Power of Line: Matter of Seeing

I could have followed the wood poles all the way to Mount Washington today, for such was their invitation . . .

but the mighty mountain was veiled in clouds, so instead I chose a different direction to venture.

Walking into trees, their height drew my eyes to a vanishing point on the horizon.

It was a place where ragged curves framed towering angles.

Occasionally, in that same place, geometric designs provided camouflage.

And man’s creation of horizontal, diagonal, and vertical found imitation in curved shadows.

Upon another structure reflections stood still before flowing forth.

Further on, intersections were noted upon several levels.

Ripples created movement with quiet wedged between.

Into the mix, nature added a triangular archway.

And allowed jointed legs to cross needles of ice.

At one pause beside a tree trunk, wing venation offered a tiny stained-glass presentation.

Nearby, venation of a different sort peeked out from under its winter blanket.

A story was written upon a crustose in squiggly calligraphy beyond my interpretation.

Slowly, I returned to the anomaly in the landscape . . .

Where paddlers constantly reinvented ovals and circles.

And then I headed home and noticed Mount Washington was lifting her cloudy shroud, thus adding more curves and angles to the picture.

The power of lines, a familiar part of the landscape. It’s all a matter of seeing.

Seeking Change

I wasn’t going to pre-hike Loon Echo Land Trust’s Bald Pate Mountain Preserve in South Bridgton today to prep for a climb there tomorrow because I figured there wasn’t really much to see except the snow. But, at the last minute, it felt like the right thing to do.

And, of course, it was. As I headed up the Bob Chase Trail, so named for the man who was the driving force behind the land trust, and its public face for fifteen years, I noted those who’d passed through the woods at some point within the last couple of days, including snowshoe hare, foxes and coyotes. Oh, and domestic dogs a many.

There were the views to admire as well, including this one from three quarters of the way up, where Mount Washington sits in the saddle of Pleasant Mountain.

The fun thing about a telephoto lens is that one can bring those distant peaks into view. Doesn’t the cellphone tower roadway up Pleasant Mountain make it look like you could walk directly onto Mount Washington? And can you see the weather station at the top of Mt Wash?

It doesn’t take long to reach the summit of Bald Pate where the view encompasses Hancock Pond in Denmark (Maine) and I was beginning to wonder what I might share as signs of spring, since despite the frigid temps and snow depth, we are on the cusp. Drive down any western Maine road and you can bear witness to that. The frost heaves and potholes have made themselves known for the past several weeks.

But, then I looked up–at the leaning Pitch Pine beside the Eastern White Pine.

And there was my answer! Pitch Pine cones take two years to mature and upon the tip of each scale is a pointed and curved prickle.

They open gradually but depend upon fire for their seeds cannot be released until they are heated to an extremely high temperature.

That being said, this is the only native pine that will resprout when damaged.

While the cones of the Eastern White Pine where almost nowhere to be seen, on a Pitch Pine they may remain for 10 – 12 years.

The needles are bundled in packets of three–making it easy to remember its name: Pitch–three strikes you’re out!

Another easy way to identify Pitch Pine is to look for needles growing right out of the bark–both on the trunk and branches.

I always think of it as our bonsai tree for though it can stand straight and tall, on mountain tops it takes on a contorted structure. The “pitch” in its name refers to its high resin content, thus making it rot resistant.

Though not located at the summit, I hope I remember to share my favorite evergreen found on this property. Meet Jack Pine. It doesn’t typically grow in our area, but there are two along the trail and either they were planted or they came in on a skidder during a previous logging operation and planted themselves.

As I’ll surely share tomorrow, I love mnemonics and that’s what helps me remember the names of the various evergreens. You see, Jack Pine has bundles of two short needles: think Jack and Jill.

Its cones also take two years to mature and tend to be slender and curved.

I was thinking that with the three varieties of White, Pitch, and Jack, there must be a fourth and bingo–just as I returned to the parking lot I found it: a young Red Pine with its needles of two. (I used to think it had three for R-E-D, just as White has five for W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E for it’s our state tree, but I used to think incorrectly!)

It wasn’t just the pines, however, that drew my attention. The tree buds are swelling and suddenly quite noticeable. Each bud, like this beech, which may contain miniature leaves or flowers, is covered with scales, which in themselves are actually modified leaves.

By May those scales will curl back and eventually fall off as the leaf and or flowers emerge, but today I found a couple that decided to get a head start. It’s the same every year–there are always a few in the crowd who want to be first. Do they survive? One of these days I’ll mark one and check back on it.

I did see several beech buds that had curly topped heads, a site I’d not seen before. This will certainly be a point of discussion tomorrow as we try to solve the mystery.

And there was an oak that also wanted a head start. Perhaps it’s because they’re located on a mountain and closer to the sun?

Some of my favorite finds included the striped maple buds and their subtle spring colors.

And then I found red maple twigs on the ground. That, too, will become a subject of further research on our walk. I suspect I know why they were on the ground, but we’ll see what conclusions the participants draw.

And then, and then, because I was looking, I found a couple of other surprises. This one is the cocoon of a Polyphemus Moth. Check out how it wrapped itself in the leaf. And can you see the silky outer layer of the cocoon located within?

And another–a Promethea Moth. Its cocoon was attached to the branch by a strong peduncle or stem and it had incorporated the curled red oak leaf. Talk about camouflage–at first I thought it was just a marcescent leaf that had withered but not fallen yet.

Our tour will include other flyers as we’ll take a closer look at the tracks and wing marks in the snow and try to figure out what the story was behind them.

And speaking of stories–many a trail features such a sign left behind accidentally by a hiker who lost a bit of traction when the Yaktrax fell off. Any takers? This one has been on the stump for a while so I think it’s fair game if you need one.

Jon Evans of Loon Echo and I plan to take the group to the summit and then find our way to the Foster Pond Outlook, where the stone cairn that’s usually three or four feet tall is barely a memory right now.

About two hours after we start, we’ll lead the group out, and if the sun is shining much as it did today, the trees’ shadows will bridge the gap between winter and spring and help those who are seeking change bring it into focus.

I feel honored that Jon invited me to help him lead this one for it’s in conjunction with the Lake Region campaign called Bring Change 2 Mind. The group focuses on encouraging conversation and ending the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Our aim tomorrow will be to discuss and reflect on how time spent outdoors can encourage positive mental health and well-being.

It may be too late to sign up, but here are the details just in case: Hike for Mental Health.

Even if you can’t join us, I hope you’ll head outdoors and find the change you seek.

Bear to Beer: Middle and Peaked Mountains

My guy opened his Christmas Bear to Beer box and considered the possibilities. The winner was . . .

Middle to Peaked Mountains in North Conway, New Hampshire.

The day had dawned warm after the recent deep freeze and so we had to consider how to dress and what to use for footwear.

Given that our route would take us uphill as we ascended via the Middle Mountain Trail to Middle Mountain, retrace our steps to the connector before summiting Peaked Mountain and then follow the Peaked Mountain Trail down, we knew we needed to dress in layers, but not quite so many and not quite so heavy.

We also weren’t sure of our footwear until we arrived at the parking area and saw the well-packed trail. Our choice–micro-spikes over snowshoes. We only hoped that when we reached the intersection of the Middle Mountain Trail and the Connector Trail, we wouldn’t regret our decision. But time would tell.

In the meantime, after we climbed over the snowbanks to get to the trailhead, we had to conquer the gate. We’ve climbed Peaked in the past, as well as walked the Pudding Pond Trail, both part of the Green Hills Preserve, so we knew that typically one walks around the gate. Today, we merely stepped over it–which tells you something about the snow depth.

At .2 miles, the trail comes to a T. The right hand route leads to Pudding Pond, while the left requires a brook crossing before continuing on to the mountain trails.

A bit further along, we came to one set of several that denote the trail system. In terms of following it via the signs, trail blazes, and well worn path, it was easy. Given the soft snow conditions and contour, we’d rank it a moderate hike.

It was one that got the hearts pumping, which is always a good thing. And when one of us needed a rest, we pretended that we just wanted to admire the sound and sight of the gurgling brook.

We passed through a few natural communities, including hemlock groves, and mixed forest. But our focus was really on any beech trees and by the leaves that littered the path, we knew there were plenty.

We scanned the bark every time we spied a beech, and saw not a nail scrape anywhere. But . . . sad to say we did notice tarry spots which oozed out of the cracks in the bark caused by cankers a tree develops as a defensive attempt to ward off beech scale insects and the nectria pathogens that follow their entry points.

The community changed again as we approached the summit of Middle Mountain, where red pines dominated the scenery. And in the warm sun, the snow became softer.

Two miles and some sweat equity later, we’d shed some clothes and reached the top.

From there, my guy went in search of lunch rock and I eventually followed.

It was actually more of lunch ledge and we set up camp, using the jackets we weren’t wearing as our seating area.

The view beyond our feet included Conway Lake in the distance. Lunch consisted of chicken salad sandwiches made with our own cranberry orange relish offering a taste of day in the fen picking berries, a Lindt peppermint dark chocolate ball, and an orange, topped off with frequent sips of water.

While we sat there, I did what I do. There were no beech trees to look at and so I focused in on the bonsai red pine in front of us. Its form, unlike its relatives who stood tall behind us, was the result of growing on the edge of the ledge where it took the brunt of the weather.

I took the liberty of turning a photo of a lower branch 90 degrees because I could see the face of the tree spirit reaching out as it formed a heart. It is February after all.

But enough of that. We were on a mission to find a bear paw tree. When I chose this trail, I had no idea if we’d see one. Yes, we’d climbed Peaked in the past, but never had we noticed any trees with such marks left behind.

So, down we slid, I mean climbed, off Middle Mountain until we reached the connector and could see Peaked’s summit in the background.

We weren’t too far along when our constant scanning paid off! Bingo. A bear paw tree. Some people bag peaks. We bag bear paw trees.

Our mission accomplished, though we continued to look, we journeyed on to the second summit.

From there, we had more of a view of North Conway below, the Moats forming the immediate backdrop, and Mount Chocorua behind.

In front of us, we looked across to Middle Mountain from whence we’d just come.

And behind, Cranmore Mountain Ski Area and Kearsarge North in the background.

With my telephoto lens I could pull in the fire tower atop Kearsarge. It’s among our favorite hiking destinations.

We didn’t stay atop Peaked as long as we had on Middle because the wind was picking up. On our journey down, the mountain views included Washington.

We continued to look for bear trees but found no others. That being said, there were plenty of beech trees on the Peaked Mountain Trail, but the sun was in our eyes for much of the journey, and we had to pay attention to where we placed our feet because traveling was a bit slippery given the soft snow. Maybe there were others after all, and we just didn’t notice.

