, beech and maple saplings to hemlocks and pines. I, too, can change abruptly and have a tendency to be blunt. I don’t see that as a bad thing, though occasionally I do regret what I’ve said.

striped maple scrapes

And then I began to look up and notice other parts of my surroundings like these old deer or moose scrapes on striped maples. Forever scared, they provided nourishment in the past–and may do so in the future when the time is right.

striped maple samaras

One striped maple still sported a few seeds that have yet to go forth in the world. What’s holding them back? Don’t they know the time has come to let go?

frost crack

Amongst the evergreens  a paper birch offered a twist on life. I believe this is the result of sun scald–the heating and freezing of thin bark. Typically, the white reflective bark helps the tree avoid such danger–but something obviously happened to cause this candycane-like stripe..

sun on hemlocks

Though it was getting late in the day, rays of sunshine illuminated the darker side of things.
white oak leaf

As I followed more porcupine tracks at the summit, a dried leaf captured my attention. In my ongoing attempt to draw an imaginary line showing the boundary of white oak, I added another dot.

white, beech, red oak

Nestled within animal tracks, three leaves told me more about the members of this neighborhood–white oak, beech and Northern red oak.

white oak 2 white oak 3 white oak layers

So then I searched for the white oak trees–and found them. My bark eyes still don’t cue into this one immediately and I need to learn its idiosyncrasies, including its ashy gray color and blocky presentation.

bird nest 1 bird nest 2

I discovered a snow-covered nest that made me ask–bird-made or human-made? It’s constructed of reindeer lichen and sits upon a base of sticks about four feet up in a scrubby old oak. I was as excited by the find as I was by my wonder and lack of an answer. What fun would it be to know everything?

summit

From the summit, I could see Pleasant Mountain’s ridge–giving me another sense of home. The view isn’t spectacular, but that isn’t the point.

Kearsarge 2

Heading down, a second old favorite came into view–Kearsarge North. I stopped frequently as I descended–to listen and watch. And smell. Twice, a strong cat-like pee odor tickled my nose. The tracks were there, but I couldn’t find any other bobcat evidence. One of these days.

paper 4 paper birch 1 paper birch 3 paper birch rainbow paper burgundy Paper pastel

A rainbow of color presented itself among the paper birch trees–such variation for what is commonly called white birch.

Mount Tom cabin 1 Mt tom cabin 2

Near the bottom, the Mt Tom cabin speaks to an earlier time when living off this land was the norm. Though I like to think that I could stay here by myself for a week, I’m not so sure. Of course, that would force the issue and surely the truth about myself would be revealed. Maybe it’s best left a mystery. 😉

staghorn sumac1 staghorn red

Before slipping out of my snowshoes, I paused beside the staghorn sumac. It was my height, so I had an opportunity to examine its hairy features closely. Animal from The Muppets must have cloned himself.

Full moon

There was a time when I was easily unnerved being in the woods alone. And I still have moments–especially when a ruffed grouse erupts. Geesh–that can certainly make my heart sound like it’s going to jump out of my body. But, the more time I spend out there, the more time I want to spend out there–exploring, discovering, wondering. This afternoon, I finally followed the full moon home, thankful to find even an inkling of my spirit. I recognize that the word “home” has come to mean more than one place. Our abode is our home, but time in the woods is also a homecoming.