The Amazing Race–Our Style

I’m sure when we said our wedding vows back in 1990, there was something in there about only riding a snowmobile once. And I did that once two years or so ago–mostly because I knew it would please my guy. Certain memories remain from that experience: I felt like a bobblehead inside the helmet; I lacked control as I sat behind him and couldn’t see; when I did peek around, I was sure my head was going to strike a tree so narrow was the trail; and I didn’t like the speed. Oh yeah, and at a road crossing, I do believe I jumped off and walked to the other side. With all of that in mind, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I created a Valentine’s gift for him–our very own Amazing Race. My rationale was that we enjoy the show, but know that while there are certain stunts one or both of us could handle with ease, there are others that would certainly cause us to be last to the mat–and lose. So, why not create an Amazing Race that we have a 99.9% chance of winning. If we lose, we’re in big trouble. All that being said, our race includes twelve events, one for each month. And this month’s activity meant a snowmobile ride for two. Oy vey. I created this so I could only blame me.

a1-selfie

We awoke to five inches of snow this morning and knew that today was the day. After an early lunch, I tried to delay the inevitable. The dishes needed to be washed. And dried (I never dry the dishes). Toilet cleaned. I even thought about vacuuming, but my guy stopped me. And presented me with a black helmet. It was much too big and kept shifting around. He gave me a second helmet to try on. I felt claustrophobic and couldn’t take it off fast enough. “We have another,” he said as he headed to the barn. Darn. And the third one fit just right. Double darn.

a3-the chariott of choice

Our mode of transportation was ready and waiting. No long lines of others vying for a seat. No being put off until a later time. Our race had begun.

a2-double selfies

We hopped aboard and headed off down the trail. At first it was sort of okay and I almost relaxed, until that is, we took a sharp corner and I clenched my hand rails while leaning away. Sometimes, I felt like I was a kid again in the back of the school bus and jumping up and down as we went over the bumps on Valley Road in my hometown.

I was glad my guy couldn’t hear me unless I leaned close and spoke up–I kept my own running commentary for the first twenty minutes, which occasionally included an expletive not worth repeating.

a4-tunnel vision

At last we reached the Narrow Gauge trail, where my guy picked up the speed, but given it’s a fairly flat old railbed, I chose not to complain. And as good as his word, he stopped whenever I asked. One of my favorite spots along the trail is what we refer to as the tunnel, for in that section only, the walls are high on both sides and hemlock trees tower over.

a6-icicle

One of the things about riding on the machine is that you don’t get to really see anything. He loves it because it takes him places he wouldn’t ordinarily go. Yeah, there’s that. But . . . I prefer a slo-mo approach. And so today, we melded our ways–full speed ahead (although he thinks he took it slow) and complete stops every once in a while to take a look at things like sap forming an icicle,

a7-hemlock and rocks

hemlock roots and rocks intertwined,

a8-elephant

and an elephant.

a9-looking back

At last I walked back to him and we continued on our way. We were only going to go the length of the Narrow Gauge, but I was surviving and my guy smiling.

a9-Hancock Pond

Our next destination–Hancock Pond in Denmark.

a11-Hancock Pond

I asked him to stop by this camp intentionally, for I wanted to show its owners, Faith and Ben, the midwinter view–and lack of snow mainly because of its orientation to the sun.

a13-rock tripe

Despite the fact that most of last night’s snow had already melted, rock tripe along their shoreline had turned green–photosynthesis in action.

a14-Bear Trap

As we walked back to the chariot, we noted the houses on top of Bear Trap. My guy suggested that we turn around and head in that direction next. From the start, I suspected our plan of an out and back trip wouldn’t occur for he loves to return via a different route, while I don’t mind following the same path back because I usually see something I missed previously. But . . . I agreed with him.

a15-Perley Pond

We did have to travel a wee bit back on the Narrow Gauge to reach the turn toward Narramissic, located just below Bear Trap. Since we were passing by for a second time, I asked to stop at Perley Pond for a quick look.

a16-edges melting

Around the edges, the melt down was beginning.

a19-Peabody-Fitch House

And then onward and upward we rode to Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Homestead erected in 1797 by William Peabody, one of Bridgton’s first settlers. Today, the property is owned and managed by the Bridgton Historical Society.

a18a-Pleasant Mountain

Our main mountain wasn’t part of today’s journey, but the view of the ridgeline was spectacular from the farm’s field.

a20-map between Holt and Otter Ponds

From there, we passed by the spur to the bear trap, and continued on toward Holt Pond. For a while, I felt lost in a daze as we flew through woods in varying degrees of succession due to logging events over the years. I tried to look for bear trees for I knew there should be some, but didn’t spy any. And hardly recognized our place when we suddenly arrived at the emerald field near Holt Pond.