We completed the 5.5 mile hike about four hours after beginning, ran a few errands, and finally found our way to the finish of today’s bear to beer possibility at the Sea Dog Brewing Company. Black bears like to sip too!

What the Tree Spirit Knows

As I drove to Lovell this morning to take a photo for the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s winter newsletter, the crisp outline of a snow-covered Mount Washington made me realize that I had a short, unintended hike in my immediate future.

1a-Flat Hill view

Yesterday, I’d climbed the Flat Hill Trail at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve to take another photo for the newsletter–that one of the view from the summit of snow falling in the White Mountains. This past summer, staff and volunteers of the land trust had made some trail changes and opened several views, the one from Flat Hill being the most dramatic and the foliage, snow and sky enhanced the opening. But . . . today’s view was different and I knew I needed to capture it again.

Page 3 a

So . . . after a staff photo shoot at the Kezar River Reserve of Stewardship Associate Dakota, Associate Director Aidan, and Office Manager Alice, I headed north.

1-voss sign

And laughed at myself for yesterday I never noticed the yellow Voss blazes that had been mounted to mark the trail. The hope is that eventually all the trails will be signed with different colored diamonds that will ease navigation.

2-big tooth aspen

It’s a trail I know well, even with a new backwards S curve about two thirds of the way up that erased a steep and slippery portion and so instead I focused on those sights at my feet. While many leaves had already begun the long process of decomposition as they slowly break down and give nutrients back to the earth from which their trees grew, a few still sparkled like gems, including this Big-Tooth Aspen, aka poplar.

3-sugar maple

I was thrilled to discover Sugar Maple, defined by the U shape between its pointed lobes;

4-red maple

its V between lobes and toothier cousin, Red Maple;

5-striped maple

and even toothier kin, Striped Maple, known ’round these parts a goosefoot because its shape is similar. Some of us also refer to it as nature’s toilet paper for it’s large, soft, and easy to identify. You wouldn’t think of confusing it with poison ivy.

The curious thing about the Maple family, like all families in our northern New England forests, is that while the shape and color of the leaf helps us specify the family origins, each leaf within the family is different–whether in color or flaws or insect bites or galls. But despite their differences, they are all family.

6-large red oak

With the Striped Maple, I thought I’d found the largest species of the day, but a few more steps toward the summit revealed a rather large Northern Red Oak leaf.

7-even larger basswood leaf

And then the biggest of all–Basswood. My hiking boots are size 8. And the leaf–also a size 8, with an asymmetrical base. That must prove a challenge when trying to find the right fit.

13-polypody ferns

Focusing on the leaves took my mind off the climb and within no time I’d reached the summit where Polypody ferns in their evergreen form decorated the northwestern corner of an otherwise bald rock.

14-red maple flower and leaf buds awaiting
From the ferns where I’d planted my feet, I looked skyward and noticed the leaf and flower buds of a Red Maple, all tucked inside their waxy scales. It was the right place to be for as the north wind blew and my cheeks turned rosy red, I looked to the west.

9-Baldfaces to Carter Dome

Yesterday’s view had been transformed. No longer was it snowing from the Baldfaces to Carter Dome, with Mount Washington the whitest of all, posing between them. But still, it was chilly.

10-telescoping in on Mount Washington

A slight push on the camera lever and I pulled the scene a wee bit closer.

16-Perky's Path

At last I pulled myself away and hiked down, but so delightful was the morning, that I knew my newsletter work would have to wait a few more minutes at the intersection with Perky’s Path, for I felt the calling.

17-wetland--old beaver pond

It’s a wetland I visit frequently and once upon a time about five years ago it was filled to the brim with water because beavers had dammed it for their convenience.

18-suds reflect leaf

The only water today was found in a small stream that flowed through, its origin at Bradley Pond and terminus at Heald Pond. I stopped at the rock stepping path to admire what the water had to offer, including suds forming their own rachis or mid-vein from which side veins extended, a sideways rendition for the birch leaf caught between twigs.

19-view from the rock

In the middle of the stepping stones is a large flat rock. It was there that I settled in for a while, enjoying the feel of its sun-absorbed heat and the sound and views offered as the brook flowed slowly forth.

21-view from the bench

At last I pulled myself away and continued toward the bench that overlooked the wetland. All was quiet on this brisk day, but its a place of life and love and change.

22-back to the wetland

From there I continued to circle the old beaver pond to the point where I knew it had formerly been dammed. Climbing over and around moss-covered rocks, and into former stream beds, I made my way to the edge of what I used to call an infinity pool for the water was once at the dam’s upper level.

23-view from the beaver dam

Once I reached the dam, making my way one step at a time, for it was rather tricky footing at times, I discovered life on the other side. For all the years I’ve been involved with the land trust, I’d never seen this edge from this view. My surprise included the almost bald rocks.

25-coyote scat full of bones

Stepping from boulder to boulder, I made my way into the wetland a wee bit, but along the way realized someone had visited prior to me. Actually probably almost a year prior given the conditions of the scat left behind. Based on its shape, size, and inclusion of multiple bones plus lots of hair, I suspected a coyote had feed on a hare.

26-spider view

The coyote and I weren’t the only ones who knew of this secret place. A wolf spider darted in and out among the leaves, more afraid of me than I was of it.

27-spatterdock

And then I discovered something that perhaps they both already knew: the water supported a small colony of Spatterdock, a plant that will need to be added to the list of flora for this property. Do you see the ice on the Micky Mouse ear leaves?

28-ice

Ice had also formed around a fallen log, its swirls portraying a high-heeled boot that certainly might be appropriate in an ice sculpture but not on ice.

28-tree spirit

All of what I saw the tree spirit already knew. And yet, it allowed me to make discoveries from my feet to the sky.

29-Mount Washington summit

And every layer between. I know he’s not there anymore, but can’t you imagine Marty Engstrom on top of Mount Washington?

 

Firsties

A week ago, I joined friends Marita and Marguerite Wiser for a hike up Albany Mountain from Crocker Pond Road. At the summit, we searched for a loop leading off from the left that I’d been told about, but couldn’t find it. There were cairns leading to the right, but we didn’t see any to the left.

a1-trail sign

And so today, my guy and I headed back up the mountain with a quest in mind–to find the loop. For you see, this week when I again questioned the friend who’d told me about the summit loop, I was assured it was there and we just needed to follow the cairns to the left.

a2-ice on beaver pond

Not far along the trail, we reached the old beaver pond, which was open water last weekend, but coated in a thin layer of ice today. A first for us this season.

a3-dam crossing

We crossed the old beaver dam, made a wee bit easier because of the freeze.

a4-3 in 1 trees

And then we began climbing. Suddenly, I spied a red pine. A lone red pine. A red pine worth inspecting, for I suspected this was bear territory and thought perhaps the tree would show evidence of a past climb since it was the only red pine in the immediate area–bears like something different like a lone red pine. There were no signs of claw marks, but we did wonder about the resources shared by the pine, red maple and beech–a trinity of brethren in these mixed woods.

a5-ice

Moving upward, like all streams this month, water flowed with passion and because of the sudden drop in temperature this past week, ice formed upon obstacles. We slipped off the trail to admire its every rendition.

a6-more ice

Each coated twig offered its own fluid art.

a8-ice spirit

But my favorite of all was the ice spirit who watched over all as his beard grew long.

a9-ice needles

Back on the trail, conditions changed as well and ice needles crackled under our feet, adding to the crunch of dried beech and maple leaves.

am1

We weren’t far along, when we spied snow–another sight that made my heart sing on this brisk November day.

a10-SNOW

For us, it was the first snow of the season and we hope it bespoke the future.

a11-snow on the leaves

The higher we climbed, the more snow we saw, though really, it was only a dusting. But still–we rejoiced.

a12-new steps

Eventually we came upon some new trail work. Actually, last weekend, we’d chatted with the creator of such steps; and on our trip down, I’d asked him about the summit loop because we hadn’t found it. He said there was no such thing. But my friend insisted on such when I told her this info.

a13-climbing higher

On we climbed, reaching bald granite where sometimes conditions were slick. I’d brought my microspikes, but the trail wasn’t difficult and I never did pull them out of the pack. Still–better to be safe than sorry.

a14-Summit sign

At 1.5 miles, we reached the junction. And headed upward to the summit.

a19-ledge 1 view

About one tenth of a mile along, we turned right and followed a spur trail out to a ledge where the view west offered a backdrop featuring the White Mountains.

a16-first ledge and my guy

We suspected the summit loop may have taken off from this point, so my guy went on a reconnaissance mission to the left–to no avail.

a20-Mt Washington

But we did enjoy the view–including the summit of Mount Washington.

am3

Then we went in search of the mountain sage. Given the condition of its glasses, however, we suspected it was feeling a bit bedraggled from the recent wind. Or maybe it had tried to find the loop as well and was just plain tired from coming up short.

a21-lunch rock view

On to Albany Mountain summit we marched. And then we sat on a clear spot upon the granite to dine on . . . none other than the famous PB&J sandwiches (mine with butter, of course). Our view was framed by red pines and spruces.

a23-red pine needles

As it should, the red pines exhibited the look of chimney sweep brushes.

a22-red pine

One bent over, its leader long influenced by the northerly winds.

a23-spruce

Even a spruce known for its spire-like stance had performed the wind dance.

am4

After lunch, we poked around to the left, in search of cairns for the said loop . . . and found none.

am5

There were cairns to the right, however, which the Wisers and I had followed for a short distance last weekend. Today, we decided to see where they led. Cairns gave way to flagging.

am6

And flagging gave way to more cairns.

a24--views of balds from other trail

Meanwhile, the trail gave way to more views–of the Baldfaces.

a25-crossing the ledges

The trail seemed to circle around to the left, but then it turned right. Eventually, we met two young men and asked them if we were on the loop. We learned they’d spent the day exploring the top and knew of no loop, but informed us that we were on a spur. Funny thing is, they were from Texas and Wisconsin.

a26-view toward Pleasant Mtn

And they were right. About a half mile later, we reached the end of the cairns and the end of the spur and another panoramic view–with Keewaydin Lake in the foreground and our beloved Pleasant Mountain in the back.

am7

Again Mount Kearsarge greeted us with its pyramid formation and we stood for a while watching a bald eagle circle below us.

a27-foundation at trailhead

Our trip down the mountain passed quickly for it was my guy that I followed and within 45 minutes we were at the trailhead. Run much? While he went to the kiosk to double-check the map, I spied a foundation I’d previously missed. Who lived here? Was it the Crockers for whom the road was named?

a30a-Crocker Pond

Back in the truck, and because I was driving, we drove to the end of the road and I hopped out to look at Crocker Pond, which was partially coated in ice.

a28-Crocker Pond--backwards C

But it was a backwards reflection that really gave me pause for the birch trees seemed to spell the pond’s initials–backwards and upside down of course. CP. Humor me here. 😉

a35-Patte Marsh

And then I drove down another forest road to Patte Marsh, which was almost completely covered in ice.

a32-dam at Patte Marsh

Its formations were varied below the dam.

a31-sky reflection and ice

But my favorite of all was upon the pond, where the sky was reflected on a wee bit of open water and ice that reminded me of the eagle in flight.

We didn’t find what we’d gone in search of and may just have to try again (oh darn), but it was a day of firsties for us–first ice-covered ponds, first snow, first time on the second spur trail. Definitely a first rate day for a hike.

P.S. Thanks for continuing to stick with me. Please feel free to tell your family and friends about wondermyway. And encourage them to click the “follow” button. I’d appreciate it if you’d help me increase my readership. You never know what you’ll read here because I never know what I’ll write. Even when I think I know, I don’t. The end result is always a wander and definitely a wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plan B Mondate

We had a hike in Evans Notch planned for today, but a look at the weather forecast made us question our choice.

Forecaster Jack made the following prediction: “Current observations this morning show the long-awaited cold front just about to clear the coast. NW winds are already in progress across the mountains behind the front. Today’s weather will be dominated by a familiar pattern that we haven’t gotten to enjoy much recently: upslope/downslope. The mountains will see plenty of cloud cover as air is forced to rise up the NW slopes. As that air descends the SE slopes of the mountains, it warms and dries, leading to sunny conditions along the coastal plain. All models are in agreement that temperatures will be moving downward today, so the ‘high temperature’ is whatever you’re seeing right now. For the mountains, this means that temperatures in the mountains will fall from the low 50s this morning down through the 40s this afternoon before arriving in the 30s this evening. Temps along the coast will be about 10 degrees warmer with morning 60s cooling to afternoon 50s and evening 40s.

Consequently, we thought about changing our plans since it seemed like any foliage views would be under cloud cover. And then Marita sent me an invitation to hike with her tomorrow, which I can’t do, but we decided we’d invite her to join us today–on a hike of her choice.

r1-trail sign

The Red Tail Trail off Hurricane Mountain and the backside of Cranmore Mountain was the path she chose. It’s a funky trailhead to locate–park near the little cement building and gate, walk up the dirt road to a large water tank (now decorated with graffiti), and skip the first trailhead to Kettle Ridge, instead circling about halfway around the tank where a small sign about ten feet up a tree marks the way.

r30-dam

For a half mile or so, the trail follows No Name Brook, so named by moi because I have yet to locate its identity, but it parallels Hurricane Mountain Road. Near the start, barbed wire and an old mill dam bespoke its former use.

r31-no name brook

We followed it, slipping down occasionally for a closer look and listen–its rhythmic cadence so pleasing to our souls.

r3-giant erratic

And then we came upon the glacial erratic that must have landed with a thud one day about 10,000 years ago. Standing over the brook and covered in polypody ferns and asters, it resembled a small, two story earth house with a garden roof.

r4-sending puffball spores airborne

Shortly before breaking into the old log landing, which had been transformed into a mountain bike park with jumps of sorts since we last traveled this way, Marita spied several large clumps of puffballs. And so I encouraged her to poke them.

r5-spores wafting forth

She channeled her inner child as she poked one after another, releasing the spores which wafted skyward, mimicking a smokey fire.

r6-climbers trail sign

Arriving in the log landing, we were a bit confused about whether to follow the bike trail and then my guy spied a small yellow sign–and we found our way, for climbers were we.

r7-hobblebush color deepening

And because there were so many along the lower part of the route near the brook, I once again celebrated the variation of colors portrayed by the hobblebush shrubs.

r8-mount kearsarge 1

We zigged and zagged as we made our way through hardwood, softwood and new succession areas of forest. At last, we looked northwest and were greeted with the sight of another old favorite–Mount Kearsarge North. And the color display.

r9-Whitehorse ledge

Across the valley, we also spied White Horse Ledge and the White Mountain Motel.

r10-upslope clouds

After climbing 2.6 miles, we came to a T, and turned left toward the Black Cap Mountain trail. In the offing, we could see those upslope clouds overtaking the mountains beyond.

r14-Mt Wash and Kearsarge

And ever so slowly snaking their way over Mount Washington.

r15-lunch rock

By the time we reached lunch rock atop Black Cap, we were rather warm . . . and hungry.

r16-me and my guy

But ready to pose once we’d eaten.

r17-mountain ash fruits

As we looked about at the top, we admired the red, red berries of Mountain Ash, and wondered about their edibility. According to Weeds of the Woods by Glen Blouin, the scarlet fruits provide food for “many species of songbirds, including cedar waxwings, grosbeaks, and robins . . . they are also a favorite of both black bear and ruffed grouse.” Blouin adds, “The berries are rich in both iron and vitamin C and were used (medicinally) both fresh and in teas, to treat scurvy. Prior to ripening, the fruit is high in tartaric acid and is unpalatable. After a few frosts, the taste mellows and, though still bitter, the fruit becomes edible.” To that end, he provides a recipe for Mountain Ash Berry Jelly. Hmmm.

r18-starting down from Black Cap

For our descent, we decided to follow the loop trail around the summit of Black Cap.

r19-down 2

With each change of natural community, we enjoyed the color it offered.

r20-yellow birch

Back on the Red Tail Trail, Marita spied a tree we’d previously walked under, but not noticed. “What is it?” she asked, commenting that it looked like two different trees. Indeed, it wasn’t. Instead, it was an old yellow birch that had toppled a bit, caught in another tree and continued to grow–sending new branches skyward that looked like young trees on their own.

r21-hemlocks and pines

Again we zigged and zagged, changing up leaders as we wound our way down.

r21-upslope clouds advancing

At the point where we’d first enjoyed the views of Mounts Washington and Kearsarge, we again paused. That section had been previously bushhogged, thus providing an exceptional vista.

r22-upslope wrapping around Washington

And again we noted the upslope clouds curling around Washington, but chuckled that the mountain we’d originally intended to climb was probably in the clear.

r22-flowers in bloom

Our downward climb was much faster than our upward and in what seemed like no time, we reached the “bike park.” What had once been a mass of wildflowers overtaking the log landing, had become small patches and we were surprised that they still bloomed.

r25-squared rocks

Back at the brook, we commented on the squared off sections of granite and wondered about the processes that created such.

r28-artist conk

And then we reached the trailhead, where I spied an old favorite–an artist conk that has a surface area of about two feet.

From beginning to end, we knew that Plan B was really better than Plan A–for we’d had fun introducing Marita to a trail we like as we shared stories, laughter, lunch rock, and later a post-hike beer.

 

One Plus One=Five

One plus one equals two on an average day. And so today, Marita and I set out to conquer at least one trail, with a couple of others as additional options. We ended up “bagging” as they say in hiking terms, two–including one that was totally unexpected.

s-Long Mtn lower path

Our morning began with an exploration of the new trail on Long Mountain, a 2.5 mile climb that twists and turns beside Mill Brook on property owned by Mary McFadden and Larry Stifler. Near the start, bog bridges pass through wet areas now dry.

s-Mill Brook 1

The climb is moderately gradual and the brook ever present, its rocks creating falls that added a pleasing sound and sight to our hike.

s-brook crossings

Occasionally, we needed to cross and the way was well bridged.

s-dry brook1

At times, the brook was dry, but those moments made us realize that we must return in the spring when we assumed torrents of water pass over the rocks.

s-Mill brook moss (1)

Moss dangling today, however, mimicked the flow that wasn’t there.

s-cairn

As we climbed, we noticed works of art. I’m not always a fan of cairns, but in this case, each had a flair that bespoke someone’s creative mind.

s-cairn 2

Others were simply simple.

s-water bar

We found water bars that were equally artistic in nature.

s-flagging

Just over a mile and a half into the hike, the trail turned and though it wasn’t as well cleared, it was certainly well flagged and losing our way wasn’t an option. There would be no getting fake lost on this climb.

s-sledge hammer

Eventually we came to a third section where the trail was again cleared and we found signs indicating the crew might be ahead.

s-stairs 1 (1)

Again, we admired their work, from the stone stairs to wooden steps, all created with materials found within feet of the trail. Work gloves left behind made us wonder if perhaps they wanted us to lend a hand. If you find the gloves, then I’ve a feeling you are good at “Where’s Waldo?”

s-oak ladder (1)

The extra sturdy ladder was created on site from a red oak (and some hefty hardware).

s-Marita, Bruce and Gary 2 (1)

We were chatting companionably when we heard some movement above. And then heard their hellos. We’d found the crew–Bruce, the property manager and Larry, his right-hand man. Bruce and Marita had communicated previously, so he wasn’t surprised to see us and we were full of admiration for the work these two have done–all by hand. In fact, if you ever think you want to do some trail work in your neck of the woods, I highly suggest you locate these two and spend some time working with them for theirs is the best I’ve ever seen. We chatted for a bit, learning about their good works and the good works of the property owners.

s-lunch view

And then it was time for us to move up a few more hundred feet and out to the ledges. We didn’t reach the summit of Long Mountain, for that is owned by someone else, but the ledges with a view of Round Mountain (also owned by the Stiflers), Evans Notch and the White Mountains beyond was the perfect setting for lunch rock.

s-nature's tapestry

As we ate, we noted that foliage peak had passed in this part of the woods, but still, the tapestry was worth a closer look.

s-Long Mtn trail signs 2

Eventually, we followed the 2.5 mile trail down, repeatedly singing the praises of all who made this hike possible.

s-wasp nest

And then we traveled down another road we’d never been on before and located a mailbox Bruce had told us about as an indicator to the trailhead also owned by the Stiflers. We didn’t find the trail immediately, but did find this huge wasp nest, now abandoned.

s-Speck Ponds trail sign

It took us a few minutes because it’s rather hidden, but within a few feet of the trail sign, we recognized Bruce’s artistic mark–sign attached to stump atop rock.

s-Speck Pond signs

And other trail signs that we admired mostly for their coloration in contrast to the paper birch to which they were attached.

s-Norway sign at Speck Ponds

s-Albany

This trail led us from one town to another in a matter of inches.

s-Mt Wash from Speck Ponds

And out on the power transmission line, we turned toward the mountains. with the Whites again in our view–especially Washington.

s-pond 1 (1)

At last we reached Upper Speck and turned to the left as we started on our way to hike around it and Lower Speck in what was described to us as a bit of a figure 8. I think really it was more of a calligraphy “g” in design with a bit of a line between the two ponds.

s-leaf art

Again, our views were delightful, including leaves of different species offering contrasting colors and shadows.

s-painted turtle

For a few minutes, we had the pleasure of admiring a painted turtle as it sunned itself before I disturbed it. I just wanted to get closer.

s-speck bridge

Again, bridges helped us ford the wet spots and we admired the workmanship.

s-bank lodge

It wasn’t just human workmanship that drew our attention. We saw at least five lodges, some beside the bank . . .

s-beaver lodge 2

and others in the wetlands adjacent to the ponds.

s-beaver works old and not successful

We found lots of old works . . .

s-beaver works old 2

some not entirely successful.

s-beaver dam 2 (1)

And beside a substantial beaver dam . . .

s-beaver new

we spotted a wee bit of new works–but it wasn’t much.

s-Upper Speck

Again, the colors kept us in awe, much as they had done atop the ledges of Long Mountain.

s-fall colors 1

And finally, we completed our “g” loops and made our way out with all of these and so many other photographic memories in our minds.