a21-Stone House

I also completely missed the quarry from which the Stonehouse was built. The house had an interesting history. In the early 1800s, John Mead built a primitive house in South Bridgton. Like the big bad wolf of fairy tales, wind huffed and puffed and blew the house down. Mr Mead was quoted as saying, “I can and will build a house that will stand the winds and weather.” And so he did–using the plug and feather method to cut the stone from the nearby quarry and transporting it a half mile via a stone boat or sledge. The stone treasure rose from the hillside, where Mead had situated it out of the wind. The field was certainly windy and we didn’t pause for long.

a22-Otter Pond

Our next stop was to a place I’d never visited before and I was impressed by its size–Otter Pond. Today, I felt like we were the otters as we slid across the snow-covered ice.

a23-wetland at Otter Pond

At the far edge, I found a spot I hope to return to for it looked like an interesting wetland.

a24-cattail

For today, the cattails, their seeds blowing in the breeze, were enough to whet my appetite.

a25-Hayes Hardware

And then in a few more zigs and zags, we found ourselves in familiar territory as we passed by my guy’s store.

a26-mat--home sweet home

Two more road crossings and a few more bends in the trail–and finally the mat welcomed us home after a successful finish to the first leg of The Amazing Race–our style.

 

 

 

 

 

A Blue Bird Kind of Good Friday

When Jinnie Mae picked me up this morning, our destination was the Narrow Gauge Trail. But somewhere between here and there, she pulled a U-turn and drove to Narramissic Farm owned by the Bridgton Historical Society.

It had been just over a year since I last visited and I wanted to show her the shagbark hickory buds. And maybe even the bear trap.

n-Pleasant Mtn to Narramissic1

We crossed the field behind the house and started off on the path to the quarry and bear trap, but snow and water in the woods resulted in another U-turn. We’d been talking so much, we’d hardly noticed our surroundings, but the view stopped us in our tracks.

n-Pleasant Mountain

To the left, the long ridge line of Pleasant Mountain, where the ski trails of Shawnee Peak Ski Area made themselves known.

n-Narramissic

And in front of us, the Temperance Barn and Peabody-Fitch homestead, built in 1797. We had the place to ourselves and reveled in the quiet of the day–when we weren’t talking, that is.

n-shop and flagpole

Heading to the road for our tree bud search, we passed by the blacksmith shop where horseshoes were probably made in the day.

n-temperance barn

And at the Temperance Barn, so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum,” I can never resist admiring the structure even though it’s in great need of repair.

n-ash tags

And then we were stumped by a flowering tree. It sure looked like an ash as Jinnie Mae suggested, but what were those lacy tips? What came to my mind first were the tags on red oaks that I didn’t understand a few years ago until a friend helped me realize that they were leaf stems left behind when the wind finally claimed the dried leaves. Was this the same?

n-double-wide stonewall

Climbing onto the double-wide wall, I took a closer look.

n-white ash danglers 1

Turns out Jinnie Mae was right. But my question still remains. Were these the stems of the ash samaras or compound leaves?* For some reason I’ve never before seen them left behind. Ah, there are so many things to discover in this world.

n-black walnut 3

We continued down the road, noting budding pussy willows and flowering red maples. And then I spied the bulbous buds I wanted to show her. Only, it turns out that we hadn’t reached the hickory trees yet.

b-black walnut leaf scar 2

The monkey face leaf scar should have been a clue. But my brain was stuck in hickory mode and I completely forgot that black walnut leaves leave such a formation. At home, I pulled out Forest Trees of Maine and then seesawed between black walnut and butternut (aka white walnut). Both feature leaf scars shaped like a monkey’s face. But the top of the leaf scar serves as the give away–this one did not have thick fuzzy eyebrows like a butternut, so I’m going out on a limb and declaring this a black walnut.

n-shagbark bud hairy 1

A bit further down the road we spotted more bulbous buds. These were definitely the ones I was looking for–shagbark hickory. In the moment and because the two trees weren’t close together, we thought they were all one in the same. But hindsight being 20/20 as it is, the photographs tell the story.

n-shagbark bud 6

The subtle colors and fuzziness wowed us and we both took numerous photos.

n-shagbark leaf scar1

Then there were the leaf scars–definitely more heart-shaped than the previous trees.  And lacking that smiling face. We smiled for them.

n-Long Lake below

It wasn’t enough to find the small saplings beside the road and so we crossed another field in search of the mother tree.

n-grasshopper 1

Along the way, Jinnie Mae spotted a wee grasshopper–the first of the season for us.

n-shagbark bark from distance

And then her newly trained shagbark hickory eyes keyed in on the momma.

n-shagbark bark 3

If you go, it’s located behind the barn.

n-shagbark bark 5

And shouts its name in presentation.

n-shagbark bark 4

Looking upward, we could see the bulbous buds on the twig tips contrasted against the bright blue sky.

n-bluebird

Happiness is a blue bird kind of day–sweetened by time spent exploring with Jinnie Mae, making discoveries and watching bluebirds move between the field and the trees. Indeed it was a Good Friday.