Today was not an average day for it’s Friday the 13th. And we had the pleasure of learning that one plus one=five–five stars that is, for we gave such a rating to each trail we traveled, and thanks to all who made them possible for us to wander and wonder. Thank you Mary and Larry and Bruce and Gary. And Marita for inviting me to join her.

 

 

 

Nervous Nellie Mondate

Usually my guy asks me to recommend a trail for our Monday hikes. But this weekend he had one in mind. Actually, he wanted to conquer it on Saturday, but I put the kabosh on that plan because of predicted thunderstorms that didn’t develop here. We kayaked instead.

And then I was able to postpone it on Sunday because I thought we should do something more palatable for my left knee as I was recovering from a quirk in it due to training (LOL–two runs but plenty of cross-training activities) before participating in the annual Four on the Fourth Road Race. So yesterday, we drove to Bartlett, New Hampshire, and began our journey on the Langdon Trail with the intention of summiting Mount Langdon. But after meeting one couple on their descent and listening to them talk about the views from Mount Parker, we changed our minds mid-hike and climbed to the summit of the latter. It was a fun hike that at first seemed a wee bit boring (did I write that?) as it followed an old logging trail, but eventually the natural communities began to change and we really enjoyed the climb.

Because we often hike in companionable silence, that climb was filled with voices from so many friends who are currently dealing with a variety of difficulties–physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I chatted with them along the way and lifted them on high at the summit–including those who suffer silently. May they all find a moment of peace in their lives.

But, it had to happen eventually and so today dawned. There were no storms on the horizon and after yesterday’s eight-mile climb, my knee felt fine. Darn. I’d run out of excuses. And so this morning I drove us to New Hampshire. At the stoplight in Conway Village, we could see the mountain’s craggy outline contrasted against the blue sky. I wanted to take a photo of a church spire in the foreground and mountain in the back, which seemed apropos for how I was feeling, but a large SUV blocked the total view at the stoplight. We continued on, turning onto the Kancamagus Highway for our trail of choice, for we chose the easy trail. Yeah, right!

c-waterfall 4

Our journey began with some easy hiking through a hemlock grove. I was liking it. We continued upward and at 1.5 miles reached a decision-making spot–turn left onto a loop by the waterfalls or continue straight. I’d read that the waterfall trail could be dangerous and that rescues were sometimes necessary, but agreed to go–stating, of course, that we had the option of backtracking.

c-waterfall 1a

The waterfalls, however, took my breath away–and my fear . . . for the moment.

c-water fall 1

I extended that moment by taking numerous photos in different settings of the same thing.

c-waterfall 2

Up and up we climbed beside them,

c-waterfall 3

and with every step the landscape changed. Watching water flow is like watching the flames in a campfire–each moment a glorious rendition of the same and yet a new statement.

c-wood sorrel

And at the same spot, a surprise–wood sorrel with its delicate candy-stripe petals.

c-waterfall stairs

At last we climbed the staircase to heaven–or at least back to the main trail.

c-ichneumon male

The higher we climbed, the rockier the trail became and so my focus was on the ground under my feet. But . . . a downed tree laden with lichen drew my attention for its beauty. As I looked, I realized something was flying about. In my current damselfly/dragonfly mode, I thought I’d spotted a spread-winged damsel until I took a closer look and realized it was a male ichneumon wasp.

c-ichnueomon wasp female

And in another spot below the downed tree, a female ichneumon, her lower abdomen twisted into a disc. My guy actually came back to watch with me as we saw her body throb–using her antennae, she must have honed in on a horntail wasp grub within the wood. Her intention was to drill and secrete a fluid into the grub and then deposit her eggs, which will eventually hatch and consume the grub. How cool is that?

c-northern bush honeysuckle

The trail became much rockier the further up we climbed. And I continued to look for things I haven’t seen recently, including Northern bush honeysuckle, its flowers still in their yellowish-green hue. Check out its long pistils. She’s a pistil!

c-looking for yellow blazes

A couple of hours later, we reached my moment of fate–when the treeline gave way to open rocks. At first it wasn’t so bad and I thought I could manage it.

c-view from lunch rock

Because the wind was more of an issue in the openness, we decided to find lunch rock before progressing further. The views were breathtaking as we looked toward Kearsarge and even our own Pleasant Mountain.

c-Mount Washington 1

Mount Washington was also part of the backdrop.

c-lichen lunch rock

And right under our butts–I was liken the lichens on lunch rock. I could have spent the rest of the day in their presence. And probably should have.

c-geology folds

But that was not to be. With other travelers on this mountain, we continued the journey from the false summit to the main summit. I tried to be positive as my knees buckled. I knew I wasn’t alone in that feeling as others also commented. But, I tried to stay focused and along the way, I realized I was looking at a fold as I channeled my inner geologist, Denise Bluhm.

c-summit view 1

Hand over hand, we scrambled up.

c-summit view 2

The views were incredible.

c-summit 4

Finding the trail wasn’t always easy and we all let the next know where the yellow blaze might be. Finally, after lots of scrambling, I realized I’d reached my ending point. A mental block flashed in my brain and I could go no further. My guy, however, despite his own fear of heights, wanted to give it a try. While he crawled the last 75 feet to the actual summit, I tucked into the mountain and became a trail guide, telling others where they should go and how to place their feet–like I knew.

c-after the summit

It wasn’t long before he descended–using the crab style that became our means of downward locomotion. We made it back to the treeline by the seat of our pants.

c-luna 1

From there, we were thankful to continue our downward descent. And then, less than a mile from the parking lot, we made a delightful discovery–a luna moth.

c-luna moth1

She seemed to embody our hike–clinging on as best she could. Her wings were a bit ragged and one ribbony tail missing. I too, was a bit ragged from the experience, and later discovered dried blood on my leg from an encounter with a branch. But, I lived. Sadly, she won’t live much longer–her main job to mate and then die.

Despite that, we were thrilled for the sighting. Seeing a luna moth is such a special treat and that fact that we saw it on the Champney Trail of Mount Chocorua even better.

I’ve spent about forty years avoiding that mountain and for good reason. But today, my guy pulled me out of my comfort zone–to a point. My nervous Nellie syndrome was well earned from my mom–Nellie. She, too, however, stepped out of her comfort zone many times and I have her to thank over and over again.

 

 

 

 

Love/Hate Sundate

Some days are made for hikes and today was one of them. The temperature was right–in the upper 40˚s-low 50˚s. No sun. And no bugs.

So, after church, my guy and I drove to the trailhead for Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield, Maine. At the signs indicating the trail splits in two–North Peak to our right, Twin Brook to the left, we knew we planned on covering the loop, but my guy stopped and asked which way I wanted to ascend the mountain.

Nose scrunched, I replied, “North Peak.”

He chuckled for he knows my love/hate relationship with this mountain.

b-red oak leaves

Today my love began with the new leaves, like that of the red oak,

b-red maple1

red maple,

b-striped maple

striped maple,

b-beech leaves 1

and beech. I worshiped them all for their subtle colors and textures. Spring is the time of year that reminds us to live in the moment, for the natural world demonstrates constant change.

b-trailing arbutus

And then there were the flowers, like the trailing arbutus, aka mayflower.

b-Canada mayflower

And another of a similar name, Canada mayflower.

b-shad 1

In the shrub layer, occasionally we came upon the beauty of serviceberry or shadbush flowers flowing in the breeze, exhibiting their own take on these fleeting moments.

b-early saxifrage

And cleaving to the rocks as we climbed, early saxifrage. It’s also known as rockbreaker for this habit, and perhaps suggested the Latin name–Saxifraga virginiensis. Saxum-rock and frangere-to break. A funny name for an uncommon display.

b-summit ahead

I did my best admiring my surroundings for I knew what awaited. My guy paused as the summit came into sight,  expecting me to comment. For once, I kept quiet.

b-summit climb

And then, when the time arrived, we both channeled our inner mountain goat and sought hand holds and foot holds as we scrambled up the nasty dash to the top. Ha ha. It’s difficult to scramble when your heart pounds while your body quivers. This is the section I most hate–and as I always told our sons when they were youngsters, hate is a strong word. I knew I could do this for I’ve done it many times before, so I tried not to take too long as I considered my next move. Plus, rain drops began to fall and I didn’t want to be stuck contemplating on slippery granite. But still.

b-lunch rock

Finally–success. We’d reached the flattened top of the mountain–such a welcome relief after that horrible section. You’d think it was miles long the way I carry on about it. The rain drops ceased and we sat on lunch rock to dine–dirty hands and knees our badges of honor.

b-summit 1

Our view from the rock–looking back toward our point of ascension.

b-summit 2

And forward toward Stone Mountain. After lunch, our plan was to follow the Twin Brooks Trail that passes through the saddle between Burnt Meadow and Stone.

b-summit 3

And to our right–looking toward the White Mountains.

b-summit trees:layers

Though the view is almost 350˚, our immediate view behind lunch rock offered layers of life–blueberries, a young paper birch and a white pine.

b-twin brooks trail down

At last we started down. The Twin Brooks Trail is longer, but less of a struggle. That being said, it’s not a walk in the park as there are constant roots and rocks seeking attention.

b-mt washington1

But occasionally there are views. I was afraid we might not see Mount Washington today, but it didn’t disappoint.

b-birch catkin1

On the way down, we were in the land of the birch, their catkins growing long . . .

b-birch catkin pollen

and exploding with life-giving pollen.

b-viola

There were violas to admire.

b-shad 2

And more shadbush.

b-bear claws 1

But one of my other favorite things about this trail is the bear claw trees. No matter how many times I see them, they still bring a smile to my heart–and face. And a memory of seeing a bear on the North Peak trail one summer–it sauntered past us, not seeming to care that we were there. I suspect its belly was stuffed with blueberries.

b-twin brook 1

As we continued to descend, we soon heard the sound of one of the brooks for which the trail is named. Quite often on this trail, the water barely trickles, but today it rushed over the moss-covered rocks.

b-logging

Continuing on, we remembered that two hikers we meet at the start said there had been some logging and sometimes it was difficult to follow the trail. At last, my guy found the area they’d referenced. The trails are on private land and so while we couldn’t find some familiar landmarks, we nevertheless were thankful that we were still able to hike there. And, we were mindful to look for the yellow blazes as we stepped over some slash. It was quite doable.

b-bear tree 2:eye level

The result–a bear tree we hadn’t seen before was revealed.

b-bear tree 2:looking up

It must have offered plenty to eat in the past for the tree was well climbed all the way to its crown. Maybe we’d once met the very bear.  Maybe not. Who knows. But it’s worth a wonder.

b-bear of a different sort

A bear of another kind also left behind a sign of its presence. We obviously weren’t the only ones who headed to the mountain for a date.

b-bear tree 3

In one last spot a short way from finishing the loop, we found our last bear tree–again seen because of the logging. I suspect there are many more in these woods and hope they don’t all get cut.

Emerging leaves. Spring flowers. Jagged outcropping. Flowing water. Bear trees.

Really, it was a love/hate/love Sundate–joyfully spent with my guy.

 

 

 

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.

All Twigged Out

In preparation for a senior college class I’ll be teaching this week entitled “All Things Spring,” I headed out the door in search of twigs.

t-Mount Wash

Of course, it doesn’t look like spring quite yet. But then again, it does. And on this crystal clear day, the silhouette of the buildings atop Mount Washington were visible.

t-vernal pool

Before I could settle down to the work at hand, I visited the vernal pool, where all was quiet. But, I know the time is nearing. I could smell spring in the air and feel it in the warm sunshine that enveloped me and my surroundings.

t-chick 4

And then I slipped into the gray birch grove to begin my hunt,

t-chick 3

while a black-capped chickadee wondered what I was up to–no good, as usual.

t1-table top (1)

At last, I filled my satchel, but only enough–never wanting to take more than necessary. In fact, since I don’t know how many students will be present, they may have to share.

My plan is to begin with a slide show of flowers and ferns, mammals and birds, and of course, life evolving at the vernal pool (all photos were taken a year ago). I’ll bring some fun things to share, including scat–I sure hope they (whoever they are) think it’s fun.

And then we’ll look at twigs through a hand lens so together we can examine the idiosyncrasies of our common deciduous trees,

t1-sugar maple (1)

such as these sugar maples and . . .

t1-striped maple twigs (1)

a few striped maples.

t-beech

We’ll look at beech,

t-quaking aspen

quaking aspens and several others.

t-opposite

My materials are almost ready, though I still need to pull something together about fern crosiers. Oh my!

t-alternate

I’m nervous, but excited. My hope is to instill a sense of wonder, but maybe no one will show. That would be okay–I’d just quietly slip back into the woods.

Until then, I’m trying not to feel all twigged out.

 

The Sun Always Shines

In the grayness of the day sunlight lit my way.

o-skunk tracks

Oh, it wasn’t as bright as yesterday when I wandered in brilliant light under clear blue skies and saw hints of spring, including skunk prints in the snow,

o-algae

and some blue-green algae in a vernal pool that is slowly opening up.

o-ice goddess

But given the temperature and wind, the ice goddess reminded me that winter prevailed.

b-deer 2

This morning presented a different picture that didn’t feature Mount Washington in the background because it was obscured by clouds. Rather than don my snowshoes, I decided to stick to the snowmobile trail for the most part. I wasn’t the only one who ventured that way. Because I wasn’t making as much noise as usual, the deer didn’t hear me approach. And so we stood for many minutes contemplating each other. I didn’t want to scare her for I knew she wouldn’t just stick to the trail and the snow depth continues to be such that she sinks with each step. It was in those shared moments that I began to think about energy and how much she put forth all winter and now continues to do the same as spring evolves. Every day I spy more and more young hemlocks trunks that have been scraped. She and her family are feeding on sunlight, which first feed the insects in the soil and then the trees. At each stage or tropic level of the food chain only ten percent of biomass from the previous level is retained. Thus, a thousand pounds of plant biomass is necessary to support a hundred pounds of an herbivore–that’s a lot of little buds for a deer.

b-bobcat prints

Eventually, she made her way across the powerline and joined her family. I decided to turn around so I wouldn’t disturb them further. And it’s then that I recognized some prints I’d missed previously. My micro-spike print is on the left, beside those of a carnivore–a bobcat, or rather, two. Usually bobcats travel in a solitary manner, but their breeding season is upon them. And those thousand pounds of plant biomass that supported  a hundred pounds of herbivore, in turn support ten pounds of carnivore. The hunt becomes important.

b-motherwort

I did find a few spots where the snow had melted and winter weeds, such as this motherwort, provided hints of future buffet items for the herbivores and omnivores to consume.

b-junco and hemlock needle

And then I came upon junco feathers and knew that a different consumer had benefited from the sunlight offered forth by this little bird. The hemlock needle provides a perspective of size.

b-junco feathers 2

Despite its demise, the feathers surrounded by melting snow created an artistic arrangement. That was my attempt at positive thinking, for like us, all things must eat to survive.

b-white ash opposite

And then a few producers caught my attention and I found myself focusing on young trees and shrubs. I’ve walked past this young tree numerous times and never saw it until today.

b-ash 2

White ash or green? They both look similar, but the leaf scar is the giveaway. It’s shaped like a C or misshapen horseshoe with a deep notch at the top.

b-ash bud

And its terminal bud is domed. In these woods, the ash trees aren’t a preferred food source of the deer–lucky for them.

b-silky 2

Nearby, another neighbor caught my attention and it, too, I hadn’t met before.

b-silky dogwood 1

My assumption was dogwood, given the bright red/purpishish color of its shrubby stems, long-gone fruits and opposite leaf buds. But–red osier or silky? I’ve leaned toward the latter but will have to pay attention as the season moves forward. These did seem to tickle the herbivores fancy from time to time, though not nearly as much as the maples that grow nearby.

b-peanut

As I headed toward home, I stumbled upon another site I’ve seen frequently all winter. Actually for the past few winters. There must be a peanut plantation somewhere in these woods. That, or the blue jays have discovered a good source at someone’s bird feeder.

b-ice goddess

Before heading indoors, I paused to acknowledge another ice goddess, one who also knows the sun’s power and found relief in today’s shadows . . .

b-snow

and flakes. It’s snowing again, this fourth day of spring. Liquid sunshine, for the snow also provides nourishment to all who live here.

You see, the sun always shines . . . even when you can’t feel the warmth of its rays.

 

Beware the Ides of March

As I write, snow flurries float earthward landing atop the almost two feet of snow we received yesterday. Perhaps I should have heeded the soothsayer who warned Julius Caesar to “Beware the ides of March,” in Act 1, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play about the Roman politician. 

But I didn’t. I stepped out the door this morning and took my friend, Judy Lynne, with me for today is her birthday, thus making March 15 a day of celebration rather than one to be dreaded.  

As for “ides,” that word refers to the day in the middle of the month. Every month has a day that divides it in half, therefore, every month has an ides. But still, in the play it sounds so ominous–and is eventually.

And as for Judy, she missed the blizzard (and all our winter weather) because she teaches in China. And she is not at all like the Roman soldiers. Rather, Judy embraces every person and critter around the world and sheds love wherever she goes. 

p-porky

Since she can’t be in western Maine to enjoy the results of a late season storm, she’ll have to travel vicariously–beginning with the porcupine who didn’t let a little snow stop him from plowing through. Those of us who know Judy travel in a similar manner as she shows us parts  of the world we may never actually visit. 

p-Mount Wash

The view of Mount Washington will help her get her bearings. It is this and Pleasant Mountain and our orientation to them on the horizon that help us recognize our place in the world.

p-snowshoe hare

I didn’t expect to see many tracks this morning, but was pleasantly surprised. Besides the porcupine, I saw deer, mouse, red and gray squirrel, chipmunk and these. I can’t give you lobsters for your birthday, Judy, but I can give you the lobster-like prints of snowshoe hare. 

p-AMC bridge

I often don’t know where I’m headed when I walk out the door, and today was no different. This journey took me into Pondicherry Park where I stopped by the AMC bridge and thought about Judy’s ability to cross bridges with people of other cultures, no matter how deep the snow may be.

p-AMC bench

Today, however, if she wanted to pause after making such a crossing, she’d need a shovel, such was the depth on the bench by the bridge.

p-willet brook from bench site

Together, we headed down the trail to the viewpoint beside Willet Brook. Judy is an artist and I had visions of her recreating this scene of winter snow and spring ice. This picture of transitions reminded me of the changes in her life as she interviews for jobs in other countries.

p-Willet 2

The change will be difficult as she leaves behind friendships formed in the last five years, but I trust in reflection she’ll know she’s making the right choice.

p-false tinderconk

As I snowshoed, I found a few things I knew, but didn’t necessarily understand. Bumps in the road you might say, Jude, or at least on the spore surface of a false tinderconk.

p-hammered, green shield and cocoon

Because she loves design and has an insatiable curiosity, I knew she’d enjoy taking a look at the shield lichens, both hammered and common green.

p-cocoon 2

And that would have brought her to notice something else on the bark. She’d have laughed as I stuck my chin against the tree to get a closer look at the silky-hair cocoon embedded on the lichen. Perhaps a tussock moth?

p- Hooded Merganzer

As I wound my way back, I checked Willet Brook again–and spied a hooded merganser swimming away, its crest described as a hammerhead. Hammershield, hammerhead. Methinks Judy will nail down a new job soon.

p-beech bud breaking

And then there was the beech bud already breaking–I’ve seen this happen in previous years; a few scales bursting open before their time.  For Judy, it would have turned into a science lesson for her Chinese high school students. And perhaps a drawing lesson for art class.

p-deer, maple leaves on ground

Throughout the park, I didn’t roam alone for deer tracks were obvious everywhere and I saw three of the creators. But it was the leaves atop the snow that made me pause and I’m sure Judy would have done the same.

p-maple leaves

Occasionally I spot a single withered maple leaf on a tree, but this tree was covered and it made no sense. Maples aren’t typically marcescent–they don’t retain their leaves like beech and oak. It wasn’t until I stepped back and looked at the tree that I finally understood; this was a branch that had fallen when the tree was still in leaf and the deer browsed the tips of some branches, though I trust they didn’t find much nutrition for they moved on. I laughed again and heard Judy roar with me.

p-deer crossing stream:watercress

At the stream below the spring, I noticed the deer had walked right through the water to get to the other side.

p-watercress 1

I couldn’t tell for sure, but trust they sampled some wild watercress that grows freely there. And I thought of the foods Judy has sampled during her time in China and other travels.

p-deer crossing bridge

Not all of the deer chose to walk through the water. Some actually crossed the bridge. It struck me that they learned to use it to get to the other side. Judy has learned so much about herself and the world as she’s crossed bridges I’ll never set foot on.

p-dunning bridge 1

The best bridge of all awaited, its roof supporting the weight of the snow. This bridge was built by many to honor a community member, whose wife just happened to be the reason Judy and I met 25 years ago. Wow–it’s been that long since we practiced breathing techniques in Lamaze class .

p-snow on Dunning bridge

One of the cool things this morning because I was the first one there, the peaks and valleys left behind by the storm. If she’d been here, Judy would have taken the very same photo.

p-ducks 1

I went to the bridge to see the other ducks that frequent this location. The sight of the snow-topped rocks and vegetation made me think of frosting and guess who also teaches a cooking class–yup, Judy.

p-ducks 4, black:mallard hybrid?