Now we need to return and find the mother black walnut.

*Thanks for Maine Master Naturalist Pam Davis for IDing the ash strand as the rachis of the compound leaf. She reminded me that I have seen these on the ground in the fall. But–to be still dangling from the tree was new to my eyes and mind.

 

So Many Quacks

Stepping as quietly as possible through the woodland, my heart quickened when I heard a particular chorus vibrating from the vernal pool.

v-ice 2

Three days ago a thin layer of ice still covered half of it.

v-ice 3

But I was happy to note that despite last week’s frigid nighttime temperatures, the wood frogs had been active.

v-many heads

While I stood and waited on Sunday, there’d been no movement or sound and I thought that the frogs had already moved on–mission accomplished. My ears and then my eyes knew differently today. I heard the quack of the males and then saw a number of heads on the water’s surface. Quickly, I snapped a photo–the little balls of light represent those precious heads.

v-ripples

They sensed my approach and began to make waves. Water rippled as they dove under the leaf cover below. And all was silent.

v-eggs 3

The community of egg masses, however, showed that their efforts continued to be fruitful.

v-egg masses 2

In general, each mass laid by different females is attached to a twig or branch. They tend to take advantage of the same site for attachment and usually in a sunny, warm spot. Already, some floated to the surface. Eventually, they’ll gain a greenish tinge from algae, which actually helps to camouflage them. One of the many wonders is that any given mass may contain up to 1,000 eggs–from a two-to-three-inch frog.

v-egg mass 1

A couple of masses were positioned independent of the rest, like this one–embraced in oak and maple leaves. It’s almost out of the water, though yesterday’s rain helped, but I questioned whether or not it will be viable.

v-frog and sally eggs

Then again, will any of them? Last year, the pool dried up before the tadpoles reached maturity. And it isn’t just tadpoles that begin life in this pond. Notice the white, gelatinous masses below those of the wood frogs? Spotted salamanders had also returned to this small body of water.

v-sally 3

They, too, attached clusters to vegetation. Smaller in number of individual eggs, salamanders lay 30-250 within each clear or opaque white mass. As they absorb water, the masses enlarge.

I walked around the pool looking for spermatophores produced by males and left on the leafy bottom, but saw none. Earlier today, my friend, JVP, and I walked along the Narrow Gauge trail and saw them in several pools. Unfortunately, though I had my camera in tow, I’d left the battery at home–still sitting on the charger. Oy vey!

v-beech leaves

As beech leaves continued to cling and blow in the slight breeze over the pool, I finally settled down at the edge and waited for action.

v-diving beetle

Moving with aquatic beetle speed, predaceous diving bugs swam about in constant motion.

v-water boatman

Also calling this small pool home were numerous water boatmen.

v-peaking out:blending in

But what I most wanted to see–the wood frogs themselves. Ever so slowly, they began to emerge from the leaf cover.

v-frog 1

Once by the surface, they floated.

v-frog 5

As long as I didn’t make any sudden moves, they stayed–showing off the dorsolateral ridges that run from the back of their eyes toward their hind legs.

v-frog 4

Color variation was evident–from rusty browns to gray and tan.

v-frogs hanging

Sometimes, several floated near each other–probably wishing I would leave so they could continue their serenade.

v-2 frogs

And then there were two that seemed intent upon one another.

v-2 frogs 3

I’m sure they spoke–probably cursing my presence.

v-2 frogs 1

With the flick of a frog leg . . .

v-2 frogs depart

they suddenly went their separate ways.

v-love 1

One couple, however, did hug. So that brings up another curious thing about wood frogs. Males cannot identify females by sight or sound, so he has to clasp the other frog. If the frog is thin, it’s either  another male or a female that has already released her eggs–thus he’ll release it quickly. Yup–females are generally fatter because they carry eggs.

My eyes were as wide as the frogs I watched–I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing so many in this particular pool. And I was sure that due to the ice, all the action was completed a few days ago. But the multiple chortles I heard upon my initial approach created a racket today–and sounded, of course, like a bunch of mallards. I rejoiced over the sound of so many quacks.