Within the mix, what I think are two black ducks. I’m still learning my birds, but it did look like one may be a hybrid–a cross between a black duck and a mallard. Of course, I could be wrong on all accounts. No matter–what does matter is that they all get along and that’s what is important to Judy. She’s also a great believer in random acts of kindness and has performed so many good deeds for others.

p-robins 2

I was almost home when I saw some color in the gray birches–more color than the berries being eaten.

p-robin 3

A flock of robins dined on the “junk” food of the bird world–bittersweet berries.

p-robin 1

After one drank some snow, it showed off its rufous-colored breast, reminiscent of Judy’s red hair.

This one posed atop the snow-covered branch seemed a mighty fine representation of our move from one season to the next. (Or might it be one country to the next, Jude?)

In the end, today’s journey reminded me once again to Be Aware–the eyes of March. And be thankful.

I am thankful for my friend, Judy Lynne, born on the Ides of March, but not actually reading this until the day after her birthday. I’ll be forever in awe of her.

On the Prowl at Heald & Bradley Pond Reserve

My original intention when I set out this morning was to snowshoe from the Gallie parking lot on Route 5, follow the Homestead Trail and then connect with the Hemlock Trail as I climbed to the summit of Whiting Hill. I planned to make it a loop by descending via the red trail back to the green Gallie Trail.

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Not to be as the parking lot hadn’t been cleared yet of yesterday’s Nor’easter, which dumped several inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain upon the earth. When Plan A fails, resort to Plan B. A drive down Slab City Road revealed that the Fairburn parking lot wasn’t yet cleared either, but the boat launch was open (because the pond serves as a water source for the fire department) so I parked there and headed to the trailhead beside Mill Brook. The sight of so much water flowing forth was welcome, especially considering it was a mere trickle a few months ago.

w-snow-layers-brookside

The layers of snow overhanging the brook told the story of our winter. And it’s not over yet–at least I hope it isn’t. We’re in the midst of a thaw, but let’s hope more of the white stuff continues to fall. We need it on many levels, including ecologically and economically.

w-fox-print

Because of the storm, I thought I wouldn’t see any tracks, but from the very beginning a red fox crossed back and forth between the pond’s edge and higher elevations.

w-fox-and-squirrel

While it may be difficult to discern, a gray squirrel, the four prints with long toes below the Trackards, had leaped up the hill, perhaps after the fox. Lucky squirrel. The fox prints can be viewed to the left of the cards.

w-vernal-pool

My new plan was to follow the red/blue trail to the summit of Whiting  Hill. And along the way, a side trip to the vernal pool. Visions of fairy shrimp swam in my head. No, I wasn’t rushing the season, just remembering a fun time pond dipping last spring.

w-fringed-wrinkle-lichen

Back on the red/blue trail, I noted that most of the recent seed litter was covered by yesterday’s storm. The Fringed Wrinkle Lichen, however, did decorate the snow. Tuckermanopsis americana, as it’s formally known, grows on twigs and branches of our conifers and birches and often ends up on the forest floor.

It’s a foliose lichen that was named for Edward Tuckerman, of Tuckerman’s Ravine fame on Mount Washington. According to Lichens of the North Woods author Joe Walewski, Tuckerman was “the pre-eminent founder and promoter of lichenology in North America.As a botanist and professor in Boston, he did most of his plant studies on Mount Washington and in the White Mountains.”

w-pileated-debris

Further along, I saw some pileated woodpecker scat about twenty feet from the tree it had hammered in an attempt to seek food. It made me realize that even when I don’t find scat in the wood chips below the tree, I should seek further.

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The holes weren’t big–yet.

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But the scat–oh my. It looked as if insects were trying to escape the small cylindrical package coated in uric acid.

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The trail turned right and so did I, beginning the climb. For most, the ascension doesn’t take more than five or ten minutes. Um . . . at least 45 on my clock today. There was too much to see, including the mossy maple fungi hiding in a tree cavity.

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And then I saw something I’d looked for recently after seeing it on the blog  Naturally Curious with Mary Holland. Notice how the pine needles are clumped together?

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Eastern White Pine needles grow in bundles of five (W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E for our state tree), but the clumps consisted of a bunch of needles from several different bundles.

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What I learned from Ms. Holland is that these are tubes or tunnels created by the Pine  Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. They used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. Notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and in April when I come back to check on the vernal pool, I need to remember to pay attention, for that’s when they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news, says Holland, is that “Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.” I only found the tubes on two young trees, but suspect there are more to be seen.

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And a few steps later–an old beak. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was then that I realized if I’d been able to stick with the original plan I would have missed these gems. Oh, I probably  would have found others, but these were in front of me and I was rejoicing. Inside that bristly tan husk was the protein-rich nut of a Beaked Hazelnut overlooked by red squirrels and chipmunks, ruffed grouse, woodpeckers, blue jays and humans.

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Catkins on all of the branches spoke of the future and offered yet another reason to pause along this trail on repeated visits.

w-burl-on-sugar-maple

With my eyes in constant scan mode, I looked for other anomalies. One of my favorites was the burl that wrapped around a Sugar Maple. If I didn’t know better, it would have been easy to think this was a porcupine or two.

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About two thirds of the way up, there was no rest for the wary, for the bench that offered a chance to pause was almost completely buried.

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Closer to the summit, the ledge boulders were decorated with snow, Common Polypody ferns and lichens, including Common Rock Tripe, its greenish hue reflecting yesterday’s precipitation.

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And suddenly, the summit and its westward view, Kezar Lake in the foreground and Mount Kearsarge  showing its pointed peak in the back.

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As I’d hiked along the red/blue trail, I noted that the red fox had crossed several times. At the other end of the summit, I checked on the bench where on our First Day 2017 hike for the Greater Lovell Land Trust, we’d discovered the remains of a red squirrel. Today, fox tracks paused in front of the bench before moving on and I had to wonder if had been the one to use this spot as a sacrificial altar.

w-bear-claw-tree

Finally, it was time to head down. My choice was to follow the red trail toward the Gallie Trail. I love this section because it features some of my favorite bear trees.

w-beech-leaves-rustling

The fox tracks continued to cross frequently and so I paused often. And sniffed as well. What I smelled was a musky cat-like scent that I’ve associated with bobcats in the past. What I heard–dried beech leaves rattling in the breeze. They always make me think something is on the move. Ever hopeful I am.

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One of my favorite finds along this section was the bright red branches of young Striped Maples. From leaf and bundle scars to growth lines, lenticels and buds, their beauty was defined.

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Another sight that surprised me–Striped Maple leaves still clinging, rather orangey in hue.

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And here and there, as if in honor of the trail color, Red Pines reached skyward.

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Eventually I reached the bottom, and turned right again, this time onto the stoplight trail–well, red and green at least.

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My wildlife sitings were few and far between, but red squirrel tracks and a midden of discarded cone scales next to a dig indicated where the food had been stored in preparation for this day.

w-tinder-2

Following some grouse tracks took me off trail and tinder conks made their presence known.

w-tinder-fungi

The swirled appearance of these hoof fungi threw me off for a bit, but I think my conclusion is correct.

w-bobcat-trail

At last I reached the red trail that runs parallel with Heald Pond. Again, the fox tracks crossed frequently, but beside the path and leading to and fro the water and higher heights, another set of tracks confirmed my earlier suspicions.

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Bobcat. I thought I smelled a pussy cat. I did.

w-fox-and-bobcat

Sometimes the bobcat moved beside the trail, while the fox crossed over. I’d thought when I started out this morning that I wouldn’t see too many tracks because the animals would have hunkered down for the storm. I was pleasantly surprised–for my own sake. For the sake of the animals, I knew it meant they were hungry and on a mission.

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My own mission found me following the spur to Otter Rock. I noted that the fox had walked along the shoreline on its eternal hunt.

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My hunt was of a different sort. No visit to the rock is complete without a look at the dragonfly exoskeletons. But today, it was a bit different because I, too, could walk on the ice. And so I found exoskeletons on parts of the rock I haven’t been able to view previously. Their otherworldly structure spoke to their “dragon” name.

w-dragonfly-nymph-exoskeleton

The slit behind the head and on the back of one showed where the dragonfly had emerged from the nymph stage last spring. Or maybe a previous spring as some of these have been clinging to the rock for a long time.

w-other-pupae-overwintering

While I was looking, I noticed some other pupae gathered together within a silky covering. Another reason to return–oh drats. I don’t know if I’ll be there at the right time, but with each visit, I’ll check in.

w-mill-dam-in-afternoon-sun

The sun was shining and warm. High 30˚s with slight breeze–felt like a summer day, with the sun reflecting off the snow. And at the mill, further reflection off the water. After four hours, it was time for me to check out.

As always, I was thankful for my visit, even though it wasn’t my original plan. Like the mammals, I’d been on a prowl–especially serving as the eyes for a friend who is currently homebound. I think she would have approved what I saw.

 

A Shiver of a Mondate

When we awoke I checked the thermometer. Negative 6˚. By the time lunch was packed, hot cocoa poured into thermos and bodies decked in layers, I checked again. Negative 8˚. But a sunny negative 8˚. With only a slight breeze.

j-covered-bridge

And so we drove to Jackson, N.H. This town holds fond memories for us, including our wedding night spent up the street before we departed for Ireland the next day. That was 26 years ago.

j-trail-sign

It had been about eleven years since we’d last hiked the North and South Doublehead Loop that we chose for today. That was a December hike, with not as much snow. Our first inclination this morning was a snowshoe hike. Seconds before we were about to pull out of the driveway, my guy mentioned micro-spikes. And so he ran back into the house and grabbed both pairs.

j-no-spikes-hiking

Brilliant move as the trail was extremely well packed. In fact, at the start, though I donned mine, he stowed his until necessary. Not wearing snowshoes meant not going off trail, but I was with my guy and knew that destination was of prime importance. I didn’t mind as the snowshoes would have been more cumbersome.

j-national-forest-sign

In mere minutes we’d crossed into the National Forest, aka the  White Mountain National Forest.

j-ash-and-maple

Though we were on an upward climb, the traveling was easy, affording the opportunity to look around and take in the sights, including the sharing of nutrients by an ash and a maple. Grafted though they were, they grew on their own; each dependent upon yet independent of the other–a mirrored reflection of the relationship my guy and I are honored to share.

j-hoar-frost

We were still a wee bit chilly (well, maybe more than a wee bit), but knew we weren’t the only ones dealing with the low temps. Squirrel tracks led in and out of this upturned tree and the hoar frost indicated life snuggled therein.

j-snowshoe-hare

Every where, snowshoe hare tracks crisscrossed our path. I hoped we’d see at least one, if not ten, but that wasn’t to be. We were rather loud, each footstep seemingly an echo in the crisp air.

j-lungwort-1

We took several water breaks, including one by this tree covered in lungwort. I was excited to see the lungwort, but at the same time realized that my lens cap was missing. How many can one person loose? And to think that this one was tethered to my camera.

My guy, being MY guy, took off down the trail, assuming it would be visible and he’d find it in no time.

j-lungwort-2

For me, it was a time to spend a few minutes noticing. The ridged and pitted surface of lungwort is said to resemble lung tissue–thus the common name. During the Renaissance era, when the physical form of a plant was thought to determine its use, tree lungwort’s similarity to the structure of a lung led to the belief that it healed respiratory problems.

One of the things about lungwort is that it does absorb and fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, so it’s always a good find.

j-shivering-beech-leaves

As I waited, I listened. Besides the voices in my head, I heard a woodpecker tapping and beech leaves shivering.

My guy returned, sweaty from climbing down and up again, as well as empty handed. But we made a plan to continue the lens-cover rescue mission on our way down.

j-community-change

And so up and up and up we climbed. The ski trail, on which we ascended, is only 1.2 miles long, but it is steep. Eventually, we both realized the community was changing and knew we were approaching the summit.

j-beard-2

It was here that Old Man’s Beard Lichen decorated the trees and made me think of hermits spending time on these mountain tops.

j-cabin

Suddenly the cabin at North Doublehead came into view. It could have been the perfect hermitage, but rather it has hosted many a crowd over the years. The cabin was built as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project in the early 1930s, as was the ski trail by which we climbed upward. It’s available for rental through the WMNF and sleeps eight.

j-cabin-anybody-home

My guy had taken off his hat to let some heat escape. And then he peered inside. A Peeking Tom he ain’t, but curious he is.

j-cabin-window-ice

Not all of the windows offered a view within, but their artwork spoke of the lack of heat on a cold winter’s day.

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I stood upon a rock that I thought would become lunch rock and took in the view of Mount Washington.

j-cabin-view-rime-ice

We could see the towers atop, but the telephoto lens enhanced the view and we knew that despite how we felt at any time of this day, the rime ice that coated the buildings was a mere indication of what the crew dealt with on New England’s highest peak.

j-cabin-trails

My guy was feeling the chill after sweating so much and so we followed the trail, a steep decent to the col between the two summits.

j-lunch-spot

Finally, at the next intersection, his body temp had regulated and we found lunch ground, no rocks in sight. Frozen PB&J and hot cocoa fortified us yet again.

j-south-doublehead-view

The climb to South Doublehead was by far the easiest, and the view most dramatic. We didn’t stay too long as it was there that we felt the breeze.

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j-black-mtn-ski-area

But the view–oh my! It took our breath away. Or maybe that was the wind chill? At Black Mountain, we could see they were taking advantage and had fired up the snow machines.

j-hobblebush

We returned to our lunch spot where I wanted to grab a pic of the hobblebush buds. As I shifted my backpack something fell to the ground–my camera lens cover. We gave thanks that we wouldn’t have to retrace our steps when the Old Path intersected with the Ski Trail down below.

I knew my friend Jinnie Mae would tease me about not being able to resist a hobblebush, but really, check out those naked leaf buds that surround the also naked flower bud. The leaf buds on most of our trees and shrubs survive the winter with a waxy coating. Both hobblebush and witch hazel, however, don’t have such a luxury, though I have to wonder if  their hairy coating adds an insulating layer.

j-climbing-down

At last we climbed down the Old Path, a steep and straight descent for the most part that found us using the crab-style of downhill hiking–a sideways approach to keep from slipping. Despite that, it’s a beautiful trail, cathedral-like among the steeples of the spruces, firs and birches.

j-dragonfly

We finished our hike and then returned to Jackson, where glistening objects on the porch of The Wentworth Inn forced us to jump out of the truck. What to our wondering eyes should we spy? A dragonfly,

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owl,

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and jellyfish?

I’d thought for sure we’d see some form of wildlife all day, but these ice sculptures were as close as we got. The latter cracks me up as it seems such an oxymoron to see a jellyfish carved out of ice. Oh, there was also a cactus.

The perfect ending to our shiver of a Mondate.

Son-date Mondate

Let me begin by saying Happy New Year. And thanking all of you who take the time to read my musings about nature and life.

Today being a Monday, my guy and I had a plan in mind. At the top of the list–put Christmas away for another year. Oh, the creche remains out because the Magi haven’t yet arrived, but as much as I love all the decorations and memories of each year, I equally love packing it all up and starting fresh again.

h-snow-hook

And then I stole a few minutes to step out the door and explore. Immediately, the snow  on the barn shed made me wonder. It looked as if we’d placed it on the hook for another time when we might need to use it.

h-mt-washington

At the infamous power line, I could actually see the towers atop Mount Washington. If you look closely at the tallest peak, you may see them as well. Such was the crisp, clear air today.

h-mouse-tracks

My wanderings took me deep into the woods, where I saw tracks and sign left behind by everything from mouse . . .

h-moose-tracks

to moose.  Again, moose tracks were plentiful and where they followed my snowshoe tracks, I noted that they sank at least twice as far down as I had, with no belly drag which speaks to the size of these mammals.

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Several times I found moose hair that caused me to crouch for a closer inspection.

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Salt and pepper in color, I could see a mixture of soft, downy hair and the hollowed rods that help insulate this largest of woodland creatures.

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Heading toward home, a leaning gray birch called for attention as it poured out life from last year’s catkins.

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Fleur de lis and seeds coated the snow surface.

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Those tiny seeds, butterfly-like in their winged structure will eventually float to the ground and someday I’ll need to step around the trees they become. That is, if the birds and wee critters don’t eat them first. Such is the way of things in the forest.

h-trail

Once again, I found the trail and discovered I wasn’t the only one playing.

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These two guys of mine decided to head off into the sunset. I preferred not to join them in their bobble-head mode.

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They didn’t get far because the trail has not yet been groomed. And so we continued our chores, but also took time to play–shooting photographs,

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cleaning roof tops,

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and practicing jumping skills.

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We shared our Mondate with our youngest son before he heads off on a different trail–returning to Colorado for a few more months. We’re thankful for the time we’ve had with him and especially today–working and playing side by side one more time before his next journey begins.

 

 

Final(ly) Mondate

With lunch packed, donning new hiking boots for him and longjohns for me, my guy and I climbed the Ledges Trail up Pleasant Mountain today.

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Our destination: the main summit.

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The bright blue trail blazes shone brilliantly in the winter landscape, some decorated by those who’d passed this way before us.

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We gave thanks to them and snowshoers, who’d packed the trail down, which meant we could get away with micro-spikes. It felt more like a walk in the park. We love it when conditions are such and watching our every step on slippery leaves or rocks is not a worry.

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All along, deer tracks criss-crossed over the “human” route, creating their own trails from shelter to food.

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A porcupine had done the same, its trough at least six inches deep.

p-brook

Though no water flowed through the streams that the trail crosses, snow created the effect of fluid motion and offered a promise for the future.

p-hop

As I looked down, the papery fruit of a hop hornbeam reminded me to look up.

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And right there, the tree showed off its shaggy bark. With that came a recollection of the first time I’d met said tree–it may have been this very one for it was on this trail many years ago.

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I knew I’d spent too much time looking about when in his smart aleck way, my guy pointed to a rock. “Tall rock,” he said. “What’s growing on it?” I asked. “Snow,” he responded.

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But still, he was the one to notice the beech contortionist.

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And another that demonstrated the circle of life.

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And then there was Beech Man–his mouth agape with laughter . . . and just maybe wonder.

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We paused briefly at the Ledges overlook and then continued up, our eyes focused more on the sky than anything else at that point.

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My least favorite section of trail, where the rock face sometimes makes me pause and contemplate my next step, provided for an easy ascent given the conditions.

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It seemed like no time had passed when we reached the top and we felt like we’d missed parts of the trail, everything being different with the new season.

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We had the summit to ourselves. My guy immediately found lunch rock–and the view.

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I pulled out our sandwiches and surprised him with two beverages–one having found its way into the fridge this past week that spoke to our Colorado connection. We toasted our opportunity to be on top of the world.

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All around us, serene hues of blue and icy gray contrasted with pastels and reflected winter’s enchantment.

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We didn’t stay on top too long as the wind started to pick up. Just below the summit, I spotted another moment of wonder.

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As we continued to climb down, our eyes were again drawn to the sky. “It’s the middle of the day and yet it looks like a sunrise or sunset,” said my guy.

Indeed. The perfect ending to our Mondate. Finally a Mondate. A final Mondate–for 2016, that is.

 

 

 

 

 

Boundless Monday

It was 8˚ this morning as I headed out the back door with micro-spikes attached to my hiking boots, sure that I’d stay atop the ice-crusted snow. Not to be. Immediately, I began to sink and realized snowshoes would serve me better.

And so a few minutes later I reemerged, ready for a walk, albeit loud since with each step I took the sound of crunchy snow echoed in the crisp air.

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But being a bright cold morning, the view to Mount Washington was equally enhanced.

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I quickly moved from our property into the woodland owned by others and started down a trail I’d forged many years ago. Along the way, I was warmed by the sight of the downy seeds of bulrushes swaying in a gentle breeze.

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Because of recent logging activity, Red Maple saplings stood out in the landscape, their buds embraced by waxy and hairy scales that provided sure protection from winter moments.

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Where only a few days ago, this trail had been a wee bit difficult as I dodged sure wet spots, today all was frozen. Despite the snow and rain of recent days, Royal Ferns shone with their bronze winter display.

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The left behind flower bracts of witch hazel reminded me of their two-fold job, from flower base to next year’s seed pod–and a third job for today when they provided a hint of golden yellow to the landscape.

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In several trees, I discovered old funnel spider webs and trusted that the creators were enjoying a dormant season of their own somewhere below my feet.

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After reaching an intersection in paths, I struck out to create a trail not yet carved. It was here that the White Lettuce or White Rattlesnake-root grew most abundantly, its seeds reminiscent of bird feathers.

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Likewise, some bracts had already cast all offspring to the wind and all that remained were small jelly-fish statues.

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After doubling back, I passed by my first path and then rather than follow a common route home, decided a bushwhack was more to my pleasing. It wasn’t always an easy trudge and I had to use the sun to help me figure out my direction, but offered its own points of wonder, including the pink and orangey inner bark of paper birch displaying matching lenticels (the little lines that are tree pores for gas exchange).

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Spruce cone scales, this one with a seed still attached, decorated the snow-covered forest floor.

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And ice on hemlocks mirrored reflective moments.

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As often happens, I got caught in movement, nothing that couldn’t be fixed by quickly stepping out of the snowshoe.

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In the midst of my journey, I discovered boundaries in places where I didn’t recall encountering them before. But they’ve been there–for a longtime. Fortunately for me and those who follow in my footsteps, we’re allowed to cross those boundaries at will. If you do follow, however, you may want to forge some of your own pathways. At times, mine required acrobatic movements that weren’t always fluid.

You may have noticed that my guy and I haven’t had a Mondate in about a month. We trust we will again soon, but we’ve had a lot of stuff to do around the old homestead. To that end, we’re both looking forward to future Mondates that know no bounds. Where will 2017 take us?

 

The Art of Nature

Following a cart path that led away from the main trail at Shepard’s Family Farm Preserve in Norway, Maine, today, Master Naturalist Jackey Bailey and I suddenly found ourselves in an undulating field of wooden sculptures.

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Our intrigue was instant. Recycled and found wood transformed into artwork. I’d seen two of the sculptures before, but had somehow missed the other four that graced this property. The first on our tour–“Birdhouses,” their eyes hollowed out for entry; and faces reminiscent of fellow travelers on our Earth journey.

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“Birds” also gave us pause as we admired motion.

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And nearby, “Cat.” It struck me that “Birds” flew toward the “Birdhouses,” while “Cat” sat nearby, much the same as the neighborhood cats frequent our birdfeeders at home.

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I’d previously visited with “Mrs. Noah,” but our reverence today was just the same as we watched her gather feathered friends two-by-two.

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“Bird in Flight” offered a sense of movement through its feather-tipped wings.

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And finally, “Owl.” Of all, this was my least favorite because the wise old predator appeared mad with the world. But then, he had all the wisdom and perhaps he really was not happy with what he saw and knew.

All of these were the creations of artist Bernard Langlais. According to The Langlais Art Trail Web site: “Despite his commercial success, by the mid-1960s Langlais became disenchanted by the pressures of New York gallery culture. Interested in working on a larger scale, he purchased a farmhouse in Cushing (Maine) and moved permanently to his native state. In the last eleven years of his life, he constructed more than sixty-five monumental wood sculptures on the land around his home, including his best-known commission, the over seventy-foot-tall Indian for the town of Skowhegan, Maine. During this period he also produced a massive oeuvre of two- and three-dimensional works exploring the patterns, textures, and expressive powers of the animal kingdom.”

These sculptures and others at the Roberts Farm Preserve are on loan to  Western Foothills Land Trust through The Kohler Foundation of Colby College.

As Jackey and I noted, it was a totally different take on the natural world. Art made of wood, much of it repurposed, and left to the elements. Worth a wonder.

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Soon after, we parted paths. I journeyed home and felt instantly drawn to take a look at the sculpture park behind our home where nature’s artwork is always on display and frequently offers an opportunity to reflect upon the relationship between man and nature.

The sun highlighted one of the many tree stumps that spoke to logging operations and demonstrated the process of returning from whence it once came as lichens and mosses and balsam saplings took advantage of nutrients offered.

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Other cut stumps reminded me of the circular movement leading toward the center of a labyrinth–appearing quick and easy, and yet providing a time to slow down while following the path.

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In some ways, the target fungi that attacks Red Maples, demonstrated a similar pattern and journey.

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Because I’d discovered it last year, I knew where to look for the Orange Mock Oyster mushroom (Phyllotopsis nidulans), and found the underside gills to be equally contemplative.

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Then a different look–another take on birds in flight; these sewn into paper birch bark slowly decaying on the ground. Do you see them?

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Ice needles offered the most temporary of sculptures that spoke to frost slowly invading the surface soil.

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Ice formed around fallen leaves never ceased to amaze me.

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And the ultimate in Man and Nature and Art forms had to be the powerline appearing to lead to Mount Washington, where snow swirled in the wind.

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But of all that I saw today, it was the eyeglasses on one of the “Birdhouses” that caught my whimsy the most. I only wish a bird had paused to pose.

Manmade, Naturemade, Manmade with Nature, Naturemade with Man–there’s no denying the beauty of the art of nature.

 

 

 

Everybody Loves Raymond? Mondate

My guy and I were up for an adventure this morning as we headed off to a property recently acquired by Loon Echo Land Trust. I’d been there once before, but at that time there was no trail system and I certainly hadn’t climbed to the summit.

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We were on a 356-acre property bisected by a paved road. First, we hiked the upper section, passing through a hardwood forest.

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Immediately, I realized we were in the presence of one of my favorites–noted for the mitten-ish presentation of its leaves. One would have to be all thumbs to fit into this mitten, but still, my heart hums whenever I spy a white oak.

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Or in this case, many white oaks, some exhibiting the wine color of their fall foliage.

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And the bark–a blocky look that differs greatly . . .

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from the ski trail ridges of red oak.

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Hop Hornbeam also grows abundantly in this forest.

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As we neared the summit, we noticed that the sky view had a yellowish tone reflected by the ground view. Most trees were of the same age due to past logging efforts, but the predominant species was sugar maple.

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Another favorite tree also grew abundantly here. I think they are also favorites because I don’t see them as often. In this case, the bark, though furrowed and ridged like a northern red oak, featured an almost combed flattened ridge.

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And its leaves–oh my! Notice the asymmetrical base? And the length–my boot is size 8. American basswood–an important timber tree that is known to share the community with sugar maples and hornbeams–all of which provided that yellow glow.

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At last, we reached the vantage point.

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Above us, a mix of colors and species.

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Before us, a mix of white and red oak leaves.

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And beyond us, the view of Crescent Lake

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and Rattlesnake Mountain.

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While we admired the view, ladybird beetles (aka ladybugs) swarmed us. Well, not exactly in swarm formation, but more than is the norm.

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After admiring the view for a while and wondering about the ladybirds, we backtracked a bit and decided to explore the green trail, assuming that it looped about the summit.

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The trail conditions changed constantly, and one thing we realized was that the leaves had dried out and we wished we could have bottled their scent along with our crispy footfall as we trudged through–the smells and sounds associated with autumn.

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Eventually, we entered a beech commune and what to my wondering eyes should appear–bear claw marks? We ventured closer, circled the tree and looked at others in the neighborhood before determining that our eyes had perhaps played a trick on us.

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That was OK because within seconds a twig moved at our feet.

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We watched as its tongue darted in and out, red tipped with a black fork.

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Finally, we moved back to what we’d named Ladybird Lookout and found lunch rock where we topped off sandwiches with Bailey’s Irish Cream fudge a la Megan and Becky Colby. Life is good. Life is very good. (And we know a town in western Maine that would benefit greatly from a bakery–just saying, Megan!)

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After lunch, we climbed back down and crossed Conesca Road to check out trails on the other side. There is no trail map just yet, but we never got lost. And we appreciated the artwork nature created of manmade marks.

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This space offered a different feel where hardwoods combined with softwoods. And more stonewalls crossed the property, speaking to past uses.

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It’s here that we noticed an area demarked by pink flags and stopped to wonder why. Note to self–excavated hole and debris mean beware.

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Upon closer examination, an old hive. So who dug it up? We had our suspicions.

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We also noticed a fungi phenomena.

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Fungi on fungi? Honey mushrooms attacked by something else?

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The displays were large

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and otherworldly. I don’t recall ever seeing this before.

I sent the photos to Parker and Jimmie Veitch, of White Mountain Mushrooms, and Jimmie responded with this explanation:

“That’s what mycologists call “rosecomb” mutation, where a mushroom’s gills start forming on the cap in a really mutated fashion. It’s been reported in many mushroom species but I haven’t seen it in this one (Armillaria AKA honey mushrooms). As far as I know, no secondary fungus is involved.

The suspected cause (not so nice) is ‘hydrocarbons, phenols and other compounds contaminating the casing or contacting the mushroom surface. Diesel oil, exhaust from engines, and petroleum-based pesticides are thought to be the principal source.'”

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As we concluded our visit, we passed over one more stone wall decorated with red maple leaves.

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And then we hopped into the truck and traveled a couple of miles south to conquer another small mountain–one visible to us from Ladybird Lookout. (I really think LELT should name it such.)

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Here the milkweed plants grew abundantly.

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In the field leading to the trail, the property owners planted white oak saplings in hopes of providing food for wildlife. Um, by the same token, they’d enclosed the saplings in plastic sleeves (reminding us of our findings in Ireland) to keep deer at bay.

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The understory differed and ferns offered their own autumn hues.

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In contrast were the many examples of evergreen wood ferns.

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We soon realized that quite literate bears frequented this path and announced their presence.

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At last, the view opened and we looked back at the opposite shore of Crescent Lake, though realizing that our earlier ascent was masked by the trees.

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Turning about, Panther Pond came into view.

We’d spent the day embracing Raymond because everybody loves Raymond.

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Raymond, Maine, that is. Loon Echo Land Trust is gearing up to celebrate the Raymond Community Forest that we explored this morning and the Bri-Mar Trail up Rattlesnake Mountain has long been traveled by many. In fact, when I used to write copy for the local chamber of commerce, I spent some time learning about Edgar Welch, who was the fastest man on foot and ran up Mount Washington at least once a year. He lived in Raymond and worked for David McLellan, who was partially blind from a Civil War injury. Because Mr. McLellan’s farm was at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain, the sun would set one hour earlier than elsewhere in town. According to legend, after work each day Edgar ran up the mountain and moved rocks. Finally, he’d moved enough to let the sun shine on the farm for an hour longer. Another story has it that one day a man bet Edgar that he could beat him in a race to Portland. The man would race with his horse and buggy, while Edgar ran. When the opponent pulled into the city, Edgar was waiting for him. I love local lore.

And everybody loves Raymond. Well, my guy and I certainly gained a better appreciation for this town today.